Sunday, April 11, 2021

“With our backs to the wall ...”


In the spring of 1918, Germany made one last bid for victory in WWI. With Russia out of the war and the US not yet a factor in the military equation, there was a window of opportunity to defeat France and Great Britain and bring the war to an end. The German high command knew that the military balance was shifting against them; in a few months the Allies would possess an overwhelming superiority in men and material. March 1918 represented a “now or never” moment.

The first attack (Operation Michael) was launched on 21 March against the British Fifth Army. It gained more ground than any attack since the opening battles of 1914. Relentless pressure and innovative tactics threatened to shatter the Allies's front and win the war for Germany.

The crisis came in early April. The Kaiser's troops were within 15 miles of the vital rail lines and communication centers on which everything depended. Haig understood that the position of the entire BEF hung by a slender thread. There could be no more retreats.

He issued as special Order of the Day on 11 April 1918.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
Haig's order possessed strategic insight as well as military desperation:

Haig’s ‘Backs to the Wall’ order had hit upon the key to victory: standing firm. The German tactics would succeed only if the initial blow shattered the cohesion of the defenders so comprehensively that the stormtroopers had little to do but mop up what was left. By fighting stubbornly, the British bought time for reserves to arrive.

Gary Sheffield, Forgotten Victory
The Germans failed to win the war in April. In so doing they expended their strategic reserve and set the stage for their final defeat in the fall of 1918.

Related:

“Lions led by donkeys”


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Thursday, April 08, 2021

“How an organization deals with change in a time of crisis.”


This book looks interesting:

Learning to Fight

Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918

Learning, innovation and adaptation are not concepts that we necessarily associate with the British Army of the First World War. Yet the need to learn from mistakes, to exploit new opportunities and to adapt to complex and novel situations are always necessary. Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), by Dr. Aimée Fox, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London, grapples with this most intriguing of topic, particular for academics with their generally less than positive views of the mental capacities of the armed forces. Dr. Fox's book is the first institutional examination of the army's process for learning during the First World War.

An interview with the author:

Ep. 73 – Learning to Fight

Q:: Many people think that the British army during the Great War was a rigid conservative institution full of butchers, bunglers and individuals like Blackadder's Goes Forth General Melchett - and that it was the same organization pretty much in 1914 as it was in 1918. Is there any truth to this perception? 

A:: I think that perception is influenced by a number of different factors. First off is the Second World War - the ‘good war’ which makes the First World War appear somewhat futile. Also, the Second World War is generally perceived as being more mobile - with really wizzy technology - and I think that makes the First World War seem even more antiquated. I also think that we have a tendency, rightly so I think in some respects, to focus on battles like the Somme and Passchendaele and the incredible losses within those - and I think that reinforces the perception of stupidity. And finally generals always appear quite aloof in their photographs. They've stiff upper lip and you know, they're back behind the lines where cause they're better able to oversee operations, but they're still not sharing the privations of private soldiers. So I accept all of those perceptions there, but I think as with any organization, there are people who are skeptical. There are people who might be over-promoted and might have a limited experience in a particular context. The Army is absolutely no different. There are of course generals who simply aren't cut out for the war that they fought. ButI think it's pretty much a generalization to say that the Army was rigid and conservative because for me at least in my research, I think it demonstrates a lot of flexibility and we just need to look at how it changes. It goes from a small regular army to a mass citizen Army made up of volunteers, of conscripts of different backgrounds, of different nationalities ... It is such a different organization and I  think that the Army's incredibly innovative - and in a way it has to be, because it wants to find the ways and means of shortening the war, but also because it's fighting tenacious armies like the Germans and the Ottomans. So I guess, in short, I think the traditional perception doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny.

The challenges the BEF faced cannot be overstated. Warfare changed more between 1914 and 1918 than at any other time in history.

A British or German battalion commander from summer 1918 could have understood the underlying concepts governing warfare in 1940, 1944, or even 1991. But a 1914 battalion commander magically transported to the Western Front battlefields of summer 1918 would have great difficulty in understanding what he saw.

MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050
It is fair to say that the British army between 1914 and 1918 carried out the greatest feat of organizational learning ever recorded.

Related:

“Dollars can't buy yesterday” (II)


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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Russian disinformation shows up in the most interesting places


The most influential treatment was probably Joan Littlewood’s 1963 Theatre Workshop production of Oh! What a Lovely War. This was a seminal work whose influence stretches far beyond the comparatively few people who have actually seen it on the stage. Richard Attenborough’s 1969 film version, although inferior as art, was seen by a much wider audience, both at the cinema and in subsequent showings on television. For whatever reason, Oh What a Lovely War came to symbolise for many people the essential ‘truth’ about the First World War, and was much quoted, alluded to and parodied.

