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I used to think we fought the Civil War to end slavery

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I grew up with that version of history, and I never thought to question it until I was well into my sixth decade.

Forty years before our Civil War, Spain abolished slavery, at home and in all its colonies. France followed a few years later Twenty years before our Civil War, England abolished slavery, and it didn't require a war. Canada was under British rule, and also gave up slavery in 1834. Portugal, the Netherlands, and Sweden had all ended slavery before the American Civil War.

Chronology of the Slave Trade

Lincoln declared war on the Confederacy to restore the Union, as he told us at Gettysburg. It was explicitly not to abolish slavery, because states that fought for the Union were exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation.

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Later, Brazil and Cuba ended slavery. All of these places in Europe and the Americas have better race relations today than the US. Only in the US does bitterness remain between North and South, left over from a war that ended 154 years ago.

Ending slavery is a noble idea. Endling slavery with armies and cannons and barbary and rape and theft and devastation of war was a madness for which we are still paying today.

I thought we fought the Nazis to rescue Jews from genocide

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But the story falls apart when we look at the details. Historians tell us that the Second World War was made inevitable by the Versailles Treaty, which ended the First. We blockaded food shipments to Germany at the end of The Great War, coercing them to agree to The Treaty of Versailles. The terms of the treaty imposed impossible "reparations" that further enriched the bankers who had financed both sides of the War, but led to economic and social chaos in Germany. No wonder they hated us. No wonder they hated the bankers. Hitler managed to twist resentment of the bankers into a vendetta against the Jews.

When Jews fled Germany after Kristallnacht, the US and Britain refused to take them in, turning them back to Germany to face extermination.

The Nazis built their war machine financed by British and American banks, and with the full cooperation of IBM, Ford, General Motors, and other American companies. Meanwhile, American companies were selling scrap steel to Japan, dismantling our rail transportation network and turning it into battleships for Hirohito.

Hitler assiduously avoided attacking the US, though we were sending arms and aid to Britain, because he had his hands full in Europe. Japan also avoided war with the US, and Roosevelt worked hard to lure them into an attack on Pearl Harbor, which he used as an excuse to declare war on Germany as well as Japan.

Profitable arms sales to Germany and Japan only stopped after the declaration of war, and even then our Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) was secretly supporting Germany against the Soviet Union, via the secret diplomacy of Allen Dulles.

We are still paying for this madness today with the wars over oil in the Middle East, with the pervasive fear that is the War on Terror, with the genocide of Palestinians by Israel today.

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There never was a good war or a bad peace.
- Benjamin Franklin

Every war is justified by leaders on both sides who invoke patriotism, freedom, justice, and every other noble sentiment. This superstructure of noble lies is built on a foundation of fear, prepared for a generation or more beforehand.

Cui bono? War is good for corporate profits in general. Commodity prices create profit opportunities galore. We may think that munitions companies and defense contractors head the list of war profiteers, but surprisingly they are second to the bankers. In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler taught us that War is a Racket. Seventy years earlier, General Sherman had told us that war is hell.

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Josh Mitteldorf, a senior editor at OpEdNews, blogs on aging at Read how to stay young at
Educated to be an astrophysicist, he has branched out from there to mathematical (more...)

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Not mentioned are the American wars of conquest for which no apologies have been offered.

  • Wars to exterminate the native peoples that inhabited the continent before Columbus
  • The Mexican-American War
  • The Spanish-American war.
  • Korea
  • Vietnam
  • Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and on and on

Submitted on Monday, May 27, 2019 at 6:33:44 PM

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Kenneth Morris

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This article makes a good overall case against the ideological justifications for war, and I don't want to detract from that case.

However, I do want to embellish the questioning of the Civil War's role in ending slavery. Yes, of course it did officially end slavery, at least after Lincoln got around adding that into the mix. This is a historical fact and an important one.

But it didn't end de facto slavery. A sharecropping system soon emerged that trapped former slaves and their descendants into providing their former owners with ongoing servile labor while within a generation Jim Crow laws together with the vigilantism of the KKK trapped former slaves and their descendants in a lower caste. True, some former slaves and their descendants managed to make good despite the obstacles, others escaped by moving West or to the North once those factory jobs became available, but Southern blacks were arguably imprisoned by an apartheid system that to one degree or another continued for a century (some would say longer) after the Civil War.

I think of these practical outcomes for former slaves and their descendants when I contemplate the (usually Southern) argument that slavery would have ended anyway without the Civil War. The gist of this argument is to emphasize the economic circumstances that encourage slavery, and to maintain that over time those circumstances would have changed anyway, resulting in a later end of slavery. But the flip side of this argument is to appreciate that de facto slavery didn't even end with the Civil War.

In retrospect, I wonder if abolitionists would have been wiser to de-emphasize their moral arguments against slavery and focus more on changing the plantation economy that sustained it. By the same token, I suspect that if the North had mounted an effective reconstruction effort instead of exploiting the South economically, that would have been more effective at ending de facto slavery than the moralistic finger-wagging.

I can't of course oppose the formal legal end of slavery, but I'm not sure that was much more than a symbolic step and doubt that the Civil War should receive full credit for ending slavery.

Submitted on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 9:27:39 PM

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