Saturday, October 6, 2012

China now, Imperial Germany then - Democracy, Nationalism and Militance

It has been fascinating to watch the rise of Chinese Nationalism, particularly as expressed by the current argument over a group of rocks (the Diaoyu's) in an ocean that China has traditionally ignored ,or indeed outlawed traders from using.

What is particularly alarming to me though, is the historical parallels it draws with other historical powers making very bad choices for very regrettable reasons.

Just to list some recurring historical issues:

1. Too many young men...

The Crusades (for good or bad, and arguments can be made both ways) can be read as an exercise in exporting excess younger sons of noble and knightly families to find fame and fortune, and of course lands to rule, a long way away from home. (In fact I once did an old fashioned - and statistically suspect - cumulative frequency graph for the crusades, compared to the rise and then fall of population in Europe pre and post the Great Famines of 1314-15, and the Black Death. The steep rise in both prior to 1300 matched beautifully. The rapid fall in population thereafter led to a much flattened gradient that quickly died out.)

This is what nations have almost always done with excess testosterone, from Alexander, Attila and Ghenghis, to Conquistadore and boys from the playing fields of Eton. To paraphrase Mussolini, 'Italy has two many children to support, so we must produce more men to conquor new lands'.

But in China's case a one child policy in a nation biased to male heirs has produced an excess of aggressive young men of military age, with little chance of ever marrying, such as has never previously been seen in human history. Potential problems with militaristic nationalism?

2. Too much propaganda..

The first media war was the Crimean War, where a reluctant British government was driven into a conflict it didn't want by the power of press manipulated public opinion. In the end the Turks deliberately sent their fleet on a suicide mission for the sole purpose of making the British public believe Britain's guarantees had been flouted by the Russians.

A similar media motivated/manipulated war was the Spanish-American War of the turn of last century. (The Democrats and media barons used the media to force the reluctant Republican administration into fairly blatant imperial conquests - including several territories like Peurto Rico and Guam -  still held by the US and still treated as non voting colonies).

China's Communist Party has played with media manipulation for quite a while now, and perhaps it is finally dawning on them that the result may unleash the populist dragon... in a most uncontrollable fashion.

3. Too many chattering classes...

China is also facing the impact of the inevitable rise of an educated middle class that comes with industrialisation, whether you like it or not.

Traditionally this newly awakened group of shallow, but sincere and well meaning, new activists has been an easy target for populist movements and demagogues of all sorts. Think of the cretinous young chattering class opera lovers who think 'a new world awaits beyond the barricades' in Les Miserables, and you get a fair idea. These are the 'useful idiots' who can be convinced to support Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Madame Guillotine (or the even more simplistic and unrealistic formulas of modern green movements!)

A recent example of how NOT to deal with such emerging chattering influences was the Argentinian Military Regime's decision to distract them with what sic-fi maestro David Weber amusingly calls "a short victorious war". Popular outrage against your incompetent and corrupt government rising, declare war on someone you can rely on the idiots to rally against. Las Malvinas sounds easy and popular.. let's invade the Falklands! (Note to idiots... if your government is desperate enough to think this is a clever idea, you are already on the road to disaster. this will just add revolt, possible civil war, and almost inevitable even nastier dictatorship to the mix.)

When I was at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU I managed to provoke a certain scorn by suggesting that Australia was infinitely less threatened by tinpot Indonesian dictators than by the genuine possibility that an elected Indian President might some day need to redirect public anger away from their own party in just such a way... (India, unlike China, actually has the military hardware to invade Australia if it actually wanted to... If a World War Two type situation, where our main protector was just a bit busy somewhere else, ever rose again, India could conquor Australia much, much more easily than Japan could have even considered in World War Two!)

The Arab Spring (a re-run of 1848 if ever I saw one), is just starting to produce the results that might lead to similar threats of 'short victorious wars'. The likelihood of conflict between branches of Muslims and anyone unfortunate enough to be in their way (like Israel, or Christians, or Kurds or other minorities), have been vastly increased by the introduction of democracy. Particularly by letting the brakes off the shallow thinking but well meaning new chattering classes. These are the people who are likely to lead the ignorant masses into the bright new uplands of progress... like communism and nazism and all those other clever new ideas.

China is likely to learn that steering the beast is a lot harder than creating it.

4. An excess of democracy...

Strangely, giving the new classes a say in your society when they are relatively ignorant of the naunces of politics and international relations, does not tend to good results. You get stupidity such as the Napoleonic wars (or the American subset, the War of 1812), or Nazism or Communism, by well meaning idealists leading gullible masses into terrible disaster.

The best example of this is not often recognised as democratic pressure. The decleratioin of war by Imperial Germany in 1914 is usually seen as an imperial war by an imperial regime. But in fact the democratic pressures of the new chattering classes and their Navy League, and Colonial League and all the other democratic movements that were nationalistically aggressive, had a real effect on the pressures the German government felt under, and felt they needed to control or guide.

China may well soon face a perfect storm of exactly the sort of issues that authoritarian regimes cannot cope with when they need new middle classes to run their industrialisation.

A combination of threats...

Ridiculous as it may seem, it is unexpected arguments over useless little islands (Cuba 1898, Cuba 1962, Falklands 1982, now the Diaoyu's)  that are historically more likely to cause regimes to lose control of the tiger they are riding than great and recognisable historical issues they feel they have a handle on.

Danger to government stability comes in many forms, but an oversupply of testosterone, propaganda, idealism and ignorant democratic pressure is the most dangerous of all... for authoritarian regimes as well as for democratic ones.

Maybe China would be better for a Falkland's experience? Pity about the cost.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Twits: The Emperor of Brazil and the Shah of Iran.

On a trip to Italy recently I became very aware of how the French Revolution, and Napoleon Bonaparte in particular, burst on the scene and overthrew generations of stability with what appeared at the time to be inspiring revolution and reform.

