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The Spirit of Independence

A guest post by COL (Ret.) Charles D. Allen.

I had expected a traditional 4th of July holiday with the trappings of local and national celebrations, fireworks, and displays of patriotism coupled with family events.  For many of us, the mid-week holiday extended the observance to the following weekend.

I took the opportunity to visit Mom and siblings in Cleveland and, as is my habit, I picked up an audiobook CD for the 600-mile roundtrip.  The selection this time was David Hackett Fischer’s award-winning Washington’s Crossing.  The book captured my attention so much that I drove straight through to my mother’s house.  The next two days were spent checking in with my mom and her cousin (among the last of that generation), watching my brother grill and spend time with his grandkids, and sharing late-night reminisces with my sisters. After a hearty Sunday breakfast (prepared by my brother), I hit the road having counted the weekend an American success.

I inserted the next CD and continued to listen to Fischer’s remarkable work.  The next chapter of the book recounted the attitudes and reactions of American colonials in New Jersey in the face of the occupation by British and Hessian troops. I then remembered seeing signs for Shanksville/Somerset PA on my outbound trip and felt compelled to visit the Flight 93 Memorial on the way home.  A quick check of the GPS gave directions and time to the site, so I departed from my normal route on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The park entrance is 3-1/2 miles from the Memorial Plaza and the road winds slowly to the impact site. From the parking lot, the quarter-mile walk begins with display boards that detail the events of the morning of September 11, 2001.  Most haunting are the faces on the placard, “The Crew and Passengers of Flight 93.” At the end of the walk are 40 marble panels inscribed with each name and the existence of an unborn child.

As I looked around the unfinished memorial and its landscape, it was clear that the unremarkable countryside belied the remarkable feat accomplished by the passengers who boarded the plane in Newark, New Jersey. Among the names on the display and marble panels were those of Jeremy Glick, Tom Burnett and Todd Beamer who assumed leadership roles on the plane when the threat to the nation became clear. Tom on the phone told his wife, Deena, “We can’t wait…we’re going to do something.” Voice recordings captured the memorable words of Todd, who was about to lead the group: “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”

It is striking how this band of civilians embodied the same spirit of the New Jersey colonists in 1776. That spirit is captured in the third verse of “America the Beautiful”:

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!

This is important to remember each Independence Day—that our citizens are true heroes whom those in uniform have the honor to serve.

Allan Millett Wins 2012 Truman Book Award

Allan R. Millett, General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor of Military History Emeritus, has received the 2012 Truman Book Award for The War for Korea, 1950-1951: They Came from the North.

The Harry S. Truman Book Award, given by the Harry S. Truman Library Institute for National and International Affairs, recognizes the best book published within a two-year period that deals with some aspect of the life or career of Harry S. Truman or the history of the United States during his presidency.

The book award committee said Millett’s book was the standout among a field of 28 entries and believes Millett’s work on the Korean War — The War for Korea is the second part of a trilogy — “will become the standard by which other studies of the conflict are measured and a key resource for students of the war for many years to come.”

Millett is a specialist in the history of American military policy and 20th century wars and military institutions. In the past decade, he has acquired international stature as an expert on the Korean War. Besides his own trilogy, Millett served as an editorial consultant for the Korean Ministry of Defense’s official history, The Korean War, 3 vols. (1998-99) for which he arranged an American edition (2000-01). He then served as co-editor of Mao’s Generals Remember Korea (2001) with Yi Xiaoping and Yu Bin.

Millett has published 27 essays, articles, encyclopedia entries and commentaries on the Korean War; he was instrumental in the Department of Defense’s revision of the American death statistics (all causes) from 54,246 to 36,574.

An associate at the Mershon Center, Millett is currently Ambrose Professor of History and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. He is also senior military advisor at National World War II Musuem.

Is Tom Ricks Ever Wrong?

Of course he is; everyone is from time to time. But not in this case.

