Monday, September 24, 2012

Stabilizing the Defeated Mexican Government

Historian Irving Levinson offers a more nuanced account about the war, conducted between 1846 and 1848 between the United States and Mexico, and its political and social dynamics than is given, according to him, by typical textbook narratives:

to many, the fighting that began on 8 May 1846 at Palo Alto, Texas, and ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on 2 February 1848 constitutes the military history of the United States of America’s war with Mexico. This framework has remained fundamentally unchanged for more than 150 years. Then, as now, the war stands as a conventional nineteenth-century conflict fought by armies of two sovereign states in set-piece battles as well as in ongoing partisan warfare. This paradigm is seriously flawed and ought to be replaced.

Within Mexico at that time, various demographic factions – delineated along economic, racial, and other variables – prevented much of a consensus on policy, and certainly made any mandate by a mathematical majority impossible. The country was so fragmented that as one group offered intense, guerilla-style resistance to U.S. soldiers, major cities gave no resistance – not even objection – to being occupied by the U.S. Army, and in some cases seemed to even benefit from such occupation:

when U.S. forces entered Mexican territory, they crossed into a nation divided along lines of class, race, and rights. The U.S. Army marched into a nation at war with itself as well as at war with the invader. This particular duality remains essential to understanding the subsequent course of events that involved governments, armies, and civilians.

Wise military leaders – Levinson chooses Winfield Scott as an admirable example – understood this dynamic, and went to great lengths to demonstrate benevolence toward the citizens of the occupied cities. At the same time, U.S. forces in the region were dependent upon long supply lines through unsecured territory; supply convoys needed large numbers of soldiers to guard them along the way. Despite peaceful and masterful occupation of cities, therefore, the U.S. troops were at risk because supplies were uncertain, and the larger U.S. strategy endangered because many men were tied up guarding supply lines instead of attacking military targets.

Levinson compares and contrasts the U.S. presence in Mexico with the occupation of Spain by Napoleon’s troops. That latter event, thirty or forty years prior to the U.S. conflict with Mexico, was the actual origin of the term ‘guerilla’ warfare; whether it was the origin of the form of warfare itself, and not merely the word, is subject to debate: one might possibly conceive of Germanic resistance to Roman soldiers between 50 B.C. and 476 A.D. as guerilla warfare. Levinson’s point is, however, that Winfield Scott did better than Napoleon, because Scott, while facing the same type of hit-and-run adversary, did a much better job of forming friendly relations with that segment of the local population which was willing to countenance the possibility of a mutually beneficial arrangement with the occupying U.S. forces.

The guerilla-style efforts at disrupting U.S. supply lines were effective; they might have even crushed the U.S. military operations in Mexico, but they did not, largely because a significant segment of the population was indifferent to, or even slightly supportive of, the U.S. presence. This comfort with the presence of U.S. troops was the result of some Mexicans’ ambivalence with their own government.

At this point, Levinson’s narrative omits a detail included by fellow historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski. Their account of the same events notes that, at one point, Scott, realizing his vulnerability in depending on long and difficult-to-defend supply lines, decided to operate his army without a supply line, living off the land for needed materials. Levinson’s description of the effective guerilla operations, and their effect on those supply lines, reciprocally sheds light on Scott’s decision to abandon temporarily those lines and work without them.

As the war progressed, and the Mexican military increasingly turned its resources toward offering resistance to U.S. operations, those segments of Mexican society most opposed to the Mexican government saw an opportunity, and rebellions arose in various parts of the country. The Mexican military could not simultaneously harass U.S. troops and quell rebellions. Faced with their inability to fight basically two wars at the same time, the Mexicans – or more exactly, the Mexican government – was willing to negotiate a peace treaty. “The 2 February 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the almost equally important truce agreement of 6 March 1848” ended the war, but did not end U.S. military activity in the country. The latter document pledged U.S. military support for the Mexican government’s efforts to put down rebellions. In addition to direct military action, the United States also sold significant amounts of weapons to the Mexican army at deeply discounted prices.

