I recently visited the Gettysburg battlefield, and the thought kept recurring to me that those who call for a new civil war to solve grievances against the federal government would do well to make their own visit so they could be struck by the horror of war just as I was.
Growing up, I heard the Resurrection story numerous times at church and watched the highly stylized movies with the Resurrection as their central theme without realizing the horror of Jesus’ suffering. It took Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to fully reveal the agony and horror of Jesus’ suffering for me and millions of others. In that same way, reading about the Civil War and its many battles never really conveyed the suffering and death experienced on both sides like my visit to Gettysburg. I still enjoy those highly stylized movies, but I realize there is much more to the story.
The National Park Service has done an excellent job of presenting the Battle of Gettysburg with a fine museum, excellent short movies produced by the History Channel, and a Cyclorama which contains a 360 degree painting of the battle that immerses one into the center of the action. There are excellent presentations given by local volunteers out on the battlefield in various locations also.
I stood on Little Round Top looking down at the Valley of Death, Devil’s Den, and the Slaughter Pen reading the various markers with photos of Confederate dead strewn about thinking how their lives had been wasted in a futile effort. I stood at the monument marking the death of Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead near the Copse of Trees and the High Water Mark of the Confederacy not far from Union General George Meade’s headquarters. As I surveyed the terrain, it was obvious that Confederate Major General George Pickett never had a chance of taking Cemetery Ridge with his famous charge. Twelve thousand five hundred men were reduced to six thousand in a mere hour.
As terrible as the actual battle itself had been, a far worse disaster awaited the citizens of Gettysburg in its aftermath. Thousands of dead men and dead horses littered the fields south of town putrefying in the hot summer sun. It took months to bury the dead men and burn the dead horses, the stench of which left the townspeople violently ill. Crops were destroyed along with houses as Confederate General Robert E. Lee had successfully brought the destruction of war to the North.
The Civil War began with the South enthusiastically thinking it could whip the Yankees a couple of times and be finished. There was great enthusiasm for secession and war as visions of glory danced in the heads of Southern boys crowding out any thoughts of the horrors of war. This seems to always be the case with war. Thoughts of glory propel men towards a grim fate leaving little time to contemplate the downside of war or even the ability to reflect on the reality of past wars.
A cold, calculating assessment would have revealed that the North was far more advanced in industrial production than the South. This meant that the North was better able to produce the weapons needed for war and better equip its soldiers. At the time, the South accounted for some seventy-five percent of U.S. exports and controlled seventy-five percent of the world’s cotton production. Many Northern businessmen had grown rich processing Southern cotton into textiles for export and sought to avoid war to protect this profitable arrangement. There was great sympathy for the South in the North, but this was quickly extinguished once South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter.
Another factor deserving of much more scrutiny than it actually received was the realization that if the South actually lost the Civil War, the question of states’ rights would be settled for all time. The rush to war prevented a clear assessment of this situation and removed any political solution that might have been far more satisfactory than the absolute settlement brought on by war. With secession, the South had demonstrated that it was far more serious about protecting its way of life than the abolitionists in the North had given them credit. Prior to South Carolina firing on Fort Sumter, it was still possible to reach a political solution, but President Lincoln ordered troops to put down the rebellion causing more states to secede. Once shots were fired at Fort Sumter, the die was cast.
In England, William Wilberforce almost singlehandedly shamed Britain into abolishing slavery. Working in his favor was the fact that Britain was becoming industrialized and never had a large agricultural sector requiring slave labor. Slaves were not suited for industrial factories which could employ British citizens needing work. It was not that slaves couldn’t do the work, but the cost of labor in these factories was negligible, and slaves were more trouble than they were worth. Slavery was abolished in England because it was no longer cost effective to own slaves. In a matter of pure economics, slaves were displacing English workers who needed jobs, the cost of slave ownership exceeded the value of slave contributions, and industrialization negated the need for slave labor on a large scale.
Given enough time, the same economic forces would have come into play in America. The North was heavily industrialized and didn’t require slave labor. While the South was heavily dependent upon agriculture, mechanization would have eventually tipped the scales away from the high costs of slave ownership and allowed for production increases that slave labor couldn’t match. After Reconstruction ended, the Jim Crow laws in the South basically reestablished the slave system along the sharecropper model with sharecroppers limited to shopping at the company store where they remained in debt to the plantation owners and were forced to continue working with no reasonable way to break even. This model was adopted by the coal mines to keep poor white miners indebted and working as seen in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. The difference between slavery and the sharecropper system was that the plantation owners no longer needed to lay out large sums of money to purchase slaves and no longer needed to house, clothe, feed, and see to the medical needs of their slaves. All these expenses were transferred to the sharecroppers, and plantation owners actually profited more under this arrangement than under the slave system.
Sun Tzu teaches in The Art of War that war should be avoided at all costs. If an adversary is unhappy, find out what will placate him and try to provide it. War is a tremendous waste of blood and treasure that far exceeds the costs of placating an adversary if at all possible. Only when there is no way to placate an adversary should war be contemplated, but once the decision is made to go to war, it should be prosecuted as vigorously as possible to ensure a speedy conclusion.
We are caught up in another struggle between the increasing power of the federal government and the constitutional rights granted to the states. Those who would abridge the freedom of Americans in some elitist illusion of protecting us from ourselves at the expense of our liberty have managed to gain control of the federal government and circumvented the system of checks and balances put into place by the Founders in the Constitution. We have a president who rejects the idea of American Exceptionalism and feels that America must be lowered to a point where it feels the pain of the Third World. It probably has never occurred to the man that American Exceptionalism exists precisely because America never wished to experience the miseries of Third World countries and instituted the free enterprise system to ensure that we never did. The problem is not that American Exceptionalism exists at the expense of the rest of the world, but that the rest of the world refuses to emulate America by embracing the free enterprise system to lift their countries out of poverty.
We watch the progressives use the tactics of radical Saul Alinsky to undermine the institutions upon which America is built. We see calls from the radical left for murdering police officers in an attempt to establish no go zones in America where the rule of law is abandoned and criminals are allowed to roam freely. Ironically, a great many blacks are awakening to the fact that the Democrat Party has been taking their votes for granted for years while seeking to keep them enslaved on a federal government plantation system through paltry government checks that keep them beholden to their Democrat masters.
This renewed fight over states’ rights requires that we vigorously prosecute our fight in the political arena to achieve the overthrow of the progressives who control the federal government. If that is not possible, then we need to think long and hard about going to war considering all that is at stake and what a loss would mean to our cause. The South has been punished ever since the Civil War with economic hardship and poverty. There are a great many valuable lessons to be learned from the Civil War and its aftermath before launching on a fool’s errand. The progressives have employed incrementalism to achieve their goals of transforming America away from a constitutional republic into a socialist state subservient to the United Nations and will not go quietly. They will fight tenaciously to preserve their grasp on power, and we must be prepared to meet that fight resolved to win. War should be the last option considered long past the time when it is obvious no political solution exists to resolve our differences. War is not a shortcut to achieving our goals, but a tremendous waste of blood and treasure that far exceeds the costs of exhausting all of our political options. A visit to Gettysburg helps drive that point home in a sobering way.