we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

Historians often struggle to come to grips with the more pathological eras of human history. The holocaust, world war 1, Stalin’s terror and the history of slavery are terrifying periods that are difficult for ordinary people to grasp. Why did people do these things? How did whole populations get caught up in frantic social movements with such a destructive and chaotic bent? Usually, balanced and reasonable historians attempt to explain these movements through a mixture of social, economic and institutional phenomena, with varying amounts of great man theory and good or bad luck thrown into the mix. But ultimately, somewhere along the line, historical theory often loses grip on that most simple of facts: that all historical movements depend in the end on individuals to enact them, and these individuals sometimes have to do terrible things. Though it is a terrible work of scholarship, Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners at least attempts to grapple with this vexing problem when, describing the events at Babi Yar, Goldhagen personalizes the actions of the policemen, and asks the reader to imagine what these men must have been thinking when they marched children to their deaths. But in general, somewhere in historical scholarship there must be some gap of understanding, between the grand social and economic movements that produced a pathology, and the willingness of ordinary people to execute that pathology.

A vivid example of this situation is the problem of slavery in the USA, and the war that brought its end. Scholars may characterize the conflicting forces driving this movement – economic, cultural, historical, geographic – and they can describe with some certainty the opinions and goals of the people involved in the fateful decision to go to war, but they still in the end cannot explain the simple personal fact of slavery in a way we can comprehend. How is it that an ordinary human being – similar, one assumes, in fundamental disposition to my own gentle reader(s) – can go to bed happy, dream of happy things, then wake up, step outside, and reduce another perfectly ordinary human being to a state of complete and humiliating servitude? What was that man thinking when he purchased another human being as chattel, and beat them if they refused to cooperate in their own subjugation? And then, when the rest of the world had made it clear that the trade would have to end, what were these men thinking when they decided that it were better to go to war rather than give up this obvious immorality? And why did ordinary men agree to join such a fight, and kill other ordinary men, over something so simply and obviously wrong as the right to get up in the morning and use another human being as if they were an animal?

Many explanations have been given for slavery and its acceptance, but to me they are fundamentally implausible because they fail to connect the broad social and cultural forces claimed to underlie the slave state with those intimately personal moments of cruelty and brutality that link an ordinary human being and his slave. Any such explanation must necessarily be fanciful and involve a reasonable degree of magical thinking: how can the economic forces of the tobacco plantation change the mind of the plantation owner so that he cannot see the humanity of his victim? There is no explanation for this in modern historical thought, and as such all extant theories of the reasons for slavery seem to me fundamentally implausible.

Last night, however, I watched a documentary that finally presented a plausible explanation for this whole era of American history: Vampires. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter offers the first, and I think we can all agree, the most reasonable explanation for slavery yet contrived: the slave holders were not human. They were vampires, and they built a massive slave empire so that they could feed. While other recent films have presented a shabby depiction of Abraham Lincoln as an ordinary man, compromised by the (unexplained) mores of his time and forced to barter over the freedom of millions, in this documentary we see a more nuanced view of our hero, as a great man of unbending will on a heroic mission to use his super-powers against the forces of darkness. I ask you, which is more believable? Could the man who wrote those speeches have been a shabby compromiser, or a secret demon-slayer?

This documentary helps us to understand many things about the civil war. It shows us that white Southerners were not racists of some fantastic creed, but themselves victims of inhuman monsters. It also helps us to understand how such an abominable slave empire could have been established: no humans, with their simple morality, were involved, but instead the whole edifice was constructed by undead. We also see some insight into why Americans take this civil war so seriously. Where previously I had thought it strange that Americans treated this period of their history with so much importance, given it is so terribly embarrassing to have had to go to war in order to simply abolish an institution that the rest of the world already knew was so thoroughly wrong. But in fact, this war really was a titanic battle between the forces of good and evil, and though not all Americans will tell you about the Vampire aspect, they obviously have some sense of it, and thus are justly proud of the efforts of Americans to win and then recover from that cataclysmic struggle. Finally, this movie also helps to answer a question that has long vexed me about British politics. We all know that Tony Blair is a vampire, but many doubt their own sense of his deep and unrelenting evil because they ask themselves, “how can a vampire be abroad in daylight?” This movie answers that question, simply: sunscreen. Vampires use a special sunscreen, which is why Tony Blair always looks so heavily made up. Other objections to his undead nature (“a vampire could not possibly succeed in the labor party because it has neither the fortitude nor the appropriate level of deviousness” or “why did he become PM of England instead of America”) are either easily answered from the record (“Tony Blair is a devious bastard”) or are also answered by this documentary (“he was kicked out of the USA by Abraham Lincoln and he is mighty pissed about it”). So this documentary doesn’t teach us about only America, but also shows us some important insights into why things went so wrong in the UK. I strongly recommend this documentary as a way of better understanding the true nature of the undead who live amongst us.

As an aside, the documentary is also very entertaining, tells the story clearly and simply without confusion, and has such good footage from the battles of the time that you could almost believe it was made in a film studio. It is an entertaining and enlightening look at a very important part of American history, and has given me a newfound respect for Abraham Lincoln. Others may complain that it excuses white racism of the era, or reduces history to the story of one great man, but I think those criticisms fail to adequately take into account one important fact: Vampires. So if you want to learn more about the evil that threatened America, or you want to reassess the evidence for Lincoln’s greatness, I strongly recommend this documentary.