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  • Archive for the 'Britain' Category

    Theme: Fanny Kemble

    Posted by David Foster on 14th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The posts in this fourth “theme” roundup are about the British actress and writer Fanny Kemble, whose observations on America…and on life in general…are very interesting.

    Fanny Kemble’s train trip.  A ride on the newly-constructed London-Manchester line, in 1830.  Fanny’s escort for the trip was George Stephenson (“with whom I am most horribly in love”), the self-taught engineer who had been the driving force behind the line’s construction.  She contrasts Stephenson’s character with that of an aristocrat called Lord Alvanley  and the class of which he was an outstanding representative.

    Author appreciation:  Fanny Kemble.  Shortly after her railroad trip, Fanny visited the United States on a theatrical tour and married an plantation owner from Georgia.  Her “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, quite a bit of it negative; however,  her vivid description of the realities of slavery has been credited with helping to ensure that Britain would not enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

    Further Fannyisms.  Some excerpts from the Kemble journals that I thought were particularly interesting.

    There are a number of memoirs by Europeans who visited America during the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, and I hope to review some of the other ones in the future.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain, History, USA | 4 Comments »

    “Promotion Jobs”

    Posted by David Foster on 11th December 2014 (All posts by )

    (I came across this while going through some old Photon Courier posts…originally from 2005)

    I recently read The U-Boat Peril, by Captain Reginald Whinney, RN, a British destroyer commander during WWII. In the late 1920s, Capt Whinney attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He was not very impressed with the place, and his retrospective analysis is interesting:

    What was really wrong with Dartmouth then? Well, my answer is cynical. The jobs of captain in command of the college and of his second-in-command, the commander, were ‘promotion jobs'; and, in those days, the incumbent in a promotion job had only to do the same as his predecessor had done and he could hardly fail to be promoted. Further, these same captains and commanders had, while at Dartmouth…usually themselves been Cadet Captains. What was good enough for them…The requirement was to keep the sausage machine going.

    I have no idea how accurate Capt Whinney’s assessment of Dartmouth is…surely, they must have been doing something right, given the Royal Navy’s performance in the war. But his analysis of the “promotion job” is an interesting one, with its applicability by no means limited to military organizations.

    It’s almost tautological…if you put people in jobs where all they have to do to get promoted is to remain in the job for a few years, then they are unlikely to do anything but remain in the job for a few years. You’re certainly unlikely to see much in the way of innovation or of risk-taking behavior.

    So, if you are an executive, you might ask yourself whether your organization includes anything that looks like a “promotion job”–and, if so, restructure it; that is, unless you actually like drones and time-servers as subordinate managers.

    And what about the realm of education? It strikes me that, as things are now, the role of being a college student has been largely structured as a “promotion job.” The student is incented to go through his 4 years or more, avoid taking any classes that might be difficult enough to unduly threaten his GPA, and avoid antagonizing any faculty members in a way that might harm the GPA or the letters of recommendation. Because the objective is, too often, not to accomplish things during the time spent on the job (in this case, to learn things), but rather to spend the requisite amount of time so that the much-desired certification can be obtained. That’s a “promotion job” in Whinney’s sense.

    This is less true, of course, in the hard sciences and in engineering, where it’s obvious that after graduation you’re actually going to need to know what Young’s Modulus is (or whatever)…but across wide swaths of American higher education, the concept of the “promotion job” seems highly applicable.

    Posted in Britain, Education, History, Management | 8 Comments »

    Daniel Hannan at the Acton Institute, October 9, 2014

    Posted by Lexington Green on 7th December 2014 (All posts by )

    This is an outstanding talk by Daniel Hannan to the Acton Institute on October 9, 2014.

    Hannan notes that conservatives almost want to believe that there is no hope in the future, that we have seen the best times and they are behind us. But he disagrees.

    But my friends we are at our most persuasive, and at our most electorally successful, when as Ronald Reagan did in this country, as Margaret Thatcher did in mine, when we imbue our message with a little breath of warmth, a little hint of optimism, a promise that the best lies ahead.
     
