Saturday, October 30, 2021

Musings on Modern Monetary Theory, and Why National Deficits and Debts Matter

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden and his Democrats propose to fund their Build Back Better package of social programs based on modern monetary theory (MMT).  In contrast to traditional economic and monetary theories, MMT asserts that the cost of those social programs on top of America’s existing national deficits and debts don’t really matter.

One premise of MMT is uncontested.  There are no Constitutional limits on Congress borrowing money or the creation of new dollars; but traditional economics posits that taxes are needed to repay borrowed money, and that creating new dollars to pay national deficits and debts causes inflation.  Those traditional  economic theories are contested by MMT.

Inflation is the nemesis of a healthy economy.  MMT acknowledges the danger of inflation, but asserts that national deficits and debts don’t have to be repaid by taxes or the creation of new dollars.   To support that claim, some have cited the massive U.S. national debt after WWII; but then America was the primary producer of goods for a world depleted by war.  

Today America consumes more than it sells and has a massive national debt of over $28 trillion dollars.  The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates near 0%, but inflation has recently spiked and is not diminishing.  Yet the Fed has not increased interest rates to dampen inflation or reduced inflationary subsidies to a booming Wall Street that creates disparities in wealth.


Fed policies that keep interest rates at low emergency pandemic levels exacerbate runaway inflation and increase disparities in wealth by favoring investments in equities over personal savings.  So long as personal saving is considered a virtue and inflation a vice in America, the unlimited spending by big government fostered by MMT that causes inflation will be opposed--except in a national emergency like the pandemic.

MMT promotes the concept of full employment that would require massive increases in welfare payments for a guaranteed basic income.  Keynesian economics and MMT are based on the assumption that no tax increases will be needed for such socialistic cradle to the grave welfare programs; but there is no evidence to support such an optimistic assumption.

MMT also assumes that America can carry its massive debts indefinitely; but if interest rates rise and increased productivity and taxes don’t dissipate the national debt, new dollars would be needed to sustain the economy.  If the dollar ceases to be the world’s currency, creating new dollars to save the economy from past MMT profligacy would be hyperinflationary. 

MMT and traditional economic theory are not all that different.  Both recognize that Congress and the President provide the money needed for political priorities, but that too much spending can create inflation, and hyperinflation can undermine the economy.  The real issue is understanding the correlation between spending, debt, taxes and inflation, and that issue must be resolved before MMT can be a new paradigm for American economic and monetary policies.  


If you Google modern monetary theory (MMT), this is how it’s  described in simple (?) terms: Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a heterodox macroeconomic framework that says monetarily sovereign countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan, and Canada, which spend, tax, and borrow in a fiat currency that they fully control, are not operationally constrained by revenues when it comes to federal government spending.  Also, see Wikipedia at

For a description of Modern Monetary Theory, explained, a very detailed walkthrough of the big new left economic idea, by Dylan Matthews, Vox, April 16, 2019, see

Stephani Kelton alleges that there are six deficit myths: The federal government should budget like a household; Deficits are evidence of overspending; Deficits will burden the next generation; Deficits are harmful because they crowd out private investment and undermine growth; Deficits make the U.S. dependent on foreigners; and Entitlements are propelling us toward a long-term fiscal crisis. Kelton develops her case against the deficit myths in chapters 1-6, and in chapter 10 she reiterates her theories while acknowledging that the Congressional Budget Office opposes her optimistic economic assumptions by predicting that increasing deficits will create serious problems for the U.S. in the future.  See Stephanie Kelton, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, Public Affairs, New York, 2020.   

