Saying “thank you for your service” seems trite – almost mawkish. Someone who never served saying “Thanks for going overseas and getting shot at!”?
See what I mean?
In the meantime, what I want to say is “glad you made it home”. But I can see that being taken the wrong way.
So I’ll wing it.
Veterans: thanks for spending the best years of your lives in barracks, troops ships, foxholes, berthing spaces, CVC helmets, cockpits and gun mounts, doing things most of us can’t imagine, to protect the freedoms too many Americans take very much for granted.
If bars ever open again, the next drink’s on me.
It doesn’t roll off the tongue, but it doesn’t have to.
I have two observations about Joe Biden’s performance in last Thursday’s debate.
First – his campaign is all platitudes. He has a “plan” for everything. A government “plan” and three bucks will get you a cup of Caribou. It’s all there to gull the gullible.
Second – like all Democrats, he can pretty much say any billshut he wants, because his voters are all low-information drones who have the critical thought skills of herd animals, and the media like it that way.
There were many examples of this during the debate on Thursday – “I never said I’d ban fracking”, “nobody lost their plan to Obamacare”, and on and on.
The one that made me jump out of my seat with the most incredulity? “We had a great relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe”.
He was half right. The US had a lousy relationship  with the Nazi regime – to FDR’s rare credit
The U.S. didn’t have a good relationship with Hitler before he “invaded Europe. The German dictator was, however, beloved in certain quarters, including the editorial offices of the New York Times.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t attack Hitler directly before the war began, but relations between the U.S. and Nazi Germany were by no means good. In September 1938, Roosevelt sent a telegram to Hitler lecturing him about the importance of keeping the peace and stating: “The conscience and the impelling desire of the people of my country demand that the voice of their government be raised again and yet again to avert and to avoid war.” Implying that Hitler was a warmonger was hardly a hallmark of cordial relations between the two countries.
Failing to get a satisfactory response from Hitler, on October 11, 1938, Roosevelt announced that he was increasing national defense spending by $300 million (over $5 billion in today’s dollars). No one thought that money was going to build up our defenses against Britain and France.
But the New York Times? They loved them some Hitler:
The historian Rafael Medoff recently noted that on July 9, 1933, just over five months after he became Chancellor of Germany and years after his virulent anti-Semitism and propensity for violence had become notorious worldwide, the New York Times published a fawning puff piece on Hitler that rivals even today’s media adulation of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi in its one-sidedness, myopia, and disdain for essential facts.
Pulitzer Prize-winning “journalist” Anne O’Hare McCormick traveled to Berlin to become the first reporter from an American news outlet to interview the new chancellor, and she was an intriguing choice for the Times editors to make to conduct this interview, as in the presence of this man whose name has become justly synonymous with evil, she was decidedly starry-eyed: “At first sight,” McCormick gushed, “the dictator of Germany seems a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller. His sun-browned face is full and is the mobile face of an orator.”
As if that weren’t enough, she continues with a description of the Führer as outlandish and adulatory as likening the supremely zaftig Stacy Abrams to a supermodel: “His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid. He appears untired and unworried. His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit.”
This, of course, as Walter Duranty was all but french-kissing Joseph Stalin. The NYTimes were equal-opportunity up-suckers.
That choice abided by the dictum of TIME founder Henry Luce, who decreed that the Man of the Year — now Person of the Year — was not an honor but instead should be a distinction applied to the newsmaker who most influenced world events for better or worse. In case that second criterion was lost on readers, the issue that named Hitler dispensed with the portrait treatment that cover subjects typically got. Instead he was depicted as a tiny figure with his back to the viewer, playing a massive organ with his murdered victims spinning on a St. Catherine’s wheel.
Which, in context, makes sense.
Moreso than the NYTimes’ excuse, anyway.
 Speaking generally in re the government, of course. Some in the government – Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, Ambassador to the UK, Democrat eminimento and father of progressive icons John F. and Robert F. Kennedy – spent the early years of the war pulling for the Nazis to conquer the Brits, whom he hated.
The NYTimes is trying to disappear some of their own paper’s history in re the “1619 Project”, which claimed that, based on the premise that America was founded primarily to exalt slavery, the nation was really founded when the first slave arrived.
Editors recently removed (without explanation or acknowledgment) the provocative statement that the project “aim[s] to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding” from the article series’ online introduction. Lead author Nikole Hannah-Jones has repeatedly claimed it is a myth that the project proposes 1619 rather than 1776 as the country’s birth year: She blamed bad-faith critics on the right for tricking the media into believing otherwise.
“One thing in which the right has been tremendously successful is getting media to frame stories in their language and through their lens,” wrote Hannah-Jones in a subsequently deleted tweet. “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 is our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.”
Forget for a moment that Hannah-Jones’ Twitter banner is a picture of 1776 crossed out and replaced with 1619. Forget that multiple progressive media outlets that were sympathetic to the project’s aims used the 1619-as-true-founding summary in order to explain it. Forget that a year ago, after the articles were published, both Hannah-Jones and New York Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein described the project in exactly these terms: “We sort of proposed the idea in a variety of ways that if you consider 1619 as the foundational date of the country, rather than 1776, it just changes your understanding and we call that a reframing of American history.” Just consider one last piece of evidence that Hannah-Jones is being deceptive about who invented the 1619-not-1776 framing.
My guess – she’s not being “deceptive”. She, and the Times, are backfilling and memory-holing because Identity Politics stands to cost the Democrats.
Nearly 20 percent of millennials and Gen Z in New York believe Jews caused the Holocaust, according to a new survey released Wednesday.
The findings come from the first-ever 50-state survey on the Holocaust knowledge of American millennials and Gen Z, which was commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
For instance, although there were more than 40,000 camps and ghettos during World War II, 58 percent of respondents in New York cannot name a single one.
Additionally, 60 percent of respondents in New York do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
It was my observation when my kids were in school – over a decade ago, in the Saint Paul Public Schools – that the only things they learned in their various social studies classes were slavery and civil rights.
No “Federalist Papers” or origins of the Constitution. Nothing about the Civil War but slavery.
Nothing about the rise of progressivism, the causes of the Depression, World War II. Nothing about the sixties but Civil Rights.
Again – that was anecdotal, and entirely possibly wrong. But I’ve found little reason to not assume I’m at least largely right on this.
And this article is certainly a plaintiff’s exhibit.
100 years ago today, Bolshevism with the Soviet Red Army as its delivery mechanism was on a march to what it considered a date with historical destiny.
Lenin’s dialect of Marxism held that Germany was the first, ripest target for the Proletarian revolution they considered inevitable. Standing in their way – the “white”, anticommunist Poles, who against all odds were fighting to protect an independence they’d had for not even two full years.
This was a time when much of the West’s intelligentsia, then as now, believed that Communism was not only inevitable, but preferable to the chaotic scramble of Capitalism. A Soviet victory over the Poles would lead, likely, to Germany’s collapse – the Weimar Republic could barely keep itself standing upright, with the Left and Right battling, literally, in the streets; a Red Army crossing an undefended Oder River and bringing Germany into the Soviet orbit likely would have led to the rest of the unsettled, bled-white continent falling in short order, and maybe the UK as well.
…but that was yet another battle to save Western Civilization.
And as we head into an election where the First, Second, Fourth, Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the very meaning of “citizenship” itself are at stake (in Minnesota, forget about nationwide), it’s a good example to keep in your hearts.
