Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Grounded

--Peray, Thailand

Diplomacy: the patriotic act

of lying for one's country

--Devils' Dictionary
, Ambrose Bierce

We Americans have no commission

from God to police the world

--Benjamin Harrison


After reviewing the battles at Antietam and Harpers Ferry, Ranger noticed the pamphlet put out by the National Park Service which said, "The U.S. Army held the ground following the battle."

In the Civil War the conventional wisdom was, the Army that held the ground after the battle was the winner. That was an erroneous perception then, and it still is today. McClellan's Union Army held the ground, yet Lee's bloodied Army escaped to fight another day. This behavior applied to all the major battles of the Civil War, up to the Battles of the Wilderness.

The destruction of Lee's maneuver forces was the goal of all the combat in these battles, but the Union Generals failed to grasp this concept. Lee's Army was never pursued after any of his major battles, until Grant came along. The Union commanders prior to Grant did not exploit their successes.

Fast-forward to 2008, and we are still fighting wars to secure terrain and frivolously believing that we are successful because we take a meaningless hill somewhere in Afghanistan.

Labels: ,


Anonymous mike said...

Although I agree in general about your point on holding ground, I do not believe that Antietam is a good example. My understanding of that campaign was that the South lost all hope of formal British and French recognition when Lee left Maryland and retreated to Virginia leaving McClellan on the battlefield. The decline of the Confederate States started from there.

Now I am not a serious student of the Civil War so please feel free to call BS on me. With a mother from Maine and a father from Virginia I always loved both sides of the Mason/Dixon Line and preferred to do my reading in other areas of military history.

PS - regarding Beirut - no comment other than to say that Reagan was an empty suit. His refusal to punish the people behind the barracks bombing started my disgust with and eventual resignation from the Republican Party.

Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 11:37:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


I'm not a diehard CW historian either, but let's go from there.

You bring up an important point that applies to the PWOT, namely, there were political implications that went beyond the tactical battle.

All I'm trying to say is that combat is about destroying the will and ability to fight, and not about terrain. We're making the same mistake in Afgh/Irq. Even though we control the country/cities, this is no predictor of long range success.

Given these historical analogies are not thes strongest, but I try to draw them to the curent PWOT every chance I get. As a student of history, I'm sure you could throw off many more classic examples, but we can agree on the concept.

Re. Reagan" He did start this present mess as you point out, but few will admit it. Reagan followed Carter's lead in this arena. Both were really nutless on the topic of terrorism. While I'm against war, I would have bombed Tehran into dust in 79.

Incidentally I don't consider the '79 Embassy takeover a terrorist incident. That was CLEARLY an act of war.


Friday, September 12, 2008 at 8:34:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Arkhamite said...

You should check out the Little Big Horn battlefield and draw parallels to your perception of the War on Terror. Your military experience will give great weight to your opinion.

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 8:51:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Just to clarify my Antietam stance. IF Lee's army were destroyed and decisively defeated, there would have been no need to deal with Fr/Eng question, and they would have ceased to be relevant. The ground was irrelevent. If McClellan had dealt a killing blow, the issue of the Confederacy would be ended.

Lee's army WAS the Confederacy, just as the colonial army was the new nation. If either the Confederate or Colonial armies were defeated decisively, then the nations they represented would cease to exist.


Friday, September 12, 2008 at 8:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Your suggestion is a good one. I've always been interested in this battle.

What would you consider to be the teaching points of this battle, as it relates to the PWOT?


Friday, September 12, 2008 at 9:12:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the general who did grasp that, was grant. grant, and his superbly gifted and viciously loyal western commander sherman were two folks who did grasp that very concept.

grant explained to lincoln the concept of the terrible arithmetic of war, something sherman had promulgated before the conflict began while he was excoriating his southern friends in louisiana trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to them that their cause was hopeless. he didn't go into any of the aspects of righteousness of cause or anything moral. he simply pointed out that in terms of population, industry, technology, economy, the south had zero chance of ever winning a conflict with the north.

there is no hard and fast doctrine of war. sometimes it is the ground occupied which turns the tide. sometimes, it is the ground laid to waste and despoiled. sometimes it is the army itself that is the objective.

with lee, the man commanding, and the army he commanded were the real objective. just the same as washington and his continentals were the only valid objective in the revolution.

