Sunday, July 17, 2005

Book Blogging

Finally finished A Stillness at Appomattox last night. I had ordered some other books, and as they arrived I kept setting it aside to read them.

I ordered two by one of my favorite authors as a child, Robert Arthur. He's probably unknown to all but the most dedicated readers of old pulp fiction. He was the originator of the Three Investigators mystery series. I read all the TI books in my elementary school library. Never got into the Hardy Boys, but thought these were great. The two books I ordered by him were Mystery and More Mystery and Ghosts and More Ghosts, both collections of shorts stories that he had originally written for the pulps. I used to own the first of those two. I bought it when I was in sixth grade. I wouldn't say the stories were all written for kids, but they are at least not inappropriate for kids. I still enjoy them thirty years later, and I will be happy to pass them along to my children. (The eldest has already started on the TI series, although she's yet to complete one.)

The other book I stopped for was The Best Western Stories of Ernest Haycox, also a collection of short stories. My dad introduced me to Haycox when I was a teenager. He's, imo, the best western writer ever. His books deal with a wider range of human emotion. His characters are more realistically drawn than most you find in westerns, and they are more engaging. His heroes are not just gunslingers or ranchers. They are also farmers, soldiers, merchants and freighters. Any man (or woman) who acts boldly and intelligently to gain what he wants is a hero. The emphasis is on 'intelligently', because the antagonist in a Haycox story is often a man who is as strong, assertive and bold as the hero, but whose desires are not disciplined by his intelligence. His actions are therefore self-destructive, not to mention being destructive of the people around him.

I also finished the above book last night, so I've started another Haycox while I wait for the wife to finish with the new Harry Potter, which arrived in the mail yesterday. (When I catch her not reading it, I grab it up and read a few pages, so I'm two chapters into it as well.) Alder Gulch is the title of the Haycox book. I read it many years ago, but don't remember exactly how it goes. A number of Haycox novels have been made into movies: Trail Town (Abilene Town), Bugles in the Afternoon, Trouble Shooter (Union Pacific), and Canyon Passage. The most famous of his stories to be made into a movie, though, was the short story, Stage to Lordsburg, which was retitled Stagecoach in the movie version--the John Ford movie that gave John Wayne his start.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Some historical perspective on Guantanamo

A study of history is valuable for providing context to current events. My reading of A Stillness at Appomattox was interrupted while I dove into a couple of books of short stories that I ordered online. Picking it back up this morning, I came across Catton's description of the conditions in Civil War prisons. He says:

One does not need to read wartime propaganda to get a full indictment of the prison camps. Each side indicted itself, in terms no propagandist could make much more bitter. A Confederate surgeon, completing an inspection of Andersonville, reported to his superiors at Richmond that more than 10,000 prisoners had died in seven months--nearly on third of the entire number confined there. More than 5,000 were seriously ill. Diarrhea, dysentery, scurvy, and hospital gangrene were the chief complaints, and there were from 90 to 130 deaths every day. He found 30,000 men jammed together on twenty-seven acres of land, "with little or no attention to hygeine, with festering masses of filth at the very doors of their rude dens and tents." A little stream flowed through the camp, and about it the surgeon found "a filthy quagmire" which was so infamous that a man who got a slight scratch on his skin, or even an insect bite, was likely to die of blood poisoning. [...]

Thus in the South. In the North, an army surgeon inspected the camp for Rebel prisoners at Elmira, New York, and said that the 8,347 prisoners there exhibted 2,000 cases of scurvy. He asserted that at the current death rates "the entire command will be admitted to hospital in less than a year and 36 per cent die." Like Andersonville, the Elmira camp contained a stream, which had formed a dreadful scummy pond--"a festering mass of corruption, impregnating the entire atmosphere of the camp with the pestilential odors... the vaults give off their sickly odors, and the hospitals are crowded with victims for the grave." The camp surgeon had made repeated complaints but he could get no one in authority to pay any attention to them, and his requisitions for medicines had been entirely ignored.

