Sherman’s March to the Sea

Posted on November 15, 2014. Filed under: History | Tags: , |

Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

November 15, 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Just 7 days after the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, General William Tecumseh Sherman pulled up stakes and left Atlanta and marched on the port of Savannah, Georgia.

It was the capture of Atlanta in mid September that ensured the re-election of Lincoln. However, considering that the war had turned in favor of the Union, McClellan’s election was unlikely.

General Ulysses S. Grant had been called from the western theater to take command of the Union armies in Virginia. Grant was really not a brilliant tactician. His plan for defeating Lee was th throw the entire weight of the Federal Army against the Army of Northern Virginia, heedless of the casualties.

It was Sherman who first devised the concept of total war. Sherman was not only determined to destroy the enemy army, as well as targets of military value, he targeted civilians. He intended to make everyone, soldier and civilian alike, feel the harsh hand of war.

As Sherman made his way east from Atlanta, his men foraged off the land, taking pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down. Anything that could be eaten, burned, or even make the civilian population starve, his men took. He was going to “make Georgia howl.” And howl it did.

While Sherman did not explicitly free any slaves during the march, several thousand former slaves who had nowhere else to go began to follow his army.

Sherman’s tactics had far-reaching effects. Although the First and Second World Wars were still about 50 years away, military thinkers began to ponder how total war could help them win a war. It was the basis of the Allied strategic bombing campaign of Germany during World War II. Civilians were suddenly no longer off-limits, but a specific part of plans in order to erode civilian support for the war.

Today, we look on these kinds of tactics with horror, but in many cases, the civilian population is not necessarily innocent.

Because of his tactics, Sherman became a monster in the eyes of southerners. They could not believe that he would allow his army to take everything in its path, or burn what it could not take.

However, Sherman did not burn anything just because he could. He did not raze entire towns to the ground, as was suggested by some southerners. Atlanta was burned by Hood, not Sherman.

But by the end of 1864, everyone had grown tired of war, and Sherman determined to end it. He crippled Confederate supply lines, rail lines and other military infrastructure. He brought plantation owners low, taking their slaves, if not intentionally, then by accident.

If not for Sherman, the war may have dragged on longer than it had. The Union had been very lucky over the course of the war, with the rise of Sherman and Grant, just as they were lucky that Stonewall Jackson had been killed in 1863. Lee was never the same as a general after the death of Jackson.

How should Sherman be remembered in history? As a cold-hearted monster or a brilliant visionary tactician who saw how to end the war?

It could be argued that Sherman was more important to bringing about a successful conclusion to the war than Grant was. Because he was willing to do what needed to be done to bring a speedy end to it.

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World War II and the Atomic Age

Posted on August 8, 2013. Filed under: History | Tags: , , , |

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after the dr...

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ (1945). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August 9 marks the 68th anniversary of the dropping of Fat Man over the city of Nagasaki, Japan, which helped speed the end of the Second World War.

Today, we look through rose colored glasses and ask if the dropping of these bombs was necessary. Today, the Japanese ask why. Why did we feel the need to kill up to a quarter million people in the blink of an eye and vaporize two cities?

It is generally acknowledged that the dropping of Little Boy on the city of Hiroshima by the Enola Gay on August 6, 1945 ushered in the nuclear age. The reality is that the day that ushered in the nuclear age was July 16, 1945, when Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and his team successfully detonated the first atomic device at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

It’s a complex answer to a complex question. The reason were myriad, depending on who you ask, or who you use as your source.

The war was coming to an end, and people on both sides were growing war weary. The Japanese had been defeated, but had yet to admit it. Peace feelers had been sent out through the Soviet Union, seeking a way out while saving face. Why did they seek peace through the Soviet Union? Because at that time, there was still a non-aggression treaty still in force. But Stalin saw the opportunity to expand Soviet influence elsewhere in the world.

The ruins of Hiroshima (click image to enlarge)

The ruins of Hiroshima (click image to enlarge)

The Japanese military wanted to fight to the death, the Samurai tradition of never surrendering. The US demanded unconditional surrender. Some claim that this demand of unconditional surrender was “somewhat vague”. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about unconditional surrender. It is surrender without conditions placed on that capitulation.

