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Who Was The Greatest Military Leader Of All Time?

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Who was the Greatest Military leader of all time?  

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  1. 1. Who was the Greatest Military leader of all time?

    • Alexander the Great
      69
    • Julius Caesar
      12
    • Napoleon Bonaparte
      18
    • Ghengis Khan
      24
    • Hannibal
      3
    • Douglas MacArthur
      10
    • Erwin Rommel
      6
    • George Patton
      37
    • Belisarius
      1
    • Attila the Hun
      5


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The problem with win percentage is that you could have fought and won one battle, and you'd be at 100%. In any case I think Alexander would have lost had he stayed in India and fought, although he wisely chose to give up before that happened.

In any case, I wasn't aware that Genghis likewise lost any battles.

Ghengis Kahn lost at Gupta Hill and at Peking

The first of Genghis Khan's two defeats took place in 1203, when he was still known as Temuchin, chief of the Borjigen, one of the several Mongolian tribes. This was at the hands of the Kerait Mongols under Toghrul Khan, former protector and ally of Temuchin, in the hard-fought battle of Gupta Hill, apparently midway between Onon and Karakorum. The defeat was due to the overwhelming strength of the Keraits, probably more than 20,000 to Genghis' 5000. Genghis and about half of his army survived only because of hard fighting, excellent choice of hillside defensive position, and an audacious Borjigen envelopment of the larger Kerait army. This caused the surprised Keraits to slacken the intensity of their attack and enabled Genghis to hold his positions until nightfall, after which he withdrew.

While he was campaigning to the west and south [in 1213], Genghis Khan learned about a palace coup within the Chin capital. The eunuch general Hu Sha-hu had rebelled against Emperor Wei-wang, killed him, seized power, and installed another Chin prince on the throne. Learning about these events, Genghis Khan marched on the Chin capital in expectation of taking the city easily. Approaching Peking, while crossing a river, his army was ambushed and defeated by a larger Chinese army under General Hu Sha-hu. Genghis withdrew in good order and the Chinese slowly followed.

Clearly percentage alone would not be enough, but since both Alexander and Ghengis fought a comparable amount of battles it seems perfectly relevant to me.

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One could arugue both the wars of Napolean and Alexander were defensive in nature, the added glory for France and Greece was a factor yes but all wars have perks.

Alexander's wars were defensive in nature? Give me a break.

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Ghengis Kahn lost at Gupta Hill and at Peking

Clearly percentage alone would not be enough, but since both Alexander and Ghengis fought a comparable amount of battles it seems perfectly relevant to me.

Fair enough, Genghis Kahn lost two battles. However I wouldn't say they fought a comparable amount of battles given the fact that Alexander died rather young (early thirties?), while Genghis Kahn had a far longer military career lasting well into old age. In terms of time, Genghis Kahn effective fought more than twice as long as Alexander.

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So being raised in the royal family and being handed an army, and being left for dead by his tribe and surviving as a nomad at age 12 (albeit with a deceased father that used to be head of a minor tribe), isn't considered a significant difference to you?

It was certainly a significant accomplishment for Ghengis to overcome what he did in order to form the tribes of the Steepe, and it exceeded what Alexander had to overcome to get his Army in line (thanks to Phillip). However, when we are talking about "Who Was The Greatest Military Leader of All Time" where the general started from does not seem that important to me. When Rommel and Patton have their troops arrayed against each other across the Battlefield, no one is really asking "so who overcame the most?" but rather "who is better?"

My "evidence" (which is really just my subjective opinion) is that Genghis Kahn started with far less, and conquered far more. Therefore he was a greater military leader. Like I said, he conquered two of the largest empire at the time, and was on his way to run through the rest of Europe if it wasn't for the geographical distance and his age and health.

I'm guessing we won't actually be able to come to a consensus on this question. My subjective opinion on this is that Alexander was the best based on my readings of his battles. My (unsupportable?) theory is that he was the best because of his close association with Aristotle.

However, the motivation of the conquest really is irrelevant when talking about general qua general. I really don't care if Hitler was in the running if he was in fact a capable general. Your reasoning would be the same as saying "well, since I really don't like the motivations of Michael Jordan (or dislike him as a person, or dislike what he does off the court, or whatever irrelevant reason), I think he shouldn't be considered in a discussion about the greatest basketball players". It really doesn't make any sense in the context of the discussion.

