On Mr. Lincoln

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English: Picture of the Abraham Lincoln statue...

English: Picture of the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial. Italiano: La statua di Lincoln al Lincoln Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is always risky busy to attack an American god, and Abraham Lincoln is, de facto, an American god with his own temple in Washington, D.C. No doubt, slavery was wrong and played a major role in leading to the War Between the States. It was not the only or major factor–quotations can be taken out of context from Southerners during and before the war, but reading them in context reveals that the right to succession was the more important issue, as it was to Lincoln himself–his task, he believed during most of his presidency, was to “save the Union.”

H. L. Mencken was among those who recognized Mr. Lincoln’s true legacy–that of dictatorially forcing states back into the United States using brutal military force. Mr. Lincoln refused to honor any peace initiative other than a complete surrender of the Confederate States to the authority of the federal government. If people complain about a mammoth state today, they should look to Mr. Lincoln’s legacy.

Abraham Lincoln may have lived in the 19th century, but in many respects he remained a man of the eighteenth century French Enlightenment. He was a revolutionary in the sense of the French, not the American, revolution. He accepted the deism of the Enlightenment, though he used religious language for his own political purposes. He believed in the “proposition that all men are created equal,” abstract language which should remind people of Rousseau’s “general will.” Such Rousseauian language has been used by tyrants from his time to the current time. Recent evidence also suggest that Mr. Lincoln was influenced by German Marxists who had immigrated to the United States.

Beginning in 1862, Mr. Lincoln decided on a policy of “total war,” modern warfare in the sense that he supported attacks on civilians. While Robert E. Lee ordered his soldiers not to mistreat civilians, Mr. Lincoln’s generals, such as William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan, brutalized the Southern population, much to the delight of liberals today. Later, Mr. Sherman and Mr. Sheridan would use the same brutal tactics in their genocide of the Native American population in the American West.

Mr. Lincoln also suspended Habeus Corpus, violating a Supreme Court ruling in doing so, and thousands of people were imprisoned–newspaper editors who criticized the conduct of the war, ministers who opposed the war, anyone who even hinted of opposing the massive power of Mr. Lincoln in any way.

Regarding slavery, Mr. Lincoln was willing to allow it 1863, when he figured that if he emancipated slaves in the South, he could foment rebellion. His Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States; slaves in the Union states remained slaves until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. Even General U. S. Grant owned slaves. Mr. Lincoln hoped to send African slaves in their descendants to South America (mainly) and also to Africa.

600,000 men died in the War between the States–around 250,000 from battle deaths and the rest from disease. The brutal military government of the captured Southern States caused misery after the War–Lincoln’s own postwar generous policy toward the South was as much a political move looking forward to the 1868 election as it was due to any genuine conviction. The same can be said for his successor, Andrew Johnson, who was brutal as a military governor of Tennessee, but then backed down after he supported Lincoln’s postwar policies.

The modern centralized state that was Lincoln’s legacy survived because of several Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s that limited the federal government’s power, but which reared its head with World War I, the witch hunts of the post World War I period, the welfare state, and the dictatorial presidency of FDR in World War II. Presidents today appropriate to themselves, often with the help of a complacent Congress, more power, so that soon the president of the U.S. will have as much legal power in peacetime as Lincoln had in wartime.

“What about the freeing of the slaves,” a liberal bird chirps. Yes, it is good that slavery ended–owning another human being is a violation of human dignity and is morally wrong. The North enjoyed enslaving its factory workers in their own way after the War between the States–so there is hypocrisy present. With the advent of the machine economy, slaves would have no longer been necessary for the kind of agricultural production used in the antebellum South. It is likely that slaves would have been emancipated by the 1870s, though an apartheid system most likely would have been set up. Since that is what happened anyway, what was really gained under than the destruction of 600,000 lives, mass poverty and starvation in the South, and states that no longer were able to affirm their rights without federal pressure and/or federal troops being sent to the states. Evil practices are best contained in small units–if a state does something immoral, that can be stopped through public activism and grass roots movements. But if the all-powerful federal government does something immoral, there is no recourse, thanks to Mr. Lincoln. He won. He’s god in the history books and in the American educational system. The Abbeville Institute is trying to present a more balanced scholarly approach to the period of the War between the States, but that effort is ignored or viciously attacked by other “academics,” even though some members of the Institute protested in favor of civil rights in the 1960s. The winners really do write the history books.

