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People Matter Most: History, Biography, and Truth

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day that I cannot write about here at this time. Eventually I will write about it, but tonight I will re-post an older article about how I try to write history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917, and the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. If you are trapped by ideological or religious certitude that may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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A Reflection on the Importance of Citizen Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am pre-posting my blogs for the coming week as I will be in Germany for the Oktoberfest as well as to visit Nuremberg and the site of the War Crimes Trials, and the Concentration Camp at Dachau. This is a section of my Gettysburg text that deals with the importance of citizen soldiers.

This will be posted about the time I get to my hotel and after the trip to Dachau. If I get a chance to post something new during the week I will.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

“As soldier and citizen, today’s armed forces officer is a champion of both the nation’s defense and the principles upon which the nation was founded. Taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution means swearing to uphold the core values that define the essence of American citizenship; the armed forces officer is first and foremost a citizen who has embraced the ideals of the nation—only then can he or she defend those principles with true conviction.” [1]

The human dimension of war is the most important, regardless of the technological changes inherent in it. The British military theorist Colin S. Gray wrote: “Notwithstanding the vast and really untraceable complexity of the workings of war, peace, and strategy, by far the most, important among them is the human. This has always been the case. It is true today, and no grand design for the transformation of military power or no radical change predicted in the character of war can alter the eternal merit in this dictum.” [2] In this chapter we look at the tradition of the citizen soldier and military.

Carl Von Clausewitz, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and product of Classical German Liberal thought noted in his masterpiece of military thought On War, that “Any complex activity, if it is to be carried on with any degree of virtuosity, calls for appropriate gifts calls for appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament. If they are outstanding, and reveal themselves in exceptional achievements, their possessor is called a “genius.” [3]

Within the U.S. Army the example of Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Little Round Top has occupied a prominent place in Army leadership manuals including FM 22-100 and its successor FM 6-22.  However, that being said even those that learn about Chamberlain from this seldom delve deeper into his character, development as a leader and significance, at Little Round Top, Appomattox and after the war. Likewise the examples of both Warren and Vincent which are key to Chamberlain and his regiment even being on the hill are ignored in that publication.

It is important to discuss Vincent and Chamberlain for more than their direct contributions to the battle. Those are widely known and in a sense have become part of the myth that is our understanding of Gettysburg. While discussing those actions it is also necessary to put them into context with the character of both men, the cause that they fought. Likewise it is important to address in this age of the professional all volunteer force the importance of Citizen Soldiers in any kind of democracy or representative republic, a sociological question that military professionals as well as our elected officials and citizenry would do well to revisit.

This is particularly important now as various elected leaders, think tanks, defense contractors and lobbyists are all questioning the economic “liabilities” of the All-Volunteer force as well as the disconnect between the broader military and society at large. This means that there will be efforts to determine how the military will be manned, trained and employed, and if military leaders are ignorant of our history, the vital connection between the military and the citizenry and the contributions of Citizen Soldiers then we will be caught flat footed and unprepared in the coming debates. If that happens those decisions could be made by “bean counters” with little appreciation for what military professionalism and readiness entails, as well as think tanks and lobbyists for the defense industry who have their own motivations for what they do, often more related to their profits, power and influence than national security.

The armies that fought the Civil War for the most part were composed of volunteers who of a myriad of reasons went off to fight that war. Gouverneur Warren is a character whose life and career before and after the Civil War was much more like currently serving regular officers and to some extent the much more professional and hardened by war officer corps of the Reserve Components of each of our Armed Services, in particular the much active and deployed Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

The reserve components still do reflect much of the citizen soldier tradition but that being said between deployments, other activations and required schooling, those assets are much more on par with their active counterparts than they ever have been in our history. The reserves now, contrary to General Creighton Abrams desire to use them “to shield the regular army from misuse by feckless policy makers” were depended on for essential support functions, which in Abrams view would “preclude Washington from waging large scale war without first making the politically difficult decision to mobilize,” [4] are an integral part of how the nation conducts war without mobilizing the people, that key element of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical Trinity.” 

“American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mix force of professionals and citizen soldiers.” [5] Gouverneur Warren and many like him at Gettysburg, including men like John Buford, Lewis Armistead, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Meade and Robert E. Lee represented what until the beginning of the Cold War was the smaller pillar of our pluralistic military institution; that of the long term professional. Many others at Gettysburg represent what Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain, John Gordon represented the volunteer citizen soldier who enlisted to meet the crisis.

