Barbed Wire Disease

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

For the German prisoners of war in Souilly, a French commune in the Meuse near Verdun, life behind enemy lines hadn’t been much better than their previous life in the trenches.

Operating as unpaid laborers, the German POWs dug trenches and roads eleven hours a day, seven days a week.  A dysentery outbreak in the camp months earlier had decimated their ranks, as French supplies and medical care struggled to meet the prisoner’s needs.  Even the basic safety of the prisoners was willfully neglected as POWs were forced to perform their roles right on the frontlines, often under German shellfire.

News of such treatment had been suppressed in France – the army’s Commander-in-Chief, Robert Nivelle (who hadn’t taken much care with his own men’s lives in Verdun), brazenly lied to Paris about the practice – but news had trickled back to Germany.  In response, the Germans publicly announced that newly captured French POWs would no longer be transferred back to Germany but kept on the frontlines as quasi-human shield laborers.  If the French would move their German prisoners further back, and not expose them to gunfire, the Germans would do the same.  With German authorities allowing French prisoners to write letters home, detailing the conditions they faced at the front under their nation’s own artillery fire, public pressure quickly mounted in France to move the German POWs.

On March 27th, 1917, the French government agreed to Germany’s demands, despite objections from London and Nivelle.  By June of 1917, no POWs remained at the front on either side.  It was a small gesture of deescalation in the increasingly dehumanizing treatment of POWs in the Great War.


German POWs in France

European history had given relatively little insight into how to manage the problem of hundreds of thousands of enemy prisoners for an indefinite period of time.  Prior to the wars of the Napoleonic era, most armies were made up almost exclusively of professional soldiers, providing a sort of collegial basis for the treatment of those captured on the battlefield.  Prisoners were usually quickly exchanged via the “cartel” system, which placed monetary values on prisoners based on rank.  Thus those who surrendered would often find themselves soon back with their armies, having been traded for a man of equal rank, money, or both.   Continue reading

A Point Of Unity

You don’t find many things that unite nearly all Americans – but the death of Charles Manson is one of them.   Other than high school kids trying to get a rise ouf of their elders, not many people – especially those that remember the utterly legitimate fear his “familiy” inflicted for a time in the late sixties – aren’t happy to see this vile chapter in history fade to a halt.

Manson predated me and my consciousness – to me, there’s always been a Charles Manson – but the attempt by “familiy” member “Squeaky” Fromme on President Ford forty-odd years ago was certainly a punctuation mark in my early understanding of the weirdness of the world (and of the US in the seventies, which was a whole ‘nother level of weird).

I did read Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi’s masterpiece on the era, including his prosecution of Manson and his family.  If you’ve never read it, do; it’s not only the best explanation of the era, but one of the best lessons on the anatomy of a prosecution you will ever find.

Of ocurse, for a brief stretch of my life, Manson wasn’t just background; he was an assignment.

Back in 1987, after Don Vogel went to Chicago, I spent some time producing the Geoff Charles show at KSTP-AM.  And Geoff was obsessed with Manson.  One of my ongoing standing assignments; land an interview with Manson.  Didn’t matter how; by phone, in person, on tape; Charles would have flown himself out to San Quentin to put the interview on tape at his own expense, IIRC.

And so I spent the next three months making at least a couple calls a month to the California Department of Corrections.  Me and everyone else, of course; “an interview with Manson” was on pretty much every media person’s wish list at the time, and we may have been one of the smaller potatoes in the bag.  But we were a persistent small potato, at least.

 

Punching Above Their Weight

It’s been 77 years since Germany invaded Norway.

History writ large records that the Norwegian capitol, Oslo, fell in hours.

It takes a deeper reading to know that Norway – with a lot of help from troops from Britain, the UK, and the Polish army in exile – gave the Germans not a few bloody noses, small and large, covert and open.

And one of the greatest chapters in Norway’s formal resistance, the Norwegian 6th Division’s battle to recapture the port of Narvik, in the far north, spearheaded by a unit called the ” Ålta Battalion”.

A militia unit based in the town of Ålta, in the far, far north of Norway,  Rural men who’d had to report for duty by reindeer sled and ski, they were first called up in the winter of 1939 to guard the Norwegian/Finnish border during the Winter War.   Witnessing the brutality of the war in Finland from across the border, the men from Ålta went home with a pretty sure sense of what was coming.

They were called up again just a few months later, when Germany invaded.  They were transferred from Alta – a town of 20,000, near the northern tip of Norway –  to Narvik – a small port city high above the arctic circle.   So backward was this part of Norway, just 77 years ago that they reported for service by reindeer sled and boat, not much different than 130 years earlier.   They were carried via steam ferry to Narvik – another small port town, rendered strategic by the fact that Swedish iron ore, vital to the German war effort, was carried there by rail, and then shipped to Germany; the little city was one of the most strategic spots in Europe, for a few weeks in April, 1940; it’s only a matter of dumb timing that Churchill didn’t invade Norway before HItler did; his plan to seize Narvik to interdict Germany’s iron supply was already in motion when Germany invaded.

