Tuesday, September 30, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #2 - The Texas Revolution

The Texas Revolution
            As I am a veteran of twenty years in the military, I am often drawn to historical accounts of military engagements.  As a result, the Texas Revolution became an obvious choice for my second response essay. 
            There are several factors that come to mind when examining Texas Revolution combatants and warfare with the eyes of a modern armed forces veteran.  It is hard not to contrast military actions of two centuries ago with those with which I am familiar.  
            During the fight with Mexico in 1835-36, the majority of the Texas fighting force were not professional soldiers.  It was largely composed of a militia of volunteers, colonists, and farmers.  The actual numbers of the small force varied drastically since members were not conscripted and virtually came and went as they pleased.   Soldiers went on furlough, deserted, changed units, or simply went home, at their own discretion.   In addition, the leaders of the Revolutionary Army were elected by the units and the democratic nature of these components did  not lend itself to organization or discipline.  Failure to obey orders  to the point of actual mutiny ran rampant among its ranks.  A revolving door of commanders did not improve the effectiveness.  Any efforts to organize a professional military organization met with funding inadequacies.       
            The only way this small, ragtag group was able to defeat the much more powerful Mexican Army is that the latter was in similar disarray.  Though better equipped and trained, fundamental political differences in Mexico between the Centralists and Federalists continued to take focus away from quelling the Texas revolt.  Allegiances were divided between the  population, military and civilian leadership, and the troops, reducing their capabilities in the north against an inferior force.   Mexico had its own instability of leadership.  The Texas Revolution was the beneficiary of a perfect storm. 
            Another element that piqued my interest was the brutality with reference to prisoners of war.  It seemed the Texas policy towards them was at the discretion of the local commander.  Some were released, others held captive, and still others executed.   The Mexicans appeared to have had orders from the highest authority to execute detainees.  These directives were not always carried out, but more often than not they were.    I believe this might have been due to the Mexican government treating the Texans more as terrorists than with the deference afforded a respected military force.  The Texans sometimes put to death surrendered Mexican soldiers in retaliation from the murder of their own. 
            We have a similar modern argument as to whether captured terrorists are to be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention.  Though we do not execute them, we have tortured and humiliated them, using the distinction between a criminal and a soldier as justification.         
            As with most nineteenth century warfare, much of the fighting in the Texas Revolution was boots on the ground, face to face and hand to hand combat.  Today's warfare can be conducted by piloting drones from the safety of a command center thousands of miles from the battlefield.  This brings up some major discussions  with respect to Just War Theory.  It is much easier to kill an enemy when you don't have to look into his eyes and are not putting your own personnel in harm's way.  In those days, senior officers actually led troops into battle and often died alongside them.  In today's military, generals seldom venture to the front lines unless they have been deemed safe enough for a USO show.    

Thursday, September 11, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #1 - Indian Removal

Indian Removal
            I chose Jackson's Indian Removal as the subject of my first Response Essay.  I think that while most Americans are fairly knowledgeable about the evil of slavery, few are cognizant of the near extinction of an entire race of people. The Native American people still suffer from treatment  that began with the landing of the white man in the Caribbeanin 1492.  Most Americans have not even heard of the Indian Removal and few of those that have realize that it was conducted for nearly the entire decade of the 1830s.    It was not just a single march of 80 miles, like the brutal Bataan Death March.   The Trail of Tears, the final portion of the Cherokee removal, was arguably  the most barbaric of the atrocities visited on the tribes in our history.  It crossed nine states and hundreds of miles.  This dark period was certainly not taught in the history classes of my youth.   
            I am in no way saying that slavery was not an abomination, but I believe that the Native Americans that were uprooted and moved west across the Mississippi River experienced an even  more horrific existence.  Slaves were considered  a valuable commodity so they were housed, fed, and clothed.  They were provided medical  care.  Many slaveholders were cruel, but they valued their slaves as they did their livestock.  Also, many slaves lived on the same land for generations and as a result had some stability in their wretched lives.   
            These tribes were forcibly removed from their land and everything they knew. Thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. These "savages" were not even valued as highly as slaves.  The government just wanted them to go away and they nearly did.   
            The United  States has never been the melting pot that it advertises itself as.  Throughout our history, each ethnic group, nationality, and race has been victimized and exploited by the white, primarily British, male, "ruling" class.  While it is mainly people of color that experienced the most prejudicial treatment, "lesser" white people, such as Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants have been victims.  The Americans, following the British imperialist model, have colonized and exploited many other countries, expanding the reach of political and military power and desire for resources.  But none of this even approaches the evil it has  exercised  on the Native Americans.  Most immigrant groups have eventually been accepted, if not welcomed, and allowed to share in the quality of life afforded an American citizen   The "American Dream" has  been primarily a nightmare to the American Indian.  
            My mother's grandfather was a full-blooded Native American.  He died long before I was born, and was never talked about.  My mother's grandmother was disgraced by having "been with" an Indian.  I only found out about him by accident.  That is a part of my ancestry that I will never know about.  A philosophy lost to me.     
            I lived in Wyoming for six years in the town of Riverton, in the middle of the Wind River Reservation.  I got a firsthand look at the hopelessness of these people.  I even substitute taught in one of the Indian schools.  Abject poverty; alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are a way of life.  Unlike the African Americans, the Native Americans have scant positive role models to encourage expectations of a better life.  They have no Michael Jordans, Martin Luther Kings, or Barack Obamas to inspire them.  They have casinos.  However, the income from those often does not trickle down below tribal "leaders."      
            Though the American government has always lacked respect for people of color, I believe the Native American has received the poorest treatment for the longest time.