Archive for the 'History' Category
Posted by David Foster on 12th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
In my post Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women, I cited some of Goethe’s thoughts about why the Weimar girls preferred visiting Englishmen to the local male talent. When his friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people,” Goethe responded:
“The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend, Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”
“In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.”
Skipping forward 94 years, I was intrigued to find some rather similar comments in the memoirs of Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 8th May 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
Back on July 25, 2014 I posted a column here called “Future History Friday — China’s Coming “Days of Future Past” where I stated that China’s hyper-aggressiveness with its neighbors would make Japan act like a “normal nation,” increase its military defenses of the Southern Ryukyus and make military alliances with its neighbors to contain China. Today, a “flaming datum” of that prediction arrived. Japan has just announced steps to bring those “Days of Future Past” closer for China. The Japanese are moving to militarily garrison Miyako and Ishigaki with ground troops and mobile anti-ship missile batteries.
JGSDF Type88 Anti-ship cruise missile in truck mobile launcher. Batteries of which are to be deployed to the Southern Ryukyus islands. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Japan prepares to deploy troops on Miyako and Ishigaki｜WantChinaTimes.com
Watch Out, China: Japan Deploys 600 Troops, Missiles near Disputed Islands | The National Interest Blog
The May-June 2015 Issue | The National Interest
Miyako and Ishigaki were air bases for Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Kamikaze planes based on Formosa — modern day Taiwan — during the March – June 1945 Battle for Okinawa. Today, they are being prepared to support any operations Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are ordered to do by the Japanese government…including communications to and air support of Taiwan in case of a Mainland Chinese Invasion.
Read the rest of this entry »
A Google map of Miyako and Ishigaki islands, part of the Okinawa Prefecture. In March – June 1945 they were forward bases for Kamikazes attacking the US Navy. Today they are become the site of Japanese Self-Defense Force Type 88 Surface-to-Ship Missile Batteries, as well as Japanese ground troops to secure them.
Posted in China, History, Japan, Military Affairs, National Security, USA, Vietnam, War and Peace | 13 Comments »
Posted by T. Greer on 2nd May 2015 (All posts by T. Greer)
This post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 2 May 2015. It has been re-posted here without alteration.
If mankind is, as has been claimed since ancient days, a species driven by the narrow passions of self interest, what holds human society together as one cohesive whole? How can a community of egoists, each devoted to nothing but his or her own ambition, thrive? Or for that matter, long exist?
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury thought he knew the answer.
Hobbes is famous for his dismal view of human nature. But contrary to the way he is often portrayed, Hobbes did not think man was an inherently evil being, defiled by sin or defined by vileness ingrained in his nature. He preferred instead to dispense with all ideas of good and evil altogether, claiming “these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them, there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man.”  Only a superior power, “an arbitrator of judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up” might have the coercive force to make one meaning of right the meaning used by all. Absent such a “common power”, the world is left in a condition that Hobbes famously described as “war of every man against every man” where they can be no right, no law, no justice, and “no propriety, no dominion, no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it.” 
This description of the wretched State of Nature is familiar to most who have studied in the human sciences at any length. Also well known is Hobbes’s solution to the challenge posed by anarchy:
[Those in this state will] appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. 
What is most striking in Hobbes’ vision of this State of Nature and the path by which humanity escapes it is his complete dismissal of any form of cooperation before sovereign authority is established. Neither love nor religious zeal holds sway in the world Hobbes describes, and he has no more use for ties of blood or oaths of brotherhood than he does for the words right and wrong. He does concede that if faced with large enough of an outside threat fear may drive many “small families” to band together in one body for defense. However, the solidarity created by an attack or invasion is ephemeral–once the threat fades away so will the peace. “When there is no common enemy, they make war upon each other for their particular interests” just as before.  Hobbes allows for either a society dominated by a sovereign state or for a loose collection of isolated individuals pursuing private aims.
