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Reblogged:The American Civil War vs. Putin's War

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Historian Jonathan Jones of the Virginia Military Institute draws a lengthy and interesting parallel between Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the miliary campaign of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Two interrelated similarities stand out, the first being the two having somewhat militaristic cultures and an overconfidence in their militaries based on superficially different misapplications of government force and recent battlefield success:
Overconfidence seriously hampered the Confederate war effort. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, proslavery "fire-eaters" boasted that their breakaway bid to create a proslavery nation would be quick and easy. Much of this arrogance came from decades of enforcing the brutal system of slavery, which had made White southerners violent and highly martial. As Confederate President Jefferson Davis boasted, "we are a military people."

Although only 30 percent of the United States' White population lived in the South, it had fielded most of the volunteers in the previous war, when the United States invaded Mexico between 1846 to 1848. That invasion ended with a relatively quick American victory, skewing the future Confederates' frame of reference on war. During the secession winter of 1860-61, James Chesnut of South Carolina boasted that the Confederacy would achieve victory so swiftly that he would be able to drink all the blood spilled in a thimble. [bold added]
Doesn't that sound familiar?

Within memory of its leadership, Russia enslaved all of its citizens for decades and uses its military for conquest (with the fear of escalation to nuclear war and Western weakness sparing it the kind of hiding it should have received ages ago). Of course its rulers are overconfident.

A deeper, related similarity is that both societies were organized along significantly non-capitalistic lines, with Russia having moved from a centrally-planned economy to basically rule by criminal syndicate; and the South depending on slavery.

It is quite striking how quickly the South -- as Russia is doing now -- became even more unfree as the war continued:
Image by the Kremlin, via Wikipedia, license.
Leadership was also to blame. Confederate President Jefferson Davis undermined the war effort through ham-handed, and heavy-handed, decisions. An enslaver, former U.S. secretary of war and U.S. Military Academy graduate, Davis's instinct was to micromanage the war. In 1862, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus (as did Abraham Lincoln in certain cases) and used handpicked generals, like Gen. Braxton Bragg, to suppress internal dissent. Bragg imposed martial law in Atlanta, a crucial industrial center, despite the city being hundreds of miles from the front lines and not yet directly threatened by the U.S. Army.

These moves alienated politicians, to whom Davis seemed a dictator. Georgia Governor Joseph Brown was alarmed that Davis and his "military men are assuming the whole powers of government to themselves." Davis's policies also enraged the poorest Confederate civilians and soldiers, many of whom eventually turned against the war and helped destroy the Confederacy from within.

With an early burst of volunteers dwindling, by the spring of 1862, the Confederacy turned to coercion to fill its ranks, implementing the first draft in U.S. history. White men ages 18-35 had to serve the Confederate military for three years, and soldiers already enlisted had to stay for two more years. Before long, the upper age limit increased to 50. The Confederacy even turned to child soldiers, lowering the draft age to 17 in 1864. [bold added]
Again, familiar.

As I said before, the two big similarities, overconfidence in their military and a rights-violating, increasingly authoritarian government are related: They are manifestations of the idea that society is a collective to be organized by force, rather than government force being subordinated to the purpose of protecting the individual rights of citizens.

Regarding the Civil War, Ayn Rand summed up the outcome thus:
It is capitalism that gave mankind its first steps toward freedom and a rational way of life. It is capitalism that broke through national and racial barriers, by means of free trade. It is capitalism that abolished serfdom and slavery in all the civilized countries of the world. It is the capitalist North that destroyed the slavery of the agrarian-feudal South in the United States. ("Racism," in The Virtue of Selfishness, 1963)
Of course, the parallels are not exact and there are other considerations, but it is striking how well relatively free Ukraine -- smaller than Russia and written off by many at the beginning of the invasion -- has done in this war, and how poorly Russia has fared.

-- CAV

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