06 September 2011
Ludwig von Mises: not a peacenik

The wars waged by England during the era of Liberalism to extend her colonial empire and to open up territories which refused to admit foreign trade, laid the foundations of the modern world economy.  To measure the true significance of these wars one has only to imagine what would have happened if India and China and their hinterland had remained closed to world commerce.  Not only each Chinese and each Hindu,  but each European and each American, would be considerably worse off.

von Mises, “Socialism” p208 (translation of 2nd Edition, 1932, Liberty Fund)

Don’t anyone tell the Rothbots.

19 March 2011
Lew Rockwell’s piece on why “we” shouldn’t intervene in Libya



Didnt’ like it.

Why’s that?

Not quite sure.  Too many assertions I guess.  Also, it says nothing about individual rights.  Let me explain.  As, indeed I have before.  I, as an individual, have the right to defend myself.  I also have the right to defend others.  So, presumably, I have the right to defend Libyans against Gadaffi’s forces.  And, indeed, anti-Gadaffi forces should they prove to be less savoury than we have so far tended to think.

Actually, all this introduces a rather troubling idea.  If I am allowed to defend Libyans then I am allowed to run guns to them.  As indeed is my next-door neighbour.  But what if my next-door neighbour takes the view that the best way to defend Libyans is to support the Gadaffi forces?  This could get nasty.

Maybe this is one of the reasons we have states - to stop far-flung conflicts turning into civil wars on our doorsteps.

30 January 2011
How does freedom come about?

There was a comment on this posting by Brian Micklethwait that annoyed me.

Ian B had written:

...you rarely get liberty at the point of a bayonet.

To which Alisdair had replied:

Magna Carta - signed cuz of good-will on King John;‘s part ? Or at the pointy end of bayonet-equivalents ?

US getting out from under Lord North’s Privy Council ? Generosity on Lord North’s part ? Or at the pointy end of colonists’ weaponry (and rented mercenaries)?

Israeli democracy - Allah being the Compassionate and the Merciful ? Or at the pointy end of Irgun and Hagganah and other probably not kosher ‘persuaders’ ? (Numerous times since (and including) 1948)

European democracy post 1939 - inevitable voluntary stepping-down by Herr Schicklgruber ? Or at the pointy end of actual bayonets and other less-than-gentle persuasions ?

Are you detecting a pattern, yet ?

You see I ask the question how did particular freedoms come about?  For instance, how did freedom of speech come about in England?  Or, how did slavery end, again, in England?  Or the end of serfdom? Or freedom of religion?

The answer is that all these things came about slowly over a very long period of time.  Warfare had little to do with it.  I am not denying that warfare can be essential in defending an existing freedom but it seems to me that rarely does it extend them.

18 December 2010
“Germany was never a threat to England.”

This line appeared in a recent round-robin email from Sean Gabb Co-Director of the Libertarian Alliance.

There’s a grain of truth in it.  From what I know Hitler very much wanted to avoid war with Britain.  His aim was to create a German empire in Eastern Europe.  But does anyone seriously think that having achieved his aim he wouldn’t have ended up turning his attentions to Britain?  He was the head of a national socialist regime.  Socialism doesn’t work.  Eventually, this becomes apparent and the regime gets into trouble.  And when regimes get into trouble they start wars.

08 July 2010
In defence of appeasement

Interesting article in (partial) support of appeasement by Paul Kennedy.  I have long thought that appeasement has had a bad press.  The point about 1930s appeasement is that it clarified the issue.  Had Britain fought in 1938 it would have done so divided.  When it did finally fight it did so united.

Kennedy, however, says something completely different.

12 June 2010
Why Rothbard was “anti-war”

I was having a chat with Brian Micklethwait the other night about anti-war libertarianism - no, still haven’t come up with a better term for it - and particularly the role of Murray Rothbard.  Brian reckons - and I hope I am not misrepresenting him here - that much of Rothbard’s motivation was down to his study of Lenin.