From his The Best Defense blog this week:

Willbanks’ ‘Abandoning Vietnam’: A study of how South Vietnam died
Posted By Thomas E. Ricks Wednesday, April 4, 2012 – 10:28 AM

Basically, South Vietnam committed suicide, but we handed Thieu the loaded gun, James Willbanks more or less concludes in this fascinating book.

I think it is the best book I’ve read on the last part of the Vietnam War. Essentially, he argues that “Vietnamization” was a misnomer. Rather, it was the “Americanization” of the Vietnamese military. “Nixon’s Vietnamization policy had worked very well to the extent that it taught the South Vietnamese to fight ‘American-style,’ using air mobility, tactical air support, and lavish expenditure of ammunition and other materiel.” But in 1974, the Americans cut off all that support.

It makes me wonder whether the war would have been different if from the outset, the Americans had tried to help Vietnamese fight in their own way. Would that even have been possible? I think so. (There is a good but PhD dissertation to be done comparing the U.S. efforts to build security forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.)

The entire post can be found here.

Army Strong Culture

By COL (Ret,) Charles D. Allen, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, U.S. Army War College

This past week, I returned to Fort Benning, Georgia 35 years after graduating from Airborne training in August 1977. As I expected, there were big changes on post. That became clear as I-185 South led to the majestic overpass with Iron Mike and Trooper of the Plains extending their greetings to the Maneuver Center of Excellence. In 2010, the Armor School collocated with the Infantry School as part of the Army realignment effort.

As I made the drive on post and found the location for my presentation, it was evident that elements of old Fort Benning endured. In the background stood two of the original 250-foot towers that I had to experience prior to making my first parachute jump (I did not fall) from an airplane. Signs on post pointed to Sand Hill and Harmony Church where I did my Ranger training in 1976. The towers and signs not only brought back memories but also invoked somewhat forgotten feelings–anxiousness, challenge, camaraderie, accomplishment, and pride–of earning Airborne Wings and Ranger Tab.

During the professional development session to the cadre of the Infantry school brigade, I spoke about artifacts of Organization Culture that symbolically represent the shared values of its members.  Statues like Mike and Trooper, unit crests and division patches with descriptions of heraldry, and posters of Soldier executing tough training were ubiquitous and tacitly illustrated what the Army expected of its members.

Once again serendipity struck and I stayed for kick-off of the post’s first annual Black and Gold scrimmage. That event ostensibly showcased the West Point cadets on the field who represent the great potential of officer leadership in the coming decades.

While merely a scrimmage, it was clear that players on both teams were striving to do their very best to honor those in the stands–the new recruits in training, cadre and serving members with their family, and veterans now out of uniform.


Another March Madness

Cross Posted from Civil Warriors

I leave this morning for a conference at Duke University entitled “Another March Madness: The American Civil War at 150.” The complete program is here. Speakers include

Margaret Humphreys, Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine and Professor of Medicine, Duke University, Department of History
Wayne Lee, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina
Mark Grimsley, Associate Professor of History, Ohio State Department of History
Joseph T. Glatthaar, Stephenson Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Laura Edwards, Professor Department of History, Duke University
Susanna Michele Lee, Assistant Professor of History, North Carolina State University
Shauna Devine, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Duke University

The event is free and open to the public.

What’s particularly going to be fun is that tomorrow evening I’ll be holding court with a number of Wayne Lee’s students. At a local bar. Only two days before Saint Patrick’s Day (which hopefully will be off to an early start).

Military Carnival #30

 . . . is up and running at Cliopatria.

I Chose a Gun

General Petrus J.M. “Peter” van Uhm is the current Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff. In November 2011 he spoke to an audience of scientists, artists and businessmen, etc., complimenting them on their commitment to building a better world and noting the instruments they had chosen to do it: microscope, pen, brush, camera, money, etc. He then states that he too is committed to building a better world, and then–as a soldier walks out on stage with a semi-automatic rifle and the audience titters in anticipation–explains why “I chose a gun.”

One of my History of War students pointed out this clip to me in light of our frequent classroom discussions about the code of the warrior.

