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If there is anything in my mind that has been particularly pronounced about American historical interests it has been an overriding interest in the military aspects of history. This can be viewed in the curriculum of American schools, where the conquests of the Greco-Romman empires and European/American wars are given a lion's share of attention. In the "history channel" where before the channel's devolving into a series of reality shows and alien/biblical nonsense was virtually monopolized by commentary and analysis of the civil war and world war II. It can even be seen on this forum where many of the posts seem to focus on military history, tactics, and culture.
I think it is very important for America (and given its power, the rest of the world as well) to determine if (and if so, why) Americans have become so focused on the military aspects of history. Are there examples of other empires (such as England, the Netherlands, Spain, etc.) having similar cultural fixations on the military? Or is this a unique aspect of American culture? If this is a trend, what in American history has lead to the development of our military veneration?
While I believe this question may stray from the forum's Q&A format somewhat, I do believe that it neither deviates too strongly from said format or is phrased in such a way that it is impossible to provide analysis of trends which can be backed up by solid research.
I think this is not specific to the U.S. at all. (Although I freely admit that, from what I know American education, it would certainly benefit from being less concerned with only the U.S., and a bit more with the rest of the world.)
Politics had always been a game of power, and, historically, the only, or at least the most successful, way to gain power was war. So nations have been obsessed with either their victories over what they considered barbarians or mean adversaries, or with their oppression by those who thought thus about them. As a result, what got written down on stones, scrolls, books, and on Wikipedia is lots of victories and defeats in wars. (The rest are mostly enumerations of economics (tributes and trades) and religious texts.)
Plus, history was mostly written down on behalf of those in power - which usually were the rulers of the victorious parties. This made sure written history was, to a large extent, iterations of successful military operations.
Nowadays, we know that there is more to history than wars (what with ecological developments, economics and politics correlating with natural disasters and other aspects), but, of course, history is an inherently conservative subject, and it takes lots of time to change the curriculum to encompass those more modern aspects.
It's part of the Greco-Roman tradition and culture that has been around roughly 5000 years. I recommend Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture for a full review of this tradition.
You can find its start with various Greek philosophers and playwrights who used war and conflict as the basis for their stories. Later authors, from Plutarch to St. Augustine to Shakespeare, reflected this aspect of Western culture in their writings and influenced the popular culture of their times as much or more as the History Channel does us today.
Whithout any doubt, the history part of the contemporary Russian culture is absolutely military. About 95% of Russian alternative history novels are about how this or that war could be replayed. Is it due to Russian agressivity? It seems so… But… the utterly unmilitary culture of the contemporary Czech republic is very much interested in ancient wars, too.
I think, it is the specific of the understanding of history. Goodies beat baddies - it is easy to understand. And understanding of economics, group psychology, pedagogics development, morals changing, is really hard. And there are not too many intelligent people in the World.
As long as history is mostly concerned with rulers, and military action is the chief determinant of who rules what areas, then wars will play a big part in it.
Perhaps you live somewhere where history isn't so focused on rulers? I know there's been a movement lately to try to focus history instruction more on the common people.
America is a country that was born in Revolution and came of age in Civil War. Like Rome, it has been accustomed to fighting and winning wars. For this reason, as much as any other, military history, including Greco-Roman history, has a greater place in American history than in other countries who have know longer periods of peace. (The longest stretch of peace in American history was the 33 years between the Civil War and Spanish American war; after that, the thirty-one years between the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War.)
I am not necessarily sure that we Americans are "more obsessed with the military aspect of History". From my own personal educational experiences, the historical education I received over the years-(from the secondary, to the graduate), certainly spent a good deal of time examining wars, battles and Generals. However, there was a sizable percentage of time dedicated to other areas of history that were not exclusively or primarily rooted in the origins of warfare.
My History classes, over the years, spent plenty of time examining the landmark contributions of figures, such as Socrates, Aristotle, Archimedes, Cicero, Virgil, Galileo, Shakespeare, Locke, The Founding Fathers, Hegel, Twain, Edison, Einstein, Freud and many, many, many other Thinkers, Writers, Explorers, Statesmen, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Diplomats, Inventors, Philosophers and Scientists. The Military aspect to my historical orientation, education and graduate training, was, in retrospect, parenthetical, when related to other areas of History. This is not to say that wars, battles and Generals were not studied in detail-(they certainly were), but it is to say that the Origin of warfare was not the central focus of my orientation and education.
I am sure different people have diverse educational experiences and observations regarding this topic, though I am not so sure that an empirically convincing and persuasive case can be made for such a topic. The question is so wide ranging and far reaching, that it would require, as well as necessitate, lengthy examinations and studies of American attitudes towards history-(in particular, the so-called military mindset or orientation that Americans are alleged to have regarding the study of history).
If I was to answer this question, "at face value", I don't believe that most Americans "are more obsessed with the military aspect of history". I think that the American historical educational system, while far from perfect, has and does provide the majority of its citizens with plenty of resources-(textual, written, artistic, architectural, archaeological, technological, mass media, as well as Museum based) for accessing and learning about varieties of History, as well as multidisciplinary approaches towards historical understanding.
With all of this said, the military aspect of History, is, for the Americans, a sizable, but partial interpretation of the historical experience.
Why Is History Important And How Can It Benefit Your Future?
History is the knowledge of and study of the past. It is the story of the past and a form of collective memory. History is the story of who we are, where we come from, and can potentially reveal where we are headed.
Whoa: Americans Have Bought More Guns In the Past Two Months Than Our Military Has On Hand
May was another solid month in gun sales, with over two millionbackground checks being run according to the FBI. Yet, Stephen Gutowski of The Washington Free Beacon also touched upon the Small Arms Survey, which showed that Americans own 393 million of the one billion-plus firearms in worldwide circulation. So, while we&rsquore not the majority owner of all guns worldwide, Gutowski broke down some interesting aspects of this report. First, that in the last two months alone, Americans have bought more guns that our entirely military has on hand, and that Americans bought more guns in 2017 than every police agency in the world did combined:
. American civilians own nearly 100 times as many firearms as the U.S. military and nearly 400 times as many as law enforcement.
Federal Bureau of Investigation background check records suggest that civilians bought more than 2 million guns in May alone, which means civilians purchase more than double the number of firearms owned by police departments. The number of gun-related civilian background checks in May and April, at over 4.7 million, is greater than the number of firearms currently owned by the American military.
The FBI reported processing more than 25.2 million gun-related civilian background checks in 2017, which is more than the 22.7 million guns the Small Arms Survey estimates are currently held by every law enforcement agency in the world combined. Between 2012 and 2017, the FBI reported conducting more than 135 million civilian gun checks&mdashmore than the 133 million guns the Small Arms Survey estimates are in all the world's military stockpiles.
The Small Arms Survey estimated there are about 1 billion firearms currently in circulation throughout the world. By its estimate, about 85 percent are owned by civilians and American civilians own nearly 40 percent of all the guns in the world. Researchers said worldwide firearms ownership was up since the last time they studied the issue about a decade ago.
He elaborated more on social media:
This, of course, makes is by far the #1 in civilian gun ownership in the world with the next closest being India at about 70 million. There are more civilian-owned guns in the US than their are people Most people, I think, understand that but don't really grasp what it means.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
Every law enforcement agency in America combined have about 1 million firearms in their inventory. That means American civilians have about 400 TIMES as many firearms as American police.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
In May alone, American civilians bought somewhere around 2 million firearms. That's twice as many firearms as every police department in America combined IN A SINGLE MONTH.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
Similarly, the American military is estimated to hold about 4.5 million firearms. That means American civilians have 100 TIMES as many firearms as every branch of the American military COMBINED.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
If you combine May and April's gun-related background check numbers you get 4.7 million. That means the American public bought more guns IN JUST THE LAST TWO MONTHS than the entire American military has on hand.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
Furthermore, the Small Arms Survey estimates all the world's law enforcement agencies combined hold about 22.7 million guns. In 2017 alone, the FBI processed 25.2 million gun checks. The American public bought more guns in 2017 than every police agency in the world combined.
&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
Between 2012 and 2017, the FBI did more than 135 million civilian gun checks. That's more than the estimated 133 million guns held by ALL THE WORLD'S MILITARIES COMBINED.&mdash Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) June 21, 2018
How Did the Cold War Affect America?
The Cold War affected America both while it lasted and after it ended. It changed the world's political climate and brought it to the brink of nuclear war on at least one occasion.