    Things do get better, provided that you have trade and exchange, and that you release the genius of a free people, things will get better at an accelerating rate

    We make a similar point in America 3.0, which has the subtitle, “Why America’s Greatest Days are Yet to Come.”

    They really are, if we make it happen.

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Britain | 3 Comments »

    Extremely Cool

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd December 2014 (All posts by )

    Home movie footage from a 1931 cruise aboard the ocean liner Mauretania.

    Video

    This ship was built in 1906 and was sister ship to the ill-fated Lusitania.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, History, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Posted by Helen on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Happy Thanksgiving from this side of the Pond. We are all very envious of a holiday that has all the good things of Christmas and none or, at least, very few of the bad ones.

    And for those brave souls who, sated with turkey and pumpkin pie, would like to read something about the situation over here, I have a couple of links: one to a blog posting about Owen Paterson, a fairly senior back-bench Conservative MP (Cameron should never have sacked him from the Cabinet) calling for British withdrawal from the European Union and another one on a different blog that concentrates on the fisheries issue on that speech and its importance as against the presence of two UKIP MPs in the House of Commons. Hope they will not spoil the festivities.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Europe | 7 Comments »

    The view from over here

    Posted by Helen on 18th November 2014 (All posts by )

    The lunchtime meeting today had been organized by the Henry Jackson Society, the Left’s particular bugbear, in the House of Commons (luckily in one of the committee rooms where the acoustics were good and the mikes worked). The guest was the eminent academic and commentator, Professor Walter Russell Mead and his topic was an obvious riff on a once highly influential book by Professor Francis Fukuyama: The Crisis in Europe: the Return of History and what to do about it.

    As one would expect, Professor Mead gave a very cogent and exhilarating analysis of the many problems the world is facing today but, as a journalist from Die Welt pointed out, we have all heard a great many depressing talks and read a great many even more depressing articles of that kind recently. What did Professor Mead think were some of the answers?

    Professor Mead’s main solution was (and, to be fair, we were coming to the end of the session but, to be equally fair, that was supposed to be part of the presentation) that the US should restore its interest in Europe and re-engage in a dialogue with its European partners. Or, in other words, as he said the Lone Ranger, having ridden away, should now return (no word of how Tonto might feel about that).

    The European Union, Professor Mead explained, was American foreign policy’s greatest accomplishment; it had been one of the aims of the Marshall Plan (some stretching of history here), had been supported diplomatically and politically throughout its history but has, to some extent been left to its own devices in the last few years. The US underestimated the difficulties European weakness and lack of cohesion will cause to it. Having, as it thought, defeated the bad guys (twice, presumably), knocked all the European heads together, the US announced that it will do what the European had always said they wanted and that is leave them all alone. Apparently, that is not what the Europeans wanted deep down and it is time to recognize this fact.

    We’ll be over, we’re coming over
    And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

    Well, that’s fine, except that it would appear that it is never going to be over, over here. We saw that when Yugoslavia disintegrated into a series of wars in the nineties, the EU though the egregious Jacques Poos announced that “this was Europe’s hour” only to plead with the Americans to come back and sort the mess out after all. It seems that they will have to come back again in the sense of taking greater interest in this pesky little continent and its pesky problems.

    Is that really the answer? Obviously, as an Atlanticist and an Anglospherist I want to see a continuation of the existing links between certain European countries and the United States, adding Canada, Australia and New Zealand into that network. But would a greater involvement by the US in the EU’s problems really help anyone? Somehow, I doubt it.

    I got a little carried away with my blogging and had to put up two posts on Your Freedom and Ours on the subject of Professor Mead’s presentation, the discussion and my own opinions. So here they are: Post 1 and Post 2.

