I Saw The World Change In The Blink Of An Eye

It finally happened; I’m at an age when I get to spend time correcting younger people about the misconceptions some older people are giving them about “my” time.

Maybe it’s just me – but I’ve been noting a little surge of questions – and revisionist answers – about the 1980s, lately.

I’ll stick with the question:

I’ll take a run at that.

No, Mr. McGeoch and anyone else with the question – they were even better than most people today credit them for.

Do yourself a favor and watch the movie the movie “Miracle”; the opening montage *brilliantly* shows how depressing US life was in the ’70s.

Here it is.

If you are of a certain age, you can almost feel the depression of that era – the malaise that plagued us for that miserable decade – creeping over you.

We know how the movie – and the game whose story it related – ended; a two hour movie about a one hour game boiling down to one of the most memorable minutes in the history of television:

The decade took a little longer, and was a lot more suspenseful.

It wasn’t just that we bounced back from the economic malaise of the ’70s, and the ’82 recession (as bad as 2008) in a way that seems *miraculous* today. Although to a guy getting out into the world at the time, that was pretty good timing.

No – it was much bigger.

In the ’70s, Communism – the bloodiest dictatorships in history – was at its peak. And while the success of Ronald Reagan’s goal of extincting the USSR has a thousand fathers today, in 1980 literally nobody thought they were going away.

People today think of the Cold War as a cultural punch line – but it was no joke, kids.

I grew up in missile country, during the height of the cold war, between two SAC bases. I grew up very aware the world could get incinerated in minutes if some colonel in Moscow or Colorado Springs had a bad day.

I was *never* going to have kids in a world like that. This was something I knew when I graduated from college. Why bring someone into the world, just to have them die with you, and the rest of civilization? What was the point?

And over the course of that decade, the USSR – the most murderous regime in history – went from being the “other” superpower to…gone.

The threat hanging over all of us and everything we did…

..vanished.

In 1980, the entire American intelligentsia said the Communist world was here to stay. Anyone who says that they didn’t think so is lying.

And yet:

Even his own staff thought it was too reckless. The Democrats? Forget about it.

And even though I was living in the middle of it at the time, I didn’t quite believe it. Even as the Berlin Wall fell…:

…I couldn’t quite believe it.

I’ve cited Miracle; I’m going to drop the other pop culture bomb. Things still hadn’t sunk in for me when I was working at at Top 40 station. This song came out:

It’s “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones. They’re a trite, flash in the pan British post-new-wave band. But it was the only song (other than the Scorptions Wind of Change) about that bit of history. I can’t think of a whole lot of pop culture artifacts about “watching the world wake up from history”.

It’s a trite bit of new wave pop – and I get a catch in my threat when I listen to it, to this day.

Because it came out about the time that the USAF, which had kept nuclear bombers on alert 24/7 for literally 40 years…stopped. Hundreds of missiles got retired.

And it was like someone lifted a steamer trunk full of bowling balls off my chest. I have no idea how to relate that to someone who wasn’t there.

Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about
You know it feels good to be alive

Other than perhaps to hope one gets the significance that my oldest was born a year later – into a world that was safe enough to think about it. And for all the jabbering about “revolution” that the generation before mine had inflicted on the world, this? This was revolutionary.

All because of what happened in the ’80s.

I saw the decade in, when it seemed the world could change with the blink of an eye.

And it didn’t end there. With the end of the Cold War, a tidal wave of defense effort turned to civilian uses. All that American ingenuity that had spent the ’70s and ’80s helping tanks hit their targets while driving at 40mph, detecting Soviet submarines hundreds of miles away, went into civilian goods. The GPS in your smart phone started out in smart bombs. Your car’s airbag’s origin story was in the fire detector in M1 Abrams tanks. This blog comes to you via ancient Department of Defense project eventually called the Internet.

It was the “peace dividend”. Bill Clinton (with the invaluable assistance of the last actually conservative GOP Congress forcing him to the right) got to cash it. The economy went on the longest boom in history.

It would not have happened without the events of the 1980s.

That’s the fun, nostalgic part. I spent my late teens and early 20s watching the world wake up from history.

But as another song put it, nothing good ever lasts: Mr. McGeoch’s entire generation grew up knowing little about the era but what they’ve been told by the people who write the memes, who shoot the TikTok videos, write the cultural punch lines – while at the same time benefitting from its results as no previous generation in human history. Two generations have grown up thinking that the world that started in 1989 was the natural order – or, simultaneously better and worse, not having to think about it all that hard.

It’s not. Mankind’s natural state is for the strong to dominate the weak; for those with the will to power to control those without. The moral arc of history is long, but almost always – but for this past 200-odd years – bends toward tyranny and barbarism.

And it can all go away like *that*.

I saw the world change in the blink of an eye” when I was 26.

I’m seeing it change back in a long, slow, masochistic drip drip drip.

Like the seventies – only much more serious, this time. Perhaps because I’m old enough and well-read enough to know the consequences. Perhaps because the people driving us toward what appears to be an even deeper, grayer nadir are not comic book villains in tanks, but people in our own country, with PhDs and blue checkmarks.

It’s game-time…

…against ourselves.

Hope that answers the question.

A League of Their Own

Thousands of curious spectators had gathered along the Rue du Rhône in Geneva at 11am, watching in earnest as the Swiss Federal Council and the State Council of the Canton of Geneva marched in slow procession, escorted by a small military contingent.  At their forefront, Swiss President Giuseppe Motta basked in the adoration of the crowd as the parade of Swiss dignitaries entered the giant Salle de la Réformation event center.

Inside, a collection of 241 delegates from 41 member nations (minus Honduras, whose delegation was still traveling), waited for Motta to take his seat as a honorary chairman at the dais.  The Acting President of the Assembly, Belgian politician Paul Hymans, rang a bell at 11:16am and declared the meeting open – the first official meeting of the League of Nations had begun on November 15th, 1920.

It had been a long and circuitous path to get to this day and the League’s first moments in formal existence (technically, the body had been organized in January of 1920 and had met in it’s proto form), exposed the flaws in it’s creation.  As League drafted a message of thanks to American President Woodrow Wilson, stating that they had gathered on this day at the American’s request, the United States was absent from the proceedings, as well as the Soviet Union, Germany and roughly another 44 sovereign nations that had either been excluded or had chosen to bypass the organization.  And the debates of the first day proved how fragile the newfound League could be, as France threatened to withdraw within hours when the subject of Germany’s admission was discussed.

In the air of the combative and disorganized proceedings, the ultimately prophetic words of Woodrow Wilson to the assembly could be heard:  “I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it.”

The first meeting of the League of Nations – deep divides on policy could be seen from the literal first minutes of the organization


Depending upon one’s historical perspective, the events of November 15th, 1920 in Geneva either represented the end of a nearly 150 year path of diplomatic and small ‘r’ republican political progress or a revolutionary jump from nation states, to competing alliances, to finally a burgeoning sense of global, collective action.  The difference in historical narrative would eventually define those who chose to participate versus those who didn’t, and color the very notion of the purpose and powers of the League of Nations.  Continue reading

Paris

This is Paris, France. Named for the Parisii tribe which lived on the banks of the Seine at the time of the Roman Republic. Paris most likely began as a settlement on the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine where Notre Dame now sits, a very defensible position. The ubiquitous Romans were there. They knew the place as Lutetia. (Notre Dame probably sits on the sit of a former Roman temple.)

Awhile back we had looked at Colchester and York in England and remarked how the past history of those cities could still be seen in the street patterns, especially where the city walls are or were. Looking at this overhead view though, it’s not as easy to tell where the city walls of Paris were, even though Paris saw several major wall constructions as the city grew outwards on both banks of the river. As the city expanded, the walls needed to expand with it.

