Monday, July 4

Happy Birthday USA

Happy Belated Birthday America. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought about this time 142 years ago. We have visited the battlefield several times but the last time was during a re-enactment when we felt a living, visceral hatred towards the Confederates. That day many years ago they were led by Picket and afterwards cruelly romanticized by millions. They were mowed down by the thousands as they approached the Union lines and were beaten back.

That victory defeated the second Rebel invasion of the North and along with a series of other Union wins such as the simultaneous capture of Vicksburg, it heralded the death of a slave society as plainly deserving damnation as its totalitarian heirs spawned during the Twentieth Century. Instead of pursuing Lee, the Union side turned north towards New York to put down the Draft Riots there, whose major targets were 'free' African Americans.

What hard times those were. Later men like Grant and Sherman completed Napoleon's invention of total warfare and brought it home, so deservedly, to the South. Thus it was assured that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Indeed without the battles won during the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Cold War it is clear that there would not be a single corner of this planet right now where men would be free of despotism or dream of better.

Plainly, we harbor no ill feelings towards the South now but no excuses can be made for the blood shed in defense of slavery. What is remarkable about that history is man's capacity for healing and for improvement once wrong is defeated and put soundly in its place. That is the inverse lesson of Versailes after 1918 and the direct lesson of German and Japanese national health since 1945.

It took the US a century after Gettysburg to begin to get its act together on the issue of race that started the war to begin with. Whatever you may hear about state's rights and economics the war was about the belief of some men that others, also made in the image of God, were not human.

We react now with the same visceral hostility to any ideology or sets of belief that excuse dictatorship or serfdom ... as Ethiopia's revolutionary democracy does today. The world is an impatient place now and it should be so. The concepts that can give all men freedom and prosperity do not have to be invented anymore ... they just need to be honestly applied.

The rest of our thoughts on the Civil War, the American experience and modernity is taken from the post Remembering M.L.K. which continues below ...

It is tragic how seldom we can count on men to do the right thing and value the freedom of others. The eventual practice of a 'national morality', beyond rhetoric, in political life is an inescapable part of human development.

It is therefore reassuring that economic necessity and the institutions needed for mass prosperity require respect for human rights. Ultimately, it is only a self interested and deceptive ruling class that can make mass failure seem somehow desirable to all of its victims.

One view of the ante-bellum South holds that the origins of the Civil War were economic. Northern traders and industry certainly profited from slavery after the invention of the cotton gin. However, the North had long before abandoned slavery and quickly determined that the long term interests of the Union were harmed by it.

To see why let us imagine the South of that time. Blacks obviously led daily lives dominated by the very distilled essence of evil in the form of slavery and its racial justifications. Whites by their millions were willing to fight to the death to defend that evil but only a few benefitted from it.

The Southern elite lived lives of faux European pretension. They had the money to imitate the most unproductive nobles (of which none had ever been part anyway) that Americans had fought to be free from just a few generations before. They crafted a martial world of ready violence, held at bay for their own class anyway, by ritualistic old world manners.

Southern Whites in general did not have it good at all. Compared to their Northern counterparts they were poorer in every imaginable aspect of human productivity and development except for a surfeit of pride. Compensation for their status and their poverty was found in the consolation of racism that allowed them to feel better about themselves and to have someone to hate and fear besides the elite authors of their misery.

Slavery impoverished most whites as did single crop agriculture - either cotton or tobacco it drained the soil of life. The Southern system gave them little of the benefits of the Industrial Revolution convulsing and enriching the North so all they really had to offer was muscle power. Slaves had that for free - mainly in the service of the elite.

Slaves were actually not cheap - each represented a significant investment. One of the principal structural faults of the Southern economy was that so much investment was tied up in slavery that there was little left over to build the infrastructure and enterprises that the North had in abundance.

Indeed, slavery encompassed many trades such as blacksmithing further limiting the options of poor whites. The burgeoning capitalism of the North clearly recognized that slavery was not only unprofitable but ultimately a historical and economic dead end.

The North's relatively more representative elite did not want slavery to spread West into the rest of the continent. The Southern elite did want to spread out but couldn't compete in any way beyond politics. Their influence was disproportionate in Washington because they had managed to get Slaves partially counted as human beings so that the numbers of their own Congressmen could be inflated.

Southerners were also belligerent and constantly threatening a North preoccupied by prosperity with war and seccession. The South, having set itself apart and lost in its complex and layered but always fantastic self image, was losing a race for the survival of the fittest so it started the bloodiest war in American history to cling to slavery and illusions.

It is often sad that the Civil War was started because of slavery but was fought to preserve the Union or to preserve States' Rights. Yeah sure, but it was about slavery anyway. The Abolitionist impulses that ended slavery in the North and that stopped the African slave trade with the might of the British Fleet may have all manner of economic interpretations but its moral arguments can not be ignored.

Actually, before the modern era only the Union and the British Empire considered it an issue at all. From an essay by Thomas Sowell
To me the most staggering thing about the long history of slavery -- which encompassed the entire world and every race in it -- is that nowhere before the 18th century was there any serious question raised about whether slavery was right or wrong.

In the late 18th century, that question arose in Western civilization, but nowhere else.

It seems so obvious today that, as Lincoln said, if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. But no country anywhere believed that three centuries ago.
This moral development that heralded good for all of mankind did not occur in a vaccuum. That was also the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual movement
which is described as being the use of rationality to establish an authoritative ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge. This movement's leaders viewed themselves as a courageous, elite body of intellectuals who were leading the world toward progress, out of a long period of irrationality, superstition, and tyranny which began during a historical period they called the Dark Ages.
The Enlightenment revealed to us modern science, liberalism, capitalism and the enshrinement of the rights of man. There is no coincidence that all of these factors are observed together repeatedly in successful societies across history and the globe. It is always good to know that morality has loyal friends like freedom and prosperity.

The evil of slavery tried to hide from the Englightenment and lost. Simply put capitalism won the Civil War but more accurately the future did. The Enlightenment also gave us its 'bastard children' in the form of messianic totalitarianism of various stripes. Some still cling to life and others live on in the roots of the more modern perversions of religion.

History may not be over just yet but inherent systems and qualities make the good guys stronger not just in the past but also for the battles being fought all over the world. Given the darker side of human nature there will be more battles to come in every arena.

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