"I think that what Lincoln was doing at the end of war was a very, very smart thing. And it is maybe one of the great tragedies of American history that people didn't take him literally after he was murdered. The inability to forgive and to reconcile with the South in a really decent and humane way, without any question, was one of the causes of the kind of resentment and perpetuation of alienation and bitterness that led to the quote-unquote 'noble cause,' and the rise of the Klan and Southern self-protection societies.Coates says:
This is quite wrong. Lincoln was the first president killed in American history. He was not killed by some wide-eyed crazy, but a man advocating exactly the same cause as the white Southerners whom Kushner believes were so inhumanely brutalized.... There is no daylight between John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis, save that Booth, in the name of white supremacy, was willingness to countenance the killing of one man, and Davis the killing of 600,000. What followed the murder of Abraham Lincoln was not repression and inhumanity. Andrew Johnson offered terms more generous, not less.... When Kushner says the Ku Klux Klan came out of an unwillingness to forgive the South, I don't know what he means. The Klan was founded in 1865. Johnson was still president. There was nothing "unforgiving" about his posture to the South.Coates links to Corey Robin who reacts to the same quote saying:
I have to confess, I was truly shocked by this comment. Though it points to events after the Civil War, it reveals a point of view that I had thought we abandoned long ago: the Dunning School of American historiography, which essentially holds that Reconstruction was a “tragic era”—and error—in which a cruel and unforgiving North decided to wreak havoc on a victimized (white) South, thereby producing Jim Crow and a century of southern backwardness. When I was in high school—in 1985!—we were taught the Dunning School as an example of how not to do history, a way of thinking about the past that was so benighted no one could possibly believe it anymore.If one steps back from the question of Reconstruction in particular, however, one sees that this approach to history (these people were treated badly and so they were forced to go do something we don't approve by their outrage at their mistreatment) is fairly common. One of my own particular bugbears is the list of three things which everyone thinks they know about World War One:
Yet here we have one of our most esteemed playwrights—a Marxist no less (and whose effort to reclaim an honorary degree from CUNY, which he had been denied, I steadfastly organized for)—essentially peddling the same tropes.
1) It happened by accident. No one wanted war.
2) It was utterly pointless
3) The cruel peace terms imposed on Germany were the cause of Nazism and the second world war.
None of these are true, but particularly frustrating to me is the third. The peace terms imposed on Germany were not all that draconian, and the allies quickly lost the will to enforce them. The large sum of reparations which Germany was ordered to pay was reduced repeatedly by the Allies, and even at the reduced rate Germany never paid much of it. In 1932 the Allies voted to cancel the reparations entirely, but the implementation of this resolution was contingent on American agreement and before the US could make up its mind Hitler rose to power and announced that he refused to pay any more reparations regardless.
However, the claim that German bad behavior was all the fault of the harsh peace had become a commonplace of anti-war sentiment in France, Britain and the US during the 20s (spurred in part by John Maynard Keynes' 1919 book The Economic Consequences of the Peace) and it has remained one of the trite pieties of pop history to this day.
The more realistic, though less comforting truth which perhaps the Reconstruction and WW1 tropes both mask is that it is often easier to win a war than to win a peace. The greater military power can generally be successful in reducing its foe to the point where organized military resistance is no longer possible. However, almost no degree of military force can make an entire population behave in ways they don't want to. This is what the Northern states ran into after the Civil War. It was well within their power keep the South from splitting off and setting up an independent country. However, the amount of energy necessary to keep Southerners on the ground from behaving mostly the way they wanted to after the war was over was something the North was not willing (perhaps was not able) to expend for long.