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Archive for the 'History' Category
I am currently torn three ways, between the start of the holiday market season for myself and my daughter’s various enterprises, my own blogging and writing, and a book project for a Watercress Press client. The book project is to do with local history, and a particularly contentious event during the Civil War – in Texas. Even as far west of the Mississippi as Texas was, from the main theater of war, some comparatively minor skirmishes in the first Civil War took place in Texas. And the final battle, and surrender of the last hold-out Confederate command took place down on the Rio Grande, and the very last Union Army casualty fell in that Texas fight. But that is stuff for history trivia contests. (The answers are, FYI, the battle of Palmito Ranch, and Private John J. Williams, of the 34th Indiana.)
The book project has a fair amount of my attention, as it touches on a local history matter featured in my own books – but in the interesting coincidence of the Tiny Publishing Bidness having published some of the local history books noted as sources, or citing local historians whom I have met or have had something to do with; the late Rev. Ken Knopp, James Kearney, and Jefferson Morganthaler, most notably – and referring to many of the sources that I read as research for the Adelsverein Trilogy. This book that I am working on now caps a series which can only be produced by a writer/researcher involved to the point of intense – yea, even fanatical interest – in a specific Civil War event. Seriously, Colonel Paul Burrier (USA, Ret.) has gone back into the archives of various establishments and re-published at his expense just about every relevant document there is to find in national and state archives regarding the locally infamous incident memorialized by the True to the Union monument in Comfort, Texas.
I’ve written here and there about the Nueces Fight/Battle/Massacre here, here, and there…and how the peculiar situation in the Hill Country of Texas – well-stocked with Abolitionist, pro-Union inclinations – generated a bitter civil war-within a civil war. Read the rest of this entry »
I saw the hungry armies of the men who had no work
I saw the silver ship fly to her doom
I watched the world at war and witnessed brave men go berserk
And saw that death was both the bride and groom
I watched Bikini atoll turn from coral into dust
At Dealy Plaza worlds came to an end
And swirling winds of time blew as the Soviet went bust
And life is born in stars as some contend
The swirling winds have always blown around man’s aimless trials
And will continue blowing ‘til the stars
Wink out in just a few short eons as the goddess whiles
Away the time in counting kings and tsars
Who think that they control the winds that swirl around their heads
Believing they are mighty as the sword
Not knowing that in blink of eye they’re taken to their beds
The swirling winds of time are oft ignored
Until, like we, the winds becalm and we stand face to face
With zephyrs and Spring breezes at our back
Propelling us toward what it seems is finish of the race
The winds we have but time is what we lack –
Walt Erickson, the poet laureate of Belmont Club, on this particular discussion thread.
So, tempus fugit and all that … dust in the wind, as the pop group Kansas used to sing. That number always reminds me vividly of a certain time and place, a memory which is strictly personal and has no bearing on this post, really … save for reminding me in an oblique way, that as of this month twenty years past, I went on terminal leave from the USAF. As of the end of this year, I have been retired from the military for as many years as I was in it. I can’t claim that I have traveled as far in this last two decades as I did in the two before that … after all, when I went to my high school reunion in 1982, I won the award for having come the farthest to attend the reunion. That was the year I was stationed in Greenland at the time, and the reunion was coincident to my middle-of-tour leave. The two decades past included travel to California to visit family, to Brownsville on client business, to Washington DC/Arlington for a milblogger convention, to Houston once and innumerable road trips to the Hill Country on book business. Dust in the wind, my friends – dust in the wind.
Read the rest of this entry »
This month marks the 54th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
At the very outset of creating the first integrated Anglo-American command structure in 1942, Eisenhower made it clear that he would not tolerate any diminution of his own authority and responsibility as supreme commander. The British War Office had issued its own directive to General Sir Kenneth Anderson, the British land force commander, which simply repeated the terms of that given to Haig in the Great War, authorising Anderson to appeal to his own government if and when he believed that an order from Eisenhower endangered his army. Such a directive stood in blatant contradiction to the new integrated command structure, whereby Eisenhower was serving as an Allied commander responsible to an Allied authority, the combined chiefs of staff, and thence to the prime minister and president jointly.
[Emphasis in original.]