There were factions in the Japanese Diet (the Japanese equivalent of Congress) who wanted to surrender, but only on the condition that they could keep their Emperor, Shōwa, better known in the US as Hirohito.

No, Tojo was not the Emperor, only the Prime Minister, much like Prime Minister David Cameron isn’t the queen.

This was a sticking point between the US and Japan to bring the war to a conclusion, because the US did not understand the significance of the Emperor to Japanese culture.

The ruins of Hiroshima. Note the tower with the rounded top (from the above picture) in the background. (click image to enlarge)

The ruins of Hiroshima. Note the tower with the rounded top (from the above picture) in the background. (click image to enlarge)

What other options, then,  did President Truman have?

1. He could have waited for the Soviet Union to enter the war, as promised since 1943, despite a non-aggression pact existing between the Soviets and Japan.

After the Soviets did enter the war, they invaded Manchuria and the Korean peninsula, completely overrunning the Japanese and hastening the Japanese surrender. It needs to be pointed out that the Soviets did not invade until the first atomic bomb had been dropped.

So, if the Soviets were defeating the Japanese in China, why not wait for the Japanese to give up?

After the war in Europe ended, the Western Allies watched as the Soviets took total control of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Stalin did not fear the Western Allies as much as he feared a resurrected and rearmed Germany, so he wanted to keep a buffer that he controlled between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Western Allies did not want this same thing happening in Asia as well, but it was Mao Tse-tung and the Communists backed by the Soviets that ran Chang Kai-sheck’s Nationalist government out of China.

President Truman did not want Soviet influence spreading through Asia.

2. He could have allowed the bombing of industrial targets to continue, but as early as September, 1944, the US was running out of industrial targets, despite propaganda claims by the Japanese that aircraft production was soaring.

Eventually, the Japanese would be unable to produce anything at all, and that, coupled with the blockade of Japan would have ultimately brought the nation to its knees.

3. The US could have invaded the Japanese mainland in Operation Downfall. Downfall included two separate invasion points, Operation Coronet and Operation Olympic. Coronet called for a force of 25 divisions to land just southeast of Tokyo on the Kanto Plain, arguably the best place in Japan for tanks to operate. But the plain also includes Tokyo, Japan’s capital and largest city. This would be an area the Japanese would fight hard for.

What would the cost have been in human lives?

The battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were eye opening for the US. At Iwo Jima, the US suffered over 26,000 casualties, over a third of the invasion force. The Japanese, on the other hand, lost nearly every man on the island, just short of 22,000 casualties out of 22,000 on the island.

At Okinawa, it was nearly the same. The Allies suffered 84,000 casualties, including 33,000 non-combat losses out of a force of 180,000. The Japanese suffered almost 106,000 casualties out of 120,000 soldiers, PLUS an estimated 42,000 -150,000 civilians killed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these civilian casualties were people who jumped off cliffs to their deaths because they feared the Americans would eat them.

Iwo Jima had a 37% casualty rate for the Americans, and Okinawa was 46.7%, although that number could be exaggerated due to non-combat losses.

The Japanese fought nearly to the death in both battles.

What would that mean for an invasion of the Japanese mainland? Why would they not fight to the death in Japan?

The Japanese figured that a landing would occur on the Kanto Plain, and were prepared. Would we have had to fight soldiers AND civilians, as we had to in Germany? We may never know, and can only speculate.

Casualty estimates ranged from 125,000 US casualties in 120 days, to well over a million for a 90 day period. These estimates do not include an estimate on the number of Japanese casualties, because frankly, the US didn’t care how many Japanese died.

A direct invasion of Japan would cost a lot of American lives, and it was decided that this would have to be the plan of last resort.

Enter the atomic bombs.

Did they absolutely have to be used?

The answer is not as simple as yes or no. Those who argue that there was no reason to use it are injecting their 21st century sensibilities into a brutal, bloody and racist war.

The ruins of Nagasaki (click image to enlarge)

The ruins of Nagasaki (click image to enlarge)

In 1945, the American public still remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor. They wanted revenge. The firebombing of Tokyo in 1942 was not enough. Dropping Little Boy on Hiroshima and removing that city from the earth was only the beginning of their vengeance.

