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Democracy at War, Part II

John Terraine describes how democracies evolved and tried to carry out a grand strategy from 1861-1945.

The ten-inch mortar shell which burst in the United States post of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour at 4.30 am on April 12th, 1861, was the first act, not merely of the American Civil War, but of the great wars fought by modern democracies.

The firing of that shell posed problems that were not only (with reason) unforeseen by Americans at the time, but would harry sister-democracies in the twentieth century, and were never entirely solved.

Above all, it posed, straight away, the problem of grand strategy, of relating the waging of war to national policy. The policy itself was not difficult to decide: for the newly-formed Southern Confederacy, it was simply to survive; for the North, it was to suppress by force the ‘combination’ of the Southern States, and bring them back into the Union. When it came to finding a grand strategy, neither side found the matter so easy.

In a modern, industrial democracy, grand strategy involves a good deal more than the adoption of particular strategies or stratagems; it seems, in the end, to resolve itself around two elements - mass, and command. They are closely inter-linked.

It has proved to be the case that all three of the great modern democratic wars have involved the very large, if not total, mobilization of national resources in order to avoid defeat. This is the mass: mass-armies, supported by mass-production. The function of command has been immensely complicated by both. The difficulties revealed themselves very quickly, and much faster than any solutions in 1861.

In order to overthrow the Confederacy, the Union Government had to find a means of effectively re-occupying the Southern States; this problem was difficult enough in the light of Southern determination to resist, but made the more so by the vast size of the Confederacy and the primitive condition of its communications. The U.S. Army numbered 16,367 officers and men; the Navy, 7,000.

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