8/25/2009

"Let us have our Walmart and let us stop the battle"

There will be a lot of blogging on the Wilderness Walmart vote, so let me get out of the way as fast as I can.

The title quote, complete from the linked story, is "I know we've been referred to as ignorant shoppers. I feel bad about that but I'll live with it. Let us have our Walmart and let us stop the battle." Let us have peace, as Grant said.

The reporting explains why preservationists lost: "Many residents cited three reasons for supporting the Walmart proposal: jobs, tax revenue and a cheap shopping option..."

The 4-1 vote routed preservationists; humiliated them; cut down their orchards, salted their fields, carried their women and children into slavery. But the preservationists will not learn.

They fail to see similar motives in their allies the heritage tourism boosters; or in the various greens who team up to save ducks and battlefields or open space and battlefields or farmland and battlefields. These multi-purpose alliances can deliver success but confess great weakness.

Heritage tourism, for instance, is a dark alliance that is all about jobs, tax revenue, and cheap shopping. The expedient alliances pursued nationally to save battlefields will turn against preservationists as surely as the council that voted in Walmart and voted out history. If there is no organic preservation scene with political roots and deep local cultural affinity, all is in peril.

The "outsiders" who swooped in here deserve some credit but we need to look at the resources wasted in this battle; the opportunity cost of wasted time, energy and treasure; the polarization of preservation around the Wilderness into us versus them; major message failure; and the fundamental truth that advocates of "jobs, tax revenue and a cheap shopping" are not natural allies of the Civil War preservationist when parading as "heritage tourism" advocates.

We had a Bull Run in the Wilderness. Will we regroup and reorganize on sounder lines? Will certain generals be relieved? Can we retrain before the next battle?

8/24/2009

Fake Grant, Lincoln imagery

The New York Times depicts a couple of amusing historical fakes: composite images of Lincoln (his head superimposed on Calhoun's body) and Grant (his head superimposed on McCook's body). This being typical Times reporting, however, we are not told who made the fakes, why they were made, when they were made, what purpose they served, who discovered them, or when they were discovered.

8/21/2009

"Why senior military leaders fail"

The Armed Forces Journal has an article that will resonate deeply with Civil War readers, "Why senior military leaders fail." You may want to read it to inform your own views before going further.

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The first thing that strikes me about the essay is that - without mentioning the ACW - it models all of the Lincoln-and-his-generals conventions . These are taught to generations of cadets. I hear a playback loop from the authors.

Consider the title and theme of the piece - failure is considered military relief by civilian authority. The general may betray his duty to subordinates, he may lose battles, he may botch strategies, he may neglect equipment and supplies, but he fails if and only if the civilians don't like him.
We define “failed” by their outright firing, or the more euphemistic “asked to resign.”
Meanwhile, a new biography, LeMay, shows us a chief of staff of the Air Force constantly, openly fighting with his presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) and they constantly reappointing him. So as to then versus now: if you have never served, it will be hard to understand how completely the U.S. military have internalized the civilian control ethos and how twisted their form of subordination has become.

Over a decade after Lemay/Johnson, in the summer of 1977, one of my Korean DMZ ambush patrols encountered infiltrators in the kill zone; my patrol leader reported in by radio and within minutes White House civilians took over his unit by telephone. This was a great relief to my battalion commander, his brigade commander, the Second Division commander, the Eighth Army commander, and so on up the Army line. Delegating command to an anonymous poli sci grad student, somebody's ardent campaign assistant, to run combat patrols over phone lines and radio relays half a world away remains a brilliant example of when senior military leaders succeed.

Major General Barry Goldwater, USAF, did a curious thing to help adjust military-civilian relations almost a decade after that patrol. As senator, he and Congressman Bill Nichols sponsored a bill, one provision of which required that the Joint Chiefs of Staff always have direct access to the president. You wouldn't think it was needed. Halleck could again talk to Lincoln.

What General Goldwater did not seem to realize, per my Korean example and the AFJ article linked here, is that the Chiefs do not need access to the president to "succeed," and in fact, are eager to bargain away such access in exchange for real "success." Thus, early in the reprise of SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, his inner Stanton counseled him to have the chiefs sign a memo foreswearing their legal access to the president. They signed gladly and were all the more "successful" for it with only a couple being retired prematurely under Rumsfeld redux. That arrangement continues to this day with less "success" for the generals, Rumsfeld's replacement, Gates, having fired a gaggle of generals and service secretaries (an act we ACW readers associate exclusively with presidential prerogatives). Perhaps the generals need new statutes they can bargain away in exchange for "success."

Here is a test you can apply yourselves any Sunday. To see how the relationship with civilian leaders has evolved, look at the military men on the Sunday civics shows answering policy questions as if they make and own policy. These are implementers of policy whose natural sphere is to tell how they are implementing what they have been given; it is their duty to reject every policy question as out of their field. Nowadays, however, looking out for the boss means internalizing and anticipating his policies, then advocating them as if they were your own.

