Recent Reading

Four mini-reviews in this batch:

Splendid Solution, by Jeffrey Kluger
Red Plenty, Francis Spufford
Instruments of Darkness, Alfred Price
The Scarlet Thread, Mandy Rice-Davies

Splendid Solution is about the development of the Salk polio vaccine. The book gives a vivid picture of the devastation wrought by epidemics with no vaccines and without meaningful treatments, both the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and the successive polio epidemics, and the public health measures used in attempts to control such epidemics.  It describes how the Salk vaccine was developed, some of the conflicts among scientists, and the vaccine rollout, including media reactions and early manufacturing problems.  Very interesting reading, especially in the light of our present vaccine situation and controversies.

Red Plenty is about Soviet economic planning, as seen from the inside.  (I’ve reviewed it previously here, but recently re-read it in conjunction with an online book discussion group.)  It’s part fiction and part factual history: the characters include factory managers, economic planners, mathematicians, computer scientists, and “fixers.” Very well-written and also well-researched and footnoted.

Instruments of Darkness is about electronic warfare during WWII, primarily on the European front but also touching on the Pacific war.  Covers ‘the battle of the beams,’ in which Britain attempted to interfere with the radio guidance system used by the Germans to support night bombing, and the jamming and spoofing which was directed at communications between night fighters and their ground controllers.

The author was himself an electronics warfare officer with the RAF during the war, so speaks from a position of knowledge.

A Scarlet Thread is a historical novel about Israeli settlements in what was then called Palestine, at the time of the First World War.  Faced with increasing exactions and depredations by the Turkish rulers, a group of Jews resolve to support the British war effort by providing intelligence information–if they can find anyone in the British government who is willing to accept such information and take it seriously, that is.

The author became famous (or infamous) as one of the two women involved in the Profumo sex scandal of 1963-64, which brought down Prime Minister Macmillan and the Conservative government.  She married an Israeli, moved to Israel, and converted to Judaism–this book (published in 1989) is a pretty decent historical novel, not just an attempt at capitalizing on her celebrity.




53 thoughts on “Recent Reading”

  1. Any recommendations for books about the early days of a country’s takeover by commies, what people did, wish they had done, etc.?

  2. One interesting section in ‘Instruments of Darkness’ describes British interference with German night fighters: stared out with simple jamming, but decided they could do more harm to the energy by having German-speaking Brits giving them false instructions. The Germans responded by using girls to transmit the message; then the Brits found a sufficient number of German-speaking girls to do the same, Imagine the situation of a German night fighter pilot listening two girls telling him to do different things, and arguing about which one was the *real* German.

    Germans eventually came up with a pretty smart technical solution, a system that combined navigational information (bearing from a transmitting station) with message transmission, the latter involving a printer that was sort of a combination of teleprinter and fax machine, but much mechanically simpler & lighter than a regular teleprinter. Didn’t get it deployed before the war ended, though.

  3. On the topic of mpolio and vaccines, you might be interestyed in the story of Maurice Brodie, who developed a polio vaccine in the 1930s but had a series of kids who developed Polio in spite of or from the vaccine.

    Brodie and his team had prepared a formaldehyde-killed poliovirus vaccine, testing it first on Brodie himself and five co-workers, and eventually on 7,000 children and adults, with another 4,500 people serving as a control group.[10] In the control group, Brodie reported that five out of 4500 developed polio; in the group receiving the vaccine, one out of 7,000 developed polio. This difference is not quite statistically significant, and other researchers believed that the one case was likely caused by the vaccine.

    His vaccine was abandoned and it was another 20 years before Salk. His results were actually better than those with the various mRNA vaccines we see now but, fortunately, the virus does not have the serious consequences for most of those affected.

  4. I am old enough to remember when the Salk vaccine cake out – 1956. Millions of school children took their sugar cubes with the drop of the vaccine.

    My parents had as a friend for many years a prominent lawyer who caught polio while at UC-Berkeley. I don’t think they every really found out how it was passed but the friend always thought it was a public swimming pool.

  5. I remember reading in the book by Erik Larson – The Splendid and the Vile – about Churchill’s first year as PM – recommended. But within that book the author dealt with the tremendous electronic war with the Germans – and that beam technology.

  6. Brian…early days of Communist regimes:

    Ayn Rand’s novel ‘We the Living’ is set in the early days of the Soviet Union, based partly on her own experiences living there, which is probably the reason it’s better from a literary standpoint than her other novels. There was also a quite good movie made from the book.

