Eating People Doesn’t Stop with Babies

The recent “proposal” to eat babies recently set forth at one of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ town hall meetings reminds me of a memorable quote from the great Chinese author Lu Xun.  I’ve used this quote before (once in relation to the Chinese themselves) but it bears repeating with all of the cheap moralism that comes out of our society’s pores:

They seem to have secrets which I cannot guess, and once they are angry they will call anyone a bad character…Everything requires careful consideration if one is to understand it.  In ancient times, as I recollect, people often ate human beings, but I am rather hazy about it.  I tried to look this up, but my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: “Virtue and Morality.”   Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words–”Eat people.” (Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman, V)

Book Review: Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson

Most of you who stop by here regularly know that I am a big fan of Grady McWhiney’s “Celtic South” idea.  That adherence didn’t come from theoretical considerations, but from hard experience.  Some people characterize McWhiney’s thesis as a form of “white supremacy,” but that only shows the decline of reading comprehension among Americans.  I think that it’s the key to showing that white supremacy is demonstrably false, but more about that later.

Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson concerns the central event in the conflict between the Scots-Irish and the rest of us: the Civil War/War Between the States.  The problem under discussion in this book is best summed up by this passage from the preface:

Charles P. Roland has pointed out that more than a fourth of the million men who served in the Confederate army died of wounds of disease, and that in relation to the southern white population “those service casualties were as great as those endured by major European participants in the wars of the twentieth century.  If the North during the Civil War had suffered commensurately she would have lost more than 1,000,000 men instead of 360,000.  The American colonies in revolt against England would have lost 94,000 men instead of 12,000.  The United States in World War II would have lost well over 6,000,000 men instead of somewhat more than 300,000.  The Confederacy rendered the heaviest sacrifice in lives…ever made by Americans.”

How and why the Confederacy lost so many men is the burden of this book.  We contend that the Confederates bled themselves nearly to death in the first three years of the war by making costly attacks more often than did the Federals…The Confederates could have offset their numerical disadvantage by remaining on the defensive and forcing the Federals to attack; one man in a trench armed with a rifle was equal to several outside of it.  But Southerners, imprisoned in a culture that rejected careful calculation and patience, often refused to learn from their mistakes.  They continued to fight, despite mounting casualties, with the same courageous dash and reckless abandon that had characterized their Celtic ancestors for two thousand years.  The Confederates favored offensive warfare because the Celtic charge was an integral part of their heritage.

Much of the middle part of the book details the changes in warfare that had taken place in the 1850’s that changed the whole tactical situation.  Most of the generals on both sides (and some of the politicians, such as Jefferson Davis) served in the Mexican War, and there the offensive definitely paid off.  As the Civil War began much of the officer corps on both sides basically prepared to fight the last war.

But that was a mistake.  The major technological change that took place was the change from smoothbore guns to rifles, which extended the kill range from around 300 yards to 1000 yards.  That shifted the advantage from the attacker to the entrenched defender.   The Federals were quicker to pick on this simple fact as opposed to their Confederate opponents, which led to an observation that didn’t get developed as well as it should: the Federals learned from their mistakes, the Confederates didn’t.  That’s as aspect of Southern culture that exasperates more than most, and it’s independent of educational level and socio-economic status.  The battle cry of “We’ve always done it this way” still resounds in these parts.

That affected the other aspects of the army, namely the artillery and cavalry.  The artillery was slower to convert to rifled bores, and in spite of its offensive value in Mexico found itself most valuable on the defense during the Civil War.  Cavalry charges were almost inevitably disasters, with the defenders “emptying the saddles” in short order.  The cavalry found itself more effective in dismounted conflict, reconnaissance, and flanking maneuvers.  As always Southerners loved the cavalry but their ability to keep it in the field deteriorated to the point that, in the last part of the war, most of the cavalry action came from the Federals.

All of this is presented in fascinating detail that will certainly alter the way one looks at the Civil War from a military standpoint.  The question is, how well do the authors link all of this information with the idea of the Celtic South?  Not as well as one would like; that comes at the very end of the book, and is to some extent sequestered from the rest.  There are several things that the authors could have pointed out which would have strengthened their case.

