Sunday, June 25, 2017

Is William Tecumseh Sherman Overrated as a General?

Since publishing my novel Shattered Nation in 2013, I have received lots of feedback from readers. Aside from a small number of angry people who have emailed to insist that the Civil War wasn't really about slavery (it was), the messages have been very positive and friendly. A few fine folks have been kind enough to offer constructive criticism and point out a few errors, which I have greatly appreciated. And some of these messages have led to friendly debates about varying plot points.

A few correspondents have politely suggested that I portrayed William Tecumseh Sherman in an unfairly negative light and that he was a better general than I give him credit for in the pages of Shattered Nation. I respectfully disagreed then and find my opinion only strengthened the more I consider the matter. Simply put: notwithstanding his obvious talents and his personal integrity, Sherman is perhaps the most overrated general in American history.

Let's consider Sherman's record over the course of the war. He started out as a brigade commander at the First Battle of Manassas, where actually did reasonably well despite the overall Union disaster. Lincoln was impressed enough to promote him and send him out west, where he ended up in command of Union forces in Kentucky. Here is where Sherman's troubles began. Convinced that he was about to be attacked by an overwhelmingly superior Confederate force (which, in fact, largely existed only on paper), Sherman had a nervous breakdown. He was relieved from command and went home, where he either considered or possibly even attempted suicide. Newspapers ran articles suggesting that Sherman was insane and his superior officers considered him unfit for further duty. Needless to say, this was not a promising start for Sherman's war.

Sherman spent a few months in what amounted to administrative duty, he was brought back to the field as a division commander under Grant in the aftermath of the Union victory at Fort Donelson. In the prelude to the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman failed to take adequate precautions for defense and ignored several signs of the impending Confederate attack. Though he fought well enough during the battle itself, the fact that the Union army was taken by surprise and nearly smashed must be blamed largely on Sherman.

Sherman's next major engagement was at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, north of Vicksburg. In an ill-judged frontal assault, Sherman's thirty thousand troops were soundly repulsed and trounced by a rebel force less than half its size. Sherman lost nearly two thousand men, while the Southern forces suffered roughly one-tenth the number of men. All things considered, it was a miserable and humiliating affair.

In the spring of 1863, Sherman was one of three corps commanders under Grant during the decisive phase of the Vicksburg Campaign. Generally speaking, however, Sherman's corps was kept out of the way while the formations of James McPherson and John McClernard did the hard fighting in engagements such as the Battle of Raymond, the Battle of Champion Hill. The only time Sherman's corps was heavily engaged was during the frontal assaults against the Vicksburg defenses on May 19 and May 22. Sherman's troops failed to make any impression on the enemy defenses, being repulsed with heavy losses.

Sherman next played a major role in the Battle of Chattanooga in November of 1863. Grant's plan for defeating the Confederate Army was for the Army of the Cumberland under George Thomas to feint at the Confederate center while Sherman, leading the Army of the Tennessee, smashed the enemy right flank on the northern end of Missionary Ridge. Despite heavily outnumbering the Southern defenders, Sherman's attack was a dismal failure, making no gains and suffering heavy casualties (in fairness to Sherman, the opposing commander was Patrick Cleburne, arguably the best division commander in the Confederacy). It fell to Thomas to win the battle by smashing through the enemy center.

To sum up, Sherman's record prior to being made commander of the Union forces in the West was largely one of failure. At Chickasaw Bluffs, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Sherman was bloodily repulsed in ill-advised frontal assaults that lacked tactical imagination. He had never been the overall director of military affairs, serving only as a loyal subordinate to Grant. Other generals, notable George Thomas, had much more impressive records. It seems obvious that Sherman received the command for the Atlanta Campaign almost entirely because of his personal relationship with Grant, rather than on his own merits.

Sherman's historical reputation today rests on his performance in the capture of Atlanta and the subsequent "March to the Sea". And it was here that his strongest military talents did indeed shine forth. Though I am writing this blog post as a criticism, one must be fair to Sherman and state without hesitation that he was an absolute master of logistics. Few other generals would have been able to keep his armies supplied with the necessities of war over hundreds of miles along a single, ramshackle railroad, without the benefit of water transport. That Sherman did so is very much to his credit.

And, of course, Sherman had the strategic vision to understand that the Confederacy would only be defeated when the popular will to go on with the war collapsed. That required the civilian population to experience the full brunt of the war. It certainly did help bring the war to an end, though whether it was an ethical approach will be debated as long as historical memory of the war endures.

But let us return to the subject. Though he was ultimately successful in capturing Atlanta, and thereby playing a major role in the defeat of the Confederacy, Sherman's record in the Atlanta Campaign is far from brilliant. Had Sherman been a better general, the Atlanta Campaign could have ended earlier and in a much more decisive manner, shortening the war by many months and saving thousands of lives.

In the opening stages of the campaign, the Confederate Army of Tennessee held a strong defensive position around the town of Dalton. But the Southern commander, Joseph Johnston, had made the inexcusable error to leave the vital Snake Creek Gap to the southwest almost entirely unguarded. Sherman dispatched the Army of the Tennessee under General James McPherson to move through the gap and cut the Confederates off from their supply lines. However, the force was too small and McPherson was too cautious to guarantee that the maneuver would be successful. Sherman should have sent a much stronger force and supervised the movement himself. Had he done so, the Army of Tennessee might have trapped and forced to surrender in the opening days of the campaign, almost certainly ended the war by Christmas. As it was, Sherman only compelled Johnston to abandon the Dalton position. It was a merely local success rather than the major victory it should have been,

Historiography of the Atlanta Campaign emphasizes Sherman's repeated flanking movements around the Confederate positions during the long approach to the city. It's therefore easy to forget that thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in ill-advised frontal assaults on prepared positions during this phase of the fighting. At New Hope Church on May 25, Pickett's Mill on May 27, and above all at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, Sherman hurled his troops against strong Confederate positions, needlessly suffering heavy casualties while inflicting little harm on his enemies.

As his army group finally approached Atlanta in mid-July, Sherman committed the grave error of dividing his forces in the face of the enemy, spreading them out so far that they were not able to support one another. This allowed the Confederates to concentrate the bulk of their army against only a portion of Sherman's forces, giving them a chance to fight on fairly equal terms. The subsequent Confederate attack at Peachtree Creek on July 20 was a botched affair, with the Southerners having only themselves to blame for their failure to crush the Army of the Cumberland. (My novel, Shattered Nation, deals with a scenario in which the attack is executed properly). Although a victory, Sherman deserves censure for placing his army in a position inviting defeat.

