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

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Thought from Afar about President Trump’s UN Speech

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still in Munich, and apparently based on the German newspapers that I have seen over the past day or so, President Trump made a speech at the United Nations. A speech that when I read it was frightening and not because he was threatening to obliterate North Korea and threatened Iran. Except from being over the top on his comments about North Korea, much of the speech could have been written by the speech writers of about every U.S. President since Harry Truman. There were appeals to human rights and condemnations of totalitarian states, but there was a major difference that I noticed that basically negated all the norms boilerplate in the speech.

What I mean was the American President basically laid down a new, or let us say an old rule down for nations. He basically said look out for your own interests and only work with nations that agree with your point of view. Of course if you look at history the worst times have come when nations have done exactly than. His words were not the smart or intelligent words of a leader committed to the principles of American Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, or even the Presidents who had been a part of the generation that brought forth the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution. Instead they were the words of Manifest Destiny and a green light for nations to follow their own manifest destiny regardless of whether it is just or squares with the principles of generations of American Presidents, statesmen, and diplomats. They were nothing more than the American President telling the world that I am going to do what I want to do and if you are with me then fire, but if not, prepare to be destroyed, and his words basically gave every despot in the world, even those in North Korea and Iran to do what they feel is right.

That is what I took away from his speech. It was over the top and frightening in terms of his threats to North Korea and Iran, but it unsettled long term and stable allies, while empowering Russia and China to do what the want. By every measure of diplomacy and statesmanship the President’s speech at the United Nations was a disaster. Of course neither he or his most devoted supporters will see this, but it is true, one only has to look at his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General John Kelly during the speech to see exactly what I am saying today.

Since it is late my time and I am fairly tired after a pretty good day in Munich I will save my musings on what I saw today in Munich until tomorrow.

So have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Importance of not Letting Political Problems become Military Problems: The Example of George Marshall and Omar Bradley

George Marshall 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A short thought for this Sunday. General Omar Bradley said, “Wars can be prevented just as surely as they can be provoked, and we who fail to prevent them, must share the guilt for the dead.”

I wrote yesterday about my concerns with the leaders of the major world powers in relation to the crises in Syria and North Korea, in which the military option seems to be spoken of more often than any other. But ultimately these are political problems that will require much more than a military solution, for an ill-thought out through military action almost always results in worse problems. If these political problems in Syria and North Korea are not addressed as that, they will end by opening a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences that will most likely be worse than we could imagine. If military action is necessary, it must be thought through and done in conjunction with a plan to not only win the war, but to win the peace as well. General George Marshall, whose guiding hand helped the Allies win the Second World War, and whose leadership as Secretary of State helped Europe recover from that war, paving the way to decades of peace and prosperity so correctly noted: “A political problem thought of in military terms eventually becomes a military problem.” It is kind of like Abraham Maslow’s “law of the instrument” in which he noted “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

So far the words coming out of the mouth of President Trump and his Secretary of State are all about the military option, and the President’s proposed cuts to the State Department and other agencies of “soft power” will ensure that when push comes to shove that the only tool he will have will be that of the military.

Until Tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Power of Soft Power: Union Diplomacy in the Civil War

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Charles Francis Adams

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another section of my Gettysburg and Civil War text. For those that have been following my posts on this subject

Diplomacy is a key part of the whole of government, the whole of national power, and the understanding of waging war and winning the peace and it does matter before, during, and after the conclusion of any war. Diplomacy is an essential part of the DIME and Union diplomacy had a major effect on the American Civil War, and during the war it was the Federal government and Union diplomats who understood this far better than their Confederate counterparts and were facing leaders of Britain and France who resented the power of the United States and wanted it to fail. This was particularly the case with the conservative British Tory party, like so many other governments of aristocratic regimes the English aristocracy “sympathized with what they saw as a corresponding plantation aristocracy in the South, and were not sad at the prospect of the American republic demonstrating what they had all along insisted was the fate of all popular democracies – instability, faction, civil war, and dismemberment.” [1]

Early Confederate diplomacy was based on the belief that European trading partners could not do without Southern cotton and would intervene in the war to break the Union blockade. As a result, cotton became “the principle weapon of Southern foreign policy.” [2] England depended on southern cotton to supply its massive textile industry and before the war the South had supplied roughly seventy-five percent of its demand. While the Confederates were able to receive recognition as a belligerent from some European powers, including the British, whose position infuriated Secretary of State Seward, the Confederacy, much to the chagrin of its leaders never received diplomatic recognition as a nation.

