War: Fog of Moral Justification

Sons of Confederate Veterans Chairman Defends Omission of Slavery from Confederate History Month


To explain why there is still a divide over why the US Civil War was fought, look to the war in Iraq. If a public opinion poll was taken today asking what the Iraq war is about, you’d probably get several different views and just as heated discussions.

Some of the debated reasons for the war in Iraq:

  • WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction)
  • Oil
  • Combating Terrorism
  • Human Rights
  • Bringing democracy to the Middle East

The original emphasis of the war was to remove WMDs from Iraq, because they posed a threat to the US and the stability of the Persian Gulf region. After no WMDs were found, the emphasis (and justification) for the war shifted. Concerns over human rights, combating terrorism and promoting democracy were elevated over removing non-existant WMDs as the reason for the war.

Was the Iraq war fought for the original issue of WMDs, or was it to combat terrorism? When the war is over, will there be another reason promoted? We are living through the years of the war right now, and still there isn’t a consensus over why the war is being fought.

Something very similar happened in the Civil War. Originally, Presidents Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the union; after the war began, the emphasis shifted to ending slavery.

Except from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, prior to the end of the war, the issue became the morality of slavery.

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

When justifications for war change as a war goes on, it leads to endless debates about the “real reason” for fighting the war. A hundred and fifty years from now, the question will be asked, “Why was the Iraqi war fought?” And there won’t be a consensus on that war, either. Once the fog of war sets in, the fog of moral justification sets in too.

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