The French Army in 1940…and the American CDC in 2021

Andre Beaufre, later a general, was in 1940 a young Captain on the French general staff.  He had been selected for this organization a few years earlier, and had originally been very pleased to be in such elevated company…but:

I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

The consequences of that approach became clear in May 1940.

It is interesting that Picasso had somehow observed the same problem with French military culture that then-captain Beaufre had seen. As the German forces advanced with unexpected speed, Picasso’s friend Matisse was shocked to learn that the enemy had already reached Reims.

“But what about our generals?” asked Matisse. “What are they doing.”

Picasso’s response: “Well, there you have it, my friend. It’s the Ecole des Beaux-Arts”

…ie, formalists who had learned one set of rules and were not interested in considering deviations from same.

I was reminded of this history by a sequence of posts at twitter.  Joanna Masel, a theoretical biologist, says the CDC contacted her (following an NYT story) about an app she helped develop to notify people (anonymously) about possible covid-19 exposure. Her group put a very informal preprint on github nearly immediately, and a more formal one on medrxiv soon after. A CDC coauthor was added to shepherd it through MMWR, which is described as “CDC’s primary vehicle for scientific publication of timely, authoritative, and useful public health information and recommendations.”

The preproposal was rejected. Informal feedback was that they liked it but were so backlogged that a peer reviewed journal was likely faster. This initiated 6 months of clearance procedures needed for CDC coauthor to stay on paper.

What CDC staff spend a LOT of time on: rewriting manuscripts with meticulous attention to style guides. Eg, Methods must follow exactly the order they are used in Results, all interpretation must be in Discussion not in Results, etc. to a point truly unimaginable in my field.


6 months and endless CDC work hours later, after new CDC edits overclaimed efficacy in ways we deny, at CDC’s urging we removed the CDC coauthor in order to terminate clearance to instead make the deadline for a relevant CDC-run special issue…On top of minor revisions from reviewers, more style guide edits required by CDC journal editors. Eg because style bans reference to an individual as a primary or secondary case, we now refer to individuals who test positive v. infected individuals v. those infected by each. After resubmission in <30 days, rejected months later despite green light from peer reviewers. Bottom line from CDC editor: because our data is now too old, we longer conform with journal guidelines….

So after the manuscript spend the vast majority of the previous 12 months on CDC desks not ours, we were rejected by the CDC because the data had become >12 months old.

Doesn’t this sound like a replay of what Andre Beaufre observed?

I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

See the costs of formalism and credentialism.

1/4/2022:  Updated to correct name of Picasso’s artist friend.

59 thoughts on “The French Army in 1940…and the American CDC in 2021”

  1. Alistair Horne’s To Lose a Battle is priceless regards France 1940, albeit a little dated in places. Even his footnotes are solid gold and prophetic. For instance:

    *It was revealing that the first measure taken to defend Paris should have concerned the preservation of order; presumably against a popular revolt by the left such as had been perpetual bugaboo since the Commune of 1871.

    Sounds familiar except the Left is now the Establishment and fears the Right.

  2. Tacitus…the British general Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s liason to France in 1940, verifies that this concern about civil disorder was common in the government. Georges Mandel, the Minister of the Interior, thought it was nonsense. He asked one person–the Prefect of the Paris Police–if he were concerned, and got the response that he was not.

  3. Good one for Picasso.

    Ernest May’s “Strange Victory” is better and more recent than Horne. The title is a play on what historian-eyewitness-participant Marc Bloch wrote in 1940 in “Strange Defeat.”

    There are treatments more recent than May’s, but I haven’t read them.

    If I thought this bureaucratized idiocy was confined to the CDC I’d sleep well.

  4. At least the French generals in WWII had the decency to surrender, and let the Germans take over. Among the undiscussed consequences of that — during most of WWII, the French Stock Market had the highest returns of any market worldwide. And we know from the actions of FedGov and the Federal Reserve today that stock market returns are by far the most important gauge of the health of society.

    What if the CDC had stood aside, and let Covid be handled by the population in the same way the annual flu outbreak has been handled for decades? Where would the stock market be today? Or, to be more serious, would society at large be in better condition than it is now?

  5. This is just the way bureaucracies are. There’s just no sense expecting something different.

    An argument against FDR engineering Pearl Harbor is that he didn’t arrange for the Army and Navy Staffs to be on the Arizona. It would have shortened the war by years.

  6. As I keep saying… The drive to control things is what destroys most institutions.

    You get down to it, the German victory in 1940 boils down to one thing, and one thing only: They were better adapted to chaos, and indeed, relied on creating chaos in the French command hierarchy. The Germans got inside their decision loops, and ensured that events happened to their desires, while simultaneously taking advantage of any random chaotic events that they ran across which would benefit them. The French weren’t so much defeated by raw skill-at-arms and better weapons (which, were arguably mostly French…), but by the fact that their leadership could not function on the battlefield that the Germans created and took advantage of.

    The real irony is that a lot of Germans didn’t quite “get” what they’d done in France, and because of that, hubris took over and they went on to do what they did in terms of starting things they could not possibly finish.

    You cannot control things outside yourself. That’s the essential lesson of history, and the more we ignore this rule, the more idiocy people will get up to, imagining that they can.

    You cite the COVID “pandemic” and its response–Well, remember that Seattle-area doctor who was doing survey work, sequencing everything that people had, who were coming into contact with the medical system? She was prophetic, she was–And, what did the CDC do? Shut her down. You can find very little in print on that episode, today.

