Historical Failure Analysis: Aw, NUTS!

Did you ever start on a project that, for several reasons, just wouldn’t go anywhere? 

Yeah, me too.

I had grand plans for my historical failure analysis method. I still do. But it needs far more work than I can put into it right now. This blog was started to sell books. Working on a failure analysis method ain’t doing it. For whatever reason, my connection with LinkedIn has become problematic, so my feedback loop has become muted.

So, what to do?

History is part legend, part fact, but mostly interpretation of those who have gone before us.

Attributed to George Santayana (1863-1952)

JDB Communications, LLC still needs to sell books. I still need to draw reader attention to what the company and I are up to. The blog does sell some books; I know that. Thanks to whoever you are. But that don’t pay the bills very well in and of itself. Most sales come from the initial release announcements; some come later or result from secondary ads after whatever I rave about in front of the plugs for books. I used to work for a marketing firm, so I know what to look for. I hated marketing and have since become marketing/sales adverse–you should hear what I say to telemarketers and the poor peddlers who knock on my door.

I’m a historian of a logical, technical bent, which may not be a good thing but a somewhat unique one. I’m also told I craft good stories, though I wish more people would say that in reviews. In writing and researching my latest novel, The Past Not Taken, I’ve (re)discovered that the writing of history depends not on sources as much as analysis and interpretation. So many sources may not be what they seem to be, as we can see from the 1619 Project and its rebuttals–a topic I explore in The Past Not Taken.

What? I’m here to sell books!

Still with the what to do with the blog issue. OK, I did a lot of timeline stuff at one time before I did a reset in 2019 for personal reasons. Actually, that was March, too. I’ve generally avoided contemporary issues, but I’ve thought about combining my historical bent with my analytical skills and coming up with something newer-ish.

Currently in the works I have a WWII novel, Steele’s Hammer, among other things. It’s about this Ned Steele fella who has a career in the Army and friends in higher places than most. It’s a little riff on Anton Meyer’s Once An Eagle, but with a twist. At the beginning of the war Steele’s wife and youngest son get trapped in the Philippines while he’s an observer in Russia. His daughter and older son are stateside and…well, you’ll have to wait for the rest. At root, it’s a family-related tale of personal sacrifice, daring-do, and loss, both private and not. I could blog about that period, this event, or that. But my interests are more wide-ranging than that. 

One thing I did a few years back was Pearl Harbor Reconsidered that had some success. But how to sell books talking about that? Well, there’s a problem…

Money and Theme

This blog is on WordPress, and to have as much stuff on this website as I do, with the traffic and followers I have, is simply no longer cost-effective. For that reason, I’m going to go “free” on WordPress, and move most of this blog’s entries to Substack (jdbcom.substack.com), where monetization is cheap and straightforward.

And there’s a thematic issue, as well. Sell books, OK. Talk about history, OK. But what about history? Writing The Past Not Taken got me thinking about how history is written and why. It isn’t as simple as “to tell the story of the past.” There’s a great deal more involved in talking about the past than just restating the sources. As we now know from the fallout of the 1619 Project, there are politics involved. Politics of race, of power, of class, and of pedagogy.

Writing history is as much about the present as it is about the past.

John D. Beatty

Telling the story of the past is fraught with current perceptions, past prejudices, and the dangers of self-censorship. There isn’t a major historical event that cannot be interpreted–and presented–more than one way. Much of the success of the 1619 Project, I submit, has to do with the presentation of a complete learning package that keeps the instructor from having to build a lesson plan. Primary grade teachers are already overloaded and often under-compensated. What’s more, teaching critical race theory based on the 1619 Projects assumptions becomes simple…and it keeps the screaming cancellers of pedagogy at bay.

But I digress…sort of. While the 1619 Project is based on false assumptions and the intentional misreading or denial of primary sources on those subjects, it is thought-provoking. Why was it written? Why did so many people jump on the bandwagon so quickly? I submit that its introduction in 2019 was greeted with wild acceptance among progressives who, smarting under the supposed tyranny of Donald Trump, found a new pedagogic model to contextualize their rage against a society that rejected their “truths” about race.

Simple as that…maybe. Of course, it’s just an opinion (a lot of history is just that), but a carefully considered one that fits the evidence. And it’s called…

History Reconsidered

What if someone wrote an utterly wrong history book? What if a text’s entire content was seen through a current political fashion filter? What if I told you that many of them are, have been, and always will be? I refer you to the (possible) Santayana quote above. Do you know another quote that’s not only possible but also controversial?

The difference between revenge and justice is who’s hand is on the rope.

Attributed to Charles Lynch  (1736–1796) 

You see, there was a “Judge” Lynch–a Quaker justice of the peace–whose irregular Virginia court during the American Revolution punished loyalists with fines, forced oaths of allegiance, and forced enlistments. His courts and trials weren’t based on any laws except those he made himself. Note that he never hanged anyone, but the term “lynched” is said to stem from his name and actions, which were legitimized by the Virginia House Of Burgesses after the fact.

A lynching is said to be an illegal–or extralegal–execution. It is accurately attributed to almost any summary punishment. But think about what he’s quoted as saying. Is there really a difference between what private individuals do and what the state does? It could be the same action, now couldn’t it? 

So goes history and its all-too-frequent judgment. A historian should not judge the actions of those in the past, though they often do, usually for political reasons. Case in point: once again, the 1619 Project. Their reinterpretation is based on a fiction: that a handful of Africans were enslaved as soon as they landed in Jamestown in 1619. The object of this fraud, quite possibly, is to prepare the ground for reparations.

So, what’s the future of this blog? History Reconsidered on Substack. Often related to my books, but sometimes not. That AND regular book plugs, of course. Click over, subscribe, join the discussion.

See you there

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945, Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators

This seems a good deal cleaner than the earlier protocol.

Germany failed to achieve its supposed security in WWI, or its quest for Poland and European Russia and the ethnic cleansing, to borrow a modern term, in WWII.

  • Step One: Define the Failure–DONE
  • Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators–WORKING
  • Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
  • Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any
  • Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish and Duck

Surrender in 1918 and 1945 are not necessarily indicators of failure. Those may have come earlier. How? Let’s look.

The policies and actions of 1914 that led to the surrender in 1918 aren’t that hard to pin down, but we’ll do that later. What we need to do NOW is the failure’s indicators. Were there any before the surrender? Arguably, yes. First, Wilhelm II’s “surprise” and “anger” that both England and Russia “played him false” in his desire for peace during the summer of 1914. Analyzing Willie’s earlier and subsequent behavior, this analyst has to say that this was an act; it almost had to have been. His cousin George V of Great Britain, as a constitutional monarch, had relatively little control over foreign policy, which was in the province of his prime minister and the cabinet. Nicholas II had somewhat more power, but not a great deal. Wilhelm wasn’t stupid, but he may have been slightly naïve. Though Germany’s diplomats had tried to contain the crisis to the Balkans, the German military couldn’t.

The Schlieffen Plan, Its Myths and Misunderstandings

Alfred von Schlieffen became the head of Germany’s Great General Staff during a period of tumult in European strategic theory. He inherited an organization that had been politically marginalized, and thus its influence on policy was questionable if it had any at all. The entire idea of strategy as practiced by the legendary Fredrick II (‘the Great”) and as executed by Helmuth von Moltke was thrown into a muddle by its own success against the French in 1871. Though the French armies were crushed quickly in that conflict, the French people were not, compelling the German coalition to divert tens of thousands of troops in rear area security duties. What was more, after Napoleon III was captured, the French declared another Republic and formed an even larger army than had already been defeated. Though they were eventually beaten, the fact that the quick victory that the Prussians/Germans had traditionally enjoyed didn’t occur caused no end of dithering about strategy. In the end, the Great General Staff’s strategic planning was based on a very public debate about national warfare and, essentially, imperial war.

Schlieffen, however, proceeded with a traditional German military plan of envelopment that projected the use of more forces that the German Empire could muster…ever. Even with reserves, the plan outlined in the famous Memorandum of 31 December 1906 and all the drafts (there were several and a few fragments here and there that made it into the final version) required roughly two and a half million men to execute. Germany could not mobilize that many trained soldiers at once, regardless of the reservist’s status or numbers. It was written mainly by Schlieffen himself and partly by his successor, Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger; nephew of the Elder).

Critiques and criticisms of the Schlieffen “Plan” are many. Let’s just suffice it to say it was barely a “plan” at all, other than “at the outset, we invade France through Belgium and Luxembourg, drive to the Channel coast and swing south around Paris.” The overall army commander would lead twenty-odd corps commanders in a massive battle that would smash the French again. This was the heart of the “plan” that supposedly was used in 1914.

This analyst submits that the execution of the “plan” in 1914 wasn’t Schlieffen’s, but Moltke the Younger’s, who filled the position of the chief of the Great General Staff after Schlieffen’s retirement in 1906. He envisioned one of four options, all of which required a quick victory against France so that the army could turn and deal with Russia. It sounds familiar because this was the extent of German strategic military planning in 1914 and 1939.

German Strategic Thought and the Lack Thereof

Germany had this problem as a military state: Their only diplomatic tool (after Bismarck) was a hammer (the military), so every problem was treated like a nail. Though this lack of adaptability may be a cause of the ultimate failure, it is also an indicator of impending failure that was foreseen in Britain at least before 1914. Given the size of the German Navy in 1914, it seemed almost as if it were a plaything of Wilhelm II. While the Kaiser loved all things British, he seemed to hate Britain itself–and his British mother–with something of a passion. Enamored of uniforms and parades, Wilhelm is often portrayed as a child in a man’s body. His apparent outrage at his cousin George V’s support of Russia and France in 1914 may have been mere posturing, but perhaps not.

