William Tecumseh Sherman, “Memoirs” (May1861-March 1864): The Problem of Occupation

shermanThe next section (continued from last post) of William T. Sherman’s Memoirs cover the first two and a half years of the Civil War, including Sherman’s involvement in the First Battle of Bull Run, his nervous breakdown and pessimism while working to expel Confederates from Kentucky, the Battle of Shiloh, the Vicksburg Campaign, and the Chattanooga Campaign.  The final of these were significant from Sherman’s theory of warfare because its epilogue, the Meridian campaign was led by Sherman and largely involved putting into practice total war.  Since the war’s front lines moved so quickly in the Tennessee and Mississippi campaigns, Sherman often found himself confronting the question of what to do with the cities and towns that he helped seized.  The dilemma seemed to be one between sustaining democratic values and democratic governments, property rights while at war.  Ultimately, as proven by the orders he gave during the Meridian campaign, warfare cannot be compatible with these values.  I suspect Sherman is correct on this point.  At least, modern history has seem to prove it.  I do not know much about the Durutti Column and other efforts to fight wars with democratic values.  But the Durutti Column was fighting a war of defense and was rooted in communities with a functioning anarchy.  Sherman was trying to suppress a rebellion.  In most cases, wars are fought against a people and Sherman’s logic is necessary.  A much better approach is to eliminate war, a goal a soldier like Sherman had little interest in thinking about.

As for the Battle of Bull Run, Sherman is skeptical about labeling it a Confederate victory at all, being really a rumble between two undisciplined armies.  “Both armies were fairly defeated, and whichever had stood fast, the other would have run.”  (199)  In the aftermath of the battle he gained some respect for Lincoln, who reviewed the troops, due to his ability to speak to the troops honestly but “full of feeling.” (207)  At the time, Sherman asked Lincoln to ensure that he never takes a top-level command, thinking instead that he would do better as part of the institution rather than its head.  Sherman certainly believed that he excelled under the leadership of Grant and faced his most traumatic times while in sole command.  That trauma came not long after Bull Run, when Sherman took command of a little more than a thousand troops in Kentucky.  In despair, he predicted that the suppression of the Confederacy in that area would take more than 60,000 troops (he later states 200,000 for the “center”).  He does not say much of anything about his frustrations of late 1861, but does document in detail how he his superiors underestimated the power that would be required to put down the rebellion.  This period certainly contributed to his reputation as a “lunatic.”  But as in many things, the lunatic is often proven right.

Often, Sherman does not write his narrative down from the perspective of the 1870s.  Especially in regards to the memory of battles (which is may be right to mistrust) he relies on his orders, letters, and formal reports to commanders.  He included them into his memoirs unedited and intact.  I was often surprised at how enjoyable and literary some of these official correspondences were.  Although written under incredible stress and sorrows, Sherman includes useful commentary (often praising his troops performance), recommendations, and personal touches.  I wonder how many other Civil War generals were able to produce such reports.  I cannot imagine some of those Southern aristocrats producing much that we would want to read 150 years later in the aftermath of a battle.  Anyway, the battle of Shiloh is given to us completely through these reports.  He only adds a defense of Grant’s performance at the end.

Between Shiloh and the Vicksburg campaign, Sherman had the chance to get a feeling for the occupation of enemy territory.  His opinion that the Southerners need to be dealt with harshly as enemies emerges very early.  In August 1862 he wrote: “This is no trifle; when one nation is at war with another, all the people of one are enemies of the other: then the rules are plain and easy of understanding.  Most unfortunately, the war in which we are now engaged has been complicated with the belief on the one hand that all on the other are not enemies.”  He adds that “not only are they unfriendly, but all who can procure arms now bear them as organized regiments, or as guerrillas.” (286)  He then recommends the wholesale looting of occupied territories of cotton, currency, and bullion.    On the same month, he gave detailed notes to the quartermaster in occupied Memphis to seize rents (but not properties) “because the United States assumes the place of trustee.” (295)  Of course he saw this as all logical and the proper implementation of the Confiscation Act, but he is nevertheless innovative in his brutal honesty about the nature of modern war.

