Backtalk, October 1, 2008

Decline and Fall

Dear Mr. Raimondo:

I have followed your articles for six years. Your writing is always passionate and persuasive, and you have been frighteningly prescient far more often than not. You are in general a voice for sanity amid the madness that has seized your nation for the past seven years.

I take great issue, however, with the following sentence from your article “Decline and Fall”:

“Caesarism is the spirit of the moment, perhaps of the age, and the days when constitutional government and the rule of law set America apart from the rest of the world are numbered.”

Those days have not existed for well nearly a century. Constitutional government and the rule of law are now widespread in the world. Western Europe has been wholly democratic for 50 years; Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became so a century or more ago. South and Central America, long the home of (U.S.-supported) tin-pot dictatorships, are now more democratic than they have ever been. India has had a constitutional democratic system since 1947, Japan nearly as long.

It is true that the example of the United States was an inspiration to the development of constitutional government in many of these nations. That is all the more reason why it is ridiculous and condescending to say that such government separates America from “the rest of the world.”

You seem to imply, after a hundred years of the spread of constitutional democracy throughout much of the world, that such a system is unique to America. Such a statement is of a piece with the general doctrine of “American exceptionalism” – a doctrine that has been used, by the very administration against which you rightfully protest, to justify its appalling misdeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many free countries in the world today. I am a citizen of one of them: a country where politicians need not declare their religious faith in order to be electable, where I may criticize my government without being placed on watch-lists, and where if I feel inclined, I may express my anger at that government on my nation’s flag or any other symbol – a country, in other words, that is freer than America.

As the current American administration takes the nation further down the road toward tyranny, it is becoming more true, not less, that constitutional government sets America apart from the rest of the world – but in the opposite sense from that which you intended.

Do not indulge in the very rhetoric that President Bush and his minions use to prop up their regime. To do so does a disservice to the free nations of the world, to the hope that America can rejoin these nations in that freedom, and to yourself.

~ Nicholas Welch

How the South Won the Civil War

This article is proof positive that the War was not fought to stop the institution of slavery, nor was it fought over the issue one way or the other. The War for Southern Independence was fought by the Confederate in order to protect his new nation and that form of governance known as representative republic. The Yankee fought because his rulers wished to force a union between two that no longer wished to be wed.

~ Les Cogar

Jim Powell replies:

I never claimed that the Civil War was fought to abolish slavery.

I’m well aware the North fought to “save the Union.”

Throughout this discussion, I have been addressing the prevailing view today that slavery could not have been abolished without war, or it would have taken an intolerably long time for slavery to be abolished without war.

After having surveyed the experience of Western societies that abolished slavery with comparatively little violence – certainly nothing like the violence that occurred in Haiti and in the United States – I have concluded that a combination of persistent, nonviolent methods probably would have abolished slavery without the uncontrollable backlash that subverted civil rights for a century after our Civil War.

The methods I’m talking about include speaking tours, publicizing the horrors of slavery, bringing to bear economic pressure, disrupting and ultimately abolishing the slave trade, encouraging slaves to run away, buying the freedom of slaves, and paying slaveholders to get out of the slavery business.

Slavery depended utterly on political support for enforcing laws that made it illegal for slaves to travel freely, to bear arms, to learn how to read, and so on. When political support for enforcing such laws declined, slavery was doomed.

The Soviet Union might be an instructive example. After more than seven decades, it collapsed without a war, and the collapse seems to have taken most people in the West by surprise. Certainly in the 1980s many intellectuals like Arthur Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Paul Samuelson were talking about how successful the Soviet economy was. I happen to think that collapse without war was a far better outcome than if there had been a conventional war or nuclear war.

I’m suggesting that war was not the only way or the best way to achieve a major social reform like abolishing slavery.

Propaganda Is a Two-Way Street

Kabeer states, “Undoubtedly, such an understanding of Zionism is reductive, one-sided, and ignorant of the historical realities that necessitated its emergence, but it is not an understanding exclusive to political Islamists.”

It is interesting that he can comfortably dismiss “others” as ignorant for opposing Zionism on the grounds it victimized the Palestinian people. Having studied Palestine for over 20 years, I am not ignorant of the Zionist argument.

However, there is no possible justification for stealing one nation’s land and handing it to another, especially to atone for the sins of a third party. It is a matter of law and common sense that compensation for a victim is not taken from innocent bystanders.

Westerners perpetrated the Holocaust and made the innocent Palestinian people pay for it with their patrimony. That is not “reductionist” or “ignorant.” It is simply the truth.

~ Cheryl Hutchinson

Time to Tell Irresponsible Allies No Thanks

In Doug Bandow’s Sept. 19 piece, he refers to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, “at which more than a thousand convicted war criminals are interred.” It is a little-known fact in the West that no one is actually buried at the Yasukuni Shrine. Rather, the “souls” of war dead are “enshrined” therein. With regard to war criminals, the 13 class-A war criminals (including former Premier Hideki Tojo) enshrined at Yasukuni in the late 1970s were entered into a “register of souls,” essentially a big book, in a very low-profile (if not quite secret) move by politically reactionary forces at the time. Recently, the Japanese government announced its intention to “disenshrine” these dead warriors, i.e., to remove them from the big book, following publication of a never-before-revealed letter from then-Emperor Hirohito, expressing his anger at the enshrinement and his vow never to visit the shrine again.

The strangest feature of Yasukuni is not the enshrinement of souls there (in keeping with Shinto tradition), but rather the lavish military museum, which is supposedly entirely privately funded. I visited the museum twice, the second time with a Japanese person, who informed me that in a couple of places the Japanese text on the exhibits did not match the English. The most notable example concerned the sign above the entrance to the rooms whose walls were covered with portraits of the war dead. The English version reads: “Souls Enshrined at Yasukuni.” The Japanese version is more reverent: “Gods at Yasukuni.” Make of that what you will.

~ Chad Nagle

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