Apr 16 2010

Was the Civil War necessary?

Category: freedom,justice,leftharmonicminer @ 10:51 am

What if the Civil War had not been fought?

When would slavery have finally ended in the USA?  Would it have been as late as Brazil?  (If, of course, you consider slavery in Brazil to have been abolished yet.  See the link.)  Or even later?

I hear a good many people on the Left who like to strike the pose of being “anti-war.”  One wonders, given that slavery was the central issue that organized the states into unionists and secessionists, if these same people believe that the Civil War should not have been fought, and slavery should have been allowed to go on, penetrating further into the territories, etc.

I suppose it would depend on whether the Union stayed together, in an uneasy compromise, or if the Union had split, and no war had been fought to keep it together.

If the Confederate States of America had existed into modern times, how long might slavery have existed there?  I imagine several decades, at least, given the entrenched nature of it, and the failure of the South to organize its economy around manufacturing instead of agriculture.

If the Union had stayed together but continued in the toleration of slavery, it seems that it would still be likely that slavery would have continued for a very long time.

Generally, the social/economic forces were less present, in the USA, that helped the moral imperative of ending slavery along in other places.

Dedicated “no war for any reason” activists of the Left should consider what price they might have been willing to pay for avoiding the war, in the human cost of slavery.

16 Responses to “Was the Civil War necessary?”

  1. tonedeaf says:

    The argument I’ve always heard given by anti-war types is the excuse that the civil war wasn’t really about slavery but rather about protecting the union, ergo – not a ‘just war’. They do tend to be stymied a bit when you ask them if they would be okay if we still had slavery today. They counter that England abolished slavery without war and we could have done the same. They can’t explain how but that’s usually the end of the conversaiton.

  2. innermore says:

    A “Just War” is an oxymoron. However, there is commonly such a thing as a “Just Defense Using Military Force Against A War Attack” (much less catch-phrasy). Most civilized people would agree that aggressive conquering tyrant types of wars are no longer necessary (or moral) given our currently somewhat settled states. I mean, like the big wars: the Greeks, Romans, British or Spanish Colonialism, Nazis, Soviets etc. Wars like that are just not feasible anymore.

    The American Civil War, although horrific, was not a conqueror’s war, but a slimmer, more potent rebel war. The rebel war and the religious war are the most difficult types of wars to avoid, to wage and to end. These are wars of human passion. It was believed in those days that the only kind of war that should be even considered by a civilized society was a defensive one. So I think the “Civil” War was just that, a mutual defense of civility. And when true civility finally won the day, we all could at least say we learned a hard and bloody lesson: that war is definitely not an honorable or civil thing. And those who still think it is shall learn their lesson one day, too.

    Lefty pacifists these days are just ignorant. If you really wanna know what it is to be a true pacifist, ask a United States Marine Veteran. I have asked good persons who believe in “no war for any reason” just how far he/she was seriously willing to go to defend that belief. I usually got a blank stare.

    I think wars these days and in the future are going to be fought over economic resources. For better or for worse, Eisenhower’s military industrial complex dream has come true. Societies’ armies will fight and die for money and opportunity. The conquering of land and booty will be accomplished by a State’s purchasing power, and the military would give those who would object an offer they couldn’t refuse. The jury is still out on just how “Just” these types of wars are. I’m wondering just what kind of person would volunteer to work essentially as a mercenary for the defense of a nation’s business interests. Perhaps a military draft would be in order. The lefties particularly love to demagogue about this sort of war. It gives them the chance to incite their ongoing class war.

  3. Saxman says:

    Innermore – I think differently about the types of war we are going to see. I believe they will be religious wars – fought over belief that a religious group has the mission to own a piece of land given to them by history – or their creator – or a religious text. These wars will be the sparking point – backed by larger and more potent aggressors using these groups as a front to gain access to strategic land for bases and raw materials such as uranium, oil, water etc.

  4. Bob says:

    Question: would the potential “human cost” of not ending slavery (ie more slaves) have been more evil than the actual human cost involved in fighting the Civil War (ie close to a million deaths in war)?

    Another question (for any who are Christians): Does evil ever overcome evil in the long run?

  5. innermore says:

    Saxman, I think we’re saying the same thing. I would just broaden it a bit. If you include secular groups with your religious groups, then British Petroleum and OEAI also have a mission to own (and drill on) a piece of land given to them by history, their creator, or secular contract. If you include the entire population in your group of potent aggressors using these groups as a front, then you get the real purpose for all the wars that were ever fought: the procurement of ever-declining property and resources.