    Not ‘early days’, exactly, but Anna Funder’s book ‘Stasiland’ is based on her visit to East Germany in 1994, five years after the Wall came down. I reviewed it here:

  7. John R D Braham’s memoir “Night Fighter” is a superb personal account by a the RAF’s top night-scorer, from the pointy end of the wizard’s war.

    I thought I had a good grasp of the air war (despite not being there) but this book taught me much I didn’t know.

    I started Victor Klemperer’s first volume of his journals about life under the Turd Reich, but it’s too depressing, and I’m only up to ’34. I’ll eventually plough through . . . the process of gleichshaltung is very suggestive of recent events.

    By some miracle Klemperer survived the war, only to find himself in a similar turd bowl in East Germany.

    I’ve not read enough of John Lukacs’s personal writings to know, but since he survived in ’45 and fled Hungary in the late ’40’s he probably talks about that experience.

    Good thread.

  8. Mike K…the book does briefly the Brodie vaccine, also a live-virus vaccine created by Kolmer. At the meeting where the results of the trials were discussed, Kolmer’s remark was “I wish the floor would open up and swallow me”…which, from a career standpoint, it did.

    At about the same time, various preventative approaches were being promoted…a bacteriologist at Columbia asserted that vitamin C approaches would do the trick. And virologists Albert Sabin and Peter Olitsky (the author really seems to dislike Sabin) thought that a nasal spray of sodium alum or tannic acid would work.

  9. If someone would have showed you this thread a year ago (when these vaccines didn’t even exist!) you would have dismissed them as a crazy conspiracy theorist nutjob writing dystopian science fiction:
    With no Covid Pass, my wife and I are banished from society.
    We have no income.Banned from most shopping.Can barely exist.
    But we will not accept authoritarianism.
    Here’s how life looks after one month in Lithuania,under Europe’s first strict,society-wide Covid Pass regime:

    Conservatives have this myth based on Solzhenitsyn’s quote about shooting the secret police that that’s how you stop authoritarianism from starting, but there’s no chance that will work. In a few months when people are being forcibly taken to get either vaccinated or to be imprisoned, if they try to resist, they will get killed. Period. Even if they are in a “red” rural area. If they shoot a cop or sheriff deputy, they will get 100 come to kill them.

    So I’m interested in a perverse, hopeless, way, of reading any sort of real-time accounts of an average person (not a politician) as the curtain slammed down. Even from Cuba, Venezuela, etc., I would think there must be such things available?

  10. re the Night Fighter communications…here’s some information on the navigation/communication system that I mentioned, which was named ‘Bernhard’ (for the transmitters) and ‘Bernhardine’ (for the receivers).

    The system was developed from the commercial Hellschreiber system (which name does not mean ‘the writer from hell’, contrary to the claim on one website), which was introduced in the early 1930s for news agencies, among other applications. All kinds of information about Hellschreiber’s of all varieties at the parent site of the above link:

  11. The “sugar cube” was the Sabin vaccine. Salk was an injection . My kids had both, each as it same out. My younger son is resisting the mRNA vaccine, especially for his son who is 16 and an athlete. So far, no mandate has affected them but they are in Orange County.

  12. —Red Plenty, Francis Spufford

    Yeah, I read this one, it was interesting.

    It sort of provides insight into the failure of the Soviet state, but was kinda sorta “Duh.” mixed with “Yeah, so?”

    It was good as fiction, but did not really reveal an awful lot.

  13. A couple of things I found especially interesting in the polio vaccine book:

    –the public health response to the 1916 polio epidemic, at least in NYC, was pretty draconian. Board of Health people would come around to homes where there was a known or suspected case, quickly check out whether the living arrangements were sufficient to allow feasible quarantine of the infected person and his caretake (usually the mom)…if not, the kids were taken away, forcibly if necessary. There was eventually a place built on Long Island for children to be quarantined and treated; local people, afraid of infection, threatened to burn it down.

    –by the time the Salk vaccine was coming out, the fear of polio was so extreme that the drug companies estimated that a vaccine would be marketable even if its efficacy were only 15%. The actual trials showed 68% effectiveness against polio type 1, 100% against type 2, and 92% against type 3. (there were formulation problems pulling down the type 1 effectiveness, so the ultimate number was higher, not sure how much)

    –there was a bad batch of vaccine made by a company called Cutter Laboratories; some recipients were infected from it. There were demands to close the whole program down, not only the Cutter-made lots, but these were resisted. There were accusations that Cutter had been licensed only because of political pressure involving then-VP Richard Nixon.

