Archive for the 'Germany' Category
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th October 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Berthold Brecht’s bitterly satiric poem “The Solution” has now and again been quoted here, usually in regard to some towering idiocy on the part of a government given to complaining about a lack of support among citizens for some particular national objective. Note that I specified citizens in the once-commonly-accepted American sense, and not the citizens-as-subjects in the European sense, which seems to imply that the ordinary people of a particular nation are there merely to serve as a kind of sheep to be sheared economically, or as metaphorical cannon-fodder to be marshaled up and flung to the front of whatever national objective that the national ruling class has ruled must be the focus of the effort of the moment.
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
Nasty old Commie that he was, he did have a way with words. The irony in this is so thick that I am surprised that it hasn’t coagulated, and dropped all the way through to the center of the earth. And it is only ironic – again – that Germany’s ruling class (analogous to our very own unholy alliance among elected politicians, the bureaucracy, the intellectual and media elite) appear to have decided to take the opportunity of unrest in the Middle East, to dissolve the people and elect another, welcoming them in with balloons, banners and stuffed toys.
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Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Europe, Germany, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam | 28 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in August 2014. I think the current situation in Europe makes it appropriate for a rerun)
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, Religion | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
When Goethe was 15, he was already recognized by friends as an exceptional writer. One of these friends, “Pylades,” told Goethe that he had recently read some of his verses aloud to “some pleasant companions…and not one of them will believe that you have made them.” Goethe said he didn’t much care whether they believed it or not, but just then one of the “pleasant companions” showed up, and Pylades proposed a way of convincing the fellow of Goethe’s abilities: “Give him any theme, and he will make you a poem on the spot.”
The disbeliever asked Goethe if he “would venture to compose a pretty love-letter in rhyme, which a modest young woman might be supposed to write to a young man, to declare her inclination.”
“Nothing easier,” said Goethe, and after thinking for a few minutes commenced to write. The now-former disbeliever was very impressed, said he hoped to see more of Goethe soon, and proposed an expedition into the country. For this expedition, they were joined by several more young men “of the same rank”…intelligent and knowledgeable, but from the lower and middle classes, earning their livings by copying for lawyers, tutoring children, etc.
These guys told Goethe that they had copied his letter in a mock-feminine hand and had sent it to “a conceited young man, who was now firmly persuaded that a lady to whom he had paid distant court was excessively enamored of him, and sought an opportunity for closer acquaintance.” The young man had completely fallen for it, and desired to respond to the woman also in verse…but did not believe he had the talent to write such verse.
Believing it was all in good fun, Goethe agreed to also write the reply. Soon, he met the would-be lover, who was “certainly not very bright” and who was thrilled with “his” response to his inamorata.
While Goethe was with this group, “a girl of uncommon…of incredible beauty” came into the room. Her name was Gretchen, and she was a relative of one of the tricksters present. Goethe was quite smitten:
“The form of that girl followed me from that moment on every path; it was the first durable impression which a female being had made upon me: and as I could find no pretext to see her at home, and would not seek one, I went to church for love of her, and had soon traced out where she sat. Thus, during the long Protestant service, I gazed my fill at her.”
The tricksters soon prevailed upon Goethe to write another letter, this one from the lady to the sucker “I immediately set to work, and thought of every thing that would be in the highest degree pleasing if Gretchen were writing it to me.” When finished, he read it to one of the tricksters, with Gretchen sitting by the window and spinning. After the trickster left, Gretchen told Goethe that he should not be participating in this affair: “The thing seems an innocent jest: it is a jest, but it is not innocent”…and asked why “you, a young man man of good family, rich, independent” would allow himself to be used as a tool in this deception, when she herself, although a dependent relative, had refused to become involved by copying the letters.
Gretchen then read the epistle, commenting that “That is very pretty, but it is a pity that it is not destined for a real purpose.” Goethe said how exciting it would be for a young man to really receive such a letter from a girl he cared about, and…greatly daring…asked: “if any one who knew, prized, honored, and adored you, laid such a paper before you, what would you do”…and pushed the paper, which she had previously pushed back toward him, nearer to Gretchen.