The linked AFJ piece gives the counter-example of Admiral Fallon travelling the world making statements to pre-empt his civilian masters from adopting policies that Fallon did not want. (Rorschach test for you: is he more like Wadsworth or McClellan?) To me, this is the next natural step after demanding implementers internalize policy. Fallon's pre-emptive diktats are exactly of a piece with generals becoming spokesmen for the policies they are instructed to follow and just as pernicious. Fallon's path at least has the advantage of intellectual honesty but its poisons flow from the same source as the cheerleaders': demanding of subordinates their policy buy-in, as if they were apparatchiks, or clappers at a party congress where the first to stop applauding calls attention to himself.

We don't ask the policeman to be an advocate for every law enforced but rather to be an effective implementer of the law. We don't sit the policeman on the talk show panel and ask what the policy should be.

An important book, one that ended the career of BG J.F.C. Fuller, was Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure. Fuller was less concerned with the specifics of general-civilian interaction than with the superset of phenomena associated with the "chateau general". He noted that the American Civil War was the last period of the fighting commander and that the chateau general is all anybody has nowadays. Perhaps, if the commanders are now going to act like apparatchiks, the term should be dacha generals.

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The second thing you notice about the AFJ article is that it's written by men who are not "senior military leaders" themselves and worse, do not draw on any personal experience as aides to such to develop their piece. Their article is based on newspaper clippings such as you or I might gather. This is very much chateau (or dacha) staffwork. No reconnaissance of the line, no mucky interviews, no gory research, and no analysis outside of the crazy framework that equates failure to please the president's aides with military failure.

***

Misinterpreting relations between Lincoln and his generals, codifying those "lessons learned" in all the wrong ways, then inculcating those errors into the officer corps for generations has led to a morally confused military leadership that does not know how to relate to civilian authority.

It cannot even follow the law in such matters.

There is a very real price we pay for bad Civil War history.

8/19/2009

Another setback for Lincoln, the film

The news of massive Indian funding for Spielberg's movie company has cast indirect light on the Lincoln film project that started with his buying in advance the rights to the then unwritten Team of Rivals; and then, more recently in partnership with screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg's seeming to drop Doris Kearns Goodwin's property for a new storyline.

This nugget of intelligence comes from Playbill, earlier in the month:
Spielberg's DreamWorks film about Abraham Lincoln (with Tony Kushner attached as screenwriter) was not yet ready to shoot, according to the trade paper, so Harvey [a newer project] has been fast-tracked.
Recent stories featuring Kushner have not mentioned him finishing the script - in fact, they have not mentioned Lincoln at all. Is it too much to infer that Spielberg is having story/scenario problems with the material? First with Goodwin's book as delivered, then with Kushner's new material?

Larry Tagg noticed news that Robert Redford will beat Spielberg to market with a Lincoln film, albeit an assasination story ("The Conspirator"). This could actually help a future biopic by creating interest via the drama of death and chase.

What bothers me about the Redford stories - and we're entering codger territory here - is that only some of them mention that this is for HBO. To me HBO = TV and an HBO movie = Made-for-TV-Movie. Has the stigma disappeared? If it is not shown in theatres, is it a movie? When HBO started, I cancelled it the first time they broadcast a made-for-HBO-movie and have never looked back.

What Larry likes is the angle the scriptwriters are taking: "I'm especially excited about this because the movie centers on Mary Surratt, and I was just asked to speak at a conference organized by the Surratt Society--www.surratt.org--in March."

A Surratt society! Well, the astonishing level of interest in Dr. Samuel Mudd must be an indicator of something. Redford here may have a better nose for commercial potential, even if he is wasting a film on cable TV.

8/18/2009

8/13/2009

The author answers his critics (cont.)

Regarding authors answering critics, Russell Bonds writes:
Another place to watch answering-the-critics car wrecks - on Amazon.com Customer Reviews. Some authors use the "Comments" function to answer/blast readers who give them a bad review. (The State of Jones folks are doing this to debate some of their one-stars.)
He adds, "It is tough to watch people trash your 'baby,' but arguing with them is a bad idea."

A good indicator of which authors might be prone to do this is to note which ones go into a state of rage when publishers turn down their manuscripts (see doozy here).

Francis Hamit adds:
That e-mail I sent you about bad book reviews was not a "press release". You were the only recipient. I don't mind having a dialog on this topic, but since I have over a dozen favorable reviews for "The Shenandoah Spy" a badly done one simply makes its author look bad and, frankly, I expect better from academics than a "once over lightly" approach which would earn any of their students a "C". As I said, I used to be a book reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News. There are standards for reviews and rule number one is that you are supposed to read the entire book. Anything less is cheating. People rely upon book reviews for insights into the quality of the text and insights into what the book is about. My concern here is not whether or not the review might be negative or prejudicial, but whether or not it is accurate and fair. How can it be fair if the reviewer hasn't bothered to read the entire text and grasp the author's intention?

