Monday, February 21, 2011

Sherman and His Total War Policy

I'm reading through "The Un-Civil War" by Mike Scruggs, a very scholarly work which I strongly recommend everyone obtain and read, and I'm finding things I never new before.  I'm also finding things I did know, but that I never pieced together.  Mr. Scruggs does a great job presenting historical facts that it appears have been rather "convienently" left out by most historical sources, or else distorted in order to present history slightly differently than it actually was.

For example, today most people would call General Sherman a "war hero" who helped bring an end to the bloody Civil War.  But during his lifetime, he was not viewed that way.  Instead, because he trampled upon the rules of war, he was looked upon as a "war criminal" in the eyes of many.  

Let us look at Gen. Sherman here, and what his "Total War Policy" produced.  For his taking the war to the citizens instead of just the soldiers was not only a travesty, but it also led to much injustice and suffering to countless millions thereafter in many other wars.


For those who don't know what "Total War" means, Mr. Scruggs defines it nicely:  "Total War is war on an entire society, often escalating by degree according to military or political expediency or desire for vengeance on a demonized enemy.  Total War pursues victory and dominance by whatever means without regard to moral or humanitarian considerations."

Total war then, is immoral and seeks to win at any cost, even sacrificing goodness, morality, and justice.  In other words, it's unleashing the basest of human desires upon the enemy and doing anything to win at any cost.

This is not only immoral, but also illegal, according to the Geneva Convention, which was set up to put rules upon war so that innocent people would be spared. 

War, then, is supposed to be between two nations and fought only between soldiers of those nations, and not upon the innocent citizens of those nations. 


Even in the 1860's, soldiers were still taught the importance of "Civil War" or better stated "Civility" in war.

But General William Tecumseh Sherman changed all that.  Sherman believed, and I quote him, "The government of the U.S. has any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war--to take their lives, their homes, their land, their everything--war is simply unrestrained by the Constitution...to the persistent secessionist, why death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better."

He further stated to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:  "There is a class of people, men, women and children, who must be killed or banished before you can can hope for peace and order."

Such statements remind us of Hitler and his "final solution" against the Jews.  Yet Hitler's atrocities are horribly remembered and even preached against, while Sherman's go unmentioned.  Why is this?  Especially since the policy of "Total War" which Sherman practiced eventually led to Hitler's actions.  (We'll get to that in a minute.)

When most people think of Sherman, they automatically think of his burning of Atlanta, a criminal act if ever there was one.  Sherman attacked the South, and his armies burned, pillaged, and robbed as he went, taking everything he could from the citizens so they would be helpless to retaliate or help Southern soldiers do the same.

This was him putting his belief of "Total War" into practice, and practiced it he did on many ocassions.  As he marched farther South he destroyed livestock, agriculture, homes, and more, leaving citizens to starve in the cold.  His exact orders to his troops were to "make Georgia howl" as Southerners suffered countless atrocities and feared his swift hand.  Rapes of Southern women were commonplace, so were looting and executions.  In most towns all lumber from homes, factories, and churches were gathered together and torched until all that was left was a huge pile of ash.  The South was left destitute.


Even though war is horrible, it does happen.  So to keep it from being too horrid and to get too far out of hand, rules were set up to protect the citizens.  Christian ideals, then, are what lead to the "rules of war," as Christian morals dictated that there were some things that you just can't do during war. 

But Sherman cared not for Christianity or Christian rules of war.  Morality mattered little to Sherman.  And his lack of following the rules led to his soldiers becoming not only irreligious, but sacreligious.
Soldiers under Sherman were some of the wickedest and most debauched men.  As they pillaged the South, they would often sing, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," as they carried out their atrocities. 
On one ocassion, soldiers of Sherman taunted nuns, and blew cigar smoke in their faces, yelling, "Oh, holy! Yes, Holy! We're just as holy as you are!  Now, what do you think of God?  Ain't Sherman greater?"

Of Sherman and his soldier's atrocities towards the Southern people, there is not time to write here.  Death, destruction, dearth, devilment, and depravity followed him wherever he went as countless thousands of Southern people suffered unimaginable terror at his hand.  Morals were thrown out the window, and for his soldiers, war became an excuse to unleash their basest depravations upon others.


That Sherman was unmoved by what his soldiers did is clearly seen in his letter to Major R.M. Sawyer, in which he says, "We of the North are beyond question, right in our lawful cause...Next year your lands will be taken; for in war we can take them, and rightfully too; and in another year they may beg in vain for their lives."

