Saturday, April 17, 2010

Creating an Alzheimer’s generation

My background as a Kindermusik teacher has given me a fair amount of experience with young children. So I am well aware of how important positive and negative feedback is to early childhood learning and development. (Telling a toddler that the fire his hot does not actually mean anything until he has experienced what heat is. Only then is there a negative feedback reinforcement to add value to the explanation.) But I had never thought through the implications of our school systems on this development.

Recently one of my staff finished his masters degree in future studies, with an emphasis on predicting how trends will develop. One of the trends he was analysing, is the concept of how our education system will affect people over the long term.

So-called “modern” educational theorists - by which of course we mean baby boomer fanatics stuck in the 60s or 70s - have constructed an education system without consequences. There is no rote learning, and therefore no development of memory. There is no correct answer, and therefore no positive feedback. There is no failing, and therefore no negative feedback. In fact there are none of the things which early childhood education shows that are absolutely vital to brain development.

(Before I am shouted down for exaggeration, I probably should give a couple of examples. While teaching in the UK my mother was criticised by her principals for daring to write anything resembling negative feedback. She came up with the phrase, “Simon has enjoyed a very relaxed term”. This of course simply meant that Simon had not bothered to attend class. Another of my ex-staff, who went on to do their own teacher training, was recently told by his school that he must write reports for students he had never met. Apparently having their name on the role is adequate to get a pass mark, even if they never actually darkened the threshold of the school. He did however finally have to introduce one senior student to the idea that there were in fact limits. When the student repeatedly failed to turn up to a necessary examination, despite warnings that it was necessary for promotion to the final year of schooling: he had the great pleasure of informing that student that after 15 years of school they had finally found a threshold that actually had consequences. Naturally, the student, and their parents, were so shocked that they threatened to sue the system.)

So the supposed “modernists” have achieved for the education system all the benefits that Marxism achieved the economies of Eastern Europe. Almost total destruction of anything of value. This morning’s paper was bemoaning, yet again, inadequate language and maths skills amongst employees (making the automatic assumption that they are all immigrants from below English backgrounds, without bothering to note that the statistical numbers of uneducated and illiterate people are a far higher percentage of the population than the number of immigrants). The most disastrous result being the steadily increasing number of workplace injuries amongst those who cannot read or understand safety instructions.

It is a long-term perspective though, that is really terrifying. If the human brain never goes through the memory training, repetition training, and positive and negative feedback system responses, and then it does not develop properly. If you remove such feedback is from the education system, students come out with a greatly impoverished ability to memorise, or process. Not only do they have a much harder time trying to comprehend the safety instructions, they have a much harder time processing the new information as the world changes around them. The brain has in fact not been adequately programmed to deal with change.

Even worse, the safeguards with-in the brain that allow for re-routing in the case of damage, have been debilitated by exactly the wrong form of practices. This will become far more significant when these people reach the age of strokes or dementia.

The effect of trying to overturn millions of years of human development for some crazy feel- good theoretical concept (which every realistic assessment has revealed to be a failure), is that the students who have suffered the indignity is of such an appalling excuse for an education system face an unpalatable future. Physically our practical sciences may well continue to keep their bodies working longer and longer, but mentally our pseudo-sciences will have ensured that they will live many of those years in an increasing mental haze as they experience a vast increase in outbreaks of what we would have to classify as dementia.

I have never been particularly enamoured of the concept of the “the decline and fall” of civilisations through their own arrogance and stupidity, but this sample is simply too good a jest to pass up.

Friday, April 16, 2010

They know not what crap they speak

Dawkins has been in the news again. This time he wants to arrest the Pope when he visits England.

His logic is that the comparable case is the - deservedly failed - Pinochet arrest and farce of a trial in Britain. Interesting choice...

There is the issue that one is the case of a well known mass murderer who, as head of state, ordered executions and tortures; and the other is the case of a minor official who 'chose poorly'. One lead to hundreds of deaths, the other led to - probable - continued sexual abuse. One was acts of commission, the other of omission.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the Roman Catholic church is 100% in the wrong in their attitude to priests and people here. (In fact I think the Roman church is THE prime example of how organising religion into hierarchies leads to corruption and immorality totally opposed to the principles of the founder of the religion... I also find it farcical that the RC continue to insist that their medieval introduction of the deeply flawed concept of a 'celibate' clergy is a good or necessary thing.... But that is another post). Nonetheless, I find the idea that you arrest a head of state for something that other men did, that people a the time failed to pursue through the courts even though they clearly had the option to, deeply flawed. Indeed the Pope was part of the cover up, but that does not absolve the people who should have been standing up for their children for not going to the police in the first place... they too were part of the cover up.

