Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Closet Of Anxieties

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a pretty crappy day. I have been anxious and a bit depressed. A couple of months ago I found an old friend on Facebook. When I found him I was excited. In addition to being my supervisory chaplain, he was a mentor. I lost contact with him after I entered the Navy in 1999. But that initial joy was turned to pain when on an almost daily basis he intruded on my Facebook page, attacked my beliefs, and my character. He had become a complete Trumpite, with no regard for my beliefs, except to attack nearly every day. Most of those attacks involved issues of race and social justice. It seemed that he hadn’t met a White Supremacist that he couldn’t defend or member of a minority group that he couldn’t blame.

So I dropped him and blocked him, I also tightened my privacy settings, and I did receive a lot of encouragement and love from other friends.

Of course I am also anxious about the Platelet Rich Plasma treatment that I will be getting on my right knee tomorrow. I’m not afraid of the procedure, but I’m afraid that it won’t help with the pain that I have in that knee. I am less anxious and more confident in the arthroscopic surgery I am having next Thursday to repair the meniscus on my left knee. I am tired of having to walk with the assistance of a cane and not to be able to run, power walk, or even go for a leisurely stroll. I get jealous and upset when I see people my age out jogging. I feel useless and crippled.

So anyway, I’m tired and going to read some uplifting book about the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Of course, that last part is sarcasm. I hope that I don’t have another of my more frequent crazy dream or nightmares and go crashing out of bed. I don’t need another ER visit.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, remembering friends

”The Lessons Have Not Been Learned” Reflections after International Holocaust Remembrance Day

conspiracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I took the time to write about it after completing reading the book Hitler’s Death Squads: The Logic Of Mass Murder, by Helmut Langerbein, Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities, Perpetrators: the World Of the Holocaust Killers, by Gunter Lewy, and Operation Eichmann by Zvi Aharoni and Wilhelm Dietl. I also watched a number of films and documentaries about the Holocaust. Sunday was the anniversary of the day that the Red Army liberated the Nazi extermination and slave labor camp at Auschwitz.

Primo Levi wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Seventy-seven years ago this a group of 15 relatively common bureaucrats of various German government, police, and party agencies sat around a table and discussed the implementation of what is called the Final Solution. The meeting was chaired by SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, who had been charged with the task of solving Germany’s “Jewish Problem” shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hermann Goering, the number two man in the Nazi Reich sent Heydrich the following message:

Berlin, July 31st 1941

To: Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich

Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

Goering

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                                                            Heydrich 

When Goering wrote Heydrich, the head of the Reichssiecherhiethauptampt (RSHA) or Reich Security Main Office, in July 1941 it seemed that Nazi victory in Europe was all but assured. Goering’s words were businesslike. Early measures taken by Heydrich to rid Germany and annexed Austria had been reasonably successful to rid those areas of their Jews through emigration and evacuation. These were not benign measures, people were forced to leave their homes, businesses, communities, and had most of their belongings taken from them in order to leave the Reich. However with the occupation of most of Europe following the Nazi military success and the looming occupation and subjugation of the Soviet Union the process of giving the Jews a chance to emigrate to lands outside Nazi control had come to an end. In fact the Nazis occupied the countries that may Jews had found refuge.

Less than six months after he received the directive from Goering, on January 20th 1942 Heydrich summoned representatives from various Reich agencies were called for what turned out to be a brief, two hour meeting which decided the fate of the Jews. The meeting was held at an estate located in the suburbs of Berlin, called Wansee. Organized by Heydrich’s deputy Adolph Eichmann, involved Heydrich, Eichmann and 13 mid level representatives from various economic, governmental, justice and police entities.

At the conference Heydrich established his authority through Goering’s directive to overcome the bureaucratic and personal attempts of various attendees to take control of the Final Solution process. Despite objections from some attendees who favored sterilization and the use of Jews in the war armaments industries, Heydrich made it clear that the Final Solution would be a campaign of extermination. He was quite clear:

“Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved…in large single sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated through natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtlessly consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

brama_birkenau-2

The Nazi leadership decided that its race war against the Jews needed to forge ahead. Within days of Wansee the orders went out and SS commanders at various concentration camps began devising more efficient means to exterminate Jews and other “sub-humans.” It was a matter of pride and efficiency for them. As Rudolph Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz said at Nuremberg “the camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyclon B….” Hoess estimated that some 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz at rates as high as 10,000 a day.

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Einsatzgruppen in Action

In the Soviet Union four Einsatzgruppen followed each of the German Army Groups and systematically began to massacre the Jews of every city and village which German soldiers captured. The EinsatzgruppenOrdungspolizeibattalions, Army Security Divisions and locally recruited units in fewer than six months, killed over a million and a half Soviet Jews, and the slaughter would continue unabated until the dying days of the Reich.

Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich’s friend and superior told a gathering of senior SS leaders:

“I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public…I am talking about the “Jewish evacuation” the extermination of the Jewish people.” 

It is One of the things that is easily said. “The Jewish people is being exterminated,” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.” 

But then along they all come, all the decent upright Germans and each has his decent Jew. They all say: the others are all swine, but here is a first class Jew. And none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, or when there are 500 or 1000. And to have seen this through, and –with the exception of human weaknesses– to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned….”

himmlervisit

Himmler and his entourage 

Whether the words are those of Goering, Heydrich, Hoess or Himmler, there is a certain businesslike banality to them. But these men, and many others like them orchestrated a campaign of genocide and race hatred unmatched in history. Yes, there have been other genocides, the Turks killing the Armenians during the First World War and the Hutu and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda but neither they or the politically motivated campaigns of mass slaughter conducted by the Soviets, the Chinese Communists and the Khamer Rouge killing fields can match the systematized extermination campaign waged by the Nazis against the Jews.

