The Civil War as a People's War - Pt 1
Thursday, July 14, 2005, 02:52 AM - History of War in Global Perspective
Ruins of Hood's 28-car ammunition train and the Schofield Rolling Mill, near Atlanta, Ga., September 1864. Photographed by George N. Barnard, 111-B-4786. National Archives
Several months ago I agreed to write a 5,500-word chapter for The Osprey Civil War Companion. My job is to examine, in the words of the "Notes for Prospective Authors," "the much-debated nature of the war and the fighting itself." The editors implicitly assume that the chapter will treat the Civil War as modern, a harbinger of 20th-century warfare. "It will look at how technical innovations affected the battles: new forms of artillery and artillery projectiles and breech-loading rifles. It will look at the use of independent command by both sides and the different strategies employed, including 'trench warfare', the Petersburg mine tunnel, and 'total warfare.' The chapter will also examine the central and innovative role that railroad played in the war, especially in the transportation of materiel and the mobilisation of troops. The chapter will evaluate how the Civil War influenced warfare thereafter."
Though I'm a little skeptical of the modern war/total war scheme, the idea of a chapter dealing with the place of the Civil War in the broader history of war is terrific. It's a theme I addressed some ten years ago in a chapter for Steven E. Woodworth's edited volume, The Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (Greenwood Press, 1996) entitled, "Modern War/Total War." As the book's title implies, however, that chapter was more of a historiographical essay than an independent assessment in which I offered my own interpretation. The same was true of my Civil War chapters for Warfare in the Western World, the textbook used at West Point . The general editors of the textbook, Robert Doughty and Ira Gruber, considered the Civil War a "total war" and for purposes of the assignment that was the interpretive line I followed. In fact, here's what I wrote to introduce the section on "Two Societies at War':
More often than the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the Civil War is called the first total war. In common with the wars from 1792 to 1815, the Civil War encompassed the complete, or near-complete, mobilization of the belligerents' population and resources to fight the enemy. But it went further and also involved the complete, or near-complete, application of violence against the enemy--violence exerted not only against his military force but against the civilian society that sustained it. Though one could quibble endlessly about whether the North and South mobilized completely, a large percentage of the population and the economy on both sides was bound up in the war effort. And by mid-1863, Federal armies began large-scale operations aimed at the destruction of Southern war resources and, at least to some degree, the demoralization of Southern civilians.
In other passages, still faithfully following the Doughty/Gruber mandate, I simply came right out and called the Civil War a total war. Indeed, when my chapters were published separately in a spin-off volume, the editors entitled it The American Civil War: The Emergence of Total Warfare. Gary W. Gallagher, in a review of the literature on Northern military strategy--and slightly misled by the fact that the spin-off volume uses the names of all eight textbook authors--invokes it as the most recent expression of the "Civil War as total war" thesis:
[T]he authors of The American Civil War: The Emergence of Total Warfare stated that the Emancipation Proclamation "signaled the demise of conciliation, and by early 1863 Union policymakers increasingly realized that more destructive measures were necessary." The war's final year, concluded these scholars, "witnessed the full bloom of total war," a key component of which was the North's decision to target for destruction "Southern crops and resources."
Gallagher then goes on to note that other historians have rejected the "Civil War as total war thesis," prominent among them one whose first book, The Hard Hand of War, gets two long paragraphs of explication: namely me, Mark Grimsley. As Herman Hattaway crowed in a review of Gary's essay, Gary was in effect suggesting that I was arguing with myself!
Well, I do in fact have my own views about the "Civil War as total war" thesis and, more importantly, the place of the conflict in the larger history of war. And The Osprey Civil War Companion offers a convenient forum in which to give them. Unfortunately, this recent depressive spell has put me way behind in my work, a situation exacerbated slightly by the fact that for three days after the spell lifted I averaged only four hours of sleep each night, which suggested a potentially dangerous uptick toward hypomania. To forestall that, Tuesday night I took 60 mg of Geodon, which I have discovered works, in my case, as the Mother of Sleeping Pills. I slept a full twelve hours and overcame my grogginess only around 6 p.m. last evening. So here I sit, well-rested, with a pot of coffee percolating and a heap of work to do. Blogging may be the best--maybe the only--way to complete the job by the July 15 deadline. Prepare for a slew of posts!
