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I'm not much of a TV watcher (sure, that's what they all say) so when I tuned in to President Obama's Libya speech I did so on the lowest numbered channel. That happened to be the local NBC affiliate. Obviously the president was preempting local affiliate/syndicated program time, not network prime - at least here on the east coast. Seven o'clock here, but six, five, four in the afternoon as you move west. Ratings were not the best, I hear. No surprise, with half the country (silly taxpayers) still at work.
Jeopardy was the scheduled program. So I was inspired to watch the not-worthy-of-prime-time speech in game show mode, firing questions at the president's answers exactly as I might to Alex Trebeck.
"I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform who, once again, have acted with courage, professionalism and patriotism," said the president.
"Who is George Bush?" I replied. Like Alex, he ignored me and moved on to the harder answers.
"For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom..."
"Who is George Bush?" I fired right back.
Obama didn't look as calm, cool and collected as Alex, but he pressed on.
"...when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act" and "we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms..."
"Who is George Bush?" (Once I even looked around for some sort of a buzzer I could hit to add to the realism.)
"...our own future is safer, our own future is brighter, if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity..."
Too easy! "Who is George Bush?" I replied every time. (Okay - maybe once throwing in a "Who do you think you're fooling?" and a "Wait, I understand values, but why is this in our national interest? - but those weren't really Jeopardy-inspired responses.) He finished up, but I'm not sure what the prizes were (he did say something about a big one, though: "We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Qaddafi regime so that it's available to rebuild Libya") and I've no idea who won.
And then it was over, and regularly scheduled prime-time programming came on.
Four former U.S. presidents are joining forces for a TV special saluting public service and volunteerism.
NBC said Thursday that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush will gather for the hourlong "All Together Now: A Celebration of Service," which will air March 28.
President Barack Obama, scheduled to be abroad when the gala is held, will narrate a short film on the history and value of service in the country, NBC said...
That's from the March 4th press release announcing the extravaganza. In addition to four presidents the show promised appearances from Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Reba McIntyre, Cee-Lo, Carrie Underwood, Sam Moore...
But I turned it off. The feeling that I was somehow living in a South Park episode - or real life scripted by its writers - was too strong, and too strange. Besides, I wanted to watch the Obama speech again, without pretending it was just a game. I'd Tivo'd it, and there it is still, on the "Now Playing" list - albeit with the regularly scheduled program name.
"Jeopardy," it says.
(...and points east.)
Oh my! There might be CIA agents and MI6 and SAS and lions and tigers and bears (but no US military forces) on the ground in Libya and we might arm the rebels and some might be al Qaedies and maybe we aren't just protecting civilians after all! I'm shocked, shocked I tell you. Who knew?!
Back to that later, but first, a tactical update. When last we looked in on the situation, the rebels were approaching Qaddafi's hometown of Sirt.
The next step westward is "Qaddafi country" - and it's where things get considerably tougher. Part of the reason for that is because of one thing the rebels are not - there's no significant number of trained military members (or leaders) in their ranks...
You go to war with the allies you have, a wise man might say - but that's not the mix of allies we want. That's one reason why Marquardt's explanation that "opposition leaders hope the rebels' advance will slow down a bit and allow senior defected military officials to take over" is important.
Another reason that's a good place for a tactical pause should be easier to understand with a look at a map. Here's one I borrowed from here:
Click it for a larger version. Sorry for the spelling differences between the reports you'll read and the map (and lack of depictions of smaller locations like Bin Jawwad - between Ras Lanuf and Sirt), but I think it's good enough for the average person to achieve understanding of the tactical situation on the ground.
Look at the upper right corner of Libya, that's where the action is. Everything east of Sirt (in the middle of the coast line) is the area where we're most interested in protecting civilians and preventing massacres for now. Here's a close up.
Eventually we'll hopefully be able to get over to western Libya and protect the civilians there, too - but for now we'll have to settle for protecting the civilians east of Sirt.
If we were completely in control of the rebel alliance that tactical pause would have been achieved, gains would have been consolidated (oil could flow from the upper right corner - or "Cyrenaica", if you prefer - at least), the force would hopefully grow a bit (an infusion of a full brigade or two of former Qaddafi troops would have been especially nice, along with some uprisings in the west. Want to be on the right side of history? Sorry, Foreign Ministers need not apply...) and later
we they could press on to Tripoli. That was the situation last weekend.
So, let's begin our update with this News Hour report I watched immediately prior to President Obama's Libya speech. Excerpts:
GWEN IFILL: The rebel drive across Northern Libya turned into a panicked pullback today. Moammar Gadhafi's forces laid down a barrage of heavy weapons fire on the approaches to Sirte, Gadhafi's home town. The outgunned rebels were forced to flee the way they'd come.
We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News at the front lines.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The rebels were gathering when the bad news started to come back down the road. Just after dawn, those approaching Sirte had been attacked by armed civilians loyal to Col. Gadhafi.
MOFTAH SHALWAI (through translator): At (INAUDIBLE) they started to shoot at us from houses and trees. It was an ambush. They were Gadhafi's tribe and mercenaries from Africa. They had tanks, rockets and heavy guns.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Suddenly, artillery shells came overhead. The rebels and we were in range of Col. Gadhafi's armor.
There's just been incoming fire, and all these fighters are now streaming down the road, retreating, going back to the town of Bin Jawwad, which they hold. People I have been speaking to say that Col. Gadhafi has armed civilians up there. There's been hand-to-hand combat. But we can also hear heavy weapons.
It was a chaotic scene, as everyone piled into their vehicles, hurtling down the road for three miles to Bin Jawwad, the small town they had taken so easily two days ago. Here, they thought they could relax.
They couldn't, as we'll soon see. "Without coalition airstrikes," Hilsum concludes, "the fighters are simply outgunned."
Take any description of the enemy from a fighter on the ground ("They were Gadhafi's tribe and mercenaries from Africa") with a grain of salt. But from the above you can grasp another good reason why the rebels lacked air support at that point - or a reason why pausing east of Sirt would have been a good idea. "Those approaching Sirte had been attacked by armed civilians loyal to Col. Gadhafi" and "Col. Gadhafi has armed civilians up there. There's been hand-to-hand combat." When armed civilians clash with armed civilians it becomes difficult to protect civilians with airpower without hurting civilians. In a civil war, the definition of "civilian" becomes very murky - even on the ground. You can imagine the difficulties of properly identifying them from 30,000 feet.
For what came next, here's a New York Times report:
Having abandoned Bin Jawwad on Tuesday and the oil town of Ras Lanuf on Wednesday, the rebels continued their eastward retreat, fleeing before the loyalists' shelling and missile attacks from another oil town, Brega, and falling back toward the strategically located city of Ajdabiya.
Seemingly bad news. However, if we want to protect civilians but aren't ready for them to move west, the fact that Qaddafi's legions have shoved our civilian friends back eastward is not totally bad. (And really, a useful tactical pause for one side is also a tactical pause for the other; they get to regroup, reorganize, and re-supply, too.) Back to the New York Times:
But military experts said they expected the counterattack to expose Colonel Qaddafi's forces to renewed attacks, and an American military spokesman said that coalition warplanes resumed bombing the pro-Qaddafi units on Wednesday, without specifying either the timing or locations.And an AFP report:
The international coalition carried out a total of 200 sorties in the past 24 hours, with about 60 percent of the missions flown by the American military.
During the same period, the international coalition carried out 115 strike sorties, in which combat aircraft sought out targets in Moamer Kadhafi's armed forces.
Since the air operation began on March 19, the coalition has carried out 1,802 sorties.
The headline over that story is "For no-fly zone, four NATO sorties: US military." I do believe we've been promised that we'd need fewer and fewer air strikes to enforce the no-fly zone, and that we can consider that a promise kept.
In other news, the operation - now led by NATO - is now called Operation Unified Protector. And NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that (per UN Security Council mandate) NATO's operational focus will be "on protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas against the threat of attack." Lt Gen Charles Bouchard (the Canadian general now "in charge") "warned forces attacking civilians in Libya that they would be "ill-advised" to continue."
NATO is also looking into reports that some attacks on civilians may have come from NATO.
The new Nato commander of the international military operation in Libya has said he is looking into reports that air strikes on Tripoli have killed at least 40 civilians.
Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, a Canadian now heading the international operation, noted the alleged incident happened before Nato took command on Thursday. He said: "I take every one of those issues seriously, but our mission began ... today."
The report by the Fides news agency quoted Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, the apostolic vicar of Tripoli, as saying he had learned that a building in the Buslim district collapsed because of bombing, killing 40 people.
Lt Gen Bouchard said the alliance has strict rules of engagement and is careful in going after any targets.
Nato has taken over all air operations over Libya from the United States, which had led the international force bombarding Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Lt Gen Bouchard said the transition of command had been "seamless with no gaps", and warned forces attacking civilians in Libya that they would be "ill-advised" to continue.
The operation - codenamed Unified Protector - includes enforcement of the no-fly zone, maintaining the arms embargo on Libya, and the protection of civilians from attacks by Gaddafi's military.
If all that confuses you, go back and study the maps.
(More to follow, of course.)
If you want to better understand Libya's current civil war - beyond Qaddafi is a bad man but some of the people fighting him might be al Qaeda but preventing genocide is a good thing but isn't this what we were doing in Iraq and why isn't Obama doing more for the anti-dictator protesters in Syria, Iran and Wisconsin? - read on. What follows is history, of course - but it's not the boring kind of history. It's the sort that involves explosions, empires, military conquest, airpower, guerrilla warfare, subterfuge, switching sides (the enemy of my enemy is my friend), and ... er...
On second thought, maybe it's not history after all. Maybe it's current events.
Let's begin our story exactly 100 years ago:
The short version: In 1911 Italy - sensing weakness at the edges of the Ottoman Empire (and noticing a lot of apparently available map space between British Egypt and French Algeria that was also conveniently located just across the Med from Italy) - went to war in North Africa. It wasn't quite the cakewalk they expected, but the shooting war that began in September that year concluded with the first Treaty of Lauserne just one year later, granting Italy the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica.
World War One erupted less than two years later. Italy picked the right side in that conflict, and was able to keep its colonies after its conclusion. Not surprisingly, the Italians encountered resistance to their rule (an insurgency, even, most notably from troublesome residents of Cyrenaica), but by 1934 (under Mussolini) had effectively crushed it, and united the provinces ("emirates," if you prefer) as "Libya" - a classical (Egyptian/Greek/Roman)-era name.
But then Italy picked the wrong side in World War Two. After some initial difficulties with Rommel the British swept out of Egypt and through Libya. They brought with them the last of the "rebel leaders" - the Emir of Cyrenaica - who had been living in exile in Egypt. In 1951 he became Idris I, the first and only (U.N. approved) King of Libya. (Initially the United Kingdom of Libya - composed of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.)
At that time "Libya's biggest source of income was from scrap metal salvaged from its World War Two battlefields. There were no known natural resources--even Libya's sand was inadequate for glassmaking." But in 1959 oil was discovered there, and the economy changed overnight. Ten years later, when an aged King Idris left the country for medical treatment, Libyan army officers under the leadership of Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a coup. His subsequent 42-year reign is among the longest - and easily the most contentious - of any world leader in recent history. (In spite of a few other uses of strategic airpower - and other assets - against him.)
