May 11, 2004

Sherman to Sunni Triangle: Leave Now

shermanw.jpg
"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms
than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

At the height of the Civil War, the Union General W. T. Sherman captured Atlanta, and declared it "... to be a military encampment and ordered the civilians to leave the city. He made arrangements with Hood for safe passage of these civilians, that because of where they lived, no matter if they had Confederate or Union sympathies, they could not remain in their homes if they were within the city of Atlanta.[Citation] The civic leaders of the city protested this order but Sherman declined to rescind it. In a famous letter he set forth his reasons.

Today, with American forces engaged in a war of attrition in Iraq, one clear course, indeed the only course, is to return to a full war footing in certain areas of that country.

Should this come to pass, the most obvious operation would be the reduction of the Sunni Triangle through a massive show of force. In keeping with the current policy of limiting collateral damage, the Army would be well advised to order the area evacuated of all civilians.

Taking a page from history, if Gen. Sherman were commanding in the field today in Iraq, this might be the letter he would write to the leaders of the people in the Sunni Triangle.

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION of IRAQ in the FIELD
Sunni Triangle, Iraq
To Leaders of the Iraqi People:

Gentleman:
I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from the Sunni Triangle. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the cause, but to prepare for the future struggles in which billions of good people outside of Iraq have a deep interest.

We must have peace, not only in Iraq and America, but in all the world. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored planet.

To stop war, we must defeat the terrorist armies which are arrayed against the laws and rules of civilization that all must respect and obey.

To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose.

Now, I know from the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter; and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time.

The use of this section of Iraq for terrorist purposes is inconsistent with its potential as a home for families. There will be no manufacturers, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past year?

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.

War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country and yours deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

I know we had no hand in making this terrorist war of which you are currently the center, and I know I will make more sacrifices in Iraq than any of you to secure peace and liberty for your country.

But you cannot have peace and a division of your country. If the Iraq submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until it reaps the fate of parts of Africa, which is eternal war.

I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what we propose to do, but I assert that our military plans for this section of Iraq make it necessary for the peaceful inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.

The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it has power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone as surely as Iraq, and I believe that such is the true nature of your national feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union for Iraq. Once admit the Union, once acknowledge the authority of a national Democratic Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may.

I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion, such as swept the Islamic world into terrorism, but you can point them out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.

You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Iraq can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop terrorism, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.

We do not want your oil, or your houses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have an end to terrorism. That we will have, and if it involved the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.

You may have heretofore read public sentiment in much of our media, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better.

I myself have seen in Iraq, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies of murderers and thugs. I have seen the mass graves filled with the victims of Hussain and his henchmen.

Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-bombs, cowards and killers to desolate the lives of our soldiers, and to repress and terrorize hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under a just and Democratic Government of law.

But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.

But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow peace once more to settle over your old homes in Iraq.

Yours in haste,

W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding


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First published 2003-11-12

Posted by Vanderleun at May 11, 2004 9:57 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Whereas I firmly believe that the only morally defensible way to fight a war is total war, the war in Iraq is over. If the Iraqis still had organized armies in the field, I would agree with you whole heartedly on your suggestion.

But the war is over as far as wars go. We are now only faced with a feeble guerilla movement. It's important to kill all these guerillas and anyone who even harbors the idea of supporting them, nothing else is acceptable.

It's important to examine why Sherman displaced the Atlantans. By moving them out of the city that he was occupying, he was no longer responsible for feeding them. This had the marginal benefit of saving him a lot of trouble, but in a war where his enemy was struggling to maintain supplies, the added burden of feeding displaced Georgians was devastating to the Confederates and magnified their military and logistic problems.

I have no problem with inflicting any hardships on our enemies in Iraq, but the strategic goal is to win the support of as many Iraqis as we can, to build a stable and friendly government. If we throw everyone out in the streets, all the fence sitters in Iraq will hate the United States for as many generations as Georgians hate Sherman.

Posted by: Mike Rentner at November 13, 2003 2:16 PM

Georgians may hate Sherman but he did his job well. There hasn't been a second American civil war and southerners continue to serve disproportionately in the the American armed services (as do Native Americans, btw).

Posted by: ronnie at November 16, 2003 8:12 PM

Sherman, Patton and McCaffrey. The last of the great generals who truly understood maneuver warfare and its devasting effect. These three would of destroyed the enemy without asking for permission. AND detroyed the vestiges of their defeated and depraved society; like the palaces and Abu Griab prison. The Iraqi's would have appreciated and feared the USA even more. I am afraid we have lost the intiative and it will be tough to re-gain it any time soon.