A hundred and forty years later we are having debates about prisoner abuse centered on allegations that a guard peed on someone's holy book... by accident.

Let's see if we can gain a little more perspective from Catton. Here he is discussing the war as it was fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

In modern terms, the Confederacy had organized a resistance movement in territory occupied by the hated Yankees; had organized it, and then had seen it get badly out of hand. The Valley was full of men who were Confederate soldiers by fits and starts--loosely organized and loosely controlled, most of them, innocent civilians six days a week and hell-roaring raiders the seventh day. They owned horses, weapons and sometimes uniforms, which they carefully hid when they were not actually using them. Called together at intervals by their leaders, they would swoop down on outposts and picket lines, knock off wagon trains or supply depots, burn culverts and bridges behind the Federal front and waylay any couriers, scouts, or other detached persons they could find. They compelled Union commanders to make heavy detachments to guard supply lines and depots, thus reducing the number of soldiers available for service in battle. To a certain extent they unintentionally compensated for this by reducing straggling in the Federal ranks, for the Northern soldier was firmly convinced that guerillas took no prisoners and that to be caught by them was to get a slit throat.


The quality of these guerilla bands varied greatly. At the top was John S. Mosby's: courageous soldiers led by a minor genius, highly effective in partisan warfare. Most of the groups, however, were about one degree better than plain outlaws, living for loot and excitement, doing no actual fighting if they could help it, and offering a secure refuge to any number of Confederate deserters and draft evaders. The Confederate cavalry leader, General Thomas L. Rosser, called them "a nuisance and an evil to the service," declaring:

"Without discipline, order or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can't be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave, but few of the men are good soldiers."

In short, these men were not looked on by either side as being regular army soldiers. The Union reaction to these men was harsh.

"[M]ost Federal generals considered guerillas as mere bushwhackers, candidates for the noose or the firing squad. An exception was generally (though by no means always) made in the case of Mosby's men, who were recognized as being more or less regular soldiers, but the attitude toward the rest was summed up by a Union general along the upper Potomac, who said: "I have instructed my command not to bring any of them to my headquarters except for interment."

Just in case that's not clear, the word he used was "interment" not "internment", in other words, burial. He was telling his men, don't bring me any live guerillas. This was the custom of the time, and was still the custom in WWII. Men not serving as part of a regular army were not protected by wartime conventions. They were subject to be hanged or shot, as the mood suited the capturing parties. The reason for this was very simple. By not operating openly, they had what was considered an unfair advantage over troops who did. In addition, by posing as civilians they were taking advantage of the protection assumed for civilians during wartime. They were also blurring the distinction between civilian and soldier, and exposing civilians to reprisals as a consequence. The principle by which they were executed when caught was: men who do not fight by the rules of war may not appeal to the rules of war for protection.

To the best of my knowledge, every single one of the men interned at Guantanamo was wearing civilian clothing when captured. By long-standing rules of war, we could have executed them on the spot, and we would have been justified in doing so. Having chosen to treat them as prisoners of war instead, we are treating them in a far more humane manner than has been customary for even legitimate prisoners of war. None have died of disease or ill treatment. They are given excellent medical care, and plenty of food. Some of them have been interrogated, but only in ways that would have made Torquemada snort with derision.

A knowledge of history teaches us that war is hell on earth. It should not be undertaken lightly, but when it must be undertaken, it must be fought to win. Victory is not achieved by gentle handling of the enemy. The prisoner of war camps in the Civil War are not a model we want to emulate. According to Catton they were not part of a deliberate policy of cruelty, but a result of the fact that "men were clumsy and the times were still rude." Most soldiers during that time died from the same sort of disease and malnourishment that was killing the POWs, so it was no surprise that soldiers of the enemy received worse treatment. Giving terrorists--men who wage war by murdering civilians--enough nourishment and medical care to keep them alive until such time as they can be executed, is more than sufficient for humane treatment.

