November 19, 2012, 7:01 pm
The wolves are out for David Petraeus now that he’s shown such horrendous personal judgment and lost his untouchable position. There are two forms that I’ve noticed thus far. There’s the “I served under Petraeus and he was awful!” form. There’s the “Petraeus wasn’t a man’s general, he was an effete-namby-pamby-type general.”
The “I Served With Him” Genre
In the former category, we have this (warning! Naughty language), written by “Hawkeye Pierce”:
I’ve detested Petraeus for a long, long time. I’ve tried writing about him for a decade, but nobody seemed to listen. He was bulletproof back then—not so anymore. Now’s the time for me to tell you all about this self-serving shithead and what it was like being his bitch for years.
Pierce’s complaints? When Petraeus took over, he made his soldiers get uniform haircuts, practice holding the grips of their rifles consistently, had them…
November 15, 2012, 11:01 pm
Eisenhower at the German surrender. Summersby in the background
Oh shoot. Almost immediately after nobly declaiming on how too many blog posts are about “someone is wrong on the Internet” I find myself writing another one, this time about the historical parallels between the Petraueus scandal and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s relationship with Kay Summersby. Amy Davidson, at the New Yorker, argues that comparing the two is “sophistry.” Davidson starts with the quite reasonable argument that:
Is it good that a scandal about Eisenhower didn’t disrupt the war in Europe? Yes, but that means we were lucky, not that Ike did everything right. It’s a reason to be glad that an earlier general was reasonably careful about his (still alleged) affair—not to give a later one license to cheat.
She is exactly right. The “everyone is doing it” defense is not one that carries much weight past, well,…
November 6, 2012, 8:15 pm
In 1917, Arden Andrews went to enlist in the US Navy, to help fight World War I. He was 17 years old, and, unfortunately, underweight. His daughter wrote of it later:
When Arden tried to enlist in the Navy late in 1917, he was turned down because he was 3 pounds under the minimum weight requirement. He promptly went to the nearest grocery store, bought 4 pounds, (just to be sure) and sat down on the curb and ate them.
Returning to the enlistment office, he was weighed again and found just over the minimum. Bananas, it seemed, had saved the day.
 Library of Congress, Veterans History Project, AFC 2001/001/3046 Andrews, Arden Dudley, Memoirs.
October 17, 2012, 12:06 am
The last lines of Shiloh by Charles Allen:
The birds are singing today,
Where wounded and dying men
Once laid and breathed their life away,
A quiet peace with music now and then.
The cornfield this past weekend, a month after sesquicentennial celebrations, was mostly silent, too.
October 13, 2012, 7:34 pm
During the Battle of Antietam, McClellan’s left wing, commanded by General Ambrose Burnside, had a tough time getting across Antietam Creek. In particular, they found it difficult to rush successfully the Lower Bridge, and were held up for several hours by a minimal Confederate force on the heights overhead. But, did they need the bridge to cross the creek? Well:
I think the answer is pretty clear, if slightly damp.
(In response to reaxx’s question. Photo by Elisabeth K. Boas).
October 5, 2012, 6:14 pm
I’ve commented on this before, but the topic has a elegiac fascination. Every memory passes from earth eventually, but sometimes, when an organization has been built to commemorate that event, the passing becomes more public. Thus, too, with the Submarine Veterans of World War II:
It was difficult for the national organization to find members able to serve as officers and to complete all of the administrative tasks. In their last roster, published 10 years ago, the pages listing the deceased members outnumbered those listing active members.
“The guys said, ‘I was all for staying. My shipmate came to the convention with me. He’s gone now and I don’t feel like coming,’“ said Kraus, 91, of Crescent Springs, Ky.
The organization officially disbanded this year. Local chapters could continue if they felt like it. The memories–a few of them–survive in a form, in oral…
September 21, 2012, 3:56 pm
From Michael Epkenhans, “Imperial Germany and the Importance of Sea Power,” in N. A. M. Rodger, Naval Power in the Twentieth Century (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1996), p. 27:
When writing his memoirs after the military and political collapse of the German Empire in November 1918, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who can rightly be called the builder of the Imperial German Navy, still remembered an encounter with an unknown English woman in Gibralter some fifty years earlier. Boarding one of the very few German warships, which lay in the harbor of this outpost of the British Empire, and seeing a number of ratings, this woman exclaimed astonishedly: ‘Don’t they look just like sailors?’ When Tirpitz, a young sub-lieutenant then, asked what else they should look like, she replied bluntly: ‘But you are not a sea-going nation.’
Tirpitz, whose memoirs were published the same…
August 23, 2012, 12:58 am
(Part I here, based off of Thomas Boghardt’s new work on the Zimmermann Telegram).
So the British had intercepted (and partially decrypted) the Zimmermann Telegram, and knew they had a bomb on their hands, one whose explosion might hurry American entry into the war. The question was how to use it. Giving it to the Americans immediately would likely reveal to them that the British were reading American mail. That wouldn’t go over well.