Levinson’s article is important because it reminds to be alert for situations in which there is a significant internal division in one of the belligerents. Such cases appear at different points in history: in the incident involving the U.S.S. Panay, in 1937, there were three countries involved – Japan, China, and the U.S. – there were in essence six parties, because each of those countries had two major internal factions: in China, the Communists opposed the Nationalists; in Japan, the militarists were eager to expand the war, while the civilian government was not; in the United States, isolationists opposed internationalists. Mexico during the 1846-1848 war was even more fractured: there were divisions of race, divisions of wealth, and divisions of political agendas. Mexico’s internal schisms led to its inability to defend itself from the U.S., and ironically also led to military aid from the U.S.: having defeated Mexico, the U.S. found it necessary to then stabilize Mexico in order to form a lasting peace.

A final lesson to be learnt concerns the distinction between victory in battle and success in war. In Mexico, as would be the case at the end of the Second World War, the U.S. Army could destroy any enemy formation that the Americans wished to destroy. But domination of the battlefields did not guarantee the emergence of the desired postwar political result. In Mexico, a stabilization program for a cooperative government emerged as the prerequisite for peace. Similarly, the willingness of prominent Japanese and Germans made possible the transition of both nations from defeated tyrannies to emergent democracies. Clearly, Scott recognized such reality even if civilians above his grade did not. And so let us, even if it be late in the day, now praise a famous man.

The U.S. Army not only occupied, but placed its men and resources into the service of, the government it had so recently defeated – an irony. The management of the situation on the ground immediately after the peace treaty and ceasefire agreements was essential to creating a stable situation. Managing, and maintaining good working relations with, the locals during and after the war was as important as the actual battles themselves.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Reshaping the USMC

When thinking of U.S. military leaders, lots of names come to mind – Washington, Grant, Pershing, Eisenhower, Patton – but the name Ben Fuller probably does not come to mind. Although relatively unknown, he guided the United States Marine Corps through some important developmental phases.

Ben Hebard Fuller was born in Michigan in 1870, and educated at Annapolis. Fuller’s first important assignment was to the Philippines in 1899, reflecting a new era in U.S. foreign policy and correspondingly new types of military deployment. Fuller’s career also coincided with William Fullam’s controversial vision of a totally new role for the Marines. Over the next two decades, Navy officers and Marine officers would debate whether the USMC was mainly a police force onboard and in port, or whether it would assume activities on land – activities larger than merely the occasional landing party.

In 1928, Fuller had been promoted to the position of assistant commandant and brought into USMC headquarters. A document entitled “Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia” had been prepared and would dictate much of the USMC’s training and planning over the next decade – leave the Marines amazingly well-prepared for the outbreak of WWII.

By contrast, the First World War had seen Marines used as infantry, apart from any amphibious landing. Ben Fuller saw no action in WWI, being posted elsewhere. Although his lack of combat experience probably slowed his advancement through the ranks, he was seen as valuable and ultimately promoted in part because of his extensive training – in institutions like the Naval War College and the Army’s Field Officer’s Course – which made him a capable tactician, strategist, and theoretician.

Historian Merrill Bartlett has written a hagiographic account of Ben Fuller’s career in the USMC. Bartlett’s panegyric takes the form of a reappraisal – Bartlett falls into the noble tradition of historians who ask their readers to rethink the ‘standard account’ – seeking to rehabilitate Ben Fuller as a significant and praiseworthy Commandant of the USMC from 1930 to 1934. Inter-service power politics, which Fuller faced, are notoriously thorny, but even more so for the Marines, who stand not only vis-a-vis the Army, Coast Guard, and Air Force, but also occupy an internal status within the Navy which places them technically ‘under’ Navy command.

Among the reasons for which President Herbert Hoover appointed Fuller to be Commandant was that Fuller’s classmate from Annapolis was Chief of Naval Operations, and that the two could be expected to work well together. “But Fuller stood firm every time the admirals attempted to gain ground at the expense of the Marine Corps, and he never hesitated to take issue with” his old friend from the academy days, as Bartlett writes.

