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Learning From Mr. Lincoln By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 03, 2001

THERE IS SOMETHING TERRIBLY wrong with the mind of our leading American and Western intellectuals. Our country has been hit by the most dastardly terrorist attack in our history, and our chattering classes are worried abouta possible deterioration of civil liberties! They are also concerned not about doing what we have to do to fight the terrorists and destroy them, but about too warlike a response (which to date has not taken place) from the Bush administration.

A recent forum of the response of British and American intellectuals appears in the left-wing London Review of Books. Here we find a new theme: denied secular radical alternatives such as revolutionary socialism denied that is, by the evil CIA and the United States, the Muslim middle-class intellectuals have turned to radical Islam as an outlet for their just desires. Stephen Holmes advises us that "bullying these states" that harbor terrorists will be counter-productive, actually "simplistic and misleading." The Marxist in residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, Fredric Jameson, matches Noam Chomsky’s sick mind with his observation that the "seeds of the event" are to be found in the "wholesale massacres of the Left systemically encouraged and directed by the Americans" some twenty and thirty years ago specifically, in the "extermination of the Iraqi and the Indonesian Communist Parties," which to Jameson, were "crimes as abominable as any contemporary genocide." Now "popular revolt" is taking "religious and ‘fundamentalist’ forms." Only a Marxist intellectual could argue that what the terrorists are engaging in is "popular revolt." And it is this kind of mindset that leads the radical political scientist Michael Paul Rogin to warn against "sowing carnage outside our borders," and to praise Rep. Barbara Lee for casting the single vote in Congress "against relinquishing to this unelected President (sic) the power to make holy war."

And Eric Foner, Columbia University’s most prominent historian and President of the American Historical Association, writes that he is "not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." Evidently President Bush’s admonition that we "rid the world of evil-doers" is seen as equally dangerous by Foner as the terrorist attack that killed nearly 7000 of our countrymen. The pen might be mightier than the sword; but this time, the sword was a domestic airliner turned into a lethal explosive weapon. Yet Foner is worried about our response. Perhaps he thinks that a world of "evil-doers" is to be taken lightly, and that if we only address their legitimate concerns, all will be well. No wonder Foner hopes that our "allies …impose some restraint on the White House."

Writing in The Nation, (Oct. 8) Foner also bares his concern with the condition of civil liberties. With visions of the infamous Palmer Raids of the 1920’s and McCarthyism of the 50’s fresh in his mind, Foner warns about the "drumbeat" to "accept limitations on our liberties." He is sure this is coming, since the administration has promised a war on terrorism that will last years. He lists all those whose rights have been abridged in the past: abolitionists who faced mob violence before the Civil War; labor leaders seeking t o organize unions in the 30’s; feminists trying to disseminate birth-control information and literature; and the civil rights warriors of the 60’s who sat in and went to jail to protest segregation. Somehow, these dissenters are equated with secret terrorist cells whose members plot acts of violence against the United States. And, of course, Foner sees recommendations that the FBI and CIA have restrictions lifted on wiretapping, surveillance and "infiltration of political groups at home" emanating from an "irrational desire" for security at liberty’s expense.

His concerns are in fact rather frivolous. As Sam Tanenhaus points out in this week’s New Republic, "these plots to curb our basic freedoms are nowhere in sight." The proposed anti-terrorism legislation that would give Justice officials more power of search and surveillance do not destroy the Bill of Rights; rather, they only propose an extended period of time during which officials could detain suspect immigrants while investigating their possible connections to terrorism. Since Tanenhaus has written his article, a compromise is being worked out, and the period of confinement in the legislation will amount to no more than two days. Officials are not seeking to confine readers of The Nation, or even members of the Communist Party, USA. They are trying to find out and destroy real terrorist cells. And yet, as Tanenhaus notes, the FBI has to date not arrested members of some of these cells they are watching, since as the Washington Post reported, "the group members entered the country legally… and have not been involved in illegal activities since they arrived." And yet, Professor Foner worries about "unleashing" the FBI and CIA, and potential harassment of "individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr." I have news for Foner. Osama Bin Laden is not the equivalent – moral or otherwise of Martin Luther King, Jr. Foner writes that "no group of Americans should be stigmatized as disloyal or criminal because of race or national origin." True enough. But does not Foner understand that the terrorists are being hunted for their acts; not for their race or their ideas?