When Napoleon’s fleet forced its way intoMalta –  then the greatest fortress in Europe – many Maltese ran to their positions at the batteries, only to have the French knights of the order of St John turn them back because they were convinced that the impending changes were too wonderful and inspiring to want to stop. (In actuality the French Revolution, and Napoleon in particular, were brutal and rapacious looters, and the Maltese people were forced to revolt within only a few weeks of watching the French pillage their churches and culture).

Similarly the Doge of the thousand year old Serene Republic of Venice, when threatened by Napoleon’s forces, surrendered, and handed his cap of office to a servant commenting “I won’t be needing that any-more”. This surrender is particularly baffling given that fifty years later the  much poorer and weaker Venetians threw out their new Austrian masters, and endured a year long seige with considerable fortitude. The surrender to Napoleon for the Venetians, as for the Maltese, was again more of a feeling of inevitability than from any real weakness or fear, and again was instantly regretted as the rapacious French sacked the great arsenal and looted the churches.

The theme here is that some things that look both wonderful and inevitable at the time, quite quickly prove to be appalling mistakes. Such are the case in the foundations of the Republics of Brazil and Iran.

Brazil was the greatest treasure of the Portuguese crown, to the point that when the royal family fled there during the Napoleonic wars, the prince decided to stay when his father returned home, and Brazil became an independent Constitutional Monarchy with a parliamentary system of government along the British model. 

Brazil therefore entered a golden age, where the entire focus of the governments power was upon the development and improvementof the colony – rather than on looting it for the benefit of the mother country the way most Catholic empires of the period were doing. (Catholic conquistadores often claimed they were after converts, but in practice were seeking loot. Protestant empires tended to be more settle and trade rather than conquor and loot. Orthodox empires were geographically more attuned to the ‘keep the barbarians further and further away from our borders’ approach of the Middle East. And Muslim empires were of course still into the sort of ‘conversion by the sword’ that the Protestants weren’t any longer, and the Catholics weren’t supposed to be since the Pope’s ruling against it…)

Brazil’s golden age saw massive advances in the economy, in education, in human rights for all, and in integrating the mixed races of the state. Democracy was growing, freedom of the press was entrenched, and slavery abolished. Things leapt ahead in great bounds for 80 years, and Brazil looked like a better bet than the United States (undergoing a horrible and debilitating civil war as it tried to catch up on getting rid of slavery), for becoming the great modernising power of the America’s.

But then, tragedy. The Emperor of Brazil got a good idea. He became fascinated with the advances in democracy in various parts of the world, and went out of his way to encourage his nascent constitutional monarchy parliament to remove him and declare a proper Republic. He felt that this was both a wonderful and inevitable step, and that he should not stand in its way. In fact there was little desire amongst the general population for any change, but the new elites of chattering classes were delighted to play with new power. (Though, as in the US revolution, slave owners who wanted to keep their slaves played a dominant role in the ‘reform’.)

Over the next century Brazil became apathetic backwater, and suffered a series of appalling dictatorships. The economy crumbled into a basket case, the rule of law was lost, freedom of the press smashed, human rights dissolved, and conflict between the racial groups became endemic. Within a couple of decades the advances of a century were reversed, and a new system of repression and economic disadvantage locked into place for several generations.

Hooray for a foreward thinker.

In fact had the Emperor of Brazil kept a firm hand on the development of his parliamentary system over several decades, gradually increasing the voter base as property franchise and education improved along with general literacy and the rule of law, then Brazil might have continued to outpace the United States in the America’s. Instead he abandoned an only partly developed system to the mercies of a newly emerging chattering class BEFORE the rest of the citizens had developed the necessary understanding of structure and cynicism of politicial motive to be able to control the new elite. The result was what it always is, elected dictatorships followed by military coups, followed by violent rebellions, followed by more dictatorships, etc. (Suprisingly, it was one of the military governments that eventually got sick of the whole thing and started to re-impose a democratic system… but this time slowly and carefully ove the course of decades!)

A similar thing happened in the great hope of the Middle East, Iran.

Many of the small independent states of the Middle East granted self government in the last sixty years were tribal groups that worked best under their own traditional monarchs. They would take many years to develop the necessary education, literacy, and rule of law to start pushing towards functional constitutional monarchies (in fact Morrocco and Jordan and some of the Gulf Emirates are only now working towards this properly). Unfortunately several other states were forcibly constituted under monarchs who had little direct tribal association with large elements of the population, and these (particularly Iraq) have always been unstable, either as monarchies or as republics. But not any worse than many roughly structured Republics with similar problems (like Turkey and Syria and Libya).

Iran however, should not have had this problem. The ancient Persian culture was still dominant and strong, and the Shah was from a family with great history and loyalty. Minorities were not persecuted the way they were in other Muslim cultures, and their economy was booming. In fact Iran in the early years of the twentieth century was looking as promising as Brazil had a century earlier. It's 1908 Constitutional Monarchy and Parliament structure being a potential model for the entire Middle East on the route to modern statehood.

Yet again, the rulers are largely at fault for what happened next. Shahs' dropped the ball. They overestimated the advances in democracy, and underestimated that backwardness and ignorance of many of the citizens. They tried to structure a new style state before the population had the sophistication and education and cynicism to be ready for it. They finished with a parliament of shallow new chattering elites, willing to try foolish things that looked exciting or inevitable. One Shah had to be deposed for being too pro-German in World War Two. (Fascism looks exciting and inevitable....) His son was possibly even worse. He encouraged his parliament to nationalise foreign assets (Nationalism looks exciting and inevitable...), and the British and Americans reacted badly and instigated coups (the first recognisable modern US coup against a democratically elected government) and interventions that led to eventual collapse of the still underdeveloped political system. The Shah turned for a while to US support (scoring cold war brownie points looks like the way to go....), but the crisis grew worse over the next quarter century, and eventually ongoing debacles led to a final coup.

The result, inevitably, was that modern Iran is a particularly nasty theocratic dictatorship that has fallen economically decades behind its previously pathetic neighboure, and survives now on the sort of paranoia and irrational fear that used to represent the Soviet Union (and still apparently represents those other great republics... Russia and China and North Korea).

