A third of a million men died to save the Union, and I get to sleep late.

About a third of a million men died on the Union side of the War of the Rebellion.

Consequently, I got to sleep late today.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I needed the sleep and I’m deeply grateful for it. Still there seems to be a disconnect between the two basic purposes of our system of public holidays: commemorating important events, people, and values on the one hand and providing an occasional break from the rhythm of the work-week on the other.

My media consumption has been somewhat limited by travel this weekend, but though I’ve seen references to veterans generically I’ve seen none to the Civil War dead specifically, despite the fact that Memorial Day (nee Decoration Day) was originally dedicated to decorating Union graves.

Other than the proposal that we observe the holiday on its proper date rather than on the nearest Monday (which would work for Washington’s Birthday but not Memorial Day or Labor Day) and that we restore the original names of Washington’s Birthday and Decoration Day and Armistice Day, I don’t have any idea what to do about this, except to lament it.

And to ask that you take a minute, right now, to think about what it took to keep the Republic together and what you can do to defend it from its current internal enemies, whose ideas aren’t really that far from those of the last set, except that this time some of the plutocrats have foolishly decided to line up with the racists against “the last, best hope of Earth.”

Footnote If you think the last line is unfair, ask yourself which candidate Jefferson Davis would vote for this year, and which candidate Abraham Lincoln would vote for.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

38 thoughts on “Disproportion”

  1. Note: While the February holiday is commonly known as Presidents’ Day (or President’s Day, or Presidents Day), and widely believed to have been officially renamed to one of those variants, the Federal holiday continues to bear the official name of Washington’s Birthday.

  2. Jefferson Davis would support Virgil Goode lololol.
    Anyway, there are a number of counties that supported Lincoln in 1860 and McCain in 2008. Maybe you like to think of a continuity of people in the rural parts of the Mid-West and North-East supporting Republicans because of a commitment, shared through time, to community-based capitalism as opposed to a racist caste system in 1860 or what was understood to have been an unweildy welfare state in 2008.

  3. We were up early. Because my eldest daughter had off today, she and my wife went to the Korean Spa this morning together for a mother-daughter bonding experience. It gets crowded as the day progresses, so they went early. I was woken by her getting herself together.

    It took two wars to set up that mother-daughter bonding experience. Not only the American Civi War that created the holiday, but the Korean Conflict which was instrumental in establishing the pathway to Korean immigration which created the Korean community in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC which provides the customer base for the Korean Spa.

    It is hard to predict consequences.

  4. A friend posted to facebook his thanks to those who served and died. I responded by asking whether it might also be appropriate to remember them when electing those who would easily vote for more war, and whether part of this day ought to be spent thinking of the true true cost of what we so often give lip service to. I was gently rebuked.

    Thus, I spent part of today contemplating my own conflicted feelings about military service, about just and unjust sacrifice, and the fact that because of my father’s experience nearly dying in Vietnam I was raised to be highly skeptical of superficial and obedience patriotism. At the same time there are bad people out there who would hurt us, and I am thankful that there exists a military machine that so many enter into, willingly placing their hearts and minds under external command.

    1. That sort of thing is why I try not to have real discussions on FB. It’s just not a good forum for it. I think yours was an excellent question and it is no insult to the people who’ve died serving our country. Mind you, I wouldn’t bring it up with someone who’d just lost someone, either.

  5. The Civil War was the day before yesterday. Human nature hasn’t changed since then. And many, many Americans, although they can’t own you outright, would not hesitate to rob you blind, or even poison you and your kids — perhaps with tobacco — for profit.”

    If their selfish, heartless actions drive your family into poverty and despair . . . SO WHAT?! It’s just business!!

  6. “and what you can do to defend it from its current internal enemies”

    Ah yes. “My political opponents are enemies of the state.” Such a charming provenance – that idea.

    Your man crush on Barack Obama really has eaten away at any shred of decency you once had. Oh well.

