Staying the course.. or not

by Eszter Hargittai on May 7, 2004

The debate I went to last weekend (Resolved: That John Kerry should replace George Bush in the White House) was quite interesting and had some especially good tid-bits. Here is one: The Negative suggested that at other times when the country was at war during the presidential elections the country stayed the course and it should do so this time around as well. The Affirmative responded that had people realized in 1864 that there was no slavery or had people noted in 1944 that there were no concentration camps then perhaps the results of the elections would have been different.



Brian Weatherson 05.07.04 at 4:31 pm

It’s a good line, but I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. After all, even if there was no slavery in 1864, the South had still seceeded, and the national unity argument still had force. And although it would have been an excellent reason to go to war, I don’t know how much of a role the concentration camps played in motivating the war effort, especially in America. If they weren’t moved by everything that had happened pre December 1941 to send in the troops, it’s hard to believe that their ultimate involvement did rest on anything like humanitarian grounds.

As someone pointed out the other day, this would have been an excellent argument for keeping Chamberlain and, in our part of the world, Menzies and then Fadden on as PMs. Letting interlopers like Churchill and Curtin in would obviously have been a mistake then, just as big a mistake as letting Kerry in now would be. (If the people making this argument sincerely made the same argument for LBJ in 1968 they’d have a bit more credibility, but I bet very few of them did, or would have.)


Aidan Kehoe 05.07.04 at 4:37 pm

Ill-informed, too. The US didn’t fight World War Two over the concentration camps–up until Bergen-Belsen was taken, in April 1945, the claims of their existence seemed too outlandish to believe, in the West.

[On preview; what Brian said, roughly.]


mitch 05.07.04 at 5:13 pm

I am in a reckless mood today, so I will just post my opinions and see what this august blog makes of them:

Al Qaeda was always an Iraqi front organization, employed to attack the USA after the Gulf War ceasefire. The Clinton administration suspected this, but reasoned that it could deal with the problem under cover of dealing with Iraq’s WMD programs, and so felt no need to tell the public – in fact, it ended up actively misleading the public.

When one of Al Qaeda’s mega-attacks (1993 WTC bombing, 1995 Bojinka plan, 2001 hijackings) finally got through, Iraq’s back-end security also showed up, in the form of the anthrax letters. Their function was to deter retaliation, by threatening a biological attack leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. In response, the Bush administration encouraged the “domestic terrorist” theory, had Cheney threaten nuclear retaliation for any use of WMDs by Iraq, and spent 18 months tracking down 9/11 organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before invading. If Saddam still had a doomsday option at that point, he evidently decided to try guerrilla warfare first. Whether the anthrax threat is still viable in some form – that is, whether it’s still a tactical consideration in how Iraq is being handled – I couldn’t say.

I have to acknowledge the Hatfill Project blog, to which I owe a large portion of this picture.


Epacris 05.07.04 at 5:25 pm

Just chiming in with Brian & Aiden – tho’ am not very conversant with history of American Civil War, just vague memories of Ken Burn. If what Hitler’s regime had been doing since 1933, and particularly since September 1939 hadn’t got the US population upset enough by December 1941, why would it have later? The US has had quite good relations with dictatorships over the years, so may have come to an accommodation if the Third Reich had exhausted European resistance (e.g., see Richard Harris’ _Fatherland_).

Remember, the US declared war on *JAPAN* after the attack at Pearl Harbour. Japan was allied to Germany by that stage – altho’ at least one Japanese diplomat was sending Jews into sanctuary.
Germany, IIRC, declared war on the US because it was at war with Japan.