Paul Krugman has suggested the gimmick (his terminology) of minting a platinum coin with a face value of $1trillion to counter the budget debt ceiling that has stalled the Democrats $3.5 trillion Build Back Better social programs.  Krugman confirms that the Fed’s economic influence comes from its ability to increase the monetary base “at will”, and he asserts “So as long as the U.S. government doesn’t rely on money creation to pay its bills, the dollar won’t collapse.” But Krugman concedes that minting the coin might create a temptation to do just that.  Nations    sometimes do cause high inflation by relying on the printing press--There’s Venezuela [not to mention Germany in the 1920s]  Such hyperinflation is usually a byproduct of extreme political dysfunction, which leaves governments unable to raise revenue or limit spending.” See

The Editorial Board of The Washington Post, usually a strong supporter of President Biden and Democrats, has described their Build Back Better proposals as “getting worse and worse.”  See

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Musings on How Post-Pandemic Expectations Will Reshape American Culture

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The Great Resignation began in April, and since then more people have abandoned their old jobs with the expectation they can find something better.  Generous unemployment benefits and the opportunity to work from home during the pandemic have created optimistic post-pandemic expectations that will reshape America’s politics, its economy and its culture.  

Democrats are promoting a vast array of cradle-to-grave socialist programs to appease those who have left their pre-pandemic jobs.  Polls indicate that many, but not most, Americans support the Democratic proposals, despite their extravagant cost.  As America considers a major shift from a libertarian to a socialist culture, even Democrats are debating how far to go.  

The debate over a debt ceiling is only the tip of the political iceberg.  Not since the Civil War has political tribalism so threatened American democracy.  Americans continue to pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all; but it’s only lip service in a divided nation that has failed to balance individual rights with providing for the common good.

What are the expectations of the polarized parties?  Republicans expect to maintain the status quo, ignoring increasing disparities of wealth and opposing any regulation of Wall Street or tax increases.  Democrats expect to redistribute America’s wealth from the bottom up; but like Republicans they aren’t willing to tax their rich patrons to pay for their socialist largesse.

Those partisan expectations portend more political and economic turmoil.  Increasing inflation will force the Federal Reserve to taper its subsidies to Wall Street and allow interest rates to rise, cooling off a hot stock market and making it difficult for America to carry its massive national debt.  That would challenge America’s credit rating and the dollar as the world’s currency.

The church once provided altruistic standards of legitimacy that promoted the common good in politics; but the church has declined and altruism has been subsumed by partisan politics.  Redistricting is underway, but indications are that the gerrymandering that has promoted partisan polarization in Congress will continue unabated. 


It will likely take a political revolt or an economic crisis to overcome the polarized partisan politics that have stymied the reforms needed to provide for the common good in America’s democracy.  Given the current partisan standoff in Congress on a budget ceiling, an economic crisis is likely to provide the politics of reconciliation needed for political reforms.

Post-pandemic expectations will reshape American culture.  With both parties promoting their partisan interests at the expense of the common good, it’s amazing that there hasn’t already been a political revolt or economic crisis to transform American democracy.  Polarized partisan politics will continue to threaten the fabric of American democracy unless a moral reformation promotes a politics of reconciliation that provides for the common good.


On the Great Resignation and increasing public expectations for better post-pandemic jobs, see Waves of Americans are leaving their jobs as part of the “the Great Resignation”.  Here’s Why.  See also, A record number of Americans are quitting their jobs.  Here’s how they make money after they quit, at  Also,  The Great Resignation is Accelerating, at Also, Why are so many Americans quitting their jobs? See  t

A recent Gallup Poll indicates a major shift in public opinion since last year in those who favored big government from 54% last year to 43% this year, while “54% now say they think that government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and business.”  According to Chris Calliza of CNN, “This is bad news for Joe Biden.  He made a big bet on big government.  Right now it’s not looking so great.”  See

“Redistricting is just getting started around the country, but the first maps released suggest a coming decade of even more deeply entrenched partisanship for Congress.” See

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Musings on a Malevolent Malaise Infecting American Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

A malevolent malaise infects American politics and its democracy.  Polls indicate that Trump is surging while Biden is sinking, both products of America’s polarized partisan duopoly.  Deep partisan divisions defy the forces of reconciliation; and since popularity begets power in a democracy, American democracy seems doomed by a malaise of human depravity.

A healthy democracy requires that competing parties can reconcile their differences on critical issues.  That doesn’t require political unity, only sharing altruistic values that provide for the common good.  The Civil War represented a fatal breakdown of altruistic values in American politics, and current partisan divisions could cause another cataclysmic failure of democracy.

The two parties have irreconcilable differences that defy reason and common sense.  Most Republicans support a radical-right demagogue whose narcissistic values reject altruism; and President Biden once seemed to be a moderate advocating partisan reconciliation, but now he promotes the unyielding leftist faction of his party.

