Monday, May 26, 2008

The next President: Hood or Johnston?

Confederate Generals, John B. Hood (left) and Joseph E. Johnston

David Seaton's News Links

In his monumental history of the American Civil war, Shelby Foote memorably called General Joseph E. Johnston's defense of Atlanta, "The Red Clay Minuet": a masterpiece of defensive maneuver in the face of a superior force.

Here is how the Georgia Civil War Commission's William R. Scaife lays out the situation that Johnston faced in 1864:
In preparation for the campaigns of 1864, President Lincoln wisely appointed General Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all the Union armies in the field. Grant quickly developed a plan to take maximum advantage of his superior manpower by constantly hammering Confederate armies in Virginia and Georgia and keeping both so fully occupied it would be impossible for either to detach reinforcements to the other. If either of the badly outnumbered Confederate armies could be brought to battle and defeated, both Union armies could then unite and easily dispose of the lone remaining enemy force. In Sherman's words, "Neither Atlanta, nor Augusta nor Savannah was the objective, but the army of Joseph Johnston, go where it might.
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston knew as Sherman advanced into Georgia he must remain near his only supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad to Chattanooga. Since General Johnston faced vastly superior numbers, he wisely fortified strong defensive positions along the railroad, hoping to entice Sherman to either attack him and incur heavy losses, or to expose himself to a counterattack, while attempting to maneuver around him. Johnston would preserve his army by entrenching every step he took, fighting only when attacked, and inviting battle only when conditions were heavily in his favor - refusing to commit to a major battle in which his army might be destroyed.
Sherman would counter by holding General Johnston in place with George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, which was almost as large as General Johnston's entire army, and sending flanking armies under John M. Schofield and James B. McPherson right and left in attempts to cut General Johnston's line of supply and retreat, thus forcing him to come out and fight on even terms. But General Johnston repeatedly avoided Sherman's attempts to force the climactic battle, each time slipping away to fortify yet another strong position. The campaign thus became one of continuous maneuvering with Shelby Foote termed The Red Clay Minuet. On June 27th Sherman became so frustrated at his inability to trap and destroy General Johnston's army that he ordered the only all out assault of the campaign at Kennesaw Mountain, but was defeated with heavy losses and would never again attack Johnston in force.
But on July 17th, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, either not understanding General Johnston's defensive strategy or not agreeing with it, relieved the General of command and replaced him with General John B. Hood. The campaign of maneuver quickly changed as Hood did just what Sherman had been unable to entice General Johnston to do since May - come out and fight on even terms. In impetuous and mismanaged attacks at Peachtree Creek, Atlanta and Ezra Church, Hood repeatedly hurled his outnumbered forces against Sherman's advancing columns. In each case the confederates were repulsed with heavy losses, which demoralized and depleted Hood's forces to the point where their ability to successfully defend Atlanta and to cut the city's only remaining supply line, forcing Hood's evacuation of Atlanta on the night of September 1, 1864.
Another, simpler, example of this principal is light-heavyweight boxing champion, Billy Conn's legendary bout with Joe Louis, here is the Wikipedia description:
The fight became part of boxing's lore because Conn held a secure lead on the scorecards leading to round 13. According to many experts and fans who watched the fight, Conn was outmaneuvering Louis up to that point. In a move that Conn would regret for the rest of his life, he tried to go for the knockout in round 13, and instead wound up losing the fight by knockout in that same round himself. Ten minutes after the fight, Conn told reporters, "I lost my head and a million bucks,". When asked by a reporter why he went for the knockout, Conn replied famously, "What's the use of being Irish if you can't be thick (i.e. stupid)?" Later he would joke with Louis, "Why couldn't you let me hold the title for a year or so?", to which the Brown Bomber responded, "You had the title for twelve rounds and you couldn't hold on to it."
All of this is to illustrate that measuring your own strength and that of your your opponent carefully is the first step in avoiding destruction in a conflict.

The balance of power in the world is shifting in many ways and America's hegemony is much in question. It is not that power is shifting from America into the hands of another would be global hegemon, as would have been the case during the Cold War; rather, globalization has empowered so many different poles of power, even non-state actors like drug cartels and multinational corporations, that trying to grip it tightly and dominate it has become a futile exercise. An exercise that can drain, empty and hollow out the United States of America, should it persist in attempting it.

It is not that the United States is facing a superior foreign power or even a collection of hostile powers bent on its destruction -- something which would play perfectly to Washington's endless paranoias -- no, the USA is simply facing a situation that America, more than any power in history, has itself created.

This is a situation where finally, as the fella said, "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

The next President of the United States can either "box clever", like Joseph E. Johnston, and live to fight another day or go on the offensive, toe to toe with the world, and end up seeing stars like General Hood or Billy Conn.

The prognosis is not that encouraging: John McCain has a crazy, impulsive, hot temper: a natural fighter. And Barack Obama is arrogant and in love with himself and his own voice: As much as bad temper, arrogance and self love in commanders have proverbially been the heralds of endless disasters through history, as "pride cometh before a fall." Where some see a messiah in Obama, I see only the luciferian pride.

Perhaps long experience in politics, the ordeal of great physical and mental suffering and humiliation in Vietnam, combined with a military education, may give McCain a more lucid and skeptical estimate of his and other's limitations ... or maybe not.

McCain might work out OK, with one important caveat and condition: an ample Democratic majority in both House and Senate. This is the closest thing to coalition politics that the USA could produce.

Unless NASA makes the unlikely discovery of life on Mars, there will be little choice for us but to hang around here on the blue planet and find out. DS


Jay Salter said...

David, you're right about Barack. Here's proof:

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

That's a little far fetched I think Jay. When we say in common speech that somebody is as "proud as the devil", we only mean that the angel Lucifer was expelled from heaven because of his pride. Pride, a pagan virtue, is considered the worst of all sins by the Church.

If there were an Antichrist, I don't think Obama would fit the part, I think the Antichrist would arrive with a fantastic CV, something that the Hawaiian messiah definitely lacks.