All that aside, it is Dawkins who looks the fool here. He is demonstrating that he understands neither morality or law, just the most base principles of political PR.

Why do people who are experts in one area of life start thinking that this means they can pontificate on things they don't understand? The media is largely to blame for parading airhead pop singers and beefcake footballers as though their opinions on economic policy or human ethics are more valuable than random words from a Boggle set. I can see why the airheads fall for it, but why do supposedly serious academics do the same.

I was re-reading one of David Irving's early works recently - the brilliant Rommel: Trail of the Fox. It demonstrates what a master of his craft can do, before what can only be described as rampant insanity drives him to incomprehensible positions. But at least he stuck to a stupidity within his own discipline, where he could make a fight of it.

I realise of course that Dawkins was ruthlessly and probably unfairly attacked by people who think he over-extends what he can draw from Darwinianism. Unfortunately he seems to think that the fact that some of those who shout loudest are extreme religious nutters, gives him the right to denigrate anyone who points out that there are many holes in his logic and in the theories of Darwinian evolution. In fact he believes that it gives him the right to attack not just the 'God created the world in 7 days that's all there is to it, burn any other book' American right crowd, but also the entire religious community.

Being completely ignorant of even the history of his own specialty, he probably doesn't realise that he is attacking the wrong side. It is the Roman Catholic church that has always supported the 'revealed' truth that science can add to the story, versus Protestant nutters who deny everything not in the Bible. So he doesn't seem to understand the difference between enemies and potential allies... too black and white in his viewpoint perhaps? Instead he has decided that every aspect of religion must be evil. (An interesting expansion from 'some of the people who don't agree with me are religious nuts').

So he has launched a crusade against religion... Interesting choice.

Unfortunately he knows very little of religion, and hasn't bothered to learn, so his pronouncements on ALL religions are about as valuable as those of Paris Hilton or Posh Spice.

He does this by attacking the philosophical principles of ANY beliefs based on faith.

Unfortunately he knows very little about philosophy, and hasn't bothered to learn, so his pronouncements on philosophy are about as valuable as those of Yogi Bear and Daffy Duck... (Actually I might be doing an injustice to Daffy Duck. Those Looney Tunes cartoons are a lot better scripted than most people recognise... I think the writers might have even had something resembling a broad classical education... No one would accuse Dawkins of anything except extreme narrowness in his viewpoints.)

His current method is to suggest a legal case...

Unfortunately he knows absolutely nothing about the law and has, to all appearances, fallen for some smart lawyers suggesting that they can spend many months in court proving this... as long as he pays enough. I hope he has got a lot of spare royalties to throw away. (See good opinion of legalities of case here.)

In reality of course all he is doing is pursuing a political style PR campaign.

I wonder if he actually knows enough about politics to think this will work? Or does his PR company have an equal attraction to his royalties as his lawyers?

I suppose it is possible that he is genuine. That he is so incensed at the way some ignorant peasants have been stirred up, by unscrupulous leaders of corrupt organisations, to shout down the centuries of knowledge that have been agreed by great minds: that he is willing to finance vast campaigns to spread illogical and ignorant concepts in the attempt to batter the opposition into submission.

I wonder if he can recognise the irony of 'doing unto others' what you think they have done to you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Using words the way God intended

I have just finished an article which may go out in an American magazine. To do so I had to face the reality of American spelling, and my editor/wife (who was actually an exchange student in the US high school system - so hopefully has a fighting chance) American grammar. It was quite challenging.

I realise of course that the idea of American spelling is to make words closer to how they sound, but the result is often far more peculiar spelling than I had previously imagined possible. (There was one word, I forget which one, where three of us tried every possible weird or phonetic spelling we could think of. Eventually we gave up and went on line to an American dictionary to get rid of the red underlining that Microsoft Word insists on using even when you ask it to use correct English, or even Australian English.)

Most painful of all however, was that the article required discussing military casualties, and I finally succumbed to the horrible modern journalist speak version of the word 'decimate'.

Decimation was actually the Roman armies practice of sacrificing every tenth man, drawn by lot, as an 'encouragement' to the rest to lift their game. Literally it means exactly what it says - deci being Roman for ten, and decimal counting being in base ten - ten percent.

Unfotunately modern journalists have attached the concept of decimation to massive losses, and more often use it to imply 90% rather than 10%.

