A few things have to be switched around, like the JDBCOM.COM domain, which can take a frustratingly long time, several tries, prayers, and emails to different people in the spirit world of DNS, CNAME, EIEIO and other deities. And Substack will have to figure out why my archives weren’t showing up over there, despite having made all the appropriate offerings and pushed all the correct buttons twice now.
Why the switch? Money’s one reason. WordPress offers powerful tools for marketing and all that, but they cost money that has not paid for itself after several years of trying.
Another is the ease of use/access. While any fool–including me–can make something respectable on WordPress in an hour or so, on Substack, it takes a few minutes. AND I’ve been getting better responses/viewer rates.
For my followers who have NOT shared their emails, get on the bus over to JDBCOM In Your Inbox on Substack.
A few of you will notice that all the pages on this site have been deleted. They were garnering zero traffic, anyway, so there’s no point.
This may well be the last post from WordPress, so if you’re interested…www.jdbcom.com on Substack.
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…
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.
History is part legend, part fact, but mostly interpretation of those who have gone before us
We make history every day. From one moment to the next, our decisions—small and large—shape our future and, as we travel along that path, shape our past. How do we want it to read? Should we care? Or should we just get on with our lives and hope for the best? The Past Not Taken is three novellas that show that not all “authorities” are authoritative.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood…
In a small archive, documents that could upend American history are found. Did Jefferson suggest that Washington was an ignorant bumpkin and that America bounded by the Constitution would fail?
We may make history, but it’s the “authorities” –the scribes and narrators of the future–who write it based on what we leave behind.
Curtis is a budding historian at a small university. Meli is a friend-who-is-a-girl…
“How long have we known each other, Curtis?”
“Since the fall of ‘73, so going on nine years,” I answered; she squeezed my hand. She IS pretty…
“Do you like me?” Easy to get along with…what’s with…?
“I do; a lot.” She’s funny, and a good listen…WHAT? I stopped; she took a step ahead, not letting me go. “Are you in trouble, Meli?”
“Yep.” She didn’t turn. Her voice was but a whisper above the game, but I heard it as if it were thunder overhead.
“Want help?” WHAT did I say…?
“I need help, Curtis,” she said quietly. “The consequences for Dad would be….”
“Yeah. If this place were any more straight-laced, we’d need diagrams to tie our shoes.” God have MERCY on me…“I’ll be proud to, Missy.”
How “authoritative” are the documents that make up the basis of our history? Just because a document appears to be old and is in an archive, does that make it “proof” of the past?
Daughter By Choice explores how the past catches up to everyone. It also explores the nature of being a parent, and how there’s so many different kinds of families. It, too, speaks of how history is written and how the long-forgotten can become so important so fast.
Whereof what’s past is prologue…
A man appears out of nowhere, both known and unknown. He asks for little, but that little means so much. He says a girl’s future is in peril. And what he asks for can be simply devastating for everyone.
History likes to teach about “turning points.” 1776 is one for American history. But what if…?
“Let’s suppose that we wrote a history of America that pivots on the year1619. Think about it. What would its thesis be? It would have to elaborate on why that year….”
“When the first Africans were landed in the English colonies.”
“Yes; August 20th, 1619, on Point Comfort, Virginia—today’s Fort Monroe. The ship was the English privateer, White Lion. These lawful English pirates traded twenty or thirty Angolans—the record is unclear as to how many—for supplies. Suppose we wrote a history that said that those people were intentionally brought here for the sole purpose of being enslaved in 1619. How would we, writing such a thing, continue such a story?”
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
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 didhave 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…
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.
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 date…huh. “Well, Mike,” I said, “looks like you’ve done it again. How much did you pay for this?”
“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.
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.
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
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.
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 Kampf. The 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.
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 Filestakes 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.
This case study will have to analyze centuries, not just a few years, and study five failure points.
What do we mean by Germany?
