Wednesday, November 16, 2005

How smart people write...

Man of letters Sandy Petersen replies to my bewildered query regarding a book reviewer who conflated a Robert E. Lee fictionally being put on trial with a "Saddam Hussein in gray":

"Saddam Hussein resembles Lee in that he is a representative of a defeated force. The amnesty offered by the Union (it wasn't just Republicans, of course - and wasn't even all Northerners) simply said that you couldn't be held criminally accountable for being part of the Confederate government or military. You could still be prosecuted for war crimes, and one person was - the head of the notorious Andersonville camp. He was hanged, too.

The same applies to the Nuremberg trials. In theory at least, the defendants weren't there because they'd been Nazis, but because they'd performed internationally-recognized crimes. There is a big difference between the Confederacy and the Nazis, however. The Nazis were recognized as a legitimate government at the trials. The Confederates were never recognized as legitimate by anyone - everyone assisting it was technically in armed rebellion against their lawful government. Therefore, the amnesty was actually necessary, so that not everybody who'd rebelled would be considered to be traitors. In addition, people who'd worked or fought for the Confederacy had to sign a special loyalty paper to be allowed to vote. (Lee signed this, but somehow the copy of it was lost, so he never did get to vote again.)

Being a Nazi was insufficient to be considered a war criminal. You had to have taken part in criminal acts. The most controversial "criminal act" considered by the tribunal was that of "planning an aggressive war", since this had never been considered a crime before. In the main trials, 3 of the defendents were found not guilty and released.

Now - another issue was involved here. Though the Nazis were recognized as the rightful government of Germany, they had broken various internal laws en route to power, and while they were there. The victorious powers did not consider these worthy of prosecution as "war crimes", but all the guys released by the tribunal were then subjected to criminal trials by the new West German government for their internal German crimes.

Saddam Hussein is not being tried because he was the president of Iraq, but because of the criminal deeds he committed while he was president. So the comparison fits with the Nazis, but not with R.E. Lee. I doubt the reviewer objects to the Nuremberg trials, so presumably the only reason he's comparing Hussein to Lee is to make the trial seem unfair. Because presumably it would have been "unfair" to put R.E. Lee on trial. Despite the fact that he broke his oath of loyalty to the U.S. Government, was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of men, and prolonged the war past the point that even he knew it was lost for the Confederacy. Every day that the war lasted past November 1864, I hold Lee personally accountable for every death. He knew, better than anyone else in the entire nation except maybe U.S. Grant, that the war was lost once Lincoln got re-elected. Before that point, the Confederacy still had a chance to win, and so persevering in the war made some sense.

I assume the Dred Scott decision was made in order to invalidate states' rights as a whole. After all, if ANY bad decision was EVER made in favor of states' rights, then the whole concept is invalidated, right? Right?"

What he said. That Sandy do sure write purty.


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect to your friend, his telepathic insight into the minds of centuries-dead military leaders astounds me.


At 1:43 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I would say he has drawn reasoned conclusions from research into the primary materials. After all, the personal papers of practically every major figures of the Civil War are freely available. Hell, I myself have read the papers and diaries of Grant and Sherman (Thanks, Library of America!), although I doubt I have put them to as much use as Sandy has.

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, I forgot to say that I think that what he's saying *overall* is an intelligent deconstruction and rebuttal of the original review you quoted. And I, certainly, am not a Civil War expert.

But going around saying that the only two people who knew for certain that the Confederacy was DOOMED DOOMED DOOMED! once Lincoln was reelected were the two most next most famous Civil War figures strikes me as rhetorical and overblown, and the Southerner of those two is the only major Civil War general to *not* write his own memoirs, and is considered by many serious historians to be an opaque and cryptic figure. I dunno, I just feel like you don't need to be a history whiz to look at that kind of statement and "oh, come on, it can't have been that simple!"

Maybe Sandy's just making a rhetorical point about why bleeding-heart types wringing their hands about the trial of Saddam Hussein should leave Lee out of it. If not, I can't help think he's overreaching though.

You are right though. He does write purty.


At 2:46 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Well, Lee was the tactical leader of the Southern Armies, and thus I think "he knew better than anyone else in the entire nation except maybe U.S. Grant" [i.e., his opposite number] is a fair formulation.

Lee's entire campaign was based on the fact that he couldn't beat the raw manpower and materiels of the Union. He therefore adopted a hit-and-run strategy that was meant to avoid directly fighting the Union whenever possible, because attrition was his enemy, not Grant's.

Since the South couldn't beat the Union in a direct slugfest, the idea was to keep bloodying the Union's nose until the northern citizenry got tired of the War and elected a President with a mandate to end it. That position was represented by Lincoln's opponent, George McClellan, and had McClellan been elected, he would have sued for peace and allowed the confederate states to leave the Union.

