Saturday, July 23, 2011

People don't act as if they accurately projected the future.

This week marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, and I have been thinking about the Civil War. It seems obvious to me that there were better options than what actually was done. In fact, the Civil War resulted in 620,000 deaths of soldiers. The south saw the emancipation of slaves, massive destruction of infrastructure, loss of international trade which could not be revived after the war, post-war occupation by Union troops, and disruption by large numbers of slaves given freedom with no preparation, followed by a history of oppression of blacks. The north lost more young men killed in the war than did the south as well as a huge monetary cost; presumably the economic condition of the north would have been improved if the south had had a more vigorous and complementary economy in the latter part of the 19th century such as might have been possible without the Civil War. Alternatives might have included:

  • Virginia staying with the Union. Virginia was especially hard hit by the war as so much of the military action took place in the state. Had Virginia remained with the Union, other states that actually joined the Confederacy might have also have remained with the Union. Presumably the war would have been shorter, with the far south more clearly dominated by the expanded Union, and possibly the peace would have been gentler with the cultural support of Virginia for the defeated Confederacy. The transition from slave societies to free societies might have been better planned had Virginia been part of the Union.
  • A strategy in which a plan was created for the gradual abolition of slavery in the nation which included such elements as help for the former slaves to adjust to their new condition and reimbursement for those who lost the property that they held as slaves.
The question I have is why the people of the United States did not find these solutions. Some people, for example Winfield Scott (the head of the Union military) and Sam Houston (former President of Texas) saw that the war would be terrible. One supposes that the media failed to inform the public, that leaders drew false analogies with historical precedents, and that the decision making failed in serious ways.

This might be a lesson to contemplate as the Congress seems to be about to act stupidly with respect to the debt ceiling and the plan to reduce the deficit!

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