Monday, January 31, 2005

And Keep Moving On

The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864 , by Mark Grimsley

. . . is now out in paperback. At least, my author's copies arrived today. It's $16.95 list, $11.53 at

I shamelessly quote from the back cover:

"The six-week military campaign that began that May, energetically recounted in historian Mark Grimsley's And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864 . . . became a legendary duel. By focusing on the Wilderness, Grimsley takes us into a moment when the Civil War battlefield--if not combat itself--was transformed."--Washington Post

"Engagingly written, thoroughly researched, and thought provoking, Grimsley's And Keep Moving On is the best single-volume history of the Overland Campaign yet published." --Gordon C. Rhea

(Gordon C. Rhea, whose work I admire, is the author of a multi-volume history of the campaign, now nearing completion. I was tickled pink when he spontaneously wrote to tell me how much he liked the book.)

Thank goodness the paperback is out. I wrote it for general readers, reviewers have unformly praised it, but the press was undergoing a staff reshuffling at the time And Keep Moving On went into production. As a result they priced the hardback as a monograph, not a trade book. Grrr.

But hey, all that's behind me now. . . .

Yep. Great looking cover, no?

Pessimism, or Realism, or Both: Kos on the Iraq Election

You had to be impressed with yesterday's election in Iraq. It takes guts to vote when doing so could literally cost your life, and the fact that 8 million Iraqis displayed such guts is a heartening sign. But there's a line between being heartened and being sentimental. Kos, for his part, sure ain't sentimental in today's Daily Kos:

The administration, press, and wingnut blogosphere is all atwitter over the "successful" Iraqi elections. But the fact that 8 million Iraqis voted is not the measure of success. Just like catching Saddam wasn't, or occupying Baghdad, or transfering "sovereignty". Those events are miletones toward the ultimate outcome, but unpredictive whether that outcome is victory or defeat.
He goes on to invoke the inevitable parallel with Vietnam.

Which touched off a loooooooooooooong thread of comment, (including a few from me.)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Taegukgi (2004) Posted by Hello

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)

Posted by Hello

An epic film about the Korean War, reviewed by Darrel Manson:

The opening scene of Taegukgi shows an archeological dig of a Korean battlefield. The workers unearth corroded weapons, remnants of books, bits of personal property, and piles of bones and skulls. There is very little to identify whether the remains are of South Koreans, North Koreans or Chinese. All are placed in coffins and covered with a South Korean flag (which is called Taegukgi.) In the aftermath of war, there really is no difference between the combatants -- all their differences ended at their deaths.

Taegukgi follows two South Korean brothers conscripted to fight after the North Koreans invaded the South in 1950. Actually, the younger, Jin-Seon, was drafted. His older brother, Jin-Tae, is forced to fight after he tries to take his brother off the train that is taking the draftees away.

The complete review, together with a gripping trailer, is at

Asian Cinema also reviews the film.

Tae Guk Gi - the official Sony Pictures site. Graphics intensive. (Requires Flash player7).

Taegukgi will be released on DVD on February 15. has it available on pre-order for $21.72.

Taegukchi (2004) Posted by Hello

Taegukgi (2004) Posted by Hello


The Iraq War, (2003- ): A First Draft of History

One of several balls I'm juggling at the moment is that of my responsibilities as an asociate editor of the Encyclopedia of War and American Society (Sage, forthcoming). Back in June I commissioned an author to prepare the entry for the Iraq War (2003- ). He was none other than my beloved undergraduate mentor Williamson "Wick" Murray, who with Gen. Robert H. Scales, co-wrote The Iraq War: A Military History, one of the first and best "instant books" to emerge from the "major combat operations" stage of the conflict.

Since the war is a moving target, I have periodically updated Wick's original entry while trying not to lose the flavor of his inimitable take-no-prisoners prose. (I did modify the entry so as to take one or two prisoners, but we're roughing them up in a basement somewhere.) Recently the encyclopedia's senior editor, Peter Karsten of the University of Pittsburgh, pruned some of the operational detail in the entry so as to make room for more "war and society" stuff. I asked Pete for permission to post the most recent draft on War Historian, and he and the press have given me the nod to do so. To give readers of War Historian a sense of what the editorial process is like, I'm eventually going to post Wick's original entry and my first rewrite.

(Incidentally, if it sounds funny that I'd rewrite Wick's prose, please bear in mind that I was for several years one of Wick's graduate research associates and that this arrangement became fairly routine between us. Remind me to tell you the story sometime of the introduction to the 1996 Cambridge University Press book, The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War.)

The links below take you to the most recent version of the entry. I had to strip out some of the "track changes" codes, but I left a few--as well as Pete Karsten's (PK's) queries--to convey some idea of what the editorial process is like.

All of the articles that follow are under copyright protection. Read, learn, enjoy, but don't try anything cute. Remember, if you plagiarize, it means the terrorists have won.

Iraq War (2003 - )
Planning for War
The March to Baghdad
The Insurgency
The Impact at Home
Back Matter
Appendix A: Wick's Original Draft [To be posted on Monday, Jan. 31]
Appendix B: Mark's First Revision Draft [To be posted on Monday, Jan. 31]
Appendix C: Issues Raised By the Online Publication of Work in Progress
Appendix D: Summary of Comments Received [To be posted Wednesday, February 2]

The Iraq War (2003- ) Introduction

The Iraq War was the first major demonstration of the so-called Bush Doctrine, named for George W. Bush, the president primarily associated with it. Initially laid out in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the doctrine, which implicitly repudiated the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine [please say what this is. [We do have an entry on this, but it’s best that you add a brief phrase describing it. PK]], was most fully elaborated in a June 2002 commencement speech at West Point. In the speech, Bush indicated that the United States would engage in preemptive war should it or its allies be threatened by terrorists or rogue regimes with weapons of mass destruction; that it would do so unilaterally if need be; and that it would seek to promote liberty and democracy throughout the world. The Bush administration made each of these points in explaining its rationale for going to war with Iraq in March 2003.

But the conflict must also be seen against the backdrop of a problematic, arguably failed policy of containing Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991. American policymakers initially thought that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship would fall after its humiliating defeat. Indeed, rebellions did break out throughout Iraq, but Saddam’s murderous regime slaughtered tens of thousands Iraqis and quashed the revolution. The United States still confronted a hostile and fractious regime that sought at every turn to avoid complying with the armistice terms—especially those dealing with inspections aimed to ferret out Iraq’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Over the next decade Saddam played a cat and mouse game with UN weapons inspectors and the United States. American policy makers replied by launching retaliatory attacks against Iraq’s military and police structure. American pilots enforced “no fly” zones over northern and southern Iraq, while the United Nations continued a regime of sanctions initially imposed when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in July 1990. None of this prevented Saddam from ordering his Republican Guard to deploy into southern Iraq in preparation for a second invasion of Kuwait in 1994. A quick American response deterred the Iraqis, but only at the last moment. By 2000, it was clear that sanctions were having a terrible impact on the Iraqi people yet little influence over Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, there was no willingness in the international community, or among Americans, to engage in a major military campaign to overthrow the dictator.

The Iraq War (2003- ) Planning the War

The attacks by the terrorist group Al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, fundamentally changed the calculus for American policy makers. Within a matter of months U.S. forces attacked and overthrown the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was actively and enthusiastically supporting Al Qaeda. Early in 2002 President Bush and his advisors turned to Iraq. Saddam’s regime represented a seemingly perfect target for a forward leaning policy of preventive action against terrorism: Iraq had supported terrorist groups throughout the Middle East over the past several decades – though probably not Al Qaeda. Moreover, Saddam had launched two terrible wars against its neighbors, while using gas warfare against its own population. [Should WMD argument be mentioned here? [I don’t agree; up to you. PK]] To many in the administration, it appeared Iraqis would welcome a military effort to overthrow Saddam.

