Streetwise Professor

July 4, 2022

Gettysburg: A Movie Out of Time

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:29 pm

Seeing as Friday-Sunday were the 159th anniversary of the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, I decided to watch the eponymous movie again. It’s long, so I broke up the watching in parts to match the three days, saving the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge climax for yesterday, 3 July.

I still rate the film as one of the best Civil War movies. Now admittedly, that’s a low bar. There aren’t a lot of great ones. Unlike WWII, Korea or Vietnam movies which can focus on a squad or other small group of men and build on the interpersonal dynamics of men under mortal threat, in the Civil War pretty much the smallest group was the company, which in turn was usually part of a regiment that operated as a unit. That doesn’t lend itself to the same cinematic treatment as say Sands of Iwo Jima or Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. Even WWII movies that focus on big battles, like The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far, tell the story through the actions of small groups of men.

This is why some of the better Civil War movies involve guerrilla warfare, which involves smaller groups, and which can also utilize tropes from Westerns: Confederate guerrilla bands in Missouri, for example, were the proto-outlaw gangs of the post-Civil War West.

So Gettysburg spends little time focused on the enlisted men: the one main enlisted character, Buster Kilrain, is an everyman foil to the intellectual Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Instead, most of the film’s main characters are generals–Buford, and especially Lee and Longstreet, with Hancock, Hood, Trimble and Stuart also getting attention. The private soldiers are parts of masses of men, sweeping forward across open fields or firing volleys from behind stone walls, not individuals.

Like the book on which it is based, The Killer Angels, the movie does a pretty good job of depicting Lee’s decision making, and the tension with Longstreet. It doesn’t take a Jubal Early Longstreet is the Devil approach, nor does it condemn Lee for fighting, and fighting the way he did on those three days. Yes, I would say that a viewer will lean towards sympathizing with Longstreet and questioning Lee’s judgment, but there is considerable basis in the historical record for that interpretation so I don’t take the depiction as unfair to Lee. And it gives Lee plenty of opportunity to explain himself and his objections to Longstreet’s contrary views. Both sides are presented fairly, and it’s really up to you to decide.

The main thing that struck me upon rewatching in 2022 is that the movie could not have been made today. Not a prayer in hell. And that does not speak well of us.

For one thing, the focus is on the Confederacy. John Buford is lionized in the first 45 minutes or so, and Chamberlain of course gets a lot of play, but the emphasis is clearly on the Confederate command and Lee’s decision making: Meade barely makes a cameo. The tragic figures are mainly Confederates, especially Lewis Armistead and Richard B. Garnett. During the remarkable Pickett’s charge scene, the Confederate advance is clearly the dramatic focus.

Nowadays, of course, the Confederacy and Confederates are synonymous with evil. Lee has been knocked off his pedestal–literally. In fact he has literally been knocked off of several pedestals in Richmond and Charlottesville and elsewhere. Monuments to Confederate enlisted men are under threat all over the South. The thought of treating Confederates at all sympathetically is an anathema.

The film and Killer Angels let the characters from both sides speak about their reasons for fighting. Confederate brigadier James L. Kemper expresses the Southern justification for secession to visiting Englishman Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, who has considerable sympathy for it. No doubt you will disagree with Kemper, but the movie presents the Southern view honestly, thereby allowing you to judge it on its merits without having to deal with an ideologically twisted, tendentious presentation of it: the only hint of directorial/authorial judgment is George Pickett’s clownish summary of the Southern cause. Similarly, when Thomas Chamberlain, Lawrence’s brother, converses with a captured private, the Southerner disclaims any racial motivation for his taking up arms, and Chamberlain takes him at his word: no way that would be allowed today.

Even a Northern view, expressed by Kilrain, would be verbotten 29 years after the film was released. Kilrain expresses what at the time was a conventional view among conservatives, and which many old school liberals held as well:

Chamberlain: What do you think of Negroes?

Kilrain: Well, if you mean the race… I don’t really know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time. To me, there was never any difference.

In this identitarian age, this is wrongthink that if expressed, puts one at risk of cancelation, loss of job, loss of friends, and perhaps even social death.

For in 2022 (Woke Year 7, at least), in contrast to 1993 (Clinton Year 1), judging by the group is a moral imperative. Judging individuals “one at a time” on their merits, independent of their racial/gender group is considered a sure sign of cis patriarchal white supremacism, and hence evil.

So watching the movie in 2022 made me sad. Not because watching Lewis Armistead’s torment at raising his hand against his best friend and getting shot down by his best friend’s men is sad, but because in 2022 America you are not allowed to find that sad and tragic and human, because Confederacy, and you are prohibited from sympathizing with Armistead as a man irrespective of the nature of the cause for which he perished. Because today a movie that reflects Lincoln’s Second Inaugural (“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right”–which implicitly acknowledges that we might be wrong), as Gettysburg does, is currently outside the bounds of accepted civil discourse. Now charity is a fugitive, and malice is regnant.

And that is precisely why a second Civil War is not inconceivable today. Which is the saddest thing of all.

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May 20, 2022

Meade at Gettysburg: A Gap in the (Story) Line

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 6:26 pm

This C-SPAN video of Kent Masterson Brown talking about his Meade at Gettysburg was sufficiently intriguing that I bought the book, and I’m glad I did. it is a thorough analysis of Meade’s generalship. I am in agreement with most of Brown’s full-throated defense of “that damned old goggle eyed snapping turtle” and his actions at Gettysburg. Laboring under tremendous disadvantages, having been thrown into command unexpectedly, operating with little information about his enemy, and knowing that a baying mob in Washington would crucify him if he failed, Meade responded smartly and professionally, and came away with a great victory.

Hell of a lot of good that did him, though. His post-battle actions were the subject of brutal criticism, by Lincoln no less. As Brown explains in detail, this criticism was incredibly unjust. His battle actions were also second guessed, most notably by the notorious Daniel Sickles and his coterie of political, military, and journalistic backstabbers. Those criticisms were also unfair, as Brown shows. Meade’s shade must be smiling to know he finally has an able defender.

What convinced me to buy the book was the video’s retelling and interpretation of Meade’s actions leading up to the battle, and in particular the “Pipe Creek Circular” (which was also the subject of much post-battle and indeed post-war discussion). In Brown’s telling, thrust into command, Meade was going by the book. The books, actually, namely those of Jomini, Clauswitz, and his old West Point instructor Dennis Hart Mahan.

The textbook approach was (a) to establish a strong position, (b) send out a force (a reconnaissance in force) to cause the enemy to concentrate, (c) have that force withdraw, fighting, drawing the now concentrated enemy back onto the prepared position. According to Brown, this is what Meade intended left wing commander John Reynolds to do with the I and XI corp when he dispatched Reynolds north. Knowing Lee was generally oriented along the Chambersburg Pike that ran through Gettysburg, and receiving word from John Buford that many Confederates were near the town, Meade dispatched Reynolds as his reconnaissance force with the intent of using it to lure Lee onto Meade’s extremely strong Pipe Creek Line some miles to the south.