8/11/2009

The author answers his critics

Way back, Ted Savas of Savas-Beatie, mentioned to me that Russel Beatie (right) was using his website to answer critics. I didn't think it was a good idea, so I am pleased to find no retorts on his site now.

My feelings are/were somewhat Beatie-specific. His more ardent critics almost drove me to write an extended series of essays on substantive criticism vs. frippery.

Major criticisms deserves a response but the author is too often tempted into overkill, chasing the critic's own smaller mistakes or errors in interpretation. Do you ever read magazines with letters colums where the author responds? Voila.

All this is to introduce a very interesting press release from Francis Hamit (right) in which he addresses critics of his novel Shenandoah Spy. I place the whole release below to provide context for the response to reviewers. Is Hamit in the zone where response is needed? Or is he in a lose/lose bargain?
Because of the economy, we continue to push "The Shenandoah Spy" and have put off the second book in the series, "Nest of Spies". That means we are still sending out review copies and doing book signings and interviews. Generally, the reviews have been excellent and the only ones that fail to be excellent are one where the reviewer has quite obviously not read the book fully and completely. When the review focuses on a very minor character and misses the main events of the narrative that define the characters, it's sort of a dead giveaway. This only seems to happen when reviewer is a historian rather than a novelist. Given how touchy these folks are about accuracy, it seems odd that they are so careless and quick to judge a historical novel based on a few selective readings of bits and pieces and not the whole. True, many historical novels are sloppy in their own research and many professional historians rightly scorn them for this Hollywood approach to the facts, but prejudging a book by its category and reading it incompletely is the kind of carelessness that professional book reviewers (if there are any left) get fired for. I used to be one.

There is not much an author can do about a badly done review, except take the hit and hope that the mass of favorable opinion will overcome it, but I do think that professional historians should recuse themselves from reviewing historical fiction if they cannot be bothered to read the complete work and understand, going in, that is is indeed fictional and creative choices related to the needs of an entertaining and enjoyable narrative for average readers, sans footnotes and other artifacts of the tradtional history are what will drive the storyline. These are not teaching tools, nor are they intended for immature or sensitive readers.

The essence of drama and fiction can be expressed in the question "What would happen if...." and fill in the blank. This takes a novelist places that a historian would never think to go. Currently I am looking once more in the exisitng primary sources for what the intelligence trade calls "indicators". Last night I discovered that the British were very worried at the end of the Civil War that America might use it's massive and experienced army to invade Canada and that British support of the Confederate Navy (almost entirely crewed by British sailors) would be the cause. The American merchantile fleet had been destroyed by the Confederate cruisers, either directly or ,more significantly by the 715 vessles that had changed their registration from American to British. The Confederate Navy was a secret service operation from beginning to end. I will be going to the Public Records Office at Kew in the future to see just whose secret service. And to Liverpool. Seems to me that there more than one PhD dissertation to be gotten here, but that's not my game, so regular historians should feel free to jump on this, if they like.

My book is available for review, but you have to read the whole thing. The attached file is the current book cover. By the way, the Amazon Shorts version is not the same. I did more research before the final publication. Mostly on Major Wheat, a very minor character, but every character in a novel is important.

8/10/2009

Google: annoyance or menace?

One should not speak ill of a business partner but it used to be that when you Googled "Russel Beatie" (watch the spelling) his website appeared near the top of the results. Now you get a fairly random grab bag of mixed relevance with his site outta site (but his political contributions in the top four results!). You'll see this very blog in the top five, so it's not all bad news. On the other hand, I'm worried that this post will eventually index higher than the author's own web pages or any other contextually relevant site.

Which reminds me, any of you codgers notice a serious deterioration in the Amazon search output over the last decade? I have relied on it for 13 years of ACW book hunts but am getting better relevance from B&N over the last three years. It must be the expanded inventory that is degrading Amazon search quality. I'm seeing a major irrelevancy generator in the (Amazonian) textual analysis of various books' insides. (If a UFO book mentions Lincoln or Civil War, it's on your list.)

Where are all those fierce algo jockeys when you need them?

(Image result topside from Googling "fierce algo jockeys." They seem to be fiddling with some sort of iTunes interface device.)

Heard at a meeting this morning...

"That department is in the first 10 minutes of Pickett's charge..." I guess those were the better minutes.

8/04/2009

Testing search engines

When I hear about new search engines, the first test I'll run is "Civil War."

Here are the results from Microsoft's new "decision engine" Bing. The good news for Eric Wittenberg is that his blog landed fourth on the list (but not the blog in general, one post in particular).

The rest of the showing is marred by duplicate entries (Encarta, Wiki, Civilwar.com) and scattershot relevancy. See for yourself.