Geographic and economic strategy didn’t matter that much to the guys in the Alta Battalion

And there – outnumbered, outgunned (they had only rifles and a few machine guns and mortars, and no air support to speak of), they did the unthinkable; they moved through the snow into the hills above Narvik, and they pushed the Germans back.  The Alta Battalion, along with the Norwegian Sixth Division (along with the destruction of a GErman fleet in Narvik Fjord by the British Royal Navy), had the Germans on the ropes; General Dietl, the Germans’ commander, estimated that his troops could have held on another day, maybe two, had the attack continued; they’d have had to surrender, or pack it in for Sweden.

But that didn’t happen; France fell, and the French, British and Polish troops pulled out and went back to the UK to face an expected invasion.  The Alta battalion turned in its guns and went home (many of them to carry on the fight in the resistance, in Sweden, or in the Free Norwegian forces overseas.

Ingvald Heitmann, the last surviving member of the Alta Battalion.

I bring this up to note, purely in passing, that Ingvald Heitmann, age 100 and the last surviving member of the Alta Battalion passed away last week at the age of 100. (The article is in Norwegian, but I think I got it right).

Everyone else’s greatest generation is passing from the scene, too.

Grass Grown Over Collapsing Trenches

It’s 9/11 today, as most of you are aware.

If you’re younger than 34, it happened when you were still in school.  And it shouldn’t blow my mind that people who were toddlers on 9/11 have graduated from high school – but it does.

Put another way – if 9/11 were December 7, we’d be in 1956; the war would have ended 12 years ago; Elvis would be at his peak, Germany and Japan would be back from the stone age and rebuilding their economies, and we’d be on the brink of the space race.  Tempus fugit.  

After the attacks, one of the social undercurrents – which morphed, as social currents do, into comedy that often tried too hard – was the notion that if we gave up our freedoms out of fear of terror, then “the terrorists will win”.

So today, 16 years later, government goons grope us in line at airports (but miss all the dangerous stuff anyway), and we don’t complain because, well, we gotta make our flights; the whole exercise seems designed more to train people to get in line and shut up than to find terrorists.

We fill out paperwork if our bank deposits are too big.  We watch as our police departments turn into playtime special forces teams, chasing after pot dealers and trial skippers with armored cars and assault rifles.  We see our Fourth Amendment gradually being reduced to toilet paper – and, in parts of the country where the people are more amenable to presenting their papers on demand, the Second as well.

And on the campuses where the generation that has the same memory of 9/11 that I have of Barry Goldwater (hint:  I was a toddler) are getting “educated”, people are being badgered into line by social codes imposed by self-appointed cultural police no less zealous than the Wahhabi morality police, enforcing a social code that are no less absurd than the rules, and rulers, in Afghanistan 16  years and one day ago today – enforced (!), in some cases, by people whose only difference from ISIS’s morality police is that they haven’t cut off anyone’s head.

Yet.

I’m less and less sure this nation – or at least it’s self-appointed culturaloverlords – learned the right lessons from 9/11.

So Much Work To Be Done

So many statues out there – ergo, so much triggering.

As Big Left prowls the country looking for history that “triggers” them and must be destroyed [1], it’s probably worth pitching in and helping findi more history that needs to be expunged.

Exhuming McCarthy:  much has been made of the statue of Lenin in, where else, Seattle:

... Lenin Statue - "Sunday Strip" - Seattle, WA Visit - Mueckenfett

Leftover “art” from some misbegotten WPA project from hell?

No – a labor of “love” in the full Orwellian sense of the term;  from Wikipedia:

Lewis E. Carpenter, an English teacher in Poprad originally from Issaquah, Washington, found the monumental statue lying in a scrapyard ready to be sold for the price of the bronze; Carpenter had met and befriended Venkov while in Czechoslovakia. In close collaboration with a local journalist and good friend, Tomáš Fülöpp, Carpenter approached the city officials with a claim that despite its current unpopularity, the sculpture was still a work of art worth preserving, and he offered to buy it for $13,000.[1] After many bureaucratic hurdles, he finally signed a contract with the mayor on March 16, 1993.[4]

With the help of Venkov, the statue was cut into three pieces and shipped to the United States at a total cost of $40,000.[1] Carpenter financed much of that via mortgaging his home

The architect of a kleptocratic thugocracy that murdered tens of millions of people over seventy years?  I’m #triggered!  Break out the tow cables and the blowtorches!

But we’re not done expunging Communism’s murderous legacy.   The Minnesota State Capitol is crowded with paintings and sculptures of people who were figures in the “Farmer Labor” Party, and the early years of the merger between them and the Democrats to form the “DFL”.

The Farmer-Labor, as well as the DFL it joined, was expressly pro-communist.  The new party inherited the FLP’s support for the USSR and Josef Stalin.   The infant DFL, in other words, supported the party of the Holodomor, of the Gulag, of the Purge.

It’s time to rid our state of this noxious legacy of genocide.  I suggest a painting-burning and smashing.

Politically Incorrect:   Next, it’s time to address statues and other public art that pays omage to a  Christianist preacher who was a very powerful spokesperson against gay marriage – one whose influence among opponents to gay marriage today is too huge to calculate; one who, were he alive today, would be railing against same sex marriage with a fluency and authenticity today’s speakers can only dream about.

That anti-gay bigot?

What did MLK think about gay people?

Martin Luther King!

His failure to support gay marriage – presaging the mass dissent from most black Christian ministers, even today-

MLK memorial dedicated on the National Mall – Summit County Citizens ...

Can this be allowed?

