Ballots or bullets

In his first message to Congress in special session on July 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln set forth with his accustomed lucidity the reasoning underlying his efforts to subdue the rebellion in the southern states:

Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it, our people have already settled,–the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains,–its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.

Is it paradoxical that bullets are required to restore ballots, or that civilization rests on force? It’s more or less a fundamental precept of the rule of law, yet when Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff applies Lincoln’s teaching to Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon (and to our current circumstances in Iraq), his NPR interviewer seems to think he is hoist by his own petard: “Analyst: Hezhbollah must be disarmed.” It’s an illuminating moment. (Thanks to reader Brian Adams, who writes: “You simply must listen to NPR’s interview of Robert Satloff on NPR this morning. Full credit to Renee Montagne for askng great questions, despite her obvious pacifist leanings.”)


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