    Posted in Britain, China, Europe, Iran, USA | 15 Comments »

    Book Review: A Time of Gifts

    Posted by David Foster on 1st November 2014 (All posts by )

    A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

    In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    Paddy, as everyone called him, was the child of a British civil servant in India and his wife who remained in Britain.  At school, Paddy was an avid student of history, literature, and languages; of math, not so much.  He was often in trouble–his housemaster wrote that “he is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”  Paddy’s career at the school came to an end after he was caught holding hands with the beautiful 24-year-old daughter of a local grocer.  He then knocked around London for a while with a rather Bohemian crowd…his comments on the role of Leftism in this subculture, written many years later, are interesting:

    In this breezy, post Stracheyan climate, it was cheerfully and explicitly held that all English life, thought, and art were irredeemably provincial and a crashing bore…The Left Wing opinions that I occasionally heard were uttered in such a way that they seemed a part merely, and a minor part, of a more general emancipation.  This was composed of eclectic passwords and symbols–a fluent awareness of modern painting, for instance, of a familiarity with new trends in music; neither more important nor less than acquaintance with nightlife in Paris and Berlin and a smattering of the languages spoken there.

    At this stage in his life, Paddy was not very interested in political matters, and his interests when he set out on his walking tour centered on art, architecture, languages/dialects, and folk customs.  He didn’t have much money for the trip, and planned on living pretty rough…in the event, his general likeability got him many free stays in homes and taverns, and in some cases introductions from one aristocrat to another.  There was still plenty of roughing it, though…in Holland, he found that “humble travelers” were welcome to spend the night in a jail cell, and were even given coffee and bread in the morning…and he spent quite a few nights out-of-doors.  (He notes that a night in a castle can be appreciated much more when the previous night has been spent in a hayloft.)

    With his considerable knowledge of art, Paddy found Holland to be strangely familiar even though he had never been there before:

    Ever since those first hours in Rotterdam a three-dimensional Holland had been springing up all round me and expanding into the distance in conformity with another Holland which was already in existence and in every detail complete. For, if there is a foreign landscape familiar to English eyes by proxy, it is this one…These confrontations and recognition-scenes filled the journey with excitement and delight.  The nature of the landscape itself, the colour, the light, the sky, the openness, the expanse and details of the towns and villages are leagued together in the weaving of a miraculously consoling and healing spell.

    It did not take him long to cross Holland…”my heels might have been winged”…and soon he was in Germany, where the swastika flag had now been flying for ten months.  In the town of Goch was a shop specializing in Nazi paraphernalia. People were gathered around photographs of the Nazi leaders.  One woman commented that Hitler was very good-looking; her companion agreed with a sigh, adding that he had wonderful eyes.

    For the most part, Paddy was treated in a very friendly way:  “There is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality.”  In a bookstore he met Hans, a Cologne University graduate with a strong interest in literature, who invited him to stay at his apartment.  The landlady joined them for tea, and expressed quite different opinions from those Paddy had heard at the Nazi store in Goch.  “Such a mean face!” she observed about Hitler, “and that voice!”  Hans and his bookseller friend were also anti-Nazi.  Paddy observes that “it was a time when friendships and families were breaking up all over Germany” over the political question.

    Hans arranged a ride for Paddy up-river with a barge tow, and he got off at Coblenz to continue on foot.  Christmas Eve was spent at an inn in Bingen, where Paddy was the only customer.  He was invited to help decorate the Christmas tree and to join them for church that evening. On the day before New Year’s, he stopped at a Heidelberg inn called the Red Ox, “an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels,” where an elderly woman greeted him with a smile and the question  “Who rides so late through night and wind?”,  which Paddy did not then recognize as the first line of Goethe’s Erlkoening.  She and her husband were the owners of the inn, and invited Paddy to stay for a while. Paddy became friendly with Fritz, the son of the owners, and pestered him with questions about student life at Heidelberg, especially the custom of dueling with sabres.  “Fritz, who was humane, thoughtful and civilized and a few years older than me, looked down on this antique custom and he answered my question with friendly pity.  He knew all too well the dark glamour of the Mensur among foreigners.”  (Many years later, Paddy wrote to discover what had become of this family, and discovered that Fritz had been killed in the fighting in Norway, where a battalion of his own regiment at the time had been engaged.)