More recently, he seemed to be attempting to improve his image (and maintain something of a lower profile). However, in February 2011 protests against his regime erupted in eastern Libya. (Or Cyrenaica, if you prefer.)
This ends the short version of the story, which by definition lacks all the interesting details. Those can be provided in other short stories to follow...
One is General Abdel Fateh Younis, who was Qaddafi's interior minister and the commander of the Libyan special forces until he "defected" to the rebel side. Younis has been publicly absent, and he is distrusted by the shabab and by many council members. The other chief, Colonel Khalifa Heftir, is a hero of Libya's war with Chad, in the nineteen-eighties; he later turned against Qaddafi and, until recently, was in exile in the U.S. Unlike Younis, he elicits widespread admiration in Benghazi, but he, too, has kept out of sight, evidently at a secret Army camp where he is preparing élite troops for battle.
...one job opening.
Or is it three?
The names of three different men have been given over the past three weeks as the ostensible leader of the rebels' military force. One is Abdel Fatah Younis, Gaddafi's former Interior Minister, who defected to the rebels' side. Another is Omar Hariri, a former general who led an unsuccessful revolt against Gaddafi in 1975. And then there is Khalifa Heftir, a famed opposition hero who recently returned from foreign exile to help lead the fight.
On the front line, a few of the volunteers cite Younis as their leader; others say they follow Heftir. Volunteer council translator Shamsiddin Abdulmolah explains it like this: Younis is like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Heftir is the commander in the field and Hariri is the Defense Minister. But despite these titles, it's not clear that there's much of an army to lead.
The initials "CIA" do not appear in this McClatchy story from suburban Virginia:
In March 2001, Le Monde diplomatique published a chapter of the book Manipulations africaines, in which the author indicated that [translation] "the Haftar force, created and financed by the CIA in Chad, vanished into thin air with the help of the CIA shortly after the Hissène Habré government was overthrown [in 1990 (IRIN 19 Apr. 2006)] by Idriss Déby" (see also The Washington Post 26 Mar. 1996). A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) notes that in 1996 the main opposition group in Libya was the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), founded in 1981 and headed by Muhammad Al-Muqaryif (CRS 19 Dec. 1996). Its military wing is known as the Libyan National Army and is headed by Colonel Haftar (ibid.; see also The Washington Post 26 Mar. 1996).
The same report indicates that Colonel Haftar joined the LNSF in March 1987 after he was captured in the Chadian war; his goal was to create an army to fight against the Libyan authorities (ibid.). The Washington Post reported on 26 March 1996 that, according to some sources, Colonel Haftar was the leader of the Libyan National Army, a group of counter-revolutionaries supported and trained by the United States and operating in Libya. According to the sources cited in the article, anti-government uprisings in Libya were led by Colonel Haftar from the United States (The Washington Post 26 Mar. 1996; see also CSR 19 Dec. 1996). A CRS report states that the United States was providing financial and military aid to the LNSF at that time and that a number of LNSF members were living in exile in the United States (ibid., see also The Washington Post 26 Mar. 1996). An article on the Daily Nation Web site at nationmedia.com reports that the American authorities permitted the "Haftar forces" to stay in Kenya before welcoming them to the United States (1 Mar. 1999). The "Haftar forces" had previously attempted to overthrow the Libyan government (Daily Nation 1 Mar. 1999)
The new leader of Libya's opposition military spent the past two decades in suburban Virginia but felt compelled - even in his late-60s - to return to the battlefield in his homeland, according to people who know him.
Khalifa Hifter was once a top military officer for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but after a disastrous military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s, Hifter switched to the anti-Gadhafi opposition. In the early 1990s, he moved to suburban Virginia, where he established a life but maintained ties to anti-Gadhafi groups.
Late last week, Hifter was appointed to lead the rebel army, which has been in chaos for weeks. He is the third such leader in less than a month, and rebels interviewed in Libya openly voiced distrust for the most recent leader, Abdel Fatah Younes, who had been at Gadhafi's side until just a month ago....
According to Badr and another friend in the U.S., a Georgia-based Libyan activist named Salem alHasi, Hifter left for Libya two weeks ago.
Since arriving in the United States in the early 1990s, Hifter lived in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C. Badr said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family.
Interesting he could make it from suburban Virginia to Libya at that time, but by the 14th of March he was there, and being described as a "top rebel commander" in news accounts shortly thereafter. He got there just in time, too - just days before the UN authorized establishment of a "no fly" zone.
Regardless, the rebels still need an army to defect before someone can command it.
- whether it must or not.
Let's do a bit of Sunday morning channel surfing.
NBC's Meet the Press opened with an update from the frontlines of Libya's civil war from Richard Engel, appearing with a backdrop of a half dozen locals posed on the ruined hulk of a tank. The rebels are making progress, those frontlines are moving forward, we're told. Their next stop (stopped because they're expected to "find the next group of Qaddafi's troops truly dug in, and again in need of Western help to push this advance"): Qaddafi's home town, Sirt.
I used the term "civil war" above. But call it a "revolution" or "insurgency" (and ignore whether or not we should be focused on Afghanistan) if the term causes you dismay. This is about what we're doing in Libya, and not about marketing campaigns, or the words others are using to describe the armed conflict for control of that country or to expose the hypocrisy of their political foes.
As for what we're doing, it's "The clearest sign yet that air strikes are paving the way for rebels to advance against Qaddafi and his forces," David Gregory explains by way of introduction. Engel reports our air strikes have "destroyed at least 20 tanks and other armored vehicles in this area alone," (he's near Ajdabiya) and "if the airstrikes stop, [the rebels] will no longer be able to advance and this could become a long, drawn-out stalemate."
Advance to where? "The rebels hope this advance will take them to Tripoli."
Change channels: On CNN Alex Marquardt is also advancing with the rebels. "A quick advance was expected following the stalemate that was broken by the coalition air strikes," he says. But now "opposition leaders hope the rebels' advance will slow down a bit and allow senior defected military officials to take over." Not too far forward along the road to Tripoli is Sirt, he explains, which is Qaddafi's hometown and "they're not sure what sort of weapons he has there."
Clicking back to Meet the Press: "Is Qaddafi capable of routing the rebels?" David Gregory asks Hillary Clinton. "At this point," she replies, "it appears his efforts have been stopped." Good, sez I.
None of that will stop people from pretending we aren't supporting the rebels. But we just took in a lot of information in a very few words, and maybe you haven't been watching this particular show; let's pause the DVR and sort it out a bit.
First, the cast of characters and plot: American ("NATO under UN authorization with support from the Arab League and African Union," if you prefer) airpower is supporting rebels, who hail primarily from eastern Libya, in their attack on Qadaffi loyalists. ("It is now at a stage where the air strikes are no longer just about defending the people of Benghazi," says Engel. "We're considerably far away from Benghazi; the air strikes have destroyed all the forces that were threatening the city. Now the air strikes are really helping an advance by the rebels...").
"Qaddafi loyalists" are the dictator's armed forces - some of which he sent east to kill those rebels (or mere protesters - and probably innocent civilians who'd be caught in the crossfire, too).
"The rebels" are an... um... er... interesting group. (One that U.S. officials don't like to talk much about, and that U.S. reporters don't like to ask about. Picture Obi Wan, Luke, and Princess Leia on that desert planet from Star Wars if it makes you happy. You'll be almost right about the background scenery, at least.)
That "interesting group" can claim home turf - that Qaddafi loyalists "invaded" - in eastern Libya; with our air support they've turned them back. But they've reached the edge of that turf. The next step westward is "Qaddafi country" - and it's where things get considerably tougher. Part of the reason for that is because of one thing the rebels are not - there's no significant number of trained military members (or leaders) in their ranks. The nearest thing they've got to that are a handful of folks who "joined the jihad" in Iraq or Afghanistan, maybe took a few shots at American or British forces there, planted a few IEDs, or helped behead some of the locals who didn't share their idea of "liberation." (But only a few dozen of those types; hundreds at the most. If there are significant numbers of rebels at all, the bulk are people with no combat experience whatsoever.)
You go to war with the allies you have, a wise man might say - but that's not the mix of allies we want. That's one reason why Marquardt's explanation that "opposition leaders hope the rebels' advance will slow down a bit and allow senior defected military officials to take over" is important. Much of what's happened in Libya so far has been improv - but that quote offers a quick look at the script the Obama administration would like to follow from here on out. All that's needed is the right actor for the part; the obvious next line of this script (act one, final scene, just before the curtain...) requires one of Qaddafi's senior military leaders to defect. (And bring his army with him.)
We tune back in to Meet the Press just in time to hear Secretary Clinton issue the casting call. "We're sending a message to people around [Qaddafi]: do you really want to be a pariah? Do you want to end up in the international criminal court? Now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction."
"Don't underestimate what Hillary just said," Secretary Gates added. "The people around him, looking at what's happening and the international view of this place and when is the time to turn and go to the other side." (Secretary Gates also pointed out that the second UN resolution on Libya authorizes us to arm the rebels, but that no decision on whether to do so has been made by the U.S. government at this time...)
It's a time-limited moment, indeed. The president himself will speak tomorrow. He's already achieved what might prove to be his easiest goal: most people accepted that this was a NATO mission before he finished his South American tour. We're still in improv mode for now (acceptable to a degree in act one). But the act two script is written in pencil - not ink, and it can be changed on the fly.
The curtain will fall on act one regardless, and we still aren't sure if this production is a comedy, tragedy, drama, or farce.
Golly - it's hard to read to read Juan Cole's Top Ten Accomplishments of the UN No-Fly Zone without concluding our excellent Libyan Adventure is just nothing short of the best war ever. Seriously - Operation Whadafugever Yakallit is not even a week old, and Professor Cole has documented enough good stuff about it to qualify Barack Obama for another Nobel Peace Prize. (Just wait until Cole sees how many lives an AC130 can save...)
"Qatar is expected to be flying missions over Libya by this weekend," he says by way of illustrating why "The participation of the Muslim world" is #1 on his top ten list. Good stuff. He didn't have room to mention it, but Qatar is home to the massive ($$$!) Al Udeid Air Base - forward headquarters of United States Air Forces Central Command (aka CENTAF). It's been the launchpad for our airpower assets over Iraq and Afghanistan for years now. (Though it's one of many places reporters are required to call "an undisclosed location" when reporting from it.) I'm not sure how many of his own nine Mirage 2000 fighters the Emir will send over (or even if he'll restrict participation to some or all of his six cargo aircraft - two big ones and four small) but hell yeah - welcome aboard! (I hope whatever plane he does send he lets a Qatari pilot fly it; those guys have got to be tired of watching the Americans take off on afterburners for all these years.) And from the story Cole links: "Hillary Clinton suggests that Qatar may not be the only Arab country taking part." Super!
His #6 is excellent, too:
6. Misrata, Libya's third-largest city with a population of 670,000, was given a brief reprieve Wednesday afternoon when United Nations allies bombed pro-Qaddafi tank positions and the aviation academy outside the city. At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center, including a hospital with 400 patients in it! All through Wednesday, pro-Qaddafi snipers took a toll on pedestrians in the downtown area. Still, the cessation of the bombardment for many hours benefited the city, which could easily have seen many times the 16 dead killed by Qaddafi's thugs.
