If I can credit anyone with my interest in American history, it's my father. He's long been a student of the Civil War, and one of my fondest memories to this day is the entire family all cuddled up on the sofa watching the Ken Burns PBS series once upon a time.
He had books lying about, the family often visited the battlefields all along the Shenandoah, and quite often he had Bobby Horton's "Homespun Songs..." tapes playing in the car. He had two - one from each side. I remember especially liking Riding a Raid, a jaunty tune about fighting in JEB Stuart's cavalry.
Come tighten your girth and slacken your rein;
Come buckle your blanket and holster again;
Try the click of your trigger and balance your blade,
For he must ride sure that goes riding a raid.
I'm almost ashamed to admit that it was only fairly recently other reading brought me across the original song sung to that tune, Bonnee Dundee:
"Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Saddle my horses and call out my men.
And it's Ho! for the west port and let us gae free,
And we'll follow the bonnets o' Bonnie Dundee!
That in itself would have been interesting. Moreso was the identity of the Bonnie Dundee himself - James Graham of Claverhouse. The same man reviled by the Scots Presbyterian Covenanters as "Bloody Clavers" .... for whatever heroics he might have performed, he was bloody, and left a trail of mourning and resentment in his wake.... and the memory of those hurts was long in the keeping.
So it was that two separate sources at least have referenced an article in the Berea Quarterly of 1908, referring to an "illiterate mother in the hills of Kentucky" who chastises her son with the bogeyman - "Behave yourself, of Clavers will get you!"
And so I can't help but wonder - how many of those men in Stuarts cavalry, riding to war with the highland romances of Bonnie Dundee and Waverly singing in their heads, themselves were warned as children of the vile Bloody Clavers?
It's an odd irony, but one echoed today in my old homeland of Southern Appalachia. To this day if you look around you will see Confederate flags a plenty. Mostly the old battle flag - often with all manner of other images mostly signifying rebelliousness - but quite often the Southern National flag or the Bonnie Blue... both of which convey the essential meaning of State Sovereignty without the heavy racial burden popular culture has attached to the battle flag.
... and yet, most of those mountain counties were hotbeds of Union sentiment back when the powder was burning and the blood flying.
Leaving aside for the moment the not inconsiderable question of whether our ancestors would still be Unionist if you showed them most any newspaper of the present day - there is a story there.
It's the same story I think that fills Grandfather Mountain every summer with Americans of ultimately lowland stock in kilt and dirk, that accounts for dreamcatchers hanging from rearview mirrors the country over, and that unifies the hardiest Hell's Angel with the geekiest blue-painted Na'Vi furry geek.
It is our self identity with the Clan over the Polis...an ache to be as we once were - familial members grounded to the tribe and the land by ties of kinship and blood, not citizens in a faceless State.
That the liberties and wealth we know today is a direct result of the state - or even possible only with its laws, its industrial economy and global trade, its sophisticated military and its complex infrastructure is immaterial. For all those thousands of years of classical heritage, we remain in our deepest nature I think still creatures of kith and kin. Still tribal.
And so any image we can hold out for ourselves as what we once were... be it the Dying Gaul of Rome or the ruddy Highlander of Balmoral - the Lakota of John Dunbar or the Na'vi of Jake Sully... the face changes from age to age and the fashion of the time. Any more-tribal culture sufficiently vanquished or imaginary to be a comfortable palette for our desires instead of an immediate threat will suffice. I daresay in a hundred years the wars of Afghanistan will furnish yet another idealized tribal life, the rough edges of life under the Taliban smoothed off with time and romance.
For we are who we are. And we are at heart unreconciled.