More from Grant’s Memoirs

source. far as I know Grant and Lincoln were never photographed together

Any time Grant meets Lincoln it’s tremendous.

I explained to him that it was necessary to have a great number of troops to guard and hold the territory we had captures, and to prevent intrusions into the Northern States.  These troops could perform that service just as well by advancing as by remaining still; and by advancing they would compel the enemy to keep detachments to hold them back, or else lay his own territory open to invasion.  His answer was “Oh yes!  I see that.  As we say out West if a man can’t skin he must hold a leg while somebody else does.”

Later:

Mr. Lincoln, supposing I was asking for instructions, said, in reply to that part of Governor Smith’s letter which inquired whether he with a few friends would be permitted to leave the country unmolested, that his position was like that of a certain Irishman (giving the name) he knew in Springfield who was very popular with the people, a man of considerable promise, and very much liked.  Unfortunately he had acquired the habit of drinking, and his friends could see the habit was growing on him.  These friends determined to make an effort to save him, and to do this they drew up a pledge to abstain from all alcoholic drinks.  They asked Pat to join them in signing the pledge, and he consented.  He had been so long out of the habit of using plain water as a beverage that he resorted to soda-water a substitute.  After a few days this began to grow distasteful to him.  So holding the glass behind him, he said, “Doctor, couldn’t you drop a bit of brandy in that unbeknownst to myself?”

An interesting detail: after Spottsylvania and the Wilderness, Grant is convinced the Union has more artillery than could ever be brought into action at any given time.  The extra artillery was serving only to clog the roads.  The North had so many guns they couldn’t use them all – that was the situation in the Civil War.

Grant is forever on the move.  He is either attacking or maneuvering to attack.  Moving on the enemy, that is his goal.  Putting the enemy where he wants him and then moving upon him.  Investing his towns.

The role of Sheridan in taking the initiative in the Shenandoah Valley comes through in this book.  (Sheridan, more than the equal of Stonewall Jackson?  A question for the real military historians).

Grant’s regrets:

I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.  I might say the same thing of the assault of the 22nd of May, 1863, at Vicksburg.

Cold Harbor. Source.

I didn’t know that Grant, when president, attempted to buy what’s now the Dominican Republic with the idea of repatriating black Americans there.

The proposal (I read on Wikipedia) was stopped by Charles Sumner.

The memoirs don’t cover Grant’s presidency, so we don’t get much more about that.  What would’ve happened if the plan had gone through, and there’d been a mass resettlement of African Americans to Santo Domingo?  An alt-history collab for Junot Diaz and Colson Whitehead –> limited series on HBO starring Rihanna?

 

 

 


Grant’s Memoirs

This picture of Grant at City Point, VA 1864 was taken by Egbert Guy Fowx

“Man proposes and God disposes.”  There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.

So Grant begins his memoirs.  Grant’s voice is clear and unashamed and humble.  The role of chance, fate, circumstance, God in determining the course of events, and the much smaller role played by character or our actions, is a key theme.

Grant never would’ve gotten to West Point if not for what happened to young Bartlett Bailey:

Finding before the January examination following that he could not pass, he resigned and went to a private school, and remained there until the following year when he was reappointed.  Before the next examination he was dismissed.  Dr. Bailey [his father] was a proud and sensitive man, and felt the failure of his son so keenly that he forbade his return home.  There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghenies, and but few east; and above all, there were no reporters prying into other people’s private affairs.  Consequently it did not become generally known that there was a vacancy at West Point from our district until I was appointed.  I presume Mrs. Bailey confided to my mother the fact that Bartlett had been dismissed, and that the doctor had forbidden his son’s return home.

Grant later notes:

Major Bailey was the cadet who had preceded me at West Point.  He was killed in West Virginia, in his first engagement.

A poignant family story between these lines.

Maybe it’s no surprise that Grant is an excellent, understated writer.  Much of his job as a general was to communicate clear, succinct orders and directives under stressful conditions.  Many written orders are included in the book.  Compact expression of clear meaning must’ve been a key skill to a Civil War general.  Probably a military commander in any era.

Then again I tried to read Sherman’s memoirs and can’t recommend them.

a thick book, as well. almost twice as long as Grant’s?

Grant didn’t really want to be a soldier.

Going to West Point would give me the opportunity of visiting the two great cities of the continent, Philadelphia and New York.  This was enough.

Later he mentions:

a military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even I should be graduated, which I did not expect.

Grant says at this time, he hoped to become a math professor.

The Mexican War breaks out.  Grant doesn’t approve, but there he is.  He rides from Corpus Christi to San Antonio without seeing a single person until he’s within thirty miles of San Antonio.  He joins the expedition to Mexico City.

Considering in tranquility some movements during the Mexican War:

It has always seemed to me that this northern route to the City of Mexico would have been the better one to have taken.  But my later experience has taught me two lessons: first, that things are seen plainer after the events have occurred; second, that the most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticised.

Occupying Mexico City he sees a bullfight:

The sight to me was sickening.  I could not see how human beings could enjoy the sufferings of beasts, and often of men, as they seemed to do on these occasions.

Grant is sent to California:

Many of the real scenes in early California life exceed in strangeness and interest any of the mere products of the brain of the novelist.  Those early days in California brought out character.

He leaves the army.  But the Civil War is approaching:

The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre… Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.

Grant, quickly, is elevated to command, and starts marching down the Tennessee River, taking Forts Henry and Donelson along the way.  But his army is almost driven back into the river on the first day at Shiloh.

Shiloh, as you’ve probably heard, was not a good scene.  Two big armies ran into each other and murdered each other for pretty much an entire day.  The night after the first day, Grant tries to sleep under a tree in pouring rain:

Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank.  This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering.  The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.

Yet, he’s confident:

So confident was I before firing had ceased on the 6th that the next day would bring victory to our arms if we could only take the initiative, that I visited each division commander in person before any reinforcements had reached the field.  I directed them to throw out heavy lines of skirmishers in the morning as soon as they could see, and push them forward until they found the enemy… To Sherman I told the story of the assault at Fort Donelson, and said the same tactics would win at Shiloh.

After day two:

I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.

Jason Robards read the Grant parts in Ken Burns Civil War

Robards, from Wikipedia

On promotions:

Every one has his superstitions.  One of mine is that in positions of a great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability where assigned by competent authority, without application or use of influence to change his position.

