November 26, 2015

Tom Kratman’s “Dear Russia” letter

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tom Kratman looks at what is known about the Turkish military’s attack on a Russian aircraft earlier this week:

Firstly, my condolences on the recent murder of your two pilots. While one might argue that shooting descending parachutists (as opposed to paratroopers) would be permissible in some circumstances, as when there is no reasonable possibility of capture, in this case there was such a possibility. Obviously, you’ll want revenge. I – and I think most Americans, at least such as are not in favor of a large and viciously fundamentalist Islamic state in the Middle East – understand and, generally speaking, approve of things like that, where called for. The situation, however, is more complex than that. Because of that complexity, I strongly encourage you to dispense with emotion, to the utmost of your ability, and reason carefully before acting.

I can’t offer condolences on the initial shoot down of your Sukhoi-24, because I really don’t know what happened. If it drifted into Turkish airspace, and the Turks shot it down, even if they pursued it out of Turkish airspace…well, you’re in an unenviable moral position to complain about any of that, given the conduct your predecessor in interest, the USSR, with regard to KAL 007. If, however, it never violated Turkish airspace, and the Turks crossed over to attack it, you may well have a casus belli against Turkey.

If the Turks are offering war I strongly advise you to decline the invitation. They are very nearly a peer competitor, having similarly sized armed forces, quite possibly better trained, an economy almost as strong as your own, and likely rather stronger when you count out export of raw materials. They’re not as technologically sophisticated as you are, but they have friends who are more so. And you just wouldn’t believe the long-standing love affair between the US Army and the Turkish Army, based on their performance in Korea in the early fifties.


A little aside is in order at this point. I’m not really so concerned about the incident that just took place, with one of your planes shot down by the Turks, and the ejected pilots murdered on the way down. What’s really bugging me is the almost instantaneous assumption of people over here that this was the first set of shots in World War V, World War III having been the Cold War, and World War IV the on-again, off-again, fiasco with the Islamics. On its own, this should not be capable of doing that. Add in paranoia, self-fulfilling prophecy, idiotic foreign policy on many fronts, from many fonts, a fairly inscrutable Turkey…I’m a little concerned that things might spiral out of control.


Earlier in this missive I said I don’t know what happened. Nonetheless, here’s what I think happened. I think that Sukhoi was on a strike mission against the Turkmen Brigades in Syria. I think you’ve been occasionally bombing the crap out of the Turkmen Brigades in Syria for a while now. That would tend to explain the vindictiveness of the folks on the ground who shot at your descending pilots. I think because of that bombing, the Turks, or at least one of the Turks, north of the border decided to help his or their close cousins in Syria. I think it made not a bit of difference whether or not you crossed the border; the Turks wanted to set an example and instill a little fear and friction on you, so would have crossed themselves even if you hadn’t. I suspect the order to do this came from the highest levels in Turkey, probably Erdogan, himself.

No, that doesn’t mean that whipping out the Polonium 210 dispensers would be a good idea.

Britain’s latest military and strategic five-year plan

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Back in 2010, the British government published the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which I joked should properly have been called the “Slashing Damage to Strategic Resources” plan. Back then, the strategic picture was fairly undisturbed with no obvious rising threats, but the economy was still in bad shape. That meant that the RN, RAF, and the army had to cut, cut, cut (and cut some more). The next version of that document has just been published and this time it’s been joined to the National Security Strategy in a single document. Patrick Bury looks at how things have changed from SDSR 2010 to the new NSSSDSR 2015:

On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled Britain’s new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review in the House of Commons. It marked the first time the United Kingdom has undertaken a review of its strategy and security within the new five-year schedule. This edition is also notable in that it combines the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which were previously two separate documents. True to its name, the NSS outlines the perceived threats to Britain and its vision for dealing with them, while the SDSR details how the armed forces are configured to execute this vision.

These developments point to a realization in the United Kingdom that it must be more flexible and responsive in terms of setting strategy and defense priorities. After introducing the NSS in 2010 in the wake of criticism that Britain “couldn’t do strategy,” the Conservative government clearly feels it now makes sense to present both policies in a single document. Similarly, the overarching tone of the document is one of internationality. Britain clearly believes it will be working with the United States and France especially closely in the future. But what is inside, and what does it mean?