  14. The beams progressed in the SHORAN system that was used to bomb the Po river bridges in northern Italy late in the war.

    I had never heard of the female radio controllers before. (I don’t think you’re allowed to call them girls any more and female is probably pushing it.) The Brits had a sort of natural immunity with a wide selection of semi-comprehensible dialects to secure their communications if necessary that the Germans would have found very hard to mimic convincingly. Of course, the code talkers killed both the authentication and encryption birds with one stone.

    American deliberately used what they called “paraphrase” which was nothing more than using slang and different allusions to things like baseball in communications that made it very hard for non-Americans to spoof. When messages were encrypted, the transcriber would insert these randomly so that there was never a chance that a clear text could be compared to the cypher text. This had been the downfall of the German cypher system.

    What it all really shows is that planning counts for squat when it comes to war. The winner will be the side that adapts and innovates fastest.

  15. @MCS–“What it all really shows is that planning counts for squat when it comes to war. The winner will be the side that adapts and innovates fastest.”

    Pretty much true. One of the many myths that are used to “explain” German military successes is that they executed perfect plans brilliantly (or the variant that they executed brilliant plans perfectly).

    That’s about 180* degrees wrong as a factual matter. Adaptation and improvisation were the keys to their victories, and everyone else’s.

  16. MCS…”I don’t think you’re allowed to call them girls any more”

    Bet they called *themselves* girls, so it would be cultural appropriate to do otherwise!

  17. Mike K already made the point. The Salk vaccine was injected. I was about 9 when we lined up in front of the Elementary School and received our shots. We were happy about that. Polio was a horrible disease that maimed and killed thousands of children every year.

    So far fewer than 500 children under 18 have died from COVID.

    I am a geezer now and at risk from COVID. I was thrilled to get vaccinated. I recently got a third shot of Moderna. i had to lie to get it, but i did and I am happy about it. No apologies.

  18. –there was a bad batch of vaccine made by a company called Cutter Laboratories; some recipients were infected from it.

    My wife’s sister worked as a lab tech at Cutter at the time. It was just a lab screwup not worthy of the conspiracy theories. The Brodie vaccine in the 1930s had fewer complications than the present Covid vaccine. I just hope somebody is working on a conventional vaccine for Covid but it would only be needed for the elderly like me.

  19. @Cousin Eddie,

    You go to try to track down all the myths about “German Culture” and their education system, along with the military they supported, and what you find is a whole lot of propaganda and wishful thinking. In a lot of ways, they were far more open to innovation and talent than anything on the Allied side, with far more “power down” policies than anything the French or British would countenance.

    The whole thing is incredibly frustrating; the same people that tell you that the Germans could not innovate, could not adapt, and were these rigidly hierarchical types are also the ones telling you the things you really ought to consider as entirely counterfactual, like “…the Germans are eating our lunch industrially…”. I mean, the Brits were crazy into trying to cut German imports in terms of finished industrial goods, even going so far as to mandate labeling with country of origin–Which was where that all got started. The thing was, the German products were of such high quality that people began using the “Made in Germany” markings a thing to look for, and British manufacturers took to counterfeiting the marks…

    The reality of these things never penetrated very far into the minds of the idiots doing the thinking in our military or civil government. Sure, there were some hallmarks of “rigid Prussian hierarchy” and inflexibility to be seen, but by-and-large? A German junior officer had more leeway to do things his way and adapt to chaos around him, and the troops were taught to employ the maximum possible initiative. It’s really difficult to read intel reports decrying the German’s as being these rigid Prussian militarists that are at one and the same time talking about how hard it was to deal with German impromptu improvised counter-attacks that would be thrown together by some on-scene staff officer out of the cooks and clerks, which would then go about throwing entire Allied formations out of their recent gains. I could never quite fathom how they could avoid having their heads explode from the cognitive dissonance that that should have created, but I’ve long since concluded that they weren’t quite smart enough to grasp the contradictions in their thinking.

    The more I observe, the less impressed I am with the people we keep putting in charge of these things–Which has been going on for generations, I’m afraid.

  20. Kirk,
    I don’t see anybody here arguing some sort of American infallibility. If you’ve read Trent Telinko’s many, well researched posts, a reoccurring theme are the many times where things were accomplished in spite of the “high command.

    My observation is that wars are won by whichever side screwed up less.

