Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 2: Similar Cases

The interest in Part 1 of this series was gratifying, thank you. Hope you stay with me until the end…and there shall be an end.

And before I go any further, a happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Similar cases to the Confederacy may be tricky. Failure analysis in engineering can look at thousands of similar designs and patterns. Historians have a somewhat more limited selection. 

What kind of similarity are we looking for?

Conditions; social structure; time frame; circumstances of creation. Engineers have it easy in this regard. Thus, I’ll define the Confederacy as:

  1. Mid-19th Century time frame
  2. Agrarian-industrial political economy 
  3. Split from a federal constitutional republic to form a confederacy of states
  4. A class and race divided social system.

I think we can forget about an exact match. While 2. is common, 3. is not: Slavery wasn’t unique to the US in the mid-19th century, but it was unique as a reason for dividing the country. But 4. is common.

Strict adherence to my list is problematic…

The Confederate States of America was an offshoot of Tocqueville’s “Great Experiment” in representative government. Their founders replicated most of the institutions of the Union that they separated from and made significant but minute changes to their Constitution. The biggest difference between the Union and the Confederacy was the greater state autonomy in the Confederacy…and no Supreme Court. This is ironic because the Dred Scott decision gave the slaveholders most of what they wanted: the freedom to take their slaves anywhere and relief from the idea of “free blacks” in their boundaries. Let’s look for cases where a government failed to represent who they claimed to represent, and in so doing, lost the capability to succeed.

France in the period 1794-1815 strikes me as a possibility.

Think about it. Start with a revolution, get rid of the aristocrats, carry “liberty, equality, brotherhood” around Europe for nearly a decade…then a Corsican artilleryman places the crown of empire on his head in Notre Dame, announcing that he’s the emperor of the French…who strangled their aristocrats with the guts of priests. So, who did the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Directory represent? The French people? They put a Bourbon king back on the throne after Napoleon lost…twice. So, let’s say, provisionally, that France may be similar, without the overtones of separation from another body.

How about Russia before 1917?

Hard to nail that one down because the Romanovs had a hard time being popular. They were autocrats, indeed. But after the revolution, so much changed in Russia, it’s hard to divine just who the succeeding governments represented. Was Lenin’s government more popular than Stalin’s? It was so brief it’s impossible to know. Stalin did a better job of convincing the Russians that they were better off…better Red than dead, essentially.

The living will envy the dead.

Attributed to Nikita Khrushchev

How’s that for irony.

Neither France nor Russia is a good case to follow.

In neither case was there a “government of the people,” even in a literary sense. Both governments were dominated by their monarchs, who ruled with absolute authority if the mobs liked it or not.

How about 19th Century Japan?

Though similar–especially the agricultural economy and the strict class system–but they didn’t split off from another country, and Japanese democracy didn’t appear until after 1945 in any recognizable form. But fail to represent the people it did…even if it didn’t try that hard. And it failed utterly to defend itself.

Now, hold onto your hats because I’m going to suggest Weimar Germany.

The Weimar Constitution provided for a representative government after the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy. It enjoyed a brief period of calm and prosperity as long as the European-American economy was healthy…and economically, the Confederacy was OK for a short time–months, not years. Then came the global depression, and with that came the chaos of inflation…and an influential speaker who told the mobs precisely what they wanted to hear. But even before the National Socialists took power in 1933, Paul Von Hindenburg was ruling by decree. The pre-1933 German government stopped representing Germany and was died with a whimper, not a bang. So, Weimar, sort of. But its failure mode was far different.

The Confederate States of America was a unique case.

A case that had no real equivalence anywhere at any time. Its failure to represent and protect the people it purported to represent was like several others, but it was a unique failed constitutional confederacy, not a dictatorship like late Weimar Germany, an absolute monarchy like France or Russia, or a military dictatorship masquerading as a constitutional republic like pre-1945 Japan.

Oops!

If there’s only a few similar cases…is this step in our model good to have? With only a single case study so far, it may be too soon to tell. However, we are tempted to think of our model as a guideline, not a rule. But there goes intellectual rigor. So…we wait for more case studies.

If you have to make too many exceptions to your model, maybe the model was wrong

Desmond Morris

A lot of truth to that. Let’s keep working on our model. Next time, we identify the similarities…but didn’t we just do that? Let’s work on that.

Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories

Some of you know that I also write fiction…and some wags think my non-fiction is…never mind. Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years; most more than 20 years ago. At any rate, I’m publishing a second edition in paper and e-book in a few weeks. They’re mostly historical and military-related, some based on personal experience, most not. It will be announced before the end of the year, certainly in this space. Look out for it when it comes.

Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1: The Confederate States of America

Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done.