Two days later, at the Battle of Atlanta, Sherman missed a glorious opportunity to deal a fatal blow to the enemy army. After the Army of the Tennessee had repulsed the Confederate offensive, the Army of the Ohio was perfectly positioned to launch a counter attack into the enemy left flank. Had it done so, the Confederate army would have been shattered and Atlanta would likely have fallen within the next day or so. Yet Sherman inexplicably held back, despite being urged to attack by many of his subordinates. In his memoirs, Sherman offered the lame excuse that the men of the Army of the Tennessee would have been "jealous" if they had received aid from the other armies!

A bit over a month later, Sherman lost another golden opportunity to destroy the Army of Tennessee. Just after the Battle of Jonesborough, which doomed Atlanta, the Confederate army was badly divided across thirty miles of territory. Hardee's corps was far to the south, Stewart's corps had just evacuated Atlanta, and S. D. Lee's corps was somewhere in between. Sherman's army, minus only the XX Corps northwest of Atlanta, was concentrated in and north of Jonesborough. Sherman could easily have interposed his army between the divided segments of Hood's force, which were beaten and demoralized. Hardee and S. D. Lee would have been devoured for lunch and Sherman could have then had Stewart for dessert. The war in the Western Theater could have ended and the entire episode of Hood's invasion of Tennessee could have been avoided.

Finally, when setting off on his "March to the Sea", Sherman took the cavalry and all the best infantry, not to mention most of the equipment. This despite the fact that there was next to no enemy opposition left in Georgia. Sherman handed over the far more difficult task of defending Tennessee from Hood to George Thomas. To do so, Thomas had so little cavalry that his mounted arm had to be built up from scratch and so little infantry that divisions had to be brought in from other theaters before Thomas had the strength to beat Hood. Thomas succeeded in not only defeating Hood, but in destroying the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force. But it was no thanks to Sherman that he did this.

As stated above, Sherman had obvious military talents as a strategist and especially in the area of logistics. But as an army commander, he had serious flaws. He was below par on a tactical level, repeatedly being bested on the field by enemies he greatly outnumbered and using unimaginative tactics. He missed several opportunities to deliver a decisive blow against the Army of Tennessee, allowing it to fight on for several months after the conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign.

The thought has often occurred to me that, in the spring of 1864, George Thomas should have been given supreme command of Union forces in the West, with Sherman as his chief-of-staff. That would have been a winning combination and I would expect the Confederate forces to be overcome far earlier and more easily than they historically were.

What if...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What If Abraham Lincoln Had Not Been Assassinated?

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was one of the most shocking moments in American history. It has been seared into the collective consciousness of the country in the same way that unexpected news of the death of parent is seared into a mind of an individual. We can all see ourselves in Ford's Theater, as Our American Cousin is being acted out on the stage, the President enjoying the production in his box seat above and to the right. We can almost hear the shocking sound of the gunshot, sense the confusion of the crowd as John Wilkes Booth leaps from the stages and shouts something before running away, and then feel the terror as Mary Todd Lincoln's piercing scream echoes throughout the theater. In that awful moment, Abraham Lincoln became the Christ-figure of the American civil religion, the man who had to die to exorcise the sin of slavery from the country.

It also created one of the most intriguing alternate history questions of all: what if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated?

There is no need for any elaborate "point of divergence" in this scenario. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were accompanied to the play by Major Henry Rathbone and his wife. Historically, Rathbone did not hear Booth as the assassin entered the box. The first inkling he had that something was amiss was when Booth fired the fatal bullet into Lincoln's head. He attempted to grab Booth and apparently struggled with him for a few moments. Booth seriously wounded Rathbone with a knife and leapt from the box onto the stage. For the rest of his life, Rathbone was torn by guilt over his failure to prevent the assassination. He eventually succumbed to complete mental instability and murdered his wife in a fit of rage, spending his remaining years in an asylum for the criminally insane.

What if Rathbone had heard the door open behind him and seen the shadowy figure of Booth approaching the President from behind? One can imagine the major, who was an experienced soldier, reacting quickly and accosting Booth before he had a chance to fire his gun. The President, no weak man even at the age of 56, would have reacted as any man reacts when his wife is threatened and jumped up to help Rathbone restrain the assassin. In all likelihood, Booth would have been pinned to the ground and President Lincoln would have ended the evening wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead and making a wry joke about Booth overplaying the role he had recently performed in Julius Caesar.

So what would have been the ramifications of Lincoln surviving the assassination attempt? To answer that question, we need to look at what the situation was on April 14, 1865. By that date, the American Civil War was effectively over. Robert E. Lee's vaunted Army of Northern Virginia had been forced to surrender at Appomattox. Joseph Johnston and the remnants of the Army of Tennessee in North Carolina were about to follow suit and the few remaining Confederate forces, scattered across the South, were either about to give up or simply falling apart. Attention was rapidly shifting from winning the war to securing the peace.

The Republican Party was of two minds regarding how to manage Reconstruction. Radical Republicans, led by men such as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner (the latter will be a major character in my upcoming novel House of the Proud) were not interested in reconciliation. They believed that the South needed to be punished for secession, for bringing on the war, and for practicing slavery in the first place. They wanted to remold Southern society into something completely different from what had existed before. Lincoln disagreed, wanting Reconstruction to be as painless as possible and for normalcy to be restored as quickly as it could. His main goal was not revenge, but reconciliation between the North and South.

Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction had been articulated as early as 1863, after large portions of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana had come back under Union control. It was called the Ten Percent Plan. As soon as ten percent of a Southern state's voting population had sworn loyalty to the Union, those people could reform a loyal government and the state would be readmitted to the Union, provided that they accepted the abolition of slavery. Moreover, aside from a few high-level Confederate military officers and government officials, full pardons would be extended to those who had taken up arms against the Union. In Lincoln's vision, as the war was won, each rebellious state would come back into the Union as its territory fell under federal control. Once the Confederate armies disintegrated or were forced to surrender, it would a fairly straightforward matter for the states to be restored to the Union. The war would be won, slavery would be ended, and the Union would be restored.

The Radicals strongly disagreed with Lincoln's plan. Their view of Reconstruction was articulated most clearly in the Wade-Davis Bill, named for Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Congressman Henry Davis of Maryland. The bill required a majority of a state's voting voting population to take an "ironclad oath" that they had never supported the Confederacy before the state could be readmitted to the Union. This was clearly not going to happen, since the vast majority of the South's white population had supported the Confederacy. It would require a generation to pass before a majority of a state's voters could take such an oath and during all that time the conquered South would have essentially been subject to the rule of the Congress in the same way that the territories in the West remained subject to Congress until they became states themselves. In 1864, Lincoln pocket vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill, preventing it from becoming law and infuriating the Radicals.

