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Headscratchers / C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

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  • So, so many things wrong. The South never could have conquered the North; it didn't have the manpower. The South never sought to conquer the North, its war aim was to secure its independence. Reuniting with the North would had the same problems for the South that they seceded to get away from: i.e., being outvoted in the Senate, House, and Presidential elections. The battle flag is used as a national flag. Dixie is called the national anthem. Britain and France do nothing while an aggressive expansionist slave power conquers half the world. And "slavery defines us as a people"; while there were some who did go to war solely because of slavery, for the most part it was about Lincoln's Northern industrial backers building their industries with money from the South; before the income tax most federal income came from port tariffs, mainly from the South. Lincoln made the Emancipation Declaration deep into the war, redefining the conflict, while before that he had said that "if I can preserve the Union without freeing a single slave, I will do it." This mockumentary plays into a common misconception about slavery being the point of the war, while documents from the time show that for both sides it was clearly about money and power (Lincoln wanting to keep power over the South and the money from its port tariffs).
    • Slavery was a major part of the war. Not the first and last of it, but still a major part. Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery but (as the above troper alludes to) he figured it was more "realistic" for the Union to win and then let slavery die what he saw as an inevitable slow death. It was only after many conversations with Frederick Douglass that he decided more drastic action needed to be taken.
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    • And how. The idea of slavery surviving in a semi-modern nation (And if the CSA is able to put men on the moon and win world wars, it must be pretty modernized) is pretty ridiculous. Slaves were expensive, and the mass production of modern farm equipment would have rendered slavery obsolete (A tractor is not only cheaper, but doesn't try to run away). Also, remember that no society stays static. Great Britain was once one of history's most enthusiastic peddlers of dope and slaves, yet it's unimaginable that today's Brits would approve of such things. Oh, I should post-script this by mentioning that this troper is a full-blooded Yankee.
      • Well, it is directly stated in the movie that, even within the confederacy, they think time has run away from slavery, and it would be better business to abolish it, but they hold on to it out of tradition.
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    • Also, wouldn't the invention of labor-saving devices obviate the need for slaves at some point? Oh, right, Southerners just like slavery.
      • More slaves exist now than ever before. 60,000 (approximately) are currently illegally enslaved in the United States of America. Add culture and legality and they’ll find new uses for the slaves. Assembly lines, maids, fast food, most things on Dirty Jobs, these things all need humans.
      • The problem is that the CSA Constitution made it unconstitional even for the states to de-facto abolish slavery. It simply was illegal for a Confederate state to ban slavery in fact.
      • Ancient Greece and Rome both had rampant slavery and still developed loads of advanced machinery. Then they had slaves operate them.
      • No. Rome and Greece did not develop loads of advanced machinery. They didn't even invent the steam engine. By contrast, America did invent better and better technology, which is why slavery was already on its way to being phased out in the northern Southern states by the time of the war.
      • The steam engine was indeed invented in ancient Europe.
      • And it was never used to power anything more than a few trinkets. The Greeks and Romans never industrialized. That's the point.
      • Because they had slaves! That's the point!
      • The Greeks and Romans also didn't have metallurgy advanced enough to support making true steam engines or machine tools. Even if they'd wanted to implement steam engines widescale, they couldn't build most of the things one would want to use a steam engine for.
      • It also depends on what you mean by "industrialization", which does not have to be seen as mutually exclusive with "agriculture." Large-scale plantation economies (such as existed in the American South and Caribbean) could be considered a form of industry. Meanwhile, the machinery that (arguably) might have eventually phased out slavery — such as the cotton gin and sugar cane boilers — were originally operated by slaves. As for the "expense" of owning slaves, yes it was fantastically expensive but "common knowledge (true or no)" dictated that not having to pay them balanced everything out. Plus, by the time of the Civil War most people were (pardon the crass terminology) "breeding" rather than "buying" slaves which (a) offset many of the purchasing costs and (b) got around the British abolition of the triangle trade. Finally, having had slavery as an integral part of their economy for so long the "peculiar institution" (as well as its attendant white supremacy) did eventually become a part of the identity of the Confederacy. Hell — slavery had existed over here in some form since Massachusetts Bay was settled. It just ended up being abolished there way early because New England soil is way to rocky to support large-scale agriculture (with the exception of Rhode Island; they held out until the early 1800s).