    1. Such a charming provenance – that idea.

      Hannity’s first Weekly Enemy of the State address in 2007:

      It is surprising that this slipped under the radar, but during the Sunday inaugural of Sean Hannity’s new program on Fox News “Hannity’s America,” the host declared actor Sean Penn an “Enemy of the State” for his vitriolic remarks about the President and others in the Administration


      Your man crush on Stupidity really has eaten away at any shred of decency you once had. Oh well.

      1. Ad, are you under some impression that you are in a position to judge?

        When it comes down to wretched defenders of villainy, you are on that list.

    2. personally, speaking as a 50 year-old white man from central texas, i think the last two years have more than demonstrated that the modern republican party is the party of lunatics and traitors but if you think the republican party has demonstrated an ability to govern this country given its performance over the past 12 years, by all means vote for them.

      i really intended to post something more applicable to the whole thread rather then responding to your comment so i’ll append it here for added value–

      “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even the past.”–faulkner

    3. Not “enemies of the State.” They love the State. Enemies of the Republic. There’s a difference. “When tyranny comes to America, it will come wrapped in the Flag and bearing the Cross.”

      1. The fact that you cannot even see the irony in calling a political party that generally nets between 45% and 55% of the vote (depending on the election and the geography) of your countrymen “Enemies of the Republic” is pathetic.

        To the comment a few spaces about about Sean Hannity – so what? Mr. Hannity is a slimy hack whose commentary is generally harmful to civility in the public sphere. But the fact that such slimy hacks exist on the political right (and they surely do) does not in fact make it any less slimy, or any less hacky for people on the political left to employee the EXACT same rhetorical tactics. There are a lot of folks on the left who spent the greater part of 2000-2008 loudly shouting “how dare they!” at any suggestion, real or imagined, that their patriotism was being questioned. “Dissent is Patriotic” and all that. And bully for them. But now that a Democrat is in the White House and running for re-election then it’s apparently perfectly acceptable in some quarters to use the occasion of a holiday dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of veterans* to quite boldly and unambiguously question the patriotism of the “internal enemies” of The Republic who just happen to be the people who think that the top marginal tax rate should be 35%, rather than the people who think that the top marginal tax rate ought to be 40%.

        *Veterans being a population which is apparently filled with Enemies of the Republic: http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/229715-poll-romney-tops-obama-by-28-points-among-male-veterans

        1. Sean Hannity works for Roger Ailes, who works for Rupert Murdoch. Has any Republican dared to criticize any part of Fox News? No, I didn’t think so. The fact that, with the help of Murdoch, super-PACS, fear, and voting-prevention laws they can fool some of the people some of the time is neither here nor there. The same faction (minus the plutocrats, and in the second case without the South) got 45% or more of the vote in 1860 and 1864. Does that mean they weren’t enemies of the Republic then?

          Yes, people who win elections by trying to prevent their opponents from voting, and who are currently using unlimited corporate money to buy elections, are enemies of “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That’s the Republic to which I swear allegiance. How about you?

          1. I canoed the Buffalo River over the weekend with our church group, and on Saturday, several of us visited the Bull Shoals Dam. In the visitors’ center, among the items on display was the speech Truman made on its dedication, sixty years ago this summer. It was both a document of today and of another world, and here it is. I’d like to highlight one quote from it in which he may not have been entirely borne out by history:

            That’s what they say about a lot of things the Government is doing these days. Take the American Medical Association–it uses the same slogan in its fight against better health and hospital services for the common man. The real estate lobby uses the same lying slogan in its fight against housing programs. In other words, every time we try to do something for the people, some special interest pops up and yells “socialism.” And that’s what has happened here. And you know there is just as much truth in the other things as there was in this, and so guide yourselves accordingly.

            Now, I should like to give the private power companies a little warning. You can’t fool the people of this country. No matter how much of the consumers’ money you spend on false and misleading advertising, you just can’t beat the commonsense of the American people.