The play has a seductive message: the war was pointless and the soldiers died for nothing. The Allied military victories of July to November 1918 are literally written out of the script. Instead, in the film version, the fighting just stops, the front lines apparently in place. For the original play, Joan Littlewood chose as the finale not the victory of the Allies (which might appear logical) but a scene from Henri Barbusse’s novel Under Fire in which French soldiers follow an officer in a hopeless attack ‘baa-ing like sheep till they were all mown down’.

Theatre Workshop’s ‘Military Advisor’ was Raymond Fletcher, a future Labour MP. His perspective on 1914-18 can be judged by his own description of the content of a lecture he gave the Theatre Workshop company on the War; ‘one part me, one part Liddell Hart [a military historian fiercely critical of British high command] the rest Lenin!’ Only six months before the play was first performed, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the USA and the USSR close to nuclear war. Parallels with the way Europe had apparently slipped into war in August 1914 seemed all too obvious. Fletcher’s ‘Lenin’ remark is especially interesting in view of the fact that in 1999 it was revealed that the KGB recruited him in 1962, the year before Oh What a Lovely War was first performed



Gary Sheffield Forgotten Victory


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Sunday, April 04, 2021

Rejoice! He has risen!


Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12


Friday, April 02, 2021

"Wood, and nails, and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005 ​

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.


God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs
.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

“Lions led by donkeys”


Circling back.

Steve Sailer
This is certainly true when we look at the image of the British Army in World War One: Stupid callous, pompous officers blithely ordering men to slaughter from the comfort of their chateaus.

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'Twas not always so. As Professor Stephen Badsey reminds us, WWI “was also, for Britain, one of the most popular and widely supported wars the country has ever fought, from its beginning to its end. It was also one of the most successful.”





FM Douglas Haig was celebrated as a hero when he died in 1928. It was only later that his reputation fell into decline.

A strong case can be made that it is teachers of English, not history, that have had the greatest impact on the shaping of views on the First World War through the teaching of war poetry. It is not generals and politicians but the ‘War Poets’, a small and unrepresentative group of junior officers, who are the most frequently quoted British figures of 1914-18, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg (who actually served in the ranks), Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden are still remembered, while the very names of most British generals of the First World War have slipped from public consciousness.
Gary Sheffield, Forgotten Victory
The “war poets” were consequential, but their influence was slow to take hold. In the 1920s popular culture still was more likely to have heroes who were bored by the peace rather than disillusioned by the war. (Bulldog Drummond, for example, or Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford).

Agatha Christie, however, was not taught in universities. The War Poets and Paris expatriates were. Over time, this led to a complete reversal of the image of the war, the generals, and the experience of the soldiers.

A half-century after his death, the revision was complete.
One doesn't want to be too hard on Haig, who doubtless did all he could and who has been wll calumniated already. But it must be said that it now appears that the one thing the war was testing was the usefulness of the earnest Scottish character in a situation demanding the military equivalent of wit and invention. Haig had none. He was stubborn, self-righteous, inflexible, intolerant –especially of the French-- and quite humorless. And he was provincial: at his French headquarters he insisted on attending a Church of Scotland service every Sunday. Bullheaded as he was, he was the perfect commander for an enterprise committed to endless abortive assaulting.

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory )
Fussell, a professor of English, sounds uncomfortably like Bill Haydon here. His verdict substitutes an aesthetic sensibility for strategic analysis. It also manages to combine snobbery with moralizing. (Never a good look for a historian.)

A few years after Fussell published his book the tide began to turn. Historians who studied the war (as opposed to reading poets and novelists) made it quite clear that the Western Front generals rarely had good options in 1915-1917. The correlation of forces was such that if the war was going to continue then it would have to be a war of frontal assaults and strategic attrition. Contra Fussel, “wit and invention” could not provide any path to bloodless victory.






Related:

Rational actors choosing self-destruction


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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sheep ruled by donkeys?


“Lions led by Donkeys” One of the enduring images about World War One. Brave soldiers sent to their deaths by callous and stupid generals who remained safe and coddled in their chateau headquarters.

This myth is interesting on two counts. First, this image of the detached, unfeeling general pointlessly sacrificing his men's lives is false. But let's circle back to that.

One reason the myth persists is that we find it hard to sympathize with the “donkeys”., As Richard Holmes put it, the generals appear, to us, to be “comfortable, well-breakfasted, privileged, and remote”.