Hobbes’ dichotomy is not presented merely as a thought experiment, but as a description of how human society actually works. Herein lies Hobbes’ greatest fault. Today we know a great deal about the inner workings of non-state societies, and they are not as Hobbes described them. The man without a state is not a man without a place; he is almost always part of a village, a tribe, a band, or a large extended family. He has friends, compatriots, and fellows that he trusts and is willing to sacrifice for. His behavior is constrained by the customs and mores of his community; he shares with this community ideas of right and wrong and is often bound quite strictly by the oaths he makes. He does cooperate with others. When he and his fellows have been mobilized in great enough numbers their strength has often shattered the more civilized societies arrayed before them.
The social contract of Hobbes’ imagination was premised on a flawed State of Nature. The truth is that there never has been a time when men and women lived without ties of kin and community to guide their deeds and restrain their excess, and thus there never could be a time when atomized individuals gathered together to surrender their liberty to a sovereign power. Hobbes mistake is understandable; both he and the social contract theorists that followed in his footsteps (as well as the Chinese philosophers who proposed something close to a state of nature several thousand years earlier) lived in an age where Leviathan was not only ascendent but long established. They were centuries removed from societies that thrived and conquered without a state. 
To answer the riddle of how individuals “continually in competition for honour and dignity” could form cohesive communities without a “a visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants,”  or why such communities might eventually create a “common power” nonetheless, we must turn to those observers of mankind more familiar with lives spent outside the confines of the state. Many worthies have attempted to address this question since Hobbes’ say, but there is only one observer of human affairs who can claim to have solved the matter before Hobbes ever put pen to paper. Centuries before Hobbes’s birth he scribbled away, explaining to all who would hear that there was one aspect of humanity that explained not only how barbarians could live proudly without commonwealth and the origin of the kingly authority that ruled civilized climes, but also the rise and fall of peoples, kingdoms, and entire civilizations across the entirety of human history. He would call this asabiyah.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Middle East, Political Philosophy, War and Peace | 12 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st May 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
The amazing thing about General MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area (SWPA) Theater is how amazingly bad the histories on it are. The place spun off more under or unreported “will-o-the-wisp” logistical and intelligence institutions than any four Hollywood movie franchises threw out sequels. You could add together the Fast & Furious, Star Wars and Marvel Superhero movie sequels and still be low.
Today’s column on the 5th Air Force provisional American Indian code talker unit started during a hunt for the radar hunting Field Units of Section 22 — the SWPA theater electronic intelligence organization — and found this specially trained for the invasion of Japan unit of the “Vth Bomber Command”** by accident. Other research I had done showed Section 22 transferred all of its US Army Air Force and US Navy field units back to the respective services. To track that transition, I was looking through a Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) digitized microfilm, REEL A7509, on the history of the 5th Air forces “Vth Bomber Command” for April through September 1945. On pages 1318 and 1319 of 1841 I ran into the following —
Experiments are being conducted in the use of teams of American Indians to be used for communications between this headquarters and headquarters of Subordinate unite in case telephone lines go out of operation or, in case of moves, until regular lines of communications can be installed. Indians with various units of the V Bomber Command have been assembled at this headquarters where a course in communications is being conducted. It is expected that the Indians, speaking in their native language, will be used to pass administrative traffic talking in the place of codes on the Frequency Modulation Voice circuit.
In some ways it isn’t surprising that the Vth Bomber Command turned to Indian code talkers. At the direction of General MacArthur. the radio platoon of the 302nd reconnaissance Troop, 1st Cavalry Division recruited Lakota and Dakota Indians who used their Sioux language to communicate to other Divisional Headquarters troops. MacArthur also did the same with Navajo Alamo Scout graduates who returned to the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 158th Regimental Combat Team (RCT).
Read the rest of this entry »
General Douglas MacArthur with Native American Alamo Scout training course graduates. Jan 1944 (Signal Corps Photo via Wikipedia)
Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th April 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
(Posted a bit early, as I have been reminded of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I wrote a version of this early on at SSDB, around 2004.)
Never been there, never particularly wanted to: to someone of my age, it is Bad Place, a haunted place, where ugly things happened. It gave nightmares to friends, co-workers, and lovers for years after it dropped out of the headlines and the six-o-clock news. Today in light of the current war, it seems as far away in time and nearly as pointless as the Western Front. You look, and remember, and wonder, knowing that yes, it really happened, but really, what was the point of it all? Platoon seems as much of a relic as Journey’s End, the image of a helicopter hovering over jungle with “All Along the Watchtower” on the soundtrack an image as archaic as doughboys with puttees and soup-plate helmets, marching along and singing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.
