The Comment Of The Day Trifecta Continues, With P.M. Lawrence’s Further Observations On Custer’s Clash With J.E.B. Stuart in “July 3: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, Ethics And Leadership”…

Ethics Alarms has readers all over the globe and several regular non-American commenters as well. Their perceptions are always interesting and sometimes enlightening in ways the USA-steeped commentariat here would be challenged to duplicate. P.M. Lawrence is one of our esteemed foreign correspondents, and in this Comment of the Day on my post on the epic events of July 3, 1863 in a little shoe-making town in Pennsylvania…

As I mentioned in comments to earlier posts on this topic at this site, it is entirely possible that Lee planned Pickett’s Charge to work in conjunction with the attack on the rear. This follows from precedents in military history, of which Lee would have been well aware from his experience as an instructor. In particular, Gettysburg was an “encounter battle”, brought about by a less than planned encounter; when that happens, the major risk is that whoever withdraws first suffers a terrible pursuit of the sort Napoleon showed the world – so both try to fight it out, following the logic of game theory’s “prisoner’s dilemma”, “tragedy of the commons”, or “money auction”. (At least Lee was able to fight long and hard enough to thwart that worst possible outcome, and he may well have known that and been trying for that at the time, at least once victory was unlikely.)

Back to the precedents: Lee may well have modeled his tactics (not strategy) on Oudenarde, which was also an encounter battle; when that started, Marlborough realised his predicament early on and detached a Dutch flying column to march around the fighting to attack the French reinforcements in flank hours later, before those could reach and feed the fight that Marlborough was also feeding all along (in Grant’s phrase), a feeding which Marlborough had to do to keep everything in play until the Dutch blow fell.

However, to the best of my knowledge Lee never claimed later that he had been trying to do this, even though the similarities to precedents are striking.

By the way, U.S. culture has so changed its concepts and terminology that “honor” does not mean what honour now means in British English or other European languages, or what it meant in the U.S.A. of that era. I would venture to suggest that U.S.A.-ians do not now have access to this concept at all, what with language now steering them to a different concept entirely. Think how you could now access the old meaning of “gay”, if you even wished to. It’s the sort of thing Orwell brought out in “1984”. (Hint: police lying to suspects is not honourable – and anyone who argues otherwise is invoking different concepts, which is the point I am trying to highlight.)

Also by the way, it is an old precept that “the secret of military discipline is that the soldiers should be more scared of the sergeants than of the enemy”, which may have been at work here. It may be found in the writings of Montaigne and of Frederick the Great, with “officers” substituting for “sergeants” (the term “officers” also covers N.C.O.s in many continental European languages).

2 thoughts on “The Comment Of The Day Trifecta Continues, With P.M. Lawrence’s Further Observations On Custer’s Clash With J.E.B. Stuart in “July 3: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, Ethics And Leadership”…

  1. I’m interested in your take on the new and old versions of “honor/honour”. My personal definition is resilience of ethical behavior, i.e. upholding standards of ethics even under stressful, costly, or otherwise difficult circumstances. What do you think it meant, what does it mean to you, and what do you think other people think it means?

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