in the west and south, with sherman, it was the exact opposite. there was intense pressure on sherman after the fall of atlanta to hold to conventional wisdom. to consolidate his gains, and use his army to hold atlanta, protect the supply lines from tennessee to new orleans.

sherman solved the atlanta problem by burning it. no city, no problem. he solved the supply lines problem by resolving to supply his light and fast moving force off of the land itself. every mouthfull of food that went into the bellies of the bluecoats was a mouthfull of food that did not go to virginia and lee. every bale of cotton burned was a bale of cotton that would not be sold to fund those same troops.

sherman looked at johnston's army and decided that they simply did not matter. the only ground they were capable of taking was western tennessee where they would have been tactically inconsequential while suffering all the attendant headaches and problems of any occupier.

grant, on the other hand, decided that richmond was a chimera. a false goal. after his defeat in the seven days, grant cabled lincoln "i purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." rather than take his licking and retire, grant, with superior numbers and supplies simply fought on. doggedly and implacably.

he forced lee to switch from maneuver battle to trench warfare. lee would dig in and fortify, then grant would extend the line. lee's choice was then to weaken his line further to extend his flanks to guard against grant's movement, or to abandon one position in favor of another.

it finally reached the point where lee couldn't move his army, and most importantly, could not feed or clothe them.

faced with that situation lee did the only thing any decent human being could do. he sued for terms. grant responded with some of the most generous terms in the history of warfare.

he demanded, and received an unconditional surrender. he responded to that surrender by first ordering full rations for all the rebels.

grant's biggest genius was realizing that he could not lose.

sherman's biggest genius was to see the different situation he was facing.

the south's biggest stupidity and blunder was to start that fucking war in the first place.

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 10:30:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Arkhamite said...


There are several points that merit discussion as regards Custer and Little Big Horn. Many soldiers were, of course, involved, and that is not the only way in which Little Big Horn stands out among history's great battles. We in the modern world have much to learn from these clashes of the mighty armies of bygone days.

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:37:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...


i would suggest two works by my old perfesser, victor davis hanson (and before you dismiss the man as a bullet head conservative, please know that he's a fine scholar)

soul of battle


the western way of war

the biggest military lesson to take from custer is if your scouts start singing their death songs before breakfast you might be in for a tough fucking day.

also, learn how to count before you holler charge.

and last, the most important lesson for indians is that every native victory was followed by a crushing and relentless american response, usually involving genocide.

ask powhatan, ask king philip, ask pontiac, ask red cloud, ask quanah parker, ask chief joseph, ask cochise, ask geronimo, ask mangus coloradas, ask....

the answer's always the same.

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 1:38:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Rememmber, too, that American military leaders of the era constantly harp on never losing a battle to the NVA or VC, all of which was, in the end, irrelevant.

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 2:36:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous CTuttle said...

It seems Betrayus is a student of history after all...

He said he did not know that he would ever use the word "victory": "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan."


Friday, September 12, 2008 at 6:55:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Rick98C said...

But that fool Palin with her much touted experience of "commanding" the Alaska National Guard is dropping "victory" from her lips every chance she gets.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 11:30:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Even prior to Grant's coming East, President Lincoln understood the need to destroy Lee's Army, he just couldn't get his West Point-trained Generals on board. He was right, and Grant, being like-minded, carried out the mission.

As you say, Grant always maintained pressure and often exploited defeat, which was the key to eliminating Lee's maneuver Army.

The Battle of Atlanta and Sherman's following campaign was significant as they insured Lincoln's re-election in '64. Once again, political ramifications of a tactical battle.

Lee could not provision his Army due to tactical problems, but also the Confederacy was totally unable to provide the strategic support on any level. Not only was Lee destroyed, but so was the Confederacy itself, due to the all the factors you mention. A hopeless situation.

As for the terms of surrender, both Grant and Lincoln understood that the South would have to be reintegrated into the Union. Any thing less than generosity was counterproductive.

As an aside, sitting in Maine now I seem to remember that Joshua Chamberlain's troops were the one's to share their rations and accept the surrender of fellow Americans on gracious terms.

Per comments on the South's position of futility, their only hope was foreign intercession, which should have been coordinated prior to hostilities rather than during.