After Vicksburg fell, Grant was almost killed in New Orleans by a horse that was scared by a locomotive and fell on him.  But he makes it out, though he’s on crutches for a bit.  Imagine all the times when Grant could’ve been killed, and it was a spooked horse in occupied New Orleans that almost got him.

During the movements around Chattanooga, Grant pauses to consider:

There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North.  The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation.  The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class.  With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory.  The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so.  The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.”  The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor.  The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor.  Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them.  The was was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all the cost.

That’s enough of Grant’s memoirs for now.

 


The occupation of Arkansas

source: photographer unknown

Traveling through Arkansas last spring, I tried to wrap my head around the Civil War as it played out there.

Like, what happened here?  At some point did a Union army march through here?

In Arkansas in 1860, there were 435,450 total residents counted in the census.

Of these, 111,115 or about 20% were slaves.

There were 11,481 slaveowners in Arkansas.

And 144 free colored people.

Much of Arkansas at that time was wilderness.  The big plantations were down in the Delta, the low bottom country in the south and east of that state, along the alluvial Mississippi floodlands, seen here on Raven’s excellent topographical map.

Here on the 1861 Coast Survey map of slave population, we can see where Arkansas slaves were:

Everyone needs a getaway once in a while. A getaway from the job, the house, the day-to-day routine and yes, even those that mean the most to us – our families.

reads the copy on this guide to touring the still-standing plantation houses of Arkansas.  Presumably a getaway was not an option in 1860 for the 111,115 slaves.

In May, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the United States.  At the secession convention, Isaac Murphy was one of the few no votes:

The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union, but Murphy and four other delegates opposed this step. The convention chair called on the five to switch their votes. All four of the other “nay” delegates changed their votes, but Murphy refused. Initially his position was popular in Huntsville, but as the war went on, Confederate sentiment increased.

About a year later, in spring, 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis marched in from Missouri, leading volunteer regiments from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana (mostly).  At the battle of Pea Ridge he drove back the Confederate forces sent to stop him.

Curtis kept on marching his army across Arkansas, following more or less the course of the White River.

As Curtis marched along, he picked up thousands of freed slaves.

Curtis was stifled in his effort to capture Little Rock by lack of supplies (his guys were pretty much living off the land) and by the forces raised by Confederate general Thomas Hindman.

Gregory J. W. Urwin summarizes:

Hindman’s General Orders Number 17 instructed “all citizens from this district” to organize themselves into ten-man companies under elected captains and start killing Yankees.  An estimated 5,000 men responded to this summons by August 1862.  They may not have been a decisive factor in Samuel Curtis’ failure to take Little Rock, but they aroused the ire of Union forces by picking off sentries and couriers, ambushing small patrols and foraging parties, and firing on gunboats and transports.  Federal commanders announced that they would hold civilian responsible for any guerrilla activity occurring in their vicinity.   When warnings failed to restrain the irregulars, details of Union soldiers and sailors began burning small hamlets or individual houses and barns.  This retributive strategy caused many Arkansans to abandon their homes in the delta and north of the Arkansas River, but it did not suppress guerrilla depredations.

Curtis and his army (and irregular army of freed slaves) crossed the state, and reached Helena, on the Mississippi river.  From there he could be resupplied by river since by now the Confederate river navy had been pretty much destroyed.  Memphis had fallen, giving a clear path along the Mississippi north of Vicksburg.

As for Hindman, he got a fort named after him, at Arkansas Post, where the Arkansas River forks off and heads towards Little Rock.  This was in important spot, and some Confederates from Texas held it until the Union Navy came up there in January, 1863, and blew it away.

Hindman was replaced by Theophilus Holmes

Jefferson Davis begged Holmes to bring his troops out to help relieve the tightening siege at Vicksburg, across the river in Mississippi.  But Holmes had his own problems.  Says Wikipedia (lifting from Walter Hilderman’s biography):

For the most part, the Confederate forces in this remote area were little more than a disorganized mob of militia scattered across all corners of the state. There were few weapons available and even fewer modern ones. The soldiers for the most part had no shoes, no uniforms, no munitions, no training, organization, or discipline, a situation worsened by the fact that many communities in Arkansas had no government above the village level. People did not pay taxes or have any written laws and strongly resisted any attempt to impose an outside government or military discipline on them. Soldiers in the Arkansas militia did not understand the organization of a proper army or obeying orders from above. Even worse, many of them were in poor physical condition and unable to handle the rigors of a lengthy military campaign. Holmes for his part believed that he could muster an army of about 15,000 men in Arkansas, but there would be almost no competent officers to lead it anyway. Further compounding his difficulties were multiple Union armies converging on the state from all sides. In this situation, Holmes wrote to Richmond that if by some miracle, he could organize the Arkansas militia into an army and get them across the Mississippi River, they would simply desert as soon as they got to the east bank.

On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg fell.  On that day, a bit late, Holmes attacked the Union forces at Helena, Arkansas

present day Helena via Google

but they were blasted away both by Union troops in the city and massive gunboats in the river.  A disastrous, pointless defeat, too late to do any good even if it hadn’t failed.

With the fall of Vicksburg (and the last ditch failure at Helena) the Union had control of the entire Mississippi River.  Gen. Fredrick Steele was sent out across the river and into Arkansas:

colorized Steele photo lifted from Colorized Past

Steele and his army of Wisconsins, Illinoisians, and German immigrants arrived in Little Rock by September, 1863.  The Confederate state capitol had been moved to Washington, Arkansas.

When spring began in 1864, Steele marched his army toward Washington, AR. (Here is an excellent map of how this went down).  Steele had something like 7,000 soldiers.  Steele was supposed to eventually meet up, in Shreveport, Louisiana, with General Nathaniel Banks and his 30,000 guys from the Department of the Gulf.

Traveling cross country in this hot and hostile part of the world was not easy.  By the time Steele got to Camden, Arkansas, his guys didn’t have anything to eat, and word reached him that Banks’ army had been stopped anyway.

Steele had with him the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, and he sent them out to collect some food.  At Poison Spring, they were surrounded by the Confederate Second Indian Brigade or Choctaw Brigade.

