Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Puzzlement of Discovery

The defining exclamation of scientific discovery isn't "Eureka!"

Sometimes it works out that way. "Eureka" -- from Greek meaning, more or less, "I have found it" -- is supposedly what Archimedes exclaimed upon realizing, while sliding into his bath, that displaced water may be used to measure the volume of a solid object. He'd been having a dispute with a goldsmith, you see, and suspected he'd been cheated. He needed to find a way to prove it, and a solution presented itself to him.

"Eureka" moments are far more common in engineering than in science, actually. Inspiration for the solution for technical problems tends to strike at the weirdest moments. I've had them at the gym, in the shower, and while walking across the street to a convenience store.

But moments of true discovery? Those aren't marked with glad shouts. Those are more often marked with puzzled murmurs. Not so much "Eureka!" as "What the heck did we just see?"

We're seeing one of those unfold in real time. Dawn is settling down into its science/mapping orbit around Ceres. And Ceres is proving to be a very puzzling place.


The $100,000 Question here is: What are those shiny bits? No one really knows for sure. The closer we get, the better and clearer the pictures are, but so far that hasn't brought any real clarity. One article I read compared them to Las Vegas at night, as seen from space. No one takes that interpretation seriously, mainly because Ceres is a damned odd place for ET to build a casino.

There's no real proof yet, but most people have a sneaking suspicion that what we're looking at are ice sheets. And not just those two bright spots, they're starting to show up all over Ceres' surface. Which may mean ...

... that there's just a thin layer of dusty rock on top of a thick layer of ice.

If that's the case ... this is a find of unimaginable value. Gold in them thar hills? Feh. Don't bother me with such penny-ante stuff. Water is important.

If humanity is to have a future away from Earth, we'll have to find somewhere to get water. Beyond the obvious, water can be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen. We need the oxygen to breathe, the water to drink, the hydrogen can provide power via fusion (once we figure out how to do that), and hydrogen and oxygen together can be used as rocket fuel ... or, the water itself can be used as the working fluid for a nuclear thermal rocket. But all this hinges on finding a place to get water that isn't prohibitively expensive.

Water is abundant here on Earth. But you have to lift that out of Earth's gravity well, boosting it ten kilometers per second to punch through the atmosphere, up to altitude, and then up to orbital speed. Then you have to boost it from low Earth orbit to wherever it is you need to use it.

Incidentally, this is why the movie Elysium never made any sense to me. Anyone with the technical savvy to build an orbital habitat would know better than to get their routine supplies from down here. The delta-V costs will simply eat you alive. But I digress...

Or maybe I don't? Because the problem is, if you can't get water from Earth, where do you get it?

Well, lots of places. Jupiter and Saturn have plenty of icy moons. Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, and each of those have about as much water as Earth does, in the form of ice. The problem is, though, you have to lift that ice out of either Jupiter's or Saturn's gravity well, and that ain't exactly cheap. You're better off doing that than lifting it from Earth's surface, but not by a tremendous amount.

Ceres, now... In terms of delta-V, getting to and from Ceres isn't that hard. It takes a long time, but doesn't take much fuel. Remember that Dawn flew from Vesta to Ceres on about a fistful of rocket fuel. And fuel is the long pole in this particular tent. An enormous ice supply, located in the middle of the Asteroid Belt, is a Godsend for would-be colonists. It makes a ludicrous fantasy into ... well, still a very difficult enterprise, but at least one that's within shouting distance of feasible.

Or, it could all be smoke and mirrors. Something else entirely. Soon, we'll know for sure, one way or another.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Election 2016: Too Damn Early Edition

The clown car is now complete.

Of course, there's exactly zero chance that The Donald stays in the contest long enough to actually file disclosure papers with the FEC. He's got thirty days to do that, plus two more or less automatic 45-day extensions. With four months to play with, that takes us to October, by which time he'll have pulled the plug. In the meantime he gets exactly what he wants: the opportunity to strut and preen in the spotlight while people paid toadies pretend that he's meaningful and significant.

This does a disservice to the real candidates in the race. Candidates of substance, of experience, candidates who have real policy achievements they can point to. Whether or not those policy achievements were good things or not is open to debate. But people like Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and yes, even Mike Huckabee have earned a place at the table. Feckless nitwits like Trump haven't.

Be that as it may, though, it's that time again. Time for America's political parties, all across the spectrum, to club together and figure out who they're going to put forward for the office of President of the United States.

The stakes are high ... though not necessarily for the reasons you think. Yes, all the usual things are at stake: Supreme Court nominations, legislative action, the normal stuff. But there's also a historical dimension.

Whoever wins in November 2016 is going to get an absolute boatload of unearned credit.

Why, you ask?