Monday, July 11, 2005

That which does not completely erradicate terrorists...

makes them more nimble, apparently. At least, that's the view of the New York times in this article. (HT: Instapundit.)

Investigators examining Thursday's attacks, which left at least 49 dead and 700 injured, are pursuing a theory that the bombers were part of a homegrown sleeper cell, which may or may not have had foreign support for the bomb-making phase of the operation.

If that theory proves true, it would reflect the transformation of the terror threat around Europe. With much of Al Qaeda's hierarchy either captured or killed, a new, more nimble terrorist force has emerged on the continent, comprising mostly semiautonomous, Qaeda-inspired local groups that are believed to be operating in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and other countries.
(Emphasis added.)

Got that? Almost four years of killing and capturing top Al Qaeda operatives and all we've done is made the organization "more nimble." This is where you're supposed to throw up your hands and surrender, because there is nothing we can do to succeed in the war on terrorists. That's the message the NYT wants to make sure you're getting: we can't win.

They might have observed that forcing the terrorists to be more nimble or die reduces their resources and makes it more difficult for them to do the sort of long range planning that toppled the WTC. They might have observed, as others have, that the London bombings, though executed successfully, were on a smaller scale than the bombings in Spain, suggesting a diminishing material capability.

To borrow an analogy from the reading I've been doing recently, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, lacking in supplies, rations and guns, was far more nimble than the Army of the Potomac. They traveled light, and were capable of lightning moves that kept the North off balance during the early part of the war, and slowed down their advance in the last year. If anyone had asked Lee at the time, though, I'm sure he would have traded some of his nimbleness for a steady supply of men, munitions and food. It's a commonplace observation that the South was out-produced, rather than out-fought. In order to win, the North simply had to keep up a steady war of attrition, and not lose its will to fight.

The latter was not an easy thing, because, just as we do now, the North had a class of men who were opposed to the war, and eager to make political hay of any bad news. Of course, bad news in that war meant 2,000 casualties per day for a solid month. Yet, the North stayed in the fight until it achieved victory, because it believed that victory had to be achieved.

It's true that with a bit more nimbleness the AoP could have ended the war a lot sooner, and saved a lot of lives in the long run. There are things that we could have done to end this war sooner also. For one thing, we could have wiped Fallujah off the map the first time it became a problem. We have tried too hard to minimize civilian casualties at the price of our soldiers' lives. Once again, we are falling into the trap of trying to fight a limited war.

Although the Army of the Potomac outnumbered the Army of Virginia by 20-50%, it was most often outnumbered on the battlefield, because excessive caution, confused logistics and miscarried orders prevented it from putting its full force into play. The excessive caution came from the political need to keep the people in Washington feeling safe. Even with 40,000 men manning the trenches around the city, McClellan felt compelled to move slowly and hold men in reserve, lest the Confederates break through and smash Washington.

This was because, early on, Lee and the Confederate army achieved a moral superiority in the minds of the generals and politicians of the North. When Grant came to fight in the east, he commented derisively to one panicky general, "Some of you always seem to think [General Lee] is going to turn a double somersault and land in our rear and on both flanks at the same time." This atmosphere of superstitious awe is what contributed to the caution of the Union generals. It was a combination of both fear and over-glorification of the enemy. It was carried in the papers, and it enflamed the minds of the politicians, and was forced by them upon the generals. Whatever you do, don't let Lee break through.

Our media is attempting to foist this same sense of caution upon us. They want us to fight a purely defensive war. They both magnify and minimize the threat posed by the terrorists: the threat becomes dire if we go on the offensive, and drops to minimal if we stay on the defensive. That is why they can write in all seriousness that chopping off the head of Al Qaeda has made it a more nimble organization. A chicken with its head cut off appears more nimble too, but that is not usually considered a net benefit to the chicken.

