Remember, Remember

It’s Guy Fawkes’ Day: when the Britishc commemorate a failed terrorist plot on the Houses of Parliament by burning the would-be perpetrator in effigy. Meanwhile, we relate to our Civil War by putting the flags of the vanquished on our cars, and debating whether their version of history should be taught in public schools.

Why the two different treatments? Why is one violent act of revolution celebrated for its failure, and the other romanticized to exclude the deaths it caused, included, and the wrongs upon which it is based? Is it really just that England has had more time to come to terms with the underlying conflict?

I have no answer, and perhaps it’s an unfair question. Just a note.


  1. Ames,
    Having grown up in the South, where it is still “The War of Northern Agression” even among the intelligencia, I’d offer a different view. .

    Guy Fawlkes Day is, as you note, all about an act of terrorism carried out by a single man, directed at one institution of a standing government.

    In contrast, the Civil War was, at its heart, an economic war across a vast populace. The slave-based labor model was challeneged by a more free market approach. And because so many did die, on both sides, there is also an enormously larger human cost that each part of the country wants to remember. Thus, as humans tend to do in war ravaged nations (look at the Balkins) we Americans have come to view the looser sympathetically, in large part because the loosers bore such a huge price in terms of people, and in lareg part because the loosers are still part of our federation.

    The Brits got to execute a single man for a crime, and thus they can more easily portray him as the villian he was. We couldn’t execute a whole section of our country, and so the awkward rememberances are all that we can come up with.

  2. I don’t think it’s a fair question. One was a true terrorist plot while the other was a formal war. For example, at the start of hostilities Anderson was given several days to surrender Ft.Sumter. Once surrendered the Union was allowed to fire a 50 gun salute before vacating. That’s hardly the same as what Fawkes had planned.

  3. Yeah, they’re entirely different categories.

    Also relevant is that probably unlike the American Civil War, the Gunpowder Plot was a looong time ago (400 years), and involved social conflicts that are not at all relevant to modern British society.

    I think the majority of Britons going out to celebrate tonight will only have the vaguest idea about who Guy Fawkes actually was, much less what the Plot was all about. Even most Catholics probably celebrate it without thinking much about the implications.

  4. Steve Jeffers · ·

    “an act of terrorism carried out by a single man … involved social conflicts that are not at all relevant to modern British society … most Catholics probably celebrate it”

    Er … no, no and no.

    While, obviously, great strides have been made in Ireland in the last twenty years, and while even more obviously the situation for Catholics is not what it was in Tudor times, and while, obviously, Britain’s a tolerant secular society, there is still division. Although, as seen with the Ratzinger visit, much of this is now down to Catholic leadership trying to stir up division rather than Britons actually giving a fuck.

  5. Since, as you say, most Britons don’t give a fuck, and since giving a fuck is sort of necessary for social conflict to exist, I’m not sure what your point even is here.

  6. These are all good points. But I think my basic wonder still remains: why do we celebrate the movement that caused us to lose so many of our countrymen?

  7. We lost a lot of people in WWII as well.

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