Continue reading

Blast From The Past

Robert Fisk – the gassy far-left Brit columnist upon whose oeuvre the term “fisk” was launched – is back with a bit of virtue-signaling…

…that actually has a point, although I’m not sure Fisk knows it.

The headline – “When you watch Dunkirk, remember that it’s a whitewashed version which ignores the bravery of black and Muslim soldiers” – set off a bit of a teapot-tempest on social media over the weekend.

He’s got about a third of a point.

About a third of the French Army in 1940 was from France’s overseas colonies; black troops from Guinea and Cameroon, Muslim Arabs from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and Black Muslims from Senegal and Chad.    They were among France’s best troops, too – solid fighters who didn’t bother much with hardships in the field.  They were a significant part of the French First Army, the vanguard of the French armed forces which had joined with the Brits in advancing into Belgium, only to be cut off by the Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes.

And when Churchill decided to evacuate the “British Expeditionary Force” – the British Army in France and Belgium – with the original stated intent of sending them back to Franch to continue the battle – it was the French First Army that held the Germans off long enough to carry off the evacuation (and then, long enough to get about half of its own troops evacuated).

And among those troops – among the best and bravest of them – were the colonials.

Fisk:

A justly cynical revue of Nolan’s Dunkirk by Francois Pédron in Paris Match points out, correctly, that 18,000 French troops paid with their lives to hold the Dunkirk perimeter and 35,000 were made prisoner – almost 140,000 French soldiers were rescued from Dunkirk – but that not only do the victors write history. Filmmakers write the “history” too, Pedron wrote. He is right. The true story of the Algerian and Moroccan units has still to be filmed. It would make a terrifying drama. The Germans threw raw meat into the prison cages of Algerian and African troops – to show cinemagoers how they fought for the food and tore it to pieces like animals. Algerians were massacred by the Nazis on racial grounds – an act which strongly supports the suspicion of some intellectual Arabs today: that Hitler, after destroying the Jews of Europe and the Middle East, would have next turned his exterminating fury against their Semitic Arab brothers.

All true enough.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW)

But if you remember the movie, there really was exactly one filmic depiction of the French Army holding the line; the squad of metropolitan French holding the roadblock in the town of Dunkirk, in the first two minutes of the show.  That’s it.

So yes – Christopher Nolan, in telling the story of three British people at Dunkirk, neglected the stories of black and Muslim French soldiers.

Also those of the rest of the French Army – Catholic, atheist, and otherwise.

It’s the French as a nation, stupid.

And just to show that Robert Fisk is still the fisk-worthy fella he’s been for a decade and a half:

Much has been made, inevitably in The Guardian, of Nolan’s failure to acknowledge the presence of Muslim troops at Dunkirk – Muslim Indian Commonwealth soldiers (from what is now Pakistan)

Which may be because Christopher Nolan is a racist.

Or, perhaps, because the British Expeditionary Force included no “Bengali” (what they called Pakistani) troops – or, for that matter, any of the much more numerous Indian Hindi troops that also served the Brits in the millions.  While the British military included millions of troops from colonies like India and Hong Kong, like the French, colonial troops served in colonial units.  The Indian and Bengal troops served in large numbers in North Africa, the Middle East, and southeast Asia – including defending India itself from a Japanese invasion – but only rarely did they serve in Northwest Europe during /world War 2.

While PC virtue signaling is easy, facts are hard.

Zero Sum

I caught the movie Dunkirk the Saturday before last.

I’ll be reviewing it in a separate piece later this week or early next.

In the meantime – this “Feminist” review of the movie is enough to make you wonder if we really saved western civilization at the end of WW2, or merely delayed its demise.  It’s from “Marie Claire”, and it’s as bad as you might expect. 

One extracted bit of foul written effluvia – by no means the worst:

But my main issue with Dunkirk is that it’s so clearly designed for men to man-out over. And look, it’s not like I need every movie to have “strong female leads.” Wonder Woman can probably tide me over for at least a year, and I understand that this war was dominated by brave male soldiers. I get that. But the packaging of the film, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it just screams “men-only”—and specifically seems to cater to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love nothing more than to explain to me why I’m wrong about not liking it. If this movie were a dating profile pic, it would be a swole guy at the gym who also goes to Harvard. If it was a drink it would be Stumptown coffee. If it was one of your friends, it would be the one who starts his sentences with “I get what you’re saying, but…”

The “writer” – one Mehera Bonner – is so tied to pop-culture cliches, I was tempted to think the whole thing was a McSweeneys level parody of “feminist” writing.  Indeed, the title suggests “parody” with all the subtlety of a “Real Housewives” makeover: “I Think ‘Dunkirk’ Was Mediocre at Best, and It’s Not Because I’m Some Naive Woman Who Doesn’t Get It”

If that’s not parody, Ms. Bonner, then yes – your are precisely a naive, cossetted, hot-house flower “feminist” who does not, in fact, “get it”.