You might be right. I always think of "greatness" as having a positive connotation. For example, I got in a debate with someone this week on how despite Marx's obvious influence on the 20th century I wouldn't describe him as a "Great Political Philosopher."

By the way, when can you really ever justify conquest? And is there really that big of a difference between one conquerer and another in terms of motivation? They want power, they want to prove themselves, and they want glory. Don't tell me Alexander conquered because of some sort of benevalent reason.

Clearly there are times where conquest is justified. Ghengis Kahn, for example, invaded the Ilkhanate empire when his ambassadors (who he sent to establish trade) were brutally murdered. To quote Ayn Rand:

"All the reasons that make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative." (The Virtue of Selfishness)

As for Alexander's reasons, they are widely debated. I consider the painting of Alexander as glory-hungry madman to be worse revisionism than the current stereotype of Kahn as a savage bloodthirsty barbarian. In the case of Persia, Alexander probably attacked Darius because he had arranged the assassination of his father. Many of his other conquests seemed to be based on the idea of bringing Greek civilization to the barbarians. Note the many cases when Alexander allowed various cities and countries to keep their autonomy after meeting with their leaders and judging them to share greek values. Whether this policy was essentially a form of altruistic "nation building" or actually a rational policy to advance the greeks is hard to judge at this point.

Edited by badkarma556
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You might be right. I always think of "greatness" as having a positive connotation. For example, I got in a debate with someone this week on how despite Marx's obvious influence on the 20th century I wouldn't describe him as a "Great Political Philosopher."

You're completely missing the point. The question is who was the greatest military leader -- with particular emphasis on military. The term "greatness" in this case is simply a adjective applied to these general's respective military prowess, period.

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It was certainly a significant accomplishment for Ghengis to overcome what he did in order to form the tribes of the Steepe, and it exceeded what Alexander had to overcome to get his Army in line (thanks to Phillip). However, when we are talking about "Who Was The Greatest Military Leader of All Time" where the general started from does not seem that important to me. When Rommel and Patton have their troops arrayed against each other across the Battlefield, no one is really asking "so who overcame the most?" but rather "who is better?"

It was simply a response to your erroneous claim that Genghis started with "not much less" resources than Alexander. Obviously he started with far less and conquered far more.

And it might or might not apply to a discussion about their military prowess. I mean, having started with nothing and ended up conquering far more than any single general ever had in recorded history certain seem like a pretty good circumstancial evidence for their abilities. Obviously we can't blame Alexander for being handed an army. But say one entrepreneur started with not a dime in their pockets and ended up with more money than another man who was handed a fortune, it is certainly something that I would take into account when discussing their respective merits.

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I mean, having started with nothing and ended up conquering far more than any single general ever had in recorded history certain seem like a pretty good circumstancial evidence for their abilities.

This returns us to the issue that Alexander did not live as long as Ghengis. Alexander suffered no defeats in a period of fighting lasting about 10 years, but did not conquer as much land area as the Kahn. The Kahn suffered two defeats in a period of fighting lasting about 26 years, and conquered a larger land area (largest in history?).

Unless we clone the two and have them fight it out the answer to this question might down to personal preference. Do you know the metrics for the land area conquered by various leaders? I can't find it anywhere.

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The question is who was the greatest military leader -- with particular emphasis on military. The term "greatness" in this case is simply a adjective applied to these general's respective military prowess, period.

To clarify, you are operating under the second of these two definitions

of extraordinary powers; having unusual merit; very admirable: a great statesman.

Informal Very skillful: great at algebra.

So that the question becomes who was the most tactically competent, right?

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  • 2 weeks later...
To me Ghenghis Kahn was clearly the most dominant military leader in history. Unlike Alexander who started with a well-prepared army handed to him, Ghenghis Kahn started with absolutely nothing, being born as an exile from his tribe and without a father.

Um, no, his father was poisoned when he was out searching for a bride for him. After that, yes, he, his siblings and half-brothers, and his mother (and one of his father's other wives, though she's almost entirely missing from the Secret History) were exiles.

Then he single handedly united a formerly nomadic people, then went on to conquer the largest land empire the world has EVER known, stretching across three continents, including the largest (and arguably the most powerful) and the second largest empires at that time - China and Russia.