You see, Rothbard wanted to instigate a revolution - a libertarian one but a revolution all the same.  So, he looked around for successful revolutionaries.  And the most successful of all was Lenin.  Rothbard noted that in the biggest war in history to date, and despite the fact that his country was a whole-hearted participant, Lenin refused to take sides.  So Rothbard - according to Brian and the faulty logic is plain to see here - drew the conclusion that when it comes to war the libertarian revolutionary should always back the opposition to his “own” side.

Rothbard was a New York Jew.  And Brian got used to the idea that in any given dispute Rothbard would inevitably support the side that least resembled New York Jews.

Of course, none of this means that Rothbard’s published views on war are wrong - just highly suspect.

10 June 2010
If you have a right to fight you have the right to win.  Discuss.

I am currently rather pre-occupied with what I would rather not call libertarian anti-war theory.  Examples of this include this podcast by Ralph Raico on the First World War, his piece on the Blockade of Germany and this article by Murray Rothbard.

“If you have a right to fight you have the right to win.” is for the time being my riposte.

07 December 2009
Was the bombing of Dresden justified?

Writing about the actions of democratically-elected leaders in wartime with particular reference to the bombing of cities such as Dresden, Robert Higgs says:

Killing the innocent, for example, carries no stigma; nor does wanton destruction of property, unjust punishment or imprisonment, and a thousand other actions that would be regarded as flagrant crimes during peacetime.

Now Higgs doesn’t quite say that Dresden was a war crime but he comes close enough to make me think that he probably does.  Which makes my hackles rise as I’ve never really seen the issue.

Anyway, the only way to work out whether it was justified or not is to work it out from first principles.  So, let’s have a go:

Someone bombs your house.  Are you allowed to defend yourself? 
Yes you are.

Someone bombs your neighbour’s house.  Are you allowed to defend him? 
Yes you are. 

Do you have to? 
No, you don’t.

The enemy drops his bombs on your house and returns to base.  Are you allowed to attack the bomber, the base and its staff? 
I suppose it depends on the threat.  If there are reasonable (I know horrible, slip-slidey term) grounds to believe that you are going to be attacked again, then you have the right to attack the base.  If, on the other hand, he or his representatives immediately apologize and offer compensation, then no.

But if he doesn’t and you choose to attack him the situation we have here is a war.  And oddly enough, a war without a state.

What about the factory where the bomber’s plane is made?  Are you allowed to attack that? 
Well, if you are allowed to attack the plane at the base why shouldn’t you be able to attack the plane at the factory?  Now, if the factory owner has said that he was no longer going to supply bombers to your enemy and he would accept whatever fine was coming his way for breach of contract then maybe you would be wrong to attack the factory.  But if not then I don’t see a problem.

What if the enemy forces the factory owner, his employees and contractors to build planes? 
Intuitively, one feels that anything you may do is the enemy’s responsibility.  He, after all has created the situation.  Not pleasant for the civilians involved, for sure, but an argument for resisting state coercion at all costs.

What if your means of attack aren’t very accurate?  What if those means might mean not only the destruction of the base but also the destruction of the local town? 
I think you can reasonably argue again that this is the enemy’s problem.  He’s put his base near a centre of population.  He has chosen to start a war.  He has to accept the consequences of his actions.

Let me put it another way, if it were wrong under all circumstances to kill civilians what would there be to stop the enemy driving civilians in front of his forces at gunpoint?

Getting back to the collateral damage issue, does the same apply to the factory? 
In that case it has not been the enemy’s decision where to site the factory but the factory owner’s.  But it has been the choice of the inhabitants of the town to live near the factory.

[As an aside, it occurs to me that exactly the same arguments could be made about gun sellers.  So, if you sell a gun to someone you suspect to be planning a murder then don’t be surprised if someone blows up your shop.]

What if you don’t know where the factory is and your enemy won’t tell you?
I think under those circumstances you can pretty much bomb anything you like so long as its either on enemy territory or associated with his war effort.  Which in the case of a total war is pretty much everything - dams, houses, flocks of sheep, marshalling yards, take your pick.