We also have not had anything of a call to watch or arrest Arab and Muslim Americans. There have been some isolated and horrible incidents of attacks from ignorant and prejudiced citizens; attacks that have been roundly condemned. Indeed, President Bush himself has gone out of his way to invite Muslim religious leaders to the official memorial service at the National Cathedral, and stressed that attacks on Muslims and Arabs "will not stand." This is more than a little different than Attorney General Palmer’s dragnet against immigrant radicals in the 1919 "Red Scare." Bush has argued strongly that the terrorism of Bin Laden and company is not the "true faith of Islam." Clearly, what really upsets Foner is the clear and forthright desire to stop the terrorists in their tracks; by realizing that they have committed an act of war and that a military and political response is the only rational way to respond.

There is, of course, a legitimate question concerning civil liberties and the restrictions on them some would call for during wartime. It is for serious reasons that conservatives like Grover Norquist and Bob Barr have joined with liberal groups like the ACLU to propose that anti-terrorist measures do not inflict grave damage on basic Constitutional rights. But in an extraordinary time, those who deny the need for extraordinary measures do so at their own peril. Here, the best guide to how our nation should handle an extreme crisis such as we are now living in is the words and actions of perhaps our nation’s greatest leader, Abraham Lincoln.

I have been reading the study of Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War by our country’s Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian, James M. McPherson. His book, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), presents a thoughtful and thorough account of what extraordinary measures Lincoln took in a time of national crisis. As in most wars, a threat to civil liberties was present. This was especially true during our Civil War, which like the situation today, posed a threat of internal security that had to be addressed. And there was an erosion of civil liberties that took place. Lincoln, as most everyone knows, suspended habeas corpus in Maryland, in areas susceptible to guerrilla activity and mob attack on Union forces. The Union army arrested pro-Southern citizens, including the Mayor of Baltimore and scores of members of the State legislature, sending them to months in prison without trial. Eventually, Lincoln extended the suspension of habeas corpus to the entire nation, in the case of "disloyal persons [who] are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law… from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection."

McPherson notes that most of those arrested were people who actually took part in guerrilla attacks, blowing up of supply dumps, and espionage. Some were arrested for writing in defense of the Confederacy or opposing the Union government’s war policies. Northern Democrats, indeed, made Lincoln’s stern policies the heart of their opposition to the President, whom they regularly condemned as a "despot." Looking back at the situation over a century later, it becomes clear that history has not judged Mr. Lincoln from the standpoint of the Copperheads. Indeed, most observers look at Lincoln’s defense of his actions, and judge his actions favorably. What Lincoln argued was that his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was in line with the specification in the U.S. Constitution, that it "shall not be suspended, except when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

What Lincoln said was that the situation in 1861 was precisely the kind of crisis the Founding Fathers had in mind. And if we apply that logic to today – the threat of terrorist attacks at home – as deadly as any attacks carried out on the Union by the Confederacy during the Civil War – clearly justifies emergency measures to meet what by any standards is a modern exceptional crisis. Then, as now, Lincoln judged that the life of the nation itself was at stake. Suspension of a traditional liberty, he said, was a small price to pay for the preservation of the larger framework of liberty, the nation itself. Moreover, Lincoln argued that these were measures taken during a wartime crisis, and in no way did it mean that such measures would or should be continued in peacetime. Moreover, history looks at the long view, and praises the Great Emancipator for using the power of government to end slavery. And, in retrospect, Lincoln’s violations of civil liberties seem mild when compared to the achievement of greater liberty his policies produced. McPherson writes: "Are we today more likely to identify with those four million black sheep [slaves] liberated by Lincoln or with the loss of liberty by four hundred thousand wolves [Confederate sympathizers] to prey on those sheep?"