The first major medieval wall was built from 1190 to 1215 during the reign of Philip II. Philip was the first to be called “King of France.” At the time this wall was being built, Notre Dame was in its reasonably early years of construction, begun in the 1160s by Bishop Maurice de Sully under the reign of Philip’s father, Louis VII.

Why isn’t it as easy as some other places to detect where the walls were? It’s because in the 19th century Paris undertook several major urban renewal projects which altered the old medieval street plans.

Continue reading

Watergate: Conclusion

When Suleiman the Magnificent died in Hungary in 1566, the Grand Vizier at the time, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, had the witnesses to the death killed in order to keep the Sultan’s passing a secret so that the successor, Selim II, would have time to take over. Many times I’ve wondered if Nixon ever secretly wished he had such extreme powers, for the Nixon Administration’s undoing ultimately came from internal witnesses.

Within a week of the break-in, the Nixon Administration had decided to hinder the FBI’s investigation into the break-in, not just to cover up the Administration’s involvement in the wiretapping of the DNC, but also to conceal the questionable uses to which campaign funds had been put.

The summer of 1972 was relatively uneventful, on the surface. Behind the headlines, John Dean was meeting with Acting FBI Directory Gray ostensibly to “cooperate”, but actually to keep abreast and ahead of the investigation. And, hush money was paid to Howard Hunt.

The Watergate burglars were indicated in September. The next day, Bob Woodward got in touch with his source, Deep Throat. This source was in fact Mark Felt at the FBI, and Felt was seeing everything the FBI had in the investigation. Felt told Woodward that campaign money had financed the Watergate operation and “other intelligence-gathering activities.” The resulting Washington Post story increased the pressure on the White House, but the firewall still held. In November, Nixon defeated George McGovern with 60% of the popular vote and a landslide in the Electoral College, 520 to 17.

The trial of the Watergate burglars began in early January. Guilty verdicts were returned January 30 1973. Sentencing was scheduled for March 23. The judge in the trial, John Sirica, wrote in his book To Set the Record Straight about his belief that the trial had not revealed everything about the break-ins.

I was far from alone in my skepticism about the facts brought out at the trial. The Senate of the United States had voted to investigate the Republican campaign tactics. The press was full of caustic comments about the trial itself and the government’s handling of it. I had been practicing law for thirty years. I had handled cased involving political scandals. I knew the Watergate case was not what the trial in January had made it seem. But by late March, with the trial over, there didn’t seem to be a lot more I could do about it.

On March 20, John Dean received word that Howard Hunt was demanding more money. Dean wrote in Blind Ambition:

O’Brien gave me a helpless look. “I don’t know, John. I asked him the same question and he [Hunt] just said ‘You tell Dean I need the money by the close of business Wednesday. And if I don’t get it, I’m going to have to reconsider my options. And I’ll have some seamy things to say about what I did for John Ehrlichman while I was at the White House.'”

The next day, March 21, Dean met with Nixon about this new threat. Dean described the growing threat with the memorable phrase, “We have a cancer within – close to the Presidency – that’s growing.” In that meeting Nixon asked how much money the indicated burglars would need. Dean tossed out a figure of a million dollars over the next two years. And according to Dean, Nixon said “We could get that.” And with that, Watergate moved into the cover-up of the cover-up phase, and ultimately to its ugly conclusion.

On March 23, Judge Sirica made public a letter he had received from James McCord a few days earlier. In the letter, McCord, the leader of the burglary team, said that political pressure had been applied to the defendants to plead guilty and remain silent, that perjury had occurred, that others had been involved with the operation who had not been identified in the trial, and that the operation was not a CIA operation. Sirica wrote about revealing the letter in open court to make it part of the trial record,

As I worked through them, an excruciating pain began to build directly in the center of my chest. It was nearly more than I could bear, but I couldn’t quit before the end of the letter. I finally finished the letter and quickly called for a recess. As I hurried off the bench, the reporters flooded toward the double swinging doors at the back of the courtroom. The dam had broken.

Indeed it had, and everything that followed was the just the system grinding towards its inevitable conclusion.

Continue reading

Irrational Reason

One of the most noxious traits modern society inherited from “The Enlightenment” is the practice of piddling on the notion of miracles; the notion that all things can, and must, be explained by pure reason.

Let’s talk about one example.


The surreptitious rescue of most of Denmark’s Jews, almost 80 years ago, is one of the few modestly happy-ish endings in one of the most dismal stories of human history. I’ve written about it more than a few times in this space.

The evacuation of Denmark’s Jews is broadly regarded as a miracle.

Not so”, says the grandson of one of the couples evacuated back in 1943.

It wasn’t a miracle; was a matter of the top Nazi in Denmark tipping the Jews off:

This became known as the “Miracle Rescue” but many Danish historians now believe it was less miraculous than it seems. And my grandparents’ experience provides evidence for this theory…I suspect my grandfather’s hands shook as he took the measurements and fitted the suit of this particular German officer, who must have been pleased with the finished article as he then offered my grandfather and brother-in-law a warning: “Get out, while you still can. There’s a round-up coming.”…

…The source of the leak that saved my Danish family was none other than Dr Karl Rudolph Werner Best – the very man who, as Germany’s plenipotentiary in Denmark (and, moreover, deputy head of the SS) was in charge of ensuring that Denmark’s Jews were sent to their death.

Soooooo let me get this straight: a senior official of an occupying military of a nation that was fully committed to exterminating Jews, who came to Denmark after organizing the Einsatzgruppe death squads that worked to perfect the craft of ethnic cleansing in Poland and Russia, after a career as a senior officer in the SS…

…tipped off Jews allowing them to escape the roundup he was in charge of…

…and you don’t believe in miracles?

Watergate: the cover-up begins

When individuals associated with Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign were arrested in the Watergate Office Building in the early hours of June 17 1972, the men around the President spent the next several days deciding how to respond. They were in a bind. Indeed, crimes had already been committed. The five men arrested in the attempt to bug the DNC offices, and the two men who led the team, Liddy and Hunt, would be convicted on charges related to the burglary and wiretapping. One of the charges John Mitchell would be convicted of was approving the wiretapping while still the Attorney General.

There was still a chance to prevent the scandal from becoming what it eventually ballooned into. The President and the people around him could’ve taken the political hit of having people associated with the campaign committing crimes in the name of political dirty tricks. The President could’ve been insulated from the men working for him. There was never any evidence that Nixon knew about the burglary before the fact. Others could’ve fallen on their swords.

But, with the election just five months away, that was the risk the President’s men did not want to take. They also knew that the burglary wasn’t the only operation the so-called Plumbers had been involved. The previous year the Plumbers broke into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

In An American Life, Jeb Stuart Magruder, the deputy director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP), writes about the lack of discussion over whether to give birth to the maxim, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

My life changed that day. For the first time I realized, and I think we all realized, that we were involved in criminal activity, that if the truth became known we could all go to jail. During the spring, when Liddy was presenting his break-in plan, I should have been aware that it was illegal, but somehow it seemed acceptable, perhaps because we were discussing it in the office of the Attorney General of the United States. But at some point that Saturday morning I realized that this was not just hard-nosed politics, this was a crime that could destroy us all. The cover-up, this, was immediate and automatic; no one ever considered that there would not be a cover-up. It seemed inconceivable that with our political power we could not erase this mistake we had made.