In fact, Captain William “Blinker” Hall, the head of British decryption efforts, decided that even the British government itself couldn’t be trusted. Hall had a tendency to make fairly major policy decisions without consulting minor bodies like the Cabinet (including one time when Winston Churchill, of all people, remonstrated with him. Churchill remonstrating with someone for being too headstrong was like a rhinoceros crunching through a china…
August 17, 2012, 5:17 pm
(The impetus for this post is my recent reading of a manuscript of Thomas Boghardt’s The Zimmermann Telegram, forthcoming from the Naval Institute. Thomas himself will be making a guest appearance in Part II).
Henry Stimson abolished America’s codebreaking office, famously saying that “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” He was invoking, as David Kahn pointed out, not diplomatic niceties but moral ones:
[Stimson] did not say ‘Diplomats do not read each other’s mail but ‘Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.’ For actually his point was larger. Reading another’s mail was theft and therefore wrong, not just for diplomats, but for everybody. Gentleman exemplify man’s moral obligations. At the root of Stimson’s observation lay not a legalism but a Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
Apparently, dropping the atomic bomb was something that gentlemen did, but that’s a…
July 28, 2012, 3:12 pm
At the Library of Congress, researching World War I, I found “THE SAILORS’ PRAYER”:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord to keep,
Grant no other sailor take,
My shoes and socks before I wake.
From AFC 2001/001/2387, Worth, Charles Edmond.
July 3, 2012, 8:21 pm
No power of the enemy could move the center and left of the [69th Pennsylvania] regiment, which clung to its position with unflinching tenacity, keeping up a deadly and unremitted fire, the men at times clubbing their muskets to beat back the foe, who seemed determined to cross the wall.
On this day in history, 149 years ago and perhaps a bit earlier than this post’s time, the high tide of the Confederacy crested–at least partly–on the Rock of Erin, and fell back.
The brave men, living and dead, indeed.
 Samuel P[enniman] Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. (Harrisburg: B. Singerly, state printer, 1869), 703.
June 22, 2012, 5:06 pm
Regular readers will know we frequently give time and attention to the best of presidents, with special regard to the underrated Franklin Roosevelt. But perhaps we should give equal time to the bad presidents whose badness goes insufficiently remarked – not just the mediocre presidents, but those whose harms go underappreciated.
Entirely coincidentally, I have an essay in the current Reviews in American History on Woodrow Wilson, apropos Cooper’s biography. Here’s the beginning of the essay, for the record:
In the 1912 election, the Democrats gained sixty-one seats to increase their majority in the House of Representatives and seven seats to get a majority in the Senate. Yet their presidential candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won fewer votes than William Jennings Bryan had in 1908, 1900, or 1896. Wilson also underperformed Democrats in Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere,…
June 1, 2012, 5:57 pm
Tom Lea, US Army, 1944
Even a good war, even The Good War, is still a war, and it breaks and shatters people, physically and mentally. PTSD was not invented in Vietnam; Achilles seems to have suffered it. But societies have had trouble dealing with it as an illness and a trauma rather than a moral failing, from the British in World War I, to George Patton haranguing and physically attacking soldiers in World War II:
Patton was shaking with anger…”Your nerves, Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch. Shut up that goddamned crying. I won’t have these brave men here who have been shot seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying…You’re a disgrace to the Army and you’re going back to the front to fight, although that’s too good for you. You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now, God damn you!”…
May 22, 2012, 3:32 pm
From Robert E. Lee’s obituary, the New York Times October 13, 1870:
In [Lee's] farewell letter to Gen. SCOTT, he spoke of the struggle which this step had cost him, and his wife declared that he “wept tears of blood over this terrible war.” There are probably few who doubt the sincerity of his protestation, but thousands have regretted, and his best friends will ever have to regret,the error of judgment, the false conception of the allegiance due to his Government and his country, which led one so rarely gifted to cast his lot with traitors, and devote his splendid talents to the execution of a wicked plot to tear asunder and ruin the Republic in whose service his life had hitherto been spent.
Lee’s application for amnesty and reinstatement as an American was lost for more than a century. Rediscovered in the 1970s, it led to Gerald Ford signing legislation that pardoned Lee and made…
May 14, 2012, 1:43 am
I gave a conference paper on Saturday (May 12) at the annual Society for Military History conference, on a topic from my recent book that I wanted to explore further. The panel was:
Politics and War: Thought and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century
Chair: Richard H. Kohn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Natural Clausewitzians: U.S. Army Theory and Education, 1865-1941,
Thomas Bruscino, Jr., U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
The Regular and the Radical: Emory Upton, Leonard Wood, and the Role of the U.S. Army, J.P. Clark, U.S. Army
A Coalition of Rivals: The Western Powers and the Boxer Rebellion, 1900, David Silbey, Cornell University
Commentator: Edgar F. Raines, Jr., U.S. Army Center of Military History
As an experiment, I tried recording my presentation, using my iPhone’s Voice Memos application. It came out reasonably well, and (in the spirit of Eric’s …