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10
Wednesday, July 13, 2005, 07:34 PM - History of War in Global Perspective
Helmuth von Moltke; William T. Sherman
Moltke was reported to have said that the Civil War consisted of "two armed mobs chasing each other" around the countryside "from which nothing can be learned." . . . In 1872 Sherman visited Moltke and was asked to confirm that Moltke had indeed made such a sweeping statement. He replied sharply: "I did not ask him that question because I did not presume that he was such an ass as to say that." The attribution is certainly apocryphal.
-- Brian Holden Reid, The American Civil War and the Wars of the Industrial Revolution, p. 195.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005, 06:34 AM - Combat as MetaphorIt's been nearly a month since my last blog post. That's partly because I have adhered to my rule of making this blog an aid to productive scholarship, not a diversion from it. It's partly because the next posts that follow logically from Crash and, especially, Shadow Warriors, Pt 8, are ones that I have been reluctant to write, much less publish--though I guess in the next few days I will have to embark on them. But mostly it has been due to the fact that I've spent much of the period in a state of clinical depression.
What does that mean? Well, according to the standard diagnostic manual used by the American Psychiatric Association, it means that I met the criteria listed in Facing the Demon.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness. The condition was diagnosed when I was 26; I am now 45; I will have this condition for the rest of my life. I have seen it blight the lives of some people but in most cases I have found that people manage the illness fairly well. The medications now available help a good deal, as does the diminishing stigma attached to illnesses of this sort, which makes it easier for people to get treatment rather than avoid it from a sense of shame. In my own case, I have also found it useful to keep a very tight handle on the diagnostic criteria associated with the disorder. (In Facing the Demon, I tried to give an impressionistic sense of this utility.)
Nevertheless, if you look over the criteria you'll find that by definition a major depressive episode can be identified only after a significant amount of time has passed. Officially the period is a full two weeks, though to be sure, a psychiatrist closely acquainted with a patient seldom hesitates to intervene long before then. Still, it takes time for a pattern of symptoms to emerge. Even the depressed person isn't always aware of being depressed until a few days have gone by. And although this site typically gets around 80-120 hits per day, it was not until yesterday that anyone inquired whether the dearth of blog entries might indicate that something was amiss with my health.
I knew that such an inquiry would come eventually, however. I knew which person was most likely to inquire. I knew it would come as an email, and I knew what the subject line would say: "SITREP?"
SITREP is military speak for Situation Report. If somebody asks for a situation report they are asking to know the status of your unit and the progress of its mission.
The person who requested the SITREP was an officer currently posted in Baghdad. I wrote back:
Thanks for checking up. I appreciate it.
Things are OK now, but as you surmised, until recently they weren't going so well. I had another depressive spell, this one longer than usual--probably long enough to qualify formally as a clinical depression. It may have been due in part to some tweaking in my medication. The meds have been tweaked again, and I'm doing better, though whether this is a cause and effect relationship, or correlation, or coincidence, just plain beats me. All I know is that I have had more trouble with the bipolar disorder this year than in any preceding year I can recall.
A subsidiary reason I haven't been keeping a blog is that when I am OK I'm busy doing other things. At the moment, for instance, I'm writing a 5,500-word chapter for The Osprey Companion to the American Civil War. If I needed the blog to help with my productivity I'd use it, but I've never wanted to get in the trap of letting the blog distract me from the stuff I really need to do.
I hope things are going OK at your end. Thinking about what "at your end" signifies sort of puts what's going on in my life into perspective.