The NSS related-chapters outline the usual myriad of threats commonly listed in the post-Cold War era. Based on the security services’ National Security Risk Assessment, these threats are then classed into tiers. Tier One risks are the highest priority based on high likelihood and/or high impact. Reflecting the impact of threats and hazards, and the development of risks since 2010, the latest assessment includes a greater number of Tier One risks than in 2012. These are listed in order as terrorism, cyber, international military conflict (rising since 2010), instability overseas (Tier Two in 2010), public health (a new addition), and natural disasters. Interestingly, the general erosion of international order and resulting chaos also makes a more significant appearance.

Here’s the quick overview of what is promised this time around:

UK SDSR 2015 summary

One area that looks concerning is that the British government appears to be considering replicating the Canadian experiment with merging the military services into a “unified” structure:

Tying all these developments together, this SDSR is notable for its underlying shift towards viewing Britain’s smaller services as a single force, as unveiled in the new Joint Force 2025. Over the next decade, the core of the Joint Force will be based around an expeditionary force of around 50,000 (compared with around 30,000 planned in 2010’s Future Force 2020) and is set to include a new F-35 equipped aircraft carrier, “a land division with three brigades including a new Strike Force; an air group of combat, transport and surveillance aircraft,” and a special forces task group. Of course, the Whole Force concept underpins jointness, but one gets the sense that future SDSRs may well pave the way for the merging of all three services into one force in the name of flexibility and in the search for efficiencies. Another interesting nuance was the primacy of special forces in the document – above that of the Royal Navy which is the senior service – perhaps an indication of why the government is investing an extra £2 billion ($3 billion) in its equipment as well. The number of staff at GCHQ (the signal-intelligence agency), MI5 and MI6 (the domestic and foreign intelligence services) is to also increase by 1,900.

Despite this SDSR unveiling the first major investment, rather than reductions, in the United Kingdom’s security forces for about 25 years, there are a number of noticeable gaps. The first concerns its people. The army remains at its smallest size since the Napoleonic era; recruitment and retention is a problem across British defense; and it remains to be seen if the government’s Spending Review released tomorrow will better the terms and conditions of service. Without the right people in the right place, all the fancy kit in the world is not much use. The message is also clear that rapid-reaction forces are in fashion, and boots on the ground and long-term counter-insurgency operations are out, at least for now. The now bit is important: with a lot of these investments and the Joint Force structure not scheduled for delivery for ten years, there is plenty of scope to adjust or change course entirely between now and then. Which is exactly how the Brits do long-term strategy. Nevertheless, this SDSR is clearly intended to show that Britain wants to remain in the top tier of international powers over the coming decade.

November 24, 2015

German Rifles of World War 1 feat. Othais from C&Rsenal I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 23 Nov 2015

The next live stream about the Austro-Hungarian rifles and pistols of WW1 will be next Sunday!

Indy and Flo sat down for one of our live streams about historical firearms again. Othais from C&Rsenal explained the various German rifles and pistols of the First World War. Among them of course the famous Gewehr 98 from Mauser and its predecessor, the Gewehr 88. In our next episode we will also have a look at the iconic German pistols such as the Reichsrevolver or the Mauser C96.

November 22, 2015

What was the German Secret on the Eastern Front in 1915? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 21 Nov 2015

Indy sits int he chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This time we are explaining the secret to the German success on the Eastern Front in 1915, who Eugene Bullard was and how pilots would navigate.

QotD: Bargaining in Germany

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.

“It doesn’t do,” said the little Englishman, “to try and beat a German down. They don’t seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: ‘Twenty-five marks,’ and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty — one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me ‘Where?’ I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn’t. I said:

“‘What’s the least you will take for it?’

“‘I have told you once,’ he answered; ‘twenty-five marks.’ He was an irritable old chap.

“I said: ‘It’s not worth it.’

“‘I never said it was, did I?’ he snapped.

“I said: ‘I’ll give you ten marks for it.’ I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.

“He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.

“Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks,” I suggested.