Iran went from being the shining hope of democracy and civilisation in the Middle East to being a basket case that has been economically completely overshadowed by the previously despised and backward tiny Emirates across the gulf. It went that way because the Shahs', like the Emperor of Brazil, and like the French Knights of St John or the Venetian council, fell for the concept of wonderful and inevitable advances, without realising that slow and cautious development is a necessary underpinning to any permanent advance.

Similar things happened in many other places that were thrown into ‘independence’ before devolping more than a rudimentary chattering class of lawyers and civil servant elites. If the literacy and education of the vast majority of citizens was not up to the idealism of the small and overly confident new elites, those countries were doomed to even nastier dictatorships than Brazil and Iran. (See almost anywhere in Africa for example.) 

Worse, many states fell to a particularly horrendous political 'shiny new toy', Communism, that usually inflicted economic chaos, and indeed slaughter and injustice, on its own citizens, beyond the wildest dreams of Ghenghis Khan (all in the name of being exciting and modern and inevitable of course...)

Democracy can be a wonderful part of a functioning constitutional system, but only if it is developed slowly over decades or centuries within a literate population, with a rule of law, a free press, and a firm understanding of cynicism in relation to political promises. Otherwise, overly enthusiastic institution of democracy within a largely illiterate and uneducated culture with little experience of rule of law, and virtually no understanding of the cynicism necessary to deal with the ridiculuous promises of professional politicians: leads to very horrible results.

The worst enemy of developing a stable democracy, is pushing it too fast.

The result of people who have been given responsibility for nurturing the development of a country thinking they can take exciting short-cuts, is inevitably appalling.

God save us from well meaning twits.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Could the Allies have won the war without the United States?

Some readers of my earlier articles have asked me to consider discussing this, and I am feeling a bit light hearted, so here goes with a bit of what we Australians call 'shit-stirring'. (Ie: a post inviting furious, sometimes rabid, response... Enjoy)

The answer is yes.... and no.

Let me put it another way.

Would the Allies have won the war better if the Americans had been contributing as an 'arsenal of democracy' but NOT involved in the fighting?

Probably yes.

American industrial reserves and financial reserves were as important to the Allies winning WW2 as British industrial and financial reserves were to the earlier Allies winning WW1, and the Napoleonic Wars (in which by the way the US fought on Napoleon's side).

In fact in the Napoleonic war, as in WW1 and in WW2, the money and equipment delivered by Britain/the US was far more important than the numbers of their actual boots on the ground. (I am perhaps understating the importance of the British army in WW1, but realistically its input in ground troops during the Napoleonic wars were as negligible as American input to WW2 prior to 1945.) The vital impact of Britain in both the earlier wars was in equipping the millions of Prussians or Austrians or Russians or Italians or French or Serbs or whichever warm bodies were available. I would contend that the same goes for the US in WW2 (especially on the Eastern Front).

Let us consider a few negative impacts of the Americans joining the war.

1.    The battle of the Atlantic, well on the way to being won in 1941, was almost lost in 1942 and 1943. Up to three quarters of shipping lost during the war was because of the loss of the American 'safe zone' in the Western Atlantic - and particularly the second 'Happy Time' for the U-boats - the diversion of US Navy vessels to the Pacific, and the latter withdrawal of escort carriers to invade North Africa. A very, very good argument can be made that this alone caused many extra military losses for the Allies, and slowed their resurgence by.... well by the number of ship loads that would have got through without those horrendous losses. It is no joke to suggest that a still neutral US, guaranteeing the Western Atlantic, and putting all the resources needed for replacement shipping into tanks and aircraft and landing craft, would have greatly improved the fighting position of the many millions of under-resourced Allied troops fighting with inadequate supplies. Net effect on the length of the war... incalculable.

2.    The equipment lost to American entry had a terrible effect on Allied fighting resources for years. By this I literally mean that the Allies - particularly Britain, but also Russia and China and many others like the Netherlands East Indies - had commissioned, and sometimes paid for, the development and production of vast quantities of equipment needed for winning the war: much of which was then syphoned into American training programs for recruits who would not be available for several years. Some of these things, ranging from ships and tanks to planes and guns, were supposed to come on line in 1942, but did not get into action large scale until 1944. (Consider the Mustang fighter for instance, a design commissioned by the British, and on order for the British, and eventually  - when equipped with a British Merlin engine - a war winner. Supposed to come into Britain's arsenal in 1942. Arrived in useful numbers 1944.) It is not just the fancy items that count here. The thing that eventually gave the Soviets the maneuverability to drive the Germans back was tens of thousands of American trucks. They were supposed to start arriving in 1942, but between American requirements, and shipping losses, they actually started arriving in numbers in 1944. (See Russia's 1944 Blitzkreigs and the loss of Germany's Army Group Centre... Hmmm.) Net effect on the length of the war... vast.

3.    Roosevelt 1: Invasion North Africa. Possibly also a useful military exercise to practice amphibious warfare, but it was hardly vital. (The invasion of Madagascar was actually more informative, and Sicily was just as easy.) But enormous resources had to be wasted on it for two reasons. First, because Roosevelt needed American troops in action somewhere in 'Europe' by election time. Second, because American troops desperately needed exposure to real combat in the easiest possible environment to counter Marshall's fantasy that his new conscripts were ready to face German veterans. (Thank God for Kasserine Pass.) Would Montgomery and 8th army have pushed the Axis out of Libya any faster? No. Would Germany have invaded Tunisia without such provocation? Unlikely. Would it have made a long term difference if they had anyway? Probably not. The most damaging part of the whole operation was stripping all the new escort carriers and vast numbers of naval escorts away from shipping routes for several more months leading to: A) greatly increased shipping losses, and B) another huge slowdown in when counterattacks in Europe could begin. Net effect on length of the war almost certainly negative.