During the Cold War As long as it lasted, the Cold War kept American life off balance to one degree or another. Incidents like the Cuban Missile Crisis had Americans terrified of imminent nuclear war. Fallout shelters and bomb drills were commonplace. The United States became involved in unpopular military conflicts in Korea and Vietnam in the name of stopping the spread of communism. The red scare and McCarthyism changed the face of politics in America.
After the Cold War When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, many Americans did not realize the world's geopolitical landscape was shifting. The U.S. no longer fears the Soviet Union in the same way but the enemy has become less defined. Small countries have obtained nuclear weapons or the capacity to make them, and these often radical countries are more of a threat than the Soviet Union had been. Americans have been affected by global terrorism, even within the nation's boundaries.
National Defense Education Act When the Russians sent the first satellite into space, America responded by passing the National Defense Education Act. This Act funded higher education and low-cost student loans. It led to the rise in students attending college by millions of students.
Improved Defense Technologies The Cold War led to the development of sophisticated submarines in the U.S. and the rest of the world, including ones with ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines. These submarines meant even more advanced warfare tactics that took place above and underwater. Also, the Cold War also saw its share of improved military tactics and strategy, including the offset strategy, which brought strikes, stealth and intelligence utilization to a new level.
Impact on Popular Culture The tense atmosphere of the country due to the Cold War had many effects on everyday popular culture. This included movies, comics and books. The paranoia that was spread during this time was re-introduced during 9/11 attacks. Also, the media bombarded the public with specific imagery and tone, which is today criticized for being misconstrued and inaccurate. There was a rise in horror and science fiction movies, which echoed the feeling of anxiety and unease. Most of the messaging was about good versus evil, promoting conformity above all else.
Rise of the Counterculture Throughout the Cold War and soon after its end, a counterculture was emerging. These included the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley as well as other national-level organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society. Throughout the entry of the U.S. in Vietnam and beyond, these organizations forged ahead in counterculture and protests. They were joined by civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The anti-war sentiments grew, as anti-war anthems grew in popularity. Musicians like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez became well known. Through the years, the opposition to the war became so overwhelming that it began affecting governmental decisions. The Cold War is credited as being one of the first catalysts of this type of peaceful counterculture movement.
Why Study War?
T ry explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet? Doing interviews about the recent hit movie 300, I encountered similar bewilderment from listeners and hosts. Not only did most of them not know who the 300 were or what Thermopylae was they seemed clueless about the Persian Wars altogether.
It’s no surprise that civilian Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters. Even when I was a graduate student, 30-some years ago, military history—understood broadly as the investigation of why one side wins and another loses a war, and encompassing reflections on magisterial or foolish generalship, technological stagnation or breakthrough, and the roles of discipline, bravery, national will, and culture in determining a conflict’s outcome and its consequences—had already become unfashionable on campus. Today, universities are even less receptive to the subject.
This state of affairs is profoundly troubling, for democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever.
I came to the study of warfare in an odd way, at the age of 24. Without ever taking a class in military history, I naively began writing about war for a Stanford classics dissertation that explored the effects of agricultural devastation in ancient Greece, especially the Spartan ravaging of the Athenian countryside during the Peloponnesian War. The topic fascinated me. Was the strategy effective? Why assume that ancient armies with primitive tools could easily burn or cut trees, vines, and grain on thousands of acres of enemy farms, when on my family farm in Selma, California, it took me almost an hour to fell a mature fruit tree with a sharp modern ax? Yet even if the invaders couldn’t starve civilian populations, was the destruction still harmful psychologically? Did it goad proud agrarians to come out and fight? And what did the practice tell us about the values of the Greeks—and of the generals who persisted in an operation that seemingly brought no tangible results?
I posed these questions to my prospective thesis advisor, adding all sorts of further justifications. The topic was central to understanding the Peloponnesian War, I noted. The research would be interdisciplinary—a big plus in the modern university—drawing not just on ancient military histories but also on archaeology, classical drama, epigraphy, and poetry. I could bring a personal dimension to the research, too, having grown up around veterans of both world wars who talked constantly about battle. And from my experience on the farm, I wanted to add practical details about growing trees and vines in a Mediterranean climate.
Yet my advisor was skeptical. Agrarian wars, indeed wars of any kind, weren’t popular in classics Ph.D. programs, even though farming and fighting were the ancient Greeks’ two most common pursuits, the sources of anecdote, allusion, and metaphor in almost every Greek philosophical, historical, and literary text. Few classicists seemed to care any more that most notable Greek writers, thinkers, and statesmen—from Aeschylus to Pericles to Xenophon—had served in the phalanx or on a trireme at sea. Dozens of nineteenth-century dissertations and monographs on ancient warfare—on the organization of the Spartan army, the birth of Greek tactics, the strategic thinking of Greek generals, and much more—went largely unread. Nor was the discipline of military history, once central to a liberal education, in vogue on campuses in the seventies. It was as if the university had forgotten that history itself had begun with Herodotus and Thucydides as the story of armed conflicts.
W hat lay behind this academic lack of interest? The most obvious explanation: this was the immediate post-Vietnam era. The public perception in the Carter years was that America had lost a war that for moral and practical reasons it should never have fought—a catastrophe, for many in the universities, that it must never repeat. The necessary corrective wasn’t to learn how such wars started, went forward, and were lost. Better to ignore anything that had to do with such odious business in the first place.
The nuclear pessimism of the cold war, which followed the horror of two world wars, also dampened academic interest. The postwar obscenity of Mutually Assured Destruction had lent an apocalyptic veneer to contemporary war: as President Kennedy warned, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” Conflict had become something so destructive, in this view, that it no longer had any relation to the battles of the past. It seemed absurd to worry about a new tank or a novel doctrine of counterinsurgency when the press of a button, unleashing nuclear Armageddon, would render all military thinking superfluous.
Further, the sixties had ushered in a utopian view of society antithetical to serious thinking about war. Government, the military, business, religion, and the family had conspired, the new Rousseauians believed, to warp the naturally peace-loving individual. Conformity and coercion smothered our innately pacifist selves. To assert that wars broke out because bad men, in fear or in pride, sought material advantage or status, or because good men had done too little to stop them, was now seen as antithetical to an enlightened understanding of human nature. “What difference does it make,” in the words of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”
The academic neglect of war is even more acute today. Military history as a discipline has atrophied, with very few professorships, journal articles, or degree programs. In 2004, Edward Coffman, a retired military history professor who taught at the University of Wisconsin, reviewed the faculties of the top 25 history departments, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. He found that of over 1,000 professors, only 21 identified war as a specialty. When war does show up on university syllabi, it’s often about the race, class, and gender of combatants and wartime civilians. So a class on the Civil War will focus on the Underground Railroad and Reconstruction, not on Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. One on World War II might emphasize Japanese internment, Rosie the Riveter, and the horror of Hiroshima, not Guadalcanal and Midway. A survey of the Vietnam War will devote lots of time to the inequities of the draft, media coverage, and the antiwar movement at home, and scant the air and artillery barrages at Khe Sanh.
Those who want to study war in the traditional way face intense academic suspicion, as Margaret Atwood’s poem “The Loneliness of the Military Historian” suggests:
Confess: it’s my profession that alarms you.
This is why few people ask me to dinner,
though Lord knows I don’t go out of my way to be scary.
Historians of war must derive perverse pleasure, their critics suspect, from reading about carnage and suffering. Why not figure out instead how to outlaw war forever, as if it were not a tragic, nearly inevitable aspect of human existence? Hence the recent surge of “peace studies” (see “The Peace Racket”).
T he university’s aversion to the study of war certainly doesn’t reflect public lack of interest in the subject. Students love old-fashioned war classes on those rare occasions when they’re offered, usually as courses that professors sneak in when the choice of what to teach is left up to them. I taught a number of such classes at California State University, Stanford, and elsewhere. They’d invariably wind up overenrolled, with hordes of students lingering after office hours to offer opinions on the battles of Marathon and Lepanto.
Popular culture, too, displays extraordinary enthusiasm for all things military. There’s a new Military History Channel, and Hollywood churns out a steady supply of blockbuster war movies, from Saving Private Ryan to 300. The post–Ken Burns explosion of interest in the Civil War continues. Historical reenactment societies stage history’s great battles, from the Roman legions’ to the Wehrmacht’s. Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores boast well-stocked military history sections, with scores of new titles every month. A plethora of websites obsess over strategy and tactics. Hit video games grow ever more realistic in their reconstructions of battles.