But Reynolds lost his head, and instead of fencing with Lee and drawing him back onto Pipe Creek, the Pennsylvanian advanced to support Buford, even leading the brigade in the van–the storied Iron Brigade–personally into the fight. For his troubles, Reynolds got a bullet in the back of the head. His successor, Abner Doubleday (whom, ironically, far more people have heard of for exactly the wrong reasons than have ever heard of Reynolds or Meade for that matter), did not know what Reynolds’ or Meade’s intentions were. He concluded that Reynolds must have wanted to fight west and north of Gettysburg, and therefore he would too.

Although the I Corps and some elements of the XI Corps fought valiantly, they were eventually overwhelmed. And here Reynolds’ precipitate decision to fight with the town on his line of retreat turned defeat into disaster. Retreating through the town led to a breakdown in units and mass confusion, and the loss of thousands of prisoners. The panting, panicking remnants, much thinned, rallied–just–on Cemetery Hill to the east of town.

So far, Brown’s story hangs together. Meade sent out a reconnaissance in force, but its commander either misunderstood its purpose or forgot it in the excitement, and brought on a battle in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s the next act in the drama that raises questions about Brown’s interpretation. Hearing of the situation in Gettysburg, Meade sent his trusted chief engineer, Gouverneur K. Warren to reconnoiter and report back. But crucially, he also sent his junior corps commander, Winfield S. Hancock to Gettysburg with the following instruction: “If you think the ground and position there a better one to fight a battle under the existing circumstances, so advise [me] and [I] will order all the troops up.”

This is not the action of a man with a plan, particularly a plan to draw Lee onto a strong, prepared position. Meade delegated a crucial decision to a man, capable though he was, who had no full understanding of the current disposition of the Army of Potomac or its lines at Pipe Creek or its logistical situation–all relevant considerations for determining the best course of action. Further, if Meade had been so set on his plan (a) he would have explained that to Hancock, so the II Corps commander could have used that information to determine whether it was “better” to fight at Gettysburg or follow Meade’s original plan to fall back to Pipe Creek drawing Lee along with him, and (b) asked Hancock whether a fighting withdrawal from Gettysburg was possible.

Punting such a major decision to an uninformed subordinate does not bespeak commitment to a plan. But Brown is silent on this, which is the weakest point of the book, and something that undercuts his up-until-then plausible argument.

In the event, Hancock concluded that Gettysburg was “the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle I ever saw,” and recommended to Meade to bring up the army.

Except it wasn’t–as Brown discusses in detail. Hancock only saw a part of what became the battlefield, which happened to be the strongest position. The rest of it, as Meade found out when he arrived and performed a detailed reconnaissance, had severe disadvantages. These almost cost the Army of the Potomac the battle on 2 July.

Moreover, by moving forward to Gettysburg instead of withdrawing the battered survivors of the 1 July battle back to Pipe Creek, Meade greatly exacerbated the already serious logistical handicaps under which he was operating. One of the best parts of Brown’s book is his detailing of these handicaps–including his extended description about how the march away from established supply lines to Gettysburg stretched the Army’s logistics to the breaking point.

Furthermore, advancing to Gettysburg required his already fagged soldiers to undertake forced marches of dozens of miles in heat, humidity, and dust, with too little food and water. It put tremendous strain on horseflesh–another under-appreciated consideration that elsewhere Brown gives due weight. In essence, Meade gave Lee the gift that Meade was hoping to get from Lee: advancing and concentrating on an enemy already in position.

Perhaps there is an explanation for Meade’s actions. Maybe he, like Reynolds, got his blood up and this clouded his judgment. Perhaps he believed that a retreat would be considered treason by the febrile politicians in Washington. Perhaps something else.

But Meade’s decision and decision making (especially delegating such an epochal decision to a subordinate with an extremely narrow perspective) is problematic, at best. I think that it is worse than that, especially given that it cut against every consideration that Brown raises to explain Meade’s actions from the time he took command until news arrived of Reynolds’ death. So an explanation is required, but Brown does not give it. According to Brown, Meade was going by the book. Then he threw the book out the window. Why? We’re not told. There is a serious gap in Brown’s line.

Many mysteries and conundrums surround the battle of Gettysburg–which is why 159 years after the fact it is the subject of book after book, few as good as Brown’s. This is another mystery, and I wish Kent Masterson Brown had attempted to unravel it–not least because he poses it implicitly. Alas, he doesn’t even acknowledge it as a mystery. Which, I guess, creates an opportunity for yet another author to write another book about Gettysburg.

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March 24, 2022

Stalemate . . . And Then What?

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 3:36 pm

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has ground to a shuddering halt. Not that it was ever that dynamic, but with the exception of meager gains achieved at great cost in Mariupol, the Russian army is not advancing. Indeed, in crucial sectors, including Kiev and Mykolaiv it is giving ground in the face of local Ukrainian counterattacks (not a counter offensive–that’s something different) and digging in. For now, at least, Russia has shot its bolt. And that bolt did not travel far.

Some of the stories that have been reported are rather remarkable. Most come from Ukrainian sources, so they must be taken with some skepticism, but given the situation on the ground, and a knowledge of the nature of the Russian military they are plausible. For example, desertions of large numbers of soldiers; orders to shoot deserters and malingerers (a tradition dating back to the Russian Civil War and World War II); large numbers of frostbite casualties; appalling medical care; failures to recover the dead; killing of officers (including one story of a tanker driving his vehicle over the legs of his commander in a unit that had suffered 50 percent casualties). Even discounting the most lurid of these stories, this is a picture of an army on the verge of collapse (if not past it). This would be consistent with the near cessation of offensive operations.

Perhaps the most remarkable data point is the largely confirmed (including by official Russian sources in some instances) spate of fatalities among generals and colonels. A handful of generals (including a lieutenant general) have been killed, and many handfuls of colonels are also apparently dead.

These are American Civil War rates of casualties among army, division, brigade, and regimental commanders–and those guys were on horses on the front lines under fire from massed musketry from a hundred or two yards away. Modern warfare has (until now) much safer for colonels and generals.

The explanation being floated by Ukrainian and western sources is that a breakdown in communications has forced these officers to go right to the front to get things under control, where they get taken out by snipers. Well, I’m pretty sure that communications have something to do with it, but I doubt it’s that simple: if it were, casualties among the rank and file would be greater than the (already appalling) 20-25 percent that has been estimated by US and UK sources.

My conjecture is that the communications problems (which I alluded to in earlier posts) have allowed the Ukrainians (likely with US help) to hack and monitor Russian communications, allowing them to target the Russian commanders. In other words: hack them, track them, and whack them.

Regardless, this has to be very demoralizing to both officers and enlisted alike. Further, it exacerbates the command and control problems that the communications issues already created.

So what next? Most likely stalemate, and increased Russian reliance on indirect fire–including most horribly largely indiscriminate shelling and bombing of urban centers, notably Kiev, in an attempt to break the as of now unshaken will of the Ukrainian people and government. The Russians do not have the manpower to mount serious infantry and armor attacks into the cities. They have already taken appalling casualties (human and materiel), and urban combat is a notorious consumer of men and machines.

The biggest potential for a dramatic change in the battle is if the Russians are able to break through on one of the shoulders of the salient in eastern Ukraine, thus allowing them to trap large numbers of the Ukrainian army. This is something I’ve warned about in previous posts. Western military sources have expressed a similar concern lately.