At that point, LaRue (another deputy directory) was only marginally involved in the break-in conspiracy, in that he was aware of discussions of it, and Mardian (aide to Mitchell and counsel to CRP) was not to my knowledge involved at all. Either of them might have saved themselves great difficulty by walking away from the whole affair. That they did not was due to personal loyalty to Mitchell and political loyalty to the President. In all our discussions, there was a great deal said about “protecting the President.” We were trying to do that, certainly, but it was also true Mitchell and I hoped to save our own skins in the process. We were in so deep there seemed to be no turning back, no alternative but to plunge ahead, that is I wanted to go to the Justice Department and tell the prosecutors all I knew, I could probably walk away from the mess a free man. But that was never a serious consideration. My fellow conspirators were also my friends, and you didn’t save yourself at the expense of your friends.

The next day, Sunday, Magruder called White House Chief of Staff Haldeman, the man who had hired Magruder for the CRP. Magruder told him about the arrest.

We discussed the press statement we had drafted, but never released. McCord’s identity had by then become known, and we agree that a statement must be issued minimizing McCord’s ties with CRP. Later that day we issued a statement by Mitchell which stressed the fact that McCord was not technically and “employee” of CRP, since we contracted with his McCord Associates to handle security for CRP.

I told Haldeman of Mitchell’s plan to have Mardian return to Washington to take charge of the situation.

No, the President doesn’t trust Mardian,” Haldeman said. “You come back and take charge.”

It was a short talk. I gave him the facts and got my instructions. I spoke with the assumption that he knew about the break-in plan, and nothing he said indicated did not.

When I arrived at my office the next morning I stepped immediately into the double life I would live for the next ten months. On the one hand I spent much of the morning moving about our offices and reassuring CRP’s staff that nothing was wrong, that we had no idea what McCord had been up to, that the best thing was for everyone to get back to work.

The first person I talked to was Hugh Sloan, our treasurer. We knew by then that several thousand dollars in $100 bills had been found on the burglars. What we did not know, and I hoped Sloan could explain, was whether the money had come from CRP, and if so, is there was any way it could be traced to us. Sloan said the money found on the burglars was money he had given to Liddy, and that it could probably be traced to us.

Continue reading

Watergate

50 years ago today, in the wee hours of that Saturday morning, Frank Wills was doing his rounds as a security guard at the Watergate Office Building when he noticed a door leading into the building from the underground parking garage had tape over the latch, preventing the lock from engaging. Wills simply removed the tape and thought nothing of it. However, some time later when Wills came around again, the tape had been put back. His suspicions now sufficiently aroused, Wills called the police, triggering the biggest political scandal in US history. When all was said and done, 48 people would be convicted, and Richard Nixon would resign as President.

Three officers responded and when searching the DNC’s offices on the sixth floor, they discovered five men: James McCord, Bernard Barker, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez and Eugenio Martínez. Unbeknownst at the time, watching this unfold from a hotel room across the street was Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent. Baldwin was the lookout but failed to notice the police arrive or that they were searching the DNC offices until it was too late.

The story that appeared in the Sunday Washington Post the next day about this seeming act of political hijinks described what they were carrying.

All wearing rubber surgical gloves, the five suspects were captured inside a small office within the committee’s headquarters suite.

Police said the men had with them at least two sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations. In addition, police found lock-picks and door jimmies, almost $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills with the serial numbers in sequence.

The men also had with them one walkie-talkie, a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns.

This was actually a second break-in. The first had occurred May 28. This second attempt has made to repair some faulty equipment placed in the first break-in. The first thread to unravel was not so much what the burglars were doing in the DNC offices, but rather who they were, and who they knew.

The genesis of the break-ins was a few months earlier in January 1972 at a meeting with Liddy, Mitchell, Magruder and John Dean, the White House counsel. Liddy presented an extensive plan to gather intelligence for the campaign. Magruder had been hired by H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff. Magruder had wanted Dean at this meeting for cover from the White House.

James McCord was the security coordinator for the Committee to Re-elect the President, for my money the worst bit of political branding in history. This fundraising branch of the 1972 Nixon campaign for President became known as CREEP as the scandal unfolded. Watergate was born within the CRP, and many of its officers figurd prominently in the scandal. G. Gordon Liddy was finance counsel. Jeb Stuart Magruder was the deputy director. John Mitchell was still Attorney General at the time of this January meeting, but would retire two months later to become the director of the CRP. Other CRP names that won’t arise until later in our look back at Watergate are Herb Kalmbach, Fred LaRue, Don Segretti, Hugh Sloan and Maurice Stans.

Maybe of the people involved with Watergate wrote books about their experiences. In his book Blind Ambition, John Dean described Mitchell’s reaction to Liddy’s wild-eyed plan this way.

Liddy took his seat. The show was over. We all waited for Mitchell to react. I knew he was offended by the wilder parts of the act, but I also knew he would not say so to Liddy’s face. He disliked confronting people directly. It was a trait I had noticed in myself and felt was a weakness. Mitchell usually had other people express his blunt feelings.

Mitchell did not approve of Liddy’s plans. In his book An American Life, Magruder described Liddy’s presentation this way.

None of us were prepared for the nature of the plan that Liddy was outlining with such self-assurance. It was, as John Dean said later, mind boggling. It included mugging squads, kidnapping, sabotage, the use of prostitutes for political blackmail, break-ins to obtain and photograph documents, and various forms of electronic surveillance and wiretappings.

Yet Mitchell did not reject the entire plan, for we all felt there was a need for intelligence-gathering, and we were interested in the wiretapping aspects of the plan. Mitchell ended the meeting by telling Liddy he should come back with a less expensive plan that focused on intelligence-gathering and countering demonstrations.



Liddy worked with E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA officer, to put together the wiretapping operations. Hunt was a consultant for Chuck Colson, director of Nixon’s Office of Public Liaison. As others later surmised, if Hunt was involved, the White House was implicated. Hunt had been suggested to Liddy by Dick Howard, another Colson aide.

In a rather shocking breach of OpSec, Hunt’s name was in Barker and Martínez’s address books. On the 18th, Liddy called Magruder to inform him of the break-in. Magruder described the conversation this way.

‘Liddy, what the hell was McCord doing inside the Watergate?’ I demaned. ‘You were supposed to keep this operation removed from us. Have you lost your mind?’

‘I had to have somebody on the inside to handle the electrons,’ Liddy said. ‘McCord was the only one I could get. You didn’t give me enough time.’

I couldn’t believe it – Liddy was blaming his fiasco on me. But there was no point arguing with Liddy so I calmed down and asked him to give me all the facts he had. He explained that the four men arrested with McCord were Cuban freedom fighters whom Hunt had recruited in Miami. He said all five men had given false names when arrested, but we had to assume their true identities would be discovered.

Later that Saturday morning, Bob Woodward at the Washington Post got a call from the city editor about the break-in. The story linked to above was under the byline of Alfred Lewis, and in All the President’s Men, Woodward describes Lewis this way.

The first details of the story had been phoned from inside the Watergate by Alfred Lewis, a veteran of 35 years of police reporting for the Post. Lewis was something of a legend in Washington journalism – half cop, half reporter, a man who often dressed in a Metropolitan Police sweater buttoned at the bottom over a brass Star-of-David buckle.

Lewis told Woodward the men arrested were going to appear in court that afternoon at a prelimnary hearing. Woodward attended, and at the hearing McCord told Judge Belsen he worked in government for the CIA. Woodward uttered an expletive, and helped contribute to the Lewis story that appeared on the front page.


Next week we’ll take a look at other conversations that took place over the subsequent weekend, and how the scandal was seemingly contained.