Both John French and Douglas Haig observed that, while the German military machine was impressive and dangerous in 1914, German strategic direction seemed to lack focus under Moltke the Younger.  While the much-vaunted Schlieffen Plan(s) was a bold stroke, Germany never had the forces required to pull it off…and both France and Britain knew it. Furthermore, German violation of Belgian neutrality and their subsequently brutal treatment of that tiny country raised international ire, especially in the United States. Germany’s unquestioning support of Austria-Hungary in the Serbian crisis in the summer of 1914 would indeed have diluted German power if the Dual Monarchy ran into trouble in the Balkans…which they did. But Moltke supported sending precious German assets to assist Vienna’s quest for vengeance. This overextension of not-infinite resources on two fronts doomed the German Empire the longer the conflict lasted.

Similarly, Germany’s primary planning tool in the summer of 1939 seemed to have been hope: Hope that Britain and France wouldn’t make good on their promises to Poland. While Britain and France were tired and frightened as nations, they were still dangerous enough for Hitler and his generals to be wary of them. So wary, indeed, that they offered an olive branch to Stalin, who eagerly took it. But in 1940, after Germany smashed the French and British armies, the olive branch Hitler extended to Britain was snubbed in large part because the “European Peace” offered would leave no vestige of any of the minor powers intact. However, in a larger sense, Hitler’s actions and promises made ad broken in the past didn’t leave a great deal of confidence that he would keep his promises. Indeed, history showed that he was only truly loyal to himself and Mussolini.

Indicators of failure, in other words, came early, often before the conflicts that brought Germany low. They may appear to be military in origin, but not entirely. We’ll see about this next time.


Why the Samurai Lost Japan, Kindle Edition

By the time you read this, you should be able to see it at your favorite booksellers. There’s a constant tug on the behalf of this book to venture upon a Solomons/New Guinea/Battle for Australia book that treats that long campaign as Japan’s Verdun, the campaign that largely broke the back of the IJN.

More on this later.

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945, Step One Redux: What Did Germany Fail To Do?

The method I’m testing is intended for analyzing the historical failures of states. Remember that this is a test case, not a definitive analysis…yet.

So, our new steps:

  • Step One: Define the Failure(s)
  • Step Two: Determine the Failure(s) Indicators
  • Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
  • Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any, of the Failure(s)
  • Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor and Their Contribution to the Failure(s)
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish Findings and Duck

What did Germany fail to do?

Judging by the ashes of the spring of 1945, win a war. But what was the war for? What were they aiming at? By all indications, the 1939-45 conflict was driven solely by Hitler and Nazi ideology. What were they after? Based on what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, they intended to become the hegemonic power in Europe. They also meant to expand Germany’s direct authority–not necessarily its borders, but its direct control–across Poland and into European Russia. That meant Ukraine, Belorussia/White Russia, and Russia east of the Urals; this was what Hitler called Lebensraum–living space, in German. He meant to eradicate most non-Aryan populations so that more pure Nordic types could thrive.

As a war motive, it’s somewhat grisly. As a strategic concept, it’s inept. Why? Because it’s a strategic resource overreach, even for Germany.

The Nazis who sold this bill of goods to the German people (they needed if not their participation, their acquiescence) used several strategies. One of the first was to exalt Germany as the salvation of humanity, the One True Faith that would save Earth from itself. This was bolstered by the idea that the Versailles Treaty was evil incarnate, that emasculated Germany and humiliated her. While true, it was because Germany was blamed for the great bloodletting known then as The Great War. France and Britain went broke fighting that war, America and Japan became Great Powers participating in it, Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa became all the more united as states during it, and four crowns were snatched from their owners because of it. This was not bad in itself, but it was terrible for Germany because France and Britain took their frustrations out of the Germans. So the Nazis capitalized on the resentment.

We should ask, then, what Germany was trying to do in 1914-18?

THAT has always been a matter of interpretation. The 1914 Crisis, if we must chronologize it, went like this:

  • 28 June Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip kills Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo
  • 29 June-1 July Austria-Hungary demands revenge on Serbia
  • 6 July Germany assures Austria-Hungary of a “blank check” against Serbia
  • 21 July Russia “cannot tolerate” military measures against Serbia; France backs Russia
  • 23 July Austria-Hungary gives Serbia an ultimatum that practically eliminates Serb sovereignty; Britain offers to mediate
  • 24-25 July Austria-Hungary and Serbia mobilize their armies; Russia mobilizes against Austria-Hungary; Serbia accepts most demands
  • 26 July Austria-Hungary rejects British mediation; Wilhelm II expresses desire for peace; Britain’s navy goes on a war footing
  • 28 July Britain’s George V offers to mediate; Germany rejects mediation and backs Austria-Hungary
  • 29 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and invades; Britain rejects German requests for neutrality
  • 30 July Russia mobilizes against everyone
  • 1 August Germany mobilizes and invades Luxembourg, declares war on Russia
  • 2 August Germany demands Belgium grant Germany free passage to invade France; Belgium rejects demands
  • 3 August Germany declares war on France
  • 4 August Britain declares war on Germany; Germany declares war on Belgium and invades
  • 6 August Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Europe 1914

Now, if you study this chronology for a while, you’ll realize that Germany enabled Austria-Hungary on 6 July by not stopping them from going up against Serbia–they almost certainly could have, depending on who you talk to. You’ll also notice on the map that Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Britain have no contingent borders on Serbia or Austria-Hungary. You might also observe that Germany doesn’t, either.

So why, one might ask innocently, did Germany stick their noses into Austria-Hungary’s business? What did they have to gain? Aside from the politics behind Bismarck’s “concert of Europe,” the numerous treaties and alliances in place at the time, Victoria’s multiple children and grandchildren, what did Germany expect to gain in 1914?

Regrettably, the answer was not much other than hegemony over bordering states. The Germans–especially the Prussians–as we’ve seen before, had been Europe’s doormat. They’d been overrun by everyone in the 17th century, built up and exhausted legendary military prowess in the 18th, were shattered by the French in the early 19th, and then destroyed the French themselves in the mid-19th. In the meantime, they were willing to follow any strongman who came along who told them what they wanted to hear. So the Hohenzollerns of Prussia led them to towering military and economic power in the early 20th century and were most anxious to use it to defeat their enemies…but for what? Yes, they beat the Russians, but it took three years and millions in blood and treasure while also fighting the French, Belgians and British. And they ultimately gave up, anyway.

All for the chimera of “security” that they would likely have to fight for again and again. Then along came the Nazis, who fed on German fear, shame and anti-Semitism…not a hard sell in Germany in the 1930s. Yes, they had some resources but not enough to fight off everyone. No campaign is bloodless; every battle costs both blood and treasure. Every enemy Germany defeated between 1939 and 1945 cost them blood and treasure they had to replace with something. By 1945, that something was just blood. And it was all expended because Hitler and his Nazis wanted the Lebensraum of Eastern Europe and Western Russia…and to get rid of the undesirables, of course.

There ya have it: Germany failed to achieve its supposed security in WWI, or its quest for Poland and European Russia and the ethnic cleansing, to borrow a modern term, in WWII.

Next time, we start looking at what makes us think there was a failure.


Steele’s Division: December, 1944

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for some time, started off and on, and toyed with until now…well, it’s in a series that starts with

The Steele Saga

In the 11th Century, the pious Scots king Macbeth, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, liaised with a nubile royal cousin of Edward the Confessor, which produced an heir who would technically, in time, become a claimant to the throne of Scotland.

Five centuries after this affair which history has intentionally forgotten, the last of the Macbeths was but a lad living in Killeen in County Meath on the western coast of Ireland, far away from Scotland…but not far enough. While his countries were on the verge of civil war, Charles I could not tolerate a lawful contestant to the throne. Nor could he afford to encourage the nobles who might recognize such a claim, should the boy find a patron with the wit to make one. Thus, in the Year of Our Lord 1611, Burton Anglim Macbeth was transported to the Virginia colonies in America for the crime of having had ancestors from the wrong side of the blanket but who were much too close to being on the right side.

Burton was a clever lad for fourteen. As soon as he stepped off the boat, he was indentured to an ironmonger for seven years, who taught him that iron was good, but steel was better. After five years sleeping next to the hearth, Burton Anglim forged the first steel anything in North America—a drop hammer, as it happened. Selling that tool earned him enough to buy himself out of indenture. When he did so, in the style of the time, he took the name of Dean Steele. “Dean” from déantóir, Gaelic for “maker.” Burton Antrim Macbeth was no more; he became Maker of Steel.

Dean Steele took out a lease on a forge shop in the new Maryland colony and married four women—in succession, of course. The four women bore Dean six boys and three girls who reached adulthood. Five of the boys married and had children themselves, as did two of the girls. One of Dean’s daughters was an ancestor of Nathan Hale. a grandson may have watered, as it were, the Jefferson, Madison, and Washington family trees. The unmarried boy and girl did have children, but the less said of their illicit and scandalous liaisons, the better.

Dean Steele’s descendants—by the 20th Century, there were over a thousand of them—took part in nearly every momentous American event and were present at every triumph and catastrophe.

The Ned Steele in this story (there were three known as “Ned” before our Ned was born: Edward, born in 1746; Edwin, born in 1780; Nathan, born in 1842) are members of the “Tribe of William,” the eldest of Dean Steele’s boys. By the time our Ned was born—twenty years to the day before America first declared war on Germany in 1917—there were branches of the Steele family in all the states and territories.

The Macbeth/Steele clan invites you to their saga.


It’s a series I’ve had a hard time resisting creating. Like the Sharpe Series, I’ll be jumping around in time. The first book, Steele’s Division, is about, well…


Prologue

The big steamer trunk I was looking at was a typical auction purchase for my son-in-law, Mike. He made a living buying cheap and selling dear; picking up something old and interesting for maybe $10, cleaning it and selling it for $50, and often more. This battered, unusual wooden beast was bound by cracked leather straps, missing one of its strap handles, and had only three of its four brass feet.  It was after he opened it that he called me.