Aaron Burr

Sorry for the delay between entries, but the press of life is such that…well, OK, I wasn’t quite ready to continue.

Step 1: Determine when, where and how the failure occurred.

The seceded states clearly failed in their struggle to achieve separation from the Union in the war that lasted from 1861 to 1865. Most scholars and other commentators have suggested that it was because of several factors. Beringer, Hattaway, Jones, and Still, in their Why The South Lost the Civil War (1986) considered the popular notions as to the seceded states’ failure to achieve independence. They concluded that The South failed with something they called “civil religion,” or a united ideological basis for the conflict. 

Unfortunately, in this scholar’s view, that didn’t go far enough, because there are three entities–not just the seceded states–to be considered. . There were:

  • The seceded states popularly called The South
  • The slave states that included four states that did NOT secede–Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware (yes, Delaware), and the District of Columbia.
  • The Confederate States of America, or Southern Confederacy, which was a government entity formed in 1861.

For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll stick with these rough definitions.

All three are interrelated, and all three failed

Most commentators stop at the southern states, or The South, which is an understood entity all on its own. Perhaps understood by most after the war, but there were parts of other un-seceded states that considered themselves moderately southern in outlook. These included Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and they also contributed recruits to Confederate armies.

Which brings us to the slaveholding states. Slavery along the borders roughly defined by the Mason-Dixon Line was a contentious issue divided more than just neighbors. Slavery in America was, in part, economical, in part philosophical, and in part political. Both sides of the argument had what they thought were perfectly valid reasons for their positions. Slaveholding states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland contributed units to both sides during the conflict. Delaware only sent troops to the Union. Little DC’s several 60-day battalions and militia cavalry companies maneuvered with the Union armies.

This brings us to the Confederate States of America, a government entity based first in Montgomery, Alabama, then Richmond, Virginia. The Confederacy was formed by the seceded states, and tried to include the non-seceded slave states–except Delaware. It considered DC to be slave-supporting in sympathy. It lost that struggle when Lincoln signed legislation freeing DC’s slaves in April 1862.

Failed…at What?

What were these three entities trying to do? What was the conflict about? All three entities said they wanted political and economic independence from the Union so that they could maintain humans as chattels and treat them as little better than animals. They also presumed that, as an independent political entity, they could take their property anywhere they wanted, including into the trans-Mississippi west. OK…but what about the war?

Lincoln’s election in 1860 caused fear in the slave states that their rights to keep and expand their policies would be curtailed in a Northern-dominated government. No matter what Lincoln, his supporters, or even neutral parties–there were a few–said about Lincoln’s burning desire to maintain the Union above all else, this is what slavery’s supporters feared.

The Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision declared slavery legal no matter where the slave-owner wanted to take his property. It also denied citizenship to slaves for all time, effectively abolishing manumission–the act of freeing a slave–by denying them citizenship. The South believed that Lincoln would try to overturn Dred Scott. Starting in December 1860, before the electors voted, South Carolina began the stampede of secession.

There was also the stampede of southern militias grabbing Federal arsenals throughout the seceded states, but there was no shooting even after the Confederate government was formed in February 1861, until it started in South Carolina that April.

Slavery began secession

The seceded states contended that the ground upon which Ft. Sumter was built belonged to South Carolina, claiming that South Carolina’s secession meant that the fort would revert to state ownership, The Federal troops that occupied it were trespassing. They called the legal theory reversion .

But that little island didn’t actually exist before the US Army Corps of Engineers built it. Unfortunately, South Carolina started shooting, so that legal theory wasn’t tested in any court.

The shooting at Sumter triggered Lincoln’s militia call. That triggered the secession of the upper South–Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia–and we know what happened after that.

The war that followed the firing on Ft. Sumter was triggered by a legal theory that had never been tested.

It has long been argued that the conflict was fought for the seceded states’ independence. Well, that’s OK, until we note that three un-seceded states were considered part of the Confederacy–Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. More than that, the Confederacy also claimed New Mexico and Arizona territories. And there was Oregon, that supposedly expressed sympathy for the Southern cause. Finally, there were attempts to drag California into the Confederate orbit.

Neither California nor Oregon nor Arizona nor New Mexico contained a single slave. Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland all rejected secession. Furthermore, every state but South Carolina formed Union regiments.

So…what exactly did the losing faction/side/political entity lose at? The violent war that ended in 1865, yes…but with such a coarse definition of who was on which side and when…what did who lose? All three entities failed to achieve meaningful and lasting political and economic independence from the United States. If all three entities failed in what they set out to do, didn’t the Confederate States of America fail its constituents? So that Berenger and company may have been at least partly right…

Step 1: The failure of the Confederate States of America was that, given the widespread support for the Union within its claimed borders, they failed represent, really and truly, the will of a majority of the people within its ill-defined borders.

