Archive for the 'History' Category
Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Norfolk Southern has renamed its Memphis railyard in honor of Deborah Harris Butler, who is retiring as their EVP of planning. I notice that Ms Butler started out with a degree in English literature…which reminds me of another woman who went from an English degree to a railroading career, and wrote a truly great memoir about her experiences.)
On the Rails: A Woman’s Memoir, by Linda Niemann
What happens when a PhD in English, a woman, takes a job with the railroad? Linda Niemann tells the story based on her own experiences. It’s a remarkable document–a book that “is about railroading the way ‘Moby Dick’ is about whaling”, according to a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer. (Although I think a better Melville comparison would be with “White Jacket”, Melville’s book about his experiences as a crewman on an American sailing warship. Which is still very high praise.)
Niemann had gotten a PhD and a divorce simultaneously, and her life was on a downhill slide. “The fancy academic job never materialized,” and she was living in a shack in the mountains and hanging around with strippers, poets, musicians, and drug dealers. Then she saw the employment ad for the Southern Pacific railroad.
When I saw the ad in the Sunday paper–BRAKEMEN WANTED–I saw it as a chance to clean up my act and get away. In a strategy of extreme imitation, I felt that by doing work this dangerous, I would have to make a decision to live, to protect myself. I would have to choose to stay alive every day, to hang on to the side of those freightcars for dear life. Nine thousand tons moving at sixty miles an hour into the fearful night.
Niemann is hired by the Southern Pacific to work at Watsonville, a small freightyard whose main function is to switch out all the perishable freight from the Salinas Valley. Other pioneering women are also joining the railroad at this time, and Niemann soon finds herself a member of an “all-girl team,” assigned to work the midnight shift during the rainy season. Their responsibility will be to reorganize all the cars that have come in during the day, positioning them on the correct tracks and in the correct sequence. They will have at their disposal a switch engine and an engineer, but it will be their responsibility to plan the moves as well as to execute them–coupling and uncoupling cars and air hoses, setting and releasing handbrakes, throwing switches. Before work, they meet at a local espresso house.
It was an odd feeling to be getting ready to go to work when everybody else was ending their evenings, relaxed, dressed up, and, I began to see, privileged. They were going to put up their umbrellas, go home, and sleep. We were going to put rubber clothes on and play soccer with boxcars…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Business, History, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th November 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
In one of my posts on the aftermath of 9/11, I introduced the metaphor of the Attrition Mill. An attrition mill consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them. Metaphorically, I see America, and western civilization in general, as being caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamofascist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence.
The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be. For example, the student government at the University of Minnesota has rejected a resolution calling for annual commemorations of the 9/11 atrocity. Why? It was argued that such a resolution would make Muslim students feel “unsafe.” The “Students for Justice for Palestine” said that being reminded of 9/11 on its anniversary would lead to increased “Islamaphobia.”
It seems pretty clear that this sort of ridiculously deferential “sensitivity” does not make immigrants, or children and grandchildren of immigrants, more likely to assimilate. Contrarily, it reinforces group identifies and intergroup hostilities. And in doing so, it creates a social environment in which it is much more likely that actual terrorists–representing the upper disk of the Attrition Mill–will go unreported or even be actively supported in their ethnic/religious communities. And that, in turn, greatly increases the risks inherent in large-scale migration.
Hillary Clinton reacted to the Benghazi murders by blaming a video, going so far as to tell a grieving father that he would have his revenge–not on the killers, oh, no, but rather we are going to have that filmmaker arrested . Here, we see the threat and actuality of Islamist violence being used as an excuse for interfering with the free-speech rights of Americans…and you can bet that if that precedent is successfully established, it will be applied with plenty of other justifications, too.
(On a related note, John Kerry came very close to saying that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were in some manner justified.)