Until World War II and the advent of the Cold War these dual pillars existed side by side. Following the Second World War along with the small-wars that went along as part of it the world changed, and the wars that occurred, such as Korea and Vietnam “occurred on a scale too small to elicit a sustained, full-fledged national commitment, yet too large for a prewar-style regular army to handle.” [6] Because of this “military requirements thus became a fundamental ingredient of foreign policy, and military men and institutions acquired authority and influence far surpassing that ever previously possessed by military professionals on the American scene.” [7] General Anthony Zinni noted that the foreign policy results of this transformation have resulted in the United States becoming “an empire” [8] something that no American living in 1863 could have ever contemplated.

This was part of a revolution in military affairs far more important than the application of technology which brought it about, the Atomic Bomb; it was a revolution in national strategy which fundamentally changed American thinking regarding the use of the military instrument in relationship to diplomacy, and the relationship of the military to society at large. Russell Weigley noted: “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interests in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy….” [9]

The policy worked reasonably well until Vietnam and the inequities of the system showed its liabilities and brought about a change from politicians. Lieutenant General Hal Moore wrote of the Vietnam era: “The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed.” [10]

The debacle of Vietnam and the societal tidal wave that followed brought about the end of the selective service system, by which the large army needed to fight wars was connected to the society at large and the creation of the All-Volunteer force by President Nixon in 1974. The ethos that every citizen was a soldier was destroyed by Vietnam and even men like General William Westmoreland who warned that “absent “the continuous movement of citizens in and out of the service,…the army could “become a danger to our society-a danger that our forefathers so carefully tried to preclude.” [11]

This cultural shift is something that none of the professional officers of the small ante-bellum army like Warren would have ever imagined much less men like Vincent or Chamberlain who were true citizen-soldiers. Thus for currently serving officers it is important to recognize this key change as it applies to American military strategy as well as the place the military occupies in our society.

This makes it important to our study as we examine the actions of Vincent and Chamberlain outside of myth and legend.  We must see the implications that they can have not only on the battlefield but in our relationship to the American citizenry and society. It is to put in in classic terms a return to understanding the relationship between the military and the people so powerfully enunciated in Clausewitz’s concept of war being a “paradoxical Trinity” of “primordial violence, hatred and enmity,… the element of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy….” [12] In Clausewitz’s understanding these are the people, the commander and his army and the government.

While Warren represents the professional officer; Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain and thousands more like them, just men who served in the Civil War represented an important part of our military tradition that no longer exists in such a form. An exception to this might be in example of young men and women that volunteer to serve in the reserve components and leave after they complete their service obligation. Honestly, we no longer have a system that allows, nor do we actively encourage men like Vincent and Chamberlain to leave lucrative civilian employment or academia to serve alongside the professionals in positions of responsibility leading regiments or brigades or serving as senior staff officers unless they are already part of the military in our reserve components.

The examples of Vincent, Chamberlain and so many other citizen soldiers demonstrate the profound of this important legacy, which was for so long one of the twin pillars of our national defense. While this is still to some extent carried on by the reserve components of the United States military service, we no longer provide the opportunity for outsiders such as Vincent and Chamberlain to serve in that manner. While it is true that a great number of citizen soldiers did not perform to the level of Vincent or Chamberlain during the war, the same can be said of some of many of the Regular officers who served alongside of them and often failed miserably, examples of who can be found throughout the Battle of Gettysburg.

That being said, in the coming years military professionals will have to engage lawmakers and the bureaucracy of the Pentagon as the shape of the future military, especially the land components is debated and decided upon by politicians. Thus, it is of the utmost importance of revisiting the tradition of the citizen soldier and how it can be renewed in the coming years. In fact General Stanley McChrystal said in 2012 “I think we ought to have a draft” because a “professional military necessarily becomes “unrepresentative of the population” and “cannot properly represent the country as a whole.” [13] That will be a question for policy makers to debate and for military professionals to consider.

While warfare may have grown more complex, at its heart it remains a primordial art, where true leaders learn the trade and excel in battle or in staff work. The American naval warfare theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, son of Dennis Hart Mahan who was so instrumental in the education of so many of the professional officers who served at Gettysburg wrote something that while directed toward naval leaders is applicable to our discussion here: “Historically, good men with poor ships are better than poor men with good ships; over and over the French Revolution taught this lesson, which in our own age, with its rage for the last new thing in material improvement, has largely dropped out of our memory.” [14]

The question that military professionals, politicians and those who determine policy must ask regarding the future military is whether we will re-enliven this tradition outside of the established reserve components and provide opportunity for men like Vincent, Chamberlain and so many others who throughout our history have demonstrated the aptitude necessary to become models of leadership and military competence without having grown up in the military system. It is a question that is certainly worth debating as we go forward in an era of military cuts and potential changes in how we man, pay and train our forces for the challenges that will most certainly arise.