Kyle Smith at NRO simultaneously gives Bonner more respect than she deserves, and savages her “writing” even more brutally:

Feminists have a habit of obsessively dividing the world into teams — us, them. Ideas and even facts get considered in the light of whether they are good for Team Woman or not. Instead of seeing men and women as close collaborators in the human project, feminists often suppose that the sexes are rivals, opponents. This is sheer tribalism. Bonner looks at Dunkirk and is irritated that men like the film. She sees it as a celebration of manly courage and bravado, or at least manly endurance and grit, and this repulses her. Feminism means constant maintenance of an imaginary set of scales, and she fears Dunkirk adds weight to the masculine side, tipping the culture away from women. If Dunkirk — “Christopher Nolan’s new directorial gift to men,” she calls it — shows men at their best, it must therefore be bad for women.

There’s a much larger column involved here.

The “Brilliant Victory”

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

Night had only begun to settle over Gaza for the ANZAC Mounted Division on March 26th, 1917.  The division, part of a 22,000-man operation to build upon the British victory at Romani in the summer of 1916, had accomplished its objective of defending the main advance of British infantry against any Ottoman counterattack.  Only 12 hours into the offensive, Gaza had been effectively surrounded, and by dusk, units such like the Mounted Division had even captured outlying portions of the city.

Despite the ferocity of some of the German-led Ottoman counterattacks, the Commonwealth units held their ground.  The British infantry had captured the hill of Ali al Muntar, overlooking the rest of Gaza, while holding over 460 German and Ottoman prisoners, including a divisional commanding general.  The British held the high ground and all the access points to the city.  The campaign for Palestine might be over before it even started.

Instead, the ANZAC Mounted Division – along with the entire defensive screen of forces – were told to retreat.  The threat of 12,000 Ottoman soldiers to the battle’s east had been deemed too great a threat to the British supply lines.  Rather than risk a fight, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) command chose to disengage.  The irate men of the Mounted Division cursed that “victory [had been] snatched away from them by the order to withdraw.”

In addition to the elements and the Ottomans, Britain would have to confront its own generals in the Middle East.

The Ottomans on the march – the Empire was in retreat on all fronts and their men were asked to hold Palestine against a growing British force


With revolution in Russia, and strategic inertia in France, the Middle East appeared to be the only front that saw the armies of the Entente victorious at the start of 1917.

Following the debacle at Kut, a joint British/Indian army had successfully marched to Baghdad by the spring of 1917, putting a practical end to the Mesopotamian campaign with the capture of the city in early March.  And the Arab Revolt of the summer of 1916 had managed to drive the Ottomans out of a series of coastal towns dotting the Red Sea, while sowing rebellion among the various tribes of Arabia.

Yet these campaigns, while providing much need victories for a war-weary Entente, had proved themselves to be little more than costly distractions.  The Arab Revolt had to be completely underwritten by London, and (thus far) hadn’t been able to win without British support.  Baghdad had been the first prominent capital within the Central Powers to fall, but the operation had required over 800,000 men with 250,000 casualties – and the Ottomans looked no closer to surrender as a result.    Continue reading

How’s That, Now?

At the end of a generally good review for the upcoming Dunkirk in USA Today, the reviewer writes (with emphasis added by yours truly):

The trio of timelines can be jarring as you figure out how they all fit, and the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way. Still, Nolan’s feat is undeniable: He’s made an immersive war movie that celebrates the good of mankind while also making it clear that no victory is without sacrifice.

Hm.  In a war fought almost exclusively by men, in Northwestern Europe which was, in 1940, almost entirely white1, go figure.

[1] In fact a large part of France’s army was colonial troops – including many of their best and a significant part of the covering force that allowed the evacuation to happen at all,- were colonial troops from Chad, Morocco, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria, Vietnam and, especially, Senegal.  It’ll be interesting to see if they turn up.

A Tsar Is Torn

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

Cramped in the rail-yard of the Pskov station, the Tsar’s Imperial Train made for quite a sight.  The train carried ten carriages: a sleeping-car for the Tsar and Tsarina, a saloon car, a kitchen, a dining car, carriages intended for the grand dukes and other family, the children’s car, cars for the Tsar’s retinue, as well as cars for railway servicemen, servants, luggage and workshops.  The ornately designed cars stood out like a sore thumb amid the largely industrial city.

But on midnight of March 15th, 1917 (or March 2nd, by the old Russian Gregorian calendar), the attention of the citizens and soldiers of Pskov were not on the garish train, but it’s occupant – Tsar Nicholas II.  Having rushed back from his command headquarters in Mogilev, some 400 miles away from St. Petersburg/Petrograd, at the repeated urging of the capital’s political and military leadership, Nicholas II found his path home blocked by rebelling soldiers.  Instead of arriving back at his seat of power, Nicholas II had been forced to retreat to Pskov.

Three days earlier, Nicholas had fumed with indignation that the Chairman of the Duma had described the scene in St. Petersburg as “anarchy.”  The Tsar called such warnings “nonsense,” declaring he wouldn’t even reply to such communications.  Now, Nicholas II’s military and Duma allies were grimly explaining the consequences of the Tsar’s inaction.  St. Petersburg was completely in control of the rebels and a makeshift coalition of forces there had declared themselves the legitimate Provisional Government of Russia.  Further violent crackdowns seemed out of the question.  Any federal troops sent to St. Petersburg only joined the rebels.

Tsar Nicholas II asked Army Chief Nikolai Ruzsky what he should do.  “Abdicate,” Ruzsky replied.  Hesitating for but a few moments, Nicholas agreed.  Russia’s 370 years of Tsarist rule was about to end.