And both disks of the Attrition Mill are revolving with increasing speed. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris kosher grocery store, and the Russian airliner were followed by the large-scale attack that just happened in Paris. The lower disk of the Mill is turning faster as well: Amherst students are demanding restrictions on free speech, with compulsory “reeducation” for offenders. We have seen insane behavior at Yale, with students raging at a couple of professors who dared to suggest that people not go overboard about the issue of Halloween costumes. Here is Alan Dershowitz on what is happening to our colleges: “the fog of Fascism is descending”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, History, Islam, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 29 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 13th November 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
David Brooks’ Beslan column in the New York Times seems appropriate for this Paris Attack:
“Dissertations will be written about the euphemisms the media used to describe these murderers. They were called “separatists” and “hostage-takers.” Three years after Sept. 11, many are still apparently unable to talk about this evil. They still try to rationalize terror. What drives the terrorists to do this? What are they trying to achieve?
They’re still victims of the delusion that Paul Berman diagnosed after Sept. 11: “It was the belief that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable.”
This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don’t want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.”
The morgue filled with the Victims of the Beslan Terrorist Attack..
The Reality of Beslan is here again…and it is not going away.
Posted in Europe, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics, Terrorism | 54 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 11th November 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
One of Kipling’s lesser-known poems: The last of the Light Brigade
There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.
They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !
They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”
They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.
Read the whole thing here
Posted in Britain, History, Holidays, War and Peace | 3 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 10th November 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
This past week, the leftist media has gone after Carson like he was threatening the Democrats’ hold on the black vote, which is what I think is happening.
First, Politico accused him of lying about a scholarship to West Point. They have had to retract much of this story and it seems fatally flawed.
Editor’s note: POLITICO stands by its reporting on this story, which has been updated to reflect Ben Carson’s on the record response. The original story and headline said that Carson’s campaign had admitted he “fabricated” a “full scholarship” from West Point, but now Carson denies that his campaign’s statement constituted such an admission, and the story and headline were changed to reflect that. POLITICO’s reporting established that Carson said he received a “full scholarship” from West Point, in writing and in public appearances over the years — but in fact he did not and there is actually no such thing as a “full scholarship” to the taxpayer-funded academy.
This, of course, is nonsense and Politico is taking flak from all over about it. Carson was a high achieving high school member of the Junior ROTC who had sky high SAT scores in 1969 (Not to mention being black). Most reporters have never had the experience of being solicited by universities but I have and I’m sure Carson’s story is true.
According to a tale told in his book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by the offer of a “full scholarship” to the military academy.
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
This is irrelevant. Carson was offered an appointment and others have had a similar experience. His JROTC membership makes this especially likely as 1969 was the end of the Viet Nam war and a low point for the US military.
Other controversies have been the obsessive focus of the press for a week.
In his book Gifted Hands, Carson relates that, in his youth, he had a violent temper. He said he once tried to hit his mother over the head with a hammer over a clothes dispute and, that while in the ninth grade, he attempted to stab a friend who had changed the station on the radio; the blade broke in his friend’s belt buckle. After this incident, Carson said that he began reading the Book of Proverbs and applying verses on anger.
Again, there is no evidence that this is untrue and it happened 50 years ago. Carson has given many talks on religion and motivation and his personal story gives this force.
The latest is his story of the pyramids being used by Joseph of the Bible to store grain. This is quoted by many as evidence of mental derangement.
Even if it is true that Obama’s ties to radical left-wingers were more relevant than Carson’s kooky pyramid theory, I want to hear about any strange notions Carson has propounded in his years as a public figure. Does he study the facts of the real world and process them accurately and make appropriate conclusions? If not, I don’t want him making the decisions that will affect us all.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biography, Christianity, History | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th November 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)
Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.
Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series, That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.
To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.
A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.
With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:
1) Money and Power.
In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:
The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 18 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th October 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Maggie’s Farm reminds us that October 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. (JMW Turner painting of the battle at the link) I am reminded of a thoughtful document written in 1797 by a Spanish naval official, Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, on the general subject “why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?” His thoughts were inspired by his observations while with the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent, in a battle which was a significant defeat for Spain, and are relevant to a question which is very relevant to us today:
What attributes of an organization make it possible for that organization to accomplish its mission in an environment of uncertainty, rapid change, and high stress?
Here are de Grandallana’s key points:
An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.
Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…
Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Society, War and Peace | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 22nd October 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Bookworm attended an awards dinner for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and reports at length on the honoree’s speech. For those not familiar with Hirsi Ali: raised as a Muslim in Somalia, she eventually moved to Holland, where she became of member of Parliament and collaborated on a film about Islam with Theo van Gogh, who was murdered. Although she has been the target of many death threats, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has refused to be silenced. Be sure to read Book’s well-written post.
