Quotulatiousness

January 8, 2018

Mark Steyn reviews Darkest Hour

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Military, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The latest screen depiction of Winston Churchill gets the once-over from Mark Steyn:

Churchill tends to the Churchillian, which is to say the epic. Darkest Hour, by contrast, is very finely focused. Joe Wright, director, and Edward McCarten, writer, confine their two dark hours of screen time to a couple of critical weeks in May 1940, when Hitler’s invasion of Norway precipitated Neville Chamberlain’s retreat from Downing Street. Aside from some rather elaborately choreographed overhead shots and a lush grandiose score, Darkest Hour is filmed claustrophobically, too – in poky sitting rooms, Downing Street basements, attics, Westminster ante-rooms, and chilly lavatories; the lighting is crepuscular. The fate of the world is being determined, but we never glimpse the far horizons, only the dingy backrooms.

What happened that month was a showdown between the two principal contenders for the Prime Ministership, Mr Churchill and Lord Halifax. Stephen Dillane is excellent as Halifax, the vulpine cadaver looking down (in every sense) from the Commons gallery at Churchill’s turns at the dispatch box. Unfortunately, aside from skillful deployments of his inscrutable yet condescending eyebrows, he gets somewhat short shrift on screen, so as a Churchill vs Halifax cage match it never quite comes off – presumably because the third Viscount Halifax is entirely unknown in Hollywood. (“Third Viscount Halifax? Hey, let’s see what the first two gross before we commit to that…”)

This is a pity, because the two men were on opposite ends of the seesaw, and, capacious as Churchill’s own bottom is, most of the other players – the King, Chamberlain, the parliamentary party, defeatist generals, Dominion prime ministers around the globe – were inclined to park their own butts down Halifax’s end. On May 10th, the day Winston became PM, the Germans invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Ten days later, Hitler’s army reached the Channel, and was within reach of throttling the 300,000-strong British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, and seizing the entire French fleet. In that dreadful month of May, Churchill wanted to fight on; Halifax preferred to use Mussolini’s “good offices” to sue for a “peace” that would leave Britain and its empire more or less “intact” – save for East Africa, Suez, Malta, Gibraltar and sundry other places that would have to be addressed, per the Italian ambassador in London, “as part of a general European settlement”.

In other words, we are at the great hinge moment of the twentieth century: Had Halifax prevailed, there would have been a neutered Berlin-friendly British Empire directly bordering America on the 49th parallel and all but directly the Soviet Union in Central Asia. There would have been no potential allies for Moscow in the event of war with Germany, thus incentivizing a successful conclusion in late 1940 to Molotov’s talks in Berlin to join the Axis; and no allies whatsoever for Washington, assuming Japan still felt the need to bomb Pearl Harbor the following year. Instead, Churchill prevailed – and Britain and its lion cubs fought on, playing for time until first the Soviets and then the Americans joined the war against Germany, Italy and Japan. That year in which the moth-eaten Britiish lion and its distant cubs stood alone is, more than any other single factor, the reason why the world as ordered these last seventy years exists at all.

[…]

As with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, one’s admiration for the film is tempered by a terrible profound sadness – for a people who “won the war, and lost their country anyway”. To anyone old enough to remember an England where one could “walk into any pub in the country and ask with perfect confidence if the major had been in”, the sense of loss can bring tears to the eye. Unlike Iron-Man 5 and Spider-Man 12 and Cardboard-Man 19 and Franchise-Man 37, this is the story of an actual, real-life superhero: You leave the theater with the cheers of the House ringing in your ears …and return to a world where quoting Churchill in his own land can get you arrested.

January 5, 2018

Machinations In The British High Command I THE GREAT WAR Week 180

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 4 Jan 2018

1918 starts with machinations in the British High Command since Prime Minister Lloyd George is holding back troops and generally would like to replace Sir Douglas Haig as commander.

December 10, 2017

Father Victory – Georges Clemenceau I WHO DID WHAT IN World War 1?

