Opinion | Putin, Ukraine and the Illusion That Trade Brings Peace

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On April 12, 1861, rebel artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the U.S. Civil War. The war eventually became a catastrophe for the South, which lost more than a fifth of its young men. But why did the secessionists believe they could pull it off?

One reason was they believed themselves to be in possession of a powerful economic weapon. The economy of Britain, the world’s leading power at the time, was deeply dependent on Southern cotton, and they thought a cutoff of that supply would force Britain to intervene on the side of the Confederacy. Indeed, the Civil War initially created a “cotton famine” that threw thousands of Britons out of work.

In the end, of course, Britain stayed neutral — in part because British workers saw the Civil War as a moral crusade against slavery and rallied to the Union cause despite their suffering.

Why recount this old history? Because it has obvious relevance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It seems…

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