On the eve of Guy Fawkes day, last night, we happened to be watching National Treasure 2, which covers a number of historical events following the bitter War Between the States. In an early scene set in the back rooms of the Ford Theater during the assassination of Lincoln, a pair of Confederate agents confront the fictional Thomas Gates and ask him to help them with a cipher as an aid in their ‘treason.’
After a comment that “the war is over,” one of the agents counters with conviction: “No, you’re wrong about that. It’s just begun.”
In 2016, we here in the United States are consumed by a bitter rebellion, and as of today, it is unresolved. So unpopular has the federal political establishment become, that we are engaged in a struggle by roughly half the country to place a complete Washington outsider into the White House. More than once, memories of the Civil War have been invoked to encourage or discourage this rebellion. I think it’s fair to say that in a very real sense, the Civil War never completely ended, and it remains passionately remembered by descendants of both sides while it drives events up to this very moment.
The same could be said about the war started around 1532 by English King Henry VIII and waged upon the Roman Church and many of his own subjects. The events of this war that are remembered on November 5th are described fairly well, and humorously, by Anthony Sacramone in The Federalist last year in his essay: Guy Fawkes, Call your Office:
On this day in 1605, an angry English Catholic named Guy Fawkes along with a group of other angry English Catholics with other names attempted to blow the House of Lords and King James I to high heaven. The so-called Gunpowder Plot gave birth to centuries of stringent anti-Catholic legislation, an infamous graphic novel with a persecution complex, hactivism, and the abbreviated inquiry “WTF?”
Read the rest here. I’m indebted to my friend, the Bluebird of Bitterness, for putting me onto the trail of this article, which is excellent. We have found ourselves gently at odds over Guy Fawkes in the past, she being devoutly Church of England, and I being Catholic, but we have plenty of cross sympathies. I’m descended from British protestants, for one thing, and Bluebird has great respect for the Roman Church and its history. So, we bear no actual bitterness with each other over the memories of November 5th, but that may be largely because we don’t live in England. Even today, that’s where effigies of Fawkes and the Pope, and now Tony Blair, who had the bloody cheek to convert to Catholicism, are still burned in bonfires all around the country on this day.
So, how is a bitter war like this ever made to pass into memory? Such bitter cultural wars which are no longer about money or land generally end up being mostly about lost justice. In the United States, we’ve seen how difficult it is for blacks to feel that justice has been done, even a century and a half after their emancipation. During that same time, southerners still suffer under real or perceived injustice over what happened in the 1860s. I tend to think that some of those injustices were real and remain so.
I tend to feel the same way about the Catholic plight in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the Anglosphere. But, will any of those past injustices ever be made right? Nope. Never. Not a chance. Can we ever be reconciled over such things? I have no idea. But, I’d like to think so.