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I was so pumped up by this diary that I was going to straight off send it to some pro-"War on Terror As The Next Cold War-cum-War Against Fascism and Evil" friends of mine for a long overdue dose of reality-check.  That conventional war against terrorists is counterproductive; that comparisons to Hitler are insulting; that ignorant and bellicose rhetoric rhetoric has only dignified, consolidated and strengthened what would otherwise be a bunch of international criminals with a demented ideology; that the politics of "good" and "evil" historically have always been complex and not clear-cut... on these points I could not agree more.

But then at the end I was stopped short by the proposed comparison to the U.S. Civil War.

While I agree there are some parallels, from the point of view of people who are in favor of Bush's "War on Terror", this comparison is a non-starter.  Why?

For one thing, from their point of view, the Confederacy was not trying to conquer the North, much less the world.  (Neither do I believe that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists want to conquer the world; but that point is one you will have to first argue to make plausible the larger comparison from their perspective.)

Second, the Confederacy was not driven by an extremist religious ideology.  (Again, I do not believe Al-Qaeda is driven by religion as much as it is by political motivations; however, the rhetoric of these terrorists is religious through and through, in contrast to the Confederacy's.  Again, this point would have to be argued before the larger comparison even has a chance of being considered.)

Third, while no doubt some of its soldiers, like some soldiers in any army, killed innocent civilians, the Confedearcy did not target and kill innocent civilians as a matter of policy or tactics (at least, not to my knowledge.)  (On this point, I do believe this is a valid and very significant difference: even if your original cause is just, you compromise it in proportion to the immorality of your means of warfare, as well as to how much you rely on these.  The end-game becomes "might is right".  One of the primary reasons the Confederates wanted independence was to preserve slavery: so their original cause was already unjust.  But while many Islamic terrorists may have legitimate and even just political qualms, their method of achieving them -- by targeting and killing innocent civilians to pressure democratic governments to alter their policies -- are not just.  And this, I think, is a significant difference.)

I want to emphasize that I agree with pretty much everything you say in your diary.  In fact, I think using historical analogies to invalidate the War on Terror rhetoric would be great, as their impact can be dramatic and immediate on how people frame and view such issues.  But I think the Islamic terrorists = Confederacy analogy in particular -- while I agree it is valid in several respects -- should be handled with care, lest it alienates even more the very people we would like to persuade to our point of view.

Out of the Dark Age came the most magnificent thing we have in our society: the recognition that people can have a society without having a state.

by marco on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:15:37 AM EST
The last paragraph of my diary is intended to be an ironic twist: of course it is umimaginable within in the white U.S.American political context to use an anology between Osama bin Ladin, Hitler and Jefferson Davies. The point I was trying to make was that no historical analogy actually works. Islamic terrorists, Southern segrationalists and German national socialists are distinct historical phenomenons within a certain time and space. They have nothing to do with each other. Of course it is possible to make historical comparisons but one should always note that the totality of a certain historical situation is always unique and cannot be repeated, unless one has rather boring deterministic concept of history - which I wouldn't share.

So, I would always prefer to legitimize a certain policy with a serious argument based on the current circumstances and not week paralells with a distant past. History tells us how we got here and not where we should go.

But while we are at it, I am willing to accept your points on the Confederation. And since I am not qualified, I do not want to go into a serious debate in the multifold origins of the American civil war.

Then again, I was thinking of something else: The Confederate States was political regime designed to deliver its citizens the right to hold others as slaves on the notion of their racial infiority. This makes it a pretty racist and evil regime, by all imaginabe standards of western civilization.

So why is it, that saying so would still cost you any election in the South even 140 years after the war ended? This is the interesting question. There are huge "undercurrents" in the American political discourse I find scary. If I were to give Americans an advise, I would recommend them to come to a joint understanding of their common past - good or worse. By limiting the official historical discourse on a warped version of the own national history, the U.S. has created an unnecessary gap between itself and the rest of the world: slavery, civil rights movements, the inability to fight poverty, decades of senseless military intervention are part of the historical consciensce of many people outside the U.S., yet seem to be seen as irrelevant inside. Thus, the American political leadership lost the moment it ended to be the worlds moral superpower.

