Friday, November 11, 2005


Every now and again, a student comes along who truly picks my brain and, in the process, pushes me to be a better teacher. Far too many of these students need help with what I learned in high school, such as capitalization and the construction of a thesis staement. Luckily most of them also ask probing questions about history.

The latest challenge poses mechanical questions, as well as philosophical ones, and I keep yanking out books in my search for answers. (It's a wonderful feeling to think, "Oh, yes, I read about that a few years ago...) Right now we're discussing the ethics of warfare - did Grant make the right choice in sacrificing so many men in the Battle of the Wilderness? is this any more or less problematic than dropping atomic bombs upon civilians, albeit armed and militarily prepared civilians, in 1945?

Just to complicate matters, I suggested renting Gallipolis this weekend. Of all the wars I've struggled to understand, World War I is the one I find it hardest to wrap my brain around. Oh, I can tell you about causes, reasons, and all of that good stuff that I learned for qualifying exams, but I still don't feel that I understand.

On a more cheerful note, I dreamed about the diss last night - or, to be more specific, I dreamed that I was sitting at the computer and writing away, books and notes spread all over the place. I then woke up to the voice of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy issuing forth from the radio. Good things are supposed to come in threes, right?

(taps foot impatiently)

Words Written: I'm trying to decifer the notes I carefully took and then besmirched with coffee stains
Lessons Graded: four


tommyspoon said...

...Right now we're discussing the ethics of warfare - did Grant make the right choice in sacrificing so many men in the Battle of the Wilderness? is this any more or less problematic than dropping atomic bombs upon civilians, albeit armed and militarily prepared civilians, in 1945?

Speaking as a Civil War enthusiast (and resident of the Commonwealth in which this battle was fought), I would suggest that you are comparing apples and oranges.

Grant and Lee were in command of soldiers under arms. Soldiers under arms are expected to follow orders properly issued through the chain of command. The loss of men in battle was expected and often required to achieve military objectives. Now I have little knowledge of the military training that the Japanese citizenry received during WWII, but unless they were ordered into battle as soldiers, then their losses (while tragic) can be chalked up to "collateral damage." (I'm willing to hear your lecture about this if I'm mistaken.)

While the popular Southern interpretation of the Wilderness was a draw, it was in fact a victory for Grant. Grant's planned advance was not altered by this battle (which was Lee's objective), and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered greater losses (percentage-wise) than Grant's Army of the Potomac.

lemming said...

Mr. Spoon -

I don't know nearly as much about the situation in 1945 Japan as I should, so no lecture from me this time. :-) The civilians were not ordered into battle, but something along the lines of 20, 000 old men, women and children were trained by the military to attack with pointed sticks and other such weapons if the Allies attempted a D-Day type landing.

I think the student is struggling to understand "collateral damage" vs. the deaths of drafted soldiers vs. the all-volunteer army fighting right now, though neither of us has mentioned the current conflict. Oddly enough, I'm reasonably comfortable with the causes etc. of WW II. No, I don't approve, I just feel that I have a better grasp of them.

John B. said...


I have always gone along with Truman on the A-Bomb decision...we would have lost a million or more soldier casulaties if we had to attack Japan's mainland...we had already had 'fight to the last man' experiences in Okinawa, Iwo Jima and other places, with high casulaty rates.

Japan would not have given up the fight...we would have had to take every last house and building in the country, killing almost every Japanese soldier, as they were trained not to surrender.

The war had gone on for 4 years already, a long time for any democracy to fight a war. It was almost a no-brainer, in retrospect...the only 'shock value' to get Hirohito and his advisors to surrender was to demonstrate a weapon so destructive that they had no choice but to surrender. Showing them a movie or picture of the bomb exploding would not have driven the point across.

The loss of civilian life is regrettable, but at the same time the A-bombs probably saved a few million soldier casulaties on both sides, and countless civilian casualties due to a probable attack of the Japanese mainland. Most would have died in the continual bombing of strategic targets by US planes...bombs weren't as accurate or technical as they are now.

I have a great uncle who is grateful to the a-bombs for his life...he was being trained to be on the first wave of soldiers to attack Japan...estimates of casualties were 90% or higher for the first two waves to attack the Japanese mainland.

If it comes down to your own soldiers / people dying vs. others dying in a war, and there is no hope for surrender or anend to the war, then you have to look out for your own soldiers first.

Don said...

I agree with you about the difficulty in understanding WWI.

One of the oddest things I've ever seen is a copy of the letter Kaiser Wilhelm to Czar Nicholas where Germany declared war on Russia. Since they were cousins, and Victoria was their grandmother, their common private language was English. It starts off addressed to my dear Nicky and is signed Willy. That war beget such horror, and set up, of course, much more horror. What were they thinking?

torporific said...

That's interesting, Don. I did not know that.