    When walking long distances, Paddy liked to either sing or recite poetry.  Germans were very used to people singing as they walked, and such tunes as Shuffle off the Buffalo, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Shenandoah generally resulted in “tolerant smiles” from other wayfarers.  Poetry, on the other hand, tended to cause “raised eyebrows and a look of anxious pity”…even, sometimes, “stares of alarm.”  One woman who was gathering sticks dropped them and took to her heels, evidently taking Paddy for a dangerous lunatic.

    Paddy devotes several pages to the names of poems that he remembers reciting, ranging from the choruses of Henry V and long stretches of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Marlowe, Spencer, Browning; Kipling and Houseman…in French, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and large quantities of Villon.  In Latin, there was Virgil, Catallus, and Horace; also some profane medieval Latin lyrics. And also a bit of Greek, including part of the Odyssey and two poems of Sappho.  Amusingly, Paddy prefaces this section of the book with the statement “The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiams and limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up,”  and ends it with the rather apologetic “a give-away collection…a fair picture, in fact, of my intellectual state-of-play…”

    At a cafe in Stuttgart, he fell into conversation with two cheerful girls, Annie and Lise, who had come in to buy groceries.  They invited him to a “young people’s party” in celebration of the Feast of the Three Kings, and then insisted that he stay overnight. (Annie’s parents were out of town.)  The next day was rainy; the girls insisted that he stay longer and go to another party with them, this being one they were not looking forward to but couldn’t get out of: it was being held by an unlikeable business associate of Annie’s father.

    The was  “a blond, heavy man with bloodshot eyes and a scar across his forehead,” and “except for the panorama of Stuttgart through the plate glass, the house was hideous”…Paddy devotes quite a few words to critiquing its interior decoration.  Particularly appalling was a cigarette case made from a seventeenth-century vellum-bound Dante, with the pages glued together and scooped hollow.   The trio was very happy to finally escape and return to Annie’s residence.  (After Paddy left to continue his journey, he wrote the girls and discovered that the wine bottles they had “recklessly drained” had been a rare and wonderful vintage that Annie’s father had been particularly looking forward to.  “Outrage had finally simmered down to the words: “Well, your thirsty friend must know a lot about wine.” (Totally untrue.)  “I hope he enjoyed it.” (Yes)  It was years before the real enormity of our inroads dawned on me.”)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Judaism, Leftism | 11 Comments »

    Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd October 2014 (All posts by )

    Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.

    And in the United States,  more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and  more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female.  One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:

    It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.

    From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:

    The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.

    Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

    Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

    Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.  I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.

    The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing.  (My review of the book is here.)  Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith.  She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:

    “Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”

    “I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”

    In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.

    In the review, I said:

    I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, France, Islam, Philosophy, Society, Terrorism, USA | 24 Comments »

    Aspiring American Elites versus America

    Posted by David Foster on 11th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video in which various Harvard students assert that the United States is a worse threat to world peace than is the terrorist organization ISIS.

    This isn’t a statistically-valid survey, and we don’t really know from it what proportion of Harvard students share these views.  But there are certainly a disturbing number of highly-educated (or at least highly-credentialed) Americans who feel this way about their country.  I am reminded once againtof an essay that C S Lewis wrote in March 1940.  At that time, there was evidently a movement among British youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

    Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?

    If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”

    Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him.

    But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.

    It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 50 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)

    But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anti-Americanism, Britain, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 23 Comments »

    An orange Vespa scooter

    Posted by Lexington Green on 10th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Just because.

    From the awesome Urban Mod Girl.

    Posted in Britain | 8 Comments »

    “Scottish referendum: A useful lesson in the limits of fiery activism”

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Janet Daley:

    As it turned out, virtually all of the polling in recent weeks had been wrong. In the end, the vote wasn’t very close: it was a clear and decisive No. Whatever poll respondents had said – or been afraid to say – about their intentions because they felt coerced or intimidated by the aggressive tactics of the other camp, when it came to it, they were free to do as they pleased.
     
