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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

Gettysburg lessons reverberate in a modern world

To paraphrase, "a day on the Gettysburg battlefield beats any day in the seminar room." Of course for our U.S. Army War College trip, the seminar room was the battlefield. Over the years, I have been privileged to observe several student groups of senior military officers vicariously experience the great national contest of wills that was our American Civil War. It is advantageous for our students that that contest came to be realized in central Pennsylvania.

I am not sure what students expected after a night of reading about the strategic setting of the campaign and then taking the 45-minute morning bus ride from Carlisle to Gettysburg. History buffs in the class may have had unbridled anticipation while the rest of the students may have dreaded a day in the hot sun hearing about a battle that occurred nearly a century and a half ago. The questions in many student minds may have been, "What can this battle teach me?" and "How is this useful to me in the current operating environment?"

From the first stop on the battlefield, the focus was not on the tactics and dry, sterile facts of unit names, locations, and size (which can be overwhelming in a hurry). The historian talked about the people in command of the formations on the field, their personalities, critical events in their lives, and their relationships with other key leaders both on and off the field. The historian engaged students to think about the challenges, stresses, and myriad other factors that would influence the decisions of the day. Proceeding from one historical position to another, it became clear that those tactical events would have operational and strategic effects for our nation.

The measure of the long day came at our final stop on Cemetery Hill where we gathered at the base of the statue of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock. As the historian provided the soliloquy to wrap up the day, I looked around at the group of students as they nodded their heads in reflection of what happened on that battlefield over the three days. Perhaps they thought of the enduring themes of leadership, and, maybe even, considered lessons that could be useful in future conflicts.

(for more, see OnLeadership's interview with Ed Ruggero, "Find those Confederate Forces!")

That would have been enough, but then I spied two students seated on the ground in the cooler shadow of the statue. That in of itself was unremarkable except that they were two international fellows. Both officers were from different faith groups (one Jewish one Muslim) and this scene would have been implausible, apart from being USAWC students this year. These international fellows were from nations that have a long history of conflict (both internal and external) and have been the focus of international attention for many years. It would have been informative to hear how they viewed a civil war that lasted a mere four years and was the only challenge to the existence of a nation since its founding.

But there on an American battlefield and in an educational setting, seeing those two groups of students--American and international--I envisioned hope. Maybe it lies in studying and extracting the lessons of the past to provide promise for the future.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  August 24, 2010; 10:42 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership , Government leadership , Military Leadership , Political leadership , Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The most relevant lesson is in how the roles of invader and defender change the compentencies of the armies. Southern Generals were thought to be better, but they played defense on their home turf, which is easier. Being the invader, like the Union Army in the Civil War or the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is much more challenging and costly.

When Lee and the Confederates invaded Pennsylvania and attempted to force the Union Army from a defensive position, they looked like idiots and lost the battle.

Posted by: blasmaic | August 25, 2010 10:12 PM
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The most relevant lesson is in how the roles of invader and defender change the compentencies of the armies. Southern Generals were thought to be better, but they played defense on their home turf, which is easier. Being the invader, like the Union Army in the Civil War or the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is much more challenging and costly.

Posted by: blasmaic | August 25, 2010 10:09 PM
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This column is a terrible waste of writing that editors should have corrected before allowing it to be published.

First, the title, listed as "Lessons Gettysburg Still Teaches -- and -- Gettysburg Lessons Reverberate in a Modern World". Nowhere does the author give even a hint as to how the Gettysburg battle has lessons for the modern world.

Second, as a former infantry officer, I studied that battle and I can assure readers it has less relevance to modern warfare than Civil War buffs would lead you to believe.

Finally, what exactly is a Department of CULTURAL SCIENCE (where Col. Allen is posted)? If this column is a prime example of that discipline, the DOD should abolish the department ASAP.

Posted by: Pinewood1 | August 25, 2010 7:21 PM
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Oh, please! Not another, "The civil War was fought to free the slaves!" again. The Civil War was fought for the same reasons the war in Afghanistan, World War II, World War I and the Spanish American Wars were fought. We were attacked. Allies of Afghanistan attacked on 9/11. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Germans sank the Lusitania. The Spanish (maybe) sank the Maine. The abolitionist terrorists attacked a military installation in Harper's Ferry, and the federal government did little to protect the south against other attacks. The North went into battle after Ft. Sumter was attacked.

I'll believe a lot of things, but not that Republican women would send their sons and treasure south to free the slaves. They would send them if the country was attacked, and that is what happened.

The Emancipation Act was a desperate bid to change the scope of the war, basically to prevent European countries from supporting the South. Among other things, it protected slavery in the North, such as Delaware and Maryland and Kentucky, and only abolished it behind Confereate lines. Thus, as General Wistar pointed out, a black infant taken from behind Union lines to join his family behind Confederate lines, went from slavery into freedom.