Seth’s central point:
I do not suggest that Sakharov, Longstreet, or Rommel were evil men, but they did serve bad causes. I do not say that the good they did (or attempted to do) during their lives is made void by the bad. But I do say it is wrong to suggest that the bad is outweighed by the good. Cf. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) (“I do not say [God forbid], I do not say that the virtues of such men were to be taken as a balance to their crimes; but they were some corrective to their effects.” (language in square brackets is Burke’s)). Such a moral quantification of right and wrong is not possible by mere mortals, and those who attempt such a calculus only callous our consciences.
The notion of weighing, as Seth cites it, is a metaphor that deserves more scrutiny than it gets from many of the people who casually use it. It begs the question of who has standing to do the weighing. I don’t think it’s human beings, certainly not the humans alive today who didn’t themselves pay much of the price of, in this case, Ireland’s WW2 neutrality. The people who paid aren’t around to speak for themselves. It’s hubris for us to make moral calculations, to weigh, to forgive, in their names. Better to say, so-and-so did these good things and these bad things, and leave it at that.
(See the previous Chicago Boyz post here.)
I am an American. I currently live and work in Ireland. But, I carry no special brief for Ireland and its people. When you wrote: “Ireland, like Sweden, has gotten a pass for behavior during World War II that doesn’t deserve a pass.” That’s true. But it is not the whole story either.
I suspect there is no General James Longstreet Prize, and if someone asked me if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”.
There is no Rommel Prize, and if someone asked if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”. (And—just to be clear—I am not comparing Longstreet and the Confederacy to Rommel and Nazi Germany.)
There is a Sakharov Prize, and if someone had asked me prior to its creation whether it should be created, I hope I would have had the moral clarity to say “no”. There were and there are other people in Europe and elsewhere who this prize could have been named for: persons who were not quite so morally ambiguous. E.g., Average people—people who were not heroic or even particularly bright. Perhaps it could have been called the Ivan Denisovich Prize. It speaks volumes about the modern European zeitgeist that a major prize is named for Sakharov, but the founders of NATO—which protected Europe from Sakharov’s warheads—remain largely unknown. It goes without saying that the American taxpayer who paid for Europe’s defence (and who continues to do so) is entirely lost from sight. Europe’s cosmopolitan transnational elites much prefer believing that the years of peace and plenty were their creation, as opposed to their being the beneficiary of American good will beyond their control.
Seth’s argument is well worth reading in full.
Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, International Affairs, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »
Heinz Guderian was a German general who played an important role in the development of Blitzkrieg tactics. He was also a highly effective field commander, known to his men by the nickname “Hurrying Heinz.”
Also not a bad writer–here’s his description of the character of Adolph Hitler:
He had no real friend. His oldest Party comrades were, it is true, disciples, but they could hardly be described as friends. So far as I can see there was nobody who was really close to him. There was nobody in whom he would confide his deepest feelings. There was nobody with whom he could talk freely and openly. As he never found a true friend, so he was denied the ability to deeply love a woman. He remained unmarried. He had no children. Everything that on this earth that casts a glow of warmth over our life as mortals, friendship with fine men, the pure love for a wife, affection for one’s own children, all this was and remained for ever unknown to him. His path thru the world was a solitary one and he followed it alone, with only his gigantic plans for company.
There is an interesting parallel between the above excerpt and a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s review of Faust, published in 1822:
Mephistopheles is not the common devil of poetry, but one much more adapted to his functions. It is evident that he was a devil from the first and can be nothing else. He is emphatically ‘the Denyer’, he fears nothing, complains of nothing, hopes for nothing. Magnanimity, devotion, affection, all that can sweeten or embellish existence, he looks upon as childish mummery.
(No, I’m not accusing Guderian of plagiarism…there are things a lot worse than plagiarism of which he could be justly accused! But it is very likely that he read Faust in school, and I wonder if he might have also been exposed to early commentary on the play, including the Carlyle piece.)
While searching for the Guderian quote (in conjunction with my recent Faust post), I ran across this blog post, which attempts to draw parallels between Guderian’s description of Hitler’s character, and…the character of Donald Trump. The blogger does this by interspersing passages from the Guderian quote with comments about Trump made by Mark Shields and David Brooks in a PBS Newshour appearance.
(Now, personally, I don’t see why anyone would consider a man who evaluates presidential candidates by the quality of the crease of their trousers as a particularly good source for analysis and insight, but whatever…)
Something is missing from the linked blog post, as it is from many similar Trump denunciations….and that is the name Hillary Clinton. Because Trump isn’t running in a vacuum, he isn’t running against, say, JFK or Harry Truman or even Jimmy Carter; he is running against Hillary Clinton, and barring some unlikely event or events, one of the other of them is going to be President.
