Friday, February 26, 2016

Marriage of Slavery & Freedom in Virginia

Review by Bill Doughty

"The rise of liberty and equality in America had been accompanied by the rise of slavery" – "the central paradox of American history."

That's the premise of Edmund S. Morgan's "American Slavery, American Freedom" (W. W. Norton & Company, 1975; 2003), winner of the Francis Parkman Prize.

It's a good read for African American History Month, showing how the roots of slavery (and ultimately freedom) took hold in North America.

Morgan presents the early history of the heart of a new nation – what would become the United States: Virginia and it's "flawed vision." He begins with the exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh and the crossroads of English and Spanish imperialism, tobacco trade, piracy at sea, and ultimately enslavement of people of African ancestry in the name of business and profit.
"The connection between American slavery and freedom is evident at many levels if we care to see it. Think, for a moment, of the traditional American insistence of freedom of the seas. 'Free ships make free goods' was the cardinal doctrine of American foreign policy in the revolutionary era. But the goods for which the United States demanded freedom were produced in very large measure by slave labor. The irony is more than semantic. American reliance on slave labor must be viewed in the context of the American struggle for a separate and equal station among the nations of the earth. At the time the colonists announced their claim to that station they had neither the arms nor the ships to make the claim good. They desperately needed the assistance of other countries, especially France, and their single most valuable product with which to purchase assistance was tobacco, produced mainly by slave labor. So largely did tobacco figure in American foreign relations that one historian has referred to the activities of France in supporting the Americans as 'King Tobacco Diplomacy,' a reminder that the position of the United States in the world depended not only in 1776 but during the span of a long lifetime thereafter on slave labor. To a large degree it may be said that Americans bought their independence with slave labor."
The key to the paradox is Virginia, according to the author and his well-documented sources.
"Virginia was the largest of the new United States, in territory, in population, in influence – and in slaveholding. Virginians owned more than 40 percent of all the slaves in the new nation. It was Virginia slaves who grew most of the tobacco that helped buy American independence. And Virginia furnished the country's most eloquent spokesmen for freedom and equality. Virginia adopted the first state constitution with a bill of rights. A Virginian commanded the Continental Army that won independence. Virginians drafted not only the Declaration of Independence but also the United States Constitution of 1787 and the first ten amendments to it. And Americans elected Virginians to the presidency of the United States under the Constitution for thirty two out of the first thirty-six years of its existence. They were all slaveholders. If it is possible to understand the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom, Virginia is surely the place to begin."
A Navy test pilot in a tobacco ad circa 1940.
One cannot miss another irony: southern landowners quickly became addicted to the need for slave labor to grow tobacco, a substance that also enslaved individuals with addiction.

The roots of the tobacco industry took hold in the 1600s, creating dependency on related businesses to support Virginia growers. "Shipwrights built small vessels and repaired ships that came from abroad to collect tobacco; coopers made the hogsheads (barrels) in which tobacco was packed for shipment; and carpenters built tobacco sheds and houses for the expanding population."

Morgan's account is of a different world, one in which racism, imperialism and religious intolerance justified the destruction of indigenous people in Africa and North, South and Central America. A new vision would move away from the "Virginia barons" toward true democracy and freedom. Today, it's hard to imagine enslavement of people for profit on American soil.

Morgan shows how revolutionary ideals of founders and framers would eventually bring down the institution of slavery and begin America's confrontation with the legacy of racism and slavery.

Some of our key founders, all from Virginia.
Among the author's hundreds of sources is naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison's "The European Discovery of America: The northern voyages, A.D. 500-1600" (Oxford University Press, 1971). 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Nimitz Considers Possibility of War with Great Britain

By Bill Doughty

Fleet Admiral Chester M. Nimitz died 50 years go on Feb. 20, 1966.

Nimitz was born exactly 70 years after the end of the War of 1812, just twenty years after the American Civil War. In 1901, at the beginning of a new century, he was a young midshipman in the U.S. Navy.

