C is for Cannibalism and Captain America PART 2: Civil War – The one with Spider-Man, not Slavery

Read Part 1 Here.

Cinema

Before we start: I am only going by the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America and Iron Man so that you don’t have to read 70 years of comics to understand this article and I don’t have to deal with all the people pulling counter-examples from stupid crap writers have done to the characters, like building an extrajudicial prison which basically trapped people in a perpetual nightmare (Iron Man) or accidentally taking a ton of meth  and pretending to be a chicken (Captain America). I’m mostly going to be focused on the film Captain America: Civil War, but, I’m also going to have to address the Endgame in the room, meaning spoilers for the MCU through that. If you haven’t seen any of them, you’re okay, I’m gonna summarize the important parts.

Sometimes the movie poster says it all. (Insert poster image underneath. Remember to delete this reminder before posting. Remember this commentary is not funny no matter how meta.)

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Two heroes standing in conflict over their deeply-held ideals. A shield for protecting the innocent against a weapon for punishing the guilty. Two hours of fighting and the audience is left with both sides still believing that they’re doing the right thing. Both sides have points that support their opinions and both sides have disadvantages that they know they have to address. Ultimately, they never really determine what the right answer is, as the coming of Thanos renders the whole thing moot and bigger fish had to be fried. So, why did everyone pick the side they did? Well, let’s take a look through the lens and see what the movies tell us up to this point.

Concession

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the invincible Iron Man, spent three solo movies and one Avengers film proving that he is the absolute last person who should have the ability to act as an international agent of justice. In all three of his movies and Age of Ultron, he either A) creates the villain, B) gives the villain the technology they need to be effective, or C) there is no third option because he’s literally that bad at his job. And that’s completely in line with his character. Tony doesn’t have strong moral principles to shape his actions. Instead, he views everything in terms of solvable problems because, above all things, he’s an engineer. That works fine almost every time, particularly when you’re a super-genius but, like Oppenheimer and Nobel before him, sometimes he doesn’t really consider the possible consequences of his actions. So, after he almost lost the love of his life to a villain he’d empowered and his creation Ultron almost destroyed Earth, Tony was finally ready to accept that, maybe, he needed someone else to watch over his decisions.

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He literally gave a sociopath superpowers while drunk.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans and his muscles) learned the opposite lesson. In the first Captain America movie, he learned that the US was planning on abandoning probable POWs behind enemy lines (which is a thing that happens in war) so he risks his life to rescue them, believing that his way is right above the Army’s. In The Avengers, a shadowy group almost nukes Manhattan as a solution to an alien invasion that the group was, at that point, dealing with pretty successfully. In Winter Soldier, Cap learns that HYDRA, the secret Nazi cabal that he thought he beat in WWII, has actually infiltrated the American secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and all but taken them over. So, the one organization that he trusted to safeguard America and tell him where to go and who to fight was run by the last people who should have been doing that. So, Steve learned a valuable lesson about not giving too much of your own power up to groups.

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Yeah, when you realize you’re accidentally helping Nazis, it changes things.

They’d managed to deal with these differences up until the point where Captain America and his… mini-Avengers? I’m going with mini-Avengers… mini-Avengers went into a sovereign nation and accidentally blew up a building containing a number of humanitarian workers from another country. Was it all their fault? Oh, hell no. Did it save lives? Almost certainly. Was it the right thing to do? Well, that’s what the rest of the movie is about.

Clash

If you think what Cap did was absolutely correct, let’s flip the scenario around. Let’s suppose a paramilitary group from Lagos (country picked at random) comes into the United States, armed, and uses military force to stop a robbery but incurs collateral casualties. Was that okay? Well, if not, why not? Oh, right, because every country on Earth has a sovereign right over anything that happens within their borders. That’s literally what they’re there for. However, the Avengers (and S.H.I.E.L.D.) pretty much ignore that all the time because it’s inconvenient for the films…  and it would be inconvenient for them to deal with customs.

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People have suggested wars over DRONES being shot down.