      • Indeed, the cotton gin was actually a great boost to slavery; right before it was invented, a lot of slaveholders had been ready to emancipate their slaves and close up shop, as slave labor wasn't producing enough profit to offset the costs of feeding and housing them. Then the cotton gin made cotton plantations a lucrative business, and suddenly slaves were very much in demand in the agricultural South. The name is lost to posterity, but somebody's slave went on to invent a variation of the cotton gin that worked for hemp instead, and there was a boom in rope-making and the like as well. Machinery can liberate people from drudgery, but that doesn't mean it necessarily does in all cases. Being heavily industrialized didn't stop Nazi Germany in 1940s Real Life from enslaving every captive Jew it didn't simply murder outright for its even-worse-than-Southern-chattel-slavery "extermination through work" program. As one of the survivors grimly noted: "They oiled the machines; they did not feed the workers." Pragmatic Villainy sooner or later inevitably gives way to things like lust, hubris, pride, hatred, and greed. Just as the South in our reality clung stubbornly to its institution of slavery even when it got in the way of forging a much-needed alliance with England that could have turned the tide of the Civil War in its favor, so too is it entirely credible that a somehow-victorious South in this alternate reality might still cling to its notions of racial purity and institution of slavery long after they had outlived their profitability.
      • My guess would be that America uses slaves for menial labor like cleaning homes or tending to crops. Things that don't have mainstream technology to make slaves redundant.
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    • Just to list a few reasons why the CSA would have never won the war: Aforementioned lack of population, few factories capable of war production, no direct international supporters after Lincoln proclaimed that the war was about slavery and not taxes, the Northern blockade keeping the South from importing supplies, other than what tiny amount blockade runners could bring in, a lack of necessary war supplies, such as shoes and food, and despite that Lee successfully stopped the Northern invasion in the east, the Confederacy was being defeated in the west.
      • The movie makes it pretty clear they got support from other countries that helped them win the war. That's why it's called Alternate History, things are different than in Real Life.
      • Doesn't matter. Unless those countries shipped their entire armed forces and more over to fight for the CSA, there's no way they would have managed to annex the USA. To secure a recognition of independence, sure, and that was the Confederate war aim from the start (And if the movie had just taken that angle, I would have 10% of the problems with it that I do, that's the biggest IJBM for me by a hell of a long way), but if they started winning, and then started making noises about actually taking over the Union, their allies would have probably abandoned them for derangement anyway, and they quite simply couldn't have succeeded even with help.
      • The northern blockade was notoriously porous at least at the start of the war; the British Navy was more than capable of breaking the U.S. Navy at sea (even given that the Union did have the help of the Russian Black Sea Fleet). Further, resentment over the draft and the damage to trade created significant tension in the North. A Confederate victory might prompt some Northern states to break away as well (the New England states had threatened to do so twice before). Assuming a Confederate victory on the battlefield (very unlikely, considering their disadvantages) the 'conquest' of the rest of the Union might be more along the lines of the CSA taking over other breakaway states over a long period of time rather than an outright military victory.
      • They mention that the Union soldiers would run rather than fight the British and French troops. Rather a weak hand wave but still an explanation. British and French soldiers must be really badass on this alternate Earth.
      • I already added a new thing to fridge brilliance that explain that as well as gave a stand alone answer below. But its very likely Grant realized that slavery wouldn't be a big advantage when the British and French joined (esp since OTL the whole point of emancipation is to prevent European entry into the war) and maybe thought Lincoln genuinely was fighting this war to free the slaves. IRL Grant was pretty racist and admitted he'd join the Confederacy if he thought the war's real purpose was freeing black people. So its easy to interpret the fleeing cowardly Union soldiers as troops told to intentionally retreat because Grant had secretly changed allegiance. I mean the White House surrendered without a siege, not even a pathetic attempt at last stand, and Grant not only signed the surrender himself but the footage shown implies by body language he welcomed the Confederates warmly. So its less like the British and French were far superior and probably Grant sabotaged the Union army's war effort. Really fridge brilliant stuff for anyone who studied the Civil War deeply!
      • Most powerful Navy on Earth at the time and one of the most powerful Armies? Yeah, the Union really would have a good reason to be worried.
      • In real life the Confederacy was counting on Britain supporting them to protect their supply of cotton. What they failed to realize was that they had already sold Britain enough cotton to last them for decades more and that the North exported a wide variety of products that Britain had more pressing need of, such as food.
