Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | April 1, 2013

Georgia wants to take our water. This is how we will stop them.

The Tennessee-Georgia Border

This is the best thing I’ve read today. Andrew Exum (who used to blog as Abu Muqawama for CNAS) has a funny and fascinating piece for Wired: “Graveyard of Peaches: How Tennessee Will Win Its War Against Georgia.”

The State of Georgia, which desperately needs water for the ever-sprawling city of Atlanta, would like to alter the border between Tennessee and Georgia so that a bend of the Tennessee River would then pass through Georgia. Georgia would then siphon water from the river to Atlanta. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and others report, the House of the Georgia General Assembly voted last month, 157-13, to authorize a lawsuit against Tennessee to “rectify” the border, allegedly based on an 1818 surveying error.

Chattanooga, TN

The whole situation (which is quite real) has not been well received in Tennessee, least of all in my hometown of Chattanooga, which sits on the Tennessee River near the place where Georgia would like to redraw the line.

So, Exum, soldier and strategist, and also a native of the Chattanooga area, has outlined Tennessee’s options in the event that Georgia seeks to use a military option to alter the border. An excerpt:

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.

Exum outlines three options for responding to the incursion of the Georgians: (1) a static defense; (2) a defense in depth; and (3) an insurgency. Regarding the first option:

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.

Regarding the insurgency:

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.

Exum is a McCallie grad, but otherwise a good guy (I went to Baylor; McCallie is our cross-town rival). Please do read the whole thing.

Image Credits: (1) Google Maps; (2) View of Chattanooga and the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, looking north-east from near Point Park, Lookout Mountain. Photo by “geraldford,” February 2013, and used under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license. Source:Flickr.

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