No, he most certainly did not. He started the conquest of the non-Chinese state that ruled the North China Plain, the Jin dynasty (ruled by the Jurchens, ancestors of the Manchus who later ruled China under the Qing dynasty, 1644-1911), but this war was still going on at the time of his death. (He died in 1227, the Jin were finally conquered in 1234.) The conquest of most of China, ruled by the Later Song dynasty, did not occur until 1279 under his grandson Khubilai Khan. As for Russia (more precisely, Kievan Rus'), it was not really an empire at the time but a kingdom consisting of a congeries of cities and their surrounding territories, though I grant its territory was pretty large. The armies of Rus' were defeated by a small army under Subetei in 1223 that had been sent to scout out the area for future invasions, but the area was not conquered by the Mongols during Genghis' lifetime; that only came ten years after his death, 1237-40.

There really isn't any doubt in my mind that he could have also conquered Europe if not for the vast geographic distance from Europe to Mongolia, as well as Ghenghis Kahn's age and failing health.

The Mongols did conquer parts of Europe during the campaign of 1237-40, and they probably would have conquered much more if the Great Khan at the time, Genghis's son Ogedei, had not died, forcing the leader of the campaign, Batu, to return to Mongolia to ensure his candidate for Ogedei's successor was elected.

Actually Sun Zhu advocated all of that nearly 400 years prior to Caesar.

Who is Sun Zhu? I assume you mean Sunzi (Master Sun), whose personal name was Wu, not Zhu.

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Ghengis Kahn, for example, invaded the Ilkhanate empire when his ambassadors (who he sent to establish trade) were brutally murdered.

No. He invaded Khwarezm in 1220 after one of the Khwarezm Shah's governors killed Mongol ambassadors on the grounds they were spies (which Mongol ambassadors frequently were), and when Genghis Khan sent emissaries to demand the governor be put to death, he had the emissaries killed. While the state was quickly overthrown and the Shah forced to retreat until his death, the conquest of all of Persia took another thirty years or so. The Il-Khanate was not the state the Mongols invaded but the subordinate khanate set up by Hulegu, grandson of Genghis Khan, in 1255 to run the conquest of the Islamic world.

In the case of Persia, Alexander probably attacked Darius because he had arranged the assassination of his father.

The Macedonians under Philip had already set in motion the invasion of Anatolia to free the cities of Ionia from Persian rule; this Philip had proclaimed a campaign of all the Greeks to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece a century and more before, and it was as a symbol of attaining this goal that Alexander burned Persepolis. His later campaigns of conquest in Persia were undertaken, at least notionally, to avenge the murder of Darius by one of his lieutenants and restore the Persian empire (because the Greeks had been avenged, Alexander used this as a pretext for dismissing the Greek contingents and going on from there with Macedonian troops and various native auxiliaries), which he intended to rule through a fusion of Macedonian and Iranian culture and peoples, hence his adoption of Iranian court customs that the Greeks and Macedonians considered barbaric and repellent (such as the custom of proskynesis, some form of kneeling to the ruler, which was associated in Greek culture only with the worship of the gods).

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Ghengis Kahn also brought good governments (he had a code of individual rights), but they were not well philosophically grounded.

Nonsense. He brought rapacious governments to settled areas in which the conquered peoples were usually divided up as the personal property of great Mongol lords in exactly the same way as they divided up conquered goods and livestock. In China, for example, there was a ruling elite of Mongols, a second class of Mongol administrators from outside of China (and thus loyal only to the Mongol overlord) called the semu ("colored eyes" in Chinese, usually Uyghurs or Iranians), a third class of subjects of North China (the regions of the former Jin dynasty, which having been conquered 40 years before South China were considered therefore to be more loyal), and then subjects of South China, who were excluded from most influence; below them were the slaves. Throughout the Yuan dynasty (the Mongol state that ruled China, 1279-1368, and the Mongol heartland until around 1400) in China there was a constant tension between the high Mongol aristocrats enslaving what remained of the Chinese population subject directly to the Khan, and the central government trying to maintain a stable tax base; in both cases the Chinese population was seen as little more than property to be squabbled over and to be milked for all they could yield. As for his law code (not "code of individual rights"), the Yasa, it does not survive even in part, but from what is known of it it was hardly a charter for individual rights but rather a draconian code governing relations among the Mongols to ensure swift obedience, certainly not something recognizing any rights of the conquered.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Why was General Patton included and Generals Grant (USA) and Lee (CSA) excluded?