      • An answer every one ignored (and that I added to the Fridge Brilliance section) is that IRL Grant was pretty racist and stated if he thought the war was about abolition and not saving the Union, he would have joined the Confederate side. Going by the limited details and how Grant surrendered the White House without a last stand (even implying to openly welcome the Confederacy) and with the fact Confederate diplomats cleverly used loopholes to bypass the slavery issue in getting the British and French to support despite opposing slaver themselves....... Its very probable Grant committed treason and the fleeing soldiers were doing an organized retreat after learning the circumstances behind French and British intervention. He probably thought at that point the attempts at fleeing slavery to gain an edge over the South was pointless and perhaps Lincoln really supported freeing the slaves and switched his allegiance covertly. Wouldn't be surprised if the diplomats sent to the French and British also had secret talks with him.
    • Take Howard Zinn as you will, but he insisted that the Confederates would've eventually freed the slaves had they won. Like all Western Powers did; it was already beginning to disappear in the most industrialized Southern states.
    • And what, other than a racial caste system, would a mostly agricultural, anti-federalist, fundamentalist Christian society like the CSA have in common with a mostly industrial, hyper-statist, neo-pagan society like Nazi Germany?
      • The paranoia of the constantly threatened sovereignty of a nation-state with an inferior economic and industrial base... like Germany after WWI.
      • Except the Confederacy would have likely been supported by Britain and France as a counterbalance to the Union, the main reason either considered supporting it in the first place.
      • Hold up here; whatever Hitler's personal occult views were, Nazi Germany was hardly "neo-pagan" as a society. Many of their social values were based on a fundamentalist Christian, socially-conservative way of looking at the world (such as encouraging women to stay home and rewarding those who had the most babies), and while there were notable Christian religious leaders who fought the Nazis (like Boenhoffer and Niemoller) there were many more who supported the regime. Also, the Nazi regime was explicitly anti-communist in its ideology - that was a large part of why they eventually invaded the USSR - so, in fact, they would have had that in common with the CSA.
      • Many (if not most) Nazis during Hitler's time believed the Biblical scriptures were altered by jewish influences (Particularly Paul) and that Jesus wasn't a jew but a sort of roman citizen from galilee. In essense, they really weren't fundamentalist as defined by strict belief in scripture. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists today either take the previously mentioned revisionist approach or the Christianity was fabricated by the jews to oppress white people "praise oden" approach.
      • If by Nazis you mean the high level leaders like Hitler and his ministers, maybe (not entirely true, but maybe), but if for Nazis you mean most of the German population that supported the regime in one way or another, then no, most Germans in the base of society where simple and common Christians like any other European, that do not abide to weird conspiracy theological theories.
    • CSA was never intended to be just an alternate history. It was made to start conversations about overt and institutionalized racism. Thus, the seemingly over-the-top comical commercials about racist products that are later revealed to have been real products. It fails at being an alternate history because that was never the point.
      • Then it also fails at starting conversations, because walking up to someone, spitting in their face, and shouting "RACIST!" is not exactly a good way to get a meaningful conversation going.
      • It was explicitly advertised as an alt-history piece, and has been judged as such. The creators only started saying it was a "mockbuster" meant to start "a conversation about race" when people actually familiar with history began justifiably ripping them apart.
      • Who says it can't be both? It's an Alternate History that takes the form of a mockumentary that is intended to use the device of a Confederate victory in the Civil War to start a conversation about race. Unless the filmmakers genuinely believed they were actually making a historical documentary (and, poor history aside, we can perhaps give them some credit for knowing that the Confederates didn't actually win the war), then it was always going to be a work of fiction no matter how much they took historical plausibility into account.
      • If that's true why have the quite at the beginning or the bit at the end where they state how almost all the racist products are actually from the USA?
      • Because they're using them to make a point — namely "Hey, in some ways the post-Civil War USA was Not So Different from our fictional Confederate States of America and the North winning the Civil War didn't end racism."
    • The real answer is Rule of Drama. Like almost any fictional Alternate History, the point isn't just for the creators to come up with a 100% fool-proof counterfactual history that will withstand rigorous historical analysis in order to be completely plausible in every way, it's to tell a story, and in this case to tell a story that critiques the world in which the creators are living. So to do that, they decided to embrace Artistic License – History to facilitate telling the story they wanted to tell. It might stretch historical credibility a bit too far for some viewers, but they obviously felt that was a decision worth making in order to tell their story; it is, after all, still a fiction-based film, not an article in an academic journal. Strict fidelity to historical plausibility doesn't always make for a story that works, even in Alternate History.
  • Slavery was abolished everywhere else in the Western world; even South Africa abandoned apartheid. But a 21st century Confederacy is going to be buying slaves on eBay?
    • gBay?