The efforts of the Confederacy to secure recognition would be due to Union diplomacy, much of it led by the United States Minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams who “tirelessly represented the Union Cause to the British government and the British people but also financed an active network of spies and agents who relentlessly exposed Confederate violations of the British neutrality laws and hobbled Confederate efforts to raise money and but arms.” [3]

Union diplomats in Europe had to manage a very complex situation at the very outset of the conflict when a Captain Charles Wilkes of the United States Navy, commanding the steam sloop USS San Jacinto, fired on and stopped the British passenger steamer Trent, in international waters during November 1861 and removed two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell and their secretaries, who were on their way to Britain. Ignoring the protests of the Trent’s master, Wilkes returned the two Confederates to New York setting of a firestorm of protest. The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, “immediately drafted an ultimate and ordered a squadron of steamers and 7,000 troops readied to send to Canada.” [4]

The incident became known as the Trent affair and provided an early challenge for Union diplomacy, and nearly wrecked the Union war effort. As Charles F. Adams noted in a letter to his son, “Captain Wilkes has not positively shipwrecked us, but he has come as near close to it without succeeding as he could.” [5] Confederates rejoiced, the chief Confederate propagandist in England wrote, “If Commodore Wilkes designed making a sensation he succeeded to his heart’s content…. The usually apathetic Englishmen were roused to a sudden frenzy by this insult to their flag, such as I have never witne4ssed in them before.” [6] Fears of war with Britain dominated the financial markets and “dried up the sale of bonds to finance the war against the Confederacy.” [7]

These fears were not unfounded, as the crisis dragged on into December, Britain made other military preparations some 5,000 Canadian troops trained to British Army standards and 35,000 other Canadian volunteer militia were called up, and “an additional 11,000 British Regulars were soon on their way to Canada.” [8] Additionally the British government placed an embargo on the shipment of saltpeter from India to the United States until the affair was settled. Since India was the largest supplier of this material which was vital to the manufacture of gunpowder, this threatened to cripple the Union war effort, and as soon as the crisis was ended, this vital material was soon on the way to Northern manufacturers who rapidly turned it into gunpowder.

Had it not been for the skilled efforts of Adams, the United States minister to defuse the situation, the affair could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war. Adams’ efforts to defuse the situation in Britain, and to convince Lincoln to release the Confederates and return them to the British were so successful that they “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [9]

Adams also had to deal with Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward’s indignation of Confederate commissioners meeting with British Foreign Minister Lord Russell. Those meetings sent Seward into a rage, he told Senator Charles Sumner “God damn them, I’ll give them hell” and he wrote Adams instructing the American Minister to “break off relations if the British government had any more dealings with southern envoys. If Britain officially recognized the Confederacy, “we from that hour, shall cease to be friends and become once more, as we have twice before been forced to be, enemies of Great Britain.” [10] Lincoln, knowing how critical the situation was gave Adams the discretion of presenting the substance of the matter verbally rather than hand Seward’s dispatch to Russell. Adams handled the matter deftly, and Russell “conceded that he had twice met with the Southern commissioners, but “had no expectation of seeing them any more.” [11]

In the end the release of the Confederate envoys “improved Anglo-American relations and disappointed Confederate hopes for an Anglo-American war that might assure their independence.” [12] Adams wrote, “The first effect of the surrender of Messrs. Mason and Slidell has been extraordinary. The current which ran against us with such extreme violence six weeks ago now seems to be going with equal fury in our favor.” [13]

This was very import because there was much support for the Confederate cause in the European aristocracy and some in Europe hoped for Confederate success. They were encouraged by Union military defeats at the outset of the war, but Union diplomats helped to keep Europeans out of the war. Confederate diplomacy in Europe was not helped when the Confederates elected to embargo cotton exports in order to force Britain and other powers to recognize them. But despite the fears of the loss of cotton and the negative effects on their economies, European powers, especially the British were resentful of the Confederate attempt to blackmail them through the use of the embargo. The Times of London, a Tory paper sympathetic to the Confederacy declared that if Southerners “thought that they could extort our cooperation by the agency of king cotton… they had better think again. To intervene on the behalf of the South “because they keep cotton from us” said Lord Russell in September 1861, “would be ignominious beyond measure…. No English Parliament could do so base a thing.” [14]

British visitors to the South in 1861 were surprised and how fervently many Southerners believed that cotton would spur European involvement in the war on their behalf. The Southern hubris about their importance to the world economy was and how Britain could not survive without their cotton. One reporter wrote:

“there can be no doubt that the prevalent conviction in the South is that England cannot do without the “king” that all cotton, except American is  too short or too long; and that the medium is the only staple Manchester can have. In vain we tell them that our manufacturers would soon change their machinery, and adapt it to the necessities of the times; that our Government was making great exertions to procure cotton from India and Africa; and that it was our interest to foster our own colonies, and to produce it there if possible; and that if we were deprived of America as a market, the more strenuous would our efforts be to render ourselves independent of it. But it was of no use; they were ineradicably impressed with the conviction that they can command the market at any time; and that the distance from England at which its rivals are placed must always give the Confederacy an advantage.” [15]

