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Antietam and National Monte Cristo Day

Mid-September and the fall cleanup should be well underway in the Great Lakes. The air conditioner shouldn’t run most nights by now, and the leaves here should be turning. Great time of year.

On 17 September 1787, the US Constitution was adopted by the Congress that, at that time, existed only by habit and the Articles of Confederation. The new document would replace the body that created it. Interesting juxtaposition. And on this day in 1944, Operation Market-Garden would commence with a mass drop of nearly 20,000 paratroopers on three large areas in Holland to be joined together by an armored column. Nice in theory, but the disaster came when the Germans rallied faster than anyone expected and put up a stiff defense against the ground attack with a front ten yards wide by five miles long. And on 17 September 1996, Spiro Agnew, once Vice-President under Richard Nixon and once Governor of Maryland, died in Berlin, Maryland. Agnew resigned as vice president when he pled guilty to tax evasion in October 1973, less than a year before his boss would. Today is also Apple Dumpling Day because someone said so and they haven’t changed their minds. But today we’re going to talk about bloodletting and sandwiches.

While the Confederates under Robert E. Lee couldn’t afford too many stand-up fights, the Union under McClellan could, but just didn’t like to.

By the summer of 1862, the American Civil War in the east–the 90 miles between the two opposing capitals–was in a sort of stasis mostly imposed by two stale realities: the timidity of George McClellan and the relative poverty of the Confederate armies. While the Confederates could win battles, they couldn’t win and hold territory. While the Union armies could hold turf–and was doing just that in the west–the Army of the Potomac was commanded by a brilliant administrator who hated the idea that his troops had to fight. While the Confederates under Robert E. Lee couldn’t afford too many stand-up fights, the Union under McClellan could, but just didn’t like to.

Civil War Trust
Maryland Campaign

To break this stalemate before another winter in camp, Lee conceived a plan to bring McClellan’s army to battle on northern soil. There Lee would defeat the Union. This would demoralize the Union in time to influence the mid-term Congressional elections, destabilize Lincoln and the radical Republicans and bring the conflict to a negotiated conclusion, leaving The South (TM) to go on its merry way. All this depended on Lee’s ability to get the Army of the Potomac to fight somewhere outside Virginia and defeat it. Thus was born the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

Only distance and logistics stopped the Federals from overrunning the Confederacy altogether.

Conceptually it was something of a hail-Mary. Everything depended on everything else going in the Confederacy’s favor, something that had not really happened yet in the war. While the Manassas campaign of 1862 was something of a Federal rout, the Confederates lacked the wherewithal to capitalize on Federal disorganization.  Even if the Confederacy were victorious in the east, elsewhere the Union armies were moving more or less unencumbered by Confederate forces. Only distance and logistics stopped the Federals from overrunning the Confederacy altogether.

There they waited for the morning when McClellan’s force–over twice Lee’s strength–would surely crush the Army of Northern Virginia.

But Lee launched his campaign on 3 September 1862 with the best of intentions, fighting a minor battle in the mountain passes where McClellan had stolen a march on Lee and cut him off. After two weeks of marching and fighting, Lee’s depleted army came to rest near Sharpsburg, Maryland on the evening of 16 September, knowing that the Army of the Potomac was just across the small tributary of the Potomac called Antietam Creek. There they waited for the morning when McClellan’s force–over twice Lee’s strength–would surely crush the Army of Northern Virginia.

While Lee knew that the big enemy army was badly handled, he also knew that even a badly handled but huge force could simply run over his weakened force in an afternoon.

That’s one version. Another is that Lee knew full well how timid McClellan was, and also knew that concerted action by corps commanders was not a Union strength. Lee almost certainly had taken the measure of McClellan many times and found him wanting as a field commander. While the Army of the Potomac was large, it was not as destructive as all that. While Lee knew that the big enemy army was poorly handled, he also knew that even a badly-handled but colossal force could run over his weakened host in an afternoon.

The 22,000 plus casualties incurred had mostly been in the morning, and the fighting slowed to a smoke-choked crawl by noon: McClellan might have destroyed Lee then and there.

The battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg has been described by better scribes than I so I won’t duplicate those efforts or paraphrase from them. The critical thing to remember about the bloodletting of 17 September at the bridge or the wheat field or the cornfield or anywhere else is that it was an uncoordinated mess that actually used less than 40% of the available Union forces. By the time McClellan stopped fighting not only was Lee pretty well beaten but it was just late afternoon, with as much as another three hours of daylight left. The 22,000 plus casualties incurred had mostly been in the morning, and the fighting slowed to a smoke-choked crawl by noon: McClellan might have destroyed Lee then and there.

…rid of McClellan, the Army of the Potomac could fight on its own terms.  

But he didn’t. He liked having his army, not fighting it. The result was a tactical draw, but a partial Federal victory for having turned Lee back to Virginia again. But it disgusted the Federal commanders enough to prompt McClellan’s replacement, and the battle itself affected the mid-term elections, not at all: rid of McClellan, the Army of the Potomac could fight on its own terms.