Major planning for an invasion of Iraq began in spring 2002. At the same time the Bush administration initiated efforts to enlist foreign support. The latter task proved difficult. Few Arab states lined up in support. Only Kuwait, Qatar, and some of the other Gulf States proved willing to support such an effort. Even America’s European allies, who had enthusiastically supported the intervention in Afghanistan, resisted the idea of a military invasion of Iraq. France, Germany, and Russia—l—refused to support the coming war. [OK? Seems relevant here. [I don’t see the relevance; they weren’t acting as Sec. Council members but as individual nations with self-interests. PK]] Only the British, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, supported the war with major military forces. Great Britain supplied one third of the ground forces that launched the initial attack, while its air force provided substantial numbers of fighter-bombers and tanker support.

Military planning for the war proved easier than diplomatic efforts. Planners had the advantage of having watched the Iraqi military over the previous decade. The fact that American and allied aircraft had flown tens of thousands of sorties over the no-fly zones without losing a single aircraft indicated that Iraq no longer possessed a viable air defense. Close observation of Iraq’s ground forces indicated that they rarely, if ever, engaged in serious training. Moreover, because of his paranoia, Saddam had divided Iraq’s ground forces into a number of separate organizations—the regular army, the Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards, the Ba’ath Party militias, and a number of fedayeen and martyrs brigades—none of which cooperated at any level. Indeed, unbeknownst to coalition planners at the time, Saddam prevented his military from entering the environs of Baghdad or even participating in planning for the capital’s defense.

By the autumn of 2002 planning had advanced to the point where the flow of military forces into the region could begin. The main blow for the ground offense would come from Kuwait. In addition planners hoped to launch a major offensive from Turkey against Iraq’s northern provinces. From Kuwait two American divisions, the army’s 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division, and one British division, the 1st UK Armoured Division, would cross into Iraq. The initial objectives would be as follows: for the British, the Ramalah oil fields and Basra, Iraq’s second largest city; the U.S. Marines would support the British and swing west to cross the Euphrates. {I’m cutting some extraneous words in this combat section to make room for some attention to the “American society” dimension. PK] They were to advance through the central Mesopotamian Valley towards An Numinayah on the Tigris River. Meanwhile the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) was to drive up desert roads west of the Euphrates to reach the Karbala Gap – one of the main approaches to Baghdad from the west. Along the way it was to seize a number of key bridges over the Euphrates. The bridge north of An Nasiriyah was particularly important, because two Regimental Combat Teams of the 1st Marine Division were to cross at that point.

A drive from the north, with a British division and the 4th ID, was also scheduled to play a role in the defeat of Iraq’s military forces. However, that operation depended on Turkish cooperation, and the Turks proved recalcitrant. Just before Christmas, the British concluded that the Turks would not allow Coalition troops on their territory. Over the next two months the British changed their deployment plans and managed to assemble the 1st UK Armored Division in Kuwait. The switch explains the rather strange composition of the division: one heavy armored unit , and two light brigades So late did the British deployment take place, that armorers finished outfitting the last Challenger II tank with its desert kit just three days before the start of operations.

The planning for the air campaign was substantially different than in 1991. There would be no prolonged air offensive before the ground operations began. Because so many American and British troops had concentrated in Kuwait, planners decided that dispersal was the best means of protection against possible Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Thus, ground forces would disperse forward by launching their ground attack concurrently with the air. Nevertheless, air planners determined to launch a massive, “shock and awe” aerial assault on Saddam’s centers of power in the optimistic assumption the it would precipitate the regime’s collapse.

As allied planning progressed, Saddam Hussein apparently refused to believe the Americans would actually launch a major ground war. On the one hand the dictator underestimated American resolve; on the other, he believed that international opposition, particularly by the Europeans, would prevent an American offensive. Should an attack occur, he was confident that the Iraqi military would be able to inflict sufficient losses on the supposedly casualty-averse Americans to make them quit. Thus, right up to the outbreak of war, Saddam forbade defensive measures such as mining the oil fields or the bridges across the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for destruction.

The Iraq War (2003- ) The March to Baghdad

The campaign began a day ahead of schedule when intelligence indicated that Saddam might be at a hideout in Baghdad. A hurriedly mounted F-117 strike hit that target just before dawn on March 20, but the dictator was elsewhere. On the following night the “shock and awe” offensive blasted downtown Baghdad. Coalition aircraft and ships launched 600 cruise missiles, while strike aircraft, including B-1s and B-2s, flew 700 missions and struck over a thousand targets. Although a stunning display of military might, the attack on Baghdad had an unintended effect. By leveling ministry and party buildings, it destroyed much of the evidence on the regime’s crimes as well as the administrative apparatus necessary to govern the country. Yet it was hardly sufficient to shake the regime’s political stability.

Meanwhile, the ground invasion had begun. Under the command of the Coalition Land Component Commander, two corps drove into Iraq. On the left the 3rd ID spearheaded III Corps; the 101st Airborne and the 82nd Airborne Divisions, followed in support of the 3rd ID. To the east, I Marine Expeditionary Force controlled the British 1st Armoured Division, supported by elements of the marine corps’ Task Force ‘Tripoli,’ and the 1st Marine Division (1st Mardiv) . The British quickly grabbed the Ramalah oil fields (which had not been prepared for demolition) and then continued their advance on towards Basra.

The advance of 3rd ID up the west bank of the Tigris ran into little serious opposition from regular Iraqi units, which remained in the cities and towns along the Euphrates. However, the division’s brigade combat teams (BCTs), as well as supporting logistic units, found themselves under constant attack by tactically inept but fanatical bands of fedayeen, as well as a few suicide bombers. Tank crews used few 120mm main gun rounds but vast amounts of machine gun and small arms ammunition.

On March 25 a vicious shamal--a combination of rain, dust, and flying mud particles--blew into Iraq, covering soldiers and marines. Visibility declined to almost zero. Fedayeen attacks increased, while under cover of the storm Saddam Hussein’s commanders attempted to move a significant number of units to adjust to the American drive from the south. The shamal failed to screen Iraqi movements from observation by Coalition aircraft. Bombarded by precision munitions from a darkened sky, the Iraqis took terrible losses. Those who survived deserted in droves.

On March 27 senior American commanders agreed on a short pause to prepare their forces for the drive on Baghdad. Part of the reason for the halt was due to the fact that army units were low on fuel and ammunition. But the halt was particularly important for the 3rd ID which needed the two Airborne Divisions to cover the cities and towns along the Euphrates, so that it could concentrate its combat power on the Karbala Gap. On April 1 The Army’s 1st and 2nd BCTs moved across the Euphrates and into the gap. Within a day the 3rd ID was through the gap and the road to Baghdad lay open. By April 3 Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers had reached the environs of Baghdad International Airport.

The airport was secure by the evening of April 4, and the military leadership then launched the 2nd BCT on a raid into the heart of Baghdad. On April 5 and 6, the Abrams and Bradleys swept through the center of Saddam’s capital with the loss of no human casualties and only a single tank, but on the 6th,at three main intersections a series of ferocious fire fights broke out that lasted most of the day. The Americans held, kept open the supply lines to the 2nd BCT, and broke the back of Iraqi resistance in the capital.