“Most of this stuff is just old letters,” Mike explained, “but once I dug around…”

“Yeah.” I scanned many letters between siblings faded with age. But there were other documents…military orders and medal citations. There were pictures of men in uniforms; of a young nurse, of a woman in a Red Cross uniform. I glanced at the big domed lid. “Ever see a trunk like this?”

“Not with a lid like this,” Mike said. “Not with a locked compartment.”

“Anything like a key in there?”

I haven’t seen one.”

“We should look inside.”

Mike’s a clever guy; he had the lock picked in a few minutes. It yielded more letters and documents, including a hand-scribbled note that read:

20 Dec ‘44

Hold on to Neuville for me, Ned. You’re all I’ve got to protect my MSR. Good luck with Carnes. His family has as much pull as mine or yours.

GSP

I could recognize George S. Patton’s initials. I also knew enough about WWII to know that the date was during the Battle of the Bulge and that MSR meant, in this case, ass.

Many of the documents in the trunk’s dome were dated around that time. Most had to do with an outfit that called themselves The Hammerheads that I’d never heard of. There was a news clipping with a headline Steele Busts the Krauts. The byline was from a pioneering woman war correspondent. The award-winning photo in the article was familiar: the mud-spattered, lantern-jawed face with dangling helmet straps had been in my high school history book.

There was also a letter from Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Engineer District, written to Major General Edmund A. Steele, thanking him for his “enormous service to his country and to all of civilization…” dated 9 November 1945. I knew who Groves was and what the Manhattan Engineer District was all about, but the datehuh. “Well, Mike,” I said, “looks like you’ve done it again. How much did you pay for this?”

“Twenty bucks.”

“I’ll give you $100 for the contents. Keep the trunk.”

That’s how I began to learn the story of Ned Steele and his16th Infantry Division of a forgotten fight in Luxembourg when the real fighting was said to be twenty miles north.

And the world-changing secret that they protected.


I’m working on Steele’s Division. Expect to see it sometime next year. Also expect to see an E-book version of Why the Samurai Lost Japan.


A Five-Star Review for The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

My Dad read this book because he is always talking about government cover ups. All though the author said it was a book of fiction my dad couldn’t help but see similar details with actual facts. A good read for anyone that loves a good mystery. Well worth the read.

Amazon Book Review of The Liberty Bell Files

There ya have it, folks: SOMEBODY likes it and isn’t afraid to tell the world! Get yours today!

A Message From Our Analyst: This Ain’t Right.

I seem to have written myself into an analytical box. So what else is new?

Those of you who have been following my essays will recall that this is the second EXPERIMENT, the second CASE STUDY to test a method, a way of thinking about how societies/groups fail. My sample case studies depend on rigor, as much as this amateur can provide. I’m trying to demonstrate a method of analysis, not necessarily the research itself… though chicken-and-egg comes to mind rather readily. My model was based on a commonly used engineering method. I’m beginning to see that the model is inappropriate. 

Let’s have a look at the model again:

  • Step One: Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred
  • Step Two: Collect Information on Similar Cases for Comparison
  • Step Three: Identify Social/Economic/Political/Environmental Similarities in Similar Cases
  • Step Four: Analyze Each Element/Factor Separately
  • Step Five: Compare and Contrast Like You Did as an Undergrad
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish Analysis–and Methodology–and Await Criticism.

Step One feels jumbled and premature in historical studies. Engineers have it easy here: it’s broken; anyone can see that. In history, it’s kinda obvious that the Roman Empire petered out, that Spain is no longer the preeminent world power, that Babylon is now just some ruins over there between where the Tigris and Euphrates are. The when, where and how are three things we’re trying to figure out, thank you.
Step Two seems premature for historical analysis. If Step One is wrong, Step Two can’t be right. Step Three depends on Two…and that’s a problem.

Now, the rest of the steps seem OK, but it’s those first two that seem wrong. But, based on the work I’ve already done, I will submit a new model.

Step One: Define the Failure

In our two case studies so far,        

  • The Southern Confederacy failed 1) to achieve meaningful and lasting political and economic independence from the United States, and 2) maintain the institution of chattel slavery;       
  • Germany failed…to what? What was it that Germany tried  to do? THAT question is what we need to answer before we analyze the why of their failure.

Now, this is where we’ll probably see a great deal of argument stemming from the “but they…” kind of argument. But what’s essential to our failure analysis model is that the failure we’re analyzing has to be an apparent failure of either a state or a group with a finite timeline. The collapse of the Roman Empire is nebulous by this definition, even if the fall of Constantinople is held to be the end of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. So are the ends of most empires of antiquity. Failure analysis for them might require different tools.

But for more modern states, such as the Southern Confederacy, modern Germany, France in 1940, and the Soviet Union in 1991, this sort of framework might be helpful. But when it comes to, say, the British Empire (which has yet to admit destruction), such a tool becomes arbitrary. 

Whoever said the work of history was easy didn’t have to do it. 

Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators   

This may not be a straightforward as it seems. How did the failure (or failures) manifest itself (or themselves)? How or when did the state, group, or leadership recognize or admit to the failure(s)? DID they ever admit to failure? Remember, we’re talking about people, policies, polities, and organizations, not machines or systems.

Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)   

States/organizations/polities fail for many reasons. They succeed for the same volume of causes. But while the old saw that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan may feel true, failure can be attributed to causes just as success can. 

Just because it feels true, doesn’t mean it is true

National/polity success and failure can have more causes than just “it didn’t work” or “they had a revolution.” Did the polity itself hold the seeds of its own destruction, like a top-heavy organization? Were there external factors that doomed the country, like geography?     

Notice that we do not include military causes here. It’s not because we don’t want to consider them, but…look ahead. 

Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any    

What’s important for this analytical tool is that the military factors that CAN BE factors are NEVER the ONLY factors. Military success depends on everything from voting patterns to the number of rivers a country has, to the length of her national borders to its racial/tribal demographics…even male motility (and yes, that matters a great deal). Build a fabulous military organization with thunderous power and pick a fight with a not-so-hot military organization that can absorb your thunderous power, and you could still lose–just ask Japan. But that level of analysis is finite and does not reach back to why the Japanese did what they did the way they did. That’s why military factors should be studied independently of the others.    

Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor   

Isn’t “compare and contrast” the same as “analyze?” I ask ya?

This step needs to stay more or less as-is, primarily because it’s so simple and fundamental to any process called “analysis.” How each factor is analyzed, however, can be daunting. Do we value their impact, or their influence, or their restrictions, or their contributions? Or all of these? How do we weigh each in a balance between the social and the political? Are the economic factors more important than the environmental? How do modern social factors affect contemporary political responses to the contemporary environmental causes of failure?

The analysis is essential, as it can reach the root of the issues that preceded the failure. They are also the most fraught with peril. Tread lightly.

Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?   

So often in the historical trade, practitioners often proceed with their evidence-presenting and their conclusions without a thought about their method or if their findings actually add up to anything more than an empty set of conclusions. This is sometimes best expressed by the equation:

A+B=C; Therefore D

Or, 

Evidence that does not support the thesis is to be ignored

Everyone has an agenda, a direction they want their researches to go, at least initially. When the evidence points another way, and you don’t change directions, you stop analyzing and start advocating. My method here might have been flawed, but I’m changing it now. If I continued on the same way as I began to, I’d be advocating, not analyzing.

Step Six: Publish and Duck 

History isn’t an exact science; historians can’t just publish and walk away. They often have to defend their work against critics who have looked at the same evidence and reached different conclusions for different reasons. They also have to protect their work who have not looked at the same evidence and are not inclined to do so…but who knows better than YOU do because, well, everyone knows better than YOU because you disagree with them. This plays out nearly every day; let’s face it. So when a scholar publishes his work, and someone looks at a fraction of it and declares it to be wrong, said scholar needs to duck and ignore said critic…if possible. Sometimes, however, critics have all sorts of publishing credits to their name and hold prestigious positions. Argue with them, will you? You’ll never have lunch in this town again.

So, next time I’ll restart the Germany Before 1945 with the question: What Did They Want?

The Past Not Taken

This is a collection of three novellas with the same narrator, location, and a common theme: What If? They are based on fragments of the author’s life, things that didn’t happen to him, people who did something different at crucial moments, and decisions made in different ways for different reasons.

In the spirit of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” these stories look at roads that a young man did not take.

  • A budding academic makes a life-changing decision in a split-second;
  • A young woman shows up on a doorstep with nowhere else to go;
  • A man shows up on the same doorstep with dreaded demands.

Expect to see The Past Not Taken early in 2022.

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945; Part 1: Where and When The Failure Occurred–Germany

The consistent common element to the failure of Germany in 1945 seems to be…Germans. Why?

Before we go off and say, “it’s the Germans that caused their own problems,” we should think carefully about what made the Germans fail. This correspondent was at a convention a few years back, talking to one of the leading authorities on WWI about WWI. I had just finished my essay for The Meuse Argonne Companion (ABC-Clio 2011), and I was planning a Major Work on the US in WWI (that I never wrote). Exactly how we got to Germany’s seeming duality of faiths, keeping to the old Germanic myths while going to church, I cannot recall, but I do remember saying that the German lands seemed to have been “incompletely Christianized.” My interlocutor nodded and replied, “incompletely Romanized.”

What’s that to do with anything?

The Northern Crusades in the Baltic and what became Prussia (1147-1410) were violent struggles to bring Christianity to those who didn’t know it and lasted longer than those other Crusades against Islam that we learned about in grade school. Admittedly the “Crusades” appellation is a 19th-century handle, but the concept was the same: bringing Christianity to the pagans. Morality aside, the one thing that the Roman Church brought to the table then as now is a stable and consistent social organization and set of laws. Churches are far more than just places to go on Sunday; they are community centers. Also, for most European states, the Church controlled the civil courts and thus civil law, something no non-Christian faith did.