Afterward it occurred to me that dealing with this bipolar disorder is a little bit like combatting an insurgency, and vice versa. For instance, I can say in retrospect that a depressive episode occurred, but neither I nor anyone else can say with much certainty what caused it, when it began, why it reached the level of intensity it did, and why it finally lifted. Similarly, although it is obvious that the United States is contending with an insurgency in Iraq, I don't think anyone can say exactly when it began, or explain the dynamic that feeds it, or gauge--save in a very rough way--the progress the United States has made in fighting it. Or say when it will end. In the case of bipolar disorder, it will never end, though I am told that the disorder tends to be roughest on people in their thirties and forties and tends to abate with age. Yet the presence of the disorder doesn't preclude the possibility of leading some measure of an ordinary life, just as the presence of an insurgency doesn't necessarily halt the normal functioning of a society. As military historian Eliot Cohen observed in a recent op/ed piece, "Counterinsurgency is inherently a long, long business. Conceivably, the Iraqi insurgency could collapse in a year or so, but that would be highly unusual. More likely Iraq will suffer from chronic violence, which need not prevent the country as a whole from progressing."
"The history of a battle," the Duke of Wellington famously maintained, "is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost; but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference to their value and importance." He wrote those words to dissuade a would-be historian of the battle of Waterloo, but of course his injunction did nothing to inhibit the crafting of hundreds of books on the battle. Societies have a need to find meaning in events just as individuals have a need to find meaning in their own lives. Yet when thinking about this latest depressive episode, I wonder. . . . "The meds have been tweaked again, and I'm doing better, though whether this is a cause and effect relationship, or correlation, or coincidence, just plain beats me." The only battlefield was my own life, and yet I can see what Wellington was driving at. I wonder what simile Wellington would have found to describe the history of an insurgency?
Saturday, June 18, 2005, 07:39 AM - Combat as MetaphorTuesday afternoon a week ago (June 7), my colleague Hasan Jeffries stopped by my office and asked if I'd seen the film Crash. Actually, "stopped by" is too mild a way to phrase it. Hasan is a fairly charismatic guy under the most ordinary circumstances, and on this occasion he was as animated as I've ever seen him. I told him I'd been meaning to see the movie since reading critic Roger Ebert's review back in May, but had not yet gotten around to it. "You have got to see this movie," Hasan said.
So that evening I did, and the next day Hasan and I met over lunch to discuss it.
"Crash," explains Ebert in his review, "tells interlocking stories of whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Iranians, cops and criminals, the rich and the poor, the powerful and powerless, all defined in one way or another by racism. All are victims of it, and all are guilty of it. Sometimes, yes, they rise above it, although it is never that simple. Their negative impulses may be instinctive, their positive impulses may be dangerous, and who knows what the other person is thinking?" Hasan and I liked the film as a film, but we were most attracted to its ability to act as a catalyst for dialogue about racism. Yet Crash can be seen just as readily as a commentary on the ways in which we imprison ourselves behind walls of anger and how hard it is to escape those walls. I know that I myself have been, throughout my life, an intensely angry person, though I have tried very hard to control it and feel deeply chagrined and ashamed whenever I lose my temper. That's not just my personal struggle, however. It's the world's struggle. And the study of military history has much to do with understanding that.
Anger is everywhere. You never know when you'll encounter it. Last Friday (June 10) my significant other and I went out for a beer at a nearby bar called Caddo's. It affects a country-and-western atmosphere and is pretty laid back. (I think that for all my life I will be in the academy but not of it. I'm always most comfortable in what might be called working-class environments, and one of my favorite country songs is Aaron Tippin's "Working Man's PhD". Even though, strictly speaking, the song is sort of contemptuous of people with actual PhDs.)
We weren't there long. I spent most of the time chatting with a guitarist over a Corona beer and my SO, I belatedly discovered, spent a few hapless moments fending off a rather incompetent pass by one of the clientele. We had to be up early in the morning to drive out to Indiana so we left around 12:30 a.m. I backed my car out of its parking space and paused as a car two or three spaces away also began pulling out. For a couple of seconds it was no big deal; I figured he'd see me and pause to let me by before completing his maneuver. But then I realized he was getting closer and closer to my car and then he just hit me. Tapped me is more like it. No big deal. Here's a photo of the damage. You can click for a larger image; indeed, you may have to; otherwise you may not be able to make out the damage. . . .