The public may feel drawn to military history because it wants to learn about honor and sacrifice, or because of interest in technology—the muzzle velocity of a Tiger Tank’s 88mm cannon, for instance—or because of a pathological need to experience violence, if only vicariously. The importance—and challenge—of the academic study of war is to elevate that popular enthusiasm into a more capacious and serious understanding, one that seeks answers to such questions as: Why do wars break out? How do they end? Why do the winners win and the losers lose? How best to avoid wars or contain their worst effects?
A wartime public illiterate about the conflicts of the past can easily find itself paralyzed in the acrimony of the present. Without standards of historical comparison, it will prove ill equipped to make informed judgments. Neither our politicians nor most of our citizens seem to recall the incompetence and terrible decisions that, in December 1777, December 1941, and November 1950, led to massive American casualties and, for a time, public despair. So it’s no surprise that today so many seem to think that the violence in Iraq is unprecedented in our history. Roughly 3,000 combat dead in Iraq in some four years of fighting is, of course, a terrible thing. And it has provoked national outrage to the point of considering withdrawal and defeat, as we still bicker over up-armored Humvees and proper troop levels. But a previous generation considered Okinawa a stunning American victory, and prepared to follow it with an invasion of the Japanese mainland itself—despite losing, in a little over two months, four times as many Americans as we have lost in Iraq, casualties of faulty intelligence, poor generalship, and suicidal head-on assaults against fortified positions.
It’s not that military history offers cookie-cutter comparisons with the past. Germany’s World War I victory over Russia in under three years and her failure to take France in four apparently misled Hitler into thinking that he could overrun the Soviets in three or four weeks—after all, he had brought down historically tougher France in just six. Similarly, the conquest of the Taliban in eight weeks in 2001, followed by the establishment of constitutional government within a year in Kabul, did not mean that the similarly easy removal of Saddam Hussein in three weeks in 2003 would ensure a working Iraqi democracy within six months. The differences between the countries—cultural, political, geographical, and economic—were too great.
Instead, knowledge of past wars establishes wide parameters of what to expect from new ones. Themes, emotions, and rhetoric remain constant over the centuries, and thus generally predictable. Athens’s disastrous expedition in 415 BC against Sicily, the largest democracy in the Greek world, may not prefigure our war in Iraq. But the story of the Sicilian calamity does instruct us on how consensual societies can clamor for war—yet soon become disheartened and predicate their support on the perceived pulse of the battlefield.
M ilitary history teaches us, contrary to popular belief these days, that wars aren’t necessarily the most costly of human calamities. The first Gulf War took few lives in getting Saddam out of Kuwait doing nothing in Rwanda allowed savage gangs and militias to murder hundreds of thousands with impunity. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin killed far more off the battlefield than on it. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic brought down more people than World War I did. And more Americans—over 3.2 million—lost their lives driving over the last 90 years than died in combat in this nation’s 231-year history. Perhaps what bothers us about wars, though, isn’t just their horrific lethality but also that people choose to wage them—which makes them seem avoidable, unlike a flu virus or a car wreck, and their tolls unduly grievous. Yet military history also reminds us that war sometimes has an eerie utility: as British strategist Basil H. Liddell Hart put it, “War is always a matter of doing evil in the hope that good may come of it.” Wars—or threats of wars—put an end to chattel slavery, Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism, and Soviet Communism.
Military history is as often the story of appeasement as of warmongering. The destructive military careers of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, and Hitler would all have ended early had any of their numerous enemies united when the odds favored them. Western air power stopped Slobodan Milošević’s reign of terror at little cost to NATO forces—but only after a near-decade of inaction and dialogue had made possible the slaughter of tens of thousands. Affluent Western societies have often proved reluctant to use force to prevent greater future violence. “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things,” observed the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. “The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”
Indeed, by ignoring history, the modern age is free to interpret war as a failure of communication, of diplomacy, of talking—as if aggressors don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, frustrated by the Bush administration’s intransigence in the War on Terror, flew to Syria, hoping to persuade President Assad to stop funding terror in the Middle East. She assumed that Assad’s belligerence resulted from our aloofness and arrogance rather than from his dictatorship’s interest in destroying democracy in Lebanon and Iraq, before such contagious freedom might in fact destroy him. For a therapeutically inclined generation raised on Oprah and Dr. Phil—and not on the letters of William Tecumseh Sherman and William Shirer’s Berlin Diary—problems between states, like those in our personal lives, should be argued about by equally civilized and peaceful rivals, and so solved without resorting to violence.
Yet it’s hard to find many wars that result from miscommunication. Far more often they break out because of malevolent intent and the absence of deterrence. Margaret Atwood also wrote in her poem: “Wars happen because the ones who start them / think they can win.” Hitler did so did Mussolini and Tojo—and their assumptions were logical, given the relative disarmament of the Western democracies at the time. Bin Laden attacked on September 11 not because there was a dearth of American diplomats willing to dialogue with him in the Hindu Kush. Instead, he recognized that a series of Islamic terrorist assaults against U.S. interests over two decades had met with no meaningful reprisals, and concluded that decadent Westerners would never fight, whatever the provocation—or that, if we did, we would withdraw as we had from Mogadishu.
I n the twenty-first century, it’s easier than ever to succumb to technological determinism, the idea that science, new weaponry, and globalization have altered the very rules of war. But military history teaches us that our ability to strike a single individual from 30,000 feet up with a GPS bomb or a jihadist’s efforts to have his propaganda beamed to millions in real time do not necessarily transform the conditions that determine who wins and who loses wars.
True, instant communications may compress decision making, and generals must be skilled at news conferences that can now influence the views of millions worldwide. Yet these are really just new wrinkles on the old face of war. The improvised explosive device versus the up-armored Humvee is simply an updated take on the catapult versus the stone wall or the harquebus versus the mailed knight. The long history of war suggests no static primacy of the defensive or the offensive, or of one sort of weapon over the other, but just temporary advantages gained by particular strategies and technologies that go unanswered for a time by less adept adversaries.
So it’s highly doubtful, the study of war tells us, that a new weapon will emerge from the Pentagon or anywhere else that will change the very nature of armed conflict—unless some sort of genetic engineering so alters man’s brain chemistry that he begins to act in unprecedented ways. We fought the 1991 Gulf War with dazzling, computer-enhanced weaponry. But lost in the technological pizzazz was the basic wisdom that we need to fight wars with political objectives in mind and that, to conclude them decisively, we must defeat and even humiliate our enemies, so that they agree to abandon their prewar behavior. For some reason, no American general or diplomat seemed to understand that crucial point 16 years ago, with the result that, on the cessation of hostilities, Saddam Hussein’s supposedly defeated generals used their gunships to butcher Kurds and Shiites while Americans looked on. And because we never achieved the war’s proper aim—ensuring that Iraq would not use its petro-wealth to destroy the peace of the region—we have had to fight a second war of no-fly zones, and then a third war to remove Saddam, and now a fourth war, of counterinsurgency, to protect the fledgling Iraqi democracy.
M ilitary history reminds us of important anomalies and paradoxes. When Sparta invaded Attica in the first spring of the Peloponnesian war, Thucydides recounts, it expected the Athenians to surrender after a few short seasons of ravaging. They didn’t—but a plague that broke out unexpectedly did more damage than thousands of Spartan ravagers did. Twenty-seven years later, a maritime Athens lost the war at sea to Sparta, an insular land power that started the conflict with scarcely a navy. The 2003 removal of Saddam refuted doom-and-gloom critics who predicted thousands of deaths and millions of refugees, just as the subsequent messy four-year reconstruction hasn’t evolved as anticipated into a quiet, stable democracy—to say the least.
The size of armies doesn’t guarantee battlefield success: the victors at Salamis, Issos, Mexico City, and Lepanto were all outnumbered. War’s most savage moments—the Allied summer offensive of 1918, the Russian siege of Berlin in the spring of 1945, the Battle of the Bulge, Hiroshima—often unfold right before hostilities cease. And democratic leaders during war—think of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon—often leave office either disgraced or unpopular.