There is no middle ground in either party, so that nonpartisan independents are left with no voice in the dysfunctional partisan process.  The only way to save American democracy from self-destruction is to promote a politics of reconciliation that provides for the common good based on altruism; and there’s a glaring absence of altruism in American democracy.

Before the Moral Majority began promoting Christianity as a Republican religion, the church provided Americans with an altruistic morality that minimized partisan divisions.  In 2016 the church lost its moral compass when a majority of white Christians elected Trump as their president, and now partisan divisions threaten the fragile fabric of American democracy.

Until 2016 the altruistic teachings of Jesus shaped America’s standards of political legitimacy, and those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith.

America’s standards of political legitimacy lost their moral anchor when the church lost its moral compass in the 2016 elections; and the resulting lack of political legitimacy has created  a moral malaise in American democracy.  The church has since lost its credibility, and many Christians have left the church; but they didn’t leave behind their altruistic values.

Can altruistic values be restored as the standards of political legitimacy in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture without the church?  The church subordinated the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines long ago; but most Americans still consider the altruistic teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of their faith.  They can heal America of the malevolent malaise of its polarized democracy--with or without the church.   


Biden’s only real mandate was to not be Trump. This meant a return to normalcy. This meant calming things down, bringing people together, and creating a more tranquil nation. This meant being more honest and empathetic. This meant being competent. Unfortunately, none of those things materialized, which helps explain why his polling with independents mirrors Trump’s. Some of this is normal and to be expected. Presidents always have a tendency to over-interpret their mandate. And presidents are generally rebuked during their first midterm election. Following Trump, Biden—billed as a highly experienced politician who also was a centrist—was supposed to avoid this trap.  Remember, Biden won the 2020 election by making inroads with traditionally center-right constituencies—as opposed to winning by juicing traditionally Democratic constituencies. Based on that knowledge, you would think he would attempt to govern in a manner that would keep this coalition on board. Instead, he made a huge mistake and decided to bet big on progressivism—he was lured by the hope of being the next FDR or LBJ but also plagued with a razor-thin majority.

Biden’s campaign promise was to be a competent uniter who calmed things down. And while it isn’t over till the fat lady sings, he has so far failed miserably. His failure is made all the more perplexing and troubling by his experience and presumed preparedness for this role. Americans, for now at least, are not happy with Biden or the direction he has taken this country. And that’s not our fault. It’s his.  See

Liberal Democrats have become the mainstream of the party and are less willing to compromise with dwindling moderates. “Moments after President Biden instructed House Democrats to make concessions or risk derailing passage of his economic agenda, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus hastily gathered in the depths of the Capitol on Oct. 1 to talk strategy about what policies they could sacrifice. No one was ready to compromise. ...While the Progressive Caucus has managed to surprise critics by remaining united and disciplined during tense standoffs this year, that cohesion could soon fracture when members will probably be forced concede that their shared policy concerns addressing climate, immigration, housing, education and health care may not survive the House and Senate negotiations aimed at producing a package that can become law.  ...House liberals have said they will continue to threaten to vote against the bipartisan Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package favored by moderates until there is agreement on the broader economic bill.” See

While Donald Trump has held several rallies since the January 6 Capitol insurrection, his rally in Iowa on October 9 was the most alarming by far. “This one was attended by longtime Iowa US Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, and other mainstream Republican officials. Some of these very same people, who just nine months ago were slamming Trump for his role in the Capitol riots, were now only too happy to be seen supporting him. This is politics at its worst -- and at its most dangerous for our democracy. ...To Grassley, it was "smart" to accept the endorsement of the man who spent Saturday's rally spouting the same falsehoods that led to the January 6 violence that caused Grassley to hide in fear. Trump's litany of dangerous election lies at his Iowa rally ranged from irresponsible claims he won Wisconsin "by a lot" in 2020, to lying that the results of the recently released Arizona audit support his false claim that he had actually won that state. He even declared that, "First of all, [Biden] didn't get elected, OK?" The crowd responded to Trump's buffet of lies by chanting, "Trump won! Trump won!"'s clear that the party is no longer defined by policy ideas but by absolute loyalty to Trump and his influence.” See

Michael Gerson has said, TheTrumpnightmare looms again. “It’s increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics — unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025 — is also the likely outcome.”  See

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The teachings of Jesus include both mystical beliefs and moral standards of legitimacy.  They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s a timeless and universal teaching that’s both mystical and moral: We love God by loving all others as we love ourselves.

