American Revolution, Vietnam, Civil War, Guerilla War, Fabian Strategy, Jackson, Arnold, Lafayette, Clinton, Cornwallis and Yorktown

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 21st, 2012

Politics 101

In a Civil War where the Enemy was Everywhere and Holding Cities meant little the Only Way to Win was to Kill the Opposing Army

The American Revolutionary War was a lot like the Vietnam War.  Both involved a people on one side of the conflict torn apart by civil war.  Both were bloody.  Both involved a military superpower fighting on the far side of an ocean.  Both involved the French (the French role in Vietnam was in the decade which preceded the American’s two decades).  In both conflicts the French suffered politically at home and profited little for the blood and treasure they invested after the war.  In both the underdog used a Fabian strategy where they avoided major battles for their winning strategy was simply not to lose.  So they fought to extend the war to make it more costly (in both treasure and politics) for the other side to keep fighting.  Both involved poor military planning where decisions were based more on politics than military necessity.  In both the Americans and French were on the same side.  During the American Revolution they were both on the winning side.  In Vietnam they were both on the losing side (though the French stopped fighting before the Americans began fighting).  And, of course, both were wars contesting overseas colonies.

The fighting was cruel in Vietnam.  Especially against the civilians.  As the opposing sides fought through villages people suffered if they had shown the ‘wrong’ loyalties when the other side had controlled the village.  The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong (the guerilla insurgents in South Vietnam) did some nasty things.  As did the South Vietnamese American allies.  Even some Americans did some nasty things.  There were few innocents.  Though the Americans were probably more innocent than most.  For when they did something nasty it became public.  Eventually.  And the Americans punished those responsible.

Both sides used killing as the primary strategy.  The Americans introduced the body count.  Measuring the success in military operations in the number of enemy dead.  The Viet Cong conscripted anyone who could fight.  Removing most young men from villages in areas they controlled.  Or they killed anyone who could fight against them.  Both sides tried to kill as many of the other as possible because in a civil war where the enemy was everywhere and holding cities and hills meant little the only way to win was to kill the opposing army.  So they couldn’t fight you anymore.

Neither the Patriots nor the Tories could claim the Moral High Ground in the Deep South

General George Washington quickly adopted a Fabian strategy in the American Revolutionary War because he had no choice.  He was fighting the world’s sole superpower.  And when the war broke out the Americans had no army or navy.  So until they did they fought a guerilla war.  Especially in the south.  Where Patriot partisans controlled the country.  And Tories loyal to the British held the cities.  And manned posts in the interior.  Under the command of British General Cornwallis.  Who reported to General Clinton comfortably ensconced in New York City.  Waiting for General Washington to launch an assault on New York.  Which would never come.

The civil war in the south was about as ugly as civil wars get.  And the ugly stuff was American on American ugliness.  Patriot against Tory.  The British charged that the partisans were killing innocents and neutrals.  And the Americans claimed the Tories were doing the same.  Neither side could really claim the moral high ground.  A young Andrew Jackson (hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and America’s seventh president) even said, “In the long run, I am afraid the Whigs [the Patriots] did not lose many points in the game of hanging, shooting and flogging.” 

It was a merciless guerilla war in the South.  And they did kill wholesale.  Because that’s the only way to win a civil war.  You kill fighting men until there are not enough of them left to fight back.  And the fighting was not always honorable.  The British captured Jackson in a Waxhaw meetinghouse.  When a body of Tories dressed as locals advanced ahead of a body of Redcoats.  The trick worked.  They captured eleven.  And a British officer gave Jackson scars that would leave him a lasting hatred of the British for the rest of his life.  The officer demanded that Jackson clean his boots.  Jackson claimed he was a prisoner of war.  And that the British officer should treat him as such.  The officer saw him as a partisan traitor.  And brought his sword down on Jackson’s head for his insolence.  Jackson tried to shield his head with his left hand, leaving two deep scars.  One on his head.  The other on his hand.