It would be reassuring to think that the righteousness of a cause, or the bravery of an army, or the nobility of a sacrifice ensures public support for war. But military history shows that far more often the perception of winning is what matters. Citizens turn abruptly on any leaders deemed culpable for losing. “Public sentiment is everything,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. “With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed. He who molds opinion is greater than he who enacts laws.” Lincoln knew that lesson well. Gettysburg and Vicksburg were brilliant Union victories that by summer 1863 had restored Lincoln’s previously shaky credibility. But a year later, after the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Cold Harbor battles—Cold Harbor claimed 7,000 Union lives in 20 minutes—the public reviled him. Neither Lincoln nor his policies had changed, but the Confederate ability to kill large numbers of Union soldiers had.
Ultimately, public opinion follows the ups and downs—including the perception of the ups and downs—of the battlefield, since victory excites the most ardent pacifist and defeat silences the most zealous zealot. After the defeat of France, the losses to Bomber Command, the U-boat rampage, and the fall of Greece, Singapore, and Dunkirk, Churchill took the blame for a war as seemingly lost as, a little later, it seemed won by the brilliant prime minister after victories in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. When the successful military action against Saddam Hussein ended in April 2003, over 70 percent of the American people backed it, with politicians and pundits alike elbowing each other aside to take credit for their prescient support. Four years of insurgency later, Americans oppose a now-orphaned war by the same margin. General George S. Patton may have been uncouth, but he wasn’t wrong when he bellowed, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” The American public turned on the Iraq War not because of Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore but because it felt that the battlefield news had turned uniformly bad and that the price in American lives and treasure for ensuring Iraqi reform was too dear.
Finally, military history has the moral purpose of educating us about past sacrifices that have secured our present freedom and security. If we know nothing of Shiloh, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, and Chosun, the crosses in our military cemeteries are just pleasant white stones on lush green lawns. They no longer serve as reminders that thousands endured pain and hardship for our right to listen to what we wish on our iPods and to shop at Wal-Mart in safety—or that they expected future generations, links in this great chain of obligation, to do the same for those not yet born. The United States was born through war, reunited by war, and saved from destruction by war. No future generation, however comfortable and affluent, should escape that terrible knowledge.
W hat, then, can we do to restore the study of war to its proper place in the life of the American mind? The challenge isn’t just to reform the graduate schools or the professoriate, though that would help. On a deeper level, we need to reexamine the larger forces that have devalued the very idea of military history—of war itself. We must abandon the naive faith that with enough money, education, or good intentions we can change the nature of mankind so that conflict, as if by fiat, becomes a thing of the past. In the end, the study of war reminds us that we will never be gods. We will always just be men, it tells us. Some men will always prefer war to peace and other men, we who have learned from the past, have a moral obligation to stop them.
Studying War: Where to Start
While Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, a chronicle of the three-decade war between Athens and Sparta, establishes the genre of military history, the best place to begin studying war is with the soldiers’ stories themselves. E. B. Sledge’s memoir of Okinawa, With the Old Breed, is nightmarish, but it reminds us that war, while it often translates to rot, filth, and carnage, can also be in the service of a noble cause. Elmer Bendiner’s tragic retelling of the annihilation of B-17s over Germany, The Fall of Fortresses: A Personal Account of the Most Daring, and Deadly, American Air Battles of World War II, is an unrecognized classic.
From a different wartime perspective—that of the generals—U. S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs is justly celebrated as a model of prose. Yet the nearly contemporaneous Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman is far more analytical in its dissection of the human follies and pretensions that lead to war. Likewise, George S. Patton’s War As I Knew It is not only a compilation of the eccentric general’s diary entries but also a candid assessment of human nature itself.
Fiction often captures the experience of war as effectively as memoir, beginning with Homer’s Iliad, in which Achilles confronts the paradox that rewards do not always go to the most deserving in war. The three most famous novels about the futility of conflict are The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, and August 1914, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. No work has better insights on the folly of war, however, than Euripides’ Trojan Women.
Although many contemporary critics find it passé to document landmark battles in history, one can find a storehouse of information in The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, by Edward S. Creasy, and A Military History of the Western World, by J. F. C. Fuller. Hans Delbrück’s History of the Art of War and Russell F. Weigley’s The Age of Battles center their sweeping histories on decisive engagements, using battles like Marathon and Waterloo as tools to illustrate larger social, political, and cultural values. A sense of high drama permeates William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru, while tragedy more often characterizes Steven Runciman’s spellbinding short account The Fall of Constantinople 1453 and Donald Morris’s massive The Washing of the Spears, about the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire. The most comprehensive and accessible one-volume treatment of history’s most destructive war remains Gerhard L. Weinberg’s A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II.
Relevant histories for our current struggle with Middle East terrorism are Alistair Horne’s superb A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962, Michael Oren’s Six Days of War, and Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Anything John Keegan writes is worth reading The Face of Battle remains the most impressive general military history of the last 50 years.
Biography too often winds up ignored in the study of war. Plutarch’s lives of Pericles, Alcibiades, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Alexander the Great established the traditional view of these great captains as men of action, while weighing their record of near-superhuman achievement against their megalomania. Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington is a classic study of England’s greatest soldier. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, by Douglas Southall Freeman, has been slighted recently but is spellbinding.
If, as Carl von Clausewitz believed, “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” then study of civilian wartime leadership is critical. The classic scholarly account of the proper relationship between the military and its overseers is still Samuel P. Huntington’s The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. For a contemporary J’accuse of American military leadership during the Vietnam War, see H. R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.
Eliot A. Cohen’s Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime is purportedly a favorite read of President Bush’s. It argues that successful leaders like Ben-Gurion, Churchill, Clemenceau, and Lincoln kept a tight rein on their generals and never confused officers’ esoteric military expertise with either political sense or strategic resolution.
In The Mask of Command, Keegan examines the military competence of Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler, and comes down on the side of the two who fought under consensual government. In The Soul of Battle, I took that argument further and suggested that three of the most audacious generals—Epaminondas, Sherman, and Patton—were also keen political thinkers, with strategic insight into what made their democratic armies so formidable.
How politicians lose wars is also of interest. See especially Ian Kershaw’s biography Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis. Mark Moyar’s first volume of a proposed two-volume reexamination of Vietnam, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965, is akin to reading Euripides’ tales of self-inflicted woe and missed chances. Horne has written a half-dozen classics, none more engrossing than his tragic To Lose a Battle: France 1940.
Few historians can weave military narrative into the contemporary political and cultural landscape. James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom does, and his volume began the recent renaissance of Civil War history. Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August describes the first month of World War I in riveting but excruciatingly sad detail. Two volumes by David McCullough, Truman and 1776, give fascinating inside accounts of the political will necessary to continue wars amid domestic depression and bad news from the front. So does Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939–1941. Donald Kagan’s On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace warns against the dangers of appeasement, especially the lethal combination of tough rhetoric with no military preparedness, in a survey of wars from ancient Greece to the Cuban missile crisis. Robert Kagan’s Dangerous Nation reminds Americans that their idealism (if not self-righteousness) is nothing new but rather helps explain more than two centuries of both wise and ill-considered intervention abroad.
Any survey on military history should conclude with more abstract lessons about war. Principles of War by Clausewitz remains the cornerstone of the science. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Art of War blends realism with classical military detail. Two indispensable works, War: Ends and Means, by Angelo Codevilla and Paul Seabury, and Makers of Modern Strategy, edited by Peter Paret, provide refreshingly honest accounts of the timeless rules and nature of war.
Team America: World Police
As was highlighted by the movie, America has a reputation of being very involved in foreign policy. This is a huge are to discuss so in the interests of keeping it simple the international perceptions of Americas foreign policy tend to be as follows:
- They will get involved anywhere if there is something in it for them—usually oil, sometimes strategic positions.
- They will not get involved in often more significant incidents if there is no direct benefit to the USA. This is regardless of loss of life, genocide, etc.
- In situations of no direct benefit, the United Nations are expected to step in.
- When there is a benefit and the United Nations do not agree with the American stance, they are not &aposinvited&apos.
Why Liberals Are So Obsessed With Racism, Homosexuality and Transsexualism
Conservatives care about logic. Liberals care about emotion. Conservatives care about whether a program works or not. Liberals care about how supporting a program makes them feel. Conservatives take the positions they do because they believe they’re best for society. Liberals take the positions they do because they make them feel and look compassionate or superior to hold those positions.
Once you understand those basics, it’s very easy to see why both sides hold the positions they do on most issues and to comprehend why there’s so little middle ground. Once you get the mentalities, you can predict where each side will come down on issues.
