Published on 24 Oct 2016
Ernest Brooks’ photos from World War 1 have become icons of the entire war and are even recognised today. But his experience as an official war photographer was not always glorious and especially in the beginning he staged photos instead of showing the real horrors of the war. But as the war dragged on, more and more photos captured small moments in this gigantic conflict that showed the humanity behind the numbers.
October 25, 2016
October 24, 2016
Julie Burchill wonders why we enshrine in law the repulsive notion that some lives are more important than others:
I’ve always been somewhat bemused by the concept of ‘hate crime’ – a phrase which first came into use in the US in the 1980s and into practice in the UK in 1998. I must say that the idea that it is somehow worse to beat up or kill someone because you object to their race or religion, than because you’re a nasty piece of work who felt like beating up or killing someone, strikes me as quite extraordinary – hateful, even, implying that some lives are worth more than others. Are we not all human, do we not all bleed? If we’re murdered, do not those who love us grieve for us equally? Why, then, are attacks on some thought to be worse than attacks on others? Indeed, the book Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics claims that hate crime legislation may exacerbate conflict, upholding the idea that crimes are committed by members of groups rather than by individuals, thereby inflaming intolerance between different ethnic communities.
Nevertheless, in a dark twist on Alice In Wonderland’s all-must-have-prizes shtick, gay people were added soon afterwards. Then, obviously realising that it was somewhat stupid to deem an attack on a big strapping man who was more than capable of standing up for himself worse than an attack on a frail, heterosexual OAP, the elderly were added in 2007 to the list of people who it’s especially bad to attack or kill. This being the case, quite understandably the disabled were soon eligible to be victims of hate crime, too.
It’s very easy for me to be offensive about anything, so I’ll tread very carefully here. I do think that there is something particularly vile about picking on those with far less chance of fighting back and that those who do it should be dealt with particularly harshly. On the other hand, I don’t think that ‘hate’ usually comes into attacks on the elderly and the disabled, or on children – simply the very unpleasant fact that sadists, cowards and bullies know they are easy targets. In fact, they probably like this about them.
It’s also quite hard for me to understand how those who claim, and have their champions claim, to be the most chronic and vulnerable victims of hate crimes are Muslims. If you visited this country from another planet, all the ceaseless clatter about hate crimes of the Islamophobic kind might have you believing that a brace of Muslims a week were being butchered in the street due to the sheer molten hatred of the blood-thirsty Christian community. Whereas, in fact, Islamist terrorism kills eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims. In this country, three Muslims have been killed for being Muslims over the past three years – all by other Muslims.
October 23, 2016
Published on 22 Oct 2016
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Indy is sitting int he chair of wisdom again and answers all your questions about the First World War. This week we talk about technical and tactical innovation, pals battalions and the German officers in the Ottoman Army.
October 21, 2016
Published on 20 Oct 2016
The front at Verdun has been quieter in recent weeks because the French are planing to retake all the lost ground and most importantly Fort Douaumont. Improved supplies, detailed planning and training give hope to the Poilus. The Germans on the other hand know that something is coming for them and when the morale couldn’t get much lower, the Romanians stop Erich von Falkenhayn in the Carpathians.
October 20, 2016
At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait has an interesting essay, including this discussion of the historical differences between naval and land powers (Athens and Sparta, Greece and Persia, Britain and France, etc.) and an insight into the odd growth pattern of the British empire after the introduction of steam power:
This contrast, between seafaring and land-based powers, has dominated political and military history, both ancient and modern. Conflicts like that between Athens and Sparta, and then between all of Greece and Persia, and the later conflicts between the British – before, during and since the time of the British Empire – and the succession of land-based continental powers whom we British have quarrelled with over the centuries, have shaped the entire world. Such differences in political mentality continue to matter a lot.
Throughout most of modern human history, despots could completely command the land, including all inland waterways. but they could not command the oceans nearly so completely. Wherever the resources found in the oceans or out there beyond them loomed large in the life and the economy of a country or empire, there was likely to be a certain sort of political atmosphere. In places where the land and its productivity counted for pretty much everything, and where all communications were land-based, a very different political atmosphere prevailed.