Let me be clear: I think saving the lives of somewhere between 1 and 670,000 people (or X times 16 people, where X="many," to use Cole's algebra - but just go with "670,000" for the Nobel write-up) is a noble act. I hate to be a wet blanket about such a patriotic, all-American and humanitarian post, but that bit about "At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center" and killed people anyway is troubling.
See, that's the downside to all this cool airpower/no ground troops stuff. You either keep it going for years (think three US presidents - that was our record in Iraq, but we never did find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of that Tootsie Roll Pop) or you send in ground troops (think Bosnia or Kosovo, where we've had troops - who would be "home by (election year) Christmas" - for almost two decades now. I keep seeing them referenced in stories about this one - but they're in Europe...) or you just drop some bombs and go home (think Libya 1986, though this time we don't have to fly all the way around France...).
Something else could happen completely unlike any of those examples, of course. Wars are like snowflakes. No two are alike. Cole says anyone who thinks this one will last less than seven days or longer than eternity is just silly. I agree. I hope this one's an unprecedented quick success; but history says unless you try the first or second options, those bad guys are going to creep back. (And yes, they'll even threaten a hospital with 400 patients in it!).
(More to follow...)
Who are we supporting in Libya? The question has been raised - I can provide an answer: either we're supporting Libyan rebels with experience fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or we're supporting rebels with no combat experience whatsoever.
I suppose I've merely rephrased the question in an even more uncomfortable (at least, for those who should have an answer) manner: are we supporting Libyan rebels with experience fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are we supporting rebels with no combat experience whatsoever? (Please set aside any fantastic notion that we're only protecting civilians and not supporting rebels at all - when you bomb one side in a war you're supporting the other.) The US military doesn't need-to-know the answer ("Our mission is not to support any opposition forces," the general said) - they are following orders from the Commander-in-Chief, who - not surprisingly - seems rather loathe to examine that point too closely. (Or at least doesn't want to talk about it.) American reporters (also not surprisingly; they've been quite supportive of the government lately - it's like the 90s all over again!) - don't seem too eager to raise the question, either.
Since I know the answer, I believe it's only fair I give it...
At Reason, Michael C. Moynihan says he can't get to Libya, "So I offer this to all of those brave journalists in the field, both in Benghazi and Tripoli, who seem to be ignoring a rather important issue." His offer is this question:
"Who is it that these strikes are supporting?"
For those of us skeptical of the intervention in Libya (but will nevertheless cheer if Qaddafi, veteran scumbag and funder of scumbags, disappears from the world stage), one of the many unanswered questions is: "Who is it that these strikes are supporting?" When I visited Libya, the purpose of the trip was to demonstrate the successful government campaign against the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qaeda farm team that worked with bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan and whose stated goal was the overthrow of the "secular" (by LIFG standards) Qaddafi regime. Through a series of prison initiatives ultimately called "corrective studies," the government released almost all of its "rehabilitated" LIFG prisoners who, it claimed, had renounced terrorism. And when the regime was teetering last month, as a sop to the more extreme elements in the protest movement, the government released its remaining LIFG prisoners.
When I met a handful of these guys last year, as security officials loomed, scribbling in notepads, they unconvincingly claimed that they had seen the light, denied that they had been tortured, and said, without emotion or inflection--that tone that one heard in Stalinist show trials, when poets and ex-party officials confessed to being "wreckers" and Trotskyite saboteurs--that they were adherents of the Green Book and terribly sorry for their past offenses. It was a thoroughly unconvincing performance (though some of the other Western visitors were very much convinced). Soon after my visit, CNN's Nic Robertson did a few reports, coordinated by the Qaddafi Foundation, that detailed the "new jihad code that threatens al-Qaeda"--the LIFG's "corrective studies" program.
Among those LIFG members released (and now very much involved in the anti-Qaddafi rebellion), Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi - subject of the Italian media story linked at the top of this post, and profiled here. Libyan prisons aren't the only ones he's inhabited: "I was captured in 2002 in Peshawar in Pakistan, while I was returning from Afghanistan where I fought against the foreign invasion. I was turned over to the Americans, detained for a few months in Islamabad, then turned over to Libya and released from prison in 2008," he says - by way of denying he was in Guantanamo.
Afghanistan isn't his only area of interest:
Al-Hasadi told Il Sole 24 Ore that he personally recruited "around 25" Libyans to fight in Iraq. "Some have come back and today are on the front at Ajdabiya," al-Hasadi explained, "They are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists." "The members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader," al-Hasadi added.
(Andrew Exum noted Libya's - "and specifically eastern Libya" - contribution of foreign fighters to Iraq immediately prior to the start of US involvement in the war in Libya here.)
That version of Al-Hasadi's quote is edited, but the full quote (as reported by Il Sole 24 Ore) is interesting too. Translated:
In 2007, the U.S. military in Baghdad issued a list of foreign mujahideen who were fighting alongside the insurgents: about 112 Libyans, 52 (including some suicide bombers) were from Derna. "I've sent them about 25," states Haqim. "Some have returned and are now on the front of Ajdabiya, they are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists. I condemn the September 11 attacks, and those against innocent civilians in general. But members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and fight against the invader." An ambiguous speech. Yet it is unusual to hear a man accused of joining al Qaeda call for the imposition of a no-fly zone and international raids against the strongholds of the rais.
This description is also interesting for the same reason: "Shaven, long hair, jacket and blue jeans, Ali Faraj, 42, did not look like an extremist."
If you like, you can imagine "I condemn the September 11 attacks, and those against innocent civilians in general" as being spoken without emotion or inflection by a clean-cut rebel in that tone that one heard in Stalinist show trials. Whether delivered in that tone or not, turning to the aforementioned Nic Robertson's CNN report we learn that's exactly what the Libyan "corrective studies" program was all about:
Leaders of one of the world's most effective jihadist organizations, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), have written a new "code" for jihad. The LIFG says it now views the armed struggle it waged against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime for two decades as illegal under Islamic law.
The new code, a 417-page religious document entitled "Corrective Studies" is the result of more than two years of intense and secret talks between the leaders of the LIFG and Libyan security officials...
In essence the new code for jihad is exactly what the West has been waiting for: a credible challenge from within jihadist ranks to al Qaeda's ideology.
While the code states that jihad is permissible if Muslim lands are invaded -- citing the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine -- the guidelines it sets down for when and how jihad should be fought, and its insistence that civilians should not be targeted are a clear rebuke to the goals and tactics of bin Laden's terrorist network.
CNN was given exclusive access to the Abu Salim jail where the code was written to talk to the LIFG prisoners...
So, perhaps as a result of our efforts Libya will soon be governed by former al Qaeda jihadists transformed by Qaddafi himself into "exactly what the West has been waiting for." If so, how much of that re-education stuck (beyond saying the slightly more right things) is another fine question. Obviously while in 2009 "The LIFG says it now views the armed struggle it waged against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime for two decades as illegal under Islamic law" they've subsequently changed their minds.
If nothing else, the above information should help identify the key words in this LA Times article, headlined "U.S. finds no organized Al Qaeda presence in Libya opposition, officials say." Here's a sample paragraph:
A U.S. intelligence-gathering effort that began shortly after anti-Kadafi forces started seizing towns in eastern Libya last month has not uncovered a significant presence of Islamic militants among the insurgents.
One wonders if similar statements like "U.S. intelligence has uncovered an insignificant presence of Islamic militants among the insurgents" or "U.S. finds disorganized Al Qaeda presence in Libya opposition" are also true.
But this comment to the Times from an unnamed "congressional staffer who receives intelligence briefings" is probably the right way to characterize our Libyan allies: "There ought to be a concern and recognition that there may be such a linkage. There should also be an appreciation that the opposition is not a uniform, monolithic movement."
One way of looking at that as a positive: no matter how many Libyans (freelance or under an al Qaeda banner) fought Americans (and Iraqis and Afghans) in Iraq or Afghanistan - and survived for a trip home ("1,000 trained men"?) - there aren't enough to defeat Qaddafi's army, even with American, French, and British air support. So they can't make up more than a fraction of any force that could possibly succeed in Libya. On the downside "Mr. Sayeh said the rebels had been working to better organize their ranks to include members of specialized units from the Libyan Army that would attack Colonel Qaddafi's forces when the time was right. But evidence of such a force has yet to materialize."
In other words, the answer to the question "are we supporting Libyan rebels with experience fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are we supporting rebels with no combat experience whatsoever?" is...
Some of each.
Not a good answer, perhaps. But this New York Times account of action on the Libyan front bears it out:
The rebels appeared to have fallen into some disarray as they returned from Ajdabiya, with one commander at the checkpoint trying to marshal them with a barely functioning megaphone. He tried organizing the assembled fighters into columns for an attack, but nearly fell off the truck as he ordered the fighters to move.
"I know most of you are civilians," he said. "But we have to charge." Only a few trucks inched forward as other fighters stood and argued among themselves.
(More to follow...)
Reportorial clockwork: Every six months or so we (you and me) learn that Americans (except you and me) are teh stupids. Newsweek had a go at it this week (they did it in August last year, too), but this time they acknowledged up front that this was nothing new:
Don't get us wrong: civic ignorance is nothing new. For as long as they've existed, Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators. And they've been lamenting the philistinism of their peers ever since pollsters started publishing these dispiriting surveys back in Harry Truman's day. (He was a president, by the way.)
"But," they added, "the world has changed" - so it's more important now because "it's becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings--like us." Us Americans, that is. Europeans are lots more smarter.
In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us.
But that's not how we know we are stupid - this is:
When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America's official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn't name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn't correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn't even circle Independence Day on a calendar.
(Here's a hint for the first one: he's that guy who thought Franklin Roosevelt went on TV in 1929 to explain the Great Depression to Americans. And don't feel bad if you can't do the last one, I don't own a calendar you can draw circles on either.)
Did I already quote the part about this is important now because times have changed? Here's another example from the same story (because the three most important tools for getting your point across to stupid people are repetition, repetition, and repetition):
For more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them. But times have changed--and they've changed in ways that make civic ignorance a big problem going forward.
Because of the internet, we are told.
Fortunately, Newsweek has determined the causes of our problems. In general, it's because our government is too complicated ("...we're saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office (judge, sheriff, school-board member, and so on). "Nobody is competent to understand it all...") and we aren't socialist enough ("It doesn't help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world..."). Also, the federal government doesn't control our education system enough; a big part of our problem is "the decentralized U.S. education system, which is run mostly by individual states."
But besides those generic causes of our ignorance there are also some specific problems identified. Surprisingly, "many people who are US Americans don't have maps" is not among them. But they are issues that have been in the headlines recently. The first is that we don't have enough labor unions any more - like in the good old days:
And where we once relied on political institutions (like organized labor) to school the middle classes and give them leverage, we now have nothing.The second explains why we are lots more stupider than Europeans: unlike them we don't have enough government television.
Another hitch is our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting, which, according to the EJC study, "devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas."
In short, people want to be stupid or something, and now that labor unions can't tell them right from wrong they will only be smart if the government makes them smart. Newsweek's bottom line: "Whether that's a treatable affliction or a terminal illness remains to be seen. But now's the time to start searching for a cure."
Gosh, I sure hope someone gets started on that right away. I wouldn't even know where to begin.
Besides, now is the time to watch television.
And I don't care who y'are, that's funny right there!
Perhaps we should try fighting only that sort of long range, off shore war. It is the kind of war that makes heroes, not the sort that wears down armies, chews up soldiers and spits them out. The world is safe at minimum effort and cost. (Or "blood and treasure", as those who've generally donated the least of either prefer to call it.)