The United States and “Evil Enemy States”

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Deutsch: Philip George Zimbardo in Warschau, P...

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There has always been a strand of Puritanism in American thought that survives in part as a Manichean division between good and evil. Rather than seeing the United States as a mixture of good and evil, many Americans see it as “the good guy” in the world with no major faults. Individuals who disagree are labeled as “unpatriotic,” told to “go to Russia,” or are called “America-haters.” Although I do not deny that there are individuals and groups of people who hate their country, not every critic of American practices hates the United States. Nor is someone who points out that there is much good in countries considered to be enemies of the United States, such as Iran. Many Americans want an overpowering, evil enemy state because many Americans are more Manichean, believing in sharp lines between good and evil, than they are Christian. Christianity recognizes that no being created by God is totally evil–traditionally, since evil is a lack of good, and thus a lack of being, a totally evil being could not exist. If Americans of all stripes are honest with themselves, they will see that they are capable of great evil. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed how “good” people can turn evil when they have great power (as prison guards) over others (in this case, students who played the “prisoner” role). He notes the power of situational factors that can lead to a good person torturing and even killing innocent human beings.

Reinhold Niebuhr recognized that groups are capable of great evil just as individuals are, and Zimbardo’s work showed this to be the case. Nation-states are groups of people, and in any group unethical practices can arise that lead to people doing things that are evil under group pressure. No nation is immune to this. Was the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” as President Reagan affirmed? I would say “Yes,” with the qualification that there was good even in the old Soviet Union, and evil in the United States of America. In the War between the States, Generals Sherman and Sheridan engaged in the first modern war (with Lincoln’s endorsement)–both these generals and President Lincoln believed that war should be engaged against the civilian population. The brutality with which federal troops put down the anti-draft riots in New York as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea are evidence of the results. The United States Army was brutal in the Philippines war in the early part of the twentieth century, mowing down men, women, and children. The United States Army Air Corps engaged in the saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. President Roosevelt placed thousands of Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. In the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs than it did in the whole of World War II. The atrocities and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba) are well known–torture has not been totally eschewed as the official policy of the United States, and the U.S. still sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. Civil liberties, from the genocide of the American Indians to the mistreatment of the Irish, the Chinese, and of African-Americans, have not been uniformly honored in the United States. Does this mean the United States is an evil country? I do not think it is as evil as a totalitarian society such as the old Soviet Union or China under Chairman Mao, but it does mean that the notion of the United States as the paragon of virtue and (during the Cold War) the Soviet Union as the epitome of evil is a Manichean view that does not reflect the good and evil mixture found in all nation-states.

President George W. Bush held a simplistic, Manichean view of the world that many Americans eagerly followed. Saddam’s Iraq was an evil state, and the good United States was obligated to attack the evil state (at first for the alleged but missing “weapons of mass destruction” and then to “save the Iraqi people from Saddam”). Americans’ hubris was expanded by its view that it was the hero country liberating the Iraqi people from a Satanic dictator. Now Iran is the enemy, and the Neoconservative war cries are loud–and Americans are buying into the new lie as well. Yes, Iran’s president holds an evil position in his denial of the Holocaust. Nothing can justify his views, nor his support of the radical religious groups that have held the country hostage since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, Iran also has a working democracy, unlike many other states in the region, including states the United States supports. Israel has a vital interest in what Iraq does, and if Israel wants to defend its vital interests militarily, that is Israel’s task, not that of the United States. However, the Neoconservatives are appealing to American Manicheanism and demonizing Iran as the new “evil empire.” Hopefully Americans will see that all people are “fallen,” as well as all nation-states, and any positing of “We good, they bad” is misleading and leads to unnecessary wars and bad foreign policy decisions.

Arrogance and Hypocrisy in U.S. Foreign Policy

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Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...

