Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Coming Civil War?

I don't usually do "original" posts on this blog. I really don't expect anyone to read it. It is really just a place for me to keep notes, on this rhetorical theme, of expected or dramatic changes in political affairs. Like a lot of people my age, I remember the Watergate affair, which brought down Richard Nixon. It was very dramatic, to live through, building from little more than rumor thru Congressional hearings and judicial rulings and a tidal wave of newspaper editorials calling for Nixon's impeachment. People understood it was the Constitution in action, a response to Nixon's overreaching, and it had a feeling of inevitability about it.

Like a lot of people, I thought Bush had overreached, and when re-elected, would probably find himself mired in scandals, economic recession and the slow, horrifying failure of his war in Iraq. I guess I still expect that.

But, I find myself a bit discouraged that it has not happened, yet.

The longer the Storm is delayed, the more I fear either
1. the Storm never comes, and the U.S. is doomed to become a rotten, third world pisshole of a country, in a rapidly decaying world
2. the Storm that does come, as more and more pressure builds behind the revolt of the rational, realistic, and decent citizens, becomes really huge and destructive.

The biggest political storm in U.S. history was the Civil War, which followed the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Watergate was truly small potatoes, by comparison. At least 600,000 people died in war. I don't anticipate Civil War, of course. But, I was led to think of the Civil War by an e-mail exchange I had, with a young soldier, who opined, "What is a "pile of crap" is anyone thinking that we chose this war on terrorism and that Iraq is not a part of that war."

I cannot think of any argument I could make to this man, even if I were so inclined. His opinion is based on a completely false set of facts. The acceptance of reality and rationality as a tool for understanding reality are two pre-requisites for political debate and discourse. No gets his own private rules of logic or his own private set of facts; those we share. If a person is not willing to accept those preconditions, then he should shut up about politics. Because he refuses those conditions, he is refusing political discourse as a means of resolving disputes. There's really no role for him in politics, except as a soldier: a killer or a casualty.

A large part of the Republican right-wing is refusing political discourse. They reject the rules of logic, make things up constantly, lie constantly, and fill their diatribes with abuse, threats and lethal fantasies.

Political developments before the Civil War moved in a similar direction. The Slave Power, the political coalition controlling the country in the 1850's, which turned to secession after they lost a Presidential election, also refused political discourse in the late 1850's. They dedicated themselves to propositions, which were factually as well as morally indefensible; "Slavery is Good" was the prime thesis, but the intellectual rot spread from there.

Ultimately, the inability or unwillingness of the Confederacy's people and leadership to be realistic was their undoing. Secession, itself, was adopted after a Summer of hysteria ended in Lincoln's election. The Confederacy had, what appeared at the time, to be extraordinarily capable leadership, political and military. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, was a well-educated man, a graduate of West Point, with experience as Senator and Secretary of War. (Lincoln, by contrast, had no adminstrative experience at all, and only a single term as a Congressman, of which to boast.) The Confederacy's Vice-President was also highly capable, and Davis' cabinet included several luminaries, among them the extraordinary Judah Benjamin. Several of the best reputed officers in the Army went South, including Robert E. Lee and the two Johnstons.

But, the Confederacy adopted one stupid policy and strategy after another. They sent a fierce advocate of reviving the slave trade as envoy to antislavery Britain. They withheld their cotton crop from market in a boycott, when they needed resources and goodwill from Europe, and when the Union was least able to blockade their ports. They could never figure out a military grand strategy, which made the slightest bit of sense. They refused absolutely to enact necessary taxes and financial measures.

The contrast with the northern Union could not be more stark. The Republicans, though inexperienced, were willing to throw over their ideological committments, and even partisan advantage, to judicious expedience in pursuit of preserving the Union. Every aspect of the war effort in the North was vigorous, sensible and rational, from finances to railroading to recruitment and training, to international relations, to the development of a grand military strategy.

Much is made in the textbooks of the Union's advantages in numbers and industrial capacity, though the ratios are not really so extraordinary, for successful independence movements. The Union's greatest advantages were in its capacity for leadership, planning and organization, and although those were tied to its industrial resources, they were also an aspect of a realistic worldview. The South's planning was marred, by contrast, with wishful thinking and, frequently, an unwillingness to accept what was necessary to accomplish its objectives. There were exceptional successes -- the South's production of gunpowder and munitions was close to miraculous -- but the rule was failure, including failure in such "easy" fundamentals as supplying enough salt to preserve food, as well as failure of the currency and the military.

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