“She smiled, reflected for a moment, took the pen, and subscribed her name.”
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Germany, History, Human Behavior | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2015 (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, History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads, seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.
And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.
The Battle of Samaur is the subject of an excellent photo essay….there is also a Wikipedia page.
The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain. German casualties are estimated at 200-300.
The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.
The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.
Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Sgt Mom recently posted about the “Sad Puppies” affair: basically, it seems that the science-fiction publishing industry and its leading association and award structure have become highly politicized in the name of “progressivism”…in reaction, a contrarian movement arose called the “Sad Puppies” (there are also “Rabid Puppies”)…and these groups have been vitriolically attacked by some prominent members of the SF publishing establishment.
It strikes me that this would be a good time to update and repost my earlier Theme roundup of posts on the general topic of politicization.
A very funny post about a very serious topic. Sarah Hoyt, herself a science fiction writers, tells of (and illustrates) some of her own experiences with the Science Fiction Writers Association.
What kind of things do you think they talk about at a convention of the National Art Education Association? Best ways to teach perspective and watercoloring techniques? How to explain Expressionism and Impressionism? Not these days.
“Political correctness” has become a serious threat to American society
What makes people want to live in a politicized society, and what is day-t0-day life like once the complete politicization has been accomplished? In this post, I cite some thoughts from Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in Germany when the Nazi movement was casting its spell, and a vivid fictional passage from Ayn Rand, who grew up in the early Soviet Union.
Gleichschaltung. A word much favored by the Nazis, it means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line”…especially, in Nazi usage, “forcible coordination.” The orientation toward Gleichschaltung is very apparent in today’s “progressive” movement and today’s Democratic Party.
Prestigious Physics Professor Protests Politicization. Harold Brown, professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, explains the reasons for his resignation from the American Physical Society.
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Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Russia, USA | 19 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Today, June 6, is the 71st anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.
Posted in Britain, Business, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 31st May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
People on Sunday, Criterion Collection DVD
When Americans think of Weimar Germany, the images that tend to come to mind are of degenerate nightclub habitues and drug users…marching Brownshirts…hungry people…and political violence and rising anti-Semitism. This movie shows a different side of Weimar: four young working people go to the beach on Sunday.
The film was made by Billy Wilder and several other aspiring directors, screenwriters, and producers, almost all of whom later wound up in Hollywood. It’s a silent film, one of the last made, probably because the team could not afford sound equipment. They also could not afford to hire “real” actors: instead, they chose likely-looking people off the street and had them play characters who shared their own real-life professions.
Erwin is a taxi driver, Wolfgang is a wine salesman, Brigitte sells records for a living, Christl works as an extra in movies, and Annie (Erwin’s girlfriend) is a not-very-successful model.
On Saturday, Wolf picks up Christl near a subway station, where she is apparently waiting for someone who hasn’t shown up. They go to a nearby cafe (“it’s tough to get stood up,” he sympathizes, to which she responds “I *don’t* get stood up”) and make plans to meet the next day for a picnic at the Wannsee lakefront beach. Christl brings her friend Brigitte, and Wolf brings Erwin. (Annie was supposed to come, but wouldn’t get out of bed.)
This has been called an “effervescent, sunlit” film; it has also been called “cynical.” Both interpretations are correct, IMO, although the cynicism aspect is pretty subtle. I thought the acting done by the nonprofessionals was quite fine.
It’s impossible to watch the film today, of course, without thinking about what was coming just a few years down the road. If you have heard the word “Wannsee” before, and you are not a Berlin resident or visitor, it is probably because this district was to be the site of the Wannsee Conference, at which the initial planning for the “Final Solution” was done.
There are almost no actors in this film, other than the 5 non-professionals mentioned above; the people in the background in downtown Berlin and at the lake are not extras but rather are real-life Berliners going about their normal lives. Watching, it’s hard to imagine that these quite-normal-seeming people would soon collectively perpetrate some of the worst crimes in history, or that many of them would themselves meet an apocalyptic fate.