Now I started to mention the correct meaning in brackets in the draft of the article, but had to cut it as part of a valiant effort to get total wordage down to a manageable number for the poor editor. It pained me to do so, but I rolled the whole thing up with the spelling issue and took all my medicine at once. Still it left me with a few reflections.

Is this a sample of accepting cultural relativism, or simply of selling out principle's for prospective income? Is my preference for correct use of historical terms noble or pompous? At what point does a term that has been bastardised become so acceptable in it's new form that it is pointless to protest it's original meaning? Is trying to hold back the ongoing development of language a reactionary pedantry? Or at what point does trying to stay up to date with populist usage make youse, kinda sad... you know?

The real issue appears to be that there should still be a distinction between casual chatter and something with the pretense of academic usage. So if such an article is for a newspaper, modern usage is acceptable, but if for a refereed historical journal, unacceptable. (Or am I incorrect and it is acceptable in modern academic usage... particularly American?)

Seeing that this blog is entirely about pointing out fallacies in reasoning, it seems only fair to mention where I am being inconsistent, one might even say hypocritical, in my own viewpoints.

Doesn't solve my confusion though.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Feedback on recent comments.

It is with embarrassment that I note that I have not posted for almost 3 months. I have been so busy writing articles and scripts that I failed to realise that none of it had gone on the blog. I promise to be better.

I will take the opportunity to thank the many people who have given me comments on the blog itself, or by e-mail or in person. It has been encouraging to hear that some of the articles have hit a nerve.

In fact I have had complaints about unfairness to particular nationalities from Australian, British, French, and American sources. This gives me a warm glow, because if I’m annoying everybody equally I must be succeeding.

In fairness, the ones who get the most shtick are the Americans, purely on the basis that it is their politics and culture which has had most effect on buggering up the last century. If I was mainly writing about the previous century, I would no doubt be giving the British the most shtick, whereas in the century before that it would have been the French, and the century before that the Dutch, and the century before that the Spanish, and the centuries before that the Mongol’s, and the centuries before that the Muslims, and the centuries before that the Romans, etc, probably back to the first trouble making walking fish that wandered on the dry land. In any century, he who carries the can, also gets to stink of garbage!

Addenda - Someone suggested I clarify this. So for example, find a quote from any European union political hack (particularly French) complaining about American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000's, and compare it to what the American political hacks were saying about the British Empire in the early 1900's, or what the British were saying about Napoleon in the early 1800's, etc. You will find that the smug outrage the French have recently expressed at American actions sounds almost exactly the same as the self righteous bleatings of American 'democrats' about 'imperialism' a century earlier. (Amusingly, at the time the Americans were annexing Hawaii, and conquoring parts of central America and the Caribbean, etc.)

It is as easy to argue that the disasters of the last century - from the failure of the Versailles peace treaty to the great Depression, to the vast numbers of evil dictatorships spread in the name of republics - are largely the responsibility of Americans and their worldview: as it is to argue that the failures of the balance of power system of the previous century - and the distortion of the trade empires by middle-class morality and racism - are largely the responsibility of the British and their worldview. In both cases it is an exaggeration of their relative importance at the time, but not much more than the one that they were then claiming for their own systems. (See my post on the 19th century Crimean War as the first media war for instance.)

Some have complained that my dismissal of the affects of the Gallipoli landings, or the occupation of Afghanistan, mean that I am criticizing of valour or patriotism of those who fought on the ground. They need to look a little bit closer at the political systems that launched those events. The valiant and well-meaning soldiers who are doing their very best, deserve to be honored even if they fight for an evil system. The Spartans, Huns, Mongol’s, and Waffen SS, were often as brave, well-meaning, and dedicated to the cause (with in every case some evil and embarrassing specimens mixed in) as the troops of the ‘good-guys’. The fact that their cause may not have been a loveable one is the fault of the government, their education system, and very often their average voter: rather than of the men and women doing their best at the sharp end. (There you are, I have compared Anzac’s and GI’s to Mongol hordes and Storm-troopers in one paragraph. In each case I honored the troops while expressing concern at their causes, governments intentions and voters culpability for the results of their efforts. That should be good for some outrage from those who don’t read for context!)

I will make the following post on Singapore in 1942 sample of what I mean.

Keep the feedback coming.

Failures of democracy: the loss of Singapore in 1942.