So there were two competing Republicans visions of Reconstruction, those of the Moderates led by Lincoln, whose views were summed up in the Ten Percent Plan, and those of the Radicals led by Sumner and Stevens, whose views were summed up by the Wade-Davis Bill. The views of the Democrats, largely marginalized by the events of the war, were scarcely considered. The defeated Southerners, needless to say, could only wait and see what their Northern conquerors were going to do.

Historically, Reconstruction was essentially a failure. Andrew Johnson, the uncouth drunk who became President upon Lincoln's death, pursued the lightest possible Reconstruction policy. Former Confederates very quickly were returned to positions of authority in the Southern states, passing legislation known as "black codes" to prevent the newly freed slaves from exercising any real freedom. President Johnson actively opposed granting blacks the right to vote, utterly enraging the Radical Republicans. Aside from the bare fact that slavery was abolished and blacks were no longer the legal property of white people, it was almost as if nothing had changed since before the war.

Johnson's policies were so wildly unpopular that the Radical Republicans soon realized that they had sufficient strength in Congress to override the President's vetoes of their legislation and that they could pass anything they wanted. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 outlawed such state practices at the black codes, undermining the legitimacy of Johnson's Reconstruction policies. Not long after that, Congress attempted to throw Johnston out of office via impeachment. Though they failed by a single vote in the Senate, Johnson was so humiliated that whatever political power he retained was swept away. He remained an inert nonentity until replaced in the White House by Ulysses Grant in 1869.

Radical Reconstruction now began. The South was subjected to martial law by the occupying Union Army, which protected blacks from revenge attacks and ensured their ability to vote. Republicans gained control of the Southern state government via the electoral coalition of freed slaves, scalawags, and carpetbaggers. Former Confederates were largely disenfranchised. The 14th and 15th Amendments, ensuring equal rights to all citizens and guaranteeing that the right to vote would not be denied on account of race, were pushed through the ratification process.

Many of these efforts, such as the protection of the freed slaves and the passage of the constitutional amendments, greatly benefited the nation. Yet in treating the ex-Confederates as the people of a conquered province, rather than as wayward friends the way Lincoln had desired, the Radical Republicans were throwing kindling onto a dangerous fire. A ferocious anger and bitterness was instilled in the hearts of the proud Southern people, ensuring that they would take revenge as soon as Reconstruction ended.

And that's what happened. Reconstruction wasn't going to last forever, as the Radical Republicans should have realized. After the 1876 election, President Rutherford B. Hayes made a deal to break the impasse of his questionable election that removed the army of occupation from the South. Like bowling pins, the Republican state governments in the South were knocked over and replaced with Democratic governments dominated by former Confederates. Voting rights for the blacks were ruthlessly stripped away through such means as literacy tests and poll taxes, 15th Amendment be damned, The age of Jim Crow had dawned, which would last for nearly a century, until the age of Martin Luther King.

In my opinion, for Reconstruction to have been a real success would have required the voting rights of both the ex-Confederates and the freed slaves to somehow be protected. In this way, whites and blacks in the South would have had to learn to live with one another a century before than the civil rights movement. The ex-Confederates would not have been able to sweep their black neighbors under the political rug, but neither would they have been embittered by having their own rights stripped away from them by the Radical Republicans. If anything like a fair and stable society, on the road to equality for all people, could have emerged from the fires of the Civil War, something like this would have had to happen.

What if Lincoln had not been shot that awful night in April of 1865? What if he had served a full second term, only leaving office after the 1868 election?

Lincoln was perhaps the greatest political genius America has ever produced. He had a sense of perspective and a vision that no one else in American history has come close to matching. If anyone could have somehow created a political framework in which the voting rights of both blacks and the ex-Confederates were protected, it was Lincoln. Only he could possibly have navigated the minefield of Radical Republicans, ex-Confederates, Democrats, freed slaves, and all the other interest groups.

If Lincoln had survived and remained committed to his Ten Percent Plan, subsequent American history would have been radically different and, I believe, much more pleasant for all concerned. We should not think that the South would have been transformed into some sort of post-racial utopia in such a scenario, but it is at least possible that a surviving Abraham Lincoln would have been able to forge a political solution that would avoid the racial darkness of the Jim Crow era and set America on a more proper course.

In the meantime, with the war over, Lincoln could have pursued the goals of expansion and modernization that were his dream. It's often forgotten that more took place during Lincoln's presidency than the Civil War. The Homestead Act was passed, opening vast tracts of western land for settlement, and promoting the building of railroads to link the eastern and western sections of the nation together. He brought the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Agriculture into being. His vision of a united America, in which distinctions of North and South were entirely secondary, was as clear as a shining star.

In firing the deadly bullet, John Wilkes Booth did more than just manifest his own hatred and bigotry. Booth crippled the United States of America for decades, perhaps a century. For that reason, his memory should be damned forever.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What If Germany Had Won the First World War?

We are currently in the midst of the centennial of the First World War, a historical event of truly stupendous importance. The war marks a sharp dividing line between what came before it and what came after it and we are still living with its consequences today. It is right and proper that we should be reflecting on its meaning one hundred years after it took place.

The general outline of the war is easy for any person who paid attention in history class to reconstruct in their mind. Through a stupid mishmash of political miscalculations in the summer of 1914, tied together by a sinister system of interlocking alliances, Europe was plunged into a nightmarish war thanks to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. Britain, France, and Russia, along with several smaller nations. were pitted against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.

The fiercest fighting of the war took place on the Western Front in France and Belgium and the Eastern Front in Russia, where armies numbering in the millions slugged it out over four years. Fighting also flared in the Alps between Italy and Austria-Hungary, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, and in the colonies scattered across the globe. It was warfare on an industrial scale, unlike anything history had seen up to that point. Technology was bent towards the purposes of slaughtering as many human beings as possible, with such innovations as tanks, submarines, poison gas, aircraft, and the mass use of machine guns extending man's ability to kill his fellow man by leaps and bounds.

In the end, of course, Germany went down to defeat. Its disastrous decision to implement a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 brought the United States into the war on the Allied side. Even though Russia had collapsed into the chaos of revolution, Germany was running out of time, its war economy slowly being strangled by an impenetrable British naval blockade. A last gasp offensive in the spring of 1918 brought initial success and at times came close to rupturing the Allied lines. The Allied armies surged forward in the summer, overwhelming the German army and leading to the armistice of November 11, 1918.