Check out a time history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, plotted on a logarithmic scale:


I'd like to draw your attention to the behavior since 1940. From 1940 to about 1965, there was a period of fairly steady expansion. Then from 1965 to about 1985, a period of leveling-off. From 1985 to 2000, another expansion. Since 2000, another leveling-off.

There are policy explanations, of course, and proponents of the policies in effect during expansions will surely tout them. But there are also longer-term cycles at work, and developments that political policy has little to do with ... and we're primed for another expansion. It will probably get underway sometime between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021. The party of the occupant of the White House will try to claim the lion's share of the credit, earned or otherwise.

So the question remains ... who will that someone be?

For now, the Democratic Party's contest looks simpler, so that's where I'll start. (Numbers from Pollster. To keep the lists to a manageable size, I'll omit anyone under the 2% threshold.)

Hillary Clinton, 59.5%. While party unity can be a good thing, there's such a thing as too much unity. There needs to be at least some fractious debate during a primary, or the candidate is weakened. But that's beside point anyway. My issue with Clinton is the same as my issue with Jeb Bush -- there's been a Clinton or a Bush in the Presidential conversation since 1980. 1980! Two families have dominated Federal electoral politics for nearly forty years. This. Is. Not. GOOD. If you don't want an oligarchy, you kind of need to stop voting for oligarchs.

Bernie Sanders, 12.2%. Clinton's token opposition from the Left. I say "token", because I don't believe Sanders can pull enough support from the "center" part of the Democratic center-left coalition to win.

Joe Biden, 11.2%. Biden may make a race of it yet, but it's even odds that he decides to hang 'em up. The man is understandably heart-broken just right now, and may not have the fire and the thunder left for a hard campaign.

The Republican Party's list is considerably more active, and more interesting to talk about.

Marco Rubio, 11.7% No, pay attention. This isn't a continuation of the above list. It's just that there are a heck of a lot of Republicans going for the brass ring, and really, at this stage the polling really doesn't tell us much. The people at the top of the field probably have the "legs" to make a real challenge of it, but it's going to be a hard slog.

Jeb Bush, 10.9%. See? This is what I was going on about with Clinton above. We just can't seem to quit 'em. Although to be fair, as a former Governor, he's earned a right to be in the conversation. But I don't have to like it.

Scott Walker, 10.6%. And there's not a whole lot of daylight separating the top spots. Walker and Bush are duking it out for the "Seasoned Republican Governor" spot, while Carson and Rubio are still in the mix.

Ben Carson, 10.2%. And even amongst these four, their supporters only account for about 43% of the response field. It's going to be a wild ride, just like last time, with a succession of also-rans peaking and flaming out all through the Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Mike Huckabee, 8.8%. That said, while we're going to see some shake-outs from the Top Ten, I kind of suspect the Top Five will all be around for the Big Show in January. They've all rounded up enough financial support to make it through Super Tuesday, at a minimum.

Rand Paul, 8.4%. Sadly, I suspect Senator Paul will likely be one of the casualties. I say "sadly" because while I don't always (maybe even often) agree with him, I respect him. I respect a legislator who has the fortitude for an old-school, hold-the-floor filibuster. But since he doesn't have a "pocket billionaire" funding his campaign, he probably won't be able to go the distance.

Ted Cruz, 6.2%. So, we're all agreed now that "natural born" is perfectly well satisfied by jus sanguinis? By having an American parent? Sweet.

Chris Christie, 4.3%. He's not the lowest-ranked former governor in the race ... but he soon will be.

Carly Fiorina, 4.2%. I'll admit, I haven't paid much attention to Fiorina's policy views. I was too busy paying attention to her spectacular ineptitude at Hewlett-Packard. She took over an industry giant that made the finest hand-held computing devices known to Man, and left a smoldering pile of wreckage. Yeah, that's the kind of executive experience we really need in the Oval Office...

Rick Perry, 2.7%. Do not discount this man. His performance in the 2012 campaign debates was a bizarre anomaly. Expect him to bide his time, and quietly collect support from the flame-outs as they occur. He'll have swapped places with Christie on this list by the end of the summer.

Rick Santorum, 2.2%. In a normal GOP year, "It's His Turn" is powerful mojo. As the 2012 runner-up, you'd expect Santorum to be polling higher this time around ... except that this is no ordinary year. They've been out of office long enough for panic to begin brewing. The GOP is going to go one of two ways. They're either going to go for electability, or they're going to go for an ideological firebrand. I'm not sure Santorum fills either bill.

John Kaisch, 2.1%. OK, so Christie has room yet to fall to get to lowest-ranked Governor on this list.

The Donald, 1.9%. I include Captain Combover just to indicate that the bucket has clanged noisily off the bottom of the well. And there isn't any water down there. Well's dry, folks.

