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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It Isn't a War, it is Reconstruction, Stupid

After the overwhelming responses via email, comments, crosspostings and threads at a number of forums being started from a previous post "The War of Northern Aggression...?", I began thinking about America's Civil War, reconstruction and a previous piece I did where an Army Chaplain serving IN Iraq was quoted in regards to reconstruction.

His words are clear and concise as he explains the differences of war to reconstruction.

This is from Pro Deo Et Patria- An Army Chaplain: I am a chaplain in the US Army, serving in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006-:

Not a war, but reconstruction

One of the things I've noticed about the coverage of the war in Iraq, back in the US, is the absolutely negative way in which everything connected to it is being portrayed. This includes the media, and members of both political parties. And it comes from people who lack a very basic knowledge of the region or its people. Read this article on CNN for an example. Now, I understand that not every American knows that Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization, but shouldn't the guy who will be heading up the House Intelligence Committee know this?? Seriously... and these politicians are the ones telling us we're "losing."

What bothers me is the way that members of both parties have, a) Turned the war political, and b) Begun to talk about winning or losing in ways that we cannot. Coming back to the States for a bit, and seeing the TV coverage blows me away. What's getting lost in the mix are the Iraqis.

Let me offer a different way of thinking about this: We won the war in Iraq. Yes, past tense: we won. You see, militarily, we invaded Iraq, defeated their Army, and captured their leadership. On this point, we had a crushing and overwhelming victory. No questions about it. We did what we said we were going to do: invaded the country and deposed Saddam (remember, right before the war started, we gave Saddam 48 hours to leave office), and we inforced the weapons inspections. That was the "war." We won that.

What is happening now is the reconstruction and reconstitution of Iraq. In other words: putting it back together. We helped the Iraqis democratically elect a government. Check. We have trained and Army and Police Force. Check. The problem is that the government and military of Iraq are not doing a good job. That is the point on which things are failing. We have to stop thinking about this phase as winning or losing a war.

Over the past two years, we had one political party (the Democrats) pretending that nothing was going right over there, and we had the other political party (the Republicans) pretending that everything was going right over there. (In other words, BOTH are to blame) In the meantime, the Iraqis get hurt by our own self-obsession.

Things are failing because we have been so self-focused that we have failed to stop and ask "what do we need to do to improve the situation?" We have sat and argued about pre-war intelligence, about whether we should call it a civil war or not, about whether the Iraq war is part of the greater war on terror or a separate war, etc. In the meantime, we seem to have forgotten about.... the Iraqis.

What I find interesting about the Iraq Study Group report- which works under the assumption that we're "losing"- is that the people who seem to object to the report the most are the Iraqis. The reason: I think they see that America is getting bored, and is getting ready to leave them in a precarious position. It's kind of like a mother having a baby, and wondering why the baby isn't full grown after three years, and deciding that the best option would be to send the baby off on his own.

I wonder if we have the virtuous resolve to complete our committments, even when they turn out to be more difficult than we first believed?

He explains it well.

So, being research oriented, I started digging into our own reconstruction processes after America's Civil War and it is time for a little history lesson for those that have no understanding what reconstruction entails.

Our own reconstruction took almost 12 yrs....think about that for a second. 12 years.

We have been in Iraq for almost 4 yrs and yet many here seem to expect the reconstruction of Iraq to be accomplished, do those people think the Iraqi's are so much better than we were, that they can expect them to accomplish in four years what it took us 12 to accomplish, and even then, we didn't complete it until Martin Luther King started the second recontruction almost a century later.

So, twelve years and it still wasn't completed for over a century.

Reconstructing was one of the most daunting challenges ever faced by the American people. The Northern economy emerged from the war stronger than ever, poised for an unprecedented expansion. But the South was bankrupt and prostrate, its farms and factories in ruins.

As rebel soldiers headed home along dusty roads, they passed wagons filled with white refugees, old men, women, and children, returning, like the soldiers, to homes and towns ravaged by Yankee armies. When these victims of war arrived home they found things greatly changed.