The war was won, but the Allies lost the peace. The Treaty of Versallies imposed terms on the Germans that were too weak to permanently cripple it, but harsh enough to instill a ferocious desire for revenge. Combined with the Great Depression, it led directly to the rise of Nazism in Germany and plunged the world into another, more terrible world war just two decades after the first one had been concluded.

All of this begs the question: what if Germany had won the First World War?

There are any number of different scenarios that could have allowed Germany and her allies in the Central Powers to achieve victory over the Allies. Indeed, Germany had a much better chance of winning the First World War than it did the Second World War. Let me briefly sketch one general scenario and then flesh out what the ramifications of it might have been.

During 1916, the war seemed balanced on a knife's edge. Two battles on the Western Front, Verdun and the Somme, dominated the headlines of that terrible year. In the first, the Germans launched a massive offensive against the ancient French fortress city, not so much to capture it as to bleed the French army white in its efforts to protect it. In the second, the British hurled their army, the flower of their youth, against the Germans lines in what turned out to be a futile effort to break through them. Hundreds of thousands of French, British, and German soldiers died in these battles and the front lines did not move more than a few miles in either direction.

At Verdun, the Germans made the critical mistake of deviating from their original plan, which was merely to present a serious enough threat to the city so as to compel the French to commit the bulk of their army to defend it, thus luring it into a space where it could be devastated by superior German firepower. In the early stages of the battle, things seemed to be going according to the German plan. But, as happens all too often in war, the Germans lost sight of their true objective and lost their sense of perspective. The operation became an all-out effort to capture Verdun after all. The back-and-forth fighting that raged over the next few months therefore became just as costly to the Germans as it was to the French. Although the French suffered unspeakably heavy casualties, the Germans had also succeeded in bleeding themselves white.

On the Somme, the casualties of the British attackers were truly horrific. But the Germans, determined not to cede even an inch of ground, suffered almost as many casualties as the Allies in their ferocious counter attacks. In the end, although the Germans prevented the British from breaking through their lines, the battle can fairly be described as a stalemate rather than a German victory. Each side had basically torn the other to pieces and the fighting come to an end through mutual exhaustion.

Let us imagine that the Germans do better at both Verdun and the Somme than they did historically, which might easily have been the case. If they had never attempted a full-scale effort to capture Verdun and had they been more willing to cede useless kilometers of land along the Somme (territory they were to evacuate in 1917, anyway), they could have inflicted heavier losses on the Allies and sustained fewer losses themselves than they did historically. The front lines on the Western Front would have ended more or less in the same place when 1916 came to an end, but there would be a lot more dead French and British soldiers, and many fewer dead Germans. The offensive power of the Allies armies would have badly damaged.

Elsewhere on the fighting fronts, 1916 had gone rather well for the Central Powers. On the Eastern Front, they had turned back the Brusilov Offensive, albeit at heavy cost. The lines had held on the Italian Front and in the Balkans. The Turks had held their own against the British fairly well, though less so against the Russians on the Caucasus Front. In East Africa, German forces under the intrepid Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck continued their dogged resistance to the British. If the Germans had done better at Verdun and on the Somme, few intelligent observers would have denied that the Central Powers were winning the war at the end of 1916.

Historically, in early 1917, the Germans made the disastrous decision to resort to unrestricted submarine warfare against Great Britain. They that this would probably bring the United States into the war against them, but assumed that knocking the British out of the war would be worth the risk. In the end, the United States did declare war on Germany and Britain stubbornly refused to be knocked out of the war, dealing a double blow to the Central Powers and possibly ensuring their eventual defeat. In our alternate scenario, however, the Germans might not have felt the need to play the unrestricted submarine warfare card, as they would have felt they were on their way to winning the war anyway.

If the Germans never resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States would never have entered the war. This not only would have denied the vast manpower of America, but would have denied the British and French the financial credit that came from American loans. By 1917, the Allied nations were on the verge of bankruptcy and it was only American credit that saved them. Indeed, it can be fairly argued that the most important contribution the United States made to Allied victory was in the form of money rather than men. If the United States had not entered the war, the Allies would rapidly be running low on both.

Germany was not in any better shape in terms of manpower and money than the Allies were. But in 1917, three things happened that gave Germany a chance to win the war. First, in February of 1917, Russia collapsed into revolution and chaos. Although it would not officially withdraw from the war until the Bolshevik government signed the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the following year, Russia's capacity to continue the war was clearly at an end. Second, after yet another failed offensive, the French Army was rocked by a series of mutinies in the spring, with entire divisions refusing to follow orders. Third, the German Army perfected the "Hutier tactics" of infiltration and rapid advance, which allowed them to inflict sharp defeats on the Italians and Russians over the course of the year.

In our alternate timeline, then, 1918 would dawn with the United States not in the war as a belligerent, Russia having collapsed, the French army even more weakened than it was historically, and with Germany ready to use its new tactics in a great offensive on the Western Front. We can imagine, then, that a decisive offensive in the spring of 1918 would have broken the British and French armies, led to the fall of Paris, and forced the French government to surrender. If the French throw in the towel, the British would probably seek a peace agreement as well, although from a much better than their allies.

What would a peace agreement under these circumstances look like?

Judging by the terms the Germans suggested when they sent a peace feeler out in early 1916, we have every reason to believe that Germany would have been as harsh with the French as the Allies were to the Germans in actual history. Tiny Luxembourg and Belgium would have been reduced to the status of a German protectorates, if not annexed altogether. Chunks of northeastern France, particularly the Longwy and Briey regions, with their rich deposits of iron ore. In expanding their own base of industrial resources, their goal would be to cripple the French as much as strength themselves. The Germans might have demanded control over some of the Channel ports, to present a greater threat to England.

In Eastern Europe, German expansionist dreams would be realized on an even wider scale. We now from the historical record that the Germans intended to annex the Baltic regions of Russia directly into Germany. They might have been content to resurrect a German-dominated Polish state as a buffer between them and the Russians, or they might have simply annexed the Polish regions of the Russian Empire outright. Russia, with whatever unstable government succeeded the fallen Romanovs, would have been in no position to bargain for better terms. Ukraine would have been set up as a German-dominated puppet. In the Caucasus Mountains, the Turks would have made gains at Russian expense as well, with the poor Armenians likely the ones to pay the heaviest price.