Chamberlain’s words about the men that he served alongside like his commanding officer, Strong Vincent are a fitting way to close.

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” [15]

Notes

[1] _______. The Armed forces Officer U.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.2

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.93

[3] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.100

[4] Bacevich, Andrew J. Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their Country Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2013 Amazon Kindle Edition p.105

[5] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.xii

[6] Ibid. Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their p.50

[7] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.345

[8] Zinni, Tony. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose Palgrave McMillian, New York 2006 p.4

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.367-368

[10] Moore, Harold G. and Galloway Joseph L We Were Soldiers Once…And Young Harper Perennial Books New York 1992 pp. xix-xx

[11] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.58

[12] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[13] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.121

[14] Mahan, Alfred T. The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 Little Brown and Company, Boston 1892 p.102

[15] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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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.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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From Limited War to Total War: The American Civil War Pt.2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I continue to revise my Gettysburg and Civil War text and it looks like I will have to split the text into at least two volumes. I am posting the second half of a majorly revised section dealing the the nature of the war, and how it changed from a limited war to a total war. This subject may be uncomfortable to many readers, and I admit that. Truthfully I abhor war but I am a realist when it comes to human nature, politics, economics, ideology, religion, and even racism and race hatred play in the world. Truthfully, if the North had continued the war with limited force, and goals, the Confederacy would have either become independent, or it would have been re-admitted to the Union with slavery intact, no Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth Ammendments would have been passed and any concept of civil rights destroyed. You can be sure that with Southern States read mites without change that other things would not have occurred; Women’s sufferage, Native American citizenship, citizenship and civil rights for Asian immigrants, and most recently, LGBT people are directly tied to the constitutional amendments that the war made possible.  Sometimes, as distasteful and repugnant as that may sound, a hard war is necessary to prevent an unjust peace. 

From a point of realpolitik,  the fact is that leaders in the South and the North, like so many other leaders in history and even today, failed to understand what the war that they helped unleash would bring about. War is not to be entered into lightly without connecting the dots between the act of policy that guides the war, as well as having the policy’s ends supported by the ways and means necessary to fulfill it, and not all of those are military. Diplomacy, economic power, and  information all play a part. 

Abraham Lincoln and his advisors came to understand this, maybe better than any presidential administration in United States history. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could guide the country through reunion, and Andrew Johnson was not up to the task. By the time Ulysses Grant became President, the opportune moment for reunion had passed. Though the South succeeded in rolling back civil rights for another century, they never were able to repeal those three critical amendments. That is why the hard war pursued by the Lincoln administration still matters for everyone with a stake in civil rights. 

Think about that, and have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg dead1

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War changed dramatically. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. It also challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war.

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [1]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through the South, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views. They had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [2]

In response Henry Halleck, now backed with the legal authority of General Order 100, also known as The Lieber Code, which for the first time in American history defined the differences between partisans acting in the capacity as soldiers of the enemy army, and those who were not a part of a military unit, but rather men who blended back into the population after conducting armed attacks, [3] wrote to Sherman,

“I am fully of opinion that the nature of your position, the character of the war, the conduct of the enemy (and especially of non-combatants and women of the territory we have heretofore conquered and occupied), will justify you in gathering up all the forage and provisions which your army will require, both for a siege of Atlanta and for your supply in your march farther into the enemy’s country. Let the disloyal families of the country, thus stripped, go to their husbands, fathers, and natural protectors, in the rebel ranks; we have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines…. We have fed this class of people long enough. Let them go with their husbands and fathers in the rebel ranks; and if they won’t go, we must send them to their friends and protectors. I would destroy every mill and factory within reach which I did not want for my own use…..” [4]

The strategy of Sherman was to ensure that the Confederate heartland of the Deep South could no longer help to sustain Confederate armies in the field, it was military, economic, political, and diplomatic. He explained:

“I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negative Davis’ boasted …promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through hiss territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.” [5]

Sherman was a pioneer of psychological warfare, he was “convinced that not only economic resources but also the will of Southern civilians sustained the Confederate War effort…. Sherman was well aware of the fear that his soldiers inspired among Southern whites. This terror “was a power,” he wrote, “and I intend to utilize it… to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and to make them dread and fear us…” [6]

When Confederate General John Bell Hood elected to fortify Atlanta, the largest and most important industrial city in the Confederacy against a Union attack, thereby making the population of the city a target, Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta to warn him of the consequences of allowing this:

“The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go…. You cannot qualify war in any harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable…” [7]