Al Qaeda will be destroyed, so long as we stay on the offensive. There is more that we could do to end the war sooner, but our victory is assured, so long as we maintain the will to fight. If we pull back and go on the defensive, we lose.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Screw it indeed!

Now, here's a campaign I can get behind. (HT: Instapundit) I can just see the religious conservatives sputtering with rage over this one. They will surely fail to get the point, because they've successfully convinced themselves that what they are truly worried about are the poor unborn children. What really bothers them is that people are out there fornicating right and left, and not having to suffer for it. How can we know that there is a god if people don't suffer when they sin?

Civil War recruiting and chickenhawks

Reading A Stillness at Appomattox now, the third book in Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac series. Catton is discussing the Army's recruitment woes in the winter of 1864. The ranks have been depleted due to some terrible battles, and the three-year recruits have almost served out their terms. The Union is scrambling for new men. They offer high bounties of up to $1000 for new recruits. This leads to the practice of bounty jumping. Men will enlist for the bounty money in one state, desert and go enlist somewhere else to collect another bounty. The Union also institutes a draft, but finds that many of the men conscripted in that fashion will run at the first opportunity. Veteran troops were having to be pulled out of the ranks to stand guard over the new recruits.

Early in this winter of 1864 a teen-ager in upstate New York enlisted in a battery of field artillery--a veteran battery on duty in Virginia which had sent back for a few replacements--and to his amazement as soon as he had signed the papers he was put in a penitentiar building at Albany, the army having chosen this place as the only suitable spot for its new recruits. He found approximately a thousand draftees and bounty-jumpers there, closely guarded by double lines of sentinels, and he appears to have been about the only man in the lot who had joined up for love of country.

"If there was a man in all that shameless crew who had enlisted from patriotic motives, I did not see him," he wrote afterward. "There was not a man of them who was not eager to run away, not a man who did not quake when he thought of the front. Almost to a man they were bullies and cowards, and almost to a man they belonged to the criminal classes."

Catton goes on to describe how 600 of those men were shipped down to the AoP. In separate incidents, fourteen men attempted to run, and were shot dead by the guards. Once with the army, these men were a drain on resources, and a corrupting influence on camp life.

At the same time these dregs were being brought into the army, the officers were trying to convince their veterans to re-enlist. It was tough sledding, because the men felt that they had put in their time and were entitled to go home. They were damned lucky to be alive and in one piece, so why tempt fate when they could go home with no dishonor? Many of them did choose to stay, though: 26,767 of them.

A company in the 19th Massachusetts was called together to talk things over. The regiment had left most of its men on various battlefields, in hospitals, and in Southern prison camps, and this company now mustered just thirteen men and one wounded officer. These considered the matter, and one man finally said: "They use a man here just the same as they do a turkey at a shooting match, fire at it all day long and if they don't kill it raffle it off in the evening; so with us, if they can't kill you in three years, they want you for three more--but I will stay." And a comrade spoke up: "Well, if new men won't finish the job, old men must, and as long as Uncle Sam wants a man, here is Ben Falls."

The regiment's historian, recording this remark, pointed out
that Ben Falls was killed two months later in battle at Spotsylvania Court House.

Those 26,767 men fill me with wonder. The casualty rates in that war were absolutely atrocious. There were many regiments that lost more than half their men in a single engagement. Who could go back to that charnel house when he had a perfectly honorable out? It must take a depth of courage that I have never had to plumb. Thank god.

Which leads me on to some other thoughts...

'Chickenhawk' has become a popular epithet among the internet activists of the left. It is supposed to be the magic word that shuts up the opposition. It is a bogus argument, of course. Moreover, I do not think much of men calling other men cowards when their political opinions automatically let them off the hook from serving in the military. Perhaps there is some cause that they would enlist to fight for, but I haven't seen it mentioned.

Still, there is this much truth in what they say: If I were still young enough to join the fighting (I'm 42 now), and I were too afraid to go, I would not feel very good about myself. I'm not smug enough to beat my chest now and say, "Hell yeah, I'd go if I could!" It's too easy a thing to say when you don't have to prove it.