Think about that until next time, when we talk about similar cases.

The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs

The Safe Tree

It’s on its way…slowly. Ran into some structural snags, some things failed to mesh with the rest of the Trilogy…but it’s getting there. Hoping by the end of the year.

Historical Failure Analysis Part I: An Outline

Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan

John F. Kennedy, 1961

This post is the first in a series of ruminations I’m about to venture on for the dual purpose of selling books and trying to advance the study and writing of history. Now, I’m not the guy to start a whole sub-field called “historical failure analysis,” but I’d like to get people thinking in those terms, if possible.

If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving is definitely not for you

Steven Wright

Failure Analysis (FA) is a discipline of engineering that endeavors to determine the cause of a failure, be it a bearing or a bridge, to fix the problem(s) that caused the failure and avoid further failures. Now, applying this to history…dicy, maybe. But, perhaps not. To expand on my poor ruminations, I’ll be borrowing extensively from other web sites because I understand FA’s rudiments but not much more. So, if you work in failure analysis, forgive my clumsy attempt at adapting your discipline to mine.

Failure is always an option if you’re not paying attention

John D. Beatty

Reasons for Performing Failure Analysis

In engineering, these include:

  • Understanding the Root Cause of the Failure
  • Preventing (Future) Asset or Product Failures
  • Improving Future Products and Processes
  • Preventing Financial Losses and Penalties from Failed Components
  • Meeting Standards for Products and Assets
  • Determining Liability for Failure

Thanks to TWI Global for this adapted list. I’ll borrow more if I can. At the same time, I’m going to keep my eye on other truths, including…

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it

Georges Santayana

As students of the past, we should recognize the realities of the list above, because, in more than one book/class/discussion, we go straight to the bottom: finding someone to blame. And we shouldn’t. Well, maybe we should…sometimes. But it’s going to be my position that the Historical Failure Analysis (HFA) I propose should be applied not to battles or generals or even to campaigns, but first, best and most effectively to social groups like whole civilizations and kingdoms, to empires and countries. I believe that it is there that we’ll find the best use of any such method if we find any use for one like it at all.

What do we mean by “failure?”

I’m going to borrow heavily from the corrosion-doctors.org web site. A social group has “failed” when it can no longer act in its society’s best interests. It need not be broken entirely, conquered or destroyed, but often may be extinct: civilizations also sometimes transition into others. Any failure can begin with social stresses or environmental influences, by the effects of climate changes (yes, Virginia, there were climate changes before there were SUVs), by changes in neighbors, or by combining these and many other factors. Understanding the relative importance of these factors is the historical analyst’s job, but can never be as definitive as an engineer’s. Unlike in engineering, understanding what happens to people is a matter of opinion and opinion only, for conclusive proof has to wait to develop more reliable time machines than the sources at a scholar’s disposal.

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

Burgess Meredith in The Master Gunfighter (1975)

Think about that for a while. We don’t get proof like engineers do: we reach consensus. We go back to the original sources where we can, but the further back we look, the fewer sources survive. When I was in school, I had an issue with some “source material,” especially in the classical/ancient world. My professors said, “don’t worry about it,” but I still do. I mean, Pericles’ funeral oration is positively Shakespearean…but did he really say it? Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is what three different reporters who wrote it down in shorthand says it was. So, I look at the source documents and look for corroboration, preferably physical evidence. And that’s what we need for HFA to work: corroboration.

Books that analyze historical failures in any systematic way aren’t legion. Two examples that I’ve tried to follow are Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and Robin Higham’s anthology Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat. Neither book, as far as I could tell, was very methodical about reaching their conclusions, which were nonetheless perfectly valid on their own. Being a writer (first) and a scholar (a close second), I’m concerned about the field I write in because I’ve been seeing many scholars write critiques of the past without a sound, repeatable method.

So, Let’s venture upon a method

The historian should first have a broad knowledge of the events leading to the failure. If the scholar is aware of the failed group’s nature and its historical performance, broadly-accepted conclusions are more likely. Failure analysis is akin to detective work, gathering, and weighing evidence. Not everyone will buy what we have to say, or the conclusions that we reach, or our method. Some critics are just more inclined to reach the conclusions they want/need to make, rather than those that fit the evidence.

Here’s a venture into a method, God help me.

  • 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.

Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred

Yeah, this looks a LOT like what most scholars do all the time…but is it? How often do we look at the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and ask ourselves how the British failed their empire-not-yet-imperial and conclude that America was just too far away to keep? How often do we look at WWI in the Pacific and say, “Japan jumped in for better position in 1941” without realizing that Japan was looking for markets and colonies in 1914, not mid-Pacific positioning? And who among us doesn’t bob our heads up and down and agree that the Cold War ended because of the Soviet system’s economic collapse, not the political failure? Who argues that the US manned space program was a significant contributor to that collapse? Can we look at the French Revolution and subsequent global wars from the Catholic Church’s standpoint and see if its influence had as much to do with The Terror and the eventual sale of Louisiana as did Bourbon indifference and Napoleon’s need for money?

We Rush Now to Step Ten…

Cover of Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly available at your favorite booksellers

Historical Failure Analysis is what Lee and I think we did in Why the Samurai Lost Japan: We didn’t look at the triumphalist march of the US Navy across the Pacific, for once. We looked first at why the Japanese acted the way they did. We found a combination of reasons, but mostly what we saw was a cultural and institutional failure of Japan’s own making. It was also a cultural and institutional inability to build a military organization that…wait for it…learned from its failures. Failure analysis for the Japanese before 1945 consisted of examining the plan to discover who failed the plan, not how the plan failed. Consequently, losses like the Coral Sea, Midway, and even the first attack on Wake Island in 1941 were unfortunate blips on the Japanese tableau’s landscape, not failed plans.

In The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War, I tried to emphasize what both sides did wrong before those two days in the Tennessee pine barrens. Neither the Confederates nor the Federals were ready for a battle on that scale, not there, not then. Neither side had more than a handful of “veterans” of any battle, and even those saw nothing on the scale of slaughter they saw that April. Both sides failed at many things, that much is for sure. The relative weights of those failures ultimately paid off by Monday afternoon.

In future posts I’ll take a look at how this proposed method might be used, how it may help the discipline, and how it might just advance the field.

I invite scholars, dilettantes and others to comment and criticize at their leisure.

I just hope it sells more books.

Guadalcanal, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, and The Safe Tree

Yes, I’m trying to sell that one, too.

The Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, and New Guinea. Guadalcanal is in the lower right just about 10 degrees S latitude and bisected by 160 degrees E longitude.

The American operation in the Solomons Islands called WATCHTOWER began 7 August 1942, with the Marine landings on the northern coast of the island of Guadalcanal. For all the much-vaunted preparation that would later characterize American amphibious operations, the Americans barely knew how big the island was. All they really knew was that it was large enough to support an airstrip…and that the Japanese were building one there.

The threat from Tulagi
WIkimedia Commons

What had concerned the Americans before the Japanese started on that airstrip, however was the seaplane base at Tulagi, just across Skylark Channel. While it’s hard for us to understand now what a seaplane base meant then, this big bruiser to the left was known as an Emily–a Kawanishi H8K flying boat, with a combat range of about 3,000 miles carrying 4,000 pounds of bombs. Emilys had bombed Pearl Harbor on 4 March 1942, albeit ineffectively, and could hit Australia from Tulagi…and did NOT need an airstrip.

So the Americans sort-of planned this battle for this island…an island hardly anyone had ever heard of. The scant accounts there were of terrain and climate were studied assiduously. Jack London was one of the few Americans who had ever visited the Solomons before the war, writing a non-fiction account, Voyage of the Snark, and a short story, The Red One. But a few thousand words of prose, some descriptions from missionaries, magazine travel articles and information from a planter-refugee from the island didn’t provide tidal tables, or ground firmness above the beach, or were there was access to fresh water sources, or any of the other myriad other little bits and pieces the planners needed.

Thus…it was dubbed Operation Shoestring by the troops.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly doesn’t talk a great deal about the American planning, but it does cover the Japanese plans for the island, their reasoning for being there in the first place, and their clumsy reaction to the American landings. For one thing, there were fewer than a thousand Japanese combat troops in the Solomons east of Bougainville, which was why the Marines met little initial resistance. Initially, the IJN believed that the American landings were only a Marine regiment–less than 2,000 men–instead of the division-plus-attachments–somewhere around 15,000–who were really there. Their first counterattack with a little more than 900 troops led by Ichiki Kiyonao was wiped out in what the Marines called the Battle of the Tenaru River on the night of 21 August.

After that, the Japanese became alarmed, but not distressed…not yet.

The Japanese buildup on Guadalcanal was gradual for several reasons, among them being distance: the nearest base was a day and a half sailing away, and the Americans were quick to build up their air strength on Guadalcanal Moving ships during the day became more perilous by the week.

And September didn’t get better. And the Japanese grip on the island slipped more every week, regardless of how the naval battles went because the Americans could replace all their losses and keep getting stronger, and the Japanese could not.