    We should have been doing survey work all along. Sequencing genes is fairly cheap–How much would it cost to have people tested for what was making them sick, whenever they get sick enough to see someone about it? That way, you get an idea of what’s out there. As well, if you could make it affordable, we ought to be doing survey sequencing on every single person buying a damn over-the-counter cold medication…

    One of the larger problems with our health care system is that we’ve predicated everything we’ve studied on studying the sick. Nobody goes out to survey the healthy who’ve not bothered to go see a doctor because they’re… Healthy. This leaves a gap; we know what sick looks like, in the general run of statistics, but nobody has a clue what the hell “healthy” might really look like.

    I ran into this while reading the literature on cholesterol. The interesting thing there is that the whole “cholesterol bad” idea stems from the fact that it seems like people with heart disease present with abnormal cholesterol levels and so forth. What nobody seems to have done is go out and look at people without “heart disease”, whateverthehellthatreallyis, and studied their cholesterol levels in any great depth. As best I can tell, it’s been “Oh, you have heart disease and high cholesterols… They must be linked…”. Meanwhile, there could be tons of people out there with very high cholesterols in their blood, and no heart disease–Which might tend to encourage the idea that while some “heart disease” might be related to cholesterol, there are also other probable causes. So far as I can tell, nobody is out there looking at the “healthy” populations for the data. Which, they really ought to do.

    You see the same thing in a lot of the humanities–We know all sorts of things about deviant sex, thanks to Kinsey, but did he ever really examine “normal” human beings? From what I’ve read of his studies and methodologies, I’d have to say “Fsck, NO…”, because just about everyone in his studies were pretty much aberrant deviants from the norm.

    This is a problem across a lot of human endeavor, and a cause for a lot of things failing. We tend to examine edge cases, and then extrapolate across entire ranges of data. You do a survey about a new cereal, and there’s a mostly “Meh” reaction to it, yet there are also those who so strongly love the stuff that you decide to take it to market, anyway–Where it fails utterly, because you listened to the edge cases.

    Point is, you can’t impose your reality on reality, because reality is gonna impose right back at you, and it’s a hell of a lot bigger…

  7. The French Army was supposed to defend the country.
    The CDC was never ever envisioned as being in charge of anything. It’s supposed to put out press releases to not eat raw cookie dough and get ignored. They were raised to the status of oracles as a way to undermine Trump.
    Similarly NIH is supposed to fund academic research and FDA is supposed to grease things for Big Pharma, not rule over American society.

  8. “But what about our generals?” asked Monet. “What are they doing.”

    Picasso’s response: “Well, there you have it, my friend. It’s the Ecole des Beaux-Arts”

    …ie, formalists who had learned one set of rules and were not interested in considering deviations from same.

    A thought that occurs to me is that this sequence represents a near-perfect example of what happens when the forms of things become more important than the reality of them. You have here a perfect example of the essential and utter corruption of effective action across much of French society and culture–Picasso is able to make an allusion to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and Monet can relate perfectly to what is going on within the French General Staff, even though is manifestly not a military man. This indicates the breadth and depth of the problem in French culture at the time, and indeed, since ferfsckingever. It’s the triumph of “system” and “hierarchy” over pragmatism and common sense–You see echoes of it all across French history, from the response of the crown to the forces behind the Revolution to the conditions of WWI. The system is more worried about the conformance of the orders to some style guide for writing them than they are to what those orders contain. You rather get the impression that it’s the same things failing across entire societies. It’s not just the French, at all. There’s the classic example of “order, over all” encapsulated in the collision of the Titanic with the iceberg it hit.

    The story goes that the reason the lookout didn’t have binoculars that night is because an officer was transferred off the ship before sailing, and he took the key to that locker with him, so the binoculars weren’t available for the lookout to use, and avoid the iceberg.

    Stop and think about that, for a moment.

    After that moment has passed, ask yourself this: Who do you blame for that happening? Is it the officer’s fault, for absconding with the only key? The ship’s “system”, that allowed that to happen, and then did not correct for it by ensuring that the locker was opened? I mean, a ship like the Titanic, I’m sure they had someone on board who could serve as a locksmith… Yes? Or, failing that… A hammer?

    Or, was it the fault of the seaman on lookout, who did not insist on having the binoculars he needed to do his job properly at night?

    The responsibility for that sinking is diffuse, and hard to work out. It may well have been that even if the lookout had had the binoculars, he might not have seen the iceberg in time, anyway. Or, he might have been ignored.

    But, that whole incident is highly indicative, telling us a lot about the culture of that ship’s crew. I like to think that if I’d been that lookout, I’d have been raising hell about getting those binoculars out, or that I would have broken the damn locker myself, but… Who knows? The entire question boils down to the culture surrounding the incident. Another ship might not have bothered locking those binoculars up, or would have taken the fact that they were considered important enough to have locked them up in the first place, then they must absolutely be available for the lookout, and the fact that they just went “Oh, well… Haven’t got the key, can’t access them… No worries, they’re not really necessary…” flatly blows my mind, when I think about it in terms of my own life-experience in the military. It’s like “Well, yeah… The fire extinguishers are all locked up in storage, nobody’s got the key, we’ll just let the fire burn…”. You don’t do that, and as a responsible, thinking junior leader, I’d have been like “Yeah, get the bolt cutters… Or, the sledge-hammer…”.

    The French military staff showed less common sense and ability to cope with reality than I’d have ever tolerated in a junior NCO under me. This shows why that whole system failed, systematically, from the bottom up. If you have inept, incompetent leadership over you, you have to “route around”, and if you don’t…? Well, you’re likely gonna die or lose the war.

    It’s well past the time where our society in general needs to recognize and acknowledge that we’ve got the inept and incompetent in charge, running everything around us. We’re due for a reset, and it’s not the sort of thing that Bill Gates and the rest of the oligarchy imagine they’re going to put in place. I’m envisioning a situation where you’re going to have to have people taking tickets for using the various available lamp posts, and having to ration time on the gibbets for all of the various and sundry incompetent boobs we have ensconced in positions of power and authority. “Yeah, you want to hang X? You’ve got ten minutes, and then “Y” is going up, followed by “Z”, over there…”.

