Published on 26 Feb 2015
To break up the stalemate and get a decisive advantage, France and Great Britain open up yet another theatre of war in the Dardanelles. The plan is to seize the strait and open eventually open up the Bosporus in order to ship supplies to the Eastern and Balkan front. And so begins the naval bombardment of ottoman forts as prelude to a big offensive which will we know to today as Gallipoli.
February 27, 2015
February 23, 2015
Q: Why did people join the First Crusade?
A: The most common answer in Crusade scholarship — and you can tell I’m not going to accept it — is that the goal was penance and the opportunity to have sins forgiven. That’s not quite enough for me, because whenever we’re able to get as close as we can to knowing medieval warriors it looks like they’re not nearly as concerned with sin and penance and forgiveness as we would expect them to be. The king of France at the time of the Crusade was actually excommunicated because he was in a bigamist marriage. The pope excommunicated him, and he didn’t seem to care.
What I tried to emphasize in my book was that there was a real sense of prophetic mission among a lot of people who answered this call for Crusade. You can’t have a normal war for Jerusalem. That seems to me as true today as it would have been in the 11th century. Jerusalem, from the medieval Christian perspective, was both a city on earth and a city of heaven, and these two places were linked. The idea that the Jerusalem on earth was being dominated by an unbelieving, infidel — in their terminology “pagan” — group was unacceptable. The rhetoric that was associated with the people holding Jerusalem is pretty shocking: Christian men are being circumcised in baptismal fonts, and the blood is being collected! They’re yanking people’s innards out by their belly buttons! This is not normal talk. Hatreds and passions were stirred up. The heart of it, and why it was so successful, was that the call to Jerusalem was felt so strongly.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
February 21, 2015
Mark Steyn has read some history:
Before the civil war, Beirut was known as “the Paris of the east”. Then things got worse. As worse and worser as they got, however, it was not in-your-face genocidal, with regular global broadcasts of mass beheadings and live immolations. In that sense, the salient difference between Lebanon then and ISIS now is the mainstreaming of depravity. Which is why the analogies don’t apply. We are moving into a world of horrors beyond analogy.
A lot of things have gotten worse. If Beirut is no longer the Paris of the east, Paris is looking a lot like the Beirut of the west — with regular, violent, murderous sectarian attacks accepted as a feature of daily life. In such a world, we could all “stand to read” a little more history. But in Nigeria, when you’re in the middle of history class, Boko Haram kick the door down, seize you and your fellow schoolgirls and sell you into sex slavery. Boko Haram “could stand to read” a little history, but their very name comes from a corruption of the word “book” — as in “books are forbidden”, reading is forbidden, learning is forbidden, history is forbidden.
Well, Nigeria… Wild and crazy country, right? Oh, I don’t know. A half-century ago, it lived under English Common Law, more or less. In 1960 Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, second Governor-General of an independent Nigeria, was the first Nigerian to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Counsel. It wasn’t Surrey, but it wasn’t savagery.
Like Lebanon, Nigeria got worse, and it’s getting worser. That’s true of a lot of places. In the Middle East, once functioning states — whether dictatorial or reasonably benign — are imploding. In Yemen, the US has just abandoned its third embassy in the region. According to the President of Tunisia, one third of the population of Libya has fled to Tunisia. That’s two million people. According to the UN, just shy of four million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. In Iraq, Christians and other minorities are forming militias because they don’t have anywhere to flee (Syria? Saudia Arabia?) and their menfolk are facing extermination and their women gang-rapes and slavery.
These people “could stand to read” a little history, too. But they don’t have time to read history because they’re too busy living it: the disintegration of post-World War Two Libya; the erasure of the Anglo-French Arabian carve-up; the extinction of some of the oldest Christian communities on earth; the metastasizing of a new, very 21st-century evil combining some of the oldest barbarisms with a cutting-edge social-media search-engine optimization strategy.
February 18, 2015
In The Atlantic, Graeme Wood discusses what the Islamic State is and where it came from so recently:
The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations — upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of — and headline player in — the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.
Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)
February 12, 2015
Strategy Page explains why Canadian military instructors in Kurdistan sometimes need to use their weapons even if they may not technically be “in combat”:
Canada has sent 625 troops (11 percent of them commandos) to train Iraqis (mainly Kurds) to more effectively fight ISIL. Canadian legislators (not to mention the media and many Canadians) insisted that these troops not be directly involved in combat. Then it became known that Canadian troops had, in the last three months, called in at least 13 air strikes on ISIL and in several instances Canadian commandos used sniper rifles to “neutralize” ISIL mortars and machine-guns. The military responded that this was not exactly involving Canadian troops in combat. Calling in air strikes is something you want to entrust to people with experience especially since Canada also has six F-18 fighter bombers operating over Iraq. Training Kurds to call in air strikes involves showing them how it is done. This is best done at the front line, and demonstrations by the more experienced Canadians is a very useful training technique.
The commandos firing on ISIL fighters was because some commandos were assigned as security for senior Kurdish commanders and Canadian advisors visiting the front lines. When the Canadians and Kurds came under fire the commandos quickly located and “neutralized” (killed or caused to flee) the ISIL men involved. Most of the critics accepted these explanations, which basically said that if you are going to train and advise combat commanders you have to spend some time near where the fighting it taking place. This is not only more realistic, but gives your trainers more credibility of your students can see their instructors in action.
February 6, 2015
Published on 5 Feb 2015
After more than 6 months of stalemate, the German Empire is playing two new cards to gain a decisive advantage. On the Eastern Front, the Germans use gas on a huge scale for the first time. While the attack fails, the foundation for gas warfare is laid. At the same time Kaiser Wilhelm II agrees to unrestricted submarine warfare – any ship can be sank at any time.
Western politicians on terrorism – “I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying”
David Warren on the fecklessness of western politicians and the utter seriousness of the terror organizations and their backers:
The response to it in the West, and particularly from the United States government, is incompetent on a scale so breathtaking that I sometimes miss my slot as a daily news pundit. (And by inviting Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress, Boehner proved himself as dumb as Obama.) What distresses me is not that characters like Obama and Kerry say “terrorism” has nothing to do with Islam. They are politicians: of course they spout drivel. Rather, I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying.
This goes beyond noticing that the terrorists cry Allahu Akbar! after every strike. To understand current events one must notice the war being fought within Islam. And this is not as hard as it might seem. It is a war between not one, but two radical factions: Shia fanatics, and Sunni fanatics.
“Al-Qaeda,” “the Caliphate,” “Hamas,” and some other groupings, though rivals for the leadership, are united in their aspirations for the Sunni side. Revolutionary Iran and its proxy Hezbollah provide the united leadership for the Shia side. Every formerly Western-allied government in the region, including that of the Wahabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, fears both sides; but they fear Iran more. And after Iran, they probably fear Turkey, which has the potential of becoming patron to the fanatic Sunnis on the analogy of Iran.
We could get into blaming Islam itself for the mess, but that won’t be necessary for today’s purpose. It is only necessary insofar as we must understand that the words Allahu Akbar are not uttered lightly, and are not insincere.
While both sides look forward to murdering us next, their attention is first focused on murdering each other. Attacks on Western targets must be understood in this context: for neither party is so naive as to think they can out-gun us, or even out-gun Israel. Moreover, many of their stunts (including video beheadings) are designed to manipulate Western public opinion — against themselves, in order to win allies within the region. The “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations in France, for instance, were a godsend to the Sunni fanatics: they triggered massive anti-Western demonstrations among less fanatic Muslims across the Middle East, and thereby magnified their claim to represent Islam.
January 26, 2015
Austin Bay looks at the risky but rewarding path of aggression and propaganda undertaken by Vladimir Putin:
Russian president Vladimir Putin made dangerous history in 2014. His invasion of Crimea and subsequent annexation of the peninsula shredded the diplomatic agreements stabilizing post-Cold War Eastern Europe.
Then Putin ignited a low-level war in Eastern Ukraine. Despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreement, Putin’s overt covert war-making continues in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has concluded that Western leaders, European and American, are weak and indecisive.
Putin, unfortunately, knows how to use specific tactics in operations designed to achieve his strategic goals.