Nonetheless, I don't have to prove it in order to voice my opinion about whether we should fight or not. The men who signed up, for good or ill, put themselves under the command of the President and the Congress, who in turn answer to the people. To say that civilians cannot decide when the country ought to go to war is like saying we cannot tell the police to enforce the laws. That's their job, and it's what they signed up to do. Our responsibility--and it's an important one--is to make sure that we make just laws for the police to enforce, and only send our soldiers to fight for the defense of this country. That latter question, of course, is what the debate hinges on, and it is only by addressing that issue that the opponents of the war can hope to win the debate. Calling people chickenhawks gets them nothing.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Peace Democrats

I've been reading Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac series. Came across this quote in the second book, Glory Road:

Among the possible victims of circumstance in this winter of 1863 were the Democrats who made up a majority of the Indiana legislature. Without realizing it, these men were struggling against the fact that the American political system, wide enough for many things, had not by the founding fathers been made wide enough to contain a civil war. They were Democrats taking normal advantage of the fact that they had won an election, and what they were running into was the fact that there was no way, in this moment of all-out war, by which they could do that and nothing more. They wanted to oppose the party that was running the war, and in spite of themselves they could do no less than oppose the war itself. There could be no delicate shadings of action or belief. The administration was fighting for complete victory; to stand against the administration in the ordinary way, using the grips, feints, and arm locks of normal political struggling, meant in actual practice to stand for something less than victory--something a good deal less, perhaps, if the wrestling got really strenuous, so that the struggle might finally appear to be a struggle against the war itself rather than simply against the people who were conducting the war.

I don't think Catton's analysis goes quite deep enough here. The reason the Democrats couldn't oppose Lincoln without opposing the war is because they had a huge bloc of voters in the North who were pro-South, pro-slavery and hence, anti-war. If they criticized the handling of the war, they provided ammunition to the anti-war camp and found themselves tarred with the same brush. If they tried to match the militancy of the Republicans, then they would lose the support of a large bloc of Democratic voters. To sit in the middle was to please no one.

If there had been no significant opposition to the war in the North, then the debate could have been framed in terms of how to conduct the war, rather than whether to conduct it. The same dynamic is in operation now. The Democrats have been forced by their most radical element into an anti-war position. They now have no chance to win unless they can convince the American people that it is better to withdraw from Iraq than to stay until we achieve victory. That makes them the party of defeat. It is not an enviable position.

Individual responsibility vs. War

Tigerhawk has posted a transcript of a BBC interview with Rudy Guiliani. The interview ends with this statement by the former NY mayor:

RG: The people of London are going to react exactly the same way as the people of New York did. I remember that the night of the attack of September 11 I exhorted the people of New York not to cast blame on any particular group of people because of their religion or ethnicity. The people of New York didn't do
that, and it probably was even unnecessary to remind them except that I thought it would be helpful to do that. I'm sure the same thing will be true here in London. The people of London, the people of England, know that this is not a question of group blame, it is a question of individual responsbility. Everything will be done to capture the people who did this and have them pay a very, very big price as a way of obtaining justice and deterring other people from doing it.

This seems like an odd thing to say. Most Americans recognized 9/11 as an act of war, and wanted to respond to it as such. As a consequence, about 93% of us supported the war in Afghanistan. Is Guiliani saying that the proper response for the British to this attack on London is to fill out indictments?

Immediately after 9/11, Bush was shaky. I wasn't sure if he was going to respond properly to the attack, or if he was going to treat it like a criminal justice investigation. He went to New York, and the response of the crowd was like a roar of outrage, demanding war. It had a visible effect on him. It seemed to strike a chord within him, and stiffen his spine.