Sherman’s strategy worked, “it deprived Confederate armies of desperately needed supplies; it also crippled morale both at home front and in the army,” [8] His armies did more than destroy factories and farms in its path, wherever they went “they broke the power of the secessionist government, the slaveholder’s social order, and most of whatever fighting spirit remained among Confederate partisans.” [9] Jefferson Davis understood the effect that Sherman’s army was having, he wrote, “Sherman’s campaign has produced a bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needed to restore public confidence.” [10] Mary Boykin Chesnut saw the clouds of doom approaching and confided in her diary, “Since Atlanta I have felt as if all were dead in me, forever,” she wrote. “we are going to be wiped off the map.” [11]

The effects of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas were felt in the Confederate armies at the front as just as he had predicted. Lee’s artillery chief, Brigadier General Porter Alexander wrote, “The condition of the country at large was one of almost as great deprivation & suffering as that of the army itself; & in many localities even of much greater. North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia had been over-run by Sherman’s army carrying off many of the Negroes & most of the stock & destroying all accumulation of provisions which they could not use, & often burning barns & dwellings & all implements of agriculture…. Naturally, the wives & mothers left at home wrote longingly for the return of the husbands & sons who were in the ranks in Virginia. And, naturally, many of them could not resist these appeals, & deserted in order to return & care for their families.” [12]  A member of the 20th Maine noted the effect on Lee’s troops opposing them at Petersburg wrote, “Since Sherman’s victories… we see the affect it is having on Lee’s Army.” They were deserting in groups, “not only privates, but many officers with them.” [13] Lee was so frustrated and angry with the desertion problem that he resorted to summary executions of the men, occasionally without hearing their appeals.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” [14] Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [15]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed  “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.  That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. These were all revolutionary ideas, and there was a counterrevolutionary backlash after the war “overthrew the fledgling experiment in racial equality” but “did not fully restore the old order. Slavery was not reinstated. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed.” [16]  That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war.  Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [17]

That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is an issue for our present and future political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [18] This is actually very important in our present context as since “the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians – with President Bush as a prime example – has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president’s freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them.” [19] Strategy is hard and mostly ignored until there is a crisis, “soldiers focus on their professional military duties, while politicians exercise their skill in policymaking. The strategy bridge between the two worlds, the two cultures, generally is left poorly guarded, if it is guarded at all.” [20] In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his administration as well as military advisers came to develop a realistic strategy to match his political goals, Lincoln understood the contexts of the war far better than his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, whose administration and military leadership was never able to devise a coherent strategy because they did not fully grasp the contexts of the war, never seriously considered the ends, ways, and means to victory.

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda that ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit brought the element of hatred to the fore of the conflict; as Clausewitz correctly observed, “Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be filled with passionate hatred for each other.”  [21]

As the war went on the feelings of animosity and hatred often boiled over and were reflected in the words and sometimes the actions of the soldiers. A Confederate Captain wrote his wife to teach his children “a bitter and unrelenting hatred of the Yankee race” that had “invaded our country and devastated it… [and] murdered our best citizens…. If any luckless Yank should unfortunately come my way he need not petition for mercy. If he does I will give him lead.” A soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and “or boys asked if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed them all. Where there is no officer with us, we take no prisoners…. We want revenge for our brother soldiers and will have it…. Some of the [rebels] say they will fight as long as there is one of them left. We tell them that is what we want. We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country.” [22]

While this was hatred was not universal and many times the combatants behaved with great chivalry on the battlefield, and Northern and Southern veterans led efforts at reconciliation after the war; such hatred was something that had not been a part of the American military experience.  The deep rooted enmity, especially in the South, would remain a constant over the next one hundred years. “White southerners who retained Confederate loyalties against Federal soldiers and northerners in general…. Confederates defiantly refused to forgive enemies who had inflicted such pain on their society.” [23] Likewise, many Union veterans felt that in their sacrifices to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery would be forgotten as time slipped by and the memory of the war subsided.

This very real hatred meant that there were many times when the American Civil War came close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century. J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [24] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [25]

President Lincoln, as well as Grant and Sherman realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [26] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.”  [27]

Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [28] Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [29] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

But Sherman and Grant were not alone in understanding the problem of fighting a limited war against the Confederacy. In the fall of 1862 a twenty-five year volunteer officer, Colonel Strong Vincent serving with McClellan’s army in Virginia understood what had to happen if the Union were to overcome the rebellion of the Confederacy. Vincent who would be instrumental in throwing back Hood’s assault on Little Round Top, and die leading the defense of that edifice, wrote to his wife about the need for harder measures.