I would recommend an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It worked well in South Africa.

by jandsm on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 06:05:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Got it.  I missed your point about historical analogies being invalid as a rule.

Regarding America's past with respect to racism, slavery, civil rights, I agree that there is still a large amount of denial and hypocrisy, and these do dramatically invalidate our claims to be a force of righteousness and good in the world.  (My impression is that Germany, ironically, may be in a unique position among Western countries, in that it has done more than any other to "come clean" with its national "sins": a repentance forced upon it by its defeat in World War II.)

The Confederate States was political regime designed to deliver its citizens the right to hold others as slaves on the notion of their racial infiority. This makes it a pretty racist and evil regime, by all imaginabe standards of western civilization.

True.  I guess there are many ways to be "evil".

Out of the Dark Age came the most magnificent thing we have in our society: the recognition that people can have a society without having a state.

by marco on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 06:22:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Then again, I was thinking of something else: The Confederate States was political regime designed to deliver its citizens the right to hold others as slaves on the notion of their racial infiority. This makes it a pretty racist and evil regime, by all imaginabe standards of western civilization.

So why is it, that saying so would still cost you any election in the South even 140 years after the war ended?"

Being a white Southerner, I don't exactly agree with your facts or analogies regarding the confederacy and the implications you draw, but I get the point and have no issues with your diary. I agree with the basic premise.  Bush and his rhetoric are such hopeless cases that I hardly bother to criticize him anymore.  Had he not been elevated to a position of power, who would ever bother to listen to him?  The sad thing is that he is where he is.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:32:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So why is it, that saying so would still cost you any election in the South even 140 years after the war ended?

As a white Southerner myself, I always find it interesting to read an outsider's opinions of the U.S. South and the Civil War, etc., and I thank you for sharing yours.

I agree with most everything said in this thread, above and below, except for the one quote I have noted above.  In the state of Mississippi, where I live, we have many majority African-American electoral districts.  We have quite a number of African-Americans in our state legislature and many black Mayors of cities and towns throughout the state, including the mayor of our capital city, Jackson.  So, the above quote is definitely a false statement.

Now, I do agree that in certain districts within my state, the premise of your statement is true, that a white person would have some difficulty getting elected if they made such a statement as you have outlined in your comment.  This is also somewhat the case for our statewide and our Federal elected officials, as the white population of the state still outnumbers the minority population.

However, we Democrats and Independents here in Mississippi do occasionally elect a white person who runs on a platform that includes racial reconciliation and recognition of past wrongs.  We always need the African-American voters to help us do so, though.

My larger point is that the South is not as monolithic or rock-solid backwards as it may appear to be from afar.  I do not deny that we have serious problems that need to be resolved, but we have made SOME progress in the past 140 years.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

by blueneck on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 12:24:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the Confedearcy did not target and kill innocent civilians as a matter of policy or tactics (at least, not to my knowledge.)

Sidenote to the analogies in history discussion: IMO a much better analogy for terrorists in US history would be, say, Geronimo. By modern standards, he was a terrorist, he purposefully killed women and children. He also had a political cause and religious framing.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:34:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is an extremely thought-provoking -- and troubling -- comparison.  I do not know much about native American resistance to U.S. expansionism, territorial appropriation and ethnic cleansing.  I would definitely like to read more about it.

I still say killing civilians for political purposes is unjustified: even if you're own people are getting ethnically cleansed, even if your own family was murdered by the invaders (as in Geronimo's case).

Out of the Dark Age came the most magnificent thing we have in our society: the recognition that people can have a society without having a state.

by marco on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 01:31:09 AM EST
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