Frederick Douglass vs Abe Lincoln: Mexican-American War

Abraham Lincoln sounds like an early version of the modern day progressive in his speech for support of Zachary Taylor for president:

Abraham Lincoln on the Mexican-American War:

If to say “the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President” be opposing the war, then the Whigs have very generally opposed it. … The marching an army into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement, frightening the inhabitants away, leaving their growing crops and other property to destruction, to you may appear a perfectly amiable, peaceful, unprovoking procedure; but it does not appear so to us. . .. But if, when the war had begun, and had become the cause of the country, the giving-of our money and our blood, in common with yours, was support of the war, then it is not true that we have always opposed the war. With few individual exceptions, you have constantly had our votes here for all the necessary supplies. …

If it is unconstitutional, shouldn’t his job, the Whigs’ job, have been to impeach Polk? Instead of that, he & the Whigs throw their support behind the war effort.

Below is a superb critique of the political class by former slave, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass on the Mexican American War:

The determination of our slaveholding President to prosecute the war, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people men and money to carry it on, is made evident, rather than doubtful, by the puny opposition arrayed against him. No politician of any considerable distinction or eminence, seems willing to hazard his popularity with his party, or stem the fierce current of executive influence, by an open and unqualified disapprobation of the war. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks; and all seem willing that the war should be carried on, in some form or other. If any oppose the President’s demands, it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war. The boldest declaration on this point is that of Hon. John P. Hale, which is to the effect that he will not vote a single dollar to the President for carrying on the war, until he shall be fully informed of the purposes and objects of the war. Mr. Hale knows, as well as the President can inform him, for what the war is waged; and yet he accompanies his declaration with that prudent proviso. This shows how deep seated and strongly bulwarked is the evil against which we contend. The boldest dare not fully grapple with it.

I loved Douglass’s critique. He writes about how no politician will risk his political neck to condemn the war and since this is the case, the war will be carried on.  Are things not much the same today?  Most politicians won’t condemn US aggression overseas because they don’t want to appear soft, they don’t want to appear like they don’t care about safety.  The citizens were sold this war on terror as necessary to their safety, and now that narrative is difficult to counteract.   The part where he said “it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war” is also typical of the modern day progressives.  They have no principled argument against using the US military to attack troubled areas across the oceans, they just bicker over whether or not such attacks meet the ever-shifting objectives they outline. Lincoln plays the progressive role with his “spot resolutions”.  These resolutions were a request for information, not of any principled stand against the war.  Per his own words, he got behind the war once it was commenced.

I was fairly new to politics when “Shock and Awe” was applied to free the Iraqis.  I didn’t understand that the left’s resistance to that war wasn’t because they hated war.  I was blindsided when I pointed out how Obama continued the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, and they did not care.  Now I realize that there was never any real principled objection to war by most on the left.  It was smoke and mirrors to cast their opponents in the worst possible light.  As soon as one of theirs had the chance to take up the role of Commander in Chief, preemptive war was then the prescription to use.  The drone war was expanded.  Libya was attacked.  Syrian rebels were armed.  When Bush was in office, I used to see talk of how it wasn’t the role of the US to be the world police.  Once Obama took the reins, it is.  We will see how they react to Trump’s foreign policy.  My money is on the objections being on how and where the wars are waged.  The days of rejecting war are over, if there ever were any days like that.

Prince Andrew Bolkonsky on War

In War and Peace, Book 10, Chapter 27, Tolstoy puts the following words into the mouth of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky:

“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.”

This really gets to the heart of the contradiction of morality for individuals and that state.  What is done in the name of the state, would be considered evil if done in the name of an individual, in the name of an ego. When it comes to the state, to the collective, it seems to me that almost no one follows the Christian ethic of turn the other cheek, love thy enemy.  Instead, military members are venerated for doing what, otherwise, would be considered immoral.

A National Myth

Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Independence Day, all these holidays prompt the honoring US Military members, living and deceased.  As an anti-war libertarian, I tend to struggle with my emotions during these state holidays.   On one hand, it is the politicians that begin the wars.  They decide which world events warrant sending young men and women into harms way knowing death and destruction will ensue.  On the other hand, if people weren’t willing to go overseas and fight, then the US politicians could not wage wars of aggression. I don’t particularly feel like I should honor people for fighting in wars that I deem inappropriate.