And I would assert that whatever degree of match there might be between Trump’s character and the character outlined in the Guderian piece, the match is considerably stronger in the case of Hillary Clinton.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 6th September 2016 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
It has become something of a tradition for the Chicagoboyz web site to commemorate the major events closing out World War II in the Pacific, Where the worst recorded war in human history became a nuclear war — the August 6th and 9th 1945 A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the Imperial Japanese acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and the Sept 2, 1945 formal surrender on the battleship USS Missouri. See the link enabled list below —
2012 – Nagasaki Plus 67 Years
2011 – Happy V-J Day!
Since that ceremony, a whole mythology about that period of history has grown, driven by various institutional and political imperatives following those events. And in particular, with regard to the use of nuclear weapons to end the war.
This year’s Chicagoboyz commemoration deals not with those myths, but with the war plans of the US Army Air Force (USAAF) from May thru August 1945. Too understand the use of the A-bomb in August 1945, you have to understand it in terms of the context of those May to August 1945 plans, not the institutional games that came after, games ably laid out in Michael Gordon’s recent WW2 book FIVE DAYS IN AUGUST — How World War II Became a Nuclear War”.
The short form was that the USAAF institutional leadership, Chief of Staff of the USAAF, General Arnold; operational commander US Army Strategic Air Forces (USASTAF) General Spaatz and Far Eastern Air Forces (FEAF) General Kenney were trying to win the war with conventional bombing via
1. The Small City Target Plan — Bombing out the smaller, 100,000 person or less, Japanese cities within range of Saipan to ‘induce’ a surrender;
2. The Transportation Plan — A massive two month (1 Oct – 30 Nov 1945) long campaign intended to destroy Japan’s rail system; and
3. Beach Preparations on Kyushu — The proposed B-29 carpet bombing of Kyushu beaches on 29, 30 and 31 October with 100 B–29 per beach per day.
Between the agenda of the USAAF bomber generals to form and independent air force and the coming merger of the Navy and War Departments into the Defense Department, much about these three plans never made it out of the secret files — particularly the use of the then high tech SHORAN radio navigation system — to the general public…until now.
(More at page 2)
In 1995, the Amars (as have others before and since) argued that James Madison opposed legislative officer succession on constitutional grounds. This is a legal and historical meme or myth. Madison never stated that he thought that legislative officer succession was unconstitutional, at least as far as our historical records show. The original source involved indicates only that Congressman Madison was relaying news from the capital to Pendleton in Virginia—in private correspondence. Madison merely transmitted to Pendleton several arguments touching upon the constitutionality of the 1792 Act which had been made by others on the House floor during debate on the 1792 Act. There is no reason to believe that Madison agreed with any one or more of the particular arguments he transmitted to Pendleton.
There are those today who wish to impugn the constitutional bona fidés of the modern 1947 Act, which like its 1792 predecessor, provides for legislative officer succession. There are some policy grounds for objecting to the 1947 Act—I do not suggest that all the policy arguments go in one direction. But I do state that rooting a modern constitutional objection in Madison’s voice or that of the Framers as a group is entirely ahistorical. In these circumstances, one cannot appeal the judgement of the Second Congress (as a whole) to the Framers (as a group), and if that appeal—for whatever reason—has, in the past, convinced some unwary authors and consumers of prior legal scholarship, it is only because some originalists cannot count.
Seth Barrett Tillman: Letter to the Editor: Responding to Robert Fisk’s “To understand the Islamist beheading of a French priest ….”
It is not “inevitable” in any civil war—no matter how brutal—that one side murder foreigners. Certainly, the GIA’s murdering foreigners—even during the brutal Algerian civil war—was not “inevitable”. It was a choice; it was the wrong choice…
…and not just any humans.
Listen to this very-well-done podcast about one of those times when thermonuclear war did not happen: Flirting with the end of the world.
Automated systems need to be supervised by humans, and not just any humans, as Stanislav Petrov’s story makes clear. Individuals and bureaucracies that themselves behave in a totally robotic fashion cannot be adequate supervisors of the automation. See also my post Blood on the tracks for an additional example.
There is much political violence in the US these days, ranging from attacks on Trump rally attendees to protesters at those rallies being sucker-punched to the politically and racially-motivated murder of police officers in Dallas to the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the state of Minnesota (where the social climate was once characterized by the term ‘Minnesota nice’)—and there is every prospect that the violence will get worse as the political season moves into full swing. Indeed, it seems that political violence is in the process of being normalized in this country. To understand the roots of this malign phenomenon, I think it is important to look at what has been going on in America’s universities for the past decade and a half.
