Published on 10 Oct 2015
Indy is sitting in the Chair of Madness this time and to answer your questions. This time we are talking about Paul von Hindenburg and his legacy after World War 1 and about burial truces between the armies on the Western Front.
October 11, 2015
“Anybody could rule this country,” said George; “I could rule it.”
We were seated in the garden of the Kaiser Hof at Bonn, looking down upon the Rhine. It was the last evening of our Bummel; the early morning train would be the beginning of the end.
“I should write down all I wanted the people to do on a piece of paper,” continued George; “get a good firm to print off so many copies, have them posted about the towns and villages; and the thing would be done.”
In the placid, docile German of to-day, whose only ambition appears to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do by those whom it has pleased Providence to place in authority over him, it is difficult, one must confess, to detect any trace of his wild ancestor, to whom individual liberty was as the breath of his nostrils; who appointed his magistrates to advise, but retained the right of execution for the tribe; who followed his chief, but would have scorned to obey him. In Germany to-day one hears a good deal concerning Socialism, but it is a Socialism that would only be despotism under another name. Individualism makes no appeal to the German voter. He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and regulated in all things. He disputes, not government, but the form of it. The policeman is to him a religion, and, one feels, will always remain so. In England we regard our man in blue as a harmless necessity. By the average citizen he is employed chiefly as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered useful for taking old ladies across the road. Beyond feeling thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought of him. In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a little god and loved as a guardian angel. To the German child he is a combination of Santa Claus and the Bogie Man. All good things come from him: Spielplätze to play in, furnished with swings and giant-strides, sand heaps to fight around, swimming baths, and fairs. All misbehaviour is punished by him. It is the hope of every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police. To be smiled at by a policeman makes it conceited. A German child that has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with; its self-importance is unbearable.
The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer. The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it. Were there no policeman there, he would probably sit down and wait till the river had passed by. At the railway station the policeman locks him up in the waiting-room, where he can do no harm to himself. When the proper time arrives, he fetches him out and hands him over to the guard of the train, who is only a policeman in another uniform. The guard tells him where to sit in the train, and when to get out, and sees that he does get out. In Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well. You are not supposed to look after yourself; you are not blamed for being incapable of looking after yourself; it is the duty of the German policeman to look after you. That you may be a helpless idiot does not excuse him should anything happen to you. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you are in his charge, and he takes care of you — good care of you; there is no denying this.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
October 4, 2015
Whether anything can properly be said in favour of the German Mensur I am doubtful; but if so it concerns only the two combatants. Upon the spectators it can and does, I am convinced, exercise nothing but evil. I know myself sufficiently well to be sure I am not of an unusually bloodthirsty disposition. The effect it had upon me can only be the usual effect. At first, before the actual work commenced, my sensation was curiosity mingled with anxiety as to how the sight would trouble me, though some slight acquaintance with dissecting-rooms and operating tables left me less doubt on that point than I might otherwise have felt. As the blood began to flow, and nerves and muscles to be laid bare, I experienced a mingling of disgust and pity. But with the second duel, I must confess, my finer feelings began to disappear; and by the time the third was well upon its way, and the room heavy with the curious hot odour of blood, I began, as the American expression is, to see things red.
I wanted more. I looked from face to face surrounding me, and in most of them I found reflected undoubtedly my own sensations. If it be a good thing to excite this blood thirst in the modern man, then the Mensur is a useful institution. But is it a good thing? We prate about our civilisation and humanity, but those of us who do not carry hypocrisy to the length of self-deception know that underneath our starched shirts there lurks the savage, with all his savage instincts untouched. Occasionally he may be wanted, but we never need fear his dying out. On the other hand, it seems unwise to over-nourish him.
In favour of the duel, seriously considered, there are many points to be urged. But the Mensur serves no good purpose whatever. It is childishness, and the fact of its being a cruel and brutal game makes it none the less childish. Wounds have no intrinsic value of their own; it is the cause that dignifies them, not their size. William Tell is rightly one of the heroes of the world; but what should we think of the members of a club of fathers, formed with the object of meeting twice a week to shoot apples from their sons’ heads with cross-bows? These young German gentlemen could obtain all the results of which they are so proud by teasing a wild cat! To join a society for the mere purpose of getting yourself hacked about reduces a man to the intellectual level of a dancing Dervish. Travellers tell us of savages in Central Africa who express their feelings on festive occasions by jumping about and slashing themselves. But there is no need for Europe to imitate them. The Mensur is, in fact, the reductio ad absurdum of the duel; and if the Germans themselves cannot see that it is funny, one can only regret their lack of humour.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
October 2, 2015
Published on 1 Oct 2015
After weeks of preparation the French and British Armies unleash a new offensive on the Western Front. Not only is it supposed to relieve pressure on the Russians on the Eastern Front but the Entente wants to achieve the decisive breakthrough. The French actually break through German trenches only to realise that they have a second line of trenches completely intact right behind the first line. The British attack at Loos also turns into carnage even though the British use gas for the first time.
September 29, 2015
Trevor Dupuy was a US soldier and a military historian who took a statistical approach to evaluating combat performance. He paid particular attention to casualty statistics. Casualties – in case you did not know – include deaths but also include wounded, missing and captured. They answer the general’s question: how many men do I have who are able to fight?
Of course, statistics aren’t everything. For instance, the North Vietnamese took vastly more casualties in the Vietnam War than the Americans but they still won. But all things being equal, being able to kill more of your enemy than he can kill of you is a good thing to be able to do.
In A Genius for War Dupuy enquired into the nature of the German army. He found that the statistics told a remarkable story: the German army was very good and had been for a long time. From the Franco-Prussian War to the Second World War the Germans were consistently better at killing the enemy than the enemy were at killing them.
Now you may be thinking that such comparisons might be skewed due to the Russians and Dupuy found that that the Russians were indeed every bit as bad as you might think. But even when he removed the Russian numbers Dupuy found that the Germans still held a clear and consistent superiority over the French, British and Americans. This superiority existed regardless of whether the engagement was offensive or defensive.
Chauvinists might be surprised to learn that there seems to have been no great difference between the western allies. French and British performance was more or less equal in the First World War. British and American performance was more or less equal in the second. The Americans in the First World War and the French in the Second are special cases.
Having satisfied himself that the German army was indeed superior, Dupuy asked why this was. His key finding was that there seemed to be nothing inherent in being German. Dupuy found a number of historical examples where the Germans proved to be anything but good fighters. These included largely-German units in the American War of Independence and various battles between German mercenaries and the Swiss.
So, if being German didn’t make you a good soldier what did? Dupuy’s theory was that it was all due to the German General staff. So what was so good about the General Staff? Dupuy listed several criteria. These included selection by examination, historical study and objective analysis. In other words it was an institution that thought seriously about war.
Patrick Crozier, “What Trevor Dupuy says about the German military”, Samizdata, 2015-08-24.
September 28, 2015
Published on 17 May 2015
In 1815, eight miles south of Brussels, two of history’s greatest generals met in battle for the first and only time: Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, and the Duke of Wellington. The result was an epic, brutal battle that would decide the fate of Europe.
September 27, 2015
Published on 27 Aug 2015
What’s the matter, Tommy… are ze Germans coming? Actually yes, they are and they’re in dirty great Battleships! I think we’re going to need bigger guns…
The Mensur has been described so often and so thoroughly that I do not intend to bore my readers with any detailed account of it. I merely come forward as an impressionist, and I write purposely the impression of my first Mensur, because I believe that first impressions are more true and useful than opinions blunted by intercourse, or shaped by influence.
Use blinds one to everything one does not wish to see. Every third German gentleman you meet in the street still bears, and will bear to his grave, marks of the twenty to a hundred duels he has fought in his student days. The German children play at the Mensur in the nursery, rehearse it in the gymnasium. The Germans have come to persuade themselves there is no brutality in it — nothing offensive, nothing degrading. Their argument is that it schools the German youth to coolness and courage. If this could be proved, the argument, particularly in a country where every man is a soldier, would be sufficiently one-sided. But is the virtue of the prize-fighter the virtue of the soldier? One doubts it. Nerve and dash are surely of more service in the field than a temperament of unreasoning indifference as to what is happening to one. As a matter of fact, the German student would have to be possessed of much more courage not to fight. He fights not to please himself, but to satisfy a public opinion that is two hundred years behind the times.
All the Mensur does is to brutalise him. There may be skill displayed — I am told there is, — but it is not apparent. The mere fighting is like nothing so much as a broadsword combat at a Richardson’s show; the display as a whole a successful attempt to combine the ludicrous with the unpleasant. In aristocratic Bonn, where style is considered, and in Heidelberg, where visitors from other nations are more common, the affair is perhaps more formal. I am told that there the contests take place in handsome rooms; that grey-haired doctors wait upon the wounded, and liveried servants upon the hungry, and that the affair is conducted throughout with a certain amount of picturesque ceremony. In the more essentially German Universities, where strangers are rare and not much encouraged, the simple essentials are the only things kept in view, and these are not of an inviting nature.
Indeed, so distinctly uninviting are they, that I strongly advise the sensitive reader to avoid even this description of them. The subject cannot be made pretty, and I do not intend to try.
The room is bare and sordid; its walls splashed with mixed stains of beer, blood, and candle-grease; its ceiling, smoky; its floor, sawdust covered. A crowd of students, laughing, smoking, talking, some sitting on the floor, others perched upon chairs and benches form the framework.
In the centre, facing one another, stand the combatants, resembling Japanese warriors, as made familiar to us by the Japanese tea-tray. Quaint and rigid, with their goggle-covered eyes, their necks tied up in comforters, their bodies smothered in what looks like dirty bed quilts, their padded arms stretched straight above their heads, they might be a pair of ungainly clockwork figures. The seconds, also more or less padded — their heads and faces protected by huge leather-peaked caps, — drag them out into their proper position. One almost listens to hear the sound of the castors. The umpire takes his place, the word is given, and immediately there follow five rapid clashes of the long straight swords. There is no interest in watching the fight: there is no movement, no skill, no grace (I am speaking of my own impressions.) The strongest man wins; the man who, with his heavily-padded arm, always in an unnatural position, can hold his huge clumsy sword longest without growing too weak to be able either to guard or to strike.
The whole interest is centred in watching the wounds. They come always in one of two places — on the top of the head or the left side of the face. Sometimes a portion of hairy scalp or section of cheek flies up into the air, to be carefully preserved in an envelope by its proud possessor, or, strictly speaking, its proud former possessor, and shown round on convivial evenings; and from every wound, of course, flows a plentiful stream of blood. It splashes doctors, seconds, and spectators; it sprinkles ceiling and walls; it saturates the fighters, and makes pools for itself in the sawdust. At the end of each round the doctors rush up, and with hands already dripping with blood press together the gaping wounds, dabbing them with little balls of wet cotton wool, which an attendant carries ready on a plate. Naturally, the moment the men stand up again and commence work, the blood gushes out again, half blinding them, and rendering the ground beneath them slippery. Now and then you see a man’s teeth laid bare almost to the ear, so that for the rest of the duel he appears to be grinning at one half of the spectators, his other side, remaining serious; and sometimes a man’s nose gets slit, which gives to him as he fights a singularly supercilious air.
As the object of each student is to go away from the University bearing as many scars as possible, I doubt if any particular pains are taken to guard, even to the small extent such method of fighting can allow. The real victor is he who comes out with the greatest number of wounds; he who then, stitched and patched almost to unrecognition as a human being, can promenade for the next month, the envy of the German youth, the admiration of the German maiden. He who obtains only a few unimportant wounds retires sulky and disappointed.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
September 26, 2015
There’s this underlying tone, whenever you see people talking about the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy Germany” and the “stab in the back” theory of why Germany lost World War I, that the latter was come up with out of whole cloth by the German aristocracy and military while the former was Hitler’s own insane twist on the theory.
Unfortunately, neither one of those statements is entirely true. First, while Germany would have ended up losing World War I even without its internal issues, the fact of the matter is that the morale issues and general disaffection that led the German high command to sue for peace in 1918 were exacerbated by socialist agitation. The most obvious result of this was the Kiel mutiny, when the sailors of the German navy refused to go out and have a last “glorious” battle with the British and proceeded to set up a socialist-led soldiers and workers council, and eventually forced the German government to overthrow the Kaiser. In other words, the “stab in the back” happened — it’s just that it was more of a result of Germany’s loss of the war than the cause of it.
As to the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy” — well, the awkward thing is that a disproportionate amount of Jews were involved in leftism in this period. Many of the leaders of the Spartacus League, which was heavily involved in the 1919 Spartacist uprising that attempted to take over Berlin, were Jewish, as were many within the Bolshevik uprising in Russia itself. The reason for this, of course, was that a disproportionate number of Jews were intellectuals, and intellectuals are often attracted to leftism. Now, the emphasis on Judaism was part and parcel of a longstanding pattern of German and European anti-Semitism, while the destruction of Germany/the German people was a case of a toxic combination of “They believe, as I do, that their policies are bad for Germany” and projection.
However, it should be noted that both of these theories, like all the really powerful lies, had a little kernel of truth in them, and a lot of belief behind them. There had been a socialist uprising in Germany that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there were a number of Jews involved in the German left.
Sarah Hoyt, “Social Injustice – 60 Guilders”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-31.
September 25, 2015
Published on 24 Sep 2015
When the Germans take Vilnius, they set their plans of “germanizing” the whole area into motion. Erich Ludendorff believes that Courland and other areas near East Prussia are culturally German and that he’s returning them to the Fatherland. While the Russian Army is now in a much better defensive position after their Great Retreat, civil unrest across the country is becoming a problem. Huge losses and the difficult supply situation are making it difficult to maintain order. At the same time, Bulgaria is mobilizing her troops, foreshadowing yet another front in this World War.
September 22, 2015
At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow points the finger of blame at VW’s DRM in their automobile software suite:
The EPA has accused Volkswagen of rigging its software to cheat the agency’s diesel emissions standards so that its cars could be on the road while spewing 40 times the legal limit for diesel emissions.
Volkswagen, like most auto manufacturers, uses digital rights management in its informatic systems. Under section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it is a felony to tamper with that DRM, punishable by five years in prison and a $500,000 fine for a first offense. The company uses this legal regime to limit which mechanics can service its cars, ensuring that only “official” mechanics, who are bound by nondisclosure agreements — and covenants to only buy their parts from VW and not an aftermarket competitor — can effectively service their cars.
This year, the US Copyright Office held its triennial hearings into possible exceptions to this rule, and one petition asked it to grant an exemption for jailbreaking cars. The car manufacturers intervened to oppose this, but so did the EPA, fearing that drivers would modify their firmware in ways that increased emissions.
But by banning independent scrutiny of cars, the EPA and the Copyright Office have made possible for terrible, criminal frauds like this one to go undetected for long periods, turning cars into long-lived reservoirs of dirty secrets that can’t be reported without risking criminal sanction.
Jazz Shaw has more:
This isn’t a case of any sort of trick carburetor or jury rigged catalytic converter. The vehicle’s onboard computer could sense when it was hooked up to a diagnostics machine for an emissions test and would conveniently turn on all of its emission control features. (It’s being referred to as a “defeat device.”) Then, when the test was completed and it was unhooked from the computer it would simply shut them off again, boosting performance but also increasing emissions. You almost have to admire the sheer audacity assuming this is true. And given the initial responses from the company they don’t seem to be claiming that they didn’t do it.
So far Volkswagen seems to be taking the line of assuring everyone that they will work to recall the cars and “fix” them to eliminate this problem. It likely won’t bankrupt a company that size, but it’s one heck of an expensive piece of humble pie to eat. If they contest the fines and go to court, however, I’m wondering if they will actually lose. This was some mischief designed to short sheet the system no doubt, but would they have an out if the case goes before a judge? I was looking over some of the state level requirements for the testing of vehicles and the boundaries to be followed are rather bare bones at best. Each vehicle in the qualifying categories which was manufactured after 1996 has to be equipped with an On-Board Diagnostics Generation II (OBDII) system. The emissions portion of this is heavily tied into your annoying “check engine” light.
The way most of the regulations are written seems to indicate that the vehicle must have a functional system of this type which is accurately monitoring system performance and meets the maximum emissions requirements at the time of testing. Obviously the VW vehicles in question were doing just that. But cars today have all sorts of bells and whistles which drivers can use to customize their driving experience. They can switch from “performance” mode to “economy” mode with the push of a button. Things like that obviously affect the vehicle’s emissions. Other such options are available. And when you think about it, the “disable device” was really just putting the car into a different mode of operation which includes heavy emissions control. When it was disconnected and ready to head back out on the road it was switching back to a different mode with a bit more performance. None of that changes the fact that the emissions were within the required limits at the time of testing.
September 20, 2015
On our way home we included a German University town, being wishful to obtain an insight into the ways of student life, a curiosity that the courtesy of German friends enabled us to gratify.
The English boy plays till he is fifteen, and works thence till twenty. In Germany it is the child that works; the young man that plays. The German boy goes to school at seven o’clock in the summer, at eight in the winter, and at school he studies. The result is that at sixteen he has a thorough knowledge of the classics and mathematics, knows as much history as any man compelled to belong to a political party is wise in knowing, together with a thorough grounding in modern languages. Therefore his eight College Semesters, extending over four years, are, except for the young man aiming at a professorship, unnecessarily ample. He is not a sportsman, which is a pity, for he should make good one. He plays football a little, bicycles still less; plays French billiards in stuffy cafés more. But generally speaking he, or the majority of him, lays out his time bummeling, beer drinking, and fighting. If he be the son of a wealthy father he joins a Korps — to belong to a crack Korps costs about four hundred pounds a year. If he be a middle-class young man, he enrols himself in a Burschenschaft, or a Landsmannschaft, which is a little cheaper. These companies are again broken up into smaller circles, in which attempt is made to keep to nationality. There are the Swabians, from Swabia; the Frankonians, descendants of the Franks; the Thuringians, and so forth. In practice, of course, this results as all such attempts do result — I believe half our Gordon Highlanders are Cockneys — but the picturesque object is obtained of dividing each University into some dozen or so separate companies of students, each one with its distinctive cap and colours, and, quite as important, its own particular beer hall, into which no other student wearing his colours may come.
The chief work of these student companies is to fight among themselves, or with some rival Korps or Schaft, the celebrated German Mensur.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
September 8, 2015
Published on 7 Sep 2015
“What would have happened if the Schlieffen Plan had succeeded? Find out on AlternateHistoryHub: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jNjJueYnLI
The Schlieffen Plan was the blueprint for Germany’s army to avoid a two-front war with Russia and France. It was supposed to be the solution for a quick victory against arch enemy France by invading Belgium and the Netherlands to circumvent French defenses. Helmut von Moltke adapted the original plan by Alfred von Schlieffen and ultimately failed when the Germans were beaten at the Battle of the Marne. Indy explains the numerous reasons why the Schlieffen Plan was doomed to fail. “
September 6, 2015
One afternoon in the course of a climb we emerged upon a plateau, where we lingered perhaps too long, eating more fruit than may have been good for us; it was so plentiful around us, so varied. We commenced with a few late strawberries, and from those we passed to raspberries. Then Harris found a greengage-tree with some early fruit upon it, just perfect.
“This is about the best thing we have struck,” said George; “we had better make the most of this.” Which was good advice, on the face of it.
“It is a pity,” said Harris, “that the pears are still so hard.”
He grieved about this for a while, but later on came across some remarkably fine yellow plums and these consoled him somewhat.
“I suppose we are still a bit too far north for pineapples,” said George. “I feel I could just enjoy a fresh pineapple. This commonplace fruit palls upon one after a while.”
“Too much bush fruit and not enough tree, is the fault I find,” said Harris. “Myself, I should have liked a few more greengages.”
“Here is a man coming up the hill,” I observed, “who looks like a native. Maybe, he will know where we can find some more greengages.”
“He walks well for an old chap,” remarked Harris.
He certainly was climbing the hill at a remarkable pace. Also, so far as we were able to judge at that distance, he appeared to be in a remarkably cheerful mood, singing and shouting at the top of his voice, gesticulating, and waving his arms.
“What a merry old soul it is,” said Harris; “it does one good to watch him. But why does he carry his stick over his shoulder? Why doesn’t he use it to help him up the hill?”
“Do you know, I don’t think it is a stick,” said George.
“What can it be, then?” asked Harris.
“Well, it looks to me,” said George, “more like a gun.”
“You don’t think we can have made a mistake?” suggested Harris. “You don’t think this can be anything in the nature of a private orchard?”
I said: “Do you remember the sad thing that happened in the South of France some two years ago? A soldier picked some cherries as he passed a house, and the French peasant to whom the cherries belonged came out, and without a word of warning shot him dead.”
“But surely you are not allowed to shoot a man dead for picking fruit, even in France?” said George.
“Of course not,” I answered. “It was quite illegal. The only excuse offered by his counsel was that he was of a highly excitable disposition, and especially keen about these particular cherries.”
“I recollect something about the case,” said Harris, “now you mention it. I believe the district in which it happened — the ‘Commune’, as I think it is called — had to pay heavy compensation to the relatives of the deceased soldier; which was only fair.”
George said: “I am tired of this place. Besides, it’s getting late.”
Harris said: “If he goes at that rate he will fall and hurt himself. Besides, I don’t believe he knows the way.”
I felt lonesome up there all by myself, with nobody to speak to. Besides, not since I was a boy, I reflected, had I enjoyed a run down a really steep hill. I thought I would see if I could revive the sensation. It is a jerky exercise, but good, I should say, for the liver.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
September 4, 2015
Published on 3 Sep 2015
The Western Front has been relatively quiet the whole summer while the Russians were on their Big Retreat. The French and British generals have been busy trying to find a new strategy to overcome the stalemate. The Germans weren’t sitting idle while awaiting the next big French offensive, they fortified their positions even using concrete. At the same time in the East, Tsar Nicholas II personally takes over military command and fires Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich for the catastrophic casualties the Russian Army faced this summer. But his timing could not be worse.