Archive for the 'Germany' Category
Posted by David Foster on 1st September 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
(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Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland.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.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 27th August 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
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.)
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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 »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 12th August 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
It’s a German word – it means “frightfulness“ – and it was used, if memory serves and a brief internet search conforms – as a sort of shorthand for the reprisals exacted by the German Army against civilians during both wars. If not an actual German military field policy in WWI, it had certainly become one by WWII; brutally persecute, torture and execute civilians, and make certain that such horrors became well-known through extensive documentation within the theater of operations, and outside of it. To encourage the others, as the saying goes, but on a grand scale – to make war on a civilian population, once all effective military have departed the area – in hopes of cowing everyone who sees and hears of what brutality has been meted out on the helpless, and especially the helpless.
Was it an explicit policy of the German armies to apply the principle of schrecklichkeit – by that name or another – in the field in those wars?
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Posted in Current Events, Germany, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Islam, Just Unbelievable, Media, Middle East, Miscellaneous, Terrorism, War and Peace | 25 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
The Cruel Coast by William Gage
In an early morning in May 1944, the German submarine U-234 is cruising on the surface in heavy fog. The bored lookouts are startled fully awake by the sight of a British corvette heading directly for them at full speed, 4-inch gun crashing and 20-millimeter cannon hammering. The corvette rams the submarine about 30 feet from the bow, hitting hard and doing major damage.
The submarine manages to disengage from its British pursuer and find temporary safety in the fog, only because the corvette also has suffered from serious damage. But the effects of the ramming make it impossible for U-234 to submerge, and Captain Ludtke knows that his expected lifetime on the surface, in an Atlantic dominated by Allied air and naval forces, is quite short. He resolves to put in at sparsely-populated Spanish Island, off the coast of Ireland, and attempt to repair his U-boat.
To the people of Spanish Island, U-234′s arrival is like the appearance of a spaceship. The inhabitants are mostly fishermen, all living without much in the way of luxuries or possessions, isolated from the mainland except for the weekly visits of an old steamer, the Kerry Queen. Ireland is of course neutral in the Second World War, but the people of Spanish have an inherited anger against Britain and hence have pro-German inclinations, carried over from the First World War without much thought. The only person on Spanish who has a real sense of the issues in the present war is Nora Berkeley, a college graduate who lived for several years on the island after becoming orphaned as a child. She is now on Spanish to visit her grandmother, Lady Maud. Nora loves the people of Spanish and feels protective toward them; she does not like the Nazis and does not like submarine warfare—”How can they be honorable, and torpedo defenseless merchant ships?”
U-234′s captain is Gerhard Ludtke. He is a very successful submarine commander, holder of the Iron Cross, and his greatest ambition is to add the Oak Leaves…the ultimate award for military valor and success…to this decoration. Ludtke’s father surrendered a battleship to Bolshevik mutineers in the chaotic days following the end of WWI, and Ludtke’s own life has been largely driven by a strong need to redeem this strongly-felt disgrace.
The submarine’s First Officer is Kurt Riegel—a devout Nazi, and with the kind of personality one might expect of such an individual–Riegel is arrogant, dramatic, quick to cast blame on others when anything goes wrong. The Engineering Officer, Peter Hoffman, is a very different sort of individual–quiet, with a “shy, tilted smile.” Once a violinist and an avid skier, Hoffman was deeply affected by the death of his wife Erika, who was killed in an air raid. His considerable capacity for loyalty and devotion is now directed toward the crew of U-234; indeed, his sense of responsibility toward the submarine’s crew parallels Nora Berkeley’s feelings toward the people of Spanish Island.
Most of the people on Spanish are initially enthusiastic about the submarine’s presence and eagerly volunteer to help with the necessary repair work. But Peter Hoffman quickly determines that submerged operation will only be possible if they can procure certain electrical parts which are by no means available on the island. Captain Ludtke initially considers radioing for a Luftwaffe air drop, but realizes that any transmission would probably be intercepted and triangulated by the British. He resolves to send Hoffman to the mainland by fishing boat to buy or steal the necessary equipment, with two strong islanders to do the rowing and Nora Berkeley as a guide. Ludtke overcomes Nora’s objections by telling her that if the sub doesn’t get repaired quickly he may be unable to control his men, and some of the island women are likely to be raped… moreover, he warns, if the sub is still there when the Kerry Queen arrives on her weekly trip, he will blow the steamer out of the water.