White Out

For the better part of six months, the fighting in the Donbas and Don regions of southern Russia and southeastern Ukraine had been a slowly turning meatgrinder of White Russians, Red Bolsheviks, Cossacks and Ukrainians of all political stripes.  Despite being the main front of the Armed Forces of South Russia (AFSR) with the Volunteer Army that had risen from the first days of Bolshevik rule, the Whites had been consistently outgunned and outmanned.  The Volunteer Army had at best 26,000-35,000 men, but were led by experienced Tsarist-era officers, including their commanding officer, General Anton Denikin.  The Bolshevik forces in the area numbered perhaps two-to-one to their White counterparts, but were generally less knowledgeable in military tactics and distracted by their role in invading and occupying the crumbling Ukrainian People’s Republic.  Both sides were increasingly mistrusted by an weary populace that had gone through five years of epic bloodshed and deprivation.

In mid-May of 1919, the tide however looked to turn.  Soldiers of the Volunteer Army and the “Don Army”, essentially Cossack shock troops, had won a number of victories but the Bolsheviks had always seemingly managed to regroup and counterattack.  Yet the Ukrainian front for the Reds had stalled, with the Ukrainians even able to regain some key territory, meaning fresh Bolshevik troops were being deployed elsewhere.  When the White Cossack cavalry attacked this time, the four Russian armies in the region collapsed, with the 9th Army in particular being cut in two and destroyed.  The path to central Ukraine and Russia now lay open.

On July 3rd, 1919, The White Russian movement was at it’s zenith and the Bolsheviks appeared to be at their military nadir.  Victorious across most of his front, General Denikin issued Directive No. 08878 to his armies – an attack on Moscow itself.  The goal was nothing less than the end of the Russian Civil War.

Bolshevik leadership – Lenin is pictured in the center


The political consolidation of the White Russian movement in the winter of 1918/1919 had done nothing to immediately impact the war on the ground.  The Siberian All-Russian Provisional Government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak remained massively removed from the southern Russian/Caucasus forces of the AFSR, but was nevertheless a small light of hope for any anti-Bolshevik forces at an otherwise dark stage in the Russian Civil War.  The Soviets had invaded almost all of their neighboring countries and were victorious on all fronts, including expanding out from their holdings in central Russia and clawing back gains from the small, disorganized White forces.  By the start of 1919, the Soviets looked as though they might reunify the Tsarist-era lands of the Russian Empire relatively quickly and expand their influence throughout Europe as Germany and then Hungary both experienced communist revolutions.  Continue reading

The Ash Heap Of History

Today, Democrat conventional wisdom is that the USSR was going to inevitably collapse, and that everyone – well, every Democrat – always knew it.

It’s not true, of course:

Forty years ago today, Ronald Reagan gave one of his greatest speeches – but unlike “A Time for Choosing“, or the Brandenburg Gate, or Point du Hoc or Christmas 1981, not one of his most widely heralded or remembered ones.

It was his speech to the British Parliament 40 years ago today, in which he predicted, and called for, the collapse of Communism.

Here it is:

And if Democrats were right, this would have followed by a wave of “Well, no, duh” by the political and cultural left of the day.

But, well, no:

After Reagan’s speech at Westminster, historian Robert F. Byrnes collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union — elite thinkers in American higher education — in a book titled “After Brezhnev.”Their conclusion: Any thought of winning the Cold War was a fantasy. “The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government,” Byrnes said in an interview. “We don’t see any collapse or weakening of the Soviet system.”

Of course, Reagan was right:

Within a decade — on Christmas Day, 1991 — Mikhail Gorbachev announced the complete dissolution of the Soviet Union. The 40-year-old Cold War came to a peaceful end because American democratic capitalism had laid bare the economic, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy of Soviet communism. As Reagan told an adviser when asked about his policy toward the Soviet Union: “We win, they lose.”

But now is not a time for nostalgia.

Forty years ago, the cancer destroying freedom was an external enemy.

Today the enemy – the same enemy, if you think about it – is here, within our borders, at our Capitol.

Forty years ago, the same egghead class that is canceling conservatives on campus was poo-poohing the thought that Communism would ever go away.

We need another leader – or group off leaders – who can envision eradicating the cancer that is eating life, prosperity…freedom, from within, just as certainly as the Soviets did (if with less bloodshed – so far), and lead toward that goal with the same exuberance and confidence.

This Great and Noble Undertaking

(this is an old D-Day piece of mine, I thought I’d share it with SitD in this 78th D-Day Anniversary…)

How many times have I heard an athlete praised for exhibiting courage? This kind of grandiloquence is especially prevalent in football.

Numerous awards throughout football list courage as one of the traits they recognize. It is said it takes courage for a player to play with injuries. It is said a quarterback displays courage in standing in to throw a pass knowing he is about to be knocked silly by a linebacker.

I would humbly suggest we ought to be more careful in the way we use certain words.

The film Saving Private Ryan is a visceral and brutal homage to the sacrifices made by so many young men in the service of their country.

Scenes at the beginning and end of the movie take place in the American cemetery near Colleville-sur-mer. The cemetery sits on the bluffs above Omaha Beach, looking down on what was Easy Red sector. The name was half right.

I visited this cemetery a few years ago. After leaving the bus, I passed through a protective ring of trees, and there came upon row after row of gleaming white crosses and Stars of David.

The grounds are immaculate. The hedges are neatly trimmed, the grass carefully clipped, the water in the reflecting pool clean. The serene beauty of that hallowed place is a seductive contrast to the unspeakable ugliness that laid those men in their graves.

I walked the peaceful paths, and looked down on the beautiful beach, and I thought what a debt we owe. So many of my fellow Americans went through such anguish and terror just to stand where I was standing then. And this cemetery represents only one corner of the war, the casualties from a few weeks of fighting in NW France. How many other cemeteries are there that hold the remains of soldiers who fought so I wouldn’t have to?

As the vivid colors of the present pale into shades of gray, as memories of the deeds of generations of American soldiers gently fade into the past, may we never take for granted the freedom we enjoy in this country. May we always remember the price so many paid for that freedom.

I don’t deny it takes willpower and discipline for a football player to play with pain. But the next time we hear such a performance described as courageous, remember what happened on a Norman beach that Tuesday morning in June 1944.

After hours at sea, thousands of young men climbed over the side of their transports, and in the pitching seas descended into the landing craft. When the boats reached the shore, the ramps went down, and the world those soldiers knew changed forever.

Many were shot down before they even left their boats. Many drowned in the ocean under the weight of their equipment. Machine guns, mortar shells, and German artillery turned Omaha Beach into a killing field. Bodies and pieces of bodies were everywhere. Those who saw Omaha later that day said they could almost walk across the beach without touching the sand.

But those who survived the initial hell made their way across the beach to take shelter at the seawall and beneath the cliffs. Wet, cold, many of them wounded, without a coherent command structure, the broken bodies of their comrades and brothers all around; those soldiers could have given up. They didn’t. In small groups they blew holes in the wire, made their way through minefields, climbed the bluffs and secured the beachhead.

That is courage.

Versailles

The flurry of telegram traffic between the various capitals of Europe in late June of 1919 was almost similar to the volume seen in the weeks before the Great War.  With the fifth anniversary of that cataclysm rapidly approaching, and no formal peace treaty having yet been signed and accepted, there was burgeoning nervousness that war might return to ravage Europe.  Despite months of Allied negotiations to craft terms of a final treaty with Germany, the German response had waivered between hostile rejection and begrudging acceptance.  Still, no German signature had touched the treaty, in part as no German politician wished to affix their name.  Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann (Friedrich Ebert had risen to the post of President of Germany with the newly announced Weimer Republic), spoke for all his colleagues when he said: “What hand should not wither that puts this fetter on itself and on us?”