But it was a beautiful place. My friends Xuan-An and Hai brought away pictures of where they lived in Dalat, in the highlands, where they married and lived with their three older children, snaps of cool, misty green pines and gardens of rhododendrons, and a horizon of mountains. Eventually, they had to flee Dalat for Saigon, where their youngest daughter was born, and Xuan-An’s mother came to live with them. Hai had left Hanoi as a teenager when the Communists took over there, his family being well to do, part Chinese, and immensely scholarly. He worked as a librarian for the USIS, and Xuan-An as a teacher of English and sciences, so they were on the Embassy list of Vietnamese citizens to be evacuated in the spring of 1975, with their four children, aged 12 to 2 years old. They were waiting at their home, for someone to come fetch them, on that last day. Perhaps someone from the Embassy might have come for them eventually, but Xuan-An’s brother who was the captain of a Vietnamese coastal patrol vessel came to their house after dark, instead. He had sent his crewmen all to fetch their families, they were going to make a run for safety out to sea, and he came to get his and Xuan-Ans’ mother. He was appalled to find his sister and brother-in-law and the children still there, and urged them to come with him straight away, and not wait any longer for rescue. They brought away no more luggage than what the adults could carry, in small packs the size of student’s book-bags, and the youngest daughter was a toddler and had to be carried herself. Xuan-An’s brother’s motor launch was a hundred feet long, and there were a hundred people crammed onto it, carrying them out to an American cargo ship, the Pioneer Contender, which waited with other American rescuers, just beyond the horizon.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Current Events, Diversions, History, Immigration, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, Vietnam | 23 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 25th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
An article in an aviation magazine pointed out that this summer will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. As a matter of perspective, it’s interesting to observe that the length of time separating the US Civil War from the Battle of Britain is the same as the length of time between the Battle and today.
The archetypal fighter planes of the Battle of Britain were the Spitfire, the Hurricane, and, on the enemy side, the Messerschmitt 109. Here are some recent pilot reports on what each of these aircraft is like to fly:
It is now possible to take a ride in a Spitfire–allowing this apparently required some regulatory changes on the part of the British CAA. Here’s one company offering such flights. For pilots, it’s possible to get Spitfire training at Boultbee Flight Academy. I don’t think anyone is offering rides or training in the Hurricane or the 109…very few 2-seat versions of either were built, apparently–so if you want to fly one of these, you’ll probably have to buy one. Here’s a recently-restored Hurricane for sale.
As an interesting historical irony, Israel’s first fighter was a version of the Messerschmitt 109.
See also my post Radar Wars: a case study in science and government, which is about the secret decision-making involved in making Britain’s commitment to a large-scale investment in radar deployment.
Posted in Aviation, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Tech, War and Peace | 13 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th April 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Found through a link on Ace of Spades HQ – a picture gallery at the Military Times, of (mostly) WWII black and white pictures colorized. Some of them more convincingly than others – but the best of them very well done indeed.
Of course, now I have that Carbon Leaf song on playback in my head…
Posted in History, Photos | 7 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 19th April 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
When I started writing my History columns here on Chicago Boyz, one of my objectives was to explore the “military historical narratives” around General Douglas MacArthur, so I could write with a better understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. But in doing so for this column, the strangest experiences are doing deep, original, historical research. Trying to follow a trail of research on something you think you know — in this case trailing the classified “Need to know” Radar hunting “Section 22″ in 6th Army Administrative Orders — and then going down Alice’s rabbit hole and finding a “Detailed Reality” about something completely different. The “completely different” in this case being a provisional parachute supply company created in February 1944 that used the Rebecca & Eureka, a “Retro-high tech” VHF (AKA Television bandwidth) Radar Interrogator-Beacon System — a distant technological ancestor to the civilian “secondary radar” transponders used for air traffic control on today’s wide body passenger jets.