I’ll let Confederate Colonel Tandy Walker tell the story:

I feared here that the train and its contents would prove a temptation too strong for these hungry, half-clothed Choctaws, but had no trouble in pressing them forward, for there was that in front and to the left more inviting to them than food or clothing—the blood of their despised enemy.

They set on the 1st Kansas Colored.

In all, the 1st Kansas lost nearly half of its numbers.

After this defeat, running out of food, with the planned meetup unlikely to come off, Steele decided to retreat back to Little Rock.  When he got as far as Jenkins Ferry, in the pouring rain, he realized the Confederates were about to catch up to him.  So he had his guys dig in.  Steele’s troops killed some unknown number of the attacking Confederates.

source: JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD

What a mess that must’ve been.  After the turnaround of the Camden expedition, the Union army stayed near their bases in the cities.  Confederate marauders rode all over the place.  Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison led the Unionist 1st Arkansas Cavalry:

Harrison established a network of fortified “farm colonies,” populating them with the families of men who swore to serve in home guard companies.  Anyone living within ten miles of a colony had to join it or was assumed to be a bushwhacker.

I agree with Naval Institute, interviewing Shelby Foote.

Naval History: It has always been frustrating that the Western rivers get hardly any play in Civil War History.

Foote: Well, the whole Western theater gets hardly any play.  I sometimes think that the people in this country who know less about the Civil War than any other one group of people are Virginians.  They may know a little more than South Dakotans, but that’s about all.

They think that the war was fought in Virginia, while various widespread skirmishes were going on out West.  The opposite is closer to the truth

Looking for more info about Jenkins Ferry I found this picture on the Grants County Museum page, seems like the situation in that area has improved.

Most of the Confederate regiments raised in Arkansas served in the western theater.  An exception was the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment was sent to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, only 144 men of the Third Arkansas remained out of the 1,353 mustered into it from the start of the war

Here is their battle flag.

After the failure of the Camden expedition, the Confederates had about 100 encampments in south Arkansas.  Where do I get that number?  From this incredible book:

This book is a digitized version of the maps Confederate engineer Richard M. Venable made in 1864.  Venable and his guys were only able to reconnoiter the southern 29% of the state.  I’m not sure whether that was because the northern portion was in Union hands and they couldn’t go there, or if that was just the resources they had, at a time when the Confederates in Arkansas were operating in the south, and might have to make moves further south or west.

The maps in this book are incredibly detailed, you can see, for example, which homesteads in Lafayette County had female heads of household, and which were the houses of widows.

Here’s a thorough review of the book.  I was really impressed by it, it’s rare to find historic maps at this level of detail and readability, as the review notes, this was “obviously a labor of love.”  How much need you have in your home for a detailed atlas of 1864 Arkansas is for you to determine, but for me it did make the past come alive.  If you’re doing any traveling in the state of Arkansas and you’ve read this far in HelyTimes, consider investing in a copy.  (hell I’ll loan you mine.)

When did the Civil War really end in Arkansas?  In a special election in 1863, Isaac Murphy was elected governor:

remember me?

He presided until 1868.  By 1874 there was close to an armed conflict over who would run Arkansas, and that was pretty much the end of Reconstruction in the state.

The following 35 governors of Arkansas, ruling for a total of 90 years, were all Democrats, until Republican Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in 1966 defeating James D. Johnson.

Maybe the Civil War ended in Arkansas when federal troops integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1956-7.

Or maybe it ended with the election of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.

 


Plans are worthless, but planning is everything

During a speech in November 1957 Eisenhower employed the saying again. He told an anecdote about the maps used during U.S. military training. Maps of the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe were used during instruction before World War I, but educational reformers decided that the location was not relevant to American forces. So the maps were switched to a new location within the U.S. for planning exercises. A few years later the military was deployed and fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine: 2

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

so says Quote Investigator.  Eisenhower’s speech can be found here.  Nixon picked up the quote in

I remember learning at the Nixon library about Nixon’s writing routine when he wrote this book in a house in Apple Valley, CA:

He used a Dictaphone or wrote longhand, working in seclusion, according to Esquire Magazine.
For breakfast, he ate a bowl of Grape Nuts and drank a can of orange juice. He wrote until noon, then paused for a ham sandwich.

Believe I first heard Eisenhower’s quote from Jeff Melvoin at a WGA showrunner training like mini-camp.  I’ve found it profound.

One time a female Uber driver told me the secret to winning over women is “plan ahead.”

A brief skim of Eisenhower images on NARA.GOV leads us to this gem

General Eisenhower’s dog, Telek, poses for photographers on top of desk. [65-658]


On Tactics by B. A. Friedman

 

This book is an excellent size and weight.  Small, portable, yet solid.  It’s published by the Naval Institute Press, they who took a chance on an unknown insurance man named Tom Clancy who’d written a thriller called The Hunt For Red October.

Amazon suggested this book to me as I was browsing translations of Sun Tzu.  Military history has interested me since I was a boy, maybe because 1) the stakes are so high and 2) the stories are so vivid.  Metaphors and similes drawn from famous war events are powerful and stark.  Consider for example Friedman’s description of the Battle of the Bulge:

… Although the Germans had caught the Allies at their culminating point, the Germans reached their own far too early.  Newly created infantry units were filled with hastily trained and inexperienced conscripts.  These green units could not effectively hold the territory gained by the leading panzer units.  On 22 December the fog cleared and Allied air units hammered the German formations from the skies.  Despite the prestaged fuel reserves, panzer units still ran out of fuel, just when they needed it to escape the Allied aerial counterattack.

Buried in there is a tactical lesson, and also an intense story about some poor children getting blown up right before Christmas.

The author was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  If I understand right, might make this book the equivalent of a book called like Writing A Hit TV Show by a staff writer.  But Friedman seems like he’s gone deep on the knowledge, and there’s a quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni on the back.  Good enough for me.

Alexander The Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, vice just reading – the men who have gone before us.  We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience.

So goes a quote from James Mattis that opens this book.  Friedman cites the example of Cortes in 1520 CE, referring to written accounts of Alexander’s battle at Gaugamela eighteen hundred years before to design his tactics against the Mexica/Aztec.