The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs–15 November

The Safe Tree

For those of you following the Stella’s Game Trilogy, the last installment is on track for publication on 15 November of this year.

Follow the friends as they solve the mystery that has plagued, threatened and endangered them since the ’60s. Whoever–whatever–threatens their lives and their families now, in 1986, will be discovered and, with any luck, ended.

For those of you who are now scratching your heads and saying “what’s a Stella’s Game Trilogy,” you have a chance to catch up with Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, and Tideline: Friendship Abides from your favorite booksellers.

Here’s what readers have said about Stella’s Game:

A rolliking roll through the ’60s…I could almost smell the tear gas…perfectly captures an era…

Various Stella’s Game readers

And Tideline’s getting some positive comments:

…felt like being in the Army after ‘Nam…a salute to service women between Vietnam and Desert Storm…smell the sawdust of Ranger school…the friends we made in uniform are with us forever…

Various Tideline readers

The Gates of War, Just Not of Victory

Worth a read…

Defence-In-Depth

Michael C. Davies

Among the more interesting aspects of the debates over victory in war is that most scholars, when discussing the topic, assert that it stands amongst the most “misunderstood” aspects of modern war and warfare. They will contend that “little attention” has been paid to it, or that there has been a “paucity” of efforts to understand it or a specific element of it, and so on. In fact, the most common element of the study of victory might be that no one knows what it means, let alone how to achieve it. Considering the lack of victory parades of the last decades, it is a point worth considering.

While reading former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ new book, Exercise in Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World, one paragraph immediately…

View original post 870 more words

The Moon Landing and Stella’s Game

Who can’t remember where they were when the Eagle landed on Tranquility Base?

For some of us, it was forever ago; for others, yesterday. I was on vacation with my mom and my oldest sister; we were in New Bedford, Massachusetts, having already visited Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Trenton, and Valley Forge; I was fourteen, barely, and in the lobby of the Governor Bradford Hotel…and that huge-for-the-time 27-inch color TV in the wall had Jules Bergman narrating…closer…closer now….closer…

Houston, Tranquility Base here: the Eagle has landed.

Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969

And who cared what Houston said after that, or where we’d been before? A guy next to me, though, declared “triumph of the capitalist system.” I puzzled over that for a long time before I came to understand that the US manned space program was more than propaganda: it was a way to bankrupt the Soviet Union by spending money on their own program that they couldn’t afford…and the West could.

Really? Why?

And a year later, 30% of Americans believed that the Moon landing was faked…

Twenty percent of Earth’s population had watched the landing live…and still many people insisted that it was produced in a movie studio…and many people still do. Though thoroughly debunked, the conspiracists also fail to explain just why they would do that, let alone how literally millions of people who worked on the project were persuaded to remain silent about the duplicity

President Kennedy’s goal he’d set eight years earlier had been reached. But a year later, fewer Americans cared about it. They moved on, except during the Apollo XIII mission. Perhaps it was supposed to be that way…

July ’69 and Stella’s Game

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

The friends all know where they were when Apollo XI landed on the Moon, and readers who were around then might remember that Sunday, too. JJ and Mike met during that broadcast, wondering at the traffic noise outside: something exciting happened in Chappaquiddick, something to do with a Kennedy, so the reporters were torn as to which story they should cover.

One of the unique qualities to Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, is the feel that it has given some readers who remember that time not just in their lives but in history. One reader wrote me:

as I read … I remembered watching the Moon landing in my Grandmother’s kitchen, on her Motorola portable…I was nineteen…thanks for triggering that memory.

C. Lollard

Maybe Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships will trigger some pleasant memories for you, too. Now available in paperback and e-book from fine booksellers everywhere.

June And Stella’s Game

There’s a sense of renewal to June…supposed to be, anyway.

This June, hopefully more so. Most of us are in lock-down masquerading as “self-quarantine” or “sheltering in place,” having become so risk-averse that we’re afraid of stuff that the people in Stella’s Game would hardly have noticed except as another flu.

And, I submit, a decade ago we wouldn’t have noticed, either.

June is a time for graduations, for weddings, for the commencement of summer fun in the sun. On 19 June 1865, Juneteenth Day was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas, when news of the emancipation reached the city with the Union troops. In June 1942, of course, was the battle of Midway, an American victory that stopped the Japanese advance in the eastern Pacific. Same month, same year, the Allies lost Tobruk, the vital logistical base in North Africa.

Reinhard Heydrich, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia
Wiki Commons

And on 4 June, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was died of wounds he had suffered in a Prague suburb by a team of commandos trained and equipped by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Heydrich was the head of the RSHA, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , or Reich Main Security Office. This innocuous title belied its purpose, which was to oversee the annihilation of European Jewry. Heydrich was also the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia–what was left of Czechoslovakia at the time. As “Protector” he proclaimed martial law, executed hundreds, and began to “Germanize” the population by eliminating those not “German” enough to live.