The Rebecca and Eureka radar beacon system represent something of a “Keystone military technology” By that I mean an analogy to the biological concept of a “Keystone species” in an ecosystem, not unlike the role of algae in the ocean ecosystem or grass for a prairie ecosystem. Rebecca and Eureka radar beacons are the “Keystone technology” for a wide range of ‘unconventional’ operations including clandestine supply, intelligence & pathfinder operations ranging from planting a few agents to the support operations for an airborne army. or large naval landing.
Rebecca and Eureka was WIDELY used by the British Special Operation Executive (SOE) and American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in N.W. Europe, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Burma. This beacon system was also used by American airborne pathfinder operations at Normandy plus Operations Dragoon, Market-Garden and Varsity. And now, its use is documented with this 6th Army Parachute Supply Company in the South West Pacific to support air drops to 6th Army Reconnaissance assets and possibly with both the Allied Intelligence Bureau agents and Filipino guerrillas.
The Duxford Radio Society, of the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, describes the Rebecca & Eureka (shown Fig 1 above) as follows:
A VHF (Secondary) Radar Interrogator-Beacon System
Rebecca & Eureka formed a system of portable ground-based beacons and airborne direction finding equipment initially designed to assist the air-drop delivery of supplies to the Allied Armies and Resistance groups in occupied Europe.
Rebecca was the airborne station, and Eureka was the ground based beacon
The ground based beacon consisted of a super-regenerative receiver and transmitter, originally operating in the frequency range 214 – 234 MHz**, powered from a battery via a vibrator power supply unit. A portable tripod mounted aerial was erected when communications was required.
[**This Rebecca & Eureka bandwidth covers upper Channel 12 and and lower channel 13 in American Television.
See “Retro-High Technology Background Notes” at the end of the column.]
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Uncategorized, USA, War and Peace | 14 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a video and a short writeup about Weizac, the first electronic computer built in Israel. Einstein was initially dubious about the project, wondering how a tiny country like Israel could possibly keep such a powerful machine busy.
The article mentions that the co-leader of the project was Jerry Estrin. His daughter, Judy Estrin, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who among other things co-founded Bridge Communications and has served as CTO of Cisco. Her 2008 book, Closing the Innovation Gap, is on my reading list.
Posted in History, Israel, Tech | 8 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th April 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
(This is a slightly reworked piece I did for a local real estate blog, which alas seems to have gone dormant – enjoy! CH)
For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, it was a popular San Antonio custom. Various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established a custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the squares, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours over an open fire. The chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. (I used this scene several times in Lone Star Sons, and in Adelsverein – The Sowing.) During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons … and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Americas, Entrepreneurship, History | 6 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 12th April 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
One of the most frustrating things in researching General Douglas MacArthur’s World War 2 fighting style is dealing with the mayfly like life of the many logistical and intelligence organizations his military theater created. Without their narrative stories, you just cannot trust much of what has been written about the man’s fighting and command style. Nowhere is that clearer than with the radar countermeasures (RCM) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) Section 22, General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area (Sec 22, GHQ, SWPA). Born in November 1944 to support the air campaign against the Japanese bastion of Rabaul and dissolved in mid-August 1945 after the Japanese surrender. Section 22 gets but two ‘unsourced’ sentences in US Army lineage series history CMH Pub 60-13 Military Intelligence published in 1998 and not even a single mention CMH Pub 70-43, U.S. ARMY SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE IN WORLD WAR II, A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY, Edited by James L. Gilbert and John P. Finnegan, published in 1993.
Yet Section 22 was a large, continent spanning, intelligence organization with squadrons of radar/electronic intelligence gathering planes, ships, submarines and multiple teams of “Retro-High Tech Commandos” doing their own tropical 1944-45 raids on Japanese Radar sites equivalent to the British “Operation Biting” or “Bruneval Raid” did 27–28 February 1942 to gather technical data on the German Wurzburg radar. See the poor copy of a microfilm document Section 22 organizational chart from Alwyn Lloyd’s rather eclectic book ‘Liberator: America’s Global Bomber’ (1993) below.
* The order of battle of General Douglas MacArthur’s Section 22 Radar Hunters as of October 7, 1944.
The job of peeling back the who, what, where, when, why, and how history of Section 22 — and why that history was buried for decades — is the work of many books and articles visiting archives across three continents. This column can at best occasionally take you on journeys describing Section 22 like that proverbial “blind man describing an elephant”.
