Cotton Reigned Until Slavery Was Outsourced

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Today, Western nations are forced to consider the price and flow of crude oil in all foreign policy decisions concerning the Middle East. From Algeria to Iran, Oil is King. However, back in 1861, petroleum was not yet a major commodity for world markets. Instead, a major commodity was cotton.

America’s South had developed an important economic position in world markets by harvesting and exporting cotton to European markets. In 1860, the United States exported over four million bales of cotton to Europe, with each bale weighing 500 pounds.

 

Girls Picking Cotton
Image by Keystone View Co, public domain
Located at NY Public Library

 

The largest importer of US cotton exports was Great Britain.

American cotton was one of the two major ingredients in profitable textile mills in England. The other critical ingredient was cheap labor, and the UK had plenty of that, as well.

The cash that flowed into the South allowed it to import goods from Northern factories, mills, and foundries. The cotton formula was simple, and the Southern states had the long growing season and four million slaves to make cotton farming highly profitable. Many Southern leaders saw themselves as key players in the global market. As far as they were concerned, cotton was essential to Europe’s economy.

Today when we look back at the Civil War, we might wonder why the less-populated, less-industrialized South would have considered a war with its Northern neighbors.

In 1860, Southern states had a population of nine million citizens and nearly four million slaves. The Union population was twenty-two million. The Northern states could boast of having ten times as much manufacturing production as the South. And, in particular, Southern states produced almost no military equipment or firearms.

To add to the disparity, the Northern states operated with a single, standard railroad gauge covering nearly 98% of Northern routes. An engine in New York could, and did, run just as easily in Michigan. In the South, one symptom of “states rights” parochialism could be seen in its railroads. It had railroads but no railroad system. An individual investor built in any fashion that he saw fit. An engine in Virginia would not only not work in Mississippi, it likely wouldn’t even be able to traverse the state of Virginia. That lack of cooperative planning and central regulation haunted the South throughout the duration of the Confederacy.

On the eve of the American Civil War, the North had the guns, the manufacturing capability and the manpower. The South had cotton and four million slaves.  When the odds are considered, the North would have seemed to have a clear advantage.

 

Women Picking Cotton
Image by J.N. Wilson, public domain.
Located at NY Public Library.

 

However, the South was counting on three factors not normally reported in censuses and almanacs.

First, it was counting on fighting a defensive war, and it had no need to invade the North. The Union army would have to invade the South to recapture it and force its re-entry into the Union. Given the weapons available in 1861, being outnumbered two and a half to one was considered an even match. Trained military leaders with Southern sympathies would not have encouraged secession from the Union if a secession would have required “conquering” Northern states.

Second, and more subtle, the Southern leaders calculated nearly correctly the unwillingness of “lazy city folks” in the North to enter military service and campaign in the South to free slaves that, in the South’s estimation, most of them cared nothing about.

The third “ace up the sleeve” was the 1861 equivalent of an OPEC oil embargo. The South knew, or thought they knew, that European nations would not tolerate an interruption in cotton trade. In weighing the odds for war, many Southern leaders were confident that Europe would threaten intervention and coerce the US to accept the Confederacy’s independence. Guns, ammunition, and the massive mountains of manufactured goods required to feed the glutinous gods of war would flow from Europe like oxen to the sacrificial altar.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

Southern Belle
By Erich Correns, public domain.

 

 

Somewhere between the certainty of a bright Confederate future and Appomattox Courthouse, something went wrong for the South.

On a pleasant spring day on April 12, 1861 amidst a carnival atmosphere with well-dressed, picnicking revelers, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Tautant Beauregard ordered his artillery to open fire on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor in South Carolina. A merry time was had by all except for Union Colonel Anderson and the men trapped in the fort.

After thirty-four hours of bombardment, Anderson was allowed to withdraw his men by way of a Union Navy ship, and in exchange for safe passage, the remains of the fort were surrendered to the Confederacy. Beauregard was hailed as a Caesar by the jubilant picnickers and by their cousins across the South. Four hellish years and 630,000 dead Americans later, the spring picnic seemed somewhat less splendid.

 

Gate to Gettysburg local cemetery, which became a battleground.
Image public domain.

 

The Southerners had calculated the odds of defensive action correctly.

Their basic suppositions about the size of the Union forces needed were accurate enough. What was less accurate was their supposition that Northern couch potatoes would not fight. They did. Even after suffering the horrendous casualties while attacking prepared positions at numerous battles, the North still managed to fill the ranks of the Union Army and equip it.