(Hat tip to Mike Kitching)

Reconstruction as an Insurgency

Mike Few, the editor of Small Wars Journal, recently interviewed me about Reconstruction as an insurgency. Here’s his first question and my response:

Mike Few: Traditionally, social scientists, viewing conflict through the lens of the state, prefer to quantify wars as resulting in a win, loss, or tie; however, history shows that the construction, reconstruction, or deconstruction of the state following a conflict is often a long process with mixed results. Why did the Civil War not end after Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, Durham, NC and General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia?

Mark Grimsley: It’s important to acknowledge that in an important sense, the war did end in 1865, because the federal government’s two goals—the restoration of the Union and the destruction of slavery—had both been achieved. White southerners gave up the idea of an independent Confederacy, and they showed every sign of accepting the lenient terms for return to the Union offered by the administration of Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled Congress, however, believed that more stringent terms were necessary to achieve the fruits of victory. In the words of Richard Henry Dana, a prominent Republican, they insisted on holding the former Confederate states in “the grasp of war” until the political dominance of the Southern elite was eliminated. A key component of their plan to accomplish this involved the imposition of universal male suffrage for African Americans. Essentially, the Reconstruction insurgency was a successful effort to break the grasp of war and restore what Southern conservatives termed “Home Rule.”

A more clunky response, since you mention social scientists, would be to point to the Correlates of War Study, which defines a war as any event that results in a thousand or more battlefield deaths each year. If you substitute “deaths from political violence” for “battlefield deaths,” then several years during Reconstruction would come close to meeting this standard. In Louisiana alone, for example, an estimated 2,500 people perished between 1865 and 1876.

Full interview

Military History and the American Historical Profession

Brian Carroll, a visiting professor at Central Washington University, is teaching an interesting course concerning (you guessed it) military history and the American historical profession.

Among the assigned readings were several posts from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. The only problem, of course, was that his students couldn’t access the posts because I’d taken BTOOTSA offline. But not to worry. They’re all here on War Historian, immediately below this post.

[NB.  This post was written at a time when War Historian had temporarily replaced Blog Them Out of the Stone Age.  Below is a list of the posts assigned by Dr. Carroll:]

Rebecca Goetz. “What Happens When Non-military Historians Teach Military History??” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted November 1, 2006. (accessed January 6, 2011).[direct link]

Mark Grimsley. “Hand Wringing for Military History.” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted November 22, 2010. (accessed January 6, 2011).[direct link]

Mark Grimsley. “Beyond the Culture of Complaint.” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted December 28, 2006. (accessed January 6, 2011).[direct link:]

Mark Grimsley. “Crocodile Tears For Military History: An Open Letter to John J. Miller.” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted September 27, 2006. (accessed January 6, 2011).[direct link:]

Mark Grimsley. “The Types of Military History, Parts 1 & 2.” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted December 26, 2006. (accessed January 6, 2011). [direct link]

John Maass. “Military History: Past, Present, and Future.” Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age. Entry posted February 23, 2006. (accessed January 6, 2011). [direct link]

Clausewitz for Kids

Yep, you’re looking at the next must-have Christmas gift for your budding Napoleon or Hitler.

Not for this holiday season, perhaps, but hopefully next year.

Caitlin Fitz Gerald holds an MA in International Relations and describes herself as “into foreign policy, security, civ-mil, and Middle East studies.” She lists her avocations as “Writer. Volunteer. Artist. Boston sports fan. Yank Arsenal supporter. Grammar nerd.”

She’s also hard at work on the children’s book that, face it, you always wanted as a youngster: that metaphorical  official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle you never found under the tree.

The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz

Here’s Caitlin’s maiden post on the venture.

She’s just finished Book I.  Which, come to think of it, is as good as Clausewitz did.

What If the Tarawa Invasion Had Failed?

