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Macdonald on Monday.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first modern war, which is also one of the most understood wars of history.

The American Civil War is generally seen as a straightforward conflict between the anti-slavery north and the pro-slavery south.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the end of the day it was a war about democracy in which the pro-democracy guys lost and the central government administration won.

When Abraham Lincoln won the election to the presidency he did not fight on a ticket to do away with slavery.

What he actually stood for was an end to slavery expansion.

For political rather than moral reasons he demanded that no new states formed as part of the union would be allowed to have slavery.

This was simply a device that would ensure that the non-slave north would continue to have a majority in national government and allow it to determine what happened at a state level in the south.

The continued existence of slavery was never on his agenda or anyone else's.

But the south was not happy about central government making rules that determined what future states could or could not do.

So they went to war and lost.

It was an odd sort of war because what you had was central government imposing its will on what were, up until then, independent democratic bodies that had not agreed to outside influence interfering with their rights.

And here is the important point as far as I am concerned.

Neither Lincoln nor anyone else sent in the troops to end slavery.

That was an idea they came up with after they had won.

They simply went to war to announce that the industrial north had the right to tell the agrarian feudal south that what they wanted they would get.

And thus it happened.

Slavery would almost certainly have died out anyway because it was already extremely uneconomic.

But the north with its factories and trains destroyed the agrarian south and outlawed slavery and invented modern warfare where the machines took over from the men.

Did much change?

Well slavery was abolished, at least in name.

One hundred years later the young black Cassius Clay was allowed to represent the US at the Olympic games.

He won America a gold medal in the boxing ring. But when he got back home to Kentucky he still had to sit at the back of the bus.

Why Cambridge?

Are you one of those people who did not tune in for the royal wedding?

Apparently more than a quarter of the population of the entire world tuned in to see Oor Wullie and wee Kate get married.

Now, given that a reasonable percentage of the population do not have a television, the number of people on this planet who had nothing better to do on a Friday while sitting in their living room is probably a higher percentage than that.

The guy I really liked in the television coverage was the bloke who turned up at the street party in downtown Manhattan.

He said he was really thrilled by the wedding because the royal couple were such down to earth normal people.

You have to wonder why he does not spend every Friday turning up at weddings of down to earth normal people because there are probably thousands of them every Friday in New York without having to tune into UK television to see one.

What I find really odd about these nuptials is the decision of the Queen to announce that she had made her son's daughter-in-law into the Duchess of Cambridge.

Why Cambridge?

She went to St Andrews not Oxbridge and I imagine the reason she went there was she failed to get the A-levels to get into Oxbridge.

I sort of went to the same university as the royal couple.

I went to Dundee University in 1969, two years after it had gone independent.

Previously, it has been Queen's College St Andrews and when I arrived there it was still populated with a lot of students who had failed to get into an Oxbridge college.

Instead they chose to come north to the UK's third oldest university contemplating spending a few years bicycling to lectures in a cute historic old Scottish town.

But having got off the train and purchased a gown they then turned up at the matriculation office to discover that Queen's College was in fact on the other side of the River Tay in what was then one of the dirtiest industrial cities in Europe.

It was an odd place for a kid from the east end of Glasgow to go because some of these people insisted on wearing gowns to lectures and the students' union still had a junior and senior common room.

It was a bit like walking into a Billy Bunter book.

Dundee University was fairly historic in its own right.

It was founded back in the 1880s as University College had only merged with St Andrews in 1905.

At that time St Andrews was failing to attract the Oxbridge rejects, or anyone else for that matter, and faced bankruptcy.

Dundee on the other hand was booming, not least on the back of a medical faculty which was thriving on the large number of jute factory workers who were succumbing to lung diseases.

Exactly why Dundee decided to go it alone in 1969 escapes me, though it was a time when for whatever reason the government of the day had decided that the country needed more universities and as turning every other technical college into a varsity.

In retrospect, I think it is rather sad that Queen's College became a university in its own right.

I rather like the idea of a future king and queen of Britain turning up in St Andrews and being dispatched to share a flat in Peddie Street in Dundee.

I think the monarchy could have been better served if young William and Kate had spent their youth dining on Wallace's Bridie and bean pies, drinking in Alan Bannerman's Phoenix bar and going off to Tannadice on a Saturday afternoon to watch Dundee United lose.

- ARThur Macdonald

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:May 2, 2011
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