I’m about halfway through Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the Civil War. The Confederacy’s largely unfounded hope for success has several parallels with contemporary politics.
The South seceded from the Union with no real understanding of what it was getting itself into. Had the North rolled over and let them go, gallantry and their strangely Southern type of honor would have been enough. Things got out of hand when the North decided it was willing to go to war to enforce its interpretation of the Constitution.
The South had virtually no manufacturing capability, many fewer able bodies to fight (even fewer than they thought, since some were required to keep certain sapient property in line), grave transportation issues, no navy, and absolutely no sense of irony. The firebrands’ talk of secession was largely in anticipation of the North severely restricting freedoms southerners held to be divine truths; primary among these was the freedom to own other humans.
The rich plantation owners who drummed up the most sentiment for secession were consistent in some ways. They didn’t care much if those bearing the greatest burdens to maintain their way of life would gain the least from its continuance. Most southerners were small subsistence farmers, owned few, if any slaves, and could have got by without them if necessary. Slavery was already on the wane in most of what would become the Confederacy; the war was provoked by the Cotton States. Those who followed would never have gone first. Kentucky and Missouri didn’t go at all. Western Virginia went so far as to secede from the secession.
Four years later much of the South was in ruins, and institutions that went far beyond slavery were rent beyond repair. Moral certitude and arrogance gave men license to ignore facts, and the results were as might have been expected in the hard, cold light of common sense.
Move to today. Modern neo-cons are convinced they are morally superior to, well, everyone. (Editor’s Note: “Neo-con” is an inelegant phrase. It appears today for two reasons: “neo,” meaning “new,” to distinguish these conservatives from those who put forth their principles with honor and dignity for many decades; and “con,” since so many of them are con men of the highest (lowest) order.) The neo-con needs not the international community, except to support our economy, either through cheap labor, markets for our goods, and plentiful oil. The United Nations and international law are institutions to be vilified at will, unless we want something from them. Sacrifice is for someone else, either so we can use as much oil as we feel like, or so someone else’s child can go to Iraq.
The common thread is a failure to consider consequences. With God on their side, neo-cons do what they want with impunity. Look at Iraq. Shock and awe worked well for a war, but once the “mission” was “accomplished,” shock and awe were found to be much less productive in winning hearts and minds.
The biggest shock in this is why this surprises anyone. The purpose of a shock and awe offensive is to inspire fear and hopelessness in the enemy, excellent objectives in time of war. Now it’s three weeks later, and people who just watched us blow their friends and relatives to tiny bits are supposed to see us as saviors. Donald Rumsfeld expected throngs of joyous Iraqis to dance in the streets, celebrating us as liberators like the French did in 1944. The difference was the French were already a harshly occupied country; we removed the yoke of their oppression. The closer parallel is with Germany in 1945. Most Germans were happy to be rid of Hitler by then, but they weren’t delirious with joy at being conquered.
Neo-cons insist on a strict adherence to the Constitution, except when it’s inconvenient for them. Witness Terry Schiavo. Not only did Congress run a bill through in the dark of night, trying to intimidate federal courts into intervening, they made thinly-veiled threats when the courts didn’t see things their way. Their strict interpretation doesn’t seem to extend as far as the principle of separation of powers.
The current fiasco a-brewing is an attempt to make the Senate, formerly known as the world’s greatest deliberative body, a rubber stamp for presidential judicial appointments. No where (I looked) does it say in the Constitution that a President is supposed to get any judges he wants. The requirement for all judges to be confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate argues just the opposite: judges should be palatable to a cross-section of the population. Not necessarily middle-of-the-road bland, not somewhere out past the cotton field, either.
I’ve wondered about these parallels lately, and how they have come to be after so many years have passed. (People with my commute have lots of time for such reflection.) The single thread, aside from a short-sighted, selfish, pigheadedness, seems to be that the vast majority of neo-cons come from the same states that seceded from the Union lo, these seven score and four years ago. I have assessed my hypothesis from several angles, and feel as comfortable as any reasonable person can be with my analysis of the common trait between secessionists and neo-cons.
They’re ignorant crackers.
One thought creeps into my mind at least once a day as I read Catton’s books. Every time I see a description of another carnage, or lives ruined and institutions destroyed, I wonder if we should have just let them go? I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Dubya, Tom DeLay, and Bill Frist running the Confederacy instead of the United States.