This column has twice dealt with General Douglas MacArthur’s will-o-the-wisp Section 22 radar hunters. First with field units 12 and 14, “High tech Radar commandos” and later with the radar hunting USS Batfish — the US Navy’s champion submarine killer of WW2. Today’s column will pull back its focus from individual Field Units and show Section 22 over all at the peak of it’s size, capability and influence.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized, USA, War and Peace | 26 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th March 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Exactly a hundred years ago, an enterprising gentleman named James Edward Ferguson took office as the Governor of Texas. He was of a generation born long enough after the conclusion of the Civil War that hardships associated with that war had faded somewhat. The half-century long conflict with raiding Comanche and Kiowa war-bands was brought to a conclusion around the time of his birth, but he was still young enough to have racketed around the Wild West as it existed for the remainder of the century, variously employed in a mine, a factory making barbed wire, a wheat farm and a vineyard. Having gotten all that out of his system, he returned to Bell County, Texas, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and married the daughter of a neighbor, Miriam Amanda Wallace. Miriam Amanda was then almost 25, and had been to college. James Ferguson and his wife settled down to a life of quiet prosperity in Belton, Texas. There he founded a bank and dabbled in politics as a campaign manager, before running for and winning the office of governor in 1914 – as a Democrat, which was expected at the time and in that place – and as an anti-prohibitionist, which perhaps was not. Two years later, having not done anything in office which could be held against him, James Ferguson was re-elected … and almost immediately walked into a buzz-saw. A quarrel over appropriations for the University of Texas system and a political rival for the office of governor – ensconced among the facility as the newly-anointed head of a newly-established school of journalism – eventually blew up into such a huge ruckus that James Ferguson was impeached, with the result that he could not hold public office in Texas again – at least not under his own name.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Feminism, History | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 27th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The Swann family saga, by R F Delderfield:
God Is an Englishman
Theirs Was the Kingdom
Give Us This Day
In 1850, Adam Swann returned from India to his native England, having decided that a career in military service (especially in what he now viewed as basically a mercenary force, the East India Company’s army) was not for him. He had in his possession a valuable cache of jewelry which he had acquired on a battlefield and (probably illegally) kept for himself. While in India he had kept abreast of events in England by reading several-month-old newspapers, and was intrigued with the possibilities unleashed by industrial expansion. His original intention was to sell the jewelry and invest the proceeds in railway stock or in actually building a railroad branch line somewhere–but was dissuaded by a chance meeting with a railroad official, who advised him that railway building was in a bubble and that most of the lines now being constructed would prove uneconomic. The official had, however, an alternative suggestion: put the money on the horses. But not in the usual way.
There’s more future in horse-transport than the Cleverdicks would have you believe. The railroads can solve all the big problems but none of the small ones…If I were you, Mr Swann–and I wish to God I were and starting all over again–I would spend the next week studying the blank areas of that map there. Then travel about and take a look at the goods yards of the most successful companies, and see merchandise piled in the rain on all their loading bays for want of a good dispersal system.
Swann takes the man’s advice and sets off on a cross-country ride to evaluate the prospects for a new horse-drawn freight transportation business. On the way, he meets Henrietta, who is fleeing a prospective marriage arranged by her father, a coarse and greedy mill owner. It is Henrietta who proposes for the projected transport company the name Swann-on-Wheels and the wheeled-swan logo that will soon adorn the sides of hundreds of wagons rolling throughout Britain.