In the Balkans, the Bulgarians could be expected to gain the Macedonian territories from Greece, which the Germans had promised them as a carrot for entering the war in the first place. They might have also gotten bits of Serbia and Romania as dessert. Nothing fundamental would have changed in the Balkans, despite the thousands of lost lives. The ancient hatreds would fester on, ready to explode again some ways down the road. Sadly, it's hard to imagine any realistic alternate history scenario in which the Balkans are not a powder keg ready to explode.

Which brings us to Austria-Hungary, which had done more to cause the war than any other nation. It had imagined the whole thing as a short, preventative war to puts the Serbs in their place. Instead, it had rapidly gotten out of control and consumed the entire world. Unfortunately, even after losing hundreds of thousands of men, the polyglot empire of the Hapsburgs would not find its problems solved. Indeed, it might have found them made worse. If the powers-that-be in Vienna insisted on incorporating territory from Serbia, or Russia, or Italy into its realm, than the ethnic tensions that had already been pulling the empire apart before 1914 would only be strengthened.

The Germans learned during the war that having Austria-Hungary as an ally was more a liability than anything else. It would not be surprising if, after the war, it nudged the Habsburg realm toward a more federated structure, perhaps even pushing for it to be dissolved altogether. The Austrian portions, being ethnically German, might succumb to the German Empire, while the Kingdom of Hungary might be set up as a satellite state and the other, smaller entities that made up the empire before 1914 could be set up on their own. None of them, needless to say, would wield enough power to threaten overall German mastery of Central and Eastern Europe. With Russia reduced to irrelevance, Germany would be the only big kid left on the block.

What of the colonies? Because Britain remained unconquered and, thanks to the Royal Navy, unconquerable, we can expect that no British colonies to be turned over to the Germans. At best, the Germans might get the colonies taken by the British during the war returned to them. The fact that Lettow-Vorbeck was still in the field fighting against the British in East Africa would lend additional credit to the German negotiating position. The South Africans would surely balk at giving German Southwest Africa (today's Namibia), so perhaps the Germans would be willing to let it go in exchange for leeway on other colonial matters.

The French and Belgians, unlike the British, would have been in no position to bargain, being entirely at Germany's mercy. Belgian Congo would surely have been annexed in its entirety by Germany, raising the disturbing question of whether the Germans might have been an even harsher ruler of that unhappy country than the Belgians had been (read King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild for the grisly details of Belgian colonial rule). North Africa was outside the German sphere of interest and was too closely intertwined with France itself to be considered as a colonial reward. Still, combined with the cession of French Cameroon and French Equatorial Africa, an enormous German colonial empire would have been created across the central portion of Africa. Germany might have even made a play for Portuguese territory, if that nation had been foolish enough to enter the war on the Allied side.

And the Pacific? German New Guinea and many scattered German islands had been captured by the Australians and New Zealanders. Would the Germans demand their Pacific Islands back? Would they accept the loss of them in exchange for peace. One can imagine a back-and-forth exchange. Perhaps Germany would demand of the French the installation of German garrisons in the Channel ports of Dunkirk and Calais, presenting an implicit invasion threat to Britain, and give them up only in exchange for the return of its Pacific colonies. (This might also apply to some African territory, come to think of it).

The German colony of Tsingtao on the Chinese coast and the islands north of the Equator would present a more interesting problem, They had been conquered by the Japanese, who had not been defeated by the Germans and against whom the Germans had few options when it came to power projection. The Japanese would not be inclined to return their conquests just because the British and French had been defeated on the European Continent. What could the Germans have done about it? Perhaps they would see it as a better option to cut their losses in that part of the world in exchange for friendly relations with Japan. Or perhaps the issue would fester and set the stage for a future conflict between the two nations.

Britain, defeated but unconquered, would have stood warily across the English Channel, watching as Germany expanded its empire in Africa and its credibility with the "White Dominions" and its subjects in its colonies greatly shaken. Historically, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand began to drift from their allegiance from the mother country, having seen tens of thousands of their young men slaughtered to little gain thanks to British incompetence at places like Gallipoli and the Somme. In this alternate timeline, that incompetence would have been manifested more strongly, since they would have actually lost the war. What applied to the Dominions would also have applied to Ireland, where prewar political strife would also have to be added to the mix. Would the political glue that held the British Empire together dissolve more quickly?

Perhaps, but there's another consideration. Germany, triumphant on the European Continent, would remain a terrifying danger. Germany and Britain had engaged in a naval arms race before the war (indeed, it was a major factor in raising tensions between the two nations). With victory in war having validated its quest to become a superpower, Germany would surely have wanted to build up its naval power even more. This would pose a mortal threat to Britain, especially if Germany gained control any of the Channel ports in its peace agreement with France. The British would need their empire to stand by it in face of the German threat. Whether they would do so is an open question.

And France? In this alternate scenario, France would find itself in the same situation in which Germany found itself historically. It would be under the domination of another nation, much of its territory stripped away, its pride and national confidence deeply wounded. It would seethe with fury towards its own ruling class and burn with a desire for vengeance. The Third Republic would not last long, but what would take its place? It's not inconceivable that we might see a form of extreme nationalism similar to fascism take root in France in response to its defeat.

Russia would likely not be any happier in this timeline than it was in actual history (which is saying something). By the end of 1916, it was pretty clear that Russia was about to self-cannibalize itself in bloody revolution. But would it have followed the same path that it did historically, with the Bolsheviks being the last men standing and the nightmare of the Soviet Union forming out of the wreckage? Perhaps not. After all, it was the Germans who released Vladimir Lenin into Russia in 1917. Had they been on the verge of victory, they might have felt little need to do so. It might end with a military strongman winning a multi-sided civil war. Indeed, such a person might have declared himself the new Czar, but it seems extremely unlikely to me that the Romanov dynasty would have survived.

The Ottoman Empire would survive, though prewar problems of corruption and inefficiency in its administration would continue to be a problem. Enver Pasha and his cohorts in the Committee of Union and Progress would be the winners, rather than the losers, and would likely remain in control of the government. Would they efforts to craft a viable nation-state have been successful in this alternate scenario? It's difficult to say, since the leaders of the CUP seemed more interested in their own glorification than anything else. Whether the Turks would remain in control of the Arab territories is an open question, made more important by the rapidly increasing importance of oil to the global economy.