While that is unfair to FM Haig, et. al., the description fits our modern mandarins to a T. It seems completely fair to describe the US today as a nation of “sheep ruled by donkeys”.

The past year has been devastating to the nation: schools closed, students abandoned, senior citizens condemned to unending solitary confinement, the economy crushed, civil liberties shredded. All of this was done at the whim of bureaucrats and governors largely insulated from the consequences of the policies they inflict on the citizenry.

It's bad enough that policy is being made by people with many opinions but no skin in the game. Even worse, every day brings new examples of their arrogant refusal to live by the rules they impose on others.

Spring Breakdown: LA Teachers’ Union Tries to Hide Vacations Amid School Reopening Fight

Teachers union boss in California caught taking daughter to private school becomes poster boy for school choice

PA Health Secretary Moved Mother From Nursing Home to Hotel When Pandemic Hit State

Professor Lockdown Resigns After Breaking Own Lockdown Rules to Meet Lover: Report

Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledges family members have been in Florida and Wisconsin during coronavirus shutdown

Celebrities slammed for maskless appearances at Grammys: 'Elite still party while you lose your businesses'
Related:

This strikes close to home
Exhausting the resources of the country, they only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people.... The state swelled up; the people grew lean. “
And let's not forget the role journalists played in this disaster. Nearly every news outlet spread misinformation and promoted pandemic porn. But as the honchos at CNN happily admit it was good for ratings and hurt President Trump. So totally worth it.

This is a calculus that is only open to the comfortable and the privileged. Sadly,much of the legacy media has become the preserve of such people.

CNN Journo Complains $2,000 Peloton Wasn’t Delivered On Time

Journalist Mocked After $22 Avocado Toast Purchase Backfires: ‘Ultimate First World Complaint’



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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Kaus-Reynolds in the UK


The Kaus-Reynolds Paradox:

1. A government agency fails.

2. When it finally ‘fesses up, the failure is immediately consigned to the memory hole and no one in power is held responsible.

3. The consequences of its failure are then used as a justification for giving that agency more power over ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with the failed policies and botched operations.
Shot:

Green Party's Baroness Jones suggests 6pm curfew for men
Chaser:

UK police officer arrested over the disappearance of Sarah Everard, authorities say

Sarah Everard suspect probed over 'indecent exposure' 3 days before she vanished
Give more power to the police after a policeman commits murder. The logic of the Administrative State is something out of Lewis Carroll. The answer to every problems always involves increasing the power of government-- even when the problems come from government in the first place.

There are no consequences for failure and malfeasance. To the contrary, they are rewarded and, hence, encouraged.

Saturday in London we saw one of the results that arise when the Kaus-Reynolds Paradox is ignored.

London police face backlash after dragging mourners from vigil for murdered woman
Having failed to protect Sarah Everard and having failed to police their own ranks, the London Metropolitan Police took the opportunity to remind the people of London who was in charge.

The Met cannot keep London's streets safe, but they can still bring the hammer down on women at a vigil for a murder victim.

This is becoming a troubling pattern for the UK. After the revelations about grooming gangs and the exploitation of thousands of young girls, police departments across the country re-doubled their efforts – to shut down mean posts on social media.

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.
Honore de Balzac, The Bureaucrats

Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago



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Saturday, March 06, 2021

This strikes close to home


Exhausting the resources of the country, they only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people.... The state swelled up; the people grew lean.
It is not a bad description of what public health “experts” and pandemic porn addicts have done to the US over the last twelve months.

It is from historian Vasily Klyuchevsky (1841-1911) and he is describing the effects of Tsarist authoritarianism on Russian society.

Given all the performative concern about the threat posed by Putin/Russia/Trump/authoritarianism, we should probably ponder what Tsar Fauci and the corona panic are doing to us.

Just don't expect to see this sort of analysis on CNN or the Washington Post. The worst consequencs are not felt by the people who work for those operations. To the contrary, the pandemic has been, in many ways, an enormous benefit for them.

Vide:

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar APOLOGIZES after saying COVID has been 'really good for CNN's ratings'

Amazon posted record sales and profit for the second consecutive quarter, as it continues to capitalize on a pandemic-driven surge in online shopping.

Blue-checks are afraid of life getting back to normal.
At least one astute observer recognized this aspect of the crisis from the get-go.

Monday, March 01, 2021


The only sound basis for a great State is stately egoism and not romanticism, and it is not worthy for a great state to fight for a cause which has nothing to do with its own interest.

Otto von Bismarck (1850)

Monday, February 22, 2021


We have learned that a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older -- if he survives-- but a spiritless young man cannot learn the dash that wins battles.

John Masters,
Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas


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