What is strategy?  What is tactics?  Where do they divide?  Friedman summarizes Clausewitz:

Clausewitz divided warfare into tactics, actual combat between opposed military forces, and strategy, the latter being the overarching plan for using tactical engagements to achieve the ends as set forth by policy… The strategy acts as a bridge between the tactical actors (military forces) and the desired political end state of the entity those forces serve.

Much of this book is summaries of Clausewitz, really and Sun Tzu as well.  How could it not be?

What I thought I remembered most of all from Clausewitz is the concept of Figerspitzengefühl, fingertips-feel, a sensing of what’s going on, and where.  But I don’t have my copy of Vom Kriege at hand, and searching for fingerspitzengefühl it seems possible the term may be of later origin.  Maybe it was discussed in the introduction.

Clausewitz is very concerned with will, the imposing of one’s will on the enemy, breaking the will of the enemy.  Given the time and place where Clausewitz was coming from, 1800s what’s now-Germany, I can’t help but think this idea of will was connected to other philosophers like Kant who were pondering the meanings and dimensions of will around then.

Friedman picks up on the idea of will, or what he refers to as moral cohesion.  He digs in on the idea of destroying the enemy’s moral cohesion.

Clausewitz defined the destruction of an enemy as “they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight” (emphasis added).  This does not mean that the enemy force must be totally destroyed.  Indeed, he went on to say, “when we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must be considered.  In other words, breaking the moral cohesion of the opposing force is destruction of that force as an effective unit and the true goal of tactics.

In a whole chapter on moral cohesion, Friedman quotes Marine Major Earl “Pete” Ellis speaking of how important it was to marines fighting insurgents in the Philippines to believe that the United States was acting from “purely altruistic motives.”  Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is quoted as well: “In general, defeat occurs when the enemy believes he is beaten… Defeat is a psychological state.”

Friedman brings out Clausewitz’s concept of “the center of gravity,” too, and points out, in a thought-provoking way that it’s not totally clear what Clausewitz meant or understood by “gravity,” and what Clausewitz understood about physics.  Clausewitz died in 1831 — have we even figured out gravity now?  Clausewitz noted that the center of gravity could be a capital city, an ally, the shared interests of an alliance, particular leaders, or popular opinion.  The North Vietnamese correctly located the center of gravity of the US in the Vietnam War as American political will.  They destroyed our moral cohesion.

Friedman is tough on the U.S war in Iraq, which he says is “a glaring example of tactics, strategy, and policy in disarray.”  We need to maintain our sense of moral cohesion.  It’s slipping away from us.

We get some Boyd, too, a favorite here at HelyTimes.  As a bottom line lesson on tactics, this is pretty clear and cool:

Boyd says if you move and decide faster than your enemy, you will win.

Friedman concludes by pointing out that tactics are subordinate to strategy.

The tactician employs tactics that will best serve the strategy, but he must also know when a flawed strategy cannot be achieved with reasonable tactics.  Duty might still demand that he try to accomplish the mission, but he will need to inform the strategist that his aims are improbable.

Taking on a big concept like tactics and attempting to codify and create a short, comprehensible theory or unified system is a nobel mission.  I found On Tactics profitable to read and full of stimulating ideas and examples.

 

 


Sun Tzu and Ovitz

From a list of cool things in Michael Ovitz memoir:

10. Sun Tzu Move II: “I’d wash my hands 30 times a day and insist that my assistants not touch my food.”

11. As a result, he never got sick, except when he took vacations.

12. Sun Tzu Move III: “When the leading figures in television entered our lobby, we kept them waiting long enough to be spotted by anyone who happened to be in the building.”

by Richard Rushfield in his newsletter The Ankler ($45 a year to subscribe, recommended if you are interested in Hollywood).

Rushfeld points out, how many agents even have a favorite philosopher?

I got down this Penguin edition.  Impressed with this John Minford translation:

How do we even translate whatever character represents “dispositions”?

Whom did Ovitz consider “the enemy”? WMA?  When Sun Tzu used the word enemy, what other meanings could that word have had, in English, I wonder?

Dr. Melfi tells Tony Soprano if he wants to become a better gang leader, he should read Sun Tzu.  How much would it help him?

Meanwhile:


Droog

learned the origin of the word “drugs” from:

an intense book! 

 


Becoming over time becomes being

“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, once famously said.

(source is this Vanity Fair article).  The ancient sages and strategists would’ve enjoyed that one.  The intersection of becoming and fighting.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting

Sun Tzu said. Maybe.  Can’t vouch for the translation.  Elsewhere rendered as:

To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

or:

to defeat the enemy without battle is the whole of my art


Cool photo

Marines Hit Three Feet of Water as They Leave Their LST to Take the Beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.  Photographer appears to be Sgt. Robert M. Howard.


Queens Elizabeth

O’Byrne’s corpse was butchered and for months the head and quarters hung on pike staffs on the wall over Dublin Castle drawbridge. Several months later the pickled head was presented to the council secretary at London by an English adventurer, who was disappointed to find that the head-silver due on O’Byrne* had already been paid in Ireland. The queen was angered that, “the head of such a base Robin Hood was brought solemnly into England“.

(source)

Read enough Irish history and you gain a grudging respect for Queen Elizabeth I.  She’s always delivering withering remarks and savage putdowns to people giving her bad news.

 

In 1603, Elizabeth had seemed a foolish old woman, as men looked expectantly to a Stuart king. By 1630, when Stuart kings had proved rather a disappointment, she had become the paragon of all princely virtues.

At this remove, who can say if Elizabeth was a foolish old woman or one of history’s canniest power players, but I’m team power player.  She managed to survive rebellions, armadas, assassination attempts, plagues, you name it!

Just surviving as a queen is tough.

The (current) Queen did not seem that into the wedding. The Crown may have fooled us into thinking the Queen is more woke than she is.

* was reading about O’Byrne after seeing convo on Tom Ricks’ twitter about the origin of “firebrand”


Cowpens

Believe me, it killed me to drive across South Carolina and not have time to stop and make a study of the battlefield at Cowpens.

Cowpens is an American story about local amateurs beating foreign professionals, with an A+ villain in Banastre Tarleton.

Tarleton painted by (who else?) Joshua Reynolds

How satisfying must it been to have kicked this guy’s ass?!  Tarleton, a rich boy dandy, was in command at age 25.  Very cocky.  At Cowpens he charged right into a trap.