The truly terrifying thing about the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust to me is that most of the men at Wansee, men that commanded the Concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen were very ordinary men who simply believed that they were doing their jobs. Very few could be described as psychopathic killers by nature. They were lawyers, doctors, career police officials, businessmen, and bureaucrats who carried out an extermination campaign that killed by their own numbers between 5.5 and 6 million Jews, not to mention others deemed to be subhuman including the handicapped, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other non-Jewish minorities like the Gypsies not to mention the wide variety of those considered political enemies. But it was the Jews that bore the most tragic fate and it was the Jews who were the object of Hitler’s most bloodthirsty actions.

But without the bureaucrats, the mayors, district leaders, party functionaries, police officers, soldiers, railroad officials, businessmen, and others who helped there could have been no Holocaust. As British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

arbeitmachtfrei

Timothy Snyder correctly observed that “The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi who I quoted at the beginning was right, the common me, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

We cannot forget and we must always be vigilant or we too could easily succumb, it is not that hard. History and human nature shows it all too clearly.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

“Don’t be Silly, Space Shuttles Don’t Explode” Remembering Challenger

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is still so hard to believe that thirty-three years ago we were stunned to see the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I don’t know about you, but it shocked the hell out of me. I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s when the United States was setting the pace on the exploration of space. Manned missions to the moon had become commonplace, the Space Shuttle Program appeared to be a jumping off point for further exploration. Space stations that would be able to conduct scientific research and maybe even serve as launching and logistics centers for the exploration of Mars and beyond.

Back when I was a kid and young adult the space program captivated us, and coupled with the hope presented in Star Trek, where human beings of all races and nationalities would work with alien races who had similar values explored the far reaches of the galaxy, anything seemed possible. Then, in one moment, the dream imploded as the Challenger exploded. Truthfully, it hasn’t been the same since.

That afternoon I was still at work as the Commanding Officer of the 557th Medical Company, (Ambulance). It was about 20 minutes till six and I was completing paperwork from an Article 15 proceeding, and looking over our end of the month Unit Status Report drafts.

It was about that time that my Charge Of Quarters, Specialist Lisa Dailey camel charging into my office. She cried out “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” I looked up from my paperwork and said, “Don’t be silly, space shuttles don’t blow up.” Such was my faith in technology and the dreams of the space program and Star Trek in my mind.

She couldn’t believe my response, because she had just seen it in real time. That was not long after the Armed Forces Network or AFN started broadcasting CNN and other U.S. based news programs in real time. CNN just happened to be televising the launch of Challenger. Specialist Dailey, who I still remain in contact with said “no sir, I just saw it, it’s on TV right now.”

With that I got up and went with her to the television where I stood transfixed as I watched the endless replays of the event. It was so unbelievable. Never before had a U.S. space mission failed to at last get into space, and it was a body blow to the space program. The shuttle program continued, but it wasn’t the same. There were many more successful missions, many in support of the International Space Station, but they became routine and many people didn’t follow them. Truthfully, I was like many people, I didn’t pay much attention to them after the Space Shuttle program regained steam and achieved success after success.

But then, some seventeen years later on February 1st 2003 I was sitting drinking coffee in the Wardroom Of the USS HUE CITY, waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Veteran of the Battle Of Hue City. General Pace was our guest speaker at the annual,Battle Of Hue City Memorial. He was remembered fondly by the Marines who served with him at Hue City as their Lieutenant. As I waited the wardroom Television was tuned to CNN which was covering the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia. As I watched the coverage Columbia broke up on re-entry over Texas and Louisiana. General Pace was delayed in his arrival due to an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, but he did arrived. However, for the seconded time in my life I witnessed the destruction of a Space Shuttle, but by then I would never again make the comment “Don’t be silly, Space Shuttles don’t explode.”

Honestly, I want to live to see the day when human beings land of Mars, and to really dream when humanity achieves the capacity for faster than light space travel, or as it is called in Star Trek, “Warp Speed.” I would love to live to see first contact with a friendly Alien race like the Vulcans of Star Trek. I still dream, but I know that there are risks, and that in such undertakings that lives will be lost, that there will be tragedies, but that is the price of human progress.

As the entity called Q told Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek Next Generation episode Q Who:

“If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here! It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross…but it’s not for the timid.”

I remember and mourn those lost aboard Challenger and Columbia, but I pray that their sacrifice in the name of humanity will not be forgotten, nor their quest abandoned.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, star trek

Holocaust Remembrance 2019: “To Forget a Holocaust is to Kill Twice”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-four years ago today the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although Auschwitz was liberated, the Nazis continued to exterminate Jews at other camps and conducted forced marches in freezing winter weather to keep them from being liberated, marches which were both deadly and inhuman. Actions that even Heinrich Himmler had forbidden. Many of these actions were the work of Adolf Eichmann.

Even Rudolf Höss the former Commandant of Auschwitz, who admitted to killing over one and a half-million Jews, was appalled by the senseless brutality of what he saw. Höss, the meticulous killer of millions, was shocked by the columns of emaciated and Jews, with no winter clothing or in many cases not even shoes that Eichmann marched from Budapest and other cities and camps to Austria and Czechoslovakia in late 1944 and 1945 to keep the Russians from liberating them, even against the orders of Himmler.

There have been many episodes of genocide in human history, but none were more pointedly directed at a single group of people based on race hatred than the Holocaust of the Jews. While it is true that the Nazis exterminates millions of people than the nearly six million Jews they dispatched during the Holocaust. This is important, as the late Christopher Hitchens noted:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

Hitchens was right, without the primary Nazi hatred and determination to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth, their other atrocities would never occurred. Today, that rabid anti-semitism is again raising its evil head in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States.