Hoffman and Nora Berkeley and the two islanders make their way to the mainland without incident, with Nora harboring a secret intent to slip away and notify the police about the sub’s presence in Irish waters. They borrow a car and begin a tour of electrical distributors and power stations, with Peter looking for circuit breakers and battery acid that he can acquire and Nora looking for an opportunity to get away and go for the police.
But as they become acquainted, talking among other things about music and their childhoods (“Things did not seem to have been greatly different at Wassenburg Akademie and the St Brigid Convent School”), a strong mutual attraction grows up between Nora and Peter. Nora now has a three-way dilemma: Keep harm from coming to the people of Spanish, keep U-234 from returning to the fight, and keep Peter Hoffman alive until the end of the war.
The author has done a good job in portraying the two closed worlds of the islanders and the submariners and in building the action of the story around the collision of these worlds. This book would have made…still could make…an excellent movie, with lots of opportunities for good visuals and good acting.
Long out of print, but a fair number of used copies are available.
Posted in Book Notes, Germany, Ireland, Nautical Book Project, War and Peace | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
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 »
Posted by Jonathan on 1st July 2014 (All posts by Jonathan)
Via Michael Kennedy in a comment on another post, this short monograph is worth reading.
“What if”, or as they call it now, path dependency, is an eternal question. In this case it seems justified.
Posted in Europe, Germany, History | 3 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th June 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
This weekend marks the hundredth anniversary of the incident which was the spark that set off the cataclysm of the First World War. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first world-wide war; it could be argued that the Napoleonic Wars were, and the interminable European war between France and England which spilled over into those colonies in the North American continent could also be considered a world war.
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Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Germany, History, International Affairs | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
A century ago today, the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, along with his wife Sophie, lighting the fuse that would soon ignite the First World War.
Here is a British project which invites people to send a time-traveling letter to the young WWI soldier whose bronze likeness stands at Paddington Station.
See my post Western Civilization and the First World War, which references and excerpts Sarah Hoyt’s post on that subject.
Posted in Europe, France, Germany, History, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Today, June 6, is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.
Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 7 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th June 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
(An archive post from 2008, evoking the memories of D-Day.)
So this is one of those historic dates that seems to be slipping faster and faster out of sight, receding into a past at such a rate that we who were born afterwards, or long afterwards, can just barely see. But it was such an enormous, monumental enterprise – so longed looked for, so carefully planned and involved so many soldiers, sailors and airmen – of course the memory would linger long afterwards.
Think of looking down from the air, at that great metal armada, spilling out from every harbor, every estuary along England’s coast. Think of the sound of marching footsteps in a thousand encampments, and the silence left as the men marched away, counted out by squad, company and battalion, think of those great parks of tanks and vehicles, slowly emptying out, loaded into the holds of ships and onto the open decks of LSTs. Think of the roar of a thousand airplane engines, the sound of it rattling the china on the shelf, of white contrails scratching straight furrows across the moonless sky.
Think of the planners and architects of this enormous undertaking, the briefers and the specialists in all sorts of arcane specialties, most of whom would never set foot on Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha or Utah Beach. Many of those in the know would spend the last few days or hours before D-day in guarded lock-down, to preserve security. Think of them pacing up and down, looking out of windows or at blank walls, wondering if there might be one more thing they might have done, or considered, knowing that lives depended upon every tiny minutiae, hoping that they had accounted for everything possible.
Think of the people in country villages, and port towns, seeing the marching soldiers, the grey ships sliding away from quays and wharves, hearing the airplanes, with their wings boldly striped with black and white paint – and knowing that something was up – But only knowing for a certainty that those men, those ships and those planes were heading towards France, and also knowing just as surely that many of them would not return.
Think of the commanders, of Eisenhower and his subordinates, as the minutes ticked slowly down to H-Hour, considering all that was at stake, all the lives that they were putting into this grand effort, this gamble that Europe could be liberated through a force landing from the West. Think of all the diversions and practices, the secrecy and the responsibility, the burden of lives which they carried along with the rank on their shoulders. Eisenhower had in his pocket the draft of an announcement, just in case the invasion failed and he had to break off the grand enterprise; a soldier and commander hoping for the best, but already prepared for the worst.
Think on this day, and how the might of the Nazi Reich was cast down. June 6th was for Hitler the crack of doom, although he would not know for sure for many more months. After this day, his armies only advanced once – everywhere else and at every other time, they fell back upon a Reich in ruins. Think on this while there are still those alive who remember it at first hand.
