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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Abraham Lincoln Hates America

The war was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President" and justified by the "sheerest deception." These are not the words of some liberal New England Democrat about the current Iraq war, but those of Congressman Abraham Lincoln in the U.S. House of Representatives in Jan. 1848, explaining his opposition to the ongoing Mexican War. Conservative pundit Sean Hannity's nineteenth-century counterpart would have labeled the Illinois Representative an "apologist" for the bellicose Mexicans and responsible for emboldening America's enemies and endangering American soldiers. Does Abraham Lincoln hate America?

With over 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq and investigations into the use of prewar intelligence to sell the war to the public, an increasing number of Americans are becoming war critics. Today, these critics and their motivations are portrayed troublesomely. War proponents unfairly label critics "anti-American," "pro-terrorist" and against American troops. In the vast majority of instances, the exact opposite is true.

In his Veteran's Day address in Tobyhanna, Penn., President George Bush lambasted critics who question his decision to wage war in Iraq, declaring that "these baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." President Bush cannot reconcile his view that war critics "send the wrong signal" both at home and abroad with the fact that, according to the latest Newsweek poll, 65 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of Iraq. Does the President think mainstream America is undermining the war effort?

Patriotism does not always necessitate being pro-war. Many ardent supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ended the mass murders and rape rooms in Iraq, opposed the 1999 Balkan campaign, which ended the mass murders and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Critics are raising questions about the war not because of concerns for the safety of Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda jihadists in Iraq. Instead, the overwhelming majority of critics protest out of concern for the lives of American troops. Analogously, Senator John McCain is opposed to the American use of torture not because he deeply cares about the physical comfort of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but because of his vehement embrace of the ideal of "America" as the "city on the hill."

While war critics may indirectly aid America's enemies by reducing support for the war and producing "peace candidates," (e.g. Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968), the same "butterfly effect" logic can be applied to anything and everything. CNN and al-Jazeera broadcasted images of governmental incompetency in the face of Hurricane Katrina to the entire globe. President Bush's poor management of a large-scale disaster in an American city emboldened al Qaeda by painfully revealing how unprepared American cities are for attacks by weapons of mass destruction. Gas-guzzling SUV drivers can be charged with propping up oil-rich Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes that incubate Islamic fundamentalism and al Qaeda. But none of these measures were undertaken to intentionally help the enemy. Do CNN, President Bush and SUV drivers hate America? No.

Labels such as "anti-American" and "against the troops" are used to simply quell and discredit legitimate dissent. War proponents that merely shrug off any critics of the conduct of the war as "apologists" actually imperil America. The "love it or leave it" mentality endangers the United States because the absence of meaningful debate will leave genuine mistakes uncorrected.

Americans are pragmatists who analyze the costs and benefits of American military conflict. While President John F. Kennedy idealistically promised that America would "pay any price, bear any burden" to support freedom abroad, the American people in reality put a price on Vietnamese freedom: 58,000 American soldiers. The same American public may put a price on Iraqi freedom. As the human and monetary cost of Iraq has risen, the support for the war effort has waned.

The nonexistent, yet promised, stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction decreased the benefits of Operation Iraqi Freedom while the Bush Administration's poor planning unnecessarily raised the costs of the war. Instead of demeaning war critics, President Bush should inspire them. The onus lies on President Bush, as commander-in-chief, to reassure the nation that the benefits of success in Iraq will outweigh the human and monetary costs of the war.