While the 3rd ID was breaking through the Karbala Gap, the marines were having equal success in their drive through the Mesopotamian Valley. In capturing An Numaniyah, the marines had surrounded substantial number of Iraqi troops in the valley, most of whom threw their uniforms away and went home. By April 3 marines had seized the bridges at An Numinayah and were crossing to the east bank of the Tigris. With the 5th RCT in the lead, the marines now began their advance on Baghdad. By April 7 all three RCTs were crossing the Diyalah River on the eastern outskirts of the Iraqi capital. On April 9, in a much-televised event, a crowd of Iraqis [I thought we have since discovered that most of the crowd were not Iraqis but other Arabs working in Baghdad. Not so? PK] , assisted by an American armored recovery vehicle, toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. To all intents and purposes the conventional war in Iraq was over.

The Iraq War (2003- ) The Insurgency

But in many respects the fighting had just begun. On May 1, the day that President Bush triumphantly declared major combat operations [Can we use his precise words here? PK] at an end, 140 American and 33 British service personnel had died in the Iraq War. Combat deaths in the months that followed were much greater, and in September 2004 the Pentagon reported that the thousandth American soldier had perished in Iraq. Most of them fell victim to improvised explosive devices [Not used again.] planted by a wide array of insurgents, ranging from former members of the Ba’athist regime to Shi’ite fundamentalists to terrorists who had filtered into Iraq from outside the country.

This sobering development came as no surprise to many analysts, who foresaw that the removal of Saddam Hussein would inevitably leave a major power vacuum. Both civilian commentators and senior military officers stressed, in the months before the war, that a large number of troops would be required to handle the chaos and troubles that would come in what was inaptly termed “the post-conflict phase.” [Refer to W-P doctrine here?] The chief of staff of the army, General Eric Shinseki, warned that this phase would require more, not fewer, troops to bring stability to Iraq, and that they would be needed for a considerable period of time. But in a decision that became increasingly controversial in the months that followed, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his senior civilian advisers in the Pentagon brusquely rejected such counsel. [Could we have a sentence or two here on the “imbedding” of reporters, the role of digital cameras and blogs, internet spreading of images (Abu Gherib, etc) here? PK]

improvised government that succeeded Saddam Hussein, the Coalition Provisional Authority, took power amid massive looting and a widespread breakdown in law and order that opened the door to what became a significant insurgency in the months that followed. By June 28, 2004—the date on which the United States returned sovereignty to Iraq—717 American servicemen had been killed, over and above the 140 who died during the forty-three days of the conventional campaign. By year’s end total American deaths had exceeded 1,300, with no end to the insurgency in sight. An estimated 15,000 Iraqi civilians had also perished. [Please update this data as best you can.]

The Iraq War (2003- ) The Impact at Home

Despite misgivings on the part of many Americans and fierce opposition on the part of some, over 70 percent of Americans initially endorsed President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. By mid-2004, however, no weapons of mass destruction had been found in that country (Saddam Hussein had apparently implied [Would it be relevant to mention the interrogation of his self-exiled son-in-law on WMD in the ‘90s before the fellow returned to Iraq and his execution?] that he did hold such weapons as a way to maintain his stature in the Arab world) and a congressional inquiry [Please refer more specifically to this. PK] concluded that at best, only the most tenuous connections had existed between Al Qaeda and the deposed Ba’athist regime. This, coupled with the on-going violence in Iraq, convinced about half of Americans that the war was not been worth the cost. Despite intense criticism and a strong challenge in the 2004 presidential election from Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, Bush steadfastly maintained that the conflict was an integral and necessary component of its War on Terrorism. His narrow reelection indicated that a majority of Americans still agreed with him. [I guess it is here where I’d really appreciate some expansion, including some attention to the debate over whether the Iraq war was a distraction from, or even a hindrance to, the effective prosecution of the war on Terrorism. ((A propos the latter, have you read Fred Hartmann’s The Conservation of Enemies: A Study in Enmity (1982)?] PK]

The Iraq War (2003- ) Back Matter


Keegan, John. The Iraq War. New York: A. A. Knopf, 2004.

Murray, Williamson, and Robert H. Scales. The Iraq War: A Military History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.

Iraq Body Count.

Iraq Coalition Casualties.

Further Reading

Cordesman, Anthony H. The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons. Washington: Center for International and Strategic Studies, 2004.

Hersh, Seymour H. Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Zucchino, David. Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2004.

Related Entries

Persian Gulf War; Rumsfeld, Donald; Television and War; War on Terrorism (2001- ); Weinberger-Powell Doctrine

Williamson Murray

Appendix C: Publishing Work in Progress?

I invite comment on any Issues Raised By the Online Publication of Work in Progress

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Blog Is Born: Cliopatria, Behold!

Laura Murphy has created a blog devoted to Classical Archaeology. She'll post "reviews, thoughts and comments on scholarship pertaining to ancient history, classical archaeology and geoarchaeology."

"I hope I have what it takes to move up the blogosphere ecosystem, or hierarchy," she adds. (Trust me, she does.) "For now, I'll aspire to be a part of slimy molluscs; I think that's a reasonable goal for a beginner making her first baby steps."

War Historian predicts she'll be well above the slimy mollusc status within a month. Post regularly and give us useful, interesting stuff to read, Laura. I know I'd love to know more about your subject.

Insult? No, Evolution! (But It's Just a Theory)

Woke up this a.m. to discover that TTLB calls War Historian a Slithering Reptile in the Blogosphere Ecosystem. Yeah, and your mother wears combat boots! No, wait, er, ah--thanks!

Wow. Just a day as a Crawly Amphibian. Nineteen unique in-bound links. Somehow I don't feel quite so angst-ridden.

Guess I'll slither onward.

Civil War Book Shelf Felt My Pain

Hey, what do you know: somebody was paying attention back when War Historian (in its previous incarnation) was an Insignificant Microbe.

Civil War Book Shelf commented upon The Anguish of Military History. (August 11, 2004). Go ahead: "Have some bittersweet historiography."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Lilian Friedberg Speaks Out

Lilian Friedberg, whose article on comparing the destruction of European Jewry and the genocide experienced by American Indians was the subject of American Holocaust, continues to be politically as well as historically engaged. A sampling of her work:

Worse than Watergate? Yep. Worse Yet: Worse than Hitler

The Death of Democracy in America: The Foundering Fathers and the White Roots of Peace

Note to Big Tent: You'll need one hell of a big tent to incorporate this. :-)

Silent E Responds to PNM Bashers; Kevin Drum Replies

This exchange appeared on Jan. 24 but this is the first I've seen of it.

Silent E. offers 10 reasons why the PNM bashers don't get it. Kevin Drum, who reviewed PNM in Washington Monthly, responds and challenges 2 1/2 (so to speak) of those reasons.

Tom Barnett is a Killer Possum!

Don't take my word for it.

According to TTLB, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog is a Marauding Marsupial.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Amphibious Landing

My grasp of HTML is still pretty crude (if you don't believe me, look under the hood of the archive page). Consequently I don't know where in my template I should place the string of code sent me by The Truth Laid Bear to advertise my status in the blogosphere ecosystem.

So I have to say it outright: Today I am, well, if not a man, then at least a Crawly Amphibian, with twelve unique inbound links. Whatever that means.

Current rank in the ecosystem: #6153. [Out of #18,992 blogs that have linked to TTLB and asked to be ranked. Dead last, by the way, is a blog entitled, with fine irony (or as a joke, since it's a nice looking site that has never posted even once) The God Machine.]

Next stop: Slithering Reptiles, the least of which currently have just one more unique link (i.e., 13) under their belts. Or wherever they keep them.

After that, Flappy Birds (at least 26 unique links), Adorable Little Rodents (at least 41), Marauding Marsupials (at least 72), Large Mammals (at least 137; Cliopatria, the highest being to have thus far blessed me with a link, is near the midpoint of this level: #420 as of this writing, with 241 unique links).

Then come Playful Primates (at least 522 unique links), Mortal Humans (973), and Higher Beings like Instapundit (3924) , Power Line, and Daily Kos (2307) , with the least of those, the Drudge Report, coming in at a mere 1,564 unique links.