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [30]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [31] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [32]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and those who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war who were proven wrong, and the war became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[2] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

[3] Lieber noted in Article 82 of the code that “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” And in Article 85 that, “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” Lieber, Francis, General Orders No. 100 : The Lieber Code INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD 24 April 1863 Retrieved from The Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp#sec4 1 June 2016

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.148

[5] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.445

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.82

[7] Sherman, William Tecumseh, Letter to James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta September 12, 1864 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 pp.147-148

[8] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.83

[9] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.233

[10] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.348

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.775

[12] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 pp.508-509

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.469

[14] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[15] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.48

[16] McPherson, James. The Second American Revolution in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.14

[17] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[19] Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project) Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008 Amazon Kindle Edition, Location 2375 of 3875

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.49

[21] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

[22] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.49-50

[23] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[24] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862,  to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944  Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[25] Ibid. Fuller  A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[26] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[27] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era  p.809

[29] Ibid. Weigley  The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy  p.149

[30]Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[31] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[32] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

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Filed under civil war, History, Military

War What is it Good For? Sometimes Something: The Context of War

cropped-the_storming_of_ft_wagner-lithograph_by_kurz_and_allison_1890a.jpg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today something different. Yesterday I did a post about the Gettysburg Address and the importance of the proposition that of democracy that all men are created equal. It is a radical proposition that since the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965, as well as Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education and Obergfell v. Hodges, has grown in or country to encompass civil rights for African Americans and other racial minorities, Women, and Gays. But those liberties had to be fought for, and would most likely never happened had not Abraham Lincoln and others in the North understood that neither liberty or Union could survive if the South succeeded. In fact, all of us owe our continued freedom to that understanding and the necessity of total war to achieve it.

However, yesterday I had a Twitter troll snipe at me, this time a left-wing troll who claimed to be a “liberal progressive.” However, his remarks were so ignorant of history and reality that I am sure the the had no clue how his words betrayed his alleged beliefs. So in a few words I told him that he was basically ignorant and blocked him. Most of the time when this happens to me it comes from supposed “conservatives,” or “white nationalists” of various flavors, to include the KKK and Neo-Nazi types. But the fact that this came from a self-proclaimed “liberal and progressive” proves that ignorance is not confined to any ideology. That is a sad commentary on our time.

So what I am posting today is an updated and slightly edited portion of the first chapter of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. The entire chapter is close to 150 pages and is probably going to become a book in its own right, but I think it is important for my readers to understand, that sometimes liberty only comes with great sacrifice and the complete defeat of those who want to deny it. That does not matter if it was the Confederacy, Nazi Germany, or even the so-called Islamic State.

As a man who came back changed by war I can only say that I hate it. That being said, though I am a progressive and liberal, I am a realist and understand that as evil as war is, that surrendering liberty to those who believe in “liberty for the few, and slavery for all others.” 

The section of the book may seem a bit wonkish, but it is important. I understand that some of my readers will disagree, but one cannot escape reality.

So anyway, that being said I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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.” [1] Thus while this work is an examination of the Gettysburg campaign it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle. One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive, the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, what brought John Buford to McPherson’s Ridge, what motivated Daniel Sickles to move Third Corps to the Peach Orchard, and what motivated the men of Pickett’s division to advance to their death on Cemetery Ridge, without understanding the broader perspective of culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, and ideology that shaped these men.

The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was a watershed event in an era, which introduced changes in new types of weapons, more lethal versions of older weapons, tactics, army organization, logistics, intelligence and communications. Though the war did not change the essential nature of war, which Clausewitz says is “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will” [2] it expanded the parameters of war and re-introduced the concept of “total war” to the world and “because its aim was all embracing, the war was to be absolute in character.” [3] In a sense it was a true revolution in military affairs.

The Civil War was truly a revolution in military affairs. The war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War, the character of war changed from a limited war waged between opposing armies into a war that at times bordered on Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute or total war. This conflict was waged between two people who shared much in common but were divided by an ideology which encompassed politics, economics, society, law, and even religion.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” [4] Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [5]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war. Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [6] That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is one for our present political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [7]

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda that ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit brought the element of hatred to the fore of the conflict. A Confederate Captain wrote his wife to teach his children “a bitter and unrelenting hatred of the Yankee race” that had “invaded our country and devastated it…[and] murdered our best citizens…. If any luckless Yank should unfortunately come my way he need not petition for mercy. If he does I will give him lead.” A soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and “or boys asked if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed them all. Where there is no officer with us, we take no prisoners…. We want revenge for our brother soldiers and will have it…. Some of the [rebels] say they will fight as long as there is one of them left. We tell them that is what we want. We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country.” [8]

As such there were many times the American Civil War came close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century. J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [9] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [10]

Both men realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [11] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.” [12]

William Tecumseh Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [13] Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [14] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

vincent

Strong Vincent

But Sherman and Grant were not alone in understanding the problem of fighting a limited war against the Confederacy. In the fall of 1862 a twenty-five year volunteer Colonel serving with McClellan’s army in Virginia who would be instrumental in throwing back Hood’s assault on Little Round Top, and die leading the defense of that edifice, by the name of Strong Vincent, understood what had to happen if the Union were to overcome the rebellion of the Confederacy.