It is impossible for an objective person to deny this fact. Hate crimes against Jews are blossoming around the world like toxic mushrooms. The new perpetrators are the descendants of the former perpetrators, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and secularists who embrace the same social Darwinism that motivated many of the Nazis.

Or course the non-Muslim opponents of the Jews today also despise dark skinned minorities, non-Christians, not to mention atheists and secularists; thus what Hitchens says is still as accurate as it was when he wrote those words.

So here we are, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2019. The question is, will we allow it to happen again? The late Iris Chang, who documented the Rape Of Nanking noted: “to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.” Sadly, I believe that without a sea change in public opinion and knowledge about the Holocaust, genocide, and anti-semitism we will see it happen again.

But will we allow it to happen again? I would hope not, but I have to say that human nature and the course of events is leading me to believe that it will happen again, maybe even in our lifetime.

That may be difficult to accept, but it is reality. What is the alternative to telling the truth? Except to perpetuate a lie, except to take the side of the perpetrators, and those who would do the same today. That includes many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians who while outwardly allying with Israel, only do so in that their interpretation of Biblical prophecy might be fulfilled. That interpretation is that Christians will be raptured from the earth, and during a seven year Great Tribulation the Anti-Christ will conquer his foes and that in the end over two-thirds of all Jews will be killed, while the survivors convert to follow Christ.

Honestly, I cannot deem such politicized and racist theology to be Christian, or respectful and considerate of the elder brother of the Christian faith, Judaism, without which Christianity wouldn’t exist. Let me repeat that. Without Judaism Christianity would not exist, and the treatment of the Jews by the Christian Church has been shameful for the majority of its existence. I say that as a Christian.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis created the euphemism the Jewish Question in order to remove the aspect of humanity from their policy. It wasn’t about human beings, it was about people that they considered sub-human minority that they were able to demonize to expedite their elimination. Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

Thus, once one labels the Jews, or for that matter any other despised minority a question, or a problem, we place ourselves on the path to Trump administration and his followers have done that since 2015 regarding Mexicans and other Hispanics, Arabs, Haitians, Sub-Saharan Africans, and too many others.

That is why I cannot be silent. I have to proclaim the words of Ellie Wiesel:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Silence it not an option, and to again quote Wiesel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

We must bear witness, for if we do not it will happen again. Humanity is the one constant in history, and there are no exceptions once one begins down the path to labeling the fate of races, nations, and peoples a question or a problem which they can resolve with a solution, the more comprehensive, total, or final, the better. There are certainly plenty of people, including Trump’s closest advisors who would make draconian laws in order to enable the government to commit genocide.

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

In the wake of an number of situations that I have seen and have watched in morbid fascination be debated on my Facebook timeline, I realize that with the prevailing attitudes being stoked by men like President Trump, his media supporters, and sadly, far too many Conservative Christians, that it will quite probably happen again.

I will fight it, butI have no doubt of the power, passion, and petulance of people consumed by race hatred under the guise of patriotism.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany

Fighting Joe Hooker, a Biographical Vingette: Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another biographic vignette from my Gettysburg text, the first part of a section dealing with Major General Joseph Hooker who almost commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. This section of the text deals with Hooker and his command of the Army leading up to the Battle of Chancellorsville. I find him to be one of the most complex and intriguing commanders of the Civil War. He was vain, profane and ambitious, as well as a gifted administrator who actually cared about the welfare of his soldiers. At the same time as a division and corps commander he was outstanding. As the commander of the army he was singularly unsuccessful in battle, but what he had done in the months between his appointment and the disaster at Chancellorsville he turned the Army of the Potomac around. The improvements that he made to the army were very important when it won the Battle of Gettysburg under the command of George Gordon Meade. What Hooker’s legacy shows me is that some men have different talents. Had Hooker been successful at Chancellorsville he would be hailed and what he did before the battle to care for his troops and improve the army would be used as examples of how one should lead. Since he lost that battle and was relieved by Lincoln just days before the Battle of Gettysburg, what he did to make the Army of the Potomac a formidable fighting machine is largely forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

hooker

“Fighting Joe” Hooker had been in command of the Army of the Potomac about five months, assuming command from Burnside, who Lincoln had relieved following the crushing defeat at Fredericksburg, and after that general had demanded the wholesale firing of ten generals from the army of the Potomac, including Hooker. Hooker was a graduate of West Point, class of 1837 and veteran of the Mexican War. During that war he was brevetted three times for bravery acting as Chief of Staff to General Pillow and his division, and as well as the commander of a mixed infantry-cavalry regiment known as the Voltiguers. He received his third brevet of the war to Lieutenant Colonel at Chapultepec. General Winfield Scott “mentioned him prominently in his report on the capture of Mexico, and Pillow testified that he was distinguished by his extraordinary activity, energy and gallantry.” [1]

However, by 1863 he was not well regarded by some of his peers and one very important superior, Major General Halleck, who he had run afoul of in California. “While on Garrison duty in California in the 1850s, he cultivated “bad habits and excesses”- too much liquor, and too many women. He left the army, failed at business, and amassed gambling debts and legal problems.” [2] Hooker, like many contemporaries, finding advancement slow and pay bad resigned from the army in February 1853, and engaged in a series of less than successful business operations in Northern California, and also became active in California politics. However in 1858 Hooker was the recipient of a political plum, and “was appointed Superintendent of Military Roads in Oregon” and in 1859 was appointed a Colonel in the California State Militia. [3]

When war came Hooker managed to obtain an appointment as a Brigadier General of volunteers over the objections of General Winfield Scott from McClellan. Hooker was a “capable commander and brave soldier” [4] and became an excellent brigade commander. He combined strict training and discipline with care and concern for his troops. He “made himself accessible to officers and men who had complaints to air or favors to ask. He also took care that his brigade received its rightful share of rations, clothing and other supplies. He early struck upon the right balance of discipline and paternalism which marks those generals who gain the good will of their men.” [5]

