OT: Military reform for the holidays

If you have time to catch-up with the doings of our broken (modern) military, here are two articles and two free books to help pass an hour or two.

A new CBSA report, "An Army at the Crossroads," notices that the Pentagon, forced by war to commit to light forces, forced by threat analysis to commit to heavy forces, has decided to split the difference.

Meanwhile, David Betz, of the Kings of War blog, notes that the U.S. Army has designed a force structure without any significant light infantry. Forces you would need in Aghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kossovo, etc...

Col. John Boyd's still-living students have assembled between book covers to offer fresh advice to the new president in an anthology called America's Defense Meltdown. The title suggests an emphasis on the Pentagon's famous procurement spiral of death (where more money buys less and less), however there is plenty of doctrinal stuff here to amuse those not interested in "The Acquistion Train Wreck."

For a really fun historical analytic, foreign area specialist Maj. Patrick Kelley offers Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire. Kelley provides an amusing tour through imperial informatics with special note taken of types of information that empires cannot collect or process and how it affects their functioning. Thought provoking and cross-disciplinary, this is reader-friendly enough for even the laziest non-fiction browser.

Let me note also that Savas Beatie is having a success with Once A Marine and that this memoir enables the reader to experience military casualty care vicariously. Not the happiest of holiday topics but an indispensible artifact of our general military deshabille.

Quiet days in publishing

If you set aside the reprints and commemorative Lincoln stuff, November has been surprisingly weak in the number of ACW titles released, following a piddling October. The month is not over yet and there are in fact 10 books coming out on the same day - November 30 - but nevertheless...

One bright spot has been the issuance of a set of South Carolina military studies: South Carolina's Military Organizations in the War Between the States (Vol. 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4). Each volume save the last runs over 400 pages. That's epic! I am especially interested in the last volume, Statewide Units, Militia, and Reserves since these were part of enemy force calculations made by Union generals (and have long been intentionally ignored by historians).

Another bright spot this month is that Lee's unhappy struggle against General Tim Sherman has finally got its own study: Lee in the Lowcountry. This project teamed Lee with Pemberton and Maxcy Gregg following Lee's defeat first at the hands of McClellan, then Rosecrans; it helps define the early war in the East, a war utterly unknown to the Centennial-minded.

Quality over quantity? I shouldn't complain.


Branded history

The great missed opportunity in UFO-ology, as Jacques Vallée noted (IIRC), was anthropological: our failure to document scientifically the emergence of a myth in our own time, during our lives. (Or was that Carl Jung who lodged the same complaint?)

In any case, we are seeing another such myth take root - a phenomenon independent of any underlying reality and not susceptiple to refutation in the public sphere. I'm referring to the "Team of Rivals" as a generic meme and the association of that meme with Lincoln.

The notion of a leader harnessing the energy and ambitions of his enemies to his own cause or for his own use is archtypical in its appeal and has certainly been around in human history at least as long as false flag recruiting.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's genius for publicity rests in part in an appreciation of the tastes and minds of the vast middlebrow audience that listens to NPR, watches PBS, and buys her books. The time has long been ripe for someone to propose a single explanation of Lincoln's specialness, to that audience justifying pop culture's enduring interest in the man.

In brief, Goodwin's natural audience has long been waiting for an "elevator story," a 10-second pitch that helps them "get" Lincoln. Grant and McClellan have had their memes set since the war. They can be spoken in a single breath, understood by a child, repeated half asleep, and grasped as easy as the simplest lie. What has been strange is that these second tier personalities were typified in popular taste long ago while Lincoln's image remained inchoate.

As a branding expert specializing in herself, Goodwin understood this matter and moved to remedy the situation, for which the market has amply rewarded her.

The astonishing thing this week is that Newsweek has run a story suggesting that the president-elect of the United States is consciously modeling behavior falsely ascribed to Lincoln in Goodwin's nonsensical book. In other words, Goodwin's meme, which is pure literature with no basis in any cabinet officer's diary, has taken on a life of its own and disguised as historical truth captivated the imagination of a leader who is acting out a false construct.

This casts a very odd light on "learning from history." As I write this, Google has indexed 340 stories as related to "Obama's talks with rivals precede cabinet picks"; 239 relate to "Obama's presidential role model," and another 294 are connected to "The difference between Honest Abe and The One." That's a striking display of falsehood rounding the world before truth can get its pants on.