You see this contrast in the difficulties that Napoleon had when squaring up to the British, and to the British Royal Navy. Napoleon planned his land campaigns in minute detail, like a chess grandmaster, and he played most of his military chess games on a board that could be depended on to behave itself. But you couldn’t plan a sea-based campaign in this way, because the sea had a mind of its own. You couldn’t march ships across the sea the way you can march men across a parade ground, or a continent. At sea, the man on the spot had to be allowed to improvise, to have a mind of his own. He had to be able to exercise initiative, in accordance with overall strategic guidance, yes, but based on his own understanding of the particular circumstances he faced. There was no tyranny like that of the captain of a ship, when it was at sea. But sea-based powers had many ships, so navies (particularly merchant navies), by their nature dispersed power. In a true political tyranny, there can be only one tyrant.
More fundamentally, the sea provided freedom, because it provided an abundance of places to escape to, should the tyranny of a would-be tyrant become too irksome and life-threatening. Coastal communities had other sources of wealth and power besides those derived from inland, and could hide in their boats from tyrants. Drive a sea captain and his crew mad with hatred for you and for your tyrannical commands and demands, and he and his ship might just disappear over the horizon and never be seen again. Good luck trying to capture him. If you did seriously attempt this, you would need other equally strong-minded and improvisationally adept sea captains whom you had managed to keep on your side, willing to do your bidding even when they were far beyond the reach of your direct power. One way or another, your tyranny ebbed away.
Other kinds of tyranny, or the more puritanical sort, were also typically made a nonsense of by seagoing folk, whenever they enjoyed a spot of shore leave.
The development of mechanically powered ships, since Napoleon’s time, served to make the deployment of ships at sea a lot more like marching them about on a parade ground. First, the significance of the wind and its often unpredictable direction is pretty much negated. And mechanically powered ships are also, especially in the days of coal power, much more dependent upon land-based installations, the arrangement of which demanded Napoleonic logistical virtuosity. Much of late British imperial politics only makes sense if you factor in the compelling need for coaling stations to feed ships. Sailing ships don’t run out of fuel. Modern ships do.
As a specific genre, the historical novel is only about two centuries old. Historical fiction in the wider sense, though, is at least as old as the written word. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Homeric poems, the narrative books of the Old Testament, Beowulf — the earliest literature of every people is historical fiction. The past is interesting. It’s glamorous and exciting. Perspective allows us to forget that the past, like the present, was mostly long patches of boredom or anxiety, mixed in with occasional moments of catastrophe or bliss. Above all, it’s about us.
Have you ever stared at old family pictures, and had the feeling that you were looking into a mirror? I have a photograph of a great uncle, who was an old man before I was born. I never knew him well. But in that picture, taken when he was about fifteen, he has my ears and eyes, and he’s hugging himself and looking just as complacent as I often do. I have a picture of one of my grandmothers, taken about the year 1916 — she’s photographed against a background of flags and Dreadnoughts. She looks astonishingly like my daughter. It’s only natural that I want to know about them. I want to know what they were thinking and doing, and I want to know about their general circumstances.
For most people, even now, family history comes to a dead end about three generations back. But we are also members of nations, and what we can’t know about our immediate ancestors we want to know about our ancestors in general. You can take the here and now just as it is. But the moment you start asking why things are as they are, you have to investigate the past.
Why do men wear collars and ties and jackets with buttons that often don’t and can’t do up? It’s because our own formal clothing stands in a direct line from the English and French court dress of the late 17th century. Why do we talk of “toeing the line?” It’s because in 19th century state schools, children would have to stand on a chalked line to read to the class. Why does the British fiscal year for individuals start on the 6th April? It’s because, until 1752, we used the Julian Calendar, which was eleven days behind the more accurate Gregorian Calendar; and the first day of the year was the 25th March. Lord Chesterfield’s Act standardised us with Scotland and much of Europe, and moved the first day of the year back to January — but the fiscal year, adjusted for the new calendar, was left unchanged.
