Monday, June 10, 2002

McClellan, Grant, Sherman, Patton, Marshall, Ghengis Khan, et al.: While I have oft been accused by my devoted son-in-law of becoming too emotionally involved in a war that ended nearly 150 years ago, the mix and match comparisons of the fighting styles of Northern Generals in the War Between the States and those of Patton/Marshall in WWII seem misleading and inappropriate. While I grant that Marshall's (and perhaps McClellen's, as well) hesitant timidity contrasted with Patton's great skill and assertiveness offers important lessons and examples for the present conflict with Islamic extremists, the methods of Sherman do not. Let me explain. It is no secret that, well fortified by some good Kentucky rye and unburdened by any of McClellen's scruples, Grant got the results Lincoln wanted. However, debating whether Sherman, with his clever little flanking movements, was a more skilled tactician than Grant ignores the more sobering fact that all three proud "Sons of Ohio," Sherman, Grant, and Sheridan, could easily and properly have been tried and hanged as war criminals for their brutal and needless war against civilian populations in Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and elsewhere. The Nuremberg trials after WWII justifiably tried the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering as a war criminal, not for any role in Auschwitz, Dachau, or Bergen-Belsen, but for his deliberate bombing of civilian targets in Poland, Russia, England, and Scandinavia. If, God forbid, the Nazis had won WWII and thereby also won the privilege of writing the history, you can rest assured that there would be a pious chapter on the military necessity of demoralizing a stubbornly recalcitrant enemy by murdering and starving its civilian population. Pillage, rape and civilian deaths are always going to be a tragic part of the collateral damage of war, but they need not be the goal of the protagonists. Arguably, the greatest military genius of the pre-Christian, or possibly any, era was Alexander the Great of Macedonia. By his mid-thirties he had conquered an area comparable to what the Roman Legions would need centuries to acquire. In his day, however, Alexander was noted as much for his uncommon decency as his military genius. Brilliant and ruthless in war against opposing armies, Alexander was also willing to spare the civilian population of any city that did not openly fight him. As a stark contrast to Alexander, Ghengis Khan in the early 13th Century successfully spread terror and demoralizing despair across western and central Asia by systematically and deliberately slaughtering nearly all the civilian populations he encountered. Despite Ghengis's military successes, the centuries following him saw (at least in the West) fewer and fewer kings and generals willing to imitate his style of deliberately starving and slaughtering civilians. Today, except in Mongolian history, Ghengis's military brilliance fails to obscure the fact that he was a brutal murderous thug, barbaric even by the standards of his barbaric age. Over 50 years after the fact, I can admire the daring, brave, and brilliant Alexander-like military tactics of Patton's tank corps. In contrast to Patton, however, the passing of 150 years have not removed the stain of Lincoln's Ohio Generals' cowardly Ghengis-like legacy of pillage, rape and scorched earth warfare against women, children, and old men. It is eminently arguable, if not altogether certain, that Lincoln's political ambitions and desperation to win by any means the war against the South reintroduced to the world the "effectiveness" of systematic total war against civilians foreshadowing the even more brutal 20th Century genocides by Kemal Ataturk, Joe Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin.

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