Obviously, the British government doesn't need to just round up all the Muslims in Britain, and they don't need the British citizens carrying out vigilante attacks on Muslim people, but to treat the attack as anything other than an act of war is wrong-headed. It ignores what we already know about the war against terrorists: they are supported by Islamic states in the Middle East, and they can only be defeated by destroying those states. Bush articulated this strategy, although he hasn't been consistent in carrying it out. If the people of Britain respond to this attack like the people of New York, they will demand that Tony Blair redouble his efforts in the war on terrorism. We have only made a bare beginning, and haven't even gotten to the states which should have topped our list of states to topple: Iran and Saudi Arabia. At the very least, we should be in Syria by now with Assad in chains.

Faster. Please.

"Come with me if you want to live."

Some religious conservatives want desperately to cast the current war as a struggle between Islam and Christianity. It is not. It is a struggle between Islam and liberalism (using 'liberalism' in its original meaning, not as a synonym for socialism). Liberalism has two great enemies: socialism in all its variants (fascism, marxism, democratic socialism, etc); and theocracy in all its variants (islamist, christian fundamentalist, etc).

In fact, properly understood, socialism is an outgrowth of Christianity. Its early proponents were explicitly Christian. Marx, ethnically Jewish but raised as a Christian, took the Christian ethics of self-sacrifice and gave them a pseudo-scientific base. So it's not surprising to see today's socialists acting like early Christians with their suicidal pacificism.

It is surprising, however, to see people who call themselves Christians ignoring the fact that Jesus was a pacifist who believed in forgiving one's enemies and turning the other cheek. The only time he ever raised his hand in anger was against a group of businessmen. Blessed were the poor, the sick, the meek, because they would find happiness in Heaven. The rich, however, would find it nearly impossible to get there. "Give your money to the poor and follow me." Is this what the religious conservatives believe? Not exactly. They practice a watered down form of Christianity, one which thinks this world is a Good Thing, rather than a steeped-in-sin, vale of tears--something to be enjoyed, rather than something to be resisted and overcome. In other words, they practice a liberalized form of Christianity, which has made its peace with capitalism and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, some of them think they can have their pursuit of happiness and their theocracy too. The islamists are not the only ones with medievalist fantasies, they are just more consistent and more radical. By envisioning the current war as a new crusade of Christianity against Islam, modern Christians are trying to reach back to the medieval period of Christian history. They don't want the Early Christian period, which was marked by the monastic movement and the rejection of all worldly concerns. It smacks too much of modern nihilism. Instead, they look back on the Battle of Tours, which marked the beginnings of a more wordly form of Christianity. When the Christians stopped the onslaught of Islam in 732 AD, they announced to the world that they would no longer turn the other cheek. They would fight, and they would martial the militant forces of the West to serve God. It was the beginning of the end for the Dark Ages, and it carried with it the beginning of the end for the practice of pure Christianity.

As Christianity attempted to control the world, it became worldly. The Church put its moral weight behind kings, and became a tool of state. It provided the state with learned men to make it more efficient. Those learned men would eventually remove it from the center of the universe and rip it assunder. Finally, tired of its armed theological battles, they would build a wall between it and the state, shrinking its sphere to the private world where it could be preserved only by compartmentalizing it, and adhering to it in a non-consuming, watered down sort of way.


Because Christianity is incompatible with life in this world. If society embraces life, it must eventually reject Christianity. If it embraces Christianity, it must eventually reject life. The mixture is unstable. It is either headed one way or the other.

It is good that Christians want to fight the war against the islamists. It is good that they want to preserve western civilization. They should understand, though, that what makes the west civilized is its love of this world. To love this world is an essentially irreligious viewpoint. It is certainly not Christian. It is not Islamic. It harks back to the Greeks and Romans. It is their gift to us, rediscovered in the Renaissance, and given fruition in the Enlightenment. Their legacy is what we are fighting for: science, individualism, ethical egoism, constitutionalism, rule of law, and humanism. That is what the islamists hate, and that is what we must preserve if we want to live.