When my son Andrew spoke at the recent Thorne Sparkman series at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, my role was to look intelligent, sit quietly, smile at kind comments and not utter a word. I am intensely proud of him but am strictly forbidden to write his name or mention his whereabouts in my daily offerings.
In his opening remarks, he noted my presence and said something akin to, “My Dad is here. He’s the guy, as you know, who never lets truth get in the way of a good story.” Well, all the true intellectuals delighted in that, hooting and clapping, so by my count he owes me one and today I’m calling in the market.
“Wired” Magazine is a delightful publication that I have enjoyed for years. Andrew rubs shoulders with those types of people and in its April Fool’s Day issue, they talked Dr. Andrew Exum into writing a piece called, “Graveyard of Peaches – How Tennessee Will Win Its War Against Georgia.”
Andrew, who you must remember was an Army Ranger and, as a captain, led platoons in both Iraq and Afghanistan, ever had battle maps drawn so today I am in my thief mode as I print his “Wired” story in its entirety and prove, once again, he is a far better writer than his Dad.
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GRAVEYARD OF PEACHES: HOW TENNESSEE WILL WIN ITS WAR AGAINST GEORGIA
An April Fool’s Day article by Andrew Exum
The War Between the States ended almost 150 years ago, but the Georgia state senate is making threatening noises against its neighbor. It should think twice. Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan is a cakewalk compared to the hellscape that southeast Tennessee poses for an invading army.
Last week, the Georgia state senate voted to sue the state of Tennessee in order to claim a sliver of land that would grant Georgia access to the Tennessee River. Georgia, readers must understand, has mismanaged its own water resources to the point where it now struggles to supply enough water for the residents of Atlanta (and its sprawling suburbs and exurbs) to fill their above-ground pools and wash the TruckNutz on their mini-vans. Dangerously, the state is actually seeking to redraw a border that has kept the peace for over 200 years, and all over a crucial resource — a resource belonging, rightfully, to the Tennessee of my ancestors.
I have nothing against (most parts of) Georgia. Growing up, though, my mother would drive my sister and me south on I-75, ostensibly to watch a Braves game or visit our cousins, but really to show us the horrors of life beyond the green mountains and valleys of our native southeast Tennessee, where much of my family remains. Other parts of Georgia are lovely: I had the good fortune to be stationed in Savannah for several years while serving in the U.S. Army. But the greater Atlanta area is a horrible twisted mess of concrete overpasses and far-flung skyscrapers. Once south of Cartersville, it’s easy to understand why William Tecumseh Sherman thought it wisest to just burn the whole place down and start over.
I am particularly worked up about all of this because Georgia aims to claim most of Lookout Mountain — even the very house I grew up in — as Georgia territory, like it was some sort of bluegrass Alsace-Lorraine. Thankfully, I have a good idea how to stop them.
I have drawn up the following three courses of action. I grew up in the 1980s, when Red Dawn was the favorite film of every freedom-loving boy in Tennessee, and my best friend Henry and I spent way too much of our early years thinking through various ways we would defend our homes against the inevitable communist horde. Georgia has compelled me to consider something similar. And as either Vegetius or the Carter Sisters once sang, si vis pacem, para bellum. Translated into the Tenneessean: “If you’re a-lookin’ for peace, best get ready for the warrin’.”
The first course of action in the face of Georgian aggression is a static defense. The main avenue of approach for any Georgian invasion force would be I-75. About a mile past the state line, the highway splits into I-24 heading west into Chattanooga and I-75 northbound heading toward Knoxville.
There’s a bend in the highway where all northbound cars must slow down as they turn west toward Chattanooga. It’s a natural place to construct an L-shaped ambush. I’d place .50-caliber machine guns on the north side of the split, in the vicinity of the old Eastgate Mall, aimed down I-75. Mortar positions would dig in north of Brainerd Road (or somewhere in the Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center and putt-putt course up the road). I would establish a skirmish line along Ringgold Road, with my main line of defense along I-24 and I-75, and a secondary line of defense along Brainerd Road and Lee Highway.
Two problems immediately come to mind, though. Even if Georgia is only able to mobilize half the residents of Atlanta, that’s still a lot of SUVs to stop. We can’t count on all of them to stop at the Cracker Barrel in Dalton and lose interest. That means we’ll soon run low on ammunition and be forced to retreat to Hixson. The other problem is that the University of Tennessee’s performance against the University of Georgia last year — in which Tennessee’s defense tackled like a bunch of Pop Warner 8-year-olds — doesn’t fill one with a lot of confidence about our state’s ability to stop much of anything coming out of Georgia. Indeed, the best we could hope for in this course of action is that the Georgians bring a Varsity franchise along with their invading army.
DEFEND IN DEPTH
Another course of action would be to trade space for time, using the Chattanooga area’s natural lines of defense to our advantage. As the Union Army once discovered, assaulting up Missionary Ridge is no fun at all, no matter who happens to be defending. And the Tennessee River allows us to protect most of our forces and supplies to its north.
Alas, that would mean my grandmother’s house in East Ridge would fall into enemy territory. (Although, heh, good luck to whatever Georgian has the misfortune of kicking down her door.) Almost as bad, we’d concede to Georgia the very territory it came for in the first place.
Although I have no doubt we could launch a bold counterattack before the Georgians got as far as my family farm in Sale Creek, there is no telling how much water those greedy yokels might siphon off before we send them back to Dunwoody (or whatever other terrible Atlanta suburb they came from) with their tails between their legs.
All that sets up a third option — one painfully familiar to Americans after our decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s one that plays to the historical strengths of the people of East Tennessee.
An insurgency stands the best chance of success of convincing Georgia of its error. Invading Tennessee is easy enough, militarily. Occupying and governing Tennessee is vastly more difficult.
As a soldier, I fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan; as a scholar, I performed most of the fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation in southern Lebanon. Nowhere in the world, though, have I ever encountered a more brutal, tribal and violent race of people than the Scots-Irish of East Tennessee. Any Georgian occupation force would inevitably get sucked into our petty politics and family vendettas. We might share a language, but Georgia would struggle to relate to its new foreign subjects, let alone entrench its authority over us.
In his book “War At Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence In East Tennessee, 1861-1869,” historian Noel Fisher describes the way in which both Confederate and Union occupying armies struggled to comprehend the byzantine politics and grudges of East Tennessee and assert anything like political authority over such a lawless race of mountain people. I can almost pity the young Georgian men and women who would be asked to occupy as violent and confusing a place as southeast Tennessee. Alone at night, fearing yet another guerrilla attack and unsure of who they could trust among such an alien race, they would curse the greed of the Atlanta exurbs and the resource war that had been forced upon them. A prolonged occupation and insurgency stands a greater chance of transforming the internal politics of Georgia than transforming the immutable cultural truths of Tennessee.
The wars of the 9/11 era have demonstrated the perils of fighting heavily armed religious fundamentalists on their own soil. We Tennessee Presbyterians are a little like the Taliban — only certainly better armed and probably less tolerant of the Roman Catholic Church. Still, if Georgia wants to invade and occupy East Tennessee, it is welcome to try. Getting in should be easy. Getting out, however, is another matter entirely.
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Andrew Exum is an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He led U.S. Army Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan and had his father mail boxes of Moon Pies to both.