    • One point in response: the dissolution of Apartheid happened relatively recently (1980s) and didn't seem inevitable until after the fact (like most events, of course). In general, we have to be very careful about "presentism", the idea that whatever's happened "by now" (2011 as I'm writing this) has some quality of inevitability, a quality which things yet to happen in the future (2012 and beyond) don't. Consider the wide range of dates during which various countries granted women the right to vote — Sweden in 1718 (though very limited), New Zealand in 1893 (first full suffrage), USA in 1920, France in 1944, and of course many countries still don't have women's suffrage today. From an American's perspective, 1944 is ridiculously "late" and 1718 happily "early" for this event to occur, but they both did; there's no fundamental law of the universe dictating the "normal" time for women's suffrage — or the abolition of slavery. note  For my money, a much bigger surprise is the In Spite of a Nail consistency of something called "eBay" remaining, along with all the other coincidental similarities I understand this movie (never seen it) has, such as JFK becoming president. Heck, the odds are arguably very low that the "same person" could ever be born in a different timeline simply because a different sperm is much more likely to fertilize the egg the "second time around", but that's another story.
      • Agreed the African country of Mauritania didn't ban slavery until 1981 and it still is unenforced!! There is no reason that the same couldn't be true of the CSA.
      • In Spite of a Nail works because it's a bit quicker and easier for an audience to identify a parallel to the actual world if they have something recognisable to latch on to. The audience knows who Kennedy is and what his 'mythology' is (young, charming President, vaguely progressive / liberal / social justice agenda, assassinated before his time), so the filmmakers apply that to their Alternate History because it helps the audience get the point they're trying to make a bit quicker than if they created a completely different President. It's implausible, but sometimes strict fidelity to historical plausibility doesn't help the story.
      • Just to be clear: despite what the above troper said, by now (2017) every country in the world has women's suffrage. The very few countries that don't allow each and every woman of age to vote do so on a non-gender specific basis (e.g., in Brunei there are no elections at all, for either males or females).
    • TLDR of above: In the sentence "slavery was abolished", the word "was" is decivingly simple; what it means is "before 2009" (or whenever that was written). Prior to 1850, for example, that sentence would be false. Slavery doesn't have inherent "was-ness".
  • Why do they only have three talking heads during the whole movie?
    • A low budget?
  • If John Ambrose Fauntroy I was Fauntroy V's great-grandfather, and Fauntroy III his father, who and where is John Ambrose Fauntroy IV?
    • Maybe an older brother that died when he was young, but before J.A.F.V was born? It would make some sense for Fauntroy III to name his second kid after the first if the latter died...
      • Less likely, but still plausible: a living older cousin or a deceased uncle.
    • So it turns out Fauntroy IV is Fauntroy V's father, if one looks closely at the CSA Today paper at the beginning of the Family Values section of the movie. So it has to be Fauntroy III that's the odd duck out, probably a brother of Fauntroy II or Fauntroy IV.
  • How would they deal with black tourists or visitors or diplomats? Grant them diplomatic immunity? Tell them to get lost or get enslaved? Like, say, the Confederacy hosts a Formula One grand prix (And trust me, if they offered enough money, Bernie Ecclestone would form a Confederate Grand Prix). How would they treat the biracial (looks black) Lewis Hamilton?
    • Presumably no major power with large numbers of black diplomats would be so careless as to assign them to postings in the CSA. Even with diplomatic immunity gaining the cooperation of white CSA government officials would be next to impossible. Any predominantly black nation would probably form a protecting power agreement with a white nation to represent its interests in the CSA. As for black celebrities (for that matter, black people in general) they probably avoid the place the same way Jews weren't lining up to explore all the wonderful tourism opportunities within Nazi Germany. It looks like Canada is the place to go in this setting in any case.
    • I think it is mentioned in the movie that the CSA are treated much like South Africa during the late days of apartheid, being mostly shut out of international cooporation and boycotted against.
      • It's mentioned that the CSA still buys slaves from some African nations so they must have some relations with them. Presumably black embassy staff don't leave them in the CS because it's not safe. And as the CSA wants to keep the Africans sweet to keep buying slaves they won't enslave the ambassadors.
    • As for the black stars, since Canada is the cultural capital of the world, they go there instead of Hollywood.
    • As for the black tourists, I can't imagine that dark-skinned people outside of America are exactly falling over themselves to visit the country where dark-skinned people are owned as slaves and they'll be treated as less-than-human to begin with, boycott or not.
  • And what about Confederate embassies abroad? Would they bring slaves to work on those or deem it too risky, considering that slaves could just escape and hide in the country?
    • The old South was at its heart an aristocratic society. Lots of second, third, and fourth sons who didn't inherit the plantation to recruit for civil service posts (and lots of non-aristocratic whites to clean the silver and carry out the trash; sell it as a way up in society and in this setting there'd be a line out the door).