I am reading an interesting book called ‘The Generals - from defeat to victory, Leadership in Asia 1941-1945’, by Robert Lyman. It provides a fascinating insight into some of the characters who populated by first masters degree, and I will review it in more detail later. To start with though, it gives me a good opportunity to consider how the fault in many failed military operations does not really lie with the generals or the troops.

The outline of the loss of Singapore in 1942 is simple and well known. The Imperial Japanese Empire attacked Dutch, British and American colonial possessions on the seventh and eighth of December 1941, with the first attacks on Malaya going in only hours before the those in the Philippines. From the beaches of neutral Thailand, General Yamashita’s 25th Army performed an amazing 70 day advance the length of the Malayan peninsula to capture Singapore. Fewer than 60,000 men eventually defeated twice their number. This operation compares favorably to the blitzkrieg’s in Poland 1939, France 1940, North Africa 1941, and Russia 1941. The sheer elegance of the speed and opportunism of the advancing forces is a textbook example of achieving unlikely results with minimal force.

So naturally there has to be a scapegoat. Traditionally, that has been General Percival the GOC (general officer commanding) Malaya, and to a lesser extent his subordinate generals from the Indian and Australian Army. Some historians have gone further to blame the governments who gave them inadequate forces (or at least the British government, because the Australian government has always denied that it had any share of the blame in a traditional game of ‘pass the buck’). The truth is of course, much more complex.

The idea behind the naval base Singapore strategy, was that it would provide a location for deployment of the main British fleet should war break out in the far east and Pacific, thus allowing the Empire and Dominions – like Australia - to skimp on their land force alternatives. This was a theoretically sensible thing, in that the Royal Navy had been the international peacekeeping force for the last century or more.

Unfortunately, a wave of anti-war feelings in the post Great War era made a mockery of this. First, the Americans, through motives that must be described as racism, demanded that the British give up their military alliance with Japan (which had served all the Allies so well during the Great War). The Japanese knew perfectly well what was being done, and why it was being done, and (unsurprisingly) wanted revenge later. The second point, was that in return the Japanese insisted on no British or American fortifications in their part of the world, except for Luzon bay and Singapore. Third, the Americans and Japanese insisted that the Royal Navy be reduced to equivalent size with the American navy, with only a 40% margin over the Japanese navy. Given that the British had a century or more of policing of the world’s free trade, where the Americans and Japanese had pretty much limited themselves in to some Pacific concerns, the combination of these three things was effectively a statement that no one would be responsible for free trade security in the future. So ‘naval base’ Singapore was constructed to do a job that was apparently no longer a priority, and for which there would be inadequate resources anyway.

This was not of course, seen as a cunning plan by the Royal Navy. It was however, seen as a cunning plan by the British politicianst, who used it to confuse the British voter into thinking that something was being done for almost nothing. Being politicians, they then renamed ‘naval base’ Singapore as Fortress Singapore, which meant precisely nothing. It sounded good for politicians to repeat though, and did allow both British and Australian governments to avoid a lot of expenditure on defence for 20 years.

So when General Percival faced a Japanese attack, he did so with an army well short of the number of battalions considered necessary. (The correct number would be available within six months, but immediately needed units had already been rushed to help open communications through Iran and Iraq with the Soviets who were in desperate straights.) In addition, he was defending a naval base that had no landward fortifications, and was not expecting a fleet for up to six months. (Another myth is that it never came. This too is incorrect. Within four months the largest allied battle-fleet in the world was the five battleships and three aircraft carriers – with three more battleships and two more aircraft carriers en-route – deployed as the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean, where it had one unsuccessful brush with the Japanese navy in April 1942. But before it was fully deployed as the Battle of Midway made it unnecessary, and the main units were moved back to invade North Africa and Italy instead.)

While waiting for the fleet, the theory had been that the Royal Air Force would be able to delay potential invaders, which meant that several airfields had been built in northern Malaya. Given that there were not enough modern aircraft to operate from those in fields, General Percival found himself responsible for defending yet more bases which served no real purpose (except of course that they would be extremely useful to the Japanese if they could be captured). So the army he did have needed to be deployed to defend empty naval and air bases scattered across hundreds of miles of coastline. Again, it was probably not surprised that such deployments, forced on him by the inadequacies of government and voters, put him at a serious disadvantage. (Note – aircraft may well have been available in time, if 3,000 Hurricane fighters had not been diverted to help Soviet Russia. Ten percent of them would probably have been enough!)

