Showing posts with label Judge Richard Posner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judge Richard Posner. Show all posts

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Legal Education and the Battle of Isandlwana: Our Country Isn't Solving Problems Because Our Colleges and Professional Schools Aren't Properly Training Our Leaders

What do law professors do beside teach law students?

Most of them write law review articles--long, tedious pieces with literally hundreds of footnotes. And they write a lot of them.  All American law schools sponsor at least one law journal; and many sponsor several. Each year, these journals publish about 10,000 law review articles!

Law scholars use an arcane system for crafting their footnotes under rules laid out in The Bluebook, an almost incomprehensible volume published by Harvard Law School. The Bluebook is now in its nineteenth edition, and its text is even more opaque than the 18th edition. In fact, Richard Posner, an esteemed judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, described it with a quote from Heart of Darkness: "The horror! The horror!"

Here is a quote from the University of Houston Law School's Bluebook Guide that described just one change that was instituted in the nineteenth edition:
Rule 1.2(a) [E.g.]: Clarifies that when this signal is combined with another signal such asSee”, the comma separating the signals should be italicized while the comma at the end of the signal should not be.   
Law reviews are edited by law students, and student editors are required to master the mysteries of The Bluebook in order to edit law-article manuscripts. As a student at Harvard, Barack Obama must have spent a lot of time with The Bluebook when he was Editor of Harvard Law Review.

And Barack Obama's educational background may explain why he is at loggerheads with two powerful heads of state: Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin.  Putin is a former KGB man, Netanyahu is a special forces veteran of the Israel Defense Force, and Obama is a former footnote checker. It is not hard to imagine why Netanyahu and Putin seem so contemptuous of our President.

And this brings me to the Battle of Isandlwana, which was a disastrous military defeat for the British army during the Anglo-Zulu War.  In January 1879, a force of 20,000 Zulu warriors overwhelmed a British force of about 1500 men on the rolling plains around Mount Isandlwana. The British commander, Lord Chelmsford, believed that modern weapons and trained British soldiers could defeat much larger enemy forces equipped only with spears and a few antiquated muskets.

But Lord Chelmsford was wrong. Splitting his forces, Lord Chelmsford departed from a supply camp at Isandlwana, leaving Brevet Colonel Henry Pulleine in charge. Lord Chelmsford had not fortified the camp, thinking it unnecessary; nor did he encircle the camp with a laager.  After all,  the British were armed with Martini-Henry rifles; and they had two cannons, a rocket-launching battery and 500,000 rounds of ammunition. What could go wrong?

The Battle of Isandlwana: Hey, what could go wrong?
On the morning of January 22, 1879, Lieutenant Colonel Pulleine's scouts spotted a large force of Zulus sitting patiently in a ravine; and they reported back to Pulleine.  He ordered troops to form a long skirmishing line about 1500 yards in front of the camp.

For a while things went well. British soldiers shot down attacking Zulus by the score; and the troops were in a jolly mood.  Gradually, however, the Zulus encircled the British right flank, which eventually collapsed.  British troops fell back to the camp itself, where small groups made a last stand before being overwhelmed. Almost the whole force was massacred.

Donald Morris's The Washing of the Spears is the best historical account of this battle. Morris explains that the British were deployed too far from their ammunition supply; and the ammunition boxes proved difficult to open--requiring special screwdrivers to get the lids off the boxes.  A movie about the battle, entitled Zulu Dawn, depicts soldiers standing in long ques waiting for ammunition. One scene shows a military clerk filling out receipt slips while Zulus spear soldiers patiently standing in line.

It shouldn't have turned out that way. After all, Lord Chelmsford was an esteemed British commander who had purchased commissions in respected military units.  He probably thought he knew what he was doing when he split his forces and departed from an unfortified camp.

And Lieutenant Colonel Pulleine, who was trained at Sandhurst, received plenty of warning that the Zulus were on their way. His camp was well provisioned, and he had two cannons and some rocket launchers. How could things have turned out so badly?

Arrogance, in my opinion. The British officers thought it inconceivable that they could be defeated by a native force armed mostly with spears, even if the enemy had the advantage of overwhelming numbers.

And arrogance is the cause of most of our nation's recent blunders in the international arena. We are the United States, after all. We have superior technology such that we can kill our enemies with drones simply by pushing a button. And our leaders all went to the best colleges and professional schools: Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford, Oxford.  And our law-trained leaders know The Bluebook backward and forward.

But our arrogance is leading us to defeat after defeat against our enemies and our competitors. And our president, trained at Harvard Law School, is no match in a duel of wits against people like Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Our elite colleges and universities have failed us. Instead of training problem solvers and crisis managers, they have produced arrogant elitists--people much like Lord Chelmsford.  And so long as we place such people in charge of our national security, we will see our national strength and stature diminish.

References

Donald R. Morris. The Washing of the Spears: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965.

The Bluebook (19th edition).

Zulu Dawn (1979).