An extremely expensive program designed to help disadvantaged minority children read better that has been proven not to work? Liberals will support it and conservatives will oppose.
A program that cuts the deficit by cutting people off the welfare and disability rolls who don’t belong there in the first place? Conservatives will support it and liberals will oppose.
A program called “Puppies for Orphans” that hands out “therapy dogs” to poor children at $100,000 per year in cost? Liberals will support it and conservatives will oppose.
The problem with all of this is that most of what passes for “compassion” with liberals isn’t real compassion. There’s a cost to real compassion and thus, a limit to it.
For example, let’s say Bill Gates makes $10 billion this year and gives away $500 million. Meanwhile, a middle class accountant makes $50,000 and gives away $5,000. We could argue about who’s more compassionate. After all Bill Gates gives away more, but the accountant gives away a bigger percentage of his income. Furthermore, there are limits to what both men can and should do. If Gates gives away so much money that Microsoft goes out of business and the accountant gives away so much money he loses his home, we’d consider them to be fools. Compassionate fools, but fools. This creates limits on what truly compassionate people can do. Many people talk about compassion, but only a few are going to go work overseas like Mother Teresa, consistently give 10% of their income to charity, or adopt orphaned boys.
On the other hand, 99 times out of 100, liberals’ “compassion” is nothing more than “virtue signaling.” They’re offering to take your money and give it to someone else. They’re offering to take rights away from other people that they don’t care about. They’re saying people are racist, bigoted, sexist or homophobic for disagreeing with them.
It’s cost-free for someone to talk about how much he hates racism because racism is almost universally despised in America. There is no price to be paid for attacking a zoo that made the difficult decision to shoot a gorilla because a boy had fallen into his pen. If you’re not a Christian and have no moral qualms about gay marriage, it’s easy to call for the law to crack down on bakers or wedding photographers who refuse to participate because they find it morally repulsive.
The problem with all this pointless virtue signaling is that because there is no real cost to it, there are no limits to it. As long as liberals lose nothing by advocating a position, but get credit for being compassionate for taking it, why not go for it?
This creates a situation where people have to keep on upping the ante to stand out. If racism is almost universally despised, how do you get credit for being more sensitive about race than other people? You find new things to call racist. Eventually, when liberals moved beyond parody when it came to race issues, they showed they were compassionate by obsessing over the 3% of the American population that’s gay. Then from there, they became maniacally focused on the .3% of the population (if that) that claims to be transgender.
If every single thing on the liberal wish list for minorities, gays and transgenders were to happen tomorrow, a new list of demands or some new series of pet groups that need to be protected would spring up almost instantaneously. That’s because it’s not about the specifics it’s about an arms race between liberals trying to signal their virtue by being willing to go further than other people in being conspicuously compassionate while getting in some cheap shots on their political opponents at the same time.
The problem with this is that compassion, real or fake, has little to do with what makes a society successful. Capitalism is not warm and fuzzy. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, diversity and sensitivity to women’s issues are not what makes a military successful. In fact, the most effective policies are often not very forgiving or compassionate. So, when you have a large block of the country that completely abandons what works for whatever makes liberals feel good and look more “compassionate,” it creates enormous amounts of dysfunction. It’s like picking which car you’re going to drive in a race because of the paint job. A paint job isn’t irrelevant, but it’s also not going to win the race for you. Unfortunately, people with this mindset are only able to figure out that they’re doing something wrong after the car crashes and the whole country is along for the ride.
Why We Loot
A Target in Minneapolis near where George Floyd was killed by cops was heavily looted on Wednesday. Videos posted on Twitter showed a chaotic scene: people hauling away TVs, vacuum cleaners and rugs, and using stolen power tools to drill into cash registers. ( Additional looters were spotted at a nearby tobacco store, a Dollar Tree and an AutoZone.) Riots are “a messy part of the evolution of society,” Time magazine noted during the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, when significant looting occurred in the neighborhood of Michael Brown Jr.’s shooting (another Black man dead by the hands of a white cop).
Footage from inside the Target that has been looted by rioters in Minneapolis. They are trying to break into the cash registers. pic.twitter.com/jdFi7HrgTg
&mdash Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) May 28, 2020
All of this, of course, is taking place against the larger backdrop of pandemic-related looting concerns around the world, as luxury stores in Beverly Hills are boarded up, Italian police are patrolling supermarkets to stop people from stealing food and the NYPD is reporting a 75 percent increase in burglaries of businesses . Meanwhile, from Mexico to Indonesia , and South Carolina to Santa Cruz , dozens have already been arrested for looting in the shadow of COVID-19.
Interestingly, in most U.S. states, like California , any theft or burglary committed during a declared emergency constitutes looting. Looting, however, is far more nuanced than petty theft, due to its “ambiguous moral character,” explains Stuart Green , a professor at Rutgers Law School, who says that looting is widely considered to be worse than typical forms of property crimes , but also sometimes justified. And so, as the number of unemployed Americans swells to nearly 40 million , desperate citizens may resort to what Green calls “virtuous looting,” i.e., stealing that’s driven by survival.
With help from Green, a military expert, a police chief, a sociologist and an archeologist, here’s all the historical context for what’s happening in Minnesota at the moment, as well as why the concerns about widespread corona-inspired pillaging are probably unfounded.
1) The word “looting,” which comes from Sanskrit lut , “to rob,” entered into European languages centuries ago to refer to the pillaging undertaken by invading armies, an activity apparently sanctioned by God. “You may enjoy the plunder from your enemies that the LORD your God has given you,” reads Deuteronomy 20:14 .
2) In 1225, Genghis Khan asked his generals, “What is the greatest happiness in life?” When they responded that it was hunting on a warm spring day while riding atop a splendid horse, Khan explained the greatest heavenly pleasure was, in fact, “vanquishing one’s enemies and robbing them of their wealth.”
3) As such, throughout recorded history, looting by a victorious army has been ubiquitous. Precious metals were the preferred bounty, thanks to their easy portability. In the Battle of Corinth (146 B.C.) , the winning Roman army slaughtered the entire adult male population, enslaved the women and children and looted all of the ancient city’s treasure, marking the end of the Achaean War and the beginning of the period of Roman domination .
4) Foot soldiers viewed plunder as a way to supplement a meager income. Medieval looting was written into the contracts of mercenary troops who fought for private employers and various kings during wars, explains Joseph O’Brien, a firearms and military expert at Donley Auctions in Illinois . “If you fought and won, you got to take whatever booty the enemy possessed,” he says, adding that free companies acted independently of any government and would give a percentage to their captain, a percentage to whomever hired them and pocket the rest.
5) Jumping forward 800 years or so, when the British Empire spanned the globe, the imperialists looted every country they conquered and transported treasures back to London to pay homage to the Queen. “Ancient heritage and art was stripped from Egypt and Greece by European colonial powers, including all of the mummies in the British Museum ,” explains Roger Atwood , contributing editor at Archaeology Magazine . When Titos Flavios Demetrios died in the Egyptian town of Hawara 2,000 years ago, he expected his soul and carefully mummified body would be transported to the underworld nirvana of Osiris , god of the dead. Instead, Demetrios is spending the afterlife in a dusty display case at an underfunded provincial museum in Ipswich .
6) O’Brien calls Nazi Germany “the gold standard by which all state-sponsored looting is now judged.” When the Nazis invaded most of Europe, they determined anything they wanted to be theirs. If Hitler fancied a Greek statue, it was promptly sent to Berlin. If he wanted a French Impressionist painting, it hung on his wall within the week. Hermann Göring , the founder of the Gestapo , was known for a fabulous art collection at his hunting lodge, which displayed trophies from fallen countries. “If Göring read an article about a piece of art and a Jewish family owned it, it would be confiscated and sent to the hunting lodge,” O’Brien explains. “Once the Nazis invaded Poland and Russia, everything was taken. They’d back up a truck to nice houses, and soldiers would confiscate everything, including the tea set, and it’d end up in some German housewife’s parlor.”
7) U.S. troops weren’t above looting during World War II, either. “Once Allied troops crossed over the German border, most of their scruples vanished,” O’Brien says. “They’d been fighting and dying in a war against the Germans for several years, so why not get a little extra for their efforts?”
Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) inspects stolen artwork in a salt mine in Merkers, accompanied by Omar Bradley (left) and George S. Patton (center).