Watch the US war propaganda movies made _during_ the war, and there may be Nazis beating or killing Jews as well as ‘insurgents’ & ‘rebels’ from the occupied country, but no camps.


eszter 05.07.04 at 5:25 pm

I thought it was a witty rebuttal in the spur of the moment. The Negative had just made this statement, the Affirmative stood up to say something in response and this came out. Sure, it’s a rhetorical tool, but it clearly spoke to the audience and that seems to be an important goal at such an event. By the way, at no point did the person get into the details of the reasons for the wars.. although I realize one could infer that from the comment. I thought this was quick thinking on his feet even if ill-informed when analyzed in depth.


dipnut 05.07.04 at 5:41 pm

This has to do with the missing WMD’s, right?

It took me a while to figure out what the rejoinder was supposed to mean, because I’m one of those people who never cared much about the WMD’s.

That said, I don’t think they’ll be missing forever.


Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.04 at 5:42 pm

“The Affirmative responded that had people realized in 1864 that there was no slavery or had people noted in 1944 that there were no concentration camps then perhaps the results of the elections would have been different.”

Yes it is a great rhetorical response, for those who believe that there is no important terrorism problem to deal with in the Middle East.


tombo 05.07.04 at 5:50 pm

The Positive speaker is ignorant of US history. The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union. As Lincoln said, “If I could preserve the Union while freeing some of the slaves and not others, I would do so; if I could preserve the Union while freeing none of the slaves, I would do that, too.” The US made war against Germany in order to prevent totalitarian domination of Europe.

In neither case was the paramount interest a humanitarian one; each war was fought to ensure the survival of the American democratic state.

Which of course is ultimately what our current war against Islamist fascism is all about. Forget the posturing; Kerry no less than Bush will not withdraw from Iraq.

The four previous US presidents, drawn equally from both parties, disastrously and repeatedly withdrew in the face of islamist or arab fascist attacks (Tehran, Beirut, Saddam’s suppression of the Kurds in 1991, Mogadishu, the Cole, Khobar). The US debate now is stacked in favor of those who are determined to reverse this trend.

Kerry may be a flake, but there is no room for him in the American landscape to run as a Zapatero. If you hate the war, then vote for Nader. He’s the only Zapatero in this race.


tombo 05.07.04 at 6:10 pm

By the way, lost in all the (justified) media uproar over the despicable prison scandal is the fact that Nader will without question gain ground as a result. So long as Iraq stays in the news and further enrages the Angry Left, Nader will have no trouble poaching 4-5 million votes from Kerry.

The other huge story that’s being ignored is the rebound of the tech sector, a sure sign that the economy has turned the corner. Semiconductor sales are booming. Corporate tech spending is increasing sharply. SAP will soon report record results, and IBM, Dell and other leading firms are all now predicting strong top-line increases for 2004.

Nader + Iraq outrages + Economic recovery = Game over.

No wonder Hillary kept away from this one.


tombo 05.07.04 at 6:15 pm

Oh, one more story that in MediaWorld doesn’t exist: the complete collapse of any pretense to integrity, competence, and therefore legitimacy of Kofi & Benon’s UN. When Volcker releases his report, it will be yet another body blow to Kerry’s attempts to carve out a middle position on Iraq (“I favor the war but want the UN to take over…”).

UNSCAM helps Bush and Nader. Sorry, fellow Democrats, but it’s time to regroup and start thinking about 2008. Hillary and Bill know the score on this. No wonder they’re keeping so much distance from Kerry.


bryan 05.07.04 at 6:38 pm

actually if people had realized in 1864 that there was no slavery it might have thrown everything out the window don’t you think?
Given that while the war was not originally about slavery by its end the slavery comprised quite a bit of the justification for the war. Given a tired population, and the sudden observation that slavery did not exist (with attendant philosophical problems as to the nature of reality), it might well have broken the war effort. Also driven lots of folks insane.


decon 05.07.04 at 7:18 pm

OK, Brian. Now imagine that in 1864 it was discovered that the South had not seceded. What then?


