“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1848
“The process of disintegration in the old Union may be expected to go on with almost absolute certainty, if we pursue the right course. We are now the nucleus of a growing Power which, if we are true to ourselves, our destiny, and high mission, will become the controlling Power on this Continent.” — Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861
War is a degrading and inhuman thing. Reading Homer’s exuberant descriptions of hand-to-hand combat today, we shudder at the bone-crunching details, the relish his killers take in killing. We cannot feel what his original listeners must have felt, that this was a glorious and manly and even fun pastime. The wretchedness of war is a relatively recent discovery, but once we discovered it we could not forget it. Any war, regardless of the righteousness of its actual aim, is conducted by the sickening and horrible spectacle of countless people giving their lives — or becoming killers — for reasons that invariably seem remote to their immediate condition. There is a basic injustice inherent to the concept of war that no result can entirely atone for. I can think of only a handful of wars in all of human history that seem justified by their goals, and only barely; the rest is a record of misery, cruelty and hellishness. This is an essential point to make before attempting to defend the righteousness of any war.
In my view, the United States has only fought one completely justified war of choice since its founding: the 1861-65 war against the leaders of the so-called “Confederate States of America.” (1) Although it’s since come to be called “the Civil War,” that name was rarely used during the actual war. (The term “War Between the States” does not seem to have been used at all.) It was most commonly referred to by the same name that the federal government itself still uses to refer to it in its official records: “The War of the Rebellion.” Those who fought against the United States referred to themselves as “rebels.” These terms have fallen into disuse, for reasons that will probably become obvious. (more…)