The Southerners had not calculated that Northerners would be willing to pay such a high price in blood to defeat the Confederacy. They were wrong, and the South’s mighty monarch King Cotton had an accidental hand in assisting Union Army recruiters.

The Confederacy was not altogether surprised at England’s reluctance to send its navy to defeat Union Navy blockade of its ports. However, the South was accustomed to life in a democracy and was prepared to coax the Parliament and Queen into seeing the “Southern light.” Southerners knew that Queen Victoria considered slavery an abomination and was reluctant to defend the interests of wealthy slave owners in a fight against the US, so the South played the Cotton Card. . . . It stopped exporting cotton to England.

An island nation with mothers who can’t cook, artists who can barely paint , and army officers who buy their commissions does not come to rule the waves by being stupid. Great Britain saw that Southern move coming.

 

Cotton bales at Bombay port in 1860s.
Image public domain.

 

Great Britain had been at the trade game for a long time, and they were good at it. Unlike the British Army, the British Navy was a well-run meritocracy, and it communicated well with British governments and merchant marine by way of its Admiralty staff. In 1860, a bumper crop of cotton glutted the markets, and England was organized and disciplined enough to invest substantial long term capital in stockpiling it.

Also, far from London, and even farther from the cotton fields of the South, British colonial officials in Bombay saw an opportunity in the chaos caused by the anticipated cotton embargo. The Bombay area had the perfect climate and soil for cotton growing. It also had something better than slaves. Great Britain had cheap, disposable workers who showed up willingly and worked for less than it cost to operate an American slave. England outsourced its need for the Southern slave labor to India, Egypt, and Africa.

While the shortage of cotton imports from the Confederacy did hurt England, and thousands of English laborers were laid off, the problem was short-lived.

Interestingly, even after losing their textile jobs, the British working class remained strongly anti-slavery and pro-Union. Thousands of unemployed Irish, English, and Germans immigrated to the Northern US. Waiting for them on the docks were Army recruiters promising citizenship and bonuses to enlistees. By 1863, many Union regiments had immigrant majorities in their ranks.

Cotton production in India, Egypt, and Africa grew quickly.

By 1863, England had little concern for what happened to the mountains of cotton bales being stockpiled in the Confederacy. The guns, ammunition, and gold were not forthcoming for the South from Europe except at high prices. Cotton was, in fact, not quite king after all. It was nothing more than a commodity.

 

Bombay Cotton Merchant
Image public domain.

 

Across the South and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, gravestones mark the resting places of silent witnesses to a war fomented in ignorance and arrogance.

Cotton, the plantation elites, and the American President who had to fight almost more against his Northern cohorts than against the Confederates, are all gone. The great-grandsons of the slaves remain, and, although the reconstruction and social evolution have yet to be completed, the Union remains, as well.

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Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

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Chinese Theft and Hacking in the News — Where Lies the Blame?

By Jay Holmes

Headlines this week are reporting the not-very-new “news” that China is—drumroll and sound track of gasping readers please—stealing US technology and hacking into classified US government computer systems. A secondary aspect of the story focuses on daily denials by China. So is China really stealing US technology? If it is, then what does it mean to us US taxpayers and consumers? What does it mean to our allies and their well-bled taxpayers and highly unemployed consumers?

Stealing Data Canstock

Let’s first consider this “news” from the Chinese side of the issue.  Chinese denials are generally orated in monotone fashion by one highly placed spin doctor or another with even less acting skill than the average D.C. government mouthpiece. The denials, themselves, are always about as convincing as those issued by well-paid celebrity lawyers defending their highly privileged clients.

In China, as in Hollywood or D.C., reasonable observers start with the assumption that the spokesman is a well-practiced, lying crook. They then try to extract some grain of truth from the transparently nonsensical denials being issued. In the case of Chinese government spin doctors, the only truth available from them is the simple truth that they have no need to or intention of ever telling the truth about anything to anyone. They don’t have to. Or at least have never had to until recently.

Different cultures view truth-telling in different ways, and in the Chinese culture, telling the truth to the world at large is considered a form of severe naiveté bordering on mental illness. Add to that the fact that China has never had a government that answered to the Chinese people. As a result, in Chinese government culture, the rare and refined art of telling the truth is about as useful as space heaters in a Congolese home. In a Western context, one might imagine how weasel-like White House and Whitehall spokesmen would become if their masters and their masters’ masters never had to face the expense of another election campaign.

And yet there is one group of listeners that the Chinese find more complex and difficult to deal with—the world’s non-Chinese consumers. The Chinese have figured out that while the thoughts and opinions of their own well-policed prisoner-citizens can be easily dismissed or silenced, the image of the Chinese communist police state now matters to the Chinese oligarchy for financial reasons.