The series is the story of Swann-on-Wheels, of Adam and Henrietta’s marriage and family, and of British society in the time period 1850-1914. Unlike most historical novels covering this period, the aristocracy plays a very minor part, to the point of being almost completely irrelevant to the story, other than as a source of status markers:
In the England into which he had been born, blood and breeding were still paramount and continued to call the national tune. Ancient wealth was still the legislator and determiner of the national destiny. But all this had changed when he was still a lad. By then the man of brass and the man of iron had come into their own, elbowing their way forward and demanding, at the top of their voices to be heard and heeded…Adam, who sometimes conjured with these abstracts, saw the process as a second Reformation, a phase of history repeating itself, with inventors, engineers, and their sponsors matching the hard-faced adventurers of Tudor times…For his part, he welcomed the transformation. To him it was a cleansing tide, notwithstanding the mountains of muck and rubble it left behind…(but) it seemed to him that the wives and daughters of the men of brass took no pride in their menfolk’s astounding victory. All they wanted, it appeared, was to replace their former masters without deviation by so much as a single inch from their ways of life, or discarding a single one of their prejudices.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Business, History, Management, Tech | 6 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st March 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The Obama Administration is close to announcing a deal with the government of Iran on their nuclear program. The deal will include some weak language on delay in the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran and the dropping of all sanctions against the regime by the US and its European allies. This will be a disaster, in my opinion. The New York Times has another editorial today which includes delighted anticipation of the deal and more invective against Prime Minister Netanyahu who opposes the deal.
“In a way, the administration has already won,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. “If you get agreement by the end of March, it will be historic in nature, it will have demonstrated that the administration is prepared to willfully stand up to Republican opposition in Congress and to deal with members of its own party who have doubts, and has withstood Israeli pressure.”
The “historic agreement” will fulfill the ambitions of the allegedly “moderate” Iranian president Rouhani. The Weekly Standard has a nice biography of Rouhani ( which means “pious” or “a cleric” in Arabic.) by some people who know the story and who can use Persian language sources.
Yet since 1979, throughout his entire political career, he has systematically violated what even hard-nosed Islamic jurists might consider sacred obligations that rulers owe their subjects.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Current Events, History, Iran, Middle East, Obama, Politics, Terrorism | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, France, History | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 11th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a fun video about early American jet engine development, made in 1952 and recently found in the archives and posted on the GE blog.
The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution. The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.) US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained. GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines. There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets. (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)
Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine: it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A. The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942. The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.
Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines. The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe. It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum has a P-59 Airacomet and is restoring it to flying condition.
Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech | 16 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 9th March 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
J. E. Dyer: Like it never even happened: Tikrit and the unwriting of modern history
This is an excellent long discussion of the historical background of today’s struggle for Iraq between ISIS and the modern Persian empire:
The eschatology of revolution and Western decline
All of this history is recent, in Persian terms. The ancient Persian Empire was old by the time Herodotus the Greek, father of Western history, walked the earth, 2,400 years ago. There are much older ghosts in the plain of Zahab – but the Islamic conquest of the 630s is the “break” that counts: the one that set Persia and modern Iran on course for their rendezvous with 2015.
Three and a half centuries after the Treaty of Zahab, a revolutionary Iran, sensitized to eschatological signs, found herself facing serious danger from an independent and radical Iraq. The pathway to Baghdad suddenly had geo-military significance again.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Current Events, History, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Obama, War and Peace | 38 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th March 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Americas, Business, History, Tech | 17 Comments »
Posted by T. Greer on 3rd March 2015 (All posts by T. Greer)
This essay was originally posted at The Scholar’s Stage on 27 February 2015. It has been re-posted here without alteration.
Perhaps the most predictable fall-out of Graeme Wood’s influential cover article for The Atlantic, “What the Islamic State Really Wants,” is another round of debate over whether or not the atrocities committed by ISIS and other armed fundamentalist terrorist outfits are sanctioned by the Qur’an, Hadith, and other Islamic texts, and if not, whether these groups and the evils they inflict upon the world should be called “Islamic” at all. Michael Lotus, co-author of the excellent America 3.0 and a generally sharp political observer all around, suggests that American policy makers shouldn’t bother themselves with the question:
Fortunately for non-Muslims, who have neither the time nor the inclination nor the scholarly competence to get into intra-Muslim theological disputes, we do not need to figure out whether ISIS or [their theological opponents] more properly interpret these passages. We just need to know that ISIS reads the texts the way it does, believe them to be divine commands, and acts accordingly. Knowing this, we are better able to plan whatever military response is necessary to defeat them, and hopefully destroy them entirely. This is both theoretically and practically an easier task than debating them.