And there’s National Monte Cristo Day, originated in 2015 by Bennigan’s, one of many Irish-pub-themed restaurant chains struggling just like the rest of them in the face of me-too competition. A Monte Cristo is a pan- or deep-fried ham and cheese sandwich, a variation of the French croque-monsieur, sometimes called a French Sandwich, a Toasted Ham Sandwich, or a French Toasted Cheese Sandwich. A Monte Cristo is typically savory rather than sweet. It is usually dipped in egg batter. Variations may include sliced turkey and different types of cheese. It can be served grilled or open-faced and heated under a grill or broiler. It can also be sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with jam or preserves.

Eh, whatever. Typically I won’t get that elaborate about sandwiches: slice it up raw, save the time and energy and put it on a plate or a napkin, all the same to me. Or just hand it to me. Powdered sugar? Jam or Preserves? What for? It’s a ham sandwich, for all love.

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Sun Yat Sen and National Girl Scout Day

So, 12 March, and the snow–hopefully–isn’t piling up above the sills anymore in the Great Lakes. By now those of us who don’t do winter sports and live on corner lots with fireplug responsibilities are just done with it.

But a lot of things happened on 12 March. The Ostrogoth siege of Rome ended on this day in 538: it only lasted ten days, and the Ostrogoths retreated. The first mention of a Gutenberg Bible was recorded in a letter from Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II) on 12 March 1455: though exact dates are unclear, he had probably seen a copy of the first book printed in Europe with flexible metal type as early as the previous year. Koriki Kiyonaga, a daimyo who fought for the Tokugawas in the wars that ended in 1600, died in Japan on this day in 1608: the circumstances of his death are still controversial. John Worden, US naval officer who was the first skipper of USS Monitor, was born on this day in Mt Plesant, New York in 1818: his long naval career started when he was just sixteen. On 12 March 1910, armored cruiser Georgios Averoff was launched in Italy: built for the Royal Hellenic (Greek) Navy, she is now a floating museum and the last surviving vessel of her type in the world. On this day in 1933, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast the first of six “fireside chats” that he used to reassure the country after its severe economic downturn, then in its fourth year: the worst of the Great Depression was yet to come. The US voting age was lowered to 18 on this day in 1970, much to the consternation of many: the reelection of Nixon in 1972 reassured the conservatives that the liberal “wave” was not led by teen voters. And on 12 March 1999 Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined the NATO alliance, much to the consternation of Russia: the West was now a day’s drive closer to Moscow. Today is also, for some unaccountable reason, National Plant A Flower Day: go to it if you have a mind. Bht today we’re talking about Chinese revolutionaries, and about Girl Scouts.

When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Late 19th century China was a victim of Euro-American expansionism, and of technology gone wild. While Britain and France vied for empire in India in the 18th century, the Russian Empire continued to consolidate its far eastern holdings on the borders of Manchuria. Steam-powered ships and the demands for expanding markets led to conflicts within China over the coming of the Europeans, and the Opium Wars didn’t help. “Extraterritoriality” demands after these conflicts were impossible for the hapless Qing Dynasty which, though it knew it had to modernize, could not overcome its internal influences. A disastrous war with Japan in 1894 and another with most of Europe in 1900 led to even more foreign troops and influences on Chinese society.  When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

By then there were literally scores of groups, societies, and organizations willing to start something, somewhere. Their goals ranged from simply anarchy to a whole new republic, and their methods from a peaceful transition to calls for mass murder. On 10 October 1911, a violent protest over a railway protection plan in Wuchang exploded into civil war. Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

After weeks of riots, battles, protests, massacres, and arguments over precedents, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was elected president of a Chinese Republic on 29 December 1911, even though the Chinese United League to which he belonged controlled only part of the county. The Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 January 1912 when Sun Yat-Sen was sworn in. It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

But Sun was not to lead for long. On 10 March 1912, he resigned his post as president in favor of Yuan Shikai, who had been the last emperor and could control the many royalists better than an intellectual could. Sun became the president of the Nationalist Party of China, better known as the Kuomintang, or KMT. Soon, though, Yuan was plotting a return to the monarchy, broke up the KMT and exiled Sun to Japan. Another revolution was followed by another return to China in 1919. By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.

By 1925 Sun Yat-Sen, by then 58 years old, was dying of liver cancer. Radium and traditional treatments failed, and on 12 March 1925, he died in Bejing. Sun Yat-Sen’s legacy in China is mixed. While he is hailed as the leader who overthrew the monarchy, Sun Yat-Sen is also the founder of the political party who opposed the Reds for nearly 20 years. On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.


Today, 12 March, is also the anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America by Juliet Gordon Low in Savanah, Georgia in 1912. The Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies and make S’mores: they have always been an organization that encourages and trains young women to lead productive lives. They do this by encouraging them to learn about traditional crafts, but also, yes, to sell cookies. Such activities build confidence and prepare them to learn even more. Merit badges are a big part of the scouting life, and there are few activities, from cooking and sewing to running a business and space exploration, that girls cannot earn a merit badge or an award for.