And that's where we are. The Democrats don't have enough candidates, and the Republicans have too many. It's liable to still be that way this Fall, when things begin to heat up in earnest.

And remember, as I always say: Vote early, and vote often!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part L: Epilogue, Part 5: What Have We Learned?

--FIRST -PREV

"What have we learned, Palmer?"

"I don't know, sir."

"I don't &#!*@%$ know either. I guess we learned not to do it again."

-- Two CIA Officers from Burn After Reading

Fifteen decades later, what have we learned? Not nearly as much as the price on the box says it's worth, that's for damn sure.

The price ... the price was high. High enough to be nearly incomprehensible today. Even in purely monetary terms, it was staggering. Direct wartime costs amounted to $2.3 billion. Veterans' benefits -- benefits that, mind you, we were paying into the 1970s and 1980s to some wives and children -- amounted to $3.289 billion. Interest payments on the debt incurred during wartime came to $1.2 billion. The Federal debt at the end of the war stood at $2.7 billion, indicating that just about all wartime expenses were met by borrowing.

That's some serious cash. That's the Manhattan Project, Project Apollo, and just about everything in between, all rolled together. When you consider that the net worth of all slaves was in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars, it would have been cheaper -- far cheaper -- to buy out the slaveholders' interests. Cheaper, and far less bloody. Which brings us to the other kind of price.

Nearly three million Americans saw combat. Of those, over six hundred thousand died. About half that, three hundred thousand or so, were wounded. Right about a quarter of the South's men of military age were dead.

So ... what have we learned? I can hope that we have at a minimum learned not to do it again. But seeing all the Tea Partiers bleating "Secede!" at the least provocation, I despair of even that much.

But despair is a sin. The lessons are there, for those that care to look. I'm not going to pretend like I've got it all figured out -- I strongly suspect no one does --  but a few things have become clear to me over the last five years.

First, and this is no real surprise, the Lost Cause is utterly bankrupt intellectually. It hasn't the remotest basis in fact. Of the points listed in the article, the second is only tangentially true, and the fifth irrelevant. The others are hogwash, delusional fantasy, or outright lies.

(1) Southern commanders seemed better than their Union counterparts, but only because the South enjoyed the early advantage of putting their best officers in key posts.
(2) The Union's superiority in resources and manpower -- true, but this covers up the real reason.
(3) The loser's bleat -- we only lost because we were robbed. Buy a clue: Longstreet was right about Pickett's Charge, and Lee damned well ought to have listened.
(4) Horsefeathers. States' Rights to do what? The seceding States were perfectly clear why they seceded. This is an after-the-fact face-saving lie.
(5) Irrelevant. "Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prospers, none dare call it treason." We say the American Revolution was justified, because we won. Secession failed, and therefore wasn't.
(6) I've actually never met anyone who could claim this with a straight face. We've made this much progress -- as recently as fifty years ago, a lot of people in the South took the hogwash that "slavery was a benign institution" more or less seriously.

Be that as it may -- down here in the South, you will always and forever run into people that will say the Civil War wasn't about slavery. A small part of me sympathizes. It's a hard thing to admit that your great-to-the-Nth grandfather fought for an evil cause. No one likes to think that. Nonetheless, it's true. Well, individual soldiers fought for a whole bunch of reasons. In the end, he ends up fighting for the man on his right and his left, because that's the way you come through with a whole skin. But their officers, their leaders -- as I've said before, and repeatedly, they were crystal clear about why they did what they did. Secession was about slavery. To believe anything else is to ignore everything the secessionists themselves said or wrote.

Second, this experience has reinforced a saying I learned many, many years ago during my days as an officer cadet: Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. General Scott's overall strategy for the Union was shrink-wrapped around logistics: secure the Ohio River valley and its railroads, secure the Mississippi, isolate and starve the enemy. It set a pattern we still follow. It was more or less irrelevant whether or not the Tiger was ten times better than a Sherman, because there was always an eleventh and twelfth Sherman. We seek to ensure adequate arms and supplies for our own soldiers, and just as diligently seek to deny the same to our enemies. If you've got plenty of food, ammo, and gas and your enemy is scrounging; well, that may not be victory, but you can sure see it from here. Had they ever been able to get England off dead center, and use the Royal Navy to guarantee free navigation to Southern ports ... but that was never going to happen. It was a faint hope until late summer of 1863, but a dead one afterwards. In any event, the South wasn't crushed by numbers, or the perfidy of some of its officers, it was strangled by a slow, patient encirclement. Just as General Winfield Scott intended.