China makes trillions of dollars from Western consumers and Western corporations. As the image of the Chinese government rises and falls from the depths of the public opinion sewer, profits rise and fall. Western consumers buy cheap Chinese junk with the same enthusiasm that heroin addicts demonstrate in their methadone lines. But even with the severity of the West’s addiction to low-priced Chinese garbage, sales can and do rise and fall. A small movement in sales levels represents billions of dollars in lost revenue to the economic warlords that now run China.

What if a Chinese nouveau riche politician is considering buying another Caribbean island or US skyscraper, and his profits drop? What if he and his pals desperately need to rent some Western politicians to do their bidding, and the cash flow takes a dive? To those few people in China who are used to getting anything they want when they want it, that would be annoying. That threat of annoyance inspires Chinese devotion to keeping those revenue bumps from happening.

Predictably, the Chinese have recently switched from routinely denying that anyone in China ever would or could hack a computer, steal technology, or violate a patent, to doing the old “shoulder shrug” response. They are now saying “all governments hack other countries’ computers.” And, of course, they’re not quite right. Not all governments hack other countries’ computers. Only governments with the required resources do that. And furthermore, not all governments ignore patent violations. China does.

Now that we’ve had a laugh considering China’s denials, let’s consider the “hacking” from a Western perspective. China’s routine theft of US technology makes Western companies less competitive in the giant sludge pit that we call “the world market.” That means higher unemployment leading to higher tax rates to help the unemployed, which in turn makes the West still less competitive in the world marketplace.

As well as commercial technology, the Chinese hacking efforts also focus on US military secrets, including advanced weapons design. This means that China gets to develop their advanced weapons, such as their stealth fighter or their drones, without the expense of years of scientific research or the subsequent thousands of engineering hours that lead to lots of engineers having strokes and their employers eventually delivering a useful product. It also means that our weapons systems are less useful as deterrents to Chinese imperial aims.

In Maoist times, the Chinese military only needed to be well-enough equipped and trained to keep the Chinese people obedient to Mao. The most important characteristic of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was obedience to Mao. The emphasis was not on developing a highly skilled, powerful military, but rather a highly obedient one.

In 1978, Viet Nam invaded Laos and Cambodia to overthrow their Chinese-backed governments. In 1979, after yearlong logistical preparations, China confidently invaded Viet Nam. After China’s logistical support for its invading army collapsed, they were forced to withdraw from Viet Nam.

The Chinese military leadership has wanted to do two things since that 1979 disaster. One, it has wanted to continue using its control of the Chinese military and Chinese military industries to acquire personal wealth. In this it has excelled fantastically. In the post-Maoist era they need not hide their profits. They don’t. Their second concern has been to become a more powerful military capable of conquering someone other than themselves. They needed science and technology to do that.

The Chinese suffered decades of “cultural revolution” that included purges of “intellectuals” that would have made even Stalin jealous. The problem with killing all those nasty, opinionated university types, though, is that nobody was left to develop technology. As a result, stealing science and technology became a huge imperative for the Chinese government in the post-Mao age.

Now that China has avoided the routine random slaughter of university professors for a few decades, they have a powerful and effective scientific/engineering community, but that community remains hamstrung by government agencies that are so corrupt that they make Western governments appear to be honest and efficient by comparison. So stealing technology and military secrets remains a priority for China. In fact, it remains a priority for all governments that have the ability to effectively spy.

It’s easy to get angry at the Chinese for being the thieving crooks that they are, but let’s be realistic a moment. The Chinese would give us the standard Chinese answer to that indignation. They would—and frequently do—laugh at us for being so stupid as to allow ourselves to get robbed. In this, they are right.

Most of the Western corporations that whine about the Chinese hacking their computer systems and stealing their technologies have factories in China manned by Chinese employees. While unemployment remains depressingly high in Western nations, these same Western corporations are building yet more factories in China.  Wondering where all your GM bailout cash went? It went to building factories and research centers in communist China. No need for the Chinese to steal GM’s technology. GM gives it to them on a silver platter. And YOU paid for that silver platter!

Whose job is it to secure US military secrets? Is that the job of the Chinese? I don’t think so. Hacking into US intelligence and military networks should not be a “crime.” It should be an impossibility. The fact that it can be done at all is a travesty. Basic compartmentalization to keep top-secret data off of internet systems would prevent that.

So while we listen to the not-so-new news reports about Chinese theft of US technologies and military secrets, we should perhaps not bother questioning China’s spin-doctors. Instead, we should be asking our own government and corporations why it’s happening in the first place.