The starting point for this gusher of Lincoln-Obama journalism is the assumption that "historian" Goodwin's meme - Lincoln built a team out of rivals - is fact. That "reality" is embedded in each report as basic. Very soon it will be something "everybody knows." In 2009 the Lincoln scholar "not on board" with this view will be a "revisionist" if not a crank.

One could hope that Lincoln scholars would rise up against this but they have been so supine since Goodwin's book was released, so deathly still over the two-year ALPLM crisis, so absolutely get-along-go-along with the excesses of the Bicentennial that we would be fools to expect them to do their duty now or ever.

And so a new myth is born of a plagiarist, sanctified by a president-elect, advocated and promoted by pop journalism, and endorsed passively by those who make a living studying Lincoln.

Have some hors d'oeuvres:

The Washington Post, which owns Newsweek, says,
Obama is contemplating Lincoln's particular model of presidential leadership as he moves toward assembling his own team of advisers and Cabinet officials. His overtures to his former foes have suggested he may be mulling his own team of rivals...
One Newsweek editor is a Lincoln author and was on Fox News: "Doris has made Team of Rivals into a brand that makes Coca-Cola look like a small piker."

The San Jose Mercury highlights the crux of Obama's personal misconception:
"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding, "Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."
This formulation overstates Goodwin's already untenable meme, taking it to a new Level. The Mercury then adds, "That's true enough..."

The National Review, which is always game for any Lincoln loving you want to lay on them, has uncharacteristically published a skeptical letter taking apart the "rivals" meme on its face; not that they were not a "team" (as the diaries show) but that they were not all or even mostly rivals and that their appointments were political team building not managerial team building. This letter seems to react to the Obama quote given above.

CNN runs wild, listing so many Lincoln/Obama comparisons that Goodwin's meme nearly gets lost in the shuffle. But they do roll out Eric Foner to take a shot at the meme as it reflects in journalism: "... as a historian, people ought to calm down a little about these comparisons..." (A hat tip to Foner.)

The DC Examiner, taking the meme as a given, bucks the typology on other grounds: "Elected by a clear majority and with strong support from a unified party, Obama is not in Lincoln's position of having to hold a coalition together in the midst of a house dividing itself."

And so it goes. Grab a browser and have a gander at a new historical "fact."

(Photo via Getty)

Faust bested

Drew Gilpin Faust's Republic of Suffering has lost to another title in this year's National Book Awards. It was far from prize material in any case.


Cedar Creek land to be bought

1,571 acres down, 1,829 to go.

Stupid museum tricks

We have found yet another museum in desperate need of a consultant. I'm still agog at the last incident.

The day the curators interested themselves in their own holdings, they discovered a Lincoln letter. I guess heritage tourism is taking up most of their time.


Diogenes lights his lamp

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's chairwoman, lobbyist Julie Cellini, has tragically lost her husband (also a lobbyist) to a federal jury's corruption indictment. Bill Cellini stands accused of steering pension funds into Governor Rod Blagojevich's pockets.

This could affect the tempo of her search for a new head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library (ALPLM). Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz, who has not yet been arrested, indicted, or imprisoned is mooted as one possible choice.

Readers of this blog will recall that Schwartz (shown above) has physically occupied the office reserved for the ALPLM's top dog for over two years. He will not need to move in if he gets the appointment, though he will have to move out if someone else is named.


Educators prepare for Lincoln Sesquicentennial

A professor writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Less than a month after Obama becomes president, the United States will mark the sesquicentennial birthday of that other Illinois president, Abraham Lincon.
Is that like preparing for the last war?


Armistice Day

An American study of WWI on Western Front, using French sources and placing the French Army in the center of the narrative, appeared in 2005: Pyrrhic Victory by BG Robert A. Doughty. For 20 years, Doughty was the head of West Point's history department and it's a loss for us that he did not study and publish ACW work (although he does appear in a compilation with Mark Grimsley). This marvelously analytical weaving together of doctrine, strategy, and operations is a page-turner that brings clarity to the chaotic disorder we associate with the war in France.

It followed by four years the adventurously revisionist John Mosier's Myth of the Great War, which colored its arguments in gaudy polemic. Mosier viewed the British and French as tactical imbeciles outclassed by their German counterparts, who consistently used less to accomplish more. This part of his treatise causes the most offense, as you'd expect, and is less interesting than his deep analysis showing the overwhelming quantitative and qualitative superiority of the Central Powers' artillery on the Western Front. For Mosier, America's arrival on the field is absolutely decisive, as was Pershing's obstinate commitment to his doctrine of "Open Warfare."