The Americans:

 conducted a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force, and suffered casualties of only 12 killed and 61 wounded…  Morgan’s army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis’ army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action, and every artilleryman was either killed or incapacitated by wounds. Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been all but wiped out as a fighting force.

But don’t worry!

Tarleton was one of around 160 British troops to escape.

Tarleton went on, of course, to a career in politics.

He is especially noted for supporting the slave trade, which was highly important to the port of Liverpool. Its ships were deeply involved in slave trading. Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas, and he became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.

His romantic life?

For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress and writer Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet.

LOL this guy.  What?  Mary Robinson was at the time a notorious babe and former mistress of the King:

Prior to [Tarleton], Robinson had been having an affair with a man named Lord Malden. According to one account, Malden and Tarleton were betting men, and Malden was so confident in Robinson’s loyalty to him, and believed that no man could ever take her from him. As such, he made a bet of a thousand guineas that none of the men in his circle could seduce her. Unfortunately for Malden, Tarleton accepted the bet and swooped in to not only seduce Robinson, but establish a relationship that would last the next 15 years.

Tarleton was famous for killing prisoners trying to surrender — “Tarleton’s Quarter” – after the Battle of Waxhaws.  In Tarleton’s version of the story this was because his guys were so upset that he was hurt:

Colonel Tarleton’s account, published in 1787, said that his horse had been shot from under him, and that his soldiers, thinking him dead, engaged in “a vindictive asperity not easily restrained”.

Then came Cowpens.

via Wikipedia via the US Military Academy history department

The charts and diagrams that are used to explain battles have always interested me but they have some real problems.  In a word they are bloodless.

What we’re talking about here didn’t look like a bunch of tidy arrows and lines.  It was violent chaos, a bunch of guys murdering each other in fire and smoke.

But a little more reading suggests Daniel Morgan, the Continental commander, with the benefit of some time to plan, made some good moves.

Daniel Morgan turned to his advantage the landscape of Cowpens, the varying reliability of his troops, his opponent’s expectations, and the time available before Tarleton’s arrival. He knew untrained militiamen, which composed a large portion of his force, were generally unreliable in battle, and in the past had routed at the first hint of defeat and abandoned the regulars. (The Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which was half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the shooting started.) To eliminate that possibility, he defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed.

More:

Morgan asked the militia to fire two volleys, something they could achieve, and then withdraw to the left, to re-form in the rear

Tarleton meanwhile drove his foodless, sleepless men all night in a damn hurry to get another victory.

 

John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that “he was an officer before Tarleton was born; that the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed.”

This detail:

An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped.

 


Daytona

Happened to catch the end of the Daytona 500 – super dramatic!  That is Austin Dillon’s dad.  Dawned on me that a reason men love sports is the emotions are so intense inhibitions break down and they can express love and tenderness for each other.  (War too?)

source: Al Chang for the US Army, 1950.

(Talking cis-straight men here, friends and fathers and sons and comrades and teammates, gay male affection a different topic)


McPeak vs Earthman

Have we entered a new way of war in which air power isn’t as important? That this is America’s asymmetric challenge and air power isn’t as wanted?

If so, how do we overcome that? How do we get past that, the fact that our adversaries have figured out how we fight?

Merrill McPeak: Well, it’s not so much that the adversaries figured out how we fight.

That’s dead easy. Everybody can see it. I mean, we don’t make any mystery of it.

What we’ve done is taken the risk out of the kind of operations that we do now with officers.

I mean, we’ve got stealth airplanes. So I’m sitting in a stealth airplane and I’m on super-cruise. In the F-22, you’re cruising at 1.7 to 1.8 (mach) in a stealthy machine.

Who’s going to touch you?

I mean, I never felt vulnerable when I was flying an airplane. Period. Not against any kind of earthman.

Got a lot out of this looooong interview with former Air Force chief of staff and Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s Vietnam War star Merrill McPeak in the San Diego Union Tribune, (ht Tom Ricks of course).

McPeak on Boyd, whom we have discussed:

So they got the argument a little bit wrong. But then along comes Boyd with the OODA Loop and some philosophy kind of concepts and people said, ‘Wow, a fighter pilot with a brain!’

They tended to listen to him when in many respects he was a failed officer and even a failed human being in some ways.

Carl Prine: There’s an entire cottage industry built around him now.

Merrill McPeak: I was at Nellis the night he jumped out of an F-100. I was a student there and he was an instructor in the Weapons School. He had a bet that he could get anybody from his 6 o’clock to his 12 o’clock in 40 seconds, or whatever it was.

He tried his special little trick and the airplane quit on him. It overstretched the hydraulic system, the plumbing, the flight controls, and the airplane went crazy and he had to jump out.

Here he is coming back to Nellis and they went out to pick him up in a chopper. And he’s dragging his parachute back to Nellis. He didn’t look so good that night.

The general likes Mozart:

Carl Prine: I had this image of you, as a general, appreciating the grand, comprehensive, overwhelming symphony and yet you prefer the smaller pieces? The elegant and tiny works?

Merrill McPeak: Well, you know the big G minor symphony? Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. That’s the famous one, the 40. It’s in there with Jupiter and the later symphonies.

But Symphony 25 has that crystal clear quality to it. If it were a stream, you could look clear through it to the bottom.

There’s something magical about it.


The scum of the earth

(c) English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.

Christopher Plummer played Wellington in the 1970 movie Waterloo, an expensive flop:

Final costs were over £12 million (GBP) (equivalent to about U.S. $38.3 million in 1970), making Waterloo one of the most expensive movies ever made, for its time. Had the movie been filmed in the West, costs might have been as much as three times this. Mosfilm contributed more than £4 million of the costs, nearly 17,000 soldiers of the Soviet Army, including a full brigade of Soviet cavalry, and a host of engineers and labourers to prepare the battlefield in the rolling farmland outside Uzhhorod, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union).

To recreate the battlefield authentically, the Soviets bulldozed away two hills, laid five miles of roads, transplanted 5,000 trees, sowed fields of rye, barley and wildflowers and reconstructed four historic buildings. To create the mud, more than six miles of underground irrigation piping was specially laid. Most of the battle scenes were filmed using five Panavision cameras simultaneously – from ground level, from 100-foot towers, from a helicopter, and from an overhead railway built right across the location.