    I think most political arguments, left and right, about the morality of all of this are amusing but irrelevant, save the fact that our major corporations we use as fronts usually aren’t Democratic Representative Republics (except maybe if they’re unionized?.. nah!). As land and resource occupiers, I think we’ve all witnessed the human rights-related havoc these new feudal Kings can wreak upon the locals. Here’s a wild fix. What if Congress formed an additional third branch; a type of Corporate Council. Perhaps 2 or 3 representatives from the largest employers of each of the 50 states can participate legislatively as an additional check and balance on these emerging corporate nations occupying nations. I’m not sure which party will cry blasphemy on that idea.

    As the population of homosapiens continues to increase, the reality of resource shortages must be accepted and dealt with eventually. By the way, when discussing future shortages and the fears they raise, I am also very aware of the scams they feed. But the emerging Global Warming Industrial Complex stands to make just as much of an immense fear-profit as the good ol’ Military Industrial one will. So I guess there’s a few unscrupulous capitalists, libs and cons, who are willing to make a buck on anything.

  6. harmonicminer says:

    Bob, trying to understand. Do you believe all war and violence to be evil? Do you believe that using violence as a tool in quest of justice or defense is always evil?

    In any case, even if you do, the answer to your question is an unqualified yes. Even by those definitions (which I reject on both Biblical and philosophical grounds), evil surely HAS overcome evil in the past, and will again.

    WWII ended the holocaust. Many other examples exist, including violent capture of felons, incarceration or execution of them, etc. And like it or not, the civil war DID pretty much end slavery in the USA.

    Ask an African-American who is descended from slaves if he or she thinks the Civil War was worth it.

  7. Bob says:

    Hey harmonicminer,

    I’m honestly not sure whether all war and violence is evil. All I’m getting at is that while the Civil War had obvious moral/humanitarian benefits (slavery was legally and practically ended in the US) it also had catastrophic moral/humanitarian consequences (over 1 million deaths). More than anything, I’m trying to make sense of Paul’s thoughts in Romans:

    On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[a] 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    So, if I’m fighting as a union soldier in the Civil War, and a rebel soldier (ie, my enemy) is across the field from me, I’m told I ought to shoot him because he is supporting slavery (and has declared himself an enemy combatant, etc). But Paul here is telling me I should give him something to drink! And in the next breath, he says to overcome evil with good, rather than evil with evil. So, I guess I’m wondering how you make sense out of that? I’m really not sure I buy alot of traditional pacifist arguments, but this passage from Romans really won’t go away for me when thinking about how to treat enemies…but maybe I’m being too simplistic?

    I agree with you whole-heartedly that good things have resulted from evil (or at least less-than-good) actions, ie slavery ending as a result of the Civil War. But does that mean they are the best course of action? Just because something is effective, does not mean it is morally right, correct? Or maybe in some cases the ends really do justify the means? Curious to hear your thoughts.

  8. harmonicminer says:

    On Blackberry, so briefly:

    Don’t confuse individual with corporate responsibility. Jesus did not say “if you see someone strike another, even though you could stop it, tell them to turn their cheek.”

    Other comments when back on computer.

  9. innermore says:

    Loving your enemy is hard, because sometimes it means comforting and caring for his family after you’ve killed him.

  10. Bob says:

    Hi innermore,

    I apologize if this is a stupid question, but I’m having trouble telling if that was a serious comment or not. I guess assuming you were being sincere, I’m really not sure that I see the teachings of Jesus, or really anywhere in all of Scripture, that would support something like that. If anything, I’d say loving our enemies means caring for their family after they’ve killed mine. But maybe that’s just dumb, and not the way of Jesus?

    Harmonicminer–That’s an interesting thought, looking forward to seeing your expanded comments.

  11. harmonicminer says:


    Re: the “turn your cheek” comment of Jesus, it is a mistake to try to turn such comments into fully-orbed theories of human interaction and just response to threat.

    Every time you see in the N.T. a suggestion about how individuals should respond to individuals with whom they are in conflict in some way, I suggest always rewriting the scripture so that the potential or actual victim is an innocent child. Then review what the responsibilities of adults are, to children. Then consider that in God’s eyes, we ALL are children, and furthermore, children He wants to adopt.

    If you run an orphanage, you do not tell weaker children to let stronger children prey upon them. You do not stand by and watch as one beats another, even if you must use force to stop it, perhaps even risking danger to yourself. And if you have a truly difficult case (a child who is in fact a threat to the group, and possibly strong enough to threaten YOU), you may have to use considerable force to stop a situation from getting out of hand. And this is key: you absolutely must protect yourself in the process, because if you don’t, who will protect the rest of the children?

    The fundamental flaw in “proof-texting” non-violence in the scriptures is that nearly all such scriptures are about individual responses to particular kinds of situations, NOT about corporate responsibilities (i.e., the responsibilities of governments and families to protect those for whom they are responsible), and even those about individual responses are more metaphoric than anything.