In The AEF Way of War, Mark Ethan Grotelueschen takes Pershing's "Open Warfare" doctrine as his starting point, then charts how division commanders either followed Pershing to ruin or creatively made their own private doctrines to cope with war fighting in France. Very analytical, very simple, consistently interesting. The same author also has published a revisionist artillery study of the AEF. Grotelueschen teaches history at the USAF Academy.

Collapse at the Meuse Argonne traces "The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division" (as the subtitle says) in 1918. It's an extensive treatment of a signal American failure on the Western Front that steers clear of doctrine or strategy but focuses on lack of training, lack of leadership, lack of organization, and supply shortages that will surprise readers new to AEF history. Pershing comes off poorly here.

If we broaden the day's readings beyond WWI, let me recommend the arresting works of Jonathan Shay, one of those many literary M.D.s. He wrote two books that present - this sounds far fetched - Homer's epic poems as explorations of PTSD. Moving and convincing, this is the best introduction to "shell shock" I know of and it helped me understand a few odd quirks of my own post-military behavior.

For physical shock - what it means to be wounded and to recover - Nick Popaditch's Once a Marine (written with Mike Steere) has garnered 13 five-star reviews out of 14 votes cast at Amazon.

For a completely unexpected and unpredictable reading experience, I suggest a free electronic government publication called The Gulag Study, a compilation of sightings of U.S. servicemen in Soviet concentration camps. The cumulative effect on the reader of each fragment presented builds slowly and is hard to describe.

By the same token, if you want to know what all those black MIA flags represent to the flags' fliers, have at An Enormous Crime: The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned in Southeast Asia by Hendon and Stewart. It runs to 487 pages of text with 74 pages of notes.

A final recommendation: should you want to explore the rhetoric that leads men to risk all, see Richard F. Miller's new In Word and Deeds: Battle Speeches in History. He presents a systematic approach to classifying and analyzing this form of speech that establishes a new paradigm. You'll note the many Civil War speeches here but will see few from WWI.


One continuous sensation

I have immersed myself in One Continuous Fight by Wittenberg, Petruzzi, and Nugent and will report back on this late in the week. It holds great promise in terms of fresh looks at old assumptions. It's also a beautifully produced book, not just in terms of maps, images, and design but physically.

May not get any reading done if I can't stop running my hands across the pages. What nice paper.


Are you "living the legacy"?

Our national embarassment kicks off in February. Arf arf.

It's all about emotion

Professor James Robertson reminds us that Civil War history is all about the emotions:
"I'm interested in the common soldiers," Robertson said. "The journals with personalities, the problems on the home front such as what the women were facing, sickness and religion. -- things of that sort appeal to me and they appeal to students. I guess my great hallmark for teaching is you can never understand and appreciate history until you understand the emotions in it and this is certainly true for the Civil War, it's a very emotional war."
If you are committed to understanding and teaching history in two-syllable words, "emotions," with its three syllables, is actually a daring breakthrough concept. Bravo, Robertson, you are exceeding the low standards you have set for yourself and your charges.

BTW, can you think of a better definition of the Centennialist's practice of history than emotionalism? They are such haters and lovers that their books are like mood rings or carnival rides.

Note that Robertson touches on that other staple of Centennial dogma that it was a "soldier's war." Napoleon had a different idea about war. From Fuller's Generalship:
'The personality of the general is indispensable,’ said Napoleon; ‘he is the head, he is the all, of an army. The Gauls were not conquered by the Roman legions, but by Caesar. It was not before the Carthaginian soldiers that Rome was made to tremble, but before Hannibal. It was not the Macedonian phalanx which penetrated to India, but Alexander. It was not the French Army which reached the Weser and the Inn, it was Turenne. Prussia was not defended for seven years against the three most formidable European Powers by the Prussian soldiers, but by Frederick the Great.
Of course, the Centennialist will tell you the Army of the Potomac succeeded in spite of its generals on the one hand while indulging personalities to their fullest on the Southern side.

Suppressing sources, footnoting badly or not at all, saddling a master narrative on unwilling material - these too represent emotional choices.


An amazing discovery

The economic history of the Confederacy will have to be rewritten.

Commemoration per se

Arlington County Virginia is moving on a Sesquicentennial commemoration and the organizers are saying some deeply impressive things.