Right, now the fun part.  How, in any way does this differ from the situation surrounding the decision to bomb Dresden?  I am damned if I can see a difference.  Poles were attacked, Britons came to their defence.  Factories were bombed as accurately as they could be (which wasn’t very).  The enemy declined to tell the Allies where their factories were and so the Allies were allowed to bomb just about anything they chose.  Which included Dresden.

There is, however, one difference.  The Area Bombing Directive ordered Bomber Command to attack areas of population.  This was wrong.  But it didn’t make much difference.  Had Bomber Command been ordered to attack factories or likely factories it would have ended bombing almost exactly the same targets.

08 September 2009
What should libertarians think about the Second World War?

Libertarians get themselves into a terrible pickle when they talk about the Second World War - or any other for that matter.  I’ve been particularly struck by this this week with articles by Robert Higgs and Sean Gabb - arguing that the US and UK respectively shouldn’t have got involved - and a counter from Johnathan Pearce arguing that they should.

All this is very odd.  Normally libertarianism is so easy - if government uses violence to do it you’re against it.  So when it comes to the NHS - you’re against.  State education - you’re against.  Compulsory metrication - you’re against.  But when it comes to war… oh dear… we find that comrades are at one another’s throats.

I am afraid I don’t really have the last word on this just some observations:

  1. You are allowed to defend yourself when attacked.  I’ve sought of heard it argued that even self-defence is unnecessary but I’ve never heard a libertarian case for pacifism.  Well, not the full beans anyway.  So, I think we can agree on that one.
  2. If you are allowed to defend yourself then you are allowed to defend others.  And what, by the way, is the difference between defending yourself when attacked and a war?  It’s the same thing isn’t it?  So war is allowed.
  3. Some states are better (or should that be less worse?) than others.  Some actually allow you to be a libertarian and spread libertarian ideas.  Some allow you to own property and trade.  As I think those are the principal means by which freedom will spread I think the less bad states are worth preserving.  At least, if the alternative is the really bad ones.
  4. Tyrannies last.  Really, unless they get invaded eg Iraq, Nazi Germany they literally last a lifetime eg Soviet Union, Cuba.
  5. Part of the argument against the Second World War (and the First for that matter) seems to be the idea that there was some way that the horrors could have been avoided.  Maybe, but equally maybe not.  Sometimes all the options are bad.
  6. I hear a lot about what Britons or Americans should have done in 1939 but nothing about what Poles should have done.  And if the answer is that they should have defended themselves shouldn’t we have helped them?
  7. I sometimes hear it said that the Polish government in 1939 was barely nicer to Poles than the German government was to Germans.  Probably true but I suspect it was a damn site nicer to Poles than the German government was.
  8. I often hear the argument that Hitler wasn’t interested in Britain.  This actually holds more weight than you might think.  Underlying a lot of Nazi (and pre-Nazi) policy was the desire to create a German Empire on (a misunderstanding of) the British model.  I mean, really, are the ideas of Lebensraum and the Master Race so very different from the sort of ideas that shaped the British Empire?
  9. However, there is a really big flaw.  Nazi Germany was a tyranny.  Tyrannies use huge amounts of violence.  And violence doesn’t work.  So sooner or later the Nazi regime would have been in trouble.  When tyrannies get themselves into trouble they invariably start wars - think Milosevic’s Serbia or Hussein’s Iraq.  Britain would sooner or later have been attacked.
  10. I also occasionally hear the argument that British state power grew as a consequence of the war - the post-War period seeing the creation of the Welfare State and numerous nationalisations.  I am sure it made it easier but it was a process that was already well underway.  Pensions and unemployment benefit began before the First World War.  Telecoms were nationalised in 1911 and London Tranport in 1934.  It also doesn’t work when you look at the United States.  Sure, state power rose during the war but it collapsed afterwards.  As I understand it as well as many wartime restrictions many of the Depression Era laws were victims of Truman’s economic reforms.
  11. Appeasement works.  No, not in terms of actually altering the behaviour of the appeasee.  But it does allow democracies to make up their minds and wage war with unanimity.  They need that.
  12. Regrettable as it may be the state is currently the only current mechanism for large-scale self-defence.  Perhaps one day it won’t be but for the time being it’s all we’ve got.
25 November 2008
Raico replies

Following on from yesterday’s posting on Ralph Raico’s article on Churchill, Professor Raico was kind enough to reply as follows:

There is no contradiction regarding the welfare state. The beginnings were in the early twentieth century, as set forth. The cradle-to-grave welfare state was initiated following World War II, also as set forth.  None of this is controversial among historians.