Americans get the occasional Team America sort of news report that reassures them we are the baddest sunsabitch in the valley without having to experience the outrage over the quality of paint used in the hospital rooms of wounded combat vets.
Most of what we believe makes that attractive is every bit as illusory as the resulting favorable opinion polls are real.
- Mudville, two years ago
Both CBS and CNN compare today's events to historic examples of Bill Clinton's flexing of American muscle. CBS:Americans have supported this type of military action before. According to a CBS News Poll conducted in September 1995, 59 percent of Americans approved of air strikes in Bosnia during the war there. In March 1999, 51 percent favored US and NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War.
CNN offers an even more detailed look here.
Curiously, the more direct comparison - Clinton's 1998-2001 bombing campaign in Iraq isn't on the list. (Air strikes in Iraq - most aimed at enforcing a "no-fly zone" by targeting surface anti-aircraft systems - continued on a near-daily basis through the final years of Clinton's presidency and the first of Bush's, but Operation Desert Fox, the December 1998 portion alone featured "more munitions than used in the 1991 Gulf War.") Congress had passed "The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998" ("It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime") earlier that year, but regarding the expanded air attacks of December, "Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world," Clinton declared at the time. "Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons."
How well that worked is a subject of debate; Saddam Hussein remained in violation of UN resolutions regarding weapons inspections until regime change in 2003. But Clinton's attacks also inspired Osama bin Laden to pass a death sentence on all Americans that year. "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it," the al Qaeda leader declared in 1998 - but (in America, at least) he was largely ignored. "You are like the Middle East version of Teddy Roosevelt," an ABC news reporter told him; "the American people, by and large, do not know the name bin Laden, but they soon likely will."
One aspect of the Iraq campaign was undeniably successful. A few days after the completion of Desert Fox President Clinton's approval level reached "a personal all-time high of 73 per cent in a Gallup poll" - this in spite of the fact that 1998 was also the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
At the time CNN declared that scandal their #1 story of the year, with the attack on Iraq a distant #9. Still, today - given their recall of Clinton's other bombing campaigns - it seems odd that CBS and CNN have forgotten the big one.
Posted at 0806Z
March 18, 2011
The End of Edmund Ruffin[Greyhawk]
Mostly forgotten now, Virginian Edmund Ruffin - the man who forecast the Civil War - became an urban legend in his own time. Seventy-four years old at the outbreak of the war, he was lionized in the South - credited with firing the first shot at Ft Sumter and the critical shot that turned Union retreat into a rout at Bull Run. (Bio here, and another account of Sumter here.) Whatever the degree of truth to any of those accounts, few did more to inspire those first shots than Ruffin.
Many more shots followed; by the end of the war his Virginia estates were in ruins, his beloved Confederacy crushed, and the Union preserved - outcomes that were absent from his pre-war Anticipations of the Future.
As was Ruffin's own end; arguably, he fired the final shot of the Civil War, too. This account from a rural (Warren County, Indiana - solid "Lincoln" in 1860 and 1864) northern paper relies on a report from a metropolitan (Richmond, Va) southern counterpart:
June 29, 1865
Edmund G. RUFFIN, Sr., of Virginia, committed suicide on Saturday at the residence of his son near Danville. This venerable ruffian it will be recollected fired the first gun in the attack on Sumter in 1861. The Richmond Whig of the 20th gives the following account: "It is now said that Mr. RUFFIN's mind has been very perceptibly effected since the evacuation of Richmond and surrender of the Confederate armies. For a week previous RUFFIN kept his chamber, busily employed writing what subsequently turned out to be the history of his political day. He also wrote letters, and in one of them left directions as to the disposal of his body. He bathed himself, put on a clean under and outer clothing, and directed that his body should be buried in the habiliments he had put on, without shroud or coffin.
"He then seated himself in a chair, put a loaded musket to his mouth, and leaning back, struck the musket with his hickory stick. The first cap did not explode, and he replaced it by another which discharged the musket, the charge of ball and buckshot blowing off the crown of the venerable old gentleman's head, and scattering his brains and snowy hair against the ceiling of the room. When the family, alarmed by the report, reached Mr. RUFFIN's room he was found lying back in his chair, the gun leaning against him and his life gone.
"A paragraph in the letter left for the perusal of the family and friends, explained the tragic deeds. It reads; "I cannot survive the loss of the liberties of my country." Mr. RUFFIN was very aged, perhaps eighty years of age, and brooding over the troubles of the times, the war and its results, no doubt unhinged his mind and caused a derangement of his once strong and vigorous faculties."
Recognizable by name or not, his image remains iconic of the southern fire eater. Neither he, the Yankee army, or even time could fully extinguish the blaze he helped light; his memory is revered among those few who imagine themselves the guardians of embers.
The less imaginative will always deal with the ashes, and build anew.
Next: Of Swords and Peace
Posted at 1016Z
March 17, 2011
A Night at the Opera[Greyhawk]
"The speeches, the delegations, the hand-shakings, the serenades, need not be recounted," said Lincoln aid John G. Nicolay regarding Mr Lincoln's visit to New York; "it will suffice to reprint the description of the visit of the President-elect to the Academy of Music while the first act of the Opera 'The Masked Ball' was in progress."At about a quarter past eight Mr. Lincoln, accompanied by Judge Davis of Illinois, and Alderman Cornell, entered, wholly unnoticed, the right hand proscenium box, on a line with the second tier. Another party, including two ladies, took seats behind the distinguished visitor. The first act over, the audience, having discovered his arrival, applauded him loudly. Mr. Lincoln bowed his acknowledgment of this courtesy, and resumed his seat amid renewed enthusiasm. After the lapse of half a minute a second round of applause was elicited, accompanied by cheers and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. The ladies evinced much curiosity and fluttered their fans and mouchoirs with patriotic fervor. Again Mr. Lincoln bowed and sat down. The efforts to obtain a speech failed, as was only proper it should, under the circumstances. The curtain now rose, and the entire company sang the 'Star Spangled Banner', the audience rising en masse. Miss Phillips sang the solo stanzas correctly. At the end of the first stanza a magnificent American flag was suddenly dropped half way down to the floor from between the flies. The presidential party remained standing, as did the entire audience, until the good old tune was finished. The band played 'Hail Columbia' as the curtain fell, after which the opera proceeded. The President and the gentlemen who attended him took their leave quietly at the close of the second act.The New York Times:
The President elect, accompanied by his lady and suite, visited the Opera last evening, and enjoyed a very excellent performance of VERDI'S new opera, "Un Ballo in Maschera." The party occupied a large prosecution box on the right-hand side of the house, and entered shortly after the performances had commenced. There was no demonstration until after the first act, when the President elect's presence having been discovered by a few persons familiar with his appearance, (there was nothing whatever to distinguish the box in which he sat, or attract the public attention,) a round of applause brought him to his feet. The curtain then arose, and the artists sang the "Star Spangled Banner" -- at least Mesdames PHILLIPS and HINCKLEY did, for the Italians, although they have been here for many years, have not yet mastered the difficulties of the language, and could not, of course, condescend to sing it. Intrusted to two American girls, the anthem received the best of treatment, and was vehemently applauded. The President elect bowed his acknowledgments from the box, and when a large flag descended from the top of the stage, he pointed to it with evident satisfaction. The performances were very satisfactory.
While the President elect was enjoying himself at the opera last evening, Mrs. LINCOLN held a lenne in the Ladies' parlor of the Astor House... Among the most prominent of those presented were Mrs. HAMLIN, wife of the Vice President elect, Mrs. AUGUST BELMONT, Mrs. BURNHAM, Mrs. F.P. JAMES and others....
Lincoln's visit to the opera was slightly more sensational than all that. As Carl Sandburg explains, white kid gloves were then in style, but Lincoln wore black:
In a box opposite, a Southern man remarked to the ladies of his party, "I think we ought to send some flowers over the way to the undertaker of the Union." The word spread, and the press commented on the one pair of black gloves in the packed house.
Mrs Lincoln the same evening was holding a fairly successful reception in the parlors of the Astor House. Newspapers mentioned Mrs August Belmont as among those present, which caused Mrs Belmont to send a note to the newspapers saying she wished it known that she was not present.
Indeed she would. A recent immigrant to the United States from Europe, Mr August Belmont was New York City's connection to BIG (Rothschild) European money, and was also the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Certainly his wife wouldn't be caught dead consorting with the sort of lowly Black Republican abolitionist riff-raff who'd wear some sort of darkie gloves to the opera.
Next: No Mean City (2)
Posted at 1355Z
March 16, 2011
The Mudville Gazette[Greyhawk]
AKA beginning year nine.
Posted at 1047Z
March 10, 2011
Honor the Brave[Greyhawk]
He was more than just a model mayor - he was the model for every aspiring Democrat politician who followed him: "In 1849, at the age of thirty-seven, Wood retired from active business and entered a profession. Or to be precise, he created a profession, the science of politics." Others have refined it since, but few have done anything he didn't do first.
He rode to power on the votes of a "permanent underclass" Tammany Hall had created in the newly-established slums of New York (aided by the gangs within them), then portrayed himself as their champion - and to others as the only thing standing between Wall Street and their pitchforks. He declared the city had grown so much as to be ungovernable, but when he had his own biography published months after he took office it proclaimed that he'd already greatly improved its image in the eyes of the world. (On the plus side, he should be rightly credited with many civic improvements, some of which probably didn't put money directly in his own pocket.)
In the end, "a greater schemer opposed him. This was Tweed" - the man who drove him from the mayor's office* ("...an act which would cover a multitude of Tweed's sins were it not that his motive was chiefly his predilection for plunder..."), but not before he'd watched and learned from Wood's successes and failures. Tweed eclipsed him in every way; when history was taught in American schools his name, synonymous with government corruption, was widely known. Now that his first successful student is all but forgotten (and thousands of others are unrecognizable as his heirs), the life of the teacher seems trivial at best. But in this new style of Democratic politics, Tweed was Augustus, Wood Julius Caesar.
Yet there is no statue of Fernando Wood in New York. In fact it's not likely many New Yorkers would even recognize the name. (Then again, probably few could tell you who's buried in Grant's Tomb**...) But once upon a time there was at least a monument with his name on it. Here's the story.
Both of William Jenkins Worth's parents were Quakers, "but he rejected the pacifism of their faith," says his Wikipedia bio. He jined the army when the War of 1812 began. His distinguished military career included that conflict, Seminole wars in Florida, and the War with Mexico.
Through it all he remained just a humble soldier, as this post-battle letter to his son in law makes clear:
After the Mexican war he was given command of the Army's Department of Texas, where...In January 1849 Worth proposed a line of ten forts to mark the Western Texas frontier from Eagle Pass to the confluence of the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River. One month later Worth died from cholera. General William S. Harney assumed command of the Department of Texas and ordered Major Ripley A. Arnold to find a new fort site near the West Fork and Clear Fork. On June 6, 1849, Arnold established a camp on the bank of the Trinity River and named the post Camp Worth in honor of the late General Worth.
Better known as Fort Worth, actually. And a little Texas town grew up around it that still thrives today. More: "The cities of Fort Worth, Texas and Lake Worth, Texas, the village of Worth, Illinois, Worth County, Georgia and the Lake Worth Lagoon in Florida, and consequently, the city of Lake Worth, Florida on its shores, are named in his honor."