Filed under: France, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

The Great War
Published on 9 Dec 2017

Today we look at the life of Georges Clemenceau, otherwise known as the Tiger or Father Victory. Before he went on to become French Prime Minister (twice) and played an important role in the later stage of the First World War, Clemenceau studied medicine, fought in the Franco-Prussian war, travelled to various destinations across the globe and founded two newspapers.

December 4, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – Lies – Extra History

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

Extra Credits
Published on 2 Dec 2017

We’ve wrapped up our series on Otto von Bismarck, but we’ve only touched on the first half of his life! Maybe someday we’ll get to come back. Until then, James answers questions and discusses errors in this episode of Lies!

December 3, 2017

Command and microcontrol

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell relays some thoughts from a recent British criticism of how military operations are now capable — and therefore very frequently are — micromanaged by higher authority:

There is a very useful and, I hope, thought provoking article (written under a nom de plume by a serving British officer) published in the Wavell Room website.* It is entitled “Mission Command; The Fall of the Strategic Corporal; the Rise of the Tactical Minister,” and in it the author laments the fact ~ and it is a fact in Canada, too, I assert ~ that “British Mission Command and performance has regressed, largely as a result of our headquarters incorporating American military information technology as well as replicating American headquarters structures and manning. During recent counterinsurgency operations we have employed increased quantities of manpower, technology and process to try and make sense of the exponentially increasing volumes of information piped into an increasingly static headquarters. These bloated headquarters have bred a culture of over planning and control. The information technology revolution has allowed Ministers and UK based senior officers to directly reach down to the tactical level in distant operational theatres.” As a British general said in a recent speech titled “‘In command and out of control’ [the] creep at the National Level to from Mission Command to Mission Control. Prolonged campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan has created an expanded bureaucracy with a function of identifying and mitigating risk that has not receded. The advent of ‘lawfare’ and a hysterical media has reduced our Civil Service’s threshold for presentational and reputational risk. This has led to an ever increasing legal and policy oversight and scrutiny of operations. The lack of domestic appetite for wars of choice rather than of national survival has led to a dramatically reduced appetite for risk to life on operations.” I am 99.99% certain that several serving Canadian generals and senior officers (post ship/regiment-battalion and squadron command level) could have and wish they had written the same words.

First, the very term “Mission Command” is rubbish. I know there is a whole body of literature about it, but it’s still rubbish ~ just well very documented rubbish. There is, very simply, command which is supported by control. The notion of “Mission Command” came about in the USA when it became clear that too many US senior officers were unable to exercise effective combat command because they were “nervous nellies” (or overzealous careerist) who would not or could not trust their subordinates to get on with the job. The image of a helicopter belonging to the division commander hovering over a helicopter belonging to the brigade commander hovering over the battalion commander’s helicopter that is hovering over the company of men on the ground comes to mind. Then a few other US military leaders decided that a new “concept” and a few PowerPoint presentations featuring gothic lettering and pictures of German generals would put things right … instead things went from bad to worse, but not just in the US military.

[Click to see full-size image]

Second, command and control (C2) is, actually, a quite simple thing to understand … it is the whole process by which a commander receives and analyzes his (or her) orders, does his (or her ~ always presumed from here on in) reconnaissance, makes his appreciation (estimate) of the situation and his plan and then issues the orders that commit his troops to battle. There it is in under 40 words … that’s not too hard to grasp, is it? But it can be bloody hard to do!

November 21, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – VI: Germany! – Extra History

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

Extra Credits
Published on 18 Nov 2017

You would think that capturing the Emperor of France would end the war, but… no. Who could Bismarck negotiate with? Eventually he forced an interim government to cave to his demands, and at the same time convinced the rest of the German states to unite with Prussia.

November 14, 2017

The Last Hussar – August von Mackensen I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 13 Nov 2017

August von Mackensen was one of the most prolific generals of World War 1. He served with distinction on the Eastern theatres. The Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive, the conquest of Serbia and Romania were all possible thanks to him. He was raised with the belief in Prussian glory and held onto this belief even after the war ended.

