Why did the South lose the Civil War?

In elementary school we learned that the Civil War was not, in fact, the Silver War, and that the North won because it had more men and weapons. How logical! It was a despicable lie, though, part of a broader educational policy in America to teach children wrong things, forcing them to proceed to higher levels of education to have the wrong things refuted.

See, the North did have a manpower and wealth advantage, but that was outweighed by a strategic disadvantage. The North could win the war only one way: by invading the South, crushing the rebellion, occupying the states and pacifying the populace. The first part was a major hassle, since offensive fighting is more difficult and costly than defensive fighting. The South did not challenge the North's right to exist. It didn't have to beat the North into submission: A tie would have been as good as a victory for the Confederacy.

So we need another theory. Here are two popular candidates:

1. The South lost the will to fight.

2. The North had better leaders.

The 1986 book "Why the South Lost the Civil War" says the South's war effort "seems feeble" by comparison with that of another South American underdog, Paraguay, which lost 80 percent of its military age men during a war against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in 1865-71. Herman Hattaway, one of the book's four authors, says the war might have lasted several more years had the South stuck it out. Among the reasons for the failure of will: A sentiment that poor people were fighting a rich man's war; a loss of faith in the justice of slavery; and the creeping belief, born of southern religious dogma, that military defeats were God's way of saying the South should not prevail.

We do not recommend you talk about this theory in, say, South Carolina. About 260,000 Southerners died in the bloodiest war in American history. That was one in four military-age white men. That's a feeble effort?

As for the North having better leaders, it certainly had an advantage with iron-willed Abe Lincoln in charge, insisting on absolute victory. But the South may have had superior battlefield leadership, especially early in the war.

Maybe the real answer is that the North got lucky at the right time. History is a chancier business than we like to admit. James McPherson, author of "Battle Cry of Freedom," says, "Most of the theories about why the Confederacy lost assume an inevitability. But it wasn't inevitable that Gettysburg, Antietam, Atlanta and Chickamauga came out the way they came out."

In the summer of 1864, he says, the war had become so unpopular in the North that Lincoln appeared to be heading toward a defeat in the fall election. His opponent was running on a peace platform. The South needed only to hold the line on the battlefield for a few months and they would likely have achieved the draw they needed. Luckily for Abe, Sherman captured Atlanta and Sheridan destroyed Early's army in the Shenandoah Valley. Public opinion about the war suddenly changed. Lincoln won reelection. Only then did the superior resources of the North gradually doom the Confederacy. End of story.

Though perhaps we should sign off with, To Be Refuted ... Editor's Note: We have thrown out the rest of our regularly scheduled Why column on the grounds that it didn't sufficiently divert us from the terror of modern existence. Instead we are printing an item adapted from material that originally appeared in the Miami Herald two years ago, before the entire Why staff was traded to The Washington Post for a sum of money in the high two figures.

Why do we deceive our children each Christmas?

There are five reasons.

One, because as parents we enjoy the ruse as much as our children do. In a world of doubt and pain and well-founded cynicism we can, for a moment, vicariously experience the rapture of believing that somewhere there is a being who cares for us so much and so selflessly that he will personally deliver sacks of gifts to our home on Christmas Eve, asking nothing in return but that we be good.

Two, because we fear our own mortality and thus do not want our children to grow up too rapidly. We want to keep them in an innocent state of Santa-belief. So obvious is this desire that sometimes our kids will only pretend to still believe, hoping not to disappoint us.

Three, because as parents we have a hard enough time getting kids to behave properly and therefore employ Santa, an omniscient and personable godlike figure, as an extension of our authority.

Four, we intuitively understand what has been verified by Hippocrates magazine in a poll of 200 child psychiatrists, and also supported by academic research at the University of Texas, the University of Chicago and Cornell: It is good for young children to believe the world is filled with fantastic, benign, caring beings; that parents are not taking advantage of the child's gullibility so long as they do not lie outright when questioned directly; that the discovery of the Santa Claus deception is actually a positive revelation for about two in three children, who can feel pride in their acquired wisdom and can unite with their parents in upholding the myth for younger siblings.

Five, because through ritual and tradition we try to transcend our temporal limits, straining to connect with past generations (in this case, all the way back to the 4th century, when a bishop named Nicholas in the town of Myra in Asia Minor purportedly saved three impoverished girls from a life of prostitution by anonymously throwing purses of gold coins through the open window of their house) and to generations future. Though our own time is short, we collectively breathe eternal life into our surrogate, Santa Claus, who will nobly represent our culture, carry on our good works, and offer comfort and the possibility of miracles to the little children who must inherit the Earth.