Defining victory in Afghanistan
''I fear the world will jump to the wrong conclusion that because I am in Atlanta the work is done. Far from it. We must kill three hundred thousand I have told you of so often, and the further they run the harder for us to get them.'' - Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, 1864
Because facets of the Afghanistan operations - real-time intelligence, stealthy aircraft, precision munitions - are so modern, we miss the fact that the war requires an American tradition of war-making that has a 19th-century pedigree. And the bloody uprisings by fanatical Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners underscore the pertinence of Sherman's understanding of how to define victory over an intensely motivated enemy.
When military operations in Afghanistan began, just four weeks after Sept. 11 and three weeks after Gen. Tommy Franks was told to begin planning attacks, some critics were quick to say the operations did not begin quickly enough. Then they said the tempo of operations was too torpid. Critics compared Franks - and Colin Powell, ever mindful of allies' sensibilities - to Gen. George McClellan. Those were fighting words, because McClellan was a reluctant fighter.
USING THE ARMY
One of President Lincoln's commanders, McClellan was notoriously reluctant to close with Confederate forces, the strength of which he consistently overestimated. This drove Lincoln to distraction, and to sarcasm about hoping to ''borrow'' the Army if McClellan was not using it.
Sherman, an energetic user of the Army, believed its principal use against the Confederacy was not to occupy territory but to destroy enemy personnel. His reason for believing this has contemporary resonance during a war against fanatics, many of whom come from the privileged strata of corrupt and exploitative societies.
Long before secession, Sherman despised the South for its caste and class systems. In 1843, when stationed in South Carolina, he wrote: ''This state, their aristocracy ... their patriarchal chivalry and glory - all trash. No people in America are so poor in reality, no people so poorly provided with the comforts of life.''
So why did the Confederate army, composed mostly of poor whites, fight for a social system beneficial only to a tiny landed minority• Partly because of the elan of its martial elite, those whom Sherman called ''young bloods'' who were ''brave, fine riders, bold to rashness and dangerous in every sense.''
Sherman, writes professor Victor Davis Hanson in his book ''The Soul of Battle,'' considered the Confederacy ''a motley conglomeration of distrustful factions.'' Sherman thought the really dangerous faction - dangerous during the war, and potentially afterward - consisted of what Hanson calls ''young zealots, men between 18 and 40 who often formed the cavalry of the South and were led by rabid knights like Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler and Jeb Stuart. These fanatics ... were the children of the wealthy, excellent horsemen, full of youthful vigor and insolence.''
The South, although militarily weak, ''fielded,'' Hanson says, ''individual warriors who were among the most gallant and deadly in the entire history of warfare.'' Hence what Sherman called ''the awful fact'': Victory required ''that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright.''
TAKING THE LONG VIEW
Donald Rumsfeld says his preference is for al-Qaida fighters to surrender rather than fight to the death: ''It ends it faster. It's less expensive.'' Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says: ''This is not a war of extermination.'' Such statements are perhaps obligatory and even sincere.
However, is surrender really less expensive in the long run• It is a reasonable surmise that a reformed terrorist is a very rare terrorist and that the rate of recidivism will be high among terrorists who are forced to surrender but continue to believe they are doing God's will when they commit mass murder of infidels. So, as far as is consistent with the rules of war and the husbanding of the lives of U.S. military personnel, U.S. strategy should maximize fatalities among the enemy rather than expedite the quickest possible cessation of hostilities.
Many Americans will vehemently reject any analogy between Confederate and al-Qaida elites. But Sherman might have felt vindicated by a postwar letter from one former Confederate general to another, D.H. Hill to Jubal Early:
''Why has the South become so toadyish & sycophantic• I think it is because the best and noblest were killed off during the war.''
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Burnett writing incredible final chapter
- Alvarez’s walk-off single lifts Pirates over Padres
- 5 juveniles injured in Washington County crash
- Pirates notebook: Four players selected for All-Star Game
- New Ken police arrest cobbler robbery suspects
- Trial in Monessen homicide of drug dealer nears start
- Pair charged with prostitution-related offenses in South Greensburg
- Norvelt residents try to preserve community history’s link to Roosevelts
- Harrison City woman arrested for fighting police
- Torn thumb ligament puts Pirates’ Harrison on 15-day disabled list
- Scottdale man arrested at end of motorcycle chase