Well, the “murder” of one of Hitler’s favorites was not to go unavenged, so the little towns of Lidice and Ležáky were selected to be erased. Beginning on 10 June, all males over 16 were executed; all but four women at Lidice were sent to Ravensbruck; the last four were suffered forced abortions and then sent to the camp. Eighty-one children were killed in gas vans at Chelmno. Lidice was burned and leveled. Over 1,300 people were killed in retribution.

Every once in a while, somebody repeats the old saw about this town or that country all wore the Star of David because the Jews were compelled to. To this I say “Lidice.” Given what the Germans did for the defiance there, it seems unlikely that open resistance by a whole town would be tolerated.

Stella’s Game and Tideline are now available

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

In Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, the friends go through a number of changes in June: Friends are separated in 1967, siblings get married in 1970; they graduate in ’73; one gets married; two join the Army.

But where Stella’s Game ends, Tideline: Friendship Abides begins. Tideline follows the friends from 1974 to 1986, in a world where there is no Internet (it was still DARPANET), where “basic cable” was really basic, and where month-long lock-downs and “social distancing” are simply unimaginable. The Soviets were still glowering on the other side of the Iron Curtain (remember that?), and long-distance telephone calls were still not just expensive novelties but the only means of long distance communications…other than letters…and they write A LOT.

Cover of Tideline: Friendship Abides, Part Two of the Stella’s Game Trilogy

And in Tideline, friends find each other after long years apart; they laugh, they cry…and they try to solve an old mystery that controls their lives. There were few personal computers; Pong was considered a video game; risque TV was showing navels.

And Tideline leads to The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs . The concluding volume of the Stella’s Game Trilogy follows the friends to the end of the mysterious road that not just brought them together, but threatens their lives. Look for it in November

1917: An Appreciation, and Tideline

Something a little different this time: a movie evaluation. SPOILER ALERT! You may learn the ending if you haven’t seen it.

Allow a Great War dilettante a little leeway, here. Sam Mendes’ film 1917 is 119 minutes long; surely, you can take about a tenth of that to read, not a review, but an appreciation, of a technical marvel on a par with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948).

While the plot is pedestrian (sending two NCO’s across No-Man’s-Land to stop a doomed attack, saving a corporal’s brother), and the acting at best average. However, the viewer has to appreciate the flawless digital editing that makes the action seem to flow seamlessly as the cameras rotate around the characters as they move through the trenches, resulting in the impression that the film was shot in two VERY long, continuous takes. I cannot see how 1917 could have had any competition for Best Cinematography and Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. Hitchcock, who was at bottom a technician, insisted on shooting his version of the 1929 play Rope as all one scene, stopping the action only to change film every seventeen minutes by running the camera behind one actor’s back or another.

Allowing some leeway for a non-button-counter, the sets and costumes in 1917 gave the distinct impression that this was taking place there, in Flanders, sometime in 1917. The lead actors, however, don’t do it for you–it’s the rest of them. The weary lieutenant just before Schofield and Blake jump off into the wire looks like half a hundred such people I dealt with in my quarter-century in the US Army: OK, you’ve got stupid orders, but at least I don’t have to carry them out, so you go do it, you poor SOB. And the attitudes of the men in the “casual truck” were perfect: Brother, better you than me. The senior officers offer the two enlisted men the usual mix of “you have to do it” and “best you can” and “if not you, who”- style instructions that are the old sergeant’s curse.

But, too–spoiler alert–there are moments in an otherwise mundane plot when, because of the effects and the editing, I somehow expected to see Charleton Heston screeching “its a madhouse! A madhouse,” in Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner). Running through a burning village dodging German soldiers, one could almost feel the heat, the unbelievable panic, the terror. And suddenly materializing at his destination, the survivor of the little mission struggles to be heard amid the chest-beating and the inevitable “I follow orders” mentality, the resignation that he feels before he finally does get the General’s attention.

I know enough about WWI to know that such a mission would not be given to a couple of NCO’s. If there had to be such a thing, it would have been given to a lieutenant at a minimum and an infantry section, who would have brought more than one Lewis Gun with them. Also, I know that the wire men worked day and night to stretch the phone lines between all major headquarters: it is unlikely that a battalion would be out of touch for more than 12 hours even nine hundred feet, let alone nine miles, ahead of the MLR. At the same time, such a message could also have been carried by aircraft–quickly and more reliably than two soldiers risking their all. But, like the highly-unlikely mission in Saving Private Ryan (1998, Steven Spielberg), that truth wouldn’t make for much of a story, would it?