    This is a salutary lesson in the limits of militant political activism: you can bully people in the street, shout them down at public meetings and dissuade them forcibly from displaying posters or banners you don’t like. You can, with the help of your friends and comrades, create what seems to you, inside the bubble of mutual congratulation, to be an unstoppable momentum.
     
    But making people afraid to voice contrary opinions just reinforces the delusion into which political tribes so easily fall when they are waging war. And, even more dangerously, it leaves them utterly out of touch with the slow-burning resentment they are creating in the opponents they are so determined to crush. The inviolable privacy of the polling booth puts paid to all that: the ordinary citizen, who may well have had his anger and resolve strengthened under fire, gets his revenge.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, Political Philosophy, Politics, Polls, Predictions, RKBA | 9 Comments »

    The Great Unraveling…and the Re-weaving?

    Posted by David Foster on 18th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Your assignment for today, should you choose to accept it:

    Read Roger Cohen’s much -discussed article The Great Unraveling, in which he looks back at our era from a hypothetical after-the-collapse/in-the-ruins future:  “It was a time of beheadings..it was a time of aggression…it was a time of breakup…it was a time of weakness…it was a time of hatred, fever, disorientation.”

    Then read NeoNeocon’s take on this article, in which she notes that the people in Cohen’s circle seem to have been quite unaware of things which many of us have been following for years.  See especially Geoffrey Britain’s comment about the specific and direct causes of each of several “unraveling” phenomena that Cohen cites.

    Next, watch this video:  Can the threads of the American tapestry be rewoven?, with Bill Whittle, Scott Ott, and Steve Green.

    Also read Sarah Hoyt’s post The Great Re-Weaving.

    Then discuss.

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA, War and Peace | 12 Comments »

    The Defense Implications of Scottish Independence

    Posted by Lexington Green on 10th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Trident Nuclear Submarine HMS Victorious

    America 3.0 coauthor James C. Bennett has a post on National Review Online entitled What are Defense Implications of Scottish Independence?

    Bennett notes: “First, it takes 5 million plus taxpayers, and most of the North Sea oil base, out of the funding available to keep the U.K. within the minimum 2 percent GDP contribution to its defense capabilities that NATO calls for … .” It will reduce Britain’s defense capabilities, and make Scotland a security free-rider.

    Second, it will likely require Britain to remove the nuclear submarine base from Faslane, which is the base for Britain’s Vanguard class Trident ballistic missile submarines. Britain’s entire nuclear deterrent force is on these submarines. Building a new base to replace Faslane will be an enormous new expense at a time of declining defense budgets.

    Bennett also notes that the Scots seem to have erroneous ideas about the prospects of making their country more socialistic than it already is.

    But, as Bennett notes, a defeat for the independence referendum could mean a move toward a more federal United Kingdom, which would be more interesting than just another small, socialist ethnic enclave in Europe.

    RTWT.

    UPDATE: This article, entitled SCOTLAND’S REFERENDUM: TO GREAT MICHAEL OR CALUM’S ROAD? is also very good.

    Posted in America 3.0, Britain, Military Affairs | 8 Comments »

    Unhistory Friday: The Discovery of Middle Earth

    Posted by L. C. Rees on 5th September 2014 (All posts by )

    As The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts nears its end and appeals to Geoffrey of Monmouth as a source of historical truth proliferate, even the most oblivious reader starts to get the joke: Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae was a milestone in the genre of historical fiction satirizing historical non-fiction by posing as historical non-fiction.

    Geoffrey succeeded so well that he earned 900 years worth of cranks mistaking his fiction for fact. As with Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, Geoffrey’s character of King Arthur is so compelling that many Historia readers keep insisting that Arthur must be real. This insistence is yet another demonstration that fiction believed shapes history as much as fact believed. The ideal of the real (but fake) Arthur shaped how Latin Christian rulers portrayed themselves and (sometimes) acted, and how their subjects thought they should portray themselves and act. Edward I even resorted to digging up Arthur’s bones to co-opt fiction to support his conquest of Free Britain.