I personally find this interesting b/c the U.S. policy of the day was dedicated to prohibiting foreign influence on the outcome of the CW. Today we seem dedicated to sticking our noses in everyone else's CW.

As for the Native Americans, their victories over our troops was not the reason for their genocide. We just wanted their real estate, and revenge was a pretense. A mini PWOT, if you will.

I concede to your expertise in such matters: Can you provide an example for me of how holding ground has turned the tide of war?

It's nice to go down history lane, but the key is, learning what needs to be learned. How are we implementing our national experience in the PWOT?

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 1:15:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the roman campaign in gual is a perfect example of what can be accomplished by taking, and holding ground.

ceasar's campaign was a total war effort. he started around monaco, but extended his efforts to include present day switzerland (to protect italy from assaults from the north), west to link, from marsielles and nice by sea to spain and protect that flank.

then, province by province, tribe by tribe he moved north. he moved slowly. the gallic wars took nearly fifteen years.

he would take a seat of culture or government, be it gallic, or celtic, belgian or germanic. he would try to take it with as little battle as possible, leaving as much governmental and tribal power structures as he could in place. even when the power structure would have to be eliminated he would try to replace them with those friendly to roman interest. when ever he could he used local judges (by granting of roman citizenship).

the main weapon he used though was commerce. commerce with rome made the lives of the gauls better. when legionairies were retired they were often given landgrants in newly conquered regions, they would then marry locals and further intensify the bonds with rome.

caesar tried to make as little impact as possible on local religions, he did insist that the celts cease things like human sacrifice. when the celts refused to stop the burnings and spinal excisions (a form of druidic divination) caesar eradicated the druids, leaving the rest of the population in place.

the british in malaysia in the last century handled an insurgency in much the same way. they built an interlocking series of strong points for protection, but again, the main weapon was commerce, education, and making the lives of the people better under british rule than it was under the rebels.

holding ground is not a pure military strategy. it requires a full on committment, a full on effort. it also takes generations.

it cannot be done with an army alone. it requires soldiers first, followed closely by doctors, teachers, traders, shopkeepers.

it also requires settlers.

it wasn't the railroads that killed the indian nations. it was the towns.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 2:08:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the essential key to a strategy of taking, and holding ground is that the lives of those who live in the region must, must, must be improved by the presence of the new regime.

like with caesar in gaul, if the folks in iraq or afghanistan were in a position to say "gee, the americans came, and life got better." they would certainly be willing partners in our staying. for the simple reason that human beings prefer prosperity to turmoil and poverty.

after seven years in afghanistan the best we can offer them is that we, except for the errant air strikes and stuff, tend to be somewhat kinder to the populus than the russians. that really ain't much of a plus if you ask me.

the white mountain apache signed on with the americans in 1848. we were one of the first nations after the change over from mexican to american adminstration to do so. kit carson and fremont recognised the value of both apache scouts and apache troopers right away. fort mcdowell, fort apache, and fort huachuca were mainly staffed by white mountain apaches wearing bluecoats. in return we were allowed to keep, undiminished, our traditional tribal areas. even during the times of worst neglect by the federal government our lands were able to sustain us. unlike the hostile nations who were relagated, for the most part, to very inhospitable and unproductive lands we, at least, were able to maintain a measure of survival and endurance that was not offered to the nations that fought the advance of the white men.

white mountain apaches, under george crook, saw service in the civil war, were with him during the campaigns against the souix and cheyenne and have pretty much served with a high level of distinction in every u.s. conflict since 1848.

during the times of neglect, military service was always one of the best ways to improve one's lot. in my case, it meant i didn't have to beg, borrow, or steal my higher education. when unemployment, which on a rez can over around 80% in hard times, the fact that there is always a recruiting office waiting for a young man or woman, with its instant entry into the working class has saved more than one apache kid and his family.

re joshua chamberlin:

chamberlin's service was all served in the army of the potomac. by the time of appamatox he wrote in his diary of the event that he felt an overwhelming kinship, if not a comradeship with the men of the army of northern virginia. after all, they had been locked in a wrestler's embrace for the four preceding years. he was in the room as the documents were agreed upon, drawn up and signed. he heard when lee mentioned to grant that his army had not had any rations for the preceding four days and offerred, on the spot, to organize a troop of his men to carry food to the rebels.