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [15]

To most modern Americans who have no experience of war other than seeing it as a video spectator, the words of Vincent and Sherman seem monstrous and even inhuman. However, those who persist in such thinking fail to understand the nature and context of war. While some wars may be fought in a limited manner, others, especially ones driven by militant and uncompromising ideologies, often backed by fanatical religious beliefs cannot be limited, and those that fight such wars must, to paraphrase the words of Strong Vincent, “must fight them more vindictively, or be foiled at every step.” It would have been interesting to see what Vincent might have achieved had he not been cut down by Confederate bullets on Little Round Top.

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, and initially pursued the war in a limited way, seeking to defeat Confederate armies in the field while sparing the people of the Confederacy from total destruction.

But in his quest to preserve the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address, he found that Confederacy would only return to the Union if conquered, and he became convinced that the South’s peculiar institution, that of slavery, must be destroyed in the process. Thus, instead of a war to simply re-unite the Union and let bygones be bygones, Lincoln changed the narrative of the war when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When this happened the war not only became a war to restore the Union, but the a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [16] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [17]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a misguided and unrealistic romantic idea of war. Most people in the North and the South held on to the belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles and that casualties would be comparatively light. This included most politicians as well as many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers who believed that the war would be long and costly, like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and other doubters who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war were the ones proven wrong, though it would take the leaders and the people of both sides over a year to understand. When it was done the American Civil War became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans.

Notes

[1] Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in History and Memory Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.ix

[2] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.75

[3] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.99

[4] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[5] McPherson, James The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.48

[6] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[7] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[8] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.49-50

[9] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[10] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[11] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[12] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.809

[14] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.149

[15] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

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The Straw that Stirs the Drink: The Implications of Resurgent Religion for Strategists and Policy Makers

isis-terrorists

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am being published in the most recent issue of Campaigning: The Journal of the Joint Forces Staff College. The article will be available along with the rest of the journal at the website of the college, but I am posting it here. It is an interesting topic since religion is raising its head in numerous conflicts around the world, and is a very real part of the contemporary American political climate. Note, the pictures are not included in the Campaigning issue.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. There are, however, many societies whose language and religious ideology shape the leader’s political ends. To borrow the immortal words of legendary baseball slugger Reggie Jackson, religion is often “the straw that stirs the drink.” The fact that religious ideologies influence societies and international relations is not new, but after almost three centuries of decline the twenty-first century promises to begin a new age of religious influence. Samuel Huntington notes, “Western secular models of the state are being challenged and replaced”[1] in many nations as religious influence grows. The indicators of this shift, religious, cultural, and racial, are glaringly obvious in the Middle East but clearly present in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Balkans, India, Latin America, and the United States, and threaten to subvert Western secular models of the state.

According to Clausewitz, war is an extension or continuation of politics. Clausewitz, a product of classic German Liberalism, understood the term politics in light of the German concept Weltanschauung, which translates as “World View.” The term is not limited to a particular doctrine or the ideology of party politics, but it encompasses the worldview of a people or culture and includes religion. Religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use a world view to influence their populatio. In fact, the world view is often crucial in the decision by a people to go to war, their rationale for going to war, whom they war against, the means for conducting war, and the end state they envision from warring.

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Because Weltanschauung includes all elements of culture, to include race, religion, and economy, as well as sociological and historical factors; religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use it to manipulate their people. Radical proponents of religious fundamentalism around the world, who reject the pluralities of modernism and science, skillfully “use each new method of communication” [2] to spread their message of fear in a dualistic manner  to influence those most vulnerable to the threat of change.