Happened to tape the film onto a VHS off Boston’s TV 38 in my boyhood and thought it was pretty good.

 

is a very compelling book on the topic.  Another great one by Howarth.

Wellington said a bunch of cool quotes:

As quoted in A History of Warfare (1968) by Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: “Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: “If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?” The old Duke replied: “Yes, I should have given more praise.”

The phrase “scum of the earth” turns up in some translations of 1 Corinthians 4:13.

On this Veterans’ Day I like to remember unlikely veterans like Larry David:

He wrote a funny essay about his experience in the Army Reserve here.  And:

He was drafted into the United States Army in 1970. He trained as a medic and was stationed in West Germany. After being honorably discharged he used the benefits of the G.I. Bill to enroll in the California Institute of the Arts, and received a BAdegree in drama from The Evergreen State College in 1975.

Thomas Ricks of course has a Veteran’s Day guest post worth reading.


Ken Burns Vietnam

This fall, Ken Burns new documentary about the Vietnam War will be on PBS.

Any one of these clips from it will make you still for a minute.

The intensity of what happened with the US in Vietnam is insane.  The magnitude of the scar is unspeakable.  Literally: we can’t talk about it.

When Ken Burns made The Civil War, about something 150 years ago, it made people cry.  What is it going to be like to watch The Vietnam War, a thing every person in my parent’s generation had to reckon with in some serious way?

I saw that one of the talkers is Karl Marlantes.  His book What It Is Like To Go To War is astounding.

I’m not sure enough people heard about it.  At one time I had the same publisher as Karl Marlantes, which I was very proud of, they sent me his books for free.

Marlantes tells this story about running into Joseph Campbell, by chance:

Absolution.

Imagine having whiskey with Joseph Campbell.

The best discipline:

 

The other day on Reddit “Today I Learned” I saw this.

I went to check the source, the Lodi News Sentinel, 1971:

Preserved at this blog:

There the author gives a question and answer about his own time in Vietnam and after that I would describe as harrowing and illuminating and powerful.

Ken Burns made some darn good movies.


The War Between Mochi and Sake


A field hospital after a battle


US Air Force Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members monitor patients during a C-17 aero-medical evacuation mission from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott Reed

Something about the health care debate got me pondering Pope Francis’ quote in a 2013 interview that the Church should be like a field hospital after a battle.

“I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”

“Savage Station VA field hospital after the battle of June 27” in the Library of Congress, photographer James Gibson

There’s a lot of good writing about field hospitals after battles.  Walt Whitman and Hemingway both saw some firsthand.  Or how about

I never really watched MASH tbh and got kinda sad when it would come on instead of something more fun.


The Generals by Thomas Ricks

img_9197

This book is so full of compelling anecdotes, character studies, and surprising, valuable lessons of leadership that I kind of can’t believe I got to it before Malcolm Gladwell or David Brooks or somebody scavenged it for good stories.

Generaling

Consider how hard it would be to get fifteen of your friends to leave for a road trip at the same time.  How much coordination and communication it would take, how likely it was to get fucked up.

Now imagine trying to move 156,000 people across the English Channel, and you have to keep it a surprise, and on the other side there are 50,350 people waiting to try and kill you.

The Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment's bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War. Dominic D'Andrea, commissioned by the National Guard Heritage Foundation

The Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment’s bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War. Dominic D’Andrea, commissioned by the National Guard Heritage Foundation

Even at a lower scale, say a brigade, a brigadier general might oversee say 4,500 people and hundreds of vehicles.  Those people must be clothed, fed, housed, their medical problems attended to.  Then they have to be armed, trained, given ammo.  You have to find the enemy, kill them, evacuate the wounded, stay in communication, and keep a calm head as many people are trying to kill you and the situation is changing rapidly and constantly.

32nd Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hansen, on floor in front of podium, accepts reports from battalion command sergeants major as the brigade forms at the start of the Feb. 17 send-off ceremony at the Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Madison, Wis. Family members and public officials bade farewell to some 3,200 members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and augmenting units, Wisconsin Army National Guard, in the ceremony. The unit is bound for pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, followed by a deployment of approximately 10 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs photo by Larry Sommers.

32nd Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hansen, on floor in front of podium, accepts reports from battalion command sergeants major as the brigade forms at the start of the Feb. 17 send-off ceremony at the Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Madison, Wis. Family members and public officials bade farewell to some 3,200 members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and augmenting units, Wisconsin Army National Guard, in the ceremony. The unit is bound for pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, followed by a deployment of approximately 10 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs photo by Larry Sommers.

Being a general is a challenging job, I guess is my point.

mattis-and-dempsey

U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, talk on board a C-17 while flying to Baghdad, Dec. 15, 2011.  Source.

I saw this post about Gen. Mattis, possible future Secretary of Defense, on Tom Ricks blog:

A SecDef nominee at war?: What I wrote about General Mattis in ‘The Generals’

The story was so compelling that I immediately ordered Mr. Ricks’ book:

img_8948

A fantastic read.  Eye-opening, shocking, opinionated, compelling.

The way that Marc Norman’s book on screenwriting works as a history of Hollywood:

whn

The Generals works as a kind of history of the US since World War II.   I’d list it with 1491: New Revelations On The Americas Before Columbus as a book I think every citizen should read.

The observation that drives The Generals is this: commanding troops in combat is insanely difficult.  Many generals will fail.  Officers who performed well at lower ranks might completely collapse.

During World War II, generals who failed to perform were swiftly relieved of command.  (Often, they were given second chances, and many stepped up).

Since World War II, swift relief of underperforming generals has not been the case.  The results for American military effectiveness have been devastating.  Much of this book describes catastrophe and disaster, as I guess war is even under the best of circumstances and the finest leadership.

Ricks is such a good writer, so engaging and compelling.  He knows to include stuff like this:

eisenhower

Ricks describes the catastrophes that result from bad military leadership.  How about this, in Korea?:

korea

What kind of effect did this leadership have, in Vietnam?:

fulton

He discusses the relationship of presidents and their generals:

deckers-advice

shitheads

Here is LBJ, years later, describing his nightmares:

lbj

Ricks can be blunt:

westmoreland

Hard lessons the Marines had learned:

advice

marines

Symbolically, There’s a Warning Signal Against Them as Marines Move Down the Main Line to Seoul From RG: 127 General Photograph File of the U.S. Marine Corps National Archives Identifier: 5891316 Local Identifier: 127-N-A3206

A hero in the book is O. P. Smith

smith

who led the Marines’ reverse advance at the Chosin Resevoir, when it was so cold men’s toes were falling off from frostbite inside their boots:

marine-corps-hymn

The story of what they accomplished is incredible, worth a book itself.  Here’s Ricks talking about the book and Smith.