The technically questionable blunders I saw–an abandoned German artillery park with broken guns and shells strewn all over is one–have plausible explanations. That one is easy: not enough horses to pull the broken weapons and salvageable junk back. This is after the Turnip Winter, after all, and the German Army was starving. Sick animals weren’t treated in some places (I understand); weak ones were eaten, so there were real shortages of draft animals. Using trucks for a sneaky withdrawal–like that one was supposed to be–would give the game away. Also, the presence of non-white soldiers in the Devons: as casualties were taken, fragile British units might have been brigaded together in the field for a day or so, though unlikely. More likely that they were added to the otherwise all-white cast to alleviate the inevitable protests in the US if they were not there. The Movie Police, after all, work on feelings, not facts. Their made-up outrage over the all-white cast in Saving Private Ryan (1998; Steven Spielberg) was bad enough; allow the producers some rhythm here, OK?

But the criticisms about British generals not thinking much about the loss of 1,600 men in a single attack is, charitably, unfair by that time. The British Army no longer had the manpower to waste by that spring. While the whole story is made up, it would be incredible to imagine that any British general by the war’s third year would cavalierly just throw away a village’s worth of Englishmen…certainly if they had no artillery support.

Ultimately, though, we as film viewers have to remember that these products are intended to entertain and to make money. Movies are not time machines, and some are better than others at conveying a sense of being there. 1917 is an excellent film that deserves its accolades and its revenues, and at least some of its criticisms. But, as some have done, to dismiss it out of hand because of its plot and technical flaws is to deny what is otherwise a very entertaining nearly two hours… more enjoyable for some of us than the rest of the hokum at the theaters, anyway. If you haven’t seen it yet…sorry for the spoilers. If you have, think about it as a product of the entertainment industry, not an educational tool. It became available on DVD 31 March.

Tideline: Friendship Abides

Cover of Tideline: Friendship Abides, Part Two of the Stella’s Game Trilogy

Where Stella’s Game ends, Tideline: Friendship Abides begins….and is available now in paperback and E-book at your favorite booksellers

Life has its limitations, natural and artificial.  Natural limits are nature’s doing; the others are ours.

Natural limits are imposed by nature–like the ocean tides. The rest are imposed—often reluctantly, sometimes of necessity—by how we live our lives. We set limits on what we hope to achieve, the challenges we’re willing to face, or what we’re willing to tolerate, or to settle for.

Those decisions come easier when we don’t have to make them alone; when we have the love and patience of true friends.

But those limits are to be tested. The friends have goals to achieve; milestones to reach. They were eighteen when they joined the Army and Navy in 1973. But what do they do, these new Cold Warriors, without a war to fight? They work while they live: they write letters while they learn, love, laugh and cry…and wait for that next war. America’s war in Vietnam is ended, but the after-effects are still felt. Watergate is in the news; so is Cambodia. The world is still a dangerous place, and even “cold wars” have casualties.

A tideline  on a beach marks the sea’s normal limits, where the sea in a normal tide will stop. The tideline for these friends….well, we did say a normal tide… 

Tideline: Friendship Abides—Part Two of the Stella’s Game Trilogy–follows our cast of characters out of the ‘70’s and into the ’80’s. Expect to see Part Three, The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs by the end of the year.

My Lai, Stella’s Game, and Tideline

By 1968, the conflict in Vietnam had lost any popular support that it had had in the US…and in Vietnam.

Unidentified women and children just before they were killed
Ronald L. Haeberle photo, Wiki Commons

On 16 March, 1968, soldiers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, and Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, both of the 23rd Division (also called the Americal Division), killed somewhere between 347 and 504 people in two hamlets called My Lai and My Khe in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam. An unknown number of women were raped, some as young as 12; children were mutilated. It was the best known of several such atrocities in the entire conflict. It took place during Operation Muscatine, which started in December 1967 and went on until June, 1968, aimed at securing Chu Lai.

Gee…don’t that sound simple?

The first time the American public knew anything about these massacres was September 1969, in a vague press release from Fort Benning about charges of murder being filed against Lieutenant William Calley. In trickles, then in floods, photos, names, dates were revealed as more people came forward with more testimony, more photos. Several reporters and photographers had been there, had seen the aftermath; one even claimed to have stopped some of the killing. There was a Pentagon Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that investigated these and several other massacres, but “war crimes” were never brought against anyone.

