Can There Be Peace Without Victory?

I have been reading a brilliant and edifying book, This Mighty Scourge; Perspectives on the Civil War, by America's leading Civil War historian, James M. McPherson (Oxford University Press, 2007). It has many lessons to teach America and Israel in our own day.

McPherson describes how extremely unpopular the Civil War had become in the Northern states by the summer of 1864, after three years of extremely bitter fighting and huge losses of life. The Union armies had lost close to 300,000 men killed in action -- proportionate to the American population of today, that would be about 3 million men. The injured, permanently disabled and prisoners of war greatly added to the toll. The casualty rate had sharply risen in the past few months as the Union army of Ulysses S Grant and the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee were locked in a brutal stalemate on the Virginia front. President Lincoln had just called for 500,000 more Union volunteers-the equivalent of about 5 million men today. Yet military victory still seemed far away to the people of the loyal Northern states. Should they really be asked to sacrifice the lives of still more of their young men? Understandably, much of the population of the North now said, "No. We have had enough. Let us have peace."

The "peace" movement was steadily gathering momentum. The opposition Democratic Party nominated General George B. McClellan, who advocated a negotiated settlement of the war, as their candidate for the Presidential election scheduled for November 1864. Leading strategists and politicians of the Republican Party, to which President Abraham Lincoln belonged, told him that their party had no chance at all in the coming elections unless he negotiated peace with the South. That would mean Union recognition of the Confederate States of America as an independent nation, and acceptance of the permanent break-up of the United States of America.

From the beginning of the war, Lincoln had been uncompromising in pursuing the crushing of the Southern rebellion by military force. He had also issued a proclamation emancipating the slaves in the areas controlled by the Confederate government and had initiated a Constitutional amendment to permanently outlaw slavery in the entire United States, including both the states loyal to the Union and those in rebellion. He was extremely reluctant to back down on those commitments.

Lincoln knew that if the Southern secession from the Union were to succeed, further divisions and secessions would be inevitable. The "former United States" would become like the "former Yugoslavia" today--a collection of small, weak, unstable states constantly feuding with and conspiring against each other. There would be slave uprisings and future wars. The European powers would reassert their control over the American continent and carve it up into spheres of influence between them. The American people would be reduced to poverty. Worst of all, the  republican, constitutional form of government, what we now call "democracy," would be discredited in the eyes of the world, and that would set back human progress by several hundred years. And the ideal of the Declaration of Independence that "all men were created equal" would be dead.

Even so, Lincoln privately began to weaken under the intense pressure for "peace" to which he was being subjected on all sides. He drafted letters proposing negotiations to the Confederate government, although he never actually sent them. He resigned himself to the supposed fact that he could not be reelected, and that the next President would seek ‘peace" with the South.

Lincoln, and the entire country, were saved by the sudden, unexpected news of Union victories in September and October of 1864. General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta, the South's third largest city. General Philip Sheridan drove Confederate forces out of the key battleground of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Northern morale revived and the "peace" talk subsided as victory at last seemed at hand.

Lincoln was reelected in the November presidential election. In May, 1865, the Confederate armies finally surrendered. Over the next ten years, a patient campaign of Reconstruction put the nation back together again. America has been a united, strong, stable and rich country ever since. It has enjoyed nearly complete internal peace and civil order. Never again has there been a serious attempt to divide the country, or to detach part of it from the whole. Lincoln's stubborn, uncompromising refusal to make "peace" with the rebellious South has been proven to be the right course after all. The South as well as the North has benefited enormously from his uncompromising insistence on a united, strong America.

What does all this have do with America's present dilemma in Iraq? With Israel's "peace" negotiations with its hostile, uncompromising Arab neighbors? Or with the prospects of negotiations with an Iran seeking nuclear weapons, and a North Korea that already has them? Perhaps nothing-- but perhaps everything. Sometimes peace can only be achieved by a decisive military victory. A "peace" that leaves in place a serious threat to the national security or even worse, a threat to the very survival of the nation, is not a true or genuine peace. It can only lead to more war on terms very unfavorable to the national interest. Neither can peace be achieved by yielding to the use of force by those who are pursuing an agenda hostile to the national interest.

"Peace" settlements that left in place a dictatorial regime with aggressive tendencies have not led to a stable or secure peace. The negotiated truce that ended the Korean War, while leaving in power the Kim Il Sung regime in North Korea, is a case in point. The Gulf War cease-fire that left Saddam Hussein in power is another example.

Speaking in the context of another war, eighty years after the American Civil War, one that also could not be resolved through negotiations or troop withdrawals, Winston Churchill wisely pointed out that "without victory, there can be no survival."

