Victor Davis Hanson, who is by no means immune to historical overreach, nevertheless hits it on the head here:
Furor arises about comparing Iraq to elements in the Civil War. I get irate letters when suggesting parallels to the terrible summer of 1864 before Sherman took Atlanta when the betting was that Lincoln would not be renominated, much less reelected. Apparently the outrage comes from even the hint that a George Bush’s perseverance in the face of declining support is anything comparable to a deified Lincoln.
But there are two other less remarked on parallels. First, the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiites, the perennially despised of the Arab world, through one-man/one vote, is as radical in the context of the contemporary Arab world as was emancipation to our own past. To receive an idea of the magnitude of the US-induced change, just image Britain, about 1855, landing in New Orleans, racing up the Mississippi and liberating slaves, and then staying on to jump start democratic suffrage in the South—all to be accomplished while Northerners, Southerners, and Westerners seethed at the foreign interloper, and turned on each other, as particular sectarians sought to ally with or oppose the British.
We are in our fourth year of Reconstruction, and it is eerily similar to the Union efforts from 1865 to 1877. Militias like the Kuklux Klan proliferated. Marshal Law was declared in Tennessee. Judges were shot. Northern troops were too few and far between to protect Republican and black reformers. The public was exasperated that armies like Sherman’s that by late 1864 and 1865 had once sliced through the Confederacy in mere months could not even keep order in a conquered South, despite five military districts initially run by tough veteran Union generals.
Assassinations, kidnappings, and terrorism were committed against supposed “collaborators” such as Republican politicians and black elected officials. Reconstruction administrators were often themselves thoroughly corrupt. And after the scandalous deal of 1876, over a century later books are still being written, as they are of Vietnam and will be of Iraq, about how Reconstruction would have finally worked—despite its legion of terrible mistakes—had only a weary public not given up on it.
(quoted in full to distinguish from other entries on same page)
I’ve just taught Reconstruction a bunch this year, and gotten classes into big debates about Sumner & Co.’s land redistribution plan, southern violence, etc., and I have to say that this is an incredibly apt comparison.