Third, and this came as something of a surprise, the battles themselves were far less interesting than I thought they'd be. After a while, they all began to run together. That said, you do see a difference between how the armies moved as the war progressed. Early on, they'd just run pell-mell at one another. Then, in late 1863 or early 1864, they began to emphasize flanking movements and de-emphasize frontal attacks. That was an interesting development. Officers began to realize the power of the weapons they commanded, and how they must be employed on the battlefield. And you begin to see in the siege of Petersburg in late 1864 and early 1865 a microcosm of what would happen on a continental scale only fifty years afterwards. Even then, though, the movements and decisions between the battles were, and are, what have a lasting effect. As Sun Tzu once said, a battle is won or lost before the armies ever see one another. It's purely a pity Master Sun's wisdom wasn't widely available in 1860.

Fourth, and last, it's not really over. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, it is still up to us to carry on the work left undone. It is still up to us to see to it that the words "all men are created equal" have real weight and meaning, and isn't just an empty phrase. That "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are things that each and every one of us can have and use. There are some who, upon realizing this, say that the war can still be lost.

I shun such defeatism. Rather, let us work to see to it that we truly experience a new birth of freedom. Six hundred thousand ghosts demand it. They expect us to take up the standard, worn and frayed though it be, and not rest until we've done our part such that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.

It's a worthy goal. And a life worthily spent. Truly, what more can a man want?

[Ed. note -- and that's a wrap. Thanks for taking this journey with me. In coming months, I'll be taking a spin through the articles, doing some light editing and fixing broken links.]

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLIX: Epilogue, Part 4: The Curious Case Of Dade County

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." -- Karl Marx

And then there was the time, late in the War, that a county seceded from Georgia.

With respect to Georgia, Dade County defines remote. In the mid-19th century, swamps and forests make it impossible to reach Dade County by a road entirely within Georgia. You had to go through either Tennessee or Alabama to get there. And it's not like Dade County actually had anything worth having. For that matter, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia had a bit of trouble remembering to whom Dade County actually belonged to begin with. The County government thought it belonged to Georgia, though, and when Georgia's demand for troops became too onerous, Dade County adopted an Ordinance of Secession, and bolted.

There's no record that the Georgia Legislature ever noticed. To be fair, they were preoccupied with more pressing matters, such as being where General Sherman wasn't. Time passed.

The war ended. The Confederate armies surrendered, and the soldiers went home. But Dade County either forgot -- or deliberately declined -- to re-unify with Georgia. Maps of Georgia would commonly have a notch in the corner, where Dade County ought to have been. Beyond that, no one really cared.

More time passed.

Men from Dade County volunteered to fight in the armies of the United States, first against Spain, and then against the Kaiser. A few oldsters thought that funny, since so far as any of them could remember, they weren't strictly speaking part of the United States.

Still more time passed.

Someone decided that it'd be nice to have a road to Dade County that lay entirely within Georgia. The discovery of coal deposits probably had something to do with the decision. They built it. The citizens of Dade County paid Georgia taxes. Just about everyone had forgotten the unpleasant secession business, and men from Dade County again volunteered to fight for the United States against Germany and Japan.

It was more or less at this point that a county historian discovered the old ordinance, in a disused file cabinet.

The government of Dade County, circa 1946, was astonished to learn that they were still, legally, in a state of rebellion against a government that now held a global monopoly on atomic weapons. This was an ... alarming realization, to say the least. But hey, late reunification is better than never, right? They promptly adopted an ordinance of reunion, with both Georgia and the United States, and sent it along to President Truman.

Truman was a good sport about it. All's well that ends well, as they say. And now that Dade County is safely and legally reunited with Georgia, the map of Georgia is once again whole, and properly pointy in all the right places. No one would ever again leave Dade County off.

Ummm ... guys?



Monday, April 27, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVIII: Epilogue, Part 3: ... And Dropping Them

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"I yield to no one precedence in love for the South. But because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy." -- Woodrow Wilson, March 1880

Is it possible to lose a war but win the peace?

Of course it is. You need look no further than Germany or Japan. If you had told one of the survivors, starving in blasted-out ruins in 1945, that in only a few short decades their nations would stand near the top of the entire world in economic growth, they'd have thought you insane. Looking back from 1970, though, it was fairly clear: Japan and Germany, far from being impoverished conquered provinces, were very wealthy and very free. They both lost their war, and by 1970 no one was all that heart-broken about it.

(As an aside, it's ironic that a liberalized and democratized Germany and Japan have achieved most of the goals that their totalitarian masters had set for influence and prosperity. But I digress.)

So it was with the South, more or less. They lost the war for independence, yes. But the patience of the Northern taxpayer would not last forever. And there were projects the Northern taxpayer had no real interest in undertaking.

The failures of Reconstruction, then, can be divided into two broad categories. First, the things the Congress never really tried to do; and second, the things it did, but stopped doing after a while.