  9. I ran into this while reading the literature on cholesterol. The interesting thing there is that the whole “cholesterol bad” idea stems from the fact that it seems like people with heart disease present with abnormal cholesterol levels and so forth. What nobody seems to have done is go out and look at people without “heart disease”,

    In my book of Medical History(There used to be a link to it here), I tell the story of how cholesterol first became the crisis it still is. It began with Korean War KIAs. Most were young and pathologists (one of whom was a person al friend) were shocked to see coronary artery disease in these young men. Then, someone did a study on feeding rabbits (a common lab animal at the time) meat. The rabbits developed high cholesterol and heart disease. It was ignored that rabbits are vegetarian and smoking was universal among soldiers, and most men at the time. The association between smoking and heart disease came along later. Remember WWII movies showing the wounded being given a cigarette?

    Then Robert Atkins came along to recommend a diet at variance with the consensus that cholesterol was bad. He was vilified and his death from a fall on a slippery street was celebrated. However, all the low carb diets currently popular, including Keto diets, are based on his work. When I researched my book about 1999, I could find no science literature supporting his ideas.

  10. @Mike K,

    I vaguely remember reading about that, now that you remind me of it. The stuff I researched came in later, starting in the 1960s.

    One of the things I dislike about scientific literature is that a.) much of it is locked up so that the casual reader cannot get at it, and b.) it isn’t “threaded” such that you can follow the ebb and flow of what the researchers were thinking, along with the meta-data of specifically why they thought that. There’s no linkage external to the actual documentation such that you can trace things out from one work to the next, and there really should be.

    To a degree, I think a lot of what is out there is more “sciencism” than it is “science”. If you can’t acknowledge and control for your bias, and you’re allowing preconceptions to drive your “research”, there’s a problem. The “irreproducibility crisis” stems from this–Along with the fact that we’ve gotten so far into the weeds with some things that we’re almost reaching a “quantum scale” of effects where the researcher researching an issue is actually creating what they are reporting simply by virtue of observation… And, too–When your conclusions are based on numbers that are really below the threshold of “significant difference”? Yeah; there might be a bit of a problem when someone goes to re-run the experiment you designed.

    As well, there’s the tiny little question of what you are using as a subject population for your studies. All too many are based on college students in wealthy countries, who are disgustingly healthy and entirely aberrant, compared to the world’s population as a whole. How much of your work is really representative of just your own subject population…?

    One thing with that Korean War study that isn’t considered is that those young men were products of the post-Depression boom years, being raised during and after WWII. The diet in those days wasn’t exactly what I’d term “Healthy”, smoking was endemic, and people were living pretty high on the hog, compared to earlier in the century. Did anyone control for those differences…? Did anyone consider that the stress of being drafted, put into the Army with the wonderful diet available from the mess halls, then going to Korea and being in combat might have had some influence on things?

    A lot of the WWII generation that the doctors would have had previous experience working on came out of the Depression; diets weren’t so rich in fat, back then, and the five years between 1945 and 1950 would have hit those young men right where they were doing the most of their physical development–So, better diet, maybe?

    Every time I read these things, I find things that they didn’t allow for, or provide controls for–Which then calls into question the entire resulting thesis from the observational research that they did.

  11. Re the side discussion on cholesterol:

    Highly recommended: “The Clot Thickens – The enduring mystery of heart disease“, by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, ISBN 978-1-907797-76-7 (2021).

    And, yes, Dr. Kendrick presents a strong line of evidence that the cause of (most) heart disease is not related to cholesterol.

  12. MCS…there are bureaucracies, and then there are bureaucracies; some of them work much more effectively than others. The keys to effectiveness seem to be:

    –there is an external check on their performance: the market in the case of businesses, war in the case of military organizations.

    –there have been trying times in their recent history: in the case of the French Army, they hadn’t had to fight against a comparable opponent since the end of the first war. (And the German defeat in that war had arguably led to more openness to new ideas and new people)

    –there is effective leadership, which understands the danger of bureaucratization and acts to counter it. (One CEO of my acquaintance spoke of the need to ‘play whack-a-mole’ against outbreaks of incipient bureaucracy)

    –also, important that leadership understands the importance of organization design…generic mush about the importance of ‘teams’, etc, doesn’t cut it.

  13. @Mike K,

    I have. Which is also why I’m such a cynic about much of academia, these days.

    I blame everybody for it, as well–Ain’t nobody out there looking at the headlines about a lot of this stuff, and then actually even bothering to read the rest of the article past the lede paragraph. If you do, quite often you find that the media parrots can’t even grasp the inherent contradiction in what they wrote for the headline and lede, when reporting on anything. People get the crap they demand, and when they don’t demand accuracy in reporting, or accountability in government…? Yeah; who’s at fault?

    It’s a cultural phenomenon. Who was at fault with that binocular issue on the Titanic? Was it the guy who took off with the key, or was it the guy supervising the lookout that didn’t take steps to get past that locked-up set of binoculars? Was it the lookout himself, who didn’t insist on having the tools he needed for his job?

    Or, was it the whole bloody surrounding cultural matrix, the one that resulted in incompetence? Why didn’t the Captain make some damn spot-checks to ensure that the proper tools were on hand for the lookout’s job? As the old saw goes, “What the boss doesn’t check…? Doesn’t get done.”.

    So many vitally important things are encapsulated in that one tiny anecdote, which most people don’t even bother to really process. On another ship, in another company, under a different captain? None of the prelude to sinking would have occurred, or it would have occurred differently.

  14. David F: “there are bureaucracies, and then there are bureaucracies”

    Arguably, there is a generational element in this too — perhaps as characterized in Prof. Charles Handy’s “Sigmoid Curve”. All human organizations struggle to find their feet, and then the successful ones grow, before plateauing and inevitably declining.

