Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Last Magnolias by the Euphrates

The comparisons between the Iraq campaign and the Civil War occasioned by Magnolia by the Euphrates provoked a storm of email whose quality shows what is possible when people write without rancor in a considered, thoughtful way. Unfortunately, it came in quantities that threatened to lock out my Hotmail account. For that reason I must ask readers not to send any more Civil War related email. The mailbox won't hold it.

MM wrote on May 18. His parallels encompass not simply the Civil War, but the War of Independence.

There is a parallel to Hood's invasion of Tennesse in Nathanial Greene's southern campaign in the Revolutionary War. After Guildford Courthouse Greene moved south, hoping to draw Cornwallis (his British counterpart) after him. Cornwallis, in turn, moved north into Virginia hoping to draw Greene after him. But, Cornwallis moved into enemy territory, whereas Greene campaigned in largely Patriot lands. Patriot thanks to a series of uprisings engineered by people Greene had left behind for just that purpose. Where Cornwallis was effectively without support, Greene had that and to spare.

Hood's situation in Tennesee more closely resembled Cornwallis' in Virginia than Sherman's situation in Georgia resembled Greene's in the Carolinas. However, support for the Conferderate cause was not universal even in South Carolina, and in some areas resistance was active. So while Sherman did not get the support Greene did, he still got more than either Hood or Cornwallis. Most importantly, neither Greene or Sherman faced anything like the resistance Hood and Cornwallis faced in their respective campaigns. Greene succeeded because he had local support. Sherman succeeded because the locals did not support his opponent, and he had the resources needed to achieve his goals. Neither Cornwallis or Hood could gain the suport they needed, nor did they have the resources needed to carry out operations without that support. Plus, both food themselves facing strong resistance. Strong enough to trap them in situations they could not escape.

In Iraq we have the same situation, on a smaller scale, multiplied many times, but essentially the same situation. The terrorists and insurgents are trying to make us react to their movements, and failing. In addition the rebels are losing support as the Iraqi people start to see the Coalition as an ally instead of an occupier. Iraqi and Coalition forces have the inititive, and there is no sign they will be losing it anytime soon. Why? Because we have the resources, plus the local support needed to maintain the initiative in the face of enemy actions. And those resources and the accompanying support are growing on a daily basis.

On May 17, reader LS reflected on the guerilla war that never followed the war between North and South.

I agree with Michael McCanles' reply on the strategy by Grant and Sherman. Indeed, I have argued that Lee was a fool for invading the North, ever: these were political, not military invasions. Had the South had the brilliant leadership its always credited with having, the Confederacy would have ceded much of Virginia and Texas, sucked in its defensive perimeter, and tightened its supply lines rather than expand them. The reason Lee couldn't, of course, was that Jeff Davis refused to give up one inch of Confederate territory, even if it meant winning the war. Thus, Lee had no chance to effect a political solution in the North by bleeding northern armies. Nor did he have the "high ground" that inevitably would have come when the South never invaded the North, but the North constantly invaded the South. Whether that could have translated into British. or French help is dubious, but possible. More likely, it would have extended the war and, without southern invasions, led to even more carping and complaining in the North.

For those who think that political terrorism and car bombings at the entrance to the Green Zone are a new thing, reader MM had some historical observations on May 17.

The period between 1865 and 1876, generally called 'reconstruction', has many parallels with our current 'rebuilding' effort in Iraq

1. The northern army could only effect policies which were supported by a 'media informed' northern electorate. This electorate was fundamentally convinced the south should follow northern election practices. All efforts in the South were gauged in terms of media reports on elections and resulting political harmony. 2. Southern elections increasingly featured the effective use of murder and torture to win elections. The key to effective use of this tactic was keeping the violence out of the northern media. The media policies that emerged were so effective that academic literature on the period still uses the pejorative terms popularized by Southern terrorists (such as the Ku Klux Klan): CarpetBagger: Any white Republican born in the north. Scalowag: Any white Republican born in the south. . 3. Village level violence often included the public torture of victims. 4. Defeated Southern general officers rose to political prestige by mastering (or inventing) election terror techniques. In 1876, General Wade Hampton's revised command staff blended terror and newspaper propaganda to take the South Carolina governorship from a Unionist incumbent. The incumbent had been an officer of Colored Troops in 1865. 5. Southern allies of the invading federal army (colored troops) took leading rolls in occupation police duties, but found themselves increasingly isolated as the occupation continued. Individuals exhibiting leadership or the possibility of leadership were systematically murdered. 6. Unlike the 'media' guided electorate of the north, the south was guided by very pragmatic issues, primarily property rights. At other times in history, members of the defeated army would loose all their property. Victor and allies would divide up the spoil. Thus, the primary focus of defeated Southern soldiers and its officer class was protection of pre-war property rights, including chattel slavery. In general, the southern officer corp was entirely successful in this endeavor, skillfully using the general fear of federal property redistribution to unify a stable electoral majority. Any 'white' voting against the former Confederate political leadership could be branded as 'federal thief', threatening to 'spoil' the south. Yeoman farmers, a group one might expect to enjoy the breakup of large plantations, were neutralized by fears that their property would be 'redistributed' in some '40 acres and a mule' federal program.

