Reprise Post; At the Tomb of Couperin – Thoughts on a Centenary

(For Veteran’s Day – a reprise post from 2018)

There is a lovely little classical piece by Maurice Ravel – Le Tombeau de Couperin, composed shortly after the end of the war, five of the six movements dedicated to the memory of an individual, and one for a pair of brothers, all close friends of the composer, every one of them fallen in a war of such ghastliness that it not only put paid to a century of optimistic progress, but barely twenty years later it birthed another and hardly less ghastly war. Maurice Ravel himself was over-age, under-tall and not in the most robust of health, but such was the sense of national emergency that he volunteered for the military anyway, eventually serving as a driver – frequently under fire and in danger. Not the usual place to find one of France’s contemporarily-famous composers, but they did things differently at the end of the 19th Century and heading all wide-eyed and optimistic into the 20th. Citizens of the intellectual and artistic ilk were not ashamed of their country, or feel obliged to apologize for a patriotic attachment, or make a show of sullen ingratitude for having been favored by the public in displaying their talents.

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Inflation and Society

Theodore Dalrymple notes that inflation is more than a purely economic phenomenon…it also has profound social and psychological effects.even characterological effects:

For one thing, inflation destroys the very idea of enough, because no one can have any confidence that a monetary income that at present is adequate will not be whittled down to very little in a matter of a few years. Not everyone desires to be rich, but most people desire not to be poor, especially in old age. Unfortunately, when there is inflation, the only way to insure against poverty in old age is either to be in possession of a government-guaranteed index-linked pension (which, however, is a social injustice in itself, and may one day be undermined by statistical manipulation by a government under force of economic circumstances, partly brought about by the very existence of such pensions), or to become much richer than one would otherwise aim or desire to be. And the latter turns financial speculation from a minority into a mass pursuit, either directly or, more usually, by proxy: for not to speculate, but rather to place one’s trust in the value of money at a given modest return, is to risk impoverishment. I saw this with my own father: once prosperous, he fell by his aversion to speculation into comparative penury. 

Reminds me of something written by Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. Discussing the great Weimar inflation, he says:

Anyone who had savings in a bank, bonds, or gilts, saw their value disappear overnight. Soon it did not matter whether it ws a penny put away for a rainy day or a vast fortune. everything was obliterated…the cost of living had begun to spiral out of control. ..A pound of potatoes which yesterday had cost fifty thousand marks now cost a hundred thousand. The salary of sixty-five thousand marks brought home the previous Friday was no longer sufficient to buy a packet of cigarettes on Tuesday.

The only people who were able to survive financially were those that bought stocks. (And, of course, were shrewd or lucky enough to buy the right stocks and to sell them at the right times.)

Every minor official, every employee, every shift-worker became a shareholder. Day-to-day purchases were paid for by selling shares. On wage days there was a general stampede to the banks, and share prices shot up like rockets…Sometimes some shares collapsed and thousands of people hurtled towards the abyss. In every shop, every factory, every school, share tips were whispered in one’s ear.

The old and unworldy had the worst of it. Many were driven to begging, many to suicide. The young and quick-witted did well. Overnight they became free, rich, and independent. It was a situation in which mental inertia and reliance on past experience was punished by starvation and death, but rapid appraisal of new situations and speed of reaction was rewarded with sudden, vast riches. The twenty-one-year-old bank director appeared on the scene, and also the sixth-former who earned his living from the stock-market tips of his slighty older friends. He wore Oscar Wilde ties, organized champagne parties, and supported his embarrassed father.

Haffner believes that the great inflation–particularly by the way it destroyed the balance between generations and empowered the inexperienced young–helped pave the way for Naziism.

In August 1923 the dollar-to-mark ratio reached a million, and soon thereafter the number was much higher. Trade was shutting down, and complete social chaos threatened. Various self-appointed saviors appeared: Hausser, in Berlin…Hitler, in Munich, who at the time was just one among many rabble-rousers…Lamberty, in Thuringia, who emphasized folk-dancing, singing, and frolicking.

The inflation was eventually brought under control:

Then a miracle happened. “Small, ugly grey-green notes” appeared, with “One Rentenmark” written on them. The small numbers on these notes belied their value. You could use them to buy goods which had previously cost a billion marks. And, most amazingly, they held their value. Goods which had cost 5 Rentenmarks last week would also generally cost 5 Rentenmarks next week.

