During the week, I watched this PBS documentary on reactions to the staggering and unexpected death toll of the American Civil War. Interesting stuff.
I've long pondered not only the effects of the catastrophic death toll on the psyches of those who lived during the Civil War, but also its psychic imprint on American culture itself.
I don't see that imprint as having a benign influence. Aside from the complicated racial legacy of the war, I think that a derivative chain of reactions to the collective trauma imbues many other facets of American life with a heightened sense of conflict.
For example, I suspect that the traumatic trail of the war fortifies tension between an alternating appetite for belligerent exercise of power in foreign affairs and a similarly robust counter-tendency toward belligerent isolationism. While the roots of such a conflict can be found in archetypal conflicts intrinsic to the human psyche, I do think that the overwhelming trauma of the Civil War amplifies the conflict in troubling ways.