Reprinted with permission of World War II magazine

It is early morning on November 20, 1943.  An American fleet stands off Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands, located about midway across the Pacific Ocean.  The fleet’s arrival marks the start of the Central Pacific offensive, recently authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), whose main objective is the Marianas archipelago some two thousand miles to the west.  Tarawa is just a preliminary.  The commander of the Pacific Ocean Area, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, considers it a relatively easy target that can serve as a dress rehearsal for the more demanding amphibious landings yet to come.

The specific target of the invasion is the tiny islet of Betio, barely 4,000 yards in length and just 800 yards at its widest point, whose importance derives from an airfield constructed by the Japanese.   As warships and carrier aircraft blast away at Betio’s 5,000-man garrison, swarms of landing craft and new-fangled “amphtracs”—amphibious tractors—enter the Tarawa lagoon, carrying the troops of the Second Marine Division.
The first three waves of Marines, borne upon amphtracs, cross the coral reef that separates Betio from the lagoon and reach the beach with fairly light casualties.  Once ashore, however, withering fire from Japanese machine guns and artillery stops the marines almost at the water’s edge.  None get further inland than a hundred yards.  Most lie huddled behind a sea wall made from coconut logs.

For the waves that follow it is worse.  A tide that should have carried the landing craft safely over the coral reef is lower than expected.  Most of the craft run aground.  The Marines have no choice but to wade through 500 yards of chest high water, helpless against the hail of Japanese artillery and machine gun fire.

As a pitiless tropical sun courses across the sky, the Marines on Betio claw their way forward with only limited success.  By dusk, out of the 5,000 who have landed, at least 1,500 are dead, wounded, or missing.  The survivors occupy a position no more than 400 yards wide and 300 yards deep, and are thinly spread among a jumble of improvised fighting positions.  As the sun goes down, everyone tenses for a near certain counterattack by the Japanese defenders.

When darkness comes, so does the attack….

Full article (in PDF format)

G I Joe Was *Not* A Doll

When the toy manufacturer Hasbro first rolled out G I Joe in 1964, my Dad initially wouldn’t let me have one because it was a doll.  I knew damn well it wasn’t a doll, but at age 4 I couldn’t articulate why it wasn’t a doll. Thank God Hasbro invented the term “action figure.”

Four Dead in Ohio

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College. This essay originally appeared in“On Leadership,” Washington Post, November 5, 2009.

As an African-American youth growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, my first exposure to the U.S. military was during the Hough riots of 1966, when a National Guard soldier was stationed on my block and an armored troop carrier was positioned in the vacant lot next to our apartment building.

The next time was during the Glenville riots of 1968. In both cases, I viewed the Army as protecting my family from the civil unrest that was rampant across the United States and which found its way to my town. I was not aware of the social turmoil that spawned the riots but was more concerned for the safety of those I loved during those weeks of violence. In my young eyes, the military was the protector in a society gone mad.

It was two years later when that image of protector was shattered. On Monday, May 4, 1970, I was a high school freshman, sitting in an English class, when the news broke of the National Guard firing on college students at the nearby Kent State University. You may remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young chorus, “Four Dead in Ohio”– I certainly do. The protectors were thrust off the pedestal upon which I had placed them and that positive image was shattered.

Each year, I tell these stories to our new students at the U.S. Army War College. They have experienced tremendous appreciation and support from the American public and its elected representatives. Our officers are uniformly grateful for that support. As the Harvard study suggests, the respect the military has engendered has been extremely positive relative to the other institutions in our society.

Lest we get too smug and full of ourselves, there are two things that our military must always remember: who we are and who we serve. The two stories I related above show how the trust the American people place in its military is as fragile as it is precious.

Our oath of commission has us swear to “protect and defend” and to “bear true faith and allegiance.” I took this oath in June 1978 at the base of the statue of George Washington at West Point. I had faith then and do now that our military will earn that trust by continuing to be an institution of people who willingly place the good of our society above personal interests.

This is what the American people expect of our military leaders and its service members. It would be a mistake to take the respect that our citizens currently have for the military for granted. Trust and respect for the military hinges on the extent to which we remain worthy of it, and that is no secret.