Based on this analogy, one can draw the following conclusions

1. Voter intimidation is an inescapable part of post war elections. No occupying army can keep neighborhood gangs from murdering selected neighbors. 2. Threats to local property rights motivate neighborhood gangs. 3. Leaders of the neighborhood gangs are the only agents available for political accomodation. 4. 'Peace' is proclaimed when the 'media' guided electorate accepts a local leadership. The local leadership must master the art of feeding that media interests.

A more complete process than post Civil War American South is the 'modernization' of Highland Scot culture after 1680. Highlanders provide a good example of 'terrorist' for the 18th century. The term 'black mail' comes directly from their protection rackets. The English solution was to convert 'clan leaders' into English aristocrats. This was done by giving them property rights over 'clan' territory'. This effectively made them landlords who would act in predictably civilized manners. They started maximizing rents and production. This in turn forced idle men (former military resources) and their families off the land. Additionally, the new aristocrats found it useful to hang out in London. The political alliances were critical to maintenance of their new wealth. Finally, they started sending their kids to English schools. The tombstone for Highland ethos was constructed by Sir Walter Scott.

With the Highlander modernization program in mind, one can suggest the following principles 1. Focus on tribal leaders and their children. 2. Make tribal leaders the winners of the 'property rights' game currently in play. 3. Adjudicate tribal leader disputes in Washington, expecting their presence at hearings. 4. Mercilessly hound anachronistic ethics.

KG has additional observations on the Civil War that never was.

I've enjoyed the civil war posts.  The notion that civil war "should have" devolved into a full-on guerrilla war after March 1865 but miraculously did not has received some play lately.  In the popular (non-academic) historian Jay Winik recent book "April 1865" he made a big deal out of Lee's refusal to flee to hills and continue the fight with his remaining forces.  "Go home" Lee told his men--Joe Johnston followed Lee's lead and threw in the towel in North Carolina a few weeks later. Makes for interesting "what if" games.  Add Lincoln's assasination into the mix, and things get interesting.  Joe Johnston surrended to Sherman after Lincoln's death.   A fiestier Lee and less gracious Grant at Appomattox, then Lincoln's assassination, and you have the necessary ingredients for a drawn out civil war.  It's unlikely that it would have changed the eventual outcome, but it would have had far-reaching effects, none of them good. How's this related to Iraq?  I don't know.  Perhaps the extreme losses of extended total war left Lee ready to capitulate while our Iraqi foe has not (yet) experienced this. Oh yeah, I'm not a civil war historian so I can't tell you where Winik came up with his thesis.  It's probably an old idea.

David Scribner at Target Blank thinks comparisons between Iraq and the Civil War are inappropriate because among other things, the South was never a repressive tyranny. His argument is elegant and impassioned, but too long to reproduce here. Read the whole thing.

Finally reader MS objected early on to the characterization of the South as having the monopoly of general officer talent. He said on May 14:

I know you didn't touch on it but I think Grant is the most under rated general of that war. He understood hold them by the nose and kick them in the rear. He was the holder. Sherman was the kicker. He was the only Union General to ever pin Lee. He never let lost battles keep him from advancing. And he was in charge of the whole show while being in practical command of the Eastern Armies confronting Lee. Every thing Sherman did was coordinated and agreed to by Grant. B.H.L. Hart writes him off as a pounder, sound though limited tactically, and poor in strategy. I disagree.

I have omitted other letters, including some which argue that comparisons between the Indian Wars and Iraq are more exact -- only from lack of space -- and not for want of merit. Mark Steyn once countered Niall Ferguson's assertion that Americans were so ignorant that not a single US general could possibly know the history of the 1920 Shi'ite uprising against the British by betting ten thousand dollars that he could find a sergeant that did. Steyn named his sergeant. Anyone who has read mail from Belmont Club readers would know he could have named many more.