On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, in 1918, the guns ceased. During Remembrance Day, the British Commonwealth countries remember those who came before, and those who came after, and all who have given in their nation's service. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" is a common accompaniment at ceremonies, where the wearing of poppies is customary (on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible), and organizations like the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion, et. al. are supported.
There's one more kind of remembrance I'd like to point out, and ask you to consider on this day. It's a remembrance of the Bloodlands...
Anne Appelbaum explains in "The Worst of the Madness":
"Murder became ordinary during wartime, wrote Milosz.... young boys from law-abiding, middle-class families became hardened criminals, thugs for whom "the killing of a man presents no great moral problem." Theft became ordinary too, as did falsehood and fabrication. People learned to sleep through sounds that would once have roused the whole neighborhood: the rattle of machine-gun fire, the cries of men in agony, the cursing of the policeman dragging the neighbors away.
For all of these reasons, Milosz explained, "the man of the East cannot take Americans [or other Westerners] seriously." Because they hadn't undergone such experiences, they couldn't seem to fathom what they meant, and couldn't seem to imagine how they had happened either. "Their resultant lack of imagination," he concluded, "is appalling."1
But Milosz's bitter analysis did not go far enough. Almost sixty years after the poet wrote those words, it is no longer enough to say that we Westerners lack imagination. Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian whose past work has ranged from Habsburg Vienna to Stalinist Kiev, takes the point one step further. In Bloodlands, a brave and original history of mass killing in the twentieth century, he argues that we still lack any real knowledge of what happened in the eastern half of Europe in the twentieth century. And he is right.... Snyder's ambition is to persuade the West - and the rest of the world - to see the war in a broader perspective.... The title of this book, Bloodlands, is not a metaphor. Snyder's "bloodlands," which others have called "borderlands," run from Poznan in the West to Smolensk in the East, encompassing modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of western Russia (see map on page 10). This is the region that experienced not one but two - and sometimes three - wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction."
All that, and north to Finland, too. The Bloodlands are where the great wars started, and in those wars their name was earned. They are what so many fought for, and failed to fight for, and beyond the effect of those choices on us, lies their own story. Of war, and soldiers. Heroes, and villains. And remembrance.
Their stories, too, must be part of our remembrance. Lest we forget.
UPDATE: See also Canada's National Post today, as Father De Souza makes a similar point in "Karol Wojtyla's War."
Next, our counterterror adviser evokes the perverse logic behind the administration's recent decision to censor words offensive to Muslims (which I closely explored in this PJM article):Nor do we describe our enemy as "jihadists" or "Islamists" because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one's community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.Inasmuch as he is correct in the first clause of that sentence -- "jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one's community" -- he greatly errs in the latter clause, by projecting his own notions of what constitutes "holy," "legitimate," and "innocent" onto Islam. In Islam, such terms are often antithetical to the Judeo-Christian/Western understanding. Indeed, the institution of jihad, according to every authoritative Muslim book on Islamic jurisprudence, is nothing less than offensive warfare to spread Sharia law, a cause seen as both "legitimate" and "holy" in Islam. As for "innocence," by simply being a non-Muslim infidel, one is already guilty in Islam. Brennan understands the definition of jihad; he just has no clue of its application. So he is left fumbling about with a square peg that simply refuses to pass through a round hole.
In recent times Muslim spokesmen working in conjunction with the usual suspects of PoMo intellectuals/pseudo-scholars and progressives have attempted to re-define the term. But one needs only to pick up any book from the previous era that even tangentially touches on the subject to see the term used in its proper historic meaning. As a student of ByzantinoRoman history I know this full well. Thus Ibrahim is actually wrong when he says, almost reflecting the thinking of Edward Said, that his "dual Middle-East/Western background gives me the advantage to understand both the Islamicate and American mindsets equally." Previous generations of Westerners also understood the term Jihad properly. The ethnocentric projection Ibrahim rightly condemns is actually a post-modern and multiculturalist phenomenon, and thus a rather recent innovation. This might seem like a minor quibble, but it's critical to our understanding of the problems we face.
