THE WANDERER, June 26, 2003


Why We Fought

     Rush Limbaugh is gloating again. It turns out that 
the looting of Baghdad's great museum was much less 
serious than first reported; all but a handful of the 
thousands of treasures believed missing were preserved or 
have been recovered. For Limbaugh this is further 
confutation of the war's opponents and further 
confirmation of the righteousness of the war.

     This is a curious argument. The Bush administration 
did nothing to protect the museum; it didn't deny the 
early reports, but dismissed them as unimportant. And 
Limbaugh's first reaction to those reports was to mock 
the value of the treasures that were thought lost and 
destroyed. Whatever the outcome, his crassness is a 
matter of record. He was willing to defend the 
administration even if the worst was true.

     Such responses illustrate the difference between a 
visceral right-winger and a genuine conservative. The 
former, typified by NATIONAL REVIEW and THE WEEKLY 
STANDARD,is an apologist for war. The true conservative, 
though he may accept war as a tragic necessity at times, 
regards it with foreboding and a sense of loss, never 
with enthusiasm. All political enthusiasm is against his 
grain. His patriotism doesn't preclude skepticism about 
his rulers; even the most venerable institutions, he 
knows, are bound to be administered by men flawed by 
original sin.

     Right-wingers are still defending the Iraq war, even 
though its chief rationale -- Iraq's supposed weapons of 
mass destruction -- have failed to surface. They have two 
answers to this. One is that the weapons may have been 
hidden or removed from Iraq (some insist, with President 
Bush, that they will eventually be found); the other is 
that the mass graves of Saddam Hussein's victims justify 
the war by themselves. Of course this second reason was 
never actually given as a reason for going to war. We 
were constantly reminded that Hussein was a remarkably 
vicious tyrant, from whom the Iraqi people deserved to be 
liberated; but the war was supposed to be defending the 
United States against an external and imminent threat, as 
part of a war on terrorism.

     It all began with the 9/11 attacks. These quickly 
led to all sorts of wild charges against Iraq -- that it 
was harboring terrorists, sharing WMDs with them, and so 
forth. Skepticism about these charges was shouted down. 
The drive for war took on a life of its own -- 
spearheaded by the "neoconservatives" who had sought to 
destroy Iraq long before 9/11 -- and the doubtfulness and 
even irrelevance of many of the charges didn't seem to 
matter. Nor do they seem to matter now. The war's 
apologists will keep coming up with new justifications 
for what has already been done.

     What outrages provoked the Mexican War in 1845? Who 
cares? The United States gained immense stretches of 
territory, which later came to seem sufficient 
justification, though this was never given as a reason 
for going to war at the time. The Civil War was fought 
over the principle of secession -- though it's now 
justified for destroying slavery, which Lincoln disavowed 
any intention of doing at the outset. Pearl Harbor 
ignited an anti-Japanese fervor that brought the U.S. 
into World War II -- though the German persecution of 
Jews is now used to justify it. That was barely mentioned 
at the time; the war began over the German-Soviet 
invasion of Poland, and ended with Poland being turned 
over to the Soviets, who joined their new allies in 
condemning German aggression.

     When the dust settles, the losers often turn out to 
have been the aggressors, even if this requires some 
careful editing of history by the victors. President Bush 
is already calling critics of the Iraq war "historical 
revisionists," but he is the one who has some explaining 
to do. If those weapons don't turn up soon, it will be 
hard to argue that Iraq was even contemplating 
aggression. Opponents of the war doubted this all along. 
How have they been proved wrong?

Our "Secret" Constitution

     Abraham Lincoln has a new defender, who reveals 
perhaps more than he intends to. George P. Fletcher, of 
Columbia Law School, has published a book with the 
REDEFINED AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, arguing that the Civil War 
destroyed the original U.S. Constitution and virtually 
replaced it with a new one, never officially 
acknowledged, but no less real for that.

     For Fletcher, the key part of this new Constitution 
is the 14th Amendment, which has enabled the federal 
judiciary to pursue a radical egalitarian and 
centralizing agenda at the expense of the powers formerly 
reserved to the states. Of course Lincoln himself was 
long dead when the 14th was ratified (very dubiously, by 
the way, but let that pass); still, its adoption was a 
direct result of the Civil War, which, Fletcher rightly 
sees, overthrew the original Constitution.

     And good riddance to that old thing, says Fletcher. 
It was an "elitist," reactionary arrangement, leaving far 
too much power to the separate states. In effect, and 
almost explicitly, he concedes that in the constitutional 
debate that led to the war, Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln, 
had the Constitution on his side. But for Fletcher, to 
paraphrase Marx, the key thing was not to understand the 
Constitution, but to change it.

     Lincoln might not be grateful for this defense. He 
always insisted that the purpose of the war was to "save 
the Constitution" against the secessionists. He flatly 
denied that he was violating it; he had to deny it, if he 
wanted Northern public opinion to support his war on the 
South. He even doubted that he had the authority to issue 
the Emancipation Proclamation; and he did so reluctantly, 
not in the name of human liberty but only as an executive 
war measure. By today's standards, Lincoln was a strict 

     Fletcher thus joins several of Lincoln's recent 
defenders in applauding him for paving the way for a 
radically new kind of federal government. Garry Wills has 
argued that Lincoln "changed America" with the Gettysburg 
Address, which placed equality, rather than 
constitutional liberty, at the core of American national 
values; James MacPherson credits Lincoln with achieving a 
"second American Revolution" by destroying the Southern 
social order and centralizing power. The whole country, 
not just the South, would shortly be revolutionized. 
After Roe v. Wade, a further application of the 14th 
Amendment, it should hardly be necessary to point this 

     Of course the very notion of a "secret" Constitution 
-- unknown to the public, imposed and capriciously 
interpreted by a judicial elite, unratified by the people 
themselves -- is hard to square with Fletcher's own 
professed concern for democracy. Surely Lincoln himself 
would have had severe qualms about it; he thought the 
relatively restrained judiciary of his own day had 
already become a menace to self-government.

     Lincoln's real legacy is a tragic one. Setting aside 
a terrible war, he never intended, foresaw, or even 
dreamed of the enormous forces he was releasing. The 
present size and scope of the federal government would 
astound and appall him. He would hardly covet the credit 
Fletcher gives him for it. Yet Fletcher is right in one 
crucial respect: Lincoln made it all possible. The Union 
he ultimately "saved" bears no resemblance to the one the 
Framers designed and bequeathed.


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