      • It doesn't seem like the CSA has much connection with the world. They're at unoffical war with Canada and cut off by European powers due to there continuation of slavery. Most likely, there are no embassies.
  • How did Canada become independent from Britain? The Union victory lead to the Fenian raids that largely lead to Canada's "independence". Yet, they seem to be a independent nation even before the CSA won.
  • What happened to Europe? Remember, in our universe communism was mainly kept in check by the US. With them too busy tangling with Canada, though, who's keeping the USSR from overrunning everywhere?
    • The timeline in the web mentions that World War II ends more or less the same way it did in RL, but that many more Russian soldiers died on the way.
    • Presumably, the Soviets dominate all of Europe instead of just the eastern half. Maybe the U.K. is also a Soviet satellite and this film is communist propaganda (real Soviet propaganda did, after all, portray the U.S. as racist).
      • Maybe Canada holds the Soviets at bay, or maybe the USSR lost too many soldiers against the Nazis to keep hold of Eastern Europe so they had to pull back to Russia. Also the CSA may provide a common enemy to keep the wartime alliance alive.
      • The website states that WW2 ended with the Soviets dominating Eastern Europe just like real life. Presumably as Canada is this world's America they helped Britain invade Europe just like real life. Not as stupid as it sounds, half of the D Day troops were British and Canadian. And in this alternate world the war might have gone better for the allies.
  • So who's responsible for opening up Japan's ports allowing them to modernize? It can't possibly be America.
    • Canada?
    • Well, the first American run on Japanese ports (the "Black Ships Incident") happened in 1853, eight years before the American Civil War started. Ports were opened shortly after that (the revolution, fall of the Tokugawa regime, and subsequent Meiji Restoration happened later, in 1868).
    • The Netherlands did also have special permission to have one port. America might have started it, but the Netherlands might have finished it.
  • Why is it, in an early part of the documentary, slaves are described as costing as much as a luxury car, and then later in a commercial, slaves are depicted as being in the $800 range for a strong, healthy, male laborer? Better yet, how cheap are their cars?!
    • The part saying the slaves cost as much as a luxury car might have been adjusted for inflation, and in any case was from a propaganda film in-universe, and may not have been current at the time the in-universe documentary was made. It certainly resembles the stereotypical 50s educational film, though it was made clear later on that Confederate culture hadn't developed much since that point, because the Confederacy is a Planet of Hats and their hat is a pointy white hood. Although, there might be a good reason for relatively cheap cars: it has to be cheaper for the various car companies to own so many slaves to a factory and to hire a relative handful of white men with weapons as overseers than it would be to pay free (and possibly even unionized) workers competitive wages for their labor.
    • The value of a slave would have probably kept decreasing over time. While a car needs a purchase of matrrials by its maker to produce one, slaves reproduce themselves. As there is more of them, the demand/supply ratio goes down and prices drop.
  • I know this is a major flaw with any movie involving alternate histories or time travel(Back To The Future really botches this point too), but how was Elvis even born with that much of a divergence to the timeline? Even Albert Einstein or Hitler would be questionable- butterfly effect and all, South winning the Civil War would likely have some impact in Europe well before they were born.
    • Remember that this is not a time-travel film. There is not an alternative timeline: instead, the one we see in the film completely replaces our own one. And the butterfly effect can manifest in myriads of ways (in the Trope Maker of Butterfly of Doom, Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, the only tangible result of killing the said butterfly was a different alphabet and the changed outcome of the presidential election, not the existing people not having been born at all.
    • Also, there is a reason that In Spite of a Nail and Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman exists, and — contrary to what the more hardcore alternate-history enthusiasts might argue — it's not just a 'flaw'. It's to give the audience an 'in', so to speak — it's basically saying "Hey, here's something/someone you've heard of in this alternate history, see how things are different-yet-eerily-familiar to the world you recognise?" Referring to Elvis enables the creators to make a point about, say, how things like race and pop culture might intersect in a more instantaneous fashion that coming up with a completely new and original fictional pop musician would.
  • The Presidency of the Confederate States of America was different from that of the United States of America in that 1.) the President was elected to a six-year term as opposed to a four-year term and 2.) he could not be his own successor. If this is the case, how could JFK possibly run for and win the office a hundred years after Jefferson Davis?
    • They could have changed the laws to go to four year terms.
      • And don't forget that just like in Real Life, some presidents could have died in office, and CSA's rules of succession might not have been identical to Northern ones.


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