Monday, June 10, 2002

MCCLELLAN, GRANT, ET AL. II: Alexander was "noted as much for his uncommon decency"? News to me; I thought he led a band of cutthroats who were motivated by loot and women and inflicted terrible cruelties against their conquered foes. Anyway, Sherman as a war criminal? Sorry, that dawg won't hunt. Nineteenth century armies depended on local foodstuffs to live and horses and railroads to move; the Southern economy depended on slavery and the rebel war effort was dedicated to preserving the same. Sherman burned the crops, seized the horses, "bow-tied" the railroads, and freed slaves. That's fair play. Members of Georgia's fairer sex screamed loudly about rapin' and pillagin' Yankees, but they screamed louder at their husbands and sons for being too cowardly to fight Sherman's army, forcing them to bear the brunt of his assault. Besides, while some of Sherman's soldiers raped and killed some civilians, as some undisciplined soldiers do in every war, claims that his Army of the West engaged in rape and civilian murder as a battle tactic are based on hyperventilating Southern newspaper editorials, not fact. The Confederacy was a democracy; its populace voted in favor of rebellion and supported war against the duly established government of the United States; its oldfolk and womenfolk screamed for war and sent off boys and young men to die by the thousands -- yet most Southerners, especially Southerners of the aristocratic planter class, had never tasted the war they demanded. Sherman made them taste it, and they didn't like it very much. Sherman's March to the Sea and his march through the Carolinas shortened the war by teaching the civilian population that the rebellion had failed and that the rebel armies could not protect them. Seems to me burnin' crops, plantation houses, and railroads was a sight more moral than grindin' up several thousand more Southern boys. I'm won't get into total war doctrine, and its justifications and flaws, because I gotta earn a living. But let me take three pot-shots: First, targeting civilian infrastructure when it supports the enemy's war effort makes sense; that's what Sherman did in Georgia and the Allies did in German and Japan. Second, international law recognizes the principle of retaliation: a breach of law can justify a retaliatory act that would otherwise violate the law. Since it was illegal for the Germans to blitz London, that breach arguably justified the Allies' blitzing German cities. If Iraq or Iran financed a terrorist nuclear attack on an American city, that illegal act would arguably justify nuclear retaliation against an Iraqi or Iranian city. Smarter people than I have and will debate whether some laws of war trump the right of retaliation, and in many cases, morality should restrain the retaliating state, but state practice will decide the question, if it hasn't already. Third, as my last two points indicate, warfare between industrialized states and against agressor states that lack any qualms about killing civilians raises moral and legal questions that warfare between early-nineteenth century armies clashing in set piece battles did not, and which cannot be answered by simple citations to Ghengis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, et al. Take that! (Exit, chased by Southern Civil War reenactor.)

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