The part of the world we now call Germany was populated by proto-humans at least 600,000 years ago. The first non-modern human Neanderthal fossil was discovered in the Neander Valley. Similarly dated evidence of modern humans has been found in the Swabian Jura, including 42,000-year-old flutes (the oldest musical instruments ever found), the 40,000-year-old Lion Man, and the 35,000-year-old Venus of Hohle Fels. The Nebra sky disk, created during the European Bronze Age, is attributed to a German site.
Germany has been a geographic/linguistic idea much longer than it has been a united political entity. The English word Germany derives from the Latin Germania, Julius Caesar’s term for the peoples east of the Rhine. The German word Deutschland (the German lands) is derived from deutsch, which is from the Old High German diutisc (of the people) used to distinguish the region’s language from Latin and its Romance descendants. Diutisc descends from proto-German þiudiskaz, which comes from þeudo, from the proto-Indo-European word tewtéh (people), from which the word Teutons also originates. The Romans first called the Eastern Franks Germans in the 1st Century BC. All of which suggests that there were Germans before there was a Germany.
Did Germany fail?
This approach requires a backward look at history, a reverse chronology. Bear with me.
Many would say that the Götterdämmerung of 1945 was only the fault of the National Socialist German Workers Party–NSDAP in German, Nazis in the vernacular–and not Germany as a nation or of Germans as a people. While this has been the common refrain since the Cold War started and the West needed German assistance to resist the Awful Red Things From Eastern Europe, it ultimately doesn’t ring true, The Nazis originated in post-WWI Germany, the movement didn’t come from elsewhere. It did sort of catch on elsewhere, but nowhere enough to take control of public affairs. To suggest that “Europe didn’t know what the Germans were going to do” or that “the Germans didn’t know what the Nazis were going to do” ignores the text of Mein Kampf, a best-seller in Germany for years before 1939. And before? That’s a little trickier, but let’s face it: Germany was a petri dish for any loudmouth who came along selling his “vision” for Germany…and the Germans bought it because Germans were accustomed to following loudmouths. They had before…
The German defeat in 1945, some say, had its beginnings in 1919, when France, England, and the United States shoved the Treaty of Peace Between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany (commonly called the Versailles Treaty) down the German’s throat in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The timing of the signing–the fifth anniversary of the death of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia–was coincidental, but the place–where Wilhelm I’s chancellor Otto von Bismarck proclaimed a second German Empire in 1871–was not. France, especially, wanted Germany humiliated, disarmed, stripped of their overseas empire, forced to pay heavy reparations, had their borders readjusted, and for select Germans to stand trial for war crimes (not like the trials 20 years later). After losing 1,5 million soldiers–25% of their men between 18 and 30–between 1914 and 1918, the French were in a bad mood, and no one was willing to argue with them. Germany had trouble finding someone in authority to sign it: one German leader resigned rather than sign. Though the fighting had stopped in November 1918, the French and British were willing to go back to war if the Germans didn’t sign.
Germany, though not occupied, was not in a position to fight again. The army had collapsed for several reasons, starvation being among them. Sapped morale was another. The High Seas Fleet had mutinied rather than go out for a death ride in October 1918–one event that triggered the collapse of the Hohenzollern throne. Going back to the trenches was quite literally unthinkable since the German Army had demobilized itself and large elements of it were brawling in the streets…because there was, as far as they could see, no German state to fight for after the abdication of Wilhelm II.
Wilhelm II was the third and last Emperor of the German Empire. His father, Fredrick III, died of cancer after less than 100 days of his reign. Wilhelm, though nearly thirty by then, was not temperamentally ready to be emperor. He wanted to rule as well as reign, where his father and grandfather had been satisfied to let Otto von Bismarck do most of the day-to-day work and the details of policy-making. After firing/retiring Bismarck (who, ironically, threatened to resign from his post numerous times before), Wilhelm II set about building a navy to rival his grandmother’s–Victoria I of Great Britain. The result was a naval race with Britain that Germany could never win, spending resources that Germany could barely afford–especially manpower. The result was a “risk fleet” that Germany hoped would deter Britain from going to war at all. While Bismarck could not have survived to 1914, a different chancellor might have persuaded Wilhelm to brake the runaway train that was the German Empire and Europe. A man with a spine might have been able to stop him from writing the notorious “blank check” he wrote in support of Austria-Hungary’s desire to crush Serbia in 1914. If nothing else, Bismarck might have taught Wilhelm some things about the purpose of the “concert of Europe” that he organized–especially the idea that so many treaties would make any major conflagration too risky. It might have been, but it was too complex to work. Reliance on so many treaties was dangerous in itself, but so was the system of intermarriages that the British attempted.
