You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2021.

The New Yorker essay by Dexter Filkins on Samuel Moyn’s new book, Humane, got a lot of attention already, so I want to address only one narrow, but I think important, point: Filkins seems to me to misunderstand the aims of the United States in waging its total wars—or at least, in waging the two I’ve taught in classrooms, the Civil War and World War II.

Filkins says Sherman burned Atlanta because he “believed he was entitled to do anything in pursuit of victory … against an enemy that had begun an unjust war.”

This might be called the “don’t start none, won’t be none,” doctrine, or DSNWBND for short.

While Sherman surely believed the rebels had begun an unjust war, that belief was subsidiary to his, and President Lincoln’s, aims by the latter part of 1864. Rather than exemplifying DSNWBND, Sherman’s decision to burn Atlanta was based chiefly on what we might call the “Stay Down” doctrine (SDD)—that is, he wanted the enemy to acknowledge they were beaten, and surrender. As he wrote in his memoirs,

If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war. I knew, of course, that such a measure woudl be strongly criticised, but made up my mind to do it with the absolute certainty of its justness, and that time would sanction its wisdom.… I knew that the people of the South would read in this measure two important conclusions: one, that we were in earnest; and the other, if they were sincere in their common and popular clamor ’to die in the last ditch,’ then the opportunity would soon come.

Lincoln took a similar view of the subsequent March to the Sea: it served the purpose of demonstrating the battlefield superiority of the United States armed forces. The rebels were incapable of continuing the fight; they should realize it, and surrender. As he wrote Sherman,

Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service [that is, marching to the sea] and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole, [J.B.] Hood’s army, it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light.

For Sherman and Lincoln, waging total war in Georgia wasn’t about bringing vengeance to an enemy who had begun an unjust war (DSNWBND); it was much colder: it was about showing that the United States could no longer be resisted, and that the rebels simply must surrender (SDD). As Lincoln said, the demonstration that Sherman could divide his forces, beat Hood in the field with one part, and march unresisted to the sea with the other part, should show that the rebel forces were powerless against the United States Army in the field.

The same was true of the demand for unconditional surrender in the Second World War. Roosevelt claimed it was rooted in his, and Churchill’s, understanding of the Civil War. It did have a parallel purpose; the waging of total war in both cases exemplified SDD. But as Marc Gallicchio’s recent and excellent Unconditional notes, the demand for unconditional surrender was really rooted in Roosevelt’s, and his advisors’, reading of more recent history.

In 1942, Roosevelt and his postwar advisory committee concluded they needed to seek unconditional surrender to ensure there would be no next war of German aggression. The Nazis came to power in part on the claim that, because the German army had never been defeated on the battlefield, the German nation had never been beaten. The Treaty of Versailles, they said, represented a betrayal of the German people by their elites (under the influence of Jews and Bolsheviks). This was known as the stab-in-the-back discourse.

Roosevelt’s method of preventing a repetition of that claim was simple: make sure the German people knew, this time, that they were comprehensively beaten. And the same went for the Japanese, he reasoned. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt believed that the demonstration of unquestioned superiority on the battlefield would enable a durable peace. It would not be enough to defeat the Japenese and Germany armies; Japanese and German militarism must be revealed to be fruitless.

In both the U.S. Civil War and in U.S. pursuit of victory in World War II, the tactics of total war were justified not chiefly by the nature of the enemy (DSNWBND) but by the pursuit of a definite victory (SDD), and a durable peace.

Author: Eric Rauchway

Created: 2021-09-13 Mon 13:19



The Guardian has an interview with Frank Oz, in which the main quotation of note is this one.

I’d love to do the Muppets again but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years. They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in

Author: Eric Rauchway

Created: 2021-09-13 Mon 12:47


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers have put together a lobbying campaign to oppose parts, at least, of the $3.5 trillion plan the Democrats hope to put through Congress by the filibuster-proof process of budget reconciliation. This is the stuff that got left out of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Interestingly, the Washington Post article linked there, by Tony Romm, names some key corporations—Apple, WalMart, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Disney—in those organizations.

The NAM’s spokesman rather wonderfully says his organization is trying to defend “manufacturing families.”

Author: Eric Rauchway

Created: 2021-09-13 Mon 12:44


Greg Sargent notes that the National Task Force on Election Crises has issued a report calling for updates to the Electoral Count Act.1 These include

  • Election Timing: setting clear dates by which states must choose their electors and defining “narrow, emergency circumstances” that would allow choosing electors after Election Day.
  • State Determinations: protecting states’ ability to resolve its own post-election disputes, without involving Congress (this gets into the “safe harbor” provision discussed in Schickler, Bimes, and Mickey; see note)
  • [what I’m calling] The Pence Proviso: making it clear that the Veep serves a limited, ceremonial role and can’t make resolve disputes.
  • Defining plausible objections: making it clear how serious an objection must be before a member of Congress raises it.
  • Process: giving clear procedures for dispute resolution in Congress.