Small wonder that central Europe resisted for so long. Small wonder, too, that Martin Luther of Saxony-Anhalt (1483-1546) in what was then the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation triggered the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism. Crusading might have allowed Luther to be a monk, but the long resistance based in part on the disputation of central authority made the disparate, disputatious states of the Empire a hotbed of revolt. Rebelling against the Roman Church, however, triggered, among other things, the many French Wars of Religion (1562-98) and the Thirty Year’s War (1618-48).

The Thirty Year’s War was when the Swedes, French, Spaniards, and Italians were determined to fight it out right down to the last German.

All this started when a few guys were thrown out a third-story window in Prague (they survived the seventy-foot drop, by the way). This defenestration started the Bohemian Revolt, which caused Catholic and Protestant to mobilize on each other. The concept of “turnip winter” was born during this prolonged bloodletting, but it was more like a “turnip generation” for the Germans caught between the rampaging armies. According to some authorities, the soldiers took what they wanted because the various princes who organized them and brought them to fight couldn’t afford to pay them off. Eight million dead later–including six and a half million civilians–Europe signed all sorts of treaties declaring that it would never happen again. The Thirty Year’s War was the last of Europe’s wars triggered strictly by religion, but it was hardly the last of Europe’s wars.

Along with Saxony and Bavaria, Prussia-Brandenburg went their own way as far as foreign policy was concerned, paying lip service and taxes to the tottering Empire while Europe kept hiring well-drilled Prussian soldiers for their armies. They were well drilled because hiring out soldiers was a source of revenue for the cash-poor Hohenzollern monarchy. Everyone wanted some Prussians as a backbone or striking force or both. Of course, other states of the Empire with enough men to spare started doing the same, including the Hanovers, who took charge in England after the end of the Stuart dynasty in 1714. Then came Napoleon, and we already talked about what his effects were…one of them, anyway.

But there was another.

German national colors since 1992

Many Germans looked at the themes of liberty of the French Revolution with some envy. They dreamed of removing the arbitrary rule of the ancien regime and replacing it with stability–the kind of stability Germans hadn’t known for generations. During the War of Liberation (1813-14) against France, Prussia-Brandenburg called on all Germans to rise up and throw off the French yoke. It worked. The Gold and Iron campaign of 1813 saw women and schoolchildren gathering precious metals to help pay for the armies. Men and boys joined the new Landwehr volunteer units popping up all over. The most famous of these was the Lutzow Free Corps units, made up of volunteers from all over the German-speaking lands. Eschewing the old Prussian blue or the many local alternatives, their uniforms were black, with red piping and bright brass buttons. The crowds loved them, and black, red, and gold have been the colors of German flags (except for the 1933-45 flags) ever since.

In 1871 the Prussian strongmen took charge of a united German Empire. Then in1918, the Weimar Republic was born, and then died in 1933. And then came the Armageddon of 1945.

The where of the failure of Germany is obvious: Germany’s leading candidate for national leadership, Prussia-Brandenburg, was aided by the German’s love of strongmen. Cash-poor because its poor soil could barely support subsistence agriculture, a monarchy, and commercial trade, Prussia used its army to raise money. Eventually, Germany used the military for everything.

Perhaps we can narrow down the question of when the failure occurred to those desperate times while multiple armies were rampaging across Germany during the Thirty Year’s War. No churches, no pagan gods could save millions from disease, starvation, or the rapine of sick and starving soldiers. But other armies could. Germany may not have existed as a state yet, but it did as a sentiment.

It may be a stretch, but this evaluation is going with Prussia-Brandenburg for where and the Thirty Year’s War for when.

Next time, we’ll look at similar cases…if we can find any.

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945; Part 1: Where and When The Failure Occurred–1918

It has been observed that this is the THIRD segment of PART 1…but that observer was reading out of sequence, so I get it.

By November 1918, the German Army was on the edge of disintegration. It had started to fall apart in late summer–the traditional date is 8 August. Still, they were coherent enough to withstand heavy American/Allied blows in France, Italy, and the Balkans. The draft class of 1915–seventeen-year-old boys–was in the trenches. Putting the class of 1916 in uniform that winter–sixteen-year-old boys–was being contemplated. The Army did not have long to live. The Navy, after being ordered out to sea for a last, suicidal battle with the British Royal Navy (and a sizable US Navy squadron with them), mutinied under the dreaded red banner of Bolshevism. In the Argonne and elsewhere, American and Allied troops finally broke into the areas behind the German fortification zones that had held them up for three years. Open warfare put them in German territory, and the Germans were running out of options. On the home front, children younger than six were scarce; turnips were the most common fare. Fuel was scarce, and the prospect of another winter of British blockade was unthinkable.

Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, the two officers who had been practically running Germany, counseled Kaiser Wilhelm II to ask their enemies for terms. The victors of Tannenberg could see the proverbial writing on the wall. Germany had lost the Great War that they had contemplated, planned for, anticipated since 1871. 

What happened in 1871? Germany happened again. 

This was the Second Reich, proclaimed after the French surrender after the Franco-Prussian War (called the War of 1870 in France). It was the second because the first, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation in German), started in 800 AD and ended in 1806. Numbers aside, Wilhelm I, Hohenzollern King of Prussia, nervously proclaimed himself emperor (kaiser) of the German Empire, which was to include Prussia and the states that comprised the North German Confederation, a customs union that included the independent kingdom of Saxony and would later include those of Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg. Further, it included a mix of duchies, grand duchies, principalities, and free and Hanseatic cities. What had been many became one under the undoubted leadership of Prussia.

Why Prussia? Who else?

An 18th Century French statesman was said to have observed that Prussia was not a state with an army but an army with a state. For a century and more, after the end of the Thirty Year’s War in 1648 (of which, more later), Prussia had been hiring out their soldiers to whoever had the money to pay for them, usually states of the Empire. The soldiers they provided were not only willing, they were steady and generally capable. Other Empire states would send their young men to learn the arts of war under the Prussians. In 1771 the first Hohenzollern King of Prussia-Brandenburg, Fredrick II–Fredrick the Great–took the title that he and his heirs and successors would hold for another century and a half. Prussia was best known for its holdings on the Baltic, but Brandenburg was inland and included Berlin. 

Fredrick was a good soldier; by all accounts, a fair monarch. That said, his career has been exaggerated in its influence on the arts of war. He was steady, and he had more nerve than a toothache, but “genius” probably isn’t appropriate; More like utilitarian. He used a familiar pattern of tactics for Germans that would be seen all the way to 1945: encirclement by rapid movement–the Kesselschlacht, or cauldron-battle.  The style predated Fredrick in Prussian-style warfare, and against most European opponents, it was pretty devastating. The Prussians had developed this way of war because a glance at any map would show that most of Germany is relatively flat and featureless, practically inviting invasion–witness the Thirty-Year’s War. This style of warfare developed during a period when there were more sieges than open battles, and soldiers in most armies were thought to be little better than rabble. 

Most armies, that is, except the Prussians. Theirs were well-disciplined rabble.

And there were very few of them because Prussia-Brandenburg was anything but rich or populous.

They won more than they lost, right up to 14 October 1806, when Napoleon defeated them badly in two battles on the same day at Jena and Auerstat. But that defeat imbued in the survivors a burning desire to figure out where they failed, and their greatest weakness–they knew before but never addressed–was in staff work. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the dull, unexciting, tedious drudgery involved in getting armies from here to there on time and well-supplied. And it’s a great deal more involved than most people think. It’s actually a great deal more complicated than most non-staff-trained officers believe. But Napoleon had already got there with his Maison de L’Empereur–Imperial Household–system. It was how Napoleon could run his empire from the saddle. The Prussians took that military and civil planning system, sifted through it, and came up with the general staff. In the iteration pioneered and taught by such worthies as Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, each staff officer was trained in precisely the same way, to perform all the planning tasks the same way, from procuring uniforms and food to moving an army from one point to another. 

Mind you, this wasn’t battle planning; it was everything before and after the battle. The same plans and procedures were followed, modified for weather, seasons, terrain, and the size of the force, at every level, from company to army.

But they did not vary depending on the opponent.

The same principles and techniques were applied to the entire country. They performed the same planning for attacking Russia in 1812, at Napoleon’s side for a while. It was in Russia that the general staff system was honed and tested and redone and retested. It was in the 1813 campaign and in the 1815 campaigns that it was tested again and again. By the middle of the 19th century, it was pretty clear that Prussia could mobilize and field an army faster than any other army on Earth. 

Defeating Austria in 1866 was comparatively easy…everyone knew that. Defeating France in 1870? That, according to the “experts,” was miraculous.  So Prussia took charge of the German Empire in 1871.
So, Central Europe was dominated by the heirs of Fredrick The Great, who could march faster and fight longer and better than nearly anyone else. They also had a larger population than France and a burgeoning industrial base supported by the most sophisticated rail system in the world. And everyone everywhere started copying the German General Staff system. 

In 1888, Wilhelm I died and was succeeded by Fredrick III…who was also dying. He died in the same year, and Wilhelm II took the throne. 

This shouldn’t have been of great concern, but it was because Wilhelm II would never be ready to run a country like the second German Empire. Immaturity was his middle name, and he wanted to make his empire greater than that of his cousin’s…the British Empire. Hand in hand with Wilhelm was a German admiral named Alfred von Tirpitz, who wanted the same thing. Thus began an arms/naval/industrial race that ended in 1918 mainly because Wilhelm promised Austria-Hungary–more or less–that he could defeat all the rest of Europe…or at least beat them to a standstill. The result was seen in 1918.

The preceding suggests that Germany’s magnificent war machine of 1914 was crushed by four years of brutally unprecedented industrial war. While it was, there was the small question of why Germany went to war against half the world and expected to hold their own. They could, but not indefinitely.  Another suggestion is that Wilhelm was the problem. Yes, and he was the absolute ruler of Germany…and there was no one in Germany after he fired Bismarck in 1890 who could tell him ‘no.’ But Wilhelm was easily led by strong minds, like Tirpitz.