75 years ago today the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
It was dropped by a B29 Superfortress – a plane that was literally built in parallel with the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb, and cost as much to bring into service and was in many ways more difficult to get built than the bomb itself.
As troubled by development problems and cost overruns as most other procurement projects today – early versions had an alarming tendency for engine fires to melt the wing spar, causing wings to break off and the plane to go into an uncontrollable spiral – but carried into action on a wave of wartime emergency money, the Army Air Force brass were seriously worried that the Superfortress would be ready to do the job.
Worried enough to come up with an alternate plan, with the only other plane in the world that could have carried the two early, huge atomic bombs.
Here’s the story.
By the way – if you’re a history geek, “Mark Felton Productions” is a treasure trove of the sort of history you just don’t get in most history books – the kind of off-the-beaten-path stories First Ringer and me focused on in our “World War 2 – Fact and Myth” series, way back when. It’s very much worth a watch.
SCENE: Mitch BERG is walking out of the local Korean joint with a container of Galbi. As he’s committing to going out the door, MyLyssa SILBERMAN, reporter for National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau, covering the “Fake News” and “Diversity” beats.
SILBERMAN: Mister Berg.
BERG: Er, hi, Ms. Silberman. What’s new?
SILBERMAN: Not much time for small talk. I’m doing a story about cancel culture.
SILBERMAN: No, no. I’m looking for examples in the world of politics.
BERG: You mean like the town in Alabama whose entire base of wealth was built on the products of slavery, but posits itself as a bastion of “progressive” thought today.
SILBERMAN: Go ahead. I’m listening.
BERG: This town in Alabama built its entire civic wealth between 1815 and 1865 on textiles – an industry based on slave-produced cotton – and tobacco, which was…
SILBERMAN: …raised by slaves. Yes. Yes. Keep going.
BERG: And they voted for the Democrat, pro-slavery candidates for President, in 1860 and 1864.
SILBERMAN: I already hate them.
BERG: And then, when the Civil War was well underway, they undertook a pogrom against not only blacks – whom they blamed for the war, and for the economic hardships the war brought them – but against whites that supported abolition, destroying their businesses in an epic riot.
SILBERMAN: Perfect. Probably fundamentalist Christianists to boot. These people need canceling.
BERG: I’ll say.
SILBERMAN: What town in Alabama?
BERG: It was…wait, did I say Alabama?
SILBERMAN: You did.
BERG: My bad. It was New York City. Your hometown, if I recall.
SILBERMAN: (Stands, stunned).
BERG: You’ve been canceled.
SILBERMAN: (Jaw flaps, but no sound comes out)
BERG: Try the dok buk uhm. It’s divine. (BERG walks out)
World War 2 was an industrial war – the second, and final, war to completely harness the entire industrial might of the largest of the world’s developed nations. All of them – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the USSR and, biggest of all, the United States – turned the entirety of their peacetime industrial output, one way or another, toward waging wars for national and cultural survival.
Other nations lent other assets to the various war efforts. Sweden had massive iron ore deposits, Romania, Arabia, Iran and Indonesia, oil in quantities scarcely imagined at the time; China and India had immense supplies of manpower.
And little Norway, with a population scarcely larger than Minnesota even then? With one of the largest coastlines on earth, it had a massive merchant fleet by any standard, even more so measured per capita. Nearly 1,000 merchant ships sailed under the Norwegian flag as the war began – about one for every 3,000 Norwegians.
And without ship, and lots of them, all that industrial capacity – especially in Britain, isolated as it was from all raw materials, and the US, far removed from all the battlefronts – would be utterly useless.
In a war that was lopsidedly decided by logistics, the Norwegian fleet was a weapon of exceptionally disproportionate importance.
Ten years ago, First Ringer and I did a series of anniversary stories about major events in World War 2. I’m re-running, and updating, them on their 80th anniversaries.
It was seventy years ago today that World War II came to Norway and Denmark.
As with the previous episode in this series, the Invasion of Poland, history has spawned all kinds of myths about this campaign.
Norway and Denmark, like many other smaller European nations, had actively embraced the idea of neutrality as their best defense against huge potential enemies like Germany, the USSR and, believe it or not, France and the UK. Indeed, that was what “neutrality” meant, in the full legal sense of the term, for countries that embraced it; they could not distinguish between liberal democracies like Britain and fascist dictatorships like Germany; they had to treat all nations as the same, and all belligerents in a war as equally culpable.
This, believed the Danes and Norwegians, was their best shot at avoiding war; taking absolutely no side in the conflict.
And it’s one of histories great accidents that in Norway’s case it didn’t turn out to be true, at least legally. Winston Churchill noted that much of the steel that ran Germany’s war machine came from iron ore mined in northern Sweden, and exported via train to Narvik, Norway, and thence shipped to Germany. Churchill hatched a plan; to send a brigade of British soldiers to occupy Narvik first, and work out the diplomatic details with the Norwegians later. And so in the days leading up to April 9, 1940, the British embarked a brigade of infantry onto a couple of cruisers and got ready to send them to Norway.
The Germans got there first.
They had engineered a pretty elaborate surprise attack; they put most of their troops on warships, fast cruisers and destroyers, rather than on regular transports and landing ships. They also staged the world’s first major airborne assault, sending the paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) to capture Norway’s major airport and, they hoped, King Håkon and his cabinet.
The German surprise attack wasn’t a complete surprise; British intelligence got some word out in advance. A Polish submarine, the Orzel, which had itself escaped the conquest of Poland only eight months before, sank a transport off Lillesand, and a British sub damanged a cruiser full of troops. And one group of German ships encountered the Norwegian patrol boat Pol the night before the invasion, as the ships were staging to launch their assaults in the morning. They sank the Pol, whos captain became the first fatality of many the next day.
But it was a home-field game for the Germans; Denmark was on their own border, and Norway was much closer to Germany than to the UK or France.
Despite the three naval actions the day before, the word was slow in getting to the governments in London and Oslo; the Norwegian government, realizing they had no hope of preserving peace, ordered an alert – which, being far too late, did little good – and started packing up the nation’s gold reserves (which did succeed).
And so on the morning of April 9, a coordinated six-point assault with elements of six infantry and mountain divisions simultaneously invaded the six most important cities in Norway. Two German battlescruisers carried elements of a Mountain Division to Narvik, well above the Arctic circle, destroying two of Norway’s ancient “battleships”, the Eidsvold and the Norge, leaving a few dozen survivors out of crews totalling 300 men. Other ships landed troops at Trondhjem, Bergen, Kristiansand and Egersund; the biggest detachment sailed up Oslofjord to try to capture Oslo, link up with the paratroopers, and try to decapitate whatever command and control Norway had.
And so the Germans essentially drove into Denmark, and debouched from ships and planes into Norway. The Danes, having a tiny military, indefensible terrain, and no real chance at defense, worked out an armistice quickly that enabled them to keep at least some small degree of autonomy under German rule – which would hold for the next couple of years.
For the most part, the strikes on Norway went off with surgical assurance and with little overt resistance; Norway had nearly disbanded her military, and had only very recently realized that pacifism needed some form of defense; they’d begun building a few new destroyers (to replace vessels commissioned in the 1890s), and bought fighter and anti-submarine planes from Britain and the US – although by April 9, only 12 British-built Gloster Gladiator biplanes were combat-ready.
All 12 were destroyed by the end of the first day – although not before shooting down several German planes full of paratroopers first.
But for the key part of the German plan – the capture of King Håkon, his cabinet, the Storting (Parliament), the gold reserves and the legitimate government of Norway ? The wheels came off, unpredictably, bright and early.