The fundamental problem surrounding the abolition of slavery was this: aside from freedom, nothing had been given the freedman. He owned nothing, and had few to no skills. What was he supposed to do with himself? How would he earn a living?

There were half-hearted efforts by the Freedmen's Bureau to address this problem. Vocational training, for instance. And efforts to get them included in the Homestead Act. Get them a fair start with property and skills. Unfortunately the effort was starved and stymied from the start. The Freedmen's Bureau was basically gutted by 1869, and closed outright in 1872.

Even in its failure, though, there were successes. Schools and colleges were established all over the country, first simply to teach them to read and write, and then to address their needs for higher learning. And it was able to offer assistance and advice to freedmen who were adjusting to their new relationships, employee to employer rather than slave to master.

But this effort to address the fundamental issue -- that the freedman owned nothing and knew little -- was barely a drop in the bucket. And after 1872, Congress more or less forgot about the whole thing until the 1960s.

That leads us to the other reason for Reconstruction's failure: Northerners got tired of paying for, and staffing, a military occupation of the Southern states. You see, Lee was fundamentally right: the North would get tired of being on a war footing, sooner or later. It took ten to fifteen years to get there, though, far too long for the Confederacy to get any benefit.

In the immediate aftermath, the Republican super-majority in Congress could do what it damned well pleased. And often did, despite Jackson's veto. (Again, I think Lincoln would have handled this better ... but we'll never know.) The Radicals wanted, and got, a harsh version of Reconstruction that was essentially an army of occupation sitting on the South until ... well, until the North tired of the effort. While an army of occupation was sitting on top of them, they had to pay attention to things like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They had to pay attention to voting rights. That doesn't mean they liked it.

And so, to all intents and purposes, the minute the North looked away ... the South returned to a passable version of status quo ante. Black Codes were passed that were very little different from the Slave Codes they replaced. This system mutated a little over the years, to become the Jim Crow laws that basically ruled the South from the 1870s to the 1960s, 1970s, and in some places even later. The system that was in place by the turn of the century was very little different from that which had been in place forty years before.

There were a few differences, though. People were acknowledged to own themselves. And those who could get out, who could move North or West, found life a little more pleasant. Not a whole lot, because discrimination was rife in those places as well ... but once the soldiers left, the South re-imposed their preferred social order.

And so it was that by 1880 or thereabouts, a young Southerner could well celebrate the Confederacy's ruin. Well, not "celebrate" as such. But like Wilson, they could have both the advantages of being part of the Union, and enjoy the privileges of class that their fathers and grandfathers had known.

They had lost the war, but they had also won the peace.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVII: Epilogue, Part 2: Picking Up The Pieces...

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"Laws are to govern all alike -- those opposed as well as those who favor them." -- President Ulysses S. Grant, March 4, 1869

Reconstruction meant a lot of things.

Politically, it meant the re-integration of the Union. Physically, it literally meant the re-construction of cities, rail lines, and other infrastructure that had been blasted to rubble. It had many other meanings as well, so many that it's probably a hopeless task to cover it in one, two, or a hundred essays. The fact that it's still a matter of contention a century and a half later should tell you how complicated and convoluted a matter it is.

If it was a failure, it was also a limited success. I'd like to talk about the successes first.

The longest-lasting success was a fundamental alteration of the nature of the United States. Originally, the United States were envisioned as a compact amongst independent, sovereign States; banded together for the purpose of securing and protecting their independence first from Great Britain, and then from anyone else who might take an interest. And, by and large, this was how the United States of America thought of themselves, up until the 1860s.

That nation died in the conflagration that began at Fort Sumter and ended at Appomattox.

The United States that emerged from the Civil War thought of itself -- unquestioningly and unflinchingly -- as a single Union. One nation. Indivisible. You've probably said those three words fairly often, and may not have given much thought to what they meant. It's an expression of a new national identity, an identity Americans didn't actually have before. The Union veterans who returned home still felt an attachment to their home States, to be sure, but they'd stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers-in-arms from other States, and had fought and bled for the same cause. The former Confederates who returned home could say the same. Like Shelby Foote once said, North and South alike, they no longer thought of the United States as an "are", they thought of it as an "is".

More to the point, though, the War established the supremacy of the Federal government over the States. It's pointless to elaborate. What was Appomattox, if not the ultimate expression of Federal supremacy? While you hear grumbling from time to time about States' Rights, and while we still have clear divisions of power amongst and between the various levels of government in this country, where the Federal tier asserts supremacy, they get it.

The next longest-lasting success were the three so-called Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Constitutional Amendments are important. The Constitution is the Law of the Land. What the Constitution permits is allowed everywhere, what it forbids is allowed nowhere. So when an Amendment adds a new thou shalt or thou shalt not, that's kind of a big deal. The Reconstruction Era added three new chapters to our fundamental law.