    Again arguably, the kind of visionary who has the drive to start an organization is often not the best person to run it once it is on its feet. And the kind of person who can run an organization well often does a really bad job of developing his replacements, so the organization eventually falls into the hands of smooth blinkered incompetents; then decline naturally follows.

    That story has come to pass many times over history, and the only way the human race has found to deal with it is to burn everything to the ground from time to time and start over. Are we going to find a better alternative this time?

  15. the German Army had will, and the French did not, their officer corps had a bugaboo about dreyfus 50 years later, Petain let the most savage the cagoule the milice run rampant like the ustachi in croatia and the oun in ukraine, the likes of bousquet, papon et al, rose up in the ranks even after the war, bousquet was on the board of the bank of indochine, (the one that tried to use opium as a currency) papon rose to paris police chief at the time of algeria,

    the cdc had one job, prevent infection like malaria, and they failed at that, they had a seat at the wef boardgame

  16. Bureaucracy is itself a culture and it can, and does for its adherents, supercede the national culture and patriotism. I ran across and saved this years ago that has bearing on the mindset of French government forces in WW-II.

    This quote is from Tony Jugt’s book, “Postwar- a History of Europe Since 1945.” Below, he is speaking of local administrations in some Nazi–occupied western European countries:
    “The local administrations in France, Norway and the Benelux countries had not covered themselves in glory. On the contrary, they had on the whole performed with alacrity the occupiers’ bidding. In 1941 the Germans were able to run occupied Norway with just 806 administrative personnel. The Nazis administered France with just 1,500 of their own people. So confident were they of the reliability of the French police and militias that they assigned (in addition to their administrative staff) a mere 6,000 German civil and military police to ensure the compliance of a nation of 35 million. The same was true in the Netherlands. In postwar testimony the head of German security in Amsterdam averred that ‘the main support of the German forces in the police sector and beyond was the Dutch police. Without it, not 10 percent of the German occupation tasks would have been fulfilled.’ Contrast Yugoslavia. which required the unflagging attention of entire German military divisions just to contain the armed partisans.” –p.39
    Note that the subjects of the quotes were turning against their own country and people. I leave it to the Gentle Reader to consider how this might relate to the American bureaucracy in the last couple of years, and the coming future.

    Subotai Bahadur

  17. Yep. I would, however, suggest that things may not work out the way the bureaucrats hope they do.

    The ease with which the Germans administered their occupied countries outside the Balkans is educational, when it comes to evaluating just how much and how effective of a “resistance” movement actually existed.

  18. The Germans and the Vichy did accomplish one benefit for France. They destroyed the existing medical traditions and organizations so that the Free French came in in 1944 with the best designed health care system in the world. It was planned by a former health bureaucrat who was Jewish and hence escaped with his life. I have posted a series of reports on the French system that used to be linked here. This link will take anyone interested to it. France has had to modify the system because of their poor economic performance but the principle remains the key. The principle is market mechanisms.

  19. Someone tried to push an app that tracks people, and it got held up in the CDC bureaucracy? Am I the only one cheering for the bureaucracy in this case?

  20. Such insanity. What exactly is the point of the FDA? Oh yeah, like I said above, “FDA is supposed to grease things for Big Pharma”.
    MORE – The Pfizer “booster” injection for children in the U.S. receives emergency authorization on the basis of “real-world” data from Israel. No clinical trials are cited in the ⁦FDA press release.

  21. Apropos nothing at all, the story of Picasso and Monet discussing the 1940 invasion of France is interesting, given that the invasion happened in 1940 and Claude Monet died in 1926. Picasso’s point remains valid and maybe he actually said it, but I am fairly certain that he didn’t say it to Monet.

  22. I should have caught the Monet mistake, apropos of being a know-it-all.

    Also, the author Subotai quotes is Judt, not Jugt.

    Mark Mazower’s “Hitler’s Empire” covers the background to Judt’s Post-War.

    And Lukacs “Jahr Null” is good on 1945 itself.

  23. If he said it to Monet, it would have been WWI, not surprising that it would apply to WWII too. We are talking about the French Army after all.

  24. “Someone tried to push an app that tracks people, and it got held up in the CDC bureaucracy? Am I the only one cheering for the bureaucracy in this case?”

    As described, the app does anonymizing, so doesn’t track people as individuals…I haven’t looked at how it works, so don’t know how reliable that assertion is. But I doubt anyone in the CDC held it up for that reason; sounds to me like their normal publishing standards which would apply to any paper with a CDC author on it. (They didn’t hold up the app, AFAIK, not clear that they *could* have, only the paper and the entry into the info-dissemination system)

  25. Akaky….indeed, it could not have been Monet. The story is repeated in several places, including a 1979 Hilton Kramer article in the NYT. The source of the quote appears to have been a biography of Picasso by Penrose….I could only get a snippet view of that book, which showed the quote but didn’t show (in the snippet) who he said it to…it might have been Penrose himself, if he was in France at that point in time. When I get a chance, I will run this down.

  26. The French Army of 1805 conquered most of Europe, and so scarred (and scared) their neighbors that France was the foremost military nation for a half-century–the army that everyone copied; from 1914 to 1917 it was the French Army that did most of the killing and dying while richer and/or more populous countries geared up, and the vaunted Russians were sent packing by a fraction of the German divisions.

    And from 1918 to 1940 the Germans considered the French Army their most dangerous potential foe.

  27. the story of Picasso and Monet discussing the 1940 invasion of France is interesting, given that the invasion happened in 1940 and Claude Monet died in 1926.

    Monet’s son lived in the house until after the war. After he died, it was taken over and restored by a foundation. Maybe it was the son. I have been there and it is beautifully restored, even the lily pond.