Matt Weiner 05.07.04 at 7:25 pm

Bloody hell, as Brian points out we were at war in 1968 and we changed course. The incumbent didn’t even make it through the primary. And that war was a lot closer to this one in terms of general government honesty in the run-up. (Dipnut and Sebastian, you may think this war was about terrorism, but that’s not how it was presented to the public, except insofar as the Bush administration tried to keep alive the loony Iraq-Al Qaeda theory.)


Claire 05.07.04 at 7:56 pm

I love how you revisionists rewrite history in your own image.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Obviously, if you don’t know anything about history – the real facts and not just the politically correct interpretations – then you can’t possibly learn anything from them.

Then debates become like this one – arguing over somebody’s opinions and feelings. Ignorance trumping ignorance.


kevin 05.07.04 at 8:59 pm

“Yes it is a great rhetorical response, for those who believe that there is no important terrorism problem to deal with in the Middle East. ”

And that’s a great rhetorical response for those who fail to realize that Iraq has pretty much nothing to do with the problem of terrorism in the Middle East.


Paul 05.07.04 at 9:33 pm

Nader + Iraq outrages + Economic recovery = Game over.

Only on comment boards, dear. Only on comment boards.

A better analogy might be if it had been discovered in 1864 that the South was prepared to accept say, the Crittenden Compromise or another last ditch effort to keep the Union together. And if at the same time, Union armies had been more ineffective than they were. No doubt some Radical Republicans (Hm, Radical Republicans, just imagine) would still have wanted to dismember the South and maybe their motives would even have been morally sound. But if Lincoln’s war had been as muddled and incompetent as Bush’s, it’s quite possible he’d have been voted out.

Mitch. Work that up to novel length. Tom Clancy’s getting old.


Matt Weiner 05.07.04 at 9:45 pm

Anyone have an explanation for why the anthrax terrorist targeted Daschle and Leahy? Do you think people in Saddam’s employ have even heard of Daschle and Leahy?


obeah 05.07.04 at 10:14 pm

Sebastian, I think you’ll find that the people who opposed the Iraq war believed that there was no important terrorism problem to deal with in the Middle East which could actually be improved by invading Iraq.


tombo 05.07.04 at 10:36 pm

Poster Paul’s decided to show off his ignorance of the US Civil War. Funny how ignorance and smirking arrogance tend to go hand in hand.

The North’s conduct of the Civil War up to Gettysburg and Vicksburg was spectacularly incompetent, not to mention muddled. More than half a dozen Union generals had been tried and found wanting by 1863, including, most famously, McClellan, the Napoleon wannabe who turned an easy victory into stalemate at Antietam and ran against Lincoln for President in 1864. Much of the North, including Irish mobs in New York City, was in near-open rebellion, prompting Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus. The British were openly aiding the Confederacy, and scorn for the “baboon,” the “rube” in the White House was near-universal among the pseudo-sohisticates of the time. Lincoln’s own cabinet conspired against him.

As David Donald and the novelist inspired by Donald’s historical work, Gore Vidal, have shown, Lincoln the supposed bumpkin outwitted and wrongfooted all of his opponents.

Which is what Bush, once again, will do in 2004. His opponents are too smug and too stupid to grasp the central dynamic of this election, which is that, with Nader siphoning off leftist support for Kerry, bad news in Iraq HELPS Bush.

Do the math, folks: Nader only needs to increase his vote count by a million or so this time around to hand Bush the re-election. Since Kerry cannot and will not call for withdrawal, and since the pro-Kerry editors and news producers stupidly will continue to keep Iraq in the spotlight, outrage among Angry Left Democrats will easily persuade another million or more of them to vote for the one true antiwar candidate in this race. So long as Iraq is top of the news, Kerry’s finished.


Sebastian Holsclaw 05.08.04 at 12:47 am

“And that’s a great rhetorical response for those who fail to realize that Iraq has pretty much nothing to do with the problem of terrorism in the Middle East.”

Is that has or had?

