Making McClellan noises

Savas-Beatie is shipping Army of the Potomac Vol. III to stores; it seems like a good occasion therefore to talk about McClellan again.

We have from the commander in Iraq what appears to be a proclamation rather like something from McClellan himself during the West Virginia campaign.

General David Petraeus says,
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force Iraq: Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we - not the enemy - occupy the moral high ground.
These are McClellan-like noises ... but without substance. Recall McClellan once told his command, "We are fighting in a holy cause, and should endeavor to deserve the benign favor of the Creator." Note we are not fighting to make people understand who holds the high ground - we do not fight and die for public opinion. Petraeus's argument that "our values" (whence?) and "the laws" (whence?) "teach us" something is not of the same order.

Further, note that Petraeus falsely places the values of his soldiers and those of the enemy on the same plane by making adherence to values - consistency in behavior - the distinguishing moral feature. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy," who does not adhere to his own values, one supposes. This being from a Princeton PhD, it is not a slip of the pen.

The paragraph excerpted above, ending in the phrase "the moral high ground" then passes immediately into pragmatism: "This strategy has shown results in recent months."

Your moral position is a strategy? This PhD cannot tell means from ends. Try this on instead, from McClellan again:
The General Government can not close its ears to the demand you have made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the river. They come as your friends and brothers, as enemies only to armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected.
That's a clear statement of action with the principles guiding them. GBM addresses the population in the path of his army, but his logic and motivations are as clear in the messages given to his troops.

I urge you to read the full text of the Petraeus letter. It is filled with appeals to practicality and usefulness. It urges troops to talk to their chaplain or "medical expert" about stress if they cannot see things his way. It touches on values without defining them and it prods soldiers to discuss the ideas in the letter. Hey, let's have a rap session that can change nothing...

Can you not tell that the army is being run by a 1970s crowd? Is Tom Wolfe writing this stuff?

A closing thought on the effects of McClellan's clear and forthright policies: this comes from the Southern memoir, A Virginia Girl in the Civil War: "Civilians, women, children, and slaves feared Pope; soldiers feared McClellan - that is, as much as Lee's soldiers could fear anybody."

Old fashioned stuff, a practical effect from a moral policy.


p.s. To give a fuller taste of the moral and intellectual confusion of our Army command in these days, here is an anecdote from the current troubles (emphasis added).

In 2004, when McFate had a fellowship at the Office of Naval Research, she got a call from a science adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had been contacted by battalion commanders with the 4th Infantry Division in a violent sector of the Sunni Triangle, in Iraq.

“We’re having a really hard time out here—we have no idea how this society works,” the commanders said. “Could you help us?”

The science adviser replied that he was a mathematical physicist, and turned for help to one of the few anthropologists he could find in the Defense Department.

- “Knowing the Enemy”, George Packer, The New Yorker, December 12, 2006

Note that the battalion commanders annoying the Pentagon's scientific staff are one step above company commanders, i.e. low-level combat leaders equivalent to the colonels running Civil War regiments. It's as if Chamberlain were telegraphing Stanton for anthropological support.

Given a clear-cut (McClellan type) statement of moral policy with supporting, actionable principles, commanders would know how to execute their orders under any circumstances and in any society.

(Top right: the Petraeus family)