The American Civil war was our bloodiest and ugliest contest, a distinction our short history should not soon forget. It is an American trait to be fascinated with this period of our time, and to learn as much as we can about a period in which over a half million Americans fought each other over the concepts of self-rule, federalism, and self-determination. It wasn’t land or riches for which we fought, but a way of life for our society.
A friend and I had a gentle go-around many of the “what-ifs” that surround this history. He argued that McClellan saved many lives by NOT fighting as fiercely and Lincoln wanted. I argued that he may have saved his own life, and that of some of his men from an early death. However, he also gave the South time to mobilize and entrench further, as a result it took far more Northern resources to vanquish them. In other words, had McClellan struck quickly, decisively, and with conviction, he may have lost his army, but he may have won the war and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
We will never know. That’s the problem with history, it’s already happened and there’s no back button. However, as students of behavior, we are entitled and expected to reenact the war in order to test our theories.
Consider this. If the body has an infection, isn’t it best to root out the cause before it’s had a chance to settle into hard-to-reach areas? We all know that an infection that settles in the lungs can result in a lengthy hospital stay, but if you catch it early a few pills of antibiotics are all you need.
Consider this as well. If you were to meet an adversary on the street, would it be better to show them fear and condescend at first? Or is it best to put on an air of bravado, matching their own threatening posture, and showing them that any potential move of theirs can be matched by an equal or greater reaction of yours?
History has shown, time and time again, that the latter is always the winning strategy. As students we must be wise enough to learn from history, and to understand that behavior manifests itself in many forms. This is why those who study military strategy, tactics, and theory are also students of behavior. In many ways they are the highest form of our discipline, because what they study is at the very heart of the purpose of our discipline; survival.
So, to all those who serve and also serve to teach us,
We salute you. Thank you for your service.