The “February Revolution” – hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded St. Petersburg/Petrograd, prompting the fall of the Tsarist regime


By the spring of 1917, the surprise was not that Tsarist Russia collapsed, but that it had endured for as long as it did.    Continue reading

Total War

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

For months, the rumors had trickled through the Entente lines in France.  From the highest levels of government, down to the individuals soldiers in their trenches, talk had persisted that after a year of bloodshed, and the loss of over 960,000 dead, the German army might finally begin to retreat.

On March 14, 1917, the rumors appeared to become facts.  Following several weeks of localized German retreats, the British 4th Army at Sailly-Saillisel in the Somme region began to spot the early signs of a massive German withdrawal.  Cautiously, British and French units began to advance – the Germans had used similar withdrawal tactics in 1914, luring Entente soldiers into salients and then attacking at the edges of the withdrawal; a sort of Great War pincer maneuver.  Yet as the British and French occupied territory long since lost, no counter-attack occurred.  Almost 10 miles past the original front, the armies of the Entente met at Nesle, their forces so congested into the abandoned front that the resulting march halted due to the traffic jam.

For the Entente, the retreat signified Germany’s weakening position.  In reality, the Germans had retreated behind a nearly impregnable wall of concrete bunkers and interlocked defenses.  After nearly three years of war, Germany was learning from the slaughter of the trenches.  The newly built German line might have been formally called the Siegfriedstellung or Siegfried Position, but as the brainchild of the Chief of the German General Staff Paul von Hindenburg, the “Hindenburg Line” would be the lynch-pin of Germany’s solution to the conflict – an embrace of “total war.”

Hindenburg (left) and his deputy, Ludendorff. Their reputation as military geniuses extended beyond the ranks of the Central Powers


From the earliest days of the Great War, German strategy had been to force a conclusion on the Western Front.  Whether represented by offensives such as the Schlieffen Plan or Verdun, the German General Staff had operated under the assumption that France and Britain could be knocked out of the war.  Despite ample evidence that Russia was the far weaker of the major powers of the Entente, General Staff Chief Erich von Falkenhayn had persistently vetoed shifting German resources to the East.  The pure vastness of Russia – in terms of territory, manpower and apparent indifference to casualties – had historically bested other commanders.  Falkenhayn was determined not to join their company.

By the fall of 1916, such views had changed along with the General Staff’s leadership.  In a conflict that had disgraced countless generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff had risen by their successes on Berlin’s secondary front.  Winning battles against the Russia juggernaut with far fewer men, and despite being encumbered by the failings of their Austro-Hungarian ally, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were seen as the ideal candidates to solve the bloody dilemma of the Western Front.    Continue reading

A Flame Bright Beyond Common Understanding

Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.

We focus – appropriately, in the great scheme of things – on the triumph that eventually followed the invasion of France; the liberation of Western Europe, the destruction of Naziism, the freeing of the surviving slaves in the labor, concentration and death camps.

We focus on the triumphs of American courage, labor and ingenuity; from victories of pure bravery, like Bastogne to exhibitions of American industry, like the building of enough tanks, ships and planes to equip not only our military but most of those of the Allies, to examples of American leadership, like Patton and Ridgeway and Gavin.

We see less of the sacrifice so many Americans made to buy us, and Europe, and the Western World, the opportunity we have today; the 50,000 Americans killed in the bombing campaign over Europe; the 50,000 more casualties in the largely fruitless campaign in Italy; the thousands who died just getting the US Army overseas against the Germans’ U-Boat offensive.

And, today, on the anniversary of D-Day, the sacrifice of so very many American (alongside British, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Danish and other) men, whose mission was – I’ll pause for emphasis – to sail in wooden boats through concentrated German artillery fire to the edge of a couple hundred yards of beach, run across the beach under constant machine-gun and mortar fire, and advance up a hill that, depending on where you landed, was either a steep, ravine-gouged bluff or a sheer cliff lined with concrete pillboxes full of Germans with machine guns.

The great historian SLA Marshall goes through the story – a few hours in the lives and mostly deaths – of two companies of the 116h Infantry Regiment; 14 boatloads carrying about 400 American soldiers (and 30-odd British sailors).   At the end of the day, scarcely twenty stood at the top of the cliff still fighting.  That’s 95% casualties – many of whom were never found again, washed out on the tide.

Read it – and whatever it is you do for your life’s calling, marinade yourself in thankful humility.

Extra credit assignment:  show it to an Evergreen State social justice warrior.  By force, if necessary.

The Ark

I saw this story a few years ago, and put it aside until today – the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the more unusual Catholic churches in the world, Kosciol Arka Pana in Novy Huta, Poland.

Which is interesting in and of itself; Nowy Huta is a district in Krakow that was built as a “Socialist Realist” experiment, an entire community built from the ground up to reflect the ideals of Stalin-era communism.

Including absolute, suffocating atheism.

Poles are, of course, obstreperously Catholic – so the battle between Socialist Atheism and Faith seesawed across the city.  In 1960, a wooden cross was erected with aa permit, prompting police response; violent demonstrations ensued.  The future pope, then-bishop Karol Wojtyla, who began holding annual outdoor Christmas Eve Masses in Nowy Huta in 1959 – and saw to it that ever time the cops removed the cross, another one replaced it.

