The United States of America went to war against a certain oil-rich state. That state had already declared itself an enemy of the United States, oppressed its own people, and lent support to a regional movement that did threaten the United States and had already attacked American territory. This state was not in and of itself much of a threat, but knocking it over did put the United States in a better strategic position to deal with the real, urgent threat facing it.
Fortunately this oil rich state was conquered with relative ease. Unfortunately, the aftermath didn’t go so well.
Not long after the occupation started, riots broke out. In the capitol and out in the boonies, those who favored the old order responded with violence against the occupiers, and against those who supported the occupiers. Shadowy terrorist groups started operating, causing mayhem wherever they could, and the American occupiers were powerless to stop them.
A new government was instituted, one that would give rights to the formerly oppressed people. A new constitution was written that would guarantee those rights. This new government came under attack almost immediately.
Sounds like the outcome of a real screwup, the kind of thing that would bring lasting infamy upon the President foolish or vicious enough to embark upon this insane course, at least if you listened to the Democrats during the war and the occupation.
But it gets worse.
Ultimately, the United States gave up on the project, removed its troops, left this oil-rich state to its own devices, and washed its hands of the whole mess, just as the Democrats had been demanding ever since the guns fell silent. The new government was replaced with one staffed by supporters of the old order. The worst abuses were officially abolished, but the yoke of oppression did return, and new laws depriving people of their freedom and their political rights were instituted. The terrorist groups continued to flourish all over the region, and regularly staged small but terrifying attacks on American soil.
Did the United States go to war for the oil? Of course not. No one even knew the oil was there until a rice farmer near Jennings found some in his field almost 40 years later.
Today, of course, those terrorists are neutered. The struggle that seemed so hopeless at one time is won, the people are free, and my native state is generally a decent place to live. (It ain’t perfect, but I’ll take it in a heartbeat over any place that’s never been “oppressed” by the Great Satan.) It is there, and in ten other states, after more than a century, that the ghost of Lincoln can smile and say “Mission Accomplished”.
Yes, it was too damn long. Yes, the United States threw in the towel far too early and let the job remain uncompleted, and the progress made in the first few years be largely reversed, for a century. But we should remind ourselves of a few things:
Just because “the people” (i.e., those willing to kill people from the shadows or behind cover rather than accept the demise of the old order) “rise up” doesn’t mean they’re in the right.
Just because people willing to cause trouble keep popping up out of the shadows doesn’t mean the whole effort is doomed to failure. It’s a good sign that it’s not quite time to “declare victory and go home”, but it doesn’t mean that everyone in the area is fixing to grab their guns and set off a general bloodbath, nor is it a sign that America’s leaders screwed the pooch, failed to plan for the aftermath, displayed outrageous incompetence, or aroused the righteous anger of the general population.
Independence is not always a good thing. Liberty is what you want for a society. Sometimes independence is a good way to get liberty, and sometimes it ain’t. In the case of the Confederacy, it definitely wasn’t, not for people of any race.
Anyone who lives where the Confederate flag once flew (officially, that is… unofficially, the damn things still seem to be everywhere, even in Pennsylvania (!) ) can see with their own eyes what American occupation means after the dust (finally) settles. It’s not a sham for American plutocrats to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor natives. It’s not the destruction of local communities and local values and local customs (except, of course, for local values and local customs that richly deserve to be destroyed). It generally boils down to the locals getting a piece of what Americans have always enjoyed, and those that would “rise up” against that can generally be classified as “the bad guys”, at least until the United States somehow manages to find, and end up in a war with, a nation that offers more liberty than our own.
Just because the first year of the occupation is problematic doesn’t mean that we should shut down the rest of the war, or decline to march on nearby states that are part of the overall threat on the theory that the presence of troublemakers implies that the President is incompetent, or that our overall strength in the occupied area is insufficient.
10 thoughts on “Winning the war and losing the peace”
One of the most eye opening books I ever read was a collection of news stories and editorials spanning the years 1938-1948.
The hostility and suspicion directed against Roosevelt before the war was absolutely stunning. The terror and calling for head lopping in early stages of the war were also a big surprise for me at the time. Criticism of war strategy was rife with retired generals weighing in from every corner. Post-war commentators thought we were “losing the peace.”
Wish like hell I could remember the title of that book.
Understanding events through the study of history distorts them. It’s something like the difference between reading a novel and writing one. One reads a novel very quickly going through dozens a pages an hour. Writing a novel is by comparison a very slow process. Churning out a page an hour is a good clip. I have observed many novice writers getting frustrated because their writing seems to “drag” because their mental speedometer is set on “read” not “write.”
Our comparison of current events with historical events suffers in a similar fashion. We compare real time contemporary events with the temporally compressed historical events. The contemporary events seem much more chaotic and mismanaged compared to the historical events even though to the people of the time, the historical events looked just as bad to them as our contemporary events do to us.
Iraq looks like hell to many because that’s what all such similar events look like at the time. If we persist, we will succeed and twenty years from now people will think back and wonder how we pulled it off so quickly and cleanly.
Ken, just a few thoughts about your references to the civil war.
Slavery is a bad thing. In the context of the mid 19th century it wasn’t perceived as such a “bad thing”. Lincoln didn’t go to war over slavery….he wanted to preserve the union. I can’t remember if he acturally said it or it was said of him that he would make “a deal with the devil himself” in referring to his allignment with the abolitionists. (Like our current president he needed as much war-rationalization as possible.) The genral northern populace were not abolistionist. I believe that abolition was a realatively weak moral/political arguemnt at the time and only appears stronger from our point of view in the 21 century.