I actually have a point in introducing this hierarchy. I think I've figured out a way to use the blogosphere to illustrate what I mean when I use the term postcolonial military history. But for today, it's enough that a crawly amphibian should leave the sea, place his stubbly legs on the beach, and get ready to--what?

Crawl, I guess.

Update: Jan. 29: From 90 to 124 avg. daily hits, but still just 12 links. On the bright side, I installed that piece of script. :-)

Cordesman on Iraq, Grand Strategy, and the Military Metanarrative

Found this while browsing through Chez Nadezhda's fresh produce, aptly billed as "news, analyses & conversations or an embarassment of niches." She has it listed as "Tony Cordesman on the problems of metanarratives in military history." I recognized it as my own entry of October 23.

With so many new readers who missed the original post and don't have time to browse through the War Historian archive, I figure it's worth calling to your attention.

The entry introduces and comments upon a lecture given on October 19 by Anthony Cordesman at the Kennedy School of Government. His title was "Iraq, Grand Strategy, and the Lessons of Military History." It could equally well have been called:

Tony Cordesman on the Military Metanarrative

The Deadly Triangle

"Triangularity of struggle" is a term coined by historian John Shy to describe the essential dynamic in wars for control of a population. Such wars are three-cornered. One belligerent force contends against the other in combat, but both contend for the allegiance of the population. You can attempt to win that allegiance through magnanimity--think Mao's Eight Points for Attention--or you can win it through intimidation and terror. You can even use a combination of the two. But the point is, who wins the victories in open battle matters less than who wins the victory for control of the people's allegiance.

Those kinds of war occur far more often than people think. Iraq is currently such a struggle. Vietnam in 1945-1975 was quite famously so. The phrase was "hearts and minds" back then, but it was the same idea. Reconstruction in the American South during 1868-1876 was such a struggle. And--very much to the point with regard to my undergrads tonight, urgently cramming for the midterm and IMing me with questions--so was the war for the American colonies in 1775-1783.

In a classic essay entitled "The Military Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War," Shy noted that the war for American independence was fought not just on the battlefields between the British and the Continental Army. It was fought in communities and countrysides. The second contest was amorphous. It could be lethal, and it was not infrequently cruel, but it did not depend on bloodshed to achieve its aim. It depended instead on social coercion, and in this contest the militia played the most crucial role.

It is probably true that complete repression could have worked--in theory. But America was far too large and far too distant for the British to deploy sufficient strength to accomplish this. The closest approach was the use of Loyalist militia to control areas won by regular British forces, so that regular forces could move on to other areas.

This attempt at area pacification failed. For one thing, Loyalists didn't follow the program--inaugurated harsh repression (similar to what they themselves had earlier experienced at the hands of the revolutionaries.) Such repression was insufficient to cow the revolutionaries. Indeed, more often than not it spurred them to greater resistance.

For another, the revolutionary combatants--the militia and irregular forces--ultimately prevailed in this vicious petite guerre.

"By 1780-81," Shy concludes, "earlier in some places, most Americans, however weary, unhappy, or apathetic toward the rebellion they might be, were fairly sure of one thing: the British government no longer could or would maintain its presence, and sooner or later the rebels would return. Under these circumstances, civilian attitudes could no longer be manipulated by British policies or actions."

I've no idea how things will work out in Iraq. I was deeply skeptical of the decision to invade, and it's hard for me to make a convincing case to myself that we are succeeding. Substitute "Iraqi people" for "most Americans," replace "British" with "American," and you have a not unreasonable prognosis for the outcome. Note the wording: not unreasonable. Didn't say it would happen. Am not predicting it. All I'm saying is that the deadly triangle is in full operation.

Update: After posting the above I visited Victor Davis Hanson's site and plugged "hearts and minds" into search engine. Sure enough, VDH recognizes the dynamic but has a more optimistic take. Actually, with VDH "optimistic" isn't the word. Too sunny in tone. How about a more Churchillian take?

Further (and gratuitous) update: Student ratings of VDH

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The World According to Jethro

From Jethro:

Hi all.

When Mark G. informed me of his invitation to Laura to post occasionally on this blog, I requested the same privilege. He resisted, but I punctuated my request with squeaking noises. When this failed to move him, I began making frequent (and needless) requests to go outside. Though he suspected my real agenda, what else could he do but let me out? This proved more effective. It took time, but eventually he agreed to let me compose an entry if I'd quit sticking my nose to the back door every five minutes.

Of course, he reserved the right not to post the entry unless I could relate it directly to military history, the core concern of War Historian.

Fine, I said. I'll post about my campaign of squeaking and gratuitous clamors to be let out.

What, he replied, does that have to do with military history?

"See that email you just got from a student regarding tomorrow's midterm in History 151?" I said.

He nodded.

"Read it aloud," I said.

Does the fact that the American had alot more riding on the war than the British help explain the victory? I mean, the Americans had their freedom, families, and home to fight for. All the British were fighting was the loss of property. Even though we havent gotten to this point in lecture,may I slide that in to my essay on American Character, should that question appear on the exam? Please let me know.
"I'd like to answer that email," I said. "That will be my post." Mark G. agreed.

So here we go:

First, it's a great question, though for the essay on the formation of the American character I would concentrate on such issues as the relative isolation from Europe and the physical environment (especially the central feature that in Europe land was scarce and labor plentiful, while in the North American colonies it was just the reverse). Also the abundance of resources compared to Europe.

As to the answer, as with so many of these questions, the answer--or at least, an answer--is in the main textbook. On page 165. And if I could find this, without benefit of opposable thumbs, so should you. No offense.

And it's a good answer:

How were the weak and disunited American states able to defeat Great Britain, the most powerful nation in the Atlantic world? Certainly, Dutch loans and French supplies and military forces were crucially important. More decisive, though was the American people's determination not to submit. Often the Americans were disorganized and uncooperative. Repeatedly it seemed that the war effort was about to collapse as continental troops drifted away, state militias refused to march, and supplies failed to materialize. Yet as the war progressed, the people's estrangement from England deepened and their commitment to the "glorious cause" increased. To subdue the colonies, England would have had to occupy the entire eastern third of the continent, and this it could not do.

I suggest you read the rest of the section, which nicely illustrates this introductory paragraph. In fact, if you think of the first sentence as an essay question and the rest of the section as an essay response, you have an excellent example of a how a good--indeed, a very good--midterm essay would look. It answers the question as asked, it makes an argument that is clearly expressed, and it uses historical facts appropriately to support that argument, all in about a thousand words. (This post already contains 600 words). And this is a college textbook, which means it's far more elaborate and polished than can be expected of an exam essay written under pressure of time. Five or six hundred words should be plenty--if they're the right words. To put it another way, if you know what you're talking about.

Why do I think the textbook answer makes sense? Look at how I came to write this post. Mark G. is bigger than me and stronger than me and nominally he controls the blog. But I wanted to post, and I wanted it more than he wanted to prevent me.

That's my secret. It's why dogs three times my size run away from me. It's why I shove Gypsy (Mark G's other dog) aside without a second thought. Whatever it is, whoever wants it, I want it more.

Is victory in war a function of who has more at stake? It can be, but who has more at stake isn't really the central factor. The real question is, Who wants it more?

War is basically a contest of wills. The winner tends to be the one that wants it more, because the one that wants it more will do anything--anything--to get it.

I'll stop for now, as I have urgent business with a sock that badly needs chewing. But I may post again. Mark G. may not want that, but guess who'll want it more?

A New Recruit

From Laura:

Hi, this is Laura, "reporting for duty."

Mark G. has invited me to join War Historian as an occasional contributor concerning ancient military history.