The task fell upon Gustav Bauer, the next in line of authority as Schneidemann chose resignation as opposed to destroying his political legacy.  Even Ebert declared the treaty’s demands “unrealizable and unbearable,” decrying not only the punitive terms but the process in which the treaty had been crafted without any input from Germany or the former Central Powers.  This wasn’t a peace treaty but a division of war spoils and an unconditional surrender, or so Germany complained.  Bauer cabled the Allies, stating that he would sign the treaty if a handful of articles containing language about German culpability for the war and war crimes trials for the exiled former Kaiser be removed.  The Allied response was clear – sign the whole treaty within 24 hours or French troops would cross the Rhine and occupy Germany.  In desperation, the new Weimer government asked Paul von HIndenburg if the German army could potentially resist a renewed Allied offensive.  They likely knew the answer before even asking the question.

On June 28th, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, 27 delegates representing 32 nations gathered to sign the final instrument of peace to end the First World War.  It had been exactly five years to the date of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination.  Germany had sent their Foreign Minister to oversee the signing.  Gazing over the Foreign Minister as he signed was the gigantic self-portrait that Louis XIV had commissioned.  The portrait’s title spoke of the Allies dominance on this day – “The King Governs By Himself.”

The treaty signing in the Hall of Mirrors – thousands of onlookers joined journalists and diplomats to oversee the brief ceremony


That any final terms of a peace treaty between Germany and the victorious Allies would be harsh could hardly have been a surprise.  The process of even arriving at an Armistice had seen Germany agree to give up most of their military and infrastructure, not to mention an occupation of the Ruhr by the French that increasingly looked tantamount to annexation.  Similar treaties/armistices with what remained of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires had been debilitating as well, as both empires were stripped of their territories, their infrastructure plundered and their armies legislated into irrelevance.  Only post treaty/armistice violence would lessen some of the strongest terms, as the Hungarian revolution and the following Turkish War of Independence forced the Allies’ hand to renegotiate.  And in the winter and spring of 1919, Germany had no appetite or ability to militarily resistContinue reading

Memorial Day

I’ll be out doing Memorial Day activities today – honoring those who died for this country – and by extension, those who didn’t – as well as some of the regular “beginning of summer” stuff for which today is mostly synonymous these days.

But lest anyone forget – or just need a new reminder – I found this thread, by a former USMC public relations officer, alternately funny and deeply affecting:

Back to regular blogging – i.e., trying to make this a country and civilization worthy of all that sacrifice – tomorrow.

Ravenous

The first President of Hungary, Mihály Károlyi, had been forced to swallow many bitter pills in his short time in office.  The last appointed Hungarian Prime Minister by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles I, Károlyi had ushered the relative bloodless Astar Revolution (with a couple of notable exceptions) and Hungary’s full independence.  In short order, Károlyi watched the Allied powers disintegrated the lands of the ancient Habsburg regime by decree and by force.  The latest blow had arrived the day before with the arrival of the “Vix Note” – a communique from the French that Hungarian troops were expected to retreat even further than originally agreed upon in order for those lands to be seized by Hungary’s neighbors.

The note had caused Károlyi’s prime minister to resign on March 21st, 1919 as the Hungarians didn’t wish to agree to France’s demands but were in little military position to resist.  With his authority evaporating as quickly as Hungary’s borders, Károlyi proclaimed that the National Council, the legislative body through which he ruled, would attempt to form another government.  But as Károlyi was a determined anti-communist, only the center-left Social Democrats would be allowed as the organizing party.  The Social Democrats agreed on the same day and made a surprising announcement – Károlyi was resigning as President.

Mihály Károlyi had most certainly not told the Social Democrats he intended to resign.  And the Social Democrats had most certainly not told Károlyi that they had secretly entered into an alliance with the Hungarian Communist Party and had released their imprisoned leadership the night before.  Béla Kun, the Moscow-dispatched leader of the Hungarian Communists, immediately declared a Hungarian Soviet Republic, deposing and arresting Károlyi by fiat.  Kun then radioed Vladimir Lenin in Russia, telling him that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” had seized control in Budapest.

The fear of most nations around the world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 had arrived – a Communist dictatorship had taken hold in the heart of Europe.

The Astar Revolution – Hungary’s hopes for an Allied-supported government died a quick death, even with a pro-Allied leader like Mihály Károlyi at the helm


“I was certainly no adherent of the ancient regime, but it seems doubtful to me whether it is a sign of political shrewdness to beat to death the smartest of the many counts [Count István Tisza] and to make the stupidest one [Count Mihály Károlyi] president.”  – Sigmund Freud

Hungary’s fate was far from sealed as the Great War ended on November 11th, 1918.  It took a series of terrible moves from leadership to ensure the rise of a Soviet Republic.  Continue reading

To The Last Man

For the handful of Australian troops on watch at the Finschhafen District military headquarters in Morobe, New Guinea, January 5th, 1919 seemed to be as nondescript as the multitude of days, weeks, months and even years before it.  The region, formerly part of the provinces of German New Guinea, hadn’t seen meaningful combat in more than four years since Australian troops invaded and occupied the colony, driving out the Germans in some of the earliest combat of the Great War.  The brief campaign had been Australia’s first independent military action and had kept region out of the hands out of British or Japanese interests.

The sight greeting the Australians seemed more appropriate for 1914 than 1919 – a column of fully armed New Guinean native German troops, with a resplendently dressed Major in his pressed and cleaned field dress uniform – marching down the streets of Morobe, directly towards the headquarters.  Upon arriving at the front door, the German Major drew his sword and presented it to the Australian commanding officer.  Major Hermann Detzner and the last of his men would surrender – bringing to an end the longest, strangest quasi-guerilla campaign of the First World War.

Hermann Detzner – after the war.  His celebrity would be his undoing


Had Otto von Bismarck had his way, no German soldier would have set foot in New Guinea – or anywhere outside of Europe, for that matter.  The man nicknamed “the Iron Chancellor” for his mastery of 19th Century realpolitik had little time for the expensive vanity projects that were often the result of colonial expansion.  Overseas colonies required vast expenditures of resources without any guarantee of profit and could only further entangle Berlin in the foreign policies of France or Britain, all plainly without the naval might to secure such holdings.  In short – Bismarck sought to avoid precisely most of the military and foreign policy missteps that Germany ended up making in the 1880/90s.  But the allure of powerful financial interests, coupled with domestic political considerations (colonial policies sold well at the ballot box), pushed the Chancellor to embrace the establishment of private colonial ventures.  It would only be a matter of time before private German interests became part of the national interest and forced Germany to send engineers, laborers and finally soldiers overseas. Continue reading

“Bloody Christmas”

There was no Christmas cheer among the soldiers marching to the Reichskanzlei (Chancellery) in Berlin on December 23rd, 1918.  The men were from the Volksmarinedivision, the revolutionary paramilitary unit created, in theory, to defend the newly established Council of the People’s Deputies and the burgeoning German leftist revolution.  In reality, the Volksmarinedivision was closer to the Independent Social Democrats and the so-called “Spartacists”; the more militant wings of the new government that preached a political gospel similar to that of Russia’s Bolsheviks.  The Volksmarinedivision had ransacked the Kaiser’s old Berlin residence, the Stadtschloss, and encamped themselves there after looting or destroying much of the historic artwork of the building.  The Council of the People’s Deputies had protested the division’s actions, seeing them increasingly more as hooligans than soldiers.  In response, the Council ordered the Volksmarinedivision out of Berlin and to dismiss all but 600 of their men.  When the paramilitary group refused, the Council stopped their paychecks.