8) As the Allies stormed through Germany in 1945, museum officials in Dessau scurried to hide their art treasures in a nearby salt mine, where they would soon be discovered by American soldiers. Much of the art was preserved, but three paintings ended up in a poker game won by an American tank commander, William S. Oftebro, who quietly mailed them home. For the past seven decades, they’ve been with Oftebro ’s family, most recently on the wall of his widow’s assisted living center in Texas.
9) Nowhere in the world has looting been more devastating than in the Middle East. Since 1970, a growing body of international law has been written to combat the plundering of ancient sites and monuments to feed the insatiable appetite of Western antiquities traders and private collectors. “The looting industry has become very efficient and market-driven,” explains Atwood, who is also the author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World . “It consists of looters, who are essentially small businessmen, breaking into tombs to pinpoint valuable items like cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals while trashing everything around it. And they can get them to market much more quickly than ever in the past.”
10) In the dazed, nervous weeks after Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, Atwood recounts , reports of looting of archeological sites began reaching him and his colleagues at the National Museum of Iraq . “The first sign we were approaching the ruins of Southern Iraq was motorcycles that came buzzing down the road in the opposite direction. Each one carried a driver, a passenger and a bulging saddlebag draped over the back fender. Guards appointed by Saddam’s government had fled in the first days of the U.S.-British bombardment and hundreds of looters rampaged in, dug up the sites for artifacts, destroyed decades of the work done by archeologists and ripped out sackfuls of treasures.”
11) As soon as he got there, Atwood realized the ancient Sumerian sites — some of the most important in the world, archaeologically — were being completely dismantled by looters. “This proved to be just a taste of what’s happened ever since in the Middle East: a complete breakdown in authority, and the inability to protect ancient sites. It’s a complete gold rush — digging massive pits, pulling out what they can get their hands on and destroying anything they deem isn’t marketable.” (FWIW: Over the past two months of coronavirus lockdown, the Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research Project has seen an increase in online posts offering looted artifacts from mosques, museums and archeological sites.)
12) Stateside, most looting today is done by civilians in times of unrest, like in Minneapolis this week, and during natural disasters. Among the first instances of the former was the Dead Rabbits Riot , a two-day civil disturbance in New York City in July 1857, which began as a small-scale street fight between members of the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys , but exploded into a citywide gang war. The fighting spiraled into widespread looting by gangsters and criminals throughout the city, who used the disturbance to pillage at will.
13) Looting and vandalism were widespread during the New York City Blackout of 1977 , which spanned 31 neighborhoods. Hardest hit was Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where 75 stores on a five-block stretch were looted, and Bushwick , where 35 blocks of Broadway were destroyed with 134 stores looted and 45 set ablaze. Thieves stole 50 new Pontiacs from a Bronx car dealership, and youths were seen backing up cars to targeted stores, tying ropes around the stores’ grates and using the cars to pull the grates away.
A Sears outlet in the progress of being looted during the L.A. riots in 1992.
14) The costliest episode of looting in U.S. history, by far, was the 1992 L.A. riots . Following the acquittal of four LAPD officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King , an African-American motorist, after a high-speed pursuit, thousands responded by engaging in widespread looting for almost the next week. When it was all over, more than 1,000 buildings had been destroyed with damage nearing $1 billion. As L.A. photographer and writer Rian Dundon notes, “There may be no greater image of Western self-sufficiency and capitalist assimilation in recent memory than that of middle-aged Korean shopkeepers firing handguns indiscriminately into a crowd of scurrying Black and Latino looters . It conjures a Falling Down Michael Douglas versus Do the Right Thing ’s Mookie . America then as it is now.”
15) When a television news reporter chased a group of looters through the parking lot of strip mall in L.A.’s Koreatown and asked why they were stealing, one man stopped to briefly engage the camera and responded, matter-of-factly, that “everyone’s doing it,” before continuing on his way, arms overflowing with shoe boxes. Such opportunistic looting is a social phenomenon, explains law professor Green, and FOMO group mentality rules the day. “The crime should be looked at in context.”
16) “People are looting because they are not part of the system at all anymore,” explained Bill Clinton at the time. “They do not share our values, and their children are growing up in a culture alien from ours: without family, without neighborhood, without church, without support.” (Tupac Shakur had a different take: “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.”)
17) Of the $850 million worth of damage done in L.A., half was on Korean-owned businesses. Kathleen Tierney , a sociologist at the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, explains that, as was the case in Ferguson, looting was directed primarily at businesses representing what people perceived to be an “alien presence” in their community. “They were the people who owned the convenience stores and gas stations who’d had confrontations with African-American customers in the past. That’s a totally different situation in which people are sending a political message. During natural disasters, looting has been very rare, covertly undertaken in opportunistic settings, done by isolated individuals or very small groups, and socially condemned. In contrast, looting in the riots was frequent, overtly undertaken, aimed at specific targets, participated in by very large numbers of individuals often in social networks and was socially supported.”
18) If anything, an altruistic response is by far more common after a disaster, Tierney says, explaining this to be true across the board, in various regions of the world, in disasters of all kinds. While there were sporadic reports on looting on 9/11, in American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11 , Tierney’s former colleagues, James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf , recount the spontaneous altruism and self-organizing that resulted in the evacuation of 500,000 people.
19) “Researchers in disaster science have again and again debunked the idea that catastrophe causes social breakdown and releases the ugliest parts of human nature,” Katy Waldman wrote in Slate about why there were so few reports of looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy . “Research from the past several decades demonstrates, as one report put it, ‘that panic is not a problem in disasters that rather than helplessly awaiting outside aid, members of the public behave proactively and pro-socially to assist one another that community residents themselves perform many critical disaster tasks, such as searching for and rescuing victims and that both social cohesiveness and informal mechanisms of social control increase during disasters, resulting in a lower incidence of deviant behavior.’ People become their best selves when crisis strikes.”
20) So while 24-hour cable news networks breathlessly reported widespread looting after Hurricane Katrina, they neglected to report that pro-social behavior was far more prevalent than anti-social behavior. Not to mention, says Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré , who was responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, “ W hen people get hungry, they go into survival mode. You must not confuse people in the survival mode who are trying to get food and water with those who are trying to carry a 50-inch TV on their back in waist-deep water. You see people coming out of grocery stores or drug stores with arms full of stuff, and the perception of reporters in New Orleans was that they were looters. To them I ask, ‘If you were standing out there for five days with no food or water, what would YOU do?’”
21) Fear of looters, however, led to the formation of guard posts that ultimately proved deadly. Case in point: Henry Glover, an unarmed black man, was shot and burned by police after he was discovered prowling a local strip mall looking for baby supplies. “He was coming out, and the police shot him in the fucking back and killed him,” Honoré tells me. “They had an ‘oh shit’ moment, because the guy was carrying diapers and baby food. So they took his fucking body, they put it in a fucking car and set it on fire. All because they thought he was looting.” ( Gregory McRae, the officer convicted of burning Glover’s body , is currently serving a 17-year federal sentence for the crime.)
22) While Honoré doesn’t anticipate the coronavirus pandemic will lead to the type of looting he witnessed in New Orleans, he does caution that people will need to get food, and he won’t be surprised if some resort to “virtuous looting.” “People aren’t working and haven’t gotten the federal assistance that they’ve been promised, so they can’t take care of their families. So we’ve got to make sure that food banks are stocked because they’ve quadrupled the number of people they’re having to serve.”
23) “The moment we’re in now doesn’t suggest the likelihood of looting,” predicts Green. “Looting tends to be a spontaneous sudden act, and this has been a slow-building emergency. People are staying at home rather than going out into the streets, so it doesn’t seem to me like it fits the usual historical paradigm that you’d expect to see. Then again, if you’re not earning the daily income as an Uber driver and live in one of the many inner-city food deserts nationwide, things could get pretty desperate. That’s when people will loot out of sheer necessity.”
C. Brian Smith
C. Brian Smith writes hard-hitting gonzo features for MEL, whether it be training with a masturbation coach, receiving psycho corporal treatment from a spank therapist, or embarking on a week-long pleasure cruise with 75 Santa Clauses following their busy season.
The Importance Of The Crusades
The events in the 12th and 13th centuries had many long lasting effects on the civilization to follow. The seeds of animosity laid then on the basis of intolerance by different religions saw the beginning of the crusade. In this 21st century, we still witness bloodshed and hatred based on the same issue of religion.
Crusade was the name given to the holy war which was fought against people who were regarded as opponents of Christianity. This movement had the sanction of the Pope. Any individual who participated in the crusade was assured forgiveness for his/her sins and was assured a place in heaven in case of death in the war.