The first is that the most “Celtic” thing the South didn’t do leading up to the Civil War was to develop an industrial and transportation base to fight the modern war that it became.  Such requires patience and industry, both of which were in short supply south of the Mason-Dixon line.  That affected the South grievously in its ability to keep an army in the field.  The authors speak of the Southern soldier’s ability to endure hardship and deprivation, but both were accentuated by a faulty economic system that progressively found it difficult to furnish its army with weapons, uniforms and (in a rich agricultural region like the South) food.

The second is they point out Grant’s aggressive, offensive strategy in Virginia in the last two years of the war.  That needs to be seen as a part of the war of attrition that Grant was fighting.  Knowing that he had more men and the industrial base to keep them in the field, Grant simply beat Lee’s army into submission at Appomattox.  A different strategy was employed by Sherman, whose name is still cursed down here: he avoided the attack most of the time, inflicting damage on the Confederate civilian infrastructure as opposed to their military one.  (He made an exception at Kennesaw Mountain, which he lived to regret.)

The third (and they do mention this from time to time) is that a defensive strategy by the South was not only justified by the changes in weaponry but also by the difficult terrain that covered large parts of the Confederacy.  That terrain, coupled with the poor railroad and road system (which was in common with Russia during the World Wars) made the attack difficult.  The Confederates would also have done better with guerilla warfare, but their romantic culture didn’t allow for that.

One person that comes in for special opprobrium is Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s President.  His experience in the Mexican War made him an apostle of the attack, and much of the impetus for that came from the very top.  That had traction with Southerners, and led to many of the serious losses the Confederacy experienced, especially in the early years of the war.

The Confederates had company in not learning lessons from their own mistakes.  Europeans in general and the French in particular learned little or nothing from the American Civil War.  The French (the same native soil as Vercingetorix and his disaster at Alesia) went into World War I with an offensive strategy that lasted until Robert Nivelle’s offensive in 1917 that nearly broke the French army.   The Germans for their part attempted to replicate Grant’s war of attrition at Verdun, but it took a few years and another war for that investment to see a return.

Also, many Northerners had the same level of contempt for Southern whites has the latter had for black people, up to and including the desire for genocide.  This illustrates that the differences between the two cultures was understood at the time.  McWhiney’s thesis has brought back that difference into view.  Today the Scots-Irish are Donald Trump’s biggest supporters.  You’d think that the left would be eager to embrace McWhiney’s thesis to trash their opponents once and for all.  But they have not, and there are three reasons for this.

The first is that, if you can trash one ethnic group, you can trash another.  The left is afraid that, if they make this stick, someone else will come along and do the same thing with one of their own constituencies.  But anyone familiar with various people groups in this country should realize that the Scots-Irish are sui generis.

The second is that, underneath their contempt, the “hippie ideal” that the sixties types and their fans is really the Scots-Irish typical way of life: unbridled sex and drinking (and now opioids,) along with a lazy attitude towards work.  When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez first unveiled her “Green New Deal,” one of the planks in the platform that got removed early was the promise of income for those who didn’t want to work.  This is a Scots-Irish dream come true; the reason Southern states are so tight with their welfare systems is they know what would happen if they implemented such a plan.

The third is that the whole attack on “white supremacy” assumes that white people are a homogeneous group.  That’s simply not the case.  Once we realize that there are differences, a major cornerstone of intersectionality is knocked out.  The Scots-Irish are the boxcar hobos on the train of white supremacy, and the sooner both they and everyone else come to grips with that fact, the better.

Today this country is as divided as it has been since the days of attack and die.  Those of the Scots-Irish mentality are looking for that great victory that will wipe out their opponents, whether that victory be an election, a great preacher-led revival, or another shooting war.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is going to end badly, and in a world where we are not so isolated from the rest, while we fight each other our rivals will advance at our expense.  Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson is a good study in what happens when the big things in life are done on impulse and emotion, and that’s a lesson that needs to be learned today.