Nineteen-year-old Hugh Moss, a veteran of the siege of Vicksburg, talked to neighbors in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who claimed to have been, in their words, "humiliated by Negroes" who would no longer take orders from them. The newly freed blacks, Moss wrote in his diary, were "putting themselves on an equality with whites." This, Moss said, made his "blood boil."

To make matters worse, tens of thousands of Confederate veterans returned home as cripples. In 1865, the State of Mississippi spent over one-fifth of its budget for artificial limbs for its veterans. This is how Reconstruction began for Southerners, in a climate of seething passions and deep-felt hatred of Yankees.

Prospects of a New Freedom

But for black people, Reconstruction began on high hopes. At first, freedom meant simply freedom of movement. Long restricted to the plantation or to limited travel with a pass, newly-freed slaves took to the road and traveled from place to place, testing their ability to move about or just searching for family members who had been sold off to other plantations.

Thousands of former slaves shed their slave names; and all over the South, there were mass marriage ceremonies. Even the smallest things mattered, like in Vicksburg, when for the first time dead black people were listed on burial records by their names, and not by the term "person, colored." As they rebuilt their families, newly freed slaves also created their own churches, the first social institutions in America fully controlled by black people. And they went to school.

Northern missionaries and philanthropists funded and staffed black schools and colleges. But to a large extent, it was blacks themselves who created, paid for, and ran their own schools. As Booker T. Washington marveled: "It was a whole race trying to go to school."

Ida B. Wells, who would later lead a national anti-lynching movement, recalled that her illiterate mother went to school with her in Holly Springs, Mississippi, wearing her best dress, so she could learn to read the Bible. Nothing angered white Southerners more than these black schools. As one Mississippi politician declared: "What the North is sending South is not money but dynamite; this education is ruining our Negroes. They're demanding equality."

But to have equality, black people felt they must have access to land. The cry went up all over the South: "40 acres and a mule." This expression, ironically, had its origins in the surprising action of a Union general known for his racist views: William Tecumseh Sherman.

In his March to the Sea, Sherman had liberated thousands of Georgia slaves who followed his army; so many slaves, that Sherman feared they would disrupt his army's capacity to make war. So when Sherman reached Savannah, Georgia, he issued Field Order No. 15. It set aside the South Carolina Sea Islands and extensive rice-growing land to the south of Charleston, land abandoned by white planters, for the exclusive use of blacks.

Sherman considered this a temporary war measure. The 40,000 former slaves who settled on what became known as "Sherman's Lands" had different ideas. As one black man said, "I always kept master and me; I guess I can keep me."

This plan to redistribute confiscated land would have revolutionized the South. But within a year, the land was returned to its former owners. And the blacks that had begun to farm it were told to work for the original owners or be evicted.

Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction

This was part of a plan by Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, to return all land confiscated by the Union Army during the war to its former Confederate owners. Johnson hoped to bring the South back into the Union on lenient terms, with white supremacy intact. But Johnson didn't speak for the entire government.

His reconstruction policies were vigorously opposed in Congress by a group of Republicans led by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Newspapers called them the Radical Republicans. Abolitionists before the war, they wanted to punish the South and provide legal protection, including the vote, for the freedmen.

Thaddeus Stevens was almost alone among them, however, in pushing for a policy of land confiscation and redistribution. Both a "landed aristocracy" and a "landless class" were, he said, dangerous to a democracy. Johnson, a Tennessean of humble background, had been put on the Lincoln ticket in 1864 to get support from pro-war Democrats. In 1861, he was the only Senator from a seceding state that had remained loyal to the Union.

A tailor by trade, Johnson had never gone to school. And like many of his most enthusiastic supporters, the poor whites of Tennessee, he hated the plantation aristocracy. This at first encouraged the Radical Republicans. But they soon learned that he hated blacks even more.

Johnson was willing to officially pardon Confederate leaders by the thousands in order to keep the South white man's country. In an official address to Congress, he declared that Negroes "have less capacity for government than any other race of people," and when left alone, had "a tendency to relapse into barbarism." That might be the most extreme statement ever to appear in an official paper by an American President.