I suspect the Americans and Nato militaries have been telling the Ukrainians about this, but they are reluctant to leave. Hence, “defense officials” are making these concerns public in order to pressure the Ukrainians.

Giving up territory would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the success that Ukraine has had on the battlefield. But a flexible defense that trades space for time is advisable if the Russians threaten the bases of the salient. Withdrawal under pressure is difficult, and requires skill. But with well-timed counterattacks and indirect fire to interfere with Russian attempts to press the retreat, the demonstrated inability of the Russians to advance rapidly and to coordinate the movements of their various units, and the lengthening of Russian communications that the Ukrainians have already proven adept at attacking, a withdrawal that takes a far bigger toll on the attackers than the retreaters is very achievable.

So what next, if indeed a stalemate emerges? For better or worse, the initiative is in Putin’s hands. He can choose to accept defeat, fight it out by shelling Ukraine back into the stone age, or escalate in some way. Any escalation (e.g., use of a nuke, tactical or otherwise, attack on a Nato country–such as an attempt to build a corridor between Russia and Kaliningrad, or an attack on staging areas for supplies going to Ukraine) would be a horrible prospect, but cannot be ruled out.

The tone emanating from Russia is increasingly hysterical. Dmitry Medvedev’s recent diatribe on VKontakt is an example. Medvedev claims that the US wants to end “our Motherland,” and

“This means that Russia must be humiliated, limited, shaken, divided and destroyed,” Medvedev wrote, saying if Americans succeed in that objective, “here is the result: the largest nuclear power with an unstable political regime, weak leadership, a collapsed economy and the maximum number of nuclear warheads aimed at targets in the US and Europe.”

One interpretation of this is that Medvedev views the war in Ukraine as being an existential issue for Russia, and merely a battle in a Manichean struggle between the US and Russia, defeat in which would represent the end of the Russian state. Put this together with Kremlin spokesman Peskov’s statement that Russia would use nuclear weapons if the existence of the state is threatened, and the potential for nuclear escalation is very real.

Is this a bluff? Do we want to find out?

The US and Nato have to walk a fine line here, between concessions that could encourage Putin to pocket gains today and seek more tomorrow (and not just in Ukraine) on one hand, and an aggressive response that leads a paranoid, bitter, aggrieved Putin to play Sampson.

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July 23, 2021

FBI Delenda Est-But No Cato or Scipio Are In Sight

Filed under: Civil War,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:58 pm

The Babylon Bee, as usual, nails the idiocy and absurdity of the FBI:

This refers, of course, to the FBI’s and DOJ’s weighty pronouncement that one of the 1/6 arrestees was in possession of–wait for it!–an assembled Lego model of the Capitol. Except it wasn’t actually assembled. It was still in the box. But still! Obviously he was planning dastardly deeds with Legos! It’s amazing the Republic survived. Thank God the FBI is there to protect us!

The FBI has of course been going all out to apprehend the trespassers, gapers, gawkers, and other assorted invaders of the Capitol. They announced with pride some weeks back that they had made 535 arrests. (Gee. Why that number?) (And none for sedition. Why is that, if this was a greater threat to “our democracy”–which it ain’t–than the Army of Northern Virginia?)

But of course the FBI had advanced warning. So why didn’t they stop it?

Why do I say that they had advanced warning? Because I guarantee that every remotely open access organization or ad hoc grouping is penetrated by the FBI. FFS, the FBI has surveilled the “Concerned Women of America,” as if it’s the ISIS Women’s Auxiliary. What next? Red state sewing circles?

A necessary–but not sufficient–condition to prevent being infiltrated by the FBI is a classic cell structure. But take-all-comers groups like Proud Boys or Oath Keepers or Concerned Women of America or a bunch of idiots bragging on Twitter will attract FBI agents and/or assets like a dog attracts fleas.

Oh. And not joining any organization won’t help. The FBI is also deeply concerned about “lone wolf” white extremists. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. (I’m sure I’m already damned, so this post won’t make any difference.)

So was the FB I complicit in 1/6, or just incompetent in not stopping it?

One cannot rule out the latter. After all, the FBI had advanced warnings about the Pulse nightclub shooter, the Parkland HS shooter, the Fort Hood shooter, and the San Bernardino shooters. Yet they all blazed away unmolested by our vigilant Federal dicks. (I also wonder about the Las Vegas shooter, whom the FBI cannot even figure out ex post. Or supposedly can’t. Maybe their ex post befuddlement is an attempt to conceal ex ante knowledge.)

Although I do not rule out incompetence, I lean towards complicity. Why? This sick-making statement by the current FBI Douchenozzle*, Christopher Wray:

“Darn tootin'”? Are you effing kidding me? “Golly gee willikers Mr. G-man! I’m sure glad we have you to protect us!” “Aw shucks, Jimmy. Just doin’ my job.”

That performance was so transparently phony that Wray would have earned an F in any community college acting class. But our “elite” eats it up.

And that’s the point, exactly. The FBI operates as the elite’s political police. Not the president’s–as demonstrated by its concerted campaign to get Trump. The elite’s/oligarchy’s/ruling class’/administrative state’s political police.

(The FBI also shanked Nixon, BTW. Cf. Mark Felt.)

What is the FBI good at? Setting up mouth breathers to commit crimes, whom it can then arrest and then claim with great fanfare to have protected us from. If you look at most of the high profile terrorism cases the FBI prosecuted post-911, they were low-IQ losers cajoled by FBI informants (operating, of course, at the direction or at least strong suggestion of FBI agents) into committing crimes.

Most recently, the hair-on-fire claims about the allegedly dastardly plot to assassinate Wretched Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, appear to be less than a real threat than another prêt-à-porter FBI setup, with 12–12!–FBI informants/provocateurs outnumbering the actual dim bulb alleged conspirators.

But this is just one part of the bill of particulars against the FBI. It has also proved shockingly inept (to give it the benefit of the doubt) or complicit in some horrible crimes.

For example, in addition to the terrorism fails mentioned above, it let serial sex offender Larry Nasser operate with impunity for years. Its response to the revelations by the DOJ IG? Not even a “whoops, my bad.” It had copious information on Jeffrey Epstein whom it also allowed to continue his romps for years. (Given Bill Clinton’s and others’ involvement with Epstein, this may have been part of its political police function.) And just recently, FBI agent David Harris was arrested by Louisiana authorities–n.b. state authorities, not the FBI itself–for a sickening trail of child sexual abuse.

Again, in each case: incompetent, or complicit?

In the Nasser case (and others) an FBI agent lied when being questioned. If you or I lie when the FBI questions us–hard Federal time. They lie? No biggie!

Some on the right have called for the “reform” of the FBI. Spare me your naivete. The FBI is unreformable because of its deep internal rot, and the fact that anyone who would be in a position to “reform” it no doubt quakes in terror at the prospect of FBI blackmail or slanderous leaks. (Cf. MLK.)

No. The only peace we could obtain from the FBI is a Carthaginian one. But there’s no Cato or Scipio in sight.

