- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Longtime grasshoppers may remember that about three years ago the Dakota War was a top finisher in our "Obscure American Wars" contest. I mention it now because a new article has changed my views of President Lincoln’s handling of the outcome of that conflict.
What is significant, the article says, is not that Lincoln approved the hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux fighters, but that he commuted the death sentences of another 265. The author, Robert Norris, calls this "an act of clemency unparalleled in our nation’s history." Indeed, when a Republican politician blamed Republican setbacks in Minnesota two years later on Lincoln going soft on hanging Indians, Lincoln replied, "I could not afford to hang some men for votes." Still, the hanging of the 38 in December 1862 was the largest mass execution in our history.
As I am sure you remember, in November 1862, two months after the war ended, and while our nation was engaged in a great civil war, Gen. John Pope, acting as prosecutor and judge, sentenced 303 Dakota Sioux fighters to death. He didn’t seem to be aware that the sentence required presidential approval, and when he did find out, treated it as kind of pro forma. Lincoln didn’t. He had two lawyers look into it, then made his decision not to execute most of the men listed. Those who were hanged were the ones blamed in particular for killing or raping settlers.
Despite Lincoln’s care, the entire episode is a black spot in the history of American military justice. Most of the Indians tried could not speak English, Norris notes. They lacked counsel. When asked at the trial about what they had done, "some even boasted as proud warriors." Even the executions were botched, with one man named "Chaska" hanged by mistake in place of another named "Chas-kay-don."
All in all, a well-done and interesting article.
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.| Rational Security |