BBC has a new documentary about Ada, countess of Lovelace…computer pioneer of the 1840s, daughter of the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet, Lord Byron, and aficionado of gambling on the horses.
Once, there was an unpleasant political movement called the “Know-Nothings.” Today, we have the Know-Betters,
Claire Berlinski writes about the growing phenomenon of ritual humiliations and denunciations.
Related to the above, a very interesting analysis of the evolution of society from Cultures of Honor–in which the individual must personally avenge wrongs and insults…to Cultures of Dignity–in which people are assumed to have dignity, foreswear individual violence, rely on the judicial system to to respond to major transgressions and sometime simply ignore minor transgressions (there’s no more dueling)…and now to a Culture of Victimhood, in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture–but they must not obtain redress on their own, rather, they must appeal to powerful others or administrative bodies.
Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson says that Obama “chose the wrong side” on the climate-change debate. His thoughts on the psychology behind apocalyptic climate thinking are interesting,
Posted in Civil Liberties, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Tech | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 21st October 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Again and again, I see people referring to those Americans who have nothing but bad things to say about their own country as “self-hating Americans.” I see Jews who display unhinged rage against Israel referred to as “self-hating Jews.” And I have also seen many references to “self-hating Europeans.”
I believe that the “self-hating” diagnosis of the behavior of this sort of people is in most cases quite wrong, and this wrongness matters.
In 1940, C S Lewis wrote a little essay titled “Dangers of National Repentance.” Apparently, there was a movement among Christian youth to “repent” England’s sins (which were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies. Lewis’s analysis of this movement is highly relevant to our current situation.
“Young Christians especially..are turning to (the National Repentance Movement) in large numbers,” Lewis wrote. “They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?”
“If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him,every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.” (Emphasis added.)
Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him. “But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.”
It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 60 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Britain, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th October 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
This month marks the 53rd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Several years ago, I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Cuba, History, Miscellaneous, Russia, Space, War and Peace | 6 Comments »
Posted by Lexington Green on 12th October 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
1519 — by Sebastiano del Piombo — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
The current orthodoxy on Columbus is that he, and his impact, were unmitigated evil. This is, to say the least, an over-correction from earlier mythologizing.
Columbus certainly treated the people of Hispaniola who fell under his authority abusivley and cruelly. In that regard, he was typical of his day and age.
What was atypical about Columbus was his ingenious insight about the Atlantic wind patterns, and his superhuman drive to cross the Ocean Sea and arrive, as he incorrectly believed, in the Far East. It is of course false that people in his day did not know that the planet was spherical. Columbus did not have to prove that. Columbus was mistaken about the size of the sphere, and he imagined China to be a lot close than it was.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Holidays | 7 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th October 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I watched the Sunday Talk Shows this morning and nothing was reassuring. Then I read the column from Richard Fernandez.
It makes sense. I have believed for some time that we are headed for a revolution. Maybe not an old fashioned bloody revolution but something is coming.
The anniversary of the U.S. war against the Islamic State passed with little notice. It was August 7 of last year that President Obama authorized the first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, a campaign he expanded a month later to include targets in Syria. So far this month, the president has delivered remarks on the Voting Rights Act, his deal with Iran, the budget, clean energy, and Hurricane Katrina. ISIS? Not a peep.
Obama’s quiet because the war is not going well … One of our most gifted generals predicts the conflict will last “10 to 20 years.” And now comes news that the Pentagon is investigating whether intelligence assessments of ISIS have been manipulated for political reasons.
His column today suggests that the Ship of State is drifting. He quotes Niall Ferguson’s article in the Wall Street Journal.
I have spent much of the past seven years trying to work out what Barack Obama’s strategy for the United States truly is. For much of his presidency, as a distinguished general once remarked to me about the commander in chief’s strategy, “we had to infer it from speeches.”