This, then, would have been the world in 1919. Germany dominant on the European continent, its borders greatly expanded and many less powerful nations reduced to satellite states. France, defeated but likely burning with a desire for revenge. Russia in chaos. A wary and disillusioned Britain perched warily on the edge of Europe, worried about an eventual German invasion, wondering as to the commitment of its imperial subjects. Japan expanding its power in the Pacific and no doubt casting greedy eyes towards China. As with the actual First World War, this counterfactual war ending with a German victory would likely set the stage for another, perhaps even more horrific, war in the not-too-distant future.

The United States would remain strong and free on its side of the Atlantic, reminding the victorious Germans of the Monroe Doctrine and warning them away from any imperial adventures in Latin America. Might it be willing to enter into an alliance with Britain and its Dominions as a check on further German expansion? How might it have responded to Japanese aggression in the Pacific in this scenario? Would the lack of American participation in the war have had any sharp effect on American culture, besides the obvious fact that Ernest Hemingway's best works would remain unwritten?

Interesting questions. And, as with all cases of alternate history, it is both fun and frustrating that they can never be answered.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

After Trump

If one visits the fabled city of Venice, the Doge's Palace is perhaps the first stop on the tour. It is a marvel of architectural beauty and enormous historical significance. The Republic of Venice was one of the most successful states in the history of the Western world, a small city that turned itself into an economic powerhouse and a military giant that dominated the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. It was from the Doge's Palace that the elected leader of the republic governed in immense majesty the sprawling thalassocracy that was the Venetian Empire.

Within the Doge's Palace is an immense chamber called the Sala del Maggior Consilgio, the Hall of the Great Council. It was here that the nobles who ruled the city gathered together to discuss matters of state. The artwork that lines the walls is just as impressive today as it was centuries ago. Among the paintings are dozens of portraits of the men who held the office of Doge over the lifespan of the Republic.

One frame stands out from the rest, however, that of Marino Faliero, who was Doge for just seven months in late 1354 and early 1355. In his frame, there is no portrait at all, only a covering of black paint depicted as dark cloth. You see, while serving as Doge, Faliero had tried to overthrow the Venetian government and set himself up as sole ruler of the city. His attempted coup had been thwarted and Faliero had paid for his unspeakable crime with his life. Not wishing to honor him with a portrait, yet unwilling to let the memory of his treason be forgotten, the Venetians symbolically covered his face with a death shroud.

One day, I expect, our attitude towards President Donald Trump will be much the same.

I don't know how the Trump years will come to an end. Perhaps he will last long enough for the enraged and energized American people to kick him out of office in 2020. Perhaps he will resign in disgrace, or simply after becoming bored with the whole thing. I personally consider it more likely than not that he will be impeached and tossed in prison for gross corruption. One way or another, however, the Trump years will eventually come to an end.

I am an optimist, but I am also a realist. On the day on which I type this blog entry, it seems more likely than not that the administration of Donald Trump is going to be a disastrous train wreck the magnitude of which will defy any attempt at description. It is quite clear to all but the self-deluded that he has no real interest in working on behalf of the American people and is interested only in making a huge amount of money for himself, his family, and his friends. His Cabinet picks consist of billionaires uninterested in public service or ignorant clowns with no idea what they're doing. Beyond that, Trump is clearly under the influence, if not the complete control, of a foreign government hostile to the United States. What damage he will do between now and the day he leaves office is, of course, yet to be seen. When it is all over, however, I fully expect that we will no longer be debating whether James Buchanan or Warren Harding was the worst president in American history, as that question will have been answered in the most decisive manner.

And when he's gone, Americans should give Donald Trump the same treatment the Venetians gave to Marino Faliero and do our best to bloat out his memory. It is an insult and an outrage that the office held by such men as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts will be tainted by the presence of such an odious and sickening human being as Donald Trump, so the institution of the American presidency will need to be cleansed like a house that has suffered a flea infestation. The navy should never commission a rowboat, let alone a major warship, named the USS Trump. If Disney puts together an animatronic version of Trump in the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, it should remove it and throw it away. The National Park Service shouldn't bother preserving a Donald Trump Birthplace. Indeed, I'd favor following the lead of the Austrian government and demolishing the place were it not for the fact that it's a hospital. Perhaps we could instead demolish the Trump Tower, which, architecturally speaking, is a gauche and ignoble piece of crap anyway.

I'm quite certain that Americans are going to want to forget that Donald Trump even existed by the time he leaves the White House. While I see the point of this, I disagree, and for an important reason. What has happened is the fault of the entire American people and we need to learn from this grave mistake in order to take the necessary steps to make sure that nothing remotely like it ever happens again.

The first thing that must happen is comprehensive election reform. I've written about that on this blog a good deal. To my mind, the three most urgently needed reforms are the abolition of gerrymandering, the implementation of ranked choice voting, and the doing away with the Electoral College. Beyond that, it is crucial that voting be made as simple and easy as possible for all citizens, so that even the suspicion of voter suppression never taint elections again. I believe that Election Day should be a national holiday. In short, we need to ensure that our democracy is vibrant, that light is shone on the voting process in order to banish the cynicism that has understandably set it.

The second thing that must happen is we, as citizens, must hold our media accountable for the role it played in this fiasco. Slaves to their ratings, the media devoted vastly more attention to Donald Trump than it did to all the other candidates in the Republican primary combined. Those people who tried to have serious discussions about public policy were ignored in favor of the histrionics of a reality television star. The result was a surge in the popularity of a man who should properly have been dismissed as a clown trying to get attention. Absent any sense of civic virtue or journalistic integrity, the media largely created the monster of Donald Trump. In the future, the American people must hold the media to account.

Education will be key to the recovery from the Trump years. For far too long, we have allowed our education system, once the envy of the world, to degenerate into little more than a glorified job training program. Serious instruction in civics, which prepares students to become active and informed citizens able to participate in self-government, has all but vanished. The decline of civics in education is, I believe, one of the key contributing factors to the mess our nation now finds itself in. After the Soviet launch of Sputnik, fearing a massive gap in the scientific expertise with the Russians, the federal government passed the National Defense Education Act to provide emergency funding for science education. In the aftermath of Trump, something along the same lines will be necessary in terms of civics.

But if we're really honest with ourselves, what has happened is not just the fault of a flawed electoral system or a biased media or our troubled education system. It's the shared fault of the entire American people and each of us as individuals. Whatever else he is, Donald Trump is a manifestation of much of modern American society, such as its dismissal of decency and virtue, its gaudiness and its disdain of intellectualism, its celebration of wealth before honor and its willingness to tolerate bigotry and perversity. There is a dark emptiness where a strong and vibrant national soul once existed. All of us contributed to this either through our own actions or through not speaking out against it.