    Longshanks to Britons: See here? Arthur’s bones. No Once and Future King can save you now.

    (Twirls mustache).

    The Discovery of Middle Earth does not approach works by titans of its genre like Rachel Carson or Umberto Eco; the library Discovery of Middle Earth belongs in would explode in swirls of subatomic particles if it ever brushed against Eco’s antilibrary. But, even if it does not belong in Eco’s library, it does belong in another Eco chamber. Like Eco’s Foucault’s PendulumDiscovery of Middle Earth satirizes independent scholars who start drinking their own research. Though it lacks the deep scholarly verve and meticulous revelry in small details that makes Eco’s masterpiece a feast for readers, Discovery of Middle Earth is more approachable to readers who might get lost in Foucault’s weeds of arcana but who want more than the thin swill of the Dan Brown corpus.

    The protagonist of The Discovery of Middle Earth (a thinly veiled pastiche of best-selling British highbrow tourist guide author Graham Robb) is an English independent scholar who spirals down into madness as an artifact recovered in the backyard of his Oxford cottage leads him to discover a previously unseen “Celtic” geography of lines drawn across Europe by “Druids” so contemporary that they would not be out of place at a Davos symposium. Soon enough he starts seeing this pattern staring back at him from obscure rural corners of France and later Britain and Ireland. As with all madness, he first becomes one with the pattern and then descends below that oneness when he finds the pattern staring back into him.
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    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Europe, France | 7 Comments »

    September 1, 1939

    Posted by David Foster on 1st September 2014 (All posts by )

    (Thanks to Lexington Green for reminding us of this anniversary.  This post is a rerun.  Note link at bottom to Sheila O’Malley’s extensive coverage of this topic.)

    On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.

    Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”

    According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:

    Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.

    Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    The revolution we need might be starting in Britain.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th August 2014 (All posts by )

    A “Seismic Shock is coming to the British political system.

    Douglas Carswell, a prominent Conservative MP has announced he is switching to UKIP. a new political party that has been attacked as “racist” and has been attracting a larger constituency from the British traditional voters.

    A new political party has appeared in Britain called UK Independent Party. It has been called racist and a number of other things that might sound familiar to Tea Party members here.

    For example:

    News reports about the rising primary school population in England fail to mention the ‘elephant in the room’, said MEP Paul Nuttall.

    “It is accepted that primary schools have increasing numbers of pupils, which causes all manner of problems, but what is frequently not referred to is why we have such a boom in numbers.

    “And the answer is unlimited immigration into this country. It hits some areas harder than others but there cannot be many primary schools in the country which have not been affected at all,” said Mr Nuttall, UKIP Education spokesman.

    Why is this controversial ? In the 1990s, the Labour Party opened the floodgates of immigration from Pakistan. The Conservatives have mentioned reducing this but have done little about it.

    Steven Woolfe, UKIP Migration spokesman, attacks Conservatives for ‘lying to electorate’ on promises to cut migration, adding that ‘it is no wonder their own MPs are losing faith in them and they are haemorrhaging support to UKIP.’

    “These shocking figures today show that the Government does not have a handle on immigration. The Conservative Party promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands and yet it has shot up by a staggering 68,000 in just one year. It is quite simple. They lie to the electorate. They lie to try to keep votes. Well they are being found out.

    This is one reason why UKIP is hated. For example, of the 1400 young girls made sex slaves by “Asian” men, several were taken from foster parents because they had voted for UKIP.

    A couple had their three foster children taken away by a council on the grounds that their membership of the UK Independence Party meant that they supported “racist” policies. The husband and wife, who have been fostering for nearly seven years, said they were made to feel like criminals when a social worker told them that their views on immigration made them unsuitable carers.