The movie Civil War has General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) outline that, even between films, going into other countries without permission is exactly what the Avengers do and basically no one on Earth has any control over them. So, the United Nations proposes the Sokovia Accords, an international agreement which would create a branch of the UN to oversee the Avengers. Tony agrees with the Accords, because he believes that the Avengers need to be accountable and have oversight. Steve doesn’t agree with them because he believes that A) they would limit the effectiveness of the team, B) the people above them would also have agendas which would shape how the team is used, and C) that would put his personal actions at the disposal of others. So, we have a huge fight over this which blows up an airport and drags a teenager in as a soldier, with all of this supposedly orchestrated by a pissed-off soldier who lost his family to the Avengers’ actions in Age of Ultron.

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Admittedly, an awesome fight scene, but extremely forced.

Now, consider this for a second: what if all of this was completely f*cking stupid because they both know the other is also right and that there are practical solutions that would address both of their problems? Oh, right, that would have been a boring movie. It would also have been accurate, because the idea of a vigilante group with no accountability acting internationally and leaving huge amounts of collateral damage is not a thing we should debate. It’s fundamentally against the entire concept of national sovereignty, almost every international agreement in history, and, oh yeah, almost every anti-terrorist resolution. How do you think America would feel if a group of Chinese superheroes showed up and blew up a city block in the name of “stopping crime?” Or just one flew in wearing a suit of armor and just killed a bunch of citizens he deemed to be “terrorists.” Hell, how about just trying to bring the firepower equivalent of a small army into another country? Smaller things have started wars, not conversations. (Full credit to the Russo brothers, however, for having both main characters be in emotionally vulnerable states so that the ensuing plot is more justifiable.)

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Oh, and he flies into another country to murder people with a TANK-BUSTING MISSILE.

Imagine if everyone thought that it was okay for them to beat the hell out of cops for trying to arrest a suspected terrorist just because they believe their friend is innocent or that it was okay to steal a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet. Because that’s what Cap does in the film. Captain America is absolutely in the wrong not just for doing these things, but even for his assertion that it’s okay for him to do them… except for the part where he’s Captain America. Steve Rogers is a moral juggernaut. He will ALWAYS make the right decision, morally, when he is presented with it. He is accountable to himself, something that is a much higher standard than any law or nation. So, when he decides he has to intervene in a situation, it’s basically a certainty that it is a situation in which he is right to intervene. If everyone held themselves to his standards of personal responsibility and morality, laws would be unnecessary, because people would be answerable to a higher authority. The Doctor from Doctor Who said it in the catchiest way possible “Good men don’t need rules.”

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If you’re not one of these Misters Rogers, you probably need some form of rules to guide you.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world filled with Captain America-level saints. In fact, I’d say that people of his level of personal accountability are like a virgin prostitute. Hypothetically, one exists, but I’d be very surprised if you can find one and if you think you are one, you’ve more likely misunderstood at least one fundamental concept. So, because of that, we have to put rules and systems of enforcement in place to hold people accountable for actions which cannot be allowed in a social setting. These range from things like “you can’t take stuff that isn’t yours” to things like “necessity cannot be a defense for murder.” If you don’t agree with these rules, there are ways to change them within the system, but that doesn’t give you the right to ignore them.

However, sometimes situations aren’t going to fit into the mold that the creators of these rules conceived of, and they’re going to become a hindrance. For example, “don’t kill anyone” becomes a problem when someone else is going to kill your family and you don’t reasonably have the ability to non-lethally prevent them. Sometimes, we craft exceptions directly into the laws (more on that later this week), but sometimes we haven’t thought of those exceptions yet or even putting an exception in fundamentally conflicts with a bigger principle. On those occasions, people are faced with a choice: Break the rule to serve a higher good or follow the rule and allow the bad to happen.

Conscience

If the Sokovia Accords had been implemented, this would have been the choice Captain America is saying he’d have to make constantly: To hope the UN would allow him to intervene in situations or to ignore the UN and do it anyway and deal with the legal consequences. If only there were some kind of thing that the UN could put into the system which would allow them to deem certain actions worthy of foregoing punishment based on the context in when they were taken. If only some handsome bastard had put that thing in the title to a series whereby he relates it through pop-culture.

'Avengers: Infinity War' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 23 Apr 2018
No, not that handsome bastard, though he’ll come up later.