But if you think New York City wouldn't honor someone who'd killed damn near as many Mexicans and Indians as Andy Jackson or Zach Taylor then you don't know New York. Not only is there a street named after him, he even got a corner of Madison Square...
Ceremonies of Dedication of the Worth Monument
November 25, 1857
An 1857 entry from the Reminiscences of Charles Haynes Haswell:November 23, the remains of Major-General Worth were removed from Greenwood Cemetery to the City Hall, where they lay in state until the 25th, when they were taken under military escort to the place of the monument now standing at Twenty-fifth Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and there deposited, the monument being dedicated.
The New York Times coverage of the day - including the text of a lengthy speech from Mayor Wood and a recap of the various horse accidents (several slipped and fell on the wet pavement of Broadway) associated with the parade - is archived here.
It is the second-oldest monument in Manhattan (an 1856 equestrian statue of George Washington in Times Square is the oldest) and, along with Grant's Tomb, one of only two monuments in the city holding the remains of the person being honored.
The south face of the obelisk features a bas-relief depiction of the general on his horse, and an elaborate trophy with crossed cannons, armor, two eagles, flags and a variety of weapons.
The east face has the Latin inscription "Ducit amor patriae" (Love of country leads (me)).
The north face bears a plaque reading, "Under this monument lies the body of William Jenkins Worth, born in Hudson, N.Y., March 1, 1794, died in Texas, May 7, 1849.
The west face bears the dedication date along with the exhortation to "Honor the Brave."
All well and good and appropriate. But turning now to one of the periodic histories Tammany Hall produced extolling its many virtues through the years - this example from 1901 (when only the city's elderly would actually remember Mayor Wood):On Madison Square, in New York, there stands a monument to General Worth, of the United States Army. It was erected under the Mayoralty of Fernando Wood, and therefore, very properly, his name was inscribed on one side of it. When Mayor Wood fell into disfavor, a subsequent Common Council had the puerile idea of erasing his name from this memorial stone, and actually did so, substituting, in its place, the rather trite phrase, "Honor the Brave."
Why, "Mr Wood was not lacking in bravery himself," the author concludes, "as his defiance of State authorities proved."
*Out of the mayor's office, but back into the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was a leader in the fight against reconstruction and civil rights for the remainder of his life.
Next: A Night at the Opera
Posted at 1217Z
March 9, 2011
Of Swords and Peace[Greyhawk]
March 4, 1861 was a windy day in Washington; the wind provided the only sound as the crowd gathered before the still under-construction capitol building quieted, straining to hear the words of the man they'd come to see inaugurated as president, Abraham Lincoln, of late from far west Illinois.
As he turned to face them, the same wind rustled the pages on which he'd composed his inaugural address. Had it blown just so at that moment, it might have lifted the top sheets of his text, briefly revealing the last; nature's capricious reminder of the many options before him, and the gravity of the decisions he would make from this point on.
"Fellow-Citizens of the United States," he began...
In compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly and to take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of this office."
I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement...
Certainly those in the crowd who were charged with the president's security would appreciate a brief speech. "He was inaugurated amid armed cavalry and sharpshooters at every point," Walt Whitman would later recall, "the first instance of the kind in our history, and I hope it will be the last."
His other listeners - and soon enough his words would be known nationwide (the telegraph had already changed the world) - no doubt appreciated his decision to forgo discussion of matters about which there is no special anxiety or excitement, too. They'd followed the news of the progress of his train trip from Illinois to Washington closely, but with each stop he'd refrained from offering the specifics of his thoughts on those topics about which there was.
He'd initially passed through mostly friendly territory on that trip. Certainly that was true of the remote parts of New York State, whose citizens had delivered him the largest block of electoral votes in the country. Shortly after crossing the border from Pennsylvania the Lincoln train made a stop at Westfield:
...where he was greeted by a banner: "Welcome Abraham Lincoln to the Empire State." Villard reported: "At the North East Station Mr. Lincoln took occasion to state that during the campaign he had received a letter from a young girl of this place [Erie] in which he was kindly admonished to do certain things, and among others to let his whiskers grow, and that, as he had acted on that piece of advice he would now be glad to welcome his fair correspondent if she was among the crowd. In response to the call a lassie made her way through the crowd, was helped to the platform and kissed by the President."
Grace Bedell became famous in Lincoln lure as the girl who written candidate Lincoln in October 15, 1860...
"All the ladies like whiskers," she'd advised him, "and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President."
Lincoln wrote back : "As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?"
Perhaps this recent New York Times account of events of November 1860 captures the mood of the era:
In Georgia, men of probity and wisdom tried to decide what to do about secession.
In Washington, men of probity and wisdom tried to decide what to do about secession.
And in Springfield, Ill., a man of probity and wisdom reached a firm decision. By all accounts, the beard is coming in nicely.
By late February 1861, both the beard and the "secession crisis" were in full bloom. Two days after his stop in Westfield the friendly regions of the state were behind him; Mr Lincoln's train approached New York City.
Carl Sandburg: "While Lincoln crossed the Empire State from west to east February 18, news came over the wires that down in Montgomery, Alabama, amid thundering cannon and cheers from an immense crowd, Jefferson Davis took his oath as President of the Confederate States of America, six today and more tomorrow."
The U.S. president-elect had revealed nothing of his intentions toward the South on his inaugural journey, but he carried with him the draft of the address he'd composed in Springfield. It concluded with remarks directed at those who believed they could form an even more perfect union: would you have peace, or war?In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you, unless you first assail it. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend" it. You can forbear the assault upon it; I can not shrink from the defense of it. With you, and not with me, is the solemn question of "Shall it be peace, or a sword?"
Among the few who'd seen it: New York Senator William Seward - soon to be his Secretary of State - who suggested he tone it down a bit.
But now the train was approaching New York City. "New York," wrote Sandburg in as apt an introduction as any, "the front door to America, where tall ships came in from the seven seas to one of the great world ports; where the 35,000 votes for Lincoln for President were a third of the total ballots; where had grown up the financial center of the country, with vast controls over trade, manufacture, transportation......where Mayor Fernando Wood had declared that New York should establish itself as a free city, separate from the Union, sovereign in itself like the seceded states of the South, thereby holding its trade and continuing "uninterrupted intercourse with every section" of the country; where bribe money had passed in franchise and city land deals; where the Mayor, as a party boss, had taken $5,000 apiece from two lawyers for nominations for Supreme Court judgeships; where the Mayor and his aldermen awarded a street-cleaning contract for $279,000 when another bid was $84,000 less; where the Mayor's personal fortune had risen to at least $250,000 out of politics; where only corruption of the courts of justice had saved the Mayor from conviction of forgery, perjury and other crimes; where the Mayor and his brother Ben owned lotteries and were licensed as professional gamblers through charters from Southern States; where they owned the New York Daily News and openly advocated the rights of the Confederate States.
The temptation is great to add "but other than that, not a bad little town!" - but that wasn't the half of it...
Next: Honor the Brave
Posted at 1430Z
March 8, 2011
The View from Park Row[Greyhawk]
Having heard from those who for months prior to the 1860 elections were anticipating (perhaps even preparing for) secession and civil war - it's appropriate to acknowledge that theirs wasn't a universal view. There are other historical records supporting Haswell's recollection (his Reminiscences was published in 1896) of the mood of the day:Initially, many Republicans scoffed at Democratic warnings that Lincoln's election would lead to secession of the South. As late as November 29, 1860, William Cullen Bryant, poet and owner-editor of the Evening Post, declared that "nobody but a few silly people expect it will happen."
In this case silly proved to be the opposite of wrong - but Bryant was no fool. He may have acquired a New Yorker's definition of everybody and nobody, but his lifetime's experience - throughout which he stayed true to his progressive political views - can be seen as a travel guide through the changing political landscape of the decades immediately prior to the Civil War. He was an original free soil Democrat, and had introduced Abraham Lincoln to the crowd at Cooper Union in February, 1860. By then his Evening Post could rightly be called one of three influential Republican-leaning papers in New York City. (The others were Greeley's Tribune and a relative newcomer on the scene: the New York Times, a paper founded by former Tribune man Henry Jarvis Raymond in 1851.)
If the people generally refused to believe in the likelihood of secession and civil war that's attributable at least in part to desire - people generally don't want war. Unfortunately that's a part of the human condition that (depending on its manifestation) has led to as many wars as any of the less desirable (greed, for example) human traits have through history. Two nations often go to war when only one wants to - if the other is sufficiently "non-militaristic." (A truth to which older citizens of Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Holland, and a host of other European nations can attest.) But that one-sided aggressiveness wasn't the case in the American Civil War. Remarkably - if Haswell is correct in his next line, too - the South didn't want war either: "In short, it was almost universally held in the North that the South never would secede, just as the South believed that in case of secession the North would not fight for the Union."
The history of the United States to 1860 had already been one of fractious, sometimes bloody political battles. But if that everything will be just fine delusion was somehow rampant among specially those of Republican politics, it may be because those who saw their own anti-slavery stance as a moral campaign conducted under the blessing of God (one would be hard-pressed to identify a cause in American history more worthy of the claim) didn't realize the full nature of the contribution slave labor made to the wealth of so many of their fellow citizens (the sort of wealth that can buy any number of moral justifications for any argument, or at least assuage any excessive feelings of guilt) and vastly underestimated the degree (beyond murderous) of hatred and contempt in which thus-threatened Democrats subsequently held them. If so, (at least, if one accepts deeds as more indicative of feelings than words) the feelings would be mutual soon enough.
But if the Times' day-after-the-elections coverage is any example of the mood of Republicans in 1860, Haswell was right and Bryant wasn't kidding - they really didn't see it coming.We searched in vain for some one that could tell us of the feelings of the defeated. Every one declared himself a Lincoln man, or else said nothing... At length passing through Nassau-street we met an acquaintance, -- one whom we had heard during the campaign expressing his predilections for DOUGLAS, and his blissful anticipations of Arcadian Winters in office at Washington under the Douglas dynasty. We hailed him; he was in a great hurry and couldn't stop, -- bank just closing, -- all that sort of thing. We took him by the button; that is the shot across the bows that will always bring one to. He stopped, and, after a moment's attention to our inquiries. "My dear Sir," he said, "I'm a Lincoln man, and always was!'' We pursued our investigations in that direction no further. In all seriousness, we heard less about Disunion yesterday than we have heard any day in a month past ... and we learned nothing that would lead us to suppose that the people of the fairly beaten parties will acquiesce now in the expressed, will of the people a whit less gracefully than the Republicans submitted when they were overborne four years ago.
One of our wandering reporters in a ramble around town, tried to find out some discordant element in the popular sentiment, and to that end visited the chief hotels, especially those which Southerners do most approve; also the restaurants, the public places of resort, and (but it was only as a matter of duty) the drinking saloons. Thus the New-York Hotel, the Lafarge, the Metropolitan and the St. Nicholas were approached with the very best results. Although a large number of Southern gentlemen and families were residing at each of these popular establishments, there were no symptoms of revolt, of dissatisfaction even, or of anything else than a disposition for enjoyment. Nothing whatever was there to indicate that the Government would change hands on the 4th of March next, and, after that, according to YANCEY, WISE and other equally good authorities, "the deluge." ...Human nature is a singular compound of contradictions. We readily accept to-day, especially when we cannot help it, what we denied and defied yesterday. Thus it was, that some "fire-eaters," Northern and Southern, whom our wandering reporter met on Monday, rampant for BRECKINRIDGE, DOUGLAS, BELL, LANE -- anybody but LINCOLN -- and secession, with absolute ruin to the country, if he was elected -- were discovered yesterday to be as mild as newly-weaned lambs.
