Tonight, many of us will celebrate in the time-honored tradition of high spirits and good-fellowship, the arrival of 2005. One hundred and forty-two years ago this night, people across the continent also welcomed the passing of the old into the new–many of them with a joy they had not believed possible. These were people of African descent, and they knew that, at the stroke of midnight 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, technically freeing millions of men and women enslaved by the Confederate States of America.
One month from today, the Iraqi people will–insha’allah–vote in the first free elections ever held in that nation’s tortured history. As with the Emancipation Proclamation, however, “free” is a relative term. How “free” elections can be in a country where foreign troops must guard voters against paramilitary gunmen who seek to murder democracy is open to debate. We might, though, exercise some self-restraint and allow some Iraqis a say in this matter. As the renown trio of bloggers at Iraq the Model expressed in a December 29th post entitled “God Bless All the Lists,”
Iraqis’ response to terror was so clear; after the terrorists, or the so-called insurgents, threatened to slaughter anyone who participates in the elections, 7,200 Iraqis rushed to announce their candidacy. YES, 7,200 Iraqis represented more than 200 different political parties–and I believe this makes the image clearer for the viewer.
Will the Iraqi elections be “free?” Possibly not by the standards of Jimmy Carter or U.N. officials; certainly not the lights of the anti-war camp who, unthreatened by fascist paramilitaries, reactionary psychopaths and random acts of unspeakable violence, make a fetish of their own moral purity. But we, who support this war, should not allow they, who do not, let the perfect defeat the good. What will happen in Iraq on January 30 will not be ideal. It will not be neat or completely satisfactory. But after the horrors the Iraqi people have suffered, and continue to endure, it will be good. Perhaps, like the Emancipation Proclamation, it will be miraculous.
We might further pause to consider what happened nearly 150 years ago. How, culminating decades of mounting tension, the rebel shelling of Fort Sumter precipitated a war that nearly destroyed the United States, yet led, with the Union’s victory, to the 14th Amendment and the legal–if not practical–abolishment of slavery. We might reflect, as well, on the difficult period of the Reconstruction. Then, as now, a “foreign” army “occupied” a defeated nation; then, as now, hooded paramilitaries called the Ku Klux Klan “resisted” the occupiers and sought to terrorize people back into slavery; then, as now, the process of freedom met numerous setbacks and failures–and to many, the process is not yet complete. We might also ponder the fact,contra the arguments of the anti-war camp, democracy can–and has been–imposed on a recalcitrant population at the point of a gun.
The liberation and reconstruction of Iraq is part of a larger conflict against Islamofascism. Just as, say, the Union drive across Tennessee contributed to the demise of slavery, so too victory in Iraq will help roll back the tide of tribal and religious oppression that has gripped the Middle East (often, unfortunately, with our blessing and assistance.) This is another way of saying that at the base of this war lie fundamental concepts of freedom and dignity. Or, to put it more simply, the battle for Iraq’s future is a matter of human rights. It is a moral, as much as a military, conflict.
To discredit America’s commitment to Iraq, many leftists liken it to Vietnam, knowing full well the chilling effect memories of the Southeast Asian “quagmire” have on public opinion. We should contest their rhetoric with analogies to the Civil War, whose no less chilling memories find noble meaning in the moral imperative of the conflict. The war–never wholly popular in the North–may not have started for the purpose of freeing enslaved peoples, but, guided by Lincoln’s vision and eloquence, that’s how it ended.
September 11 was our Fort Sumter. After years of increasingly bold assaults from Islamofascists, that attack drew us into a confusing and uncertain war for issues that only gradually have become clear. (How many people before 9-11 knew about Wahhabism? Or truly cared about the despotism of Saddam Hussein? Or concerned themselves with the status of women in the Middle East?) Now, we find ourselves engaged, like the North, in a war to drag a large segment of the human race into the modern world. Refusing to recognize the necessity of this endeavor, our “peace” activist friends posit objections based on Saddam’s supposed inability to threaten the U.S., the lack of WMDs, worldwide castigation of the war and the additional suffering it inflicts on the Iraqi people. All reasonable, valid and in many ways true. But like the reasonable, valid and truthful arguments leveled against the Civil War–“Lincoln’s War”–they fall short as criteria with which to judge the moral necessity of the conflict: to free enslaved human beings.
December 31, 1862 also witnessed the battle of Stone River, or Murfreesboro. Fought in western Tennessee, the battle cost 12,906 Union and 11,739 Confederate casualties, the eighth most bloody battle of the Civil War. But with that victory, the North secured most of Tennessee and moved a step closer–despite future reversals–to defeating the Confederacy. Most importantly, the Union lives spent in that battle joined with the sacrifice of thousands of others during the course of the war to make New Year’s Day, 1863–Emancipation Day–an event whose promise was long delayed, but certain to arrive. As Martin Luther King declared a century later, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
A month from now, we will witness that arc and see where it will bend. We can only pray the the Iraqi people rise to the occasion, and meet its call. It is not a sure thing. Although the freedom train eventually reaches the station, the passage is difficult and the schedule unclear–and many wait their lives in vain. Federal troops may not have given a hardtack biscuit for Confederate slaves, but their sacrifices led to the freedom of those African men and women. From the ashes of the World Trade Center to dusty palm groves of the Sunni Triangle to places yet to come, Americans–soldiers and civilians alike–are making the same sacrifice for the same cause of freedom. And, God willing, we shall prevail.
Best wishes to everyone for a safe and prosperous New Year.
Posted by Steven Vincent