*Four years ago I referred to James Comey as a douchenozzle, for which I apologized profusely, for having insulted douchenozzles. But “Douchenozzle” is clearly a much more descriptive title than “Director.”

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July 5, 2021

The Haters Don’t Take These Truths to be Self Evident

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:02 pm

A few posts back I said that the America Founding is a political Rorschach test. Yesterday–4 July 2021–proved that beyond cavil: the haters were out in force. The NYT claimed that flying the American flag is divisive–reading between the lines, what they meant was only knuckle dragging right wingers do it. NPR–your tax dollars at woke!–makes the banal point that people were not equal under the law–some were indeed enslaved–at the time that Jefferson penned “all men are created equal.” It adds that the Declaration includes a racist slur–“Indian Savages.” (I guess I will have to take a sledgehammer to may GGGGGF’s tombstone, which reads: “Here Lies the Body of ABEL SHERMAN Who Fell By The Hand of the Savage,” said Abel being ambushed and scalped by Silverheels on 15 August, 1794.)

The likes of NPR were joined by some of our illustrious solons, including Rep. Cori Bush:

(Pssst. Cori. You’re living on stolen land! Please move!)

And Maxine Waters:

As I said before, this point is so banal. FFS, people (including especially the British) were pointing this out about, oh I dunno, 5 July, 1776.

But it completely misses the truly subversive effect of the Declaration. Accepting it as a statement of founding principle made the reality of slavery untenable. These things could not coexist. The logical tension was too great–one would have to give way. In the end, slavery did. Not easily, but it did.

This was a point Lincoln pounded on in speech after speech, starting from the Lyceum address in 1838, and especially in his debates with Douglas in 1858. If you believe in the Declaration, you must believe slavery is wrong. You cannot have both. Pick one.

That is, the Declaration started two revolutions, one immediate, against the British, and one that took generations to ripen, culminating in the Civil War four score and five years after the first. The very contradiction between ideal and reality that so exercises midwits (feeling generous today) like Bush and Waters and NPR sparked a dialectic that culminated in emancipation. (Leaving, of course, other contradictions, meaning that the dialectic continues to operate.)

The language of the Declaration–“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”–reveals plainly its natural rights roots. And this is another thing that drives leftists mad–although they are more circumspect in criticizing this aspect of it. The modern left in particular finds natural rights an anathema. (Not all conservatives embrace natural rights, but the modern left loathes the idea.)

Those of you who are old enough might remember Joe Biden’s weird questioning of Clarence Thomas about natural rights at the latter’s confirmation hearing, back when Joe was a compos mentis Senator idiot rather than a non compos mentis President idiot (not feeling that generous). To Biden and his ilk, the idea that rights exist independently of the government is dangerous crazy talk.

Relatedly, the Declaration is subversive because it asserts that the people have the right to revolt against a government that deprives them of their natural rights. It’s that subversive thinking that leads Joe to threaten nuking anyone who dares act upon it.

Lincoln’s treatment of the Declaration–which he venerated, over the Constitution, in fact–represents a far more sophisticated and lucid approach than the simplistic screeds of the NPRs, the Cori Bushes, and the Maxine Waters of the world. (I could expand that list greatly.) Lincoln venerated the principles the Declaration espoused, and dedicated his life to making those principles reality–and eventually gave his life in the attempt. The haters can’t get past the fact that the principles weren’t the reality instantaneously. And many of the haters don’t actually venerate the real principles–the natural rights principles–of the Declaration. In fact, they loathe them.

And that’s the nub of the real division in America today. The Declaration, though a statement of universal principles, is not universally embraced. Not just because the principles were not reality in 1776. But because some venerate the Declaration’s principles of liberty and natural rights–including the right to resist a tyrannical government–and some don’t. What’s happened progressively over the years (pun not intended) is that the ranks of the don’ts have swelled, and the ranks of the dos have thinned. The Fourth of July has therefore become a national Rorschach test that reveals the shift in that balance.

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June 26, 2021

The March Through the Institutions Is Reaching Its Acme: The Left Is Marching Through The Military Like Sherman Through Georgia

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 10:50 am

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, apparently studied Medieval fortification quite closely, as he implemented a classic motte-and-bailey stratagem in defense of the military’s program of Critical Race Theory indoctrination.

Expressing outrage, Milley dishonestly replied to Republican questioning about CRT thus:

I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military general officers, our commissioned [and] noncommissioned officers, of being “woke” or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist.

Why do I say dishonest? For an ambitious officer rising through the ranks during the Cold War, or shortly thereafter, studying Lenin, Marx, and Mao was a way to “know thine enemies.” To know how they thought. To know what motivated them. That is valuable knowledge in trying to counter them. Reading communists provides part of a good foundation for devising strategies to confound communists. As the movie Patton said while watching the Germans retreat at the Battle of El Gattar: “”Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book.” 

Mandatory indoctrination in CRT at the academies, and in the ranks and officer corps, is nothing of the sort. It is not about educating servicemen and -women about a foreign enemy to be able to defeat them. It is about coercively reshaping the minds and hearts of those who have volunteered for armed service to force them to pay obeisance to beliefs most of them find inimical. Indeed, puts an official imprimatur on the view that the majority of those who serve are irredeemably racist, and in need of reeducation of the type that Marx, Mao, and Lenin enthusiastically advocated. (No word on whether Milley also studied Pol Pot.)

No, Milley didn’t read Marx to become a Marxist. He read Marx to understand Marxists to fight them better. By forcing CRT on the armed forces, he and others in the military establishment, e.g., CNO Admiral Gilday, are waging war on the values, beliefs, and characters of a large majority of those whom they command.

Put differently: you read Marx et al to learn about the enemy; you force Americans who have volunteered for military service to read Ibrahim X. Kendri (aka Ibram Henry Rogers) et al because you believe they (the American volunteers) are the enemy.

And Milley said so, in not so many words:

I want to understand white rage, and I’m white. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it.

Kendri and his CRT ilk identify white people and “whiteness” as the enemy. If you are reading Kendri to understand white people, and their alleged rage, you are doing so because you have already bought into the idea that they are the enemy.

And about this “white rage” thing. Is it really a thing? I don’t think so. It is basically a standard epithet that leftists drag out when their political opponents don’t conform like good sheep. My first recollection of a variant on this is when Peter Jennings said that voters had thrown a “temper tantrum” when they voted out the Democrats from control of Congress in 1994. The real rage here is expressed by leftists (ironically, largely white) who cannot countenance opposition: the charge is just another example of psychological projection. “Mommy! No Fair!!! Johnny hit me back!!!!”

And it’s interesting that when it comes from the left, rage is considered a sign of authenticity, of righteous reaction to injustice. (“Days of Rage” in Chicago in 1968 was a label the leftists chose, not one that was applied to them.) This is particularly true of “black rage.”

So apparently the virtuousness (or not) of rage is politically situational and ideologically contingent. Go figure.

Another element of the motte-and-bailey strategy regarding CRT in the military is to claim that there are racial tensions in the military, and that such tensions degrade morale and military effectiveness. Therefore, proactive measures to improve racial understanding are imperative.