There are two separate issues at play here that need to be clearly distinguished from each other before the United States crafts any strategy to defeat ISIS. The first is what, if anything, the United States should do over the short term to stop and then reverse ISIS’s advance. The second is how the United States should approach the long term threat posed by Salafi-Jihadist terrorism and the ideology that inspires it. Inasmuch as the goal of American policy is grounding ISIS into the dust, then Michael is entirely correct. Conquerors the world over have shown that one does not need a nuanced understanding of an enemy’s belief system in order to obliterate him. But ISIS is only one head of the hydra. If the goal of American policy is to permanently defeat “global extremism” or “global terror” or whatever the folks in Washington have decided to call Salafi-Jihadist barbarism this month, then this view is insufficient.
I should be clear here. I am not advocating a perpetual, open-ended war declared against some nebulous concept like “poverty,” or “drugs,” or “terror.” James Madison once declared that war is the “most dreadful” of “all public enemies to liberty,“ and I take his warning seriously. We cannot continue on an indefinite war footing without permanently damaging the integrity of the America’s republican institutions.
But there is more to this conflict than America’s internal politics. It is worth it to step back and remind ourselves of exactly what is at stake in the global contest against Jihadist extremism.
At the turn of the twentieth century, China, Japan, and Korea saw vast changes in the shape of their society because the old Neo-Confucian world view that had upheld the old order had been discredited. In Europe both communism and fascism rose to horrific heights because the old ideology of classical liberalism that had hitherto held sway was discredited. As a global revolutionary force communism itself withered away because the events that closed the 20th century left it discredited. If Americans do not worry about communist revolutionaries anymore it is because communism was so thoroughly discredited that there is no one left in the world who is willing to pick up arms in its name. 
We cannot “win” this fight, in the long term, unless we can discredit the ideology that gives this fight teeth.
Luckily for us, this does not require discrediting a fourteen hundred year old religion held by one fifth of the world’s population. It is worth reminding ourselves that the ideology we seek to discredit is a comparatively new one. It was born in the sands of Najd shortly before Arabia became “Saudi,” crystallized in its present form only in the 1960s, and was not exported abroad until the late 1980s. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict excepted, almost all “Islamist” terrorist attacks can be linked directly to this new Salafi-Jihadist ideology and the madrassas and proselytizing media used to spread it. It is an ideology that directly threatens the sovereign rulers of every country in the Near East, and one whose interpretations are not only opposed by the majority of Islamic theologians, but have little relation to the way Islam was practiced in most places a mere 30 years ago.
That an ideology is new or rebels against established world views does not make it less dangerous. Novelty also says little about a movement’s future success–once upon a time Protestantism was a novel ideology. I encourage people to use this analogy. Think of these Salafi reformers as you do the first wave of Protestant reformers back in the 16th century. The comparison is apt not only because the goal of the Salafi-Jihadists is, like the original Protestants, to bring religious practice back to a pure and original form, or because the savagery displayed by many of the Protestant reformers was quite comparable to ISIS at its worst, but because this comparison gives you a sense of the stakes that are at play. This is a game where the shape of entire civilizations are on the table. The Salafi-Jihadists want to change the way billions of people worship, think, and live out their daily lives. ISIS’s success in the Near East gives us a clear picture of exactly what kind of society the Salafi-Jihadists envision for the Ummah.
I will not mince words: humankind faces few catastrophes more terrible than allowing Salafi-Jihadist reformers to hijack Islamic civilization. Theirs is an ideology utterly hostile to human progress and prosperity, and their victory, if attained, will come at great human cost. The Protestants secured their Reformation with one of the most destructive wars of European history; there is little reason to think Salafi-Jihadist victories will be any less disastrous. Not every ‘great game’ of international power politics is played for civilization-level stakes. But that is exactly what is at stake here. We must plan accordingly. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in History, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, Terrorism | 48 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 3rd March 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
This entertaining 90-minute documentary tells the story of a group of idealistic war veterans, mostly but not all Jews, mostly from the USA and other English-speaking countries, who volunteered on the Jewish side during the Israeli war of independence in 1948 and helped to form the nucleus of what became the Israeli Air Force.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Film, History, Israel | 5 Comments »
Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st March 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
One of the more frustrating things in dealing with General Douglas MacArthur’s World War 2 (WW2) fighting style was how many ‘will of the wisp’ intelligence, logistical and special forces operations he created and that were buried in post-WW2 classified files in many military services of several nations, located on several different continents. Often times, when you go looking for one of these outfits, something completely different turns up. Such was the case with “Submarine Field Unit” of Section 22, General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area. And as it turned out, the submarine that the Field Unit operated on is sitting in a museum four hours drive from where I live in Dallas, at Muskogee, OK!