Hong Kong and the Straits of Hormuz: It’s Amazing It Took This Long — vulcanhammer.info

Although Vulcan exported its pile driving equipment from the start, it was it’s foray into the offshore oil business that gave Vulcan a truly international perspective. That perspective put some of the world’s “hot spots” into its field of interest, and two of them are very active these days: Hong Kong and the Straits of […]

via Hong Kong and the Straits of Hormuz: It’s Amazing It Took This Long — vulcanhammer.info

Pete Buttigieg, Episcopal Snob

The first round of Democratic Presidential debates is, mercifully, over.  Winners and losers will sort themselves out in due season, but in the meanwhile let’s consider one whom the media fawned over: Pete Buttigieg, South Bend’s mayor.  He’s made quite a career doing something that none of his rivals have done to the extent that he has: taken shots at the “Religious Right.” starting with his own former governor, Mike Pence.  In a party which has gone very secular, and this is the primary stage, it’s hard to know what’s to be gained from such other than publicity (and, of course, in politics the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.)  None of his rivals have any use for the Religious Right, so what’s the big deal?  What’s his game?

Personally, when I hear him go after conservative Christians, it sounds like it’s a 2019 version of the old “Episcopal Snob” going public with his grievances against these people.  Buttigieg is an Episcopalian and it sounds like he’s repeating the stuff he hears at church, whether from the pulpit or in the legendary Anglican/Episcopal coffee.

It’s something people in the Anglican/Episcopal world don’t like to admit, but it’s true: the core appeal of the Episcopal Church to those outside looking in is one of snob appeal.  The church has always attracted refugees from “fundamental” groups.  People for whom the narrow way has lost its appeal are attracted to a religion which is aesthetically pleasing and, most of the time, not dogmatic, even if they don’t have a good grasp of what they’ve gotten themselves into.  But coupled with that are the church’s elevated demographics: those who join it get to rub shoulders with people at the top of society.

As part of the “schtick” Episcopalians who have been at it for a long time are good at putting on the proper airs when confronted with those of religious persuasions they feel are beneath them.  They tell you that they neither need nor want to do the things you feel they should do, and the impression they leave is that they’re superior for it. It can be intimidating; my wife and I have run into it when out and about on church-related errands until we mention we are good friends with certain of their fellow parishioners, at which point they beat a hasty retreat: they realize we know too much.

Buttigieg mixes this up with current shaming and virtue-signaling techniques, using the fact that he’s gay to amplify his point.  His own schtick is that, if he “calls out” the spiritual and political failings of the unwashed, they’ll realize the error of their ways and come around to his idea.  That’s straight out of the Episcopal snob appeal playbook, only in the past both positive and negative presentation of the point was more subtle and in better taste.

I don’t think that the “unwashed” are going to flock en masse to either his church or his campaign, let alone his political party.  He might pick off a few careerist types but not many.  And the barriers which have bedeviled his church will come back to do the same to his candidacy and his party.  Nominating a snob might have worked in 2008 with Barack Obama, but this is an angrier country.  Elizabeth Warren has a better shot at ginning up resentment, if she doesn’t get bogged down being the policy wonk.  But then again, the last Scots-Irish President, Bill Clinton, was something of a policy wonk in his own right.

A Lesson from Herodotus About the Perils of Invading Iran

There’s a lot of talk these days about why we should or shouldn’t invade Iran, but I would submit this cautionary note, from all places my devotional book Month of Sundays:

King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.

But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)

The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.

We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!

Iran’s mountainous terrain has always been a barrier to it being conquered.  Not an insurmountable one, to be sure, as Alexander the Great, the Islamic conquerors (which engender a great deal of resentment amongst many Iranians) or Tamerlane showed.  But it’s a major problem, especially with the broad-front nature of modern warfare.

It’s also helped the country develop a singular civilization, one that has had a greater impact (especially via its diaspora) than most Americans are aware of.  Iran, like Russia and China, has an educational system which emphasizes the sciences, and even with the brain drain they’ve experienced, they’re still a technological powerhouse.  Invading Iran isn’t something to be taken lightly; I hope American emotionalism doesn’t get the best of us.

Law Students Protest Their Way out of a Job

They many not realise it but that’s what they’re doing as in the case of Ronald Sullivan at Harvard:

Harvard said on Saturday that a law professor who is representing Harvey Weinstein would not continue as faculty dean of an undergraduate house after his term ends on June 30, bowing to months of pressure from students…

But when Mr. Sullivan joined the defense team of Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, in January, many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students. Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in June in Manhattan on rape and related charges.