I got out of the car to do the routine exchange of insurance information. The other driver got of his car and started into one of those what-the-hell-were-you-doing-there-and-it's-all-your-fault routines.
"We're not going to do that," I said, mildly--emphasis on mildly because I could see that this guy was belligerent and probably drunk. "We're going to exchange insurance information as the law requires."
He said that he didn't have the information on him but that had coverage with State Farm, so it was OK, and anyway there wasn't any real damage, and so on.
I said, "One of two things is going to happen here. Either we are going to exchange information or I am going to call the police."
He told me I could just call the police, then, since he had no insurance information and no intention of sticking around at the scene to undergo a potential sobriety test. I called out the number of his license plate to my SO and she wrote it down. The guy got back into his car. I walked around to the passenger's side and asked him to reconsider, which may sound nuts on my part except that as soon as I refused to get caught up in the moment and insisted on keeping things businesslike, he calmed right down. In response to my request for him to reconsider, he told me candidly that he already had several DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) and preferred to be cited for leaving the scene of an accident. "Good luck," I said quietly--no sarcasm, I really meant it, because he obviously had problems and there wasn't anything I could do but hope that he got home okay.
I called in the accident report. The officer who came told me that ordinarily the police do not respond to accidents on private property, so the dumbest thing the guy could possibly have done was to leave the scene. That made him the subject of a criminal investigation--though the officer told me not to hold my breath for any quick resolution. He ran the plate number. Information about the person to whom the plate was registered came up on a computer screen in the middle of the cop's dashboard--the technology these days is amazing. He asked if the photo of the person looked like the guy with whom I'd spoken. I said it did. He said the guy was driving under a suspended license and, sure enough, had three DUIs.
So that was that. The next morning I took a few photos of the damage and then my SO and I headed off for Indiana. Claypool, Indiana, to be exact. Population 308 and falling, 97 percent white, median age 31.5 years, median household income $33,833, median house value $62,500. Not much goes on in Claypool, Indiana. Someone had recently tried to have a cockfight, and two roosters had been driven up from Kentucky for that purpose. No one seems to have explained the point of a cockfight to the roosters, however, and when thrown into the ring they just sort of regarded one another with a sort of isn't-this-odd incredulity. The organizer of the cockfight, disgusted and disappointed, simply turned them loose into the neighborhood, where they are now known as Lunch and Dinner, respectively. I saw them several times during my visit. Mahatma Gandhi was more belligerent than the two of them combined.
My SO has a friend living in Claypool and we were in her father's yard chatting when just beyond a row of hedges we heard a truck slam on its brakes, tires squealing, and then a voice screaming at the top of his lungs. We couldn't make out exactly what was said except that it involved a threat to kill whoever the screamer was talking to. Apparently the screamer felt that he had in some way been disrespected.
One of my conceits, which will probably get me slugged one day, is that I can defuse pretty much any hostile situation. I have a great belief in the power of remaining calm. It seems to evoke calm from the other person, almost despite themselves. So I walked around the row of hedges and saw that the screamer was a man in his mid-twenties who had stopped his pickup truck in the middle of the road. He had gotten out of his truck to berate--wait for it--a boy who could have been no more than twelve. Having gotten things off his chest, he was stalking back to his truck.
A small puppy followed him on the theory that, since in his young life he had gotten only petting and tummy tickles from human beings, this guy offered another fat opportunity for a little loving. The puppy got under the truck right about where the rear tire would crush him as soon as the screamer put the truck in gear. A little girl desperately ran out to the truck and begged the screamer not to drive away. "Aw, he'll be all right," the screamer said. The little girl grabbed the puppy and ran away just as the screamer threw the truck into gear and accelerated away. This time I did not get the license plate.
This time I could barely believe what I'd just seen.