(Another D-Day perspective from The DiploMad.)
Posted in Britain, Diversions, Europe, France, Germany, History | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 1st June 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
If you’ve seen The Sound of Music–and who hasn’t?–you’ll remember Captain von Trapp. The real Captain’s real-life children were not thrilled with the way he was portrayed in the movie–according to them, he was by no means that rigid disciplinarian who summoned the children with a bosun’s whistle and required them to line up in military formation. (The bosun’s whistle was real, but only for communication purposes on the large estate…no lining-up involved.)
The movie was indeed correct that Captain von Trapp was a former naval officer whose services were much desired by the Nazis after their takeover of Germany and, later, Austria…and that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. His memoir, To the Last Salute, was originally published in German in 1935 and later translated into French; an English translation has only become available fairly recently.
Captain von Trapp could not be called a brilliant writer, but he does achieve some nice descriptive and reflective passages. Here, he is returning from a patrol very early in the First World War, when he was commanding a torpedo boat:
We had been out all night searching for enemy ships that had been reported, but once again, had found nothing. Far out in the Adriatic we had investigated, looked, and looked, and again came back disappointed through the “Incoronate,” the rocky, barren island,s that extend in front of the harbor at Sebenico…These islands look bleak; nevertheless, years ago people found them and still live there…It is a heavenly trip there between the islands with the many large and small inlets swarming with fish. But it is most beautiful in the wind still nights, which are uniquely animated.
From one place or another, red and white lights flash on and off. They are the beacons that flash their warnings to the ships. Out of the many inlets merge innumerable fishermen’s boats. Some are under sail, hauling big nets; others, sculled about almost silently by heavy steering rudders, search the water with strong lanterns…As they put out to sea, the people always sing their ancient folk songs: ballads with countless verses, wild war cries, soft, wistful love songs…
The war broke into this peaceful world. Traveling between the islands changed overnight…The singing has become silent, for fishing is forbidden, and the men are fighting in the war…Mines lie between the islands. At any moment an enemy periscope, or a plane with bombs, could appear, and the nights have become exceptionally interesting; there are no more beacons. The war has extinguished them.
Soon, Captain von Trapp was reassigned to command of a submarine,the U-5. This board was one of a type that was extremely primitive, even by WWI standards. Propulsion for running on the surface was not a diesel but a gasoline engine, and gasoline fumes were a constant headache, often in a very literal sense.
The Captain seems not to have thought a great deal about the rights and wrongs of the war. As a professional, at this stage he also felt no animus toward the men it was his duty to attack; quite the contrary. Here, after sinking a French cruiser:
I quickly scan the horizon. Is there absolutely no escort ship? Did they let the ship travel all alone? Without a destroyer? WIthout a torpedo boat? No, there is nothing in sight, only five lifeboats adrift in the water.
After discussing the matter with his exec and determining that there was no feasible way to take the survivors on board:
With a heavy heart, I order the engines to be turned on, and I set a course for the Gulf of Cattaro. “They let our men from the Zenta drown, too,” I hear one of the men say. The man is right, but I cannot bear to hear that yet. With a sudden movement I turn away. I feel a choking in my throat. I want to be alone.
I feel as if something were strangling me…So that’s what war looks like! There behind me hundreds of seamen have drowned, men who have done me no harm, men who did their duty as I myself have done, against whom I have nothing personally; with whom, on the contrary, I have felt a bond through sharing the same profession. Approximately seven hundred men must have sunk with the ship!
On returning to base, von Trapp found numerous letters of congratulation waiting for him, one from an eighth-grade Viennese schoolgirl. To thank her for the letter, he arranged to have a Pruegelkrapfen from a noted confectioner to be delivered to her. ”The outcome of all this is unexpected. Suddenly it seems all the Viennese schoolgirls have gotten the writing bug because it rains little letters from schoolgirls who are sooo happy and so on. But such a Pruegelgrapfen is expensive and, at the moment, I don’t have time to open a bakery myself.”
On one patrol, U-5 met up with an allied German U-boat, and von Trapp had an opportunity to go on board. He was quite impressed with the diesel engine, compartmentalization of the boat, the electrically-adjustable periscopes, and even creature comforts like tables for dining. ”It’s like being in Wonderland…” The German commander’s comment, on visiting U-5, was “I would refuse to travel in this crate.”
