Monday, November 13, 2017

An Ignored Warning

I was reading a discussion at Crooks and Liars, and came across a reference to a comment made by William Tecumseh Sherman in 1860, which I had never seen before.  It was so prescient and to the point that I could not help but share some of it with you:

"...where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The Northern people not only greatly outnumber the whites at the South, but they are a mechanical people with manufactures of every kind, while you are only agriculturists--a sparse population covering a large extent of territory, and in all history no nation of mere agriculturists ever made successful war against a nation of mechanics. ...

"The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth--right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all els eyou are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with.

"At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, and shut out from the markets of Europe by blockade as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. ... if your people would but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail."

The Civil War is often referred to as the first modern war, and like all wars that have followed, excluding insurgencies, in the end, despite all of the heroism, all of the struggle and dying, the winner is the side with the most stuff.  In both World Wars, for example, the tide turned the minute the surrounded Germans began to run out of oil, steel, rubber and other commodities.  It is striking to see this general, so remembered now for his blitzkrieg-like tactics, actually stating before the conflict even began, that it all came down to supplies to continue the fight.  

Southerners were so blinded, however, by their fury that they engaged in this futile act of violence anyway, killing 600,000 people for nothing, or worse, in order to uselessly try to hang on to an age old abomination, because it was profitable to the rich among them.

You could tell the same story about Germany in World War II; we know that the top German generals all knew the war was unwinnable before it even started, but none of them could find the courage to do the right thing, when it could have been prevented.

The irrational rage of the right- the damage it has caused is almost incalculable.

1 comment:

Magpie said...

I am familiar with that quote.

"the winner is the side with the most stuff" is usually the case where both sides fight in the same way, or what might be called an intraspecific conflict, and the two or more sides have broad equivalences of effectiveness. Not all conflicts are like that. Caveats include the political and social will to fight, and the North could have lost if this had failed for them.

A side also needs the avenue of surrender. The Germans needed Hitler dead to understand that final victory was not going to happen (they didn't even know about Eva Braun). And then it was like a spell was broken. Japan had no avenue either except the Emperor as a transcendent authority. I mention this because it is within the power of people to simply never surrender. I would never, and you would never, under any circumstance, surrender to someone like North Korea, or Nazi Germany. We'd literally rather be dead.

What if the Southern leadership had been executed as traitors and the Confederacy as a concept stomped on in the manner common to other civil wars? America has executed citizens for treason (or at least when the traitors are held to be leftist). None of this 'lost cause' crap. The English Parliament executed a king for treason after one of their civil wars. It might have saved America a lot of trouble.

Also, because you mention it... the German generals knew another truth a lot more damning... They KNEW, as an explicitly stated goal, what the 'special units' following the front Panzer divisions were going to do to the Slavic people in the east. They KNEW the goal was wholesale enslavement and extermination. But they claimed to be 'soldiers', like Lee did, just doing their duty, and that all the things their efforts made possible were not their accountability. And they got away with it and wrote memoirs after the war. And a quiet myth of a clean Wehrmacht was allowed to take shape, thanks to people like Liddell Hart.

Myths are terrible things. You can lose a peace with one of those.