Texas Liberal

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Abe Lincoln & Modern Warfare

I’ve just finished reading Upon The Altar Of The Nation: A Moral History Of The Civil War. This book was published in 2005 and was written by Harry S. Stout.

The book considers the ethics behind how the Civil War was fought. It also examines the ethics of how people back home were convinced that the savagery of the war had moral justification. Much of this persuasion took place in churches. Both North and South were told that God was on their side.

A theme running through the discussion of how the war was fought was the legitimacy of attacks and depredations inflicted on civilians. Much emphasis is given to the tactics of General William Sherman and his famous march through the South.   

Sherman, as well as other Union and Confederate generals, said civilians and civilian property were legitimate targets. The reasoning was that civilians offered material and political support to the war effort.    

Stout says this type of warfare led to new rules of combat that broadened and made more savage the effects of war.

Here is some of Stout’s final assessment—

“All too often the moral calculus perfected in the Civil War has been applied to other wars, often in cases involving nothing so noble as abolition. By condoning the logic of total war in the name of abolition—and victory—Americans effectively guaranteed that other atrocities in other wars could likewise be excused in the name of “military necessity.”……..When Grant became President , his General of the Army was William Tecumseh Sherman……..Together they would pursue wars of extermination in the Indian campaigns of 1868 to 1883, employing the same moral calculus their commander-in-chief, Lincoln, had approved in the Civil War.”

The use of civilians as shields for combatants and the launching of rockets and dropping of bombs into cities is now a routine part of modern warfare.  

Nations that engage in these strategies may feel they have legitimate reasons. Whatever their reasons, they should understand the morally dangerous territory they are entering.    

August 24, 2006 Posted by | Books, Politics | Leave a comment