At a gathering of writers in my locale, I had a discussion with a fellow Historical Romance author who, when I mentioned the era of my soon to be released novel, said “You had better be on the right side of history if you’re writing about that period.”
If there is anything more censorial to be said to a writer than that, let me know.
After reading broadly and without bias about the American Civil War, I came to see that there are always two sides of an issue and making a dictatorial proclamation of “right” can only lead to more conflict.
While I have strong beliefs about the evil of slavery, I also know that this evil has existed through the millennia since human beings discovered they did not have to kill their enemies. And slavery exists today. We only have to watch the evening news to hear stories of human trafficking, in ways that are exactly as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago.
Slavery will continue to exist as long as human beings exploit one another for profit and excuse their actions with convenient interpretations of superstitions and prejudices that condone the exploitation of the “other,” the “enemy.” And, especially, the vulnerable and the desperate.
There is no civilization or culture in history that was not and is not guilty of this behavior, including African, Asian, Greek, Roman, Native American, Persian, Arabian, Judaic, et cetera, et cetera.
Therefore, as much as we would like otherwise, there is no “right” side of history.
Writers are particularly vulnerable to censorship, even those of us who shy away from controversial areas. We can either write in all honesty about our fellow humans, or we can take the safe route of “right” (accepted) side, thus contributing to further division and conflict.
In my forthcoming novel, I have chosen to see the good and evil on both sides of the conflict. After all, every conflict is based on the interaction of human beings and their institutions. Novels thrive on conflict. I could have ignored one side of the conflict between the North and South, or whitewashed one side while tarring the other.
But then, how could I have written about the struggle of my hero and heroine to come to terms with how that monumental conflict affected their actions and ability to come to terms with one another?
To write about a period of time in human history, is to embrace the opportunity to examine our own prejudices and preconceptions. Not to engage in that exploration is to deny the ultimate human truth: none of us is perfect.