By early 1862 the British government had decided to recognize the Union blockade. The cotton embargo had had an effect until Britain turned to Egypt and other cotton producers to make up the difference, and diversified by expanding the manufacture of steel and ships. Likewise, the Confederate had harmed the Southern even worse. Since so little of the cotton could be exported and sold on the foreign market, prices for it dried up and the Confederate economy began to implode. Mary Boykin Chesnut bitterly wrote of the effects in March 1862:

“Cotton is five cents a pound and labor of no value at all; it commands no price whatsoever. People gladly hire out their negroes to have them fed and clothed, which the latter cannot be done. Cotton osnaburg at 37 ½ cents a yard, leaves no chance to clothe them…. We poor fools, who are patriotically ruining ourselves will see our children in the gutter while treacherous dogs of millionaires go rolling by in their coaches – coaches that were acquired by taking advantage of our necessities.” [16]

However, Union diplomats were aided by tensions in Europe regarding the Schleswig-Holstein problem between Prussia and Austria, as well as unrest in Poland, as a result “European realpolitik hindered the Rebel’s diplomatic objectives as well.” [17] The British in particular were loath to risk intervening in a conflict that might be “a disturbance in the precarious balance of power which might be the signal for a general conflagration, they recalled Voltaire’s comment that a torch lighted in 1756 in the forests of the new world had promptly wrapped the old world in flames.” [18] Thus, European leaders and diplomats were very hesitant to allow Southern legations to convince them to intervene. In January 1863 an extremely frustrated Jefferson Davis made mention of the neutral nations of Europe which had refused to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation.

Another factor in the success of Union diplomacy was the success of Union military operations on the periphery of the Confederacy, many of them spearheaded by joint Army-Navy operations. While the Confederates won many early battles in 1861 and 1862 it was the success of the Union military that altered the diplomatic landscape and helped doom the Confederacy. The joint operations conducted by Ulysses Grant and Flag Officer Foote at Island Number Ten, Fort Henry, Fort Donaldson and Shiloh opened the door to the western Confederacy making it vulnerable to Union invasion. Likewise, the joint operations conducted by the Union Navy and Army against the Confederacy through the blockade and capture of key ports such as New Orleans by 1862; combined with the bloody repulses of Confederate armies at Perryville and Antietam allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation, an act which reverberated across the Atlantic.

These military successes enabled British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, to reject a French proposal for France, England and Russia to propose to the warring parties, a “North-South armistice, accompanied by a six month lifting of the blockade. The result, if they had agreed- as they had been in no uncertain terms warned by Seward in private conversations with British representatives overseas- would have been a complete diplomatic rupture, if not an outright declaration of war.” [19]

The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy.  In part this was because even the most pro-Southern English political leaders could not appear to give the slightest appearance of supporting slavery, especially as both England and France had abolished slavery decades before, while Russia had only recently emancipated its serfs and despite being a less democratic monarchy than Britain “was pro-Union from the start….” [20] Popular sentiment in Britain, France, Russia and other European countries, outside of the ruling class and business elites, was heavily in favor of emancipation, especially among the working classes. The leaders of the workingmen of Manchester England, a major textile producer, who which had been among the “hardest hit by the cotton famine, sent him [Lincoln] an address approved at a meeting on New Year’s Eve, announcing their support of the North in its efforts to “strike off the fetters of the slave” [21] following the Emancipation Proclamation.

The success of the Union blockade was a key factor in the diplomatic efforts. There were many people, especially business leaders and members of the aristocracy in both Britain and France who sympathized with the South and hoped for Southern victory. However they were not impressed by Confederate attempts to subject them to an embargo of all Southern cotton until they recognized the independence of the Confederacy. Confederate commissioners attempted to persuade the British and French that the Union blockade was a “paper blockade” that was not binding on the British. While a good number of Confederate blockade runners got through the Union blockade, they carried very little cotton. While many Englishmen were offended by Seward’s bluster, many “resented even more the Confederacy’s attempt at economic blackmail.” [22] When the Confederates pressured the British Lord Russell announced to Parliament a corollary to the Declaration of Paris which affirmed the effectiveness of the Union blockade and “drove a stake through the heart of the Confederate efforts to convince the European governments of the blockade’s illegitimacy.” [23]

The British especially were keen on not going to war for the sake of the South, as there was far too much at stake for them. This was something that the Southern leaders and representatives did not fully comprehend. Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston and Foreign Minister Lord Russell were concerned about the economic impact of the loss of Southern cotton but also “recognized that any action against the blockade could lead to a conflict with the United States more harmful to England’s interests than the temporary loss of Southern cotton.” [24] Palmerston well remembered the war of 1812 when he served as Minister of War, and the disastrous results for the British Merchant Marine, and he realized that “England could not only afford the risk of a loss in a sideline war; she could not even afford to win one.” [25]

