Certainly the direct cause of the Civil War [“Opening Salvo”] was slavery, but behind that was the agrarian South’s determination to maintain a pretentious, “elegant” lifestyle.
Ronald B. Blackburn
I agree with writer Fergus M. Bordewich that the Civil War was caused by slavery, but I do not agree it was a “necessary conflict.” Slavery was rapidly growing obsolete. In 1861, no one would have dreamed of using slaves to propel boats as the Romans did in ancient times; there were steam engines for that. Machinery was being developed to do farm labor. Unfortunately, there was still no machine to pick cotton, but I don’t think slavery could have continued much more than 20 years. Americans are fond of violent solutions to social problems; that’s why we keep getting into new wars.
As a historian, I think “Opening Salvo” provided a balanced picture of those early days of the Civil War. I have examined the many reasons for the war and find most of them linked in one way or another. Although some Southerners acknowledged the clearly inherent wrongs of slavery, there was also widespread anger at what they viewed as Northern hypocrisy. In the mid-1800s, George Fitzhugh, a pioneer sociologist and slavery advocate, criticized Northern factories, where some workers were ill-treated and poorly paid, and concluded that slaves were better off. He may have had a point about the factory system, but ultimately those workers were free and not considered the property of another person.
Louis C. Kleber
Las Vegas, Nevada
What Mary Knew
In “The Painting in the Cellar,” about John Marciari’s discovery of The Education of the Virgin, a work he attributes to Velázquez, he says of the image that Mary is “only pretending to learn how to read, because as the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary, born with full knowledge and foresight of the events of her and her son’s life, she knows how to read already.” So many readers have questioned his comment about the Immaculate Conception, with some saying it referred to Christ’s birth, not Mary’s, that we asked Marciari, a curator at the San Diego Museum of Art, to explain.
Marciari replies: The Immaculate Conception refers to the Virgin Mary, not Christ, and the dogma holds not that she was born of a virgin birth, but rather that she was born without original sin. (This is sometimes confused with the concept of the virgin birth of Christ, a belief that Jesus was conceived without the intervention of a human father.) Immaculate Conception was much debated in the early 17th century when Velázquez painted The Education of the Virgin, but artists depicted the Immaculately Conceived Virgin in paintings and sculptures. In his treatise on painting, Francisco Pacheco, Velázquez’s teacher, defended the idea that the Virgin was born with perfect use of reason and free will, and did not need to receive instruction on how to read. When interviewed for this story, I misspoke by adding the notion of “foresight.” Mea culpa. My point remains, however, that Mary’s glance at the viewer signals that we know that she has no real need for such lessons.
“Sifting Sacred Ground” was a fascinating article, but I wish to point out that for me and many Jews the Temple Mount itself, not the Western Wall, as the story said, is Judaism’s holiest site.
New York, New York
Donald Morrison’s “Turn On, Log In, Wise Up,” about how the Internet makes us smarter, was witty and, I hope, tongue-in-cheek. The problem is not the information the Internet provides, but the disassociation from the real world and the erosion of the English language it engenders. We have a generation of Americans who cannot write a proper sentence—LOL! OMG! BFF! On the odd chance they actually speak face to face to another human being, they’re no better. As electronic gadgets become more intrusive, will all human socialization cease?
West Yarmouth, Massachusetts