    Sounds like the Tea Party to me.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Big Government, Britain, Civil Society, Conservatism, Elections, Europe, Health Care, Immigration, Islam, Political Philosophy, Tea Party | 5 Comments »

    Sunset Empire

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 28th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Between my English and Scots-Irish-English grandparents, a deep and abiding love of English literature and history, a fair number of English friends, and two long-ago summers sojourns in Britain doing the youth hostel and Brit-Rail Pass, I’ve always looked on the place as my metaphorical second country. I know it about as well as any American could and not actually be in residence there, and I’ve always kept in touch – through English magazines, newspapers and yes, in recent years through websites. Yes, and I score sufficiently high on any number of those quizzes testing American knowledge of British slang to say, with perfect truth, that I speak fluent Brit. (Although I can’t place British regional accents … something to do with acquiring most of this knowledge from the printed page rather than the spoken word.)

    So ever since I happily discovered The Internet, and began following more news than was available in the local newspaper and mainstream print publications, I’d been reading English news sites – starting with, I think, The Times of London and The Spectator – before they put the good stuff behind a pay-wall, and moving on to the Telegraph. I had a print subscription to the Guardian Weekly, for years – and occasionally checked out their website before the burden of wading through waist to neck-deep oceans of political-correctitude got to be too much of a chore. Now my guilty tabloid pleasure is to scan the Daily Mail; I know, in the eyes of the grand and the good, this is about one step above the Star or the National Enquirer. But the Mail and the Enquirer have of late begun to commit regular acts of non-partisan journalism – especially when it comes to the American political scene, in contrast to the supposedly more respectable publications.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Just Unbelievable, Law Enforcement | 19 Comments »

    Book Review: Menace in Europe, by Claire Berlinski

    Posted by David Foster on 27th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too by Claire Berlinski

    —-

    I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the  anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe.  It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.

    The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.”  Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing.  Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation.  She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries.  (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)

    The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.)  Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites.  (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable.  It has possessed me, like a disease.  It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”)  While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author  notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified.  (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)

    One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent.  And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”

    The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,”  and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies.  They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common.  They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones.  Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives.  Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves”  have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.”  She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included.  The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…”  (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Middle East, Religion | 7 Comments »

    Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute: The Ethical and Rhetorical Foundations of Modern Freedom and Prosperity

    Posted by Lexington Green on 21st August 2014 (All posts by )

    GREAT talk by Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute last night.

    She was promoting her book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World which is the second in a trilogy with The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. She announced last night that she just finished the third volume.

    This essay, entitled The Great Enrichment Came and Comes from Ethics and Rhetoric gives some insight into her ideas.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Britain, Economics & Finance, Politics, Rhetoric, Science | 36 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 12th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane usten or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-based, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

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    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 12 Comments »

    Journalistic Appeasement, With a Precedent

    Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2014 (All posts by )

    The London Times has refused to run an ad featuring Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust surviver Elie Wiesel.  The ad, which has already run in several US newspapers, is headlined  “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.”

    (via Pam Geller.  The whole ad can be seen here.)

    The London Times said it refused the ad because “the opinion being expressed is too strong and too forcefully made and will cause concern amongst a significant number of Times readers.”

    Hmm…reminds me of something.  Yes…

    In 1939, photos of dispossessed Czech Jews wandering the roads of Eastern Europe were made available to the Times.  Geoffrey Dawson, then the editor of this publication, refused to publish them:  it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.  (Source:  William Manchester, The Last Lion: Alone, cited in my 2006 post here and  with an extended excerpt from the book at this interesting post on appeasement.)

    Posted in Britain, History, Israel, Judaism, Media, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Recent Events in the Middle East

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd August 2014 (All posts by )

    …remind me of a few things.

    There are a lot of people who can’t understand why Israel can’t just achieve a compromise settlement with the Palestinian leadership, in Gaza and elsewhere.  In response to this kind of  thinking, here’s a comment by the writer and former Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters, written circa 2006:

    One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.