Union diplomats led by Adams scored another major victory against South in September 1863. During the war, Confederate agents working through shadow companies had managed to purchase large fast ships as commerce raiders. While this was not legal, while building the ships were declared by the builders of the Laird Company as merchant ships, and then sailed out of the country to be armed and equipped as Confederate commerce raiders. These include the ships which became the CSS Florida, CSS Georgia, and the most successful Confederate raider of all, the CSS Alabama.

confederate-ram

Laird Ram

The escape of these ships and their use as raiders proved to be a great embarrassment to the British government, and in “March of 1863 the House of Commons had undertaken an investigation of the earlier cases of the Florida and Alabama. Its report condemned the government for laxness in enforcing British neutrality.” [26]   When it was discovered that Confederate agents were contracting with English and French shipyards to build modern oceangoing ironclad rams, frigates and commerce raiders, Union diplomats intervened. The two rams, to be built by Laird’s were to displace 1,800 tons, mount six nine inch guns in rotating turrets and were equipped with a seven foot long submerged bow mounted ram.

The presence of the turrets made them hard to disguise as merchantmen and Adams sent a note to Foreign Secretary Russel a declaration that if these ships were allowed to escape, that “It would be superfluous to me to point out your Lordship, that this is war.” [27] Having been embarrassed by the past incidents and the scrutiny of Parliament, neither Russell or Prime Minister Palmerston were about to let such an event happen again, in fact before he had even received Adam’s protest had already taken steps to detain the vessels over the protests of the Confederate agents and officials, but the British interest in the case was not simply due to the protests, again, realpolitik came into play. Russell did not want Britain to be held liable for Union financial claims of loss after the war due, but even more importantly, that in another war the situation could be reversed. In this case ships were being built for the Confederacy in British shipyards, but in the next war it was quite conceivable that “in the next war that the roles could be reversed, with warships being constructed in American shipyards for use against the British merchant fleet. Britain was generally a belligerent in nineteenth century wars, not a neutral, and it did not want to lose sight of its long term interests.” [28]

Though Palmerston was offended at the brusqueness of Adams’s note, Union diplomacy had won a victory that “Henry Adams described as “a second Vicksburg.” [29] The British eventually bought the two ships for use in the Royal Navy where they became known as the Scorpion Class of which one ship served until 1922. Russell sent a dispatch to Richmond addressed to Jefferson Davis and warned him “against the efforts of the authorities of the so-called Confederate States to build war vessels with Her Majesty’s dominions to be employed against the Government of the United States.” [30]

The efforts of Adams and his counterpart in France, William Drayton were instrumental in hampering Confederate efforts at recognition by exposing Confederate plots and machinations against the laws of England and France won the praise of Confederate propagandists, one who admitted that Adams, “played well his part, and by his singular moderation of language and action… sustained his own dignity and that of the people he represented… and won reluctant admiration from many who loved not the cause or the Government he sustained.” [31]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.289

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.383

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.298

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.287

[5] Adams, Charles F. Letter to Charles F. Adams Jr. in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection, William E. Gienapp editor, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.144

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.288

[7] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.54

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.288

[9] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[10] Ibid. McPherson the Battle Cry of Freedom pp.388-389

[11] ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom

[12] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.54

[13] Ibid. Adams  Letter to Charles F. Adams Jr. p.144

[14] ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.384-385

[15] ____________. “A Month With the Rebels,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 90 (December 1861): 762-763 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.143

[16] Ibid. Mary Chesnut’s Diary p.122

[17] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation p.315

[18] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.154

[19] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.153

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.153

[21] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.155

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[23] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 71

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[25] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.154

[26] McPherson, James M. War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2012 p.202

[27] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.100

[28] Stahr, Walter Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man Simon and Schuster, New York 2012 p.374

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.682

[30] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.100

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.298

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The U.S. Civil War: Beginning of Modern Warfare Part One

culp's hill

Note: This is the first part of a major revision to my article on the American Civil War being the first modern war. Part two will follow tomorrow. This is actually the beginning of the first chapter of my Gettysburg text, much of which has been appearing in various forms on this site for the past year, much of this deals with the connection between policy and strategy and the relationship of political leaders to the military.

The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was a watershed time which introduced changes in tactics, logistics, communications and the concept of total war to the world. Though it did not change the essential nature of war, which Clausewitz says is “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will” [1] it expanded the parameters of it 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.”[2] In a sense it was a true revolution in military affairs.

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.” [3] 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.” [4]

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War became a “total war.” It was the product of both the 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 which had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda which ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit, even to the point of outright armed conflict and murder in “Bleeding Kansas” during the 1850s.