But Hooker had a dark side, his unchecked ego and boundless ambition which were unconstrained by ethical considerations or loyalty to superiors and peers. He worked shamelessly against previous army commanders, including George McClellan, to whom he owed his appointment as a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

In appearance, Hooker was “a strikingly handsome man” with “erect soldierly bearing…” but he was also “arrogant and stubborn, more than willing to work behind the scenes to advance himself, and reputed to have a headquarters that Charles Francis Adams Jr. described as “a combination barroom and brothel.” [6] The commander of XII Corps, Henry Slocum had “no faith whatever in Hooke’s ability as a military man, in his integrity or honor,” [7] a sentiment echoed by many other officers. However, George Meade was more circumspect, and wrote to his wife “He is a very good soldier, capital general for an army corps, but I am not prepared to say as to his abilities for carrying out a campaign and commanding a large army. I should fear his judgment and prudence…” [8]

Hooker genuinely believed in his abilities and much of the “criticism which he so freely bestowed on his superiors came simply because his professional competence was outraged by the blunders that he had to witness[9] on battlefields such as Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. But his enemies, and “there would be a host of them- regarded him as “thoroughly unprincipled.” Hooker was driven by an “all consuming” ambition and undoubted self-confidence…. War intoxicated hi m and offered salvation for a troubled life. As a gambler he liked the odds.” [10]

During the war Hooker was what we would call now “media savvy.” He used the press of his day to shamelessly promote his image and “deliberately played up to the press to swell his image as a stern, remorseless campaigner, and he reveled in the nickname the newspapers happily bestowed on him, “Fighting Joe.” [11] However, he would later express his “deep regret that it was ever applied to him. “People will think that I am a highwayman or bandit,” he said; when in fact he was one of the most kindly and tender-hearted of men.” [12]

But Hooker was not just disrespectful of his military superiors, but also those in the Lincoln administration, including Abraham Lincoln himself. Hooker told reporters after Fredericksburg that Lincoln “was an imbecile for keeping Burnside on but also in his own right, and that the administration itself “was all played out.” What the country needed was a dictator….” [13] Hooker was an intriguer for sure but unlike many generals who did so anonymously. Hooker was quite open and public going before the “Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Fredericksburg” [14] where he not only provided damning testimony against Burnside, but against potential rivals, and after Fredericksburg the press clamored for Hooker to be named commander. One paper wrote:

We have in the Army of the Potomac, however, a General of the heroic stamp. A general who feels the enthusiasm of a soldier and who loves battle from an innate instinct for his business. The cry is universal, Hooker to the command.” [15]

After the failure at Fredericksburg Burnside had to contend with a “General’s Revolt” within the army. Numerous senior officers were involved, some speaking to the media, others to the high command in Washington and still others to influential congressmen, among these was Hooker.

After the infamous “mud march” Ambrose Burnside, now tired of Hooker and his other subordinates machinations drew up General Order Number 8 in which he planned to relieve seven generals,“two of his three Grand Division chiefs (along with the third Grand Division’s chief of staff), one corps commander, two division commanders, and one brigade commander.” [16] At the insistence of personal friends and staff who pointed out that only Lincoln had that authority, Burnside requested a meeting with the President during which he showed the order to Lincoln and also his letter of resignation if Lincoln refused to back him against his generals. The order stated in part:

“General Joseph Hooker…having been found guilty of unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversations, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, by having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements that were calculated to create incorrect impressions, and habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers, is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States as a man unfit to hold an important commission, during a crisis like the present…” [17]

Burnside was fed up with Hooker and since he did not have the authority to dismiss senior officers from the service he took the matter to Lincoln. Meeting the President at the White House Burnside “confronted Lincoln with this order and his own resignation, either the dissident generals had to go, he said, or he would. Lincoln agreed- and accepted Burnside’s resignation.” [18]

Much to Burnside’s profound dismay, Lincoln appointed Hooker, Burnside’s nemesis, to command the Army of the Potomac and sent Burnside west to command a corps. As far as the other conspirators of the Generals Revolt, none gained profit of honor from their machinations, and most, with the exception of Hooker ended the war in obscurity or out of the army.

                                   Hooker Appointed to Command

Lincoln knew Hooker’s unsavory side, but the President “considered him an aggressive, hard fighting general…and hoped that Hooker could infuse that spirit into the army,” [19] which now was at its nadir. When Lincoln appointed Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he gave his new army commander a letter that is unique in American military history. In the letter, Lincoln lectured Hooker as to his conduct while under the command of Burnside, “and just how much he disapproved of the unbounded ambition Hooker had displayed in Undercutting Burnside.” [20] In the letter and during his meeting with Hooker Lincoln laid out his expectations, as well as concerns that he had for him in his new command:

“you may have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country.” Continuing: “I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I ask now is military success, and I will risk dictatorship.” [21] However, Lincoln pledged his support to Hooker saying “The government will support you to the utmost of its ability” but warned “I much fear the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence in him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it.” [22]

Never before or since has an officer been given such responsibility by a President who recognized the man’s qualities, in this case a fighting spirit, as well as his personal vices and shortcomings in character. In fact, the letter can be viewed as “a model for a leader dealing with a flawed, willful, but energetic and useful subordinate.” [23] Lincoln finished the latter to Hooker with the admonition “And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.” [24] Hooker believed the last comment was due to the way he was portrayed in the press, the “Fighting Joe Hooker” moniker had stuck.