Why was Ireland, until recently, so devoutly Catholic? Because the Catholic Church was the one great institution of Irish life that could be neither abolished nor co-opted by their British rulers. Why is the Church losing its hold? Because it is no longer needed for its old purpose. The child sex scandals are only a secondary cause. History tells us who we are. We may feel trapped by it. We may glory in it. We can’t ignore it.
Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake, 7th March 2014”, 2014-03-07.
October 19, 2016
Published on 18 Oct 2016
So I’m about to do an HMS Belfast video when Wargaming contact me and say “Hey, we gave you all the RN Light Cruisers again, your video can go up tomorrow and the whole thing goes live in two days. Any questions?”
TWO DAYS! YOU’RE KILLING ME HERE!
Yeah, I know, first world problems. Here’s the Royal Navy light cruiser line in general, and the premium tier 7 cruiser HMS Belfast in particular. THEY’RE AWESOME!
The Naval Hymn performed by the US Navy Band Chanters
October 18, 2016
Published on 17 Oct 2016
Check out http://audible.com/thegreatwar for a free trial and a free audiobook from the great selection that Audible has to offer.
This episodes contains images that are orphaned works for which the copyright holder is not known.
The Battle for Lake Tanganyika in German East Africa was one of the most bizarre battles of World War 1. It only really started once the Royal Navy had carried two boats through the jungle and the mountains from Capetown. Their names: Mimi and Toutou. Their commander: Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, probably the weirdest high ranking officer in the entire war.
October 17, 2016
At Samizdata, a look at a new book covering the Islamic communities of Britain:
In the book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, the author – a BBC radio producer (boo, hiss) – attempts to provide an overview of the various strands of Islam in the UK. Her aim is not to tell us what to think but simply to provide the facts – what are they called? how many of them are there? where so they come from? what do they believe? etc. It is up to us, the readers, to draw conclusions.
Along the way there are a number of surprises. One of them is how different Islam is from Christianity. You would expect them to be rather similar given that they are both book-based, mono-theistic religions that revere both Abraham and Christ. Not a bit of it.
For example, in Christianity there is usually a close relationship between denomination and building. In Islam (at least in the UK) it is far more vague. A sect might be said to be “in control” of a mosque, the implication being that that control is temporary and could be lost. Many influential Muslim organisations such as Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami have no mosques at all or very few.
Another is that the largest two sects in the UK are the Deobandis and Barelwis. No, I’d never heard of them either. For the record they are both Sunni (one definitely Sufi the other arguably so) and both originated in British India. It is worth pointing out that for the most part Bowen focuses on Sunni Islam but that is hardly surprising given that Sunnis vastly outnumber Shi’ites both globally and in the UK.
Another is that interest in Islam seems to be a second-generation thing. The first generation brought their Islam with them but seem to have regarded it as something they did rather than thought about. The second generation are much more inclined to read the Koran, take it seriously and ask questions. Even so, the most influential Islamic thinkers still tend to be based abroad.
I said earlier that it is left up to the reader to draw his own conclusions. So what does this reader conclude? Well, my biggest takeaway was that despite there being many strands of Islam and many weird and wonderful doctrinal disputes within Islam, there is no “good” Islam. The best you get is “less awful” Islam.
October 16, 2016
Published on 15 Oct 2016
Indy is answering your questions about the First World War again. This time we talk about:
– soldiers wearing glasses
– the different industrial centres of the major nations
– generals leading from the frontline and from the rear
October 15, 2016
Marmite, an almost uniquely British product, is in the headlines this week over an attempt by manufacturer Unilever to jack up prices due to the drop in the pound against the Euro. As Tim Worstall points out, this is not in any way justified because all of the inputs to the product are produced in the UK (that is, the input prices have not significantly changed regardless of how the pound is doing in terms of the Euro exchange rate):
Personally I love the stuff but even in Britain that puts me in a distinct minority.
The other amusement though comes from the action itself. For what Unilever is doing here is what we in Britain refer to, colloquially, as “taking the piss.”
Yesterday, the implications of the pound’s fall on prices and retailer margins hit home for the wider public as the country’s leading supermarket engaged in a war over prices with its highest-profile supplier of branded goods.
