Victor Davis Hanson:
William Tecumseh Sherman 150 years ago took Atlanta before heading out on his infamous March to the Sea to make Georgia “howl.” He remains one of the most controversial and misunderstood figures in American military history. Sherman was an attritionist, not an annihilationist — a strategist who believed in attacking the sources that fuel and field an army rather than butting heads against the army itself. To review his career is to shed light on why the Israeli Defense Forces were both effective in Gaza and hated even more for being so effective.
Much of the South has hated William Tecumseh Sherman for over a century and a half, but not because his huge army killed thousands of young Confederate soldiers (it did not). Grant did that well enough in the horrific summer of 1864 outside Richmond. Rather, Sherman humiliated the plantationist class by staging three long marches during the last twelve months of the Civil War — from Tennessee to Atlanta, from Atlanta to Savannah, and from Savannah up through the Carolinas. In each of these brilliantly conducted invasions, Sherman, with a few notable exceptions, sought to avoid direct fighting with Confederate forces, either outflanking opposing armies that popped up in his way, or entrenching and letting aggressors wear themselves out against his fortified lines. He did enormous material damage, as he boasted that his enemies could do nothing to impede his progress — humiliation being central to his mission.
Instead of fighting pitched battles, Sherman was interested in three larger strategic agendas. War in his mind was not a struggle between militaries so much as between the willpower of entire peoples, distant though they be from the battlefield. One chief aim was iconic. Sherman sought to capture cities or traverse holy ground that might offer his forces symbolic lessons that transcended even strategic considerations. He wanted to capture the important rail center of Atlanta before the November 1864 election and thereby ensure that the war would continue under a reelected Lincoln rather than be negotiated into a meaningless armistice by George McClellan. By taking the South’s second-most-important city, Sherman reminded the Union that the northern strategy was working and that Lincoln, as the architect of it, deserved support.
Marching through the heart of Georgia to Savannah also reminded the Confederacy that it could not stop a Union army from going pretty much where it pleased — even into the heretofore untouched southern heartlands. The much-hyped March to the Sea took on an almost messianic character in dissecting the Confederacy, as Sherman torched plantations and freed slaves. His so-called bummers praised their “Uncle Billy” and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as they tramped through Georgia. Sherman was interested in such theatrics as part of a larger moral lesson that “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.” He was particularly keen on reminding those who start wars that they must bear the consequences of their ideologies.
Accordingly, Sherman was most eager to go into the Carolinas, despite the forbidding terrain and the ordeal of winter, in part to pull up behind Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia, but also in part to humiliate the Confederacy by brazenly marching into the very birthplace of secession.
The Sherman way of war had another important symbolic aspect. Sherman often derided the mythography of the southern “Cavalier” class, by which he meant the notion that southern aristocratic manhood might offer such displays of martial prowess that the Confederacy’s disadvantages in matériel and manpower would be rendered irrelevant. As an antidote to the Rebel yell and the luster of a Wade Hampton or a Bobby Lee, Sherman formed the core of his forces not from high-born Yankees but from hardscrabble Midwestern farmboys. The latter enjoyed camping out and had the skills to live off the land far more than did southern cavalrymen. By entering the southern heartland with such rural regiments, Sherman was also signaling to the Confederacy that its pride in the martial supremacy of a rural South was a myth.
His point was to show them that farmboys from Illinois or Ohio were just as tough fighters as Tidewater horsemen or the impoverished rural folk of northern Georgia. Sherman felt that part of the appeal of the Confederacy had been the mythology about its landed gentry, and he felt it essential to expose this as hollow and superficial; after all, he was in Georgia, while Georgian units were not in Ohio: “My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
There is a bunch more and you should probably go read it. Victor Davis Hanson really knows his shit:
Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.
Hamas is Israel’s problem. I want to talk about our problem – ISIS, aka Islamic State and/or The Caliphate.
Basically what we are facing is a bunch of radical Muslims who are coalescing/congealing into a rapidly growing movement. Part of the reason for that growth has been a string of military victories. Another part of the reason for that growth is the actual/perceived weakness of Barack Obama.
ISIS needs to be squished like a cockroach. But we need to do more than just defeat them militarily. If we send our tanks and planes back to the desert they will scatter like roaches always do. We’ll kill a bunch of them and degrade their ability to wage war, but that won’t be the end of it.
The reason why the Middle East has been trouble spot since before I was born is that we just keep killing roaches every so often. But the people who give the orders and provide the financial support for radical groups aren’t out on the battlefields.
This is not about making friends and winning hearts and minds. It is not about nation building and spreading democracy. Those are worthy goals, but this is something much more basic – it’s about teaching our enemies not to fuck with us.
Of course none of this would matter if the region didn’t have oil, the lifeblood of industrial civilization.