Neither is there a contradiction regarding the British empire. As a libertarian, I’m hostile to British imperialism. But Churcill wasn’t, to say the least. To the extent that participation in World War II contributed to the end of that empire, Churchill acted against his own deepest values.

Of course I did not say or imply that Churchill forced Hitler into implementing the holocaust. (You really should learn to read more carefully.) Again, it was a question of World War II, which, as Goebbels wrote, provided the necessary smokescreen.

The comment regarding the deaths of German civilians owing to the naval blockade is incoherent. Leaders of belligerent nations are morally required not to aim at the death of civilians.

Churchill’s embrace of Stalin during the war helped the Soviet Union to dominate Europe following the war.  Such dominance, however, did not mean that Stalin was aiming at limitless expansion or require a cold war.

David Irving’s earlier historical work was praised by Gordon Craig, among others. You might look up Fuller’s works in the catalog of the Library of Congress to get an idea why he is considered one of the great military historians of the twentieth century.

I am not really inclined to reply further as I think all it will achieve is the initiation of a flame war and flame wars are pretty pointless.  Suffice to say his comments leave me unmoved.

But I’d still like to hear from the commentariat. If you think I’m wrong then please tell me where and why.  And if you think I’m right then tell me that too.  I’m nothing if not vain.

24 November 2008
Re-re-thinking Churchill

Ralph Raico wrote an article attacking Churchill’s reputation.  I thought I’d enjoy reading it as I think Churchill’s reputation probably deserves to be attacked.  But I didn’t enjoy the article.  To be frank I thought it was rubbish and wrote a comment to that effect.  This is what I said:

I’m not very happy with this. Not because of any particular reverence for Churchill but because if his reputation is to be taken down a peg or two then it has to be done well. That means that criticisms have to be consistent and well-justified.

For instance, one criticism is that the Second World War allowed the creation of the Welfare State. But earlier on in the essay we have the criticism that Churchill helped create the Welfare State before the First World War. Well, which is it?

Another criticism is that Churchill helped destroy the British Empire. I thought libertarians were generally-speaking against empires. Or did I miss that memo?

Then there’s the complaint that Churchill was an opportunist. Well, golly, an opportunistic politician, who’d have thought it.

Then there is the whole issue of responsibility. Churchill is responsible for Churchill’s actions. Fine. But who is responsible for Hitler’s? Because the suggestion is made that Chuchill forced Hitler into starting the Holocaust. What god has walked among us? Exactly the same mistake is made when referring to the Blockade of Germany in the First World War - the claim being made that this led to the deaths of 800,000 civilians. OK, but what does that say about the Kaiser? If he had cared about his citizens he could have surrendered at any point. But he didn’t. And if the Kaiser didn’t care for the citizens of Germany why should Churchill have?

There is also the whole excursion into the “If Only” school of history. If only this one decision here had been different then all that nastiness could have been avoided. Maybe but equally, maybe not. Sometimes shit is going to happen no matter where you stand. Actually, not a bad metaphor for the 20th Century.

But really Churchill’s reputation rests on two questions: was he right to continue the war in 1940? and was he right to warn of the Soviet threat in 1946?

The latter should be fairly simple as throughout this essay the complaint is made that for most of the wartime years Churchill was being too soft on Russia. So, how he gets criticised when he sees the light in 1946 I just don’t understand.

On the question of the War there is, I believe, a reasonably respectable view that Britain should never have gone to war in 1939 and should have sought terms in 1940. It is possible that (uniquely) Hitler didn’t mean what he wrote about the United States in the Second Book and it is possible that alone among agreements he would have kept those he made with the UK. But what were the chances?