    The Task Force notes “these updates would convey no partisan advantage or disadvantage,” which I think it would be nice to believe. But inasmuch as one party is particularly open to people who want to threaten violence if they don’t get their way, it probably would favor democrats.

    While we’re at it, we should revisit the Presidential Transition Act, whose ambiguous provision requiring the General Services Administrator to “ascertain” the “apparently successful candidate” allowed Emily Murphy to hold up the transition in 2020.



Eric Schickler, Terri Bimes, and Rob Mickey wrote about the Electoral Count Act in connection with the 2000 election.

Author: Eric Rauchway

Created: 2021-09-13 Mon 12:40


Taking the substance of Stalin’s War aside, Serhii Plokhy’s review of Sean McMeekin’s new book is a model of academic understatement and good manners.

Near the start of the review, Plokhy explains,

when you look at the war from the perspective of its end rather than its beginning, it is Stalin who emerges as the main beneficiary

Historians will recognize this remark as a warning: the book is shaped by teleology. Plokhy repeats the warning a few lines later:

The image of Stalin as consistently dominant in the war is achieved by projecting the power he acquired at the end of the conflict back into the war years as a whole.

History does not work this way. We would not call the Great War “Wilson’s War” simply because, by 1918, the United States had become the world’s premier financial and military power, and it would be nonsense to read the war backward as if it represented a triumph of Wilson’s diplomacy. Anyone who knows the history of U.S. involvement in that war knows that Wilson changed his mind, and his policy, several times in response to a world situation that would not cooperate with his preferences.

The same is true of Stalin and the Second World War, as Plokhy indicates.

The Soviet leader emerges as much more powerful than is suggested by his dismal diplomatic and military performance in the early stages of the war or by his inability to negotiate any geopolitical preferences with the western allies at Yalta beyond the territories already occupied by the Red Army first in 1939-40 and then in 1944-45.

One might add Stalin’s inability to forge an alliance with Britain in the 1930s and his refusal to heed intelligence warning of Operation Barbarossa.

Plokhy notes without comment McMeekin’s belief that Churchill and Roosevelt should have negotiated a peace with Hitler.

And he concludes by saying, “the author is … right to suggest that his is a new look at the conflict, which poses new questions and, one should add, provides new and often unexpected answers to the old ones.”

It is a most polite review.

As Joel Silbey used to say, “its motto is not ‘the paper of record,’ it’s ‘all the news that’s fit to print,’ which implies something rather more subjective.”

The New York Times ran an article by Patricia Mazzei, Benjamin Mueller, and Robert Gebeloff on Florida’s response to COVID-19 arguing that “Florida shows that even a state that made a major push for vaccinations … can be crushed by the Delta variant.”

I put an ellipsis in that quotation to make it clearer. In the ellipsis goes an inexplicable qualifier: “—Florida ranks 21st among states and Washington, D.C., in giving people of all ages at least one shot—”

Twenty-first out of fifty-one is not high.

And “at least one shot” isn’t much in terms of immunity agains the Delta variant.

The article contains these two immediately adjacent statements:

Hospitals have said upward of 90 percent of their patients have been unvaccinated. Exactly why the state has been so hard-hit remains an elusive question.

It does not seem all that elusive, given the immediately prior statement.

It is elusive as to why one should have written such an article this way. In the Florida press, one can find ample evidence that the state has not made a “major push” for vaccination. Just two days ago, the Orlando Sentinel carried this story, which begins,

Gov. Ron DeSantis has crisscrossed the state…promoting a treatment for people who already have COVID-19. But the last time he held an event specifically to encourage getting vaccinated was four months ago. Instead, he’s downplayed the vaccines…

That is, DeSantis has been promoting Regeneron monocolonal antibodies aggressively; not vaccines.

DeSantis has opposed mask mandates in schools, threatening to withhold funding and pursuing defiant local officials in court.

DeSantis also barred vaccine requirements by executive order, and was backed by the legislature, although that ban too has wound up in court.

As the New York Times article says,

Florida’s pandemic data, more scant since the state ended its declared Covid-19 state of emergency in June, reveals only limited information about who is dying.

Here too, DeSantis’s decisions have been consequential, although the NYT’s article does not mention it. As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel points out,

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public on the gravest health threat the state has ever faced.

That is, DeSantis’s administration has made that data scant and uninformative.

It is not difficult to understand why such a state should be suffering a catastrophic new wave of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that have reached tragic and record highs.

Florida on Thursday reported 21,765 more COVID-19 cases and 901 deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data.

All but two of the newly reported deaths occurred after July 25, with about 78% of those people dying in the past two weeks, according to Herald calculations of data published by the CDC. The majority of deaths happened during Florida’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the delta variant.

It is the largest single-day increase to the death total in the state’s COVID pandemic history.

It is strange that the New York Times would depict the story as inexplicable.

Author: Eric Rauchway

Created: 2021-08-29 Sun 14:30


This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."