It took seven years to secure a permit – and, literally, nothing else.  In a society where all resources were officially allocated by the government – picture a government where everyone is Alondra Cano – they did it all with volunteer labor and scrounged material.

With no outside help it was down to the locals to mix cement with spades, and find the two million stones needed for the church’s facade. The first corner stone was laid in 1969 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who would later assume fame as Pope John Paul II, but the discovery of a WWII ammunition dump delayed work, as some 5,000 mines and shells had to be carefully removed. Finally, on May 15th 1977, the church was consecrated. Built to resemble Noah’s Ark, with a 70 metre mast-shaped crucifix rising from the middle, the church houses an array of curious treasures, including a stone from the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican, a tabernacle containing a fragment of rutile brought back from the moon by the crew of Apollo 11, and a controversial statue of Christ that shows him not on a cross, but about to fly to the heavens. If you think that’s odd, check out the statue dedicated to Our Lady the Armoured – a half metre sculpture made from ten kilograms of shrapnel removed from Polish soldiers wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino. In the early 1980s, the church became a focal point during anti-communist protests, not least for the shelter it afforded the locals from the militia. Protesting during the period of Martial Law was dangerous business, as proven by the monument dedicated to Bogdan Włosik opposite the church. Włosik was shot in the chest by security services, and later died of his injuries. His death outraged the people, and his funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners. The monument commemorating the site of his death was erected in 1992 and is a tribute to all those who died during this period. As recently as September 2012, Kraków City Council awarded Arka Pana the ‘Cracoviae Merenti’ silver medallion for its significance to the city’s history.

Apropos not much, other than historical interest.

Memoryhole-o-matic!

A regular reader writes:

A year ago, Slate asked if the civil war could have been avoided and went back decades before the war to point to events leading up to and potentially giving rise to the civil war, as well as potential ways conflict might have been diverted.
Today, I’m told that it is a stupid, crazy thing to ponder and that the civil war happened in 1861, not decades earlier.
I’m not excited about Trump talking up a pro-slavery Democrat. But, I think the Left’s reaction is funny.

In the late thirties and early forties, after the USSR and Germany signed the Molotov/Von Ribbentrop Pact, folk singer and communist Pete Seeger wrote a series of songs castigating FDR for criticizing Stalin’s new bestie Hitler.    Then, when Hitler abrogated the pact by invading the USSR, Seeger withdrew the songs from circulation – literally, asking fans to return their copies to the store – and wrote music praising FDR and the war effort.

If Big Left couldn’t flush it’s own past down the memory hole on demand, the entire movement wouldn’t be intellectually sustainable.

Never Again?

Today is International Victims of Communism Day.

And we need to really push this one, because it’s direly needed.

In an infamouis 2016 survey of millennials:

  • 32% of Millennials thought George Bush killed more people than Stalin
  • 42% didn’t know who Mao Zedong was
  • 37% thought  Lenin was the good guy.

By all rational accounts, Communism has been the greatest human disaster ever to befall mankind.  Greater than Naziism, which is the only accessible yardstick.   Nothing else in human history is even close.

And yet at any gathering of Millennials, you’ll find a bobblehead in a Che t-shirt, and a few more parroting the Bernie-Bro platitudes that are Communism’s entry level drug.

Maybe it’s time to crowd-source a production of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Sunk

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was uneasy as he approached the podium in the Reichstag on January 31st, 1917.  Despite having done more than perhaps any other figure in Europe to ensure the Great War, Bethmann-Hollweg’s support for the conflict had slowly dissipated.  Only weeks earlier, the aging Chancellor had been forced to offer the outline of negotiations by rebellious German legislators eager to bring the bloodshed to an end.

Now, Bethmann-Hollweg was finding himself forced to announce a policy he had long fought against – the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.  While the policy had done more to turn the tables of war in favor of Germany than any other action of their armies, Bethmann-Hollweg feared a continued policy of sinking any and all ships would eventually bring the United States into the conflict.  Three weeks earlier, the leaders of Germany’s Navy had met with the Kaiser and implored Wilhelm II to restart submarine operations.  The nation was starving to death and Berlin’s U-boats were the other weapon that could return the devastation of the blockade in-kind.  The Kaiser agreed.

Bethmann-Hollweg told the assembled delegates that the U-boat campaign would renew the following day, February 1st, 1917.  “We have been challenged to fight to the end,” the Chancellor intoned.  “We accept the challenge. We stake everything, and we shall be victorious.”

A submarine’s view of the war – German U-boats would sink tremendous numbers of British commercial vessels during the Great War


For a weapon that nearly decided two World Wars, the Unterseeboot or U-boat was barely a consideration in Germany’s naval program.    Continue reading

Lost in Translation

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

The cable handed to America’s ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard, in early January of 1917 was an unusual request.

Since the start of the Great War, Germany’s telegraph lifelines to the rest of the world had been severed by the Royal Navy.  But the undersea cables connecting the United States to Europe had remained undisturbed, and in an effort to demonstrate the nation’s commitment to their stated policy of neutrality, the Wilson administration had allowed Germany use of their lines.