The biggest of the German invasion forces stormed into Oslofjord on the morning of April 9. Lead by the heavy cruiser Blücher, the force included two other heavy cruisers, three destroyers, and eight other ships crammed with German infantry. Norway had very few formal defenses – but the Oscarsborg fortress, sitting in at a narrowpoint in the fjord, was one of them. The commander of the fortress, Colonel Birger Eriksen, sensing trouble, had put his troops on alert on his own initiative, disobeying an order to stand down.
And at 5:15AM, his searchlights illuminated Blücher; his fortress’ main battery, two 11-inch cannon that’d been installed in 1892, engaged the cruiser.
Two hits blew a turret off of the cruiser, and forced it to stop – leaving it a sitting duck for an 1890-vintage torpedo, fired from a glorified log flume on shore, which caused Blücher to tip over on its right side and sink, ablaze, killing 1,000 sailors and soldiers, including many specialists and administrators who were to take over the running of the Norwegian government.
This blocked the fjord, preventing the force from getting to Oslo long enough for the King, Cabinet, Parliament, and the gold supply to evacuate.
The Germans needed Håkon and his Cabinet; if they could be captured and induced to capitulate, it would mean that Germany controlled Norway’s legitimate government. And so they sent an elite force of paratroopers in a convoy of commandeered civilian trucks to try to intercept Håkon’s convoy as it fled into the interior.
And so Håkon and his government managed to escape into the interior, where they led Norway’s tiny, hardscrabble Army in resistance for nearly two months, before evacuating from Tromsö aboard a British cruiser on June 7.
Norway thus became the only country conquered by Hitler to never surrender to the Nazis. Håkon, leading Norway’s legitimate government (no country ever recognized, even by the dubious standards of world diplomacy, Vidkun Quisling’s puppet regime) at the head of over 20,000 troops in exile, 50,000 troops in the underground, and the 22,000 men and hundreds of ships of Norway’s merchant marine.
It was five years to the day later that Håkon returned to Norway at the head of his military (escorted by the US 99th Infantry Battalion, made up of Norwegian-speaking GIs from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Michigan) in 1945.
As I’ve done throughout this series, I’m here to debunk myths.
There are several in re the war in Scandinavia.
No Pushover: While the popular history has it that Norway rolled over quickly for the German attack, the fact is that not only did Norway never surrender (as noted above), but the campaign became a bit of a quagmire, at least initially, for Germany. The initial invasion used six divisions and parts of a seventh, and still couldn’t conquer the whole country.
To make matters worse for the Germans, the British expeditionary force originally slated to invade Norway ended up arriving in Narvik after the Germans – to be seen as liberators and rescuers. The British navy task force delivering them, led by the battleships HMS Warspite, wiped out the German naval force at Narvik, including ten destroyers – a blow from which the German destroyer force never recovered throughout the war.
The Allied ground force – including British, French, Norwegian and Polish-Army-In-Exile forces – drove the Germans out of the city, and held until evacuated in June. The Norwegians operating outside Narvik, under General Fleischer, delivered the first tactical defeat suffered by the German Army in World War II.
Farther down-country, the Norwegians – again, mostly gun-club “reservists”, with French and British troops in support- delayed, and then halted, the German advance up-country during the campaign around Namsos, which was finally overcome only through the lack of Allied air support and, finally, the fall of France.
As the quagmire dragged on, the Germans got desperate, carrying out terror-bombing attacks on Nybergsund, Andalsnes, Molde, Elverum, Kristiansund, Namsos and Narvik.
The last Norwegian army unit fighting in Norway didn’t cease organized resistance until June 10; Norway resisted longer than than of any of Hitler’s other conquests.
Resistance: Tens of thousands of Norwegians escaped Norway; fifty thousand more fought in some capicity or another in the Resistance. The Milorg achieved some spectacular successes, including the destruction of the German “Heavy Water” supply during the Vemork raid. Germany stationed a total of eighteen divisions in Norway on occupation duty during the war – partly testament to the importance of Germany’s bases, which supported U-boat and air raids on convoys crossing the Atlantic and especially those supplying Lend-Lease supplies to the USSR – and also to the effectiveness of Norway’s resistance. It was the highest ratio of occupation troops to civilians anywhere in Europe.
Denmark resisted as well; indeed, given the more difficult terrain, the Danish resistance was especially crafty, adaptible and ferocious. And both nations pulled off the incredible; during a three-week stretch in 1943, the Danish resistance managed to smuggle 86% of Denmark’s Jews to safety in Sweden, after word got out that Hitler was about to abrogate the terms of Denmark’s armistice and round the Jews up for extermination.
Norway similarly got 75% of its Jewish population smuggled to Sweden, albeit in less dramatic fashion. Both nations’ resistance groups are listed collectively among the “Righteous Among Nations” at Yad Vashem.
Exile: Among the Norwegians and Danes who escaped to fight onward, many distinguished themselves. The Canadian government, using airplanes Norway had bought from the US but were not delivered, set up a training base for Norwegian pilots, “Little Norway”, near Toronto. The Norwegian pilots served with distinction; 331 and 332 Squadrons, flying Spitfires, became among the highest-scoring squadrons in the Royal Air Force late in the war, flying air cover over the Normandy invasion, the liberation of Holland, and the crossing of the Rhein River.
At sea, Norway’s huge merchant fleet was a huge part of the Allied effort to first keep Britain from starving, and then to support the invasion and liberation of Europe. Beyond that? Norwegian crews on British-built torpedo boats and gunboats, and two British-built submarines – the Uredd, lost in a minefield, and the Ula, which sank more enemy tonnage than any other Allied submarine in the Atlantic during World War II – vexed the occupiers up and down Norway’s long coastline.
Lessons Learned: Norway has always had a reputation for big-L “liberalism”, which it passed on to its descendants in Minnesota.
But it learned its lesson, too. During the Cold War, when faced with an enemy historically even worse than Hitler (remember – Norway and Turkey were the only NATO nations to share borders with the USSR), they backed up their innate pacifism with a big stick.
Although the nation has about the same population as Minnesota, it built up a sizeable navy to defend its long, craggy coastline from invasion – and turned virtually its entire male population into an army. Norwegians served in a system similar in many ways to that of Switzerland and Israel, keeping their weapons at home, ready for the worst. The nation’s military was trained for guerilla warfare; a hypersecret branch of Norway’s special forces spent the Cold War years building the infrastructure to make another occupation of Norway a horrible and bloody thing for the next round of enemies.
For it’s part, the Danish military after World War II developed a reputation for fierceness; Danish troops serving in Bosnia/Herzegovina were reportedly among the most aggressive in smacking down Serb aggression. It’s worth noting that Danish special forces – the Jaegerkorpset, among the most admired special opertions forces in NATO – accompanied the US in its initial invasion of Iraq, along with those of Poland, another nation that had learned the hard way that freedom needed fierce defense.
As we confront our nation’s own tribulations, we’d do well to remember the examples of the people of Norway and Denmark.
Update 2020: A few years of genealogy have given me a deep appreciation of the era; my great-grandfather’s hometown was a conduit on the route from Norway to Sweden, smuggling spies, shot-down allied airmen, Norwegians trying to go to fight, and Jews escaping deportation. Looking at the geneology books for the area, a group of people with the same name – not an uncommon one in that part of Norway, but in a small area nonetheless – were recorded as members of the resistance.