‘had pretty much nothing to do’ was the bone of contention between pro and anti Iraq-war advocates before the war. I’ll disagree with your statement but admit that it is a statement subject to debate if you menat ‘had’

If you really mean ‘has pretty much nothing to do with’ I think you are utterly wrong. A US withdrawal or other style of abandonment in Iraq would be a huge loss in the war on terrorism with awful consequences for everyone.

Which is why my response to the rhetorical jab is apt. It was talking about a realization that there was no such thing as slavery DURING the Civil War.


mitch 05.08.04 at 1:35 am

the loony Iraq-Al Qaeda theory

Look up Rohan Gunaratna’s Inside Al Qaeda some time and see how many “al Iraqi”s there are in the index. Read the court testimony of Jamal Mohammed al-Fadl. There were Iraqis in leadership positions from the beginning. One of them, Mamdouh Salim, was in court again just the other day. When he was chief of European operations, he was a pal of Mamoun Darkazanli, a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, who was a pal of the 9/11 cell in Hamburg just a few years later. The exiled Syrian branch of the Brotherhood played some sort of support role for 9/11, and Iraq was using them to terrorize Syria twenty years ago (see Ba’th v. Ba’th by Eberhard Kienle).

Anyone have an explanation for why the anthrax terrorist targeted Daschle and Leahy? Do you think people in Saddam’s employ have even heard of Daschle and Leahy?

If they are long-term sleepers resident in the USA of 2001, of course they have. And the Senate had voted unanimously for war against nations that assisted 9/11. There are also arcane arguments as to why an Al Qaeda operative might have it in for Daschle and Leahy specifically (because they chaired committees that approve funds for Egypt and Israel, basically). But I think it was just because they were prominent Senate leaders.


Lance Boyle 05.08.04 at 5:32 am

What if it were proven conclusively in 1863 that Negroes were in fact a separate, and inferior, species?
Kinda spins the slavery issue a little.

The Boston Tea Party either was or wasn’t a terrorist act.
Geo. Washington, Nath. Greene, Henry (“Light-Horse Harry”) Lee, “Mad Anthony” Wayne:
they either were, or were not, terrorists, or insurgents; but they were pretty definitely rebels, eh wot?.
The Revolutionary Army I believe it was called.
I mean it’s hard to make the case they were “defending liberty” and the “rights of man” without putting their opponents in a somewhat darker light.
Making the British in that context – if the “Americans” are not to be seen as “terrorists” – well…what exactly do we call the British in that context? Oppressors? Imperialists? Colonizing fascists?
Energy vampires?
It’s a ponder.
Because in the US we’ve been taught to revere the insurgents in that war. We’ve been taught that the rebels were heroes in that war.
We’ve been taught that breaking the laws of an unjust tyranny were heroic acts.
Maybe they still are. I don’t see why they wouldn’t be.
Corrupt tyranny should be opposed, don’t we all agree on that? And if its power and the extent of its corruption mean traditional lines of honorable diplomatic negotiation are closed, what’s left?
“…systematic use of violence as a means to intimidate or coerce societies or governments…”?
It’s a puerile term “terrorism”, in this world as it is; and a sign of the cowed obedience of so many otherwise rational people that it’s use has been accepted so unquestioningly.
“Terrorist” and “terrorism” are meaningless pavlovian triggers now, used for behavioral modification and control.
Bell! Food. Bell! Food. Bell! Drool.


Kimmitt 05.08.04 at 6:14 am

Since the War on Terror has no discernable legal existence or method of determining its close, what the Affirmative people are really arguing for is the permanent cessation of Presidential elections.


Maddy 05.08.04 at 6:54 am

Both Kerry and Bush support the war against Islam, so war is not the issue. Bush has lost credibility both at home and abroad, so Kerry has the advantage.


testy 05.08.04 at 7:48 am

I have a problem.

I tried to make a post which included the word h o m e f r o n t. But the machine tells me “Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: h o m e f r o.” So it dropped the t, and censored me. Of course I have added the space between letters only because the machine is stubborn.