Item: "County government officials hope to use the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War as a learning tool for members of the community who may have only a vague understanding of the causes, and repercussions, of the nation’s most searing event."

Item: “This is not a celebration, it is a commemoration,” County Board Chairman Walter Tejada said. “This is an opportunity to learn more.”

Item: Not a single mention of the economy. No sign of the word "tourist."

We'll quarrel over the educational content of this event but for now it appears to be pure history - and a sharp poke in the eye to "heritage tourism."


McPherson declares Lincoln "Clausewitzian"

In recent posts, we began to explore James McPherson's expropriation of the idea "concentration in time"; the phrase appears in his new book Tried by War (see here and here) exactly as rendered both by Clausewitz and by Archer Jones (recapitulating Clausewitz) in the 1990s. Unattributed, "concentration in time" appears in his new book to be McPherson's idea.

Last month, Eric Foner's essay collection came out (Our Lincoln) with a piece on Lincoln-as-war-leader contributed by McPherson. McPherson again reiterated this paradigm, again without attribution.

McPherson admits having read Clausewitz in Tried by War; there are in fact two references here to the Prussian thinker. The first appears on page 6 and is worth quoting as an example of the typical amateur's mistakes of presentism and burdening a single point of information with unmanageable generalities.

Although Lincoln never read Carl [sic] von Clausewitz's famous treatise On War (Vom Kriege), his actions were a consumate expression of Clausewitz's central argument: "The political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose..."
Typically, he cut this passage out of his Tried by War and pasted it, word for word, into Foner's book. In Foner's book, it is this "central argument" - alone and undeveloped - that makes Lincoln Clausewitzian.

In Tried by War, McPherson seems to have a new idea by page 142. There, he says, again with striking single mindedness,

In his conception of military strategy, Lincoln was Clausewitzian. The Prussian theorist of war had written that "the destruction of the enemy's force is the leading principle of war," and it "is principally effected only by means of the engagement" - that is by "hard, tough fighting."
So here, Lincoln is Clausewitzian because of hard fighting. He has forgotten the earlier claim. The two observations are offered independently. No discussion, just fiat.

Bush league stuff.

It is worth a small digression into McPherson-as-synthesizer here. The quote from page 142 is not from Clausewitz, it is cited as from J.C. Wylie's book Military Strategy. For some reason, McPherson could not bring himself to retrieve the thought directly from On War. He felt he had to serve the hard fighting idea to his readers with attribution to Clausewitz via Wylie. What a curious reliance on secondary sources. What a curious fastidiousness toward Wylie vice a pernicious claim staked against Clausewitz and Jones in the matter of concentration in time.

Note that in neither offering (Foner's nor his own book) does McPherson expand beyond what I have given to explain Clausewitz vis a vis Lincoln. Nowhere does he give mention to Jomini, whom Lincoln not only read but as Hattaway and Jones have shown employed to argue plans with his generals.

A final oddity in comparing the essay in Foner with Tried by War. We had some fun with McPherson's statement in Tried by War that "Lincoln was not a quick study" in matters military. In Our Lincoln, McPherson states flat out, "Lincoln was a quick study."

You reach a point in the public estimation where such issues become mere quibbles I suppose.

von Moltke's "armed mobs"

Richard F. Miller and I let slip a misattribution: Bismarck was given credit for the supposed von Moltke chestnut about armed mobs. Brooks Simpson pointed out the error.

I had originally seen this in American Heritage 40 or so years ago and it was (to complete the thought) more along the lines of armed mobs chasing each other through the forest (which sounds rather like the premise of an exciting Tarzan movie).

Note that this quote is of a piece with "masterly inactivity." It is an endlessly repeated bit of color that can liven the dullest passage. A search on Google for armed mobs moltke "civil war" yields 1,640 hits, many of which use quote marks to render the insight:

"And he replied, with an icy stare "I have no time to waste in studying the struggles of two armed mobs."
But is it a quote? Whence the icy stare?