    And in 1940, the French politician Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion, incisively explained what was at stake at that point in time, and why it was so much greater than what had been at stake in 1914:

    People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.(approximate quote)

    Today’s radical Islamists, including leaders of Hamas, often assert: “We love death like you love life.” This expression is very close to that of the Spanish Fascists of the 1930s: “Long live death!”  The Fascist motto was taken from that of the Spanish Foreign legion….it is pretty strange even as the motto of an elite military force, and, when adopted as the motto of a society-wide movement, is a pretty good indicator of people who have moved “irrevocably beyond reason,” as Peters puts it.

    The excuse-making for Palestinian terrorism, and romanticization of same, continues.  It is especially strong today in Europe, but also exists on a considerable scale in the U.S., and indeed, even some Jews and Jewish organizations seem to be bending over backwards  to find some moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas.  I believe the psychological mechanisms behind these attitudes are significantly explained in a  1940 essay by C S Lewis on the “Dangers of National Repentance.” When Lewis wrote (March 1940), there was evidently a movement among Christian youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

    “Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers,” Lewis wrote. “They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?”

    “If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.” (Emphasis added.)

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    Posted in Academia, Britain, France, History, Israel, Jewish Leftism, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    The British Cabinet reshuffle

    Posted by Helen on 16th July 2014 (All posts by )

    It is my strong suspicion that the last big reshuffle before next year’s General Election in Britain has gone largely unnoticed in the rest of the world, though it is the biggest political story here. Nevertheless, it is possible that people might like to see what is behind the headlines about the promoting of women, the supposedly eurosceptic Cabinet (no, it is not) and the reshuffle that has been described by no less a person than Charles Moore, as the worst in twenty-five years (can’t remember the others but doubt it). So I have written my own analysis on the subject and present it to CBz herewith.

    The one thing I am very pleased about is the replacement of William Hague by Philip Hammond who seems to have a better understanding of reality.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain | 2 Comments »

    Quote of the Day from Winston Churchill, July 4, 1918

    Posted by Lexington Green on 4th July 2014 (All posts by )

    The Declaration of Independence is not only an American document. It follows on the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as the third great title-deed on which the liberties of the English-speaking peoples are founded…. The political conceptions embodied in the Declaration of Independence are the same as those expressed at that time by Lord Chatham and Mr. Burke and handed down to them by John Hampden and Algernon Sidney. They spring from the same source; they come from the same well of practical truth….

    Winston Churchill, speech given at the Anglo-American rally at the Albert Hall on US Independence Day 1918.

    RTWT.

    (Note that Churchill’s reference to the “Bill of Rights” is to the English Bill of Rights of 1689.)

    Quoted in a review by Andrew Roberts of Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book That Defined the “Special Relationship” by Peter Clarke.

    We made a similar argument in America 3.0:

    [T]o fully understand the meaning of the American Founding, and of our Declaration and Constitution, we need to go back even farther, to see where they came from. The Founders were not writing on a blank page. Far from it. They made a Revolution because the American people already held strongly to certain principles that they saw coming under increasing threat. And they wrote our Founding documents as a conscious attempt to preserve a valued way of life, at least as much as to make something entirely new.

    And Daniel Hannan made much the same point in Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, when he wrote:

    American Patriots didn’t just propose ideas that were inspired by the philosophy of Magna Carta. They saw that document itself as a part of their inheritance. When, as they perceived it, George III violated their patrimony, they too up arms to defend it.

    We rightly celebrate our independence, and the Declaration that proclaimed it.

    And we are right to recognize that the freedom our Founders fought for was ancient and the Declaration was the embodiment of something very old.

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, History, Quotations, Speeches | 10 Comments »

    Rerun: Mers-el-Kebir

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2014 (All posts by )

    One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.

    I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice.  With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.

    The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)

    Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of  leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.

    The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:

    (a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.

    (b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.

    If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.

    (c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.

    If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.

    Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.

    The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.

    Among the ordinary sailors of both fleets, few expected a battle. After all, they had been allies until a few days earlier.

    Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood:  ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”

    André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne:  ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles.  What is it, captain?  The British have arrived!  Really?  Yes. We were happy!  We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”

    Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action.  All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.

    It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.

    As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.

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    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, War and Peace | 10 Comments »