I have no idea what a h o m e f r o might be, though some unfortuante possibilities do come to mind. But more importantly, I had no idea an idiot was censoring the comments.


testy 05.08.04 at 7:51 am

Can i say:

homo oeconomicus


testy; 05.08.04 at 7:55 am

What a fun new sport this is: Which words crook the timber? And does the idiot know a zero from an oh? Let us see: h0mefr0


MQ 05.08.04 at 11:34 am

The Civil War absolutely was fought about slavery, from the start. But it was fought about the geographic extension of slavery to the Western states, not about abolition of it in the Southern states where it was traditionally rooted. Seems hard for people to grasp this today but it is transparently clear if you read the documents leading up to the war.


james 05.08.04 at 2:54 pm

As has beeen more or less pointed out, Eszter, the remark pretty much makes precisely the case for opportunistic liberal support for the Iraq war even though it was fought on a trumped up case by a reactionary power.

“WMD” weren’t found, but mass graves were.

(I don’t intend this as an endorsement of the liberal case for the war, just to make the point that the quote serves the exact opposite argument to the one it thinks it does).


Nasi Lemak 05.08.04 at 5:54 pm

Hmm, well, my knowledge of US history falls off so fast pre-1932 that it may well be actually antiknowledge by the time you get to 1860. But, and with that proviso in mind, isn’t the argument that the ACW wasn’t fundamentally driven by slavery part of the same discredited pro-Southern historiography that spent nearly a century demonizing reconstruction, carpetbaggers, and the like?


old maltese 05.08.04 at 11:12 pm

Coincidentally, Steven Den Beste has a very nice, clear essay today on the causes of the Civil War.


Paul 05.09.04 at 2:39 am

Thomas–what part of “ifs” and “more ineffective than they were” contradicts your subtle analysis? I’m talking counterfactuals and tortured analogies. Ignorance of events that didn’t happen isn’t a charge I feel compelled to defend myself against. And no, I don’t think that Lincoln’s success at war in spite of his incomptence proves that Bush will win in November, either.

Your Nader-Kerry blah blah blah isn’t impossible (that must be some comfort), but it does contradict Nader’s performance in 2000 and my own current experience with “Angry Left Democrats.” At best, your predictions remain a fond hope. Keep in mind that repeating your assertions won’t make them twice as likely to come true.


matt weiner 05.10.04 at 1:55 am

Testy–MT-Blacklist prevents comment spam by rejecting spamworthy urls. If “h o m e f r o” is part of some porny website that spams comments, it might be on the blacklist. “Home front” should do fine on that theory.


tombo 05.10.04 at 4:14 am

One other huge advantage for Bush: the economy, led by a resurgent tech sector. Semiconductor sales are soaring. Corporations are increasing their capital budgets for IT spend. Every major hardware and software provider is forecasting double-digit growth this year (check out SAP’s latest results and recent statements by IBM, Dell, Intel, SAP chairmen).

Paul, you don’t live in America, do you? Every Democrat I know–and I’m a lifelong Dem myself–recognizes that Kerry is a disaster as a candidate. Is he for the war or against it? Pro-war types think he’s against it. Many antiwar types think he’s for it. The man is a joke, and we Democrats have seen this farce before: Dukakis, Jimmah, Mondale. (BTW, I voted for each of those losers. But then, I can claim youthful ignorance as an excuse.)

Some of my fellow Dems still pine for Dean; others consider it a shame that Lieberman never got a real hearing; and most believe that the only candidate who could deny significant defections to Nader and still capture the center is the junior senator from Mew York.

But Hillary’s too smart to fight a losing battle. She’s waiting this one out.