I walked over to the group of kids that included the little girl and the twelve-year old boy. I asked what that had been all about. The boy, obviously shaken, had no idea. He'd simply been waving to trucks and cars as they went by and the screamer seemed to interpret this as some sort of mortal insult. (When I tell this story I am sometimes asked if I believe that the kid was really just waving hi. In fact I do. It was consistent with what I'd seen of the little group before and the kid showed none of the little signs that betray prevarication. But the main thing I say is, So what? What could possibly justify a grown man to do something like that? Why is the screamer getting the benefit of the doubt here?)
In a previous and for some reason slightly controversial entry, I suggested that military historians had something relevant to say about bullies. I now told the kids that I was a military historian who had active duty officers among my students. I said I liked to think about things like what had just happened as if they were military problems to be solved. I was the readier to address this particular "military problem" because the kids told me--and after a few more hours in Claypool and the nearby town of Pierceton, I heartily believed it--that around here some people engaged in this sort of random hostility all the time.
I stood where the boy had stood. I waved to an imaginary truck. I imagined the truck screeching to a halt. I imagined the driver storming toward me. I imagined what sort of man could be filled with so much rage, and concluded that it was most likely a man who had been beaten down by life. Maybe he'd lost his job. Maybe his girl friend had dumped him. Most probably, given the depressed area, he felt that life had given him a raw deal. He got so little respect that when a kid waved hello to him, he interpreted it as more disrespect. And although he might have to take it from adults, he wasn't going to take it from some damned twelve-year old twerp.
I said to the kids, "A basic rule in war is that, unless you have a very good reason, you do not give the enemy what he wants. A guy like this wants to pick a fight. He wants an excuse to be mad. He needs to be mad. How about if you said something like, 'Hey, mister, I really like your truck. What kind is it?' And so on."
One of the kids pointed out that maybe the guy would think this was sarcasm. I thought the kid was exactly right. I tried again.
"How about if you say, 'Mister, you scare me.'" That instantly struck me as the right answer. He comes raging up, expecting the satisfaction of a confrontation, and gets instead to see himself as what he is, a scary man bullying a small kid. I notice that the door to a house is a few feet away. "How about if you run inside the house," I continue.
It all makes sense, but I know it also sounds like running away. If this is going to work, the kids have to have a sense of empowerment. "You say this happens a lot?" I ask. They nod.
"Then here's what you do. Write down the make and model of the vehicle and the color. Write down whatever you can about the driver. If you can, write down the license plate number." They note that they have no pen and paper. "You say this happens a lot," I say, "so keep pen and paper handy. And then call the police."
My talking to them like this seems to have calmed them all down. Better yet, they're starting to think of this as a problem to be solved. They don't feel helpless. I leave them a business card. It's just a stunt. I want them to feel like they really have just had a consultation with an actual military historian. I say before I go, "Remember, don't give your enemy what he wants. If he wants a fight, deny him that. Get him onto your ground, not his. Can you imagine what a weak man that driver was to think he had to pick on kids half his age? He wanted a fight on those terms. Get him into a fight with the police instead."
They like that idea. The twelve-year old and I shake hands. I walk away. I feel good that I've been able to help--and yet somewhere down deep, I feel a rage, an odd kinship with the screamer in the pickup truck.
Death Be Not Proud
Friday, June 17, 2005, 02:53 AM - The World After September 11
DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
-- John Donne (1572-1631), from the Holy Sonnets
Roll Call / Daylight Again
Monday, June 13, 2005, 05:35 AM - The World After September 11"Roll Call," by MAJ Robert Bateman
We move around a lot in the military, as individuals and collectively. This presents a challenge, because with so many moving parts it is difficult to maintain an account. This is why we conduct roll calls. These are run by our Non-commissioned officers. Normally officers stand beyond the ranks, but under some circumstances they will stand in the ranks for accountability purposes. The command in which I serve has elements of all four services.
“Here Master Chief!”
"Staff Sergeant Michaels”
“Present Master Chief!”