Nope. Not a good parallel, for a bunch of reasons (historical, structural) – and a good one, but not for the reason those using it think.
Mostly, it’s being used as a way to logroll the uninformed – which, these days, in a culture that thinks Jon Stewart was “news”, is an awful lot of people.
For starters, the German Constitution after WWI gave the executive branch almost royal powers. That’s because in around 1919 they clipped out references to the Kaiser (“Caesar”, in German) and replaced them with an elected “President”. And not much else; there was little or no ability, for example, for the legislative branch to “impeach” the President – at all.
Germany had an incredibly strong executive branch, and a very weak parliament…
that was further weakened by the German people’s fatigue with politics. After fifteen years where Politics very frequently devolved into street violence (between, literally, real “brownshirts” and “Anti”-fa – who were literally the direct action arm of the Communist party, and descended into same “Anti”-fa we have prancing about playing street soldier today). By the way – the Communists supported the idea of the Hitler cabinet, at least behind the scenes; they figured the violence that’d ensue would give them an opening to get back into power. They miscalculated badly, of course – worse than Adam Schiff, even. By this point in history, Germans were perfectly fine giving all the power to someone who would just make it all stop, and let them get back to trying to rebuild their economy and self-esteem
And the actual vote on the act was taken as the non-Nazi members of the “Reichstag” (parliament) were being literally threatened by brownshirts (again – literally, the same thing as “Anti”-Fa with different accessories) and the nucleus of what became the “SS”. The threats weren’t social media bluster, either; the “cancel culture” of the day was boots against head against pavement.
Future elections were abolished, the Party co-opted the Army with promises of rebuilding after its humiliation after World War 1, and that was pretty much that.
So – it’s a terrible parallel: the Senate impeachment vote was precisely the one predicted when the Democrats first started talking about impeachment three years ago, reinforced when the GOP extended their majority in the Senate in 2018; precisely the vote the Constitution called for, with the deliberative Senate checking and balancing the popular House.
It will (!) be followed by elections in nine months, where the people will sort it out, for better or worse, electing another government that, via the inefficiency that is Federalism’s most glorious feature, stymie and frustrate any electoral majority.
If we’re lucky.
Just as the Germans learned. After 1945, their new Federal (!) Constitution distributes power between the executive and parliament, and between the Federal and State parliaments, with the sorts of checks and balances they’d learned they needed, the hard way.
But there is a warning here, for Americans. Germany learned the need for checks and balances…
…and America’s “progressive” “elites” are doing their damnedest to get rid of them. There are serious efforts to make the Senate majoritarian (or abolish it completely), to make the legislative branch more closely mirror popular passions; to abolish the Electoral College to give the control of the Executive branch (which is waaaaaay too powerful, thanks to Wilson, FDR and LBJ) over to the will of the simple majority…
…and thus let that majority wield the full dead-eyed power of government over the minority without check or balance, or need for the niceties of legislation and debate.
To make the trains run on tim…er, I mean, move America “forward”. In your “best interests”.
School districts in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, have decided to update their history curricula to include the material, which posits that the institution of slavery was so embedded in the country’s DNA that the country’s true founding could be said to have occurred in 1619, rather than in 1776. “One of the things that we are looking at in implementing The 1619 Project is to let everyone know that the issues around the legacy of enslavement that exist today, it’s an American issue, it’s not a Black issue,” Dr. Fatima Morrell, associate superintendent for culturally and linguistically responsive initiatives for Buffalo Public Schools, told Buffalo’s NPR station.
The project, shall we say, is widely unaccepted by historians:
Many historians, though, have questioned The 1619 Project’s accuracy. Five of them penned a letter to The New York Times expressing dismay “at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” These historians said the project’s contention that the American Revolution was launched “in order to ensure slavery would continue” was flat-out wrong. Another historian, Phil Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research, has criticized Matthew Desmond’s 1619 Project essay, which claimed that modern American capitalism has its roots in plantation slavery. Magness has persuasively argued that this claim lacks verification, and that Desmond relied on bad data about cotton-picking rates in the pre-Civil War south. “Desmond’s thesis relies exclusively on scholarship from a hotly contested school of thought known as the New History of Capitalism (NHC),” wrote Magness in a second article. “Although NHC scholars often present their work as cutting-edge explorations into the relationship between capitalism and slavery, they have not fared well under scrutiny from outside their own ranks.”
But I’m going to take issue with Soave on one part, though:
Some conservative critics have overreached: Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called The 1619 Project “propaganda” and suggested that the Times was trying to brainwash readers. That line of attack goes too far, but there are valid criticisms of the project’s ideological slant.
I can’t – and don’t want to – speak for the authors’ intent. But the fact that it is being used to gaslight the next generation about what American is about means it is propaganda, whatever its intent.
An African-American sailor who received the Navy Cross for his actions during the Pearl Harbor attack is getting what may be, in recent years, the ultimate honor – getting an aircraft carrier named after him.
Dorie Miller was a Mess Attendant Third Class – which, along with cook and wardroom steward (basically a butler for a ship’s officers) was one of very few trades open to black silors – from Waco Texas. During the attack, he was stationed aboard the battleship West Virginia, and helped haul the mortally-wounded captain to safety, and helped injured sailors move out of danger – and entered legend by taking control of an anti-aircraft gun on which he’d never been trained. Miller’s earned the Navy Cross for his actions. One could say that decoration was in part due to political pressure in the States pushing against a Navy that direly needed black recruits – but there is no question that Miller deserved the honor.
HIs example – the first black sailor to earn a Navy Cross – earned him a trip back to the states to sell war bonds and help recruit black sailors. He was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class, and was killed in 1943 aboard the escort carrier Liscome Bay, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
It’s worth noting that Miller’s most iconic action during the attack may not have happened. At the height of the attack, Miller came upon an unmanned .50 caliber antiaircraft gun – and, notwithstanding the fact that he’d never been trained in the weapon, blazed away at Japanese aircraft until he ran out of ammunition. Various legends, and Michael Bay’s 2000 movie Pearl Harbor, have him shooting down as many as four Japanese planes. None of the victories are confirmed.
But Navy policy in 1941 was that black sailors shouldn’t be shooting guns at all – their battle station usually involved hauling ammunition and working on damage control parties. They weren’t supposed to be at the trigger; then as now, it was “gun safety policy”.
Until a person has all the rights and powers, in microcosm, that their government has – including the right and power to defend themselves, their families, property, community, freedom and yes, shipmates from aggression, they’re not really citizens. They’re subjects.
Black Americans in 1941, especially in the armed services, were most definitely subjects.
And while there are many things to salute about Miller’s actions during the war, that’s the one that a whole lot of black Democrat voters need to hear more about during this political year.
It’s time for people to start arguing on social media about whether Nazis are or are not “socialists”.
Of course, nobody, left or right, wants to claim the Nazis. It’s pretty understandable.
To the left – and, probably, anyone who learned the subject from a textbook in the past 60 years or so, “Nazi” is “right wing” is “the opposite of socialism/communisml”, and because “they fought a war with each other, they MUST be opposites!”
And to the right, the name “National Socialist German Workers Party” includes the “S” word, and das ist alles sie schreibt.
They’re both wrong.
People on the left trying to disown the Nazis usually go for three points:
“Naziism is on the right! Communism and Socialism are on the left!”
“Nazis and Communists fought a war/put each other in camps/killed each other”.
“The Nazis didn’t nationalize their whole economy”.
Let’s go through each of ‘em.