The Thirteenth Amendment was the only one President Lincoln lived to see. This was the amendment that banned slavery, everywhere in the United States and for all time. It was presented to the States for ratification on January 31, 1865. Lincoln didn't see it come into force, though; with its ratification by Georgia on December 8th, it was declared to have become law by Secretary of State William Seward on December 18th.

The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be far more important, though, and far more sweeping. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is probably the most-litigated section in the entire Constitution. Citizenship, due process, privileges and immunities, equal protection -- all of those come from the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. It, along with the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," were bitterly contested by the South. But both Amendments entered force anyway: the Fourteenth in 1868 and the Fifteenth in 1870. Whether or not the spirit of the law has always been observed is open to question .. but the law, once on the books, could be litigated by people demanding equal protection under the law.

Another of the successes of Reconstruction is less obvious. It's an old story. Revolution is followed by counter-revolution, coup, junta, in an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge. This was largely avoided after the Civil War. The soldiers were simply sent home, with none of them being tried for treason. Well, poor old Henry Wirz was hanged for commanding the Andersonville prison camp, held to account for the hell-hole it became. But besides him, not a single Confederate officer danced his last jig at the end of a rope. Lincoln didn't want to exact revenge, he wanted reconciliation. That is why he instructed Grant to offer Lee the terms he did, and Sherman offered similar terms to Johnson. The defeated rebels were simply allowed to pick up the pieces, and get on with their lives. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty of rancor in the hearts of ex-Confederates ... but with time, and generations, it does tend to fade. There's still ribbing between Northerner and Southerner, but it's verbal and not physical. We've managed to avoid the endless cycle of revenge that has riven so many countries over the years.

Of course, that masks some spectacular instances of post-War violence. But that's for next time, when we talk about Reconstruction's failures.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVI: Epilogue, Part 1 -- What If ...

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"Buzzard's guts, man! I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes." -- President Abraham Lincoln (as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis)

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater on April 15, 1865. And that's about all I have to say on that subject. A great deal has already been written about it, after all, and I don't think I have anything especially new or interesting to add to that conversation. Except ... for a curious observation.

Have you ever considered the fact that all of our Presidents who wielded sweeping wartime powers came to bad ends?

Abraham Lincoln basically invented the wartime Presidency.  Invented it out of whole cloth, if we're being truly honest about it. Certainly there's no explicit definition of the powers Lincoln wielded within the Constitution. There's a splendid scene in the recent movie Lincoln, where Daniel Day-Lewis waxes eloquent on his powers, and their somewhat dubious Constitutionality. I'm paraphrasing a little, but he says in effect, "I took an oath to protect the Constitution, so I decided that in order to uphold that oath, I needed to have these powers." And, for the most part, no one called him on it. No one called him on it, so it became precedent. In World War I, and again in World War II, Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, respectively, laid hold of those same powers.

And the record shows: Lincoln was assassinated, Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, and Roosevelt died scarcely a month before the victory in Europe.

It's almost enough to make you wonder if Someone didn't want them to last long enough to see peacetime...

And so we've never had the question answered: Can a President who's held so much untrammeled power come down the scale, and govern as a peacetime President?

It's probably just as well. The answer might have been "no." But let's assume the answer is "yes," at least in Lincoln's case, so we can move on to a very popular matter of speculation. To wit -- what would Lincoln's second term have actually looked like, were he not assassinated? Would Lincoln have fared better than Johnson?

The second question there is far easier to answer, so I'll answer it first with a confident and assured "yes." Lincoln was a damn sight better politician than Johnson, a better negotiator, and far more pragmatic. And more to the point, Lincoln, as the President who saved the Union, had an immense store of political capital upon which he could draw to get his way with Congress. The question that occupies us, and which brings us back to the first question above, is this -- on which issues would Lincoln spend that capital?

I have no real idea how to answer that question. I do know this, though; at least in its rough outlines, Presidential Reconstruction closely mirrored what Lincoln wanted. No harsh reprisals, and political re-integration into the Union as soon as practicable. He'd have run into Radical Republican opposition on this, just as Johnson did. But, Lincoln being Lincoln, he'd have done some horse-trading with them, giving them a little of what they wanted so he'd get most of what he wanted.

I think this is what Stephen Carter's book The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln gets a little bit wrong. I'm sure that Thaddeus Stevens would be angry enough at Lincoln to spit nails. But Lincoln is far too slippery, and far too pragmatic, to be caught so easily. Plus there's the aforementioned political capital, some of which he could spend defensively. He'd have a fractious relationship with the Radical wing of his party, but what else is new? Besides which, while the Republicans held a veto-proof majority in Congress, the Radicals didn't. Lincoln could play off the factions against one another long enough ... well, long enough. He only had to keep up the dance for four more years. Compared to the last four, it'd be a cake walk.