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Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Europe, Germany, Military Affairs, Transportation, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th May 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
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Posted in France, Germany, History, Military Affairs, Uncategorized, War and Peace | 24 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 9th May 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
The year of 1862 was a perilous one for those residents of Texas who had opposed the institution of chattel slavery, opposed secession, and finally opposed being forcibly drafted into defending the Confederacy with military service. It was especially perilous for those who were leaders in the various German communities in San Antonio, and in the tidy, well-organized hamlets in the Texas Hill country, those men who had not thought it necessary to guard their tongues when it came to discussing matters political and social. After all, many of them had come from the various German duchies and kingdoms during the two decades previous, deliberately shaking off the dust of the old country and embracing the new one with with passionate enthusiasm. They assumed they had left behind repression, censorship, authoritarian rule, required military service and economic stagnation. They had gained political freedom, good farmland, every kind of economic opportunity … even just the freedom to be left alone, to amuse themselves with harmless cultural pursuits such as competitive choral singing, nine-pin bowling, and community theater.
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Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Germany, History, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 7th May 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.
Victor Davis Hanson notes that she also said:
We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.
…which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration: ”We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it. The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything. The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.
Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffner noted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:
The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.
But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.
I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.” But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.
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Posted in Book Notes, Germany, Human Behavior, Leftism, Politics, Russia, USA | 23 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th April 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Defying Hitler: A Memoir
(I originally posted this review in early 2010. I’m sure we have quite a few new readers since then, and believe this is an important book worthy of a broader audience…hence the rerun)
How does an advanced and civilized nation turn into a pack of hunting hounds directed against humans? Sebastian Haffner addresses the question in this memoir, which describes his own experiences and observations from early childhood until his departure from Germany in 1939. It is an important document–not only for the light it sheds on this particular and dreadful era in history, but also for its more general analysis of the factors leading to totalitarianism and of life under a totalitarian state. It is also a very personal and human book, with vivid portraits of Haffner’s parents, his friends, and the women he loved. Because of its importance and the fact that it is relatively little-read in the United States (Amazon ranking 108654–I picked up my copy at the Gatwick airport), I’m reviewing it here at considerable length.
The title (probably not chosen by the author himself) is perhaps unfortunate. Haffner was not a member of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Nazi state, along the lines of a Hans Oster or a Sophie Scholl. His defiance, rather, was on a personal level–keeping his mind free of Nazi ideology, avoiding participation in Nazi crimes, and helping victims of the regime where possible. Even this level of defiance required considerable courage–more than most people are capable of. As Haffner summarizes life under a totalitarian regime:
With fearful menace the state demands that the individual give up his friends, abandon his lovers, renounce his beliefs and assume new, prescribed ones. He must use a new form of greeting, eat and drink in ways he does not fancy, employ his leisure in occupations he abhors, make himself available for activities he despises, and deny his past and his individuality. For all this, he must constantly express extreme enthusiasm and gratitude.
Haffner was born in 1907, and many of his earliest and most vivid memories center around the First World War. To this seven-year-old boy, the war was something very exciting–a reaction that surely was shared by many boys of his age in all of the belligerent countries. As Haffner remembers it, he was not at all motivated by hate for the enemy–although there was plenty of propaganda intended to inculcate such hate–but rather by a kind of sporting instinct:
In those childhood days, I was a war fan just as one is a football fan…I hated the French, the English, and the Russians as little as the Portsmouth supporters detest the Wolverhampton fans. Of course, I prayed for their defeat and humiliation, but only because these were the necesary counterparts of my side’s victory and triumph.
The German defeat came as a severe shock to young Sebastian, who had in no way expected it: The same was true of the severe social disruption which pervaded Germany during this period:
Some days there was no electricity, on other no trams, but it was never clear whether it was because of the Spartacists or the Government that we had to use oil lamps or go on foot.
In 1919, Haffner joined a sports club called the Old Prussia Athletics Club. This was a right-wing sports club–so far had the politicization of daily life already progressed. Although the club was anti-Socialist, it was not anti-Semitic–indeed, several of the members (including the club’s best runner) were Jewish, and probably participated as enthusiastically as other members in street fights with the Socialist youth.
After a time, the political situation calmed down–temporarily, as we now know. The Old Prussia Athletic Club was dissolved:
Many of us sought new interests: stamp-collecting, for example, piano-playing, or the theatre. Only a few remained true to politics, and it struck me for the first time that, strangely enough, those were the more stupid, coarse and unpleasant among my schoolfellows.