At first, I assumed that the strategy was simply not to be like his predecessor—an approach that was not altogether unreasonable, given the errors of the Bush administration in Iraq and the resulting public disillusionment. I read Mr. Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech—with its Quran quotes and its promise of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”—as simply the manifesto of the Anti-Bush.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Current Events, Film, History, International Affairs, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia | 49 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th October 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)
Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, History | 3 Comments »
Posted by Mrs. Davis on 30th September 2015 (All posts by Mrs. Davis)
Tonight Obama must be contemplating how much he feels like Stalin on June 22, 1941. One wishes it won’t take him 10 days to reappear. Until one considers how craven he will be when he does reappear. He’s no Uncle Joe, that’s for sure.
Posted in History, Miscellaneous, Obama, Russia, War and Peace | 20 Comments »
Posted by Lexington Green on 25th September 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I have in recent years been reading the work of Joseph Conrad. I spent many years believing the best writers in English were George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, with Leo Tolstoy in translation as a titan and peer. Then all of a sudden, in the last five or years I discovered that Ernest Hemingway is a near peer, and that V.S. Naipaul is every bit the equal of these great ones. And through Naipaul, I met Conrad, who also merits admission to this august company.
Naipaul and Conrad both have as a main theme the encounter, the clash, between European civilization and the peoples and ways of Asia and Africa. Conrad depicts the European imperial and commercial expansion near its peak, and while it is still confident and expanding. Naipaul depicts the world after the European domination has receded, like an outgoing tsunami, which has left a transformed landscape behind.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, History, Human Behavior | 48 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 22nd September 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
We spent the day yesterday ( the 16th) at Waterloo. The battle field is largely preserved and reminds me a bit of Gettysburg. There is an excellent museum and we spent an hour or so at Hougoumont Farm where the battle really began.
Napoleon planned to draw Wellington’s reserve to Wellington’s right flank in defence of Hougoumont and then attack through the centre left of the British and allies’ front near La Haye Sainte.
Before the battle started, Hougoumont and its gardens, located on the allies’ right flank, were garrisoned and fortified by the 1st Battalion, 2nd Nassau Regiment, with additional detachments of jägers and landwehr from von Kielmansegge’s 1st (Hanoverian) Brigade. The light company of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards under the command of Lt-Colonel Henry Wyndham, was also stationed in the farm and chateaux, and the light company of the 2nd Battalion, Third Guards, under Lt-Colonel Charles Dashwood in the garden and grounds
The fighting here lasted all day and ended finally when the defenders were forced out as the buildings burned. It was too late for the French which had been reenforcing failure all day.
The French eventually committed 14,000 troops to Hougoumont Farm, of whom 8,000 were killed. The most famous encounter was The Battle of the Closing of the gate. The French had surrounded the farm which was an enclosed bastion of brick and stone walls with a gate access to the rear. They managed to force open the gate with axes into the yard but a few British soldiers managed to close it again and all the French who had gained the yard were killed. The few who closed the gate, were to be famous after the battle.
Sous-Lieutenant Legro, of the French 1st Light Infantry, broke through the wooden doors with an axe, allowing French soldiers to flood the courtyard. Graham’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel James Macdonnell, led his men through the melee in the courtyard to the gates, in an attempt to shut them against the pressing French. This was done with the help of three officers (Captain Wyndham, Ensign Hervey, and Ensign Gooch), Corporal Graham, and a few other soldiers including Graham’s brother Joseph. James Graham was the one to slot the bar in place. Flagstones, carts, and debris were then piled against the gates to hold them secure. The Frenchmen trapped within the courtyard were all killed, apart from a young drummer-boy.
The crucial mistake made here was by Napoleon’s brother, Prince Jerome, who commanded the first French troops to attack Hougoumont Farm. When they were repulsed, Jerome kept reenforcing the attack and drew the French focus to the strong point which resisted all day.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Britain, Europe, History, Military Affairs | 5 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.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Religion | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 11th September 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.—Cara Ellison (blog no longer available), in a 2007 post about 9/11/01.
Bookworm: “My life is divided into two parts: Before September 11, 2001 and after September 11, 2001.”