It was not all about slavery. There were many other issues involved, concerning class, economics, politics, state's rights, immigration, the opening of the west, and thousands of other issues. It was not all about slavery.

Both Lincoln and Grant owned slaves at earlier parts of their lives. What happened to those slaves, whehter freed or sold, has never really been investigated, since that would destroy the myths surrounding the war.

Posted by: LeeH1 | August 25, 2010 3:58 PM
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The Union victory at Gettysburg began the march toward imperial America. The federal government went to war for freedom and liberty it was said. These same slogans appear again and again as the justification for invasion and conquest. The native Americans were the next victims, followed by the Filipinos, Latin Americans, and now Iraqis. How much did they enjoy being "liberated?"

Posted by: SSTK34 | August 25, 2010 1:27 PM
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Col..sorry--but think your living and dreaming a little from reality..feelings play alot and experiences add to the mix. everyone is different.and there is a fine line everyone walks..as for war/conflicts..glad it is not on our soul..yet..but maybe if dreamers rule??..be cautious is only answer I have for you..hope you are telling that side of human nature. History does dictate that too many times. unfortunate but fack. and we all have to deal with it.

Posted by: rw62827 | August 25, 2010 1:01 PM
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Actually, it's Memorial Baptist Church of Gettysburg. Founded in 1965.

Re: Casino - I don't want it. It won't reduce my taxes, won't help the community with REAL jobs, you know, those that are 40 hrs per week and don't depend on seasonality and tourism.

And yes, I am a Gettysburg resident.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | August 25, 2010 11:59 AM
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A nice piece. I'm not quite sure what Col. Allen was getting at when he talked about the Muslim man and the Jewish man talking to one another. Being the cynic that I am, one might interpret that as a sort of veiled support for Pres. Obama and the mosque near ground zero.

Interesting comment concerning Lee and Longstreet. I believe Longstreet advocated maneuvering around the Army of the Potomac and getting between the Army of the Potomac and DC, find a good defensive position, and let the Union Army assail it, lose troops, and lose the battle.

As for the reject from the 60's who brought up My Lai, go jump in a creek.

Posted by: A1965bigdog | August 25, 2010 10:10 AM
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Civil War Preservation Trust is one of the groups who do NOT back the casino. Any donations made are also tax-deductible if you itemize.

Posted by: Skowronek | August 25, 2010 9:00 AM
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Too bad no one pointed out the delicious irony that all these fine, brave, attentive senior military officers will probably NOT have to worry about coming home from Afghanistan dead or horribly wounded like many of the Civil War commanders whose statues they sat around. (And if they do get wounded, lucky them - the quality of their V.A. care will no doubt match their rank.)

No, these noble warriors will get to cool their behinds in command centers in Kabul or the air-conditioned comfort of the Pentagon, and then live out their long, patriotically retired lives under the umbrella of a fat pension sucked, like their current paychecks, from my tax dollars and my Social Security payments. If our nation is really lucky, some may even decide, in their twilight years, to go into politics, like that fascist loser John McCain.

Too bad Viet Nam isn't closer to Carlisle. I'd love to hear about a War College walking tour of the village of My Lai.

Posted by: donmotaka@comcast.net | August 25, 2010 8:52 AM
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So hallowed that a casino will probably be built there.
Oh by the way the Professor of Cultural Science was established to provide even more minority views into the military. It is staffed entirely by minorities. So much for diversity.

Posted by: KBlit | August 25, 2010 8:32 AM
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Another lesson - not mentioned in the article - is that a Southern Baptist church (Gettysburg Memorial Baptist Church) has been established near the battlefield. So far, no one has asked the southern interlopers to move due to sensitivities on behalf of those whom Lincoln praised for giving their last full measure of devotion and to whom he dedicated Gettysburg battlefield "as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live."

Posted by: bloggersvilleusa | August 24, 2010 9:00 PM
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Isn't ironic they are making plans to build a casino near the sacred battlefield of Gettysburg on the hallowed ground of so much sacrifice and the site of the Gettysburg Address by Honest Abe.

The victors of this bloodbath were the ones who got to the high ground first. Not just the high ground of the terrain - but also the moral high ground. It ended slavery - but blacks had to wait almost another 100 years for freedom - thanks in large part to Earl Warren - the Republican governor of California and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Posted by: alance | August 24, 2010 3:39 PM
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The lesson here is HUBRIS. Longstreet all but begged Lee to move to the right and dislodge Meade from the high ground. How many times did he tell Lee "the right is still open". Lee insisted on a frontal attack. Why? "Because the enemy is there" in his own words. He could not resist it. He did not or could not understant that 18th century infantry tactics were obsolete in the face of rifle fire. Just like it has taken our modern day army 30 years to figure out you really can't send uniformed troops into combat against an enemy that doesn't wear a uniform!

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | August 24, 2010 3:38 PM
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