Military analysts typically recognize three levels of conflict: the tactical, the operational and the strategic. The categories are general, and distinctions often arguable. Firing an infantry weapon, however, is a basic tactical action. Assassinating Austrian royalty with a revolver is a tactical action, but one that in 1914 had strategic effect (global war). U. S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign (1862-63) consisted of several Union military operations around Vicksburg (many unsuccessful). The campaign’s concluding operation, besieging Vicksburg, was an operational victory that gave the Union a strategic military and economic advantage: control of the Mississippi.
Putin’s Kremlin uses propaganda operations to blur its responsibility for tactical attacks in Ukraine. International propaganda frustrates Western media scrutiny of Russia’s calculated tactical combat action. Local propaganda targets Eastern Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukrainian journalist Roman Cheremsky told Radio Free Europe that despite suffering criminal bullying by pro-Russian fighters, Kremlin “disinformation” is convincing Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers that Ukrainian forces are “bloodthirsty thugs.”
Oil’s price plunge, however, has also slammed Putin, threatening the genius with political and economic problems that, if prices remain low, could erode his personal political power. Energy revenue declines do far more damage to Putin than the economic sanctions Western governments have imposed.
So what’s a brilliant, innovative, thoroughly unscrupulous and utterly amoral strategist to do?
According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”
For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.
January 25, 2015
Vox.com‘s Amanda Taub on a memorable visit for then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Britain (and yes, this one is far too good to check):
During their meeting, she gleefully recounted the story of Abdullah’s first visit to Balmoral, her castle in Scotland. It all started innocently enough, with an offer to tour the estate:
After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Prompted by his foreign minister the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah had agreed. The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, his interpreter in the seat behind.
But then, a surprising twist! The Queen herself was Abdullah’s driver:
To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not — yet — allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.
And she wasn’t just driving, she was DRIVING, leaving Abdullah a quivering wreck:
His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.
That’s right: Queen Elizabeth basically spent an afternoon using her military-grade driving skills to haze the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
H/T to Damian Brooks for the link.
January 18, 2015
David Warren had a short essay get out of hand on him the other day:
Everything is coming out of Egypt these days, just like in the Bible. The Paris demonstrations were a throwback not only to the grand gatherings of a century ago, when the masses in each European capital were demanding war, but also to the recent “Arab spring,” when the masses in Egypt and every Middle Eastern capital were demanding “democracy.” Mobs often get what they want. The best that can be said for the Jesuischarlies, is they haven’t a clew what they want, beyond making an emotional display of their own vaunted goodness.
And yet, large demonstrations are expressions of despair. They bring momentary relief in a false exhilaration: the idea that something can be done, by men; something that will not cost them vastly more than they are now paying. Verily, it is the counsel of despair. I don’t think I can provide any example from history in which mass political demonstrations did any good; only examples when they did not end as badly as they could have.
I hardly expect agreement on this point, especially on non-violent demonstrations that affirm some simple moral point, such as the wrongness of racial prejudice, or of the slaughter of unborn children. But these must necessarily politicize something which should be above politics, and cannot help bringing an element of intimidation into what must finally be communicated cor ad cor. Pressure politics change everything, such that even when the cause is indisputably elevated — the American civil rights marches of the 1960s are a good example — the effect is dubious. What came out in that case was not simply the destruction of an evil, but its replacement with new evils: welfare provisions which undermined the black family, the poison of race quotas and “reverse discrimination,” the canting and excuse-making and radical posturing that has wreaked more aggregate damage to black people — both spiritual and material — than the wicked humiliations they suffered before. (Read Thomas Sowell.)
“Be careful what you wish for.” Be mindful of what comes with that wish. Be careful whom you ask to deliver it.
January 2, 2015
Published on 1 Jan 2015
The Champagne offensive is still going on the Western Front without any side gaining a decisive advantage. In the Caucasus, Enver Pasha is showing how far he’s willing to go to achieve his goals. Against his military advisors’ recommendations, he decides to send more and more troops to Sarikamish. Without supplies and with temperatures constantly below -20 degrees, thousands of them freeze to death before even reaching the frontline. When the Russians finally encircle the Ottoman Troops, defeat is inevitable.