Is there a just war?  I have my doubts.  However, we are all brought up to believe that the Revolutionary War was just.  If there ever was a just war, we think that was it.  Clearly the Crown was wrong to impose such taxes on the colonies without them having any say in the matter.  Clearly the British were wrong to come in and try to confiscate weapons and ammunition.   Based on these events a National Myth has come into being.

The National Myth is very obvious. The National Myth says that we are only free because are military is out fighting on our behalf.  Is this myth true?  It is obvious it is not when you look at all the wars in retrospect.  There is a lot of denial of the obvious, though.  For instance, I still hear people say things like if we hadn’t joined in WWII and defeated the Germans, we would all be speaking German right now.   Is that not the most ridiculous claim?  Germany was able to sweep across Europe, but there is a big difference between a blitzkrieg rolling into Poland and dealing with the formidable strength of the US that is an ocean away.  It blows me away that people recite that kind of thing like it is the truth.

I am somewhat open to the idea that helping defeat Germany was the right thing to do because of all the atrocities committed by her.  At the same time, we joined with the USSR to do so! The Soviets were committing their own amount of atrocities, which, we just let that slide, and this exposes the hypocrisy of atrocity being a reason to go to war.

Whether or not joining in WWII was just or not, it can be safely said that it was not about protecting US freedom, because the US was never in danger of being conquered during that war.  Yet the myths persist. We would all be speaking German….

If we want peace, we need to  break down this National Myth and expose it as the lie it is.  None of the wars or time-limited, scope-limited, kinetic military actions of this or the 20th century were about protecting the homeland, and thus our freedom, in any other than the most contrived and convoluted sense.  To break down this myth, we need to become knowledgeable about these wars, their causes, and their outcomes.  Knowledge and discussion and making people think is key to overcoming these oft repeated untruths.

Will it work?  Who knows?  The state has the benefit of having created holidays that encourage everyone to venerate soldiers as heroes.  All the anti-war people have is the power of reason and persuasion.  It’s a tough gig.  No one likes to be disparaged as un-American or ungrateful to men who fought bravely for a cause they believed in.  The emotions around the myth are strong.  Shouldn’t promoting peace be worth coming out of your comfort zone?

 

 

The Importance of Language and Thought

In the Liberty Classroom lecture titled What a Piece of Work is Man, Casey makes the point that language and the capacity for embracing ideas led not only to social cooperation at a level not seen in any other part of the animal kingdom, but also to large scale warfare.  It isn’t that man is inherently violent, it is that he can communicate, embrace ideas, and act in concert with other humans based on those ideas.

I’m currently reading For Causes & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson. The author went through about 25,000 letters from Civil War soldiers to attempt an understanding at their motivations for fighting.  Practically none of them were fighting because they were brutes.  Many noted how the men that were bullies at home, tended to be the most fearful of soldiers.  The bravest tended to be the men who had the most ideological motives. There was also social pressure the soldiers put on one another, basically being that a real man doesn’t shirk his duty in battle.  However, it seems to me that even that was based in the ideological notion of going to battle out of devotion to a nation.  Of course the motivations are mixed and complex, but overall, you can see that to risk one’s life in battle comes from devotion to various ideas.

To gain peace and harmony, the ideas people embrace need to reflect a devotion to peace.  This is why promoting liberty is so important.  It is important to help people gain an understanding of how cooperation leads to peace while coercion leads to violence and wars.  It is also important that we look upon all mankind as neither inferior or superior to one another.  For instance there is a current line of thought going around that “You can’t trust the Iranians.”  Like there is something inherently wrong with Iranians.  You may not be able to trust them, but it isn’t because they are Iranian.  You can’t even trust your own government, so of course it is logical that you wouldn’t trust the Iranian government either.  It is naive to believe that your government is going to protect you from them and that they are some how different than you, that leads to the us versus them mentality that perpetuates the division of mankind.

I realize people will think me naive to suppose that we can get along by changing the way people think.  It is true that as long as some people believe that violence is the way to accomplish their goals, that the rest of us are at risk of being victims of violence.  The way I see it, that is just a risk of life, that you might become someone’s victim.  In my opinion, people that act peacefully are far less likely to become victims than those who are belligerent.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.  You are going to die at some point anyway, be it disease, accident or violence.  Wouldn’t we rather strive to live in peace during our time on earth than trying to convert others at gunpoint, thus continuing the cycle of violence?