Lieutenant Heinrich Dorrenbach, the group’s commander and close ally to Karl Liebknecht of the Spartacus League, marched on the Reichskanzlei ostensibly to follow orders – he had the keys to the Stadtschloss in hand and was prepared to reduce his forces and leave the city, provided the government issue their backpay.  But no German politician would claim that they were authorized to pay Dorrenbach and his men, deferring the decision to Berlin’s Chancellor and the Chairman of the Council, Friedrich Ebert.  Ebert had no patience for the Volksmarinedivision, whom he considered thuggish radicals led by a “rootless adventurer.”  The issue of the Volksmarinedivision had been one of many that was quickly dividing the new government, and Ebert was vainly trying to mollify both the political left and right in his ad hoc administration.  Whether Ebert intended to pay the Volksmarinedivision eventually or not, he wasn’t going to be threatened into a decision.

Dorrenbach had his answer.  His men swarmed the Reichskanzlei, blocking the doors and access roads.  Another contingent marched to the Kommandantenhaus, the military headquarters for the city, looking to capture the city’s military commander, the politician Otto Wels.  The building’s guard, regular army troops, resisted and shots were fired.  It didn’t matter.  The superior numbers of the Volksmarinedivision had overwhelmed the government, taking Wels and other key political figures hostage.  The moment that Ebert and many members of the Council of the People’s Deputies had tried to avoid had arrived – the German revolution was about to turn bloody.

Karl Liebknecht – Germany’s Lenin, at least in the eyes of many.  He lacked Lenin’s ruthlessness or political savvy, having often to be dragged along into decisions affecting the revolution


From the very beginning of the chaotic German end to the war, there was a fear in Berlin (and indeed, across Europe) that Germany was quickly staging their own rendition of the Russian revolution.  Continue reading

Greasing The Skids

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Congress has given Lesko Brandon the authority he requested, to enter into Lend Lease Agreements with Ukraine giving them any military weapons, supplies, materials and systems up to (but not including) weapons of mass destruction. Remind me – how’d we get sucked into World War II?

Joe Doakes

Joe is right.

But lend lease is also part of how we ended World War II, as well; giving someone else the material wherewithal to fight the part of the war we couldn’t.

I say this neither to agree nor disagree with the administrations action.

Black & White & Reds All Over

In the late hours of November 17th, 1918, the southern Siberian city of Omsk was suddenly abuzz with activity.  A key junction along the Trans-Siberian Railway and the meeting point between the railway’s northern and southern branches, Omsk had seen it’s fair amount of political activity for months as the Provisional All-Russian Government, informally known as The Directory, had established the city as it’s seat of governance.  Uniting many Socialist Revolutionary members (SRs) who had held power in the original Soviets and the elected Constituent Assembly, along with former Tsarist officers, the Directory appeared as the potential precursor for a unified White Russian political movement. 

The Directory even appeared on the verge of gaining international recognition as Vice-Admiral Alexander Kolchak, recently returned to Russia from various overseas diplomatic tours, had decided to join The Directory’s Council of Ministers as the Ministers of both War and the Navy.  Kolchak had originally returned to Russia via Japan with the intention of traveling to the other side of the empire to join the former Tsarist officer-led Volunteer Army.  Instead, the Vice-Admiral had cast his lot with militarily inferior, but politically more diverse Directory.  Kolchak was held in high esteem by the Allies, and the British in particular, with British Military Attaché General Alfred Knox saying of Kolchak that he had “more grit, pluck and honest patriotism than any Russian in Siberia.”

Omsk’s commotion this evening however wasn’t more would-be politicians but Cossack soldiers.  Moving throughout the city, one by one, many of the 14 ministers of the Directory were swooped up by the Cossacks and placed under arrest.  By the following morning, the few Directory members who were left understood what had occurred in the wee hours – Kolchak and his supporters had staged a coup, arresting most of the SR-aligned ministers and executives.  By a private vote, the remaining Ministers gave their consent to elect Kolchak the “Verkhovnyi Pravitel” or “Supreme Ruler” of Russia, consolidating all political and military authority under his office.

From the Caspian to the Pacific, the newly formed “Russian Republic” held one of the largest territorial empires on the globe.  And for better and for worse, the White Russian movement now had a singular leader.

Admiral Alexander Kolchak – he would be viewed as the defacto leader of the entire White Russian resistance, but in reality Kolchak was barely in charge of his own Siberian government and held little practical influence over the rest of the White armies or leaders


The end of the war in Europe meant nothing towards ending the growing Civil War in Russia.  Despite invoking fear across the former Russian Empire and in many capitals around the world, the ruling Bolsheviks controlled precious little territory.  In the west, Ukraine, Finland and the Baltic States had split away.  In the northern port cities, the Allies held sway, occupying large swathes of land that would be directly or in-directly governed by White Russian collaborators.  The Caucasus were losing some ground back to the Bolsheviks, but chunks of the region were still led by a loose confederation of ethnic governments, leftist Menshevik politicians and thuggish Cossack warlords.  And in the East, thanks to the Czechoslovak Legion and Allied intervention, the entire country from Azerbaijan to Vladivostok had been in the hands of the newly formed Provisional All-Russian Government.  The regions that lay in the hands of the Bolsheviks’ opponents were large – well more than half of the original Russian Empire – but the industrial base of the country and large population centers were mostly under Red control.  Continue reading

11th Hour

A heavy fog had enveloped Ville-devant-Chaumont, just north of Verdun, obscuring the view even just meters away for the American troops of the 313th Infantry Regiment of the 79th “Liberty” Division.  The regiment, called “Baltimore’s Own” due to the high number of locals from that city, was utterly exhausted having been on the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive for nearly two months.  They could hear the crackling fire of German machine guns ahead of them, but were more interested in the running footsteps to their rear.  It was a communique from their commanding officer to hold their position and to neither advance nor retreat until following orders were given.

The 313th was relieved, with one exception – 23 year-old Private Henry Gunther.  Gunther had left a fiancé and a successful early career as a banker in Baltimore when he was drafted.  The son of German immigrants, Gunther arrived in France eager to prove his patriotism yet quickly became discouraged amid the slaughter of the trenches.  Gunther wrote to a friend complaining of his life in France and encouraging his friend not to volunteer.  Army censors read the letter and demoted Gunther.  In response, the former banker began to volunteer for dangerous assignments to prove his loyalty, even being hit with shrapnel as a runner that could have sent him home.  Gunther refused; he still hadn’t regained his honor.

Injury and risky service didn’t return his rank or apparently his unit’s respect and it cost him at home.  Gunther’s fiancé wrote that she was ending the relationship, further sending Gunther into a spiral of reckless heroism.  His fellow soldiers noted that as the war seemed to be coming to an end Gunther became more and more withdrawn, perhaps knowing that his opportunities to find redemption or meaning amid the bloodshed were dwindling.  Gunther wasn’t going to obey any orders to hold his position on this day – he was going to attack.

On the other side of the line, the German machine gun nest saw a figure emerge from the fog, charging at them with a fixed bayonet.  They fired, careful to avoid hitting him, hoping that he’d stop or retreat.  Gunther jumped to the ground but quickly rose again, resuming his charge.  In broken english, the Germans yelled at Gunther, frantically waiving their arms to tell him to stop; “Baltimore’s Own” wouldn’t be discouraged.  At last, fearing for their own lives, the German machine gunners fired off a five-round burst, striking Gunther in the head, killing him instantly.

It was 10:59am on November 11th, 1918.  The last combat casualty of the Great War had fallen.