 

Salt Lake Tribune, 2017
The future of Scouting

 

There’s some question about the future of scouting in America. Recent court rulings and policy changes in the Boy Scouts signal that a merger of the two organizations will happen in the not-distant future. With girls joining the Boy Scouts imminently, there has been a great deal of discussion about how this might impact either or both organizations. It must be pointed out, however, that like combat arms jobs in the military, just because girls can join the Boy Scouts, there will likely be precious few who actually do. I can see that, yes, the two organizations can join together, but that there will still be boys’ troops and girls’ troops that may be together from time to time: at certain stages of their lives, the two genders just won’t mix well, no matter what the social engineers want.

In the interest of full disclosure, my sisters were Girl Scouts, and my mother was a Scout leader. I was in Scouting all the way to the Order of the Arrow. While we rarely had anything to do with any Girl Scouts officially in the ’60s and ’70s, we occasionally did, and the interactions were, well, teenage-appropriate as long as the grownups were around. But the weather was usually cold as I recall, and–let’s just say that what everyone’s afraid of just didn’t happen.

I’d prefer that young men and women were allowed to fail in the company of other young men and women before they have to learn to deal with failure in the adult world among members of the biologically-verifiable opposite sex who they may seek the favor of in future. It’s a lot scarier then, regardless of how many genders and sexual orientations someone may demand the UN to recognize.

 

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INEVITABLE VIOLENCE: THE MIDDLE EAST SINCE 1948

The critical element of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948 is that it is the shape of the world before the invention of peace in the 18th Century.  Conflict is endemic to animal life, and the artificial construct that declares that lions can lay with lambs creates a false sense that the pleasant imagery is achievable.

There are political and economic arguments for continuing conflict that are easily inflamed into religious rhetoric. Islam, an evangelical Abrahamic ideology, insists that the land belongs to those of their faith, though the faith itself is two millennia younger than Judaism, a non-evangelical Abrahamic ideology that was thriving in the area about three thousand years before the founding of the city of Mecca.  Economically, Israel is capable of producing five times the luxury goods per capita of all their neighbors combined, engendering accusations of economic destitution among their neighbors that are caused by unfair trading practices, anti-non-Jew discrimination and uneven “opportunities” for Jews over those of any other faith.  Since the partition of Israel many states, individuals and organizations has treated the conflict there as litmus tests for democracy, anti-Semitism, and support of the United States.  Those that support Israel are thought to be supporters of the US and its institutions; those who do not, in the popular imagination, don’t.

Conflicts in the Middle East are cycles of low-level asymmetrical, socio-economic and diplomatic warfare, occasionally breaking into outright fighting on a small scale between the military and security forces of Israel and dozens of other states and various “liberation” guerrilla groups. Irregularly, large and spectacular attacks are staged, including

  • The El Al hijacking in 1968;
  • Munich and the campaign of violence afterwards that hunted down the planners in 1972;
  • Lodz airport in 1974;
  • The Air France hijacking in 1976;
  • The Osirak reactor bombing in 1981.

These noteworthy attacks are interspersed with repeated waves of intifadas and other general disruptions, civil wars, bombings, and riots.  Internationally, boycotts, and propaganda maneuvers are punctuated by “conferences” that are little more than photo opportunities, with “frameworks” designed by diplomats to describe a “peace process” that has not yielded more than a few months of relative calm in the region in nearly sixty years of trying.

Israel had been the subject of more UN sanction motions for alleged human rights abuses than all other member states combined.  States on the UN’s Human Rights Subcommittee when many of these sanctions were voted on have included Cambodia, Cuba and Libya.  Zionism, a loose term for Jewish self-determination, has been equated with ethnic cleansing, genocide and racism by states including the former Soviet Union, China and Haiti.

Four times since 1948 the conflict has broken out into conventional warfare: 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1981.  The proxy nature of the conflict is readily apparent:

  • The 1956 conflict coincided with Egyptian attempts to nationalize the Suez Canal after a coup that deposed Egypt’s king and Egypt’s subsequent recognition of the People’s Republic of China over Western objections;
  • The 1967 conflict was in part occasioned by the Soviet Union recognizing the United Arab Republic, Gamal Nasser’s attempt at a pan-Arab Egypt/Syria/Jordan union (curiously, “Arab” here excluded Saudi Arabia);
  • The low-mid-level “war of attrition” from 1969 to 1970, when artillery barrages, commando raids and air attacks were conducted every day;
  • The 1981 Israeli invasion of Lebanon coincided with increasing tensions between the Soviet bloc and the West occasioned by the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran in 1978.

There seems to be no real resolution to the conflict, and there seems to be little desire for either “side” to live and coexist together in anything approaching stable harmony.  As long as ideologues can drive their followers to deeds of barbarity, there shall be a conflict in the eastern Mediterranean.