Well, there are such tensions, and not for the first time. I guarantee things were infinitely worse in the late-Vietnam and early-post-Vietnam era. The Navy had severe racial problems: that’s one of the biggest challenges Elmo Zumwalt faced as CNO: as I recall there is a chapter in his autobiography where he discusses his struggles to deal with racial conflict in the service in detail. Things had come a long way a short handful of years later when I was at USNA: they have improved substantially in the decades since.

But CRT indoctrination will not ameliorate racial tensions–it will exacerbate them, and substantiallynso. Tell me how, exactly, preaching that one skin color is inherently evil and oppressive, and other skin colors are inherently saintly and oppressed is going to promote a sense of camaraderie among a racially diverse group of individuals. It does the exact opposite. R. Lee Ermey’s way was much more effective.

The motte-and-bailey response to criticism of CRT is not limited to Milley and the military. It is particularly pronounced in public schools, where it is (dishonestly) argued that preventing teaching CRT prevents teaching about slavery: as MSNBC’s Joy Reid put it, if you don’t teach Critical Race Theory you are teaching Confederate Race Theory. This is obviously illogical bollocks: CRT emphasizes the evils of slavery, but not all curriculum that deals honestly with slavery is CRT. Another motte is to deny that such a thing as Critical Race Theory even exists: it’s just a figment of fervid (raging?) right wing/white wing imaginations dontcha know.

Wrong. CRT is a thing. It is a dishonest, pseudoscientific, divisive, coercive thing, and essentially a mask for the will to power. Cancerous Race Theory is a more accurate description. And it is now a cancer in the military.

One last thing about Milley. The left is in a rage (more irony!) about criticism of Milley’s remarks before Congress. Tucker Carlson’s trenchant description of the general (“He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid!”) has brought down howls demanding his cancelation (yes, it was a day ending in “y”).

Leftists defending the military “leadership.” The world turned upside down. But this isn’t because the leftists have changed: it’s because the military “leadership” has become leftist. It will become only more so in the next three and a half years as the purges work through the ranks. The military was once the sole institution the leftists hadn’t marched through: but now they’re doing so, like Sherman marched through Georgia.

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June 24, 2021

Gibbering Joe Validates the Founders’ Fears

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:55 pm

Virtually everyone in the Founding generation had one fear: Tyranny. They did not want to replace one tyrannical government with another. On this Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed. The difference was that the Federalists believed that the Constitution had adequate safeguards against tyranny, but the Anti-Federalists did not.

One manifestation of the dread of tyranny was a deep suspicion of standing armies, which were viewed as the enforcers of tyranny. Another was a veneration of an armed citizenry, not least because it was a check on tyranny, via the threat of armed resistance. Indeed, these two things went together: a large standing army could overawe even a well-armed citizenry.

Yesterday Gibbering Joe Biden expressed the sum of all the Founders’ fears:

In other words, the armed citizenry is powerless against America’s massive standing military. Meaning that there is no check on tyranny. To which the Anti-Federalists would say: told you so.

Biden’s remarks, delivered in a drugged out way that wouldn’t be shocking if Hunter Biden had uttered them but is still disconcerting when Joe does, were revealing on many dimensions.

One of these–remarked upon by many–is his apparent willingness to use, or at least to threaten to use, nuclear weapons on Americans. Rather staggering, no?

Another is his apparent belief that F-15 pilots, and other members of the US military, would be willing to carry out orders to use massive force against Americans. I wouldn’t be so sure. Although an intent to ensure it may well explain the ideological offensive being waged against alleged “extremists” within the military at present.

Another, sickly ironic one, is the complete disconnect between this rhetoric and the rhetoric regarding January 6. The Babylon Bee says it better than I could:

No, really, it is just too much. On the one hand, Biden and the Democrats say that armed resistance against the government is futile, but on the other hand, they say that unarmed resistance by a motley group at the Capitol was the greatest assault on American democracy since Pearl Harbor, and amounted to an insurrection that threatened “our democracy,” i.e., to overthrow the government.

Pick one. They both can’t be true.

There is a broader lesson here. The Founders and their 18th century vision–including their fear of state tyranny, their desire to center as much government as possible at the lowest level possible, and their belief that a revolutionary public is the last check against tyranny–is a 21st century Rorschach Test. A large number of Americans embrace it fervently. A large number of Americans loathe it. Indeed, that divide is a succinct way of summarizing the current American political fault line.

Clearly, most of the ruling class and the “elite” fall in the loathers camp. Most of the embracers are non-ruling-class “deplorables” whom the elite despises and wants to crush.

The ruling class and the “elite” sacralize the state, and especially the federal government. Unlike the Founders, who saw government as a necessary evil to be constrained, limited, and checked by a watchful–and if need be, revolutionary–citizenry, the ruling class and the “elite” have effectively adopted Mussolini’s credo: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

And this is understandable, because l’etat, c’est eux. They control the state. They utilize the state to amass power and riches. A threat to the state is a threat to them. And as Biden indicates, they are willing to use all means necessary–including nuclear weapons, apparently–to defend that position.

This elite sacralization of the state is another way in which the US is converging to Putin’s Russia. The only difference–for now–is that Putin and the Russian elite explicitly express their veneration of the state above the people, and explicitly say that the people exist to serve the state. The American ruling class does not say this in so many words. But the idea is implicit in their rhetoric–like Biden’s rhetoric yesterday, and the unceasing rhetoric flogging January 6. More importantly, it is implicit in their deeds.

The 21st century ruling class has rejected the vision of the 18th century ruling class–which happens to be the vision of the 21st century ruled class. That is the real divide in today’s America, and why the country is in a pre-revolutionary condition. The visions of the ruling and the ruled are completely incompatible. That can only end in the submission of one side, or the failure to submit by either culminating in armed conflict.

And if it comes to conflict, the ruling class shouldn’t be so sure that military might is sufficient to prevail. Hasn’t worked magic in Iraq or Afghanistan, has it? Nor did it in Southeast Asia decades ago.

At the end of the Civil War, a great fear in the North was that Southerners would resort to guerrilla warfare. Some Confederates (e.g., Edward Porter Alexander) advocated it but Lee demurred. But if the current house divided does not stand, that’s exactly the kind of conflict that would occur. And although the military might not lose such a war (assuming it agrees to fight it), it has never proved able to win one.

Pray that it doesn’t come to that. But such an outcome cannot be precluded, given the ruling class’s sacralization of the state and its corollary: growing tyranny.

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February 27, 2021

Obama: Advocate for Injustice, Fanning the Flames of Division

Filed under: Civil War,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:07 pm

In his inimitably supercilious and churlish fashion, last week Obama endorsed slavery reparations, and blamed his inability to implement them during his administration on white racism:

“So if you ask me theoretically: ‘Are reparations justified?’ The answer is yes,” he said. “There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it — but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves.”

“What I saw during my presidency was the the politics of white resistance and resentment, the talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action,” Obama said on the podcast. “All that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparations program struck me as, politically, not only a non-starter but potentially counter-productive.”

These statements are factually incorrect, bigoted, and extremely divisive, demonstrating exactly why race relations degraded more during Obama’s administration than in any other since Woodrow Wilson–a figure with whom Obama shares many similarities, none of them good. (I compared Obama and Wilson during the very early years of the former’s administration.)