"That any calamity threatened the Union," they added for good measure, "seemed as far from everybody's thoughts, as the idea that a volcano might break out in the Central Park, and by its eruption convert our Empire City into another Pompeii..."
Less than six weeks later, South Carolina seceded from the Union. ("A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery," read the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. "On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government...") Of course, no one in New York City was surprised.
Charles Haynes Haswell's Reminiscences offers wonderful insight into a bygone era. Not intended as a history, it's a chronological series of brief descriptions of life in New York City during first half of his.
In its pages he captured an era of great and small changes in the city, like this one from 1856:May 25, the last services were held in the old "Brick Church," which yielded its site to the Times building, the purchase having been made, despite the assertion that a condition of the gift to the church of the site, was that it should ever be occupied for a church.
Next: The End of Edmund Ruffin
Posted at 1746Z
March 7, 2011
A Grim Forecast for New York City[Greyhawk]
Alternative histories of the Civil War have been popular for many years. Modern author Harry Turtledove has produced several titles in the genre, which seems to attract non-full time writers, too. Newt Gingrich has co-authored a series. Even US Civil War buff/future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried his hand at it back in 1930, with a magazine piece asking what if Lee had won at Gettysburg. (Churchill's answer, condensed: The South takes Washington, frees their slaves - thereby ending European moral opposition to their cause - and wins the Civil War. North and South continue a tense relationship for years, but at last learn to live in peace under US President Teddy Roosevelt and Confederate President Woodrow Wilson. The two nations then combine with Great Britain to peacefully resolve "the European crisis of 1914, which followed the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand" and prevent what could have been a horrific global war: "It was said that Germany's Kaiser received the news with a scream of joy, and fell exhausted into a chair, exclaiming: "Saved! Saved! Saved!" Thus was a European war avoided which could have resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Kaiser Wilhelm II became one of the most respected elder statesmen of Europe." While complex and imaginative - Churchill chose to write from the perspective of an author in a world where Lee had won at Gettysburg, and titled his piece "What if Lee Had Not Won at Gettysburg" - the result is not among the eventual Nobel Prize for Literature winner's better efforts...)
But before them all came Edmund Ruffin's Anticipations for the Future, to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time. Ruffin's book could be called the first example of Civil War alt-history - except it was written before the Civil War. The Virginia author published his work in June, 1860, just a few weeks after the new Republican Party had nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for president over New York's William Seward. Ruffin predicted Lincoln would take the White House, but not all his forecasts were that accurate. His notion that the Civil War would begin after Lincoln was replaced by Seward in 1864 is one example. (That the South would win is another - but hey, maybe if they'd done things Ruffin's way...) Still, much of his work can be called prescient, and most - if not all - of what he got wrong can nonetheless be viewed as insight to the conventional wisdom of the immediate pre-Civil War day.
And much of the thinking reflected was not limited to the minds of those gentlemen living south of the Mason-Dixon. Ruffin's description of the economic impact of secession on the North...Added to the loss of trade of the northern states, is the want of employment for their shipping, in place of the virtual monopoly formerly enjoyed of all the southern carryingtrade. And worst of all, are the effects now felt by the merchants and manufacturers of the North of the forty millions due them from the South, and sequestrated by the government of the new confederacy, for as long time as the war shall continue.
...matched the anticipations (fears, in their case) of those New York City businessmen whose very lives were dependent on the commerce described.
While one anticipated result of that economic downturn he described ("as many as one-fourth of all the usually laboring and self-supporting poor of the great northern cities, and throughout the manufacturing rural districts, are now paupers and beggars") was not their primary concern, in the real world - then as now - New York's elite had their money in the bank and their voters in the slums (but had no illusions regarding the limits of their control over either) and recognized a threat to one as a threat to both.
More from Ruffin:And the 30,000 to 40,000 able-bodied men of this class, who burden and terrify each of the great cities of Philadelphia, New York and Boston, are not meek and humble, but sturdy and insolent beggars... There are daily assemblages, or processions of the unemployed poor, in the cities where they are most numerous, to show their numbers and strength to the rich, as a significant warning. On one late occasion such a "hunger procession" of 40,000 men, marched through the wealthier streets of New York, and took especial care to exhibit their strength in the Fifth Avenue of sumptuous palaces, the chief place of residence of the "merchant princes" of that great and rich city.
"To hunger processions there soon succeeded hunger mobs and riots, in which food only was seized at first, but in which the actors soon proceeded to plunder other moveable property, and especially money and other valuables," Ruffin wrote. No New Yorker would need his description to add to their ever-present concern, and they certainly wouldn't laugh at the idea. The panic of 1857 was still a fresh memory, and a very real one.By September 1857 estimates of New York unemployment ran as high as forty thousand. By late October Hunt's Merchant Magazine calculated the figure in Manhattan and Brooklyn had risen to a hundred thousand.
That's not a passage from Ruffin's imagination, it's from a 21st Century history of the city. The year 1857 - in which New Yorkers had already seen Fernando Wood's police riots followed by gang battles in Five Points - did not end on a high note, and unlike those earlier episodes, this time Wood saw no friendly faces in the mob...
Crowds were bigger than ever on Monday, November 9, and demonstrators flooded City Hall itself... Wood, himself troubled by the growing throngs, now decided to post police guards around government buildings and - remembering 1837 - the flour warehouses. The next day, when another mass meeting at Tompkins Square dispatched a delegation to confer with the mayor, it found City Hall ringed by three hundred police and stocked with a brigade of militia. A few blocks further south, moreover, the federal government had deployed soldiers and sailors under Mexican War hero General Winfield Scott to guard the Custom House and Sub-Treasury building.
Despite the array of armed might and editorial calls to "shoot down any quantity of Irish or Germans" necessary - "Rioters, like other people, have heads to be broken," cried the Herald, "and bodies to be perforated with ball and steel" - thousands again swarmed into Tompkins Square, and this time some of the desperately hungry broke discipline and launched a bread riot, seizing bakers' wagons and invading food shops.
"Gaunt men and women, clad in tatters, gathered in the Park, and that most fearful of all cries, when raised by a mob, "Bread," arose on every side," recalled historian J.T. Headley in 1873.Propositions were made to break open the stores, and get what they needed. Flour was hoarded up in them because so little could be got on from the West. The granaries there were groaning with provisions; but there was no money to pay for the transportation. There was money East, but kept locked up in fear. As this became known to the mob, their exasperation increased. To know that there were both food enough and money enough, while they were starving to death, was enough to drive them mad, and there were ominous mutterings. Fortunately, the authorities saw in time the threatened danger, and warded it off. A great many were set to work on the Central Park and other public works, while souphouses were opened throughout the city, and private associations formed to relieve the suffering; and the winter passed without any outbreak...
The ink had barely dried on the newspapers that reported those stories when Ruffin published Anticipations; Manhattanites can thus be forgiven for believing such dire predictions were anything but far-fetched.
In Ruffin's work, early riots are put down by military force - and by recruiting members of the unemployed masses into the army instead of employing them in public works - but that short-term fix doesn't reverse the North's economic death spiral, and soon "new and much more alarming riots occurred in the cities..."
An edited version of Ruffin's anticipation of the fate of the Empire City in the Civil War:In New York the rioters and plunderers, even in advance of seizing food or money, rushed to the shops where fire-arms and ammunition were sold, and from them, and from all the private houses subsequently entered, procured as large supplies as could be obtained. The arsenals of two of the volunteer military companies also were broken open, and all the arms carried off...
The uniformed volunteer companies, only, were first called out, as for the former riots. But these were too few to put down the rioters--and large reinforcements were ordered of the ordinary militia, and urgent requests were sent by the city authorities to the quarters of the commanding general, for the aid of the United States' regular troops in the neighboring garrisons.
... It is believed that the horrible and extensive massacres by the "Septembrisers 1' in Paris, in 1793, were committed by less than one thousand assassins, who, for three days, held that great city in subjection, by terror, and in quiet submission to the most atrocious and extravagant shedding of innocent blood that the world had ever known. It is not then strange that three or four thousand bloody miscreants of the most degraded conditions of society, should have paralysed with terror the people of New York. But these few thousands were growing rapidly, and with every minute of time, to ten-fold greater numbers.
...In a few hours from the beginning, there were more than 30,000 miscreants, mostly armed with some deadly weapon, engaged in sacking the houses and shops, not only of the rich, but of all whose moveables were supposed to be worth being plundered. ...the United States regular troops arrived from their barracks, to the number of 4000. About 1000 of these, who had been longest in service, fought well...
The remainder of the regular soldiers, about 3000, were all new recruits, very lately enlisted and taken from the streets and cellars of this city, and from the habits, and companionship, in misery and vice, of the present rioters, among whom they recognized their friends and relatives, and whom they saw to be now almost masters of the city and all its wealth. They had no inclination to risk and very probably to lose their lives in fighting their recent companions and friends, in whose feelings and wishes they fully and heartily shared. The usage of discipline was not yet old enough to restrain them, and they soon began to drop off, at first singly, and next in numbers, to join and aid the plunderers. This decided the success of the rioters...
But the unhappy city and its inhabitants had yet to go through still increased horrors. In the latter part of the night, when the plunderers could take no more booty, because [they were] unable to transport or secure any more, and when nearly all were drunk and furious, it was proposed by some, and readily acceded to by all who heard the proposal, that the city should be burnt.
...But a stronger and an earlier motive was doubtless operating, in the malignant hatred, which many of the actors, who had been the greatest sufferers from want and hunger, entertained for the rich, and even for all property-owners, whom they had learned to deem their worst enemies. They desired to glut their hatred and vengeance, as well as to gratify their appetites and their cupidity. The proposal to set fire to the city was therefore received with shouts of applause; and thousands of the rioters, armed, and bearing torches, spread themselves through every quarter, putting fire, as they went, to the more inflammable buildings. A strong wind was blowing, which soon spread the flames faster than did the numerous incendiaries. In two hours, this great and rich city, containing with the adjacent suburbs and connected minor cities, 1,200,000 inhabitants, was so covered by flames, that no possible human means could have prevented the full consummation of the calamity.
The fires had been kindled in so many places, nearly at one time, and so generally over the city, that the whole space was, at once, one raging sea of flame, rising in billows and breakers above the tops of the houses higher than ever sea was raised by the most violent hurricane. ...Of the many thousands of charred and partly consumed skeletons, which were afterwards to be seen among the ruins, it was conjectured that the lives of as many had been destroyed by the burning, as by armed violence in the previous combats and assassinations.
"The reports of all the circumstances of this awful event," added Ruffin, "even induced the commiseration of all but the most embittered of the southern foes." But in Ruffin's world there is no economic recovery for the North after the South wins the war, and "many northern residents predict... that the site of New York will remain, as now, overspread by the ruins left by the conflagration."