Simply evil: Christopher Hitchens suggests that sometimes the simple and obvious explanation for an event is more accurate than an explanation which relies on an elaborate structure of “nuance”
An attack, not a disaster or a tragedy. George Savage explains why the persistent use of terms like “tragedy” by the media acts to obfuscate the true nature of the 9/11 attacks. Much more on this from Mark Steyn
Claire Berlinski was in Paris on 9/11. Shortly thereafter she wrote this piece for City Journal
Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here
Joseph Fouché writes about how the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, and the murder of Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9 of that year, prefigured the 9/11 attacks.
The Diplomad posts a speech he gave on 9/14/01, when he was charge d’affaires at a U.S. embassy. You will not hear speeches like that being given by diplomats under the administration of Barack Obama.
On September 11, 2005, Rare Kate didn’t go to church. Follow the link to find out why. In my original post linking this, I said “What if American and British religious leaders had responded the depradations of Naziism in the spirit of this liturgy? Actually, some of them did. The impact on preparedness was certainly malign, and the people who took such positions certainly bear a share of moral resposibility for the deaths and devastation that took place. Ditto for those who are behaving in a similar way today.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany (executed in 1945), wrote the following:
Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.
The refusal on the part of many individuals to face the seriousness of the radical Islamist threat to out civilization stems in significant part, I feel certain, from a desire to avoid the uncomfortable and even dangerous kind of clarity that Bonhoeffer was talking about.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Anti-Americanism, History, Middle East, Obama, Terrorism, War and Peace | 24 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th September 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
To further the current work in progress, I am re-reading Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm – a gripping and almost novelistic account of the hurricane which struck the Texas Gulf coast city of Galveston on Saturday, September 8, 1900. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist in Galveston for the U.S. Weather Bureau – who paid a devastating price – the loss of his heavily pregnant wife when his house was swept away at the height of the storm – for miscalculations made; miscalculations made both by himself and by the Weather Bureau headquarters policies in far-distant Washington DC.
That 1900 storm still stands as the single deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States, with a death toll equal of all later storms combined; at least 6,000 in Galveston alone – a quarter of the population at the time – and along the Texas coast. The storm surge went for miles inland, and may have carried away another 2,000, whose bodies were never found – and never reported missing, as there was no one left to do so. Galveston Island – a coastal sand-bar, little more than eight feet above sea level at its highest point – was a busy and strategic port. At the turn of the last century, it was the largest city in Texas; a center of commerce, transportation hub and port of entry for immigrants coming into the Southwest by sea. Galveston was connected to the mainland across a normally placid lagoon by three railway trestles.
Although the rival port city of Indianola, farther west along the Gulf Coast had been wiped out by a pair of hurricanes fifteen and twenty-five years before, generally the citizens of Galveston were complacent, comfortable in the belief that any storm – and they had easily weathered many of them – was readily survivable. And after all – this was a new century, one marked by unparalleled technologic and scientific advances! So a sea-wall proposed by certain concerned citizens was never built; indeed, Isaac Cline had written an article for the local newspaper in 1891, arguing that such a wall was not necessary; it was impossible for a storm of sufficient destructive intensity to strike Galveston. And he, of course, was an expert. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, History | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 7th September 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Mary Antin was a Russian Jewish immigrant who came to the US with her family in 1894, at the age of thirteen. I briefly reviewed her 1912 book, The Promised Land, here.
Browsing through a used bookstore the other day, I saw a slightly later book by Antin: They who knock at our gates–a complete gospel of immigration (available here). It was published in 1914, at a time when immigration had become a very hot social and political issue, and is a highly polemical but pretty well-reasoned document. Antin’s key points and arguments are:
**The fundamental American statement of belief is the Declaration of Independence. “What the Mosaic Law is to the Jews, the Declaration is to the American people…Without it, we should not differ greatly from other nations who have achieved a constitutional form of government and various democratic institutions.” And “it was by sinking our particular quarrel with George of England in the universal quarrel of humanity with injustice that we emerged a distinct nation with a unique mission in the world.” Our loyalty to these principles is tested by our attitude toward immigration, “For the alien, whatever ethnic or geographic label he carries, in a primary classification of the creatures of the earth, falls in the human family.” This universalist view leads Antin to conclude that we are morally obligated to accept as many immigrants as we feasibly can–and we have room for many, many more. “Let the children be brought up to know that we are a people with a mission.”