It would be more proper to say that the word "Crusade" has transformed from its original meaning than it is to say "Jihad" has. After all, we have such things as "crusades for peace" and "The Billy Graham Crusade," neither of which involve mobilizing armies to recover1 lands from Islam by military means. Jihad has never ceased to mean what it means, however, up through the mobilization of Arabs to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets and down through the present, though we are asked to believe otherwise. But we are told we cannot use the word "Crusade" because it is inflamatory, while also being instructed to re-conceive our understanding of calls for Jihad. This is a form of mental manipulation inflicted upon us not by our enemies, but by ourselves - or at any rate one wing of our own civilization.
And of course many young people, knowing little, having come of age in this era of degenerate pseudo-scholarship, educated by the instructors they have been educated, sincerely believe Jihad does not mean what it means. This is one means of intellectually disarming us, and leading people into accepting the received wisdom of progressivism on the sources and causes of this conflict, rather than connecting it to history. It helps open them to the conclusions of a Said or a Fisk or even their slightly-less-radical imitators: That we are to blame.
Redfining terms by those with an ideological axe to grind is almost invariably aimed at controling the thinking of others.
1Yes, recover: Crusades, aweful as many Crusaders behaved, were launched as counter-attacks. To call any but the 4th agqressive is akin to calling D-Day agressive. But, in this degenerate age, that history, however bad it was even told "straight," has been corrupted for ideological ends.
As is obvious by my web-name, it's no state secret that I'm into the Eastern Roman (aka "Byzantine") Empire. Back when I was a Freshman in Uni I read Edward Luttwak's excellent Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, a work I highly recommend. Well he has completed the obvious sequel, a book on the Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.
In Foreign Policy Luttwak has an article recommending the essential features of this strategy to the United States. I would argue that we already follow most of them, including a pernicious corruption of them that the Byzantines themselves engaged in during the 11th Century.
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I. Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time. Train intensively and be ready for battle at all times -- but do not be eager to fight. The highest purpose of combat readiness is to reduce the probability of having to fight.America has, critics to the contrary notwithstanding, typically followed this, including in the latest war, where, as many have noted, they "were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them", and even in the "rush to war" against Iraq that took a decade.
II. Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his actions continuously. Efforts to do so by all possible means might not be very productive, but they are seldom wasted.I shall elide over this a bit for the time being, because it is clearly one area where one might say we fall short of the highest standards. However, I will note that we do better than are given credit for, including in the current conflict where we must be right all the time in our counterterrorism efforts to foil attacks against us, while one intelligence failure on this front can lead to catastrophic results and the pointy finger of blame being directed at poor intelligence, flawed analysis of intelligence we did have, failure to recognize the value of intelligence or what it meant, and the like. But the Byzantines also had such failures: Just ask Nicephoros I or Manuel Komnenos. Nothing human is perfect.
III. Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances. Don't think like the Romans, who viewed persuasion as just an adjunct to force. Instead, employ force in the smallest possible doses to help persuade the persuadable and harm those not yet amenable to persuasion.Again I would say that by and large and for the most part, the invidious Powell Doctrine to the contrary notwithstanding, we do this. Sometimes to excess: Witness the initial attempt at a small footprint in Afghanistan. Arguably that was a good strategy, however, depending upon what ones goals in Afghanistan are. If they are simply to defeat our foes and keep them on the run, than this, in conjunction with the use of native forces as allies and proxies, is enough. If our goal is to build a strong democratic state there, then it is insufficient.
IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals. The object is not to destroy your enemies, because they can become tomorrow's allies. A multiplicity of enemies can be less of a threat than just one, so long as they can be persuaded to attack one another.Iraq is the one recent counter-example to this that people may point to. Afghanistan is becoming a counter-example in part because of the limitations of lightning-strike warfare. This is not to say that such strikes are always a failure, but they are not a panacea either. Note that in Iraq itself, pre-surge, this was the operational method that was preferred: Minimize American presence in the cities and neighborhoods, and conduct strikes from basecamps instead. The Surge meant occupying more areas to produce security.
V. Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power. Diplomacy is even more important during war than peace. Reject, as the Byzantines did, the foolish aphorism that when the guns speak, diplomats fall silent. The most useful allies are those nearest to the enemy, for they know how best to fight his forces.This is done more quite often. The same people who will on the one hand criticize American "militarism" will often on the other hand condemn our "proxy-wars". I'll note that in Afghanistan we recruited local forces from the outset, and neighboring countries. I'll also note that in my tour in Iraq, I got the chance to work for a couple weeks with a SF Team that was responsible for training the ISOFOR. During that time, Iraqi recruits were subjected to a psychological screening conducted by military psychologists from friendly Arab country bordering Iraq (I'll leave it to the reader to guess which one): So even there, more allies were recruited to help than is generally known.
VI. Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies. Remember: Even religious fanatics can be bribed, as the Byzantines were some of the first to discover, because zealots can be quite creative in inventing religious justifications for betraying their own cause ("since the ultimate victory of Islam is inevitable anyway ...").This is done more often than we're given credit for, and indeed when critics of American foreign policy note it, it is to condemn any efforts to subvert or suborn enemies from within. I will note that we largely won the Cold War in Eastern Europe, however, in no small part through the use of such tactics, and that to the extent to which there was a period when Saddam was "friendly" with America, it was during a spell when we were employing this strategem against both Iran and Iraq and the Soviets.
VII. When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. But there is no urgency because as soon as one enemy is no more, another will surely take his place. All is constantly changing as rulers and nations rise and fall. Only the empire is eternal -- if, that is, it does not exhaust itself.Here also we have invested quite a bit of effort and creativity into just that over the last three or four decades.
But I want to turn the rest of my post on this to what could be called the Dark Side of Byzantine Strategy, an internal conflict that burst into the open in the 11th Century to the ultimate detriment of the Eastern Roman Empire, and again at the dawn of the 13th. Proxy forces can be waged against external enemies, but those engaged in internal political squabbles may consciously or unconsciously tempted tengage in warfare by proxy against their opponents, to humiliate, weaken, and discredit them in the struggle for political dominance.
After the death of Basil II Makedonion, the already existing tensions between Byzantium's "Civil" and its "military" elites flared up, worstening throughout the next five decades. The American counterparts of this are the Blue State "Georgetownist" Transnational Progressives and the Red State "Arlingtonist" nationalists. In Byzantium this conflict included the elimination of opponents from positions of influence even if (ultimately, especially if) they were competent, diverting funding (for example, Constantine IX Monomachus' demobilization of the forces of the Dukate of Armenia, at the time when Turkish raids were starting), sabotaging military campaigns (the most obvious being the withdrawal of half the army at Manzikurt, leaving Romanus III Diogenes to be defeated), and ultimately paying Turkish proxy forces to fight against each other in civil wars during the 1070s, even as the Turks conquered Anatolia.
One hundred years later, the son of a deposed Emperor recruited Crusaders to help place his father (or him) back on the throne, resulting instead in the conquest of the capital by said Crusaders and untold destruction.
Are we at that stage yet? Clearly not. Our current situation resembles the 1040s more than the 1070s, much less 1200s. But all the elements are in place, including a ruling class that is tougher with domestic opponents than with foreign enemies, always ready to advocate extending understanding and diplomatic, tactful treatment of foreign enemies while having nothing but the harshest, hatefully vituperative and merciless treatment of their domestic opponents. They have already rhetorically at minimum on numerous occasions used foreign enemies as proxies, and their mentors marched under the banner of more than one foreign foe, openly rooting for their victory, believing it would help discredit their domestic political opponents and advance their own cause.
