Things come in threes. Usually, but not always. In the mid 1860′s we nearly had one unwelcome trilogy – all out war between Great Britain and the United States. The Unionistas and Confederales were battling it out in the American Civil War, whilst the British sat as an itchy fingered spectator. The public and majority in parliament were generally against the original War of Independence – it wasn’t popular at all back home. And when the US civil war rumbled into being, most people sided with the Yankees. But common interests aren’t always very common, and there were plenty of people whose best interests would have been served with a victory for the South. And yet others who would have profited from the war rumbling on a few years more.
Britain declared neutrality, but tensions were tetchy. A pair of Confederates were plucked from a British ship. Perhaps not a smart move. The Royal Navy was put on a war footing and plans to take New York (again) were drawn up. But a chap with foresight had second thoughts, and returned the Confederates to the Brits with an apology. A quick look at the chart below, detailing sea power over the last 150 odd years reveals why. There were a few more tantrums along the road, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved with diplomacy. There was no third US – UK war, and nor, I’m sure, will there ever be. As peoples we are similar, with ideals and goals that are largely shared. We’re the most natural of allies. War in the 1860′s would have served no purpose* for either country, both of whom had more important matters to hand that needed dealing with.
It might seem that I’m providing a history lesson. Given that my stats tell me most of my views come from the other side of the pond, I’d be preaching to the converted. I am providing a history lesson, but perhaps not the sort you’d imagine. What I’ve just imparted is pretty large chunk of my total knowledge of the US Civil War. Add in the Gettysburg Address, Generals Lee and Grant and the fact that victory came, after much spilt blood, to Lincoln’s Union army from the north. And that’s the lot. It’s just not a greatly taught war this side of the Atlantic. Jeez, we have more than enough wars of our own to learn about to start getting into other nations turmoils.
And yet Lincoln remains one of the most iconic, popular presidents for Brits. He has a high rating here. Real high. Being assassinated helped, it always does. There’s little to no controversy over his character, decisions and life in general. But there’s something enigmatic about him too. I could tell you he’s smart. Determined. Righteous. Fair. Decent. I couldn’t really tell you why though, other than he fought a war to free the slaves**. He was also the guy I referred to earlier who had had second thoughts. Oh, and he had a heck of a beard. Only Abe could pull that one off. Not that he always sported such chic facial grooming. I found a set of CC photos of him on Flickr in the Library of Congress Collection.
So what has me warbling on about Lincoln and the Civil War? The movie of course. Steve Cotton gave it a thumbs up, and he’s generally a good guide – his review is here. I’d have wanted to see it anyway. Do I give it a thumbs up? I did find it a fascinating film. It dwells on the issue of slavery, and leaves the actual blood and guts of the war out of sight. Out of sight, but it’s deathly breath hangs ever present in every scene. The costumes and scenery are superb. The acting is top notch. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln shone in particular. For me, anyway. Did Americans mind that an English actor played the role? But then Lincoln was descended from an Englishman. I was a little surprised to find, given that the US had existed for less than a century, that you had to go as far back as his great, great, great, great grandfather to find the last English born Lincoln.
But I digress. Back to the movie. Storyline, costumes, scenery, acting, all a thumbs up. Script and production? I’m a little more reserved. I like epics. But I didn’t think Spielberg put enough meat on the bones of this script to warrant a film lasting two and a half hours. But even having said that, it remained utterly watchable. If I spoil the end for you by telling you that Lincoln is killed, I apologize. But seriously, if that’s the case, get down the library and read a book. You’ve already spent too much of your life in Blockbusters methinks***. I did think the end lacked the drama of the occasion though. It was, like (I think) Steve suggested, it became a little overly messianic. Overall, I’ll give it a thumbs up. A seven out of ten.
Which president will next get the movie treatment? You’d have thought it’d be JFK. It’ll soon be the 50th anniversary of his infamous killing. But I’ve heard nothing of a film in the works. I’ll just have to watch the 1983 three parter starring Martin Sheen that I have on DVD. There’s also another new J Edgar Hoover movie to watch. But I’d really like to learn more about the US Civil War. Despite my professing ignorance, I did many years ago read a book, but anything I took in has long since departed. Can anyone recommend a really decent history of the war? Especially one available on Kindle. To finish this rather long post, a YouTube video. I first found it quite some time ago. I found it fascinating. You feel you can almost touch distant history when watching it.
*As an aside, I found this encouraging, given the state of today’s world – financial crises of the sort we’ve seen in recent years are almost always followed by war. Back in the 18060′s, we imported 40% of our corn from the US – famine may well have followed a confrontation. On the other hand, a full British naval blockade and the destruction of US coastal cities wouldn’t have done the people of the US much good. An early form of mutually assured destruction. Both countries were economically dependent on one another to a large degree. A large enough degree to see to it that common sense reigned over inflamed passions. The world today is far more integrated economically, so perhaps for once we can get through economic turmoil without shooting the crap out of each other.
** That might be a point of controversy in the US, but not here.
***If you’re a Brit, you might not long have the option to choose between the two. How refreshing that the publically owned option isn’t the failure!