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President Obama has chosen to lecture Egyptian President Mubarak on the issue of human rights. This is another instance of American arrogance and hypocrisy, as traditional conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and libertarians such as Ron Paul, as well as some on the left, have pointed out. The U.S. has a shameful history of violation of rights and, regarding the American Indians, genocide. The U.S. Army engaged in brutal tactics during the Philippine War in the early twentieth century. In World War II, the U.S. forced thousands of Japanese-American citizens into what de facto were concentration camps–the fact that they were not as brutal as the German camps does not make what the United States did morally right. The U.S. engaged in saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, killing over 100,000 people with the firestorm created from gasoline-laden bombs. The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in combat. The U.S. and its allies, violating centuries of just war theory, demanded unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers in World War II. In Vietnam there were multiple instances of abuse by U.S. Army personnel against the Vietnamese people; Lt. Calley’s unit was not the only one to engage in rape or kill civilians. In Iraq and Afghanistan, torture was the official practice of U.S. military intelligence personnel as well as regular army personnel. The U.S. has not eschewed the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict–not even with President Obama in power. And domestically, neither the FBI nor the ATF have clean human rights records, as FBI surveillance of American citizens and the ATF disasters at Ruby Ridge and Waco show. Now many countries engage in similar behaviors or worse–it may be the case, as blind patriots claim, that the U.S. has a better record on human rights than most other countries. But this does not justify our actions, nor does it justify the arrogance of President Obama in telling Mr. Mubarak how to run his country, especially since democracy in the Middle East tends to lead to radical Islamists coming into power. Perhaps Mr. Obama (and Mrs. Clinton) would prefer the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power in Egypt. If that happens, the powerkeg that is the Near East may explode.

In addition, U.S. policy holds that democracy is the best form of government for all nations. But as Aristotle recognized in his Politics, the best form of government for any state is going to depend on its history and traditions. But the U.S. continues to follow the neo-Puritanism of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy and try to export “democracy” to the world–at the same time democracy is dying a slow death in the U.S. The rest of the world sees U.S. hypocrisy and hates us for it. The U.S. can do better than this–it can clean up its own house and avoid sticking its nose into every other country’s business. I hope such reform happens–but the secularist Puritan strand in American foreign policy is ingrained that I am pessimistic. We need more Ron Pauls, more Pat Buchanans, more true liberals such as Nat Hentoff, to join together in an effort to both stop U.S. abuses of human rights and also to encourage a “more humble” (as President G. W. Bush said in his pre-911 days) U.S. foreign policy.

Human Violence: A Long History

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Dwellings of American Indians in Santa Rosa an...

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A recent article in Science News (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/64465/title/Massacre_at_Sacred_Ridge) has noted extensive archeological evidence of human violence dating back thousands of years. Groups not usually associated with extensive violence, such as Native American communities in the Southwest during the 1300s C. E., were guilty of brutal violence against groups of people. This should be no surprise to Christians, who believe that, whatever happened to humans historically in their evolution, in some real sense they are “fallen.” G. K. Chesterton once said that the doctrine of original sin was the only Christian doctrine that could be empirically verified. At the very least, the notion that people are not what they ought to be, and haven’t been as far back as archeological evidence extends, is true. Violence, brutality, and genocide are part and parcel of the human condition. No group is immune to evil. The attempt by some multiculturalists and Marxists to set aside some groups (such as Native Americans) as nonviolent and virtuous and other groups (such as Europeans) as violent and genocidal is true only to the extent that the Europeans were more thorough in their violence and genocide. There is absolutely no excuse for the near-complete genocide of the Native American tribes of the U. S. But that does not imply that the Native Americans were totally innocent and without original sin (in the sense of having a propensity to do wrong, not in the Augustinian sense of being born with guilt). No culture, no race, no society can avoid the scourge of having evil people in its midst. To exclude any group from the general human condition really dehumanizes them, putting them in a status that they cannot possibly reach by their behavior. The higher the pedestal, the harder a group falls. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” said St. Paul in Romans, and he was surely right. We have every right to condemn violence, mass murder, and genocide where it has occurred. But we do not have the moral right to place some groups in a status so that they could not be possibly guilty of such crimes themselves. Archeology and historical evidence may come back to bite ideologues who neatly divide human groups into the oppressors and the oppressed. Such ideologues ought to study history and realize what happens when the so-called “oppressed” take power–the old Soviet Union, Maoist China, and North Korea come to mind. Every one of us is capable of hurting our fellow man. May God give us the grace to realize that when it comes to violent people, “but for the grace of God were I.” Then we may realistically and with humility do our part to lessen the violence that so mars our world.