By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
NEW ALBANY – Before the Civil War, author Robert Hicks likes to point out, American ambassadors represented “these United States.” People identified with their state as much as with the nation, as when Robert E. Lee reluctantly resigned his commission in the U.S. Army because he could not turn his back on his native Virginia.
It was only after those distinct states learned the bitter futility of warring among themselves that American thought made a subtle but crucial change: “Instead of ‘these United States,’ they now spoke of ‘the United States,’” he said.
The last war fought on American soil tore the country asunder, but the course of its recovery bound it back together with firmer bonds than earlier generations had imagined possible, Hicks contended.
“If the United States had become two nations, how long do you think they would have stayed two nations?” he demanded. “When oil was discovered, how long would Texas have stayed in the Confederacy? Six weeks, maybe?”
Had secession worked, he hinted, it might have become all too frequent a “solution,” leaving the world without a developing superpower in the West. He noted that an American nation – or nations – of loosely joined states would never have been able to counter the Nazi war machine.
“The Civil War matters because it made the American Century possible,” Hicks said, “and without the American Century, we’d all be speaking German now.”
Hicks, who grew up in Hicksville, Tenn., signed his historical novels “A Separate Country” and “The Civil War Widow,” last night at the Union County Heritage Museum. He continues his Northeast Mississippi visit with an 8:30 breakfast this morning at the Magnolia Civic Center in New Albany and a noon talk on “Why the Civil War Matters” at the Lee County Public Library in Tupelo. Both gatherings are free and open to the public.