What price glory?

November 25, 2009


In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln argued that the family members of those who died fighting for the Union should “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” and that they should “be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have so nobly advanced.”

Though President Lincoln’s patriotism is admirable and his intentions good, his promotion of vengeance and violence is wrong. Using someone’s grief to instill in them the obligation to fight, and even the institution of war itself, is a twisted cycle of greed and devastation that can leave no hope for a happy outcome.

A citizen easily persuaded by the inflammatory language of an elected official can then be easily manipulated into compliance with that politician’s personal agenda. In the pictures of fallen soldiers, many of whom were just out of high school, I see again and again the desire to fulfill their “patriotic duty,” to “protect freedom,” and to become “army strong” reflected in their eyes.

But the outcome of war isn’t peace, more liberty, or a sense a fulfillment. What is left at the end of a fight is an agreement to finally stop, perhaps along with a settlement of money or land. What is left of the young soldier’s heroic, idealized dreams are tears in the eyes of their mothers, spouses, and friends over the sight of a flag-draped casket. And all of their hard work “bringing justice to the enemy,” with every bullet that found its mark, this devastation is spread through thousands of families on the other side, whose children were raised with the same dream of protecting their country.

In the current war in Afghanistan, we are again instigated to fight by our leaders’ rhetoric, in this case to stop terrorists’ hostilities towards America. But by doing this, we are providing a way for terrorism to thrive. If you saw your country torn apart by bombings, your city ravaged by shooting, and your family caught in the cross fire, how could you not hate those who did it and see the country supporting these actions as evil? Americans are inspired to fight by revenge, but we expect our enemies to be less fallible and to not succumb to the consuming desire to avenge the deaths of their people.

It has been said that sometimes war is the only solution and that the ends justify the means. All of these arguments are stated by those who haven’t truly felt the effects of the violence that they condone and promote. The families of the people who have died would never be able to say that their son’s or daughter’s life was a reasonable price to pay for economic or political gains. How can the outcome of a war ever be truly glorious if the victorious side lost even one life full of aspirations, courage, and love? No amount of territory or power, money or oil is worth that.

Alexi Jenkins is a junior at San Luis Obispo High School. Her relatives have fought in WWII, Vietnam, Korea, both Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Funny how so many intelligent people still believe that the civil war was about freeing the slaves! It never ceases to amaze me. I have enjoyed Alexi’s contribution to the opinion feature on the site and all that followed in this thread. I wish there were more takers on this subject.

Mr. Freberg, you should heed your own advice with regard to getting your facts straight. In an August 22, 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it”

In a debate with Stephen Douglas on August 21, 1858, Lincoln said, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races…I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” And, “Free them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them equals.”

I could go on, but I think that these statements from Lincoln himself should be sufficient to cause you to question your perspective without me writing a whole essay on the issue.

It is ironic that you make your statements with such confidence and condescension. Likewise, it is very refreshing to see that the next two posters have such a well-informed perspective on the real issues involved, and their significance in the modern context. I think that understanding the nature of the civil war based on reality and not mythology is critical to having an informed perspective on modern day politics in America.

An informed perspective on modern day politics in America and Afghanistan?

Arthur Silber prolific chronicler of our time, critiques Obama’s speech today.

An old French saying goes something like this… when you are young if you are not a socialist , you have no heart… if older and not a conservative, you have no head.

To make a good argument, get your facts straight. If you own any original editions of books printed prior and during the War of Rebellion ( what many called the civil war at the time), you would discover that slavery was a central issue. Abraham Lincoln was said to have been moved early in his life by the plight of an American Seaman captured and brought into slavery in the north of Africa in the early 1800’s. Robert Adams eventually escaped and wrote about his servitude that moved so many people of that era.( You can buy a reprint of the book, my original is dated 1836).You haven’t probably heard about him and his little book because some folks like to rewrite the past if it doesn’t fit their view of the world. Half a million Americans died in the civil war and the south still shows of the economic devistation of a war they could not win… we can debate the reasonableness of the cost, but slavery was finally over. History is a great teacher for those willing to listen… but that history has to be told accurately and not slanted towards one ideological point or another.