"Chief’s voice is booming, though he has not raised his voice. Even restrained it carries, as befits his six-foot three-inches and all-Navy frame. Traditionally the responses are returned at a slightly louder volume. I don’t know why, that’s just how we do it.
“Lieutenant Colonel Hale”
“Here Master Chief!”
There was a stiff breeze earlier, but it faded about an hour ago. Enough remains to roll the flag but not enough to make it snap. We broke 115 degrees at around 13:00. That was the temperature in the shade. It is now a little after 16:30. I am in the sun.
“Colonel Ted Westhusing!”
Chief’s voice is now sharp, the voice of command. When conducting a roll call, one part of the sacred purview of the NCO corps, there is no quibbling. Even officers pipe up if they stand in the ranks for these formations. Sweat pours down my face. I am a little dehydrated, the sweat is salty and stings my eyes. I do not move. I am at the position of attention. The baked air carried by the light breeze brings no relief, though it carries away the scent. Not a few of us have been working longer hours than is usual, even for a combat zone. Sleep has been secondary. Laundry represented a distant place in anyone’s mind. The breeze lifts and the flag rustles. I blink repeatedly.
“Colonel Theodore S. Westhusing.”
Once insistent, Master Chief Korman’s voice is now resigned. There is no response. There will be no response.
At the front of our formation a rifle, bayonet fixed, stands inverted. Dogtags bearing the name Theodore Westhusing, his blood type, Social Security number, and religious preference hang from the pistol grip. A helmet, with the eagle of a full Colonel on the front, balances atop the butt-stock.
I hear steps behind me. I cannot see them, but I know who is there. A seven man detail, with a single NCO giving direction. With commands given in a low voice the detail stops moving forward and begins to “mark time,” marching in place. They come to a halt. Seven rifles charge at once, the spring in the stock driving forward the bolt carrier inside the rifle, and placing a single round of ammunition into the chamber of the weapon.
Lost in thought for a second, I am caught off-guard, even though I knew it was coming. Seven rifles discharged at once. The first volley. They charge again.
For an ad-hoc squad they do pretty well. Seven rifles crashing as one. It is not the Old Guard, but then this is not Arlington. We are in a combat zone, rendering honors to one of our own, as best we can.
Seven men. Three volleys. Twenty-one shots. Only the President of the United States of America receives the same number. Descartes had it wrong with, “Je pense, donc je suis.” We are not human because we think. We are human because we remember.
I will remember Colonel Westhusing.
Following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago
How my fathers bled
I think I see a valley
Covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older
Been asking after you
Hear the past a' calling
From Armageddon's side
When everyone's talking and no one is listening
How can we decide
Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down
- Stephen Stills, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Daylight Again
Shadow Warriors - Pt 8
Thursday, June 9, 2005, 10:18 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
The kid in the picture never knew his father. That's because his dad was an American serviceman killed during the Second World War. Bad luck, that.
Another bit of bad luck: he happened to be born a few years before Jonas Salk developed a vaccine against polio. As a result the kid developed the illness--fortunately a mild form of it--which left him with a slight stutter.
Final bit of bad luck: at age 14 the kid left his home in southside Chicago to visit an uncle in the spectacularly misnamed hamlet of Money, Mississippi, on the eastern fringe of the Yazoo Delta country. The uncle either didn't have time to explain the facts of life for black youths in 1955 Mississippi or the kid didn't believe it, because three days after arriving at his uncle's home he went into the local store to buy some bubble gum, maybe whistled at a leggy white woman he saw in the store or, more likely, did not avert his eyes to underscore the fact that he was not, repeat, not checking out the local eye candy. For that transgression, the kid went from being a handsome young adolescent to looking like the creature from the black lagoon, only a whole lot deader.
The kid of course was Emmett Till, whose murder became a touchstone for the modern Civil Rights movement. Killing black men in grisly ways was a common practice in the America of that day. In that respect the death of Emmett Till was nothing unusual. But timing is everything, and in 1955 the United States was begininng to realize that it could not prevail in a Cold War for influence over the bulk of the world's population, most of them persons of color, if the godless Commies could accurately point out that persons of color, even children of color, could get brutally slain over things like noticing a good-looking woman.