Henry Gunther’s grave site in France.  Gunther is widely acknowledged as the last combat death of the First World War before the armistice.  More would die in accidents or sporadic fighting after 11am, to say nothing of the war in the East


Four days earlier a far different sight could be seen by French soldiers in their trenches near the town of La Capelle.  Three large cars, each with the black eagle of Imperial Germany on their sides, approached the front lines with their headlights on. Two German soldiers were perched on the running boards of the lead car, one waving a white flag, the other, with a long silver bugle, blowing the call for ceasefire – a single high tone repeated in rapid succession four times, then four times again, with the last note lingering.  The German delegation to discuss an armistice had arrived.  Continue reading

Armchair Private Speaks

I have no military experience, other than a lifetime of reading military history and an obsessive’s facility for identifying World War II planes, tanks and ships.

Take everything I say with a grain – what the heck, a block – of salt.

But I’m going to indulge in a little pointless speculation about the war in Ukraine.

When discussing a war where both sides are experts at propaganda and warping public perception, trying to comment on anything in “the news” with any certitude is a fool’s errand.

Noted. I am that fool, and for right now it is my errand.

He Who Forgets: The thought of being able to win an easy – or at least easier – victory by taking out a key objective – the enemty’s leadership, capitol, or a key defense – is one of those things that keeps millitary planners busy dreaming.

In some cases – the US drives to Baghdad in 2003, or the German airborne assault on Fort Eben Emaël, in Belgium in June of 1940 – it works.

But not always.

In April, 1940, as part of Germany’s invasion of Norway, a Navy task force raced up Oslo Fjord; it’s mission was to land an invasion force on the Oslo waterfront to seize the. Storting (Parliament) and capture King Håkon and his administration, giving him a choice of capitulation and serving as a puppet (as his cousin, Christian X of Denmark, in effect did) or something much less pleasant.

On the final approach to Oslo, 15-20 miles south of the capital, in one old coastal fort (Oscarsborg, armed with three antique 1890s cannon (only two of them manned, and even those with rookie draftee crews) and a couple of equally ancient torpedoes launched from a James Bond via Rube Goldberg-style secret underwater cave, the commander, Colonel Birger Eriksen, disobeyed a “Stand Down” order, and opened fire at the leading German ship (reportedly telling the gun crew “Damn right we’re firing live ammunition” as he gave the order to fire), the heavy cruiser Blücher, blowing off a turret and sinking it in the channel, blocking the rest of the invasion (I told the story here, 12 years ago), and allowing Håkon to escape Oslo, and eventually get to the UK to continue the war.

The German attempt to “decapitate” Norway, with all its elaborate planning, failed because of one guy disobeying orders.

Similarly, the German airborne attempt to decapitate the Dutch military command, two months later, ended up a nearly Pyrrhic victory, as the paratroopers ran into a prepared defense, and were gunned down in droves by alerted and angry Dutch defenders.

Not Nearly Far Enough: Similarly, in September, Field Marshal Montgomery hatched a plan to end the war by Christmas; launch a lightning (by 1944 standards) strike to vault across the Rhine River (and a few lesser rivers and canals on the way), which was Germany’s only real natural defense from invasion from the west, across terrain that isn’t a whole lot more naturally defensible than the road from Fargo to Winnipeg.

To do it, airborne forces would simultaneously capture bridges across the Maas, Waal and lower Rhein rivers, as well as three canals. Once over the Rhein, there was literally nothing but German towns and troops blocking the road to Berlin.

The crossings of the Maas, and two fo the three canals were captured smoothly. The Waal, at Nijjmegen? Not smoothly at all. And the final crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem failed completely. Only one of the 12 British and Polish airborne battalions reached the bridge; all were mauled, and the Germans held the crossing.

Because of that bloody scrap along the banks of the Rhein, Germany retained its barrier until the bridge at Remagen fell, nearly six bloody months later.

Like The TSA Line, Only With Live Ammo: Again – we don’t know yet how to separate truth from fiction in Ukraine – and forces on both sides, and no side, are doing their darnedest to obscure whatever truth does leak out.

But assuming some of the news is accurate?

As this is written the hot war in Ukraine is five years old; Russian forces are on the northern outskirts of an alerted, angry, heavily armed Kiev.

But around the end of the first day, reporters filtered out that a Russian Airborne assault on two of Kiev’s airports had stalled, and then failed; both airfields remained, apparently, in Ukrainian hands.

Speculation – possibly informed, possibly not – held that the assault was an attempt to get Russian troops into Kiev fast and on the relative cheap, taking the airfields and suppressing the air defenses in order to fly troops in from Russia, debouching them almost directly into the Ukrainian capitol – a move that Russian Airborne has speculated about doing for nearly fifty years, since well back in Soviet times.

Did the Ukrainians read the same operations manual (a rhetorical question – the Ukrainian and Russian Armies both have roots in the Soviet army)? Were the Russians counting on their airborne/air transport assault to knock Ukrainian leadership so off-kilter that they’d have a much harder time resisting the conventional, armored ground attack, which woujld then have an easier time getting into Kiev?

We won’t know until the fall of Putin’s Russia opens up all the secrets that have gotten covered over since the fall of the USSR, of course.

But it’s interesting, if armchair, speculation.

(NOTE: If your response to this post is “the war in Ukraine doesn’t affect us, so I don’t care” – that’s fine, duly noted, and save it for a different thread. Thanks.

The Peasants Are Revolting

If citizens can’t defend their freedom, then they are not citizens. They are subjects.

The Canadian truckers have shown us that if they don’t have the ability to defend their personal finances from government opporession, they are not citizens. They are subjects.

And against even more drastic threats?

The Peasant Revolt of 1381 – in which peasants in what would now be the eastern suburbs of London rebelled against onerous taxation and government overreach (figuratively and literally) may or may not have been an impetus for the Second Amendment – but it certainly should instruct any study of the issue of popular power versus government authority.

This video explains the event; if you ignore the presenter’s obvious left-wing bias (trying to connect Margaret Thatcher and King Richard II is the kind of thing that plays better in a faculty lounge than in reality), the lesson is fairly clear:

And for people with ears to hear, the lesson remains clear: Ukraine, responding to a Russian invasion, has “granted” their citizens a right that can not be legitimately taken away in the first place.

Preparing for the possibility of a large-scale Russian invasion, the Ukrainian government has moved to declare a 30-day state of emergency, grant citizens the right to bear arms, and conscript military reservists between the ages of 18 and 60, adding nearly 200,000 troops to the country’s defense as Russian troops continue to enter the Donbas region.

Of course, the Ukrainians are implementing under duress what the Estonians have made a part of their national culture (although not, alas, in the sense of being an inalienable right, but more a matter of duty to state and people). Defending their freedom from Russia is an actual national hobby even in whatever passes for “normal times” on the Russian border (I’ve written about the article linked above in the past; it may be even more worth reading today).

This is the lesson: today, as in 1381 and 1776 and 1939, and in Ottawa today, your freedom is only as secure as your ability to defend it; legally, in courts via the Marquis of Queensbury rules of the legal system…

…or otherwise.

Better Late Than Never

Norwegian government honors Wilton Rasmussen, a 100 year old Minnesotan who spent the best years of his life blowing up Germans in the middle of Norway, as part of the organization that became the CIA:

The 100-year-old Fridley veteran recalled stories from his daring service Sunday when the ambassador of Norway paid him a special visit to award him two medals of honor — a recognition Rasmusson never expected.

When he was drafted in 1942, a military official came to him with a request that would define the course of his life: “Do you want to volunteer for a dangerous overseas mission?”