Modern Americans and Western European policy makers tend to look at the world, and issues of politics and policy in isolation from each other, and especially in isolation from religion. Such an atomistic method ensures that many policy makers cannot see the forest for the trees. This is particularly true when religion is a motivating factor and an ideological component of conflict. Religiously based ideology is a powerful and “often intractable force that can be quite unresponsive to all the instrumentalities of state power, let alone the instrumentalities of foreign policy,” [3] and has been so from the advent of civilization to the present day. Samuel Huntington observed, “To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions; and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other….” [4]

Even among religions that claim to worship the same god beliefs may differ, and that fact underscores Colin Gray’s all important, “contexts of war.” Gray makes the case for seven essential contexts policy makers and military leaders must understand regarding war that “can have strong negative consequences,” [5] if ignored or misunderstood.

Each of the contexts is associated with the manner of social development, and define the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict. In many areas of the world religion functions as the “central political pillar maintaining the power of [the] ruler—a major pole in determining people’s loyalty—and as a key ingredient in determining a nation’s stability or instability.” [6] Religion and religious values remain instrumental to the ethics and the social norms of a society and dictate how it deals with other nations and peoples, as well as how it conducts war.

Over the course of the last three centuries the emphasis on rational and empirical thought predisposed western strategists and policy makers to exclude religion as a component of analysis. Furthermore, the scientific methodology used by many analysts dictates that they asses individual components of issues in isolation from each other, and often without connection to their opponent’s world view. Experts dissect economic factors, military capabilities, existing political systems, diplomatic considerations, and the ways societies gather information and exhaustively examine and evaluate each individual component. But the problem comes when policymakers fail to understand how world view, ideological factors, history, and religious belief impact how a given opponent will conduct war.

ISIS-MAP

In part, policy makers tend to interpret information through their own worldview. As Gray notes, “Policy and strategy will be influenced by the cultural preferences bequeathed by a community’s unique interpretation of its history as well as by its geopolitical-geostrategic context.” [7] As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.” [8] A world view imposes cultural prejudices and blinders on western policy makers and strategists, that predispose them to look for shortcuts, or the most convenient explanations selected from the information they can see. Edward Luttwak wrote:

Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to overinterpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict, and even in reporting their concrete modalities. Equally the role of religious leaders, religious institutions, and religiously motivated lay figures in conflict resolution has also been disregarded – or treated as a marginal phenomenon hardly worth noting. [9]

Unbeknownst to policy makers, their prejudices, the world view blinders they wear, inhibit them from seeing how interconnected the most primal elements of the human experience are to others’ worldviews, even their own. As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy.

Many people believed that modern ideas, “such as science, technology, secularism, and humanism would overcome the religious concept of the universe that dominated premodern society.” [10] Contemporary Western strategists and policy makers came to adulthood in a culture that supplanted the importance of religious ideas and need. A global, four-decade resurgence of religious ideals makes adaptation for strategists and planners difficult because of the dramatic shift in essential, unquestioned views. [11] Others’ worldviews, including religious beliefs, often influence the application of economic, political, diplomatic, military power, and the use and dissemination of information. That fact remains true despite the religion or sect involved, and especially in a decidedly secular, or at least outwardly non-religious, nation. Perhaps, by ignorance or a refusal to admit the importance of religious motivations in conflict, strategists and planners fail to realize the western culture arose from primal religious beliefs that informed politics, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, art, racial constructs, and science for nearly 1500 years. Perhaps, that refusal fueled a justified appall or embarrassment of the religious justifications their forbearers used to incite war that subjugated or exterminated peoples.

The United States Military made a belated attempt to address ideology, culture, and religion in terms of counter-insurgency doctrine when it published the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual. The discussion of these issues is limited to two pages that specifically deal with various extreme Moslem groups that use religion as a pillar of their ideology, strategy, and operations. But the analysis in the counterinsurgency manual is limited because its focus is very general and at a tactical level. While the manual encourages leaders to attempt to understand the cultural differences it contains little to help leaders understand the importance of religion and ideology at the strategic and operational levels.

Commendably, the manual discusses how terrorist and insurgent groups use ideology, which is frequently based on religion to create a narrative. The narrative often involves a significant amount of myth presented as history, such as how Al Qaida and ISIL use the Caliphate as a religious and political ideal that for many Moslems, “produces a positive image of the golden age of Islamic civilization.” [12]

A purely intellectual understanding of how Al Qaida and ISIL use symbolism and imagery limits how strategists and planners can develop methods to counter it. Rather, strategists and planners would benefit from a historical introspection that leads to a personal reflection, aimed at understanding how the theological tools of the Christian religion subjugated peoples and the ramifications today. Protestant Christianity, particularly the Puritan concept of “a city set on a hill” undergirded the American belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny, which in large part led to the extermination of the Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the romanticism of the ante-bellum American South, the belief that African Americans were sub-human, and that God ordained slavery. The concept persisted after the Civil War in the myth of the Lost Cause, and was exported abroad as the United States belatedly entered the race for overseas colonies.

