Deadly Hubris

Thomas DiLorenzo
June 14, 2012

On LRC today Paul Craig Roberts makes the point that politicians possessing "deadly hubris" have caused disaster after disaster over the past two centuries, and could well cause the thermonuclear inceneration of the entire world if their hubris plunges us into another world war (the sincerest wish of every neocon chickenhawk, from Dick Cheney to Rush Limbaugh, not to mention the crazed, bloodthirsty "evangelical" Christians who believe a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East is a prerequisite for the Second Coming).

Roberts’s first example of "deadly hubris" is the first battle of the American "Civil War," the Battle of Bull Run (known to some as the Battle of First Manassas) in Virginia.  In that battle the Confederate Army sent the entire U.S. Army, accompanied by the wives and girlfriends of officers and Republican politicians dressed in their Sunday best and riding in carriages, fleeing back to Washington, D.C. while the Confederates lobbed artillery shells at them.  It was a horrific, bloody defeat for the federal army.  Roberts points out that had the Confederate Army pursued the federals the war could have ended then and there, sparing some 750,000 lives (the latest estimate of "Civil War" deaths).  And since Lincoln had just promised to explicitly enshrine slavery in the U.S. Constitution just three months earlier in his first inaugural address, the outcome of the battle did not affect the prospects for emancipation.  Southern hubris led to the opinion that Northern city slickers were such poor fighters that they posed no threat to the South, therefore, there was no need to follow up their victory and conquer Washington, D.C., prosecute and hang Lincoln as a traitor, and put an end to the war.

An interesting historical fact that Roberts did not mention was that when President Jefferson Davis appeared on the battlefield at the very end of the battle, an unknown officer who was a former physics professor at VMI named Thomas Jackson abruptly approached him and said, "Give me 10,000 men and I will take Washington tomorrow."  Davis refused the request, for Thomas Jackson was not yet known by his eternal nickname, "Stonewall Jackson," who would certainly have succeeded had he been given those 10,000 men.

By the way, had the South become a separate country on that day, then the federal Fugitive Slave Act would have become defunct so that a slave in Virginia who escaped into Pennsylvania (or any other U.S. state) would have been free forever with no federal bounty on his head.  This would have quickly broken the economic back of slavery in Virginia, causing the state to do what states like New York  had done just a couple of years earlier (1853) and end slavery there by peaceful, legal, and constitutional means.  Southern hubris and the Yankee lust for imperialism, empire,  and plunder prevented this from happening.

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