The terms of Germany’s use of America’s transatlantic cables were fairly simple – all messages had to be transmitted “in the clear” – uncoded – or they would not be relaid to other German embassies.  The message in Gerard’s office was coded, set to be delivered to the German ambassador to the United States, Johann von Bernstorff, in Washington.  The cable was coming from the newly installed Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, who had won Wilson’s trust by positively responding to the American administration’s peace overtures.  Zimmermann was a career bureaucratic from a middle class family – not a member of the German royalty that Wilson privately blamed for the war.  In the interest in building trust with Zimmermann’s office, Gerard let the cable go through on January 16th, 1917.

The recipient may have been Ambassador Bernstorff, but Washington was not the message’s final destination.  Bernstorff relayed the contents to Germany’s Mexican ambassador – an offer of a German/Mexican/Japanese alliance against the United States.  In return for Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Mexico would join the Central Powers in the event of America entering Europe’s war.

Arthur Zimmermann believed he was ensuring Germany’s defense.  Instead, he had poured the foundation of Germany’s eventual defeat.

The Zimmerman Telegram made headlines around the world and enraged the United States – leading to her entry into the Great War


The Mexico of 1917 was simmering with political mistrust and foreign intrigue.  And it had started – in small part – over an insufficient apology.    Continue reading

The Holy Alliance

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

It was well after midnight on December 29th, 1916, but the staff of the Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg was preparing for a party.

The Palace’s wine cellar had been temporarily redecorated for their expectant visitor.  Furniture and carpets had been moved in, along with a gramophone playing “Yankee Doodle” on a continuous loop.  Several bottles of wine had been set aside for the occasion, in addition to a variety of sweet petit fours.  The number of attendees were unknown – only a few key members of Russia’s nobility and their assistants would later amid to being present.  The host, Prince Felix Yusupov, was attempting to entertain his guest of honor – Grigori Rasputin.  Yusupov had sought out the supposed “mad monk” weeks earlier to attempt to learn some of the controversial holy man’s healing techniques.

What followed was a mixture of partial facts blended with mysticism and politically-motivated exaggeration.  Popular legend states that Yusupov fed Rasputin treat after treat laced with potassium cyanide to no effect.  Re-interpretation suggests that one of the night’s conspirators, a doctor, couldn’t violate his Hippocratic Oath to poison the famed mystic.  Reality suggests the food was either never poisoned or was administered before being baked, evaporating the cyanide in the process.

After an hour, an exasperated Yusupov had tired of playing guitar and listening to an increasingly drunk Rasputin.  The Prince would retrieve his gun and, according to his testimony years later, “a shudder swept over me; my arm grew rigid, I aimed at his heart and pulled the trigger.”  Rasputin was seemingly dead – only to reanimate himself and stumble out the door where he kept moving despite four more shots.  Only a following head shot supposedly slayed the infamous corruptor of the House of Romanov.

In reality, Yusupov’s first shot had passed through Rasputin’s mid-section without major damage.  One of the Prince’s co-conspirators, politician Vladimir Purishkevich, had fired multiple times at Rasputin and connected only once – a bullet to his spine.  The body was dumped in the Malaya Nevka River with such haste that one of Rasputin’s galoshes was stuck in the bars of the bridge.  Unsure of how to react, the participants dismissed the police sent to investigate the gunshots heard at the Palace, only to re-invite them back to brag about killing Rasputin…all the while insisting the officers keep the incident quiet.

Grigori Rasputin had been an enigma in life – his role in Tsarist Russia a subject of heated debate then and now.  In death, the man from the Siberian Plain would become a legendary indictment of Russia’s nobility and government in the First World War.

The truth of Rasputin is difficult to uncover – many “facts” of his life have later been proven false.  Allegations abound as to his behavior and influence over the Romanovs


By the winter of 1916, St. Petersburg had become a national paradox – the seat of government for Tsarist Russia, yet a capitol increasingly void of political power.

Tsar Nicholas II had long since left the capitol for Moghilev, some 400 miles away, after appointing himself Commander-in-Chief following the Russian army’s rout in the summer of 1915.  Left behind in St. Petersburg to manage the domestic affairs of state were Nicholas’ wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, and a deeply divided State Duma with little actual authority.   Continue reading

White Friday

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

The men of the Austro-Hungarian 1st Battalion of the Imperial Rifle Regiment Nr.III likely considered themselves fortunate.  Stationed at the summit of Mount Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites section of the Alps, the soldiers were on a fairly passive part of the Italian front.  Their barracks, build into the mountain side in the summer of 1916, was well protected by rock cliffs, which limited the effectiveness of Italian artillery.  Even the weather was reasonable.  Despite the massive snowfalls of that winter, the temperatures were warming.

The roar that the battalion heard at 5:30 in the morning on Friday, December 13th, 1916, didn’t sound like artillery.  It groaned and seemed to move closer towards them, shaking the very earth under their feet.  Most the men in the unit had been awakened by the sound, only moments before 200,000 tons of snow and ice collapsed on top of them.  In an instant, 270 Austro-Hungarian soldiers were killed by an avalanche – a part of 10,000 men killed by falling snow in December of 1916 alone.

The Italian front continued to find new ways to claim lives.

Austro-Hungarian troops survey their position – the Hapsburgs would suffer nearly 2.4 million casualties on the Italian front


It had taken multiple failed offensives, and a nearly successful Austro-Hungarian counter-offensive, but Italy’s fortunes in the Great War had finally improved.