As a total war it became a war that was as close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character waged on the American continent, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century, as 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.” [5] 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.” [6]

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.” [7] 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.” [8] 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.” [9] Sherman 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.” [10]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace 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.” [11]

Of course, the revolution in military affairs took time and 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.” [12]

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 General Winfield Scott, but they were mocked by both politicians and the press.

The Civil War became an archetype of the wars of the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century. It became a war where a clash between peoples and ideologies which extended beyond the province of purely military action as “it was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.” [13]

The conduct of the American Civil War added new dimensions to war, increased its lethality and for the first time since the 30 Years’ War saw opponents intentionally target the property, homes and businesses of civilian populations as part of their military campaign. The Civil War was a precursor to the wars that followed, especially the First World War which it prefigured in so many ways. [14]

However, like all wars many of its lessons were forgotten by military professionals in the United States as well as in Europe. Thus 50 years later during World War One, British, French, German, Austrian and Russian wasted vast amounts of manpower and destroyed the flower of a generation because they did not heed the lessons of the Civil War. Fuller noted:

“Had the nations of Europe studied the lessons of the Civil War and taken them to heart they could not in 1914-1918 have perpetuated the enormous tactical blunders of which that war bears record.” [15]

The lessons of the war are still relevant today. Despite vast advances in weaponry, technology and the distances with which force can be applied by opponents, war remains an act of violence to compel an enemy to fulfill our will. War according to Clausewitz is “more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case.” [16] but it is always characterized by the violence of its elements, the province of chance and its subordination to the political objective and as such forces political and military leaders as well as policy makers to wrestle with “the practical challenge of somehow mastering the challenge of strategy in an actual historical context.” [17]

The study of the Civil War can be helpful to the joint planner and commander because it so wonderfully shows the interplay of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical trinity- composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and the element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” [18] during an era of great technological and philosophical change. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, for in this era of change, like in every era, some leaders and commanders were either resistant to, or failed to understand the changes being forced upon them in their conduct of war by the industrialization of war and its attendant technology; while others, like Sherman, Grant and Sheridan not only understood them, but embraced them and applied them with skill and vigor in ways that stunned the people of the South.

Over time the Union developed what we would now refer to as a “whole of government approach” to the war. This included not only the military instrument but the use of every imaginable means of national power, from the diplomatic, the economic and the informational aspects of the Union in the effort to subdue the Confederacy. The understanding and use of the “whole of government approach” to war and conflict is still a cornerstone of United States military policy in “unified action, to achieve leverage across different domains that will ensure conditions favorable to the U.S. and its allies will endure.” [19] The working staff of the War Department headed by Edwin Stanton and Major General Montgomery Meigs developed rapidly. It effectively coordinated with railroads, weapons manufactures and suppliers of clothing, food and other necessities to supply the army and navy so well that “Union forces never seriously lacked the materials necessary to win the war.” [20] Stanton and Meigs were “aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen” which allowed “the Union developed a superior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.” [21]

The understanding of this eternal nature and ever changing character of war to leaders of nations as well as military commanders and planners has been very important throughout history. It can be seen in the ways that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln conducted their relationships with their military commanders, including during the Gettysburg campaign and we are reminded by Colin Gray notes that political leaders and policy makers who are in charge of policy often ignorant of the nature and character of war, and this fact “directs attention to the difficulties of translating political judgment into effective warmaking.” [22] Military leaders should be the people to advise and instruct policy makers in aligning their policy to what is actually feasible based on the ends ways and means, as well as the strengths and limitations of the military to carry out policy decisions and history reminds us “that policymakers committed strongly to their political desires are not easily deflected by military advice of a kind that they do not want to hear.” [23]

While there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe, the effectiveness of the Union military in winning the key battles that allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy, . Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war. Adams’ efforts were so successful that they “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [24]

Related to this understanding of warfare one has to also look at the importance of diplomacy, especially in picking the right diplomat for a critical post is a part of a whole of government approach to war and warfare. This was very important in the early stages of the Civil War as there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe. The effectiveness of the diplomacy was increased by the Union military efforts. The Union suffered many failures at the outset of the war by the time of the Gettysburg campaign they did enough to prevent English or French intervention on the side of the Confederacy, which was also aided by tensions in Europe regarding the Schleswig-Holstein problem between Prussia and Austria as well as unrest in Poland, and the British in particular were loath to risk intervening in a conflict that might be “a disturbance in the precarious balance of power which might be the signal for a general conflagration, they recalled Voltaire’s comment that a torch lighted in 1756 in the forests of the new world had promptly wrapped the old world in flames.” [25] Thus, European leaders and diplomats were very hesitant to allow Southern legations to convince them to intervene.