Haffner assigns much of the credit for the political and economic stabilization to the statesman Walter Rathenau–”an aristocratic revolutionary, an idealistic economic planner, a Jew who was a German patriot, a German patriot who was a liberal citizen of the world..cultured enough to be above culture, rich enough to be above riches, man of the world enough to be above the world.” But while Rathenau was admired and even loved by many, he was hated by many others. He was murdered in 1922. This killing was followed shortly by the great inflation which began in 1923. In Haffner’s view, the impact of this episode is almost impossible to overstate: he calls it “the unending bloody Saturnalia, in which not only money but all standards lost their value.”
That year newspaper readers could again play a variation of the exciting numbers game they had enjoyed during the war…this time the figures did not refer to military events..but to an otherwise quite uninteresting, everyday item in the financial pages: the exchange rate of the dollar. The fluctuation of the dollar was the barometer by which, with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, we measured the fall of the mark.
By the end of 1922, prices had already risen to somewhere between 10 and 100X the pre-war peacetime level, and a dollar could purchase 500 marks. It was inconvenient to work with the large numbers, but life went on much as before.
But the mark now went on the rampage…the dollar shot to 20,000 marks, rested there for a short time, jumped to 40,000, paused again, and then, with small periodic fluctuations, coursed through the ten thousands and then the hundred thousands…Then suddenly, looking around we discovered that this phenomenon had devastated the fabric of our daily lives.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Germany, History | 12 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th March 2014 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Today I watched the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson. While the movie was not intended to be an historical record, in some ways a fictionalized representation of life in the 1930′s and early 1940′s is a better way to humanize the elements of the conflict that can be lost broader sweep of the cataclysmic events known to all. The movie also works to include the postwar elements and even the post-communist years into a long a complicated narrative.
After the movie was done I started explaining how I saw the movie to fellow movie-goers and, to them, I almost seemed like the narrator that the movie didn’t include. I just overlaid my own understanding of the participants in that era and, since it is fiction, my own interpretation is likely as sound as anyone else’s.
I will try to limit the “spoilers” in this post and recommend that anyone interested in Zweig (to whom the movie was dedicated) and / or that era in history go to see the movie. You have to be a fan of the Wes Anderson style of movies and his set pieces are clearly not supposed to be realistic but they are tools for great visual cues and inspired situations.
The protagonist in the movie, Ray Fiennes, plays a concierge for a major hotel in the capital city of a declining empire in the 1930′s as war time approaches. He mainly seduces older women but also is open to other sorts of encounters with men. Ray is plainly an intellectual and stickler for protocol and process in an era where that is reaching the end of the line. He and his fellow concierges represent the type of society that Zweig would fondly recognize (as does the process-following attorney who runs into serious trouble later).
The country could be an Austria or Czech type republic that is about to be swallowed by Germany. The borders are in the process of being closed to adjacent countries due to political challenges and incipient war. In an early scene, soldiers in grey accost and check the papers of the concierge and his “lobby boy” (who is non-white and obviously from one of the provinces) on a train and start to beat them up when they are stopped by Edward Norton, who plays an aristocratic officer who recognizes the concierge. To me this officer clearly represented the orderly and (relatively) law abiding German army. He even wrote a note giving safe passage to the lobby boy.
In the early scenes the soldiers are in Grey and when they stop the train their have early model armored cars. They are not intended to be realistic per se but they seem like vintage 1930 era inspired vehicles.
During the contesting of the will, a lawyer who also represents the old era brings a process and fairness to the executor’s role (along with a Kafka-esque level of bureaucratic documents) until he meets up with a thug in a black trench coat who clearly represents the evolving SS. That individual, played by Willem Defoe, engages in more and more grotesque crimes throughout the movie and is not impeded by morals or the rule of law. At one point the Edward Norton character orders the civilian Dafoe away from an investigation that Norton is running, but it is clear that Dafoe is not intimidated and is part of the (hyper violent and aggressive) new order.
Later the protagonist against the concierge is seen to be in a long leather coat and is obviously a civilian leader of the Nazis. They have 2 letter flags and armbands in the SS “style” but the movie does abstract them so as to not be completely blatant. The hotel becomes a barracks for the military regime, and the standards of the staff decline as the hotel is militarized.