A continued challenge for generals is to understand the strategic circumstances they are operating under, and the political limitations that constrain them.

 

031206-F-2828D-373 Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld walks with Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez after arriving at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on Dec. 6, 2003. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to meet with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, senior military leaders and the troops deployed there. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

031206-F-2828D-373
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld walks with Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez after arriving at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on Dec. 6, 2003. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to meet with members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, senior military leaders and the troops deployed there. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, U.S. Air Force. (Released) source

iraq

Recommend this book.  One of the best works of military history I’ve ever read, and a sobering reflection on leadership, strategy, and the United States.


The Canny Admirals

the-canny-admirals

Found this picture of John McCain Sr. (the Senator’s grandfather) and William “Bull” Halsey on Wiki while looking up something or another.

mcain

Here’s McCain Sr and Junior (the Senator’s dad) at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.  McCain Sr. dropped dead four days later.

 


Microsociology

How many interesting things are in sociologist Randall Collins’ latest post (which is maybe the text of a speech or something?)  Let me excerpt some for us.  I have highlighted some nuggets:

Trinity

I will add a parallel that is perhaps surprising. Those who know Loic Wacquant would not expect to find silent harmony. Nevertheless, Wacquant’s study of a boxing gym finds a similar pattern: there is little that boxers do in the gym that they could not do at home alone, except sparring; but in the gym they perform exercises like skipping, hitting the bags, strengthening stomach muscles, all in 3-minute segments to the ring of the bell that governs rounds in the ring. When everyone in the gym is in the same rhythm, they are animated by a collective feeling; they become boxers dedicated to their craft, not so much through minds but as an embodied project.

A large proportion of violent confrontations of all kinds– street fights, riots, etc.– quickly abort; and most persons in those situations  act like Marshall’s soldiers– they let a small minority of the group do all the violence. Now that we have photos and videos of violent situations, we see that at the moment of action the expression on the faces of the most violent participants is fear.  Our folk belief is that anger is the emotion of violence, but anger appears mostly before any violence happens, and in controlled situations where individuals bluster at a distant enemy. I have called thisconfrontational tension/fear; it is the confrontation itself that generates the tension, more than fear of what will happen to oneself. Confrontational tension is debilitating; phenomenologically we know (mainly from police debriefings after shootings) that it produces perceptual distortions; physiologically it generates racing heart beat, an adrenaline rush which at high levels results in loss of bodily control.

 

This explains another, as yet little recognized pattern: when violence actually happens, it is usually incompetent. Most of the times people fire a gun at a  human target, they miss; their shots go wide, they hit the wrong person, sometimes a bystander, sometimes friendly fire on their own side. This is a product of the situation, the confrontation.  We know this because the accuracy of soldiers and police on firing ranges is much higher than when firing at a human target. We can pin this down further; inhibition in live firing declines with greater distance; artillery troops are more reliable than infantry with small arms, so are fighter and bomber crews and navy crews; it is not the statistical chances of being killed or injured by the enemy that makes close-range fighters incompetent. At the other end of the spectrum, very close face-to-face confrontation makes firing even more inaccurate; shootings at a distance of less than 2 meters are extremely inaccurate. Is this paradoxical?  It is facing the other person at a normal distance for social interaction that is so difficult. Seeing the other person’s face, and being seen by him or her seeing your seeing,is what creates the most tension. Snipers with telescopic lenses can be extremely accurate, even when they see their target’s face; what they do not see is the target looking back; there is no mutual attention, no intersubjectivity. Mafia hit men strike unexpectedly and preferably from behind, relying on deception and normal appearances so that there is no face confrontation. This is also why executioners used to wear hoods; and why persons wearing face masks commit more violence than those with bare faces.
NOTE THE POLICY IMPLICATION:  The fashion in recent years among elite police units to wear balaclava-style face masks during their raids should be eliminated.

police balaclava

How does violence sometimes succeed in doing damage? The key is asymmetrical  confrontation tension. One side will win if they can get their victim in the zone of high arousal and high incompetence, while keeping their own arousal down to a zone of greater bodily control. Violence is not so much physical as emotional struggle; whoever achieves emotional domination, can then impose physical domination. That is why most real fights look very nasty; one sides beats up on an opponent at the time they are incapable of resisting. At the extreme, this happens in the big victories of military combat, where the troops on one side become paralyzed in the zone of 200 heartbeats per minute, massacred by victors in the 140 heartbeat range. This kind of asymmetry is especially dangerous, when the dominant side is also in the middle ranges of arousal; at 160 BPM or so, they are acting with only semi-conscious bodily control. Adrenaline is the flight-or-fight hormone; when the opponent signals weakness, shows fear, paralysis, or turns their back, this can turn into what I have called a forward panic, and the French officer Ardant du Picq called “flight to the front.” Here the attackers rush forward towards an unresisting enemy, firing uncontrollably. It has the pattern of hot rush, piling on, and overkill. Most outrageous incidents of police violence against unarmed or unresisting targets are forward panics, now publicized in our era of bullet counts and ubiquitous videos.

UFC

Another pathway is where the fight is surrounded by an audience; people who gather to watch, especially in festive crowds looking for entertainment; historical photos of crowds watching duels; and of course the commercial/ sporting version of staged fights. This configuration produces the longest and most competent fights; confrontational tension is lowered because the fighters are concerned for their performance in the eyes of the crowd, while focusing on their opponent has an element of tacit coordination since they are a situational elite jointly performing for the audience. Even the loser in a heroic staged fight gets social support. We could test this by comparing emotional micro-behavior in a boxing match or a baseball game without any spectators.