    As an example, the heavy bombers in Europe were a deeply flawed and enormously costly weapon while those in command were criminally slow to recognize and adapt tactics that accepted reality over preconceived doctrine. Notably, they never acknowledged the ability of German industry to overcome the damage caused by the bombing. At the same time, the bombers were the only means of directly attacking and curtailing the German war machine before D-Day. This was a capability that the Germans never developed and so, were powerless to disrupt the buildup for the invasion they knew was coming. And, while our bombs never produced the decisive knock outs that were always predicted, the heroic German efforts to overcome the bombing directly reduced both the amount and especially the quality material produced.

    The Germans could patch or hide a factory and pass out rifles to cooks and 14 year olds, what they couldn’t do was take back the invasion of Russia, or attack anyone they couldn’t walk to.

  21. “I just hope somebody is working on a conventional vaccine for Covid but it would only be needed for the elderly like me”
    Novavax has studies showing extremely high effectiveness, but seems to be caught in some sort of supply chain hell. Also it is very clear that Pfizer has immense influence with global regulatory agencies, so my guess is they’ll squash Novavax and similar competitors forever.

  22. I’m not about to get into a global Germans great/Allies suck discussion. The fact is that every mass army had to make it up as they went along, and the German advantages, while real, were a wasting asset and the Allies employed better strategy–the fine art of avoiding a fair fight–overall.

    Nor will I condemn a whole generation of Americans, who accomplished things this country will never match again, and were the only people in the whole mess who had to fight full-spectrum war worldwide. That our infantry wasn’t the greatest is a shame, but they were good enough to do the job.

    As for the counterattacking–it might be Megellas of the 82nd who pointed out that the counterattacks were predictable and the Germans seemed to think nobody else would catch on. (I see he died only last year.)

    Two points about the Combined Bombing Offensive. As costly as it was, it had a definite effect on the German economy. The much vaunted Speer miracle of production was largely due to the fact that there was a lot of slack in the German economy even in mid-1942, and one consequence of his real accomplishment was that by mid-1945 the Germans had some of the most advanced machine tools in the world–which proceeded to do their part in the postwar wirtschaftswunder.

  23. The one thing that German ingenuity couldn’t overcome was a lack of raw materials. The shortage of high temperature alloys meant that their aircraft engines had to operate at limited boost which significantly limited their power as well as their service life. The lack of oil was also a special problem for aviation engines as well as transport generally. Synthetic rubber is much harder to produce if you can’t start with oil.

  24. Oh, don’t read what I’m saying about the Germans as some sort of endorsement of them on every issue. The parochial and utterly inept way they looked at the world led to a lot of their strategic blunders, ones that they didn’t need to make.

    The thing I’m trying to get at is that the people who dismissed everything German as the product of some Prussian martinet factory are, flatly, just as wrong–But, in a different way.

    I absolutely loathe a lot of the ideology on both sides, but I’m of the opinion that a wise man looks at things clearly, and then picks and chooses what works–And, there was a lot on the German side that worked better than what we were doing. The thing that just absolutely enrages me is that a lot of our guys died finding that out, the hard way, and to ignore “the better way” because your cloistered prejudices don’t allow you to see things clearly means those men died in vain, to some degree. The military learns its lessons in blood, and to fail to learn from the blood shed by your men is to essentially waste much of what they sacrificed. If you keep doing it, generation after generation…? Well, that might mean you’re French. It also means you’re a bloody idiot.

    I’ve got very little time for the Wehraboos, but I’ve got even less for the “Allies did no wrong” school. The whole thing has to be taken in, and learned from. We did vanishing little of that.

  25. Kirk, in both world wars the Germans had a longer runup time to prepare their soldiers. I’ve done a bit of reading about World War I. Some of the incentive for Germany was a very German resentment by the public about their status as a nation. The Kaiser, who was a fool, echoed that. The German army was much better organized than the French or British. I do not consider the French innocent in the runup to the war. They were still resenting the 1870 loss of Alsace and Lorraine. Bismarck did not support taking both provinces as one was majority German speaking but the other was not. The US was very unprepared and I agree with Pat Buchanan that we should have stayed out. In fact, I think (and have told a friend who is retired British Army) the British should have stayed out. The High Seas Fleet was the principle reason the British got in and this was the result of the Boer War, in which Bertie the Foreign minister acted ineptly in insulting the Germans. Long story.

  26. WWI was a concert of incompetence, sloth, and wishful thinking by the elites of the time.

    About the only thing I can say positive about them, compared to today, is that they were willing to feed their own into the charnel house with gay abandon. Today’s elites are nowhere to be found on the front lines of folly, which is telling.

  27. I don’t want to misrepresent anyone, so just to be clear I do NOT think that Kirk argues from a Germanophile bias in this discussion–didn’t mean to suggest that.