Either UK consumers will eat store-branded yeast extract, or they’ll pay more for Marmite, or the impact of the pound’s fall will be shared between supplier and retailer.
This is superficially plausible. Britain imports some 40% of its food and as a result of the Brexit vote the pound has fallen against other currencies. We would therefore expect to see some price rises in food items. Obviously in those imported that have to be paid for in that more expensive foreign funny money. But also in certain domestic foods which substitute for those foreign ones. So, for example, if foreign chicken rises in price then so too will British chicken as demand for it rises–people will substitute away from the more expensive foreign muck to the purer and more delightful domestic production.
However, this really doesn’t hold for Marmite.
Consumer goods giant Unilever has been accused of ‘exploiting’ British shoppers by withdrawing more than 200 much-loved products from Tesco after the supermarket refused to agree to its 10 per cent price hike. Critics claim the world’s largest consumer goods manufacturer, which makes an estimated £2billion profit a year, is ‘using Brexit as an excuse to raise prices’. The Anglo-Dutch firm, which heavily campaigned against Brexit, claims it has been forced to increase prices as a result of the falling value of the pound in the wake of the referendum.
The reason it doesn’t hold for Marmite is because it is not imported and nor are any close substitutes in any volume. Thus Unilever’s costs have not gone up in any manner at all over this. Quite the contrary in fact, the only flow, other than trivial amounts of Vegemite an Australian version of a similar thing, is of Marmite out of the UK. Meaning that Unilever’s profits on Marmite exports have risen as a result of the pound’s fall. Their costs, revenues and margins in sterling are exactly what they were for domestic sales before that slump in the pound.
The row is said to have developed when Unilever – which says it faces higher costs because of the fall in sterling – attempted to increase wholesale prices.
It’s simply not true thus the micturation extraction.
Some years ago, the liberal writer Michael Kinsley described the different attitudes to free speech in the U.K. and the U.S. as follows: “In a country like Great Britain, the legal protections for speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.”
Today, both sorts of protection for speech — legal and social — are weaker than before in both countries. This year, official regulation of the press was passed into U.K. law for the first time since 18th-century juries nullified press prosecutions. These new restraints enjoyed the backing not just of all the parties but apparently of the public as well.
In the U.S., the case of Mann v. Steyn, let alone a hypothetical case involving Quran-burning, has yet to be decided. But Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive” — which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.
The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 14, 2016
Published on Oct 13, 2016
While the 7th Battle of the Isonzo River was still raging, Italian chief of staff Luigi Cadorna was already planning the 8th. The war of attrition was going in his favour even though the Italian losses began to mount too. But how long could Austria-Hungary keep up against the constant pressure?
October 12, 2016
… we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
When one looks at the all-prevailing schizophrenia of democratic societies, the lies that have to be told for vote-catching purposes, the silence about major issues, the distortions of the press, it is tempting to believe that in totalitarian countries there is less humbug, more facing of the facts. There, at least, the ruling groups are not dependent on popular favour and can utter the truth crudely and brutally. Goering could say ‘Guns before butter’, while his democratic opposite numbers had to wrap the same sentiment up in hundreds of hypocritical words.
Actually, however, the avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else, and propaganda posters showed Russian families sitting down to abundant meal while the proletariat of other countries starved in the gutter. Meanwhile the workers in the western countries were so much better off than those of the U.S.S.R. that non-contact between Soviet citizens and outsiders had to be a guiding principle of policy. Then, as a result of the war, millions of ordinary Russians penetrated far into Europe, and when they return home the original avoidance of reality will inevitably be paid for in frictions of various kinds. The Germans and the Japanese lost the war quite largely because their rulers were unable to see facts which were plain to any dispassionate eye.
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one’s subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one’s thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one’s political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.
George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose”, Tribune, 1946-03-22.
October 11, 2016
Published on 10 Oct 2016
One of Indy’s favourite historical characters is actually King Zog of Albania. History’s heaviest smoker and probably the only monarch to pull out his gun and shoot at his own assassins. But King Zog is not the only reason why the story of Albania before and during World War 1 is so fascinating and complicated.