(among the photos that come up if you Google “crowd watching a duel”:

 Title: Crowd reflected in water while watching Sarazen and Ouimet duel at Weston Country Club


Title: Crowd reflected in water while watching Sarazen and Ouimet duel at Weston Country Club

 

Beardsley vs Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon

Beardsley vs Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon

 

Finally, there are a set of techniques for carrying out violence without face confrontation. Striking at a distance: the modern military pathway. Becoming immersed in technical details of one’s weapons rather than on the human confrontation. And a currently popular technique: the clandestine attack such as a suicide bombing, which eliminates confrontational tension because it avoids showing any confrontation until the very moment the bomb is exploded. Traditional assassinations, and the modern mafia version, also rely on the cool-headedness that comes from pretending there is no confrontation, hiding in Goffmanian normal appearances until the moment to strike.

 

All this sounds rather grisly, but nevertheless confrontational theory of violence has an optimistic side. First, there is good news: most threatening confrontations do not result in violence. (This is shown also in Robert Emerson’s new book on quarrels among roommates and neighbours.) We missed this because, until recently, most evidence about violence came from sampling on the dependent variable. There is a deep interactional reason why face-to-face violence is hard, not easy.  Most of the time both sides stay symmetrical. Both get angry and bluster in the same way. These confrontations abort, since they can’t get around the barrier of confrontational tension. Empirically, on our micro-evidence, this zero pathway is the most common. Either the quarrel ends in mutual gestures of contempt; or the fight quickly ends when opponents discover their mutual incompetence. Curtis Jackson-Jacobs’ video analysis shows fist-fighters moving away from each other after missing with a few out-of-rhythm punches. If no emotional domination happens, they soon sense it.

More:

Anne Nassauer, assembling videos and other evidence from many angles on demonstrations, finds the turning points at which a demo goes violent or stays peaceful. And she shows that these are situational turning points, irrespective of ideologies, avowed intent of demonstrators or policing methods. Stefan Klusemann, using video evidence, shows that ethnic massacres are triggered off in situations of emotional domination and emotional passivity; that is, local conditions, apart from whatever orders are given by remote authorities. Another pioneering turning-point study is David Sorge’s analysis of the phone recording of a school shooter exchanging shots with the police, who nevertheless is calmed down by an office clerk; she starts out terrified but eventually shifts into an us-together mood that ends in a peaceful surrender. Meredith Rossner shows that restorative justice conferences succeed or fail according to the processes of interaction rituals; and that emotionally successful RJ conferences result in conversion experiences that last for several years, at least. Counter-intuitively, she finds that RJ conferences are especially likely be successful when they concerns not minor offenses but serious violence;  the intensity of the ritual depends on the intensity of emotions it evokes.

ST-A26-25-62

High authorities are hard to study with micro methods, since organizational high rank is shielded behind very strong Goffmanian frontstages. David Gibson, however, analyzing audio tapes of Kennedy’s crisis group in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, penetrated the micro-reality of power in a situation in which all the rationally expectable scenarios led toward nuclear war. Neither JFK nor anyone else emerges as a charismatic or even a decisive leader. The group eventually muddled their way through sending signals that postponed a decision to use force, by tacitly ignoring scenarios that were too troubling to deal with. This fits the pattern that conversation analysts call the preference for agreement over disagreement, at whatever cost to rationality and consistency.

How about how social interactions affect job interviews?:

We have a long way to go to generalize these leads into a picture of how high authority really operates. Does it operate the same way in business corporations? The management literature tells us how executives have implemented well thought-out programs; but our information comes chiefly from retrospective interviews that collapse time and omit the situational process itself. Lauren Rivera cracks the veneer of elite Wall Street firms and finds that hiring decisions are made by a sense of emotional resonance between interviewer and interviewee, the solidarity of successful interaction rituals. Our best evidence of the micro details of this process comes from another arena, where Dan McFarland and colleagues analyze recorded data on speed dating, and find that conversational micro-rhythms determine who felt they “clicked” with whom.

OK what about sex?

I will end this scattered survey with some  research that falls into the rubric of Weberian status groups, i.e. social rankings by lifestyle.  David Grazian has produced a sequence of books,Blue Chicago and On the Make, that deal with night life. This could be considered a follow-up to Goffman’s analysis of what constitutes “fun in games” as well as “where the action is.” For Grazian, night-life is a performance of one’s “nocturnal self,” characterized by role-distance from one’s mundane day-time identity. By a combination of his own interviewing behind the scenes and collective ethnographies of students describing their evening on the town, from pre-party preparation to post-party story-telling, Grazian shows how the boys and the girls, acting as separate teams, play at sexual flirtation which for the most part is vastly over-hyped in its real results. It is the buzz of collective effervescence that some of these teams generate that is the real attraction of night life. And this may be an appropriate place to wind up. Freud, perhaps the original micro-sociologist, theorized that sexual drive is the underlying mover behind the scenes. Grazian, looking at how those scenes are enacted, finds libido as socially constructed performance. As is almost everything else.

blue chicago

In conclusion.  Will interaction ritual, or for that matter micro-sociology as we know it, become outdated in the high-tech future?  This isn’t futuristic any more, since we have been living in the era of widely dispersed information technology for at least 30 years, and we are used to its pace and direction of change. A key point for interaction ritual is that bodily co-presence is one of its  ingredients. Is face contact needed? Rich Ling analyzed the everyday use of mobile phones and found that the same persons who spoke by phone a lot also met personally a lot. Cell phones do not substitute for bodily co-presence, but facilitate it. Among the most frequent back-and-forth, reciprocated connections are people coordinating where they are.  Ling concluded that solidarity rituals were possible over the phone, but that they were weaker than face-to-face rituals; one was a teaser for the other.

Conceivably future electronic devices might wire up each other’s genitals, but what happens would likely depend on the micro-sociological theory of sex (chapter 6 in Interaction Ritual Chains): the strongest sexual attraction is not pleasure in one’s genitals per se, but getting the other person’s body to respond in mutually entraining erotic rhythms: getting turned on by getting the other person turned on. If you don’t believe me, try theorizing the attractions of performing oral sex. This is an historically increasing practice, and one of the things that drives the solidarity of homosexual movements. Gay movements are built around effervescent scenes, not around social media.

I will try theorizing the attractions of performing oral sex, Professor!

I recommend Collins’ book written with Maren McConnell, Napoleon Never Slept: How Great Leaders Leverage Social Energy, which I bought and read though I do wish there was a print edition.

Previous coverage about Collins’ work.  Shoutout to Brent Forrester, who I think put me on to him.