I think the author takes the pacifist view that all war and even self-defence is wrong. Maybe, but it’s a controversial view and I think has to be thoroughly justified every time it is aired.

I notice that Major-General J F C Fuller (member of the British Union of Fascists) and David Irving (Holocaust Denier) get a mention. You know, if I were going to mention either of these two I would do so with a health warning.

As I said, I think Churchill’s reputation deserves to be taken down a peg or two but this inconsistent scattergun approach riddled with inconsistencies is not the way to do it.

So I start off believing X, the article also makes the case for X but does it so badly I end up believing -X.  That’s quite an achievement.

06 April 2008

Academic, Dan Todman has produced a graph showing cumulative British deaths in the Second World War.  Interesting, if macabre, stuff.

31 December 2007
The downside of the British Empire

I haven’t quite finished Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy but I think it is worth posting an interim review of this monumental3 economic history of the Third Reich while the stuff at the beginning of the book is still fresh in my mind.

The thing that most struck me - and rather unsettled me - was Tooze’s description of Hitler’s underlying philosophy.  The rabid anti-semitism is as well known as it is bizarre - how exactly you convince yourself that Jews run capitalism as well as communism is beyond me.  But it’s the stuff about empire and economics that is was surprising.

Hitler’s Weltanschauung goes like this:

  1. I want Germany to be rich
  2. I look around the world to find examples of rich countries
  3. I find Britain, France and the United States.
  4. They all have empires1.
  5. That’s why they’re rich - certainly not this liberal economics nonsense which is just there to pull the wool over the eyes of the workers
  6. Therefore if Germany is to be rich she must have an empire
  7. We can’t go North, West or South.
  8. Therefore, we must go East.
  9. Sure, there are people in the way but we will treat them just the same way as the Americans treated the Indians or the British treated the, er, Indians.


This article continues...

01 October 2007
Brian Micklethwait and I discuss Victor Davis Hanson's "Why the West has Won: Nine landmark battles in the brutal history of Western victory"

Earlier on today, Brian Micklethwait and I sat down to record a podcast about Victor Davis Hanson’s Why The West Has Won: nine landmark battles in the brutal history of Western victory - the result of which you can listen to by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.

Summary: Yes, the West does win, there are reasons why it wins, and it’s none too nice about it.

Just in case you were wondering, the nine battles were:

Rorke’s Drift

We also managed (amongst other things) to mention Isandlwana.  This was a battle the British managed to lose immediately before Rorke’s Drift.

12 February 2007

It would be difficult to describe Tim Evans’s Putney Debate held on Friday as being particlularly well attended.

It had an audience of one.


Which was a shame because it was a really good talk. The subject (for the main part) was privateering.  This was practice of allowing private concerns (privateers) to become licensed pirates and do your warfare for you.  They would be allowed to capture the merchant vessels of any hostile power around and keep whatever loot they found.  They played a large part in the fighting of Britain’s wars up to and including Napoleonic times.

Tim took no small pleasure in outlining the havoc privateers wrought on enemy shipping as well as how efficient and technologically advanced they were.  While the Royal Navy had to press men into serving, the privateers wanted the best men available and paid them accordingly, ensuring that they were well looked after while on board.

He also admired they way they avoided destroying property.  Whereas a typical navy has no incentive to preserve property intact, a privateer has every incentive.  No loot, no return.

Privateering disappeared as the era of the big state emerged.  But according to Tim that era might be about to end.  Already the SAS is suffering severe problems with retention as its soldiers get lured away to the private sector on three times the salary.  Who knows, maybe in future President Clinton will be issuing Letters of Marque entitling a new generation of privateers to deprive Iran or Saudi Arabia of the odd oil field or two.

22 November 2006
Lewis Page’s “Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs”

While travelling by train yesterday, I looked up from the book I was reading: Lewis Page’s Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs to look at the new Wembley Stadium.