    You quoted Paul: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

    OK. But this presumes I have the power to FEED an enemy who does not have the power to feed himself. It assumes I have the power to give him a drink, which he will not have without me… else he will not now be thirsty. In other words, it assumes my enemy is the one now in discomfort or disarray, and that he is no particular threat to me at the moment. What other reasonable explanation could there be that I have food and drink, and he does not?

    Paul is not saying that if someone is threatening your family, you should offer them a happy meal. Nor is he saying that the USA should have shipped food to NAZI Germany instead of invading it. Although, and this is key to the American ethos in such matters, we did go to considerable lengths to rebuild Germany after it was no longer a threat to us, which is exactly the kind of situation Paul must have been referring to in his statement.

    You said, “I’d say loving our enemies means caring for their family after they’ve killed mine.” The problem is that if you are doing that before you STOP your enemy from killing anyone else’s family, out of an excess of misplaced piety, you are showing NO LOVE AT ALL to the future victims of the murderer.

    Will you be delivering food to the family of the murderer when they are still hiding him in the basement? And planning his escape into the next county? If so, what will be your responsibility for the future victims of the murderer? And what about justice, even if you are certain the murderer will never kill again? Keep in mind that the visible presence of that justice in society (and in international relations) is one thing restraining OTHER potential murderers. It is not mere “score settling.”

    Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” comment is metaphorical about general human interaction, and exactly on par with other comments He made about “soft answers” and the like. Despite the physical metaphor, it is not mostly about physical violence, else, given His propensity for eye-catching metaphor, He might have said, “If someone strikes you over the head with a club and knocks you cold, when you awaken, stand up and give them a better target next time.” Or, “If someone cuts off your right arm with a sword, offer them your left arm, too.” This last would have been perfectly in character, if He had meant that. And he made metaphors that strong in other places.

    It is NOT a general comment about not defending yourself (or your family, or your nation) when required, and it certainly is not a general comment encouraging the neglect of others who are in danger (which often includes protecting them), nor is it a statement that allows us to escape the demands of justice, which includes our responsibility to prosecute it when required.

  12. Bob says:

    hey harmonicminer,

    Thanks for the detailed response! Let me see if I can respond to at least a few of your points…

    First, re: the orphanage example. I agree, we absolutely do not instruct our children to allow themselves to get beat up by a bully. I suppose one way to prevent getting beat up is to take a page from the Karate Kid, ie pick up some self-defense skills. However, don’t you think that in some ways that only invites more aggression from others? Think about the Amish…I can’t imagine anyone ever getting excited about attacking them, because everyone knows they wouldn’t fight back. I guess the Amish leave open the possibility that they could be attacked and enslaved/slaughtered/etc…but it’s interesting that it hasn’t happened yet (but maybe that’s ust because they live in the US?).

    You make a great point about the difference between corporate and individual responsibility. You’re right, I think, that there is a difference between the individual responses of a Christian and the responsibilities of a nation like the US. I’ve heard some interesting rhetoric recently on this point, actually, and think this is an interesting case study. Take, for example, this issue of Christians and the US borders. As a nation, I think anyone would say that the corporate responsibility of the US is to defend its borders (because without borders, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way).

    However, let’s say I live in Arizona, and it becomes illegal (punishable by jail-time, fine, etc)to in any way assist an illegal immigrant. Now, let’s say that a Christian brother or sister from Mexico happens into my neighborhood, homeless and without food or water. I strongly suspect they are here illegally, and after I ask them I found out that they are indeed illegal. So, where does my responsibility lie? Should I mostly act in the individual sense (ie, help a brother or sister in need) or in the corporate sense (ie, obey the laws of the land)? I’m not sure how to sort this out, curious to hear your thoughts.

    I have never heard the interpretation that Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” comment was mostly metaphorical, but it is interesting. I guess to me it seems like you’re dancing around a pretty plain and obvious interpretation (though I admit that what may be “obvious” to you may not be “obvious” to me) that Jesus simply meant what he said. Do you think people could relate more to getting their arms hacked off, or being slapped around? Perhaps the flipside of your argument is that he was giving a scenario that people could relate to (ie, being beaten). Not sure many people could relate to getting their arm chopped off (though I could be wrong on that).

    I thought your last paragraph was interesting. Re: protecting people, I have heard some say that there is nothing wrong with protecting/defending people, but only as long as no harm against another is committed in the process. For example, they would say that hiding Jews during the Holocaust would be perfectly acceptable, and even lying or deceiving Nazi soldiers would be the morally right thing to do. However, if the Nazis did find the Jews you were hiding, it would be wrong to violently attack the Nazi soldiers. But, I’ve also heard that in this case the Nazis really deserved to die, so defending the innocent Jews through whatever means necessary would be justified. Curious to hear your thoughts on that, as well.