John Landau contributed to this article.
I have been reading a brilliant and edifying book, This Mighty Scourge; Perspectives on the Civil War, by America's leading Civil War historian, James M. McPherson (Oxford University Press, 2007). It has many lessons to teach America and Israel in our own day.

McPherson describes how extremely unpopular the Civil War had become in the Northern states by the summer of 1864, after three years of extremely bitter fighting and huge losses of life. The Union armies had lost close to 300,000 men killed in action -- proportionate to the American population of today, that would be about 3 million men. The injured, permanently disabled and prisoners of war greatly added to the toll. The casualty rate had sharply risen in the past few months as the Union army of Ulysses S Grant and the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee were locked in a brutal stalemate on the Virginia front. President Lincoln had just called for 500,000 more Union volunteers-the equivalent of about 5 million men today. Yet military victory still seemed far away to the people of the loyal Northern states. Should they really be asked to sacrifice the lives of still more of their young men? Understandably, much of the population of the North now said, "No. We have had enough. Let us have peace."

The "peace" movement was steadily gathering momentum. The opposition Democratic Party nominated General George B. McClellan, who advocated a negotiated settlement of the war, as their candidate for the Presidential election scheduled for November 1864. Leading strategists and politicians of the Republican Party, to which President Abraham Lincoln belonged, told him that their party had no chance at all in the coming elections unless he negotiated peace with the South. That would mean Union recognition of the Confederate States of America as an independent nation, and acceptance of the permanent break-up of the United States of America.

From the beginning of the war, Lincoln had been uncompromising in pursuing the crushing of the Southern rebellion by military force. He had also issued a proclamation emancipating the slaves in the areas controlled by the Confederate government and had initiated a Constitutional amendment to permanently outlaw slavery in the entire United States, including both the states loyal to the Union and those in rebellion. He was extremely reluctant to back down on those commitments.

Lincoln knew that if the Southern secession from the Union were to succeed, further divisions and secessions would be inevitable. The "former United States" would become like the "former Yugoslavia" today--a collection of small, weak, unstable states constantly feuding with and conspiring against each other. There would be slave uprisings and future wars. The European powers would reassert their control over the American continent and carve it up into spheres of influence between them. The American people would be reduced to poverty. Worst of all, the  republican, constitutional form of government, what we now call "democracy," would be discredited in the eyes of the world, and that would set back human progress by several hundred years. And the ideal of the Declaration of Independence that "all men were created equal" would be dead.

Even so, Lincoln privately began to weaken under the intense pressure for "peace" to which he was being subjected on all sides. He drafted letters proposing negotiations to the Confederate government, although he never actually sent them. He resigned himself to the supposed fact that he could not be reelected, and that the next President would seek ‘peace" with the South.

Lincoln, and the entire country, were saved by the sudden, unexpected news of Union victories in September and October of 1864. General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta, the South's third largest city. General Philip Sheridan drove Confederate forces out of the key battleground of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Northern morale revived and the "peace" talk subsided as victory at last seemed at hand.

Lincoln was reelected in the November presidential election. In May, 1865, the Confederate armies finally surrendered. Over the next ten years, a patient campaign of Reconstruction put the nation back together again. America has been a united, strong, stable and rich country ever since. It has enjoyed nearly complete internal peace and civil order. Never again has there been a serious attempt to divide the country, or to detach part of it from the whole. Lincoln's stubborn, uncompromising refusal to make "peace" with the rebellious South has been proven to be the right course after all. The South as well as the North has benefited enormously from his uncompromising insistence on a united, strong America.

What does all this have do with America's present dilemma in Iraq? With Israel's "peace" negotiations with its hostile, uncompromising Arab neighbors? Or with the prospects of negotiations with an Iran seeking nuclear weapons, and a North Korea that already has them? Perhaps nothing-- but perhaps everything. Sometimes peace can only be achieved by a decisive military victory. A "peace" that leaves in place a serious threat to the national security or even worse, a threat to the very survival of the nation, is not a true or genuine peace. It can only lead to more war on terms very unfavorable to the national interest. Neither can peace be achieved by yielding to the use of force by those who are pursuing an agenda hostile to the national interest.

"Peace" settlements that left in place a dictatorial regime with aggressive tendencies have not led to a stable or secure peace. The negotiated truce that ended the Korean War, while leaving in power the Kim Il Sung regime in North Korea, is a case in point. The Gulf War cease-fire that left Saddam Hussein in power is another example.

Speaking in the context of another war, eighty years after the American Civil War, one that also could not be resolved through negotiations or troop withdrawals, Winston Churchill wisely pointed out that "without victory, there can be no survival."

John Landau contributed to this article.