At first, the Radicals had the country behind them and they won back control of Reconstruction from the President in 1866. Now, for a state to be readmitted to the Union, it had to accept the newly- ratified Fourteenth Amendment, which gave blacks the vote and citizenship rights. These rights would be further protected with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Southern states were put under military rule until they accepted these terms.

When Johnson urged the Southern states to defy Congress, Thaddeus Stevens led a successful effort to impeach him. In March, 1868, Johnson was acquitted by one vote in a Senate trial; but he was a permanently damaged President. In 1868, the Republican Party turned to the most popular man in America, Ulysses Grant, and the great war hero was elected by a huge majority.

Grant Faces Erupting Racial Violence

Grant, like Lincoln before him, was committed to national reconciliation. His campaign slogan was "Let Us Have Peace." But even as he campaigned, racial violence broke out all over the South. The chief instrument of intimidation was the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan was founded in Tennessee right after the war, and grew strongest in areas where blacks were politically active. Blacks and their white political allies, called Scalawags, if they were from the South, and Carpetbaggers, if from the North, governed the Reconstruction South, with whites holding most of the high offices. Although blacks themselves never completely controlled any Southern state, they held political office all over the South. The Klan went after these black officeholders, as well as those who voted for them.

Black people were attacked, whipped, and often lynched by armed men dressed in white hoods and sheets, many of them ex-Confederate soldiers. Grant was unwilling to wage what he considered a second war against white Southerners. But reports of mounting Klan terrorism finally forced him to act, with the encouragement of Congress and his courageous Attorney General, Amos Akerman. Using federal troops and new federal laws, Grant crushed the Klan.

But he knew that violence would continue, and that the Northern public, more interested now in economic progress than black progress, wouldn't support continued federal intervention. So he removed Ackerman and embraced conciliation. Smelling victory, white supremacists were in no mood to compromise. On December 21, 1874, there was an outbreak of racial violence at a place Grant knew well: Vicksburg, Mississippi.

After whites demanded the resignation of a black sheriff, violence erupted between his black supporters and city officials. Armed bands of the local White Man's Party, as it was called, roamed the countryside with long rifles, murdering as many as 300 black people. Grant ordered in troops to restore Sheriff Peter Crosby. But just as he did, another crisis erupted in Louisiana.

There, Democrats attempted to illegally seize control of the state assembly. Again Grant sent troops, this time under the command of his old army pal, Phil Sheridan. Federal soldiers marched into the legislative chambers and removed the Democratic claimants, members of a group called the White League. The only way to deal with these white radicals, Sheridan wired Washington, was to declare them "banditi" and execute them.

The incident unleashed a storm of criticism in the North. Grant was condemned for his resort to government "by bayonet." "Was this America?" asked a leading Republican Party critic of Grant. "If this can be done in Louisiana, how long will it be before it can done in Massachusetts and Ohio?"

Grant defended his actions in a courageous speech, in which he made reference to a massacre that occurred a few years before, in Colfax, Louisiana. In that incident, rampaging whites murdered 280 blacks, and none of the whites had been arrested. "Why is it," Grant asked, "that no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetuators of this bloody and monstrous crime?

White Supremacy is Restored in the South

But after this, Grant backed off. On one occasion, he turned down an urgent plea from the Reconstruction Governor of Mississippi to send troops to protect black voters against violent intimidation by a local White League. Grant refused to intervene because it would have hurt his party's chances of retaining the White House in 1876. So the Democrats swept the Mississippi election of 1875, using force and fraud.

The Republicans were overthrown, as they would be two years later in every Southern state. The national Republican Party sat back and watched this happen. But this was no longer the party of Thaddeus Stevens. The Party was now controlled by powerful Northern businessmen, and Grant catered to them.

The Reconstruction Governor of Mississippi, Adebert Ames, had it right. "A revolution has taken place, by force of arms; and a race are disfranchised. They are to be returned to a condition of serfdom, an era of second slavery."