That's an edited version, lacking many of the details Ruffin provided, such as the wealthy and their children being murdered in their homes and streets. It's difficult to read Ruffin's detail-rich full account of the fate of New York City without concluding that his purpose was to terrify rich Northerners. How well that worked is debatable. As we've seen, in New York City they had reason for concern whether they read his work or not. Beyond that, if his larger purpose was to get New Yorkers to oppose Republicans they didn't need his help in that regard, either. If his even larger purpose was to prevent (and if so he seems a bit too enthusiastic about the course of events described) civil war he - like anyone else who wanted to, regardless of method - can only be called a failure.
As to where he went wrong in his description of the city-destroying riots, it's at least in part due to his jaundiced view of the potential rioters: the North's poor and near-poor (working poor) class. They weren't quite the plague of class-envying, murderous thugs overflowing every city in the North and threatening the decent citizens that he believed they were. He must have based his expectations of them on what he'd heard of them - though his mistake might have been to assume that New York was exemplary of all cities of the North. Perhaps that lack of first-hand knowledge accounts for his mistakes - he knew no such people personally because there were no such people in the South, Ruffin was convinced, and thus the problem would never exist there - because they had slaves instead of people of this class. (Stalin and Hitler would have loved this guy.)
But such people did (and do) exist - everywhere, and in New York City even the smallest minorities number in the tens of thousands. What might have happened if - per Ruffin's forecast - the economy plunged downward and stayed there is fodder for other writers of what-if scenarios - it didn't happen in the real world, where war on a scale previously unimaginable proved profitable on a scale previously unimaginable, too. Still, his anticipation for New York City wasn't completely wrong. Those are his words above, but the illustrations aren't from his book; they depict events during New York City's Civil War "draft riots" of 1863, when tens of thousands of New Yorkers did much of what Ruffin said they were capable of (and during which heavy rain saved much of the city from burning; Ruffin failed to predict the weather...) and are taken from Headley's Great Riots of New York, published ten years after they actually occurred.
The tendency to define a group by the example of its worst members (or best, if its your group) is an all-too-human trait that's led to many disasters (large and small) throughout history. But if Ruffin's "low class Yankee trash rioting" prediction was mistaken - at least in degree - for most of the North, he was almost proven right in New York City in 1863. But in that case Ruffin's mistakes include underestimating both the ability of that metropolis at that time to absorb and recover from violent blows (one can almost look at earlier panics and riots as "practice" in that regard) and the capability of the US Army - built on the caliber of the men (drafted and otherwise) who comprised that force.
Ruffin's view:There is, however, one superior military advantage, or nursery for soldiers, which the northern states have, in the many thousands of the vagrant, destitute, and vicious population, and worst nuisances of their great cities. For materials for a regular or standing army, and for a long, protracted war, requiring regular forces, these men, good for nothing else, and dangerous at home, would offer a valuable supply. But such soldiers, would be destitute of every higher quality than mere physical force and obedience (if under the strictest discipline) to despotic military rule. For any moral or patriotic principle of conduct, or as volunteers, the free negroes of the South would be as respectable; and with the like necessary military rule and discipline, perhaps, would be equal in military array and conduct to the northern loafer and convict soldiers.
Ruffin's "free negroes of the South" taking arms to defend their former masters' "property rights" were a greater fantasy than the conscripted dregs and vestiges of northern slums he imagined them fighting to the death - neither he nor any southerner staked their hopes for victory on that absurdity. But his fatally flawed view of the northern army was universal throughout the South at the time, and persisted throughout the war.
In their memoirs, Union veterans would describe an army the exact opposite of the one Ruffin imagined:Almost every known trade, profession, or calling, has its representative in our regiment--tailors and carpenters, masons and plasterers, moulders and glass-blowers, pudlers and rollers, machinists and architects, printers, book-binders, and publishers; gentlemen of leisure, politicians, merchants, legislators, judges, lawyers, doctors, preachers,--some malicious fellow might ask the privilege of completing the catalogue by naming jailbirds, idlers, loafers, drunkards, and gamblers; but we beg his pardon, and refuse the license. Were all this talent, skill and energy set to work, a city could speedily be reared, and all the multiplied appliances of civilized life set in motion and successfully carried on within the compass of a single regiment.
That example from Alexander Morrison Stewart, who published his account in 1865, the year the war ended. Through the decades that followed others would abound, including Leander Stillwell's memoirs, written after his career on the bench and published in the early twentieth century. All could be accused of bias, of course, but whatever its composition, in the end the Union army won the war. But before that day came, some units, recently dispatched to Gettysburg, would wheel around and march on (or back to) New York City, to quell the very real riots there.
The outcome is rarely obvious during any war, and certainly the North didn't march to war convinced their southern counterparts were the superior soldiers of an unbeatable army - no nation would. They too were convinced of the opposite. But Ruffin's opinion of the bulk of the Union army as vagrant, destitute loafers and convict soldiers good for nothing else and dangerous at home - and destined for a beating - not only prevailed through (and sustained) the South but gained popularity in the North (especially among northern Democrats, whose enthusiasm for the conflict plunged rapidly after its first few weeks) even as Sherman's army approached the sea. That didn't prevent victory, but it hardly helped the cause; Grant and Sherman would address the issue in their memoirs but, as with the recollections of the more "common" soldiers, obviously too late to sway public opinion during the war.
Unfortunately, that view of American soldiers as inferior beings persists. Ruffin didn't invent it, he merely documented - and helped popularize - what would prove to be wishful thinking. Call it a byproduct of a slave-owner mentality (something not unique to slave owners), it has no geographic boundary and remains fixed in the minds of many today.*****
Of course, if Stewart's description is the more accurate, his jailbirds, idlers, loafers, drunkards, and gamblers - Ruffin's vagrant, destitute loafers, dangerous at home - were at home, with many of the "city builders" occupied elsewhere.
The bulk of Ruffin's book describes his anticipations for an imagined future, but it concludes with his "Lessons for the Present Time." In that section he urges the slave states to secede without hesitation or delay. Among his explanations why he thought that a great idea: "...there will be much less probability, after a separation, of any important insurrection of our slaves, with even temporary and short-lived success, than there will be of the great cities of Boston, New York and Philadephia, and others, being sacked and burnt, and their wealthiest inhabitants massacred, by their own destitute, vicious, and desperate population..."
If they didn't rise up, Ruffin saw nothing wrong with helping them along: "Suppose that there existed in the southern states organized, numerous and rich associations... whose avowed object and whose continual action and effort through secret emissaries, were to persuade the destitute and suffering people of the North that they had equal rights to the riches and luxuries of their cities and of the world--that they were defrauded of their just rights and starved and made wretched by the actual possessors of wealth, and that they ought, and easily and safely and honestly could, take their full shares of the wealth of others ... all the probable consequences of massacre, conflagration and irregular appropriation of the property in dispute, would be the fault of the previous property-holders, and not of their former destitute victims, who could in no other way obtain their rights..."******
Next: The View From Park Row offers a different perspective on the future...
Posted at 0902Z
March 3, 2011
No Mean City[Greyhawk]
(Continuing the tale of Fernando and Abraham begun here.)
His honor chose an interesting line of scripture to illustrate his vision for the city's future. Though his actual call for secession from the Union was still five years away, some of his listeners might have caught an air of sedition in the comparison to a free city of the Roman empire, knowing from their Bible study that such "were permitted to use their own laws, customs and magistrates. They were also free from being subject to Roman guards." Well-versed others among the electorate, good men and Christians all, would also recognize the quote - perhaps with no little concern - as part of the apostle's defense against a lynching. Thus more than a few of Mayor Wood's constituents likely paused a moment to wonder what exactly he meant by that... But not for long would they worry it; it was an inspiring description of a worthy goal - who could argue against it? - and there was business at hand and it was time to get to it.
Certainly "taken to an extreme" - but is the above image an extreme example, or merely typical of 1860 New York City?
Given the abundance of evidence, it's easy enough for a twenty-first century reader (at least one who's read this particular history) to conclude that New Yorkers of the mid-nineteenth were all-in-all an unruly and racist lot, whose concern for their fellow man never grew to encompass that annoying part about "fellow," and whose definition of "man" would exclude just about anyone who didn't look an awful lot like the one they saw in the mirror - an individual who lived by the simple motto "what's in it for me?" The modern reader would be right.
But even then New York was the American city with the most of anything. (By 1850, for example, a New Yorker could claim his city had more Irish residents than Dublin, and depending on your definition of Irish, he'd be right.) By 1860: "The total population of metropolitan New York was nearly 5 percent of the whole American population, a mass of people greater than that of all but four of the thirty-four states."
And most of anything includes exceptions to the rule.
Though Bryant also called him a man "whom you have known hitherto only by fame," New Yorkers can also claim to have launched Abe Lincoln to national prominence. One year before his second visit to their city, New York Republicans brought him in for a look and a listen; he gave what's now known as his Cooper Union speech.
On the day of the speech, February 27, 1860, Lincoln took a stroll on Broadway with some men from the Republican group hosting his speech. At the corner of Bleecker Street Lincoln visited the studio of the famed photographer Matthew Brady, and had his portrait taken. In the photograph, Lincoln, who was not yet wearing his beard, is standing next to a table, resting his hand on some books...
As Lincoln took the stage that evening at Cooper Union, he faced an audience of 1,500 spectators. Most of them were active in the Republican Party, and among them were such luminaries as the editor of the antislavery New York Tribune, Horace Greeley.
Greeley, whose exhortation to the less-privileged of New York's youth to "Go west, before you are fitted for no life but that of the factory" would be outrage enough for those who saw the same young men as voters, whether they could find factory work or not - is lampooned with ol' Abe in the cartoon above for one of the many other reasons local Democrats couldn't stand him. His newspaper, the New York Tribune, declared Lincoln's speech was "one of the most happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City," adding for good measure that "No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience." He at least made an impression on Greeley, and in May won the Republican nomination for president; a brief description of Greeley's part in that is here.
But whatever influence Horace Greeley had over the Republican Party (he was a founder, and deserves credit for naming it) the grand new party had little enough influence in his town, where they could never hope for a majority of the vote, and without a major split among Democrats (in New York City, "Democrats" was already synonymous with Tammany Hall) Republicans had no chance for gaining a significant public office. Such splits happened (and would again). Slavery wasn't the only issue of the day (nativists against immigrants was a political battle some nativists didn't yet realize they'd lost), but even though many free soil Democrats had left the fold, the Democracy, as Tammany was commonly called by its members, was not yet the more harmonious machine it would become under Boss Tweed.
While achieving that united Democratic front was always as difficult as it was desirable, in 1860 it was imperative. So as the elections approached...
...Democrats stirred up fears of racial amalgamation, especially in New York, where a Republican-sponsored amendment to the state constitution appeared on the ballot, proposing to do away with the $250 property requirement for black voters. [The measure was rejected by 95% of NYC voters.]
Democratic editorials and campaign speeches accused Republicans of believing "a nigger is better than an Irishman." A parade in New York City included a float bearing effigies of Horace Greeley and "a good looking nigger wench, whom he caressed with all the affection of a true Republican." Nearby, a banner warned that "free love and free niggers will certainly elect Old Abe." Despite Lincoln's failure to oppose the fugitive slave law or call for immediate abolition in the South, the Wood brothers' Daily News [not the same paper that publishes today in New York City; this one was run by Mayor Fernando and his brother, soon-to-be U.S. Congressman Benjamin Wood] predicted "Negroes among us thicker than blackberries swarming everywhere" if he were elected, while Bennett's Herald envisioned labor competition from "four million emancipated Negroes."