In 2002, a pro-Israel event at San Francisco State University was interrupted by ‘protestors’, screaming things like “go back to Russia!” and “get out or we will kill you!’ and shoving Hillel students against a wall. Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewis leader “turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the Plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, ‘it would start a riot.’ I told them that it already was a riot.”
“This is the Weimar Republic with Brownshirts it cannot control” is how Professor Zoloth summed up the situation on her campus.
This kind of Brownshirt behavior at an American university was by no means an isolated incident: there have been many, many cases of intimidation, vandalism, and outright violence being employed against campus groups and speakers which some people–those people being almost always self-defined ‘progressives’–do not like.
At St Cloud University in Minnesota, for example, the College Republicans had a kiosk supporting Israel, complete with Israeli flag. Two professors approached the booth and asserted that since the members of the group were not Jewish, they had no right to fly the Israeli flag! One of the professors told a students that she would break his camera if he took her picture, and then tried to grab the camera–also, according to this report, also grabbed the student by the neck and slammed him up against the wall. The university administration backed the professors, also asserting that non-Jews have no right to fly the Israeli flag. (The real issue, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that the students were non-Jewish, but rather that they were Republican.)
At Yale in 2002, some students had set up a memorial to victims of a car bombing in Israel. The memorial was destroyed by vandals. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced–in the law school.
Theft of newspapers containing unapproved viewpoints has become common at universities. In 2004, the entire press run of the Yale Free Press, a conservative publication, was stolen by people who did not want Yale students to be able to read the opinions contained therein.
In Florida in 2004, a social sciences instructor at a community college walked into local Republican headquarters and punched a cardboard cutout of George W Bush…and then, according to this report, also punched a Republican official in the face. The punchee reports that the assailant “proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I’m a stupid Republican,” and other comments laced with obscenities.
In 2006, “Protestors” of the Brownshirt variety attempted to disrupt a scheduled speech by Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of the campus organization that had sponsored the event was kicked and spat upon by some of the thugs, and the building fire alarms were pulled twice.
Also in 2006, at Columbia University, left-wing students distrupted a speech hosted by the College Republicans. Angry students stormed the stage, shouting and knocking over chairs and tables and succeeding in their intent to prevent Jim Gilchrist (founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group known as the Minuteman) from delivering his talk. Columbia Public Safety did nothing to prevent the disruption. Christopher Kulawik, the College Republican president, told The New York Sun he was berated afterward by Columbia University administrators for allowing the speakers to say anything that would infuriate the crowd.
A week later, Columbia administrators interfered with another event planned by the College Republicans. The scheduled speaker was Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who saw the error of his ways and is now a supporter of Israel and the U.S. Just 3 hours before the event was to take place, a Columbia administrator sent an e-mail uninviting many of those who had already RSVP’d for the event–some of whom were already in transit. Apparently, Columbia was afraid of a repetition of the earlier disruption, and preferred to deny legitimate attendees their right to hear Mr Shoebat speak, rather than to take effective action against thuggishness by beefing up security and expelling disrupters.
In 2008, Robert Spencer spoke at U Wisconsin-Madison, on the subject of the thread from jihad. He says:
I got off the phone a little while ago with one of the student organizers of my address tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He told me that I would be led to and from the stage via secret passageway; that thirty security personnel would be on hand (in addition to my own); that attendees would have to pass through metal detectors; and that a bomb-sniffing dog would also be on hand…and also: The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz.
In 2003, former Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky visited several US campuses:
When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield…Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.
During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.
Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one’s opinions, with the need to hold the “correct opinions” in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one’s resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School? In a place that was supposed to be open, liberal, professional? At first I thought this must be an individual case, particular to this student. I thought her fears were exaggerated. But my conversations with other students at various universities made it clear that her feelings are widespread, that the situation on campuses in the United States and Canada is more serious than we think. And this is truly frightening.
For the 4th of July of 2014, Cassandra had an excellent post: Independence in an Age of Cynicism. I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008: Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.
For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People. The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.
This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.
And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.
He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces
The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.
Benet’s poem ends with these words:
We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained
But shall it?
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.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. The Telegraph is covering the events as if in real time, in a blog-like format, most recent posts at the top.