  28. I vaguely remember reading this, somewhere before. Did a search on it, and the only three cites brought up by the Duck are two here, and another quoting the first time David Foster brought it up.

    I presume he’s the guy we’re gonna have to blame and deputize for running this one down. I think the reason I remember it was that first post of his on it, back in 2018.

    You sometimes have to wonder how some of these pithy quotes propagate, down the years. I remember the disappointment I felt finding that quote about reorganization wasn’t really from Petronius Arbiter as was reputed, but its actual provenance was just about as good, albeit a hell of a lot more recent:

    I’d lay you long odds that when Mr. Foster finds that source for this, it’ll be something apocryphal. Even if it is true in spirit, it’s almost too good to be true in fact.

  29. C Northcote Parkinson is perhaps best known for his Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to fill the time available.”

    He’s also known as a writer of historical royal navy fiction in a similar vein as CS Forester or Patrick O’Brien. And a lot of business books as well.

    Everyone should read his classic book Parkinson’s Law as well as the sequel “The Law and the Profits”

    I don’t recall him addressing the French military in either book, though he does address the British military at some length in both.

    2 things from Parkinson came to mind reading this excellent post

    1) He point out that one of the major problems of the French government, especially their parliament is that they conduct all their business in French. He is only partly tongue in cheek. If a language cannot adopt new words, it makes it hard to adopt new concepts. Orwell also wrote about this in 1984 and particularly the appendix on NewSpeak.

    2) The other, more on point, is that in organizations the less competent/knowledgeable leadership the more time they spend on minutiae and the less on value adding activities. He calls this “ingeltance” (IIRC, It’s been a while)

    I don’t remember which of the two Law books it is but he gives the example of a British board of directors meeting. They have 2 items on the agenda. 1) Spend 5000 pounds upgrading the tearoom. 2) Spend 5,000,000 pounds building a new power plant.

    All the directors know about tea rooms, how much they should cost, whether it is really necessary, can it be contracted out, so they spend 90% of the meeting discussing this item. And they leave it tabled for further discussion.

    Only one of them knows anything about power plants. The others have all been given a thick briefing book. Few of them have read it and few of them understood it. Their is virtually no discussion because nobody wants to look stupid. The one person who knows about it speaks in favor, everyone says some words of agreement and thee investment is approved unanimously.

    Parkinson is much better than I am at explaining this.

    Anyway, Parkinson’s point is that when people don’t know what they are doing, they tend to emphasize form over function. Sounds like what was happening in the French Army.

  30. Parkinson also points out that the victory at Waterloo was planned in some “pokey” building (Horse Guards?) while Gallipoli, the Somme, and Dunkirk were directed from some majestic new building.

    Ditto the US. Before the Pentagon we never lost a war. After the Pentagon we’ve never won one.

    The Pentagon was completed in 1943 which he considered too late to greatly impact the war effort.

  31. One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional organization is that it is unable to prioritize or identify what it should be prioritizing on properly.

    A military unit I was in during the late 1990s found the time to plan in nauseating detail a social function, yet devoted less than a tenth the time to planning and preparing for the only major field exercise they’d be holding that year. The social function went off without a hitch, while the training event was an epic clusterfsck.

    Care to guess which was mentioned in the Officer’s Evaluation Report for that Brigade Commander? Yep; the social function. Nary a word mentioned about the embarrassment of a field exercise.

    Ya can’t work out what’s really important, don’t be real surprised when your performance on that task is shiite.That brigade commander went on to become a general; the unit went on to experience major difficulties prepping to go to war for OIF. Big surprise, both…

  32. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

    This has been stated in many places. Here is an early one.

    It has been quoted many times.

  33. OK, I think the Picasso mystery is solved. It wasn’t Monet that he had the conversation with, it was Matisse…who lived until 1954.

    Thanks for correction, Akaky!

    Kind of embarrassing….only excuse I can come up with is that they both start with ‘M’.

    For penance, I guess I’ll have to post a comparative collection of Matisse and Monet paintings.

  34. Original source is Roland Penrose, ‘Picasso: His Life and Work’, by Roland Penrose, who was a friend of Picasso for many years. The question about the generals and Picasso’s response can be seen in the snippet view at Google Books, but you can’t tell from the snippet who he was talking to. This question is answered in critic Hilton Kramer’s 1979 NYT article, in which he identifies that other person as Matisse and cites Penrose.

    The Andre Beaufre quote is from his book ‘1940: The Fall of France’, which is very well-written and describes his service in the colonial wars in the period between 1918 and 1940 as well as the events leading up to and during the catastrophe of 1940.

  35. Anyway, Parkinson’s point is that when people don’t know what they are doing, they tend to emphasize form over function. Sounds like what was happening in the French Army.

    I suspect about half of the French officers knew what they were doing. They were choosing the Nazis over their own chaotic government. The French air force had a superior fighter plane the Dewoitine D 520, that was the equal of the ME 109 and the Spitfire. They were carefully deployed far from the Germans near the factory and did not see service.

    By 10 May 1940, when the Phoney War came to an end as Germany launched the invasion of France and the Low Countries, a total of 246 D.520s had been manufactured, but the French Air Force had accepted only 79 of these, as most others had been sent back to the factory to be retrofitted to the new standard. They did shoot down some BF 109s but the war was quickly over.

  36. Our CDC has been nearly impotent although still doing uncounted damage, if they had their way, it would probably look something like this:

    I don’t know who China Insights is, there are quite an number of videos all together and I can’t vouch for them but I’m pretty sure they’d get you thrown into prison in China. The main points line up with what I see from other places.

  37. Mike K: “I suspect about half of the French officers knew what they were doing. They were choosing the Nazis over their own chaotic government.”

