What the Union lost in 1865

The heavy machine gun company at the center of Väinö Linna's war novel, Unknown Soldier has this turning point early on. The arrival of mobilized reservists to fill out peacetime manning levels transforms everything. And there are just two reservists doing the transforming.

These older and wiser combat veterans - corporals - steady the jangled nerves of the "lifers," now facing Soviet combat for the first time in the Continuation War. They take the unit's bad luck and make it good. In one crunch after another they save the regulars with a Ulysses-like mix of wisdom, skill, cunning, and courage. They hold themselves apart – inevitably – because they come from a world apart. Oblivious to honors or advancement, contemptuous of authority, businesslike when the chips are down, they also radiate depth, humor, and humanity. They are the natural leaders of the company. As the war drags on into its third and fourth years, the gap never closes. The pre-war careerists get better but never "catch up."

I read this book on the eve of embarking on my active duty service and immediately understood that it was conveying an alternate vision of the civilian in uniform.

The victory of the Union's Civil War professionals over the political generals in 1865 has left us with a depleted and feeble militia ethos. The temporary status of Volunteer regiments, pre-empting state militias, didn't help. The states consistently imitated federal force structures, training and doctrine until finally, the Regular establishment gobbled up the states' National Guards.

The militia idea in force since 1865 is that it is but a second-rate regular army and will ever be so. America's militia tradition has been in ruins for so long as to damage the more general concept of the special usefulness of citizen soldiers.

Now comes Boydian reformer Bill Lind with a tale straight out of Väinö Linna's Unknown Soldier.

What has enabled Lt. Waters and his unit of California National Guardsmen to get it right? Lt. Waters is a cop. Specifically, he is a sheriff from Sacramento. He is dealing with the people of Baghdad the same way he deals with the people back home, politely and with a genuine desire to help. His unit has not killed anyone because Lt. Waters knows cops succeed by de-escalating, not by escalating violence. Cops try very hard not to kill people. In fact, cops don’t want to fight at all.
Instead of developing the theme of a Guard unit getting it right, or a civilian using his "specialness" to help the cause, Lind wastes the story on a digression, explaining the idea of "tactical de-escalation."

Our friends at Irregular Analyses take issue with Lind's suggestion that "Army regulars can't get it too. Of course they can - and they do. In the US Army although grasp of the issues is very uneven there are plenty of junior officers who understand the concepts …"

The larger point is not about some young "lifers" getting it - it is that the fruitful deployment of this reservist in this unit and in this role was an accident. It remains an accident. Nothing can be learned from it institutionally; the judgements of Grant and Sherman in 1865 live on. To the Regular Army, this NG cop will ever be a sunshine soldier struggling to overcome his inadequate training and "lack of professional experience."

Until we rethink the citizen soldier, until we go back to 1865, that will be the fate of all genius under the care of Regulars.