What I learned was that these gentlemen were entirely comfortable with their U.S. identity. They did not pine for the Confederacy to rise again. They did not blame the U.S. military for Confederate wartime deaths. There was no anger in connection with Sherman’s march, and the destruction of southern cities, farms, infrastructure, and other public & private property. So what exactly did bother them–what precisely was their beef? It was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It upset them to no end. I was young then. Perhaps, I should have understood why it upset them so much. In my defence, I can say, after some years (decades) of reflection, I figured it out.
Interesting thoughts. More here.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 10th June 2016 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
It is amazing the things you find out while writing a book review. In this case, a review of Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II. The book is thoroughly revisionist in that it posits that there were no real decisive land battles in WW2. The human and material attrition in those “decisive battles” was so small relative to major combatants’ production rates that losses from them were easily replaced until Anglo-American air-sea superiority — starting in the latter half of 1944 — strangled Germany and Japan. Coming from the conservative side of the historical ledger, I had a lot of objections to O’Brien’s book starting with some really horrid mistakes on WW2 airpower in the Pacific.
You can see a pretty good review of the book at this link — How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II, by Phillips Payson O’Brien
However, my independent research on General MacArthur’s Section 22 radar hunters in the Philippines proved one of the corollaries of O’Brien’s thesis — Namely that the Imperial Japanese were a fell WW2 high tech foe, punching in a weight class above the Soviet Union — was fully validated with a digitized microfilm from the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama detailing the size, scope and effectiveness of the radar network Imperial Japan deployed in the Philippines.
The microfilm reel A7237 photoshop below is a combination of three scanned microfilm images of an early December 1944 radar coverage map of the Philippines. It shows 32 separate Imperial Japanese Military radar sites that usually had a pair of Japanese radars each (at lease 64 radars total), based upon the Japanese deployment patterns found and documented in Section 22 “Current statements” from January thru March 1945 elsewhere in the same reel.
This Section 22 created map — taken from dozens of 5th Air Force and US Navy aerial electronic reconnaissance missions — showed Japanese radar coverage at various altitudes and was used by Admiral Halsey’s carrier fleet (See route E – F on the North Eastern Luzon area of the map) to strike both Clark Field and Manila Harbor, as well as by all American & Australian military services to avoid Japanese radar coverage to strike the final Japanese military reinforcement convoys, “Operation TA”, of the Leyte campaign.
Read the rest of this entry »
Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.
Neptunus Lex: The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.
The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.
See also Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.
General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible. Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.
Also, a very interesting piece on the radio news coverage of the invasion
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th June 2016 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I have been using the analogy of pulling the cord to stop the train when it is headed for the cliff, even if you don’t know what happens next. I see that Richard Fernandez has now adopted the analogy.
I don’t see Trump voters as doing anything noble or particularly courageous but it is a risk and many of us are willing to take it.
Fernandez uses the example of Torpedo Squadron 8 which was a factor in the success of the US Navy in the Battle of Midway. John Waldron did not sacrifice his men and his own life voluntarily but he had a mission and he carried it out in spite of everything that stood in his way. The fighters of Fighting 8 that were supposed to provide cover got lost in the confusion. According to Alvin Kernan’s book The Unknown Battle of Midway: The Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons, other pilots nearly attacked the leader of Fighting 8 after the battle.
Fernandez uses the sacrifice of Waldron and Torpedo 8 as a metaphor for the 2016 election while remembering the crucial battle fought 74 years ago today.
While the path leading to the present is disputed, no one appears to deny America has now arrived in a critical place whose abnormality is most evident in a contest between two presidential candidates neither of whom is widely supported by their nominating parties. None of the two candidates is actually expected to solve the multiple foreign policy and domestic crises currently besetting the country. In fact one candidate may have helped cause many of the current problems while the other’s main attraction is that he may function as a demolition charge which will clear out the roadblocks that have paralyzed America.
If political columnist Ron Fournier is right about this election cycle, it is less about achieving incremental policy change than precipitating a radical institutional change. In that case the current unpopularity contest can be seen as an deliberate process to increase instability by hoping the worst man wins, not in order to continue the status quo but to tear things down and start afresh.
I think it is more important to stop the trends initiated by Obama and the increasingly radical Democrats than to attempt any serious foreign policy initiative.
A powerful and beautifully-done music video: The war was in color
Neptunus Lex: We remember them
Also from Lex: A memorial day message from 2004
Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site
(I posted this review four years ago…given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)
I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.
Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.
When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.
When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.
The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:
Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?
Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.