Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Sunday, July 13, 2003
On rationales for war
I've been watching Ken Burns's Civil War while riding the exercise bike. Pretty amazingly engaging for something that consists mainly of panning over still photographs. And what an amazingly horrific war that was. Can you imagine what would happen if Bush lost 10,000 troops in a single battle? Lincoln did that several times. Thinking about that war I continue to find myself torn, even more than I am over the present one. What was the justification? Let's apply the antiwar position taken now against going into Iraq to the question whether Lincoln should have waged war on the Confederacy. The most compelling justification, of course, is the humanitarian one. Anyone would be morally justified in trying to help the slaves gain freedom. But the argument that there were means for doing this short of war had at least as much force there as here. Why not let them secede, stop sending their fugitive slaves back to them, and encourage would-be John Browns to go in and try their luck? I'd say there was a much better chance of that working than there would have been of getting rid of Saddam by similar strategies. But of course, Lincoln disavowed freeing the slaves as a justification, saying if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave he'd do it. So if we take him at his word and leave slavery out of it, what was the moral justification for slaughtering hundreds of thousands to hold onto sovereign states for invoking the same principles we did when we split from England? The Constitution doesn't address secession one way or another. One can argue either way from that, but Lincoln couldn't point to any indisputably violated obligation the way Bush could with Saddam. Nor could Lincoln claim that the Confederacy was likely to invade the Union or seek to directly harm its citizens. (On the other hand, he might reasonably assert that armed conflict was inevitable as both nations vied to expand westward.) And if you think Ashcroft is bad, check out the stuff Lincoln did. You can analogize these indefinite detentions to Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus perhaps, but last I checked Bush hadn't jailed any legislators to keep them from voting against him. And no doubt there were people who felt Lincoln just wanted to keep his hands on that valuable natural resource the South had so much of. It was all about cotton! Clearly, Bush is no Lincoln. Not by a long shot. You can't read Lincoln without being in awe of his intelligence and humanity. Whereas you can't read Bush at all, because he doesn't write and it's hard to imagine him penning an essay that would be worth it. But when it comes to the way they each responded to what they understood to be a mortal threat to the future of the nation they believed it their duty to protect, I'm not sure I see how anyone can condemn Bush's conduct without holding Lincoln in at least as much opprobrium.

I need to go to bed.

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