#575 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #20. A History of "Decisive" Battles in Warfare

Today is election day in Wisconsin; five months from today is the United States General Election.
There is a serious question embedded in the following: how do we change American political warfare before we are all – winners and losers and, indeed, country – lying dead in the weeds?
The past couple of generations of Republican politics, more or less 40 years, perfected by people like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and their many disciples, has been based on principles of Warfare. Negative emotions of people, as fear and loathing, are harnessed and used as the bullets to kill the opposition. Now unlimited and almost totally unregulated money has entered the conversation. Somehow the following commentary seems most appropriate for today, the day Wisconsin decides. I keep thinking of two books….
For some years my bookshelf has held two old books I found some years ago in a box at my Grandparents North Dakota farm.
Both have copyrights of 1898.
One, 592 pages, by U.S. Senator John J. Ingalls (Kansas) is entitled America’s War for Humanity “A Complete History of Cuba’s Struggle for Liberty and the Glorious Heroism of America’s Soldiers and Sailors”.
The second, which is the focus of this post, by Brig. General Charles King, is Decisive Battles of the World, and highlights, in its 956 pages, 52 “Decisive” battles in the history of Humanity. His “Decisive Battles” are listed at the end of this post.
Curious to me is why these books ended up on the farm of my Mom’s parents, which my grandparents established after migrating from southwest Wisconsin in 1905. I don’t know anyone on that ‘side’ of my family who was actually in the Spanish-American War.
More logically, they’d have ended up on the shelf of my other grandfather, Henry Bernard, some hundreds of miles away, who, seven years earlier, was in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. It appears he was in the same unit commanded by author General King, and at the same places in the Philippines. But King’s book focuses on a battle in Cuba, and not the Philippines.
Ah, the unanswerable questions the very existence of these volumes on a North Dakota farm bring forth!
A more obvious “decisive battle” than the others is the last in King’s book – the 52nd. It is the battle for Santiago Cuba, including the famous story of the Charge up San Juan Hill, with the iconic Colonel Theodore Roosevelt (who in the book is one of four officers pictured, but is the only one in civilian clothes). The others: Major Generals H. W. Lawton and Adna B. Chaffee; and Brig. General Leonard Wood. The Spanish-American War was the war of the authors generation, and of his own participation. This last chapter is written by Henry F. Keenan. Keenan himself is an intriguing character. Why he writes this chapter is unknown. The first few pages are here: Santiago Decisive Battle001
Here’s the Battle for Santiago Map, as published in the book: (click to enlarge it). The invasion began at a place called Baiquiri (yes, the word Daiquiri is also mentioned in the book!)

Page 918 of Decisive Battles of the World by Brig Gen Charles H. King, U.S.A.

The 64 page chapter about Cuba is not quite the standard stuff of war histories written by the victors. The conquest of good (us) over evil (the Spaniards); the heroism and losses of especially the officers (though nothing is said about the schoolboy story I learned of the charge up San Juan Hill led by Teddy Roosevelt.) The natural elements – heat, water, terrain – seem more an “enemy” than the Spaniards, but, whatever….
The Spanish-American War was a triumph of public relations, begun by the mysterious sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor and nudged along by what came to be called “yellow journalism”. Then came the rush of volunteers to serve, including my grandfather Bernard in the Philippines (“remember the Maine“); and ending, as the author vividly states, “In nearly every one of the thousands of newspapers published throughout the United States, the participants and victims of the Santiago campaign contributed personal observation of the battle; the combined testimonies, if ever collated, would give definite account of every instant of time from the moment the armada left Tampa, until the flag of the republic was flung out over the civic palace of Santiago….”
All that changed over the 2500 years of warfare were the weapons of choice.
Here’s how the weapons of 1898 were described: Sp Am War weapons001
Decisive Battles skips the 20th century because the 20th Century had not yet begun.
War has continued, and the rules of war have only changed, including in Wisconsin, today, where the war is counted in Dollars spent on campaigns and management of misinformation and disinformation. Words have become the weapons. Last I heard, the Democrats are heavily out-gunned in at least the money war: 7 1/2 to one (though those numbers are themselves moving targets.)
Likely no one will physically die, at least directly of the election, but most definitely the intention is to Win, not Lose, a 21st century “Civil War” of a new kind….
But is a “win” in war “decisive”? Maybe, but only for the moment.
As General King had no way of knowing, Santiago turned out to not be “decisive” at all, at least for the peasantry who remained poor. Then someone named Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959…and now an American of Spanish Cuban descent, Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, is being prominently mentioned as a possible Republican vice-presidential candidate in the U.S. presidential election…politics does make strange bedfellows.
But even in War, even the victors ultimately lose.