The “why” has a great deal to do with that machine and the enormous self-confidence it bestowed on Germany. It was in many ways better than any other war machine up to that time. But it could not outlast the resources of all of Europe and certainly could not outlast the resources of the United States. Planning could not provide experienced soldiers; no plan could provide food where it wasn’t available. No monarch’s pronunciations could maintain the collapsing morale of hungry men.

Some say that the Germans surrendered in 1918 to keep from seeing a victory parade down the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. Some others say that Britain and France accepted that surrender to keep that victory parade from being led by the Americans.

So, who or what failed in 1918? From the foregoing…the Germans were too arrogant by half. Could the same be said in 1945? Perhaps. Let’s see next time.

On the road/entertaining for much of September, folks, so I’ll cut this short. More next month.

Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945; Part 1: Where and When The Failure Occurred–1945

Deciding how Germany failed in 1945 is a game of whack-a-mole: reasons just keep popping up.

Germany in May 1945 was a large-scale abattoir. Many senior political leaders had fled Berlin; those who didn’t were either captured or dead by their own hands or by the German firing squad. The military leaders stayed at their posts–for the most part–doing what every German expected them to do. And therein lies part of the problem.

Doing what was expected of them; obedience to the end.

While obedience to the needs of the state wasn’t/isn’t that unusual or dangerous, Germans have a habit of obeying their leaders regardless of pretty much everything, including their destruction. Somehow, the “mission” that the Nazis had set out for Germany to create a better world included destroying 11 million people regarded as “not Aryan.” By 1945, this meant following the Nazi leadership’s goal of destroying the entire German nation because it was deemed “unworthy.” It also meant that the death camps were to operate on overdrive before being overrun.

Race was what all the fuss was about

Houston Steward Chamberlain
Wikimedia

In the 19th century, many writers, pundits, anthropologists, politicians, and other blowhards theorized about “race;” it was a cottage industry. One theorist/philosopher was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an ex-pat Englishman and the author of a book entitled Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899). In Foundations, Chamberlain lumps all the Teutons (which included the Germans, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, and Latins) into a single lump called the Aryans. The Aryans are/were what anthologists call a language group originating somewhere in northern India that had some influence on the German–and thus English–language. Like others at the time, Chamberlain suggested that the Nordic/Teutonic race was superior and responsible for everything good that ever happened. At the same time, the Jewish “race” was responsible for everything bad.

Chamberlain’s ideas were neither new nor novel at the time. And it sold like proverbial hotcakes.

Chamberlain’s book was well-reviewed and well-received in Germany, Europe, and Russia. Chamberlain corresponded with Kaiser Wilhelm II about it; George Bernard Shaw thought the book was a “historical masterpiece.” In the US, the reception was more guarded. Theodore Roosevelt highlighted Chamberlain’s extreme bias, a judgment that seems to have escaped other contemporary readers. He also wrote that Chamberlain “represents an influence to be reckoned with and seriously to be taken into account.” The former President also said:

There could be no more unsafe book to follow implicitly, and few books of such pretensions more ludicrously unsound; and yet it is a book which students and scholars, and men who, though neither students nor scholars, are yet deeply interested in life, must have on their book-shelves.

Theodore Roosevelt. History as Literature. 1913.

Which is precisely what the Nazis did.

Chamberlain was also Richard Wagner’s son-in-law and a publicist for Bayreuth in Bavaria. Wagner, as we all remember, created the Ring Cycle (The Ring of the Nibelung). This magnum opus is a series of four operas depicting the story of, literally, a ring that could potentially rule the world. It’s tied up in old Germanic myths with Greek tragedy overtones and will take up seventeen hours of your time, should you want to listen to it. The Ring Cycle is meant to be performed at festivals that took four days to put on at Bayreuth. It was one of Hitler’s favorites–and thus any faithful Nazi’s–depicting the struggle for the possession of power for generations.

Irony of ironies, Houston Stewart was Neville “Peace in our Time” Chamberlain’s uncle.

Antisemitism is as old as Christianity in Europe, made worse by economic crises, plagues, and other disasters. In France, antisemitism reared its ugly head for an entire generation during and after the Dreyfus affair, nearly splitting the country into two. In Germany, the trigger was somewhat more subtle. The Treaty of Versailles caused profound economic shocks in the German economy. As a result, the sullen masses of unemployed German men and women, soldiers and sailors and farmers and farriers and candlestick makers heard from the Nazis just who to blame–the Jews. And the German soldiers and so forth believed and pressed others to believe because some believed.

Book cover for The Protocols; Gramercy Books

Peer pressure is the most terrifying tool in every tyrant’s playbook.

A Russian forgery augmented the Communist-Zionist conspiracy that Hitler spoke of in Mein KampfThe Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion–or simply The Protocols–was written in Russia probably as a hoax to be circulated among antisemites. Then, someone cleaned it up and published it in an antisemitic rag in Russia in 1903. It also circulated as a pamphlet in Russia before the Russian Revolution, when refugees carried copies outside the country. It then became a means of counter-revolution and was translated into English by the Wilson administration’s War Department, replacing all references to Jews with Bolsheviks. It became, so mistranslated, an instrument in the first Red Scare in the US. Of course, it was also translated into German in 1920–using the original wording at first, then augmented with and Jews–and denounced as a hoax by the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1924, despite widespread acceptance in Germany as a genuine document. Many people around the globe–especially in the Muslim world–believe in The Protocol‘s authenticity to this day.

Nobody said it had to make sense…but it made enough sense to enough Germans to put the Nazis in power.

The great importance of The Protocols lies in its permitting antisemites to reach beyond their traditional circles and find a large international audience, a process that continues to this day. The forgery poisoned public life wherever it appeared; it was “self-generating; a blueprint that migrated from one conspiracy to another.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988

The Germans believed, and they obeyed, in part, because they were Germans. They were accustomed to being led by strongmen of one stripe or another. Lenin famously related the story of the German delegation to a world anarchist convention in the 1890s. The German delegation, it seemed, was late for the opening meeting because, it being Sunday, there was no one at the train station to take their tickets.

How and when and why the Nazis took Germany over has been done; this analysis has nothing new to add. But one thing it does need to add is that dilettantes led the Nazi system, and when they took power, they required non-Nazis to run the country because they had no good idea how. They knew some of what to do, but

  • A former fighter pilot and heroin addict in charge of the secret police and the Five Year Plan?
  • A champagne salesman as the chief diplomat?
  • A chicken farmer in charge of national defense?

None of those could be any worse than a failed artist as the country’s leader

But they were in charge. And they led the charge against the rest of the world and the “non-Aryans” in all of Europe. And gradually, as the rest of the world got used to their new way of war, they started to lose. What is truly remarkable about Germany from 1941-43, as the casualties started piling up and their enemy’s power grew by orders of magnitude every quarter, is how the German leadership resorted to magical thinking, promising new and more powerful weapons, Just keep fighting, they said, our Leader will save us. That magic ring is right around the corner. When Roosevelt died in April 1945, Goebbels congratulated Hitler on his insight. Do you see? Surely this new President will make common cause with us against the Russians…

And right up to May 1945, most Germans believed and acted upon that belief. Even after the surrender, many still believed in the tales that the Nazis told.

But where’s the failure here? In the Nazis whipping up the masses, or in the masses willing and ready to be whipped up?

Then we come to Versailles

The Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany (the Versailles treaty for short) was concluded in 1919. It was somewhat remarkable because, as a treaty of peace, the German belligerents had practically no input on it. The aforementioned allies–France, Britain, and the United States–had the only significant input. Other powers like Belgium, Italy, and Japan were present during the negotiations, but their contributions to the terms were minimal. Versailles was about vengeance, and France and Britain got theirs.

Germany was disarmed–not completely, but significantly. She lost all her overseas colonies in the Pacific, China, and Africa, as well as Memel, Eupen-Malmedy, and Alsace-Lorraine in Europe. She also lost any and all rebuilding capital she could ever have for two generations because of the enormous cash reparations. Germany was also “punished” by being separated from East Prussia by the creation of a land corridor to the Baltic given to Poland–known in song and story as the Danzig Corridor. The terms were so humiliating that Germany found it difficult to find a German in their government willing to sign it. Not only was Germany disarmed and partly dismembered, but she was also as humiliated as a schoolboy spanked by his mother during a school assembly.

And the Nazis made no bones about reminding the Germans of that humiliation

While the Versailles cash requirements were onerous, they were also repudiated before the Nazis went off the deep end completely–before the wars and the death camps. I would argue that the Versailles treaty wasn’t enough on its own to drive the German people into the arms of madness. What was, or rather did? Was it the combination of antisemitism and humiliation, or was it the audience? Was it the message, messenger )the Nazis themselves), or messaged? Do we blame the Nazis and their messages of hate (again), or do we blame those who followed their lead?

There was also that bit about the end of WWI itself

The First World War was in one important way the last war of the 19th century, in that the conflict didn’t end with an Allied victory parade down the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. Oh, the Germans were defeated, all right, and their allies Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were suing for peace. The German navy mutinied, waving the red flag of revolution; German streets were being decorated with red banners. There was very little that could stop the Allies from overrunning Germany proper in a few months.

But they didn’t; the Germans sued for peace and a war-weary Europe granted it

That became the fodder for the “stab in the back” myth that Germany didn’t really lose in WWI because the Army was supposedly undefeated. After all, the Army marched back to their barracks bearing their weapons, didn’t they? (Yes, many did.) It was those in the rear, the November criminals who stabbed Germany in the back. The Nazis made good use of this concept whenever the thoughts of law, order, or diplomacy were introduced into the debate–which was frequent in the beginning, but gradually died down when cooler heads were silenced. In another ironic twist, it was Hindenberg (who appointed Hitler chancellor) and Ludendorff (who coined the phrase “stabbed in the back” and marched with the Nazis in the Munich Putsch) who told the German government that the Army was finished in 1918.