The movie (previous titles considered had been Summer 29, Young People Like Us, and–rather presumptuously–This Is How It Is and No Different) was a big hit with Berlin moviegoers, and has apparently been very influential in the evolution of film. There’s a well-written review at wonders in the dark.
The film was revived with considerable effort, involving the processing of multiple surviving partial prints. The whole thing is available on-line, here; I watched the Criterion Collection DVD, which also includes a 2000 documentary about the film, featuring an interview with Brigitte Borchert, a short film by the People on Sunday cinematographer, and a booklet on the film’s making and influence.
Posted in Film, Germany, History | 6 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 15th May 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
There is quite a series of Republican politicians declaring that they would not invade Iraq if they knew then what they know now. JEB Bush is not the only one. Ted Cruz has made Talking Points Memo happy with a similar declaration.
Earlier in the week, Kelly asked Bush if he would have authorized the invasion, and he said he would have. On Tuesday, Bush told Sean Hannity that he hadn’t heard the question correctly and wasn’t sure what he would have done. Cruz, on the other hand, said he knows what he would have done.
“Of course not,” Cruz said in response to Kelly asking if he would have authorized an invasion. “I mean, the entire predicate of the war against Iraq was the intelligence that showed they had weapons of mass destruction and they might use them.
Of course, the “WMD” argument is a more recent addition to the story. Nobody talks anymore about why Bush was forced to invade in 2003. WMD were a small part of it. That is forgotten, of course.
Mr Speaker, thank you for recalling Parliament to debate the best way to deal with the issue of the present leadership of Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Today we published a 50 page dossier detailing the history of Iraq’s WMD, its breach of UN resolutions and the current attempts to rebuild the illegal WMD programme. I have placed a copy in the Library of the House.
At the end of the Gulf War, the full extent of Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes became clear. As a result, the UN passed a series of resolutions demanding Iraq disarm itself of such weapons and establishing a regime of weapons inspection and monitoring to do the task. They were to be given unconditional and unrestricted access to all and any Iraqi sites.
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Posted in France, Germany, History, Iraq, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Russia, United Nations | 36 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
In my post Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women, I cited some of Goethe’s thoughts about why the Weimar girls preferred visiting Englishmen to the local male talent. When his friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people,” Goethe responded:
“The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend, Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”
“In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.”
Skipping forward 94 years, I was intrigued to find some rather similar comments in the memoirs of Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany:
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Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th May 2015 (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 Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 25th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
An article in an aviation magazine pointed out that this summer will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. As a matter of perspective, it’s interesting to observe that the length of time separating the US Civil War from the Battle of Britain is the same as the length of time between the Battle and today.
The archetypal fighter planes of the Battle of Britain were the Spitfire, the Hurricane, and, on the enemy side, the Messerschmitt 109. Here are some recent pilot reports on what each of these aircraft is like to fly:
It is now possible to take a ride in a Spitfire–allowing this apparently required some regulatory changes on the part of the British CAA. Here’s one company offering such flights. For pilots, it’s possible to get Spitfire training at Boultbee Flight Academy. I don’t think anyone is offering rides or training in the Hurricane or the 109…very few 2-seat versions of either were built, apparently–so if you want to fly one of these, you’ll probably have to buy one. Here’s a recently-restored Hurricane for sale.
As an interesting historical irony, Israel’s first fighter was a version of the Messerschmitt 109.
See also my post Radar Wars: a case study in science and government, which is about the secret decision-making involved in making Britain’s commitment to a large-scale investment in radar deployment.
Posted in Aviation, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Tech, War and Peace | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The replacement for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” is named Trevor Noah. His Twitter stream has revealed some…interesting…”jokes,” like this one:
South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.
Apparently, the Israel-is-an-aggressor meme has oozed its way into the popular consciousness to the degree that Israel is stereotypically non-peaceful in the way that dogs stereotypically dislike cats. I expect this sort of thing will go over quite well with the audience (generally left-leaning, I feel sure) of The Daily Show. They will also probably like this one:
When flying over the middle of America the turbulence is so bad. It’s like all the ignorance is rising through the air.