Left “Vs”. Right – Karl Marx predicted that eventually, a worldwide revolution of the world’s proletariat – the industrial working class – would render all borders irrelevant. Since then, Socialism has always been “Internationalist”. Socialism’s major pillars are a command economy (run by central planners), a comprehensive welfare state, and “Internationalism”.
In 1920, the chairman of the Italian Socialist Party had a revelation. Socialism was doing so-so in Italy; the country wasn’t “proletarian”, it was agrarian and poor and, being Catholic, pretty socially conservative. It was also a very new nation – 56 years – and pretty proud of it. So while a comprehensive welfare state was a pretty easy sell, “Internationalism” was not.
That chairman saw an opportunity; combine the social welfare state of socialism with frank nationalism.
It was heresy to Big-“S” socialists – but the chairman was more interested in winning power than popularity contests among university faculty. So the chairman of the *Socialist* party, a youngish man named Benito Mussolini, broke from the Socialists and created a party that on the one hand led with nationalism – “A but also practiced a command economy, and provided as generous a welfare state as the relatively poor country could afford. They were called the Fascisti, or “Fascist Party”.
The German “National Socialist German Workers Party” started in the waning days of World War 1 – and unlike a lot of political parties, the name actually means pretty much what it says. It was nationalist, *and*…well, promoted a command economy and a comprehensive welfare state. And they delivered it; We’ll come back to the command economy below – it wasn’t a whole lot less centrally-planned than that of the USSR. And the German welfare system – the “Reichswohlfahrtbeamt” – would make a Bernie Bro’s leg tingle, at least in terms of benefits. Its “social engineering” goals were ambitious (and pretty problematic for non-Aryans). It was more successful than the welfare states in Italy and the USSR – Germany was a much wealthier, more-developed nation.
Now, if there’s a term out there for a system with a command economy and a comprehensive welfare state other than “socialist”, I’m not aware of it. I usually run with “socialism” with a small “s”, but if there’s another one, I’m all ears.
Anyway – given that *ideologically* the two “different” movements shared the two pillars that actually meant something to people outside the political class, control of the economy and the welfare state, isn’t something to simply bluster past.
Of course, there’s more to it – and we’ll get that waaaay down below, when we talk about the part the Right gets wrong.
“Enemies” – The next reason the left gives is that Nazis and Socialists fought brutal street battles, and eventually a World War, with each other. If they fought, they *must* be opposites. Right?
Sure. In exactly the same way as the Gambinos are the “opposite”, intellectually and morally and philosophically, of the Luccheses, or the Bloods are the “opposites” of the Crips.
As one “academic” (with little background in this subject, which never seems to stop anyone) put it, “Nazis put Socialists in camps”. True. They also put Nazis in camps. The victims of the Nazis’ first round of mass killings were…
…other Nazis, where the Hitler faction killed off members of another faction within the party that Hitler saw, like dictators do, as potential rivals. Google “Night of the Long Knives” for details; it reads a lot like the part at the end of The Godfather were Michael Corleone rubs out the heads of the other four New York famlies.
By the “academic’s” logic, Nazis weren’t Nazis.
This episode will come back when we get to the part where the Right gets it wrong, too.
Looking at politics in subtle intellectual and political shades is a luxury afforded people whose political systems aren’t fundamentally based a choice between getting and keeping power, and a bullet in the head.
“There were Nazi Capitalists” – when the Nazis took over, two of their primary goals were to re-arm Germany, and to build their way out of the Great Depression. Hitler was many things, but he wasn’t stupid; he’d observed the thrashing around that’d happened in the USSR when Lenin forcibly nationalized all industry (and everything else). The contortions – including the death, exile or imprisonment of much of the USSR’s relatively small technical and administrative class, which wasn’t especially big to begin with in 1920 – set back the industrialization of the USSR, and the recovery of its economy from post-Revolution levels, for well over a decade. And the economy that developed was groaningly inefficient, and stayed that way.
Hitler and the Nazis, learning from Lenin’s mistakes, figured that leaving the businesses and their management relatively alone would be the best way to get his short and mid-term goals accomplished. But they also forced those businesses to operate within the strict guidance of the party’s central planners. There was a carrot – they got to keep their businesses and wealth. There was also a stick – some prominent industrialists got quiet threats from local SS offices that some subtle Jewish ancestry might pop up if cooperation wasn’t fast and cheerful.
Academics on the subject differ on whether, and for how long, the Nazis were going to continue to allow industry to operate independently. There’s evidence that had Germany won or drawn the war, that would have changed, as the party switched to a “Utopia” phase and the industrialists retired by fair means or foul. Germany lost, so it’s all academic speculation – but there is precisely zero evidence that the Nazis intended to make the market *more* rather than *less* free.
So – the two ideologies share most of their major components. Not just intellectual ones like command economies and welfare states, but also a penchant for “retiring” opposition forcefully. The means differed, the ends were pretty much the same. And the notion that they are “the opposite” is largely the function of western academics, many of whom started out as fanboys of *both* Stalin and Hitler, and put in a lot of overtime after the Spanish Civil War, and especially World War II (although some took a detour back during the Molotov/Von Ribbentrop pact) to erase that history.
So what does the American Right get wrong about the history?
Naziism’s roots, like those of the Italian Fascist party, were simultaneously Nationalist and, with the small “s”, socialist; they believed in Germany/Italy, and in state control of industry.
But Adolf Hitler – who was the party’s elected, political leader by the mid-twenties, and its parliamentary leader before the end of the decade, before seizing all power in a legal coup in 1933 – didn’t much care about philosophy, or politics. He wasn’t especially ideological at all. He believed in getting and holding power.
In fact, Hitler had contempt for politics, for ideology, and for most *belief* – which is what makes me chuckle during the occasional, endless debates over the premise that “Hitler was a Christian” (or “Hitler was an Atheist”, for that matter). He loathed all faith, including atheism, the organized *rejection* of faith. He loathed politicians of all stripes, whether moderate or extreme.
But he had no problem co-opting any or all of those things to get and hold power. The Nazis co-opted German “Volk” mythology to win the Nationalist vote (Germany, like Italy, was also a young, proud nation); they also co-opted parts of the German state churches (read Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” for more); shamefully, they went along at an institutional level (and Lutheran and Catholic clergy who didn’t play ball were among the first residents of Buchenwald). He had contempt for the Prussian officer class that ran the military – but he co-opted them, as well.
He loathed, in fact, politics – which was his big electoral “sell”, in the late twenties and early thirties, when he still had to worry about votes. The German people, after war, civil war, depression, and more near-civil-war, were tired of politics too.
Folklore, faith, institutions, fatigue – all were means to an end.
Likewise, to Hitler and the circle that controlled the party by the mid-thirties, the power of the state was both stick (the secret police, the economic planning machinery) and carrot (the welfare state), both used to help gain and hold power. It wasn’t a commitment to “socialism”; it was using “socialism” as a tool toward their ends.
So HItler, and the party he led, weren’t “Socialists” – they were totalitarians for whom socialism was one of many tools that helped them meet their ends. Calling Hitler, and the Nazis as a whole after about 1937, “socialists” is a little like calling Prince a “guitar player”. Yes, Prince played guitar – but calling him a guitar player is a big oversimplification.
So the left is *more* wrong about things, but both sides need to do some serious reading. All the “conventional wisdom” is either wrong, or way oversimplified.
Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell sends New Years greetings to the city – with a challenge (to which I’ve added emphasis):
Happy New Year, Everyone! As we embark on another trip around the sun, I want to take a minute to thank each of you for the friendship, support, advice and adventure we’ve shared over the past year. And this year, I want to try something new. For a change, I want to make a resolution that’s actually achievable (unlike my previous resolutions related to exercise and weight loss—which have obviously failed …). For some time now, I’ve been troubled by a clause in the Minnesota State Constitution. It involves the word slavery, which doesn’t reflect our state values. Article I, Section 2 reads: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.” This means that even today, 162 years since the State of Minnesota banned slavery and servitude, there is still an exception in our Constitution that allows it. Slavery is not a Minnesota value. Words matter. That’s why I’m making it my 2020 resolution to raise awareness of this clause to ignite a movement among people who care about doing what’s right—a movement to champion an amendment removing slavery from the Minnesota State Constitution. This document, the original of which is kept right here in Saint Paul, is wonderful in so many ways. It protects our rights, defines and limits government power, and guides us as we address emerging issues and concerns. It’s also supposed to reflect our values. And here in Minnesota, they include equity, freedom and respect for all people. It’s time we amend our constitution to make that clear. As a Minnesotan, at the start of the 2020s, it is my belief that it is time – beyond time – to move forward together and strike out slavery from our shared constitution. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you have a safe New Year’s Eve and a new year filled with happiness and health. #WordsMatterMN
I’m an English major, so let’s briefly re-read the sentence. The constitution bans slavery and involuntary servitude except as a result of a criminal conviction – referring to the “involuntary servitude” to the state known as prison.
The Chief is right – words have meanings.
So does history.
In 1859, banning slavery in a state Constitution was a solid, courageous statement. Minnesota was admitted to the union during the run-up to a war this nation fought, entirely over slavery and its side-effects. That clause was a pretty stark line in the sand in its day; the new state committed itself to human freedom.
Does this effort – which has garnered the support in the House of the estimable Representative and profile in courage John Lesch – merely respond to the current trend of erasing the most trivial reminders of history, while repeating its mistakes wholesale?
I mean, fine – erase the word “slavery”. Does that mean Minnesota has joined the 20th Century 12- years late?
Or will it erase the principled stance of a generation for whom principle was a matter of life, death, blood and lost years?
We live in a generation that is forgetting its history. You know the rest of the sentence, right?
Today is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge – Hitler’s last great counterattack in the West in World War 2.
The winter of 1944 had been one of the coldest on record – cold enough, said Steven Ambrose, to impress even the kids from North Dakota and Montana.
The Ardennes Forest was and remains a densely-wooded area near the confluence of the German, Letzenbourgisch and Belgian borders. Sparsely populated, with a limited road network, it seemed like the last place that an army would launch a major offensive (notwithstanding the fact that the Germans had launched offensives through the forest in 1870, 1914 and 1940), much less in the dead of winter.
And so the Americans used it as a rest assignment for units that’d been bloodied in other battles to recuperate (like the 2nd Infantry Division) or for new, barely-trained units like the 106th Infantry, fresh from the US, with almost no training, to learn the ropes before getting assigned to more dangerous areas.
But the Germans, using the sort of guile and stealth they’d needed to learn on the Eastern Front, amassed a fair-sized army – a mixture of experienced troops with years of action on the Eastern Front, and new, untried Volksgrenadier units with kids as young as sixteen, as the Third Reich began scraping the bottom of the barrel to hold the line.
HItler’s plan was to drive through the Ardennes – again – and seize the main allied supply transit point at Antwerp, Belgium, splitting the US and British forces on the continent and possibly forcing a truce that’d allow him to refocus on stabilizing the rapidly collapsing Eastern Front.
The story of the next few weeks was the stuff of legends; the 101st Airborne (and about half of the 7th Armored) divisions holding Bastogne against parts of seven German divisions that surrounded them, immortalized for a new generation in Band of Brothers for starters.
A group with a political point of view gains control of the means not only of disseminating the nation’s history – its very story.
The official story is made to comport with that dominant group’s narrative – in schools, journalism, academia, even museums.
They even bring the apparatus of the state to bear to enforce that narrative, squashing freedom of speech.
Am I referring to America’s universities and public education system!
Well, yeah – but not just them. It’s not quite that simple.
Freedom to Talk Freedom: If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know I’ve had a longstanding fascination with the history of underdog nations and peoples – the land of most of my forefathers, Norway, as well as Israel, Finland, the Baltics (particularly Estonia), Denmark, Taiwan, and of course Poland.
Like all collections of humans, there are good ones and evil ones, and a whole lot in the middle that just wanted to survive, let along prosper, under atrocious circumstances.
That being said, Poles have for for freedom – theirs and others – since the 1700s. Poles were among the first Europeans to fight for what we now call liberal democracy, in their own homeland and ours (the American Revolution owed a debt to Kosciuszko and Pulaski). And the first tangible cracks in the Iron Curtain happened in Gdansk – in 1956 as well as 1980. There is much in the Polish heritage to balance the evil that popped up, here and there.
Poland is currently ruled by an electoral majority for the “Law and Justice” party – a party the media call “right wing”, although along with their rather fervid nationalism they have established one of the most expensive social welfare states in the European Union – which doesn’t protect them from the hatred of the Big Media, who links them, not completely inaptly, to Orange Literal Hitler Man.
And, as befits a nationalist party, they’re leading with the things that make their nation proud, and de-emphasizing the parts that don’t. Law and Justice is exerting political clout on controlling the narrative about Polish history that gets presented – via some means that should give First Amendment supporters critical pause. They’re not above a little Polish jingoism.
And it’s not all bad – it certainly helps that it’s not produced by the show’s usual hive enforcers, Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone. There are certainly some questions worth asking of Law and Justice, if one is a Polish voter (as I definitely am not). And a few that could be asked of “On the Media” and Ms Feder; while she covers Gomulka’s forced expulsions, she softpedals the notion that that was as much Communist policy as Polish nativist bigotry.
I actually recommend giving the pieces, above, a listen, albeit a critical one; the progsplaining and the “liberals wear the white hats” schtick gets a little galling at times.
But here’s my real question: It’s a bad thing that Law and Justice is blocking free speech to spread their preferred narrative, squeezing out the honest, complete telling of the story.
So when will “On the Media” report on the very similar effort on the part of the American Big Left in media, academia and politics to similarly control, and dishonestly skew, their own narrative?
The mainstream media – specifically, the New York Times’ – coddling Joseph Stalin, including the genocide in Ukraine? The Times’ embrace of Hitler, and the burying of the origins of the Holocaust? Their extended french kiss of the Soviets during the Cold War? The modern left’s strong-arm take-over of the American narrative in academia?
Just going to take a moment to remind you that Berg’s Eighth Law is not called “Berg’s Eighth Tactful Hint”:
American liberalism’s reaction to one of “their”constituents – women, gays or people of color – running for office or otherwise identifying as a conservative is indistinguishable from sociopathic disorder
Come for the Berg’s Eighth Law. Stay for the thrashing around seeking relevance. Margaret Thatcher made a positive difference. Hillary Clinton made only a negative one – being an awful and tone-deaf enough candidate to get even Donald Trump elected president.