We can make the Rules of War less relevant in the political battles to come.
Brig-Gen. King’s notion of the 52 Decisive Battles of the World:
Marathon 490 BC
Thermopylae 480 BC
Plateau 479 BC
Leuctra 371 BC
Mantinea 362 BC
Arbela 331 BC
Cannae 215 BC
Zama 202 BC
Cynoscephal 197 BC
Manesia 190 BC
Pydna 168 BC
Pharsalia 49 BC
Philippi 42 BC
Chalons 451 AD
Tours 732 AD
Hastings 1066 AD
Jerusalem 1099 AD
Acre 1191 AD
Cressy 1346 AD
Orleans 1429 AD
Constantinople 1453 AD
Leipsic 1631 ad
Lutzen 1632 AD
Vienna 1683 AD
Narva 1700 AD
Pultowa 1709 AD
Blenheim 1794 AD
Ramilies 1706 AD
Gudenarde 1708 AD
Leuthen 1757 AD
Kunersdorf 1759 AD
Torgau 1760 AD
Bunker Hill 1775 AD
Saratoga 1777 AD
Marengo 1800 AD (first of five Napoleonic battles)
Austerlitz 1805 AD ” ”
Jena 1806 AD ” ”
Auerstadt 1806 AD ” ”
Waterloo 1815 AD ” ”
The Alamo 1836 AD (expanding United States)
Chapultepec 1847 AD ” ” ”
Balaclava 1854 AD (Europe)
Malvern Hill 1862 AD (first of five U. S. Civil War)
Manassas 1862 AD ” ”
Chancellorsville 1863 AD ” ”
Gettysburg 1863 AD ” ”
Nashville 1864 AD ” ”
Five Forks and Lee’s Surrender 1865 AD ” ”
Gravelotte 1879 AD
Plevna 1877 AD
Port Arthur 1894 AD
Santiago 1898 AD
By my counting, here are number of his decisive battles by time period:
13 – BC
2 – Pre-1000 AD
6 – 1000-1500 AD
13 – 1600-1800 AD (two American)
18 – 1800-1900 (five Napoleon, six Civil War, two against Mexico)
Directly related to this post: here.
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#292 – Remember the Maine; USS Arizona; Never Forget; LPD 21 USS New York

December 7, 1941, my Uncle Frank Bernard was minding his own business on the USS Arizona, berthed at Pearl Harbor, HI. Without doubt he was awake at the time a Japanese bomb destroyed his ship and snuffed out his life. 1176 shipmates also died that day. Frank was definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time. Every year on this date, no doubt today as well, I will see a photo or a film clip of the Arizona blowing up.
I am the only one of my siblings old enough to have ever actually met Uncle Frank; the last time at the end of June, 1941, in Long Beach, California.

Bernard Family Reunion at Long Beach CA late June, 1941. Frank is in the center, Dick, 1 1/2, is next to him.

Frank had served on the Arizona since 1936. Though he seems to have been engaged to someone in Bremerton WA, he likely intended to be a career man in the Navy.

Frank Bernard, Honolulu, some time before Dec. 7, 1941

Wars are never fought without reasons, or consequences. They are collections of stories, often mythology masquerading as fact. One war succeeds the last war. That’s just how wars are.
Frank’s Dad, my Grandpa Henry Bernard, 43 years earlier had enlisted to serve the United States in what he always called the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. He was very proud of this service, which lasted from the spring of 1898, to the summer of 1899. The pretext for this war was the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor. Whatever actually caused the explosion was blamed on the Spaniards, and led to an outpouring of patriotic fervor in the U.S. “Remember the Maine” was the battle cry.
Grandpa’s unit, one of the first to the Philippines, never actually fought any Spaniards – he and his comrades were hardly off the boat near Manila when the Spanish surrendered. His battles were with the Filipino “insurgents” who were glad to be rid of the Spaniards, and just wanted the Americans to go back where they came from. That war is now called the Philippine-American War – a term Grandpa wouldn’t know.
In Henry’ company was his future wife’s cousin, Alfred Collette. Some years after the war, Alfred returned to the Philippines, becoming successful, later marrying and living the rest of his life in the Philippines.
After Pearl Harbor, the first major conquest of American territory by the Japanese was the Philippines…. Alfred was imprisoned at the notorious Santo Tomas. During the final battle for the liberation of Manila in 1945 his second child, named for my grandmother Josephine, was killed by shrapnel from either the liberators or the Japanese. She was only four years old, in her mother’s arms. Her two siblings witnessed her death.
Seven of Uncle Frank’s cousins in Canada, all from the same family, went to WWII, three in the Canadian Army, four in the U.S. Army. One of the seven died in combat. Others from my families served as well, as did neighbors. Most survived; some didn’t.

Alfred Collette, 1898, Presidio San Franciso CA

Henry Bernard, middle soldier, in Yokahoma Japan, enroute home1899

Which brings to mind the USS New York LPD 21.
On Thanksgiving day came one of those power point forwards celebrating the launch of the Amphibious Transport Ship the USS New York, a ship partially manufactured out of the wreckage of the World Trade Centers September 11, 2001. The internet is awash with items about this ship, commissioned in November of 2009.
A key caption of the powerpoint said that the New York’s contingent was “360 sailors, 700 combat ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft”, apparently roaming the world at the ready to do battle with the bad guys wherever they were. The transport has “twin towers” smokestacks,
I could see the attempt at symbolism in the power point: “don’t mess with the U.S.”. The boat plays to the American fantasy that we are an exceptional society, more deserving than others.
But, somehow, I failed to see the positive significance of this lonely boat, roaming the world, looking for opportunities to do battle against our enemies.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of geographic knowledge to know how immense this world is, and how tiny and truly insignificant is a single ship with about 1000 U.S. servicemen, no matter how highly trained and well-equipped they might be.
It seems we have better ways to use our money.
Uncle Frank was technically a peace-time casualty – War wasn’t declared against Japan until after he was dead. He and his comrades at Pearl Harbor who also died were only the first of hundreds of thousands of Americans, who joined, ultimately, millions of others who became casualties of WWII. A few of Grandpa Henry’s comrades were killed on Luzon, and till the end of his life in 1957 in Grafton ND there was an annual remembrance at the monument in front of the Walsh County Court House.
The triumph of war is what we seem to remember.
The horror of war is what we best “never forget”.
Peace takes work, lots of it. Let’s work for Peace.