TCS Daily

Lincoln's Lessons

By Duane D. Freese - March 5, 2003 12:00 AM

"War is not the answer." So reads a sign posted at an entry to I-66 on the outskirts of Washington.

Not the answer to what?

The opposition to the forceful removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, should he fail to "voluntarily" disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction, falls back on bumper sticker thinking.

Well, what is the answer? The French like to say "more inspectors." But the inspections inside Iraq depend totally upon the threat of force by the United States and Britain. Without the military build up of U.S. forces in the region, Hussein has demonstrated that he will keep his weapons. He will do so even with sanctions.

So the French answer of more inspections rooting out Saddam's weapons depends entirely upon the willingness of the United States to commit men and arms to dismantling Iraq's regime should Hussein not comply. War, in the threat of force, certainly is a part of the answer.

Do the marchers and placard wavers think any inspections would work without that threat? The United States is taking a lot of heat and bearing a large economic burden to pressure Saddam to accept inspectors who themselves say they are incapable of disarming Saddam.

Imagine if President George W. Bush were to say, "OK. If the United Nations won't approve it, we won't invade Iraq. We will pull back our troops instead, and wait for inspections to work."

What would follow on that? Would inspectors actually disarm Iraq? Would the era of good feeling thus engendered by this peaceful act make Israel feel more secure? Would it encourage terrorists in the rest of the Middle East to stop their plotting and planning against the United States and Israel and Britain and others in the West? Would Saddam Hussein, no longer threatened by U.S. arms, extend an olive branch to Kuwait, stop harassing and brutalizing his own people? Would it diminish the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction getting into terrorists' hands? Would real peace be closer at hand?

Not likely. And yet, "war is not the answer," reads the placards and shout the protestors. This is not surprising. After all, Europeans have believed that a long time, long before President Bush.

A Good Answer

War was not the answer to the Southern secession from the United States 140 years ago.

European nations then were anti-war. They were aghast at the prospect of hundreds of thousands of casualties. For what? To preserve the union? God, no!

When U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams arrived in Britain in May of 1861, he was met by a solid phalanx of British opinion that "war is not the answer." He wrote back to U.S. Secretary of State William Seward - whom the Duke of Argyle described as "the very impersonation of all that is most violent and arrogant in the American character" - that Britain was "unfriendly to the Union," and that public opinion was "not exactly what we would wish for."

And it wasn't friendly in France either. The Jacques Chirac of that age, Napoleon III, in 1862 proposed that France, England and Russia join together on behalf of the Confederacy to get a six-month armistice.

Napoleon III had ulterior motives then, as Chirac may have now. He'd implanted a Hapsburg, Maximilian, as emperor in Mexico, in hopes of creating a puppet dictatorship there favorable to French interests. After Appomattox, it took Phil Sheridan with 50,000 veterans from the Civil War to get Napoleon to withdraw his soldiers, after which Mexicans reclaimed their sovereignty. War was not the answer, but again the threat of it was part of the solution.

Ultimately, Russia's tsar, of all people, withdrew his support from any measure aiding the Confederacy. In part it was a matter of self-interest. In the pursuit of power balance, he wanted his navy to have access to U.S. ports in California and New York during wintertime. It was the threat of war in Europe that led him to the North's side.

Later, President Lincoln raised the stakes for opposing the Union, through his Emancipation Proclamation after the Battle of Antietem. Further, King Cotton, so valuable to British textile mills, became supplanted during a European famine by King Corn, a northern product.

Would the world have been better off if Lincoln had not waged war, if he had given in at the start to the better angels of his own nature?

Some fanciful writers have imagined that had the South seceded peacefully it would have forsaken slavery and lived peacefully, ultimately reuniting with the North. What happened in South Africa suggests a different, less friendly outcome.

And if war was not the answer in the 1860s, America likely would not have been the power it became. Would it have been there at the time of World War I? Would it have been capable of supporting England and France and opposing Germany and Japan in World War II?

Those wars were not answers, either. But as the ancestors of slaves and children of Holocaust survivors know, an aversion to war can pave the way to a crueler despotism. Their pain doesn't fit neatly on a bumper sticker.

TCS Daily Archives