The letter “engendered neither resentment nor misunderstanding” [25] and Hooker’s reaction to the letter was an interesting commentary to say the least. He recalled a few days later that, when he read it, he “informed him personally of the great value I placed on the letter notwithstanding his erroneous views of myself, and that sometime I intended to have it framed and posted in some conspicuous place for the benefit of those who might come after men.” [26] He read it to a number of others and told a journalist “It is a beautiful letter…and, although I think he was harder on me than I deserved, I will say that I love the man who wrote it.” [27] Hooker was certainly sincere in this as he not only preserved it but ensured that it was published after the war was over.

  The Positive Contributions of Hooker to the Army of the Potomac

Despite the misgivings of the President and many of his peers, Hooker began a turnaround in the army that changed it for the better. At the beginning of his tenure he inspired confidence among his troops. He reorganized the Cavalry Corps and instituted many other reforms. Hooker discarded Burnside’s failed “Grand Division” organization and returned to the corps system. He was aided by experienced Corps commanders who had earned their promotions in combat and not due to political patronage, even the political animal Dan Sickles of III Corps had shown his abilities as a leader and commander, gone were the last remnants of McClellan’s regime.

Despite the many positives gained during the reorganization, Hooker made one significant mistake during the reorganization which hurt him at Chancellorsville, this was in regard to the artillery. Before that battle decided to “strip General Hunt of command of the artillery and restrict him to purely administrative duties…he had restored Hunt to command the night of May 3 after the Confederates had driven him out of Chancellorsville.” This act ensured that “The advantages traditionally possessed by the Union artillery in the quality of its material and cannon disappeared in this battle through Hooker’s inept handling of his forces.”[28]

When Hooker took command many of the men in the army were “disheartened, homesick, in poor health and without confidence in their officers. Thousands died in their quarters from lack of proper care or medicines for which there was no excuse.” [29] Hooker became immensely popular with the men as he conducted reforms which improved their lives. “He took immediate steps to cashier corrupt quartermasters, improve food, clean up the camps and hospitals, grant furloughs, and instill unit pride by creating insignia badges for each corps…Sickness declined, desertions dropped, and a grant of amnesty brought back many AWOLs back into the ranks.” [30]Additionally “paydays were reestablished and new clothing issued…. Boards of inspection searched out and dismissed incompetent officers.[31] Soldiers sang a ditty about him:

“Joe Hooker is our leader, he takes his whisky strong-” [32]

The most important thing that Hooker did was inspire his troops, both to them and for the cause of the nation was the way he saw that the troops were cared for, no previous Union commander had made troop welfare a priority. Hooker’s “sober, unimaginative, routine work of eternally checking up on rations, clothing, hospitals, living quarters, and other little details which in the long run make all the difference.” [33]

But nothing impacted morale more that his order that “soft bread would henceforth be issued to the troops four times a week. Fresh potatoes and onions were to be issued twice a week, and desiccated vegetables once a week.” [34] The most singularly important accomplishment of Joe Hooker as commander of the army was to demonstrate that he actually cared for his soldiers. It was radically different than Burnside, and even an improvement over the days of McClellan. Such actions made a huge difference in army morale. One officer wrote home “His ‘soft bread’ order reaches us in a tender spot….” [35] Regimental commanders were ordered to ensure that “regular company cooks went to work, and if there were no company cooks they were instructed to create some, so that the soldier could get some decent meals in place of the intestine-destroying stuff he cooked for himself.” [36] Hooker announced “My men shall eat before I am fed, and before my officers are fed” and he clearly meant it.” [37] Hooker’s actions to supply his troops with better food and living conditions as well as his attitude that the welfare of his troops came above his own and his officers was a remarkable example of leadership by example. These very concrete actions of Hooker “did more than anything else to enhance his popularity.” [38] One veteran recalled:

“From the commissary came less whisky for the officers and better rations, including vegetables for the men. Hospitals were renovated, new ones built, drunken surgeons discharged, sanitary supplies furnished, and the sick no longer had to suffer and die without proper care and attention. Officers and men who from incompetence or disability could be of no further use to the service were allowed to resign or were discharged, and those who were playing sick in the hospitals were sent to their regiments for duty.” [39]

Additionally Hooker reformed training in the army. He knew that bored soldiers were their own worst enemy, and instituted a stringent training regimen that paid dividends on the battlefield. “From morning to night the drill fields rumbled with the tramp of many feet. Officers went to school evenings and the next day went out to maneuver companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions in the tactics just studied.” [40]Fitzhugh Lee noted of Hooker that “it must be admitted his preliminary steps toward reorganization and the promotion of the battle power of his army were well taken.” [41] Not only did Hooker mandate such training he frequently showed up and observed the training as well as spent time visiting isolated pickets along the Rappahannock.

Hooker ridded himself of the last vestiges of McClellan’s reliance on the Pinkerton detective agency, and for his uncoordinated use of spies, cavalry and balloons while no “coordinated bureau compiled this information.” [42] Hooker consolidated intelligence operations and created a new staff office in the army, the “Bureau of Military Intelligence, led by Colonel George Sharpe” who “built a network of spies, who soon supplied Hooker with accurate information on Lee’s numerical strength and the unit composition of the Confederate army.” [43] Additionally Hooker helped quash key sources of information relied on by Lee, the local residents along the Rappahannock and Union newspapers. In regard to the former he restricted the movement of civilians along his lines, and cleared out Confederate partisans. As far as the newspapers he “found it expedient to ask Stanton to take action against certain Northern newspapers which were publishing revealing information about the army and offsetting his efforts to retain some secrecy.” [44]