During Fuller’s career, the USMC not only retained “traditional duties in support of the Navy at sea and ashore, but also” adopted “new missions as colonial infantry, an advanced-base force, and finally an amphibious-assault force.” Under Fuller’s command, the USMC’s role “as a subsidiary of the Navy” ended. Fuller’s steadfast advocacy before Navy high command was central to the USMC’s increased independence.

In 1933, Fuller had restructured the deployment of Marines within the Navy, and restructured the chain of command; he ordered the officers to develop amphibious landing techniques, which would be important in WWII. In this same year, the Navy authorized increased manpower for the Marines, and procured equipment according to the USMC specifications instead of Navy specifications; these steps were the fruit of Fuller’s advocacy.

In the previous years, there had been considerable dispute about the roles of Marines vis-a-vis the Navy, and their role vis-a-vis the Army. The Army was eager to form a monopoly on aircraft, and so the USMC aircraft were linked closely with Navy aircraft to prevent them from being absorbed into the Army. Likewise, the Marines were defined as being

responsible for the seizure and defense of advanced bases; subsequent operations ashore would then pass to the Army. Planners argued that the Marines should only be employed as an adjunct to the Army if necessary, because in any likely scenario the Marine Corps would be busy supporting the fleet. Prophetically, the Director of the War Plans Division posited that Marine Corps air assets should always remain an integral part of naval aviation and never operate as a separate component; otherwise, it would open the way for criticism from the Army Air Corps.

Through 1931 and 1932, the economic conditions of the country combined with the schemes of the famous and infamous General Douglas MacArthur to cut the USMC to somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 to 16,000 men. MacArthur believed that the USMC “should be limited to the traditional duties aboard ship.” MacArthur’s trademark ego would allow no place a for a significant Marine Corps to compete with his Army. It was from these depths that Fuller would lift the Corps.

One wonders about the relative impact of two factors in strengthening the USMC: Fuller’s advocacy for more manpower and better equipment, versus FDR’s view that the military could be a “make work” program for unemployed civilians and boost production through procurement of equipment.

Ben Fuller died in 1937, and was buried beside his son, who had died in WWI.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jay's Defense Policy

John Jay, writing in the third of the Federalist Papers in 1787, stated his notion about national defense, and how it would be strengthened by adopting the proposed Constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, national defense had been a murky subject. Arising from an equally murky foreign policy, in which each of the thirteen states was free to make its own treaties with other nations, the nation's defensive structure was ambiguous. It was not clear if or how the national government had the authority to call up the militia of one of the states. This left the central government toothless, and the need for a stronger centralized military structure was obvious. But at the same time, it was far from obvious how one might create a national defense without harming the rights of the individual states, counties, towns, and individuals.

This, in a nutshell, is the paradox behind the Federalist Papers as they advocate for the ratification of the new Constitution: how to obtain the benefits of a strong national government without hindering the liberties of the individual citizen. This same tension lies behind the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution, found in the Bill of Rights.

Jay wrote that

Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first. The safety of the people doubtless has relation to a great variety of circumstances and considerations, and consequently affords great latitude to those who wish to define it precisely and comprehensively.

He begins by indicating that the issue of safety can be perceived or interpreted differently. Honest and intelligent men might differ as to what they mean by the phrase "provide safety" for the citizens of a nation. To clarify and sharpen the discussion, then, Jay continues:

At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes. As the former of these comes first in order, it is proper it should be the first discussed. Let us therefore proceed to examine whether the people are not right in their opinion, that a cordial Union under an efficient national Government, affords them the best security that can be devised against hostilities from abroad.

Refining the definition, then, Jay writes that the types of safety in which the federal government will have an interest are "security for the preservation of peace and tranquility," and "against dangers from foreign arms and influence," and "dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes." John Jay is telling us that the national government will protect its citizens from foreign military attack and from domestic criminals. Expanding the definition slightly, he includes that the constitutional government will protect its citizens also from foreign "influence" - we have rightly here to ask, what he means by this: propaganda, economic pressures, spying, etc.