I think that will be fun. But first I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself.

I'm 22 years old and a senior at Ohio State University. Around my second year in college, I decided I wanted to be a history major--just your average undergraduate you might say, where drinking beer and playing Halo ranked above that research paper on the role of women in World War II.

Things changed during Winter Quarter 2003 when I took Mark Grimsley’s History of War class. For the first time I was engaged in history. I began taking academics and my own scholarship more seriously. Mark and I have have discussed many issues involving military history and we collaborated to organize two educational forums concerning the war with Iraq, the first a few weeks before the war began and the other in May of last year.

After finishing History of War, I went on to take numerous courses in ancient history, including War in the Ancient Mediterranean World taught by my academic advisor and mentor, Nathan Rosenstein (whose new book Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic is terrific).

My main interest lies in classical archaeology as I am fascinated by what scant remains tell us about the past, including Greek and Roman warfare. This past fall, I traveled to Greece to conduct my own archaeological research in the Eastern Corinthia. My senior honors thesis, “Data Collection and Methodological Consistency in Intensive Survey” will present the data and conclusions from my trip to Greece. This trip was possible because of Professor Timothy E. Gregory and his ongoing project in the Corinthia and the OSU Excavations at Isthmia. I also keep a personal blog on Xanga. There you can view many of my pictures from my trip to Greece.

More soon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The View From a "Pointless Little Country"

One of the best posts I've read of late came from Cliopatria blogger Timothy Burke, a professor of African history at Swarthmore College. (In addition to Cliopatria, Burke keeps a somewhat more personal blog as well.) Flying home from the recent annual meeting of the American Historical Association, he overheard an exchange between two passengers. Clearly they had also been at the meeting. Evidently they were members of some departmental search committee who had conducted preliminary screening interviews of promising job candidates. That's a common practice at the AHA.

One of them said, “Well, at least I won’t have to think about African history any more.” Sympathetic murmur from her colleague. “Reading all those letters and dossiers! All those pointless little countries!”

I had to pinch myself to avoid saying something. I sometimes think every Africanist begins their career in a midnight ritual where they burn Hugh Trevor-Roper’s infamous declaration, “There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness and darkness is not a subject of history,” into their memory. In some ways, the entire field of African history is imagined as a sustained answer to Trevor-Roper.
The rest of the post (and the nine comments it generated, most of them quite thoughtful) gets at one of the central problems with history as most of us have been taught to understand it. Abstractly we think of it as the story of humankind, but when we try to operationalize that, it turns out we really mean the story of the part of humankind that holds most of the political, social, cultural, and military power. We can be political or military historians and focus on the kings and generals. We can be social historians and focus on the middle class American consumer. It doesn't matter. Either way we're focusing on the wealthiest segment of the world's population.

They say there's three kinds of people: people who worry where their next meal is coming from, people who get enough to eat but nothing fancy; and people who worry because their diet is so rich it threatens their appearance if not their health. How did the world get divided that way? What keeps it thus divided? What's it like to be live one's entire life in poverty while others have so much? What's it like to have the suspicion--sometimes the dead certainty--that others have so much precisely because you have so little, and the game is rigged to keep it that way.

What's it like to grow up in one of those pointless little countries?

Writer Jamaica Kincaid provides an unforgettable portrayal of what it's like in A Small Place, a small gem of a book that is one of the best introductions to the mindset that undergirds much of the literature on postcolonialism. I read it last year while auditing a graduate readings course in colonialism, women, and sexuality. I discuss the book in two entries:

"Kiss me, Hardy, I'm a maritime criminal."

A small essay on A Small Place.

Check it out. Then check back here, post a comment, and tell me what you think.

Monday, January 24, 2005

How I Came to Do This: An Introduction

Since my "discovery" by a few blogs like Cliopatria--discovery, I guess, in the sense that the Europeans "discovered" the Indians--I've received an influx of new visitors. I presume that, like those Europeans, my visitors have a curiosity about the place. But I also presume that, unlike them, most of my visitors lack time to explore.

Certainly I myself have hit a number of blog sites in recent days and become intrigued, but also certain it would take me a while to figure out what it is I'm really reading. I did manage to determine that The Big Tent refers to Big Tent Republicanism--as in Republican party, not small-r republicanism--and that Rebunk plays on the suggestion that history starts as bunk which is first de-bunked and subsequently re-bunked. Much beyond that, I'm still working on it.

So to make things easier on my own visitors, from time to time I'll post an entry to help get you oriented. Mostly I'll do that by calling your attention to an old entry--in this case the first, which is longish but which will give you a good idea of how War Historian came to be. I'll also try to post occasional entries that boil down previous threads, not just for your sake but to clarify my own thinking as well.

Here's the first, from December 14, 2003: How I Came to Do This.

What is the relationship between the book at left and the people at right, photographed living in the city dump in the hills above La Ceiba, Honduras, July 2002?
Oh: PS: Until last month I ran my blog under a different name, on a different site, and without Blogger or any other such service. Just thought I'd mention it.

Civil Warriors

OK, the blogosphere can be downright weird.

Just last evening I started another blog. I was about to note its existence on this site, only to find that Cliopatria has beaten me to it. How the hell could that happen?

Anyway, Cliopatrian Ralph E. Luker says it better than I could:

Ohio State's Mark Grimsley finds that blogging is a new step in scholarship. Not only does he have a first rate military history blog, War Historian, but he's launched a new group venture, Civil Warriors, with some of his graduate students. His posts are fascinating material: a frank discussion about publications and the professional stuggle upwards; and how blogging on Counterfactuals and Contingency led to an article on "Second-Guessing Bobby Lee: A Counterfactual Assessment of Lee's Generalship During the Overland Campaign."
By the way, I just finished a second post, this one on the novel Cold Mountain. Thought I'd tell you before Cliopatria does.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Visit with Carole

I'm lucky to have lots of good colleagues. Smart, down-to-earth, varied in their interests, open to new ideas, available to reason and above all, willing to help. A few have perspectives I particularly value. Carole Fink, for instance.

Carole is everything you want in a professor. She's an accomplished teacher, a terrific graduate mentor and advisor, and a highly visible figure in the profession. The high visibility owes in part to her generous record of academic service. Mostly, though, it's because she's an exceptional scholar.

Her first book, The Genoa Conference: European Diplomacy, 1921-22 (1984) won the American Historical Association's top prize in European international history. Her second, Marc Bloch: A Life in History (1989) has been translated into five languages. Last year she came out with a third book, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938. In between she's published five edited volumes, a translation of Bloch's war memoirs, and numerous articles.

Military historians should especially read the second book. It is the standard biography of one of the twentieth century's most important historians (he helped found the Annales School)--as well as a citizen-soldier (in 1914-1915 and 1939-1940), military analyst (Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940), and resistance fighter (captured and executed by the Gestapo in June 1944).

The other day I dropped by Carole's office to talk about career stuff. I was in a quandary. On the one hand, I'm under contract to write a short book for Oxford University Press on the interconnections between the political and military campaigns of 1864. On the other, it's not a book that will gain me promotion to full professor.

In academe there are three ranks: Assistant Professor (not yet tenured), Associate Professor (tenured), and just plain Professor (you've arrived). To save confusion, the latter are more usually called full professors, or "fulls." The notional reward of promotion to full is a goose in salary. By"goose" I mean less than I already earn each year from consulting and royalties. The actual reward is more departmental, college, and university committee work. By "more" I mean tons of it. So I've never been on fire to become a full professor. On the other hand, I'm terrified of becoming what's known as a "stalled associate." That's an associate professor who stays in rank longer than about ten years. At that point people start to wonder if you'll ever produce the second big book; i.e., a major book that makes an original argument, mainly based on archival sources.