 

While the real UN doesn’t have any actual ability to pardon people (due to the nature of the organization), they also don’t do anything that’s like the Sokovia Accords (though, they could). Additionally, there is nothing preventing a commission or group being able to encourage or force clemency (which, while a little different, is the typical term for a pardon around the globe) within a nation as part of their signature on the Sokovia Accords. Countries routinely give up some of their sovereign authority in exchange for a benefit from the UN. We literally have clemency laws in place in almost every country on Earth already, because we know this is what can happen. So, countries might be giving up a little bit of their ability to enforce their own laws, but, in exchange, they get the benefits of having the Avengers be able to respond to threats. Seems like a reasonable trade in a world of alien gods and killer robots. So, Captain America could, if he disagreed with the UN, still act, with the understanding that, if they agree that it was justified afterwards, he would be able to avoid being punished and NOT have to be a fugitive.

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Admittedly, the UN doesn’t have a great track record on most peacekeeping matters.

Even simpler, you could just make conditions in which the Avengers could respond and the permission could be decided retroactively after the intervention, without any form of punishment if the action is in good faith. Hell, under certain circumstances, you can ask for a warrant up to 24 hours after you should need it, and that’s NOT dealing with supervillains. And yet, nobody in the movie points out this would be an easy way to both hold the Avengers accountable and also allow Captain America to act when he feels it’s appropriate. This wouldn’t even require extra clemency decisions, though that could also be incorporated into the system.

But all of this is in the world of fantasy, where the point becomes moot when Angry Grimace steals the rocks of plot convenience. When would you ever need to address concepts like this in the real world? Has anything ever actually been brought up like this? Does anyone have a guess about what the next entry is about? 

Don’t eat anybody, I’ll see you in two weeks.

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Happy Independence Day Quotes

In honor of the anniversary of the nation in which I was born and to which I swear my allegiance, I post the following quotes.

By Mark Twain:

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In a republic, who is the country?

Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.

Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.

In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.

It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians.  Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man.

To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of’.”

By Captain America:

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“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.

This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world–

–No you move.”

By President Andrew Shepherd:

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“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”

These quotes, as much as anything I have ever read, represent the reason why I started this blog. Because meaning can be found within any source, from the traditionally shallow to the epic, if you only are willing to look for it.

What’s interesting to me is that in all three of these, the speaker is contradicting someone saying a version of “Our Country, Right or Wrong!” Here’s the problem, it is not “our country, right or wrong!” It is “Our Country, Right or Wrong! When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right!” Things cannot merely be right because we have done them and things cannot be wrong because we haven’t. It is our responsibility, no matter what our cause, to advocate for it if we really believe in it, and to accept the consequences of that advocacy.

My father used to say that America was represented by the people in the wagon trains headed West. Everyone wanted to get there, but there were always two groups of thought on how: Some thought that everyone who couldn’t make it on their own deserved to be left behind and die, but others thought that the key was to help everyone get there. Sometimes helping meant you pushed a wagon, sometimes helping meant that you lent some water, and sometimes helping meant you walked so someone could ride, but you did it because you believed that once we got to the other side, we’d need what those people knew and what they could do, so that it would be better for everyone.

The best thing about America is that it can change for the better even when we think we’re seeing the decline. What we do wrong can be righted and who we are can be improved. It takes work and it takes time and it takes participation, but we’ve done it a dozen times before and it can be done again.

Happy Fourth of July.

And, since at least one of you wanted these quotes based on the title, I give you:

President Thomas Whitmore:

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Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

And Captain Steven Hiller, USMC:

Welcome to Earth.

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A is for Adventure Time and Abe Lincoln: A PRIMER ON LEADERSHIP (Part 3)

Read PART 1 here and  PART 2 here.

Part 3: Abe Lincoln and Leading for the Long Run

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One way of measuring a good leader vs. a great leader is that a good leader can make most small decisions correctly, but then not be prepared to properly weigh the full impacts of a big decision, which means that even though they make what seems to be the right decision (and might be the one most people want), it isn’t the right decision in the long-run. It takes a lot of thought, experience, and understanding to make a decision like that, or to use that decision to set a principle. As such, I provide an example here:

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

Those of you who read the title or saw the picture probably guessed that’s Abe Lincoln. You did well. Have some money.

abraham lincoln american dollar banknote cash
Do NOT try to spend this.
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Pictured: A popular law

Now, what’s significant about this quote? Well, a few things. First, it was made in 1838. This wasn’t Lincoln running for president, this was him delivering a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Second, it is, for 1838, HEAVILY anti-slavery. While it’s called “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” the title could just as easily have been “Why Slavery Sucks a Big Bag of Donkey Dongs.” It points out that having a law on the books that so much of the country believes was not only wrong but fundamentally immoral made people respect the law less (which any

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This was in a free state.

study of prohibition-era America would support, especially since CONGRESS was one of the biggest violators).