    I’m so old and so nerdy that I’ve lived through cycles of Wehrmacht mythologizing, from the most over-the-top praise to what often seems like o-t-t condemnation–both among the amateurs and the pros.

    The issue of WW I entry has reared its head again . . . There’s some good debate online about it, featuring actual historians. With all due respect to Patrick J. Buchanan, Esq., I don’t look to Nixonite hangers-on to explain the realities of 20th Century world war and peace to me, in his spare time.

  28. The German record in WWII is one of failure to achieve almost every important objective that they set for themselves.

    Failure to neutralize England, leaving an enemy and base of operations in their rear.

    Failure to take Suez, which would have likely secured the Persian oil fields for Germany.

    Failure in Russia.

    Not to deny the exemplary actions of individual soldiers or units, but the outcome was never in their control.

  29. “The German record in WWII is one of failure ..”

    Let’s be a little more charitable. Germany did fairly well with Czechoslovakia, Poland, France. And did surprisingly well against the USSR initially.

    Germany’s big failure was unnecessarily declaring war on the US after Pearl Harbor, thereby giving FDR free rein to pursue his desire to make the world safe for Communism. If there ever was a time to toss a treaty into the trash can, that was it! Loyal Germany declared war on the US in support of Japan — the same Japan that would not help Germany by attacking the USSR to protect their territory in Manchuria and giving Stalin the problem of a two-front war.

    Germany’s declaration of war on the US turned out to be an even bigger screw up than England’s & France’s earlier empty declaration of Phony War on Germany. To echo Victor Davis Hanson, once the war became Germany, Japan, Italy versus USA, USSR, British Empire, the side with the much larger population, resource base, and manufacturing capability was certain to prevail.

  30. niall ferguson, who is a scot and an imperialist wannabe articulated this point of view, in the pity of war now teddy roosevelt, might have got into the war faster, for reasons,

  31. yes that was stupid mistake on his part, like invading the Soviet Union, something he always wanted to do (see mein kampf, his hatred of the Slav was clear, so were the Jews)

  32. With all due respect to Patrick J. Buchanan, Esq., I don’t look to Nixonite hangers-on to explain the realities of 20th Century world war and peace to me, in his spare time.

    While I disagree with him about Churchill and WWII, he raises useful questions about Edward Grey and WWI. The professional historians that I have read all seem to follow Tuchman’s theme of “It was all Germany’s fault.” I read, among others, “Sleepwalkers” which raises serious questions about France’s role. With all due respect, appeals to authority don’t cut much slack with me.

  33. You won’t find Tuchman on any grad school syllabi, I think, except as an example of a lady popularizer.

    Neither Ferguson nor Charmley follow her, nor McMeekin, nor Christopher Clark. On the other hand (though it’s of course more nuanced) you have Margaret MacMillan and IIRC Hew Strachan. Not sure where Jeremy Black comes down. Those are just the ones I recall without looking at the bookshelf.

    So let’s not set up straw authority figures. I’ve seen enough of Buchanan in my lifetime to see that he’s got a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of Churchill; I see that he has the wit to cite actual historians like Lukacs; but I don’t see that he has any great insight into the period. Buchanan is enough of a lawyer to make a good brief, but he started with his conclusion.

    The “intelligence squared” site has a good debate of the proposal “Great Britain should have stayed out of WW One.” (This is not an endorsement of the site, which I only discovered today.)

    Lukacs wrote several books featuring Churchill and Hitler, including “The Last European War” and “The War Hitler Won.” He would be better known, I think, but he was a self-described Catholic reactionary–not a way to win friends and influence people in academe.

  34. I don’t think the Brits really had an option, once the guarantees to Belgium got called into it all. You could either break your word, or you went to war.

    The German government was excellent, so long as it had someone in charge who knew what they were doing, and after Wilhelm fired Bismarck, the “knew what they were doing” bit went right out the window. There was never really any point at all to Germany building a navy; there was never really any point at all to having a colonial empire. They were doing just fine, without either one, and it was really more a “keeping up with the Joneses” deal than an actual need. I’d love to see a counter-factual where the typical ego of the German in the elite was damped down far enough to let them see clearly that they could dominate Central Europe simply through trade and technology, eschewing all the BS that went with the “build Empire by war” mentality. Can you imagine Germany putting all that steel into developing a partnership with Russia, laying rails and building rolling stock instead of warships that got turned over to the Brits and scuttled? Be pretty damn hard for the British Empire to sink a train rolling across the Eurasian plains, and it would have created such wonderful synergies…

    Unfortunately, the idiots were running the show, and no matter how proficient the soldiery was, the people making decisions just got most of them killed to no real purpose. Didn’t have to be like that–Germany could have dominated Central Europe for generations on the cheap, simply through commerce and trade relations. Hell, considering that Nicholas II had a German wife…? What’re the chances they could have peacefully unified, if they’d just left their damn egos at home.