The greatest commandment was taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  In our world of increasingly diverse religions, it’s a universal and altruistic moral imperative that requires us to seek to be reconciled with those of other races, religions and politics, and with our adversaries.

 Jesus was a maverick Jew who announced the coming kingdom of God and taught love over law.  Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.  He never suggested that he was divine or promoted any religion, not even his own.  It was not Jesus, but the church that has promoted exclusivist Christian beliefs that have caused more division than reconciliation.

Jesus revealed a God bigger than one religion; and God’s will is to reconcile and redeem all people through the transforming power of God’s love.  Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; and because Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics, he seems to be winning in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.

The relevance of Jesus today is to reconcile the toxic divisions of exclusivist religions and polarized politics.  Prior to the 6th century universalism was prevalent in Christianity, and it was a separate Christian denomination in America until it merged with Unitarian Universalists in 1961.  Christian universalism needs to be revived as an alternative to Christian exclusivism.  

Following the teachings of Jesus makes a person a disciple, but not a Christian.  As a progressive Christian I struggle to be a disciple, but I don’t believe that the only way to salvation is to worship Jesus Christ as God.  Like the deist Thomas Jefferson and Martin Thielen, a fellow maverick Methodist pastor, I believe that following Jesus (discipleship) is the way to salvation.

Our mystical beliefs on the nature of God may differ, but those exclusivist beliefs that limit salvation to one religion and condemn other religions should be rejected.  At the same time we should conform our moral standards to the universal and altruistic standards of legitimacy in the greatest commandment as a common word of faith and politics.  


In a world of increasing religious diversity Jesus is relevant as a prophet whose universal teachings can reconcile those of different religions and enable them to coexist in peace.  Americans have learned that it cannot defeat extremist Islamism with military force.  To defuse the threat of religious extremism we must cross religious boundaries and promote religious and political reconciliation based on the greatest commandment--and Jesus can help us do that.


Jesus refuted the assertions of Jewish religious leaders that Mosaic Law was God’s standard of righteousness.  He disobeyed the law against healing on the Sabbath and also ignored dietary laws to emphasize the primacy of God’s love over law.  On Mosaic Law generally, see Mark 2:27, 28; 3:4: also Matthew 12:1-14, Luke 6:1-11, 13:10-17, 14:1-5; and John 5:1-10; on Jewish dietary laws and hygiene, see Mark 7:14-23 and Matthew 15:1-20.   

Jesus spoke of a universal family of God as his true kinsmen when he said that “Whoever does God’s will is my brother,  and sister and mother.” See Mark 3:35; also Matthew 12:48-50 and Luke 8:21.


The greatest commandment is at Mark 12:28-33, Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-37.  Luke’s version is the most complete with the story of the good Samaritan answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?  John’s new command to love one another is an abbreviated version of the greatest commandment. See  John 13:34, 35; 14:15, 21, 23; also John 15:9-14, 17.

On The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Chrsitian Exclusivism (August 17, 2017), see

Martin Thielen is a United Methodist pastor from a megachurch in Tennessee who shares a universalist Christian theology.  See

For a compendium of the moral teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson (including the above cited scripture) and how they relate to the teachings of Muhammad, see The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy.  It’s an interfaith study guide posted in Resources at, at


On Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (March 17, 2018), see

On Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics (February 6, 2016), see

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Have Humanitarian Laws of War Caused America's "Endless Wars"?

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Samuel Moyn has asserted that the laws of war that protect civilians and their property from the ravages of war have caused America’s endless wars by making war more humane.  Tolstoy shares Moyn’s negative view of the law of war, and both are wrong.  Making war less  terrible with humanitarian standards has not promoted war, but discouraged it.

