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MHQ Reviews: Colin Woodard's American Nations

Originally published on Published Online: November 08, 2011 
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In his new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Viking, 2011), Colin Woodard casts a new light on the rift in American discourse, a split often couched in terms of conservative and liberal, of red states versus blue. Woodard, a frequent MHQ contributor, persuasively argues that since the founding of the United States, 11 distinct geographical "nations" have formed within the Union, each with its own identity and set of values. The clashes and alliances between these nations, Woodard asserts, have played a pivotal role in every facet of American life, particularly when it comes to making war.

Woodard persuasively argues that since the founding of the United States, 11 distinct geographical "nations" have formed within the Union, each with its own identity and set of values

The three nations of the "Dixie bloc"—the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, and Tidewater—have steadfastly supported "virtually every war since the 1930s, regardless of its purpose and opponents." By contrast, opposition to foreign wars has concentrated in the "Northern alliance"— what he has labeled Yankeedom, New Netherland, the Left Coast, and the Midlands. When World War II arrived, the South fiercely backed the war against Germany, even though Southern views on race comported so closely with those of the Nazis. A sampling:

The rise of Adolf Hitler put the Dixie bloc in a potentially awkward position. The Nazis had praised the Deep South's racially based caste system, which they used as a model for their own race laws. Nazi publications singled out the Dixie bloc for praise, approving of lynching as a natural response to the threat of racial mixing. ("It is a hundred times better," for Southern whites, one pro-Nazi intellectual wrote, "if exaggerated racial hatred leads to a hundred lynchings per year than if each year 50,000 mulatto children are born.") But white opinion makers in the Dixie bloc generally did not reciprocate the admiration. Instead, they attacked the Nazis for their suppression of Jews while carefully avoiding discussion of the Nazis' vicious propaganda against blacks, the forced sterilization of mixed-race children, and Hitler's calls to exterminate the "Negroid race."

The uncomfortable parallels between the two racist regimes were regularly pointed out by African American publications across the federation, but got virtually no airing within Dixie's white caste. Dixie-bloc representatives lambasted the Germans and supported every important legislative act in preparation for war, from approving the draft to expanding the Navy. From 1933 onward this bloc's congressmen gave stronger support to military preparedness than any other part of the federation, even as they opposed Roosevelt's domestic policies. The public was behind them. In a national poll conducted two months before Pearl Harbor, 88 percent of Southerners said war was justified to defeat Nazi Germany, compared to 70 percent of the residents of Northeast states and 64 percent of "Midwesterners." During the conflict, the bloc had ninety military volunteers for every one hundred draftees, compared to an average of fifty for the federation as a whole. "They had better start selective service," (Appalachian) Alabama representative Luther Patrick joked, "to keep our boys from filling up the army."

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One Response to “MHQ Reviews: Colin Woodard's American Nations”

  1. 1
    Steve says:

    I found this a fascinating socialogical read, and having lived in several of these "nations", an excellent source for explanations of often bewildering attitudes I have encountered. Even my own attitudes fell in line although I believe the map of counties perhaps needed some neutral or disputed territories.

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