When the train is stopped again later in the film the “death squads” are taunted by the concierge with results that are far less pleasant than the early encounter with Norton. The soldiers in black and the more sinister looking hulking vehicles (which seem to be gun mounted half tracks) are also in black and this clearly represents the SS militarized and not the old nobility-led military.
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Posted in Europe, Film, Germany, History | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th March 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lot because of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:
Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children. The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous. The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school. There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.
But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.
Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy. After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.
As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.
The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.
Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars. The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture. In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…
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Posted in Big Government, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Video | 10 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th March 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
UPDATE #2: Investor’s Business Daily agrees about the best response to the Russian invasion of Crimea.
The West’s best Russia policy is a bold energy policy.
Russia’s economy is barely growing and is increasingly dependent on energy production. Oil and gas account for more than half of Russia’s federal tax revenues and about 75% of total exports. Three-fourths of natural gas shipments go to Europe. Europe is dependent on Russia, but the tables are starting to turn.
Drill, Baby, Drill ! Plus LNG exports.
UPDATE: Michael Totten has an update on Crimea.
The new ruler is a former gangster whose street name was “Goblin.”
Lawmakers were summoned, stripped of their cellphones as they entered the chamber. The Crimean media was banished. Then, behind closed doors, Crimea’s government was dismissed and a new one formed, with Sergey Akysonov, head of the Russian Unity party, installed as Crimea’s new premier.
It if was a crime, it was just the beginning. Akysonov’s ascent to power at the point of a gun presaged all that has happened since — the announcement of a referendum on Crimean independence and the slow, methodical fanning out of Russian forces throughout the peninsula, ostensibly to protect Russians here from a threat no one can seem to find.
But here’s the most interesting bit: Aksyonov’s sudden rise as Moscow’s crucial point man in Crimea has revived simmering allegations of an underworld past going back to the lawless 1990s, when Akysonov is said to have gone by the street name “Goblin,” a lieutenant in the Crimean crime syndicate Salem.
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Posted in Europe, Germany, History, International Affairs, Military Affairs, Obama | 37 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th February 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Democratic candidate for Congress who tweeted:
Fox News does nothing but tell lies and mistruths. They have unqualified political analysts. We need FCC to monitor and regulate them.
The vast majority of the traditional media, of course, fervently supports the Democrats. Evidently this candidate cannot stand the presence of any source of diverse reporting and opinion.
With this tweet, Mike Dickenson declared war on American free speech.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is by no means rare among Democrats and “progressives.” For example, this story is about threats of legal action and potential loss of license against a TV station that dared to broadcast ads critical of Democratic candidate Gary Peters. (The lawyers who sent the letter work for the law firm of Bob Bauer, who was general counsel of the Obama campaign.)
The hostility to free expression and discussion of ideas is especially strong in many universities. For example, here’s a Swarthmore student who was appalled that conservative Princeton professor Robert George was allowed to debate against leftist Princeton prof Cornell West: ”“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” The same link mentions an article by a Harvard student, who calls for replacing academic freedom with something she calls “academic justice.”
Gleichschaltung is a German word which means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line.” It was a term much favored by the Nazis, who used it in the sense of “forcible coordination.” Under the Nazi regime, all aspects of society–all organizations ranging from major professional associations such as those representing the country’s legal profession, down to to folk-singing groups and small local hiking clubs–were subjected to Gleichschaltung. Not only was there to be no criticism of National Socialism in the explicitly political sphere, there was to be no truly non-political sphere at all. Everything had to be about the propagation and strengthening of the ideology of National Socialism.
The Democratic Party, the “progressive” Left, and the Obama administration are clearly attempting to establish more and more control over public discourse about political and social matters, and also about anything that could relate to these matters.
And what is “political correctness,” after all, other than a contemporary American form of Gleichschaltung?
Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th February 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Part one is here – a meditation on how suddenly a group of citizens became the ‘other’ during the Civil War.
In the wake of a military crackdown on a region perceived to be in rebellion – philosophically and perhaps politically – against the State of Texas and the Confederacy, a series of military trials of an assortment of civilians and local militia volunteers was held in San Antonio in the late summer and early autumn of 1862. Storekeeper Julius Schlickum was the first convicted, although no one testifying at his trial could say anything worse of him than his enthusiasm for the Confederacy was markedly restrained. The second prisoner convicted in the commission hearings had considerably more meat and justification to the charges laid against him; Philip Braubach, formerly elected sheriff of Gillespie County. Braubach was an outspoken Unionist, an associate of Jacob Keuchler – another Unionist, a farmer and surveyor who had trained as a forester in Germany.
