Jimmy Carter’s crazy slavery theory: He thinks the Civil War was un-Christian

By Ira Stoll

Saturday, March 21st 2009

Here’s the latest outrage from Jimmy Carter, the ex-President so many Americans love to hate: He claims the Civil War – which he calls, Southern-style, "The War Between the States" – was un-Christian and could have been avoided.

The comments come in a new book, "In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary By Distinguished Americans." Carter comments on a passage by Lincoln in which Lincoln writes: "I am almost ready to say this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet."

Carter writes that he finds the Lincoln writing "very troubling." Continues Carter: "He ignores the fact that the tragic combat might have been avoided altogether, and that the leaders of both sides, overwhelmingly Christian, were violating a basic premise of their belief as followers of the Prince of Peace." He concludes: "A legitimate question for historians is how soon the blight of slavery would have been terminated peacefully in America, as in Great Britain and other civilized societies."

Carter’s comments are so stunning that at a recent discussion about the new book at the New-York Historical Society, both the book’s co-editor, Joshua Wolf Shenk, and another "distinguished American" who contributed to the book, Cynthia Ozick, distanced themselves from them. Shenk said he disagreed, and Ozick mocked the idea of negotiating with slave masters.

Carter holds up the British – who didn’t fight a war over slavery – as an example, but a careful look shows that case to be thoroughly unconvincing. Parliament had acted in 1807 to ban the slave trade and in 1833 to abolish slavery altogether. By the time the Civil War began in 1861, America’s legislature had yet to follow suit – and the Southerners didn’t appear in any great rush to do so.

How much patience should Lincoln have had with the immoral institution? How many more lashes should have fallen on the backs of American blacks during Carter’s hypothetical waiting period for slavery to terminate "peacefully"? The period wouldn’t have been particularly peaceful for the slaves. One might as well argue that the bloodshed of the American Revolution could have been avoided, given that British rule was eventually terminated peacefully in Canada.

This debate is about more than history. When Carter met with leaders of the terrorist group Hamas last spring, it provoked widespread outrage from American politicians and commentators and condemnation from American and Israeli government officials. At the time, I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, figuring that if he won the return of kidnapped Israeli soldiers such as Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev or Ehud Goldwasser – or even the return of their remains – all would be forgiven. Having Carter do the talking was a convenient way for the Israeli and American governments to stick to their stated policies of not negotiating with terrorists.

But given the Civil War comment, we can no longer see each misstep or misstatement in isolation as just another crazy comment from an old man who wasn’t that good a President anyway. Carter seems to go to irrational extremes to avoid forthright confrontation or conflict with evil of any kind – even when ending human slavery is at stake.

The Obama administration is going to be faced with policy decisions on negotiating with Hamas, Iran, North Korea and others whose hands are stained with crimes akin to slavery. It may help President Obama structure the internal discussions if he considers whether he wants to perceive America’s conflicts in the fashion of Lincoln, his fellow Illinois politician, or in the manner of Carter, waiting around for a peaceful termination while today’s victims and slaves suffer beatings and are deprived of their freedoms.

© 2009 Daily News

On The Web:  www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2009/03/23/2009-03-23_jimmy_carters_crazy_slavery_theory_he_th.html

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