4.    Roosevelt 2: Unconditional Surrender. What an idiot politician will do for a good sound bite. This statement cost the lives of more Western Allied soldiers than any other piece of stupidity since President's Wilson and Clemencau's willful destruction of any prospect of a workable WW1 peace settlement. German soldiers in the rubble of the Ruhr preferred to die than to be shipped to Canadian forests and American mines (yes really Goebbels was that good), while Japanese resistance went on endlessly because this seemed to threaten the sacred Emperor. Long term effect on the length of the war... absolutely indescribable.

5.    Admiral King. Need I say more?... All right, I will just comment that British CIGS Alan Brooke later bemoaned that he hadn't accepted King's offer to go 75% Europe and 25% Pacific, because that is way, way better than what happened. Effect on lengthening the war... quite a lot. (See shipping loses in Atlantic and King's refusal to run convoys for a start. In fact most of points 1 and 2 are magnified by King.)

Having definitively stated that American involvement and decisions made the war longer (and there are many other examples, but they amount to nit-picking and could have been committed by non Americans... the above couldn't), is still not necessarily going to prove that leaving the American forces out of the war would have made it shorter. For although I think this is at least arguable in the European case, there is Japan to consider.... Not the Japanese army, because American supplies to Russia (particularly via the Bering Strait if the US was not a belligerent) and China and Australia and India would have more than made up for the negligible numbers of troops the Americans actually used prior to 1945; and possibly not to the air force, where the same follows. But there is the problem of the Japanese Navy.

Put simply, would the continued security of the Western Atlantic, due to continued American neutrality have given Britain the extra flexibility needed to win in the Indian Ocean? (Given option A: that if Japan had attacked Britain and the Netherlands and NOT the US in the East the Japanese would have had to keep a constant guard against the still vast American naval presence in the Pacific/Philippines, or B: the unlikely possibility that had America backed down and surrendered after Pearl Harbor, a guard against their ever increasing West coast navy would have still been somewhat desirable for the Japanese.)

This, as far as I am concerned, is the only issue about whether the Allies could have won the war without US military involvement. The Allies simply had too many millions of underemployed - because under-equipped - spare men in Russia and North Africa and India and China to not have benefitted from the US sending more equipment sooner, rather than less for a long time, and then badly trained conscripts later. (The British Empire and Commonwealth alone had several times the population of the Axis, as did the Russians, and the French Empire, not to mention the Chinese... manpower was never a problem. Equipping and moving it was. See 1 and 2 above, again.)

So it comes down to this.

On April 5 1942 the Japanese launched their only serious attack on the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean. Effectively it was the Pearl Harbour task force less 1 carrier. (Pearl Harbor was the biggest concentrated Japanese force of the war because it was the only time they had surprise and could take such a risk.)

5 carriers and 4 battlecruisers was certainly one of the biggest raiding fleets possible that far from the home islands unless any other possible opponent was not a threat. (Could they have left NO home fleet even if the US was still neutral? Of course not. Nor can I push the somewhat unlikely 'US surrendered after Pearl Harbor' concept as far as NO need to have a screen against the mainland US. There is the impossibly unlikely, and then there is pure fantasy.)

The Royal Navy force was still incomplete, having only 5 battleships and 3 aircraft carriers of the 9 battleships and 5 aircraft carriers due within the next few weeks. (The two sides were about even in cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.) But the British still used radio intercepts to be in position to ambush the Japs on April 1, unfortunately deciding to return to base just before the Japs arrived 3 days late.

The result was inconclusive. Despite a few days of maneuvering (the Japanese advancing in daylight and retreating at night, and the British doing the opposite), the British were not able to undertake their ambush, and lost dozens of aircraft, two dozen merchant ships, and a few warships (including an ancient escort carrier with no planes on board and 2 cruisers) and temporarily relocated units to other ports in India and Africa while waiting for re-inforcements. The Japanese lost a, never admitted, number of irreplaceable aircraft and pilots (perhaps only 40 or 50 directly but probably more written off), but failed to win the much desired decisive victory. They had to rush back to try again against the Americans, only to see their weakened and increasingly exhausted units lose consecutive rounds at Coral Sea and Midway.

But what if the Americans were not in the war? What if the Japanese could push harder? What if the British had been able to send more, faster? (The delay for some British capital units had been waiting for American battleships and carriers to move to British ports, which was caused by the expanding losses in the West Atlantic - which required more ships, which was caused by America joining the war... You can see where this is going.)

The conflict could have seen approximately equal naval forces facing off for a proper Midway style battle at Ceylon. In which case the same factors hold true as at Midway.

The Japanese had more aircraft on their carriers, but both aircraft and carriers had a tendency to explode easily in combat. The British (like the Americans at Midway) had back up aircraft on land.

The Japanese think they are doing a sneak attack. The British (like the Americans at Midway) know from intelligence that the Japanese are coming.

The Japanese are under an irresolute commander who time and again (Pearl Harbour where he didn't finish the job, Ceylon where he didn't find the British fleet, Midway where he waffled inconclusively) proved he should not be leading an aircraft strike fleet. The British (like the Americans at Midway) have a brilliant commander whose war record is almost faultless. (In 1942 Admiral Sommerville had been commanding the worlds first and best 'Carrier Task Force' - Force H, successfully in battles and raids for 2 years. Spruance was actually an beginner at Midway, but his war record thereafter was pretty good.)

But then there are a few differences.

The British have radar, and two years combat experience using it. (See Cape Matapan  for instance). The Japanese don't have either.

The British have much slower strike aircraft, but they are radar equipped and trained for night strikes. They have successfully demonstrated their abilities at places like Taranto and against the Bismarck. Japanese (and American) attempts in 1942 or 1943 to use aircraft in the evening usually led to scores of invaluable aircraft and pilots lost at sea, or trying to land on each others carriers.

The British carriers are armoured, and easily shrugged off bombs and Kamikaze attacks throughout the war. Both the Luftwaffe and the IJN repeatedly declared kills of British carriers that were back in operation within a few hours. (Both Japan and the US were trying to get armoured carriers in operation by 1945, but mostly too late.)