The Nazis were very big on mythology, mysticism, and ideological nonsense. Their magical thinking was in part responsible for the failure, but it wasn’t the only cause–they had to have a receptive audience. Once again: messenger, message, or messaged? When we look at Germany up to 1918–starting next time–we’ll ask the same question.

The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

By now I expect everyone has got their copies of my latest book…haven’t you? You haven’t? I am shocked! Shocked!

Not especially. But I wish you would.

The Liberty Bell Files takes characters you should have met in the Stella’s Game Trilogy–Julia Parkinson, Dave Clawson, and others–from when they joined the Bureau in 1980. It’s a great deal about paranoia and cleaning up the detritus of the Red Scares, of the Cold War, and especially the fears of its long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover…hence the title.

But, as you know, the Liberty Bell Files is a work of fiction. It’s all made up. Imagine, if you will, an FBI case file that starts like this:

File Number Ending 067265-LIB
File Created 6/7/42
File Name: Edward Steven Copenicium DOB 6/25/1901, Evans County, Texas.
Subject expressed disloyal opinions June 1942 in Dallas, TX by stating “if this war needs us, they’re really hard up,” while not expressing mirth.

This imaginary case floated around in the fictitious Liberty Bell Files for forty years. And there was this one:

File Number Ending 651925-LIB
File Created 12 Dec 67
File Name: Fauna DOB unknown (probably 1964).
Large feline won biggest cat in Idaho at state fair September 67. Unnaturally large (over 40 pounds) for a domestic feline. Owner is Laurencia Smith NewmanneeFlannagan (DOB 1932), an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war and the current military draft who has visited Sweden, Switzerland, and other pacifistic countries. Possible lines of investigation include radiation-enhanced animal breeding.

OK, it was the 60’s, but…an FBI file on an overweight cat? But there was also…

File Number Ending:  99402-LIB
Name: Founders of the Fourth Reich
Origin: Ca. 1962, Skokie Ill. Founded by David Scarborough (b 1945) and William Durst (b. 1945). both of Skokie.
Narrative: Initial tenants were that Martin Borman is the rightful leader of the national socialist movement. Founders wish to lead the movement in the Midwest. Note: they appeared to be more concerned with national socialism in a literal sense than with the racist overtones of original organization. Founders decried anti-Semitism and eugenics in their founding manifesto.   
Updates: 1964: Membership over 3,000 in Illinois and Indiana.
1969: Meetings between high-level leadership of this organization and KKK confirmed.
1972: Several members arrested for synagogue bombing in Arlington Heights, Ill.
1972: Scarborough and Durst found shot in head in Chicago.

OK, the Bureau’s busy, but this one was sitting around–ignored–too. There are rooms full of files like these going back to the 1930s. Most innocuous, some curious, a few, dangerous. And that’s what Dave and Julia and forty-odd other people in the Bureau’s Special Projects Division–that doesn’t exist–work on.

These non-existent cases and more are what The Liberty Bell Files were all about…because the bureaucrats can’t stand NOT knowing and they have more money than sense…or would have if these cases and this organization actually existed.

The Liberty Bell FIles: J. Edgars Demons is available from your favorite booksellers.

Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 7: Publish Analysis and Await Criticism

Publish what…and why?

Yes, the Confederacy failed. That is indisputable. The cottage industry that includes Civil War Inc. has always disagreed on why, exactly, filling libraries with different versions. Blaming anything on Southern leadership, however, is verboten because that might disrupt The South’s (TM) Holy Trinity of Father (Jefferson Davis), Son (Robert E. Lee), and Holy Spirit (Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson). Yes, that’s the way they are remembered…look at Stone Mountain outside Atlanta before it’s blasted off as “offensive.”

I have to admit to a particular bias doing this. I never thought the Confederacy stood a chance. Frankly, their reasons for the separation were bizarre for someone raised in Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s. Outside the raw numbers of men and guns and horses and ships, outside the morality matter, the southern states were acting like petulant children over the issue of their peculiar institution, slowing national growth because they wanted the clock to stop so they could bask in the same glories of a genteel life of a vanishing landed gentry forever. Their social stratification seemed to me to be antediluvian. 

As a lad, I visited the south. I remember seeing the shadows of Jim Crow–the shadows under the painted-over signs that read “Whites Only” especially–in the early 60s. I used to ask what that was about, but ultimately I knew…we all knew. As a young soldier, I was stationed in the south; Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. The southern people’s attitudes towards their failed country were then, and I believe they are now ambivalent. The idea of Proud Southern Heritage is irritating at one level and on another simply for the tourists. But there are a few who insist upon living in that failed past. Their numbers are few, but they are more vocal than sensible; agreeing with them as Civil War Inc. does at least shuts them up. I believe that one day the woke crowd will silence these Confederacetrists forever, but that day has yet to come.

Did this tinge my analysis? Maybe.

But there’s no quantification for this kind of analysis. No matter what else happened or what excuses are made, the Confederacy failed as a country, and no qualification will change that.

Corespondents who have read this screed so far (both of them) have assured me that none of my conclusions could ever be accepted by Civil War, Inc., let alone the Lost Cause Mythologists. Leadership failure? Politicians not representing the Will of the Southern People? Ridiculous. And, worst of all possible sins: defining The South as a cause, not a country? Asinine. Unjustifiable. And right in line with today’s oh-so-woke “history corrections” to get rid of all those offensive statues and flags because they’re symbols of America’s slave-mongering past. I’m surprised no one’s pointed that out. My conclusions are popular with the wrong crowd and un-publishable because they offend the sensibilities of the biggest audience for such products.

But this is a sample study; test of a method to see if such a method could work. It’s not intended to reach conclusions that have to be published. Not science; historical failure analysis attempts to quantify historical outcomes; it cannot change them. I’m the last to declare that this method is anything more than a proposal

This is just a test for a method, but I could turn it into a book. I have been thinking about consolidating my essay collections that never made me much money into a single volume. I could include this little series or a version thereof.

Now a list of somewhat more contemporary national failures for another test/sample study. Any ONE of these could be treated the same way as I treated the Confederacy:

  • South Vietnam
  • Italy to 1943
  • French 20th Century Empire
  • Soviet Union
  • British Empire
  • Germany to 1945

South Vietnam would be a political fireball even today–reason to leave it alone for another decade or so. The interest in Italy and France would be minimal. The Soviet Union, given some of the latest news, may be a renaming, not a failure. Whether or not the British Empire failed or just went away is also debatable. It would perhaps be better if we waited on those.

That leaves Germany to 1945 for next time.

The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons

For those of you who don’t know, this book is something of a back story for the Stella’s Game Trilogy that answers some of the questions of just how the FBI…well, you’ll have to see it. Suffice it to say that Julia Parkinson Addison and Dave Clawson lived before they turned up in the Trilogy. Look for it come June…I hope.

Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 6: Does This Make Sense?

Pop Quiz!

  • Where was Alexander Vandegrift, commanding the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, born? 
  • Where was George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, born? 

The reason for these questions will become clear.

There comes a time in any historical project when an analyst should stop and ask: Does any of this make sense? 

Or at least we should. This is where I’m doing just that. Some background…

JFK was in office when I first read Bruce Catton’s American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. My mother cut out the Life Magazine articles during the Civil War centennial. But WWII beckoned–my father jumped into Normandy, so I studied both conflicts avidly,. Of course, Vietnam was in the headlines then…my sisters’ boyfriends all concerned themselves with it because they were of that age. I got to Gettysburg in ’69, then I went into the Army myself in ’73, three months to the day after the draft ended. 

But the American Civil War kept calling me back while, after leaving the Active component, I made a living as a technical writer for thirty years AND stayed in the Reserves. Studying for my MA in American military history, I wrote extensively about the Civil War, more than I did any other American war. I wrote a book on Shiloh, another on the Pacific War, a few novels, and some short stories. Then came this germ of an idea: systematizing historical failure analysis, creating a methodology for what scholars do and buffs chatter about.

A buff knows how many cartridges a soldier’s pouch was made for; a scholar knows how that figure was derived and its effect on the fighting.

In a scholarly way, I’ve tried to look at the facts about the Confederacy, without romance or battle-smoke or blood or moonlight-and-magnolias. And I conclude that the Confederate leadership screwed up by leaving the Union in the first place, let alone starting the war; that they didn’t represent the interests of their constituents, and so as failure heaped on failure, support for the “cause” dwindled to nothing.

This. Is. Not. Conventional. Wisdom. And that’s a problem.

Alexander Vandegrift was born in Charlottesville, VA. Think that fact’s important to the study of Guadalcanal?

If not, why does George Meade‘s birthplace (Cadiz, Spain) appear in nearly every book about Gettysburg? How much more important is one than the other? 

While I was writing about Shiloh, I was struck by the conflict’s somewhat uniform treatment by the secondary sources. The Civil War is treated as a special case by American writers. This was especially noticeable when I read John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History (Knopf 2009). Keegan was no stranger to Civil War studies, having spent a chapter of his The Mask of Command (Penguin 1988) on Grant. But his take on the Civil War, as an Englishman, was of a different feel. He didn’t care where this general was born or who that general had snubbed in an earlier career. His straightforward analysis of the available facts without romance was why it was panned by the few Civil War scholars who actually read it. It simply lacked the Lost Cause romance and mystique, the dash of the bold cavaliers, the grim determination of the gallant butternuts fighting for their Cause…and Civil War Inc. noticed. If Keegan, in his equally magisterial The First World War (Penguin Random House 1999), had talked about Pershing’s upbringing in Missouri or about Terry Allen’s grandfather at Gettysburg, it would have been thought quaint…and dismissed as romantic.

To Civil War, Inc., it is vital.