If anything good is to come out of the disaster that will be the Trump years, it will be that American society will be so shaken and perhaps even wrecked that we can start afresh once it's over. It will be like building a new house on the same lot after your original home had burned down. If we can refashion our election system, or media, our schools, and ourselves, we can perhaps come through the tunnel to the light again as a better nation. Trump can be relegated to the same historical oblivion inhabited by the likes of Marino Faliero and the rest of us - liberals and conservatives, men and women, people of all races, religious, sexual orientations, or whatever else - can get on with forming a more perfect union out of this great republic.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Writer's New Year's Resolutions

At 1:09 PM on Saturday, December 19, 2016, I typed "The End" at the bottom of the last page of the epilogue of my novel House of the Proud.

Strictly speaking, it's not finished. There will be months of editing and probably a fair chunk of rewriting. Dull work like formatting the pages and designing the cover remains to be done. My wonderful sister, who illustrated the covers of the first two books - the novel Shattered Nation and the novella Blessed are the Peacemakers - has to get to work on the artwork for the cover of this one, though she and I have already settled on what the picture will be. In my mind, I am hoping for the book to be on sale on May 1.

For all that, I couldn't help but feel a great sense of accomplishment at the moment when I brought the narrative story to an end. The story of the characters was wrapped up, old questions answered and new ones raised, and a few selected hints dropped regarding the future course of the Shattered Nation alternate timeline, which I intend to explore in future books. I think the novel finished rather well, though I would be the last to suggest that my writing is perfect. The moment I typed "The End", I popped open a bottle of champagne for a much-deserved celebration.

It's been a long process. I started serious writing on House of the Proud in March of 2014, more than two-and-a-half years ago. I endured one terrible bout of writer's block during the winter of 2014-15, during which I made no progress on the book or any other writing project, but once that was overcome I wrote quite steadily until the book was finished. I would have preferred to finish it earlier and was mindful of the many messages I received from readers asking me when it would be ready, but I think I'm being quite honest when I say that I finished it as quickly as I could.

I learned a lot about how I write while penning this book. I discovered, for example, that I cannot write very well at night. I also found that I don't write very well when I have a long, open-ended amount of time. Almost all of House of the Proud was written between five o'clock and six thirty in the morning, while the rest of the Brooks house was asleep. I would drag myself out of bed around four fifty-five, turn on the coffee machine, spent a few minutes catching up on the daily news, and then begin writing. I would then write continually until my alarm went off at six thirty, signalling the need for me to get ready to go to work, or until my daughter Evelyn emerged from her room and asked me to play with her.

When I set out to write the sequel to Shattered Nation, I intended for it to be considerably shorter than my first novel, which came in at a whopping eight hundred pages. Indeed, the sheer length of Shattered Nation was one of the most common complaints I received about the book. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, House of the Proud turned out to be a bit of a monster as well. On good old Microsoft Word, it came out to seven hundred and eighteen pages. Editing and formatting will chop this down a bit, but it's obvious that this book is going to be another really long one.

Shattered Nation was a military and political thriller, dealing with battles between great armies around Atlanta and the presidential election taking place in the United States at the same time. House of the Proud will be rather different. While there will be more than a few battles (the details of which I won't share here, as I don't want to reveal any spoilers), the plot is more politically focused than was the case with Shattered Nation, dealing with the first presidential election in an independent Confederacy. It will also be more international, with some of the plot taking place in Britain, France, and Canada and with one of the main characters, Colonel Garnet Wolseley, being British rather than American. Overall, I'm quite satisfied with the effort and will be working hard to finish up all the details so that House of the Proud can be released for sale.

As I do this, however, I find my mind already turning to future writing projects. This will be a big decision. I have other novels set in the Shattered Nation timeline already sketched out in detail. Two of these are set in 1864 and reveal what was happening in other theaters of the war during the events of Shattered Nation. A Consuming Fire is set in the Shenandoah Valley and Storm Over Sumter is set in and around Charleston (hints of the events of these novels can be found in the other books). I have three further sequels planned, set respectively in 1899, in the mid-1920s, and in the mid-1960s, with the 1899 book fairly well outlined already. I also may write a novella of the same length as Blessed are the Peacemakers, whose plot can be determined from my preliminary title, Lincoln in Europe. I also have considered writing a book of short stories set in the Shattered Nation alternate history.

I must admit, however, that after so many years of hard work, I wouldn't mind taking some time off from Shattered Nation. I have long had a strong desire to write stories set during the American Revolution. I actually wrote out a detailed outline and an entire chapter of an alternate history novel involving Benedict Arnold's treason. I abandoned it after a month or so, however, as I disliked where the story was leading and I felt like I was taking too much influence from the AMC television Turn (which is excellent and which I highly recommend, by the way). If I do write American Revolution novels, they will probably be straight-up historical fiction rather than alternate history, perhaps because I simply have a hard time imagining a world in which the United States didn't exist.

I have outlined an alternate history novel centered around the Second World War and set in 1942, as well as one dealing with the political chaos in the late Roman Republic. I look forward to writing these in the future, particularly as I have long desired to write Winston Churchill and Cato the Younger as characters. I also have considered writing a novel set in the remnants of the United States following a 1983 nuclear exchange, though whenever I do any research work for that project I become incredibly depressed. I have also done a little bit of preliminary work for an alternate history story centered around the idea of the Aztec Empire surviving the Spanish conquest.

So what will be next? A Consuming Fire? One of the chronological sequels to Shattered Nation? Turning to the American Revolution or something else? It will take a little while to figure it out and I may try to stick my irons into different fires and see what lights up. In any case, as I start to say goodbye to one book and say hello to a new one, it's refreshing to think that I have a lot of literary options.

It being New Year's Day, I've made some of the standard resolutions about getting in better shape, eating a more healthy diet, and so forth. But I've also made a few very specific resolutions related to my writing. First, I will get House of the Proud on sale as soon as possible. Second, I will settle on what writing project I shall embark upon next. And third, I will get get to work on it and start the writing adventure all over again.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

I'm not going to post a full-length blog post today. It's Christmas Day, after all, and I am going to be spending it with my family. But I didn't like the idea of breaking my once-a-week rule for this blog, so let me just say that I hope you have a lovely holiday and take time to reflect on the deeper meanings of what Christmas is all about.