‘Peace comes from the barrel of a gun’ — Mao

The issue was actually states’ rights. That slavery was considered something to be decided by the state was a matter contested by both anti- and pro-slavery elements, with both agitating for secession. The anti-slavery forces advocated it because an escaped slave could be hunted down in a non-slave state, and returned. Therefore they wanted nothing to do with a union that would countenance this. The storied Underground Railroad that delivered escaped slaves to freedom, had to get them all the way to Canada.

By unleashing the forces of militarism to prevent a confederacy under the Constitution, Lincoln instead tipped the equation in favor of armed force and occupation of the south. This resulted in a tradition and culture of racism when instead, if it were a matter to be settled by the courts, a half million Americans wouldn’t have had to die. This is saying nothing about those whose lifes were shattered. Slavery as a form of harnessing labor was economically doomed, especially in the south. If you paid a man to work, you didn’t have to worry about the capital expense of feeding him and his family. Slavery was doomed, and its disappearance did not involve a racist backlash.

Instead we have, in 2009, racist elites throughout the government, despite the president being part Africano-American. And we have wage slaves afraid to unionize, on the one hand, while on the other the federal government lets the minimum wage remain pegged to yesteryear while it turn over the citizen to the piraticism of health insurance companies.

Mr. Freberg thinks of this as having a head, and postures as having his facts right, ‘this’ being the establishment of a federation able to exploit and enslave, or draft for its purposes the citizenry it dupes with lofty rhetoric and fear mongering.

Afraid to unionize??? In the world of people who start and run their own businesses unionization is like getting lung cancer….its only a matter of time till the firm is destroyed. Of course if their is gov’t interference then the taxpayers can bail out the unionists. Joining a gang is said to be good for gang members, more and more unions look like gangs as far as their concern for their country , their fellow man or in fact anything but themselves….as the head of the american teachers union famously said “I will care about the students when they begin paying union dues” . This pretty well sums up the union attitude


At the end of your essay we see that many members of your family have fought in wars through the last 60 years. I don’t know if they have related any stories, or tried to communicate the horrors of combat and occupation. But it is evident from your written thoughts that the invoking of principle for what is otherwise pointless homicide, is poor consolation for the survivors on both sides. As you say, when the mayhem and slaughter fade, it is stopped because of an agreement usually entailing money or land, not the triumph of any principle. Where does that leave the soldiers’ heroic ideals they were asked to die for? What of the inflammatory rhetoric of the elected official, with his/her personal agenda?, you ask. Well these agendas are largely economic and status-oriented.

Return now to the beginning of your essay, with the exhortations of Mr. Lincoln at Gettysburg. He asked his audience to believe those who died there did not die in vain, that they had helped advanced unfinished work. And what was that work? The enslavement of the American citizenry to the presumed military necessities of the Federation, marked most notably by the termination of habeas corpus in those states around Washington DC where there were strong non-federal sympathies. News paper editors and speakers were imprisoned, their first amendment rights shredded. The slavery issue was an afterthought, with Lincoln at first wanting to return slaves to Africa or Latin America. The issue should have been a matter for the Judicial Department, not the War Department. What this led to was an imperious presidential capability, as commander-in-chief, to have the military do the bidding of the mercantile class. And this is exactly what happened. It included ongoing warfare against native Americans, and spilled over into Latin America and the Phillipines as the 19th century ended.

You are seeing its current embodiment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military is the tool of the greatest terrorists in the world. What must be done to the misty-eyed youth who think they are upholding principles while never thinking about losing body parts and having their brains addled by explosions, is bring them the light of knowledge, engage them, even if they are only thinking of enlisting, and tell them what you know.