  35. I don’t think the Brits really had an option, once the guarantees to Belgium got called into it all. You could either break your word, or you went to war.

    Best argument I know for the Brits but it still was a disaster for Britain. Retrospect, of course, but predictable. Bertie set off the German quest for a High Seas Fleet with his internment of German ships with supplies for the Boers. Then he ended up ambassador to France,

    The Germans feared Russia and the French were arming them. Yes, the Russians collapsed but that had something to do with Germanies role.

    I still don’t buy appeals to authority and lists of names.

  36. Sacred Spaces by Michael Burleigh, opens on the Cenotaph, the monument to a victor of that war, the UK, the impact was much worse in Russia, of course, France, Italy and Germany, creating not only a crisis of regime, but in large effect a crisis of culture, which manifested itself in nihilism and atheism or authoritarianism, (this was the tightrope Pope Pius walked along) supporting clericist regimes like portugal or even romania,

  37. Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that Germany was intent on starting a war with Russia and would have manufactured a pretext if necessary. Germany’s motive is what’s always overlooked.

    By the time Germany became anything but a loose collection of comic opera rumps, the rest of the “colonial” world had been divided up among the senior European states. Ironically, pre-Haber agriculture was a zero sum game. Agricultural production dictated the size of the army that could be supported and the only way to increase production was to increase area. The only land available was to the East and controlled/protected by Russia. This almost perfectly mimics the situation in the run up to WWII.

    The interlocking alliances meant that a war with Russia was also a war with France. The gateway to France was through Belgium making a war with England all but inevitable. Since England had a total of only six divisions capable of being deployed to the Continent, they didn’t really count. The German declaration of war on 12/8/41 traces to their grievance that sees our unjustified entry to WWI stealing their impending victory.

  38. So much of history includes things that happened only because the participants failed to comprehend that the things their assumptions were based on had changed without them paying attention to the consequences.

    I suspect we’re in the middle of something like that, right now–We’re at some point between transitioning from a scarcity economy with all that entails to a situation where a bunch of things that used to matter…? Don’t. And, we haven’t figured out that the rules of the game must, perforce, change.

    I further suspect that there are going to be some rather huge surprises, like unto the European realization that colonies were a net drag, rather than a boon. The irony, of course, is that now we have the sight of a bunch of those former colonies colonizing Europe, although I’m sure the humor escapes the current occupants.

    It’s like with Haiti; the US has spent so long fscking Haiti over, and now the Haitians are gonna return the favor. Can’t say I blame them, but I do blame the assholes who spent a lot of time exploiting the hell out of the place and screwing the Haitians over. I think it would be lovely to send in a crew of forensic accountants to examine just where all those donated billions for Haiti went to, and then claw it all back from the various grifters.

    You get down to it, and the root problem is that today’s elites are always fighting the last generation’s wars; Germany really had no need to develop colonies or have the military they built to conquer. They were well on their way to doing it through trade and development, without having to shoot anyone at all. But, locked into the atavistic memory of “what worked” in the past, they went barreling into the charnel house.

    I wouldn’t necessarily give the Russians a free ride, either–Nicky-darling simply didn’t have the nous to run the Empire, and his advisers were a bunch of numbnuts. I’d still love to know exactly what the truth is behind the whole deal with the Serbian “Black Hand” organization–I’ve heard Serbs make claims that they were played by Russian intelligence services that were looking to foment trouble, but… At this remove, who the hell really knows? I’d lay long odds that if it was The Russians, it was probably some element of the Okhrana that the Tsar never knew about, doing their own pan-Slavic things in the Balkans.

    Root problem? Idiots in the “elite”. Which is generally, across all of history, composed of utter morons who’ve no real idea what the hell they’re doing.

    I swear, the longer I’m alive and observing things, the less respect I have for my “social betters” who’ve finagled themselves into positions of power. I’m becoming a damn anarchist, TBH… Left up to me, they’d all hang, from the local power-tripping dog catcher up to the President. After due process and a trial, of course–From what I’ve seen, they’ve all got their little fiddles going, and have corrupted their offices to such a degree as to be beyond belief. Doesn’t matter at what level, either–The local school board is about as bad as Congress, just on a lower scale.