November 13, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – V: Prussia Ascendant – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Extra Credits
Published on 11 Nov 2017

The northern German states now looked to Prussia for leadership, but that power brought increased attention from their enemies. Bismarck engineered a war with France by striking at Napoleon III’s pride and wound up winning a runaway victory to secure Prussia’s diplomatic power.

November 6, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – IV: The Iron Chancellor – Extra History

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

Extra Credits
Published on 4 Nov 2017

Bismarck turned up the heat on his long-term plan to unite the German Confederation under Prussian leadership. He allied with Austria to seize a piece of disputed land, then maneuvered them into a war that he decisively won. Even an assassination attempt could not stop him.

October 30, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – III: Iron and Blood – Extra History

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

Extra Credits
Published on 28 Oct 2017

Bismarck was just starting to get the hang of diplomacy when the throne of Prussia passed to a new Frederick Wilhelm who promptly sent him away to Russia. But then Bismarck got tapped to serve as the Head of Government and began pushing for his great project: the unification of Germany.

October 22, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – II: A Man of Great Ideas – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Extra Credits
Published on 21 Oct 2017

1848. Revolution swept Europe as the working class rose up to claim their freedoms from an oppressive ruling class. But as a member of that ruling class, Bismarck had some resistance to this movement. He channeled his wild energy into productive avenues, gradually becoming the man of realpolitik that we know today.

October 16, 2017

Otto von Bismarck – I: The Wildman Bismarck – Extra History

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

Extra Credits
Published on 13 Oct 2017

Otto von Bismarck became the greatest statesman of a generation, but he began as an intransigent and irresponsible youth. He coasted through college, got himself thrown out of an early political appointment, and caused havoc with his divisive opinions during a meeting of parliament.

October 8, 2017

QotD: Excess officers

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Military, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Excess? The German Army of WW II somehow managed to fight off for six years – that, or beat the ever loving crap out of – nearly the whole world with under three percent commissioned officers. Roman legions, perhaps the most formidable fighting machines of human history, got by with six to eight. Six to eight percent? Not on your life; six to eight, period, six military tribunes, a legate, and – arguably – the praefectus castrorum, who was more in the line of a late entry officer, as per the British system. Think about that one, one officer per every eight hundred men. And it was plenty.

What have we got? As of 2013 we had over eleven percent commissioned in the Marine Corps, seventeen percent in the Navy, almost nineteen percent in the Army, and nearly twenty percent of strength being commissioned officers in the Air Force.

The problems with having this many officers are multifold. I can only cover some of the more important ones.

This high a percentage of officers almost certainly means that there are people running around with bars and leaves and even eagles and perhaps stars who probably should have been non-coms. They may have the education and intelligence to be officers, but as a matter of attitude, outlooks, values, and approaches to things, they’d have been happier if they’d been wearing multiple stripes. I used to see a lot of this among lieutenants who decided to go Special Forces. In almost every case I have seen, these were guys who really wanted to be squad leaders which, in SF, they could be. The effect of commissioning so high a percentage of people has tended to be having an NCO corps weaker than it should have been and weaker than it needs to be. This tends to exacerbate another problem, officers will tend to micromanage if they’re allowed to. They will be allowed to, if there is a common perception that the NCO corps needs to be micromanaged, which, because some numbers actually do need to be micromanaged, casts them all in a questionable light in some circles. There’s another reason, one having little or nothing whatsoever to do with NCOs, for that kind of micro-management.

Tom Kratman, “There Are No Bad Regiments…”, Everyjoe.com, 2015-10-12.

October 5, 2017

The greatest general you’ve probably never heard of

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

I missed this article when it was posted in September: Iskander Rehman discusses the life and times of Byzantium’s greatest general, Belisarius:

Belisarius begging for alms. Painting by Jacques-Louis David, 1781.
(Via Wikimedia)

In 1780, the great neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David completed one of his finest works. Entitled “Belisarius Begging for Alms,” the oil painting depicts an aging warrior, blinded with a hand outstretched, seated at the base of a colossal Roman monument. His feet are bare, his beard unkempt, and his armor draped in coarse rags, dull in sheen. A slender walking cane rests to his side, propped against a stone slab bearing the name of a famous former general — Belisario, or Belisarius. A beautiful woman, her face etched in concern, drops a few coins into an upturned helmet, and whispers words of consolation. Her husband, a man in the vigor of youth and full military regalia, is in shock, his arms raised and his mouth open. He has just realized that the stricken veteran is his former commander, the legendary Belisarius himself.