Grant saved the Union. Lee almost won independence for the Confederacy.

Lee was tactically and strategically one of the greatest generals. Grant, as Lincoln said, understood the arithmetic. He had the manpower to spend, and spend it he did to bring home victory. Grant' strategic vision made Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea possible.

Bob Kolker

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Nonsense. He brought rapacious governments to settled areas in which the conquered peoples were usually divided up as the personal property of great Mongol lords in exactly the same way as they divided up conquered goods and livestock.

My notes from my middle east history class are that Genghis Kahn supported:

Property Rights

Freedom of Religion

No death tax

No Titles/Aristocracy

Of course my teacher was a horrible revisionist so this might be wrong. As for the treatment of conquered peoples: those who surrendered were treated favorably and even held high public offices in the Mongol governments, while those that did not were usually massacred/enslaved. I make a strong distinction between Genghis Kahn and the Mongol practices that both preceded and followed the Kahn.

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  • 5 months later...

General Robert E. Lee

The glory and honor for the Southern Republic in their battle for state's rights, and secession lay in the struggle itself and not victory. Lee fought during the war knowing full well that actual victory against such a larger force (manpower, logistics, etc) was far from certain, yet fought anyway. My definition of a great general is one that enters the field of battle against incredible odds, and with the knowledge that victory against those odds is not likely but fights anyway based on his principles, and fundamental sense of what is right and that it needed to be fought for even in the absence of any chance of true victory. By 1864 with the Mississippi in Union control, and the eastern coast blockaded and union armies destroying southern cities, raping southern women, and burning farmland as Lee's troops began slowly starving, he continued on until the very end, even against all hope. It is the fight for a man's land, family (women and children), and state against incredible odds and with little or no chance of victory that defines a general. He only led two actual offensive campaigns on northern soil (Antietem, Gettysburg) and those were just attempts to get the north to feel the effects of war on their own ground. He fought a defensive war for his people, family, state, land, and the principles of state's rights and the constitutional right to secession. He did not fight to conquer and invade other lands for wealth and resources or acquire an empire. He wanted the Southern Republic left alone as our Founding Fathers wanted the colonies to be left alone and freed from England's control. It was not a "civil war" It was our Second War of Independence

jws1776

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He wanted the Southern Republic left alone as our Founding Fathers wanted the colonies to be left alone and freed from England's control. It was not a "civil war" It was our Second War of Independence

jws1776

Your "second war of independence" would have left four million black folk in chains. Some independence that it. Any war fought to defend slavery is a war on behalf of evil.

Bob Kolker

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Your "second war of independence" would have left four million black folk in chains. Some independence that it. Any war fought to defend slavery is a war on behalf of evil.

Bob Kolker

That's great and everything but the war was not fought to "free the slaves". Lincoln mentioned numerious times in speeches that are well documented that he was concerned with only preserving the union at the beginning of the war and if he could have while also preserving slavery in the Southern states then he would have. Lincoln didn't "free" the slaves until over two years after the war started and it was a desperate political maneuver (Gettysburg address) to justify an unjust war and keep the north fighting. If the war was fought simply to free slaves, then the directives given to Grant, Sherman and the other northern butchers and mercenaries would have been to invade the south (by the way, Lincoln is the only president in the history of the US to raise an army to invade American sovereign states) and systematically "free" slaves and bring them into northern states. The fact is that northerners did not want to have to deal with a population of free slaves and preferred they were left in the South and dealt with socially, economically and integrated into Southern society there. The war was fought over a northern mercantillist agenda that included high tariffs in the south (ruining free trade with Europe) and the use of that money to finance corporate welfare in the north, northern infrastructure and improvements and on the side of the South, it was fought over the same principles that our founding fathers fought for: limited government, freedom from centralized control (a king in 1776 - a northern federal government in 1860), state's rights, and constitutional law. It was wrong but at the beginning of the war, slavery was still allowed under law. The end result of Lincoln the Tyrants war was the act of freeing slaves and enslaving free men.