Bismarck and Napoleon
In a way, we can blame the irritable, mercurial Bismarck for part of Germany’s troubles in 1919. After all, he was the architect of what we now call Germany. He planned to make the four major German states in the Hohenzollern orbit–Prussia, Wittenberg, Bavaria, and Saxony–and dozens of principalities, bishoprics, electorates, and other leftovers from the old Holy Roman Empire (abolished in 1806) into a single unified empire. He set out to do it, using the power of Prussia, its General Staff system, and the so-called German Way of War: sudden movements tightly coordinated designed to intimidate enemies. This way of war–without the staff system–evolved during the 17th and 18th centuries, in a time when everyone wanted reliable-well-drilled Prussians to anchor their armies. The staff system evolved in the early 19th century after Napoleon handed the Prussians their heads. Prussia had developed this system primarily because it was Europe’s doormat: without natural boundaries, they were often overrun by more powerful–and more numerous–enemies. By institutionalizing military excellence, Prussia hoped to make their smaller armies more efficient and deadly.
Holy Roman Empire
Prussia had come to this lowly state for several reasons, not the least of which was that Napoleon had worn out just about everyone on the Continent, including the remnants of the old Empire. The Holy Roman Empire (Latin: Sacrum Imperium Romanum; German: Heiliges Römisches Reich, a term not used until the 15th century) was a multi-ethnic complex of quasi-independent territories in Western and Central Europe–with Germany at the core. It developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1809. Pope Leo II officially proclaimed it on 25 December 800, when he crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne (literally, “Charles the Great”) and declared him Holy Roman Emperor. The empire survived as a political entity based only on the strength of its emperor, elected from among the monarchs of the most powerful states. At its greatest extent in the 10th century, the Empire stretched from central Italy to the North Sea and held alliances by either marriage or politics from Ireland to Russia. By the 18th century, the Empire had shrunk to half of what it had been.
Voltaire was said to have quipped that the remnants of the old Empire were neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The fact was that that part of the world had been imperfectly Romanized–brought into the Christian/Catholic faith. The Eastern Franks had little of what we’d consider political organization until Charlemagne’s time, and even then, it had a habit of dividing and being conquered a great deal. That was part of the problem…
Geography and the Spread of Christianity
The geographic idea that we call Germany has always lacked significant geographic barriers like mountains or oceans, or even seas on either its eastern or western frontiers. Because it is situated at the edge of the vast grassland that stretches from the Pacific to the North Sea, central Europe has been subject to invasion after invasion for much of its history. Not every invasion was armed; indeed, most weren’t. Most of Germany’s invasions were mass migrations, driven by other mass migrations, crop failures, plagues, and pestilence.
One invasion that seemed benign was the “invasion” of Romanized Christianity, which reached Germany in the 4th century AD. It spread slowly but certainly from the Rhine to the Bug River, reaching modern Poland by about the 7th century, and was soon joined by the rapid spread of Christianity in the Scandinavian world starting in about the 8th century. Resistance to this new faith was somewhat spotty, but it was frequent and persistent. Much to the irritation of many evangelistic preachers, Germans along the Baltic Sea frequently continued to practice their older animistic religions alongside Christianity, seeing no contradictions. Those Germans were to become, in time, Prussians.
We need to make a distinction between religion, churches, and faith.
