The Neo-Copperheads

Henry P. Wickham, Jr.:

The Iraqi War has produced a new crop of defeatists as demonstrated by the recent "peace" rallies and the grandstanding of the new Democratic Congress. By defeatists I do not mean those in 2003 who could offer reasonable proposals for controlling Saddam Hussein other than war, or those who want victory but disagree with the military and diplomatic tactics. By defeatists I mean those who advocate action today that would ensure victory for our enemies in Iraq with all its negative consequences for this country.

Unfortunately, defeatism in the midst of a serious war is nothing new in US history. Our Civil War threatened to destroy the free regime created by our Founders, and it threatened to create a regime in the South based explicitly on the tyranny of slavery. The serious strategic, political, and moral implications of the defeat of Union forces were not enough to discourage the "Copperheads" or the "Peace Democrats" in the North. They, like our contemporary "Peace Democrats," strongly advocated policies for the US government that would have made victory for this tyranny inevitable.

Jennifer L.Weber has recently published a valuable book: Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North. Santayana's aphorism that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it is one that sounds much deeper than it really is. History never truly repeats itself, and there are always different circumstances and personalities who must address the serious issues of a particular time. However, one cannot read this book at this point in the Iraq war without noting strong similarities as well as differences that are both interesting and telling. First and foremost, American has produced Neo-Copperheads whose tactics and goals are as damaging as the originals.

Copperheads (aptly named after the poisonous snake) demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities, and they reviled Lincoln for continuing the military campaign against the South. One mode of attack was to ridicule his intelligence and appearance. George McClellan, the Democratic nominee in 1864, referred to Lincoln as an idiot and "the original gorilla." (p.183) (italics in the original). The constant references of our Neo-Copperheads to President Bush's supposed lack of intelligence and his "chimp"-like characteristics are nothing original. In the dark days of the summer of 1864, even the sitting Attorney General, Lincoln's version of Chuck Hagel or John Warner, stated that the country's greatest need was a "a competent leader."

There is much more history and unfortunately it does appear to be repeating itself. The opposition to the war in Iraq has turned into investment in defeat and if we lose it will be these opponents of the war who will own that defeat. It is interesting how the angry left has revived the language of the Copperheads to go along with their policy of defeat.


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