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Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Politics, War and Peace | 3 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd January 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
This is not so much a compendium of the experiences of those Americans present in Germany when the Third Reich began it’s ascent to power, but a character study of a particular family. There were a fair number Americans resident in Germany at that time, or just passing through; diplomatic personnel and their families, scholars, newspaper and radio reporters, travelers, businessmen, expatriates of all sorts, or even German-Americans paying extended visits to kin. The family of Ambassador William Dodd falls into the first category and Dodd himself into the second as well. He was an academic, a historian who earned his PhD at the University of Leipzig at the turn of the turn of the century, where he picked up fluency in the language and a deep affection for the country. He was a friend of Woodrow Wilson and when FDR’s administration was stuck to name an ambassador (when their first two choices declined) Dodd was tasked with the honor, which he took up from 1933-1937. Dodd was not a professional diplomat, and it soon emerged that those whom he had to work with at State Department didn’t think all that much of him. For one – he was not particularly wealthy and vowed to live in modest fashion while carrying out his assignment, which lasted from 1933 to 1937. This was rather a strike against him in the circles that he was expected to move; if the professionals had to put up with a patronage appointment, a rich one who would spend lavishly from his or her own purse while in pursuit of diplomatic objectives would make up in some fashion for the bother of conducting business with the host nation through an amateur.
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Posted in Civil Society, Germany, History | 16 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Western Civilization and the First World War…with a very good comment thread.
The Power of Metaphor and Analogy.
The Normalization of Abusive Government.
Would You Trust Your Financial Future to This Woman? Patty Murray, a U.S. Senator and an obvious moron and bigot..as the quotes in this post clearly demonstrate…is head of the Senate Budget Committee.
Whose Interests Will Jack Lew be Representing? There were some rather interesting clauses in the Treasury Secretary’s employment agreement with Citigroup.
Time Travel. Some personal connections with the past.
Posted in Britain, Economics & Finance, Europe, France, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
I’m reviewing my posts over the last year, and will be linking some of them here, in some cases with additional commentary. Here’s the first batch…
The bitter wastes of politicized America, on the toxic social effects of ever-increasing government power.
Also relevant to the subject of this post are some of Sebastian Haffner’s observations on inter-war Germany. He notes that during the Stresemann chancellorship, when a certain level of stability and normality was achieved, “there was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness”…BUT a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
I’m afraid that in America today, we also have a fair number of people who expect to have “the content of their lives delivered by the public sphere,” and this is another factor in the growing politicization of absolutely everything.
The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity). How reactions to the problems with the Boeing 787′s battery system exemplify the declining levels of trust in American society.
Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence. Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi debacle clearly demonstrated her inability and/or unwillingness to understand the nature of executive responsibility. It is truly appalling that anyone could seriously consider this woman for the job of United States President.
Respect her Authoritah. Nancy Cartman-Pelosi thinks it would be disrespectful to cut congressional salaries because it would reduce the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.
Connecting the World. Undersea cables, and their social & psychological impact.
Posted in Aviation, Civil Society, Germany, Leftism, Management, Politics, Tech, Transportation | 1 Comment »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 31st December 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
This next summer will be 100 years since the fatal August of 1914. We live in a similar era of “history is over and everybody is happy.” See above. In August 1914, Germany’s major trading partners were Britain and France, as well as the US. There were people who believed that democracies that did business with each other never went to war. Sound familiar ?
UPDATE: I am not the only one thinking about this, of course. Here is another version. I worry less about China as a geopolitical rival to the US but a China Japan conflict would not be impossible.
The Telegraph has an excellent piece on the present world situation.
As we look forward to the First World War commemorations, three stark conclusions are hard to refute. First, that in the course of this century we will need a great deal of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Second, that the Enlightenment has failed. Third, that this can all be traced back to the Great War.
As a result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that mankind might make a decisive break with the scarcity and oppression that had characterised previous eras. There was, admittedly, one early warning. The French Revolution proved that a radical reconstruction of society on abstract principles was likely to end in tyranny and bloodshed. But after 1815, the 19th century developed into one of the most successful epochs in history. Living standards, life expectancy, productivity, medicine, the rule of law, constitutional government, versions of democracy – there was dramatic progress on all fronts, and in the spread of civilisation across the globe.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, International Affairs, Iran, Leftism, Military Affairs, National Security | 27 Comments »