**Contrary to the assertions being made in some quarters (in 1914), today’s immigrants are not of inferior quality to those of earlier eras. Jewish immigrants from Russia, for example, are pursuing religious liberty in a way directly analogous to the Pilgrims…indeed, “It takes a hundred times as much steadfastness and endurance for a Russian Jew of today to remain a Jew as it took for an English Protestant in the seventeenth century to defy the established Church”…and Russian Jews have shown great courage in the revolutionary movements against the Czar. Also, “We experienced a shock of surprise, a little while ago, when troops of our Greek immigrants deserted the bootblacking parlors and the fruit-stands and tumbled aboard anything that happened to sail for the Mediterranean, in their eagerness..to strike a blow for their country in her need….From these unexpected exploits of the craven Jew and the degenerate Greek, it would seem as if the different elements of the despised “new” immigration only await a spectacular opportunity to prove themselves equal to the “old” in civic valor.” Recent immigrants have also distinguished themselves in their avid pursuit of educational opportunities. “Bread isn’t easy to get in America,” Antin quotes a widow on Division Street, “but the children can go to school, and that’s more than bread.”
**Many of the problems associated with immigrant communities are actually the fault of bad municipal administration. “You might dump the whole of the East Side into the German capital and there would be no slums there, because the municipal authorities of Berlin know how to enforce building regulations, how to plant trees, and how to clean the streets….If the slums were due to the influx of foreigners, why should London have slums, and more hideous slums than New York?”
**Those who choose to become immigrants, from whatever, country, represent that best of that population. “Some of the best blood of New England answered the call of “Westward ho!” when the empty lands beyond the Alleghenies gaped for population…Of the aristocracy of New England that portion stayed at home which was fortified by wealth, and so did not feel the economic pressure of increased population; of the proletariat remained, on the whole, the less robust, the less venturesome, the men and women of conservative imagination. It was bound to be so, because wherever the population is set in motion by internal pressure, the emigrant train is composed of the stoutest, the most resourceful of those who are not held back by the roots of wealth or sentiment. Voluntary emigration always calls for the highest combination of the physical and moral virtues.”
Hence, the United States has practical as well as moral reasons to maximize immigration. Antin does not demand an absolutely uncontrolled immigration policy–“I do not ask that we remove all restrictions and let the flood of immigration sweep in unchecked”–she seems to be OK with health checks, and she calls for deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes–but does assert that the gate should be opened as wide as possible.
A quite different view of mass immigration can be found (oddly enough) in one of George MacDonald Fraser’s picaresque Flashman novels (link). In this passage, the anti-hero Flashman speaks very much out of character, soberly and thoughtfully in what is probably the author’s own voice, about the American Indian experience of European movement to their lands.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, History, Political Philosophy, Uncategorized, Urban Issues, USA | 67 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 7th September 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
One of the fallacies of studying history and interpreting historical events is that:
1) you look at the course of events that occurred and assume that they mostly would follow a similar narrative with different variables
2) you ignore what might have happened that is significantly out-of-the-box or the “black swans” that could have resulted in radically different outcomes.
I discussed this here with equity markets by country; while we talk about the “long term” and staying with stocks since they generally rise, we ignore that for most countries there have been “liquidation events” that wiped out all the players who remained in the markets (of their stockholdings, at least).
For instance, in the course of WW2, there has been much discussion of whether or not the Germans would have won had they attempted a sea-landing of England. The much more important train of thought, however, is what might have happened had Churchill not been the Prime Minister of England during those critical hours. Many, many lesser men would have capitulated in that time of crisis.
On the Russian front, in 1941, Russia likely came within a hair’s breadth of moral and system-wide collapse after their frontier armies were annihilated and the Germans began driving across the steppe. The fact that they were able to sacrifice armies for time and keep some semblance of discipline is taken as a given, but likely if the world ran that as a true Monte Carlo simulation over and over again that outcome is rare.
A third WW2 example is “what would have happened had the US Navy lost at Midway” which was what the odds said would have occurred. It is true that in the end US material advantages would vastly outstrip Japan, but another issue is “if we didn’t have victories, would the US political system have produced an isolationist president who would have sued for peace?” FDR was an ill man and could have conceivably died anytime from 1940 onward. Even today, looking back, I am amazed that so many US servicemen were preparing to invade Japan at the end of the war, a task that would have led to virtually certain death or injury (for the lucky ones) for tens of thousands without some sort of riots or desertion given the immense casualties and deaths the US faced at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Today we lack the social cohesion to attempt anything so disruptive and likely to result in mass casualties.