…although perhaps this won’t go over as well coming from a non-American (Noah is South African) as it would coming from a suitably hipsterish American.
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Posted in Europe, Germany, Humor, Israel, Judaism, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 14th February 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(This is a post I wrote in 2009, on the occasion of Obama’s visit to the city of Dresden. Today Instapundit notes that today is the 70th anniversary of the Dresden firebombing, and says “The Nazis opened a can of whoop-ass, and this is one of the things that came out. The world would be a safer place if their modern-day equivalents were more afraid of the same fate.”)
Dresden, once known as “Florence on the Elbe” because of its beauty and culture, is now best known for its destruction by British and American bombers in February of 1945. “Dresden” is the name of a haunting movie, originally made for German television, about a love affair in the doomed city.
Dresden is of course also the German city that Barack Obama intends to visit–for reasons best known to himself–during his current trip to Europe. It seems like this would be an appropriate time to review the film (which I watched a couple of months ago via Netflix) and to use it as a springboard for discussion of the Dresden bombing and of the WWII strategic bombing campaign in general.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the film. I’ve tried to minimize the spoilers, but some are inevitable.
Anna Mauth is a nurse in a Dresden hospital. Although she hopes to attend medical school and become a physician, she has put these plans on hold in order to assist her father, Dr Carl Mauth, who runs the hospital–which is heavily overloaded and constantly short of supplies. Anna’s fiance, Alexander Wenninger, is a dedicated young physican but just a bit of a pompous prig. Her sister, Eva, is a horrible little Nazi enthusiast, glorying in her affair with a Gauleiter’s adjutant and luxuriating in the special privileges she is able to obtain through this relationship. Anna’s best friend, Maria, is married to a Jewish man, Simon Goldberg–and she holds his life in her hands, because it is only by virtue of the marriage that he has been–thus far–protected from arrest and shipment to a concentration camp.
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Posted in Europe, Germany, History, Politics, Society, War and Peace | 44 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Obama White House wants to persuade/encourage/pressure media to drop coverage that might upset jihadis or potential jihadis
Last Thursday, I mentioned the administration’s 2012 criticism of Charlie Hedbo’s decision to publish “offensive” cartoons. Comes now presidential spokesman Josh Earnest, defending that administration position and asserting that there will be more such presidential critiques directed toward noncompliant media in the future.
This reminds me of something. Oh, yes…
In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)
Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (same source as above.)
Obama’s desire to ensure that the media avoids antagonizing jihadis is of a piece with Chamberlain and Dawson’s desire to avoid antagonizing the Nazis.
And I’m reminded of something else Churchill said. In March 1938, he spoke of Britain and its allies descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.
Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Islam, National Security, Obama, Terrorism | 26 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written. Here’s the list:
The Caine Mutiny. The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good. The book is even better. I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.
To the Last Salute. Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States. An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.
That Hideous Strength. An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody. So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.
The Cruel Coast. A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs. Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German: one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.
Nice Work. At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work. This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory. Very well done.
Menace in Europe. Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.
A Time of Gifts. 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.
The Year of the French. The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”
Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th January 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Yesterday, Claire Berlinski reported from Paris
Obama, of course, “condemned” the attack. It’s important to remember, however, his administration’s response to earlier threats against the magazine Charlie Hebdo:
In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.
The quoted statement basically implies that people should use “judgment” to avoid saying or publishing anything that will offend Muslims. The video referred to is of course the one that the Obama administration blamed for the Benghazi attacks, going so far as to purchase newspaper ads to denounce the video. And Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s secretary of state, told the father of one of the murdered Americans (Tyrone Woods) that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” Not “we’re going to destroy those terrorists,” but rather, they’re going to destroy a filmmaker. The Obama administration’s statements have acted not only to normalize that “thug’s veto” over all expressions of opinion, but even to put United States government power behind the thug’s veto.
Time Magazine posted an article titled “5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo attack.” Can you guess what they were, and which one they left out? (Link) And numerous publications are censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
The staff of a humor magazine demonstrated far more courage than either Western governments or the bulk of Western media in standing up for Enlightenment values. I’m reminded once again of a passage in Sebastian Haffner’s memoir. Haffner was working in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, when the Nazi thugs came to the Court, demanded to know who was Jewish and who was not, and established totalitarian control over what had previously been an actual judicial process.
As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.
That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katakombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:
His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.
In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”
CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, the White House, the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street may have all demonstrated a lack of resolution in the face of Islamist threats and violence, but at least Charlie Hebdo has stood upright.
Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Germany, Islam, Obama, Terrorism | 40 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th December 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing. It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers. HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one. There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:
Bletchley Park Commander not the ‘baddy’ he is in The Imitation Game, family says
Bletchley Park ‘villain’ was kind and dedicated, says ex-colleague
The Imitation Game falsely paints Bletchley Park commander
The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began. Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles. One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again. And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor. There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.
The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film. It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.
This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts. And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film. Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective.
Posted in Britain, Film, Germany, History, Society, Tech, War and Peace | 17 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th December 2014 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time.
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Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Holidays, Human Behavior, Islam, Religion | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th December 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
The posts in this third “theme” roundup explore different aspects of the question: How did one of the world’s most advanced and cultured nations descend so rapidly into a state of utter barbarism, which was eventually curable only by the application of apocalyptic violence?
Book Review: The Road Back. This neglected novel by Erich Maria Remarque, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, is a beautifully-written portrayal of the psychological impact of the First World War.
Western Civilization and the First World War. Cites some thoughts from Sarah Hoyt on the impact of the war, and excerpts a powerful passage from the Remarque book mentioned above.
An Architect of Hyperinflation. Central banker Rudolf von Havenstein, “der Geldmarshall,” although a well-meaning public servant, had much to do with the extreme inflation that proved so socially destructive.
Book Review: Little Man, What Now? Hans Fallada’s famous novel follows the experiences of a likeable young couple in late-Weimar Germany. (see also movie review)
Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves. Also by Fallada, this is an epic novel with many characters and many subplots, set a little earlier in time than Little Man, during the period of the great inflation.
Anti-Semitism, Medieval and Modern. Suppose you had historical information from the 1300s showing in which German cities pogroms had occurred…and in which German cities pogroms had not occurred. Would you think this data would be of any use in predicting the levels of anti-Semitic activity in various localities in the 1920s thru 1940s….almost six hundred years later?
Book Review: Herman the German. Gerhard Neumann, who would eventually run GE’s jet engine business, writes about growing up in an assimilated German-Jewish family (more stereotypically Prussian than stereotypically Jewish) during the 1920s and 1930s.
Book Review: Defying Hitler. Sebastian Haffner’s important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars.
Who would be a Nazi? Writing in 1941, the American author Dorothy Thompson speculates about which of her acquaintances would and wouldn’t “go Nazi” in a “showdown.” The original post consisted of links to the Harpers and to a Chicago Boyz post by Michael Kennedy with ensuing discussion.
Posted in Germany, History, Human Behavior | 18 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
(I should have included this post in my Theme roundup on totalitarianism and the fully politicized society. It’s important enough, I think–especially in our current circumstances–to be worth putting up as a stand-alone rerun post.)
Almost five years ago, I reviewed the important and well-written memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. I think the state of affairs in America today makes it appropriate to re-post some excerpts from the review and from the book.
In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:
The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.
In spring of that year, Haffner attended Berlin’s Carnival–an event at which one would find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the night and exchange phone numbers in the morning…”By then you usually know whether it is the start of something that you would like to take further, or whether you have just earned yourself a hangover.” He had a hard time getting in the Carnival mood, however:
All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.
Though it was not really relevant to current events, my father’s immense experience of the period from 1870 to 1933 was deployed to calm me down and sober me up. He treated my heated emotions with gentle irony…It took me quite a while to realize that my youthful excitability was right and my father’s wealth of experience was wrong; that there are things that cannot be dealt with by calm skepticism.