Slavery with the onset of the Industrial Revolution would have died of natural causes with a decade anyway, since employing someone vs. holding them as a slave was far more efficient as was prooven in the northern industries and factories that existed at the time that used immigrant labor rather than slaves. It was becoming expensive all things considered by 1860 to hold a slave: there was the need to keep them from running away (a problem employers don't have), medical care, housing, clothing, food, etc and slavery typically results in the least amount of production that can be obtained from someone when using them in a productive capacity. Slavery ended in numerous other countries in that century for practical economic reasons and would have in the south. The northern politicians were more than happy to allow slavery to continue to exist when they were able to benefit from it via the use of raw materials being sent north instead of to Europe because of the results of high tariffs. Lincoln was a mass murderer, a tyrant, and a man that sanctioned the greatest war atrocities ever to occur in the Western Hemisphere: allowing his troops to burn Southern cities, rape Southern women, burning crops in the South that led to starvation of a civilian population, and the list goes on.

Lee fought for principles that our founding fathers fought for.......and if the War of Southern Independence was wrong then you cannot logically argue that the War of Independence in 1776 was right since slavery existed at that time too. A is A. Every Southern warrior in gray that entered the field of battle for four long years was defending his home, his family, state's rights, constitutional law, and against oppression by the federal government. The rise of federal tyranny in the US began and got worse because of Lincoln and the war from 1860-1865. As a ceremonial act every 4th of July, I make a point to burn a five dollar bill as a passive act of defiance and hatred for a man that manipulated the Constitution, invaded sovereign states and should have gone down in history as a war criminal and mass murderer.

And as for the superiority of northern troops in the war. Lincoln was smart enough to recruit from his states a large population of recent European immigrants (Norway, Germany, etc) into the army knowing the South did not have immigrants coming in because of the blockade, and armed non-Americans and sent them in regiments into the South to kill Americans on the bloody fields of battle across the Southern Republic. That was inherently, just wrong. He was a mastermind and even his political use of "freeing slaves" was nonsense. In depth research into his speeches from 1846-1860 shows that he was an incredible racist and lacked any concern for slaves until he realized the issue could be used for political advantage. Further study into who he was as a person from what evidence is available shows that he had psychological problems that may if he was studied while still alive, shown he was a sociopath.

jws1776

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...allowing his troops to burn Southern cities, rape Southern women, burning crops in the South that led to starvation of a civilian population, and the list goes on.

"Allowed...to rape Southern women"? This bit of pernicious nonsense is not only provably false but slanderous, offensive, and downright bigoted; it reflects very badly on you and you should retract it. Rape by Northern soldiers was explicitly prohibited and when proved was punished by death (for example, "The punishment for rape will be death, and any violence offered a female, white or colored, with the evident intent or purpose to commit rape will be considered as one and punished accordingly," Gl order N°12, may 1862 by command of gl McDowell- OR S2 vol III). Of course, Southern soldiers raped Southern women too and were put to death for it (fewer cases are known of this because many CSA army records were destroyed in the war), suggesting that your beloved Southern patriots would have done exactly the same damn thing you accuse Northerners of doing as a matter of national policy (which last is provably false, by the way) if they'd marched north of the Mason-Dixon line more. Rape is fairly common in all wars, and the War of Southern Bullheadedness in the Name of a Middle Finger Raised to Civilization is considered a low-rape war, in great part because military units north and south enrolled as groups from the same towns and the men knew each other since childhood, which restrained anti-social impulses a great deal.

In any case, I'm very suspicious of Southern white men going on about the horror of (either black or Northern) violations of the sanctity and chastity of white Southern women--that was an excuse for all sorts of murderous fiendishness for decades. But then given how dead-set you are on demonizing Lincoln as a calculatingly cold-blooded and callous wanna-be tyrant and Union soldiers as mostly uncivilized foreigners recruited straight off the boat and untouched by the civilizing influences of Southern womanhood and aristocratic slave society, it's no wonder you'd accuse the Northern armies of just letting their soldiers rape women without restraint. For shame. (Hint: If these last sentences seem a bit unfair to your heroes and their cause, then perhaps you should consider peddling a less hysterical ascription of base and evil motives to their opponents. The war ended a century and a half ago; there's no call for you to keep spewing their gall.)