My second big book was originally called Race and Culture in American War-Making, 1832-1902. That seventy-year period offered four different case studies on the intersection between race and war:
whites v. Indians; whites v. Mexicans, whites v. African Americans, whites v. Filipinos. Of course, the title didn't sing. Later I hit upon The Wars of the White Republic. Better--but having a good title did not translate into having a good book. Or more to the point, any book.

The book was too big. Editors and grant committees liked the idea of it, but it involved not just four case studies but four massive sets of research. It also involved becoming conversant with a vast theoretical and historical literature on white racism. Basically it was not a book at all, but rather a lifetime project. It took me years to realize that, and a bit longer to face the implications, let go of the book, and find something else.

Still, I learned a lot about the subject area, and when I asked myself what chunk of the project most appealed to me, I decided it was the post-revolutionary period, when a racist order characterized primarily by "white privilege" metastasized into one characterized by hysterical, often lethal levels of racial contempt and hostility.

There were several ways to get at this metamorphasis, but the one that struck me as most workable was a study of the wars for control of the Old Northwest Territory. When those wars began in 1790 (Harmar's defeat), United States policy toward the American Indian was based on assimilation. ("Our blood will mingle together," Jefferson once promised a group of Native Americans.) By the time the final war ended in 1832 (the Black Hawk War), the U.S. had adopted a policy of removal and exclusion. Although it would take longer for scientific racism to stigmatize the Indians, in a political and sociocultural sense the shift to racism had already occurred.

I liked the project because it was manageable--the archives are mostly right here in the midwest--and because we actually need a good, solid military history of these wars anyway. This meant I was guaranteed a book even in the unlikely event my research led me to conclude that the wars had not been a significant influence on the shift from assimilation to removal. In other words, I was in less danger of producing a book that was thesis-driven.

I didn't yet have a cool title for the book. The working title was just The Wars for the Old Northwest, 1790-1832. But I did have a problem. Should I write the Oxford book first--which could mean enduring the dread label of stalled associate--or should I turn directly to the "big" book?

Carole and I hashed this out for over an hour. At first she thought I should start on The Wars for the Old Northwest, both for career reasons and because the topic appealed to her and she wanted to read it. But after hearing me lay out all the issues that had a bearing on the matter (e.g., possibly having to return the advance to OUP), we decided that I should first complete the 1864 book. To signal activity on the big book front, however, I should publish a couple of essays or articles related to that project.

That made sense. It also seemed do-able. I've already got a paper, given at last year's AHA, that's ready for expansion into an article. And the kernel of another article is in a previous blog entry. More on that soon.

PS - Perhaps I could solve my problem just by
ordering the OUP book from, where it's already listed as 1864: The Union: Ordeal and Redemption, and as being 224 pages in length. Where's the twilight zone when you need it?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Flogging the Blog

Although I've been blogging for more than a year, I seldom pay more than perfunctory attention to the culture of the blogosphere. Most of what I know is impressionistic; in fact, I doubt that I could find words to express the little that I do know. The blogosphere is evolving so rapidly that I find my way around more by intuition than system.

One thing seems clear. Shifting from my original "homemade" site to a more conventional one has substantially ramped up the number of hits I get, simply because War Historian is more easily discoverable by the numerous sites that search out and catalog blogs.

On January 14, for example, the number of visits to War Historian suddenly spiked from its normal tally of about 50 hits per day to 139. I guess that was about the time it showed up on Cliopatria's History Blog Roll. Until today I never took time to look systematically at the referring sites to this blog, faithfully recorded by Site Meter (see the very bottom of this page). When I did, I stumbled upon a few other blogs that have linked to mine. I'll return the favor by linking to theirs:

Irregular Analyses
Military Transformation
Armchair Generalist
Early Modern Notes
The Big Tent

Some just give the link, but a few include some editorial description. For instance, The Big Tent notes the appearance of "A new blog from Ohio State professor Mark Grimsley: War Historian. (Hat tip to Cliopatria.) Whether or not you agree with him on everything--and I disagree with him on a lot--Grimsley is a serious and important scholar. His first book, The Hard Hand of War, is simply brilliant. Follow the links from the blog to see his other work."

To this, one reader commented, "He has Robert E. Lee and Che on his website. He is the opposite of Big Tent in every way. Bizzarro Tom?"

As yet I have no idea what it can mean to be "the opposite of Big Tent in every way." But apparently the Big Tent has room for me, because the blogger who posted the description shot back:

For those with reading problems: "I disagree with him on a lot." Of course, I also suggested following the links at his site. Since that obviously did not happen, let me suggest everyone read and tell me if that disagrees with the Big Tent.

Site Meter got me curious to see whether anyone else out there had commented upon the blog. A Google search of "War Historian" AND "grimsley" led me to a few additional sites, most notably Chez Nadezhda, a blog intended as "a space to share conversations, books, photos and resources on foreign affairs, national security, nation-building, rule of law, political economy, history, religions and beliefs, communication and cultures."

This proved a major find, because although I've as yet had little time to read it, Tom Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map is obviously a major subject of discussion on it.

Like many blogs, Chez Nadezhda maintains an index of links to dozens of others, including War Historian--which, interestingly, is filed under "Minding the Gap," presumably a reference to PNM's "Non-Integrating Gap." But even more interesting was a comment regarding one of my December entries. Here's the permanent link to the comment. If that fails, try this. But for those too impatient to see for yourself, I give the basics below. It occurs in the middle of a long exchange about the growing influence of PNM:

There's a blog I've been meaning to point you to I think you'd find interesting. It's by Mark Grimsley, a militay historian from OSU. He has the same slight reluctance to deal with the breezy presentational aspect. But he clearly thinks Barnett's got ahold of the right agenda -- forcing the right fundamental questions to be asked.

He's reluctantly concluded that "engaging" with Barnett's evolving frame is in fact something important where he can make a contribution to his profession and in turn to the broader question of the US military's role in the world. His longish post in which he describes how he came to that decision is a fascinating episode in the "emotional journeys" of an intellectual, but also quite a case for why Barnett's agenda is important in Grimsley's eyes.

His ruminations of the purpose of military history in the broader scheme of things are also quite intriguing. Just hope he posts more frequently on what he's thinking and up to.


Interesting take on it, and one I hadn't yet considered. Thanks for the tip!
Followed by this from the initial discussant:

Ask your Prof about Grimsley. I'm sure they know one another -- by rep if not personally -- given their academic interests. Grimsley is big into the Civil War & RE Lee -- whose photo shares pride of place at the top of his blog along with Che. I'm not quite sure what that combo represents!
(Longtime readers can probably already guess the reason I use the juxtaposed photos of Lee and Che as the blog's logo. Newcomers and/or the metaphor-challenged should browse the entries archived under A Postcolonial Military History?, and consider the very different causes for which Che and Lee fought.)

Friday, January 21, 2005

American Bismarck

Drafted most of the Lincoln entry yesterday afternoon. Once I got going it almost tumbled out of me:

Lincoln, Abraham
Sixteenth U.S. president

Abraham Lincoln, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, is universally regarded as one of America’s greatest presidents and one of its most effective commanders-in-chief. But unlike Roosevelt, Lincoln is also one of the most mythic figures in American history, a fact which helps to explain his standing as its quintessential war president.

Born in rural Kentucky on February 12, 1809, Lincoln grew up in Indiana and reached manhood in Illinois, the state in which he made his career. Starting out as a small-time store clerk, he soon strove to become a public figure within his community and as part of that effort, served in the militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Lincoln saw no combat and afterward made light of his military experience, but the record suggests that it meant more to him that he would later admit. He enlisted for three successive 30-day terms of service—in his own words, “went the whole campaign”—and was elected captain of a militia company. This achievement gave him lifelong satisfaction. Even after the war’s conclusion, Lincoln volunteered for yet a fourth term of service. Plainly something in military life appealed to him.