        2. SD, it’s a weird and specious argument to say that just because a group gets close to 50% of a vote, they can’t be wrong, or enemies of the republic. Truth is not manufactured by pluralities. Germany in the Weimar period was a democracy, and the plurality voted for a ruinous government and policy. Other examples abound.

          1. SD, it’s a weird and specious argument to say that just because a group gets close to 50% of a vote, they can’t be wrong, or enemies of the republic.

            That’s true and well put. But at least little sd got this part correct:

            Mr. Hannity is a slimy hack whose commentary is generally harmful to civility in the public sphere

            I didn’t think little sd had that in him. And thought to expose his “boy-crush” on all things ugly and right-wingish. He proved me wrong. So a tip of the hat.

  7. sd,

    One need not have a man-crush on Obama–I’m leaning strongly toward voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party here in CA–to understand that those Republican Congressmen and Senators in the Republican Party are the ones who are indecent. They are extremists who do not want the federal government having any use other other than for repressive action in the form of local, state and federal police/military. Their economic proposals clearly trend toward aggrandizement of corporate power akin to enslaving people without having individual rights at work or generally building a two-class society: The 1% exulted and feted with public subsidy and power enhancement while the rest of us are impoverished. Listen to their rhetoric and hostility toward anything approaching nation building and nation sustaining. Listen to their de-legitimizing the public sphere, again for anything other than police action.

    There is an echo of the Civil War aristocratic slaveholders emanating from the right wing politicians and pundits. They are on the side of Jefferson Davis even in the way they speak about the Civil War.

    Sci-fi writer David Brin has rightly called this the Cold War version of the Civil War, or Civil War II. Where I disagree with Mark K. is that I see Obama as sort of like Buchanan, not Lincoln…:-)

    1. i think the buchanan analogy fits clinton better while a better fit for obama would be grover cleveland.

      1. Right:

        Buchanan/Clinton crying plaintively, “can’t we all just get along?” *before* the deluge.

        Cleveland/Obama lending “reform” credibility to a fairly robust defense of the status quo *after* the deluge.

        Same (nominal) party on top both then and now, but with the political “magnetic poles” reversed.

        The South Has Risen Again … via leveraged buyout of the “Party of Lincoln(tm)”

    2. One thing I’ve noticed. When I was a kid, in the 1960’s, WWII had more immediacy than the Civil War. But WWII has now retreated into the mists of history, and the Civil War remains: the only history that an amnesiac America really has.

    3. “I’m leaning strongly toward voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party here in CA”

      Nader 2012! (Because it worked out so well in 2000.)

      1. It’s okay for Mitch and a handful of others (and it will be a relative handful) to vote for Stein (or Nader or Gary Johnson or…) because the outcome in California is pretty much fixed. Rmoney has slightly less chance of winning than a Calvin-sized snowball has of surviving for more than minute in a blast furnace.

        The potential for harm comes in States where the ballot count will be close: Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, etc.

        1. That’s great. I remember the “vote-trading” schemes from 2000. You know what? Believing it’s ok to do something dimwitted because it makes you feel better about yourself is unethical. The fact that the way it makes people who do these dimwitted things feel better is that it makes them feel ethically superior to everyone else is just the ironical icing on the cake.

          1. I don’t feel better about myself, Larry. I feel depressed and even angry that a guy like Obama can act so strongly on behalf of the 1% and still call himself a Democrat in any modern sense. And it sickens me that we would have to vote for a guy like Obama who acts like the bad kid in Toy Story I when it comes to drone technology, and continuing to support rendition for torture. I know, I know. Ro-money’s worse. It just keeps getting worse and worse is what I see, and there is nobody in The Property Party’s two wings, Democratic and Republican, taking care of workers and their families. Nobody with power, that is.