Paul 05.10.04 at 2:54 pm

and I’m a lifelong Dem myself

Sure. One of those who dislike Kerry, praise Bush, and obsess over Ralph and Hillary. Where I come from we call those Democrats Republicans.


tombo 05.10.04 at 6:59 pm

Ooo, scathing! Did you also demonize Clinton’s war against Saddam in 1999? If not, then I can’t take you seriously.

I voted for Clinton twice and defended his war against Saddam, as well as his policy of regime change in Iraq, and his admin’s conclusions (based on the same evidence presented to Bush) that Saddam “was determined to get WMD and [that] if Saddam gets them he will use them.”

Bush’s war continued Clinton’s war. Clinton committed us to overthrowing Saddam; Bush made good on Clinton’s promise.

If you detested Clinton’s war, and spoke up in 1999 when Clinton was carpet-bombing Baghdad, then I can at least respect your consistency when you demonize Bush and his Iraq war. But if, like Teddy K, you vigorously supported Clinton’s war and now float angry and asinine conspiracy theories about Bush’s war, you forfeit all credibility. Incoherence doesn’t win elections. It helps no Democrat to play tough on Saddam when our party holds the White House and then cry foul when the other party pursues the same policy.


Paul 05.10.04 at 8:01 pm

In fact I was deeply suspicious of Clinton’s actions in the Balkans at the time. I was even more critical of his Iraq policy (not that what I, a person of little significance, thought matters much). But that’s pretty beside the point anyway, unless you think that they only possible reason to support one war while opposing another is “team loyalty.” Is that what you think? Let’s see. Could be one of those wars was a bad idea. Maybe one of those wars was badly planned and incompetently waged. Please. Give me and yourself a little credit.

If not, then I can’t take you seriously.

No hard feelings. I don’t take you too seriously, either.


HP 05.10.04 at 10:55 pm

1) I can’t believe you people toss around the “h-f” word so casually. Disgusting.

2) I think Mitch is onto something. What he leaves out, of course, is that the Illuminati (Arabic: al-uqman’ti, “the thing the base rests on”) were descended from the Knights Templar, anti-Christian apostates in service to the king of Jerusalem. Ergo, whether Lyndon LaRouche is a reptilian is irrelevant. Other than that, though, spot-on, Mitch.

3) The very definition of a Democrat is someone who can ignore Clinton’s moral failings while vociferously critiquing his policy decisions. Critiquing policy is what we do. If you think Democrats were highly supportive of Clinton’s foreign policy, you were probably paying more attention to how often he h*mefr*ed his intern.


tombo 05.11.04 at 12:54 am

Clinton’s war on Saddam received universal support from leading Congressional Democrats. Kennedy, Daschle, Pelosi, Kerry and others all praised the carpet bombing of Baghdad in early 1999 as the right and necessary thing to do.

BTW, let’s not delude ourselves that Kerry or his handlers–who increasingly seem to be drawn from the hawkish, pro-Israel traditional wing of the party– would lead the US away from an assertive and largely unilateralist foreign policy. (I especially enjoyed watching this weasel embrace Ariel Sharon after blah-blahing for months about how inportant it is to win the support of the French and Germans. Vintage Kerry.)

If you hate the Clinton/Bush war, then vote for Ralphie. It would do the Democratic Party a world of good to rid itself of isolationistic, blame-America-first Michael Morons. Better to lose this election and then win back the center with a traditionally hawkish liberal in 2008.

Have fun on your Nader ride.


tombo 05.11.04 at 12:58 am

“In fact I was deeply suspicious of Clinton’s actions in the Balkans at the time”

Brataslavyanskiiy, soyedinites!! Or perhaps you ferreted out another oilmen’s conspiracy to grab those massive Balkan reserves?

At least now we’re seeing a little consistency. Milosevic and Saddam, the brave victims of yankee imperialism.


Dave F 05.11.04 at 9:54 am

Just piling on: Eszter, it isn’t witty unless its wickedly accurate (oh and witty, of course). Sycophancy is never a nice thing to parade.

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