I’d like to engage in a little bit of revisionist history, or more accurately, contemplating how things would be different today if some major historical event had gone differently than the way it was recorded in history.
I have repeatedly said that, as a nation, the United States should be embarrassed by the fact that it was actually necessary to go to war to end slavery. Furthermore, many of the systemic racism that endures today is at least partially attributable to the fact that we more or less botched the peace during the reconstruction era. (Indeed, the only reason why we are having any debates at all over whether or not the confederate battle flag qualifies as “heritage” is because the losing side of the war was allowed to maintain their symbols through the peace.)
So let’s contemplate something: how would things be different today if, following the election of 1860 and Abraham Lincoln’s victory, the southern states seceded from the union and instead of engaging in a protracted military effort, the northern states effectively said, “Okay. Go. We’re banning slavery here now so if you ever want to come back, you’re going to have to be fine with that.”
Now before I continue, I want to make it clear that in this hypothetical scenario, there would still be animosity on both sides, and likely bloodshed, as incidents like Bleeding Kansas and the raid on Harper’s Ferry from the decade before the war started will attest. As a result, I can’t rule out the possibility, in this alternate timeline, of some isolated fighting and violence — especially on open waters — over slavery. I’m just saying that the war itself doesn’t happen.
Earlier this year I traced the evolution of the Republican Party from its abolitionist roots to its modern racism. In that entry, I noted that what helped the Union win the war had little to do with the moral high ground and everything to do with economics and how the north was better positioned to twist the arms of our allies to favor it over the south in trade and maybe even economic sanctions. I see no reason why this would be any different.
With this in mind, it’s probably reasonable to think that in this alternate timeline, Lincoln wouldn’t have been assassinated, Andrew Johnson would never have been president, reconstruction wouldn’t have happened (and therefore wouldn’t have been messed up), the election of 1876 wouldn’t have been so contentious, and I would hazard a guess that sometime between 1890 and 1910, the southern states would have been in such dire financial straits, they would have begged the north to be readmitted into the union (on the condition, as stated above, that they ratify the 13th amendment banning slavery).
Let’s not contemplate the implications of not having the 14th amendment in this essay… What I’m saying is that the intended result of banning slavery would have been achieved by the time William Howard Taft left office anyway.
So there’s a trade-off: war with all of its pain, suffering, and sorrow, or allowing slavery and the dehumanization of human beings to persist for longer, at least in parts of the country. In 1860, I probably would have said that war was the preferable path. In the hindsight of how badly reconstruction went, I’m not so sure.
That was an interesting thought experiment, to say the least. Feel free to criticize me for taking an overly simplistic view of the way history might have played out (up to and including the assumption that William Howard Taft actually became president) but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Lincoln and his successors could have done some arm twisting with our allies not to engage the south, economically. Especially those that already had a distaste for the institution of slavery. Maybe the southern resentment would still be there.
I mention this because we are at a similar threshold now. It’s much more complicated than it was 150-plus years ago because it is an international, rather than a domestic issue, and nuclear weapons are not off the table. Donald Trump did a lot of sabre-rattling when he spoke to the UN, most of it aimed at North Korea.
His speech was angry, and filled with red meat for his base. He claimed to represent America but he sure as hell didn’t represent me as an American in his speech. Some of his rhetoric was downright embarrassing. But what I want to focus on is the very real threats he aimed at North Korea (and to a lesser extent, Iran and Venezuela).
Kim Jong-Un is not a stupid person. He has seen, under the previous two US presidents, dictators we deposed, and he doesn’t want to go down the same road previously trod by Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. Without defending those dictators and their actions, they were the victims of American aggression. And it’s not a coincidence that surveys after surveys around the world view the US as the greatest threats to world peace. Kim’s actions clearly demonstrate that he’s unwilling to be to Trump, what those other dictators were to George W Bush and Barack Obama.
There is a truth to the observation that, in the past 60 years, we haven’t really been able to get North Korea in line with, well, the rest of the world, the threat posed by North Korea to the USA and the rest of the world has increased since Barack Obama left office. So I don’t know if negotiations and entente are the correct solution, as that’s how we got here in the first place. But if we launch a strike aimed at Pyongyang, the North Korean military will retaliate. The casualty rate, military and civilian, would be appalling. It will affect both Koreas, China, Japan, possibly Russia, and many US territories in the Pacific Ocean.
There is evidence that the current sanctions against North Korea are working, albeit slowly. And the sanctions are stricter now than they have been at any time since the cessation of hostilities almost 70 years ago. And with a nod to my alternative history, Donald Trump is no Abraham Lincoln. Recent pronouncements of his have demonstrated that, like most bullies, he’s more words than actions. (Is he repealing DACA or isn’t he? Are we pulling out of the Paris Accords or not?)
Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game of chicken. We can debate whether or not letting the southern states secede after the election of an abolitionist president might have been a preferable alternative to war. There are no good arguments for going to war with North Korea, though. I’m not saying the status quo is working, but let’s at least try not to blow up the planet as an alternative.