“I said, ‘yeah,’ ” Rasmusson said in a thick Norwegian accent.

He was part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the CIA, in a Norwegian operational unit known at NORSO II. Rasmusson’s fluency in the language was an obvious benefit for the mission that would take him from his hometown of Sunburg, Minn., for 3½ years to England, Scotland and Norway.

The whole story is worth a read. And my biggest regret is not finding the opportunity to interview a lot more of the Greatest Generation on the air while I had the chance.

In Case You Need Another Reason To Hate NPR

77 years ago last month, World War II went into a brief run of extra innings, as German troops launched a surprise attack, trying to drive a wedge between the US and British armies and take the port of Antwerp, robbing the Allies of their main logistics hub on the continent. We know it as the “Battle of the Bulge”.

In a strategic sense, the attack was doomed before it started. It may have cost the Germans more than it ganed them, burning through their last supplies of fuel, ammunition and fresh vehicles, to no gain that they were able to hold for more than a month.

But that was little comfort to the GIs on the ground – many new to the front in brand-new divisions, many more exhausted after six months of constant battle and resting in the “quiet sector” of the Ardennes, and the corner of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.

The GIs fought on – some of them famously surrounded, others who just happened to be at the wrong place at the right time, still more who rushed to the scene to hold lines in the snow that could not be passed.

They fought an enemy that was exhausted and morally shaped by five years of total war, including troops – the Waffen SS, who had made war crimes part of their “mystique” since the fall of 1939. One SS battlegroup had left a trail of war crimes, including the massacre of a group of combat engineers at Malmédy, Belgiuim, and a smaller and more obscure but perhaps even more gruesome slaughter of African-American troops at Wereth – two of a number of real shootings of American POWs, and dozens more rumored mass killings.

It’s no secret to those who read military history; at times, after hearing news about the GIs gunned down at Malmédy in particular, that GIs – cold, often cut off from higher authority, thousands of miles from home, fighting for people they largely didn’t understand, in a war none of them asked for – took rough revenge. The history of “The Good War” is not void of stories of American troops gunning down Germans, and especially Japanese, without worrying too hard about the rules of war. Americans and Brits were less likely to throw the rules of war under the treads of the passing tank than the Russians or French – all of whom took “take no prisoners” pretty literally – but war, being famously “hell”, brings the worst out of everyone at times.

Suffice to say – while the typical 18 year old American draftee was on balance, as Stephen Ambrose called him, “the. best thing that could have happened to a conquered Germany or liberated France, Luixembourg and Belgium”, some of them, sometimes, had their breaking points. It wasn’t taught in high school history class – which, when I was in school, was still being taught by some of the men who’d been there – but you don’t have to dig too far into history to find honest portrayals by GIs who, as the years rolled on, talked it out (including at least one infamous episode from Band of Brothers itself).

It’s not news, suffice to say.

If you read your history.

But this is 2022. And most Americans, including most of today’s generation of “news” reporters, never read history, or at least nothing before 1960.

“The Reveal” is an NPR ‘Investigative journalism’ program, hosted by Al Letson. This past Sunday’s episode focused on the groundbreaking investigation of a massacre of 80 German POWs in Belgium by members of the 11th Armored Division.

I listened so you don’t have to – but here it is, anyway:

So what’s. the purpose of this “investigation?”

To prove that World War II a reductionist battle between good-hearted, white-hatted GIs and cartoony black-hearted Nazis, and that some Americans did some horrible things?

Again – it’s not news.

To bring out a story that has been hidden by history?

As the story itself points out, the episode was common knowledge among people who follow the war.

That George Patton and other Army brass, at the time and during the telling of the story of the war, found it expedient to either “not publicize” or “cover up” the details of the massacre, to a people who were becoming weary of war and who were shocked by the late-campaign bloodshed? Leaving aside the whole “what the hell do they expect?” angle – who do they expect to hold accountable? 95% of the GIs are gone; all the senior officers who set the policy had passed on forty years ago.

To undercut and sandbag a key part of the American self-image? To throw crap on the notion that America has had, and acted upon, and sacrificed mightilly, for noble ideals that didn’t strictly benefit us? To liberate people we had no moral obligation to sacrifice for?

I think I’m getting warm.

A former teacher, who has drifted far to the left since I was a student, once said “the Walt Disney version of history doesn’t tell the whole story” – to which I replied “either does the Ingmar Bergman version (I suppose I could have said NIkole Hannah-Jones, as well).

Either way – when it comes to piddling on any shred of American exceptionaism, to say nothing of nobility, there is no statute of limitations.

Birthday Greetings

Think about the evolution of military equipment over the past 100 years.

In 1920, the infantryman carried a bolt-action rifle. The tanker drove a rattle-trap armored against rifle fire that could clank along at 3-4 miles an hour. Many of the navy’s ships were powered by coal, and the big cannon was the sine qua non of naval warfare. Pilots flew in planes made of wood and doped canvas – basically box kites with motors, armed with machine guns and glorified grenades.

Thirty years later, the infantry carried cyclic-fire weapons, tanks could shake off light artillery (usually) the Navy’s sunday punch was powered by oil, and planes were the piston-engine equivalent of todays’ Formula 1 cars and the first jets were duking it out in the skies, armed with cannon and the first crude guided missiles.

Thirty years after that, tanks could hit the speed limit, see in the dark and shake off big, powerful artillery. The pride of the Navy was nuclear-powered. The first “stealth” aircraft were just starting to take shape at the Skunk works, and the front-line planes were armed with radar and infrared missiles that could reach out, in some cases, 100 miles.

And forty years hence? Drones are in the field, ships are stealthy, aircraft can shoot down aircraft that have no idea they’re there.

But through each of those eras, there’s been one thing in common – the M2 (HB)

Which was, as it happens, adopted by the US Army (in this case ,the long-disbanded Coast Artillery branc) for the first time 100 years ago this year. I’m gonna throw it out today, since I have no idea what the actual date of adoption was.

Here’s a quick history and tear-down guide…:

…from a channel that’s probably the most essential source of firearms trivia on the Internet.

It’s Veterans Day

I’ve said it in the past; I’ve always found the practice of thanking veterans for their service to be a little…off.

Nothing against those that do say it – but it’s always felt a little strange to me.

“Thanks for taking a couple years out of your life, in many cases going around the world and undergoing a lot of unimaginable stress, danger and horror. Thanks so much!”.

So for my part – to all you veterans out there: I’m glad you made it home.

Let’s make this nation worth your time, and the sacrifice of those who didn’t come back.

There Was A Time…

…when I would have looked at an event like today’s 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht and nodded and thought “good thing our society is smarter than that these days”.

Because November 9 is the anniversary of the largest pogrom in ihistory:

In a statement to representatives of the foreign press, Goebbels responded to the outrage at Germany’ assault on its half-million Jewish citizens by challenging the Western democracies: “If there is any country that believes it has not enough Jews, I shall gladly turn over to it all our Jews.” But not one country said they would take the Jews of Germany.

After this last couple of years, I’m really not so sure.

Antisemitism is back on the rise…:

It’s incredible how little has changed in eighty-three years. Children’s textbooks are filled with anti-Jewish hatred in the Palestinian territories while others call Abbas and his underlings “moderates. “Islamic Clerics throughout the world call for the death of Jews, and a recent AJC study reported that Antisemitism runs rampant in France.

And given our crippling tribalism, and the dehumanization of other ‘tribes” that runs rampant in tribalist societies (Rwanda, Bosnia, Burma and India for some modern examples), I’m not exactly sanguine about everyone else either.