  8. Well said. I was an air force officer from 1988-92 and I would never have predicted that we would go to war and sacrifice American lives in the way that we have in Iraq and, even in a justifiable, yet poorly managed, war in Afghanistan. What has happened to our politics in the last the last 11 years since the attacks on the WTC (where I lost a friend) and the pentagon (where I had numerous friends who survived) is utterly obscene. I take Memorial Day as an a space to mourn those lost to war and to hope that politicians will stop shedding lives on the basis of whim and, let’s be honest, wedge politics. I am appalled at the decline of America in the last 30 years (since the enshrinement of Reagan’s policies of the self as the fundamental unit of Americans) and I merely hope for a respite from the ongoing damage from people who have no understanding of what it means to be a Constitutional, rebellious, free and revolutionary society dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There was a time when the U.S. was seen as a true friend of freedom and an inspiration around the world. I am horrified (by my naivete, and) by what we have become (a nation that supports torture among other things). And fearful at how much worse we could get. I only hope that our legendary powers of self-correction will help us.

    1. A couple years ago, I shocked my conservative relatives by taking my family to the cemetery in Colma, CA where Admiral Nimitz and many of his colleagues (of all ranks) are buried. I wanted my son to know about the people who dealt with an acute crisis and overcame it back in the 1940s. And about the fact that Nimitz (not alone) was very aware that the storm was coming well in advance. For those who are genuinely paying attention, it’s possible to anticipate and *prepare* for major crises.

      I cannot forget the fact that American involvement in WWII took less than half the time our government spent improvising ‘missions’ for our military in the middle east (aka the Afghan and Iraq ‘wars’.)

      I suspect the all volunteer force has something to do with this. It’s just too easy for the ruling class to opt out, forget the realities of war and turn their attention to playing war-games with “toy soldiers”.

  9. A couple of disconnected thoughts:

    Chris Hayes mentioned that in 1865 freed slaves in Charleston SC celebrated a memorial day for those who died in the cause of their freedom.
    And on The Google there are conflicting reports of the first Memorial Day in Delaware, Mississippi and Charleston variously. Computers give us access to so much information we never know what is true.

    The most anti war people I know are disabled vets. I have no doubt that most soldiers who were not even so fortunate would get in line ahead of those DAVs.

    The GOP became the party of war as well as racism when Nixon taught them that hate wasn’t just for Commies anymore and it’s a sure fired way to win elections. Good money in it too.
    Now that the electorate is really tired of and bored with war not so much any more but racism, sexism, anti-gayism and xenophobia of all stripes still gets them hate the other juices flowing so beat that drum till you just can’t beat it no more.

    God bless the victims of war, living and dead.
    God forgive the prosecutors of war, in particular the man at the Rehoboth Beach rally in the black “Mellon Group” windbreaker who smiled when he said how much money there was to be made out of war.

    Learn peace. It’s cheaper and better for your health.

  10. Wouldn’t Lincoln just vote for Romney?

    He was far more conservative on racial and gender issues than Romney. He ran a far smaller government than Romney proposes, with lower marginal tax rates, weaker regulations, and a more threadbare social safety net.

    I suppose Lincoln might notice that Romney’s a liar, but we can hardly enlist him as a supporter of the New Deal, the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and the gay rights movement.

    1. I think you’re running into the problem you’d have with bringing any historical figure of that era into the future. I don’t know all that much about Lincoln, but you’d probably want to look at his deeper principles – the way he thought – when trying to predict how he might approach today’s issues. Still, so much of how we think today is informed by witnessing the errors of the past, and having the benefit of seeing the result of social experimentation; i.e. child labor during the industrial revolution, gays in the military.

      1. MCollins is wrong because Lincoln wanted a robust government in terms of internal improvements. He was a Clay man through and through on that issue. There is a thread that binds Hamilton to Clay to Lincoln to TR to FDR and to LBJ. He also had a strong sense for labor over capital, and said so publicly. He supported the Homestead Act, which was positively radical for many politicians who had any interest in being president.

