Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Bitterness and Tears

The recent incident in Fallujah involving the Marine who shot a terrorist playing possum provoked widespread outcry among the Left. The young Marine was accused of committing a war crime and his actions were attributed all the way up the chain of command to the war-monger Bush. But for anyone possessing a passing familiarity with American history, this event appears utterly unremarkable by comparison. Some have said we are by and large a Jacksonian nation, fighting a Jacksonian war. In this context I think it would be appropriate to consider exactly what that means.

Andrew Jackson was one of the most colorful and complex individuals in our nation's already colorful and complex history. Perhaps the most famous description of Jackson was also the most accurate:
[Jackson was] a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.
If the modern media is incensed by the so-called imperious nature of the Bush presidency, they would likely have all perished of a massive stroke had they known Jackson. Likewise, the "dissent" so common among liberals today would have driven Jackson himself into a frenzy. At one point during the war of 1812, Jackson was forced to quarter his men in Nashville during a bitterly cold winter. Jackson walked among his troops from dusk until dawn to ensure that his men received sufficient firewood to guard against the cold. When all were provided for, he entered a tavern to warm himself and overheard a civilian commenting on the poor military organization that would leave the troops exposed to such harsh weather. Jackson was not amused:
You damned infernal scoundrel, sowing disaffection among the troops. Why, the quarter-master and I have been up all night, making the men comfortable. Let me hear no more such talk, or I'm damned if I don't ram that red hot hand iron down your throat.
While Jackson's words instilled fear, it was his deeds that truly defined what we understand today as "Jacksonian war." In the summer of 1813, the Creek Indian tribe attacked Fort Mims in Alabama, killing and scalping over 400 American settlers, including women and children. The attack prompted Tennessee governor Willie Blount to give Jackson command of a force to pursue and destroy the Creek. Jackson himself urged his men on to catch those responsible for the Fort Mims massacre and punish them so that they would remember it always "in bitterness and tears."

Leading his force of volunteers into Indian territory, Jackson killed all those Creek he could find, burned numerous villages to the ground, and ravaged their food supplies. He encountered a large number of Creek warriors at their village of Talluschatches, and decimated the entire village. In the midst of the carnage, Jackson showed a somewhat surprising element of compassion. A Creek mother was discovered dead in the village, holding her still living child. Jackson asked the surviving Creek women to care for the child, but they refused, telling Jackson that the child's whole family was dead, and that he should kill the child as well. Instead, Jackson took the child back to his home at the Hermitage, and raised the boy himself.

Following the destruction of Talluschatches, remaining Indian towns publicly declared their submission to Jackson, in order to avoid the same fate. The Creek chief Red Eagle attacked one of these towns, Talladega, and threatened the rest with destruction if they aided Jackson. Realizing the importance of protecting the allied Creek villages, Jackson immediately moved his forces to the aid of Talladega and attacked Red Eagle's warriors. Nearly three hundred Creek died, compared to 15 dead American volunteers. Red Eagle, however, had escaped.

Determined to force an end to the Creek uprisings, Jackson marched on Red Eagle's main force of about 900 braves at Horseshoe Bend along the Tallapoosa River. The Creek had fortified a position at the aptly-named Horseshoe Bend and were dug in behind a series of log breastworks, along with roughly 300 women and children. Jackson began his assault at around 10:30 A.M. on March 27, 1814. After barraging the rampart with cannon, Jackson's infantry stormed the rampart and scaled it. From this position, they began shooting every Indian in sight, men, women, and children alike. Trapped, the Creek panicked and ran in circles inside the compound, all the while taking fire from Jackson's soldiers on the rampart. The withering fire continued until darkness prevented Jackson's men from sighting their targets.

The following day, 557 Creek bodies were found inside the compound. Another 200 bodies were counted floating in the river. Many others were killed in the woods attempting to escape. Jackson's forces suffered 55 killed, 146 wounded. Soon after the battle, Red Eagle, who had been away from Horseshoe Bend at the time of the attack, rode into Jackson's camp and surrendered.

The lessons of Jackson's Creek campaign is applicable to the fight against terrorists today. There is a place for mercy granted to non-combatants, and there is a place for lenience granted to a truly surrendered enemy. However, for those who do not "play by the rules," who would use our mercy and compassion as a weapon to kill us, there is only one real response. That response is the cold, relentless, and complete extermination of the enemy, until those who are left recall their butchery and treacherous acts "in bitterness and tears."