Though the Confederates won many battles it was the Union military whose success Island Number Ten, Fort Donaldson and Shiloh in the West, and the bloody repulses of Confederate armies at Perryville and Antietam; as well as the joint operations conducted by the Union Navy and Army confederacy through the blockade and capture of key ports such as New Orleans early in the war that allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation. These military successes enabled Lord Palmerston to reject a French proposal for France, England and Russia to propose to the warring parties, a “North-South armistice, accompanied by a six month lifting of the blockade. The result, if they had agreed- as they had been in no uncertain terms warned by Seward in private conversations with British representatives overseas- would have been a complete diplomatic rupture, if not an outright declaration of war.” [26]

The issuance of that proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy because even pro-Southern English political leaders could not appear to even give the appearance of supporting slavery, especially as both England and France had abolished slavery decades before, while Russia had only recently emancipated its serfs and “was pro-Union from the start….” [27] Popular sentiment in those countries, outside of the ruling class and business elites, was heavily in favor of emancipation, especially among the working classes. The leaders of the workingmen of Manchester England, a major textile producer, who which had been among the “hardest hit by the cotton famine, sent him [Lincoln] an address approved at a meeting on New Year’s Eve, announcing their support of the North in its efforts to “strike off the fetters of the slave.” [28]

There were issues related to the blockade but Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war in a manner that “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [29]

The Union blockade was a key factor in the diplomatic efforts. As I have noted there were many in both Britain and France who sympathized with the South and hoped for Southern victory that were not impressed by Southern moves to subject them to an embargo of Southern cotton until they received recognition. While many Englishmen were offended by Seward’s bluster, many “resented even more the Confederacy’s attempt at economic blackmail.” [30]

The British especially were keen on not going to war for the sake of the South, there was far too much at stake for them, something that the Southern leaders and representatives did not fully comprehend. Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston and Foreign Minister Lord Russell were concerned about the economic impact of the loss of Southern cotton but also “recognized that any action against the blockade could lead to a conflict with the United States more harmful to England’s interests than the temporary loss of Southern cotton.” [31] Palmerston well remembered the war of 1812 when he served as Minister of War, and the disastrous results for the British Merchant Marine, and he realized that “England could not only afford the risk of a loss in a sideline war; she could not even afford to win one.” [32]

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

[2] 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

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

[4] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[5] 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

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

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

[8] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

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

[10] 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

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

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

[13] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.99

[14] Fuller has an excellent synopsis of this in his book A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three (p.89). He wrote: The war fought by Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnston, and others closely resembled the First of the World Wars. No other war, not even the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, offers so exact a parallel. It was a war of rifle bullets and trenches, of slashings, abattis, and even of wire entanglements- an obstacle the Confederates called “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise” because at Drewry’s Bluff they had been trapped in them and slaughtered like partridges.” It was a war of astonishing in its modernity, with wooden wire-bound mortars hand and winged grenades, rockets, and many forms of booby traps. Magazine rifles and Requa’s machine gune were introduced and balloons were used by both sides although the confederates did not think much of them. Explosive bullets are mentioned and also a flame projector, and in June, 1864, General Pendleton asked the chief ordnance officer at Richmond whether he could supply him with “stink-shells” which would give off “offensive gases” and cause “suffocating effect.” The answer he got was “stink-shells, none on hand; don’t keep them; will make them if ordered.” Nor did modernity end there; armoured ships, armoured trains, land mines and torpedoes were used. A submarine was built by Horace H. Hundley at Mobile….”

[15] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.89

[16] Ibid. Clausewitz p.89

[17] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[18] Ibid. Clausewitz p.89

[19] ________ JCWS Student Text 1 3rd Edition, 14 June 2013 p.2-4

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

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

[22] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[23] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[25] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.154

[26] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[27] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[28] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.155

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[30] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[32] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.154

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Thoughts on the Iranian “Deal”

Iran nuclear talks

Yesterday negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China finished hammering out a tentative deal with Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program.

There are a lot of opinions about the deal, some positive, some definitely negative and quite a few like mine a wait and see attitude. Now I am hopeful that the deal is a positive first step in assuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. In fact I pray that it does.

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The fact is that we have to try, even if some allies for their own reasons disagree. The Israelis are understandably concerned, especially since the last President of Iran, most of the Mullahs that actually run that country and the Revolutionary Guard have expressed their belief that Israel should not exist. Thus for the Israelis this can be seen as an existential matter. If Iran were to get operational nuclear weapons and use them against Israel that state would suffer greatly. Likewise the Saudis are distrustful of the Iranians, but for different reasons. For the Saudis this is the great conflict between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, a conflict that appears to be gaining steam in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. It is  conflict that has the potential to be the Islamic equivalent of the Thirty Years war, that great bloodletting between Catholic and Protestant Europe. Iran and the Saudis are the leaders of the respective factions of Islam, they are mortal enemies.