“Everyone Knows” how the American Civil War should be written about–everyone American, that is. When writing or speaking about the 1861-65 conflict, the filter of the Lost Cause must always be applied. Nostalgia for the Lost Cause is required; romance expected, intimate derails of leader’s lives detailed. New information in the form of diaries and letters that confirm with already accepted wisdom are acceptable. No diary entities by Confederate soldiers that call Lee a poltroon or an arrogant old fool could be authentic or ever see print without a firestorm of protest and claims of fraud; if they do exist we may never know. 

And here I am trying to say that the Confederacy screwed up from Day One, that the entire idea was madness.

A cottage industry of “counterfactual” history holds that making up events that did not occur is a valid historical interpretive method. Any lawyer introducing non-facts to a jury that they know are not facts might face disbarment. These “counterfactualists,” however, would have us believe that it’s OK, that somehow declaring that Jackson might have survived to Gettysburg and in so doing won the war is a legitimate argument that belongs in the history books.

If this study makes any sense, the Southern Confederacy was doomed from the start, and it doesn’t matter what one general in one battle did. Nearly everything I’ve looked at on the Civil War since the 1960s is a pleasant story. If I go any further than this blog on this project, am I saying that most writers didn’t do the work of analyzing where the Confederacy went wrong? Did they simply agree with what Pickett was said to have quipped about Gettysburg: I believe the enemy had something to do with it?

That should give me pause. Why doesn’t it?

There’s been a truism for writing and publishing about the Civil War: write what The South (TM) wants to see, or it won’t sell. This started in the late 19th century when public schools became more popular, and students needed textbooks. The Late Unpleasantness that was the War Between the States a mere generation before was presented from a distinctly “Confederacentric” viewpoint so that textbook publishers could sell them in the formerly Confederate states. Thus, history wasn’t written by the “winners” but by those who control the narratives for a given audience. In this case, American schoolchildren have for over a century gotten a distinctly distorted view of the 1861-65 conflict because the former Confederacy wanted it that way.

This slant was important from an economic viewpoint, but, too, it was important from a literary one. History tends to be rather dry in academic settings, and a certain amount of suspense is helpful. Yes, the results are known, but adding an element of struggle helps add interest for the reader. Combined, the factors of intentional bias in schoolbooks and the need for suspense–the latter reinforced by the former–have thus shown the American Civil War as a conflict that the Confederacy might have won…if only

If I’m up against a built-in social and industry bias against my conclusions, what part of my analysis could be faulty? What part doesn’t make sense? Where could I have gone wrong? What facts did I not throw in? This is why I have this step in the method. Let’s see…

First Failure: Davis and the Confederate Congress Ordering the Attack on Ft. Sumter and the Cotton Blockade

The school of thought–predominantly among southern sympathizers–that says that Lincoln should have just surrendered Ft. Sumter in April of ’61 uses a legal argument called “reversion.” Their position is that when South Carolina left the Union, everything in the confines of the state reverted to state ownership.

There are several problems with the reversion theory. The first is that the law is murky regarding extra-legal actions like secession–not covered in any law anywhere in 1861. Thus, reversion may or may not have applied. We will never really know since the Confederacy didn’t even try a legal challenge. Furthermore, the land that Ft. Sumter was/is on was never a part of South Carolina. It’s an artificial island built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, owned entirely by the US Government. How could it revert to a legal entity that it never belonged to in the first place? And if they are applying a legal argument, in what jurisdiction is this argument to be applied? If the Confederacy was no longer a part of the Union, how could it have applied the law of a foreign country? There were no World Courts at the time–the International Criminal Court was a century and two world wars off. Where would the Confederacy go for what it would consider “justice?” It would appear as if South Carolina and the Confederacy wanted to eat their cake and have it too.

But, too, that claim of reversion points out another question: why didn’t the Confederacy simply sue the United States for possession? Was it even discussed? The answer is no. The Confederacy saw only one solution to the problem of Ft. Sumter: force if they did not capitulate or were not ordered to surrender. The Confederate congress and cabinet were both full of lawyers. Did a legal solution–absent the problems above–ever occur to them? There is no record of it.

And if force was the only answer, were they prepared for a wider conflict? No, of course not. They were not prepared for Lincoln’s call for the militia nor a declaration of rebellion. How could they have been? But both Davis and the Congress should have been prepared for both…that’s what good leaders do. But they were not. The cotton embargo was imposed when the blockade wasn’t even polite. It presupposed that cotton really was king…and it wasn’t. The Confederate leadership failed to do their due diligence to determine if Europe’s demand for their exports was enough to get Europe to help them out. If they had, perhaps secession might never have happened. What then? That’s beyond the scope of this study.

Worst Failure: Lack of Real Representation

As the fortunes of the war turned decidedly against the Confederacy, domestic support for the war dwindled in very large part because the leadership goals were not the goals–necessarily–of the led. Separateness to enable an institution that few had any stake in made less and less sense the longer the casualty lists became. As the Union armies moved through slave-holding areas after 1863, the wave of freedmen became even larger, and even those non-slaves who had supported the Confederacy no longer had substantial reasons to support what was truly a losing proposition. At the end of the war, the Peace Commissioners were only empowered to seek a cease-fire and a return to the status quo antebellum, a losing argument. Just who they thought they were representing is an open question.

Most Influential Failure: Lack of True National Identity

Richard Beringer, Herman Hattaway,  Archer Jones and William Still, in Why the South Lost the Civil War (University of Georgia Press 1986), argued that the Confederacy failed because of a lack of civil religion. I argue that their civil religion–their peculiar institution of chattel slavery–defined everything that the leadership did. Each of the seceded states mentions their support of slavery; the Confederate Constitution enshrines it. State’s rights–the right to keep and maintain slaves–was mantra invoked before every battle, every argument, every discussion of the conflict–a conflict that defined the Confederacy. Their war and their national identity were tied up in that cause. Small wonder then that The Lost Cause should have been the primary reason for the conflict. Ironically, though Lincoln freed the slaves wherever the Union Army could not reach, it was the Congress that passed Amendment XIV that finally forbade chattel slavery…legally.

The Confederacy should not have been surprised that the war ended badly because the reason they were fighting not only was not popular even in the southern states, it wasn’t very humane, either.

Least Appreciated Failure: All Three Added Up to Catastrophe

Bad leadership, unrepresentative leadership, and lack of national identity is a disastrous combination. Each on their own would have been bad enough. Any two would have been worse. Combined, only failure could have been expected. Regardless of what generals survived what battles or what battles went one way or the other, the Confederate States of America was doomed to fail in the long term. Worse, they set themselves up for failure from the beginning. I have said it in the past, and I shall keep saying it: there is no scenario in which the southern Confederacy could have won a military victory that would have resulted in lasting and meaningful political and economic independence from the United States. There can be no debate of legal scenarios: under what law and in what court could secession arguments have been held?

But, too, would any judgment in any court that did not sustain South Carolina’s demands–and the demands of the slave owners of The South (TM)–would not have resulted in war, anyway? They wanted slavery legal all over–and they got it in Dred Scott. But it wasn’t enough. They wanted a reversal of the 1860 election. They wanted either a weak or a sympathetic chief executive who would allow them to do whatever they wanted to do. Ultimately, in a much larger sense, a civil war was almost inevitable because of this attitude. Every law, every legal move, every executive decision had to be run through the filter of the peculiar institution before 1860. Western expansion was slow because the slaveholders kept demanding decisions on the expansion of slavery. And the non-slave-holding states were held hostage by the impolite bellicosity of their slave-holding brethren.

Bad leaders, not caring what their constituents thought, led their country into an unwinnable war, supporting a policy that not everyone agreed with. Just how was such a state supposed to succeed?

This may be a fair analysis of the facts, but now…what to do with them? That’s for next time…

The Safe Tree

Wanna Know What Happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

The Safe Tree, Friendship Triumphs is now available. The final part of The Stella’s Game Trilogy follows JJ and Ann, Mike and Leigh for one more year–1986–and their adventures through two weddings, two gun battles, a fire…and some insight on one of the most enduring mysteries in American history: what ever happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Now available in paper-bound and many electronic media from your favorite booksellers

Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 5: Compare and Contrast

According to my original outline for this method, this phase is where we compare and contrast the various examples. Since there are no other examples, we’ll compare and contrast the multiple causes of the Confederacy’s ultimate failure and rank them in order:

  1. First
  2. Worst
  3. Most influential
  4. Least appreciated by historians/pundits/blowhards

Chickens and Eggs

A short chronology of major events up to the end of 1861:

  1. South Carolina and Mississippi secede;
  2. Star of the West fired on in Charleston Harbor;
  3. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas secede;
  4. Confederate Government formed by seceded states, naming Jefferson Davis as Provisional President; 
  5. Confederate Constitution adopted;
  6. Lincoln inaugurated;
  7. Relief expedition for Ft. Sumter ordered;
  8. Davis orders Ft. Sumter to be reduced before relief arrives.
  9. Ft Sumter fired upon;
  10. Lincoln declares rebellion, calls for troops;
  11. Lincoln declares blockade;
  12. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee (in order) secede.
  13. War traditionally begins at Bull Run/Manassas.
  14. Cotton embargo begins.

First Failure: Davis and the Confederate Congress

The Buchanan government’s response to the firing upon the unarmed cargo ship Star of the West  in January of 1861 was a strongly-worded nothing. US armories, arsenals, and barracks across the seceded states surrendered to armed mobs without a fight during his administration. Then the South Carolinians wanted Ft. Sumter to just give up…and they wouldn’t. In the patois of the time, reduced meant destroyed or taken. South Carolina started shooting and everything went downhill after that. Davis’ faulty assumption/poor leadership as to Lincoln’s reaction to an attack on Sumter led to the war, the first failure of the Confederacy.