The speech also points out that having politicians and pastors making up lies to support a practice they couldn’t ethically defend lowered the bar for who was eligible for holding offices, both legal and communal. It also pointed out that, rather than trying to support their position through legislation or advocacy, both groups just formed mobs to attack the other. This served to allow for slavery advocates to both openly attack their opponents while also claiming to be the “real victims” who are just standing up against the violent mobs. If this sounds familiar, it’s what every group backing something they can’t defend will do.

AisFor3BabyBathwaterBut, as the quote above points out, Lincoln expresses an opinion that neither mob was correct. Sure, he stated slavery was evil and needed to be abolished for multiple reasons. However, he believed that it needed to be abolished through the established process, because to do otherwise would set a dangerous precedent that societal change could only be activated or resisted through mob violence. You can’t undermine the entire legal system just to oppose a law you disagree with, because then you’re destroying something bigger that FORMS THE BASIS OF OUR SOCIETY. You’re not just throwing out the baby with the bathwater, you’re throwing the house off of a cliff into a volcano.

AisFor3FreeStatesMapLater, after Lincoln was elected president, many of his detractors would point out that he promised in his first inaugural address not to interfere with slavery in any current state, and later in a letter to Horace Greeley stated that he considered his paramount goal to save the Union, not to end slavery. In fact, Lincoln was considered only a “moderate” on the issue of slavery for this reason. He only wanted to propose legislation which would prevent it from spreading to any newly-admitted states (the Dred Scott Decision might have hindered this, however, there were work-arounds available that a legal scholar like Lincoln recognized)… because that would eventually result in a supermajority of electors from non-slave states, and without an economic incentive, Lincoln (likely correctly, given how other countries ended it) believed that the country

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Eminent Domain has changed since then…

would be able to have an amendment passed which would end slavery (which would make most slave states wealthy, because that would be a taking, and would result in the government having to buy the slaves at fair market value under eminent domain). Thus, slavery would end more gradually, but under the authority of the existing system, rather than by violent upheaval. Of course, South Carolina had different ideas (which they’d already threatened on several occasions), and then so did 10 other states, and then there was a Civil War that killed 600,000 people and slavery ended through the 13th Amendment which, since the South had essentially no input on, didn’t require any form of payment to slave-holders.

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Learning helps perspective.

Why is paying slave-holders important if slavery is de facto immoral? Well, because, immoral or not (it is), it wasn’t ILLEGAL. No one who owned slaves had broken any laws, and they had an economic reliance on it. Instead of compensating slave owners like Britain did, the post-bellum South basically got punished for rebellion, had most of their wealth removed, lost their voting rights, and caused resentment that didn’t end for… I’ll let you know when it’s over. “But that’s just showing them how the slaves felt,” most people said. Yeah, and when the hell has that ever worked to teach someone a lesson? It just makes them angrier, not more empathetic. The “Reconstruction” Era in which African-Americans managed to finally start gaining public office and representation is usually considered to last 11-13 years. After 13 years of feeling only a fraction of the kind of suppression that black people had felt for centuries, the backlash by white people was so over the top it was barely even addressed properly for another 80 years. This is the kind of thing Lincoln was trying to avoid by looking at the bigger picture before establishing a principle. He wanted to avoid punishing the South because he recognized that it would just make racism and hatred more prevalent. He made this evident by saying in his second inaugural address:

With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.

“But would freeing slaves through eminent domain have been better? It would just have made slave-owners rich” I hear you saying, and also read in W.E.B. Du Bois’s writings.  Yeah, it would. And that’s not fair. But it also would undoubtedly have made the slave states less resentful against black people, since they wouldn’t have been economically and politically devastated, and nothing has suppressed the progress of the Black American more than that resentment and the associated violence (e.g. The Greenwood Massacre, the Wilmington Race Riot, and, oh yeah, lynchings). As to whether or not you can pay someone to not be racist, I state the following: The creator of Sea Monkeys, Harold von Braunhut, was born and raised Jewish, became a member of the Aryan Nation, was outed by a news report as a Jewish man, but was allowed to remain in the Aryan Nation (stated goals include eliminating the Jews) in exchange for donations. Yes, you can pay people enough to get over racism.