Hooker also reorganized and systematized the Medical Department of the army, and “placed it under the supervision of the competent medical director Dr. Jonathan Letterman.” [45]Under Letterman’s direction and Hooker’s supervision “new hospitals were built and old ones renovated,” [46] this attention to the health of his soldiers paid dividends. Within weeks, “sick rolls had been reduced, and by April, scurvy had virtually disappeared. A veteran contended that Hooker “is a good man to feed an army for we have lived in the best since he took command that we ever did since we have been in the army.” [47]

Hooker worked to combat the vast number of desertions which were plaguing the Army of the Potomac which when he took command were averaging an estimated 200 per day. Tens of thousands of soldiers, some 85,000 according to Hooker’s estimate were absent from the army when he took command. In addition to his work to improve living conditions and the lives of his soldiers in camp Hooker revitalized the office of the Inspector General and used it aggressively to monitor conditions in the camps. One of Hooker’s first initiatives was to systematize “the granting if leaves of absences…..In those regiments lacking discipline, inspection reports were used as a basis for canceling leaves and furloughs, while leaves were increased for those units earning high commendations.” [48]

It was a remarkable turnaround which even impressed his soldiers, his critics, and enemies and his enemies alike. Darius Couch of Second Corps, who later resigned and became Hooker’s arch-enemy, wrote that Hooker had, “by adopting vigorous measures stopped the almost wholesale desertions, and infused new life and discipline into the army.” [49]

The actions of Hooker in the three months between his assumption of command and Chancellorsville were some of the most important of any Federal commander during the war. One senior officer who was not fond of Hooker noted “The Army of the Potomac never spent three months to better advantage.” [50]

          The Crisis in Command: Hooker, Lincoln, and Halleck

Hooker had gone into the Battle of Chancellorsville with high hopes and great confidence, but the disaster at Chancellorsville Hooker was not the same. During that battle it was as if he was two persons, the first supremely confident and competent and the second lost and out of his league. During the campaign Hooker had: “planned his campaign like a master and carried out the first half with great skill, and then when the pinch came he simply folded up. There had been no courage in him, no life, no spark; during most of the battle the army had to all intents and purposes had no commander at all.” [51]

The defeat had a lasting effect on Hooker, the connection with his soldiers which he prized was broken. The general who had “once been so popular, was no longer well received in the camps – “there was something in the air of the men which said: ‘We have no further use for you.’” [52] In the immediate aftermath of the battle “Hooker had been deeply depressed… he told Meade that he “almost wished that he had never been born.” [53] However, it was a visit from Lincoln which helped revive him as “Lincoln let it be known that he blamed no one for the defeat.” [54] Henry Halleck who accompanied Lincoln told the President afterward that “Hooker was so dispirited that he offered to reign his command. Not surprisingly, Halleck thought Lincoln should accept the resignation, but the President disagreed. He wanted to give Hooker another chance to show his mettle.” [55]

After Lincoln’s visit he did begin to recover some his self-confidence. Hooker, a slave to his vanity who had little capacity for reflection and blamed various corps commanders including Oliver Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry commander George Stoneman for the defeat. Unlike the unpopular Ambrose Burnside who after Fredericksburg, had “taken responsibility for the defeat on his shoulders,” [56] Hooker refused to take any responsibility for it. Years later, Hooker when asked about the defeat, “knew a rare moment of humility and remarked, “Well, to tell the truth, I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker.” [57]

                                                            Notes

[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.33

[2] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.74

[3] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.42

[4] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.67

[5] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.53

[6] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.165

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[8] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.127

[9] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.7

[10] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.74-75

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[12] Bates, Samuel P. Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts.Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.217

[13] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.136

[14] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.150

[15] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[16] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.154

[17] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[18] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.162

[19] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.162

[20] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[21] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.219

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.132-133

[23] Cohen, Elliot A. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman and Leadership in Wartime The Free Press, New York 2002 p.20

[24] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.133

[25] Ibid. Cohen Supreme Command p.20

[26] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.62

[27] Godwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Shuster, New York and London 2005 p.514

[28] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.31

[29] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[30] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.133

[31] Ibid. Sears. Chancellorsville p.73

[32] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.141

[33] Ibid. Catton Glory Road pp.141-142

[34] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[35] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[36] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[37] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[38] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[39] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[40] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.145

[41] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.89

[42] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.180

[43] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.229

[44] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.181

[45] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.225

[46] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[47] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.225-226

[48] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[49] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[50] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.184

[51] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.210

[52] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.114

[53] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.177

[54] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

[55] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

[56] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.158

[57] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.211

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An Unnecessary Condition Of Affairs: A Temporary end to the #TRUMPDOWN

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I pondered writing this post late last night but was too tired to write it. It’s not long at all and it it is something that I wrote about previous shutdowns. Back in 2011 I wrote the following words regarding the shutdown provoked by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and their Right Wing supporters at Fox News and Right Wing pundits, which ended up with the disastrous policy of sequestration.

“The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.”

Interestingly enough these same people, hitched their wagons to President Trump’s disastrous decision to shut down the government to build his monstrous monument to his morbid #MAGA manhood; that big beautiful wall. Of course anyone with a knowledge of history knows that such walls are expensive and ultimately self defeating.

For now the current Shutdown is over. Increasingly isolated Trump had no other exit for the trap that he laid for himself. Standing alone in the Rose Garden he capitulated to reality.

So for at least three weeks, the shutdown is over. Of course it really isn’t over as long as Trump thinks he can succeed, and there remains the ever present threat of him declaring a National Emergency. I think the latter is more likely, especially if the crisis in Venezuela results in bloodshed at the American Embassy. But for that we have to wait and see. My hope is that a legislative fix is found that actually increases border security without wasting money on that wall. One does not return to provenly ineffectual past remedies to solve present problems, but I digress…

To quote from the testimony of the former Confederate General Robert E. Lee before a Congressional Committee after the disaster of the American Civil War, or as it should still be called the War of the Southern Rebellion.

