Peacemaking - War endings without formal settlements

The United States has been involved in a considerable number of undeclared foreign wars or "interventions," particularly in the twentieth century. Such wars typically were not concluded by formal agreement but were ended rather by U.S. suppression of opposition, military rule, unilateral imposition of terms, or, in some cases, unilateral withdrawal of American forces. These undeclared wars included the suppression of the Philippine independence movement in 1899–1902, the Siberian interventions of 1918–1921, and numerous interventions in Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Grenada. They also included military interventions in civil wars in Greece, China, Korea, Lebanon, Vietnam, and others since World War II; covert actions and coups or attempted coups in Iran, Chile, and elsewhere; enforcement actions under "coalition" or North Atlantic Treaty Organization authority against Iraq and Serbia; and "antiterrorist" bombings in Libya and Afghanistan.

A study of American peacemaking must give some attention to the way the United States has handled the conclusion of civil wars and insurrections. The distinction between these and "foreign wars" becomes somewhat doubtful when we recall that the United States itself originated in an insurrectionary war. When an incumbent government is obliged to concede statehood and separate territorial sovereignty to rebel belligerents, the ending of the conflict takes on the character of a settlement between sovereign states. On the other hand, the treatment accorded to defeated belligerents in civil wars and insurrections often is not significantly different from the treatment accorded to defeated foreign nations in colonial wars of conquest or interventions.

The United States has experienced a substantial number of insurrections or rebellions, including at least thirty-five slave uprisings, at least five significant domestic insurrections or civil conflicts, the great Civil War of 1861–1865, and other types of conflicts such as large-scale riots, vigilante expeditions, and mass protests in labor, civil rights, and antiwar struggles. The United States government has consistently refused to give rebels, rioters, or protestors any recognized status as belligerents or negotiating partners, and these conflicts have been terminated by piecemeal suppression of the uprisings by military or police forces or by tacit concessions.

This was true even for the Civil War, in which the refusal of the U.S. government to negotiate with the rebel forces affected both the duration of hostilities and the character of the outcome. Efforts of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston to negotiate terms of general surrender with Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were expressly rejected by both President Abraham Lincoln and President Andrew Johnson. Far from welcoming the opportunity to put a rapid end to the fighting, on 3 March 1865 Lincoln instructed Grant "to have no conference with General Lee, unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee's army, or on some minor or purely military matter." Furthermore, Grant was "not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political questions. Such questions the president holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions. Meantime you are to press to the utmost your military advantages."

Similarly, when Sherman, unaware of this directive to Grant, later met with Johnston and drafted terms for a general surrender of the Confederate forces remaining after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, the draft agreement was sharply rejected by President Johnson and his cabinet. Sherman was authorized to accept only the surrender of the army commanded by Johnston, and to engage in no negotiations. As Sherman observed, this policy meant that the war might continue indefinitely in sporadic engagements with dispersed "guerrilla bands." Indeed, while the Civil War formally terminated one year later with a proclamation by President Johnson (2 April 1866), some hostilities continued even after that date and a separate proclamation was required to end the fighting in Texas (20 August 1866).

While the position taken by Lincoln and Johnson appears at first sight to be based primarily on the principle of civilian control over vital political and civil questions, it must be observed that it was not particular political terms drafted by the generals that were rejected, but any conference or negotiation between the military leaders for terms of general surrender. Nor was the United States government itself willing to negotiate with the Confederate government or its generals. In contrast, in both World War I and World War II, general surrender or armistice agreements were received and signed by military leaders of the Allied armies. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, general-in-chief of the Allied armies in France, signed the armistice agreement for the Allies in World War I. In 1945, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, signed the German instrument of surrender, while General Douglas MacArthur signed the Japanese surrender agreement for the Allied powers in World War II. Although the terms of these documents were determined ultimately by the civilian authorities, the Allied governments did not hesitate to have the military leaders receive the surrenders and, indeed, accorded them considerable influence on the formulation of surrender terms and occupation policies.

It seems probable that the refusal of the presidents during the Civil War to approve the receipt by either Grant or Sherman of general surrender by Lee or Johnston was less a question of military versus civilian control of policy than it was a question of refusing to treat with any party claiming to represent or exercise general authority in or over the Confederate states or forces. Such a position is characteristic of incumbent governments faced with insurrectionary forces, not only at the cost of prolonging armed hostilities but even at the cost of making impossible a settlement based on mutual accord and amity.

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