Prussian General Clausewitz once famously observed that War is an extension of politics by other means.  In America both political and military legitimacy require compliance with the law, and legitimacy is measured by public support.  Since America’s Civil War, the law of war has protected civilians and their property as a requirement of military legitimacy.

In 1863 the U.S. Army issued General Order 100 providing for the protection of civilians and their property.  It was written by Francis Lieber, who had moved from South Carolina College to Columbia University in New York City in 1853.  But the Lieber Code was rejected by General William Tecumseh Sherman who proclaimed “War is Hell” and began his infamous march, burning Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. and destroying civilian property along the way.   

The Lieber Code should have revolutionized American warfare with its humanitarian protections for civilians and their property in wartime, but they were ignored more than followed by U.S. forces in the Civil War and World War II.  Ironically, General Robert E. Lee showed more respect for enemy civilians and their property in the North than did Sherman in the South.

If not humanitarian laws, what has caused America’s endless wars?  Technology has deceived Americans into thinking that lethal force can be surgically precise and eliminate most of war’s collateral damage; but failures in intelligence with ”over the horizon” strikes like that of August 29 in Afghanistan have sobered Americans to the ugly reality of civilian casualties. 

It has been estimated that 22,000 civilians were killed by American airstrikes in its endless wars since 9/11, and there has been little accountability.  Americans elect those who initiate and perpetuate their wars.  They should be held accountable for civilian casualties in war, and not blamed on the humanitarian laws of war that prohibit them.

The international law of war applies only to armed conflict between nations.  After the U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military assistance to the new regimes was in the form of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, and the humanitarian protections of the laws of war continued to apply to all U.S. military operations.

There are many reasons for America’s  endless wars.  They include advances in military technology and a misplaced public confidence that American exceptionalism can be promoted by military power.  Humanitarian laws of war have not been a cause of America’s endless wars; Those wars have now ended--if only temporarily--due to failures in military intelligence and the lack of military legitimacy in the hostile cultural environment of Afghanistan.



Dexter Filkins has cited Professor Samuel Moyn in Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, for the proposition that advances in the Law of War protecting civilians have encouraged America’s endless wars. “The dilemma posed by Moyn belongs to the modern age. Killing is what armies do, and, in the usual course of things, the more they kill the sooner their wars end. For Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, the whole point of fighting was not just to repel the enemy but to destroy it; theoretically, at least, war knows no limits. In the United States, generals took a page from Clausewitz, applying maximum force to secure military objectives. During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who set fire to Atlanta [and Columbia], believed he was entitled to do anything in pursuit of victory, because he was fighting against an enemy that had begun an unjust war.

 ...In the Second World War, Allied and Axis commanders deliberately attacked civilians, in the hope that they could be terrorized into demanding peace. The Allies’ aerial campaign against [Tokyo and] German cities like Hamburg and Dresden killed as many as a half million civilians.  ...Must one choose between being against torture and being against war? Moyn suggests that opposing war crimes blinds us to the crime of war. If this is an empirical claim, it’s contradicted by the facts. The invasion of Iraq did inspire demonstrations around the world. ...Moyn’s position might lead us to oppose striking enemy targets with smaller, more accurate bombs because they don’t inspire sufficient public outrage; he is evidently convinced that an effective protest campaign requires a steady and highly visible supply of victims. That logic would favor incinerating entire cities, Tokyo style, if the resulting spectacles of agony lead more people to oppose American power.

To counter Moyn’s arguments, Filkins cites William M. Arkin in The Generals Have no Clothes.  “Like Moyn, Arkin focusses on these endless conflicts—what Arkin calls ‘perpetual war’—but his explanation centers on a different culprit. Combat persists, Arkin tells us, because the apparatus of people and ships and bases and satellites and planes and drones and analysts and contractors has grown so vast that it can no longer be understood, much less controlled, by any single person; it has become ‘a gigantic physical superstructure’ that ‘sustains endless warfare.’ The perpetual war, Arkin contends, is ‘a physical machine, and a larger truth, more powerful than whoever is president,’ and the result has been ‘hidden and unintended consequences, provoking the other side, creating crisis, constraining change.’