Percival also suffered from having commanders assigned by other governments. General Lewis Heath, known as ‘Piggy’ Heath, worked for the Indian Army and government. A brave foot slogging soldier who had done well in minor campaigns like East Africa: he had avoided any staff school training in his career, and had not a clue about the strategic or political problems faced by his superiors. General Gordon Bennett worked for the Australian army and government, and goes down in history as the greatest stain on the reputation of Australian generals. He had a chip on his shoulder that insured that his commanding officer in Malaya, his Australian superiors, and anybody who he saw as competition, was a far greater enemy than those actually shooting at him. The last minute appointment of General Wavell, exhausted from his over-extended tour in the Middle East, to supervise the ABDA command just made it worse. With no knowledge or understanding of the situation Wavell fell for Bennett’s bombast, and ordered a reluctant Percival to let him supervise a critical defence position. Inevitably that lead to failure.

With that said, General Yamashita, the commander of the invading Japanese army, had problems of his own. His government could not provide enough logistics to support the three divisions assigned. He would have to mount the attack with two divisions, and hope that there was a capacity to land and supply the third division in time for the final assault on Singapore. Through out the campaign he would be operating on a shoestring, and realistically it was only the capture of British supplies and transport that allowed the advance to continue. Even during the final assault, his men were so short of munitions and other supplies, that he desperately pressured Percival into surrender.

The key element here is of course that both men were being asked to do the impossible by their governments and their people’s. The difference is that General Yamashita managed to succeed.

The reason for Percival’s failure to do likewise are many and varied, but all relate as much to the system as to the man himself. He knew what naval forces were needed, but did not have them available after 20 years of parsimonious defence spending. He knew what air forces were needed to make up the gaps, but could not compete with the political importance of supplying a new ally (the Soviet Union) with 10 times those resources in the months leading up to the Japanese attack. He knew what he needed his land force subordinates to do, but they were lacking in ability and had divided loyalties. He knew what he needed the troops to do, but the provider governments had sent inadequately trained troops, with officers incapable of improving their training. He had inherited an excellent plan to shortstop the Japanese invasion into southern Thailand by crossing the border to meet them on the beaches, but he lacked the political support to carry it out in time. At every stage he was aware what the problems were, and what needed to be done to fix them, but he lacked the military or political resources to carry out his plans.

Of course a really good general, like Yamashita, was able to overcome the obstacles his government had put in his way. Which leads us to the real person who needs to be blamed for the failure of the British defences, the 1941 CIGS (Chief of Imperial General Staff) General John Dill, who assigned Percival to the job in the first place. Knowing that his government was not willing to send the necessary resources, he hoped it would be enough to dispatch a first-class staff officer to try and organize things. As his successor (just days before the Japanese attack) General Alan Brooke noted in his diary: there is nothing more stupid than assigning a staff officer to a vital leadership position.

It has always been fascinating to imagine who Brooke would has assigned had he been appointed CIGS a few months earlier. He would have searched for a brilliant leader and trainer with experience in of the Indian Army (from where most of the troops would come), who he trusted to cope with impossible circumstances at the end of an inadequate supply line. Only three names in his diary can close to this description. General Claude Auchinlek, who Brook had reservations about, and who Churchill had just assigned to replace Wavell in the Middle East; General Harold Alexander, who was certainly reliable, but not Brooks first choice for a complex role; and General Bernard Montgomery, who throughout the war was Brooks’ fireman. Montgomery had served at the Quetta staff College in India, and had always worked well with troops of all nationalities. He was clearly Alexander’s superior as a tactician, and in dealing with lack of supplies. (During the retreat through Belgium in 1940, while other divisions were short of food, Brook was impressed by the ‘ever provident’ Montgomery’s appropriation of a herd of cows.) Montgomery was the one man who Brook always trusted to overcome the odds.

Visualising Montgomery in Malaya is highly amusing. Judging by all his previous and future actions, he would have exploded onto the scene and completely reversed the vast majority of practices and preparations. He would undoubtedly have insisted that he had no time to deal with Burma, and that it should be returned to India command (which may well have saved it, by contrast to the last minute change several months later). He would have called for a first-class staff officer to play deputy at Singapore while he concentrated on the field army (again, getting General Pownall far earlier, when it might have had an impact). He would have followed previous practices by insisting that the theatre be treated as a war zone, and that wives must be sent home. (This last would have caused a rupture with Piggy Heath, who had a very pretty new young wife, and would probably have led to his replacement by the next officer in line for core command in the Indian Army, an impressive fellow called William Slim. Many have claimed that Slim was the best allied general of the war.) He certainly would have accepted the suggestion of the visiting Australian Chief of Staff that Bennett should be replaced by someone with modern combat experience. (The next Australian in line to divisional command was the iconoclastic George Vasey, whose favorite greeting for superior officers was “How are you, you old bastard?”. Adored by his men, he had successfully led troops in North Africa, Greece, and Syria, and was to be even more successful in New Guinea.)

