Friday, November 20, 2009
Lincoln no way avoided the Civil War
Upon reading in Bruce Catton’s book “The Coming Fury” that the North could not go to war over an abstraction – but that it took at least one military flashpoint (e.g., retaking a captured federal fort: Sumpter? – I haven’t gotten that far) – it occurred to me that if others understood this principal then Lincoln of all people surely did.
IOW, Lincoln’s protestations that he had no interest or intention of interfering with slavery where it already existed (only wanted to prevent slavery moving to the territories – possibly to hold off secession, which could potentially make ending slavery much more difficult?) deliberately took the North into civil war by not avoiding said flashpoint.
Lincoln showed equivalent psychological understanding after the New York draft riots when he warned off creating a commission to discover its origins – to avoid reminding its violating perpetrators why they rioted and chance starting them up again – in his humorous way with: “One rebellion at a time is all we can handle conveniently.”
The way cloudy human motives work may be very difficult to start a war over an abstraction: succession. But once a small action results and leads to more actions building up people have no trouble getting into it gung-ho. An equal twentieth century example of blurry war motives is how bombing German cities in desperation to survive (not without moral qualms – the chief of the RAF strategic bombing was pointed left out of post-war celebrations) led to massive bombing of populated cities in totally helpless, surrounded by water Japan.
600,000 killed could mean as many as 3,000,000 killed, maimed or wounded. That represented about 40% of the military age males in the nation. This also gives the lie to idea that more than preserving the union was more at stake in Northerners' minds than ending slavery. If the South had broken off over live style differences – no slavery existed – in the manner of French Canada breaking off from British Canada, it seem unlikely that the North would have been willing to get into such a bloody fight.
Not that people would think either scenario through consciously. It is just that breaking away to commit a grave crime on millions of people represents a bigger inherent threat to our sense of social security than breaking away over cultural differences.
Repeat, Lincoln more than anyone else would have understood how to avoid civil war – if he really did not want to free the slaves at any cost.
Reading how the South was faced with a situation where its peculiar institution must come to an end in 1860 – no matter how wrenching it would be to them reminds me of Israel’s situation today on ethnically cleansing the so-called West Bank and making life as impossible as possible in so-called Gaza (IOW, the 20% left of the Palestinian homeland after Israel squeezed most of them out of the other 80% -- when the UN said take only 55%).
Their way of life must surely end in a nuclear armed Arab world. I am sure that if nuclear war starts in the Mid-East (today’s Israelis have become just as crazy as any Arabs) that it will come here to the USA. It can’t be avoided; they amount to the 51st state to all Arabs not just the crazy ones (see 9/11).