Military History Carnival #29

… is up and running at David Silbey’s blog. Check it out.

Those Pesky Malware Issues

(Cross posted from Civil Warriors)

In recent months, this blog has had issues with the insertion of malware script (strictly speaking, never into the blog itself, but rather the file that governs all the domains I maintain).  Consequently, Google has on at least three occasions identified it as an Attack Site.  I regret that this has caused a lot of you inconvenience, particularly to one reader,whose anti-virus software failed to detect the malicious script and thereby suffered extensive damage to his PC.

Based on an accumulation of evidence, I’ve concluded that the problem likely stems from poor security on the part of my current web server provider. For that reason, I plan to transfer this domain, as well as all others I maintain another provider that has been well recommended to me.

As some of you know, my wife and I recently had a baby (Chloe Nicole).  I know that all parents among you have seared into your memory the demands of caring for a newborn.  It’s sure an experience I’ll never forget! I can think of no better reason to have one’s life temporarily derailed, but with the necessary triage of effort, I may not make the transfer as expeditiously as I’d like.  In the meantime, I’ll stay on top of the malware issue as best I can.

I appreciate your patience–and particularly that of my partner Ethan, who has been inconvenienced by this problem as much as anyone.



Slug Bug Feldgrau!

I seem to recall that I had one of these in college . . .

(Hat tip to Terry Beckenbaugh)

People Who Just Won’t Get It: A Perennial Challenge for Nonviolent Resisters

In this morning’s USA TODAY:

As winter closes in on its open-air encampments and public attention prepares to move on to the next big thing, the Occupy movement faces a dilemma: Conflict and confrontation, which have helped make it a national phenomenon, also can derail it.

The scene this month in Oakland, where a fraction of protesters fought with riot police, trashed stores, set barricades and started fires, reminded activists and historians that a movement suffers if conflicts with authority turn violent.

“For the past century, violence has almost always been counterproductive in American politics. The anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements were strongest when they were faithful to their non-violent roots,” says Maurice Isserman, a veteran of both efforts and co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.

Full article

Gandhi’s strategy for dealing with this menace: If you can’t get it promptly under control, it is best to suspend the campaign. But I doubt the Occupy Movement could implement this counsel. The leadership–such as it is–is still too weak, deliberately so, in a gallant but naive attempt to make its decisions through direct democracy, reflected in the ubiquitous finger-fluttering general assemblies.

The fact is, for nonviolent campaigns to succeed, an almost military discipline is vital. Particularly in the specific context of American political realities. Occupation Wall Street may be inspired by the Arab Spring, but this isn’t Arabia. Nowhere near.

Warfare and Culture in World History

Warfare and Culture in World History
Edited by Wayne E. Lee

240 p. | Cloth: $70.00 | Paper: $23.00

“Provides the best introduction yet published to the wide and exciting study of war and culture. Readers interested in war, culture, and their roles in global history will find here some of the best current research and writing on the topic.”—Michael S. Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies

It has long been acknowledged that the study of war and warfare demands careful consideration of technology, institutions, social organization, and more. But, for some, the so-called “war and society” approach increasingly included everything but explained nothing, because it all too often seemed to ignore the events on the battlefield itself.

The military historians in Warfare and Culture in World History return us to the battlefield, but they do so through a deep examination of the role of culture in shaping military institutions and military choices. Collected here are some of the most provocative recent efforts to analyze warfare through a cultural lens, drawing on and aggressively expanding traditional scholarship on war and society through sophisticated cultural analysis. With chapters ranging from an organizational analysis of American Civil War field armies to the soldiers’ culture of late Republican Rome and debates within Ming Chinese officialdom over extermination versus pacification, this one volume provides a full range of case studies of how culture, whether societal, strategic, organizational, or military, could shape not only military institutions but also actual battlefield choices.

Part of the Warfare and Culture series

Wayne E. Lee is Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His books include Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500-1865 and Empires and Indigenes: Intercultural Alliance, Imperial Expansion, and Warfare in the Early Modern World (NYU Press).