©The Financial Times Limited

                 COMMENT & ANALYSIS: In bondage to historical false memory:
                 America has no need to consider reparations for slavery: the civil war
                 settled its moral and financial obligations:

                 Financial Times; Aug 21, 2001
                 By ERIC RAUCHWAY

                 If Americans had a better understanding of their own history, the idea that
                 the US government should now pay cash to blacks to make up for
                 encouraging slavery until 1865 would impress nobody. But with attitudes as
                 confused as they are, respectable bodies such as the United Nations and the
                 US Congress are considering reparations. Politicians and pundits generally
                 treat fibbing about the past as harmless - but now it might cost real money.

                 The White House proposes to boycott the UN conference on racism in
                 Durban this month if reparations make the agenda. Reparations have a legal
                 basis: advocates point out that slavery falls under the "crimes against
                 humanity" provisions of the 1945 Nuremberg tribunal and the 1998 Rome
                 statute for the International Criminal Court. They argue that the US
                 government never acknowledged its guilt in the crime of slavery or paid any
                 penalty for it and that as crimes against humanity carry no statute of
                 limitations, now is as good a time as any for the guilty to pay up.

                 But the US government, and the American people as a whole, did recognise
                 their guilt and paid in the most awful currency. The claim that all Americans
                 bear responsibility for slavery and must pay for it came out of the mouth of
                 a US president. On March 4, 1865, while the US civil war still raged,
                 Abraham Lincoln called down the wrath of God and history on the voters
                 who had just re-elected him: "Fondly do we hope - fervently do we pray -
                 that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills
                 that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of
                 unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the
                 lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years
                 ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous

                 More than an apology, it was a confession of guilt and an acknowledgment
                 that the penalty was as much devastation as God cared to mete out. But
                 Lincoln was a lawyer as well as a theologian: the terrible war was, he
                 reckoned, not only atonement but also a way of spending the profits from
                 slavery on the cause of ending slavery.

                 Lincoln said, and Americans knew, that the war had but one cause - slavery
                 - and could have but one effect - the end of slavery - and only that cause and
                 that effect justified the loss of life. The US civil war killed more Americans
                 than any other war; its slaughter - which included trenches, machineguns
                 and muddy fields over which infantry had to advance against both - was a
                 foretaste of the first world war. Only expiating the great national crime of
                 slavery could justify such carnage. To recognise the enormity of the crime,
                 and the price paid for it, the American people built a tem ple in Washington,
                 DC, in which they chiselled Lincoln's indictment of the nation.

                 Only a moral imbecile would compare the price-tag of the civil war with that
                 of slavery - can we really comparison-shop among historical horrors? - but
                 we are all business-minded people these days and we like to see numbers.
                 Here they are, as calculated by the historian Claudia Goldin: the war to end
                 slavery cost the American people about Dollars 6.6bn in 1860 dollars,
                 including wages, materiel and the cost in human capital of the dead. That
                 would have been enough to buy into freedom every slave in the country, give
                 40 acres and a mule to each and leave remaining a fund of Dollars 3.5bn -
                 worth about 100 years of back pay.

                 Perhaps the cost of ending slavery did not clear the whole account of
                 expropriated labour and loss of life in bondage - but it was a significant
                 down-payment. Slavery could not have been ended without it. Throw in the
                 cost of 12 years of military occupation of the South and the incalculable cost
                 of altering the Constitution to increase national power over civil rights and
                 the debt dwindles dramatically.

                 How, then, can we say amends have never been made and responsibility
                 never acknowledged? Simple: no sooner had the war ended than Americans
                 began trying to forget its moral lesson in the name of national reconciliation
                 among white people. If the war was about ending slavery, the South was in
                 the wrong. White Southerners have never liked this idea, preferring to claim
                 that they fought for the grand principle of states' rights to local control.
                 (States' rights to local control of what? Slavery, of course, but this is never
                 admitted.) Southerners thought, and think, of the war as a war to prevent the
                 federal government from interfering in local affairs (local affairs concerning
                 slavery - but this is never admitted, either).

                 Ever since air-conditioning was invented, Americans have moved south for
                 the sunshine. With more Southerners, Southern politics and culture have
                 become more important: along with country music, bass-fishing,
                 professional wrestling and President George W. Bush, the Southern view of
                 the civil war has risen to national respectability. Its romantic emphasis on the
                 lost cause of local control suits modern conservatism and it is espoused by
                 members of Mr Bush's cabinet.

                 The truth is not that the US government never acknowledged its guilt in the
                 crime of slavery, or that the American people never paid any price, but that it
                 has been politically convenient to lie about the acknowledgment made and the
                 price paid.

                 Lying about the civil war made racial segregation possible and it made the
                 modern civil rights movement necessary. It made the 1960s expansion of the
                 welfare state necessary. It may now make reparations payments necessary.
                 It is, all of it, far too high a price to pay for the privilege of pretending that
                 the Southern way of life had nothing to do with keeping blacks in chains.

                 We cannot write a cheque to pay in full for slavery, nor should we try. But,
                 rather than duck the issue, Mr Bush should send representatives to Durban
                 prepared to deal honestly with the past. Paying money for the upkeep of
                 myths cannot represent a real commitment to fight racism. Those battles
                 were fought on the fields of the war that ended slavery and the one that
                 produced the Nuremberg tribunal.

                 The writer is associate professor of history at the University of California,