For decades “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” has been the guide for American policy. It’s been proven wrong many times over. The flip side of that coin, failure to indict and convict either of those devils, “he’s a crooked son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch”, is just as wrong. Both theories are founded on the premise that rocking the boat upsets the apple cart – a mixed metaphor I know, but still nicely put.
But it’s those two policies that have put us where we are today – a country divided and in disarray. For me an uncertain future is better than a compromised present – I’ll always bet on the devil I have yet to meet rather than the one who has already fucked me over.
The Civil War, a war of secession and armed insurrection put America’s existence to the test. The leaders of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis were all guilty of treason, of “levying” war against the United States. After Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination President Andrew Johnson granted amnesty and pardons to the rebels, no one was arrested much less convicted of treason.
The professed rationale was there were far too many guilty to be brought to justice even though 850,000 men died in that war. Some believe that that alone was justice enough - I say not. The conscripts were the ones who died, not the generals or the political leaders who led the rebellion. Them are those that needed to be held accountable.
Justice was denied, self-interest, pragmatism and greed carried the day. Amnesty, the pragmatic solution trumped justice and the rule of law. The failure to bring the guilty to account haunts the United States to this day – the Ku Klux Klan fielded David Duke as a candidate for Senate in 2016 and racism is still a factor in the last election. Giving the guilty a pass was all that was needed to allow for Reconstruction, a criminal enterprise to flourish – another well-known and foreseen devil
The failure to enforce accountability is a constant, endemic failure of our body politic. This failure allows for the concentration of power and wealth in a small number of individuals and institutions which become self-perpetuating and controlling. Examples are many and the failure of accountability is always the lesson to be learned.
Take the case of General Douglas MacArthur. In July, 1931 MacArthur with an questionable use of military force stopped the Bonus March of World War I veterans on Washington, DC. While this ended his military career, he was never charged or court-martialed but was fobbed off to take up the post of Military Advisor to President Quezon of the Philippines. In 1942 after the fall of Manila the Philippine President and his Cabinet including MacArthur divvied up the Philippine’s foreign exchange deposits and MacArthur took a check for $500,000 - the 2016 Income Value Equivalent of $36,000,000.