One of the main casualties of the whole #MeToo movement has been due process.  The movement has actually glorified dispensing with it altogether.  Sullivan is a victim of that, and Harvard’s not the only place where law students have disparaged it in cases like this.  Personally I think that Harvey Weinstein is disgusting for what he did, but in our legal system–up until now at least–we’ve had the right to counsel, a fair trial and presumption of innocence, which give unpopular defendants a shot at a fair hearing.  Evidently no more, or perhaps not much longer.

The law students who protest this, however, haven’t thought it through very carefully.  There are two things that will go out the window with due process.

The first are rights.  If there is no due process, there are no rights, there is only the mob, and the mob (real or virtual) can be fickle and vicious.  We’ve had lynch mobs in the country before, and we know where that leads.  (Sullivan, the first African-American student dean at Harvard, really knows where that leads.)  For a country where rights are an obsession, the trend to undermine them in this way is amazing.  Due process can be time consuming and expensive (ours are too much both) but rights cannot be defended in a system without substantive due process, and part of that substantive due process is having counsel.

And that leads to the second loss: lawyers.  Lawyers will be unnecessary in a system where the accused has no way of defence.  We’ll just have “people’s tribunals” and kangaroo courts to make it look good.  Why spend a lot of time studying law–especially criminal law–when the deck is stacked most times going in?

But in our post-modern world, people have the idea that two contradictory things can be true at the same time.  The law students at Harvard and elsewhere who study the law one minute and protest the right to counsel the next are in for a rude awakening when the cognitive dissonance hits the wall.

Changing the Bankruptcy Laws and Social Unrest

Front and centre in political debates these days is student loan debt.  It’s led to much of the romance of socialism amongst the Millennials (never mind that a good portion of that debt was spent in state schools, socialist institutions par excellence.)  One of the nasty things about student loan debt is that it is no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy, a change made in the last decade.

Although I wasn’t considering student loan debt, I felt at the time that changing the bankruptcy laws in a society so driven by easy credit would lead to social unrest, as this 2005 post/2008 repost attests:

On the other hand, the passage of the legislation as it stands is a recipe for social unrest.

Some of it was necessary: it was too easy for wealthy debtors to shield too many of their assets. And, as an inducement for people to lighten their debt load, this legislation has the potential to do good. But getting from here to there is not going to be fun.

To start with, tightening the bankruptcy laws will only make it easier for lenders to continue their “numbers game” of lending to credit unworthy people, since their downside risk has been reduced. Lenders could have achieved a similar result by tightening the access to credit by more selective lending; they could have even submitted to some kind of re-regulation to accomplish this. But they have decided to throw the burden of “credit regulation” on borrowers rather than themselves…

It is our opinion that the change in bankruptcy laws will come much quicker than changes in American attitudes towards consumption and debt. The result of this will be many more people who will find themselves on the wrong end of the credit system, and enough of those people around can and will be socially destabilising.

If what we’ve got now isn’t social unrest, I don’t know what is.  But it was predictable.

The “Acceptable Religion” Concept Makes a Comeback

Historical amnesia is a common American malady.  One of those aspects of American life that is oft forgotten is that of the “acceptable religion,” the idea that certain religions are more socially acceptable (and thus more amenable to their adherents moving up) than others.  In the past, this was mostly an intramural contest within Christianity (with the Lodge lurking in the background); certain forms of the faith were more “acceptable” than others, thus the Episcopal Church was the “church of Presidents.”  (I think we just buried our last one.)  That made Christianity, especially in the South, a socio-economically stratified business: people changed churches both to help move up and to announce that arrival when it happened.  Those who had the bad taste to buck the trend had…bad taste, with the consequences that followed.  The first groups to push back in a significant way against this were Jews and Roman Catholics, but it wasn’t an easy struggle for either group.

Today, of course, the new “acceptable” religion is sexually-driven secularism, and it’s setting the trend for taste in a new way at Yale:

But in late March, Yale Law School adopted a novel tactic: one-upping the protesters. It announced three major policy changes that went further than many of the protesters’ demands, all under the guise of an expanded nondiscrimination policy.