In this scenario, I think it's likely that Reconstruction wouldn't have been as extensive or as sweeping, but because Lincoln's reach didn't outrun his grasp, its effects may have lasted longer. I'm not sure exactly what form that would have taken. A better-funded Freedman's Bureau, perhaps, and/or a longer-lasting one. Smaller civil rights gains, but gains that actually bit and held, as opposed to being rapidly rolled back. Radicals chafed at Lincoln's "lack of vision", rather than seeing that Lincoln had little interest in that which could not be realistically achieved.

It would have been a contentious second term. Second terms almost always are. And Lincoln wouldn't have had any measurable appetite for a third one, so someone else takes over in 1868. Probably Grant, because he stood as high in everyone's esteem as anyone else did, and I don't see much of anything changing that.

But we'll never know. A disgruntled actor at Ford's Theater made sure of that. For good or ill, that's the world John Wilkes Booth left us. And so, we'll always wonder: What if...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLV: The End, Part Two

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"That was an order! Steiner's attack was an order! How dare you ignore my orders?!?"
  -- Adolf Hitler, 4/22/1945

On April 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln sat at a desk. This wasn't especially unusual. He'd done so just about every day of his adult life, either as a student, attorney, Congressman or President. The fact he was sitting at a desk wasn't especially unusual, but the details -- at which desk, in particular -- were. Because this desk was in a particular city, at a particular place ... the city, Richmond ... the building, the Confederate White House.

Davis had departed in some haste a few days earlier, and the Confederate armies were in headlong retreat along the Appomattox River. Lincoln was sitting at the desk so recently occupied by his intractable adversary, contemplating what would come after. The war wasn't over yet, but it soon would be.

Green Eagle brought up a point that bears some examination. It's arguable whether or not history repeats itself, but there are definitely echoes, if you should care enough to listen for them. Jefferson Davis' call for eternal resistance has echoes eighty years hence, when Adolf Hitler bellowed incoherently at his senior generals in the bunker, raving about orders given to armies that no longer existed, except within his imagination. Of course, Hitler was taking up to nine injections per day of a witch's brew called Vitamultin, a frightening concoction devised by his "physician" Dr. Morell. Methamphetamine was but one of the ingredients. So, if you ever wondered why the Third Reich's overall strategy looked like the work of a hobo on crank ... yeah. Turns out, there's a reason for that.

Davis had no such excuse. Well, maybe he got hold of some moldy rye bread. I've heard that can make you see purple monkeys, among other things. Or maybe it was just stubborn pride. Pride's a hell of a drug. It can make a man do -- and say --  incredibly stupid things.

Lee was also a proud man, and stubborn, but not to that degree. He still had an army of sorts, and the means to resist. While his army was reeling from hammer-blow after hammer-blow during the retreat, the retreat never quite degenerated into a rout. There were supplies ahead, and ammunition. Maybe even a defensible position.

It's purely a shame that Phil Sheridan got there first.

And, at long last, that tore it. Lee was willing to resist as long as there were the means for doing so. But now? A good many of his men were unarmed. Those that were armed were desperately short of ammunition. No one had much food to speak of. Arms, ammunition, food; an army must have these to function as such. He now had none, and no hope of obtaining more.

It was more or less at this point that General Grant offered terms of surrender.

Once again, Grant here fails to live up to his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender", but this time it was at the behest of his Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln wanted him to offer generous terms. Officers could keep their sidearms. Officers and men who owned their horses could take them, too, and no one would examine that claim very closely. It was planting season, after all, and a surrendered population needs to be able to feed itself.

Lee said he'd rather die a thousand deaths than surrender ... but for the sake of his men, he accepted these terms, knowing he'd never get a better deal if he lived to be a hundred.

On April 9th, then, the Army of Northern Virginia stacked its arms and ceased to exist. Its men went home on parole.

Sporadic fighting would continue for months, here and there. But once word trickled through the South that Lee had given up ... Everyone was heartily sick and tired of fighting, of the privations of war. If Lee had surrendered, they they, too could surrender with their honor intact. But it would take time for the news to get around.

Joseph Johnston surrendered to Sherman later in the month of April. Other Confederate forces would surrender, in fits and starts as they got the news, all through the summer. The very last Confederate unit to surrender was the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah on November 6th. Importantly, Shenandoah surrendered to the Royal Navy rather than the US Navy, because her captain feared facing piracy charges.

Davis managed to evade capture for a while, but only for a while. Little more than a month after Lee's surrender, Davis was captured in Georgia.