But that blockade…

For a country that was so dependent on imports and exports, The Confederacy had no reliable means of defending any maritime assets. Yes, the Confederacy built ships to break the blockade, but the blockade was porous until late 1862. Nonetheless, the Confederate Congress, with Davis’s agreement, began to withhold cotton when cotton could get out as early as the winter of 1861. They believed that starved of their cotton, Britain and France would hasten to rescue the Confederacy.

But Europe depended too much on the North’s output and too little on the South’s, and the Confederacy never admitted this. The Confederacy believed Europe would break the blockade and land troops to fight off the Yankee invaders in exchange for cotton. When even recognition didn’t come, Confederate leaders tried all sorts of schemes to finance the war with cotton futures: all failed. As the war went on and they lost more territory, the schemes became even more fantastic. One even surrendered the Gulf of Mexico to whoever would support them…without asking the Gulf States.

It is a leader’s responsibility to act in the best interests of a majority of the led. Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress did not guide the Confederacy in a practical or realistic direction. Aside from the miscalculation about Lincoln, cotton diplomacy, continual insistence on ever more draconian draft and impressment regulations that ate up the future, then even the future of the future, destroyed what resources even a prosperous country would need to survive. The manifold failure of leadership at Montgomery, then Richmond, merely compounded Davis’ failure.

At the same time, Davis acted as if every setback was permanent, forever and ever. The frontiers of his country were impossible to hold with the resources at his disposal. Trying to hold them squandered manpower and resources the Confederacy could never replace.

By the end of 1863, when titanic battles had wiped out a quarter of his armies, Davis should have appreciated the dire straights he was in, but if he did, he didn’t do anything about it. Maybe, surrounded by fire-eaters, he couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that he might not have been able to reach some accommodation with the more virulent of them. Again, there’s no evidence that he tried. After Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, after the fall of Atlanta and the clear signs that the Union Army was in charge, not him, he held firm with the policy that would become the Lost Cause. Feeling the need to hold impossible borders in defense of a hopeless policy was contributory, symptomatic of poor leadership.

Worst: Lack of Real Representation

The Confederacy needed everyone to be on board to fight off an invasion. The Confederate Congress was exclusively white, male, and almost exclusively slave-owning. While many had represented their same constituencies in Washington, that didn’t make them any better at representing their people. Sure, educated men in America were among the landed gentry. Many were attorneys that made them better at understanding and creating laws. Many were wealthy. But most people in the Confederacy were not slave-owners, and not all slave-owners were proponents of disunion willing and ready to expend their blood and treasure to stay out of the Union.

This became more apparent the longer the conflict lasted. Yet, the slave-owners in Richmond insisted on continuing the war, on not changing the policy that had clearly failed, and insisting that Europe would come to its senses any day now…coming right up…next ship…

After the last full measure of devotion had been served out by soldiers who hadn’t had a square meal in four years, Richmond finally allowed the arming of slaves. Politicians in Richmond and elsewhere were willing to sacrifice everyone else on the altar of their Noble Cause. Many of the most virulent supporters of slavery in 1861 were still adamant secessionists in 1865, still insistent that their peculiar institution could survive if only…if only….

North Carolina, which had sent fully half its military-age men off to war by 1865, contributing fully 20% of the Confederate Army, had had enough by early 1865 and was willing to call it quits. It was the second-last state to secede and was the first to counsel surrender, sacrificing more than any other state. And Richmond ignored them.

The peace commissioners of 1865 that Lincoln refused to see, well-meaning as they were, wanted the Union to pretend that the past four years of bloodletting just didn’t happen, that a peace based on nothing more than a cease-fire and a handshake, preserving their Peculiar Institution intact. Lincoln wouldn’t see them because there was no point. The Confederate leadership was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. They always had been.

The leadership–as a class–of the Confederacy seemed aloof, not just from the country but from reality. Even as late as 1865, some senior Confederate officers thought that breaking up the armies to fight as guerrillas was possible. But most of the former Confederacy only wanted the fighting to end, and most of their would-be guerrillas thought so as well. The leader’s failure to recognize how the world was and what their people–who were not mere subjects or chattels–wanted seems inexcusable and yet another failure. Ranked against Davis’s and his government’s miscalculations, the non-representation of leadership was far worse.

Most Influential: Lack of True National Identity

The issues of national definition and sovereignty go hand in hand. The lack of definition seems innocuous compared to the other failure causes/modes, but let’s see.

A bunch of guys from various seceded states gathered together and called themselves the Confederate States of America. They wrote a constitution enshrouding their Noble Cause–their preservation of their Peculiar Institution of slavery–installed a government and waited for foreign recognition. In the meantime, they added a bunch of states that mysteriously failed to secede and parts of other states…and waited some more.

Then, one of the states started shooting and the government at Washington said “rebellion!” and called out the militia. More states seceded because of that call. The Confederate government moved from Alabama to Virginia and started collecting volunteers to defend the capital. And again, they waited for foreign recognition, intervention to secure their independence, and arms and money.

By 1865, they wondered why the army was melting into nothingness. And they asked why no one had recognized either the Confederacy or their Noble Cause. Unlike the guys in Richmond, a majority of people in the seceded states did not own slaves. And unlike them, not all backed a secession based on the preservation of the institution. Indeed, not all of them supported a war to preserve that policy, regardless of how it started or whatever reason anyone had that the violence began. Most may have been behind it when it started, but after years of deprivation and sacrifice, wearing black and digging grave after grave, their patriotism was worn thin, and what support there was evaporated for most by the end of 1864.

The Confederacy failed on many counts, but how long might they have survived if there was no war? Unknowable, but it’s hard to imagine that without an operating Fugitive Slave Act (it would have been a dead letter, without a doubt). Without the ability to expand beyond the confines of its undefined frontiers, there would have been some imbroglio someplace other than Charleston Harbor that would have triggered a war. By defining themselves as a place where only some people were free, they set themselves up for disaster. It is hard to imagine a shorter-sighted policy. That was a failure equal in devastating effect to the Confederacy’s overall poor leadership.

The Confederacy defined itself not as a country but as a cause

While the nascent United States built itself based on individual liberty for most of its citizens in the 1780s, it didn’t expressly state that it would only be for some people in perpetuity–1619 Project notwithstanding. From the outset, the United States said that anyone could be free of government intrusion. From the beginning of its existence, citing chattel slavery and perpetuating a strict class system, the Confederacy could not understand why everyone didn’t support them. They had cotton, after all. Here’s cotton, the Confederacy said. Buy our cotton; sell us arms; expend your blood and treasure to break this blockade nuisance. Yeah, those guys over there object to our firing on the flag, say we’re in rebellion. Forget that you’ve freed your slaves a generation or two ago. Here’s cotton

The Confederates defined themselves as slaveholders, not as a stable country to invest in. They had a political economy, yet they were more alike than different from those they left…except for that slavery thing. No, the North was not the land of universal suffrage, but neither was anywhere else in the mid-19th century. 

But the Confederacy was the land where people were bought and sold. No, they weren’t the only ones then. Let’s remember that Brazil kept slaves until 1888; Saudi Arabia–officially–until 1962; it still exists in other parts of the Muslim world. Regrettably, the Confederacy wanted the support of a state founded on liberty, equality, and brotherhood–France. And the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. That they didn’t define themselves as a country but as a cause was a substantial failure, but one that was inevitable and led to inevitable failure.

In his magisterial War For the Union, Allan Nevins said that the Confederacy’s sole concern almost from its founding was the war against the Union. While the Union still expanded, added three states, and began a transcontinental railroad, the Confederacy lacked the resources to do any of those things, except add states that hadn’t seceded. The ONLY thing that they could spend their attention on was fighting and gathering resources for the war.

And that they did poorly, I submit, because of all the other causes of the Confederacy’s failure. The failure of cotton diplomacy stemmed from an overdeveloped belief in the supremacy of King Cotton. The leadership was either willfully blind or ignorant of Europe’s dependence on American food products, specifically wheat and corn. While the South grew those too, those products were primarily for their subsistence, not enough to export. Tobacco, rice, and pecans were popular exports but didn’t hold a candle to cotton’s cash value. 

This faith in cotton led to the consistent belief that Britain and France would recognize the Confederacy and intervene on their behalf with almost religious fervor. As late as November 1864, Confederate agents were offering France inducements from selling a decade’s worth of cotton at prewar prices to surrendering their sovereignty over seaports (which what states would agree to?). But France wouldn’t bite…because France could not afford to annoy the Union.

There’s a school of thought that suggests that Lincoln should have ordered Ft. Sumter’s evacuation and that he started the war by not doing so. Let’s not blame the mugging victim for getting beat up.

Least Appreciated: All Three Added Up to Catastrophe

  • Davis authorized the firing on Ft Sumter;
  • The Confederate Government didn’t represent those they said they represented;
  • The Confederacy was less a country than it was a cause; a way of life.

Thee was no single cause of the Confederacy’s failure, but several. One may not have been enough, but all three ganged up on a small bunch of people who couldn’t modernize their outlook or their industry fast enough to stop the tide of blue serge that overwhelmed them in 1865. How well, how long they might have survived if any one of these failures had not existed is impossible to say. One thing is certain: incompetent leaders who don’t understand their people and who expect the rest of the world to think as they do is a recipe for disaster.

The Safe Tree is Coming in March

The Safe Tree

After three years, The Stella’s Game Trilogy will be complete next month. For those you who have read Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, and Tideline: Friendship Abides, The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs follows JJ and Ann, Leigh and Mike for another year. They are apart, then together, then suffer fire and gun battles, treachery and personal loss, culminating a wild trip through time. Whatever you thought The Safe Tree was about, you’re probably wrong.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Stella’s Game Trilogy, it follows four young people from age eight to 31, watching them grow, learn, laugh, cry, love, and rely on their friends. From the Kennedy assignation through the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa to the Iran-Contra scandal, the four friends stick together, even when they are oceans apart.