But the after-effects of the great inflation lived on.

There are two excellent novels, both by author Hans Fallada, which portray the psychosocial impact of the Weimar inflation and its aftermath

Wolf Among Wolves is set in the worst period of the inflation.  The protagonist, Wolfgang Pagel, is a well-meaning but rather irresponsible young man trying to make his way in a society with rising social and economic chaos. Can Wolfgang grow up to be a responsible adult?..and can he survive surrounded by wolves without himself becoming a wolf?  I reviewed the book here.

Little Man, What Now? is set in a somewhat later time period, 1932.  The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone, but the psychological damage as well as the economic damage–still lingers.  Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a likeable young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner.  Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.  Here’s my review.   There was also a pretty good American movie made based on the book, review here

The Weimar inflation was an extreme case, of course, and we are unlikely to see anything nearly as severe.  But, as Dalrymple notes, even less-catastrophic levels of inflation tend to have malign effects.  The Biden administration and the Democratic Congress seem remarkably unconcerned about these effects, or with the socially-destructive effects of so many other parts of their total policy set.

On the other hand, if inflation gets sufficiently bad, kids can make kites out of currency.  And, if energy prices continue their climb upward, devalued currency could be used for heating fuel.

Command Failure in the Ardennes, December 1944

This past December 16th 2022 marked the 78th anniversary of the German Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (“Operation Watch on the Rhine“) offensive in the Ardennes area of Europe, otherwise known popularly as “The Battle of the Bulge.”  The “official narrative” for this battle is that it was an “intelligence surprise” where “Ultra’ code breaking signals intelligence missed because Hitler kept all of the important communications on untappable telephone/telegraph land lines or special couriers. The sole exception being General Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 intelligence officer Colonel (later Brigadier General) Oscar Koch who didn’t rely upon ULTRA and put together the complete picture through a process now known as “All Source Analysis“. Which built an intelligence picture for every intelligence discipline. signals, human, photographic, geographic, combat reports plus dogged order of battle cross filing that sorted every bit of information to plot existence, location and status of enemy ground and air units. A week before the German attack, December 9th 1944, Colonel Koch briefed General Patton’s full 3rd Army staff as to German capabilities and most dangerous probable intentions of those capabilities. Based upon this briefing, Patton ordered his 3rd Army staff to put together a series of counter attack options that were immortalized in a scene from the 1970 movie PATTON.

 

Figure above from 1997 masters paper “Signal Security In The Ardennes Offensive 1944-1945 Laurie G. Moe Buckhout, Maj. USA

Like a lot of narratives of World War 2, it uses a couple of nuggets of truth with the German ULTRA security black out and Colonel Koch’s brief to Patton to hide and conceal more than inform. It turns out that a lot more people on the allied side than Colonel Koch foresaw the impending German offensive. And that the failure to act on these multiple sources of accurate intelligence was a Command Failure by the “Ultra Cliques” of allied officers at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces  (SHAEF), United States Strategic Air Force (USSTAF), the American 12th Army Group, and American 1st Army.

This command failure came less from a German security induced blindness of ULTRA than from a months long manipulation of Ultra intelligence data stream by senior officials in the British government — located in the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the “Oil Lobby” through out the Air Ministry and Whitehall ‘Committee Bureaucracy’ as well as the Directorate of Bombing Operations in the Air Ministry — intent on making German oil supplies the top strategic target set over German transportation targets in the Combined Bomber Offensive.  Their motives here were not only to collapse the German economy as a “War Termination Strategy,” but more importantly, make sure Air Power was seen as responsible for the German collapse after the Russian capture of the Romanian Ploesti oil fields in August 1944.  (If you are seeing some post-war institutional motivations here…you are correct.)

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These manipulations were discovered in February 1945 by SHAEF when the after action forensic analysis by Royal Air Force Deputy Chief of Air Staff (DCAS) Air Marshall Bottomley found the Combined Strategic Targets Committee (CSTC) was systematically removing messages relating to the distress of the German Railroad, and collapse of the German economy resulting from the railway problems, starting in the fall of 1944.