The Japanese battlecruisers are far faster, but show the fatal tendency to blow up when facing battleships (or even American 8 inch cruisers of Guadalcanal) that always bedevilled battlecruisers. The majority of the British battleships are much slower, but have radar to guide them that the Japanese don't. (For speed vs radar see Matapan for instance.)

The British have also used years of experience in the Mediterranean to perfect using radar to vector in defending fighters out of the sun. For the entire war British carriers need much smaller fighter patrols than Japanese or American ones to achieve the same results. (American naval co-operation officers comment extensively on this in 1945.)

I don't want to make it sound too simplistic what the result would be. The Japanese had individually skilled pilots, and their cruiser commanders showed considerable flair. (And most naval battles of 1942-3 had extremely high components of pure luck.) However I am on record as being generally appalled by how the Japanese admirals handled fleet actions. It may have been understandable when both they and the Americans were feeling their way in early 1942, but by 1944, when they should have been a bit more experienced, they were just pathetic. (When they finally, at immense cost, achieved their unlikely goal of a general fleet action, and were in a position to annihilate the American amphibious forces and put off threatened invasions for years: they sailed around in circles for a while and went home!) Their likely opponents in the Indian Ocean, Somerville (possibly even Cunningham), were considerably better, and had literally years of experience at winning combats with inferior forces against combat veterans (which the Japanese certainly were not yet).

It may not have been a route for either side. A drawn out melee as in the Mediterranean was always more likely than something as accidentally decisive as Midway. But with American aircraft supplies and dockyards on the British side, the end was probably just as inevitable.

So (with these reservations about the IJN), on the new and improved 'would the Allies have won without the Americans in combat', I will go not only with 'yes', but also with 'possibly quicker'.

(In fact I am drafting another post on production too, which will provide more thoughts...)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Allies vs Axis: Empires vs Wannabes...

A couple of weeks ago, a very entertaining Maltese tour guide at the new 'Malta in Wartime' museum explained to the ignorant tourists the difference between the Axis and the Allies. The Axis powers, he said, were all new nations established in the 1860's, who wanted more than they had; whereas the Allies were all old established Imperial powers, who had just about everything they wanted.

Now I have always taught the origins of WW2 to students by lining up the surviving powers from WW1 and having the students tell me which got what they wanted and which didn't. That gives you the sides for the next war. The two on the 'goodies' side in WW1 who switched to the 'baddies' in WW2, being Italy and Japan. (Italy because they didn't get the territorial aggrandisement they were after - and which had been promised to them until the Americans blocked it; and Japan because the Americans were so paranoid/racist they insisted - during the Washington Treaty talks in the 20's - that the British abandon the Anglo-Japanese Treaty that had worked so well for the 'goodies' in WW1. thug Canadian and Australian racism was not far behind in this preference.) France was also screwed over by the Americans at Washington, for scrapping battleships a bit too fast, but there was no chance they were leaving the British team for the German one.

So I found his assessment pretty straightforward and simple. In fact I was happy to accept an insight that my multiple research degrees and many years of writing on WW2 had previously overlooked, and resolved to include the comment just as casually in my future writings.

But then it occurred to me how it would sound to Americans... (United States of...)

That made it much more deliciously challenging.

To be fair he was not aiming the point at Americans. (In a week in Malta, surrounded by thousands of European and African and even Asian tourists, I can count the Americans I came across on the fingers of one hand.) He was making the point mainly to French and Germans and Italians, all of whom have fantasies about how nice their Republics/European Union are, and all of whom face a reality check at Malta. The first French Republic in particular was invited in to replace the rule of the decadent Knights of St John in 1798, and took only weeks to make itself so obnoxious that the large scale revolt the Knights had never provoked exploded. The request to the British to help drive out the French, and a couple of years later to join the Empire, is one of the main lessons he was making to the new Europeans who are still gamely fighting to convince everyone else to take one for the Union team. Idealism is no replacement for competence, and wishful thinking no replacement for trustworthiness. Got that Euro-fascists?

The American reference was not even actually stated. Just automatically implied when he said that all the major Allies were old fashioned empires that had spent centuries accumulating territories. But the very casualness with which it was assumed was striking to anyone who reads much American history... at least that written by Americans.

Americans like to pretend to lots of contradictory things. And this, almost accidentally, and very innocently, poked fun at a whole group of them.

Americans like to pretend that A) they are a young and energetic country, and B) that they have a very old constitution by world standards. They aren't actually either of these things really, with their founding colonies being far older than most European nation states, and even their original federation predating the German and Italian federations by a century. Only if you consider their 'nation' as dating from when the North re-conquored the newly independent South do they come out resembling a 'young' nation (making them the same age as the dictatorships). But surely that would make their 'reborn' constitution forcibly imposed on conquored states a new entrant too?

Americans try to pretend that Europeans are imperialists, while Americans are not... Which is a bit of a laugh considering that the United States occupied and incorporated more territory of Indians, Mexicans, Hawaiins, Pacific Islands etc; than any other nation (except its 'old imperial' Allies Britain, France and Russia). Consider the French Territories and Alaska for instance? The American conquest of most of the Spanish overseas territories, and their incorporation into its possessions (for their own good of course), just prior to WW1 is in no way relevant to the war of the imperial powers a few years later, is it?

Americans like to pretend that the 'old world' is set in bad old ways, and the 'new world' is different. See previous paragraph.

Americans like to pretend that republics are good, and monarchies are bad. But of course Germany only finished up with Hitler because it was a Republic, and the entire British Commonwealth of Nations, not to mention Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, etc, have to be swept under the carpet for that one to fly in WW2... Axis republics included Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Soviet Union (at the start anyway), and various other German and Japanese puppet states like Manchuria. On the Allied side a search for republics would only leave France (3rd Republic possibly, but Vichy and de Gaulle are doubtful in this category)... and perhaps Brazil? Republics good, monarchies bad? Take that you French/Italian European Union troublemakers

But most importantly, Americans like to pretend that they never played the 'Great Game', and that their motives were always pure. (See comments on why Japan finished up on Axis side above.)