    TBH, I think we set things up the wrong way. Instead of having these systems wherein we rely on the saintly goodness of good people to get involved and run things…? I think we probably ought to set out from the conclusion that it’s all gonna be corrupted eventually, no matter what we do, and just put it all out into the open. Instead of running elections, we ought to put the whole thing out for bid, and make them do it in the open. You’d win the “electoral” contest by putting together the best package of bribes, that’d net you a percentage, with the rest going to the Treasury. Everything else? Up for bid–Say Exxon wants to drill in the Arctic wilderness? Fine; they get to pay to play, out in the open. Want a law giving you monopoly rights over search on the internet? Fine; you get to bid for it, out in the open, and you have to compete with your peers.

    I mean, if humanity is inherently corrupt and fallen? That’s the way we ought to organize things; hell, I’d put the Mob in charge of crime, even. I think it would be very interesting to see how much better that would work–You pay your protection money, and they make sure you don’t get robbed. If you do get robbed? They have to refund you for your trouble. This crap goes on all over, so we might as well get it out into to the open and shine some sunlight on it. I’d love to see the Mob sued into oblivion because they failed to do what they promised, which has happened a lot.

    Along with anarchistic tendencies, I’m getting really, really cynical in my old age. It’s all y’all’s fault, though…

  39. “Instead of having these systems wherein we rely on the saintly goodness of good people to get involved and run things”
    Well, the Founders set things up based explicitly on the opposite of this–they said so quite often! But over 150-200 years or so the crooks and cretins changed the rules to give themselves overwhelming power, and the last 50 years of undeniable decline are the result.

  40. au contraire, with haiti, they have screwed themselves sufficiently, the first intervention was because the president was slaughtered on the court house steps in 1915, yes the marines overstayed, almost as long as our hindu kush expedition, then came 1991, and part of the hatfield mccoy (aristide is lucky he didn’t get the lumumba treatment,)

  41. No, Haiti got screwed by the US going as far back as the immediate post-revolution dealings with them. The South was shit-scared that the precedent set by self-freed slaves would spread, and they did all they could to screw over Haiti. You go back and look at it, and the US was very careful not to enforce the Monroe Doctrine when it came to Haiti; the French were allowed, for example, to sit a fleet off of Haiti in 1825 and demand 125 million francs in indemnity. The US also refused to recognize them as a nation until about 1862, which did a lot of damage to the potential for them to trade with anyone.

    No, the US and France are pretty much the authors of a lot of the problems that Haiti has had, historically. The views put forth from the standpoint of others are really lopsided–Dominicans ignore all the things that were done by them to the Haitians, the US is oblivious, and the whole thing is a friggin’ travesty. Had they been dealt with forthrightly and honestly, Haiti would be a different place, today.

    I used to have different opinions, but after getting the Haitian perspective from someone who grew up there and emigrated, I have to say I had to change my mind once I’d verified everything she said in other sources. There’s a lot of self-sabotage that went on, but there were also a hell of a lot of other things done to Haiti by outsiders that contributed. The whole deal with the French “reparations” was ridiculously unfair; even if you factor in all the horrors that the Haitians perpetrated on their former masters, the fact is, they were pretty much doing as they were done by. Demanding reparations for that? Utter BS–And, the US helped them along, notably US banking interests that helped rape Haiti up until 1947.

    You break it, you buy it. I am not at all proud of what the US has done, with regards to Haiti. The travesty of letting the Clinton “charity” foundations rape the funds supposedly collected on behalf of Haiti are just the latest in a series of transgressions that our nation has performed on Haiti. Audit those “charities”, and prosecute the abusers? I might change my mind about that. Ain’t going to happen, though…

  42. yes that was the rime of smedley butler, but they seem to have done worst among all countries in the sphere of influence, the latest sawdust caesar was not helpful in some ways, like ivory coast seems to have a similar spate of rotten luck, the congo where we source our koltan for our phones,

    anyways, sacred places shows how deep the chasm the Great War left, re the Levant, the Brits promised the same land to three different parties, then the deals were revealed, the Jews the Bedouin (who compose so called palestine) and then split with the French, in places like Syria, they played the same game in the Arabian peninsula, arming the hatfields and the mccoys, (the sauds, won the tournament, the hashemites the scraps in jordan and iraq)

  43. Who needs authorities and historians when Patrick J. Buchanan, Esq,. speaks?

    Doc K, I’m not selling anything. I’m pointing out that Buchanan is not an authority on anything except the opinions of Buchanan. There’s a lot of room outside of Buchananland for real history.