Manife4

The concept of Manifest Destiny is still an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism, which often justifies much of American foreign policy. Former President George W. Bush alluded to this idea in his 2003 State of the Union Address where he said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [13] Throughout the Bush presidency, the President’s idea that God undergirded the policy of the United States led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and historian Michael Oren wrote:

Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a ‘crusade to rid the world of evildoers.’ Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war. [14]

Only when policy makers and strategists understand that the use of religious ideology to conquer, subjugate, and terrorize in the name of God is universal, does it become easier to defeat those who employ it.

American Presidents often invoke the name of God to justify the compulsion to conquer, such as McKinley did when he decided to annex the Philippines in 1899 following the defeat of the Spanish. The war against the Filipinos used some of the most bloodthirsty tactics employed to fight the Filipino insurgents, who only wanted independence, and stained our own national honor. Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . . .” [15]

A doubtlessly sincere McKinley sought counsel from God about whether he should annex the Philippines or not. Barbara Tuchman wrote: “He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and ‘prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance’. He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” [16]

The counterinsurgency manual does mention how “Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.” [17] But again, it does this at a micro-level and the lessons are not applied at the higher levels of strategic thinking and policy. This is often due to the fact that American and other western strategists and policy makers view religion “as a set of theological issues rather than as a profoundly political influence in public life.”[18] Even after nearly a decade and a half of unremitting war against enemies for whom religion is at the center of their politics, policy makers still misread or neglect the importance of religion and religiously based ideology in the political motivations of their opponents. In many cases, the religion of a people is a stronger part of their identity than that of the state. Nations created during the post-colonial era “continue to see religion, clan, ethnicity, and other such factors as the markers of community identity” [19] Despite the advances in communications and technology and the globalization of so many western concepts, the political and religious leaders of Islamic nations view modern western political and social concepts as unwanted intrusions on their ancient cultures, and more importantly, insults to their religion.

kim davis pastor

But, lest American policy makers and strategists see this rise as something completely foreign, a similar phenomenon is occurring in the United States. Despite the fact that a growing number of Americans espouse no-religious preference and, according to multiple studies conducted over a period of two decades, are leaving organized Christianity, adherents of two highly motivated and militant branches of Christianity have grown in strength and political power over the last forty years. The group known as Christian Dominionism advocates Christian domination of all parts of society and culture, and Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists believe in the imminent return of Christ to earth, including the belief that most of the earth’s population will be killed during the Apocalypse. A Pew Research Center survey found that by the year 2050, that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth. [20] Leaders, politicians (including major conservative presidential hopefuls), pundits, and preachers often weigh in on public policy, to include military strategy, and claim that God’s law supersedes that of the state. They simultaneously reject secularism while legislating against those they deem enemies, and advocate for a “holy war” against Islam without distinction to Islam’s own divisions and distinctive denominational differences.

may appear irrational American strategists and policy makers, but it is completely rational to those who subscribe to it. The study of history, particularly how the deep roots of religion and faith shape cultural worldviews, as well as the actions of various peoples and nations, helps the policy maker and strategist adapt policy, strategy, and ultimately operational and tactical methods to the context of the conflict at hand. To do this effectively it is important that American strategists not be afraid to examine our own past to see how our ancestors used religion for good as well as for evil. However, the often dark mirror of history can be disconcerting to peer into. People tend to be uncomfortable when the face that they see in the mirror is all too similar to their current enemies, to the point that one might turn away in fear of what they see. The inability to look into the dark mirror of our own history is especially perilous when enemies are perfectly willing to wage war without end unto the destruction of the world in the name of their God, because when you belatedly look back in the mirror, failure will be staring you right in the face.

Notes

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.360

[2] Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason Revised and Updated Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.18

[3] Luttwak, Edward. The Missing Dimension  in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 p.13  

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.42

[5] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.5

[6] Rubin, Barry Religion in International Affairs in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 pp.20-21

[7] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.25

[8] Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History Alfred A. Knopf, New Your 1981 p.289

[9] Ibid Luttwak The Missing Dimension pp.9-10

[10] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[11] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[12] ___________ U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 15 December 2006 with and forward by General David A Petraeus and General James Amos, Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook CT 2007 p.26

[13] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th 2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[14] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[17] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[18] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs in Religion p.20

[19] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.22

[20] Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policy, http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/22/public-sees-a-future-full-of-promise-and-peril/

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People, History, and Truth

gettysburgpickettscharge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917, and the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

Image found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. If you are trapped by ideological or religious certitude that may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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