The pilgrims to Jerusalem were tolerated by the earlier Muslim rulers till the invasion by Turks since it helped them monetarily and in trade.
After many crusades, the aim of the movement which was to reach the holy land of Jerusalem digressed to campaigns undertaken to suppress the heretics, pagans and Muslims in different parts of Europe. The impact and the lessons learnt from the crusades were more for the Europeans as compared to the Muslims.
The focus on the crusade kept the attention of the warriors in Europe away from petty internal conflicts. They learnt techniques in many aspects of warfare, such as importance and correct use of archery, cavalry and infantry forces. Many lessons were learnt from the Turks, Mongols and Muslims as well.
The kings and emperors in many parts of Europe found indulgence in chivalric activities more pleasurable. Fighting face to face with the enemies during the crusades opened their channels back to the establishment and formation of armies. European kings and knights began to appreciate the concept of maintenance of military superiority for effective governance.
The learning values for the crusaders did not get limited to the military aspects alone.
Major fallout was benefits through trading with the east. The Europeans were quick to export goods like metal and cloth and slaves as well to the east. In return they imported paper, silk, spices and sugar.
The Europeans benefited by acquiring knowledge of philosophy and mathematics through the Muslims and Byzantines. Influenced by the Madrasa, which was the place of learning in the Muslims, the Europeans established their earliest university in the 12th century.
Revival of tolerance amongst various religions, economies, and communities in this modern world will only be possible when we stop dissecting history with the aim of fault finding and continue to relive the past.
Loyola University Chicago: Crusades
The crusades are a series of battles launched by Pope Urban II on November 27th of 1095. The goal was a huge plan to overthrow the Muslims ruling Syria, and attack Seljuk’s of Anatolia and Palestine. A plan was hatched to take over Jerusalem's control from the Egyptians. The crusaders, who were nobles, built five different groups of armies, mainly from France. So in 1906, all noblemen from France set out to liberate the Holy Land. More..
Why the South Lost the Civil War – Cover Page: February American History Feature
Federal soldiers and civilians at the front of the Confederate Capitol building in Richmond, VA.
Ten Civil War historians provide some contrasting–and probably controversial–views on how and why the Confederate cause ultimately ended in defeat.
“T he art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.”
Put that way, the business of fighting and winning wars sounds simple enough. And perhaps it was simple in the mind of the man who so concisely described the complex art: General Ulysses S. Grant. After assuming command of all Union armies in March 1864, Grant crushed the Confederacy in about one year.
But the American Civil War, like any war, was not simple. The North and South engaged each other for four long years. More than half a million people were killed. Families were torn apart, towns destroyed. And in the end, the South lost.
For the past 130 years Americans have argued over the reasons for the Confederacy’s downfall. Diverse opinions have appeared in hundreds of books, but the numerous possibilities have never adequately been summarized and gathered together in one place. So we decided to ask ten of the country’s most respected Civil War historians: “Why did the South lose the Civil War?” Here (edited for length) are their answers.
WILLIAM C. DAVIS
Former editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and author of more than thirty books about the war, including the recent A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy.
Why did the South lose? When the question is asked that way, it kind of presupposes that the South lost the war all by itself and that it really could have won it. One answer is that the North won it. The South lost because the North outmanned and outclassed it at almost every point, militarily.
Despite the long-held notion that the South had all of the better generals, it really had only one good army commander and that was Lee. The rest were second-raters, at best. The North, on the other hand, had the good fortune of bringing along and nurturing people like Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, George H. Thomas, and others.
The South was way outclassed industrially. There was probably never any chance of it winning without European recognition and military aid. And we can now see in retrospect what some, like Jefferson Davis, even saw at the time, which was that there was never any real hope of Europe intervening. It just never was in England or France’s interests to get involved in a North American war that would inevitably have wound up doing great damage, especially to England’s maritime trade.
Industrially the South couldn’t keep up in output and in manpower. By the end of the war, the South had, more or less, plenty of weaponry still, but it just didn’t have enough men to use the guns.
I don’t agree with the theories that say the South lost because it lost its will to win. There’s nothing more willful or stubborn than a groundhog, but whenever one of them runs into a Ford pickup on the highway, it’s the groundhog that always loses, no matter how much willpower it has.
We can’t fault the Southerners for thinking at the time that they could win when we can see in retrospect that there probably never was a time when they could have. The most important things they couldn’t see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the North, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat. The only way the South could have won would have been for Lincoln to decide to lose. As long as Lincoln was determined to prosecute the war and as long as the North was behind him, inevitably superior manpower and resources just had to win out.
The miracle is that the South held out as long as it did. That’s an incredible testament to the courage and self-sacrifice of the people of the South–both the men in the armies and the people at home who sustained them, with nothing but continuing and expanding destruction all around them.
The South lost the war because the North and Abraham Lincoln were determined to win it.
Historian and author of ten books about the war.
The South lost because it had inferior resources in every aspect of military personnel and equipment. That’s an old-fashioned answer. Lots of people will be scornful of it. But a ratio of twenty-one million to seven million in population comes out the same any way you look at it.
The basic problem was numbers. Give Abraham Lincoln seven million men and give Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee twenty-one million, and cognitive dissonance doesn’t matter, European recognition doesn’t matter, the Emancipation Proclamation and its ripple effect don’t matter. Twenty-one to seven is a very different thing than seven to twenty-one.
Consultant for the weekly series “Civil War Journal” on the Arts and Entertainment network, on-set history advisor for the movie Gettysburg, a staff writer and researcher for Time-Life Books’ The Civil War series, and a founder of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites.
The South certainly did not lose for any lack of idealism, or dedication to its cause or beliefs, or bravery and skill on the battlefield. In those virtues the Confederate soldier was unexcelled, and it’s my belief that man-for-man there was no finer army in the history of America than the Army of Northern Virginia.
But of course the factors that enter into the South’s ultimate defeat are those things that you hear time and time again, and with a great amount of validity: the North’s industrial base the North’s manpower resources the fact that foreign recognition was denied the Confederacy. In time these things would tell on the battlefield, certainly on the broader level. The North was able to bring its industry and its manpower to bear in such a way that eventually, through sheer numerical and material advantage, it gained and maintained the upper hand.
That’s when you get into the whole truly tragic sense of the Lost Cause, because those men knew their cause was lost, they knew there was really no way they could possibly win, and yet they fought on with tremendous bravery and dedication. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why the Civil War was such a poignant and even heart-wrenching time. Whether or not you agree with the Confederacy or with the justness of its cause, there’s no way that you can question the idealism and the courage, the bravery, the dedication, the devotion of its soldiers–that they believed what they were fighting for was right. Even while it was happening, men like Union officer Joshua Chamberlain–who did all that he could to defeat the Confederacy–could not help but admire the dedication of those soldiers.
NOAH ANDRE TRUDEAU
Author of three books about the war’s final year, including the recent Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War (April-June 1865).
One main reason why the South lost (and this may seem offbeat because it flies in the face of the common wisdom) is that the South lacked the moral center that the North had in this conflict. Robert Kirby in his book on Florida’s Edward Kirby Smith and the Trans-Mississippi suggests that the South’s morale began to disintegrate in the Trans-Mississippi in about 1862.
The North had a fairly simple message that was binding it together, and that message was that the Union, the idea of Union, was important, and probably after 1863 you could add the crusade against slavery to that.
Ask the question, “What was the South fighting for what was the Southern way of life that they were trying to protect?” and you will find that Southerners in Arkansas had a very different answer from Southerners in Georgia or Southerners in Virginia. And what you increasingly find as the war continued is that the dialogue got more and more confused. And you actually had state governors such as Joe Brown in Georgia identifying the needs of Georgia as being paramount and starting to withhold resources from the Confederacy and just protecting the basic infrastructure of the Georgia state government over the Confederacy. In the North you certainly had dialogue and debate on the war aims, but losing the Union was never really a part of that discussion. Preserving the Union was always the constant.
So, one key reason the South lost is that as time went on and the war got serious, Southerners began losing faith in the cause because it really did not speak to them directly.
JAMES M. MCPHERSON
Professor of history at Princeton University and author of nine books about the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.
