Reading ‘If Lee had not won the battle of Gettysburg’, Winston Churchill’s entry in the if-the-South-had-one-the-Civil-War genre. (Requires JSTOR access, sorry.) Stuart Kelly in the Guardian (where I found the link; via Niall) thinks it’s a work of genius and all by itself justified Churchill’s literature Nobel. I think…
…well, I don’t think Mr. Kelly’s opinion speaks well of him, let’s put it that way.
It was Lee’s declaration abolishing slavery which by a single master stroke gained the Confederacy and all-powerful ally, and spread a moral paralysis far and wide through the ranks of their enemies. … Lincoln no longer rejected the Southern appeal for independence. “If,” he declared … “our brothers in the south are willing faithfully to cleanse the continent of Negro slavery … it would not be right to prolong the slaughter on the question of sovereignty alone.”
There is practically no doubt at this stage that the basic principle upon which the color question in the Southern States of America has been so happily settled owed its origin mainly to Gladstonian ingenuity and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations. There was not only the need to declare the new fundamental relationship between master and servant, but the creation for the liberated slaves of institutions suited to their own cultural development and capable of affording them a different yet honourable status in a commonwealth, destined eventually to become almost world wide.
Let us only think what would have happened supposing the liberation of the slaves had been followed by some idiotic assertion of racial equality, and even by attempts to graft white democratic institutions upon the simple docile, gifted African race belonging to a much earlier chapter in human history. We might have seen the whole of the Southern States invaded by gangs of carpetbagging politicians … We might have seen the sorry force of black legislators attempting to govern their former masters. Upon the rebound from this there must inevitably have been a strong reassertion of local white supremacy. By one device upon another the franchises accorded to the negroes would have been taken from them.
That’s just a sample. The whole thing is necromancy wrapped in wishful thinking inside an ugly fantasy. It’s bad history and worse speculation.
Here’s the thing. I’ve always known Churchill was a racist, imperialist reactionary. But somehow when his racism and imperialism was confined to the British Empire it seemed forgivable; lovable and cuddly even. It’s not till I find him involving himself in my history that I can see clearly that he’s not lovable and not cuddly. I should have known better. Churchill’s a douche. Who had many fine qualities. But nevertheless.
I will give Mr. Kelly this, though: Churchill’s exactly the kind of douche the alternate history genre is full of. Which only makes it more of a shame to bring him up alongside writers like Chabon and Pullman that are doing something much more interesting.