Category Archives: War Commentary

Brexit And Trump

What do they have in common with Rob Ford?

I think this is right. I wish very much that I didn’t think this is right:

…for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.
At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of the assassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a minor European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.

My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.

Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.

That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.

But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:

1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future

2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally

3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views

Trump is doing this in America.

Yup. Read the whole thing, despite how depressing it is.

It is similar to people who think that the climate is going crazy, because they didn’t live through the 30s, or the 50s. Let alone times farther past.

The Comey Presser

This has already started to be discussed in comments at yesterday’s post, but I want to start a new one: The fourteen worst things for Hillary to come out of it. He basically said she was guilty of pretty much everything, except he wasn’t going to indict her because she was a Clinton.

[Update a few minutes later]

Comey’s remarks were devastating to Hillary. And no “reasonable” Attorney General meets with the spouse of someone under FBI investigation.

[Update a few minutes later]

Comey sells out the rule of law. And “today’s the day that rule of law died.” And did Comey “destroy Hillary by ‘exonerating” her“?

Pro tip: He didn’t exonerate her any more than Bob Ray did in Whitewater. “Insufficient evidence to indict” is no an exoneration.

[Update a few minutes later]

This is amusing. The State Department refuses to say whether or not Clinton and her aides have retained their clearances.

No one else in this situation would. They’re refusing to say because if they say she and they haven’t, they know the damage it would do to the campaign, as Obama flies her around on AF1, and lets her speak with the presidential seal in front of her lectern.

[Update a while later]

A ” target=”_blank”>mashup from ReasonTV of Comey’s presser and Hillary’s lies. Expect to see a lot of SuperPACs showing this.

“A Gruesome Drudgery”

On the hundredth anniversary, thoughts on the Somme, from Charles JohnsonCooke.

On display in one cabinet are a couple of pristine machine guns — one a British “Vickers,” the other its German equivalent. My stomach turns inside out at the sight of them. These are the water-cooled monstrosities that were instrumental in producing the great stasis and all of its horrors. Capable of pushing out 500 rounds per minute (eight per second), it convinced both sides that defense was the safest course.

The machine gun, the British journalist Philip Gibbs observed, afforded its bearers the capacity to construct “not a line but a fortress position.” “No chance,” he noted, “for cavalry!” And yet, though the world’s generals knew from experience in Manchuria, from Thrace, and from the killing fields of the American Civil War just how obsolete established military tactics had been rendered by technological change, for much of the First World War the cavalry was given plenty of chances. Mounted or not, advancing forces at the Somme hewed largely to the techniques of old — failing tragically to overcome the conviction that charging with sufficient gusto would, eventually, lead to a glorious breakthrough. It was thus that the poet Rupert Brooke’s romantic conceptions of some “corner of a foreign field that is forever England” gave way to unlovely reality, and those optimistic volunteers who had followed the Ruritanian glory of all that his sonnets promised were met instead with the full might of the Industrial Revolution. There were few fair fights in the Great War — little chivalry or skill or heroism. There was just boredom, and then attrition. Just factory-style death. Just Siegfried Sassoon’s embittered “continuous roar,” and the apocalyptic collision of impregnable defense with naïve attack. In the days of muskets and cannon, one could reasonably expect to push forward to glory. Now, the lions were fed into the meat grinder with everybody else. When soldiers were brave enough to leave their hiding places, the novelist Sebastian Faulks recorded in Birdsong, “the air turned to lead.”

As I noted on Twitter, I hadn’t realized that the battle started exactly fifty-three years after Gettysburg (this weekend is the 153rd anniversary). As Charles notes, the Civil War, particularly the latter stage, with battles like Cold Harbor, provided hints of the horrors to come.

[Afternoon update]

A modern aerial view of the battlefield.