Over a year later…

William Calley stood trial for murder on 17 November 1970. It was hard to get eyewitnesses to testify against Calley, but one did, and Calley’s defense team couldn’t shake the testimony. On 29 March 1971, Calley was found guilty of 22 specifications of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

No one else was ever convicted of anything related to these crimes…

Despite the protest marches and the riots and flag-burning in the streets of America, the general reaction over Calley’s conviction was one of mild outrage. Within the US Army, Calley was regarded as a victim of the war’s culture of body count: the higher the better. He and his men–over a hundred would have taken part–were also victims of the nature of the conflict. While most of the victims were women and children, many of these guy’s friends had been victims of women and children bearing satchel charges and grenades, using both their youth and their sex to get close to American targets before setting off their weapons. While the protesters could use the conviction to bolster their arguments of an “unjust” war, the paltry number that Calley was actually convicted of deflated their argument somewhat.

The most common name Calley was given was “scapegoat…”

Calley spent less than two weeks in prison; President Nixon ordered him placed under house arrest at Fort Benning on 1 April 1971. After numerous appeals, Calley was released in September, 1974. The biggest reason for the successful appeals was pre-trial publicity, lack of corroborating witnesses, and the refusal of both the Department of Defense and the US Congress to make available evidence that Calley’s defense team requested. That and the general outrage over the acquittal of Captain Ernest Medina–Calley’s boss–who had planned and ordered the sweep operation that, in part, resulted in the massacres. Despite the unpopularity of the war, there was a great stink of cover-up. I distinctly recall that the popular media at the time of his conviction was nearly schizophrenic.

But by then, US troops had been out of Vietnam for two years, and no one was interested anymore.

Stella’s Game...watch her deal

In Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, the characters react to the conviction of William Calley–and the crimes he was accused of committing–in significantly different ways. While one is outraged, others are resigned; most question why not others. Scapegoat, martyr, example are names Calley is given…but not baby-killer or murderer.

But this was the 70’s, and the characters are fifteen and sixteen, looking forward to a future with a war that does not appear to have an end, and a draft that may not, either. Though Nixon campaigned on an “end the draft” platform in ’68, it was renewed for two years in September ’71–while the Calley appeals were ongoing–though everyone knew it would not be renewed again.

They know all this, but the boy’s future was still a question mark, and the girls were concerned for them.

Tideline is Rising

Where Stella’s Game leaves off, Tideline: Friendship Abides picks up. Join JJ and Mike, Ann and Leigh after they leave school on their life adventures, from 1974 to 1986. Tideline is scheduled for publication by April, 2020.

Join in the adventure!

Khe Sanh ’68 and Stella’s Game

And we woke up on 31 January to learn a new place name: Khe Sanh. That afternoon we learned that Jeff’s there. No longer was Vietnam some abstract.

White bread America was as affected by that conflict as the rest of the country.

The controversial McNamara Line of outposts and electronic monitoring systems along the 17th parallel was built starting in 1967, and was anchored by combat bases like the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB), which was a series of revetments and artillery batteries that was a most impressive sandbag fortification with an air strip and helicopter landing pads enough to maintain a Marine battalion. In January 1968, there were some 6,000 Marines based out of the Combat Base, and an unclear number of South Vietnamese and Royal Lao troops. The struggle for Khe Sanh and the I Corps area started nine days before Tet ’68, but William Westmoreland insisted that Tet was a diversion from Khe Sanh.

Was the tail wagging this dog?

The day after the Tet offensive exploded on the news, the war became very personal for some of us, even at the tender age of 12. With older sisters who had boyfriends of a certain age…yes, two of them were in-country. One mailed a letter to my oldest sister just after Christmas, saying how this Khe Sanh place was just a maze of sandbags.

Every TV newscast about Vietnam became a contest to see who could spot Jeff

While the war raged and every evening people watched at the Marines fought for the hills and villages around the base, there were times when we thought “oh, there he is!” But we never knew for sure. No one heard from Jeff…not even his family…until after the siege was lifted on 6 April by the 1st Cavalry Division. His parents received a note–brief and hurried–saying he was OK and headed for Japan. The next my sister heard was a year later, after he got back Stateside. Yeah, that kind of thing happened, too.

Letters and Friends and Stella’s Game

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships is a story of four kids growing up in these turbulent times, when things like video calls, instant messaging with a device in your pocket were the stuff of science fiction. To communicate they wrote letters, and some letters arrived with odd timing, like Jeff’s to my sister. But the kids worry because their families worry, and that worry spills over to their friends sometimes, and friends offer what comfort they can.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships takes place in the Detroit area from 1963 to 1974, following four children trying to fit in, to learn, to love, to laugh and for one–to stay alive. Look for it on Amazon and everywhere else. Learn what it was really like growing up without too much concern about money, but a lot about your future, and about your friend’s futures. Money doesn’t, after all, buy security for everyone.