Captain Daniel Oakley fo the 2nd Mass. commented: "It was sad to see the wanton destruction of property...[as they committed] every sort of outrage."

I could go on and one with the horrendous evil that Sherman and his hordes unleashed against the Southern People.  And if that was all Sherman was guilty of, he would be rightfully convicted of his crimes.  But that's not the worst of it.  What Sherman did had not been done before in modern warfare.  It was not only unlawful and immoral, but it was the first time someone did such a thing.  For hundreds and thousands of years a moral conduct in war was followed, in which armies met each other face to face upon battlefields and fought only each other, not the populace. There was even "honor" in war which kept men from criminal activicty, and soldiers who engaged in misconduct were "court martialed" for their crimes.

But Sherman somehow got away with what he did.  And he not only practiced "Total War" by burning, pillaging, and raping the innocent citizens of the South, but he also did things that had not been done before, and were not only unlawful but unheard of, such as: executing random civilians, using prisoners of war to clear minefields, and illegally seizing private property at his whem.  And Sherman didn't seem to care that what he was doing was immoral, much less illegal.

So widespread was the terror under Sherman that many Southerners left the South for Texas.  Finding and empty homes with the letters GTT (standing for "Gone to Texas") painted on the door was commonplace throughout the South, as people fled for their lives.  There was no law, not even martial law.  It was pandimonium and anarchy.  It was terror in its evilest form.  And there was no justice.


Because of Sherman's actions, and his not being prosecuted for his war crimes, a precedent was set, which lead to much more atrocities later.  Seeing no reprucussions for what Sherman did, many of Sherman's cohorts accepted his method of total warfare and practiced it as well. 

Gen. Philip Sheridan was one of those who believed in the absolute correctness of the state (known as "Statism"), and how that gave soldiers a license to do whatever they desired in war to bring the opposition to subjection or demise. 

Sheridan used Sherman's methods in war agains the Indians by destroying Indians food supplies and even massacring Indians at his will.  Many other soldiers bought into this method and cruelly massacred Indians without feeling.  (Later we see others following this form of war in Vietnam, Korea, etc.)


Eventually, Sheridan was invited in 1870 to the European nation of Prussia to speak with Prussian Army Officers.  There he advised the Total War Policy by saying, "First, deal as hard blows to the enemy's soldiers as possible, and then cause so much suffering to the inhabitants of the country that they will long for peace adn press their government to make it...  Nothing should be left to the people but eyes to lament the war."

This sadistic advice not only sounds like Sherman, but it is also immoral and unlawful.  But because Sherman did it and got away with it, it became the standard operation procedure from there on, eventually even being adopted by Adolf Hitler and his military actions.   

Nazis were cruel and unfeeling in their means of warfare.  From their first action in the revolution in Spain, to their attacking Poland, they thought nothing of firing upon the unarmed refugees with their dive bombers.  And as they grew in pride and dominion, they eventually heartlessly murded Jews in concentration camps.  But how could they do such things and not feel they are wrong?  How could they go against the Geneva Convention?  How could they be so immoral? 

It all goes back to Sherman.  He did it, others saw it, and then they followed suit.  Sherman's attitude was "My government is right and you are wrong, that gives me the right to do wrong towards you and kill you!"
This led to others believing the same and serving their governments in the same fashion.


So why is Sherman not preached against today?  Why wasn't he tried for war crimes?  How did he get away with his "Total War" policy which produced injustice upon countless numbers of people not only in the "Civil War" (Better stated the "Un-Civil War), but in following wars as well?

The answer is that the victors are the ones who write the history books.  And they chose to honor Sherman who they believe helped to bring the "Civil War" (It's hard to call it that anymore, isn't it) to a more timely end.  

But knowing what you now know about Sherman, do you think he was a hero?  Or was he a villian?

Whatever he was, we still see Sherman's policy at work today as our Governement bombs Afghanistan and Iraq and countless innocent civilians are injured and even killed.  Is that right? 

You'll have to decide all this for yourself. 

So how did Sherman feel about all this in his later years.  That we don't know.  It's been said, time and again, that Sherman drank a lot, probably to forget what he and his soldiers did. 

There was also a push to make Sherman President, but refused, with the famous words: "If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve."

Was this because he didn't feel worthy to be President because of his war crimes?  Who knows.

All we know was that what Sherman did was both immoral and illegal.  And his "Total War" approach led to America and even Nazi Germany to practicing the same thing.  (America against Indians and Germany against Jews).  And it is still being practiced today with every new war, as citizens are slaughtered and massacred by evil regimes who believe in wiping out entirely all opposition. 

All because of Sherman.

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