These are facts: Pointing them out is only an act of intellectual honesty. It is simply chronicling current history accurately. None the less, it is extremely controversial to take note of this reality, except in the most indirect or praising way (that is, you can note it without controversy if you share their perspective). It is also not unfair to say that the outcome of what passes for their sage wisdom on the waging of war, and their fundamental transformation of traditional International Law and the Laws of War hinder their own nation's efforts and make it easier for their country's enemies (see previous posts in this series). This is what makes "asymmetric warfare" possible at all. It is this kind of "warfare by proxy" that results in dictators getting their job through the New York Times, and even now regularly speak power to truth in their efforts to advantage undemocratic enemies of their country abroad at the expense of integrity. Once you've read about international law untainted by their manipulations, or what the drafters of the real Geneva Conventions had to say:
"(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil [sic] the following conditions:[ (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.you then realize that these people have turned reality on its head. It is no exaggeration to say that they now offer far more protection to what are, under true international law, unlawful combatants who in a sane era were not extended the protections given uniformed combatants, than anyone ever extended to lawful, uniformed combatants. It should surprise no one that deciples of 'Franz Fanon' (sic) would behave in such a fashion, and that they would be drawn to concepts aimed at persuading people that fighting insurgencies is futile (which flies in the face of actual historical experience in defeating insurgencies). One is to be portrayed as a wild-eyed extremist for noting in a non-laudatory way what they say in their own words, which itself represents 1) the enforced detachment from reality that we are nudged into and 2) one aspect of the very internal conflict under discussion here, where war methods are waged with ruthlessness against internal dissent. (Language is an important expression of mentality: a "War Room" is what one has to combat domestic enemies; a "Situation Room" is what is now used to address overseas crises).
They are not to be seen as extremist for behaving this way: You to be treated as an extremist nut engaging in un-American activities, even as a terrorist for opposing them at home and for highlighting such behavior in an unflattering way. The degeneration of our governing class is all the more evident in the fact that they are sincerely delusional, thinking of themselves as outsider underdogs "speaking truth to power" when they are the ones in power, and are everywhere speaking power to truth in their efforts to destroy all opposition root and branch, and the fact that even ostensibly sensible people like Steven M. Teles thinks that this is not only a legitimate attitude towards those who disagree with them at home, but "necessary": The idea of a "loyal opposition", legitimate institutions other than ones they control, has become so foreign to not only the core of this group, but its sympathizers, that they believe they have "no choice but to use the... tools at its disposal to destroy its opponents root and branch". Since they "agree with Mao that power comes largely from the barrel of a gun", it should not be a surprise that they are not above using proxy forces in an attempt to discredit and destroy their domestic political opponents in this way.
I could invoke far more examples to drive this point home, but those in the "reality-based community" that dismiss empirical reality would pooh-pooh it regardless. Suffice to say that the attitude of domestic warfare that our governing class displays, when combined with the incontrovertible fact that they are as grounded in reality as O'Brien, forms a dire combination that bodes ill for the future.
Bonus for Extra Credit: Compare and contrast a typical example of the sage military advice offered up by these people with Luttwak's and other real experts, as well as those with actual experience, and remembering that the British defeated an insurgency in Malaysia even while the "typical example's" conception was taking root. Which passes for conventional wisdom, and who does it serve that this is maintained as conventional wisdom, all empirical evidence to the contrary notwithstanding?
Pointed fact to keep in mind when addressing the Extra-Credit Question: FDR's America would have had no problem employing the means necessary to crush opponents we now are expected to take for granted cannot be beaten militarily.
Response to Potential Objection: Yes, in spring they sent more troops to Afghanistan, and they haven't followed through on their previous rhetoric about Iraq, behaving, now that they are in office, in a more responsible way. But note that they do not embrace this outlook as a means of discrediting themselves, it's only for the utility of destroying their domestic political opponents. So, when a process like this is underway, we should naturally expect their own behavior to differ from what their rhetoric was when they were assailing their opponents. At minimum temporizing and an obvious tension about what decision to make, as they struggle with the internal conflict of their ideology pulling them one way while their instinct for political survival tugs them the other way.
