In a recent post, Lynne Patrick Doyle recently submitted the following to
>The American abolition of slavery was an extraordinary moment in the
>history of humanity of a people taking a united stand against the
>enslavement of their fellow human beings.
>It is indeed a starkly moral, an incandescent, moment.
As a student of history I would like to suggest a few of my thoughts on
this view of emancipation in particular, and this type of historical memory
more generally. And finally I would like to pose a question.
First on the abolition of slavery: While there is no doubt that the
emancipation of slaves in 1863 had earth-shattering consequences, we must
remember the tortured path to the final freeing of the slaves. In saying
this I do not mean the long history of slavery and emancipation throughout
the history of antebellum America. I am referring instead to the history
of the Emancipation Proclamation that many people seem to forget. Lincoln
did not free the slaves when he entered the White House. Instead he waited
until the end of 1862 to announce his decision, a decision that was based
on military necessity and not moral considerations. Furthermore, neither
the preliminary nor the final Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery
in the United States. During the war only the slaves in states of active
rebellion were freed, meaning that those in MD, TN and MO remained in
bondage. It was not until the passage and ratification of the 13th
Amendment in 1865 that slavery was truly abolished in the US. And even
then political considerations played a huge role--re-entry into the union
was contingent upon rebel states ratifying the amendment.
Why this tangent into Civil War history? I find the memory of the Civil
War an interesting parallel to the memory of the Vietnam War. People have
redefined the Civil War as all about slavery and they have placed Lincoln
and his Emancipation Proclamation on a pedestal--yesterday was Juneteenth,
the celebration of the last slaves in Texas learning they were free. But
the history was infinitely more complicated. Morality was only one factor
in the decision to free the slaves.
I would suggest that similarly, morality was only one aspect of why
Americans finally turned against the Vietnam War in 1968, yet the moral
opposition to the war dominates the history of the antiwar movement.
Obviously a sizable segment of the American population--particularly the
formal movements of the Left--opposed the war on moral grounds--certainly
that was why so many of the contributors to this list fought against the
war. But when more than half of Americans told pollsters in 1968 that they
did not support the war in Vietnam, what exactly were they saying?
It seems to me that only a portion of the sentiment of the time is
represented on this list. Certainly other Americans turned against the war
because they felt we had paid too high a price, others thought the war was
unwinnable. But I have noted in some of my local research, and some
historians have argued more generally, that many were simply saying since
we'll never fight the war the way it should be fought, then we should get
out. When teaching the Vietnam War to my students, I find that these are
many of the perspectives they want to know about. They have been taught,
or more likely they have heard, about the moral arguments that many made
against the war, but they are seeking more than that. They want a more
So I pose this question to this list, What were Americans saying when they
turned against the war? I have taken what you have all said about your
own personal histories to heart, and I hope to convey such sentiments to my
students when I teach this time period again. But what do you consider the
range of responses to the war, the complexity of antiwar sentiment? What
was going on beyond the moral arguments against the war?
I thank you in advance.
Craig M. Kind email@example.com
Department of History Grad Program
University of California, Irvine
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