  13. tonedeaf says:

    Bob, “I guess the Amish leave open the possibility that they could be attacked and enslaved/slaughtered/etc…but it’s interesting that it hasn’t happened yet (but maybe that’s ust because they live in the US?).” Bingo! Why do you think they came here? As a member of an Anabaptist church (Anabaptist = pacifist) I’ve always struggled with the notion that pacifists live in peace and prosperity as a direct result of the military sacrifices of others. This seems disingenuous at best.

    As to your illegal immigrant story, this would seem to be a no-brainer. If you saw a brother in the Lord stealing your neighbors car (maybe he’d fallen on hard times and needed a car to get to work), would you refrain from turning him in because he was a Christian? Also, why would a Christian brother from Mexico leave his home and family and sneak across the border illegally when he has a mandate from Jesus himself not to break the law? Are Christians killed in Mexico just for being Christians? And if they were, would not the U.S. grant political assylum? Are there no legal ways for a Mexican to enter the United States? If a ‘brother in the Lord’ has fallen on hard times through his own disobedience am I obligated to help him continue in his disobedience?

    If you are going to use “turn the other cheek” in a literal sense (and I think you should) in this argument you must abide by everything else in Jesus’ sermon of Matthew 5. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has succeeded with the whole thing. It’s easy to turn the other cheek when the cheek belongs to someone other than you. Jesus is clearly not speaking of governments in this chapter. It’s easy to use analogies that are highly unlikely to happen to you and wax self-righteous for one’s philosophies. My experience is that most pacificsts won’t stand up for what is right even when it doesn’t involve violence or force.

  14. Bob says:

    Hi tonedeaf,

    re: the Amish, I agree that anabaptists (and other historic “peace churches”) in the US enjoy their way of life in great part due to the success of the country. But, there are Anabaptists all over the world who find ways to be peaceful in unpeaceful circumstances. I’m not saying that it’s bad that historic peace churches exist within nations that help them live that way. Rather, I think maybe your definition of peace has more to do with “absence of conflict”, which doesn’t seem to me to jive with the biblical definition. But, I could be wrong on that.

    Re: the immigrant story, Do you think stealing and crossing a border illegally are on the same level from a sin perspective? You are right, they have clearly violated a law, and in that sense they are answerable to the authorities (ie, Romans 13). However, I don’t know about you, but I sin all the time. I hope you’d still give me food or water if I was in need. But, on the other hand, maybe in this case I really do need to set aside all of that because of my role/duty/obligation within the greater context of the US? Maybe there are no conceivable scenarios in which a Mexican brother could have sinned/broken the law and I should help him (or at least when it comes to immigrants)? So maybe it is a simple issue, but to me it still seems like there is tension. But, that could be because I’m still missing something.

    Re: the sermon on the mount, I see your point about it being difficult to find examples of people who “succeed in the whole thing”, and about Jesus clearly not speaking to governments. I’m not really sure I was making a point that contradicted what you said, though…but maybe you were just kind of throwing in those thoughts for the sake of conversation? And I agree, I have met several (ok, a LOT) of “pacifists” who seem to totally undermine themselves when it comes to doing what is right on issues not involving violence. That’s part of why I’m skeptical of the pacifist arguments I’ve heard (I am really not sure if they hold water in the real world).

  15. harmonicminer says:

    Bob, you can understand texts (or scriptures) in different ways, and some can be understood in more than one of these ways:

    1) Very specific. (Jesus was giving instructions specifically about face slaps, and nothing else.)
    2) Categorical. (Jesus was giving instructions about all violent acts aimed at you.)
    3) Metaphorical. (Jesus was getting at another, possibly more subtle point, and using a particular illustration in the service of that.)

    I don’t think Jesus was talking about all violence. If so, he picked a very gentle kind of violence with which to make his point.

    I don’t think He was talking about only face slaps.

    That leaves me with metaphor. Another reason to think that: in that culture a “face slap” hardly rose to the level of “a beating” as you put it. A face slap was a calculated insult, not a serious attempt to harm physically.

    Of course I would feed or give water to someone in distress. Right before I turned them over to the county sheriff for processing and repatriation. You give a false choice in your example.

    Anabaptists have not thrived in totalitarian/dictatorial regimes. There is a reason. The USA isn’t the only place they’ve lived, but the other places where you can find many of them are places with reasonable rule of law and some level of hard-won religious freedom, which the anabaptists have made no contribution towards.

    If only non-violent people had defended Jews from Nazis, there would be no European Jews left.

  16. harmonicminer says:

    I took comment #11 above and turned it into a post for Saturday, if anyone is interested in continuing the discussion there. It has ranged rather far afield of the initial topic here.

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