Nothing illustrates this better than Obama's recent speech. I believe he is sincere when he said ""I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary, and if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt."
I'm positive he sincerely perceives himself that way, just as he sincerely holds a contrary idea in his head (cognitive dissonance is not alien to these people). However, it is simply not part of his mental process that he already made such a decision (last spring, in sending additional troops), and he is now Hamlet over whether to back to the hilt or not, because of the tension between the siren song of their base, which is where their heart lays, where their own beliefs rest.
So we are served a public rationalization over why there is a delay in decision and why the forces necessary for victory ought to be denied which no rational people could possibly believe is sincere. We're to believe that a circle of Chicago Pols with close ties to the likes of ACORN and George Soros and benefit from shenannegans of all kinds are shocked, shocked! to have suddenly discovered that there is political corruption in Afghanistan. Roman, please! If you sincerely believe that, as opposed to pretending to believe it because you're a sycophantic courtier speaking power to truth like the rest of the coterie surrounding this faction, I have only one question for you: Do you have your own cup to drool into, or do you have to share one?
Another objection of course is: Porphy, aren't you just on the other side? In the largest sense, no. I am chronicling this and hoping people will be aware of it. I certainly have sympathy for one side in this conflict, and as is obvious by what I concentrated on describing, hold the other in at best a minimum of high regard. But I am certainly not asking or hoping for you to become active in fighting against them and for Team B, aka "The Outer Party". That simply fuels the conflict. Additionally, voting, and other conventional political activism is a laughable way of thwarting this, as the locus of their power, is insulated from democratic politics as we normally understand it. Being in office helps the velocity by which they "affect change", marginally, but being out of office does not cripple them, as they are never truly out of power. The tides still flow.
I have no program, and won't offer up the usual "ten point plan for restoring the Republic" of items that range from the futile to the banal that others do and which are always so anticlimactically inconsequential or fantastically outside the realm of the possible (even as they illustrate the point I am making here, in that 70% of the voting public would support them, or something like them, but there aint no way they'll ever get close to be placed on the agenda) as to be depressing.
The last thing I should advocate is "taking sides" in this conflict and fighting it, as tempting as that is. Hopefully someone out there does have some idea of how to resolve this non-catastrophically, and I chronicle and describe it in no small part in the hope that someone shall put their mind to it.
This phrasing ["You Lie!"] is not a "breach of protocol," as the NYT would have it, but part of another protocol. Kenneth R. Greenberg, scholar of dueling (and baseball, oddly enough; he had some interesting things to say on the intersection of those two things in the post-war American South), noted:Now, another scholar named Greenberg -- I don't know if they are related -- wrote a piece on the Jews of Savannah, Georgia. I believe this is the piece, although you can't see the relevant part if you don't have access to an academic library. If memory serves, it recounts the story of how Jews in Savannah were accepted into the community early compared to the rest of the country, as proved by the fact that they were challenged to duels and fought them; for, as Kenneth Greenberg describes at length, gentlemen dueled only with equals. If they were challenged in the terms of honor, and allowed to fight as honorable men, then they were equals in fact.Only certain kinds of insulting language and behavior led to duels. The central insult that could turn a disagreement into a duel involved a direct or indirect attack on someone's word -- the accusation that a man was a liar. To "give someone the lie," as it was called, had always been of great consequence among men of honor. As one early-seventeenth-century English writer noted, "It is reputed so great a shame to be accounted a lyer, that any other injury is canceled by giving the lie, and he that receiveth it standeth so charged in his honor and reputation, that he cannot disburden himself of that imputation, but by the striking of him that hath given it, or by chalenging him to the combat."
Three breaths before Rep. Wilson shouted out that President Obama was a liar, President Obama had said that "prominent politicians" who spoke to concerns about potential end-of-life issues were spreading "a lie." Every Congressman present understood themselves to be a prominent politician; those who had expressed concerns about that issue, then, stood accused to their faces of lying. Rep. Wilson, of South Carolina, responded in anger and in kind.