The last living Bataan Death March survivor in Brainerd – and, one suspects, one of few remaining anywhere – turns 100:
A once unthinkable centennial looms large on Walt Straka’s calendar. It’s led to a host of reflections for the former prisoner of war, who didn’t believe he had a snowball’s chance of surviving Bataan, let alone 10 years after the war. Let alone to the age of 100. But, nevertheless, it’s real and it’s here. On Thursday, Oct. 24, Walt Straka is 100 years old, the last Minnesotan survivor of the 60-mile journey of torture and death, followed by 43 months of incomprehensible captivity in sub-human conditions. He also stands among the few remaining members of a shrinking club: the veterans of World War II and all their living, breathing connections to a century of seismic changes and events. “Oh God, I never dreamt I’d ever get that old,” Walt said. “I never thought I’d get there. It’s almost unbelievable. It’s almost unbelievable. I’m happy. I’m just thankful to be alive.
It needs to be pointed out that Brainerd had a higher than normal concentration of Bataan survivors; a National Guard tank battalion from the town was sent to the Philippines and fought against the Japanese invasion in the opening weeks of the war. 64 left Brainerd; three died in action, 29 more in captivity.
I grew up influenced by these people, pretty much daily; several of my high school teachers, and principal, were veterans. They didn’t talk much about the war – some showed it (one teacher still flattened out on the ground when some idiot would pop a paper bag behind him). But the examples they set, behaviors learned during the best years of their lives spent fighting overseas, that stuck with me. Calm down. Focus. Get your damn job done. Your feelings and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee – what do you have to deliver tangibly?
Happy birthday, Walt Straka, and as many more as you can manage, God willing.
SCENE: Mitch BERG is taking in a glorious fall day walking around Lake Como when, unbeknownst to him, a Tantric Protest class in the pavilion building lets out. Before BERG can react, he’s confronted with Cat SCAT (the designated “fact checker” at the (possibly fictional) progressive blog “”MinnesotaLiberalAlliance.Blogspot.com“), Edmund DUCHEY (roprietor of that blog, and a person who was badly scarred by a childhood in which he was routinely bullied – by much younger children), Gutterball GARY (another of DuChey’s co-bloggers, who describes his hobbies as bowling, heckling people, and shouting really loud) and Avery LIBRELLE. Berg can’t get away before they notice him.
SCAT, DUCHEY, GARY and LIBRELLE: Merg!
BERG: Uh…hi, er, all of y…
SCAT, DUCHEY, GARY and LIBRELLE: The founding fathers never envisioned “assault rifles when they wrote the Second Amendment.
BERG: Huh. Forget for a moment that the British “Tower” Musket was the AK47 of its day – reliable, easy to train, with a high rate of fire. And the Kentucky Rifle was the sniper rifle of its day – hard to learn, a little fickle, but capable of killing people at undreamed-of ranges. Forget about all that for just a moment.
SCAT, DUCHEY, GARY and LIBRELLE: Consider it forgotten.
BERG: No doubt. Know what else the founding fathers did?
SCAT, DUCHEY, GARY and LIBRELLE: We’re not constitutional lawyers.
BERG: True. They required all citizens to keep one of the “assault rifles” of their day, and a battle or two’s worth of ammunition, at home, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
SCAT, DUCHEY, GARY and LIBRELLE: (Nothing).
GARY: I’m going to hide peep through your windows until I can find something about you to write about.
I’ve said it before; I knew isomething terrible happened the moment I turned in NPR, and heard public radio personalities trying to ad-lib. Even before I heard the words “airplane”, “terrorist” or “World Trade Center”, I knew something awful was going on; Public Radio people don’t go to the bathroom without a script.
Hard to believe – nobody under the age of 18, officially, was born on 9/11. Some of the soldiers and Marines who’ll be fighting the war that started 18 years ago will have born after the war began. For an entire generation, the war is all of reality.
In case you’ve forgotten:
And say what you will, but Dubya never had a better moment:
After eighteen years, the takeaways are all pretty bad.
One thing I guess I didn’t believe 17 years ago is that America would elect such a feckless President in 2008, and stand idly by while he flushed our global position, and security, down a left-wing toilet. But we did, and we’ll be paying the price for a long time. That said, for the first time I feel like our diplomacy is on a good track, and that — thanks also to fracking — the problems that led to 9/11 are being addressed.
God bless America. We need it.
We were given a moment – against our will – when we, a nation, had to react to what is, in the great, historical scheme of things the norm; barbarity, terror, the imposing of ones will onto others via violence. And for a brief moment, we did react. Positively, effectively, and up to the best of this nation’s traditions. But now, 18 years later, we’re even more tribal than we were after the 2000 elections. Perhaps terminally. I’ll add “both sides are responsible”, but you know that’s largely punching a ticket.
And the great lesson of 9/11 was that, when government lets us down – and it did, and always does – the individual stepped up and dealt with what they needed to. The people below the points of impact in the World Trade Center, far from being the mindless cattle that law enforcement expected people to act like, largely organized their own evacuations from the doomed buildings; there were relatively few dead from among those below the floors with the impacts. And passengers on Flight 93 did what would have been unthinkable years before – utterly contrary to the “conventional wisdom” of the day. And yet 9/11’s greatest institutional legacies are a government that treats people even more like cattle (seen those TSA lines lately?), is more intrusive and hamfisted (wiretap laws and militarized police with greater purview to use force for routine interactions), and just plain bigger and dumber.
It was seventy years ago this morning that Germany invaded Poland, launching World War II in Europe – beginning what was, in a sense,the end of a war that’d begun 25 years earlier, taken a 21 year break, and then re-ignited, killing tens of millions of people directly on the battlefield and, in ways never before seen in human history, off of it. In another sense, it began the final act of the Old World – the world of European dominance, of its kingdoms and alignments and customs defining “civilization” for the rest of the world – and was the beginning of the world we have today, a world who’s denouement is at this moment very much in play.
But that’s a story we’ll recap in seventy more years, God willing.
In reading the story of the German Blitzkrieg into Poland most of my cognitive life, I became fascinated with the history of Poland – or, really, of all of the smaller European states that Hitler swallowed up. A lot of legends sprang up around each of these nations and their record during the awful year that followed the invasion of Poland.
I would like to address some of them.
Poland started the war with a couple of strikes against it.
For starters, its terrain is just not defendable.
All of its major cities sit on a broad, flat plain, cut by few rivers (whose banks are, largely, not major obstacles to much of anything). The road from the German or Russian border to the capitol in Warsaw, or its industrial heartland around Katowice/Sosnowiec, or its intellectual and cultural heart in Krakow has no more physical speed bumps than a drive from Fargo to Grand Forks.
And while Poland knew very well that it was surrounded by a couple of rapacious dictatorships who, as they had through all of history, meant it nothing but ill, and they did their best to prepare for eventualities, they did something that’s all too familiar to modern IT executives; at a time in history when military technology was evolving at a pace that the world had never before seen (and in many respects hasn’t seen since), the Poles, like the French, laid their cards on the table early, standardizing and mass-producing equipment that turned out to be obsolete a mere 5-10 years after it rolled off the assembly line. The Polish Air Force was mass-producing the Pzl fighter plane and the Karas fighter-bomber at a time when the Germans had just started developing the planes with which they’d launch the war, the Bf109 fighter, the Ju87 Stuka dive bomber, the He111/Do17/Ju88 bombers.
(The French military, like the British navy, likewise bet long on mid-thirties technology that served it less effectively than later designs). Likewise, they built thousands of tiny, two-man machine-gun armed “tankettes”, state of the art in 1933 but useless as anything but mobile machine guns in 1939 against the German tanks that were just going up on the drawing boards.