In September 1863, Sherman extends this logic to that of the state itself, when he comments in a private letter to General Halleck, on occupation.  The heart of his argument is that no government should be established in Louisiana until the war is over.  Sherman claims knowledge of the local conditions from his time living and working and serving in New Orleans.  “They had a government so mild and paternal that they gradually forgot they had any at all, save what they themselves controlled; they asserted an absolute right to seize public moneys, forts, arms, and even to shut up the natural avenues of travel and commerce. They chose war.”  (361)  The elite cannot be easily replaced and must be forced to accept the new conditions (primarily the end of slavery).  “A civil government of the representative type would suit this class far less than a purely military rule.” (362)  The poor whites, which Sherman paints with a broad brush, are untrustworthy and easily manipulated by the elite.  The “Union men” are timid and prone to demagoguery.  They are not capable of forming a government.  The “young bloods” are basically dumb jocks who are only cut out to strive for fruitless valor on the battlefield.  In short, “a civil government . . . would be simply ridiculous.” (363)  Sherman knew that political power was backed by the gun and therefore he recommends the maintenance of a military government in Louisiana.  The justification for this requires no more than that “as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that we will do it. . . that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two, or ten, or twenty.”  (365)  Sherman identified the horrifying truth of the state and inadvertently makes the case for its abolition.

The first volume of Sherman’s Memoirs ends with his narrative on the Meridian campaign in Mississippi, which was planned and executed from the beginning as an exercise in total war by destroying the infrastructure of southern Mississippi.  But given that the Atlantic campaign and the “march to the sea” is next, I will reserve the remainder of my thoughts on this till then.

Philip K. Dick, “The Man in the High Castle” (1960): A Confucian Millenium

The U.S. victory in the Pacific war resulted in thirty years of a clear American domination over the Pacific.  The occupation of Japan, neo-colonial domination over the Phillipines, participation in the smashing of the revolution in Vietnam, and propping up the Chiang Kai-shek regime in Taiwan as the “One China” all were signs that the Pacific was an American lake.  Philip K. Dick wrote, The Man in the High Castle, which imagines the opposite, at a time when the U.S. was at its height of post-war power, before the failure in Vietnam, before the Soviet’s started to match the U.S. in the arms race, and before economic malaise fell over all of the capitalist West.  To look just at the Pacific, since 1970 the United States has faced two emerging Asian powers, both in a sense losers in the 1940s.  Japan, rising from total destruction, defeat and occupation, into the second largest economy in the world.  That position was overtaken in the last decade by China, the second great threat from East Asia.  Although I was young during the concerns about Japan’s rise, I recall people predicting the Japanese purchase of entire states, paranoia about the trade deficit, and constant anxiety over the competitive advantage provided by East Asian forms of capitalism.  None of that has changed since the 1970s and 1980s, only now the economic miracle has shifted to China.  Even in historical scholarship we find scholars suggesting that the rise of China is nothing more than a resetting of global normalcy after a few hundred years of European hegemony.  This is the thesis of ReOrient by Andre Gundre Frank.

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This threat and anxiety has been accompanied by some cultural fascination with the East.  In the old days of colonialism, some fascination existed but it was framed in the old orientialist way.  Europeans remained confident of the superiority of their thought and read Confucius or Daoist texts with the fascination masters something have for their underlines.  In this new milieu of threat, the interest in the East looks different.  Rather than mere confident curiosity, we can look to the East for answers to why they are so successful and us so weak?  This is the exact opposition of how Chinese, one hundred years ago, look at the West, which they investigated for clues to their comparative wealth and power.  Zizek gave a talk suggesting that Max Weber, if alive today, would have rewritten his book and called it “The Buddhist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.”  As evidence, he used the high number of top managers of global corporations who actively embrace Buddhism.  Since Japan’s rise, people have wondered if the Confucian system of management, based not strictly on a free labor market but networks of obligation, would not result in greater efficiencies in the labor market and helps explain East Asian success.  The Man in the High Castle predicts that the domination of East Asia over America, in this case through an alternative history where the Axis won the Second World War, would accompany the assimilation of East Asian traditions into America.  This is not a surprising outcome.   Much of the history of colonialism has been subject people reading the books their masters wrote for hope that it will help them understand their defeat.

