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Dissent in Wartime: 1860s Edition

From The American Conservative‘s own Bill Kauffman and “Gods and Generals” director Ron Maxwell comes “The Copperhead,” about one family’s experience trying to stay out of a much bigger war than Iraq or Vietnam.

The film raises some questions that may not be great for ticket sales but that deserve to be taken as seriously as anything in “Zero Dark Thirty”: are the only wars where dissent is permissible those that history decides weren’t worth fighting—and what penalties must noncombatants on the wrong side of history suffer?

Or consider this: if the Iraq War really had swiftly brought about a stable, prosperous liberal democracy in the Middle East, perhaps even setting off the chain reaction of liberalization in the region that supporters had hoped for, would opposition still be seen in retrospect as legitimate? If the South had won the Civil War, would 21st-century citizens of the North look back on the war as a noble but unsuccessful effort to end slavery—or at least to preserve the Union—or would they view it as not only a lost war but also one whose motives were different as well?

about the author

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review, and Editor-at-Large of The American Conservative. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, The Spectator, The National Interest, Reason, and many other publications. Outside of journalism he has worked as internet communications coordinator for the Ron Paul 2008 presidential campaign and as senior editor of ISI Books. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied classics. Follow him on Twitter.

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