By 1939, Poland was just starting to produce the excellent “7TP” tanks – as good as any German Panzer…
In the days before radar, they were supported by a large, comprehensive ground observer network that did a surprisingly good job of detecting German air raids and vectoring Polish fighters onto the target. The Polish Navy, in contrast (and as an ironic result of its relatively lower standing at budget time) standardized rather later, and went to war with some of the finest equipment in all of Europe; the Blyskawica-class destroyers and Orzel-class submarines (both built in Holland) were among the best anywhere, certainly outclassing anything in the German or British navies. And, since they were standardized late and in dire economic times, there were exactly two of each in service.
The Poles had one other thing; centuries of vassaldom to the Germans and Russians. Other than the brief Republic of Krakow in the mid-1700’s, and the 21 years of independence (marked by a war for survival against the Soviets), Poland had been under one boot or another since the end of the Jagiellonian era. The Poles wanted their freedom. And even though the government in 1939 was at least partly a dictatorship – a response to a paralyzing indecision in the face of both the Great Depression and the gathering threat from east and west – Poland was an outpost of small-“l” liberal sentiment. It also built an intellgience service that, like that of many counteries surrounded by enemies (see Israel), disproportionally excellent; indeed, Polish Intelligence helped with one of the great coups of the war; it was the Poles that made the first inroads into breaking Germany’s “Enigma” encryption system. The Polish mathematicians fled to the UK, and joined with the British thinkers at Bletchley Park to complete the job. The fact that the Allies could read Germany’s “secret” transmissions in near-real-time (by cryptology standards) was one of the key factors in winning the war; without that, the U-Boat offensive in 1941-43 would have likely succeeded in starving Britain to the negotiating table with Hitler.
Unlike France – misconceptions about whom we’ll address on their own 70th anniversary, in about eight months – this gave Poland a deep will to fight.
It wasn’t enough, of course – but it came a lot closer to evening things up than contemporary propaganda credits them. ———-
Two myths grew up around the German invasion of Poland; that the Polish Air Force was destroyed on the ground in the opening minutes of the campaign, and that the Polish Army’s cavalry was such a medieval throwback, it resorted to charging at tanks with lances.
Both are propaganda myths spread by the Germans and parrotted, in a story all too familiar to modern consumers of news, by an incurious, uninformed Western news media.
The Polish Air Force was not caught on the ground. Far from it; they dispersed away from their major airfields, according to pre-war plans that recognized not only the Luftwaffe’s superiority in numbers and equipment – by this point, German bombers could outrun Polish fighter planes – but Poland’s few aces in the hole.
And when the German bomber streams started appearing over Poland, the observers saw and heard them, and phoned in the information to HQ, who vectored Poland’s old fighters into position to do the only thing they realistically could against planes that were faster than their own; wait in ambush over the targets, take the most direct approach they could to their targets, and fight like hell.
And they did. The Polish Air Force shot down over 230 German planes during September of 1939, about 250 more were damaged, many of them beyond repair. The Lotnictwo Wojskowe lost about 100 shot down or otherwise destroyed by enemy action, with about as many being lost as the pace of the German advance, and later the Russian invasion, made repairs impossible and swallowed up the warning network and, finally, teh airfields themselves.
Following the goverment’s instructions, as the fight in central Poland became impossible, they retreated to the mountains in the south, and after the surrender made their way, by air or car or foot, first to Romania, then through Africa or Iran or the Mediterranean, then to France (where many fought with the French air force) and finally Britain or the USSR.
The other legend – the horse-cavalry charges with bugles blowing and lances waving – is more pernicious. It’s a propaganda legend, of course, one started as a German reponse to a Polish tactical victory.
In the opening days of the war, Poland had plenty of horse cavalry; they were in the process of trying to retired horses in favor of tanks and armored cars, but the Depression had slowed the process (as it did, by the way, in the US, whose cavalry was still largely horse-mounted in 1939 as well). They didn’t fight in the classic sense of the term; think of them as infantry on horses, using the greater mobility of being mounted to help cover more ground, but dismounting to fight on foot when the action started. And while they had lances, they were for ceremonial occasions only; they weren’t carried in the field. There was never an intention to fight the way cavalry had always fought – the saber charges, the bugles, the mounted dashes.
In the opening days of the war, a squadron of Pomeranian cavalry under Colonel Julian Filipowicz, patrolling in the corridor below Gdansk (Danzig, at the time), encountered a German infantry battalion which, tired from advancing and from a brisk fight with a Polish infantry unit across some nearby railroad tracks, was resting in an open field.
Col. Filipowicz’ unit – about 300 cavalrymen – while scouting the area, found the Germans. As is so often the deciding factor in modern war, they saw the Germans first, and were able to act accordingly. They deployed some modern weapons – Browning M2 machine guns, first built in 1918 and still found on every US Army tank today – to back up a charge led by some very old weapons, the cavalry saber. Filipowicz, seeing an unprepared foe, ordered a charge.
And it cut the German battalion to pieces, killing dozens, wounding hundreds, and leaving the battalion combat-ineffective for quite some time.
As the Poles completed several passes, a unit of German armored cars happened on the scene, and turned their cannon and machine guns on the Poles, causing heavy losses and sending them back into the woods, to fight another day.
German photographers, travelling with a group of tanks that responded to the debacle, photographed a number of the dead Polish troopers alongside the Panzers. The German propagandists spread the report – the Poles were stuck in the medieval era! – as a morale booster. And the tall tale, rather than the story of the boundless courage of Filipowicz’ men, stuck.
It wasn’t the last bloody nose the Poles gave the Germans. When the Germans pushed the Poles back to Warsaw, they tried to storm the city using the same tanks that had led them across the North Polish Plain. The Sixth Panzer Division was ordered to attack the city.
The tanks moved into the warren of streets that made up Warsaw’s western suburbs…
…and got swallowed in a morass of antitank guns, molotov cocktails (which wouldn’t earn their name until the following winter, from the Finns, about whom more in a couple of months) and booby traps.
The Sixth Panzers lost sixty tanks – about a third of its armored strength – in the first day of its assault, a catastrophic hit.
Warsaw would have to fall the old-fashioned way – through infantrymen advancing from house to house.
Or through treachery.
Stalin, as part of his temporary alliance with Hitler, invaded Poland about this time, destroying whatever hope for resistance that the Poles might have had. It was all she wrote.
Oh, they fought on anyway; tens of thousands of Poles went to the UK or the USSR to carry on the war; hundreds of thousands more fought with the various guerrilla groups, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) which hampered German movements throughout the war and in 1944, as the Soviets approached, seized control of much of Warsaw (and were beaten down as the Soviets stopped in the city’s eastern suburbs and refused to cross the Vistula River). The Poles, realizing their excellent but tiny navy had no chance, ordered their most modern ships – their destroyers and submarines to feel to the UK in the opening hours of the war; Orzel, brand new out of the shipyard, ran to Sweden, and was interned (placed under arrest, essentially). The crew escaped, and stole the sub from the docks; the Swedes had seized all the boat’s charts and navigational gear, so it sailed across the Baltic, and through the treacherous Skagerrak, and across the North Sea by guess and by gosh.
The Poles had scant hope holding against Hitler from the west; against both of their hereditary enemies, they had none. The clock ran out fast on the Poles. The nation’s story was one of the great tragedies of the past 100 years; winning their freedom, having it seized, held hostage by one dictator and then another for two generations.
It’s also one of the great inspirations; after all that, they took their freedom back…
….and with it catalyzed a shot at freedom for the rest of the Second World.