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Posted on Mar 4, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

March 4th, Iraq and the War

By John Antal

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Soldiers are dying.  The war is protracted and some question if the expenditure of blood, toil and treasure is worth the effort.

The administration says it is fighting to set people free.  Skeptics disagree and wonder if the people we are freeing deserve our efforts or whether it is worth the cost.  After all, these people have never known freedom before, so why should we fight for them?

The arguments against the war are running shrill in the media. One newspaper reported: "This administration’s imbecility in the conduct of the war and its ruinous financial policy has forfeited confidence and respect." [1]
 
An influential Democrat said, "Every man knows that there is an amount of debt that leads to bankruptcy; every man feels that there is a waste of life and blood that leads to anarchy." [2] 
 
Another pundit called the President a war-monger, a liar and a fool. The Chicago Times commented: "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as President of the United States." [3]

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In response to this and much more vehement criticism, the President has stubbornly clung to the same lines.  In a speech he said: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation." [4]

Public opinion on the war seems divided. The President’s continuous appeal to patriotism has only given the anti-war side more fuel for their fire.  The President stated that as Americans "we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies." [5]   One Democrat responded to this comment when he described his view about the differences between the Democratic and Republican Party: "With one we had peace and prosperity as a Nation. With the other, we have war, bloodshed and desolation." [6]

Some argue that the President has abused his powers and used unconstitutional practices in the war effort.  "One by one they are destroying the guarantees of personal rights." [7]   The President responded by saying: "It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power."

These reports and quotes, however, were not ripped from today’s headlines.  They come from the speeches and newspapers of the American Civil War and are not about the current fighting in Iraq.  The Republican President the pundits lament is the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln: Not the 43d President, George W. Bush.

Abraham Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861.  The Southern States succeeded from the Union and had formed the Confederate States of America by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration.  The Civil War started in April 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter.  Lincoln issued a call to arms, fought the war with vigor, and became vilified in the press when victory was not rapidly achieved.      

The war continued.  Lincoln announced to the Union that the great evil of slavery must be overturned.  Against the advice of several in his Cabinet, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which led to the freeing of the slaves and the 13th Amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery.  Democrats continued their opposition to the war and accused Lincoln of being a tyrant because he proscribed civil liberties.  By the time of the election of 1864 the war had dragged on with no decision for three long years and thousands of men had been killed in the fighting.   

In 1864, the Democratic Party platform called for an end to the war, peace with the Confederacy and an acknowledgement of the right of the Southern States to retain slavery.

Imagine if President Lincoln had listened to the mounting criticism against his administration and not held firm against the evil of slavery?  Imagine if Lincoln’s opponents had won the election of 1864 and acknowledged the independence of the Confederacy and resulted in two separate nations?

Fortunately for the United States and the cause of freedom, Lincoln was re-elected president on November 8, 1864. He won 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes.  On April 9, 1865 the Confederacy surrendered with the cost to the Union Army of 390,000 dead and 280,000 wounded. 

History is a great teacher, but only if you read it.  Today, instead of "Lincoln’s War" some call the war in Iraq "Bush’s War."  Today they lambaste the President more vehemently than Lincoln was cursed in 1864.   

During the Civil War the Union Army fought to make men free.  As in 1861-1865, the United States military is doing the same thing today and has liberated millions of people from tyranny.  We and our Allies have brought hope to the people in Afghanistan and Iraq and provided the opportunity to allow freedom to grow. 

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Liberation, however, does not solve all problems.  If it were that easy, there would be more democracies in the world today.  Equality, rule of law, and the establishment of democratic institutions take time and courage.  Developing democratic government is a continuous process.  It took over a century after the Civil War to bind the wounds of the nation and begin to realize the fruits of freedom.  For all our faults, most Americans realize that this Nation offers more political, religious and personal freedom than any other.  More importantly, if any citizen wishes to live anywhere else in the world, he or she is free to do so as there is no wall holding anyone in.  That said, the natural inclination for people to seek to live in democracies is transparent. The zero immigration rate for countries like Syria, North Korea and Iran, are a case in point.
 
The critical question facing Americans is whether we will have the courage in the days ahead to continue the struggle we have started after the attacks of 911.  On March 4, 1865 Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address and said: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations…." [8]

What Abraham Lincoln said on March 4, 1861 and what he said on March 4, 1865, rings true today.  We must heed Lincoln’s words and finish the work we are in.  Freedom is fragile and takes great effort to nurture, but once it takes root it is a powerful force.  As President Bush said recently: "We can be confident in our cause because we have seen freedom conquer tyranny and secure the peace before." [9]  

Personally, I stand with Lincoln, Bush and the men and women of our Armed Forces who believe that freedom is worth fighting for.  Not just our freedom, but the freedom of all mankind, and in the belief that in the end, that freedom can, as Lincoln believed, create a lasting peace with all nations.   

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[1] Resolution adopted by a Democratic meeting in New York City, September 1, 1864.
[2] Gov. Seymour, at Milwaukee, September 1, 1864.
[3] Attributed to The Chicago Times, following President Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.-Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, vol. 2, p. 472 (1939); no date of issue for the Times is given.
[4] From Lincoln’s December 1, 1862 Message to Congress
[5] From Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address.
[6] Allentown, Pennsylvanian Democrat, a weekly newspaper, January 21, 1863
[7] Mr. Price at New York, October 10, 1864.
[8] Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address March 4, 1865.
[9] President George W. Bush’s Addresses to the American Legion, Washington, D.C. February 24, 2006

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