An organizational logic, more than an ideological one, holds sway, Arkin suggests. Secrecy is central to the contemporary military; few people, even members of Congress who are charged with overseeing the Pentagon, seem to know all the places where Americans are fighting. The military operates bases in more than seventy countries and territories; Special Operations Forces are routinely present in more than ninety. Where Moyn is driven by a photonegative of American exceptionalism—a sense that American power is a singular force of malignity in the world—Arkin is concerned that this perpetual-war machine is at odds with America’s strategic interests. He sees the spread of Al Qaeda and like-minded groups across Asia and Africa as a direct consequence of our attempts to destroy them. Every errant drone strike that kills an innocent invites a fresh wave of recruits.” See

The following excerpts from Military Legitimacy: MIght and Right in the New Millennium (chapter 1, pages 9-13) illustrate the role of the Lieber Code and conflicting practices of Generals Sherman and Lee: 

Total war at home: the burning of Columbia: In 1860 a commitment to preserve the Union motivated President Lincoln to go to war to prevent the secession of the Confederate States of America. At the height of that war in 1863 the U.S. adopted the Lieber Code as General Order No. 100. It was a landmark statement of military legitimacy and civil-military relations that confirmed a principle at the heart of the law of war: those who do not make war should be protected from its harm.18  The Code was written by Francis Lieber, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1827 after being imprisoned by Prussian police on suspicion of being a revolutionary. He settled in the deep South, assuming a professorship at South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in Columbia, South Carolina. Lieber left the city of Columbia for Columbia University in the 1850s, during a time of political intolerance when southern "fire-eaters" effectively purged many intellectuals who did not embrace their views, including the need to maintain the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Professor Lieber could not have known that his adopted city, Columbia, would be destroyed by the Union Army in 1865 in violation of his Code. The provisions of the Lieber Code then governed military operations as U.S. law, and would become international law when incorporated in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and the Geneva Conventions of 1945. 

On the Confederate side, General Robert E. Lee exemplified the ideals of chivalry when he moved his army into Maryland and Pennsylvania. The citizens of these states remarked at the perfect discipline of Lee's rag-tag rebels as they marched by their homes. This was the result of instructions given by Lee to his men that reflected his moral conviction that civilians should be spared the ravages of war:

"I cannot hope that heaven will prosper our cause when we are violating its laws. I shall therefore carry on the war in Pennsylvania without offending the sanctions of a high civilization and Christianity."19

Lee treated civilian property with respect. Rather than have his men live off the land, Lee instructed his commissary officers to make formal requisitions when supplies were needed. Lee made a distinction between combatants and noncombatants when he exhorted his troops ‘ abstain with most scrupulous

care from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men.’20  

The respect accorded enemy civilians by Lee was in stark contrast to the scorched earth strategy of Union General William Temcumseh Sherman, who had been given the mission of destroying Confederate forces in the deep south while Grant hammered Lee in northern Virginia. General Sherman did not share the philosophy of Lee, nor did his tactics reflect even a hint of chivalry. In fact, while Sherman gave lip service to the Lieber Code, his troops consistently violated its provisions. Sherman was an advocate of total war, having declared his philosophy as early as October 1862. Total war was based on collective responsibility, which allowed for little real distinction between combatants and noncombatants.

Sherman believed the Union must "make the war so terrible" for all rebellious Southerners that they would never again revolt. To accomplish this, the Southerners must "be made to fear us, and dread the passage of our troops through their country."21 After burning Atlanta to the ground, it did not take long for Sherman's men to get the hang of plunder and pillage. By the time they reached Savannah they had destroyed vast areas of the Georgia heartland. But it was just a preview of what awaited the Carolinas. In January 1865, Sherman's 60,000 veteran troops, moved out of Savannah, made a feint toward Charleston and Augusta, and then moved toward Orangeburg and Columbia. Sherman left no doubt that he intended to punish South Carolinians, as they were the first state to secede, and make a special example of Columbia since the act of secession had taken place there.22