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Our Culture, What There Is of It

This last weekend, I actually went out of my house/neighborhood and did something different. Something interesting and out in the real world, or something that resembled the real world, out there, beyond the keyboard and computer screen. I had a table for my books at a cultural event, the Folkfest in New Braunfels. Historically, New Braunfels was one of the German Verein-founded towns in the Texas Hill Country, one of those that I have written about in my historical series; the main reason that I was invited to the bash under the oak trees at the Heritage Society’s campus on the northern edge of town. The Adelsverein Trilogy touches on the circumstances and reason why more than eight thousand German immigrants ended up on the wild and unsettled Texas frontier in the 1840s. A consortium of German noblemen and princes hoped to make a tidy profit – and to do a good deed for their struggling countrymen – by taking up an entrepreneur grant in the independent Republic of Texas. They were honest in their hope to make the venture advantageous economically for them, which distinguishes them from many other ostensibly charitable enterprises of late. That the Adelsverein went broke within two years had more to do with the princely gentlemen overselling their program to eager potential immigrants and badly underestimating the costs in transporting them to Texas. That it resulted in a godly number of able, educated, independent-minded and patriotic new citizens turned out to be a bonus. It also resulted in Kendal, Gillespie and Comal counties being almost completely German-speaking for better than a hundred years, which explained the prevalence of dirndls and lederhosen worn with cowboy boots at the Folkfest.

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Ukraine Thread Part 3 – Day Eight of the Russian Column Held Hostage (by the usual Russian incompetence) –

Welcome to the third installment of the Russian invasion of Ukraine series.  Since Napoleon stated that the moral is to the physical what ten is to one.  After the situation map (below) we are going to start the post with a look at the moral dimensions of the current fighting. Follow it with my impressions of the current fighting.  Then close with a counterfactual of the Ukraine-Russian fighting based on the works of Trevor Dupuy.

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I have posted on twitter about the Russian Army columns North of Kyiv decaying into immobile blobs due to the Rasputitsa, poorly maintained Chinese truck tires and shear “follow the plan” Russian incompetence.

The head and first dozen or so kilometers of the southernmost column north of Kiev have been stuck there for EIGHT DAYS.  The Russians have since rammed more and more vehicles into this monster traffic jam (idiotically “following the plan” Soviet-style) so the whole thing is now 65-70 kilometers long (almost 40 miles).

And, because the trucks can’t go off-road due to the Rasputitsa mud and tire problems, they’re stuck on the roads and the roads’ shoulders three vehicles wide for the whole @40 miles.   That means fuel and resupply trucks can’t move on or off road to deliver anything to anybody.

So all the columns’ heads are now out of fuel and battery power.  They can’t move north, south or sideways, and everything behind them is stuck because of the mud, and rapidly running out of fuel and vehicle battery charge too (assuming they haven’t already).  Nor can any of those columns defend themselves because they’re too densely packed.  They’re just targets waiting for the Ukrainians to destroy them.

Only the Ukrainians had something better to do.  They opened the floodgates of reservoirs around those columns to flood them and turn the surrounding areas into impassable quagmires for months – probably until July or August.  (See photo below) Probably several thousand Russian vehicles in those columns will be irrecoverable losses.  Hundreds of Russian soldiers might have drowned.

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MilitaryLand.net@Militarylandnet As correctly pointed out by some of you, Ukrainian troops seems to flooded the area north of Kyiv. That’s the reason why the Russian advance is stagnating there. #Ukraine #UkraineRussiaWar #Kyiv https://twitter.com/Militarylandnet/status/1499786877448200192

This was not just a debacle, but an EPIC one. About 1/5th of the Russian force in Ukraine is now flooded or trapped, and are definitely out of the war for good.

Now to the moral dimension.  The 1242 Battle of the Neva, where the Teutonic Knights fought Alexander Nevsky, is one of the founding myths of Russia.

See:

The Battle on the Ice, 1242 – Teutonic Knights vs. Alexander Nevsky 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVAFgSNUukg 

President Zelensky’s drowning of Putin’s minions in the Battle of the Kyiv reservoir may be as central to modern Ukraine’s founding national identity going forward, for similar reasons, possibly with Zelensky as modern Ukraine’s Alexander Nevsky.

Reddit and other Meme generating sites are going to have a glorious time redoing Stalin’s Alexander Nevsky movie by putting Zelensky’s face on the actor playing Nevsky.

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