Edited by Adrian Hester
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The conquerer rights the books for the conquered.

This would be a lot less funny if you hadn't misspelled "writes" in such a way as to say exactly the opposite of what you meant. But yes, in the case of the Civil War and slavery at least, the victor certainly did "right the books."

History has now become his story.

So say the radical feminists too. And it's just as meaningless a flourish over your signature as theirs.

Keep drinking that juice.

I suspected you didn't have a valid response; I just didn't expect you to fold and admit the bankruptcy of your position so easily.

Edited by Adrian Hester
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This would be a lot less funny if you hadn't misspelled "writes" in such a way as to say exactly the opposite of what you meant. But yes, in the case of the Civil War and slavery at least, the victor certainly did "right the books."

So say the radical feminists too. And it's just as meaningless a flourish over your signature as theirs.

I suspected you didn't have a valid response; I just didn't expect you to fold and admit the bankruptcy of your position so easily.

Sorry I didn't spell check.....I'm multi-tasking over here: on the phone, finsihing off a half-rack of Heineken, throwing a ball out onto my deck to keep my dog busy, and typing in between.

My initial statement is my position. Thomas Di Lorenzo has written extensively on Lincoln in two texts: The Real Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked, both recommended.

Oh and expect more spelling errors, I am slightly dsylexic, but that is not Lincolns fault.

jws1776

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Sorry I didn't spell check.....

No, sorry, this goes far beyond spell-checking. You accused Lincoln of allowing Union soldiers to rape Southern women and implied this was a matter of national policy. When I showed this was nonsense, did you defend your assertion or retract it? No, you accused me of "drinking that juice," in other words, of unthinkingly and irrationally buying into a patently false position. This is no skin off my nose, since it's a pretty sad dodge and I'm optimistic about most of those reading our exchange, but you might want to consider a less obviously fallacious gambit in the future, since it is quite insulting and could get you hauled onto the carpet if you try it again.

I'm multi-tasking over here: on the phone, finsihing off a half-rack of Heineken, throwing a ball out onto my deck to keep my dog busy, and typing in between.

Then perhaps in the future you should not post while getting sauced up.

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he was? how?

Sherman burned the State of George to the ground and when he got through he did worse to the Carolinas where the secession started. They are still talking about Sherman's March down there in Georgia, even today. They do not have good things to say about Sherman. Sherman and Grant implemented what we now call total war. It consists of attacking the civilian infrastructure that makes the enemy military possible. What happened to Richmond was a dress rehearsal for the bombing of Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg to say nothing of what was done to the Japanese cities. Sherman and Grant invented all that effective brutality.

Sherman and Grant are among my military heroes, because they were very mean and nasty to enemy civilians (War is all hell). My greatest heroes were Arthur (Bomber) Harris who ran the British Bomber Command, and Curtis Le May who burned Japan to the ground during the Pacific War. These are my kind of people.

Bob Kolker

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  • 3 weeks later...

I would be pretty surprised if Lincoln told the boys, "I know you've been away from your own women for a while, so go get 'em southies and then have some fun."

In any event, the Union army fought to break, utterly and completely, the will of the South in their rebellion against the Union. This naturally involved destroying Southern farmland, cities, etc. To do so was absolutely moral, absolutely just.

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  • 1 month later...
I would be pretty surprised if Lincoln told the boys, "I know you've been away from your own women for a while, so go get 'em southies and then have some fun."

In any event, the Union army fought to break, utterly and completely, the will of the South in their rebellion against the Union. This naturally involved destroying Southern farmland, cities, etc. To do so was absolutely moral, absolutely just.

Lincoln, Grant, Sherman.........all war criminals. And of course Lincoln didn't tell his mercenaries to rape Southern women. They just didn't prevent it or prosecute the men that did it and it was in fact part of his war policy in the last 18 months of the war

And it was not a "rebellion"........ever hear of the Constitution, state's rights, the right to break ties with the federal government and secede from the union. State sovereignty vs. federal tyranny. The south just wanted to be left alone as did the colonies when they fought England.

Interesting though that your response would come from someone with a Dimmu Borgir album cover in their avatar - a known satanic band with a lead singer named "Shagrath"........shouldn't you be playing Dungeons and Dragons right now.

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