Where to begin deconstructing this vicious farrago? I guess with the most vicious part–the claim that white racism doomed his high-minded dreams for reparations. Look at this part again:

the politics of white resistance and resentment, the talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action

Obama must have been having an acid flashback to the Reagan years when he said this. “Welfare queens”? Really? Who the hell has said that in the past 30 years?–that’s a trope from about 1982. Similarly “undeserving poor” and “backlash against affirmative action.” FFS–these are all anachronisms that had f-all to do with disputes over reparations in the 2010s.

Obama’s bigotry is also revealed by his failure even to countenance the possibility that resistance to reparations (not just among whites, but Asians, Hispanics, and even blacks) was and is rooted in a belief that the entire idea is monstrously unjust, and wildly impractical.

In terms of injustice, the argument for reparations is rooted in ideas of collective guilt. Not surprising from Obama and his ilk, but a profoundly unjust and anti-Western idea, and one which as wreaked untold miseries (including in the form of death camps and gulags and killing fields) wherever it has held sway.

Further, reparations impose no penalty on those responsible for slavery or who benefited from it, and pay no recompense to those who suffered from it directly, all of whom have been dead for at least decades, and most for centuries.

Think of any living white American. Not a single one is personally responsible for any sin committed by any dead white American prior to 1865. Moreover, virtually no living white Americans conceivably benefited in any material way from slavery.

Take me and my family for instance. The first of my father’s ancestors to arrive in the US did so in 1867. Most of the rest came here in the 1870s. How did they benefit from slavery? And if at all, by how much?

On my mother’s side, one great grandfather arrived in 1848–and settled in Ohio (and fought in the Civil War, including the March to the Sea, which freed numerous slaves). The remainder of her ancestors arrived to these shores between 1620 (yes, on the Mayflower) and the late-18th century. But every single one resided in a northern colony or state which were free states by the late-18th century; never held slaves; and were almost to a man and woman near subsistence farmers living on or near the frontier. So how did they benefit from slavery?

Pretty much every white American can to a considerable degree make a plausible claim that there is no plausible chain of causation between their current economic circumstances and slavery. The descendent of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Italians or Jews or Slavs arriving at Ellis Island in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. Even the descendants of poor whites in the South: there is some debate in the economic history literature that slavery might actually have made them poorer, not richer.

There is also the issue of the incredible cost paid by all Americans in the 1860s to end slavery. The Civil War resulted in the deaths of upwards of 400,000 men serving in Union armies: As Lincoln said, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword.” Shall be, and was. Hundreds of thousands more suffered horrific wounds, and debilitating diseases that scarred them for life: approximately 400,000 collected disability pensions, despite the fact that the government presented many obstacles to those making claims. Untold numbers suffered extreme emotional trauma–a subject only now receiving much attention (including in the drama Mercy Street). Even beyond the losses suffered by those who died or were maimed emotionally or physically, these casualties affected the economic circumstances of their families, and their descendants.

So how is it just to force those living now who did not benefit from slavery even indirectly, and who may well have suffered some loss from it or from the war fought to end it, to pay compensation? Should I get a credit for my Civil War veteran ancestors’ disabilities (a lost arm, lifelong rheumatism)? It cannot be rationalized even on the twisted logic of collective guilt, for this living collective is neither neither guilty of sins committed by some dead collective, nor the recipient of ill-gotten gains.

Obama tries to get around these issues thus:

“There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it — but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves.”

This is a monstrous untruth. In fact, the reverse is true. “Slavery made America rich” is a leftist mantra. It is also categorically false, as has been demonstrated by massive scholarship over the years.

The economic historical literature on the subject is vast, but Deirdre McCloskey summarizes it well:

Yet the economic idea implied—that exploitation made us rich—is mistaken. Slavery made a few Southerners rich; a few Northerners, too. But it was ingenuity and innovation that enriched Americans generally, including at last the descendants of the slaves.

It’s hard to dispel the idea embedded in Lincoln’s poetry. TeachUSHistory.org assumes “that northern finance made the Cotton Kingdom possible” because “northern factories required that cotton.” The idea underlies recent books of a new King Cotton school of history: Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams (Harvard University Press), Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Knopf), and Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books).

The rise of capitalism depended, the King Cottoners claim, on the making of cotton cloth in Manchester, England, and Manchester, New Hampshire. The raw cotton, they say, could come only from the South. The growing of cotton, in turn, is said to have depended on slavery. The conclusion—just as our good friends on the left have been saying all these years—is that capitalism was conceived in sin, the sin of slavery.

Yet each step in the logic of the King Cotton historians is mistaken. The enrichment of the modern world did not depend on cotton textiles. Cotton mills, true, were pioneers of some industrial techniques, techniques applied to wool and linen as well. And many other techniques, in iron making and engineering and mining and farming, had nothing to do with cotton. Britain in 1790 and the U.S. in 1860 were not nation-sized cotton mills. (Emphasis added.)

. . . .

Economists have been thinking about such issues for half a century. You wouldn’t know it from the King Cottoners. [Or Obama.] They assert, for example, that a slave was “cheap labor.” Mistaken again. After all, slaves ate, and they didn’t produce until they grew up. Stanley Engerman and the late Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel confirmed in 1974 what economic common sense would suggest: that productivity was incorporated into the market price of a slave. It’s how any capital market works. If you bought a slave, you faced the cost of alternative uses of the capital. No supernormal profits accrued from the purchase. Slave labor was not a free lunch. The wealth was not piled up.

The King Cotton school has been devastated recently in detail by two economic historians, Alan Olmstead of the University of California at Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan. [Obama apparently missed this.] They point out, for example, that the influential and leftish economist Thomas Piketty grossly exaggerated the share of slaves in U.S. wealth, yet Edward Baptist uses Piketty’s estimates to put slavery at the center of the country’s economic history. Olmstead and Rhode note, too, from their research on the cotton economy that the price of slaves increased from 1820 to 1860 not because of institutional change (more whippings) or the demand for cotton, but because of an astonishing rise in the productivity of the cotton plant, achieved by selective breeding. Ingenuity, not capital accumulation or exploitation, made cotton a little king.

One could go on and on. Critically, cotton production represented a relatively small fraction of US income and wealth. As McCloskey (and others) note, American economic growth derived from myriad factors, of which cotton and slavery represented a modest and arguably trivial part.

Further, to the extent that slavery did massively benefit a small Southern elite, well the Civil War pretty much took care of that, no? The war devastated the planter class. Yes, more millionaires lived in sugar plantations along the Mississippi River in Louisiana than anywhere else in the US in 1860, but in 1865 the grand houses were burned; the stables emptied; the animals slaughtered or seized–and the slaves gone. They sowed the wind, and reaped the whirlwind.

Take Braxton Bragg as an example. The much-hated Confederate general married into a wealthy Louisiana planter family, but his time in the slaveholding aristocracy was short lived: Union troops confiscated his plantation in 1862, and after the war Bragg scraped by selling insurance and working as an engineer for a struggling Texas railroad. And he was one of the fortunate.