So why was our guide making this point? Well, I am not sure how the Maltese usually act (though Australia has the highest number of immigrants from Malta - more than Britain and Canada combined, so I do know quite a few people of Maltese extraction). But I doubt that the Maltese newspapers and news are usually so covered with critical articles on the Euro and the problems of the Union. I also doubt that the nostalgia for British rule is usually so often repeated. I was particularly amused to hear the guide point out that Maltese independence had started as a Dominion under the Queen (like Australia or Canada or New Zealand or Malaysia, etc, etc), but then moved to a republic within the Commonwealth also under the Queen (like India, and Pakistan and South Africa, etc, etc). He commented that he supposed this meant that they had had the best of both world's, but as a self consciously first world country, the subtext of which group Malta should belong to seemed pretty clear.

To have an Italian background, Maltese speaking guide, carefully explain to the dumb French and Italian and German tourists, why the Maltese should not fall for some fairly baseless assumptions (and giving an entirely unconscious but devestating put down to American assumptions almost by accident)... was irresistibly amusing.

I left him a nice tip.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Rise of Modern Fascism\Communism... a choice of tailors

Time for another hysterical rant I think... Europe never learns…

A few weeks ago I heard several commentators try to explain how the extremists of Le Pen's far right party in France would join up with the extremists of the French Communist party to elect a socialist, without admitting that nutty extremists are far closer together than the so-called differences between the so-called Left and Right really pretend.

It happened.

Surprising who exactly?

Even the Australian media operates under the delusion that our mainstream parties represent a left and a right option. With some particularly bad journalists coming to the ridiculous conclusion that Australia has an extreme right party! (Actually we possibly do, but it is Bob Katter's party, not anything main stream. Just as the extreme left party is the remnants of Bob Browns theoretically green party, now starting to openly reveal its unrepentantly communist ideology. These are both simplistic nutter organisations for shallow thinkers, and have more in common with each others extremism than with any party attempting a balanced political platforms.)

By contrast the leader of one of Australia's major political parties is currently committed to soft socialism policies (and hard line pork barrelling), in the form of paid parental leave and taxpayer funded nannies for children. This party is called the 'Liberal' party.

Unfortunately this party has moved almost as far from the principles of true liberalism as the so called 'Labor' party has moved from any interest in the average worker. In truth both parties are soft left parties, without much to separate their wishy washy social democratic viewpoints apart from a slight variety in the honesty with which they admit to their vote grabbing strategies.

One is a little biased to its modern 'big government, big business and big unions' deal, and the other, at least theoretically, to small traders against big government. But neither is very convincing even in that distinction.

In practical terms, the political spectrum is a circle. 12 o'clock is extreme libertarianism (possibly even anarchism, but in the correct 'government is fundamentally a bad and automatically corrupt idea' version, rather than in the popular fantasy of mad bombers) and 6 o'clock is extreme government control (which can be called either Communism or Fascism, more depending on how well designed their uniforms are than real differences in attitude to the worth of people or how they should be treated).

Australia's main political parties - Labor and Liberal - come in at about quarter to ten, and quarter past ten respectively on such a spectrum. So close together in so many ways, that the points of difference can only be considered hugely significant by the most rabid of the chattering classes. Both are so fixated on middle class welfare to buy votes, that genuine attempts to actually do something useful for their supposed 'natural' constituencies hardly get a look in.

The farce of a supposedly Liberal government massively expanding the public service while competing flat out in pork barrelling, is as absurd a concept as the supposedly Labor government working flat out to increase unemployment through over-regulation in the interest of the ever less relevant union power-brokers who hold their leashes. (Australian unions now only represent 18% of the workforce even though they enforce an effectively closed shop in many industries... mainly non traditional white collar public sector ones. If you go to the private sector, the percentage drops below 13%, and is only kept that high by thuggery in the building sector, and by the continued inclusion of everyone who never got around to resigning on their registers. That includes dead people.)

As for the minor parties, Greens at 7.30, but fast headed for the ideological 7. Katter at 4, and likely to pick up enough Hansonites to go further to the 'right' and move to at least 4.30.

The Australian National party could possibly claim to be perhaps the party of the middle right. Say 2.30. Their version of protectionism is based on farms rather than industry, which seems to be the distinction between left and right. Primary industry protectionism being apparently right wing, and manufacturing industry protectionism being apparently left wing. Apparently. I have never really understood how one version of protectionism makes you right and the other left, any more than I understand how racism about keeping out cheap labour makes you left (the White Australia policy being a Labor party invention and policy no matter how much they try to pretend it wasn't), and racism about stopping foreigners buying farms makes you right.

(As a side issue, the Nationalists preference for protectionism is further towards 6 than even the Labor party, making the Liberals seem unlikely partners. But the Labor party would never stoop to seeking voters amongst the primary industry classes when the 'workers' in Australia's inner cities are so numerically dominant as to make this unnecessary. The Nationals are forced into partnership with the Liberals despite the fact that they are much further from Liberal preferences on protectionism than Labor ones.)

My confusion on this fantasy of left and right possibly goes back to my Uni days of studying who voted for the Nazi's. The full name of the party being National Socialist Workers Party. The Nationalist part was real enough to classify as right wing, but the Socialist Workers part was equally real, and would usually be considered fairly left wing, if not for the fact that they could be written off as right wing due to their supposed voting base.

In truth the success of the Nazi's was because of the breadth of their appeal. They offered something for everyone. They promised to increase protectionism, increase exports, and increase industrial production, for the 'left' city workers... and they delivered (at the cost of a military buildup and eventual war, but they did deliver). They promised protectionism and increased exports and production for the 'right' wing farmers... and delivered. They promised increased bureaucracy and civil works programs to the 'right' white collar classes and 'left' civil services, and delivered everything from autobahns to frontier fortifications. They promised increased orders of heavy industry, from tanks to warships, to the 'right' wing bankers and industrialists, and delivered. They promised increased nationalism and eventual revenge for Versailles to the conservatives and nationalists, and delivered. They promised economic stimulus to the middle classes, both left and right!