The new policies require all employers to swear that, when hiring students or graduates who benefit from certain Yale funding, they will not consider an applicant’s “religion,” “religious creed,” “gender identity” or “gender expression,” among other factors. The effect of this, for instance, is if a Yale Law student or graduate wishes to work for an organization that does consider religion in hiring — say a Catholic organization or Jewish advocacy group — Yale will cut them off from three important programs.

Because the United States had the bad taste to make another decision–anoint a group of private schools as its ne plus ultra educational institutions–this will probably stick in some form, since students at private schools of any kind don’t enjoy the same broad First Amendment protections from university intrusion that their state school counterparts do.  But it’s a serious shot across the bow, especially for climbing Evangelicals who want their children to move up without the inconvenience–and eternal consequence–of formally adopting an “acceptable” religion.

But such has never really been an option, has it?

Do not love the world or what the world can offer. When any one loves the world, there is no love for the Father in him; for all that the world can offer–the gratification of the earthly nature, the gratification of the eye, the pretentious life–belongs, not to the Father, but to the world. And the world, and all that it gratifies, is passing away, but he who does God’s will remains for ever. (1 John 2:15-17 TCNT)

Settling for Lehigh Isn’t the Worst Thing That Could Happen

In Caitlin Flanagan’s interesting piece on the college admissions scandal, she makes this statement that jumped out at me:

I just about got an ulcer sitting in that office listening to rich people complaining bitterly about an “unfair” or a “rigged” system. Sometimes they would say things so outlandish that I would just stare at them, trying to beam into their mind the question, Can you hear yourself? That so many of them were (literal) limousine liberals lent the meetings an element of radical chic. They were down for the revolution, but there was no way their kid was going to settle for Lehigh.

“Settling” for Lehigh is what my grandfather did; he graduated in 1912.  The legacy he left in aviation and yachting alone is so spacious that it’s taken two generations of my family to really get out from under it.

chw-lehigh-2
My grandfather (right) at Lehigh.  He probably earned a “Gentlemen’s C” while there, but what happened afterwards is another story.

But my grandfather lived in a different country: today all of our Presidents (including the current one) and Supreme Court justices are products of the Ivy League, to say nothing of much of the upper bureaucracy and of Congress.  For my part I passed up the Ivy League, to the catcalls of my prep school.  Given the course that our privileged few have led us this past half century, to say nothing of the attitudes on display that Flanagan experienced as an admissions counselor, not being complicit in that is a relief.

I think that Flanagan’s bottom line on why the privileged few went for broke in the admissions scandal is accurate:

But what accounted for the intensity of emotion these parents expressed, their sense of a profound loss, of rage at being robbed of what they believed was rightfully theirs? They were experiencing the same response to a changing America that ultimately brought Donald Trump to office: white displacement and a revised social contract. The collapse of manufacturing jobs has been to poor whites what the elite college-admissions crunch has been to wealthy ones: a smaller and smaller slice of pie for people who were used to having the fattest piece of all.

I think that’s part of the problem I witnessed at the Church of God, which expedited my departure.  I think that the world is changing; we should celebrate what we have, move forward with those who are with us, and forget about what color they happen to be.  But that’s easier for a Christian engineer whose spent much of his life on the “outside” to say than someone who’s heavily invested on the “inside” that’s fading away.

Meritocracy? What Meritocracy? Just Pay the Money!

It’s pretty sad out there:

What many are calling the worst admissions scandal in higher education emerged Tuesday, with federal authorities announcing 50 indictments in a scheme that allegedly involved faux athletes, coaches who could be bribed, cheating on the SAT and ACT, million-dollar bribes and “guarantees” that certain applicants would be admitted to highly competitive colleges.

By the end of Tuesday, several coaches had lost their jobs (oddly, not for helping athletes, but for helping nonathletes) and some politicians were calling for investigations of college admissions. Meanwhile a broader debate has been renewed about the many advantages that wealthy families have — advantages that are legal. And advocates for black and Latino students were quick to note that just as a lawsuit against Harvard University could endanger many colleges’ affirmative action plans, fresh evidence has arrived that college admissions is far from a meritocracy. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hopefully this–and more–will finally convince people of something that this blog has been saying for years: we really don’t have a meritocracy.  Never have, and probably never will.