I'll simply leave you with a quote from Charles Dickens:

Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture in our bright young eyes, complete.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Declarations of War

Last Wednesday was the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following day, logically enough, was the 75th anniversary of the American declaration of war against Japan, which was approved unanimously in the Senate and with only a single dissenting vote in the House of Representatives (cast by Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin, a strict pacifist). The vote came after one of the most recognizable moments in American history: the "day of infamy" speech of President Franklin Roosevelt. Within the space of twenty-four hours, a previously isolationist United States had been forced by history onto the global stage, from which it has never since withdrawn.

Roosevelt was faced with a problem, for he clearly saw that Nazi Germany, and not Imperial Japan, was the greater threat to the United States and to the world in general, yet Germany had not attacked the United States. Hitler solved this problem for Roosevelt in one of the more stupid moves made by a world leader in history when he declared war on the United States, despite not being required to do so by his treaty with Japan. The United States, logically enough, declared war on Germany (and Italy, which made the same mistake) on December 11. Just to make it all a nice packaged deal, the United States declared war on the smaller Axis nations of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania on June 5, 1942. We never bothered to declare war on Finland, which was sort of a special case.

The American declarations of war during 1941-42 were the most recent occasions that the United States formally declared war on any other nation. It comes as something of a surprise to learn that this took place only four other times in American history: against Britain in 1812, against Mexico in 1846, against Spain in 1898, and against Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917 (we never bothered to declare war against the other members of the Central Powers, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, during the First World War). During the American Civil War, the Confederate government formally declared war on the United States, but the reverse never happened as it would have required the Union to recognize the Confederacy as a legitimate government.

A very important point needs to be made about all of these declarations: they were issued by Congress and not by the President. Article One, Section Eight, of the Constitution specifically states that the power to declare war is held by Congress and not the President. Since 1945, America has fought several major military conflicts, including Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1964-1973), the Persian Gulf War (1991), the Afghanistan War (2001-present) and the Iraq War (2003-2011). None of these involved a formal declaration of war, yet only a fool would describe them as anything other than a war. In all cases, Congress passed resolutions giving the President permission to engage in military action, although under dubious circumstances in the cases of both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. What I find troubling is that Congress essentially legislated so as to give to the President the power to decide whether or not to go to war, which certainly violates the spirit, and probably violates the letter, of the Constitution.

Then you have the countless smaller military actions, that might not reach the level of an out-and-out war but which cannot be described as insignificant. The first memory I have of a news event was the destruction of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, during Reagan's ill-fated intervention there. Since then, we have the invasion of Grenada in 1983, the invasion of Panama in 1989, the various interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, and the intervention in Libya in 2011. Some of these actions were approved by Congress, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, while some were not.

The Founding Fathers lived in an age when kings and emperors still ruled most of the world. Such men were natural seekers of glory and generally cared little for whatever suffering might be inflicted on others as a result. Only a few decades before their time, Louis XIV of France had sought to immortalize his reign through martial achievements and during their lives Frederick the Great of Prussia had done the same. Moreover, being products of an education largely centered on classical history, the Founders could look to the past and see examples such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. It was a concession to common sense, therefore, that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gave the power to declare war to Congress rather than the President. To place such a momentous decision in the hands of a single individual was simply too dangerous.

Indeed, an argument can be made that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted to prevent a permanent standing army from ever being created. Article One, Section Eight, specifies that the Congress has the power to "raise and support armies" and to "provide and maintain a navy". Why this wording? Why didn't the delegates say "provide and maintain an army and navy"? It seems pretty clear to me that the Founders intended the navy to be a permanent force, but only expected armies to be raised in time of war. During peacetime, the state militias were expected to provide whatever military force would be necessary. After all, having a powerful standing army would not only be expensive, but might provide the President with an irresistible temptation to foreign military involvement either for the sake of personal glory or to distract the people from domestic political problems.

The question of whether Congress or the President should have the final say on questions of peace or war has been on my mind lately and not just because of the anniversary of our entry into the Second World War. President-Elect Donald Trump will take office next month and he is a man famous for shooting from the hip and making decisions based on gut instinct rather than long consideration. He has also expressed support for military actions that are clearly illegal, such as torturing prisoners and killing the innocent family members of terrorists. Some have suggested that the military would refuse to follow such orders if President Trump were to give them, which would make for quite the dilemma for a military officer. Frankly, the very fact that we have to ask the question at all is deeply troubling. Upon entering office, will President Trump respect the constitutional fact that Congress, and not the President, is the part of government which has the power to declare war? Based on his past statements, I would have to assume he won't.

This question is about far more than President Trump, however. It's about the presidency in general, no matter which individual happens to be sitting in the Oval Office. Since the Second World War, our country has quietly allowed the presidency to assert far greater authority in the sphere of war and peace than was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. In 1973, after the disaster of the Vietnam War, Congress attempted to reassert its war declaration authority with the War Powers Resolution. Unfortunately, this simply made an already bad problem even worse. It specified that the President must obtain congressional authorization for any military action that lasts for more than sixty days. This implies, obviously, that the President does not need congressional authorization for a military operation of a shorter duration. An airstrike lasts a matter of minutes, so does the President have the constitutional right to order an airstrike against any country he wants, for whatever reason he wants? Can he order a Tomahawk missile strike against a restaurant in Paris if he didn't like their soup?

This becomes all the more frightening when we consider the possible use of nuclear weapons. If Congress has abdicated its war declaration responsibility to the President so completely, what constitutional barriers are in place to prevent the President from ordering a nuclear strike on his own volition? If the President has a gut feeling, absent any real evidence, that China is about to launch a nuclear attack on us, can he unilaterally order a preemptive nuclear strike? Under operational procedures, the Secretary of Defense must confirm any launch order from the President, but this is only to confirm the validity of the order and does not technically give the Secretary of Defense the power to block the order itself.

In 1973, an Air Force major named Harold Hering, who was attached to one of the units operating Minuteman ICBMs with nuclear warheads, asked his superiors whether he would have to follow orders to launch his missiles if he suspected that the President was "deranged, disordered or. . . damagingly intoxicated" or showed some other sign of not being in possession of his faculties. For the simple act of asking this question, Major Hering was discharged from the Air Force.

The Founding Fathers were quite right to invest Congress rather than the President with the power to declare war, for they well understood the danger of granting such authority to a single person. They would be both astonished and horrified to see how the executive branch has gradually accumulated that power to itself over the past few decades, under multiple presidents of both parties. To me, it is terrifying enough to have the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers potentially placed at risk due to the whims of a single person. In an age of nuclear weapons, it's not too much to say that the stakes are raised to the level of the survival of the human race.