A member of the Whig Party who served several terms in the Illinois legislature, by the 1850s Lincoln was also a prosperous lawyer of wide reputation. He was married to Mary Todd Lincoln; they raised a family of four sons, only one of whom survived to adulthood. Elected to Congress in 1846, he served a single term from 1847 to 1849. His time in Washington coincided with the Mexican War, a conflict whose wisdom and justice he openly questioned.

Like most Whigs he was careful to vote in favor of the military appropriations required to sustain the armies in the field. Nevertheless he forcefully criticized their commander-in-chief, Democratic president James K. Polk, averring in one an address before Congress that that Polk must feel “the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, crying from the ground against him.” The conflict itself he considered a shameless attempt to distract public opinion, comparing it to “that rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s eye that charms but to destroy.”

As the slavery controversy intensified in the 1850s, Lincoln joined the fledgling Republican Party, which was committed to excluding slavery from the western territories. In 1858 he ran for the U.S. Senate. He lost, but his debates with opponent Stephen A. Douglas gave him national stature and paved the way for a presidential run in 1860. Although he received less than 40 percent of the popular vote, he won a resounding victory in the electoral college and became president-elect. Viewing a Republican president as illegitimate and unacceptable, the state of South Carolina seceded in December 1860, and by the time Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, seven states in the Lower South had left the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

Lincoln supported peace talks with the seceded states but refused to permit discussion of terms that ran counter to his party’s opposition to slavery in the territories. He refused to evacuate the garrison of Fort Sumter, which controlled the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Unwilling to endure a "foreign" military installation at the door of one of its most important ports, the Confederate government ordered the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12. Lincoln promptly summoned 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion, a move which led four states in the Upper South to join the Confederacy as well.

Although many considered him a political lightweight with neither the experience nor judgment to deal with this civil war, Lincoln unhesitatingly—-and extralegally—-raised additional troops (Congress retroactively endorsed his action), and suspended habeas corpus in the border state of Maryland (the Supreme Court eventually condemned this measure, but only after the war). He overruled his general-in-chief, Winfield Scott, and insisted on an immediate offensive to end the rebellion quickly.

As Scott feared, the premature offensive resulted in defeat. Lincoln simply replaced Scott a few months later and quietly insisted that Scott’s successor, George B. McClellan, undertake another offensive as quickly as possible. In June 1862 McClellan came close to capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. When a sudden Confederate counterattack forced him to withdraw, McClellan, not wholly without reason, excoriated Lincoln for failing to support him properly. McClellan also divined, correctly, that Lincoln was edging toward making the destruction of slavery a Union war aim. He warned Lincoln, again correctly, that this would only stiffen Confederate resistance. Lincoln did it anyway.

Lincoln also pressed for the first conscription act in U.S. history, for the enlistment of African American troops on a massive scale, and for unprecedented fiscal and taxation measures to prosecute the war. Two years before Sherman marched to the sea, he issued a presidential directive urging Union forces to seize or destroy civilian property whenever it aided the military effort. He unhesitatingly interfered with field operations—including those of his last and greatest general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant.

All the while claiming that circumstances controlled him, not the reverse, and always maintaining the air of a gentle, long-suffering man, he was in fact one of the most remorseless chief executives in American history. Political opponents saw him as a tyrant who trampled on the Constitution. They exaggerated, but most historians agree that he firmly, fiercely expanded the meaning of that Constitution. He assuredly squeezed every drop of power from his Constitutional prerogatives as commander-in-chief.

Lincoln often defied the Radical Republicans within his own party, although this defiance usually took the form of moving a bit more slowly than they wished toward adoption of the policy measures they favored. But in 1864 he rejected their program for Reconstruction, fended off several attempts to dump him in favor of an alternative Republican presidential candidate, survived a frightening period in which the Union war effort seemed stalled, and handily won reelection against a formidable challenge from his former subordinate, George McClellan, the Democratic nominee. He cannily blocked a number of efforts to negotiate an end to the war, without really seeming to block them; heard news in April 1865 that Richmond had at last fallen; visited the city and toured the residence of his counterpart, Jefferson Davis; and returned to Washington--only to be assassinated on April 14, Good Friday. He died the following morning.

Lincoln was the only U.S. chief executive whose administration took place entirely during wartime—and also the only one to come under enemy fire. His Gettysburg Address is by far the greatest American oration commemorating the nation’s military dead. He was the first president to fully exploit the vast war powers of his office, and wartime presidents have looked to him ever since as a model and inspiration. Harry S Truman, for example, explicitly likened his travails with Douglas MacArthur to Lincoln’s strained relationship with McClellan. Lincoln’s eventual removal of McClellan became Truman’s model of how to resolve those travails.

The inscription on the Lincoln Memorial reads: “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The national myth maintains that Lincoln was the only man who could have saved the Union. In this instance, the national myth is not far wrong.


Donald, David. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Paludan, Philip S. The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Neely, Jr., Mark E. The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.

Further Reading

Boritt, Gabor S., ed. Lincoln, the War President. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Randall, J. G. Lincoln the President. 4 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1946-55.


Civil War, 1861-65; Davis, Jefferson; Grant, Ulysses S.; Lee, Robert E.; MacArthur, Douglas; Mexican War, 1846-48; Polk, James K; Reconstruction, 1862-77); Roosevelt, Franklin D.; Scott, Winfield, Sherman, William T.; Truman, Harry S

Notwithstanding the finished appearance, this is still a rough draft. After writing it I checked the word count and was surprised to find I was still well within the 1,500-word count. I'll have to decide whether I want to use the 175 words yet available to me to flesh out the existing issues a bit, or to add something new. I'll also have to decide if I want to stick with such an uncompromising portrayal of Lincoln as the American equivalent of Otto von Bismarck.

I'm far from the first historian to see him in these terms. In fact I'd say that most of his modern biographers portray him this way, though some do it more extensively than others. The average American may still imagine Old Abe as Carl Sandburg portrayed him in Lincoln: The Prairie Years (2 vols.; 1926) and Lincoln: The War Years (4 vols., 1939). I doubt if any present-day historian does--though a surprising number not only embrace him as a personal hero but actively bridle at any significant criticism of the man.

For me the work that best captures him is not a biography but a novel: Gore Vidal's Lincoln (1984). Having read some of Vidal's earlier works, I was slightly horrified when I learned he was writing a novel about the sixteenth president. Vidal's style is sleek and catty, his world view sly and cynical. But when I read the book I was amazed. Vidal is still sleek, catty, sly and cynical in his portrayal of nearly everyone around Lincoln, but he is utterly respectful of Lincoln himself.

Vidal never tries to get inside Lincoln's head. Instead the novel is told from the perspective of a number of people who were close to Lincoln; e.g., Secretary of State William Seward and personal secretary John Hay. They start by doubting Lincoln--he seems out of his depth, too plain, too soft, too unsophisticated--but by the middle of the novel have come to see that Lincoln is the most devious, most determined, and, in a sense, most dangerous man in America.

Here is the novel's final scene. It takes place in Paris on New Year's Day, 1867, nearly two years after Lincoln's assassination. John Hay is attending a reception given by Napoleon III and empress Eugenie for the diplomatic corps. He encounters an American expatriate writer, Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler (one of the few purely fictional characters in the book). They have a conversation about the dead president.

"Where," asked Mr. Schuyler, "would you place Mr. Lincoln amongst the presidents of our country?"

"Oh, I would place him first."

"Above Washington?" Mr. Schuyler looked startled.