Before the committee, Lee, who had resigned his commission less than a month of been promoted to full Colonel and rejecting President Lincoln’s offer to command the Armies of the Union accepted commissions by Virginia and the Confederacy said:

“I may have said and I may have believed that the position of the two sections which they held to each other was brought about by the politicians of the country; that if the great mass of the people, if they had understood the real questions would have avoided it. I did believe at the time that it (the war) was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

But Lee was engaged in the same sort of moral equivalence that many politicians and pundits use today. In his testimony, Lee blamed both sides and conveniently left out his role in the conflict. Before the war Lee inherited the slaves of his father in law who had expressly said that they were to be emancipated. He delayed and did not do it. When he resigned his U.S. Army commission he said that he would only raise his sword in defense of Virginia, but he personally led two invasions of the North, invasions that his Army used to capture free blacks and return them to slavery. Despite the urging of some Confederate Generals, Lee steadfastly opposed the emancipation of slaves to serve in the Confederate Army until February of 1865. When the war was for all purposes lost, Lee redoubled his efforts and had hundreds of deserting Confederate Soldiers sentenced to death at Drumhead Court Martial. The vast majority of those troops were from Georgia and the Carolinas and their states, families, and homes were being ravaged by William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army’s March to the Sea.

Yes the American Civil War was an unnecessary condition of affairs, as was the Trump-McConnell Shutdown. In each case the blame is not shared across the board. These disasters can be laid at the feet of the men who provoked them and demanded them. In the case of the Civil War, those were the leaders of the South, who having the assurance of Lincoln that slavery was safe in the Slave states decided to secede, and who through the Fugitive Slave Law Of 1850 had an instrument to enforce slavery in the Free States.

In the current situation it all comes down to race once again. President Trump and many Republican leaders have blamed immigrants and racial minorities for all the problems of the country. They offer support to White Nationalist, Neo-Confederate, and Neo-Nazi groups, while demonizing anyone with darker skin. Trump’s Wall, like his Red MAGA hats are symbolic of that race hatred, and fear mongering. The Trump Shutdown can only be blamed on that. Trump bragged about the Shutdown and took responsibility for it. He owns it, maybe we should start calling it the #TRUMPDOWN ? It does have a nice ring.

So until tomorrow when I return to other subjects,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The American Civil War and the Continuum of History, Humanity, and War

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”

Finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. The German historian Ernst Breisach wrote, “In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.”

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted: “Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision-making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.” Thus while this work is an examination of the American Civil War it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly unrelated events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

This is important and it goes to a broader view of history and education rather that many people are comfortable with. We live in an age where much of education, even higher educations has been transformed into training for a particular skill to gain, or with which to enter the workforce, rather than teaching us to think critically. The social sciences, the liberal arts, philosophy, history are often considered by politicians and business leaders as skills which do not help people get jobs and have been the subjects of cuts in many public university systems.

Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University wrote: “The prevailing argument is that students should study or major in something “employable,” something that is directly correlated to a job in a high paying career field. This view is espoused by many parents and national leaders, including politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many have called for additional STEM majors as well as eliminating funding for “softer” disciplines.” Like it or not such efforts impact the serious study of history and minimize the exsposure of students in the STEM disciplines to the broader aspects of intellectual study that happen provide them with a moral, ethical, and historic foundation for their disciplines. Giles Lauren in his introduction to B. H. Liddell-Hart’s classic Why Don’t We Learn from History?, wrote:

“Education, no longer liberal, has largely become a question of training in a skill for gain rather than teaching us how to think so as to find our own way. ‘It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.’ We must learn to test and judge the information that comes before us. After all: ‘Whoever habitually suppresses the truth … will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.’”

Liddell-Hart expressed the importance of a wide view of history as well as the importance of being able to dig deep into particular aspects of it, bit of which are important if we want to come as close to the truth as we can. He wrote:
“The benefit of history depends, however, on a broad view. And that depends on a wide study of it. To dig deep into one patch is a valuable and necessary training. It is the only way to learn the method of historical research. But when digging deep, it is equally important to get one’s bearings by a wide survey. That is essential to appreciate the significance of what one finds, otherwise one is likely “to miss the forest for the trees.””

This can be a particular problem for those who write about specific aspects of the American Civil War, especially about particular battles, technical developments, or individuals. Many writers dig deep into a particular subject, but despite their good work, miss important aspects because they have not done the groundwork of trying to put those subjects into the broader historical, as well as sociological context.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive without understanding his devotion to Napoleon, or his view of the war and the battles his men fought without understanding and taking into account his view of Divine Providence which was a part of his religious experience. One cannot understand the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, without understanding their patriotic idealism and the nearly spiritual significance of the Union to them. One cannot understand William Tecumseh Sherman without understanding the often cold realism that shaped his world view. The same is true for any of the men, and women, soldier or civilian, slave, or free, who had some part, great or small in the war.

Thus it is important when digging deep, to also attempt to understand the broader perspective of history, and how factors outside their direct military training and experience, such as culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, life experience, and all of those factors shaped these men and their actions. By such means we get closer to the truth and by doing so avoid the myths which even after a century and a half, still clutter the works of many people who write about the Civil War.

Likewise, in order to understand the context of the battles of the Civil War, or for that matter the battles in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.”

To explain this in a different way, let us look at the Battle of Gettysburg as a case in point, but needless to say that no-matter what battle we study there are other factors, that influence it. In the case of the Battle of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, are important, as it resets the political and diplomatic narrative of the war in a way that influences both domestic politics, and diplomacy.