The South prevailed because the North was not prepared, as Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln had been prepared during the Civil War, to use radical measures against an undeclared revolution against constitutional government. These tougher measures could have included: confiscation and redistribution to black farmers of the land of former masters; long prison sentences for top Confederate leaders (Jefferson Davis, for example, got the longest prison sentence, a mere two years); and a long-term military presence in the South to protect black people. Why the North didn't take stronger measures is explained, in part, in a letter William Tecumseh Sherman sent to a fellow officer who believed in black suffrage.

"There is powerful racial prejudice all over America, North as well as South," Sherman told him. "If we begin to force the Negro on the South as a voter we begin," what Sherman called, "a new revolution." Then, Sherman strongly implied that he might take a different side in this revolution than he had when he was fighting, during the war, to crush a revolution against constitutional government. So with Northern compliance, white supremacy was restored in the South for almost a century, until a black church leader named Martin Luther King inaugurated a Second Reconstruction. (Source)

The Ending of Reconstruction

In the 1870's, violent opposition in the South and the North's retreat from its commitment to equality, resulted in the end of Reconstruction. By 1876, the nation was prepared to abandon its commitment to equality for all citizens regardless of race.

As soon as blacks gained the right to vote, secret societies sprang up in the South, devoted to restoring white supremacy in politics and social life. Most notorious was the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of violent criminals that established a reign of terror in some parts of the South, assaulting and murdering local Republican leaders.

In 1871 and 1872, federal marshals, assisted by U. S. troops, brought to trial scores of Klansmen, crushing the organization. But the North's commitment to Reconstruction soon waned. Many Republicans came to believe that the South should solve its own problems without further interference from Washington. Reports of Reconstruction corruption led many Northerners to conclude that black suffrage had been a mistake. When anti-Reconstruction violence erupted again in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Grant administration refused to intervene.

The election of 1876 hinged on disputed returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, where Republican governments still survived. After intense negotiations involving leaders of both parties, the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, became president, while Democrats assumed control of the disputed Southern states. Reconstruction had come to an end.

The Opposition to Reconstruction

From the outset, Reconstruction governments aroused bitter opposition among the majority of white Southerners. Though they disagreed on specific policies, all of Reconstruction's opponents agreed that the South must be ruled by white supremacy.

The reasons for white opposition to Reconstruction were many. To numerous former Confederates, the new governments appeared as living reminders of military defeat. Their ambitious programs of economic development and school construction produced rising taxes and spiraling state debts. In some states, these programs also spawned corruption, in which Democrats as well as Republicans shared, but which served to discredit Republican rule. Many whites deeply resented the absence of the region's former leaders from positions of power, and planters disliked the tendency of local officials to side with former slaves in labor disputes.

The essential reason for the growing opposition to Reconstruction, however, was the fact that most Southern whites could not accept the idea of African Americans voting and holding office, or the egalitarian policies adopted by the new governments. Beginning in 1867, Southern Democrats launched a campaign of vilification against Reconstruction, employing lurid appeals to racial prejudice as well as more measured criticisms of Reconstruction policies. (Source)

I guess we can all come to our own conclusions as to why it took a century and one outstanding man named Martin Luther King, to finsih the job of reconstruction here in America.

Timeline of the original reconstruction efforts can be found here.

Iraq has come a long way, but for politicians to insist that they should be further along because the polls tell them our reconstruction process is taking too long and is too violent, they only need to look back at our own history to understand that reconstruction does not happen quickly, for America it was one of the most bloody and deadly times of our history and they need to get off their high horse, quit playing political games with our efforts and our troops lives and try learning the lessons that our own history has taught us.

Reconstruction is hard. Reconstruction is violent. Reconstruction comes after war and is not a step in the proccess that can be foregone.

Our military and our soldiers understand has to wonder why the rest of us cannot.

Looks like despite Charlie Rangels claims to the contrary, our soldiers seem to be far smarter than the rest of the American public and politicians.

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