For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Time magazine’s cover story is devoted to history’s tendency to frame the Civil War in terms of conflicts over states’ rights rather than address the hideous legacy of slavery and its continuous effects in American society to this very day.
Legendary director Robert Redford likewise recently released a film, “The Conspirator,” on the assassination of Lincoln and the fallout after the Civil War that examines the strange way that war changes laws and history morphs the truth.
Redford’s film tells the little-known story of Mary Surratt, the only female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln, and the Johnson administration’s suspension of the Constitution when trying Surratt by military commission instead of in a civil trial.
Following a Thursday screening of Redford’s film, Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel asked Robert Redford about the deep parallels between his film and the recent decision to try the alleged 9/11 masterminds by military commission rather than in a civilian federal court in New York.
“I know you might not want to go there…” said Stengel.
“Oh yes I would!” said the outspoken Redford. Nonetheless, Redford said that he no longer expected his films (this one or others) to serve as catalysts for widespread change; he is only interested in telling stories, in uncovering the forgotten shreds of history that lie beneath the overriding outcomes of winners and losers.
There is not enough questioning in the U.S., Redford commented, because the “country is so bent on seeing itself in a positive way.”