December 9, 2014
Scott Mendelson reviews the soon-to-open movie by Ridley Scott, and finds it awful:
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest. It hits all the major points, like checking off boxes on a list, yet tells its tale at an arms-length reserve with paper-thin characters. It is arguably a film intended for adults, with violence that makes a mockery of its PG-13 rating, yet it has far less nuance, emotional impact, and moral shading than DreamWorks Animation’s PG-rated and seemingly kid-targeted The Prince of Egypt.
The film starts with an arbitrary mass battle scene, one which serves no purpose save for having a mass battle sequence to toss into the trailers. The primary alteration to the story is the inclusion of said gratuitous action beats. The film is relentlessly grim yet oddly unemotional, which is a tricky balance to accidentally pull off. The actors (who have all done excellent work elsewhere) are all oddly miscast, and that’s not even getting to the whole “really white actors playing Egyptians” thing. Oh right, that little issue… It’s actually worse than you’ve heard.
In retrospect, it may have been better to just make a 100% white cast similar to Noah. This film instead is filled with minorities in subservient roles, be it slaves, servants, or (implied) palace sex toys. Instead of merely having a film filled with only white actors, what the film does is implicitly impose a racially-based class system, where the white characters are prestigious and/or important while the various minorities are inherently second or third-class citizens almost by virtue of their skin color. I am sure this was unintentional, but that’s the visual picture that Exodus paints.
Now to be absolutely fair, even if Exodus was cast with 100% racial/ethnic authenticity, it would still be a pretty bad motion picture. The screenplay has our poor, miscast actors speaking in various accents and in a bizarre hybrid of “ancient times period piece” English and more modern American English, which leads to lines like “From an economic standpoint alone, what you’re asking is problematic,” which is Rameses’s (Joel Edgerton) response to Moses’s initial plea to “Let my people go!”
November 10, 2014
Published on 6 Nov 2014
Three months after the outbreak of the war, another world power enters the conflict: The Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman war minister Enver Pasha, a supporter of a new Turkish self confidence, wants to gain advantages for a future Turkey by declaring war. Meanwhile, another ship of the German East Asian Squadron is surprising the Royal Navy by sinking two of their ships near Coronel, Chile. Regardless, the battles on the Eastern, Western Front and in Serbia are continuing.
November 7, 2014
On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.
But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?
We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.
And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 31, 2014
BBC News provides some information on a massive project currently underway at the British Museum:
A transgender singer hits stardom in Baghdad. Officials scramble to impose order after a Kuwaiti restaurant is found to be selling cat meat. Gulf royals on an official visit to London are left marooned in a drab south London suburb because of a shortage of hotel rooms in the West End.
These are some of the quirky stories hiding in nine miles of shelving at the British Library (BL) that hold the India Office Records — millions of documents recording Britain’s 350-year presence in the sub-continent.
The India Office did not only administer India, it also exercised colonial rule over an area stretching west as far as Aden. That’s why the files cover Persia and Arabia. And the reason the stories are coming to light is that the Qatar Foundation has paid £8.7m for nearly half a million documents relating to the Gulf to be digitised.
Work started in 2012, and many of those documents have now gone online at the Qatar National Library’s digital library portal.
Never formally part of the British Empire, the Gulf nonetheless came under colonial administration after being targeted for trade in the 17th Century by the East India Company. Two centuries later, the government established direct control through the India Office.
But principles of free academic inquiry, which guide the BL’s work, contrast with Freedom House’s assessment of Qatar as “not free”. Amnesty International called Qatar’s new cybercrimes law, passed last month, “a major setback for freedom of expression”, and Qatari writer Mohammed Al-Ajami remains in jail, serving a 15-year sentence for a poem deemed insulting to the monarch.
The BL and Qatar National Library (QNL) both hold copies of the digitised archive but Gibby’s expectation is that the portal – currently hosted by Amazon – will eventually be transferred for hosting in Qatar. That could theoretically expose material to manipulation by Qatari censors.
“That was discussed very clearly right from the beginning,” says Gibby. “Both sides made very clear to each other that there is no suggestion this will be censored. To date that has been borne out. We, the British Library, are trusting [the Qatar Foundation] and our faith is in them.”
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.