What you called it depended upon whose side you were on. Some called it the Civil War. Others the War Between the States. But whatever you might have called it, it was over. Nearly three million Americans served, and over six hundred thousand died.

And now, the people who were left would have to clean up the mess.

[Ed. Note: There will be a few "Epilogue" chapters to come, dealing with Reconstruction and other things, so we're not quite done yet.]

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Cold Iron

by Rudyard Kipling

"Gold is for the mistress -- silver for the maid --
 Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all."

So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- shall be master of you all!"

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid them all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron -- Cold Iron -- was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
"What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?"
"Nay!" said the Baron, "mock not at my fall,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown --
 Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown."
"As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
"Here is Bread and here is Wine -- sit and sup with me.
 Eat and drink in Mary's Name, the whiles I do recall,
 How Iron -- Cold Iron -- can be master of men all!"

He took the Wine and blessed it, He blessed and brake the Bread,
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
"See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
 Show Iron -- Cold Iron -- to be master of men all."

"Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
 Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
 I forgive thy treason -- I redeem thy fall --
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

"Crowns are for the valiant -- sceptres for the bold!
 Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!"
"Nay!" said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all!
 Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLIV: The End, Part One

--FIRST -PREV NEXT-

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war will speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

"With malice for none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

-- President Abraham Lincoln, March 4th, 1865

By his second Inauguration, Lincoln was at long last able to begin thinking about after. Grant had Lee bottled up in Petersburg and Richmond. Sherman was marching at will in the Carolinas with no effective opposition. Sure, Joseph E. Johnston led a force shadowing Sherman, but while it was a force that marched with good order and discipline, its military capability was more theoretical than actual. Johnston had actually said as much in a letter to Lee after the Battle of Bentonville -- "I can do no more than annoy him."

The Confederacy was falling apart.

Its legislature had already essentially given up. On the 18th of March, the Confederate Congress adjourned sine die -- meaning, the Speaker adjourned without specifying a date they would reconvene. The dread secret no one dared breathe, but that everyone nevertheless knew, was that there would never be another session. Most of the Confederacy's civilian leadership was taking the opportunity the get gone while they still could.

Its army had, and hadn't, given up. Lee should have had about ninety thousand men to resist Grant's hundred-fifty-thousand. Should have, except that about two-thirds of them had deserted. This left Lee with thirty thousand men to hold just over fifty miles of line. An assault at three-to-two odds is a bloodbath for the attacker. An assault at five-to-one ... not so much.

By mid-March, Lee had one chance and one chance only. He knew that Sheridan was on his way from the Shenandoah with fifty thousand men, and Sherman was marching north from the Carolinas with sixty thousand more. If he waited too long, Grant would have well over two hundred thousand men at his command, while he would never have any more men than he currently had. If he was going to stage a breakout, it would have to be now.

Initially, the battle at Fort Steadman went well for the Confederacy. The forces under Confederate General John B. Gordon captured the Union works, and began directing enfilading fire on the Union trenches. But the Union counterattack was swift, sure, and effective ... so much so that Grant, who was a few miles away conferring with Lincoln, didn't know about the affair until it was all over. There were so many Union troops essentially sitting around doing nothing that it was a trivial matter to concentrate enough force to drive the assault back.

While that wasn't the final blow, it was very close to it. The Confederate army couldn't hold out much longer. When the end came at Petersburg, it came quickly.

The Battle of Five Forks would come a few days later, on the first of April. It was here that the Union finally turned the Confederate flank, and the Confederates simply did not have the manpower to stretch their line any more. The line caved, in several places. The position was no longer tenable, so Lee ordered a general retreat. He would try to lead his army west and south, along the Appomattox River, towards what he hoped would be a refuge, where he could find supplies for his men and a place to regroup.

Jefferson Davis, meanwhile, had entered a truly delusional state:

"Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities ... with an army free to move from point to point ... nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve."

"Nothing is now needed" ... with the possible exceptions of food, munitions, and soldiers; all of which are conspicuously lacking at this point in the affair. I marvel at this passage. Davis cannot possibly have believed this drivel. And yet he committed it to paper as an exhortation to the people of the Confederacy ... at least, what was left of it. But on the other other hand, Davis wasn't a man known for lying ... leaving us with the inescapable conclusion that yes, he really did believe this bit of raving lunacy, meaning that yes, he has taken leave of his senses. Or equally possibly, his reputation for military acumen wasn't all that well-deserved after all.

A West Point man he was, but evidently, he slept through all of the lectures on logistics.

Lee hadn't. Which is why he was moving his army with all due speed to where he could resupply, with Grant and Sheridan dogging his steps the whole way ...

... one last roll of the dice.