Again, the US demanded unconditional surrender. Again, the Japanese balked, but the military was beginning to lose power, and those who wanted peace openly came out in the Diet.

On August 9, 1945, the Soviets invaded Manchuria, and the US dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki a few hours later.

During the course of the war, Germany, the United States, and the Soviets were all researching the atomic bomb. Germany fell before it could complete its research, and many of the German scientists working on the program were brought to the US to continue their research in New Mexico.

The US had two bombs, the Soviets none. Even though the Soviets were allies, they were not friends, and Truman decided to not only bring the Pacific war to an end without having to invade Japan, but to show the Soviets the capability the US had in destructive power.

So, the bombs were not just to bring the war to an end, they were not just to exact vengeance on the Japanese, but it was a demonstration for the Soviets.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker wrote:

“The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisors knew it.”

Scholars are not soldiers, nor the people tasked with making these decisions, and we are the better for it. The reason for the demonstration was to show the Soviets that their plans for expansion would be opposed, and we had the capability of destroying them.

Few people realized at the time that this would lead to the Cold War, or to Korea, or to Vietnam.

Did the desire for revenge make our ancestors wrong? Did it make them evil?

After 9/11, the people of this nation wanted blood. Only the most cowardly of us didn’t.

It’s easy to forget that today, 12 years after the fact.

History is something that needs to be studied with objectivity, not an agenda. Had the US not developed the bomb and used it, someone else would have, most probably the Soviet Union.

Did we have to use the bomb on Japan?

Or would we have been satisfied with another million men coming home killed or maimed?

In 1963, former President Harry Truman wrote the following letter:

August 5, 1963

Dear Kup:

I appreciated most highly your column of July 30th, a copy of which you sent me.

I have been rather careful not to comment on the articles that have been written on the dropping of the bomb for the simple reason that the dropping of the bomb was completely and thoroughly explained in my Memoirs, and it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.

You must always remember that people forget, as you said in your column, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was done while we were at peace with Japan and trying our best to negotiate a treaty with them.

All you have to do is to go out and stand on the keel of the Battleship in Pearl Harbor with the 3,000 youngsters underneath it who had no chance whatever of saving their lives. That is true of two or three other battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Altogether, there were between 3,000 and 6,000 youngsters killed at that time without any declaration of war. It was plain murder.

I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war that would have killed a half a million youngsters on both sides if those bombs had not been dropped. I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again — and this letter is not confidential.

Sincerely yours,

Harry S. Truman

Did we have to drop the bomb?

I think yes, we absolutely had to.

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Has the Constitution Failed, or Have We?

Posted on April 26, 2013. Filed under: Founding Fathers, History, United States Constitution | Tags: , |

Constitution of the United States of America

Constitution of the United States of America (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

I get upset, nay, I get pissed whenever someone comes along and proclaims that the Constitution has failed. Especially when they offer no evidence to support their claim.

Were the Founding Fathers infallible? No.

Is the Constitution perfect? No.

Does it need amended to address issues that have popped up over the years? Yes.

Those of use who believe that we need to go back to the original interpretation of the Constitution do not for one second believe that the Constitution is infallible. The Founders didn’t, either. That’s why they gave us the ability to amend it.

However, we do not believe that the Constitution is a “Living” Document. By declaring the Constitution a living document, politicians justify changing their “interpretations” of that document. It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

Alexander Hamilton is the one responsible for this trouble. He’s the one who started the whole “implied powers” business, and used it to justify a national bank to George Washington. Of course, Washington approved it, so he is partly to blame.

But the author of the piece is mostly complaining about having to pay taxes. Taxes are a necessary evil, No one likes to pay them, but the way they are being spent is ridiculous, especially when we have a government that refuses to acknowledge that they are misusing the public’s money.

The author says we are in denial about the “failure to achieve the ends proclaimed for it by the founding generation”.

Those aims would be, per the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Which of these the Constitution has failed to deliver escapes me, and the author never elaborates on it. This is the closest hint that he gives:

Americans tend to idolatrize the Constitution as sacred and infallible rather than recognizing it for the stumbling, trial-and-error experiment in self-government that it is, created by flawed human beings who acknowledged their frailties and never expected their experiment in constitutionalism to succeed.

