Via Brad DeLong, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the Civil War wasn’t tragic in the way it’s so often portrayed. The human losses were terrible — but the war marked the end of the far greater horror of slavery.What I find interesting here is that Krugman assumes that the only way slavery could have ended was through massive violence and the deaths of nearly 700,000 Americans. Other western nations ended slavery through nonviolent means, so is he saying that Americans are the kind of people who only can solve issues through mass killing, rape, and destruction?
I agree; the Civil War and World War II are the two great moral wars of our history, and they should be remembered with pride.
The winners generally are privileged to write history, be they winners through violence or through other means, but it often means the history itself is untrue. Furthermore, while slavery was a terrible thing and forever a blot on this country and any country where it is practiced, I do not think that whatever was the situation in American slavery pre-Civil War can compare to the carnage on the battlefield, men by the thousands dying horrible deaths, women raped by drunken soldiers, whole cities burned to the ground, war made and civilians that broke all established rules of warfare.
(Gen. William T. Sherman remarked to a friend after the war that had it been fought in Europe, he likely would have been tried as a war criminal. That Paul Krugman would endorse such a thing tells me volumes about the man.)
As for World War II, there is a body of literature out there that deals with war crimes fought by those who were supposedly on the side of justice and morality. Is Krugman going to call the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justifiable, or the massive bombing of Dresden. None of those places needed to have a single bomb dropped on them, yet even today we see Americans praise such mass murder as being justifiable.
Yes, Hitler gave us the Holocaust and the Japanese the Rape of Nanking and worse. Moreover, American policy strengthened history's greatest mass murderer, Josef Stalin, and the U.S. Government authorized the infamous Operation Keelhaul, which resulted in the deaths by execution and the slower execution of the gulag of at least a million Russians.
Tell me these things were not war crimes, and then tell me why they went unpunished. We know the answer.
I never have been particularly jingoistic when it comes to American wars, and as I learn more about our bloody history, I become even less enamored of them. American wars have brought death, destruction, loss of liberties at home, inflation, the strengthening of the worst aspects of the state, and an insatiable appetite here for more killing and carnage abroad. Watching crowds of people chanting "USA! USA!" after the news of Osama bin Laden's killing only brings that point home.
But for Krugman, the Civil War ended slavery, and in his mind, there could have been no alternative. In 1861, I doubt that most Americans -- North and South -- could have seen an end to this awful institution. But, Russians at the same time could not envision the end of serfdom or Brazilians the end of slavery there. Yet, they ended, and not with the wholesale slaughter that accompanied the Civil War. How much better would a peaceful ending to this moral quandary have been than what occurred between 1861 and 1865?
(My take on slavery as an economic institution has been that even taking aside the fact that slaveholders were using kidnapped labor, the very act of removing the labor of the slave from the outcomes of one's labor is a recipe for bad economic outcomes. Under socialism, government commandeers resources and moves them from higher-valued uses to lower-valued uses. How is chattel slavery any different? I don't see how it can be any different at all.)
No doubt, Krugman's supporters will claim that I must be a supporter of slavery or am a racist or maybe a "Neo-Confederate." Let them. They can ignore that for much of my adult life, I have moved closer and closer philosophically toward pacifism, and the aftermath of these destructive wars does nothing to change my mind.