Although his name is not as well known as it once was, Belisarius has long been considered one of history’s finest tacticians. Under the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the sixth century general reclaimed vast tracts of Western Roman territory, from northern Africa to the Italian peninsula. Frequently outnumbered and leading an eclectic grouping of warriors composed of romaioi (Eastern Romans), foederati (Barbarian allies), and ethnikoi (specialist ethnic troops), the Thracian commander greatly expanded the footprint of the Byzantine empire at a time when many thought that Rome’s ancestral lands had been irredeemably lost. The fact that many of these conquests, as we shall see, only proved fleeting, has, if anything, only burnished his myth, transmogrifying the soldier into something of a crepuscular icon — Western Europe’s last great Roman protector before the advent of the so-called Dark Ages.

For Liddell Hart, Belisarius was also the consummate practitioner of the so-called “indirect approach” and the “master of the art of converting his weakness into strength; and the opponent’s strength into a weakness.” T.E. Lawrence, an avid reader of the ancient military classics, considered “the Thracian genius” to be one of “three really first-class Roman generals in history” (the other two being Scipio Africanus and Julius Caesar) and encouraged his friend, Robert Graves, to write the novel Count Belisarius. This piece of historically informed fiction retraces Belisarius’s military campaigns and was much admired by Winston Churchill, who is said to have often turned to it for guidance during the fraught early years of World War II.

Who was the man behind the myth? And why do the tales of Belisarius’s life and military exploits continue to resonate, firing the imaginations of great men from David to Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia? What insights can be gleaned, not only from his campaigns, but from the Eastern Roman Empire’s strategic literature more broadly?

October 3, 2017

Jagmeet Singh wins the federal NDP leadership race

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The NDP have finally selected a leader who may be able to recapture some of the “lightning in a bottle” phenomenon of the late Jack Layton’s time as party leader (and bring back some former NDP voters who plumped for Justin last time around). Jay Currie is enthusiastic about the new guy:

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh taking part in a Pride Parade in June 2017 (during the leadership campaign).
Photo via Wikimedia.

… I was cheered to see the rollover victory of Jagmeet Singh for the NDP leadership. Singh seems to be from the pragmatic end of the NDP and will be relatively immune from identitarian and intersectional attack simply because he’s brown and wears brilliant turbans. He’s intelligent, well spoken and has a bit of charisma. And he is just going to kill Justin Trudeau in places Trudeau needs to win.

It is simplistic to say that the Sikh community in Canada will universally support one of its own, there will certainly be a temptation to defect from Trudeau to Singh. While that might have some effect in Tory ridings, it will be felt most strongly in seats which have traditionally swung from Liberal to New Democrat and back again.

I am not sure, however, that Singh’s ethnicity is his biggest threat to Trudeau. By 2019 the emptiness of much of the Liberal’s program will be apparent to all. The broken promises, the tepid policy initiatives and, above all, the fiscal incompetence on the revenue side and on expenditures will be pretty apparent. For small business owners and consumers with half a clue, the combination of the lunatic small business tax measures and the expensive, but pointless, carbon tax will pour votes into the Conservative column. But with Canada’s first past the post system, that may not be enough.

Singh’s real threat to Trudeau is in marginal seats where the Libs beat the Conservatives by a few thousand votes in the last election because a) people had had enough of Harper, b) Justin seemed bright and shiny. People who would have voted NDP in the past were so eager to get rid of Harper they voted for Trudeau. Mulclair simply lacked the appeal to keep the faithful in the pews. At a guess, the rank and file NDP voters, as well as the multi-culti virtue signallers, will be much more inclined to give Singh a go. Which means he has the capacity to bleed off Liberal voters in significant numbers.

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