The late summer of 1916 had presented Italy with an opportunity.  Between the Battle of Asiago and the Brusilov Offensive of that summer, the Dual Monarchy was on the verge of a military collapse.  Vienna had transferred hundreds of thousands of men from the Eastern front to the Italian front, and when that gambled failed, had been forced to do the same back to the East as the Romanians pressed into the underbelly of the Habsburg Empire.  Despite five different attempts at breaking the deadlock at Isonzo over the course of a year and a half, for the cost of over 175,000 casualties, Italy now held something it never had before – a numerical advantage.    Continue reading

The Knockout

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

It was 7pm on December 6, 1916, as several of the key members of Britain’s War Cabinet arrived at Buckingham Palace.  For the past 24 hours, Britain had been without a Prime Minister – and seemingly no one was willing to accept the position.

Herbert Henry (H.H.) Asquith had not been a particularly popular war-time Prime Minister, as he had been increasingly mistrusted by both the left and right in his coalition government.  Nevertheless, Asquith’s resignation the day before had come as a shock.  Even more surprising was that the office’s natural successor, the Conservative opposition leader Bonar Law, had declined George V’s offer to form a new coalition.  Law had insisted on Asquith’s continued presence in the War Cabinet; Asquith spoke of resigning from politics altogether and escaping to Hawaii.  Despite George V’s negotiations throughout the day of the 6th, the Monarch couldn’t bring together the disparate parties.

Now the torch of British leadership was being offered to a man who just two years earlier had been accused of being a pacifist, a political radical, and a “Little Englander” (a supporter of self-government for many of Britain’s colonies).  Instead, for the next two years, David Lloyd George would be one of the strongest proponents for continuing the Great War and expanding the British Empire.


David Lloyd George inspects the troops. He would go from war skeptic to hard-line war supporter within the course of the conflict

Britain and the Entente had seen many crises during the Great War, forcing out elected leadership in most of the democratic members of the alliance.  By the fall of 1916, the French were already on their third Prime Minister, with two more to follow before the fighting was done.  By comparison, the Italians, infamous for their dysfunctional governance, would have only three different PM’s throughout the entire conflict.   Continue reading

Happy Reagan’s Birthday

Today would be Ronald Reagan’s 106th birthday.

I’ve been writing about Reagan – who, along with PJ O’Rourke, Solzhenitzyn, Dostoevskii and Paul Johnson is the reason I’m a conservative today – as long as this blog has been in existence.  His eight years were not perfect, and I don’t beatify my presidents, even if they’ve been out of office for almost thirty years.  His last term wasn’t as stellar as his first, and his last two years were very difficult.

Still and all, he was the greatest president of the second half of the 20th Century.

But in these difficult times, after two terms of a President who promoted  fear and malaise in the guise of “change” and “doing something”, it’s worth remembering Reagan’s example; when times seemed at their most dire, Reagan walked onto the scene with a smile and a vision, and a backbone of steel, and cleaned up the mess lefty by his failed predecessor – something our next president will need even more of in 2016.

And the most important part? He did it by unleashing something that many, then as now, thought was dead – the inner, optimistic, take-charge greatness of the American spirit.

The best we can hope for from our current president is that he approaches the job with the same tenacity to match his vision that Reagan had.

Oh, there are those who say “today’s GOP wouldn’t nominate Reagan!” – to which I respond with a contemptuous sign, before telling the critic to listen to “A Time for Choosing”, and tell me who is more resembles; Arne Carlson, or Scott Walker?

Reagan’s gone. But that spirit, the one he understood, almost alone among American politicans of his era, lives on in the American people. Most of it, anyway.

So Happy Reagan’s Birthday, everyone!

NOTE: While this blog encourages a raucous debate, this post is a hagiography zone. All comments deemed critical of Reagan will be expunged without ceremony. You’ve been warned.

You have the whole rest of the media to play about in; this post is gonna be gloriously one-note.

Follow the Leader

We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series.  Over the next few weeks/months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.

The aging Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been confined to his bed for several days.  The 86 year-old monarch, who had reigned for nearly 68 years, had caught a cold that had developed into pneumonia.  While Joseph’s participation in the day-to-day affairs of state had been significantly curtailed for years, the Empire still waited nervously for updates on the monarch’s conditions.

Franz Joseph’s empire had been beset with ethnic divisions for decades – the Austrian monarchy had become the Dual Monarchy with Hungary under his watch.  Yet Joseph remained a popular, unifying figure for all the ethnicities under Habsburg rule.  Bismarck himself had noted many years earlier that despite the nationalist squabbles of the nation, “if Kaiser Franz Josef should mount his horse, all his people will follow him.”

On November 21st, 1916, Franz Joseph died.  The glue of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had faded away.


The outlines of the demographics of Austria-Hungary, circa 1910.  It’s easy to see the beginning traces of the states that would follow in the Dual Monarchy’s fall

The narrative of the final years of Austria-Hungary was of a rising tide of nationalist fervor overtaking a polyglot empire.  And most assuredly, the Habsburgs presided over one of the most diverse kingdoms of Europe.  Austrians, Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Croats, Serbs, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, Muslims, Jews and others made the Dual Monarchy their home, with the empire recognizing 10 different ethnicities in their 1910 census.  With the rise of ethnic-based states like Serbia, observers from both outside and within the Empire wondered how unified Vienna could be in the event of war.   Continue reading