Which city is this?

Anybody care to guess the city?

Nanking, 1938?
Dresden, 1945?
Sarajevo, 1993?

Try Columbia, South Carolina, 1865.

A couple of days ago, in a response to a comment by reader Yen Jun concerning Chinese criticism of the historical amnesia of certain segments of Japanese society, I wrote:

China is hardly in a position to level criticism of any nation’s textbooks, and what?????s more, I find it ironic that a nation that makes it distinct point to tell others to stick out of its internal affairs finds it appropriate to issue commentary on Japanese educational policy. And I happened to agree that visiting the Yasukuni Shrine is crappy as long as there are war criminals enshrined there. I propose that Beijing do the morally upstanding thing and propose a trade – the Japanese kick the war criminals out of Yasukuni and the CCP removes Mao’s Mausoleum from Tiananmen Square. Or is it OK for some countries to honor their murderous thugs and not OK for others? And just to be fair, you can throw in the Lincoln Memorial on the list of grandiose public displays of honor for guys who probably would have ended up at the Hague had they been around later.

The last part of that response prompted one reader — who also doubles as my little brother — to dash off this rather angry email:

what the fuck you talking about? you’re equating lincoln with mao? are you crazy?

Well, little brother, I won’t vouch for my own mental competency, nor would I dare equate Mao with the esteemed 16th president of these United States. With Mao, at least there is some debate over the Great Helmsman’s level of involvement in and knowledge of the general cruelty that characterized his reign. Not so with Lincoln — his crimes against humanity were both deliberate and committed with the full knowledge of the White House. Personally, I think Tojo Hideki would make for a better comparison, although even then, it’s a stretch — Tojo (or any other Japanese leader before and during the Pacific War) never enjoyed the kind of centralization of power or control over the military that Lincoln enjoyed during the Civil War. Could Tojo have changed commanders of the Kwantung Army as readily as Lincoln did with the Army of the Potomac? I think not.

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Surely, you jest, Mr. Marmot.” Well, only partially so. Obviously, it’s somewhat ludicrous to equate Tojo and Mao, who were responsible for unspeakable crimes against humanity committed for what were, at best, questionable causes, with Lincoln, who was responsible for unspeakable crimes against humanity committed in the pursuit of a noble cause. But then again, is it? Does The Hague give you points for meaning well? A war criminal is a war criminal, regardless of his cause, and Lincoln, no matter how you cut it, was a war criminal. In fact, Lincoln’s prosecution of the war in the South would set in motion about 90 years of generally unmitigated cruelty that would eventually lead to much of the international legislation intended to regulate how we fight wars following the conclusion of WW II. Accordingly, that big white monument dedicated to him in Washington pays tribute to a war criminal.

Honest Abe? The Great Emancipator? Roh Moo-hyun’s idol? War Criminal? Yes. In fact, I can’t see what there is to argue about. Yes, Lincoln (kinda) freed the slaves. Yes, he held the nation together at its darkest hour, and the victory of Federal forces in that conflict — a victory that would allow the U.S. to become the wealthy, powerful and free nation that it is today — was largely due to Lincoln’s undeniable perseverance and determination. And yes, all things considered, he may have been the greatest president the U.S. ever had. He was also Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s commander-in-chief, however, and that makes him a war criminal. Just ask Slobodan Milosevic.

For those that are interested, Thomas G. Robisch discusses Sherman’s Georgia Campaign and its noncompliance with modern war standards. Needless to say, there were some issues. Sherman’s prosecution of that campaign doesn’t even merit the conventional “well, now it’s bad, but at that time, it was accepted” excuse. Sherman’s actualization of total war was revolutionary, brilliant, and horrifying. If contemporary U.S. and international law lacked regulations against Sherman’s “war as cruelty” tactics, it was mostly due to the fact that no one had previously imagined large, Industrial Age armies intentionally inflicting the kind of destruction against civilian infrastructure on the kind of scale Sherman’s did. See that picture above? The burning of Columbia in 1865 was not even the result of combat operations; it took place while the city was under Union occupation after its mayor had surrendered it to Sherman. Grant knew about it, as did Lincoln. Neither of them moved to reprimand the general responsible. But at that point, why should they have? Sherman had already cut a path of destruction through Georgia and lower South Carolina (with the approval of both Grant and Lincoln), so what was one more city, particular the city where the insurrection began? Of course, Japanese generals would hang for similar behavior following Tokyo’s defeat in the Pacific War, as would Prime Minister Tojo. My point was, if we’re going to hold the Japanese responsible for the Yasukuni Shrine, then you should also have problems with the Mao Mausoleum and Lincoln Memorial.

And yes, had Lincoln’s army employed similar tactics today, there would be Anglo-French peacekeepers guarding UN safezones in Atlanta and Savannah while Honest Abe sat in the The Hague swapping war stories with Slobodan Milosevic.