Diplomacy is another aspect that must be considered, and the incompetence of Confederate diplomats was a major factor. These men were unsuccessful in bringing France or Great Britain into the war, nor could they persuade any European power to recognize the Confederacy. Both of these failures were brought about by their provincialism and by their lack of understanding of the domestic politics of France and England. Both nations had abolished slavery, banned the slave trade, and had populations that were overwhelmingly against slavery.

On the military front, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, played a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania, as did the failing Confederate economy. None of these events can be disconnected from it without doing violence to the historical narrative and thereby misunderstanding why the battle was important.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the American Civil War is the part that policy, strategy, war aims, as well as operational doctrine, tactics, and technology played in every campaign of the war. When we examine those dimensions of the war and of specific campaigns we go back to the human factor: the people whose ideas, character, and personalities, influenced the conduct of the war and how it was waged.

Finally, events such as the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, or the Overland Campaign or Sherman’s March to the Sea cannot be looked at as a stand-alone events for their military value only. The clash at Gettysburg as the armies of the Confederacy battled the Army of the Potomac, and surged and then ebbed back from their “high water mark,” is important. What happened there influences the rest of the war. However, it does not take place in isolation from other battles and events. While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means. It was no longer the master of its fate, it needed the Northern “Peace” Democrats to successfully win the election of 1864, and it needed intervention from Europe, neither which was forthcoming.

Maybe even more importantly the story of the Civil War is its continued influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.” One cannot underestimate its importance, it was the completion of the American Revolution and the birth of a modern nation. The successes and failures, the victories and defeats, and the scars that remain resonate in American cultural, political, and social divide, be it in the minds and hearts of the descendants of freed slaves, Southerners weaned on the myth of the Lost Cause, or the progeny of the Irish and German immigrants who fought for a country where they were despised and discriminated against by the adherents of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement. The remains of three-quarters of a million Union and Confederate soldiers interred in cemeteries across the North and South, the monuments devoted to them in town squares, the preserved battlefields with their now silent cannon are a constant reminder of this war that made a nation.

Many people pore over the accounts of the battles of the war, while the legions of devoted Civil War historians, re-enactors, military history buffs, and members of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans testify to the war’s continued hold on Americans and their fascination with it. The military struggle was important, but we always have to keep it in the context of why the war was fought and why so many of the issues that it was fought over remain issues today, as Ted Widmer noted; “What Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” felt like a straitjacket to those who opposed it, and their legacy is still felt, in the many forms of opposition to the federal writ that we witness on a daily basis.”
It is important to understand how the war was fought, but it even more important to understand the relationship of how it was fought with why it was fought and in some ways is still being fought, as was evidenced by the vast numbers of Confederate battle flags proudly displayed outside of the historic Confederacy during much of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Historian David Blight wrote:

“The boundaries of military history are fluid; they connect with a broader social, cultural, and political history in a myriad of ways. In the long run, the meanings embedded in those epic fights are what should command our greatest attention. The “war of ideas” as Douglass aptly called it, has never completely faded from our nation’s social condition or historical memory. Suppress it as we may, it still sits in our midst, an eternal postlude playing for all who deal seriously with America’s past and our enduring predicaments with race, pluralism and equality.”

The battles of the American Civil War are enshrined in American history and myth, and are woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this story the Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed different ways depending on one’s perspective. For many in the North the battle is viewed as a victory that helps brings an end to the institution of slavery, and with it freedom for enslaved African-Americans, and the preservation of the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability. At Gettysburg there is a certain irony that in the shadow of the cemetery where over 3,500 Union soldiers lay in hallowed repose and where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address that Confederate memorabilia vastly outsells that of the side that won the battle. People wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Confederate battle flag, and sayings like “I Will Not be Reconstructed” are bought at local gift shops, and their wearers parade past the graves of the Union soldiers who lie just a few hundred yards up the slope of West Cemetery Hill.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote:

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.”

The prolific American military historian Russell Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.
“The Great Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.”

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear-cut answers or solutions. The lessons go far deeper than that and span the spectrum of the world that we live in today. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.”

British military historian Michael Howard warned, “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.” The ideal that we reach for is to understand the battles of the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era and the continued reverberations today.

The American Civil War determined much of the history that followed, not only in the United State, but around the world both in its military advances which transformed war into a mechanized conflict that continues to grow more deadly, and in terms of politics, and social development.

The lessons of this period go far beyond military and leadership lessons gained in studying the battles themselves. They go to our understanding of who we are as a people. They are social, religious, political, economic, diplomatic, and informational. From a strategist’s perspective they certainly help inform the modern policy maker of the DIME, the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, but they are even more than that; the period provides lessons that inform citizens as to the importance of liberty, responsibility, and the importance of both fighting for and defending the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

They also deal with the lives of people, and throughout this volume you will find biographical portraits of some of the key people woven into the story for without them, there really is no story. The one constant in human history are real human beings, some driven by passion, ideology, religion, wealth, or power. There are others who in their quest for knowledge discover things that change the world, invent machinery that alters history, and create weapons which make killing easier. There are men and women who fight for truth, and seek justice for the oppressed. There are the honest and the hucksters, those with character and those that are charlatans. Then to are those who live in fantasy words, cloud-cuckoo lands of unreality that cause them to believe in and pursue causes that can only end in tragedy for them and in many cases others, and finally there are the realists who recognize situations for what they are and are willing to do the hard thing, to speak truth and to act upon it.

All of these types of people can be found in this great war in what was undoubtedly a revolutionary age of change, an age which has influenced the life of this nation, our people, and the world for over a century and a half. Its ghosts haunt our laws and institutions, the sacrifices of soldiers, and the actions of men like Abraham Lincoln have inspired people in this country and around the world.
In writing this volume I attempt to draw lessons from the Civil War era and the people who helped create the world in which we live. Even so I try to do so without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change; for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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