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We have to be cognizant of both the Israeli and Saudi concerns. They are legitimate and because they are allies we must take them into account. That being said the most important security needs to be addressed by the United States are those of the United States. Sometimes those are not always the same of allies, even allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. That is something that has to be weighed in this case.

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The cold fact of the matter is that for many years we in the United States have become accustomed to resorting to military force first and neglecting the other aspects of national and international power that could be brought to bear to in achieving our national security and foreign policy goals. Those other aspects include economic power, information and diplomacy which unfortunately have been neglected. Presidents and our Congress have, even in spite of the misgivings of military leaders pursued the military option first.

After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Bush Administration with the authorization of Congress pursued an almost single minded military solution to those attacks. That response was not only against the Al Qaeda terrorists but against their Afghan Taliban hosts and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

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Those campaigns have worn our military down. The resources spent in those countries, the lives lost, the money spent and the wear and tear on equipment have harmed our national security. But even above that in terms of strategy we eliminated the one natural enemy of Iran which helped hold them in check. We invaded Iraq and left it in a condition that it could no longer be the western bulwark against Iran. We turned down Iranian offers of help after September 11th and in doing so lost opportunities which might have led us and Iran down a different path. Instead President Bush declared Iran and Iraq both parts of an “Axis of Evil.”

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It was a declaration that the Iranians rightly understood as a declaration of war. Legally it may not have been, but the stated strategy enunciated by men like John Bolton and those we call the “Neocons” inside the Bush Administration and in associated think tanks could only be understood by the Iranians in that light. That end state envisioned by Bolton then and even now was regime change in not only Iraq, but also Iran. We have to ask ourselves this question: If another nation did this to us, how would we respond? I dare say that we, like the Iranians would dig in our heels and seek to develop military capacities that could defeat them, or if not defeat them make their “success” so costly that our enemies would not press us.

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Now because of those choices we are faced with a situation where Iran is estimated to be reasonably close to developing a nuclear weapon capacity. It is something that if it happens will result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Israelis already have that capability and the Saudis are reportedly pursuing that capability. Thus it cannot be allowed to happen.

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That being said there are ways to ensure that does not happen. One advocated by those opposed to the deal is a hard line approach including pre-emptive military strikes against Iran, which not only would bring about a regional war but at best delay Iran a few years in procuring nuclear weapons.

The other is the course that has been pursued by the Obama Administration over the course of the past few years. That is the use of economic sanctions and diplomacy. As I said at the beginning this has not been our default policy over the past 12 years. But it is necessary. We are not in a good position to add yet another war, a war with world wide security and economic implications to our plate.

The fact is that due to the wars of the past 12 years as well as budget cuts including the sequestration cuts we are not in a good position to wage another war. We are stretched thin. Readiness thanks to sequestration is declining. The Chief of Staff of the Army stated that only two combat brigades are immediately deployable for combat operations. Could we launch another military campaign? Yes we could. But war, if we believe Clausewitz war is an extension of politics and policy. But we have to ask if would it achieve our overall policy goals? That I am not sure.  Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

In fact even if we delivered punishing strikes to Iran the costs could be great, and not just the economic costs.  Our campaign would have to be an air campaign to destroy hardened targets many of which we do not know the exact locations. Our record in such air campaigns is mixed. We spent over 70 days pounding Serbia with little to show for it in actual damage to their military. Likewise Iran is not Iraq, our targets will not be exposed in the open desert. Additionally Iranian A2/D2 (Anti-Access/Area Denial) capabilities pose great risks for US and Allied Warships as well as bases in the Arabian Gulf. If an Iranian Kilo Class submarine were to sink an American Aircraft Carrier it would not be a tactical setback, it would be a major loss of American strategic capability not just in the Middle East but world wide.

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Likewise as I mentioned before we took out the one natural opponent of Iran when we overthrew Saddam Hussein. In doing so we destroyed every bit of infrastructure, military power and civil government structures that any new Iraqi government would need to maintain any sense of a balance of power in the Arabian Gulf.

All that being said do I trust the Iranians? I cannot say that I do. I am a realist. I enlisted in 1981 in large part because of the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy and the hostage crisis. They remain a dictatorial regime which persecutes religious minorities including Christians. They restrict their people from open access to the internet and persecute political opponents. The Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful organization in Iran has actively worked to destabilize other countries in the region. Their influence is great especially in regards to Lebanon’s Hezbollah which has launched missile campaigns against Israel and been active on the side of Syria dictator Bashir Assad in that country’s brutal civil war.

However the path of diplomacy must be given a reasonable chance to succeed. In the early 1970s President Nixon started a process of detente with the Soviet Union and Communist China. It was not embraced by hawks. President Ford, Carter and Reagan continued those policies to one degree or another with the final result being the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Warsaw Pact and overthrow of Communism.