Or to put it another way: while passing one gargantuan waste of money I was sitting on an even bigger one while reading about another one even bigger than that.

Incidentally, I am not quite sure what to make of Page’s book.  His central claim is that the MoD keeps on spending money on systems that are late, over-budget, and either don’t work or, if they do work, don’t work as well as existing systems, or are irrelevant on the modern battlefield.  Which, if true, is fairly damning stuff.  And I would like it to be true - it fits in pretty well with my Government is incompetent line.

But I am dubious.  It’s all a bit too neat and tidy.  His prescriptions could be summed up as: abolish the RAF, buy more planes, buy a lot more helicopters, buy some proper aircraft carriers and buy American.  Oh and abolish the five most senior ranks in the two remaining services.

If the history of warfare tells us anything it is that strategy, tactics and procurement are messy affairs.  There’s never a silver bullet.

05 November 2006
Croziervision Quote of the Day
"War does not reward temporizing and half-measures -- or, rather, it rewards them, but with more war."

Instapundit doesn't really need much of a boost, least of all from me, but it's a sentiment I've felt so deeply for so long that it's nice to hear from someone else.

11 October 2006
Book review: Alanbrooke’s Diaries
Alanbrooke by Karsh

I read this recently.  General Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke was Britain’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War and Winston Churchill’s most senior military advisor.  He kept a diary (in defiance of King’s Regulations) from almost the beginning of the war.  When the diaries were published in the 1950s he added some extra notes.

A few observations:

  • Diaries aren’t all that informative.  They chronicle what was uppermost in the writer’s mind, not necessarily what was most important.
  • Brooke’s main achievement seems to have been in preventing Churchill from losing the war.  On almost every page (certainly after Brooke became CIGS) Churchill is backing some madcap scheme or other.  Although Brooke stops most of them it was an exhausting business.
  • He spends a lot of time dining out.  At one point in the diary he adds a note explaining that although it sounds as if he was having a whale of time in fact all this time meeting and greeting was extremely useful.  Sadly, he doesn’t explain whether the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was subject to the same wartime restrictions as everyone else.
  • He certainly knows his mind when it comes to strategy: win in North Africa, pin down as many Germans as possible in Italy and then, and only then, invade France.  Much of his thinking on strategy comes down to mundane matters such as shipping, landing craft, railways and spare parts.
  • While he might have been clear in his own mind about strategy he had a devil of a task persuading anyone else.  At least formally, he did, for although no one ever actually agrees with him it’s his plan they (and this includes the Americans) follow.
  • A lot of people (including Churchill) are exhausted and get ill.  It isn’t just the soldiers who don’t get any sleep. A lot of people die.  One of them was his hero, Dill, who is the only foreigner ever to have been given a state funeral by the Americans.

Update This has now been picked up by Samizdata so, hopefully, there’ll be some interesting comments.

19 June 2006
War of the World

It’ll be interesting to see what Niall (pronounced Neil, I believe) Ferguson will be saying in his Channel Four series which starts tonight.  According to the ads for the show his theory is that the wars (hot and cold) of the 20th Century represented one, continuous, century-long struggle which the East won.  Which makes me wonder what he means by “East” - East Europe, Middle East, China or (surely not) India? 

It’ll be interesting for me because I, too, believe that the wars of the 20th Century represented a continuous struggle.  But for me that struggle was an attempt to answer the question: how should industrial societies be governed?  The answer, incidentally, being more or less the one we started off with: democracy.

04 March 2006

Last night Channel 4 screened Downfall, the film about Hitler’s last days.

My thoughts:

  • It’s a great movie
  • It goes someway to explaining why the Germans followed Hitler for as long as they did
  • It demonstrates (for the first time I know about) the devastating effects of artillery
  • (I feel) it is at times a bit stilted.  (As I understand it) there are good reasons for this
  • It’s tempting to think: there but for the grace of God go we.  In other words, that it would have been, (indeed could be) quite easy for us to go down a similar path
  • That’s no reason to indulge in self-loathing
  • How did Traudl Junge get through Soviet lines?  She was (obviously) a woman and she was wearing an SS uniform - either of which (one would have thought) would have put her in line for a pretty hard time.