It is important to remember that historians and prognosticators are notoriously bad at predicting events – even on topics that they are intimately close to. For example, few saw the collapse of the USSR in 1989 and the entire “Arab Spring” that began with a vendor self-immolating in Tunisia swept the world with surprise. It isn’t that in hindsight many showed the “rot” of these decaying systems, but that they couldn’t predict the “triggers” that would set off the maelstrom.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Military Affairs | 6 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 3rd September 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
While the time pressures of work and family life prevented me from posting this yesterday, Sept 02, 2015, a commemoration of the official surrender of Japan in WW2 is still in order. Like the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Japan, this post will be about how the events leading to the surrender have been covered in American culture. Specifically, it will be a posting of several C-Span network video links to presentations by the leading historians of the period including Craig Symonds, Richard Frank, D.M. Giangreco, and John Kuehn. Afterwards I will give short reviews of each video.
The following symposia video titles & descriptions, plus links, are from C-Span
1. Pacific War Turning Point
June 8, 2013
Historians talked about the turning point in the Pacific theater
during World War II. Craig Symonds argued the Battle of Midway was the
decisive engagement that shifted momentum in the Allies favor, while
Richard Frank asserted that the Guadalcanal campaign thwarted future
Axis plans and resulted in a permanent blow to the Japanese war
machine. A video clip from “Victory at Sea” was played without sound.
After each author made his presentation, they held a discussion and
responded to questions from members of the audience.
“Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” was part of The
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series WWII & NYC of
The New York Historical Society.
2. Fall of the Japanese Empire
July 14, 2015
Richard Frank, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire,
spoke about the events leading up to Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. He talked about American and Japanese strategies and operations in the closing months of the war, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s surrender, and the fall of the Japanese Empire.
3. Strategies for the Invasion and Defense of Japan
August 6, 2015
D.M. Giangreco talked about the American offensive directed at Japan’s
northernmost island, Hokkaido. He also spoke about the Soviet Union’s
involvement, including the influence of logistics and diplomatic
“The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics
4. Japan’s Decision to Surrender
August 6, 2015
John Kuehn talked about Japan’s decision to surrender to Allied forces
in August of 1945.
“A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics.
Each of the above presentations was hugely informative. In the “Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” argument, I side with Richard Frank on its impact on Japanese military capability. The Guadalcanal campaign hurt the Japanese far more than the “Decisive battle” of Midway. I recently received a Kindle Copy of Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge Military Histories) that convinced me of the importance of Guadalcanal over Midway in terms of killing off the best Japanese naval pilots, most of whom survived Midway.
In the second video on July 14, 2015 Richard Frank basically gives a presentation drawn from his coming trilogy on the “Asia-Pacific War” that highlights the Japanese military preparations to defend Japan, including the mobilization of a 20 million strong civilian-militia to back up the military, and how important the A-bomb was as compared to the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in getting the Japanese to surrender. Frank also speaks to the King-Nimitz efforts to challenge Olympic and the total casualties up to August 1945 and how many more would have died from starvation had the war lasted even a short time longer. Frank tends to be US Navy centric and did not think much of MacArthur’s Olympic plans.
The third video, by D.M. Giangreco of a presentation titled “The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion”, goes very heavily into Japanese, Soviet & American plans to alternately defend or invade the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Short form — The Soviets had enough American provided sealift for a light infantry division, but not enough airpower to protect it, and the available Japanese ground forces and Kamikazes would be able to make any Soviet lodgment a Pacific Anzio.
The final video, by John Kuehn, titled “A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” goes deeply into the Japanese high command, civilian leadership and the Showa Emperor’s maneuvering to achieve a surrender. I found it particularly useful in getting a better understanding of the irrationality that dominated Japanese decision making. And the point that Kuehn made that the “Big-Six” represented the Japanese military “Moderate factions” was chilling.
Posted in Book Notes, History, Japan, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »