Quotulatiousness

June 9, 2017

Charles Stross provides a crib sheet for his latest Laundry novel

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As he’s done for several of his books, Charles Stross gives some interesting background on The Delirium Brief, the latest book in the Laundry series of spies-meet-H.P. Lovecraft stories:

It should be fairly obvious by now that, although initially the stories were set in the same year as publication, the Laundry universe has now dropped behind the real world calendar and diverged drastically from our own history. The Annihilation Score was set during the summer of 2013, in a UK suffering from a surplus of superheroes (or at least extradimensional brain-eater afflicted humans experiencing outbreaks of eldritch powers before their heads exploded: some of whom assumed that donning skin tight lycra and committing vigilante crimes was a sensible reaction to being parasitized). It reached a conclusive and grisly climax in the massacre at the Last Night of the Proms, an annual British cultural event; a horrible event the true nature of which was, nevertheless, suppressed and presented to the public as a terrorist incident not unlike the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002. At the end of The Annihilation Score the Laundry’s cordon of secrecy was in tatters but plausible deniability had been maintained—barely.

The Nightmare Stacks takes place in March-May 2014, and is the story of how the continually escalating threats faced by the Laundry finally overcame the agency’s ability to suppress and contain incursions without public notice, and is the first half of a two-book pivot point in the series (the ongoing consequences of the disaster in Leeds continue to the inevitable conclusion in The Delirium Brief); it’s the beginning of the tumble over the cliff-edge leading down to the Lovecraftian Singularity.

And we have a new narrative viewpoint, and sundry new protagonists showing up.

Many readers commented on the absence of Bob from The Annihilation Score and The Nightmare Stacks. Bob is back as the primary (but not the only) viewpoint in The Delirium Brief, but we’ve reached a point in the series where he has to be deployed with extreme parsimony. After fourteen years in the Laundry Bob is, despite his ongoing self-deception, not entirely human: watch what he does, not what he says. In The Rhesus Chart he walked into a nest of vampires and came out with his hair mussed but basically intact. You can’t use a guy like that routinely in an ongoing series without either sacrificing the sense of jeopardy (will our hero survive?) or escalating the threats he faces drastically. So Bob took a break for The Nightmare Stacks and was replaced by a plausible Bob 2.0 — a young PHANG called Alex Schwartz, introduced as a minor character in The Rhesus Chart.

[…]

Spoiler (for the record): The Laundryverse and the Merchant Princes multiverse do not coexist in the same fictional universe. (Who do you think I am, the elderly Robert A. Heinlein?)

May 30, 2017

The Belisarius fixation in SF&F

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jo Walton wonders why an otherwise obscure general of an otherwise obscure empire appears so often in fantasy and science fiction:

I once wrote jokingly here that there are only three plots, and they are Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and Belisarius, because those are the ones everyone keeps on reusing.

There is a conference in Uppsala in Sweden the weekend before the Helsinki Worldcon called “Reception Histories of the Future” which is about the use of Byzantium in science fiction. The moment I heard of it, I immediately started thinking about our obsessive reuse of the story of Belisarius. (I’m going. Lots of other writers are going. If you’re heading to Helsinki, it’s on your way, and you should come too!)

It’s strange that science fiction and fantasy are obsessed with retelling the story of Belisarius, when the mainstream world isn’t particularly interested. Robert Graves wrote a historical novel about him in 1938, Count Belisarius, and there’s Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter (1987), but not much else. Whereas in genre, we’ve had the story of Belisarius retold by Guy Gavriel Kay, David Drake (twice) and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and used by L. Sprague de Camp, John M. Ford, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Asimov. So what is it about this bit of history that makes everyone from Asimov to Yarbro use it? And how is it that the only place you’re likely to have come across it is SF?

First, let’s briefly review the story. First Rome was a huge unstoppable powerful indivisible empire. Then Rome divided into East and West, with the Eastern capital at Constantinople. Then the Western half fell to barbarians, while the Eastern half limped on for another millennium before falling to the Ottoman conqueror Mehmed II in 1453. We call the eastern half Byzantium, but they went right on calling themselves the Roman Empire, right up to the last minute. But long before that, in the sixth century, at the exact same time as the historical Arthur (if there was an Arthur) was trying to save something from the shreds of Roman civilization in Britain, Justinian (482-565) became emperor in Constantinople and tried to reunite the Roman Empire. He put his uncle on the throne, then followed him. He married an actress, the daughter of an animal trainer, some say a prostitute, called Theodora. He has a loyal general called Belisarius. He built the great church of Hagia Sophia. He withstood a giant city riot in the hippodrome, the great chariot-racing stadium, by having Belisarius’s soldiers massacre a huge number of people. He wrote a law code that remained the standard law code everywhere in Europe until Napoleon. And Belisarius reconquered really quite large chunks of the Roman Empire for him, including Rome itself. At the height of his success he was recalled to Rome and fired because Justinian was jealous. Belisarius had a huge army and could have taken the throne for himself, which was typical of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, but he was loyal and let Justinian fire him. This is all happening at a time of Christian schism and squabbling about heresy between different sects.

While I’d quibble about her thumbnail sketch a bit, there’s more than enough there to fuel dozens of alt-history, fantasy, or science fiction novels … the fiction couldn’t be much more difficult to swallow than the reality. My first contact with the story of Belisarius was indeed the Robert Graves novel (which I still heartily recommend). I imagine that was true for most of the authors listed above.

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

April 15, 2015

Operation Sealion, wargamed by some of the original commanders

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

Strategy Page has a great summary of the German plan to invade Britain and the most likely outcome if the invasion had ever been attempted:

Operation Sealion, or, in the original German Unternehmen Seelöwe, is one of the most famous “what ifs” of the Twentieth Century.

On July 16, 1940, following the collapse of France, the Dunkerque evacuation, and the rejection of his peace overtures, Adolf Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 16, which initiated preparations for an invasion of Britain. At the time, it seemed to many that if Hitler had tried an offensive across the English Channel a defenseless Britain would inevitably fall. But was it so? What were Hitler’s chances?

In 1973 historian Paddy Griffith, just beginning his career as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, decided to evaluate the chances of a successful German invasion of Britain by using a wargame.

Organization. Griffith’s wargame was much more than a board with a set of counters, a rule booklet, and some dice. It was a massive multiplayer game, which Griffith later wrote about in Sprawling Wargames. Based on traditional kriegsspiel methodology, the game involved several dozen players and umpires, all isolated from each other except by means of simulated signaling. Many of the players and umpires were veterans of the war from both sides. Among them were former wartime senior German officers such as Luftwaffe fighter Generalleutnant Adolf Galland and Kriegsmarine Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as several men from both sides who had been lower ranking offices and later risen higher, including Christopher Foxley-Norris, who had commanded a fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain and rose to air chief marshal, Sir Edward Gueritz, a junior naval officer at the time who became a rear admiral, Heinz Trettner, who had served on the staff of the German airborne forces in 1940, rose to command a parachute division by war’s end, and later served as Inspector General of the post-war German air force, and Glyn Gilbert, a junior officer in one of the defending infantry battalions in 1941, who later rose to major general.

Each side was given the same forces, operational plans, and intelligence as it had in 1940. The game was based on the assumption that the Luftwaffe had still not won the battle for air supremacy over the Channel and southern England by the time the landings were scheduled to take place, in early September, which was in fact the case. The intelligence picture greatly favored the British, who had proven much better at securing information about the enemy’s plans and force than the Germans had on their own.

There’s even a mention of the (significant) Canadian contribution to the defence of Britain after Dunkirk:

The defending forces included the 1st Canadian Division (the most well-prepared division available, full strength and fully equipped, though without combat experience), plus the less-well prepared 2nd Canadian division and partial divisions from Australia and New Zealand.

Although I haven’t read Griffith’s book, my other readings on the subject align with the eventual outcome of the wargame:

Following the game the participants took part in a general analysis. Some interesting observations and conclusions were made. The British GHQ mobile reserve had not been engaged at all. In addition, casualties to the Royal Navy had been serious, but hardly devastating; of about 90 destroyers on hand, only five had been sunk and six seriously damaged, and only three of the three dozen cruisers had been lost, and three more heavily damaged.

Compare that to the actual Royal Navy losses during the evacuation of Crete — with little to no air support from the RAF, due to extreme distance from friendly airbases:

Attacks by German planes, mainly Ju-87s and Ju-88s, destroyed three British cruisers (HMS Gloucester, Fiji, and Calcutta) and three destroyers (HMS Kelly, Greyhound and Kashmir) between 22 May and 1 June. Italian bombers from 41 Gruppo sank one destroyer (Juno on 21 May and damaged another destroyer (Imperial) on 28 May beyond repair. The British were also forced to scuttle another destroyer (Hereward) on 29 May, that had been seriously damaged by German aircraft, and abandoned when Italian motor torpedo boats approached to deliver the coup de grâce.

Damage to the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, the battleships HMS Warspite and Barham, the cruisers HMS Ajax, Dido, Orion, and HMAS Perth, the submarine HMS Rover, the destroyers HMS Kelvin and Nubian, kept these ships out of action for months. While at anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, the heavy cruiser HMS York was badly damaged by Italian explosive motor boats and beached on 26 March 1941. She was later wrecked by demolition charges and abandoned when Crete was evacuated in May. By 1 June the effective eastern Mediterranean strength of the Royal Navy had been reduced to two battleships and three cruisers to oppose the four battleships and eleven cruisers of the Italian Navy

And back to the Operation Sealion summary from Strategy Page:

All participants, German as well as British, agreed that the outcome was an accurate assessment of the probable result of an actual invasion.

Oddly, the Sandhurst wargame was designed on the basis of inaccurate information. Some time after the game, additional hitherto secret documents came to light, which revealed that the Germans probably had even less chance of success than they did in game. At the time the game was designed, the true extent of British “stay behind” forces, intended to conduct guerrilla operations in the rear of the invasion forces, and the sheer scale of defensive installations that had been erected across southern England in anticipation of an invasion were still classified; there were some 28,000 pill boxes, coastal batteries, strong points, blockhouses, anti-aircraft sites, and some other installations.

So assuming Hitler had for a time been serious about invading England, his decision to call it off was probably wise.

October 29, 2014

Charles Stross – Communist and post-communist Britain, history that didn’t happen

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

Charles Stross wanders in a Britain of today in a world where Stalin won World War 2, taking all of western Europe into the control of the Soviet Union in the early 1940s:

Here’s a brief thought-experiment for you: imagine what the UK would look like today if the outcome of the second world war had taken a left turn early in 1940, and the whole of western Europe somehow ended up under Soviet control by 1946. (No nuclear weapons or gas attacks need apply: this speculation is about outcomes, not processes — so discussion of precisely how the British People’s Democratic Republic comes about is left as an exercise for the reader (and is not to be explored in comments)).

Let us further postulate that Stalinism passes with its creator, much as happened in our own experience of history: that the Soviet empire eventually undergoes the same fiscal crisis and collapse (alternative discussion of the same process by a former Soviet minister — you can forget the urban legend that Ronald Reagan did it) much as we remember, except possibly somewhat later — as late as the early 21st century, perhaps.

What interests me, in view of recent revelations about police spying and the extent of the British surveillance state is: How would the practice of internal suppression of dissent and state surveillance have differed in a post-Soviet Britain from what we appear to be living with right now?

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”: as we have no way of knowing when the regime of the British Democratic People’s Republic fell, or what level of technology was available to them, purely technical aspects of the Communist surveillance state of the British Isles must be excluded.

However, we know the general shape of the ideological envelope within which Warsaw Pact regimes operated (or were allowed to operate, before the Kremlin jerked their choke-chain), and so we can speculate as to the structure and objectives of the British regime under Actually Existing Socialism.

July 5, 2014

Harry Turtledove’s “revolutionary” alternative history

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman talks to Harry Turtledove about other futures that could have occurred if the American Revolution hadn’t gone quite as it did historically:

Turtledove told me that it was Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, who first gave him the idea of the American Revolution as a subject for alternate history. The two collaborated on a novel, The Two Georges, that is set in the 1990s and based on the premise that the Revolutionary War never happened. Instead, George Washington and King George III struck an agreement in which the United States and Canada (the “North American Union”) remained part of the British Empire. The artist Thomas Gainsborough commemorated the deal in a painting, The Two Georges, that is emblazoned on money and made ubiquitous as a symbol of the felicitous “union between Great Britain and her American dominions.”

[…]

Turtledove told me by email that he had an “epiphany” when he traveled with his family to the World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg, Canada in 1994, shortly before he published The Two Georges.

As he read a book from the Little House on the Prairie series to his daughter at the hotel, he came upon a section about a Fourth of July celebration “on the plains in the late nineteenth century, with fireworks and with tub-thumping speakers talking about how the United States had broken away from British tyranny and was the freest country in the world as a result. And there I was reading this in the country next door to mine, a country as similar to mine as any two nations on earth, a country just as free as mine — and a country that had never broken away from Britain at all. It was a thought-provoking experience.” Canada, of course, merely shares a queen with the United Kingdom at this point, but its relationship with Britain has certainly evolved differently than America’s has.

You could think of 1776 as a British political experiment, with Canada as the control (“British” here meaning both the British government and the colonists/revolutionaries). At this point in history, the control appears to actually be more free than the experimental subject.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 29, 2014

The “Lehman Sisters” wouldn’t have been more risk-averse, actually

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

Tim Worstall looks at the occasional claim that if Lehman Brothers had actually been “Lehman Sisters” (that is, an organization with much higher female participation), then they would have taken on less financial risk and therefore not have been the trigger to the financial meltdown:

… there’s very definitely an element of truth to this: but the final story is rather different from what is commonly assumed. It’s only if financial organisations are completely female, or completely male, that risk is reduced. Adding more of either gender to an organisation actually increases risk.

[…]

Mixed gender environments increase risk tolerance in both men and women. So adding women to an all male institution increases, likely, the risk that organisation will tolerate. And so does adding men to an all female one. Not just because the men sway the average but because both men and women become more risk tolerant in the presence of the other sex.

Thus it would be correct to say that Lehman Sisters would have been less risk tolerant than Lehman Brothers. But the reality of what there actually was at the firm was that it was a mixed gender environment and so more risk tolerant than either of the single gender hypotheticals would have been. It is gender diversity itself that increases risk tolerance, reduces risk aversion.

Which leads to an interesting thought. Everyone generally agrees that banking as a whole has become more risk tolerant, and thus more fragile, in recent decades. These are also the decades when women have made significant inroads into that area of professional life. Which leaves us with something of a conundrum. We generally believe that fragility in the banking system is a bad idea. We also all generally believe that gender equality is a good idea. But that gender equality of women going into finance and banking seems to increase the fragility of the system given that rise in risk tolerance from a mixed gender environment.

February 5, 2014

Drawing the rhetorical battle lines for the war over the war

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Tim Stanley on the ongoing war of words over the “celebrations” planned to mark the First World War in Britain:

The reality is that WWI had nothing to do with modern ideology, yet (ironically) we constantly seek to understand it through modern ideology. It started because the 19th-century diplomatic system broke down, undermining assumptions that various powers had no interest in fighting and would not do so when tested. Its bloodiness was due to technology: industrial warfare trumped the war of fast movement that everybody expected. And it ended because the Germans ran out of food. So it was non-ideological in spirit, but it did become the catalyst for various new ideologies. Britain convinced itself it was fighting for democracy. The Russians turned into Soviets and came to see WWI as the acme of capitalist aggression. A small band of German idiots decided defeat was down to a massive conspiracy of Jews so brilliant that it was impossible to actually explain how they pulled it off. And so the Second World War — a profoundly ideological war — was spawned by a conflict that lacked philosophical justification. No wonder memories are so confused.

We continue the mistake of seeing the past as if it was today. The neoconservatives, for example, are wrong to see “Prussian militarism” as embryonic Nazism — indeed the comparison is so slight as to be offensive. And if the plucky Brits were fighting imperialism, that raises the question of why we didn’t divest ourselves of our own possessions in Africa, Asia, Australisia etc. But the Left is equally wrong to see the First World War as a class conflict, as a case of lions led by donkeys. The aristocratic class happily signed up and were almost entirely exterminated as a result, thanks in part to the fact that they tended to be taller than the average soldier and so easier to aim at in the trenches.

Well, that perhaps, but rather more that the junior officers and company commanders actually led from the front, and were visibly distinct from the mass of their troops (making themselves more attractive targets). The allies were in the position of having to attack German positions for most of the war after the front lines solidified, which meant more opportunities for officers to be come casualties. The life expectancy of a junior officer on the Western front was said to be only six weeks.

This comment rather puzzles me, though:

Second, I’m still not entirely sure what we’re commemorating about the First World War and why. Obviously, we should always remember and honour our nation’s war dead — as we do every November. But why — as a nation — pick through every battle, every fact, every detail, every controversy and turn it into a parade? What relevance does it all have to us now? And why is it so often rated as more important than the American War of Independence, the English Civil War or the Scramble for Africa? Will it overshadow the anniversary of Waterloo next year, when, incidentally, the Brits were rather pleased to have Prussian militarism on their side? As European conflicts go, the Thirty Years War also screams out for a little more attention. The population in Germany fell by between 25 and 40 per cent; the Swedish armies destroyed one third of all German towns. That was Hell, too.

The First World War was different from what came before because it literally touched everyone: there were dead and wounded from every city, town, village, and hamlet. Everyone lost family members, friends, acquaintances, business partners, church members, and so on. Unlike the Crimean War, or the Zulu War, or the Boer War, this was the first mass conflict where the entire society had to be re-oriented to support the struggle. Privation was not just a word, as civilians faced food shortages, coal shortages, unrelenting propaganda through the newspapers, and misery all around. This was the end of Britain’s view of war as being something unpleasant at a distance, to be handled by a few good men in red coats.

April 14, 2013

An alternative Britain would be “Cuba without the sunshine”

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:06

Dominic Sandbrook recounts the history of a slightly different Britain: one where Margaret Thatcher lost to Jim Callaghan in 1978:

As historians now agree, Mrs Thatcher never really stood a chance: Britain was not ready for a woman prime minister. As she herself had remarked only eight years earlier: ‘There will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime — the male population is too prejudiced.’

In her place, the Tories turned to the bumbling figure of Willie Whitelaw, an old-fashioned patrician Wet whom they decided would connect better with the British electorate.

In the meantime, the country was reeling from crisis to crisis. Scarcely had Callaghan returned to No 10 than his premiership was consumed in the notorious Winter of Discontent. As one group of workers after another — lorry drivers, railwaymen, bus drivers, ambulance drivers, caretakers, cleaners, even grave-diggers — walked out on strike for higher wages, the country ground to a halt.

Buoyed by his election victory, Callaghan was in no mood to compromise. Rather than break his declared 5 per cent national pay limit and risk higher inflation, he declared a State of Emergency and summoned the Army to drive Britain’s petrol tankers.

It was a catastrophic mistake. On February 12, 1979, a date that has gone down in history as Black Monday, fighting broke out between pickets and soldiers at one depot outside Hull.

In the chaos, one soldier — carrying live rounds, in contravention of orders — opened fire and killed five people. It was one of the most shocking moments in modern British history.

Callaghan resigned the next day, the last honourable act of a decent man overwhelmed by events. But contrary to his expectations, the Labour Party did not turn to his Chancellor, the bushy-browed Denis Healey.

Instead, they lurched to the Left and elected as their new Prime Minister Michael Foot, with his flowing white locks, walking stick and impassioned socialist rhetoric. The real power in the land, however, was Foot’s colleague Tony Benn, who replaced the disgruntled Healey as Chancellor. And in the next few years, it was Benn who presided over the most sweeping socialist measures any Western country had seen in living memory.

To the horror of many in industry, Benn insisted that Britain’s declining economy needed a dose of shock therapy. The top rate of income tax went up to 98 per cent, and the government announced a one-off 5 per cent ‘equality levy’ on households with income over £50,000 a year.

As frightened investors began to withdraw their money from the City of London, Benn introduced sweeping exchange controls. He also, in an attempt to shore up Britain’s crumbling manufacturing base, introduced the most stringent import tariffs in the Western world.

The reaction was pandemonium. As inflation shot over 25 per cent and unemployment went above two million, horrified European leaders insisted that Britain’s new policies were incompatible with membership of the Common Market.

But Benn was adamant. ‘You turn if you want to,’ he told his party conference in 1980. ‘Labour’s not for turning.’

The following year, as the economic picture continued to worsen, the Government introduced controls to stop people taking sterling out of the country. As a result, the foreign package holiday market collapsed — although landladies in Blackpool said they had never seen more business.

There were rumours that Foot was planning to move his turbulent Chancellor, but they were blown away when, in April 1982, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

September 2, 2009

Speaking of historical revisionism, here’s Pat Buchanan!

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:47

Pat Buchanan recently published a book called Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War. From the title, you can probably pick up the notion that he feels that Hitler was misunderstood and didn’t really want to go to war. If you aren’t busy retching already, try this on for size:

Did Hitler Want War?

Well, from the title alone, we’re off into cloud-cookoo land already. Yes, Hitler did want war. He was pretty emphatic about it too, and not just in 1939. His written-in-prison Mein Kampf was not a particularly pacific and conciliatory little homily.

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.

Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.

Danzig was an excuse, not a reason. The plebiscite had shown that the inhabitants wanted to be part of Germany again, which is probably not surprising as the pre-war Polish government was anti-German and were actively trying to suppress the German language and culture in former German areas of Poland. The Polish government was authoritarian, not democratic, and were not the innocents that some later portrayals might try to indicate. Few of the governments of central or eastern Europe would pass muster as democracies in the 1930s.

Poland did not trust the German government to negotiate in good faith, with plenty of reason, so trying to blame them for the outbreak of the war is ludicrous.

But where is the evidence that Adolf Hitler, whose victims as of March 1939 were a fraction of Gen. Pinochet’s, or Fidel Castro’s, was out to conquer the world?

Um. There’s a tiny little bit of evidence. His book. His speeches. The war plans he had his military leaders draw up. The re-armament program, far in excess of what a peaceful nation with nearby enemies might need as a deterrent.

But yeah, aside from that, he didn’t — so far as we know — conduct a secret pinky-swear session with Mussolini and Hirohito at midnight in the Chancellery basement to conquer the world or else. I mean that’d be the smoking gun, wouldn’t it?

But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?

Why did he build the Westwall (aka “Siegfried Line“)? Well, perhaps it was because the French had already constructed large sections of the Maginot Line? This — at least as far as generals on both sides thought — provided a dual purpose: to prevent a German attack into France, and to provide a safe starting point for a French attack into Germany. The fact that the line failed to prevent an attack which came from beyond the flank of the line is hindsight. The Westwall was also multi-purpose, in this case it had three goals: prevent the French attacking, provide a base for an attack on France, and (borrowing the modern term) infrastructure. The Nazi party came to power partly because of the unemployment situation in Germany in the early 1930s. A vast construction project like the Westwall offered chances to soak up lots of “excess” labour . . . and to provide money to the “right” kind of private firms (those who supported the Nazis or those which the Nazis needed to curry favour with).

Go read the whole thing if you’re interested, but I’m feeling that there’s little point in going on . . . I’m certainly not going to persuade Mr. Buchanan or his followers of anything.

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