The Grand Battle George Washington longed for was before him at Yorktown 

The changing fortunes of war in the South often changed the fighting spirit of those fighting the war.  On both sides.  British deserters joined the American lines.  And American deserters joined the British lines.  The Americans serving in the Continental Army were still hungry, thirsty and half-naked.  The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last big battle in the Deep South.  And it almost ended in a route of the British.  Had not the hungry, thirsty and half-naked Americans stop their pursuit when they entered the abandoned British camp.  As they enjoyed the spoils of war the British returned.  And another 3 hours of bloody fighting continued.  In the sweltering heat of the Deep South.  By the time it was over the Americans lost.  The American casualties were just over 500 (about 25% of their force).  The British lost over 800 (about 40% of their force).  A costly victory for the British.  Despite this loss the Americans were in control of the lower south.

Up until this point Virginia had seen little of the ravages of war.  Lucky for them as Virginian governor Thomas Jefferson, though a brilliant thinker, was a pretty poor wartime governor.  Washington urged him to prepare some defenses.  But he didn’t.  General Cornwallis urged General Clinton to abandon New York and conquer Virginia.  An action he believed would win the war.  Clinton refused for awhile.  But finally agreed to send a force under America’s greatest traitor.  Benedict Arnold.  A new brigadier general in the British Army.  Who landed unopposed in Virginia.  And moved at will.  Tarleton’s cavalry came up from the south to join Arnold.  Entered Charlottesville.  Captured members of the Virginia legislature with Jefferson just escaping in the nick of time.  With the addition of British reinforcements in Virginia Washington sent a force under Lafayette to Virginia to help with their defenses.  A perfect storm was gathering for the British in Virginia.

Cornwallis himself entered Virginia.  And futilely gave chase to Lafayette.  Cornwallis wanted Clinton to commit a major force to the conquest of Virginia.  Clinton wanted the few thousand troops he sent to Virginia returned to New York.  Clinton ordered Cornwallis to hold a position on the Chesapeake with his reduced force.  Cornwallis thought that order was stupid and ordered a withdrawal of his own forces.  Clinton countermanded that order.  Insisting that he pick a place and defend it.  Cornwallis picked Yorktown.  With his back to the sea.  And hopefully the British fleet.  While he moved towards Yorktown the hunter became the hunted.  Lafayette harassed him all the way.  Worse, the French were also on their way.  And the French fleet would engage the British fleet and defeat them.  And a French force would join Washington who came down from New York.  Finally able to abandon his Fabian strategy.  The grand battle he longed for was before him at Yorktown.  Cornwallis was trapped.  And would surrender his Army.

With the surrender of a second British army the initiative went to the Americans.  To continue the war would cost far more British blood and treasure.  But that price was too high.  The British wanted out.  Conceding that the Americans were indeed independent of British rule.  The delaying Fabian strategy, though costly, had worked.  As they would again in another American war.  Where the Americans instead would be fighting on foreign land.  In a place called Vietnam.  Only the Americans would suffer the same fate the British did in the American Revolutionary War.  As a Fabian strategy can be a very effective strategy.  As long as time is on your side.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #83: “Those who don’t pay taxes will always approve higher tax rates on those who do.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2011

The Allies were Commanded by an American because they had the Greatest Skin in the Game

During World War II, SHAEF stood for the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. This was the top command of the Allies fighting on the Western Front during World War II. In the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The Soviet Union fought on the Eastern Front. Neither front was subordinate to the other in the command structure.

The supreme allied commander of SHAEF was General Eisenhower. An American. Why? Well the Nazis conquered France early in the war. Thanks to blitzkrieg. Which the Allies weren’t ready yet to battle. So the SHAEF commander wasn’t French. But the British were in the war from the beginning. They and their commonwealth put some 11 million into the field of battle. And suffered about a million killed and wounded. But the SHAEF commander wasn’t British either. Even though we couldn’t have defeated Nazi Germany without the British.

No, the SHAEF commander was an American because they put some 16 million into the field of battle. So excluding the Soviets, the Americans had the greatest skin in the game. Literally. And figuratively. It was the American Arsenal of Democracy that furnished the implements of war. Financed by the American taxpayer. Via bonds. Rationing. And inflation.

Those who Risk their Wealth should have a Say in How it is Risked

There were a lot of service flags hanging in American windows during World War II. And far too many of them had gold stars on them. One gold star represented the loss of a son or daughter in the war. There were about 417,000 gold stars in American windows. Not quite as many as the approximately 580,000 British dead. And a long way from the approximately 8,600,000 Soviet dead. But as America entered the war, the sheer numbers of man and material America provided made it America’s war. Which is why there was an American commanding SHAEF. Because even though Nazi Germany didn’t attack America, it was her blood and treasure leading the war against Nazi Germany.