In a letter he wrote to a New York political leader on June 12 of 1863, Lincoln argued for the right of the executive to use whatever force necessary to suppress activities he deemed inimical to the national security. He realized, he told Erastus Corning, that his harsh restrictions on civil liberties interfered with rights Americans had come to take for granted. But Lincoln stressed that the nation’s opponents acted under "cover of ‘liberty of speech,’ ‘liberty of the press,’ and ‘habeas corpus,’" and that "meanwhile their spies and others might remain at large to help on their cause." Better, he argued, to restrict the climate in which such treason could take place, even though he acknowledged that "instances of arresting innocent persons might occur." Lincoln even argued strongly on his right to suppress expression of dissenting opinion, on the grounds that he who dissuades "one man from volunteering, or induces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause as much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle."

Today, no one is even coming close to calling for the kind of restrictions Lincoln felt necessary to impose during the crisis of Civil War. Yet, there are valid analogies between the crisis Lincoln faced and that our nation faces today. As was the case then, public safety may require tougher and more stringent laws. As in the Civil War, our opponents are using the tolerance of America and the legal institutions of our democracy. Terrorist cells operate from within to take advantage of our laws, to claim their protection, all for the purpose of destroying us. Thus Hamas terrorists, the October 1st issue of The New York Observer reports, employ the legal services of one Stanley Cohen, protégé of the late William Kunstler, whose clients include radical Muslim agitators associated not only with Hamas, but with Osama bin Laden. As expected, Cohen argues that the new Bush policy "is gonna make the Palmer raids… the McCarthy age look like a meeting of the ACLU." And thus he represents men like Moataz Al-Hallak, an imam who is a key focus of FBI investigations, and who is said to have had links with the bombers of the Kenya and Tanzania US Embassies in 1998, as well as with the men who crashed the airliner into the Pentagon on September 11th.

With Stanley Cohen, we have the ultimate irony. Anti-Semitic radical Islamic imams use the services of an ultra left-wing Jewish lawyer, a man skilled in the intricacies of our civil liberties who can use them to prevent our security services from acting efficiently against terrorist cells. His credentials are solid. His apartment is covered with photos taken with Yasir Arafat, and he praises the "armed struggle" of his clients who he says are exercising the "right of self-determination, self-defense and resistance." And unlike other civil liberties lawyers, he acknowledges that he supports "the policies of [his] political clients." One of his other clients, Mohammed Abi Marzook, was the political leader of Hamas, whom he represented in his fight to prevent extradition from this country to Israel. He was successful. Marzook now lives in Syria. No wonder that when Cohen traveled to the West Bank, he was greeted like a hero and treated, as he put it, "like a head of state." And like his radical Muslim apologists, Cohen attributes the WTC attack not to bin Laden and his cells, but to the Israeli Mossad. Thus his own fear is that the Bush administration will go after those "who have stood up to Israeli interests and the pro-Israel lobby."

What would Abe Lincoln, were he President today, think of a Stanley Cohen? Would he not respond that defending the terrorists and using the loopholes of our laws to allow them to continue their activities was as dangerous as what the terrorists themselves are doing? Lincoln wrote that the Constitution was not the same "in cases of rebellion or invasion involving the public safety, as it is in times of profound peace and public security." Indeed, citing the case of Andrew Jackson after the Battle of New Orleans, Lincoln noted that when a newspaper article appeared denouncing him while martial law was in effect, the author was arrested. When a lawyer defended the writer and cited the writ of habeas corpus, Jackson had the lawyer and the judge who ruled in the defendant’s favor both arrested. Lincoln supported this action, and noted that both were freed only after a treaty of peace was ratified.

In our present crisis, Congress is acting quickly and responsibly to put through new anti-terrorist legislation called for by Attorney General John Ashcroft. No one has arrested people like Stanley Cohen; indeed, such lawyers are successful in using our laws and our rights to give protection and cover to those engaged in terrorism. Modification of the law to close the loopholes and protect our nation is clearly needed. Yet so-called civil liberties advocates on the Left conjure up the Palmer Raids and McCarthyism a fear which if followed would stop us from taking the kind of steps necessary to deal with the new crisis. At least Stanley Cohen is honest  he agrees with the cause of our country’s opponents, and he knows he can depend on fuzzy-minded liberals to stop in their tracks when they hear the word McCarthyism. It makes one hope that President Bush will spend some time reading some Abraham Lincoln.

Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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