Lincoln was a great man in that he did preserve the union, resulting in a stronger nation. Without doubt though, his greatest acts were those of a tyrant. His admin. acted outside the law. He acted in a way that is inconsistent with the very founding of the union; the Articles of Confederation and the U. S. Constitution.
When hammering out the The Articles of Confederation and U. S. Constitution it was argued that a binding and prepetual relationship be established. I can’t recall how many states balked at this, but several would not sign if such wording was included. The Constitution does not adress constancy of union. The tenth amendment (“…powers not delegated to the U. S. by the constitution….are reserved to the States….”) though clearly reserves the right of the individual state to secede, among other things.
Not to nitpick your nitpick there, Watertreat, but, while Lincoln explicitly stated he was fighting to preserve the union, he was elected on a Repubulican platform that, while not explicitly calling for abolition, admonishes the institution of slavery at every opportunity.
To deny that the 1860 Republican party was abolitionist (at least rhetorically and ideologically, if not in practice) is pretty ridiculous.
In a four man race, Lincoln got 39% of the national vote, but much higher numbers in the north, where he polled between 51-76%. Unpopular or no, it was enough to give him a clear victory of 180 out of 303 electoral votes. Abolition was no vote loser, at least not in the populous northeast and Midwest.
As to him being a tyrant, I suppose thatís a matter of debate.
Pretty tepid abolitionists that don’t call for abolition I’d say.
“Wish like hell I could remember the title of that book.” Tell us all if you remember. I’ll go buy it.
Maybe so, but just how many yankee visitors never make it back up over the Mason-Dixon line? ;)
The comments of Watertreat and Captain Mojo’s response have prompted some thoughts of my own on the Civil War. The Republicans did not call for outright abolition precisely because they knew the South would not accept it and that war and the dissolution of the Union would result. The anti-slavery votes and politicians may have hated slavery, but not enough to bring on certain war – they valued the Union more (some did not – I think that some said let the South go its own way, and we can have a republic that has nothing to do with slavery). The crunch issue for the South was that the Republican platform called for a prohibition on introducing slavery into the new territories (and future States) to the West (I say this from memory so I cannot recall the details, e.g. what their position was on the “Compromises” previously put together by Congress on the introduction of slavery into the territories). Lincoln’s farsighted view was that slavery could not be destroyed immediately in the South, but it was a virus that could be contained and isolated – and that this would eventually lead to its weakening and withering away. To the South, this was unacceptable. Most of its leaders were expansionist in outlook, and knew that containment could mean eventual death. This item in the platform, above all, is why they broke away and brought on the war so soon after Lincoln’s election.
My view is that if the Confederacy had been successful, it would have sought to build a Caribbean slaveholding empire, working to conquer Cuba, parts of Mexico, maybe even Venezuela. Who knows how successful it may have been? It would have been a formidable military power compared to the lands to the south. It would also have fought wars with the Union for control of the lands to the West, each seeking to expand before the other could consolidate its system.
The cost of the Civil War in American lives was dreadful, but the stakes were huge. Who knows how much bloodshed and tyranny Lincoln saved us from.
I say “us” as an Australian, not an American: given the importance of America to the world, determining that America would be (true to its founding principles) a bastion of liberty rather than at least partly under the control of a racialist slaveholding empire has had incalculable consequences – and all for the good.
(This has interesting implications for Ken’s argument.)
“My view is that if the Confederacy had been successful, it would have sought to build a Caribbean slaveholding empire, working to conquer Cuba, parts of Mexico, maybe even Venezuela. Who knows how successful it may have been? It would have been a formidable military power compared to the lands to the south. It would also have fought wars with the Union for control of the lands to the West, each seeking to expand before the other could consolidate its system.”
The Confederates might have been able to take on the likes of Mexico, but they would not have been an impediment to the Union’s Western expansion. They had good soldiers, but without a decent industrial base, they couldn’t project power worth a damn. Rememeber that they wound up fighting in Gettysburg instead of marching on to Philly ahead of the Union pursuers because they were trying to steal shoes – supplying an invading Confederate army across the Plains or down into South America would have been problematic, to say the least.
The biggest problem I can see with an independent Confederacy (well, besides the fact that they’d preserve slavery well into the twentieth century at the very least and run what we know of as The South straight into the ground) is that the Germans and the Russians would be much stronger in relation to what was left of the Union and able to cause more trouble here and worldwide. Without our deterrence, I could even see the British getting ideas and causing mischief around these parts over the following several decades.
Author Harry Turtledove has written and entire series of alternate-history novels wherein McCellan never found Lee’s lost orders and subsequently lost the battle of Gettysberg. France and England intervene and the Confederacy survives..
The end result is a series of wars in North America. Its scary stuff.
A few comments left unexpressed.
The South was already doomed in the 1860’s, because it was built on cotton and cotton, like tobacco before it, destroys the land. The South had solved that problem by constantly moving westward, but was running out of land. The climate in Texas changes west of Dallas so that Cotton will not grow because much fertilizer and irrigation are needed. And science would not change this for forty years.
Second, the South had wanted to gobble up Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico from the 1820’s onward, but if the South were independent then the Monroe Doctrine would be dead. The South would find itself battling the European states that owned or desired those territories.
The Plantation was not a good economic model; it was not viable long term. Over production gutted the market, since all you needed was some vacant land and some slaves to enter the field. The Plantation owners were deeply in debt to their customers, had pretensions to aristocracy that they could not sustain and lacked the work ethic and perseverance that flourished in the North.
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