“Of course it was,” he replied; “well worth it. But what a notion of business!”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 21, 2015

This is just creepy – post-mortem photography of the Victorian era

Filed under: Europe, History, Technology, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Open Culture on the thankfully brief popularity of post-mortem photography (photos of the recently deceased as if they were merely sleeping):

The 19th century witnessed the birth of photography. And, before too long, Victorian society found important applications for the new medium — like memorializing the dead. A recent post on a Dutch version of National Geographic notes that “Photographing deceased family members just before their burial was enormously popular in certain Victorian circles in Europe and the United States. Although adults were also photographed, it was mainly children who were commemorated in this way. In a period plagued by unprecedented levels of infant mortality, post-mortem pictures often provided the only tangible memory of the deceased child.”


November 20, 2015

The Forgotten Front – World War 1 in Libya I THE GREAT WAR – Week 69

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 Nov 2015

12 war zones were not enough for this global war and this week an often forgotten theatre of war opens in Libya. Local Arab tribesmen fight against the British in guerrilla war. As if the Italians did not have enough problems at the Isonzo Front where Luigi Cardona is still sending his men into certain death against the Austrian defences. The situation for the Serbs is grim too and on the Western Front the carnage continues unchanged.

November 18, 2015

Adam Smith – The Inventor of Market Economy I THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Feb 2015

Adam Smith was one of the first men who explored economic connections in England and made clear, in a time when Mercantilism reigned, that the demands of the market should determine the economy and not the state. In his books Smith was a strong advocator of the free market economy. Today we give you the biography of the man behind the classic economic liberalism and how his ideas would change the world forever.

November 17, 2015

Beyond Wires and Pigeons – Communications in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 Nov 2015

If one thing was vital to the the new kind of modern warfare in the First World War, it was communications. The Industrial Revolution had brought wireless transmission of signals with it and the huge armies of World War 1 needed to be in contact constantly to be successful in the field. In this special episode we introduce you to the birth hour of modern military communication and signals.

November 16, 2015

Accepting the truth in the wake of the Paris attacks

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Douglas Murray on the slow, unwilling movement toward accepting the true reasons for anti-Western violence like the Paris terror attacks:

The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.

In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. It was what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris in January. And it is all that most politicians will be able to come out with again after the latest atrocities in Paris.

All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.

If politicians are so worried about this secondary ‘backlash’ problem then they would do well to remind us not to blame the jihadists’ actions on our peaceful compatriots and then deal with the primary problem — radical Islam — in order that no secondary, reactionary problem will ever grow.

Yet today our political class fuels both cause and nascent effect. Because the truth is there for all to see. To claim that people who punish people by killing them for blaspheming Islam while shouting ‘Allah is greatest’ has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ is madness. Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless.

Theodore Dalrymple expresses a bit of sympathy for the politicians who must say something in the wake of atrocities:

One has to pity — a little — politicians obliged to react publicly to events such as those on November 13 in Paris. They can’t pass over them in silence: but what can they say that does not sound banal, hollow and obvious? They can only get it wrong, not right.

That does not excuse inexactitude and evasion, however. French president François Hollande called the attacks cowardly, but if there was one thing the attackers were not (alas, if only they had been), it was cowardly. They were evil, their ideas were deeply stupid, and they were brutal: but a man who knows that he is going to die in committing an act, no matter how atrocious, is not a coward. With the accuracy of a drone, the president honed in on the one vice that the attackers did not manifest. This establishes that bravery is not by itself a virtue, that in order for it to be a virtue it has to be exercised in pursuit of a worthwhile goal. To quote an eminent countryman of the president, Pascal: Travaillons, donc, à bien penser: voilà le principe de la morale. Let us labor, then, to think clearly: that is the principle of morality.

President Obama was not much better. He made reference in his statement to “the values we all share.” Either he was using the word “we” in some coded fashion, in spite of having just referred to the whole of humanity, or he failed to notice that the attacks were the direct consequence of the obvious fact that we — that is to say the whole of humanity — do not share the same values. If we shared the same values, politics would be reduced to arguments about administration.

Who Laid The Barbed Wire In No Man’s Land? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 14 Nov 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions. This time we tell you how the barbed wire was laid in No Man’s Land and what fate Luxembourg had in World War 1.