The arrival of Slim and Vasey alone would have had profound affects, even without the personal impact of Montgomery - one of the best trainers and leaders in all the Allied armies during the Second World War. But the idea that troops would not have been infinitely better prepared when the Japanese arrived is laughable. The concept that Montgomery and these assistants would continually and confusedly reply to Yamashita’s tactics by simply retreating is inconceivable. Simply the removal of Heath and Bennett would have been a vast improvement, even without replacements of this quality.

The idea that Montgomery would have waited for the political hand wringers when granted the opportunity to pre-emptively attack the Japanese beaches is also laughable. (When the BEF advanced into Belgium in 1940, other divisional commanders had had trouble with local Belgian generals, but not Montgomery. He told Brook that he had put himself unreservedly under the local Belgian commander, but that if the Germans did attack he would simply arrest him and get him out of the way so that he could do his job.) It is interesting to consider how the Japanese would have coped with an Anzio or D-Day style combat on the beaches given that their attack at Khotu Baru suffered significant casualties from much lighter defences. Certainly their logistics were not up to the sort of efforts it took the Allies to fight their way forward in Italy and France.

I do not doubt for a second that Montgomery would have been able to create the resistance necessary to keep his troops in better heart. Even if Japanese superiority in the air and sea had made retreat inevitable, it would certainly have been much slower and much more painful for the Japanese. Considering that their occupation of Singapore was on what Yamashita himself considered to be it’s last gasp, this could have been a telling point. The British 18th division and another Indian brigade, along with 2500 Australian reinforcements, arrived only days before the surrender and had no time to recover from their journey, to train, or to take up their places effectively in the line. This would not have been the case had Montgomery been in charge. Even more significantly, General Lavarack, the Australian corps commander from Libya and Syria, had already run a reconnaissance to deploy the battle hardened Sixth and Seventh Australian divisions within a few weeks. These troops would not have been as inexperienced, badly trained, or defeatist, as the Indian Corps (that would have been withdrawn to Java to recuperate and to take up defences there).

Consider acounter attack by the battle hardened Australian Corps, supported by the battle hardened 7th Armoured Brigade (which was only diverted to Burma after easy success in Malaya allowed the Japanese to start the Burma attack early). Consider that although the Japanese held air superiority, newly arrived units in Burma were turning that around until ordered to withdraw due to Japanese land advances. Consider that the Royal Navy escorted many convoys into the besieged Singapore without losing a single ship to the Japanese.

Possibly the result would have been the same in the end, but a careful reading of Yamashita’s perspective does not suggest that anything was inevitable.

Yet despite my playing with the idea that leadership would have made an enormous difference, the real cause of the problem at Singapore remains what it has always been for liberal western states in the last couple of centuries. Democracy.

During peace time politicians and voters put off expenditure on defence until it is too late. During peacetime the profession of arms is so poorly thought of that most of the better offices escape to higher paid positions elsewhere, leaving far too high a percentage of second rate alternatives pretending to be useful generals when war begins. During wartime the second rate alternatives in higher command often deploy these second rate generals to the front through lack of imagination, or lack of alternatives. During wartime, the politicians who have spent the last 20 years arguing against defence expenditure, feel justified in blaming the military commanders for all the resulting failures. During wartime, the voters get the inevitable results of the interwar voting habits. But they, like the politicians, then get the opportunity to poke scorn at the dead and defeated soldiers who have paid the price of the voters parsimony.

Democracies traditionally go into wars ill prepared, and with a poorly paid and poorly trained military. Democracies traditionally then welcome pompous historians writing lots of books about how hopeless their military classes are - see the Lions led by Donkeys explanation of the Great War - failing to note that this itself discourages the recruitment or retention of good candidates for the military during peacetime! Democracies in fact get the militaries they deserve in peace, and then pay the penalties their voting habits have made inevitable in war.

As a result I can affirm that in most wars by liberal western states of the last three centuries there have been inevitable examples of ‘Lions led by Donkeys’. But my preferred candidate for the title of ‘Donkeys’ are not necessarily the generals, or even the politicians: but the voting public themselves.