    That brings to mind the old observation that to get a real civil war, the military first has to fracture. In the French case, that fracturing might be considered as a cold civil war in which the military functionally abandoned their own government.

    This leads to today’s news about the insurrection in Kazakhstan. Our morally-bankrupt Nancies in the former People’s House should note what a real insurrection looks like. It is hard to judge from the limited info available, but it looks like the Kazakh government forces are profoundly reluctant to turn their weapons on their fellow citizens. Which brings us back to the Iranian revolt, and famous cases where the Iranian soldiers dispatched by the Shah to suppress the revolution instead shot their officers and joined the protestors. Nancy and Biden* beware!

    Which further leads us back to Fauci, the CDC, and Operation Fear. The US military is a huge organization with over a million members in thousands of units spread over far-flung bases. How many of the “vaccinated” military members have been “vaccinated” only on paper, or have been given an injection of saline with a nod & a wink? DC Swamp Creatures may not have set out to fracture the military, but actions often have unintended consequences — with which those Swamp Creatures will have to live.

  38. The problem is that we all have to live with the consequences of the Swamp Creatures’ choices, not just them.

    A little pushback on the French fighter issue. It may well be that political malfeasance and worse were rife in the Air Ministry, but the Brits kept their Spits off the Continent in ’40 too,
    and for the same reason: the Allied expectation and plan before the upset blitzkrieg was a buildup of modern forces followed by a war of material and attrition.

    And even if they had sped up training and deployment of the D.520 a few hundred fighters IMO probably wouldn’t have made much difference. Some French tanks were superior by some technical measures, but as in tanks the French didn’t have the experience in application and doctrine that the Germans did by then.

    They had a steep learning curve, made steeper by bad strategic judgement, and certainly some level of internal subversion.

    Good discussion.

  39. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Gavin.

    The Obama years served as a purge for a lot of actual “citizen-soldiers”, who grew disgusted with the path things were on. Had I not retired before his term, I’d have gotten out and kissed good-bye to any retirement, rather than serve under him and the coterie of ass-kissers he promoted. None of them were competent; you could see the handwriting on the wall, insofar as what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan–Although, in fairness, the rot set in a long, long time ago. He just accelerated and rewarded it.

    Today’s military isn’t the one you’re fantasizing. The Navy, for example? Word went out from on high that nobody would get any such thing as a “religious exemption” for the vaccine. Nobody in “middle management” so much as squeaked. Telling, that… During the previous “mandatory fun vaccine” drive, the one for anthrax, people were allowed to opt out without ill effect–They were just rendered non-deployable, with the concomitant effect that would have on their careers. Today, they’re using it as a negative qualifier for separation, which has two-fold effect: On the one hand, they’re getting rid of anyone with a conscience and religious scruples, and on the other, they’re identifying all the people who will simply comply with anything for retention. If you think this doesn’t mean anything, I invite you to observe this:

    There are some questions about whether or not the video where she says that was “selectively edited”, but that’s pretty much immaterial: I can find nowhere that this mid-level NCO has been disciplined for her words, or the confident audacity wherein she discusses shooting her fellow citizens for “not complying” with the vaccine drives.

    Salvation ain’t coming from within any of our institutions: They’ve been captured and suborned, destroyed from within. The handwriting was on the wall from the day I enlisted, only I just didn’t see it. The ethos that they’ve promulgated over the decades since WWII has pretty much been one of “Do as you are told, do not think for yourself, and obey those appointed above you without question”. I can’t think of a single time anyone ever discussed the duties of a citizen serving in a military force, so far as serving as a check on tyranny. And, since it was never, ever brought up…? Do the math; they don’t want anyone thinking about these things. As one of my troops once said, which I now look back on with a certain degree of horror, “I’m a soldier; I go where I’m told, I do what I’m told, and if they told me to burn this place to the ground instead of save it, I’d do that just as happily…”. He was talking about the fires at Yellowstone, back in 1988, but I’m pretty sure that he’d have had zero issues with anything else. We trained them like that, and I participated in it, unknowingly. I always had the “citizen-soldier” ethos myself, but that was self-instilled; I was always at odds with a lot of my peers and superiors over the things they said and did, and they thought I was “weird” for the way I processed a lot of crap. For example, whenever we were doing counter-riot training for things like being assigned as the ready brigade, I always objected to the scenarios they came up with, because about half of them should have gotten the writers in trouble with JAG. My objections were based on the fact that what they were projecting as cause for us to deploy were things that were not legitimate uses of Federal force; they did not care. Hell, even the JAG officer we had assigned to us shrugged and said “Yeah, it’s illegal, but it’s ‘just training’…”.

    There’s a definite loss of standards and accountability. You don’t even have commanders getting upset things they should be, like their subordinates ignoring the rules about involvement with civil law enforcement authorities. Early in my career, there was an incident with a case where an on-scene lieutenant and senior NCO got themselves and their men involved in capturing “criminals” because they thought it was a “good idea”, and they “arrested” said “criminals”. That one got ugly, because the case got sent up by the defense attorney as a Congressional, and the usual result occurred. Disciplinary actions were taken against the idiot LT and his NCO. Some 15 years later, similar situation happened surrounding the events of 9/11, and I was expecting a similar reaction. Didn’t happen; the brass just winked and nodded, and nothing was done about it–Even though it was a far less ambiguous situation and far more egregious.

    I don’t have a good feeling about the state of our military these days, so far as this crap is concerned. If you’d have asked me back before 2000 whether or not active Army troops would ever fire on civilians at the orders of their superiors, I’d have said “Oh, hell no…”. Now? I’m pretty sure they’re gonna do what they’re told, period.

    There is a lot of training in the German army that covers the whole “orders are orders” issue; they’re gun-shy on it all. Today’s US Army hasn’t done that, it’s not a part of the culture, and I suspect that it will get ugly if they’re ever ordered to do things we don’t think they should, as citizens–Mainly, because they’ve never been taught not to do those things, or to question “orders”.