It may be hard to understand if you aren't from the South, or a similar culture: but "giving the lie" in this case is the furthest thing from a mark of racial disrespect. It is a mark of accepted equality.
If a Southerner accepts you as an equal, and you call him a liar to his face, you will have to fight him. That is courtesy, not discourtesy: he wouldn't bother to fight you if he didn't respect you. He would snort at you, or strike you, but he would not respond to you in the language of honor.
Of course, these days we do not duel, and the only way such an encounter can terminate is with an apology. One was offered, and accepted -- the wager of battle, such as it is today, has been fulfilled according to the ancient forms. It may look strange to places that have not known such wagers in their lifetimes, but this sort of exchange was once the lifeblood of American politics. The South, as always, sustains.
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The guy's a Berkeley humanities (now there's an oxymoron for you) professor, but he does bring up an interesting parallel:
"This spring in El Paso, after a talk I gave on the Indian raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, a man in the back row raised his hand. "Do you see any similarities between the borderland violence you've just described for the 1830s and 1840s and the current drug war?" The energy in the room changed immediately.
More than any other American city, El Paso has borne witness to the tragedy of Mexico's raging drug war...."
He has his own thoughts, and they're not as barking mad as you'd expect. But I suspect the wars also has lessons to teach that he hasn't considered.
With debt in the USA quickly headed for unsustainable levels, the signs I'm seeing point to Carter-era stagflation as our next economic stop. Now throw in this Bloomberg report:
"After already more than doubling its balance sheet to $2.1 trillion [from about $800 billion], the Fed has pledged to buy $1.25 trillion of mortgage-debt and $300 billion of Treasuries, and finance a $1 trillion consumer-loan program."
This is another bubble in the making, folks - a federal debt and obligations bubble. It was been building for some time thanks to off-balance sheet obligations, and some are now coming home to roost. Even as other items are being piled on. The rocket-powered boosts that bubble has received lately, ups the risk that significant creditors are going to start balking in various ways. The "global reserve currency" rumblings from China are tremor #1.
Ultimately, the choices start to line up between "impose punishing long-term obligations to pay and service this debt," or "inflate it away, and make everyone's dollars worth less." Including yours, of course. Now and Futures has a bunch of useful overall charts that illustrate our slightly bumpy but fairly certain path toward significant inflation. Along with a cogent argument that the rejiggered post-Boskin report CPI index significantly undercounts inflation over the past few years, in terms of most peoples' day-to-day experience and expenses.
How far can this go? My confidence in the sooper-geniuses who brought us to this point, and are now being depended on to get us out, is not wildly high. The good news is that systems tend to have some level of self-regulation, even if it isn't that obvious. But an online historical study has shaken some of my confidence in a couple of key assumptions. It's worth reading...
If you want to peek into the abyss of hyperinflation, there are certainly South American examples like Argentina and Brazil. But the definitive economic cases are European - Germany, Austria, and Hungary during the 1920s, when people took wheelbarrows of bank notes to buy a loaf of bread. Staring down the daily devolutions in those examples is instructive.
"When Money Dies: The Nightmare of the Weimar Collapse" is now available online, for free, which a lot less than Amazon will charge. It's an interesting book, for a lot of reasons.
Instead of dry economics, it offers snapshots of daily life as inflation destroys peoples' savings, and then their daily lives, and finally their livelihood. The accounts include significant excerpts from British Foreign Office records and reports, with a few appearances by Ernest Hemmingway (who wrote for the Toronto Daily Star!).
If nothing else, reading it will help make some of the events in the 1930s make a lot more sense. Madness, it was - but not madness without antecedent.