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Yes, this contributed to white supremacy. A lot.

While the Republican government didn’t agree, Lincoln took the stance that forgiveness, compensation, education, and time would be better in the long run for relations between the races. But, one play with a bad ending later, the government instead decided to punish the South for rebellion, and all of history played out as it did. If only someone, maybe a tall guy in a hat, had repeatedly warned them that, in the long run, that was a bad idea.

Another example of long-term leadership: During the Civil War, Lincoln was granted war powers by Congress that were likely at least partially unconstitutional. Lincoln himself assumed they were unconstitutional, but attempted to limit them as much as possible. He still used them, but made no attempt to ever take any steps to try and have them fully validated, out of concern that it would grant too much power to future presidents. Given how executive authority has grown since then, it isn’t surprising that this was a concern even in 1860.

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There is a political cartoon for basically every president doing this, I just like this one most.

He also tried to keep others from using the opportunity to wield inappropriate power for political advantage. When General John C. Fremont, the previous Republican Candidate before Lincoln, declared martial law in Missouri in order to advance abolition within the state, Lincoln overruled him, fighting against his own party. However, while many criticized Lincoln for not doing enough to get rid of slavery, showing that he was willing to fight his own party’s reach for power was the right decision: Border state enlistments in the Union Army shot up immediately, ensuring that none of those states would switch to the Confederacy. This was in the Fall of 1861, when that possibility was definitely still in play.

Now, here lies the big issue behind all of this: A lot of people suffered from these decisions. There were the thousands of people imprisoned in the border states for trying to convince the states to join the Confederacy. There were all of the soldiers who were killed fighting to keep together the Union (which Lincoln considered to still include the rebel states, because that way he would not have to enact punitive measures after the war… a bullet kept us from seeing how that would have gone, and instead the South got completely devastated). And, the biggest sufferers, the slaves, who had now been getting the shaft for a few hundred years.

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Unless you believed the Papers in the South.

Many would point out that Lincoln’s plan to get rid of slavery by stopping its expansion probably would have taken longer than it took to actually pass the 13th Amendment. This is almost certainly true, although speculation is naturally… well, speculative. Remember, though they didn’t have as large of a profit off of slavery, 4 states in the Union were still Slave States. So, that means that 14 states were going to probably be voting against it (Maryland was starting to talk about abolition already, so that probably would have happened first). There were 34 states at the time, and West Virginia might not have broken off, so… You’d need 8 more states before you had the 2/3 it takes to ratify an amendment. So, yeah, a lot of time. In real life, we didn’t have 42 states until 1889. That’s another 25 years of slavery, even if it’s in decline (though, it might have happened faster without A CIVIL WAR). But, all of this means that it’s very likely that slaves would have kept suffering for a longer time. And, if you were a slave, this was NOT a good price to pay for “keeping belief in the system strong.” Hell, if you were a slave, you probably didn’t care that much about the system’s existence, since, you know, SLAVERY.

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Reality is brutal.

Here’s the thing that makes me consider Lincoln a great leader: He knew that these people were suffering unjustly. He didn’t blind himself to the reality of it, though I’m sure it’s impossible for anyone who didn’t suffer something like that to fully comprehend it. He took it into consideration, and he still believed that it was better to try and resolve it through the normal course of government, because he thought that was the only way to keep the country united. I don’t think I’m making too big of a leap if I say that there were probably a lot of slaves and abolitionists who would not have agreed with this decision. They probably would have stated that it was better to just end slavery at all costs, for it’s a fundamental evil. And, honestly, I cannot speak against that, because they had no reason to believe that this would be a worse option. And maybe there wasn’t. The problem with history is you only know what happened, not what might’ve.  But, regardless of how bad some of the options may seem, a leader has to make decisions anyway. And a great leader is going to understand the full impact of his decisions to the best of their ability. Lincoln, as much as almost anyone, seemed to be able to see the big picture, even if everyone else couldn’t. He always tried to keep the country going, because he believed that to be the best thing for the long run.

But, what’s the other option? Well, come back tomorrow.

Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. So far, I’ve only got about half.

For some other work by the Grouch on the Couch, check out my reviews. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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