Nimitz served in World War I, was on station in China, distinguished himself academically in the 1920s and 30s, and was selected by Commander in Chief President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to lead the U.S. Navy in the Pacific War after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Nimitz had considered the likelihood of war with Japan – and the possibility of war with the United Kingdom – in a thesis, "Naval Tactics," written as a commander studying at the Naval War College in 1923, using easy-to-figure code to distinguish nations in question.

His fascinating paper is part of the FADM Chester Nimitz collection available online. Here is the opening of his paper:


by Cmdr. C. W. Nimitz

War has as its ultimate objective the destruction of the enemy's military and naval strength which can be accomplished only thru battle. Strategy dictates when and where battles are to be fought, while Tactics employs the available forces in battle. "There is no sharp dividing line between Strategy and Tactics and they merge one into the other, the main difference being that the strategist sees with the eye of the mind while the tactician sees with the eye of the body. The elementary principles governing them are the same" (Fiske). Strategy assembles the utmost force at the right time and place. Tactics, still governed by the same elementary principles, culminates the efforts set in motion when Policy, failing to secure its objective through Diplomacy, resorts to War.

At no time in our history has the BLUE naval tactician been confronted with a problem so difficult of solution as that imposed by the restrictions of the Treaties limiting naval armament and the use of submarines. Although the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament permits BLUE  to have a navy equal to that of RED and 1.67 times that of ORANGE, based on capital ship strength, BLUE  statesmen have deemed it wise further to limit our naval strength by withholding the funds and authorization of the numbers and types of subsidiary craft so essential to a well balanced fleet, and so necessary to maintain a status of equality with and the permitted superiority over ORANGE.

The Washington Conference, as successful as it was in composing the problems of the Pacific, did not entirely remove the possibility of war between BLUE and ORANGE. It did effectually bar BLUE  as a naval power in the Western Pacific without, however, making her secure from Orange aggression in the Philippines. On the other hand, ORANGE, not having important interests in waters under BLUE's control, is made fairly safe from BLUE aggression.

Although  RED and BLUE are now on the best of terms and are bound together by racial, sentimental, and economic ties, our naval tacticians cannot on that account ignore the possibility of a meeting of the RED and BLUE  fleets in a general action in the future. RED's existence as a great nation is dependent upon her maritime commercial supremacy. Should BLUE in the future threaten that supremacy it is not unreason­able to predict that the present amicable relations will give place to a state of tension and possibly war.
It is because RED snd ORANGE are the only two nations that have navies capable of opposing BLUE that the possibilities of war with those countries is referred to in this paper. It is beyond the province of our naval tacticians to speculate on the likelihood of war with this or that nation. It is their duty to plan the employment of available forces in battle against any possible opponent, and to ensure that the utmost strength is developed at the crucial time and at the decisive point.

To accomplish this task the tactician has available not only such experience as he can bring to bear on the problem, but in addition, he can draw on the lessons to be learned from the innumerable examples of failure and the comparatively few instances of decisive victory recorded in history. A study of the mistakes of the past will usually yield a better harvest than a study of the successes. In most instances, it has been the errors of the vanquished rather than the brilliant tactics of the victor that brought success to the latter.

History is a continuous record of battles, which, though fought at widely different times and with a wide variation in the types of weapons, were governed by one unchanging factor – HUMAN NATURE. From the successes and failures of the past it has been possible to deduce general principles of warfare which like human nature, are unchangeable. Changes and ad­vance in technique of weapons has brought about changes in minor tactics, or tactics of types, and has confirmed rather than altered general principles. While a knowledge and application of general principles will not necessarily insure victory, their disregard will almost certainly tend to disaster.

The main and unchanging principles of warfare are:

FIRST: To employ all the forces which can be made available with the utmost energy. (This does not necessarily imply the offensive with its attendant advantages.)
SECOND: To concentrate superior forces against the enemy at the point of contact or where the decisive blow is to be struck.
THIRD: To avoid loss of time.
FOURTH: To follow up every advantage gained with utmost energy.