I’ve seen this said by more than one person, that the Founders never expected this “experiment” to succeed. If they never expected it to succeed, then why bother? If it was doomed to failure, then it was a waste of everyone’s time. It’s easy enough to say that it failed, but what evidence is there in the historical record?

The only evidence that I have been able to find was this single quote from John Adams:

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.

That quote doesn’t mean Adams thought the experiment would fail, but I think we are dangerously close to that phase.

The major changes that we have experienced have been within the last century. More amendments to the Constitution were proposed and ratified in the early 1900’s than at any other time: the adoption of taxing authority by the Federal government, prohibition, the selection of senators taken from the states and given to the people, and women’s suffrage.

Of these four amendments passed in a flurry of seven years, only one was a good idea, and I’m not talking about the tax amendment.

The author believes that the government is tyrannical purely because it has the ability to enforce taxation. There are those who believe that all taxation is okay because the reason for the Revolution was “taxation without representation”, and we have representation today. Yes, we have representation, but that does not mean the government has carte blanche to tax us into the poorhouse. The ability to enforce taxation came about because under the Articles of Confederation, the states were not paying the taxes required to pay off the war debts, especially those owed to the French. Tensions were escalating, and something needed to be done.

Taxation is a necessary evil. We need to pay for fire departments and police. We need to pay for roads and bridges. We do not, however, need to pay foreign countries bribes.

The Constitution has not failed. Instead, we have had 200+ years of politicians, lawyers and judges twisting and perverting the words of the Constitution, each adding their own interpretations to the pile instead of learning what the Founders intended. That would be too much work.

Has the Constitution failed? No.

Does it need some amendments? Certainly.

Still, as the politicians, lawyers and judges pervert the meaning of the Constitution, we have done little to stop it.

Would our Founding Fathers be surprised that the Constitution still stands? Without question.

Especially considering that it is we, the People who have failed, not just the Constitution, but the Founders ideals as well.

It takes effort to do what they did. It requires that we learn, that we make an effort to be informed, that we do that which is hard.

That’s why we’ve failed, because doing what we need to do to support our rights, our way of life might get in the way of the latest episode of the Kardashians.

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The Bill of Rights: The Second Amendment Research Paper

Posted on April 19, 2013. Filed under: Founding Fathers, History, United States Constitution | Tags: , , , , |

I can’t believe this.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Is he wearing a fur coat?

I’ve said many, many, many times that I do a lot of reading in the course of my research.

Right now I’m researching the history and roots of the Second Amendment, based on the debates and records of the Founding Fathers, resources from universities and the Library of Congress. No garbage from a book written in 2003 that has material from Thomas Jefferson that no one else has ever heard of. Only verifiable sources for me.

In addition, I am trying to provide links to the resources I have used so readers and researchers can find them as well.

I’ve been in note taking mode for a few weeks, which is why there have been some other amendments that have appeared on the list before this one.

So far, I am close to 5000 words in notes alone, and I feel I have barely started. I still have to turn those notes into a coherent article.

It is getting so large because I am trying to definitively answer these questions:

  • What exactly did the Founders mean?
  • Did the Founders mean that all individuals could keep and bear arms, or only militias?
  • Was the Second Amendment a compromise meant to allow the states to quell slave rebellions?
  • Was it meant to hold blacks in slavery?
  • Was it meant to allow people to hunt, or shoot for sport?
  • Was it meant to give the people a means of defense against a tyrannical government?

I am surprised at some of the answers that I’ve been coming up with.

I’m hoping that the answers won’t be too subjective. I don’t want people accusing me of “cherry picking” my Founding Fathers, and I don’t want to use spurious quotes (there’s a lot of them from Thomas Jefferson floating around, hence the picture of him).

I am working on it, but I have a feeling it is going to at least double, if not triple in size, so I may have to break it down into chapters and put it out in bite sized chunks.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I were a team of researchers, but I’m not. I’m just one person.

I’m sure I am going to be exhausted and need a break when I’m finally finished.

You can read the completed project by following this link.

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