he understood, the way many of us came to understand about the folks we fought in germany, korea, vietnam or even japan, that after many long years of war, the men who fought on the other side might be the only motherfuckers in the world who really understand us.

chamberlin knew that the men of the alabama rifles who had opposed him at little round top would be the first to understand why it was so important to him that they receive every measure of mercy and consideration he could muster.

chamberlin was a thoroughly remarkable man. i would have been delighted to serve with him.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 5:13:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

What I take from your example of Caesar's campaign is that it was a clash of cultures, one in which the more advanced culture should win, with enlightened leadership.

Your analogies to Iraq and Afghanistan are logical in that we are not improving or enriching their lives. We're failing to address their actual base needs, focusing on abstractions like "democracy" and "freedom," which don't put no potatoes on the table.

The commerce issue is interesting, as both sides of the equation benefited from it in Caesar's Gual. I'm not so sure the U.S. is benefiting, and the exorbitant outlay is not improving their lives, either.

You bring another good point: all of Caesar's moves benefited Rome by securing his flanks. By nailing them down, Rome was more secure. I think this goal is absent from our current two theatres of operation.

In Malaysia, the insurgents were parachute types in that they were not from the local population, so were easier to isolate and identify. I don't know if this works today. The fiction is that the insurgents are external; in reality, perhaps 5% fit that definition.

In the PWOT, the insurgents are the local population. This may be the major difference between Malaysia and our COIN opns.

You know, I even question the concept of raising their standard of living, bringing mercantilism or culture or any of it to either country. Forget the iPods and the Wi-Fi: sometimes, I think you just have to let people be.

They may not want to live in the 21st century. If they did, we are here. And I don't feel it our place to tell them they have to. I believe this message is approved by the Taliban.

Democracy may be a phenomenon that must be an upwelling from within the population. I doubt that tribalism is ripe for this concept. Tribalism is adaptive for survival in local, hostile environments. I doubt that democracy that democracy can supplant this.

(BTW--have you been following FDCheif's excellent dissections of these issues in recent posts @ "Graphic Firing Table"?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 6:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Chamberlain was definitely a great example of a pure civilian transforming into a soldier overnight. My favorite story is how he integrated the 5th Maine (I believe) into the ranks of the 20th Maine prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. I also like the fact that he marched with his men on foot in difficult road marches.

You don't see many regimental commanders doing that today. As a citizen soldier, he knew he would be living with the men he commanded when the war ended.

I believe he did much to reunite the nation afterwards by maintaining relationships with his former Confederate adversaries following the cessation of hostilities.

(As an aside, I remember seeing photographs in the Confederate veteran magazine of the 15th Alabama and 20th Maine survivors at the 50th reunion at Gettyburg, and the big treat of the day was giving the old geezers ice cream.)

I appreciate your conveying the history of the White Mountain Apache since those campaigns are a weak point in my knowledge. I've been TDY to Ft. Huachuca many times and was always impressed with the old frontier feel to the post.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 6:22:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

chamberlin is also one of my very favorites. the idea that a professor of classics could, at the perfect moment, remember a move that was done by alexander at a similar desperate moment, and pull it off.

his diaries might still be in print somewhere, i went through them while at UCfresno. they are an interesting insight into an interesting man.

talk about "greatness thrust upon" him. he would have been perfectly fine with being an academic.

according to the diaries, one of the reasons for his marching alongside the men was that he was not much of a horseman. at fredericksburg he had a horse, given to him by his hometown, shot which fell on top of him. later, that dead horse, along with the bodies of many of his comrades formed the barricades that saved the lives of his remaining command.

after fredericksburg, chamberlin preferred to walk when ever it was practical. he was also astute enough to notice the effect this had on his troops.

that's something else, very valuable that we have lost somewhere along the way. we rarely, if ever, saw anyone above the rank of O3 out in the boonies with us. most anyone with any kind of decent paygrade preferred to stay behind "in the rear, with the gear." in the civil war, spanish war, phillipine inssurection, boxer rebellion, and a lot of ww1, it was not unusual to see general officers, right there at the front, carrying weapons which they used.

that changed somehow. with the exception of real fighting generals like puller, or macarthur (although by the time of korea he appeared to have accepted his self-casting as a demi-god, in ww2 he was not afraid to get into the muck with the grunts and do his fair share of the heavy lifting)

now, it has progressed beyond "rich man's war, poor man's fight." i doubt that petreaus or anyone with an eagle on their collar spends much time at all away from air conditioning and iced beverages.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 7:33:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB and Ranger -- Outstanding comments-consider it a real priviledge to listen-in!


Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 7:54:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Chamberlain wasn't a good horseman, but he could have easily ridden a wagon, of the sort which always followed the regiments, or even an ambulance. But he didn't, to his credit.

Re. officers 06 and above, as an airborne soldier it is instructive to read Gavin, Ridgeway, Vandervoort and the Airborne officers of WWII and Korea. Gavin and Vandervoort actually carried MI rifles to engage the enemy.

Maj. Richard Winters of Band of Brothers fame also carried an M1 rifle and used it. As a normal infantry officer, I was taught that my place was with the maneuver or assault element. It was considered a violation of policy to do otherwise, but clearly that is no longer the case.

OTOH, Rommel can be criticized for being too close to the assault, so there is a fine line between active involvement and being too close. But that criticism is only for EAC.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 8:25:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous CTuttle said...

Interestingly, as a NCO Commo Chief, having served in a wide variety of manuever units, to include an airborne infantry co.,in twenty years, I can count the number of times an O-3 lead the way, on both hands, and, an O-4 and/or above on one hand...! Btw, '85-'05...

Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 9:12:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

C Tuttle,

I can answer on several levels but all end up sounding sarcastic, which in fact, unfortunately, they are.

The reason you don't see the O's as you point out is b/c they can't suck ass stuck out with the troops. This is not good for a career--what would the neighbors think! Also if they were with the troops they might learn something of value, then they'd have to think about the crap taught in service schools as BS.

Everything taught in Leadership class RARELY surfaces in real life. It's rather ironic how there is friction between the book and the reality. I've done an essay on loyalty that will be posted soon-this is an example I hope you read and share your input on.
FD Chief touches on this frequently and obliquely in his posts at GFT.

I wonder if we get in a real war what will happen. We soldiers are taught one way, yet do it another. Strange. jim

Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 9:19:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

C Tuttle,

I can answer on several levels but all end up sounding sarcastic, which in fact, unfortunately, they are.

The reason you don't see the O's as you point out is b/c they can't suck ass stuck out with the troops. This is not good for a career--what would the neighbors think! Also if they were with the troops they might learn something of value, then they'd have to think about the crap taught in service schools as BS.

Everything taught in Leadership class RARELY surfaces in real life. It's rather ironic how there is friction between the book and the reality. I've done an essay on loyalty that will be posted soon-this is an example I hope you read and share your input on.
FD Chief touches on this frequently and obliquely in his posts at GFT.

I wonder if we get in a real war what will happen. We soldiers are taught one way, yet do it another. Strange. jim

Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 4:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger opit said...

You might note that this column is based on the idea of a domestic civil war : pursuit of 'enemies' vs. 'holding ground'.
Afgh/Iraq are 'wars' where there is no competing army and state : just the people who live there being attacked by the U.S.
Too simplistic/? Hell, it isn't complicated. People just have a hard time recognizing implementation of a plan when it's not promoted and every 'explanation' relies on 'mistakes being made.' I call bullshit.
also commonly known as Desert Crossing.
If you know what's going to happen after you do something and proceed accordingly even after an NIE that says it will promote terrorism : then obvoiusly that's just Jim-Dandy.
If you read it through you'll see Nigeria, Somalia, Chad, Iraq, Turkey and the old Kurd question, and Iran ( and more ) are all included in a doctrine to secure a vital strategic necessity and deny it to others. Iraq is the keystone. Pakistan and Afghanistan are pipeline routes.
BTW I live in oilpatch country and have been at Fort MacMurray. I've even seen that abomination called Syncrude from the ground. Scuttlebutt among workers is the U.S. has Alaskan oil reserves up the ying-yang they're keeping secret from the people. Ditto North Dakota.
There's an oil President and an oil Vice-President. Just coincidence - right ?

Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 10:45:00 AM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home