    Christ, I was getting some really scary vibes when we did war-crimes training… Some of the things the troops thought were perfectly reasonable and legal were… Bad. Really, really bad. I don’t think we do enough training or conditioning on these things–The Israelis do a better job on it than we do, because they integrate all of that into every single training event they run, and it’s written into their version of the Code of Conduct, which for us, covers what you do as a POW more than anything else…

  40. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Gavin.”

    Not hopes so much as speculations — historically-driven speculations.

    The Kazakh rulers probably did not expect their uniformed forces to be apparently so reluctant to use violence against their fellow citizens. Chinese rulers were probably frightened back at Tiananmen Square when a tank driver baulked at running over a Chinese citizen. The Shah of Iran was definitely shocked when some of his soldiers shot their officers and joined the protestors. Russia’s Czar certainly did not expect Cossacks to allow revolutionaries to duck under their horses and escape. There are numbers of historical occasions when parts of the military have decided to throw in their lot with the opponents of the regime.

    On the other hand, those civilized Dutch & German police seem to have no problem using violence against their fellow citizens who are tired of being Locked Down.

    I guess the bottom line is that no-one can be sure which way the uniformed forces are going to vote with their weapons when rulers turn those forces against their fellow citizens. Smart rulers would make sure never to get themselves into a situation where they give that kind of order. But we clearly do not have smart rulers in the US.

  41. even if they had sped up training and deployment of the D.520 a few hundred fighters IMO probably wouldn’t have made much difference.

    One mistake the Germans and Goering made was they knew the Brits had only about 600 modern fighters. They did not allow for manufacturing which jumped tremendously when Beaverbrook took over. Churchill wisely held the Spitfires back from home defense in spite of his “Francophilia.” Goering’s switch to bombing London also saved the RAF.

  42. This is today’s military:
    A combat controller has written an absolutely BRUTAL account of the first female
    usairforce special tactics officer trainee and the many times she quit and was pushed forward anyway.
    He names names. (Thread)

    Who can have any faith in the system that pushes trash like Milley and Austin to the very top? The office corps is nothing but corrupt careerists, and they’re quite open that they loathe the people who fill the enlisted (fighting) ranks.

  43. The push to get women into positions they’re completely unqualified for is an indicator for how much rot there is in the upper ranks. I’m not even sure what the hell is motivating them, either–The very people they’re trying to please loathe them on principle alone, and they’re never going to overcome that.

    I don’t have a problem with women in the military. What I have a problem with is lowered standards and reduced sense in order to make that happen, and I do not trust the assholes running our military to either uphold standards or have common sense–Which is why I’m against women in the military on general principles. If they had the integrity necessary, and some ‘effing common sense? No problems; it could be made to work. But, with the reduced pragmatism, self-interest, and sheer stupidity the people running things have demonstrated? Nope, nope, and nope–It’s got nothing to do with the ladies, either. Well, except those selfish commissioned twats who’re more worried about their holy careers than they are concerned with what’s good for the troops or likely to result in victories.

    We’ve somehow managed to build ourselves an officer class that’s purely delusional when it comes to an awful lot of things, this being one of them.

    Ah, well… It will accelerate the normies leaving the service, and when they finally go to turn the military on the rest of us, they’re going to be in for an ugly shock when it turns out that that military isn’t any better at beating insurrectionist American citizens than it is in suppressing the Taliban.

    I suspect they’re going to try resorting to nukes to deal with that, as well, so we’ll see just how far the rot goes. When they try nuking a recalcitrant population center or two, it’ll be very telling whether or not the orders are actually followed.

  44. “I suspect they’re going to try resorting to nukes to deal with that …”

    Imagine the debate at the UN after Biden* nukes Oklahoma City or some other den of White Supremacy. With the US defenestrated for crimes against humanity, the UN discussion would focus on who should nuke the DC Swamp to stop the slaughter? Should it be Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia? Final decision would be that they should all contribute, and make the rubble bounce.

    Sad thing is that many in the US would then breathe a sigh of relief at the removal of our incompetent masters.

  45. If it gets down to that, I think the rest of the world will be too busy with other issues to even acknowledge what happened here in the US. It’d be about like if the Soviets had nuked each other, back during the Yeltsin days.

    The Russians turned out to be sane. I don’t think we can count on that sort of sanity with our psychos. The feel I get from some of the people I’ve met who’ve managed to retain their Personnel Reliability Program status is not encouraging–Men who have qualms about nuking foreigners and who make a career of it, and then manage to survive the culling process that is PRP…? Not the sort of people I’d like to have in charge of deciding the fate of Topeka, KS. I think the more likely targets would be places like Killeen, TX or Fayetteville, NC–Places just outside Army bases that might be in a state of disobedience under such scenarios.

  46. Gavin Longmuir
    January 5, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    Since we have evolved into multiple, largely separate, “nations” inside our less than sovereign Federal borders with the overall divisions largely but not completely urban/rural [with some cities that would be targets for nukes by the Coercive Organs of State Power being on the American side] such an act would either deliberately or just in the course of events lead to the destruction of the Statist urban areas.

    Consider the amazingly complex and inter-related things that have to happen reliably for cities to exist. How long, as a result of either intentional actions or just a societal collapse, would food, water, energy, heating, and health care supplies be available in cities? In urban areas, how many households have more than a day or two’s supply of food on hand? How many have a way of staying warm in winter without starting a Dresden-style firestorm? If you are above the first floor, how do you get water to drink or flush toilets without pumps maintaining pressure? And for that matter, in high rises, how do you get up and down? And being “up” means you are trapped.

