Daily Archives: June 18, 2016

Teaching at Gettysburg 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I spent last night eating, drinking, and teaching at Gettysburg in preparation for he Staff Ride which begins this morning. My audience is the senior staff of an U.S. Army recruiting battalion based out of Ohio. 

It was an interesting setting to teach, sitting on the patio with absolutely beautiful weather, enjoying good food and beer and then getting to teach. They are a different type of audience than the men and women that I teach at the Staff College, and with the exception of the battalion commander who is a graduate of our program, the officers are younger and junior to my students and we also have senior non-commissioned officers, the Command Sergeant Major and the First Sergeants. they are whoever, all very smart, articulate and represent the best of America. All have served in combat or in combat theaters, and all have met with the frustration of not achieving anything like victory. 

I find this very important, because the vast majority of military personnel, including officers attend the level of education that I get to teach at the staff college, and for me to be able to do this with such a group helps create an interest, not just in a particular battle, but the important link between national strategy, military strategy, and the operational art. One thing that I spent a good amount of time on last night in the prepetory lecture was just that. The biggest reason the the North won the Civil War and that the South lost was that in the North under Lincoln, that military operations were linked with the policy of the government after the Emancipation Proclamation; whereas in the South there never was a coherent national strategy, and even great operational level commanders like Robert E. Lee were unable to translate battlefield success into victory. 

As Clausewitz emphasized, war is an instrument of policy, and if it does not serve policy, or if policy makers fail to develop and enunciate a true national strategy, military efforts will ultimately fail. This has been a hallmark of post Col War American thinking. Ideology and buzzwords are not policy, nor are they strategy, and the military is only one component of national power, and unlike diplomacy, economic power, and information, it is a blunt instrument, and if military efforts cannot be translated into the political object and bring about a positive political effect, no amount of battlefield brilliance will bring about success. Policy makers and soldiers must remain in constant dialogue in order to ensure that the link between strategy and policy is strong. This was something that Lincoln, as well as his military subordinates Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman learned, and practiced during the war, and it was something that Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson failed to understand after the war, thus forieting all that had been won on the battlefields. Thus as English historian and military theorist Colon Gray notes that “war is about peace” and “more pointedly, that the making of peace is likely to be more difficult than the waging of war. It is a common, and somewhat understandable, error to assume that if one takes care of the fighting in an efficient manner, and the enemy is duly humbled, somehow that the subsequent peace will all but take care of itself.”  I guess that is one reason that I find the American Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction period to be so pertinent today for but policy makers and military leaders. But I digress…

Even so this promises to be a great weekend, and even more interesting, I will be conducting the final part of which includes walking the ground of Pickett’s Charge, and spending time at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Addess on Sunday, the 33rd anniversary of my being commissioned as an Army officer in 1983. Since then I have served in peace and war in both the Army and the Navy. In fact I have been in the Navy now almost as long as I served in the Army, almost 17 1/2 years. 

Anyway, I hope to post anther reflection tomorrow, though it may be later in the evening when I actually get it done. 

Until then, have a great day.


Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, leadership, Military