Let Us Reason Together

ECW welcomes back JoAnna M. McDonald

Several weeks ago, Chris Mackowski asked if I would be interested in contributing to the Emerging Civil War blog, and, if so, what type of articles would I offer. As a student of the Civil War and military studies since my youth, and ultimately, an author, it took me all of five minutes to reply in an email, “absolutely, yes”. The main theme of my upcoming essays will primarily be on various political or military aspects of the war.

About eleven years ago, I began, in earnest, to study the Civil War from two broad approaches: strategic studies and strategic leadership. Strategic Studies is the study of strategy using multiple disciplines (political science, military history, psychology, sociology etc.), while strategic leadership combines the study of strategy with leadership and management within an organization.   

If you are thinking, “this may be way over my head,” the good news is that my essays will be interesting and not be too academic. The articles will be directed to students of the Civil War or military studies—but also written for the general public. That said, so as not to overwhelm the reader, I am going to organize my articles into several different series: Strategic Perspectives, Grand Tactics Perspectives, Tactics Perspectives, Strategic Leadership Perspectives, Command and Control Perspectives, and War and Modern Memory Perspectives (and possibly others). 

By examining the Civil War from various perspectives and using critical thought (the art of asking questions) we can reveal a clearer picture of what happened and thus learn more practical lessons. For example, if you look at the question of why the American Civil War occurred from just a moral point of view, you will get a simplified answer. From a strategic lens, you can see that Americans fought each other for political, economic, social, moral, and even theological reasons. How about the contentious question of why the North won the war? Again, if you look at it from just one perspective, say an economic-science of warfare viewpoint, you will arrive at an incomplete conclusion. From a wider vantage, you will see that the North won due to social, political, military, and economic reasons—in other words, it took the people, policymakers, and military working together to win the war (which is how republics solve complex problems, like winning wars and winning the peace).

As a historian, the overarching goal I hope to achieve as a contributor to Emerging Civil War is that my series helps us grow in an understanding of our path and place in history.  We must not be hampered by the current atmosphere of dissent without debate. We must instead take a tough but fair look at ourselves, respectfully confront ideas other than our own, and take heed of Thomas Jefferson’s counsel: “Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.” Let us then reason together even if the whole world has forgotten how. 


JoAnna M. McDonald, Ph.D., has been a historian, writer, and public speaker for twenty years, specializing in strategic studies and strategic leadership.  Currently, she is in an interim position as an environmental and historic preservation specialist. Other experiences include: working as a military history researcher for the History Channel’s Vietnam in HD and World War II in HD, and working as a civilian for the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force—Predator program, and for the U.S. Army at the Army Heritage and Education Center (Military History Institute), U.S. Army War College.

Author of eleven books on the Civil War and WWII, as well as numerous journal and newsletter articles regarding U.S. Marine Corps history, JoAnna’s next book is R. E. Lee’s Grand Strategy & Strategic Leadership: Caught in a Paradoxical Paradigm (Savas Beatie, 2020).

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