This deal is a start. It is not perfect at all. I see issues in it. but it is based on the politics and art of the possible. It has the potential to be a game changer in a region wracked by war and revolution, a region led for the most part by despots in which terrorists often operate freely. I don’t know if it will work, but I hope it does.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Real Conflict: Ethics and American Values Versus Realpolitik

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“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” Henry Kissinger

There are a times in a nation’s life that its leaders are confronted with situations that present conflicts between a nation’s values and realpolitik.

The fact is that there are “tribes” in foreign policy and national security debates. Some are the idealists, others pragmatists and some realists. There are gradients between the levels and sometimes depending on the situation an idealist might gravitate toward pragmatism or even realpolitik and visa versa. Sometimes it is a matter of politics, sometimes ideology and sometimes even  and no leader of no political is immune from these tensions.

The situation in Syria is one of those times where the conflicting agendas of the different foreign policy tribes conflict and where no matter what happens in Syria the conflicts between the tribes will remain and perhaps even grow more pronounced. The fact is that I often can find myself on several sides of the same argument. It might be the PTSD “Mad Cow” is causing these conflicts but it could also be that there are good arguments to be made on all sides of the argument. What is ultimately the right course or the wrong course is actually hard to say.

If we argue for the idealist position, which would argue that American values of stopping human rights violations and the use of chemical weapons, something prohibited under the Hague convention and the more recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 against the realpolitik of what are the actual National Security interests of the United States, the vital interests which involve the survival of the nation itself, major interests which could impact national security or tertiary interests which might have some importance but do not threaten the survival of the nation, even of they are terrible crimes against humanity.

Whether one likes it or not these are legitimate ethical and policy conflicts. On one hand there is the position that the United States has taken following World War Two and the Nuremberg trials as well as its participation in the International Criminal Courts has a moral obligation to confront the use of chemical weapons even if other nations or international bodies stand aside. On the other hand the argument that what happens in Syria is not in the vital interests of the United States and that the United States should not take military action to stop the use of those weapons. The fact is that those that advocate military action in Syria be they politicians, pundits, preachers or profiteers need to remember the words of Carl Von Clausewitz that “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” I really don’t think that we have thought this through as a nation.

Of course these two positions are not exclusive. There are also ranges of action which span the full spectrum of action between the either or situation that most Americans seem to find themselves caught between. The fact is that the National Security Strategy of the United States is not based on military might alone, no matter how much it has been used as the first choice by American leaders. The reality is that military force is only one element, and perhaps the weakest element of the elements of national security police known as the “DIME.” That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. What we seem to have forgotten is that the other elements of the DIME other than the gut level military response have value and are perhaps even more important.

I think that a large part of this conundrum is found in the reflexive use of military force as the preferred means of action since the attacks of September 11th 2001. On that day the United States was attacked by the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda militants and while the victims of those attacks were overwhelmingly American the citizens of over 60 other nations we killed in the attacks.

Those attacks demonstrated the vulnerabilities of this nation. When one looks at our actual national security policy it is clear that those vulnerabilities are not always fixed by military action in other countries. In fact they sometimes can become even more glaring as resources required for Homeland Defense and economic recovery are spent on military operations of dubious strategic value and which at times undermine efforts to build trust with other nations, build coalitions based on shared values and to undercut the efforts of extremists using diplomacy, information and economic power.

What we have to answer now is how we address a situation in Syria that is both a violation of international law but which military force alone cannot solve. Of course there is a conflict between our ideals and what are vital national security concerns. I would suggest that the real threat of military action can be a part of the answer if it helps the United States and the world make the case through diplomacy, information and economic pressure not only to stop the slaughter but to hold those responsible for it accountable in International Criminal Courts for the commission of war crimes. At the same time the reality is that the United States and the world cannot allow an Al Qaeda dominated organization such as the Al Nursa Front gain control of Syria.

The fact is that despite how clear cut we want things to be as Americans that much of what happens in the world takes place in a world of more than 50 shades of gray. Unfortunately American conservatives and liberals alike prefer to see foreign policy in the “either or” world of using pure military force or doing nothing, neither of which of themselves are the answer. The full continuum of national and international power must be brought to bear in these kind of situations, recognizing that not everyone shares our values or has the same strategic interests.

It may not be comfortable for anyone but it is reality. How we navigate it is key, maintaining our values while ensuring that our nation survives. If military action is decided on one has to remember what Clausewitz said: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”

To make a decision without understanding this or as we did in Iraq ignoring it is to risk disaster. Such are the stakes. I personally would rather see more negotiation in the hopes that the Syrian chemical and biological weapons are secured and those responsible for using them, be they Assad, his government or even the rebels attempting to frame the Syrians and deceive the United States against the Syrian people are brought to justice.

This is a messy business and not for the faint of heart. Lives of thousands of people in Syria, the region and potentially around the world are at stake and a military strike that fails to accomplish the political object would be worse than none at all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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