Wars also consume resources that could have been invested in productive activities: the massive expenditure of wealth to fund the Civil War reduced future US income, rather than increased it.

All meaning that Obama’s argument that modern Americans have been been unjustly enriched by the past injustices of slavery, and thus should pay reparations, is a complete falsehood. (A falsehood propagated by the loathsome 1619 Project as well.)

There are also the practical questions of to whom reparations would be paid, and the justice of any formula for rewarding them.

Are payments to be made on the basis of the one drop rule? That would be mordantly ironic, no?

Most descendants of slaves in the US are also the descendants of non-slaves, mainly whites, some of whom were more likely beneficiaries of slavery than you or I. There is considerable variation in the ratio of slave ancestry among Americans who currently identify as black. How will a reparations scheme reflect such variation? (Depending on how it does so, it could lead to another irony–a replacement of a historical reluctance of some who identify as white (especially in the South–read some Faulkner) to admit African ancestry, with a rush to find a slave ancestor: maybe investing in a genetic testing company is a way to speculate on the prospects for reparations!)

However these knotty issues are resolved, the resolution will be highly arbitrary–and hence add yet another element of injustice to an already irretrievably unjust enterprise.

Then there is the question of what is the counterfactual against which harm can be calculated. It could even be said there is no plausible counterfactual: Person X, descended from slaves, would not exist in the counterfactual world in which slavery never existed. So how can you calculate the harm suffered by X? And maybe there is no harm. Some portion of Person X’s genetic material would exist in some other people, living in Africa in far worse conditions than Person X. Person X could therefore be said to be the beneficiary of the horrors his enslaved ancestors suffered. But, of course, said ancestors cannot be compensated for these horrors.

Any just system of compensation and taxation to pay it (for reparations is at root a massive redistributive scheme) should have at least some connection between the harm suffered and the compensation paid, and between the responsibility for inflicting the harm, or the benefit received therefrom, and the tax paid. For all of the reasons discussed herein, slavery reparations cannot be just. Indeed, they are guaranteed to be unjust.*

And it is that fundamental injustice–which is an inherent feature of the entire concept of reparations–is what makes it extraordinarily divisive. Even people of good will will not voluntarily submit to such a fundamental injustice, and indeed, people of good will will resist the imposition of such an injustice.

Obama’s failure to recognize this, and his assertion that opposition to reparations is rooted in base, racist motives speaks volumes about the man–and about what he thinks about the majority of Americans. And it does not speak well. Pushing for reparations will inevitably and severely exacerbate racial tensions, and divide the nation. Claiming that opposition to reparations can only be due to racism will divide it even more. This is the last thing we need now. But Obama apparently decided he had inadequate time in office to accomplish his mission, so he is devoting his post-presidency to fan the flames of enmity in America.

*There are also issues of economic efficiency. Reparations are purely redistributive. It can have no effect on the behavior that caused the harm–because all those behaving thus are long dead. But redistributive programs impose deadweight costs. These include, inter alia, the deadweight costs of taxation required to pay reparations; the costs of administering the program, including the costs to detect and punish fraud; and the rent seeking costs incurred by those attempting to secure the transfer. These deadweight costs make everyone poorer. And this does not even consider the cost of the strife that a battle over reparations would engender.

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January 9, 2021

The Tyrannical Reaction to the Blundering “Insurrection” at the Capitol Means That Worse Is to Come

Filed under: Civil War,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:25 pm

My main reaction to Wednesday’s debacle at the Capitol is the same as Fouché’s to the murder of the Duc d’Enghien: It was worse than a crime: it was a blunder. As “insurrections” go, it was rather farcical, with limited instances of real violence the exception, and theater of the absurd the rule. As a result it was utterly ineffectual in achieving any object. And I use the passive tense deliberately, because it is rather hard to identify any actual person with an objective.

But that is a major reason why this was such a colossal blunder. It was utterly aimless and pointless and ineffectual and barren of any result–except for giving the governing class a reason to begin a ruthless purge of anyone in opposition to it. Anyone who is opposed to the governing class (which extends far beyond government, and includes large swathes of corporate America) is equated to those very few who rampaged through Nancy Pelosi’s office, even if they were nowhere near DC at the time. They are deemed seditious insurrectionists and “domestic terrorists” who must be excised from public life–including in particular participation in social media–and whose private employment is at risk.

This is affirming the consequent on steroids, but that fallacy is one of the most useful tools of political propaganda. And the governing class is using that tool with utter ruthlessness. Those who do not express complete fealty are at risk of being destroyed. And to be honest, expressing fealty today is likely to be insufficient, if one is deemed to have committed some sin against orthodoxy in the past.

This has been a judo move that turned Trump’s biggest strength–his ability to engage the passions of millions of people–into his greatest liability. He should have understood the risk, but so consumed was he by his increasingly Quixotic efforts to overturn his election loss that he failed to see it, and in fact fell right into the trap–that is his blunder. And in so doing he has inflicted a grievous harm on his most fervent supporters, and those not so fervent yet broadly aligned with him in their opposition to the governing class.

This is a blunder from which recovery will be nearly impossible, at least for some years–or until the governing class commits a similarly egregious blunder.

The governing class is not going to miss this opportunity to bludgeon its adversaries–and indeed, the campaign to do so ramped into high gear after the Capitol was cleared. It continues to intensify, led by the governing class’s Praetorian Guard: the social media and tech companies.

The most striking–and revealing–phenomenon is the stark contrast between the governing class’s reaction to this spasm of mob violence, even as highly limited in duration and extent as it was, to the epidemic of mob violence that lasted for months from sea to shining sea starting in May. I’m so old that I can remember when public protest–including protest that descended into destruction and death far more extensive than what occurred in DC on 6 January–was the highest expression of patriotism, and the most authentic expression of the discontent of the dispossessed, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

But that’s because those protestors were advancing the interests of the most ruthless part of the governing class, whereas these protestors are expressing their contempt for the governing class.

Who, whom, you know. It’s not the fact or protest or the intensity or violence thereof that matters: it’s who is protesting against whom, and why. The attempted assault on the White House in June, let alone the consummated assault on a Minneapolis police station or the nightly attacks on Federal buildings in Portland, were far more intense and angry and destructive than what happened on Wednesday. But to the governing class, those are legitimate targets. They are not, and since the rampage at the Capitol targeted the governing class, it is beyond the pale.

The reaction is what one would expect from tyrants, and indeed the entire episode is symptomatic of tyranny. Not the tyranny of Trump, but the tyranny of the governing class. As I’ve written for years, Trump is a symptom, not a cause. His victory, and his popularity among a massive number of Americans, stems directly from his opposition to the governing class. Trump cannily recognized the widespread discontent, and tapped into it. His populism reflected the undeniable fact that a large fraction of the people were–and are–mad as hell at those who presume to rule us–with very good reason. Populism is almost always a consequence of government failure–which is why governing classes hate it so much.

This discontent has been stoked to a fever pitch by the unrelenting campaign against covid, which has saved pitifully few (if any) lives, but destroyed many livelihoods and deprived most of us the things that make life worth living. Further, the highly dubious outcome of the election–and perhaps more importantly, the phalanx-like opposition of the governing class (including notably the Republican establishment) to any investigation of this dubiousness–has fueled the fires further.