The other thing that makes it interesting is the very quality that makes it so thriller-like. Every time you think it can't get worse, every time you think that the effects should finally be obvious, the widely-respected "smart people" in charge plunge in deeper, and make things worse. All without serious examination by mainstream opinion, no matter how low things go. After a while, it's like a firestorm, unstoppable by any internal force, and spent only when it runs out of fuel (i.e. willing and coerced creditors). As the book's final pages note:
"Much as it may have been recognised that stability would have to be arranged some day, and that the greater the delay the harder it would be, there never seemed to be a good time to invite trouble of that order.... The conflicting objectives of avoiding unemployment and avoiding insolvency ceased at last to conflict when Germany had both.... The take-off point in the inflationary progress, after which the advent of hyperinflation was but a matter of time, the point indeed when it became self-generating and politically irreducible except for short periods.... lay on the falling curve of political possibility, with which was closely linked the degree of political power and courage that the government, sorely pressed as it was, was able to muster.
What really broke Germany was the constant taking of the soft political option in respect of money. The take-off point therefore was not a financial but a moral one; and the political excuse was despicable, for no imaginable political circumstances could have been more unsuited to the imposition of a new financial order than those pertaining in November 1923, when inflation was no longer an option. The Rentenmark was itself hardly more than an expedient then, and could scarcely have been introduced successfully had not the mark lost its entire meaning. Stability came only when the abyss had been plumbed, when the credible mark could fall no more, when everything that four years of financial cowardice, wrong-headedness and mismanagement had been fashioned to avoid had in fact taken place, when the inconceivable had ineluct-ably arrived."
Weimar Germany is the most extreme example. Understand that I'm not saying we're headed for hyperinflation (though I am willing to predict 15%+ interest rates by the end of Obama's first term), or that Weimar's fate shall be ours. History depends on a lot of specifics, and does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme some, and so watching how things devolved in Germany et. al., and the effects on daily life, are instructive. Instructive in America, and also instructive in Europe as their demographic bubble and debt bubble become mutually reinforcing over the next 2 decades.
Some of my take-aways:
None of these bullet points can convey the impact of reading the actual story, and watching it unfold on page after page. Read it yourself, and decide what you take away...
So one book I just finished reading in my travels was Joseph Ellis' "His Excellency: George Washington."
So here's the fun question that the book prompts:
How might American history have been different if George Washington hadn't been childless?
Nortius Maximus sent me this link to a video at Nature magazine, describing a machine from ancient Greece, named after the location in which it was found. Mike Daley's points me to an in-depth conventional text/graphics article at Impearls.
Its exact functions had been a bit puzzling, but modern imaging and X-rays recently came to the rescue. Turns out that it's a sophisticated mechanical clock that had additional functions like keeping track of the Olympic Games and phases of the moon, in addition to its standard operation. The whole thing is truly a mechanical marvel, and when you see the CGI images of the device in operation based on recent imaging techniques, you'll be stunned to imagine something like this coming from ancient Greece 2,000 years ago. But apparently, it did.
The Antikythera Mechanism is a true testament to the power of human ingenuity, and the video is definitely worth watching.
The alternate history of June 6, 1944 is too terrible to contemplate
There are few days in history that continue to capture the imagination and fascination of Americans the way June 6, 1944 does. Perhaps the day's only close rival is the day President Kennedy was shot.
There is an old preacher story, so old it is a cliche of bad sermons now, that goes like this: An angel awoke who had slept through the first two centuries after Jesus had gone down to earth and ascended back to heaven.
The angel went to the Lord and asked, “Where did you go?”
Jesus replied, “I've been down on earth.”
The angel asked, "How did it go?"
Jesus said, "They crucified me."
The angel protested, "You must have had a wide influence."
Jesus said, "I had twelve followers, and one betrayed me to my death."
The angel asked, "What will become of your work?"
Jesus said, "I left it in the hands of my friends."
"And if they fail?" asked the angel.
Jesus said, "I have no other plans."
That punchline, I think, is why D-Day remains so compelling. The specter of defeat on June 6, 1944 was overwhelmingly dreadful. The Allies had no other plans. There was no Plan B in case the landings were repulsed.
Failure would have meant a Soviet-dominated Europe, probably all the way to the English Channel, a greatly extended war and an even more horrific death toll in the Pacific. Read why I think so at Sense of Events.