Nimitz used strategy and tactics and his principles of warfare to respond quickly to the attacks by Imperial Japan that brought the United States into World War II. He outwitted the enemy at the Battle of Midway and achieved victory at Guadalcanal and across the island chains of the South Pacific – "at the crucial time and at the decisive point."

The possibility of war with the United Kingdom seems quaint now, as does future conflict now with another former empire turned Ally, Japan, but not if you consider history: 1776, 1812, 1941. Was Nimitz right that "human nature" is as unchangeable as history? Does war have to be inevitable? Can "A study of the mistakes of the past ... yield a better harvest"? 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

'Execute Against Japan' in 'Pitiless Maritime War'

Review by Bill Doughty

Nittsu Maru sinks after an attack by USS Wahoo.
Seventy five years ago – months before the attack on Pearl Harbor – the Navy conducted an internal debate over how war should be fought against Japan.

War seemed inevitable. Plans were being made for a blockade to prevent oil and other natural resources from being brought into militaristic Imperial Japan. President Roosevelt and the U.S. Navy anticipated a surprise attack – possibly in the Philippines or Thailand. 

How should war be fought at sea?

The Naval War College and experienced submarine warriors argued for unrestricted submarine warfare. Author Joel Ira Holwitt shows how their view was adopted within hours after the attack of December 7, 1941 and how it was Japan, like Germany in both world wars, who first attacked civilian merchant vessels.

Holwitt's "Execute Against Japan: The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare" (Texas A&M University Press, 2009) is on the CNO's Navy Reading Program list of "Read to be Ready" books.

Germany's attacks on civilian ships, including those of the United States, brought the U.S. into World War I. In World War II, the United States used the same strategy to attack "non-belligerent" neutral shipping.
"With the passage of so many years since the Second World War, it may be difficult to understand how unrestricted submarine warfare could have been considered so controversial and despicable before the United States entered the war. And yet, the United States did go to war in 1917 over unrestricted submarine warfare, and during two subsequent decades national and military leaders repeated numerous high-minded statements that nothing could be more foreign to the American notion of freedom of the seas than unrestricted warfare. But within one day, the United States abruptly turned about from that position and waged a determined and pitiless maritime war against Japan that ended only in the destruction of Japan's merchant marine. For that reason alone, the U.S. decision to conduct unrestricted submarine warfare remains an important moment in history."
The decision was made purposely "out of the hands of civilian policy makers," according to Holwitt, who argues that Adm. Thomas C. Hart gave the order hours before CNO Admiral Harold R. Stark did the same.

"Stark favored a decentralized command structure that placed as much authority as possible in the hands of his subordinates," Holwitt rights.

Other key players in developing the strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare included: Admirals Ernest J. King, Edward Kalbfus, Hyman Rickover, Joseph Reeves, William Ledyard Rodgers, Chester Nimitz, and Geoffrey Layton as well as Capt. James Fife and Capt. Kelly Turner. Admiral Husband Kimmel was notably kept out of the loop.

According to Holwitt, "Unrestricted submarine warfare was specifically and unambiguously illegal." But it was certainly effective.
"The U.S. decision to conduct unrestricted submarine warfare held dire consequences for Japan. By the end of the war, Japan's merchant marine and navy were at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, due in no small measure to the U.S. Navy's submarine force. Tens of thousands of Japanese merchant mariners, navy sailors, and army soldiers were dead, and Japanese soldiers and civilians throughout the former Japanese empire were starving. With all supply lines severed by a scythe of American submarines, Japan's war machine had collapsed."
There was a time when submarines were too new and innovative to be taken seriously. In fact, American statesman Elihu Root, secretary of war under President McKinley and secretary of state under President Theodore Roosevelt, fought to abolish the submarine as as instrument of war.

Submariners had to overcome numerous obstacles in the early 20th century to become "fleet scouts, naval skirmishes and minelayers," ultimately more than proving their worth as warfighters.

Holwitt's work helps the reader consider evolving technology and strategy, the ethical arguments of targeting civilians during war, and the reconciliation of international law and military strategy, not to mention the efficacy/reality of civilian control of the military.