In sum, there are a large number of desperate and angry people who believe the governing class despises them, and is indeed at war with them. So why should anyone be surprised that this desperation and anger has resulted in mob action? No one–least of all those who rationalized the Floyd protests (and riots) as a natural response to desperation and anger.

And to be frank, I am pretty sure that the ruling class is not surprised. They would never acknowledge it, but they know they hate these people, and are hated back in return. Which is precisely why they are using this opportunity to try and crush those that they hate, both out of a self-defense reflex, and for the pure pleasure of vanquishing one’s foes.

This is what tyrants do. They believe that their power and legitimacy is non-negotiable and indisputable, and that anyone who challenges the one and questions the other is seditious and deserves to be crushed. The left makes a big deal about demonizing “The Other.” Well, to the left and the governing class which is largely left, The Other is, well, probably you. And you are being demonized, and that demonization is used to justify the imposition of coercion on you.

Their expectation, like that of all tyrants, is that if they exert enough force, their opponents will be crushed or cowed into abject submission. Sometimes that is correct. But often it has the exact opposite effect, and exacerbates tension and hostility to such a degree that there is a revolutionary convulsion.

In other words, we are living in pre-revolutionary times, and the reflex of the governing class to double down on coercion when challenged is greatly increasing the odds that soon the prefix “pre-” will be obsolete. So convinced of its righteousness, rectitude, and right to rule, the governing class is failing to ask why so many hate them so much–they just dismiss them as rubes and rednecks and racists and religious freaks. And by failing to ask the question, they greatly increase the odds of getting an unsolicited, and very violent, answer to the question they should ask but haven’t.

In the covid months I’ve let my beard grow out, mainly as a statement about how the restrictions on normal life in 2020 rendered irrelevant certain social conventions. When someone commented rather snarkily about that, I responded “well, if we are headed for a civil war, I thought I should look the part.” If that sardonic response was comprehensible when I made it a few months ago, it is all the more so after the events of the past weeks, and last week in particular.

There are other things about the Capitol catastrophe (catastrophic much less in its direct effects than its fallout) that deserve attention. Such as: why was it even possible that a rather inchoate and spontaneous mob was able to get access to the Capitol? But all that must be based on speculation colored by one’s pre-existing beliefs. The fact is that it did happen, and it will have consequences. It is those consequences that we must focus on, as I’ve tried to do here. And I am increasingly convinced that the most important consequence will be a grave escalation in internecine conflict as the governing class attempts to suppress those millions who already feel oppressed by their rule, with the possible (and indeed, likely) results being frightful to contemplate.

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December 26, 2020

Lee & Jackson Come Down: It’s More About the Future Than the Past

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:40 pm

Among other things, annus horribilis 2020 will evidently mark the final eclipse of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as Virginia icons. Lee-Jackson Day (commemorated under various names since 1889) was eliminated as a state holiday. The statue of Lee was removed from the U.S. Capitol, and his statue on Memorial Avenue in Richmond was defaced by massive graffiti during the George Floyd protests, and Virginia’s governor ordered its removal a month later: its fate now hangs by a thin legal thread. This month, Jackson’s statue was removed from the Virginia Military Institute, where he taught before achieving fame in the Civil War.

Even more than erecting them, the removal of monuments is a statement of political power. Thus, the monument controversy is a testament to political realignment. The controversies have been particularly intense in Virginia because the realignment has been so pronounced. This is directly attributable to the vast expansion of the Federal government since the 1960s, which has resulted in the dramatic growth of the northern Virginia suburbs, with the burgeoning population consisting disproportionately of non-Virginians, most of whom have direct or indirect ties to the national government, and hence have an antipathy towards, or at most an indifference to the most renowned rebels against that government. Similar things are happening in other Southern states with burgeoning urban populations, e.g., Georgia. In many respects, the Yankee invasion of the Sunbelt that started in earnest in the 1970s is doing what Yankee Reconstruction in the 1870s could not.

As I have written many times in the past four years or so, this iconoclasm disturbs me. It disturbs me in part because I dislike the naked assertion of political power and the marking of political territory. Waving the bloody shirt 155 years after the fact seems particularly unseemly. It is largely presentist bigotry which refuses to countenance context. And as I discuss in the closing, it will have baleful political effects.

Moreover, I dislike the erasing of history. We need to understand our past better–including understanding how previous generations understood their past. ISIS wants to destroy everything that predated Mohammed. The topplers of monuments in Richmond or Portland or Madison (and I could go on) what to destroy everything American that predates The Woke. What they have in common is a deep antipathy of anything that angers their gods.

The removal of the Jackson statue is particularly ridiculous. VMI is, after all, a military school. It trains officers. Jackson, although an indifferent teacher at VMI, was a living embodiment of many military virtues, and a general of some genius. For those reasons, he is a good example for cadets to contemplate. And as for the cause in which he employed that genius and virtues, cadets are also better off understanding it and what brought it into existence than having it extirpated from memory. The statue’s removal will also remove a reminder to strive for such an understanding.

There is also an element of cheap virtue signaling, and in fact cowardice, in removing Jackson’s monument. Truth be told, if Jackson’s legacy is a blot on Virginia that must be removed, so is VMI itself. Twenty-one of its graduates served as Confederate generals: many more as colonels (including George Patton’s grandfather) or in lower ranks: approximately 1,800 VMI graduates served in the Civil War–all but 19 for the Confederacy. The Corps of Cadets delivered a decisive charge at the Battle of New Market on 15 May, 1864.

VMI is therefore inextricably linked to the Civil War, and on the “wrong” side. If such historical bonds require removal from public space, intellectual consistency would require VMI to be burned more thoroughly than David Hunter’s Union troops did on 12 June, 1864. Getting rid of Jackson’s statue is a cheap and cowardly way of reckoning with the past.

We are now entering a period in which the subject of relations between states, and the relations between the states and the Federal government is being questioned as it has not been since 1865. The topic of secession has been broached, especially in the aftermath of the fiasco that is the 2020 presidential election. There is greater distrust and alienation between different regions of the US today than there has been since the era of Reconstruction, and by a large margin. What was universally considered settled is no longer so.

In such a febrile environment, a better understanding of how sectional distrust and alienation (North-South then, Red-Blue today) can lead to disastrous rupture is imperative. “No more Munichs” informed post-War US foreign policy: this was an attempt to learn from past mistakes in order to avoid their repetition. “No more Civil Wars” is equally important, if not more so, and we should think seriously and deeply about the period 1820-1860, in order to learn from the mistakes of that era–mistakes that culminated in a bloody war and bitter Reconstruction.

Sadly, erasing visible traces of this era does not encourage such consideration: it prevents it. Much the worse, the intensely partisan and triumphalist way it is being done actually widens the fissures in American political and social life that are becoming more apparent by the day. Again, it is an assertion of political power by one faction that is deliberately intended to demonstrate to other factions who is in charge, and that they don’t matter. That will only intensify the already manifest centrifugal forces at work in the United States. That is the last thing we want to do now, for reasons that a better understanding of the Civil War Era should make more than plain.

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