The craters are still visible at Pointe du Hoc.
Rangers lead the way, indeed.
[T]his is the land of disappearing children and a slow-motion demographic catastrophe that is without precedent in the developed world.The massive destruction wrought upon Japan's cities by US forces by 1945, the fact that every Japanese family, with extremely few exceptions, suffered one or more killed either in uniform or not, these things were bad enough. But the decisive defeat of Japan was neither material nor biological, as grave as those things were.
The number of children has declined for 27 consecutive years, a government report said over the weekend. Japan now has fewer children who are 14 or younger than at any time since 1908.The proportion of children in the population fell to an all-time low of 13.5 percent. That number has been falling for 34 straight years and is the lowest among 31 major countries, according to the report.
The decisive defeat was psychological and spiritual. Japan's deepest wound was the destruction of its national mythos. Although the cult of the emperor and the code of bushido were relatively recent inventions in Japanese history, by the time the war began, at least three generations had been immersed in it. Japan's conviction of racial superiority and its embrace of a manifest destiny to dominate all Asia almost completely formed the national self-identity and national purpose.
All were entirely wiped away by Japan's surrender in 1945 and its occupation by US forces. Not to be overlooked as well was Gen. Douglas MacArthur's insistence that Emperor Hirohito come to him for their first meeting.
The great rebuilding of Japanese society and industry after the war was accomplished by the same generation that had suffered the crushing blows of the war. Yet I think that this great effort was itself a continuation of bushido - the iron will never to accept defeat.But before I explore that line further, consider information released by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication:
From the eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth century, Japan's population remained steady, at 30 million-plus citizens. However, following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it began expanding in tandem with the drive to build a modern nation-state. In 1926, it reached 60 million, and in 1967, it surpassed the 100 million mark. However, Japan's population growth has slowed in more recent years, with the annual pace of population growth averaging about one percent from the 1960s through the 1970s. Since the 1980s, it has declined sharply. The population figure of 127.77 million released in the 2005 Population Census was below the 2004 population estimate (127.79 million). This marked the first time since World War II that the population has fallen compared to the previous year. The 2006 population estimate was 127.77 million, remaining at the same level of the previous year. While the population of men recorded two years of natural decrease, that of women had a continuous natural increase.And there are these helpful graphics:
The ministry points out that since World War II, Japan has enjoyed two baby booms (diagram here). One was 1947-1949, not surprising since almost all wars are followed by increased fecundity of the warring populations, victorious or not. Why did it take two years fr the boom to begin? Part of the time is accounted for by the fact that demobilization of Japan's armed forces took quite a long time. But the greater part can probably be accounted for by the fact that Japan's population was starving by the time the war ended. Calorie consumption fell by war's end to only about 800 per day per person. Baby booms require well nourished populations, and the nutrition emergency of the people actually worsened after the surrender because of poor weather, not least of which was a devastating typhoon in late 1945 that wrecked food stocks so badly that there would truly have been mass starvation deaths had not America fed the country. My assessment is that it simply took two years for nutritional levels to rise to the point of supporting a baby boom. But again, the parents were the adults who had been beaten during the war and who still were imbued with some fire of the bushido code.
The second boom was 1971-1974. These parents were the children of the first boom, reaching maturity and enjoying the first fruits of Japan's postwar economic miracle. Their children have not "boomed," however. Why?
The ministry notes that the second boom was not as strong as the first. I would say that the war generation's will to persevere and then prevail was incompletely passed to their children, and passed not at all to their grandchildren. In its place was . . . nothing.
Understand that Japanese militarism, chauvinistic racism and Shintoism/bushidoism were in fact combined to make their national religion. This was what the war destroyed so deeply that it disappeared in only one more generation. What was left? Only the abyss, for there was nothing at hand to re.place it. With no transcendent ideal commanding their souls, however hideous that ideal once had been, there was nothing for their souls to do but wither away.
And as goes the soul, so follows the flesh.