As far as I can see, the difference between the Communists and Fascists was more that the Communists limited their over simplistic appeal to factory workers only, while Fascists stretched their over simplistic appeal to anyone they could suck into their crude and simplistic world view. (And the Fascists had much better tailors...) They both had a cretinously unlikely 'them and us' storylines but the fascist version had a much wider appeal. Communist 'us' was the factory workers, and 'them' other Germans. Nazi 'us' was Germans, and 'them' non Germans (and Jews).

Guess which version could garner more votes?

The main apparent reason for calling the Fascists right wing rather than left appears to be that their most vicious conflict was with the Communists, so people like to pretend they were some sort of opposites. Given that historically the most vicious conflicts are between the parties competing for the same segment of the electorate, this is most unlikely.

The truth is that parties at 5.30 and 6.30 will be far more violently in conflict with each other for relatively like minded voters other than parties that are at 11.30 or 12.30, which would really be the opposite end of the political spectrum from their viewpoints.

People like Fascists and Communists are both pursuing people who think that the worlds problems can be solved by letting the government organise everything. They are much closer together than people who are genuinely at the opposite end of the spectrum, and who think that more individual freedom and less government interference is appropriate.

The Australian version is watching the Labor party losing ground to the Greens amongst the nuttier end of the left, and the Nationals losing ground to the Hansonites and Katterites at the nuttier end of the right. The fact is that both nuttier ends believe that all their problems can be solved by government protectionism and regulation and financial subsidies.

(In fact the Labor party is the natural home of racism, or at least xenophobia, in Australia's cities, just as the Nationals fit the bill in the country, so Labor loses at least as many votes to the 'right' wing extremists as the Nationals and Liberals. But this is not something the newly political correct Labor party wishes to admit to its new middle class base of chattering drones. As has been said repeatedly, the ALP has moved from representing the cream of the working class, to the dregs of the middle class.)

In truth the more extreme elements are just a step further away from individual rights than the major parties with their vast welfare programs, but the distinction takes the division from the mere foolishness of the unthinking swillers at the troughs of the major parties, to the genuinely frothing at the mouth idealism of those stupid enough to think they have discovered a major truth. A truth so obvious that anyone who does not agree is probably not even just blind, but in an organised conspiracy against what obviously is the only possible good and proper form of behavior.

(I met one of my teenage piano students soon after he went on to University. He was campaigning for some idealistic cause with all the self righteous passion of unthinking ignorance. I managed to quietly fob him off without commenting that 'anyone who is not socialist at 20 doesn't have a heart, and anyone who is still a socialist at 40 doesn't have a brain'. To my own self righteous perspective, those without brains include both Communists and Fascists.)

Meanwhile the debate in Europe is between those who believe the lies they have voted for these past 50 years (that the government can provide unlimited support on credit), and those who recognise this is crap and will inevitably lead to disaster. The latter are more towards the middle (or at least between 10 and 2), and the former nearer to 6 (or at least between 4 and 8).

Some of the bottom dwellers are calling themselves Communists, and some Fascists, but they are fighting for a base of protectionist xenophobes who think they are owed a living by their government.

Unfortunately the European Socialist parties who have dug this hole in the first place (from about 9 on the clock), are scrambling away from the more centralist position reality was almost forcing on them - in an attempt to hang on to their lower elements - while the supposedly right parties are heading away from the centre to satisfy the racists they are in danger of losing (see Sarkozy for one). 

Unfortunately extremism is always more likely to attract the ignorant and unthinking in a democracy, when things go wrong with the comfortable lies they have always voted for. Their choice comes to admitting that they have been cretins, or striking out against whoever they can think of to blame. Foreigners, capitalists, Jews, whatever.

It would be nice to think that steadily improved education over the last century would leave an electorate less susceptible to stupidity. Unfortunately this has two problems.

First, a genuine liberal education where people might learn minor elements of social behaviour such as ethics and history has been thrown out by 'progressives' concerned with producing a technocratic labor force instead. (Consider the Communist desire for 'useful idiots' or the Nazi preference to train people to accept the 'big lie'?)

Second, and perhaps more important, the expansion of the voting classes from those who qualify through contribution - military service or property or contribution to taxes or whatever - to any idiot who reaches a certain age regardless of their uselessness, has led to a 'rights' fantasy where voters think the government owes them a living. These pathetic drones have been the unprincipled voters that irresponsible politicians have trained into useless leeches for generations.

(I am not just talking about the unemployed, and certainly not those who can't work. As Heinlein pointed out, any useless drain on the public purse, from civil servant to university lecturer to High Court judge, can always get a useful job and work for a genuinely productive living. Such unthinking chattering class drones are possibly more dangerous than the genuinely ignorant who just fall into stupid behavior. Many of the chatterers spend a lifetime trying to justify the patently ridiculous things they parrot. As a single recent example, Australia had a 'love media' of incompetent, often government subsidized, journalists who have argued in recent years that 1 - previous governments control f immigration was ethically evil; 2 - that getting rid of any reasonable controls would not lead to disaster; 3 - that the subsequent disaster was not the fault of the stupid changes in policies; 4 - that changing g policies back would not solve the problem; and eventually 5 - that the only solution is far more radical policies, and that anyone who defends the less offensive policies they previously poo-pooed must be ethically evil! These hypocrites genuinely believer that they  are the moral voice of reason!!)

I do not have great hopes for the future of Europe. As the 'Union' starts to fracture into the self interest that has only been kept at bay by the promise of unlimited gravy subsidised by stupid Germans, those same Germans are starting to work out that this third attempt to conquor Europe in a century might be almost as painful as the last two.

