With societies, as with individuals, it is often much easier for us to examine the mistakes of others than it is to take an honest look at our own. In both cases, however, honest examination is essential to making genuine progress. Aftershock succeeds in providing us with details on a topic of which most Gone-With-the-Wind-watching Americans are unaware: the atrocious violence and frequent chaos that followed Lee's surrender.
Anyone who has actually studied slavery and the slave trade as they existed in America (as opposed to simply treating them as unavoidable footnotes in U.S. history) is well-aware that it is difficult to fathom the cost of those institutions in human life, considering the shortened life spans, high morbidity rates, high infant mortality rates, etc., of those affected. On the other hand, we are aware of the literally millions who perished (some through intentional killings) in the Middle Passage and the 620 thousand Americans who died in the Civil War.
With all of the above in mind, we might be tempted to minimize the significance of the bloodshed that occurred during the Reconstruction era and the entire century of strife that followed the war; Aftershock, however, does an outstanding job of illustrating the former. This film tells the stories of a variety of individuals and organizations, including the Arkansas National Guard; ex-Confederate soldiers; state officials; African American troops; displaced Southern civilians; and one of our nation's oldest homegrown terrorist groups, the Ku Klux Klan. It also devotes a few (though not enough) moments to the often overlooked role of Native Americans in the post-war years. It even touches on the frustration that some government officials felt with Andrew Johnson's calamitous approach to the nation's troubles.
This is one of the few documentaries on the years immediately following the war that I would consider incorporating into a larger class project.