        That he was probably not very good on gay marriage is not enough to make him support a guy like Romney. And even his bouts of racist statements should be seen more as part of the time, since he was willing to meet with and be respectful toward Frederick Douglass, for example. And he did end up freeing slaves in the South, and was pushing for an end to all slavery by the ending months of the Civil War, even as he was ambivalent as to what to do with the soon to be former slaves, voicing once or twice, and then rejecting it, moving the former slaves to Liberia.

  11. And to ask that you take a minute, right now, to think about what it took to keep the Republic together and what you can do to defend it from its current internal enemies, whose ideas aren’t really that far from those of the last set, except that this time some of the plutocrats have foolishly decided to line up with the racists against “the last, best hope of Earth.”

    This is self-refuting. Last time around, the plutocrats opposed the New Deal. They were (as you admit) not aligned with the racists back then. That means the ideas of said racists were closer to those of the New Dealers.

    Or, to illustrate, all known votes of the Senators from the 11 fully-confederate states on the major New Deal legislation that Scotus struck down as unconstitutional:

    1933 National Industrial Recovery Act – NIRA

    AL Aye John Bankhead [D]
    AL Aye Hugo Black [D]

    AR Aye Joseph Robinson [D]
    AR Aye Hattie Caraway [D]

    FL Aye Park Trammell [D]

    GA Aye Walter George [D]
    GA Aye Richard Russell [D]

    LA Aye John Overton [D]
    LA Aye Huey Long [D]

    MS Aye Hubert Stephens [D]
    MS Aye Byron Harrison [D]

    NC Aye Josiah Bailey [D]
    NC Aye Robert Reynolds [D]

    SC Aye James Byrnes [D]
    SC Ellison Smith [D]

    TN Aye Nathan Bachman [D]
    TN Aye Kenneth McKellar [D]

    TX Aye Morris Sheppard [D]
    TX Nay Thomas Connally [D]


    This don’t look like no TeaParty.

  12. I have no idea who Jefferson Davis or Lincoln would vote for today, the issues of the day being practically orthogonal to anything at stake in their era. I find it laughable that you think their votes are obvious.

    I rather suspect Lincoln at least would stick with the GOP; While Lincoln set out the free the slaves, (Arguably as a side effect of dragging the Confederate states back into the Union, rather than a primary goal.) his stated aims hardly align well with the current concepts of affirmative action, let alone the quota system that hides behind the ideal. Ever heard of “Liberia”? It’s something of a joke that Democrats idolize the man, though in at least one respect he’s like another Democratic idol, JFK: His premature death made it easy to imagine he was better than the real man.

    While Jefferson Davis would be comfortable with the Democratic party’s continued strategy of racial spoils, he’d probably be uncomfortable with who gets them. He’d have no natural home in today’s modern politics.

    1. Brett, it is rather too well known that Lincoln’s ideas on slavery, and emancipation, evolved over time to what would be a Democratic and liberal position by today’s standards for your little insinuations to have even the slightest persuasive force. More to the point, Lincoln would clearly support those who favor a unified American polity, rather than the secessionist, vote-suppressing teabagger/Republican rabble.

    2. I’ll play dueling quotes for one round only:
      “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Lincoln’s First Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861.

      Sounds like a democrat to me, perhaps even a Socialist!

      Regardless, we can look to the founders and great men of history for inspiration, but we have to do the hard work of deciding ourselves. The dead hands of our founders do not steer the rudder of our state.

    3. Good grief. Lincoln was morally and rationally fallible — i.e., a human being — therefore he wasn’t a great human being.

      What makes great human beings great is that they are able to achieve what they achieve in the face of their moral and rational fallibility. Otherwise, you know, they’d be gods, and it would be a piece of cake.

  13. “War of the Rebellion” — I caught that. Must be one of those northern sore winners who objects to “War of Yankee Aggression”.

      1. Each state displays the statues of two native sons or daughters in the Capitol. Needless to say Mississippi and Virginia include statues of Davis and Lee respectively. Which incensed me to the point where I asked the poor National Park Service guide standing by who was next — perhaps Benedict Arnold, or the Rosenbergs?

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