Jay's ruminations on national security did not take place in a vacuum. The experience of the war (1775 to 1783) was close at hand. The Continental Congress had faced then the same tension: how to provide a military defense for the liberties of the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies - soon to be the thirteen states - without violating the same freedom which it was protecting. Mounting a defense of freedom required taxing citizens to pay for the military, as well as conscripting or impressing men to be soldiers - the draft. Yet taxes and government interference with the private lives of citizens were exactly the causes of the rebellion.

Describing how this tension played out in practical terms, historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski write that

It looked as if the colonies were embarked upon an unequal war. A population of two and a half million (20 percent of whom were slaves), without an army, navy, or adequate financial resources, confronted a nation of eight million with a professional army, large navy, and vast wealth. Yet many colonists were confident and determined. They believed in the "natural courage" of Americans and in God's divine protection. Congress admitted that colonial soldiers lacked experience and discipline but insisted that "facts have shown, that native Courage warmed with Patriotism is sufficient to counterbalance these Advantages." And a British captain wrote that Americans "are just now worked up to such a degree of enthusiasm and madness that they are easily persuaded the Lord is to assist them in whatever they undertake, and that they must be invincible." Colonists were determined because they struggled for high stakes, summed up by George Washington: "Remember, officers and soldiers, that you are freemen, fighting for the blessings of liberty; that slavery will be your portion and that of your posterity if you do not acquit yourselves like men." The Revolution was no European dynastic squabble, but a war involving an ideological question that affected the population far more than did the kingly quarrels of the Age of Limited Warfare. Large numbers of colonists ardently believed freedom was the issue, not only for themselves but for generations yet unborn.

The focus on freedom as the goal of the war provided enough motivation to allow the thirteen colonies to overcome their deficits in technology, in money, and in manpower. Other wars in the preceding decades and centuries had been rivalries between competing European dynasties. Soldiers were commoners employed by the royal houses - precious little motivation for them to risk their lives. In adventures like the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, then, we see soldiers fighting without the concept of "total war" which motivated the colonists in throwing off the British yoke. (The phrase "total war" would come to have a negative connotation, two centuries later, when it was used by fascists against democracies, but in George Washington's time, the phrase was unknown - we apply it retroactively, as an anachronism, to denote the passion and dedication of the Continental Army.) The colonists knew that, once begun, they would either win the war, or be devastated by the British. There would be no negotiated compromise as a 'middle way' out.

Shouldering arms freely and believing freedom was the issue, Continentals never became regulars in the European sense. They became good soldiers, but they remained citizens who refused to surrender their individuality. They asserted their personal independence by wearing jaunty hats and long hair despite (or perhaps to spite) their officers' insistence upon conformity in dress and appearance. Furthermore, they were only temporary regulars. Unlike European professionals, they understood the war's goals and would fight until they were achieved, but then they intended to return to civilian life.

The Americans revived the concept of "citizen soldier" from ancient Rome - a citizen who fought for the goals of the war, not for pay, and who had a hand in determining those goals. European soldiers of the 1700's fought for pay; the Americans fought for freedom. The Americans had so thoroughly embraced the ideology of liberty that they were willing to die for it.

Americans reintroduced ideology into warfare, fought for the unlimited goal of independence, and mobilized citizen-soldiers rather than professionals. In the spring of 1783, Washington summarized the drastic implications of these changes. "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system," he wrote, "that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal service to the defense of it...." To protect the nation, "the Total strength of the Country might be called forth." Mass citizen-soldier armies would be motivated by patriotic zeal as they fought for freedom, equality, and other abstract ideological virtues.

As abstract as the goals of war may have been, they took specific and concrete form in the minds of the Americans: the list of grievances against the King of England in the Declaration of Independence - drawn from the Intolerable Acts, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Sugar Act, the Tea Act, and others - was no mere ideological abstraction, but a physical reality. This specificity prevented the American Revolution from becoming the debacle which was the French Revolution.