So, why did they follow Hitler for as long as they did?

  • He could sell them dreams.  For most of Downfall, Hitler is demented but on at least one occasion he calms down and convinces those around him that there are all sorts of secret resources that he can call upon and that all will be well.
  • (believing in his specialness) many had sworn oaths to him personally, which they felt honour-bound to obey.  Why, I don’t know.
  • The “stab in the back” myth of 1918.  This was the (laughable) idea that had the German Army kept on fighting it would have won.  The consequence was that this time around many were determined not to repeat that “mistake”

The devastating effects of artillery?
For example:

  • 60% of First World War casualties were caused by artillery
  • I have been told (here, I think) that a high explosive shell has the same energy on detonation as an express train travelling at 90mph - though not, sadly, the number of carriages
  • An HE shell will blow a man apart to such an extent that not a trace can be found.  That would have been the fate of the most of the 50,000 missing in action whose names are listed on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres

Why the temptation to think that we could go the same way?
Because (it seems to me) that the British are not that different from the Germans

But that shouldn’t force us to question ourselves?
No, because:

  • No other civilisation has ever done any better
  • The economic forces that made the Second World War so destructive are the same ones that gave us the extraordinary prosperity (of all kinds) that we enjoy today. 

Stilted?  Why?
It seems to me that the film is entirely based on eyewitness testimony.  The upside is that we know that this is what actually happened.  The downside is that it jerks about a bit depending on which eyewitness supplied the testimony.  I am rather glad the producers avoided the temptation to make things up.  It is just too important that everything we see is true, or, at least, as near to the truth as we are ever likely to get.

12 November 2005
Three military campaigns, all sorts of similarities, but does it all add up to anything?

I am currently reading a book on the Battle of the Atlantic.  Before that it was one on the Bomber War.  And before that, and for several years now, I’ve been reading up on the Western Front.  It struck me how similar these campaigns were. For instance they:

  • had no great decisive engagements - it was not possible to lose the campaign in an afternoon
  • went on for a long time - the whole length of the war, in fact
  • had appalling casualty rates
  • had few really well-known characters.  Sure everyone has heard of Haig and Dönitz but try asking yourself what they actually did?  An exception can probably be made for Bomber Harris
  • were all battles of attrition
  • were won by the side that got lots of little things right - technical and tactical.  On the Western Front it was creeping barrages, predicted barrages, air superiority and secrecy.  In the air it was things like Gee, H2S and the Mustang.  In the Atlantic it was hedgehog, Leigh Light, convoys.  All boring (but essential) stuff.
  • (for a long period) seemed to be even-steven and then - all of a sudden - one side started to carry all before it.
  • were (and are) controversial.  I guess this is probably because they drew people into the firing line who had never previously been so drawn. 

Whether this means anything, and whether someone has pointed this out before, I don’t know.  Maybe these are the defining characteristics of industrialised warfare.  Maybe, the Cold War was the ultimate refinement of this.  But who can say?

24 October 2005
John Keegan reviews General Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force - this has been getting quite a lot of attention recently and I don't know what to make of it. The central idea is that modern armies aren't really all that powerful anymore. I suspect it's nonsense or, at least, only part of the story but I really don't know. …link
22 October 2005
Trafalgar: why we fought

I received an e-mail today.  It read:

As is it is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar what about a piece on your Blogspot (Crozier Vision) about The Battle of Trafalgar and Admiral Lord Nelson????

A hero if there ever was one.

Normally, I would ignore such an attempt at blatant editorial interference but this e-mail happens to come from my boss and seeing as I would like to continue in my post as deputy dogsbody for just that little bit longer, I can’t.

But what is there to be said that hasn’t been said about Trafalgar?  It was a great victory and saved us from invasion.

Well, actually, there has been something missing from the coverage: the nature of the threat we were under.  After all, there are worse things than invasions.  Had I been a western German in 1945 I think I would have been rather glad to see the sight of Sherman tanks chewing up the asphalt.