The more cautious user will show this as a paraphrase if he uses it at all. BFC Fuller offers it in paraphrase in two books, The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant and War and Western Civilization 1832-1932 without attribution. That's probably where the American Heritage gang got if from. Bruce Catton, a leading light behind AH, borrowed liberally from Fuller and we find him opening a talk with the quote, so fond of it was he:

As devotees and self-appointed analysts of the Civil War, I suppose all of us have heard of von Moltke, who is supposed to have said that he didn't find our Civil War worth study because it was simply a contest of armed mobs.
The quote is not sourced and Catton wisely remarks "supposed to have said." However, as so many Centennialist doubletalkers have done ever since, he proceeds from the uncertain attribution to the ironclad conclusion:

What I would like to suggest is that this Prussian general was more nearly correct than most of us are willing to admit.
Von Moltke was correct about something he may not have said, you see. And it behooves us to be willing to admit he may have been right about this something he may never said.

Welcome to the Civil War history that inspired this blog.

James M. McPherson, who synthesized Catton, Williams, Nevins, and others, offered the mob quote in Battle Cry followed by the curious caveat that Moltke "denied having said" it. Again, this is not sourced, leaving open the possibility that McPherson, in recapitulating the work of others, distorted "may not have said" into "denied having said."

This armed mob seems to come out of the life and legends of W. Tecumseh Sherman. Glatthaar, a slob in the citations department, tantalizes us with

After the war, word circulated that the great Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke had said of Sherman's army that there was nothing one could learn from 'an armed mob.'
That was from his The American Civil War and again source is not noted, despite the quote marks.

I have seen somewhere and lost track of the second half of that vignette which appears elsewhere, in which Sherman, hearing the criticism, issues a rejoinder. In other words, there seems to be a Sherman anecdote abroad in which the von Moltke quote is brought to his attention and Sherman responds. It does not appear in the wartime correspondence edited by Simpson and Berliner.

If you take Catton's screwy logic to the next level, you can base an entire academic paper on an event rooted in maybe. Hence this gem:
Helmuth von Moltke's alleged statement the U.S. Civil War was an affair in which two armed mobs chased each other around the country and from which no lessons could be learned underlines a grave misjudgment of this war in contemporary Germany.
Emphasis added. If it didn't happen, can it underline a grave misjudgement? Yes says German Observations and Evaluations of the U.S. Civil War: A Study in Lessons Not Learned.

Lessons learned from things that might not have been said. Chapter the First: Our Missing Attributions.

In any case, the mobs and von Moltke the Elder were so established in the American imagination early on that the U.S. journalist Poultney Bigelow confronted Kaiser Wilhelm II on the question, filing a story the day after von Moltke's death (datelined 4/25/1891 and accessible via the NYT archives).

I asked the Emperor about von Moltke's reported reference to the American Civil War, the general having been quoted as calling our armies armed mobs, from which nothing of the science of war could be learned.

"Gen. von Moltke never said any such thing, nor had he any such opinion," said the Emperor. "On the contrary, he had the highest respect for your generals, as every one acquainted with his administration of the general staff must know. Even to this day, every German officer is obliged to study carefully the history and tactics of your war. We Germans are thoroughly acquainted with the campaigns of Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, and Lee, and your other generals. Gen. von Moltke has repeatedly expressed his admiration of them to me. You taught us the art of intrenchments, transportation, military telegraphing, and forced marches; in fact, the whole science of military warfare was illustrated in your war. Gen. von Moltke always recognized this and that we had much to learn from your generals. Nothing could be further from the truth than that silly story."

Note that this is from a latecomer - Kaiser Bill had been on the throne under three years at the time - and it comes through a news report. Yet, I have some reason to put confidence in this second or third hand report.

McClellan met von Moltke in Europe and von Moltke was both complimentary of his generalship and familiar enough with the war to comment on the combined army/naval operations against Richmond. McClellan reported that von Moltke said GBM's approach was the correct one and would have won the war, given proper support. See Sears's Young Napoleon; here's an unsourced account as well.

This resonates with von Moltke's concerns in 1864, combined operations against the Danish islands in the Baltic. It also resonates with what Justus Scheibert presented to the Prussian General Staff upon his return from observing McClellan and the Rebels in the mid 1860s (see A Prussian Observes the Civil War). Von Moltke was head of that staff and must have been familiar with Scheibert's insights, which are in no way "armed mobs" characterizations. One of the more interesting "lessons" Scheibert drove home to the GS was that Grant's campaign represented a fulfillment of McClellan's 1862 plans.

Thus, the Prussian GS was discussing American strategy, plans, combined operations, and personalities. Von Moltke, whatever he may have said about McClellan's first Richmond campaign, was conversant enough with the war to discuss it with McClellan at the strategic level.

The origins of the "armed mobs" story remains obscure. Got a line on it? Drop a line.