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How we face colonialism is a function with many variables.  The first chapter of The Man in the High Castle investigates two men with very different approaches toward the occupation of the West Coast by Japan.  Frank Frink is a war veteran on the losing side and was recently fired for essentially non-collegiality.  Like many other Americans under Japanese occupation, he uses the I Ching to make decisions.  He reads these Asian texts for guidance but feels resentment at the occupation and his lot in life.  Divorced (and still in love with his wife Juliana) he starts the book at a low point in his life.  The other character we meet in the first chapter is Robert Childan.  Childan is a small business owner, running a business that sells pre-war artifact.  His biggest customers are Japanese.  He adopts their customs and clearly profits from the occupation.  He never internalizes Asian values.  Frink and Childan are two sides of the same coin.  Frink is openly hostile to the occupation but seeks wisdom from Asia in his quest for personal freedom.  He is authentic.  Childan is the opposition.  He puts on the facade of contentment but internalizes little.  He is not the reflective colonial subject, like Frink is.  Instead, he is the contemptible opportunistic.  His false image is also a bit ironic, since his major crisis in the novel deals with suggestions that his artifacts are fakes.  Just as the Japanese cannot see that he is faking his acceptance of Japanese rule, Childan can not know if his suppliers are lying to him.  However, in either case it matters little.  Childan can still sell his goods and since he will never sacrifice his financial security in support of his anti-Japanese sentiment, he will never be a threat to the occupiers.  The lie matters little for the functioning of the system.  It is Frink, who poses a real threat, ultimately using his expertise and resentment to try to spread the rumor that his former employer produced fake antiques.

These two characters provide two quests.  Childan’s question is for security and profit.  His anxiety over the authenticity of his sale items is ultimately about the survival of his business.  It does not seem to go beyond that.  He is the quintessential collaborator and profiteer.  Frink is on a search for autonomy.  This leads him to start a business making jewelry.  While the business does not go well and Frink is arrested, his mission seems to provide a true threat to the system.  Even his construction of jewelery seems to wear away on the macro-lie.  This brings us to the third quest.  This one is pursued by Frank Frink’s ex-wife Juliana.  She has become fascinated with a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is an alternative history that suggests what would have happened had the Allies won.  Importantly, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is not based on the real history of the Second World War.  It is in reality a third version of reality.  Juliana, after stopping an assassination attempt on the author of the banned book, finds the author and learns that he used the I Ching to write the book, suggesting a greater truth to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a truth that is subtlety confirmed throughout the novel in other ways.  Notice with me that Juliana is able to transcend the reality.  She is not as resentful of the occupation, even taking who she believes to be an Italian as a lover.  She is also not seeking just to survive and prosper.  She is the authentic individual, capable of rising above these more petty concerns.

Philip K. Dick, like the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, uses the I Ching to write his book.  On the surface this is simply a passive acceptance of fate.  We can make decisions based on an oracle, and by doing that set aside our personal will and freedom.  However, the characters that rely on the I Ching – Frank Frink, most notably, are some of the most assertive.  Childan, who internally resists these Asian imports, does not use it but is one of the most passive characters in the novel.  Acceptance of fate is not a path to weakness.  It is through an awareness of the forces that work against us that we can be willed to action.  The I Ching cannot provide clear answers, only hints through cryptic messages.  The interpretation of each hexagram is where our important decisions are made.  In the same way, mere acceptance of fate does not doom us to passivity, it teaches us our potential and limit and challenges us to make the best of our limits and try to transcend our limits.  Even if we accept the use of the I Ching as passive, remember that the advice it hands down can be passive or active.  More often then not the I Ching commands the user to action.  

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