[lit-ideas] Re: Do we still have Grants and Shermans?

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 16:10:03 -0700

Is it a quibble to say that the standard narrative should be revised to accommodate what the casualty figures reveal--that Americans got the war that military planners probably anticipated? Casualties were normal for the era. Those who knew nothing of war may have thought they were getting into a season or two of fighting etc., but I doubt Sherman was alone in his understanding of what was to come. Jefferson Davis, Secretary of State for War and enthusiast for mounted camel troops, certainly should have known.

I have, by the way, sent off for a copy of Sherman's memoirs.

John Wager makes the well-known argument that Sherman was exceptional is his expansion of the battlefield. If this is true, then what are we to say about Napoleon's Russian campaign, the scorched earth policy of the Russians, the burning of Moscow and so on? Perhaps Sherman's novelty lies in the fact that his advancing army was the one doing the damage? If so, then what were Goya's etchings about? And Genghis Kahn? And the custom of exterminating populations of cities that refused to surrender? I'm interested to read in Sherman's memoirs whether or not *he* thought his oppression was innovative.

On Jun 20, 2008, at 3:10 PM, Lawrence Helm wrote:
It doesn’t bear upon Hanson’s point.  What do you think of his point?

If by Hanson's point you mean, "Who becomes a general -- and why -- tells us a lot about whether our military is on the right or wrong track," which is then modified by, "The significance in the promotions of an H.R. McMaster or a Sean McFarland to general is not that they represent the nature of all future American wars. In fact, it is easy to conceive how a blow-up in North Korea or Iran would require a return to conventional military assets of heavy armor, firepower and high-tech close air- ground support. Instead, the issue is whether the military still remains flexible enough to find the right commanders for the right type of fighting at the right time -- and is preparing for all sorts of diverse scenarios in an increasingly competitive and unpredictable world..." I would say look at Patton or Churchill--exactly the right men for some conditions, completely wrong for others.

Does warfare tend to produce better commanders than military academies in peacetime? Are tennis players who only have a theoretical knowledge of the game likely to be good tennis players? I can't see that Hanson is telling us much.

But maybe that's not the point you're referring to?

David Ritchie,
preparing to go crabbing near
Portland, Oregon

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