When we contemplate the prospect of being invaded by Napoleonic France, we think that the worst that could have happened was that we might have forced to learn French or weigh apples in kilos.  But seeing as both of these things have come to pass, it doesn’t seem so bad.

But that wasn’t the worst that could have happened. Napoleon has, over the years, got a ridiculouly good press.  He was, in reality, the perfect and inevitable product of revolutionary France: a vicious, blood-soaked tyrant.

Our ancestors did well to fight and well to win.

05 June 2005
Is pre-emption justified? - normally, no but nukes may change everything …link
17 May 2005
Remembering World War II - Victor Davis Hanson doesn't have much time for the revisionists either (via CSW) …link
02 March 2005
Is there a western way of war? - Review of Hanson and Lynn (via Instapundit) …link
28 February 2005
War is stupid - it would have been cheaper to have bought the slaves and to have set them free …link
09 February 2005
France in World War II

Antoine Clarke comments on my French casualty factoid:

You forget the civilian casualties.

I don’t have the document to hand but I read that the French government (at the point of asking for an Armistice in 1940) estimated that there were 13 million refugees on the roads and railways of France. Anecdotal evidence (including from my relatives who were there) suggests that a very high proportion of the French population was fleeing German troops.

A look at the river crossings throughout north and western France will reveal a small plaque recording a company of French troops that stood their ground.

During the Normany landings in June 1944 more French civilians were killed than combattants on both sides (BEFORE Caen).

Right, Caen.  If I recall correctly, during Operation Goodwood (shortly after the landings) we bombed the crap out of the place and killed 10,000 civilians.

13 million on the roads.  Again, if I recall correctly, France’s population in 1940 wasn’t that high, 40m perhaps.  So, that gives us a third of the population on the move.  Phew.

The reason I quoted the statistic in the first place was to make the point that the French have not always been the weenies of the Western world.  No, in 1940 (as in 1916) that title was held by someone else.  Things can change, sometimes, really quite quickly.

Update. Seems I was slightly off on those Caen, numbers - only 5,000 died.  That’s all right then.  But bang on with the French population count.


03 February 2005
Fact of the Day

In the Second World War, France lost almost as many men as the US.

02 January 2005

Democracies win their wars, says Brad de LongDon't they just.

20 December 2004
Bomber Crew
A US B17.  Oh, the perils of taking photos of the telly

It is difficult for me to be entirely detached when watching Channel 4’s Bomber Crew.  This is the programme that takes five grandchildren of WWII RAF bomber crewmen and trains them to fly an Avro Lancaster.  It is difficult for me to be detached because like them I too am the grandchild of a WWII bomber crewman.

The programme is divided into two sections. Half of it is devoted to the training and half to the history.  The training is the weaker part.  The hope is that the grandchildren will gain some appreciation of what their grandfathers went through. But it doesn’t really work.  There is an essential ingredient missing.  Their grandfathers knew that every day could be their last.  Today’s generation don’t.

The history part is better.  And it doesn’t pull its punches. The losses were appalling.  50,000 died.  Four out of five who took to the air never came back.  By way of comparison in the Great War four out of five who fought did come back.  I have this awful suspicion that you had a better chance of survival as a Kamikaze pilot.

The tale was told of a bunch of freshly-trained crewmen arriving at their new base.  They eagerly asked how long it took to complete their 30-mission quota.  They were given rather vague answers.  No one knew how long it took: no one had ever done it.  At that stage of the war (1941) being in Bomber Command was a death sentence.  That was precisely the same situation my grandfather was in.  He never saw 1942.  Or Germany for that matter: flying bombers was dangerous enough even without people trying to kill you.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with a man who took his basic training alongside my grandfather.  He was posted to the fighters and in the entire course of the war never took part in a single operation. Another aquaintance was even luckier.  Eighteen in 1939 and German it should have been curtains.  But he was living in England.  He was interned straight away and spent most of the war working in a Canadian abbatoir.  Such is life.

Bomber Crew, Channel 4, Mondays, 2100