Saturday 3 December 2016

Kevin Myers: Lincoln myth hid one of bloodiest men in history of American project

Published 18/01/2013 | 17:00

Lincoln: an interesting place-name, combining the Celtic "Linn" meaning "pool, (as in Dub-lin) with the Latin "colonia", "settlement", abbreviated to "coln" (as in Koln, or Cologne). Thus Lincoln was originally a Roman settlement beside a pool: maybe some lingering imperial DNA explains the bellicosity of the eponymous US president, the portrayal of whom has just netted Daniel Day-Lewis a Golden Globe.

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Such is the power of the Lincoln myth that any actor who plays him is almost guaranteed an award: though a few cliché characteristics help – wry gravitas, brooding wisdom, a sad but kindly humour, and so on. In actual fact, Lincoln was one of the bloodiest men in American history, whose savage conquest of the South brought terrible, indeed generational, suffering.

This worship of a charismatically ruthless narcissist is not a uniquely American disorder, merely human. Hence Churchill in Britain and Collins here, both addicted to bloodshed, and both utter failures in their larger ambitions: one to create a united Irish Republic – still no sign – and the other to defend a thousand-year empire: didn't even last seven. And both still revered.

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