Religion is a practice, a dogma, defined by a series of rituals and prescribed beliefs. As the Catechism suggests, religion is a life to be lived.
Churches are organizations that construct buildings and can include those who attend religious rituals in these or other buildings.
Faith is a non-falsifiable belief, to include deities, people (like leaders), organizations (like churches), and movements…like religions.
One can have one, two, or all three at once; they are mutually excursive, but none require the other two. This is how Germany–often dominated by Prussia–continued to practice pre-Christian rituals and believe in their old gods (Norse and not) before and after the Mass. It should be a small wonder, then, that the Protestant movements started in Germany. Germans could see corruption in one practice while keeping faith with another. Luther was just the most vocal. And Luther’s heresy triggered other Protestant movements and begat conflicts worldwide between Christians who believed this doctrine but not that one. Human violence backed by religious leaders has been consistently more violent, more destructive than those driven by other motivations.
Well, we have swept through a history of Germany from 1945 back to pre-history, and what did we see? A proud language group that Christianized itself– sort of, then militarized itself for its survival. Along the way, we saw several possible failure points…did you miss them?
The Nazis, which I dismissed…kind of
Wilhelm II, whose vanity created tensions and whose poor response to a local crisis helped trigger a global war
Bismarck, who set up a system of treaties in Europe too complex to succeed, and Napoleon, who eliminated what civil system there was for organizing the German states and left a vacuum that was filled by the military
The Holy Roman Empire, which looked better on paper than it did in reality
The Christian evangelists, who failed to Romanize what would become the Empire, Prussia, and Germany completely.
Five possible failure points. Let’s see about them later.
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, Friendship Triumphsis 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.
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:
Least appreciated by historians/pundits/blowhards
Chickens and Eggs
A short chronology of major events up to the end of 1861:
South Carolina and Mississippi secede;
Star of the West fired on in Charleston Harbor;
Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas secede;
Confederate Government formed by seceded states, naming Jefferson Davis as Provisional President;
Confederate Constitution adopted;
Relief expedition for Ft. Sumter ordered;
Davis orders Ft. Sumter to be reduced before relief arrives.
Ft Sumter fired upon;
Lincoln declares rebellion, calls for troops;
Lincoln declares blockade;
Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee (in order) secede.
War traditionally begins at Bull Run/Manassas.
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
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 Triumphsfollows 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.
Last time, as you remember, my little study in historical failure analysis ran into a real snag: nothing really similar to its conditions or its failure mode—if that failure can be attributed to a lack of representation/service of all its populations. That means that this method had to select the correct failure or decide what the failure was early on. But does doing this make the whole thing pretty pointless? Methinks not. Methinks that Step Two did precisely what it was meant to do: the Confederacy was unique; its failure to represent all its constituents or even define itself well meant that it would fail.
That means that, in this analysis, in this case study, Step Three can be bypassed/skipped/checked off the list without too much trouble.
If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again
Yes, someone said that first, and remarkably anyone can find out who on Google. The wonders of the Internet have answered so many questions. And this part of my attempts at a case study for a method of historical failure analysis may have run into a snag.
For the method, for what I’m trying to do, does that mean that other case studies will find all cases to be unique, making Step Two and Three unnecessary? Well, I’ll have to create another case study to find out. But next time, I’ll proceed to Step Four: Analyze each element/factor separately.
It’s got everything under the sun: Short stories of heroism, sacrifice, Christmas, friendship, loss, tragedy, childbirth…something for everyone. These are about people in peril, in danger of their lives, their livelihoods. They save others; they save themselves. From pre-history to yesterday, these stories take you from the hunting fields of prehistoric man to Shiloh, from the Pacific to Pointe du Hoc, from Korea to the English Channel, from Bastogne to Appomattox, and more.
Available now in paperback and Ebook from your favorite bookseller or, of course, Amazon.
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:
Mid-19th Century time frame
Agrarian-industrial political economy
Split from a federal constitutional republic to form a confederacy of states
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.
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
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.