Rice Compares Iraq War to U.S. Civil War

In an interview with Essence magazine this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared the morality of occupying Iraq and fighting insurgents to the moral foundations of the American Civil War. But is the analogy apt?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: before 9/11, Harry John Roland used to give tours at the World Trade Center. He still shows tourists around the site, an exercise that has become something of an obsession.

BRAND: First, in an interview three years ago with NPR, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice explained why the Bush administration felt it necessary to go into Iraq.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): What we know is that when democracies wait too long to confront tyranny, more people die.

CHADWICK: That's an argument she continues to make as secretary of state. In a recent interview with Essence magazine - with a large readership among black women - Secretary Rice compared the growing unease over Iraq with some Americans' doubts during our Civil War.

Here's NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: In the issue of Essence magazine now on newsstands, Secretary Rice talked about some Americans' growing distaste for the Iraq war.

I'm sure there are people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War to its end, and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold, Rice told Essence. I know there were people who said, why don't we get out of this now? Take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves.

Some found Rice's comparison of the current turmoil in Iraq to the American Civil War apt. Others thought it odd. Orlando Patterson is one of the latter.

Professor ORLANDO PATTERSON (Sociology, Harvard): It's appalling that it's coming from a descendant of some African-American slaves, and I think it's illegitimate and even slightly immoral to make that analogy.

BATES: A Harvard sociology professor who has written extensively on slavery and its socio-economic aftereffects, Patterson says the war to unseat Saddam Hussein is not at all comparable to the Civil War. That war was internal, Patterson asserts, fought by U.S. citizens over the future of their country. The war in Iraq, he insists, is very different in nature and perhaps in outcome.

Prof. PATTERSON: This is an externally generated war by a country that, you know, decided to attack and occupy in a preemptive way. And what's more, the casus belli, the cause of the war, turned out to have been wrong. That sure wasn't the case of the Civil War.

BATES: Jay Winik disagrees. Winik is the author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America. It's a historical analysis of the last days of the Civil War. Winik says Secretary Rice's decision to link America's Civil War with today's political upheaval in Iraq is not so farfetched. For one thing, he says, the domestic mood in 1865 was very similar to today's.

Mr. JAY WINIK (Author, April 1865: The Month That Saved America): During the Civil War - and I suspect this is what the president and the secretary of state were thinking of - we had with Abraham Lincoln a deeply divided country, a country that was highly uncertain over the prospects of victory - a country in which the cause was highly uncertain, and in which the body count was mounting.

BATES: Nevertheless, Winik says, President Lincoln stood firm, despite protests from his citizens, some congressional members, and even his wife.

Mr. WINIK: Yet, in spite of all this, Abraham Lincoln persevered. And he persevered because he thought he was right and he thought it was necessary. Now I suspect that it's that sort of picture that Secretary Rice was thinking about, as well as the president.

BATES: Polls show growing resistance to our continued involvement in Iraq, and Jay Winik believes it would not be much of a stretch for George Bush to see himself as the 21st century equivalent of Abraham Lincoln - at least in the manner in which they have both been reviled for their insistence on continuing to fight wars they believe are just.

But Harvard's Orlando Patterson says the two shouldn't be compared.

Prof. PATTERSON: The outcome is so completely different. The outcome of the Civil War was a victory for the - a triumph for the forces of good, that is to say the elimination of slavery. In Iraq, the outcome has been a disaster.

BATES: But, points out Jay Winik, the war in Iraq isn't over yet.

Mr. WINIK: It's crucial to say that we don't know. I mean, only history will ultimately determine whether or not this was both a profound and significant achievement. Or by the same token, it could be a spectacular failure. And there's no way of telling at this state.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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Ms. JOYCE JEFFERSON (Teacher): My name is Joyce Jefferson. At the time, I was teaching and I was at a high school - Hahnville High School in Boutte, Louisiana. We were all just devastated just to hear what was going on. And it was unbelievable. My students were like mesmerized. I went home, and all I could do was lie across the bed because I couldn't believe it. And as they kept showing it on TV, all I could do was look at it in disbelief.

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BRAND: There's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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