However, the South also didn't have the strength to pursue even it's fight & flight strategy indefinately, especially when actual fighting generals like Grant and Sherman (the latter sort of sideways, admittedly) were aiming to force the direct confrontations that Lee knew couldn't be won.

Sandy is right, I think, that Lee must have known that once Lincoln was elected the Confederate cause was doomed. Nothing else than pride kept him and his troops in the fight, and as Sandy notes, at a horrible cost to pay for what might have come down to one man's ego. In any case, Lee fruitlessly kept at it until Grant cornered him with no escape.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno, just with the unherdable cats of the Confederate civilian leadership, it always seemed to me like he didn't necessarily have a choice in the matter. The civilian bosses tell you they want X, you do your damnedest to achieve X, however skeptical you are about your chances. That is the traditional ethic of a military officer, however misguided it may seem, and it just seems like the "REL, lynchpin of all the South did wrong!" view exagerrates his importance as much as the "REL, lynchpin of all the south did right!" view. Nobody's *that* important to the flow of history, however picturesque he may be.


At 3:58 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Again, in a culture that so prized the military, there's no doubt that Lee was a more popular figure than Jackson. And Lee *was* the one who called off the war by surrendering to Grant.

And sometimes one person really is that important. A cabal of military officers wanted to overthrow the fledgling government and make Washington king. He refused, and personally dissauded them from that course in a famous speech. If not, we might easily have started our country via a military junta. There's little doubt that Washington could have had a crown had he so wished. Thankfully, he did not.

In the North, three men were essential in winning the war. (The Union cause being more difficult, in that hte North had to win, while the South had only not to lose.)

Lincoln provided the political spine to see the war through. Grant was the first Union commander ready to suffer huge casualities in order to wear down the Confederates, and Sherman had the will to decimate the Southern infrastructure and force the Southern armies to fight. Sherman's capture of Atlanta shortly before the election was perhaps the war's single pivotal moment, since that victory was what pushed Lincoln to one of the narrowest presidental wins in U.S. history.

That is, admittedly, three men, but pull out any one of them and the war would still have been lost.

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I'm just not comfortable with the idea that an old grey fool from the 19th c. should be scapegoated for not being modern enough to buck the chain of command (by going around Davis or whatever), postmodern enough to lose battles on purpose to end the war sooner, or Jedi enough to mind-trick his superiors into realizing "OMFG we're gonna diiiie!" The Confederacy was "une folie en masse" to warp the folie de deux expression, and its leadership collectively heisted itself by its own petard. Lee was one of those responsible, certainly. But sometimes the anti-Lee types seem as hung up on him to the exclusion of everyone else as the pro-Lee types, and that is...not a helpful corrective to the legend, and it sets off the BS detectors of people with only a casual interest in this sort of thing, which is why I have this kneejerk reflex thing about the subject.

I'm undoubtedly being unfair in classing Sandy with the above, so, uh, shutting up now.


At 8:48 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I think your skepticism is healthy. However, while the "Great Man" school of history may have been overemphasized in the increasingly distant past, the countermovement (that trends rather than individuals are what make history) has gone too far in the other direction.

There are times when the right man at the right time made all the difference. The question is when that was the case. So I'd say, as in most things, stay skeptical but rigidly so.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Ericb said...

Of course the difference between Grant/Sherman and Lee was that Grant and Sherman were 20th century generals before their time while Lee was an 18th century general after his time. Lee was brought up in a very chivalric military tradition where things like "honor" were a serious matter. He had to come to a point when he relized that the concept of "dying with honor for a lost cause" was much dirtier as reality in modern warfare that it was in the "gentlemanly" European wars of the 18th century. Unfortunately it didn't come to him until April 1865. In plenty of wars one side fights on even though victory was impossible, war is rarly an activity were people act with pure rationality.

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Sandy defending my remarks.

1) The reason I say that Lee & Grant are the likeliest of mortals to have known the war was lost is because they were both militarily talented and in a position to know the overall situation on all fronts. I stick to this statement. If LEE didn't know the was was lost, who would?

2) Robert E. Lee is on record saying (actually, writing) that if Lincoln was re-elected, the war was lost. He even said that the cause would be militarily lost (though not yet politically) if Grant pinned him down at Petersburg. Which he did long before the election.

3) Lee was held in respect and regard almost unique among military men. If he had resigned, knowing the war was lost, it's hard to believe it would have gone on much longer. He tried to resign on two occasions before Lincoln's election, so it's not like the idea of doing this was inconceivable.

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello all

I love you so much! Great place to visit!
'mexican' xxx porn porno

ali landry nude pic

amature sex with horses

anal sex with toys

asian lesbian xxx clips
very thanks
Herbert Nikolaus

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

piracy affects porn but it's still winner during the crunch


At 3:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is an amusing piece


Post a Comment

<< Home