Historians have offered several explanations for the Confederate defeat in the Civil War. First, the North had a superiority in numbers and resources–but superiority did not bring victory to the British Empire in its war against the American colonies that were fighting for their independence in 1776, nor did it bring victory to the United States in its war against North Vietnam in the 1960s and s. While Northern superiority in numbers and resources was a necessary condition for Union victory, it is not a sufficient explanation for that victory. Neither are the internal divisions within the Confederacy sufficient explanation for its defeat, because the North also suffered sharp internal divisions between those who supported a war for the abolition of slavery and those who resisted it, between Republicans and Democrats, between Unionists and Copperheads. And, in fact, the North probably suffered from greater internal disunity than the Confederacy.
Superior leadership is a possible explanation for Union victory. Abraham Lincoln was probably a better war president than Jefferson Davis and certainly offered a better explanation to his own people of what they were fighting for than Davis was able to offer. By the latter half of the war, Northern military leadership had evolved a coherent strategy for victory which involved the destruction of Confederate armies but went beyond that to the destruction of Confederate resources to wage war, including the resource of slavery, the South’s labor power. By the time Grant had become general-in-chief and Sherman his chief subordinate and Sheridan one of his hardest-hitting field commanders, the North had evolved a strategy that in the end completely destroyed the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. And that combination of strategic leadership–both at the political level with Lincoln and the military level with Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan–is what in the end explains Northern victory.
Professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and author, coauthor, or editor of eleven books about the war, including the recent Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond and The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock.
The principal cause of Confederate failure was the fact that the South’s armies did not win enough victories in the field–especially enough victories in a row in the field–to both sustain Confederate morale behind the lines and depress Union morale behind the lines. In the end there was a waning of the will to resist on the part of Southern white people, but that was tied directly to the performance of the Confederate armies in the field more than once they seemed to be on the brink of putting together enough successes to make Northern people behind the lines unwilling to pay the necessary price to subjugate the Confederacy.
The primary reason the Confederates did not have more success on the battlefield is that they developed only one really talented army commander, and that, of course, was Robert E. Lee. There never was a commander in the West who was fully competent to command an army–and I include Joseph E. Johnston and Albert Sidney Johnston and Braxton Bragg and the rest in that company. The almost unbroken string of failures in the West depressed Confederate morale. Lee’s successes in the East were able to compensate for that for a good part of the war, but in the end there simply was too much bad news from the battlefield. And that bad news, together with Union advances into the South, the destruction of the Confederate infrastructure, and the problems of the Confederate economy that worked hardships on so many people, all came together to bring about Confederate defeat.
Historian and author of Two Great Rebel Armies, which examines the Confederacy’s defeat.
If I had to pin the South’s defeat down to one sentence, I would have to say it was due to very bad military commanders: Albert Sidney Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Bell Hood (and if you want to go down a notch or two in the command structure, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and Joseph Wheeler).
With people like Polk and Hardee you’ve got ranking generals in an army who deliberately sought to undermine their commanding general Braxton Bragg. With Wheeler you’ve got a subordinate general who on at least two occasions–in the fall of 1863 and the fall of 1864–went off joy-riding when he should have been obeying his orders from his army commander. With Beauregard and Johnston you had two generals who were unwilling to work with their government. With Hood and Bragg you had two generals who were basically incompetent as army commanders. And with Albert Sidney Johnston you had a general who underwent some kind of confidence crisis after Fort Donelson.
Let me point out that every one of those generals was in the West. Any explanation that does not account for the West is irrelevant to your question. The war was lost by the Confederates in the West and won by the Federals in the West. I don’t see how you could even question that. In the crucial theater of the war, the Confederacy did not have a competent commanding general.
Professor of history at Ohio State University and author of the upcoming Hard Hand of War, his first book about the war.
There are really two interesting questions. One is: Why did the South fail to gain or maintain its independence? The other is: Why did the South not only lose its bid for independence but also its bid to influence the terms under which reunion would take place?
The answer to the second question seems to involve a combination of two things. First, the political culture in the South made it difficult for the many people (including those in leadership positions in the Confederacy) who wanted a negotiated settlement to make their will felt. Instead, Jefferson Davis, as president, was able to continue insisting on no peace short of independence. In a real two-party culture, Davis might have been pressured to compromise, or he might have been eased out, or the Congress might have been able to do something.
The other part of the answer is that while the key Confederate commanders–Beauregard, Lee, Joe Johnston–were trying to maximize their military position so as to influence any kind of peace negotiations and give the North an incentive to allow the South to reenter the Union on somewhat its own terms, military mistakes in the late winter and early spring of 1865 scuttled the Confederate military position in Virginia and the Carolinas. This precipitated a collapse sooner than might have happened, undermining any chance that the Confederate government might eventually pursue a negotiated settlement.
Professor of history at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and coauthor of Why the South Lost the Civil War.
My collaborators and I, in our book Why the South Lost the Civil War, laid out our theory, which is that the South lost the Civil War because it didn’t really want to win badly enough. Defeat was ultimately due to a loss of collective will. But in other discussions with various learned groups, I’ve been induced to admit that in order for the Southern people to have a sufficient degree of will to win the war, they would have had to be a different people than they were. And so, in that sense, victory for the South was ultimately an impossibility.
Now certainly the course of the war, the military events, had a lot to do with the loss of will. The Southerners hoped that they would win spectacular victories on Northern soil, and they didn’t. They hoped that they would be able to exhaust the will of the Northern people, and they didn’t. And I don’t know that all of the Southern people put a great deal of stock in their hopes that Abraham Lincoln would not be reelected, but certainly the key Southern leaders did, and this was their great hope and great strategy toward the end.
With regard to military turning points, I’m not a fan of those, and I certainly don’t think that Gettysburg and Vicksburg dictated the inevitable outcome of the war. We tend in Why the South Lost to imply that there was really still hope until March of 1865, but really I think the outcome of the war became inevitable in November 1864 with the reelection of Lincoln and that utter determination to see the thing through, and, of course, the finding of U.S. Grant by Lincoln and company. Grant was certainly the man to provide the leadership that the North needed.
EDWIN C. BEARSS
Former chief historian of the National Park Service and author of several books about the war.
The South lost the Civil War because of a number of factors. First, it was inherently weaker in the various essentials to win a military victory than the North. The North had a population of more than twenty-two million people to the South’s nine-and-a-half million, of whom three-and-a-half million were slaves. While the slaves could be used to support the war effort through work on the plantations and in industries and as teamsters and pioneers with the army, they were not used as a combat arm in the war to any extent.
So if the South were to win, it had to win a short war by striking swiftly–in modern parlance, by an offensive blitzkrieg strategy. But the Confederates had established their military goals as fighting in defense of their homeland. In 1861, when enthusiasm was high in the South, it lacked the wherewithal and the resolution to follow up on its early victories, such as First Manassas in the East and at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in the West.
Despite the South’s failure to capitalize on its successes in 1861, it came close to reversing the tide that ran against it beginning in February 1862. In the period between the fourth week of June 1862 and the last days of September and early days of October, the South did reverse the tide, sweeping forward on a broad front from the tidewater of Virginia to the Plains Indian territory. And abroad, the British were preparing to offer to mediate the conflict and, if the North refused, to recognize the Confederacy. But beginning at Antietam and ending at Perryville, all this unraveled, and the Confederates’ true high water mark had passed.
In 1864, with the approach of the presidential election in the North, the Confederates had another opportunity to win the war. If the Confederate armies in Virginia, Georgia, and on the Gulf Coast could successfully resist the North and the war of attrition inaugurated by General Grant (with its particularly high casualties in Virginia), there was a good probability, as recognized by President Lincoln himself in the summer, that his administration would go down to defeat in November. But the success of Admiral David G. Farragut in Mobile Bay, the capture of Atlanta on the second of September by General Sherman, and the smashing success scored by General Sheridan at the expense of General Jubal A. Early at Cedar Creek, Virginia on October 19 shattered this hope, and Lincoln was reelected by a landslide in the electoral vote. With Lincoln’s reelection, the road to Southern defeat grew shorter.
Judging from these responses, it seems clear that the South could have won the war . . . if. If it had more and better-equipped men, led by more capable generals and a wiser president. If it had a more unified purpose and was more aggressive. If it faced a different opponent.
The last condition should not be underestimated. By the end of the war, Lincoln and his powerful army were remarkably proficient at prosecuting war according to Grant’s simple strategy. As historian William C. Davis has succinctly put it, “the North won it.”
Carl Zebrowski is associate editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, another magazine published by PRIMEDIA.