The Balao-class submarine, USS Batfish (SS-310), at Muskogee, Oklahoma. It was the home of one of General MacArthur’s Section 22 field units starting with its 5th War patrol. The field unit helped the Batfish kill three Japanese submarines in 76 hours in February 1945, during its 6th War Patrol. — Photo credit, Wikimedia commons, 2013
As I stated in my “MacArthur’s High Tech Radar Commandos” column, I have been on the trail of Section 22 for some time. Section 22 of MacArthur’s General Headquarters (GHQ) South West Pacific Area (SWPA) was his radar intelligence branch — what is referred to today as electronic intelligence or “ELINT” — under his Chief Signals officer General Aiken. It was made up of personnel from Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, as well as the United States Army, US Army Air Force, US Navy and the US Marine Corps. Most Section 22 personnel were Australian Military Forces (AMF) and not Americans. So most day to day reports — for instance casualty records — with which you build a unit history, will be in the Australian archives.
It turns out that the National Archive of Australia (NAA) has digitized and posted on-line a significant portion of Section 22’s analytical work in the form of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) copy of the Section 22 “Current Statements,” AKA reports on Japanese radar site locations and excerpts of technical analysis of captured radar documents or components, covering the period of 14 January 1945 to 20 March 1945. In those 66 days Section 22 generated 43 “Current statements” numbered 0260 to 0302. What I read of the file demonstrated a high pressure, fast paced, operational intelligence organization providing timely “actionable” intelligence to fighting units across the SWPA.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in History, Military Affairs, National Security, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 27th February 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Another excellent post from The Belmont Club, Which I read every day.
The barbarians of ISIS destroy ancient artifacts, in an outrage like those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s rejection this month of international appeals to halt the destruction of much of Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic heritage — their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar termed them idols — indicates that those most determined to impose their vision of a perfect Islamic state are firmly in control.
That article was from the period before the US invasion. Many artifacts were repaired but that will stop and the destruction will resume after we leave.
The Mosul destruction is to be expected everywhere the Takfiri tide rises enough to control an entity.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Science | 19 Comments »
Posted by Lexington Green on 27th February 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Theodore Roosevelt, wrote many excellent books, including A BOOK-LOVER’S HOLIDAYS IN THE OPEN (1916). I have this book on the Kindle app on my phone and I read it at odd moments. Every page of it is good, with many quotable passages. I will restrict myself to one.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, History | 13 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 26th February 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
The posts about work in the not-so-long-distant past brought to mind this essay, the original of which was posted in 2005 here, at The Daily Brief)
Believe it or not, the military is full of enthusiasts, amateur devotees of all sorts of arcane arts and pursuits in their off-duty time. Drinking, carousing and other hell-raising have been from time immemorial associated with off-duty military, and the economies of entire towns have been built around providing the venues for that sort of amusement but the little-recognized truth is for most adults, they eventually pall, in the military and on the outside. The advantage to the military is that that there is really no rigid set of socially acceptable off-duty pursuits as there are other walks of life. What you do, when you go home and take off the uniform is pretty much your own business for enlisted people; as long as it is not illegal, embarrassing to the service or the US government, and does not impair you in performing your regular duties or showing up for work on time the next day. There is very little social pressure to conform in your choice of hobbies and amusements, which may seem a little outre for a profession which many civilians expect to set a standard for conformity. In reality, the officer-class is a little more constrained, and expected to be a little more conventional and middle-class in their leisure pursuits, and the very top enlisted ranks are supposed to set a good example, but among the lower ranks it doesn’t really matter if you are off on a weekend motorbike road trip to Burning Man, taking classes in economics or obscure martial arts, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, puttering around with your kids at soccer games, or out in the ville drinking to excess with your friends. On Monday morning the reaction among your co-workers is guaranteed to be something along the lines of ‘Hey Dude, whatever.’
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in 25 Stories About Work, History, Media | 4 Comments »