(Links and brackets added above.)
It's obvious from the description of the Greeley float that anyone taking an anti-slavery stand in America's largest city would need a thick skin - but they knew they needed more than that. The violent rhetoric employed by their opponents often led to violent action. New Yorkers living in 1860 could cite countless examples from within their own lifetimes, the most horrific involved race. Years before, when bible-thumping, temperance preaching protestant reformers first added abolition to their list of annoying character traits, Tammany Hall had responded with the power of the (newly politically empowered) mob. ("Civic pride" could be part of their motive - New York abolitionists had earned anger and hatred not just of New Yorkers, but most of the South - the city's reputation was damaged, and something had to be done.)
The Tammany bosses may not have expected the intensity of the days-long orgy of fire, looting, and lynching that ensued; violence directed not only at white abolitionists, who "went so far as to say that the negro should be debarred from no society on account of his origin or color," but also - in the words of post-Civil War Tammany apologist William Gover - "against the poor, unoffending blacks, who should not have been made to suffer for the wild and impolitic teachings of Tappan and his followers." (Gover wrote his history in 1875, New York had repealed the $250 property requirement for blacks in 1870; they were considered "voters" - if not fully human ones - by the time he penned his account.)
Tammany members must have felt some responsibility for the death and destruction; after the army ended the violence (they had to charge three barricades to do it) and filled the jails with rioters, they secured the release of all but a few of those unfortunates who'd been detained. Whether they'd participated or not, those riots were a vivid memory for most of the leading figures (and voters, of course - at least the living ones) of the 1860 election campaign in New York City; many had just launched their political careers at that time.
But old or young, this promised to be the most important election of their lives:By October 1860, New York State appeared to be the likely president-maker... if Democrats could keep Republicans from winning New York's block of votes, the largest in the nation, they might prevent Lincoln from getting a majority of the national electoral vote, throwing the final election into the House of Representatives, where Lincoln would likely lose. The critical question for both sides was whether the Democrats could turn out a sufficiently large popular vote downstate to overcome the upstate vote for Lincoln.Emotions ran high, but behind the scenes, influences beyond the purely political shaped the day:Still, most leading businessmen worked for Lincoln's defeat. The richest bankers and largest merchants forced contending Democratic candidates to fuse into a joint Union ticket, then promoted it vigorously. One group of dirty tricksters rigged a stock market panic, hoping to scare the country into thinking a Republican victory would create financial chaos.
On election day thousands of stores closed and hung out signs urging patrons to vote the Union (Democratic) ticket. Many businesses circularized their employees, saying that if Lincoln were elected "the South will withdraw its custom from us and you will get little work and bad prices..."
Given the overriding financial concerns, for most upper class New Yorkers party-driven political interests in and of themselves had no more influence over their vote than questions over the morality of slavery - that is to say, none. New York banks had many outstanding loans to Southern business interests - and to many in the North who depended on that business. New York shipping and textile mills depended on slave-picked Southern cotton, as did merchandisers who sold their finished product. The city had similar financial ties throughout the United States, but the South was the issue at hand. Potential losses were incalculably large - and likely cascading. This was as true in 1860 as it had been in 1834, but now the problem was larger than one of image, and couldn't be solved by sending a message to a handful of local abolitionists. The war would turn out to be less of a financial Armageddon than most anticipated (in fact, for most it was immeasurably profitable - their pleasantly surprising first exposure to the concept on such a large scale) but looking at ledgers and foreseeing a chain reaction of future disasters beginning in November, 1860 was hardly a pastime reserved to those with fevered minds.
So the strategy was win New York state, the battleground was New York City - where the upper crust (meaning money and power) were on board. Fernando Wood's thugs could deliver him enough votes to win a four-(or five-)way city mayors race, but in this case that wouldn't enough. The remaining question was tactics; in this case, how to get the average (and below average) New Yorker (the bulk of voters there and anywhere) to believe their interests were with the South. The solution was the same as it was in 1834 - make them feel threatened, too. Tell them (ironically) the big money men wanted this war in order to free the slaves - to bring another few hundred thousand workers in to compete with them for jobs - and drive wages down. (Pay no attention to the few hundred thousand getting off the boats from Europe in the harbor every year - these are blacks we're talking about, and once they've got the white man's jobs and money they'll want their white women, too!)
As far as persuading Manhattanites, the Democrats' tactic was a success - Lincoln lost in New York City by a two-to-one margin. (He did no better in '64, receiving only 33.22% of the vote.) As Walt Whitman observed on Lincoln's pre-inaugural second visit to the city in1861, "...he possessed no personal popularity at all in New York City and very little political" (along with "I have no doubt (so frenzied were the ferments of the time) many an assassin's knife and pistol lurked in hip- or breast-pocket"). The tactic had worked, but for many that second visit was a bitter demonstration that the strategy had failed. The Republican ticket took the state by more than 60,000 votes, and Lincoln took the White House.Lincoln's victory was wholly sectional. The Republican had carried every county in New England, 109 of 147 counties in the Mid-Atlantic states, and 252 of 392 counties in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. He received no votes in nine states in the Deep South, and won only 2 of 996 counties in the entire South.
At least, "wholly sectional" as long as you ignore the city with "a mass of people greater than that of all but four of the thirty-four states." (Something no resident thereof - certainly not the mayor - would be willing to let Lincoln do.)
The effort was doomed, but the battleground was the only one with a hope for Democratic success, their "fusion party" was a fusion in more ways than one. New York was a city with an established (if ever-changing, thus always uneasy) and mutually-dependent balance of power between Tammany-controlled (via the growing mass of population in the slums) government and the financial sector. (Two institutions arguably more subject to forces in chaotic flux than the will of any person or group.) Members of either (and many were members of both) had developed certain understandings and expectations of one another; certain things were understood, and while breaking written rules and agreements was acceptable on occasion, violations of unwritten rules would irretrievably end a man's career. (His life being of less concern - but that could be forfeited, too.)
The most strident call for unity in the face of the Republican peril came from the top of those swirling, chaotic forces that made New York City what it was at the start of the Civil War. There stood Mayor Fernando Wood, a man who'd ridden the turbulence of the times to power, if not lasting glory. He'd picked the winning side in the city's immigration wars, but he had also learned to unite factions during his up and down political career. (Which he'd resurrected for his first successful run at mayor in 1854 by supporting the governor's veto of a temperance law, declaring that - while not a drinking man himself, mind you - an American man had certain unalienable rights; if he wanted to have a drink or own a slave that was his own business and no other's).
Though Wood was a divorced man (but since remarried, although the divorce court had decreed his adulterous first wife "shall not marry again during the natural life" of Fernando Wood; "What became of her remains problematic," Wood biographer Jerome Mushkat concludes - noting at least one rumor that she'd become an alcoholic prostitute...) accused of questionable business and financial practices, he won the 1854 election with a Lincolnesque 33% of the vote to his nearest opponent's 31. (That was prohibitionist alderman James Barker, candidate of the short-lived nativist American - or "Know Nothing" - Party.) Wood didn't enchant a majority in that close race, but in fact he was so popular with some segments of society (Irish gang members, for example) that in New York's predominantly Irish "bloody sixth" ward he received 4,000 more votes than there were voters, overcoming the seemingly damning revelation that he - the staunch friend of the immigrant - was secretly a member (on the executive committee, even) of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party, too.
"No man ever went into higher office under a deeper cloud of ignominy," declared Horace Greeley. But once in office Wood proved himself a champion of social justice and hero to the underprivileged, often finding them jobs in government or employment in public works. (For example, under his control the police department hired numerous Irish officers.) As for public works, he's also recognized for his part in the development of Central Park - and no doubt he made the trains run on time, too. His supporters dubbed him "the model mayor," and a few months after his term began his biography appeared on store shelves. In its pages New Yorkers were assured his reign had already greatly improved the image of their city in the eyes of the world:"Even in Europe he is spoken of... A distinguished American artist, just returned from Rome, says that Fernando Wood is become a household word in the mouths of citizens of this country now living in the Eternal City. Ex-President Van Buren, in his late journey through the wild mountain region of Wales, was asked in a little wayside inn, by the landlord, particulars of the appearance and manner and peculiarities of the man whom they had learned to venerate."
He was, his biographer assured literate New Yorkers, "a fit ruler for you and me." (Italics added.)
It was also during his first term that he gave the "no mean city" speech above. In 1856 he sought reelection, and for the benefit of those New Yorkers who couldn't read: "...patrolmen were reassigned or given time off so the gangs of thugs on Wood's payroll could start riots at his opponents' rallies, attacking their speakers with rocks and bricks. At the polls, the mayor's toughs harassed voters, stuffed ballot boxes, and stole returns." The police had a Union of sorts, their dues were payable to the man who gave them their jobs: Fernando Wood, who "...had turned the police department into a patronage mill, filling its ranks with immigrant supporters, then systematically levying contributions from the officers to fund his reelection."
Which he also won. Perhaps surprisingly, his support wasn't limited to his criminal gangs and police, "a hundred wealthy bankers and merchants" had also reportedly asked him to run again. Wood was born poor in America (of non-Irish parents), and had made his fortune (a considerable one, and if questionable practices were involved, well, few would want anyone to examine their own ledgers or histories too closely...) in the city he now ruled. Perhaps the wealthy saw him as one of their own. Perhaps some simply admired his jib. Or perhaps the more affluent saw him as the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks - which (for a while at least) he was.
During his second term he refused to enforce a temperance law that the state finally passed. (It was said in those days that you could empty a Tammany Hall meeting by rushing in and shouting "your saloon is on fire!") Sadly, this term was also marred by several riots, including one between his police force and the one state officials created to replace it (in part because they knew he wouldn't use his private army to enforce their laws) and others (immediately after the supreme court found in favor of the state on the police issue) when gangs in the sixth ward rioted for what were no doubt unrelated grievances. (Some of this is captured in the recent film Gangs of New York, but I can't recall who played the part of Mayor Wood...) The state also decided to change the election year for mayor in New York City to odd numbered years, a move that had the coincidental side effect of shortening his second term to just one year.
He failed in that second reelection attempt. His blunder was to over reach; besides being Mayor he made himself (or tried, with some help from his friends) the head of Tammany Hall, and in doing so made too many enemies there. (Among them, young up-and-comer William "Boss" Tweed, who was watching and learning. Among other lessons: Tweed would later claim the more powerful office, but never make the mistake of making himself Mayor.) On the outs with Tammany, Wood formed his own organization, dubbed it Mozart Hall, and came roaring back two years later to at last win his third term in 1859.
New Yorkers who recalled Wood's no mean city speech from his first term might still have been surprised when two months after Lincoln's 1860 election Wood called for New York to secede from the Union, not to join the Confederacy (though he used the term throughout his speech) but to become its own "Free City" - like those in the days of ancient Rome:When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact, why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master - to a people and a party that have plundered her revenues, attempted to ruin her commerce, taken away the power of self--government, and destroyed the Confederacy of which she was the proud Empire City? Amid the gloom which the present and prospective condition of things must cast over the country, New York, as a Free City, may shed the only light and hope of a future reconstruction of our once blessed Confederacy.
The early economic impacts of Southern secession were already being felt when one month later Mr Lincoln returned to town.
Posted at 1815Z
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