In Savannah Sherman promised vengeance for the Union in South Carolina: "I look upon Columbia as quite as bad as Charleston, and I doubt we shall spare the public buildings there as we did in Milledgeville." He also acknowledged the hatred among his men for the Palmetto State: "The truth

is the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her."23  Along the way to Columbia, Sherman's men demonstrated their talent for plunder, pillage and wanton destruction. In Hardeeville, a church was destroyed piece by piece, with soldiers heckling local residents as the church collapsed.24 "Bummers" were the primary vandals: they were soldiers who did their own thing, but were seldom disciplined for their indiscretions. They were especially fond of destroying pianos with their hatchets, competing to see who could make the most noise, breaking dishes, and dressing up in the finest women's clothes.25

Sherman's army arrived on the banks of the Congaree River opposite Columbia on February 16, 1865, and the next day the Mayor of Columbia, T.J. Goodwyn, surrendered the defenseless city to Sherman. The general and his staff spent the afternoon with notables, but the troops had their own priorities. They

arrived singing ‘Hail Columbia, happy land; if I don't burn you, I'll be damned.’26  The city was awash with liquor, and friendly house slaves were passing it out to the feisty troops as they began their looting sprees. Soon things were out of control, whether by design or accident, and by evening drunken soldiers were torching everything that would burn. There was no doubt that the fires were intentionally set by Union troops. Some hurried from block to block carrying wads of turpentine-soaked cotton, while others interfered with firefighting efforts. The only issue was whether Sherman authorized the destruction or not, and this he vehemently denied. He initially blamed the mayor for the free-flowing liquor, citing the impossibility of controlling his drunken soldiers; but he later blamed General Wade Hampton, a popular native son whose cavalry had been the last Confederate troops to leave Columbia.27 By morning, 84 of the 124 blocks of Columbia had been burned. Included in destruction were churches, an Ursuline convent, all public buildings except the unfinished statehouse, as well as most of the city's private residences, of rich and poor alike. Sherman's reaction, other than disclaiming responsibility, was

the rationale of collective responsibility: "Though I never ordered it, and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over it, because I believe it hastened what we all fought for--the end of the war."28

 There were also many reported violations of human dignity, if not assaults, upon the women of Columbia. "An extreme practise followed by a few of the soldiers in looking for valuables hidden on a woman's person was to catch her by the throat and feel in her bosom for a watch or pull up her dress in search of a purse hidden in her girdle or petticoat. Those not so brazen did not hesitate to point a pistol at a woman's head to learn the location of the family heirlooms."29 While there were few reported cases of rape against white women, the same was not true for black women. On the morning of February 18, "their unclothed bodies, bearing the marks of detestable sex crimes, were found about the city."30 After February 17, pillage and plunder became more restrained. But the soldiers never showed any repentance for their acts, and "...made no pretense of hiding their loot. Stolen jewelry and coin were very much in evidence on their persons as they strolled the streets boasting of having burned Columbia."31 

When Sherman's men finally left Columbia on February 20, they had earned the lasting enmity of the people of Columbia, the South, and even some Yankees. "Whitlaw Reid, the Ohio politician, called the burning of Columbia 'the most monstrous barbarity of the barbarous march.' The people of Columbia,

in full agreement with Reid, were also positive that one day the Devil 'with wild sardonic grin, will point exultant to a crime which won the prize from SIN.'"32  When the Great War ended at Appomattox later that year. Sherman held to his belief that his punishment of southern civilians contributed to Lee's surrender, although there is little evidence to that effect; but Sherman's total war tactics created a legacy of hatred for him and the Union in the South that would never be forgotten.  

Notes 18-32 listed above are provided in a transcript of Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, by Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr. (1996), and posted in Resources for Religion, Legitimacy and Politics at

On Sherman’s burning of Columbia, see also  

“The U.S. military admitted its ‘horrible mistake’ in a Kabul drone strike that killed 10 Afghans August 29.” See

Since 9/11 U.S. airstrikes have killed at least 22,000 civilians, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. “The minimum estimate is around 11,500 civilian deaths in Iraq, 5,700 in Syria and 4,800 in Afghanistan. Additional deaths occurred in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. The maximum estimate by UK NGO Airwars, which analyzed declared U.S. airstrikes since 2001, is more than twice as high at around 48,000. Meanwhile, more than 7,000 U.S. service members and more than 8,000 contractors have died in post 9/11 wars. See