    A city’s stores AND grocery warehouses in good days have roughly a 3 day supply of food, and are at the end of a constant renewed supply chain for replenishment. That supply chain is thoroughly buggered already. If cities are falling apart, would you drive a semi or crew a train into one? Once again, it does not take deliberate organized resistance. If things become a fecal maelstrom, those critical items will break down in a cascading fashion, even just as a result of various individuals’ personal decisions.

    3 minutes without air.
    3 days without safe to drink water.
    3 weeks without food.

    That is how long it takes to die, even without overt violence. And millions of people crammed into a small area, many of them either not socialized into our society or deserving their own chapter headings in the DSM 5.

    Add in that there would be a whole lot of people fleeing all cities after the first nuke, with no settled destination, just trying to get away from the next attack by the State. And their passage will devastate those on their routes, and that WILL be resisted right smartly.

    Reality testing is not a skill of any of our Nomenklatura.

    Subotai Bahadur

  47. Subotai — you are right about how little resilience there is in modern society. The last two years of the CovidScam should have reminded everyone of that, and of the unfortunate fact that our Best & Brightest are neither good nor smart, and they are pathological liars into the bargain. But that lesson has largely gone unlearned.

    My best guess at what will happen is driven by those twin unsustainable deficits — FedGov’s Budget Deficit and the de-industrialized US’s Trade Deficit. Some day, some exporter will refuse to accept any more Bidenbucks for their products, triggering a major crisis. Imports crash, the dollar crashes, store shelves empty, chaos ensues.

    It will be bad in the cities, for sure. But even most farmers don’t grow their own food these days — and they won’t grow much of anything without supplies of diesel, fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds.

    It took China about 500 years to recover after the Emperor turned his back on the world. I hope North America will be able to recover much more quickly. But even if we started to get our act together right now before the coming collapse, it will still take one or two generations to get back on track.

  48. Gavin…”Some day, some exporter will refuse to accept any more Bidenbucks for their products, triggering a major crisis.”

    I don’t think it works that way. There is always an exchange rate. The Venezuelan Boulivare, for example:

    It’s just that imports get more and more expensive, when paid for in an inflated currency.

    And, to the extent that domestic alternatives exist or can be created reasonably quickly, they will become a lot more attractive and will replace the imports.

  49. David F: “… to the extent that domestic alternatives exist or can be created reasonably quickly, they will become a lot more attractive and will replace the imports.

    Indeed! That will be the basis of the long-term recovery. But to do anything like build a factory or dig a mine in the US reasonably quickly, it will first be necessary to cancel thousands of pages of regulations, repeal hundreds of laws, and consequently fire large numbers of bureaucrats and deprive thousands of lawyers of their good living.

    That is a lot of iron rice bowls that have to be cracked before re-industrialization will proceed! It will happen, but it won’t be easy. And it will take time.

  50. Gavin … and it will take the confidence and willingness of the American worker to step up and go beyond punching in, doing what you’re told, and punching out after eight.

    Not just in effort, but in bringing their own insights to bear upon the job, that in many cases the Smart People™ would never get from their textbooks.

    The ability to apply that confident, insightful willingness, is our edge against the authoritarian worker-bee “paradises” … an edge many squandered by believing what the Smart People™ in business, unions, academia and government told them: we think, so we will take care of you – just do what you’re told.

  51. Gavin…some mining & manufacturing new builds can get done more quickly than others, depends what and where. Steel Dynamics made the site location decision for their new mill in 2019, and it’s now in startup. This was a pretty big project.

    Electric arc furnaces…if on-site combustion were involved, the delays would have likely been a lot longer.

  52. David — You are correct there are a few places where some development can still slip through the cracks in the Red Tape barriers. However, a more general re-industrialization is going to require regulatory roll-back — which is currently not even a topic of discussion.

    Only a few years ago, there were proud statements from the Usual Suspects about the decline in the Carbon Intensity of the US economy. Of course the Carbon Intensity was going down — because the Political Class was offshoring so much of the US industrial base. When we re-industrialize — as we eventually shall — the Carbon Intensity will have to go back up.

    For example, an electric arc steel furnace is like an electric car — it relies on someone somewhere generating electric power. It is not feasible to run an electric furnace on intermittent so-called “renewable” power; the furnace can be ruined if the power goes out at the wrong time. Reliable dependable power will have to come from coal, gas, or nuclear. How easy is it these days to get approval from the Political Class to build any of those kinds of electric power generating plants?

  53. I think the question is going to be how much longer the current “political class” can retain power. With Biden basically saying the quiet part out loud, as he has several times of late, I don’t think they can keep all the balls in the air for much longer.

    Times are about to become “interesting”, as in that supposed Chinese curse.

  54. now the french experience in indochina and algeria, is more indicative of their determination, many of the mid rank officers in the former were the top officers in the latter, the second round lost political support around 1960, degaulle was the one that sent the expeditionary force back into indochina,

  55. The thing with regards to the French colonial experience wasn’t so much the tactics as it was the overall strategy.

    By the post-WWII period, those colonies were not making money, or adding to the bottom line of the French economy. Yet, the idiots in charge kept on behaving as though they did, when the sensible thing to have done would have been to have begun getting themselves out of the colony business, period. They didn’t do that, blowing vast sums of money from the Marshal plan on trying to retain those colonies, and supporting the infrastructure to keep them. The economic difference between France and Germany to this day stems from much of that–Germany invested nearly every dime of the Marshal Plan monies in their industries, and even leveraged a lot of the military aid such that it benefited those industries. What did France do? Pissed away billions in a doomed attempt to retain la Gloire of Empire… Not to mention, all the lives lost.

    Algeria, being a Metropolitan Department of France…? You can kind of understand that, but for the love of God, why didn’t they recognize reality about all that, in the first place? Even the Romans couldn’t retain Africa, back in the day when it was actually worth bothering with.

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