So an American general would lead the Allies. Because the Americans had the most skin in the game. They were now bearing the greatest costs for the war. So they had the ultimate say in how the Allies waged war. I mean, no one would expect a Belgian general to command those 16 million Americans. No offense to the Belgians. I mean, I like their waffles and all. It’s just that Belgium wasn’t America. They didn’t have the resources. Nor the distance from the Third Reich.

Risk and wealth. Those who risk their wealth should have a say in how it is risked. Because it takes wealth (blood and treasure) to wage war. And this goes back to the birth of limited government. The Magna Carta. When the feudal barons of England met King John on the fields of Runnymede. And said, “Look, yeah you’re king and all but that doesn’t give you the right to do as you bloody well please.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. You see, the king was being rather oppressive. And fighting a lot of wars. Costly wars. And the funny thing about kings? They don’t have wealth. They get it from the landowners. The landed aristocracy. Those feudal barons. The men and material to fight wars, and the money to pay for them, came from them. So these barons were saying, “In the future, you clear things with us first, okay?” And constitutional monarchy was born.

Thanks to the Magna Carta those Paying the Taxes would have a Say in How the King Spent those Taxes

In the days of feudalism we defined wealth by land holdings. Because back then the most important industry was growing food. To prevent famine. And you needed land to grow food. So wealth concentrated to the land owners. The landed aristocracy. Who provided the food for the realm. Soldiers. And taxes.

Thanks to the Magna Carta, things changed. Those paying the taxes would have a say in how the king spent those taxes. He couldn’t wage endless war anymore. Or spend it all on royal accouterments. No. From then on, spending would have to be responsible. We take it for granted in the West today. And call it taxation with representation. But it was a BIG deal back then. And mostly only in England. France had an absolute monarchy. And the king did whatever he bloody well pleased. And you see how well that turned out for King Louis XVI. Ask Marie Antoinette. Of course you can’t. Because they were both executed by the people during the French Revolution.

The British took their representative government to the New World. And after the American Revolution, that was one of the British things the Americans kept. At the heart of the American populace was a hatred of taxation. And arbitrary rule. So they kept a tight grip on the government. And their wealth. There were no kings in the new United States of America. But there was still government. And a strong distrust of government power. So they were going to write their constitutions very carefully. And restrict the vote only to those who had skin in the game. Land owners. Who were paying the taxes.

Figuring out how to Amass Power despite the Inconvenience of Elections

Of course this changed over time. Nowadays, people who pay no taxes whatsoever can vote. We’ve come a long way from Runnymede. And returned a lot of power to government. In America, about half of all people pay no federal income tax. Yet they can vote. And they do. For the party that promises them more free stuff. By taxing ‘the rich’ to pay for it. And you know what these non-taxpayers say? “Raise tax rates? Absolutely. I mean, what do I care? It’s not like I’m paying them.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can see the problem.

They have no skin in the game. And the only reason they don’t is because ‘the rich’ have been keeping them down. At least that’s what they believe. Because those in power told them this. So they can keep raising taxes. And keep increasing the power of government.

It’s nothing new. There are those who just want power. Kings often took power by force. When it was clear that the rich barons were more important to the king than the king was to them, though, things changed. There were limits on absolute power. So those who coveted power had to be creative. And figure out how to amass power despite the inconvenience of elections.

Politics Today: Buy Votes with State Benefits and scare the Bejesus out of Old People

The answer was the welfare state. And class warfare. Buy votes. And demonize ‘the rich’. Get the people dependent on government. And anytime there is political opposition, tell the people that the opposition wants to cut your state benefits. To scare the people into voting for you.

We call Social Security and Medicare third-rail issues in America. Because if you threaten to cut them (i.e., touch them), you will die politically. As you would die if you touched the electrified third rail in the subway. Because the recipients of those programs live in fear of losing their benefits. And will always vote for the candidate who promises not to cut them.

And this is how you amass power when saddled with the inconvenience of elections. Buy votes with state benefits. And scare the bejesus out of old people. Telling them the political opposition wants to take your benefits away. Attack the rich. And tax them. To pay for the ever bloating welfare state.

And if at least half of the people pay no taxes, you’re golden. Because when that many people have no skin in the game, you can get away with just about anything you want.


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