November 15, 2015

QotD: Shopping in Germany

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The shopkeeper in Germany does not fawn upon his customers. I accompanied an English lady once on a shopping excursion in Munich. She had been accustomed to shopping in London and New York, and she grumbled at everything the man showed her. It was not that she was really dissatisfied; this was her method. She explained that she could get most things cheaper and better elsewhere; not that she really thought she could, merely she held it good for the shopkeeper to say this. She told him that his stock lacked taste — she did not mean to be offensive; as I have explained, it was her method; — that there was no variety about it; that it was not up to date; that it was commonplace; that it looked as if it would not wear. He did not argue with her; he did not contradict her. He put the things back into their respective boxes, replaced the boxes on their respective shelves, walked into the little parlour behind the shop, and closed the door.

“Isn’t he ever coming back?” asked the lady, after a couple of minutes had elapsed.

Her tone did not imply a question, so much as an exclamation of mere impatience.

“I doubt it,” I replied.

“Why not?” she asked, much astonished.

“I expect,” I answered, “you have bored him. In all probability he is at this moment behind that door smoking a pipe and reading the paper.”

“What an extraordinary shopkeeper!” said my friend, as she gathered her parcels together and indignantly walked out.

“It is their way,” I explained. “There are the goods; if you want them, you can have them. If you do not want them, they would almost rather that you did not come and talk about them.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 13, 2015

Serbia’s Last Stand Against The Central Powers I THE GREAT WAR – Week 68

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 12 Nov 2015

Serbia’s Army cannot hold out much longer against the invasion of the Central Powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria are relentlessly pushing forward through the Balkan country. The French are trying to help from the south but a river proves to be an obstacle they cannot overcome. In the Alps, the 4th Battle of the Isonzo starts one week after the 3rd had failed and in West Africa, the Battle of Banjo takes place as one of the last battles of the German colony Kamerun (Cameroon).

Helmut Schmidt, RIP

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren remembers the former German chancellor:

Helmut Schmidt was a highly unusual politician: “intelligent, honest, candid, decent,” as described by old colleagues in Germany; and a smoker, as everyone noticed. This last was important. He smoked everywhere, paying no attention to Nicht Rauchen signs, right up to the day before yesterday. (Literally.) It was part of his charm, a way to signal that he did not care for anyone’s opinion. It was not the occasional cigarette; witnesses, including television audiences, calculated that he lit another every seven minutes.


The Germans are notoriously a disciplined, rule-bound people. But they hate themselves for it, and they loved Helmut Schmidt. There were polls to show, right up to his death, that he remained the country’s most popular politician, even if few wanted him back in office again. They always wanted to hear, however, what he had to say. And to watch the way he said it: like a captain. He could enchant foreign audiences, too, but especially German ones, by being so un-German. But of course he was from Hamburg, the ancient Free and Hanseatic City, which is full of un-German types.

His manner was commendable. People would come to him with some policy matter they thought he must urgently address, and he would say, “That doesn’t interest me.” Then change the subject to something more amenable.

From what I gather, he was miscast as the equivalent of a prime minister. He would have been entirely acceptable as a kind of “constitutional” Holy Roman Emperor; powerless, but constantly telling the merely departmental figures what’s what. It is unfortunate that the office has lapsed; I think Schmidt would have enjoyed it.

The next best thing was writing for Die Zeit. This wonderful post-war German institution is a fat, weekly broadsheet. When displaced from federal office he bought a stake in it, and held court from there as one of the co-editors. Since adolescence, when I could almost read German, I have been trying to follow it. The articles are long, both serious and light, and the attitude is like Schmidt’s: Social Democrat, technically, but against almost everything the Left stands for. And a shameless bastion of pro-Americanism.


A “progressive,” I suppose, but according to the tenets of another generation; the German equivalent of my father, in some ways, who was a “liberal” in the 1950s sense, which is to say, free markets and total opposition to Communism. Who wanted a “social safety net” for the hard cases, but hardly a Kafkaesque welfare state for all. Too, a form of “open-minded” tolerance for what the kids get up to; but nothing like what we tolerate today.

The Making Of Thunderbirds

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Jan 2014

Thunderbirds Documentary. Step into the twisted mind of Gerry Anderson, and see how he makes Thunderbirds. F.A.B. A favorite show from my childhood with more information than I ever wanted.

H/T to The Arts Mechanical for the link.

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