In a 1995 tribute to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, current Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie attempted to reinvent history to make the South – which started the Civil War to keep millions of slaves in chains – was the victim of Northern aggression.

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WIkimedia Commons

What is the likelihood of civil war in the United States? Few Americans ask me this question, despite the fact that I am a scholar of civil war. The wars I study took place in the Middle East, though, and few Americans believe the United States shares any similarities with the benighted nations of that region.

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Every American knows — or should know — the basics of the American Civil War. The United States split between north and south, the abolition of slavery was an instrumental aspect, Gettysburg was the biggest battle, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were major players, and it ended with the reunification of the country and President Abraham Lincoln assassinated. That's the gist.

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Photo via American Civil War Museum/WIkimedia Commons

On February 17, 1864, the 12-foot-long Confederate submersible H. L. Hunley became the first combat sub in American history to sink a surface warship, torpedoing the U.S. Navy’s three-month-old sloop-of-war USS Housatonic as it participated in the Union blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. But instead of returning home, the Hunley sank immediately after, killing all eight of the Confederate crewmen on board. It was the short-lived sub’s third and final sinking.

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If there is anything that drives innovation in science and technology, it’s a good old-fashioned war. When you need to kill your enemies faster and deader than they kill you, governments are willing to try nearly anything, no matter how insane it sounds.

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Photo by Cpl. Amber Stephens

For those who serve, war is surreal, but celebrating Christmas while in a combat zone can be particularly somber. This time last year, I was on a different continent, and instead of a Santa hat, I wore protective plates and a kevlar helmet. Just to feel somewhat festive, many of us decorated our vests with battery-powered Christmas lights and placed candy canes in our equipment. Under the threat of imminent danger at our deployed location, Christmas was surreal indeed, but we coped.

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