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Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Law, USA | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th November 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value. One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs. At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.
The posts in this first “theme” roundup focus on the nature of the politically-dominated society, ranging from the effects of extreme political correctness in America and Europe today to the nature of life under absolutist totalitarianism.
Stasiland. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, author Anna Funder traveled to the previous East Germany to interview both those who had lived under Communist oppression and the perpetrators of that oppression.
The Nature of Dictatorships. Thoughts from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, maker of the excellent film The Lives of Others, which is set in Communist East Germany.
Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society. A 1953 science fiction story, Sam Hall.
Eric Hoffer on the destruction of individualism. “Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.”
Bitter Waters. A Stalin-era Soviet factory manager writes about his experiences. Describing the chaos into which the Russian lumber industry had been thrown by Soviet central planning: “Such is the immutable law. The forceful subordination of life’s variety into a single mold will be avenged by that variety’s becoming nothing but chaos and disorder.”
Rose Wilder Lane. The author and political thinker describes a debate she had with a Russian village leader, back in 1919 when she was still a Communist, about the centrally planned society. “It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”
The mentality of the totalitarian revolutionary. Thoughts from the Russian writer of Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak.
Life in the fully politicized society. Michelle Obama explains what Barack Obama wants to make you do, Sebastian Haffner writes about those 1920s and 1930s Germans who needed to have “the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions” delivered gratis by the public sphere, and Ayn Rand paints a vivid picture (based on personal experience) of the dreariness of living in a society in which everything is political.
Life in the fully politicized society, continued. Even Maureen Dowd may be finding limits as to how much politicization of art she wants to see.
The bitter wastes of politicized America. “The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them. The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust. People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you…When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension. It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends. They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing.”
“But would you want your daughter to marry one?” Americans increasingly say they would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing political party.
Deconstructing a Nazi death sentence. The text of the justification for the sentence passed on three members of the White Rose resistance group provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind. (The link to the transcript in the post doesn’t work anymore; use this instead)
Defying Hitler. This important and well-written (but mis-titled) memoir deals mainly with the social environment in Germany prior to the Nazi takeover, but the latter part of the book demonstrates what life was like under a new totalitarianism that was rapidly tightening its grip. The section about the author’s father–who was given the choice of either endorsing political opinions he did not share or losing his pension and being reduced to destitution, along with his family–is painful to read and is unpleasantly reminiscent of certain recent events in America today.
The party of paranoia, racial obsession, and totalitarian thinking. Link to a post by Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, in which he explains the nature of today’s Democratic Party.
Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Europe, Germany, History, Leftism, Politics, Russia, Society, USA | 15 Comments »
Posted by Zenpundit on 10th November 2014 (All posts by Zenpundit)
[cross-posted from zenpundit.com]
I Knew Hitler by Kurt G.W. Ludecke
The widely forgotten Kurt G. W. Ludecke was a gambler, a charming womanizer, wandering adventurer, sometime writer and armed bohemian of Weimar Germany’s Volkisch right, also became a very early member of the Nazi Party in 1922. Quickly gaining the confidence of Adolf Hitler and the would-be Fuhrer’s inner circle through his intelligence and desperately needed financial donations, Ludecke possessed an intimate entree to the highest leaders of the Nazi Party from before the Beer Hall Putsch to the weeks before the Night of the Long Knives, at which point Hitler threw him into the Oranienburg concentration camp as his personal prisoner.
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Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, History, Politics | 1 Comment »
Posted by David Foster on 8th November 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the day the gates were opened in the Berlin Wall.
This would be an appropriate occasion to watch or re-watch the excellent film The Lives Of Others, which is told from the standpoint of an agent in East Germany’s immense internal spying apparatus. I also recommend Anna Funder’s superb book Stasiland, in which she describes her 1994 trip to the former East Germany and reconstructs the way things were in the days of Communist rule. I reviewed it here.
Also, here’s an interesting story about Harald Jaeger, an East German border guard whose snap decision was the right one.
Posted in Book Notes, Film, Germany, History, Leftism | 11 Comments »