"Yes," said Hay, who had thought a good deal about the Tycoon's place in history. "Mr. Lincoln had a far greater and more difficult task than Washington's. You see, the Southern states had every Constitutional right to go out of the Union. But Lincoln said, no. Lincoln said, this Union can never be broken. Now that was a terrible responsibility for one man to take. But he took it, knowing he would be obliged to fight the greatest war in human history, which he did, and which he won. So he not only put the Union back together again, but he made an entirely new country, and all of it in his own image."

"You astonish me," said Mr. Schuyler.

"Mr. Lincoln astonished us all."

"I rather think," said Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler to his daughter," that we should take a look at this new country, which plainly bears no resemblance to the one I left, in the quiet days of Martin Van Buren."

"Well, come soon," said Hay. "Because no one knows what may happen next?"

"I have been writing, lately, about the German first minister." Mr. Schuyler was thoughtful. "In fact, I met him at Biarritz last summer when he came to see the emperor. Curiously enough, he has now done the same thing to Germany that you tell us Mr. Lincoln did to our country. Bismarck has made a single, centralized nation out of all the other German states."

Hay nodded; he, too, had noted the resemblance. "Bismarck would also give the vote to people who have never had it before."

"I think," said Mr. Schuyler to the princess, "we have here a subject--Lincoln and Bismarck, and new centuries for old."

"It will be interesting to see how Herr Bismarck ends his career," said Hay, who was now more than ever convinced that Lincoln, in some mysterious fashion, had willed his own murder as a form of atonement for the great and terrible thing he had done by giving so bloody and absolute a rebirth to his nation.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

War, Society, and Old Abe

Several times a month I get asked to give a lecture, read a manuscript, or even write a book. When I was just starting as a new historian these invitations were flattering. They still are, but I've also learned to fight shy of them. You can spend your whole career accepting such invitations and at the end discover you've never gotten around to your own agenda.

Here's the best single piece of advice I've received in this business: "Learn to say 'no,' and say it often." I've actually gotten pretty good at saying it, but I still find that as much as I do say it, I need to say it more often. A case in point has been my involvement in a project to develop a reference work called the Encyclopedia of War and American Society.

The idea itself is a good one, but I agreed to join the project as an associate editor principally because I thought it would allow me to expand my network of contacts among military historians. I also thought the money would come in handy. As usual in these instances, I miscalculated. For one thing, the tendency in assigning entries is to turn not to strangers but to people you already know, because you can safely predict their quality and reliability. For another, the money in such projects almost never offsets the opportunity costs. The time investment is invariably much greater than you think it will be.

Even so, these projects are seldom devoid of pay-off. You learn new things, you do make a few new contacts, and in this case, you can get some interesting insights about the field of military history.

Let's take it as a given that most historians who agree to write an encyclopedia entry do it for a quick buck. It's basically hack work. Even if it isn't, it's seldom work that brings any professional recognition or advancement. This argues that, human nature being what it is, most historians will put as little thought into the entry as possible. "Sure, I know about X," they think. "I can write 1,500 words on X easy!"

Sometimes they are dead wrong about this. I have seen one or two entries that suck eggs. They had to be kicked back to the author with extreme prejudice. But mostly they're correct. They're smart people, fluent writers, conversant with the subject matter, and they write 1,500 words on X just fine.

What's interesting to me, however, is how much trouble they have in relating X to the theme of war and society in the United States. This is the single most common problem with the entries I've seen--and even the entries I write. For instance, an otherwise excellent entry on air force general Curtis LeMay completely overlooked the fact that LeMay supposedly inspired the character of wild-eyed, warmongering General "Buck" Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or that the phrase "bomb them into the Stone Age" is credited to him.

What this suggests to me is that military historians do not yet naturally think of their subject matter within the framework of war and society. I get entries that do a great job of situating X within strategic or operational history but a wretched or non-existent job of situating X within American history.

The funny thing is, doing this is the one part of the entry that isn't hack work, that provides some scope for reflection and creativity. It gets ignored or regarded as the part that's a pain in the ass, but it's really the most original part of the entry--and of course the part that justifies the reference work in the first place.

Take for example an entry I'm writing on Abraham Lincoln. No problem coming up with 1,500 words on his life and presidency. The real job is to ask what significance does his life and presidency have within the context of American war and society. Some of the entry has to deal explicitly with that, and the selection and weighting of facts has to be done with that in mind.

Plainly the bulk of Lincoln's significance is as the quintessential war president. You can bet George W. Bush consciously reflects on Lincoln--though I think he more closely resembles James K. Polk, who, like Bush, more or less manufactured a war. We know from his memoirs that Truman viewed his problems with MacArthur as a replay of Lincoln's stormy relationship with George McClellan.

It's also true that Lincoln more or less invented the modern idea of the president as commander-in-chief. Polk did some of it--he was an activist war president in a way that James Madison during the War of 1812 really wasn't. But Polk was crassly partisan and I doubt that many presidents, including Lincoln, looked to him as a model.

In another sense, Lincoln's handling of the war had far-reaching effects on American society. The most obvious instance is his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure, but there's also his decision to enlist African American soldiers, to suspend habeas corpus, to initiate the first draft in U.S. history, and so on.

Basically an entry on Lincoln would have to leave plenty of room to develop these issues and economize on other aspects of his biography. You probably couldn't do much play-by-play in terms of his conduct of the war or his relationships with specific generals beyond Grant and McClellan, though I imagine you'd have to make room for his use of political generals. You'd have to touch on Edwin M. Stanton, his main secretary of war--"the rock on whom the waves of this rebellion break," as Lincoln once remarked. But you may not have room to mention Simon Cameron, his first secretary of war, who served only a few months in office.

You also have to economize on Lincoln's pre-war career. One of the biggest pre-war items, given the thrust of the reference work, would be Lincoln's opposition to the Polk administration's hatching of the Mexican War. Another would be his only military experience: a few months' militia service in the Black Hawk War. Someone commented on the Bad Axe entry to ask if Lincoln was present at the battle/massacre. He wasn't, nor were most of the other 7,000 Illinois militia mustered into service. He was mustered out in the White River Valley of Wisconsin, many miles from the scene of the fighting. His only real experience of the war itself was an instance in which his unit came upon five white men who had been killed and scalped by Indians (probably Pottawatami, I should think, not members of Black Hawk's band).

The red light of the morning sun was streaming upon them as they lay heads toward us on the ground. And every man had a round, red spot on top of his head, about as big as a dollar where the redskins had taken his scalp.

What influence did the war have on Lincoln? In later life he poked fun at his term of service. "I had a good many bloody struggles with mosquitoes," he recalled in a speech he made while in Congress, "and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often hungry." But he also recalled his election to captain by the men in his company as one of the proudest of his life, and although he served only a few months, militiamen were generally mustered in for only thirty days' service, and Lincoln actually reenlisted three times, which fewer than six percent of the men in his county did.

Why did Lincoln serve? The biggest part was surely an expression of his desire to be a significant public figure within his community--he ran that year (unsuccessfully) for the state legislature; the election took place just four days after the battle of Bad Axe. Probably he also embraced the idea of Indian removal as a necessary requisite for Illinois' development as a state, and the incursion by Black Hawk's band threatened that process.

What did Lincoln get from his service? My guess is that his main lessons were in the realm of politics, of handling men. I doubt seriously that as president he was naive enough to suppose that the Black Hawk War had much to teach anyone about the Civil War--though it's interesting to note that during the campaign he met Lt. Robert Anderson, who twenty-nine years later would be the garrison commander at Fort Sumter. It's possible that Lincoln formed an impression of Anderson that gave him a significant snippet of information as he dealt with the Fort Sumter crisis during the winter of 1861.