    Speaking of Ferguson, he points out that since the Brits withdrew from their colonies, the per capita wealth of the UK has gone up while the p/c wealth of the former colonies has gone down, almost across the board. And he’s a pro-empire, anti-going-to-war in 1914 academic . . .

    “Sacred Spaces” looks interesting–I’ve seen it in the stores; revisionists like John Mosier can spark good debate too.

  44. the social impact of the war, that has brought europe to the brink, now it was nicholas’s mismanagement, along with allied commanders like haig and nivelle, that wrought the cataclyms that decimated an entire general, whether the Colonel Blimp epithet, is entirely earned is somewhat immaterial the us was largely spared, except for the bonus marchers,
    what was the true purpose of the war, to expend lives and weapons at a great volume, well in that sense they succeeded, but Europe was left much worse than it started, it precipitatedthe cascade of independence movements from north africa all the way to the subcontinent,

  45. @cousin eddie, I did not cite Buchanan as an authority. I said his ideas are interesting and mostly contrary to most “history” as understood. Yes, I have read a number of Lukacs’ books.

  46. OK, Doc K. Apologies for misattributing. PJB certainly has his acolytes and defenders online.

    FWIW, I’ve never told anyone not to read his book, or any other; I only try to put it in a context of existing scholarship–the scholarship he had to depend on. Whether he did a good job is the issue.

    As for the whole notion of Brit neutrality in 1914, let’s game out a little.

    The French armies having fallen back to Fortress Paris–look at the article on the city in the EB 11th–and Russians pushed back in East Prussia, the Germans now demand that the UK cease supplying war materiel to France so they can enjoy their clean victory.

    What, the neutral Brits think they are free to trade with anyone they choose?

    “Torpedo, loose!”

  47. What, the neutral Brits think they are free to trade with anyone they choose?

    I don’t know how it would have turned out. In 1870, Bismarck was running things. The Kaiser, for all his foolishness, was still an anglophile, more so than German public opinion France, once again, was not innocent in the runup to the war. There were lots of revanchists over Alsace and Lorraine. The French were selling military supplies to Serbia and Russia. Britain and France had a thousand years of hostile history.

  48. It’s hard to disagree with Kirk’s assessment of Germany’s leadership class. I’m a Germanophile myself, because I’ve studied the non-militaristic side, both before the astonishing achievements of the German-Jewish synthesis and afterwards. (ISTR a remark attributed to Rommel after a meeting with Comando Supremo in Rome–“after all, there’s more to life than soldiering.”)

    And Doc K brings up good points. Stay-outers aren’t devoid of good arguments, but all too often think of their solution as a sort of historical check-mate. Perhaps the Brits would find it lucrative to trade with bloodied but upright Russia, whatever happened to France . . .

    I think in both 1914 (and 1917) and 1939 (and 1941, twice!) the German leaders painted pictures for themselves, and were blinded by their own arrogance and contempt for possible enemies. In their bubble, it all made perfect sense–and they did some amazing things for a while.

    I’m going to say something positive about Tuchman. “The Proud Tower” is a pretty good overview of late-imperial Europe.

    And for sure there were many potential flashpoints in 1914. What intrigues me about the “powderkeg Europe” thesis of many historians are three things that did NOT set off a general war–Italy v Turkey in Libya*, and the two Balkan Wars. There were several thresholds that first the Germans and then the Russians stepped over, and war presented itself as a way out of domestic crises in all the major countries, right or wrong aside.

    There’s a good book whose author and title escape me that surveys the domestic situation in each case pretty thoroughly. I’ll try to recall what it was.

    I also habitually plug Modris Eckstein’s cultural survey “Rites of Spring” for some interesting thoughts on national attitudes and affinities in the runup.

    *The Italian colonial regime was quasi-genocidal.

  49. while those in command were criminally slow to recognize and adapt tactics that accepted reality over preconceived doctrine

    How very different from the First World War!


  50. }}} I had never heard of the female radio controllers before. (I don’t think you’re allowed to call them girls any more and female is probably pushing it.)


    “Usually 2X, But Occasionally Not”? :-D

    Actually, it was probably tied partly to a study done at some point, showing that both males and females responded more immediately, and more patiently, with a female speaker. That’s one reason why Star Trek’s computer had a female voice — someone, either a story editor or someone in charge of making the show’s canon (in modern terms, a showrunner) was aware of studies showing this, and postulated it forward. It’s what made Majel Barrett’s (later Barrett-Roddenberry’s) voice probably the most well known “computer” voice in history to this point…

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