Posted by: Tom at May 11, 2004 8:17 PM

Sherman, Patton and McCaffrey. The last of the great generals who truly understood maneuver warfare and its devasting effects. These three would of destroyed the enemy without asking for permission. AND detroyed the vestiges of their defeated and depraved society; like the palaces and Abu Griab prison. The Iraqis would have appreciated and feared the USA even more. I am afraid we have lost the intiative and it will be tough to re-gain it any time soon.

Posted by: Tom at May 11, 2004 8:18 PM

Sherman, Patton and McCaffrey. The last of the great generals who truly understood maneuver warfare and its devasting effects. These three would of destroyed the enemy without asking for permission. AND detroyed the vestiges of their defeated and depraved society; like the palaces and Abu Griab prison. The Iraqis would have appreciated and feared the USA even more. I am afraid we have lost the intiative and it will be tough to re-gain it any time soon.

Posted by: Tom at May 11, 2004 8:18 PM

McCaffrey? Are you talking about drug warrior barry McCaffrey?

Posted by: Buck Smith at May 11, 2004 8:48 PM

McCaffrey led 24th ID in the sweep west of VII Corps during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. It held the land-speed record in the Middle East until 2003 when 3rd ID (which is what 24th ID was reflagged as after the post-Cold War drawdown) claimed the title.

Brian J. Dunn

Posted by: Brian J. Dunn at May 12, 2004 8:18 AM

V. D. Hanson had an interesting take on Sherman.
Grant, who killed thousands of the South's sons is considered by the South to have been a noble opponent.
Sherman, whose fighting in his two great marches, killed an astonishingly few on either side is considered despicable.
What did Sherman do? He freed slaves and humiliated the bold (just ask them) cavaliers of the South in front of their women and slaves.
Some things are just too much.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 12, 2004 11:08 AM

Nevermind that it took 100 years to establish a representative government in the south after Sherman did his thing.

Posted by: Michael at May 12, 2004 12:48 PM

Sherman is considered despicable because of his practice of visiting war on civilians.

Why is this confusing? Ever heard of the Geneva Convention?

But the knee jerk reduction of everything Southern to "slavery" - instead of the obvious reason - is typical anti-Southern prejudice.

Regards,

Jim

Posted by: Jim at May 12, 2004 1:19 PM

I wonder how many know-it-alls who cite it have actually read the Geneva Convention. All versions are online and easily found. Its earliest version was signed in 1929 - hard to blame Sherman for that. And of course it is an agreement between signatory governments. It's not easy to pretend that rebels of any sort are governments, or signatories. The Convention is a set of very specific and very limited agreements, meant to apply only to very specific and limited parties. Read it yourself and see.

Posted by: sauer38h at May 12, 2004 1:56 PM

Posted January 22, 2003:

http://www.overpressure.com/archives/week_2003_01_19.html#000231

Posted by: blaster at May 12, 2004 2:57 PM

This reminds me of Victor Davis Hanson's last column in NRO where he notes "We are confronted with the paradox that our new military's short wars rarely inflict enough damage on the fabric of a country to establish a sense of general defeat or the humiliation often necessary for a change of heart and acceptance of change. In the messy follow-ups to these brief and militarily precise wars, it is hard to muster patience and commitment from an American public plagued with attention-deficit problems and busy with better things to do than give fist-shaking Iraqis $87 billion."

Sherman's approach would be to spare the lives of the civilians but crush their support for the terrorists by destroying their property and possessions. The problem is that most of them probably don't support the terrorists and the Baathists. There Sherman's logic fails.

We may be forced politically into another retreat like Vietnam, which would be tragic for the Iraqis and for the U.S. They'll be victimized again by new Saddams, but we'll conclude that we can't really help anybody--all we can do is make things worse. That is tragic because it isn't true. It's just the insidious message that our media seems to be whispering to us. We're in danger of becoming like King Theoden, enchanted by the Sarumans and Worm-tongues in our media.

Posted by: AST at May 12, 2004 3:19 PM

McCaffrey is a notorious liar.

His stint as Drug War Liar in Chief has tainted the rest of his service.

I was heartened when he was first appointed to the post because I figured honor might trump duty. No such luck.

Posted by: M. Simon at May 13, 2004 1:24 AM

why can't a leader, pick any of our most recent presidents, speak with such candor, conviction and authority as you portrayed in this piece? i guess i am one who subscribes to general sherman's philosophy of war.

Posted by: scott holmes at May 15, 2004 8:07 PM