Well, maybe timing is not everything. Maybe it got a nudge from Emett's mom, who didn't hide her son's swollen, shapeless face in a closed casket but left the casket open and invited the world to come in, look, gawk, take pictures, and maybe just maybe reflect that there was something in the funereal freak show that couldn't be made to fit with the fine talk of the land of the free, the home of the brave, and justice for all.
Especially when the killers--one of the them, incidentally, a decorated combat veteran--got off scot-free.
The other evening I sat on my back patio and chatted with one of my neighbors. Like me, she's divorced. Like me, she's a pretty down to earth person. Unlike me, she's black, and--more to the point--she's raising a black son.
Jay (not his real name) is finishing up second grade and looking forward to third grade. He's a handsome little kid, which does not remind me of myself at his age; but he is slender and small and shy for his age, which does. He doesn't have many kids his age to play with and the ones who do play with him frequently take advantage of his size, so that--in a scenario I recall from own childhood--play easily melds into bullying.
Jay's mom doesn't know what to do. She's tried the usual strategies--talking to the parents of the other kids, stuff like that, but it doesn't really work, and anyway, she can't run interference for Jay forever. She could see to it that Jay learned how to fight, but she fears that. An eight year old scrapping with eight year olds looks like one thing. A young black man using his fists looks like something else, especially in a day and age when the other guy may pull a knife or gun. And always in the back of her mind--I know because she mentioned it--is the memory of Emmett Till.
So far it looks as if Jay's gonna have to work this one out for himself, same as I did.
Only I never found a solution except to suck it up. I discovered instead that bullies usually have you in a double bind. If you don't fight, they win. If you do fight, they beat you up enough to humiliate you. There's a beloved theory that if you stand up to a bully, the bully will back down.
That's true--but you have to have a winning strategy.
If military historians cannot devise a winning strategy for Jay, I submit that that is a serious query against the idea that military history has a place in the humanities. A place in think tanks and service schools, yes. Liberal arts universities, no.
Because what you learn in a liberal arts university ought to be transferable to real life. And in the case of military history, not just the real life of citizens who in theory have the last word concerning the size and missions of their armed forces. (I say in theory because I see no evidence of this. The power elite choose and we break into the obligatory chorus of Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be An American".) No: military historians should be able to work the problem metaphorically and come up with a solution set that gives Jay a chance for victory.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10
The Four Classes of Co-Workers
Thursday, June 9, 2005, 05:52 AM - Combat as Metaphor
"I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!" -- General Kurt Hammerstein-Equord (1878-1943)
(Hat tip to Miscellaneous Military Anecdotes)
Moments That Make It Worthwhile
Wednesday, June 8, 2005, 06:29 PM - Building the Field
Celebrating the successful dissertation defense of "All for the King's Shilling," a reappraisal of the common soldier in Wellington's army during the Peninsular War of the Napoleonic conflict. Bottom line: Wellington's famous characterization of his troops as "the scum of the earth" does not withstand scrutiny.
From left to right: Ed Coss, the candidate (and soon to be Dr. Coss); Prof. John F. Guilmartin, Jr., the dissertation director; Prof. John A. Lynn of the University of Illinois (and also an adjunct professor in the Ohio State history department; and me, your humble blogger. (Click photo for a larger image.)
Wednesday, June 8, 2005, 09:06 AM - Douglass and Lee at War
Approximate site of Douglass's birthplace, Tuckahoe Creek, on the eastern shore of Maryland.
Frederick's first home was a solitary cabin in the woods bordering a brook that separated the farther fields of two farms owned by the man who owned him. But the boy knew nothing of being owned as he sunk his toes in the clay bottoms of the shallow pools over which skater bugs glided.
-- William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass
The "solitary cabin" in question stood on the bank to the left. The site is on private property, but an organization affiliated with the Choptank River Heritage Center arranges an annual pilgrimage to the property via canoe or kayak. You'll find the details here.