The penalty for the overly socialist leaning governments impossible promises is economic chaos, and the reward is likely to be the revenge of the ignorant voters who fly to more and more extreme parties to avoid admitting that their own stupidity is to blame for their problems. Better, in their limited imaginations, to assume some horrible conspiracy. Yet stupid and ignorant voters are not limited to Europe. If things get worse in democracies, so will the decisions of the modern voters.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rating General Lucian Truscott (Jr)

One of the most experienced American Generals of the Second World War, Lucian Truscott had the rare advantage of commanding units of several sizes in actions of various durations and intensity as he built up the experience necessary to be an effective army commander.

Despite having been a school teacher up until becoming a ’90 day wonder’ officer in the Great War, he became one of the best practitioners of the military arts that the United States has ever produced. A particularly impressive achievement given that he spent the entire First World War in a training camp in the Uited States, and had no combat experience at all when he was first sent to the European Theatre of Operations in 1942. From a position as a newly promoted Colonel, he had been chosen to head a group of officers who would get some combat experience to pass on to other officers, through the process of working with the new British Commando units.

Truscott had spent much of the interwar period in the cavalry, and in the cavalry staff school, so he was bewildered as to why anybody would have thought him appropriate to run a group that would learn to specialise in Amphibious Operations. But he had an unexpected advantage. He had become a devotee of the prestige game of the American officer corps, Polo, and was considered one of the army’s foremost practitioners. The reason for his selectioin became a bit more clear when Eisenhower briefed him on working with Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Command, and then asked “Did you know that Lord Louis wrote a book on Polo?”

Such are the vagaries of decision making, which gave a man who had spent most of his military career in training or staff duties (or commanding the ceremonial detachment at Arlington cemetery), the first active combat command for American ground forces in the European Theatre.

In many ways he was the ideal candidate. He was a natural gruff soldier, far more intent on getting things done effeciently, than on being a posing media hungry prima-donna like Patton or Clarke. He certainly lacked the indecisiveness and incompetence that bedevilled so many of his contemporaries like Fredendall and Dawley and Lucas. He was a serious practitioner of the military arts, without thinking that ‘map skills’ or being a skilled football coach was adequate preparation for leading troops in combat, like Bradley and Eisenhower. And he never, ever treated his soldiers or officers with the contempt that was so much a part of MacArthur’s personality.

His experience began with learingn Commando tactics, and then training American officers and men in commando operations. From this the cavalry man came to the conclusion that the standards of fitness and movement required by US infantry in general were unsuitable for modern warfare. From there on his troops were required to perform to the standards similar to the Roman Legions in covering ground, and his standard speed of advance became referred to in the army as the ‘Truscott Trott’.

He became the first senior American officer in Europe to observe amphibious warfare combat techniques, when he accompanied the Dieppe raid. (An operation that, although unsuccessfu, he always felt taught lessons vital to all later amphibious operations…)
It was to stand him in good stead, because from that point on he was the man at the pointy end for the American invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy (twice) and France.

Off Casablanca, he came face to face with a potentially much greater disaster than Dieppe. As a Brigadier General his small invasion force was still supposedly in communication silence when a force of four French warships – his biographer (H. Paul Jeffers - Command of Honor) claims cruisers, but then quotes Truscott as giving a name (the Lorraine) of a Battleship that was under British control in Alexandria at the time – cruised slowly through the vulnerable invasion craft, and even signalled a warning that the troops on shore were aware the Americans were coming. Had these warships been interested in fighting, Truscott’s war would have ended right there.

The remainder of the operation introduced him to the issues of command and control of invasion forces, and no doubt left him very grateful that he was only facing a very half hearted French effort rather than the German professionals. Every problem of communication and supply that were to bedevill later operations were given a trial run. His comments on the effectiveness of naval support… they withdrew “halfway to South America”… were particularly bitter.

As a result of his success, Truscott was made a Major General, which meant that, as an equal/potential competitor, Patton would not be willing to have him in his command any more. Patton suggested his choices were to return to the US, or go to Algiers and try to get another job from Ike. Naturally he chose the second.

Eisenhower initially appointd him as a deputy commander, to set up a forward headquarters near the front where Ike could try and get the Americans and French to co-operate with the British on a new attack. But even as he started to get organised, Rommell decided to give the Americans a lesson in how offensives (or at least limitd spoiling operations) should be done, at Kasserine Pass. So Truscott’s most important task for Eisenhower during this period was to report that Fredendall should be relieved, preferably by Patton.

By the time Patton arrived, Truscott was off to take over 3rd Division, and prepare it for the invasion of Sicily. He trained the division most thouroughly for the operation, and fortunately they faced little serious opposition. Nonetheless Truscott led them at a pace, and with an effeciency, that left even the armoured division in his wake. His infantry division produced the outstanding performance of the Sicily campaign.

As a result he got to lead 3rd division again in the hard fought Salerno landing, and later in the breakout to Cassino, and then again in the desperate Anzio landings. He did comment that naval suppport was clearly improving with every invasioin experience, but that did nothing to make up for command problems on the ground. Things went so wrong at Anzio that Truscott was appointed to relieve the commander of VIth Corps (a US army formation that often included British or allied units), and spent months rebuilding the units before the eventual breakout. (Where he apparently attempted to inform General Alexander when Clarke re-routed the forces – meant to cut off the German Xth armies escape – against Alexander’s specific orders. Clarke managed to prevent this, but Truscott was clearly appalled by Clarke’s pursuit of vainglory, particularly at the cost of stupid military decisions.)

After rest and refit, he led VI Corps again in Dragoon - the invasion of Southern France – and here he was finally satisfied with the excellent co-operation and skill of the (Royal) Navy. (Though he was never entirely satisfied with tactical air support from his own air-force.) Fortunately by this time the Germans had already had orders to try and escape France if possible, so he finally had a chance to experience proper maneouvre warfare, without the need for a grinding and bloody breakout first.

From there he was called back to command 5th Army in Italy when Clarke was put in charge of the Allied Army Group. It was with mixed feelings that he reported back. He clearly didn’t want to lose the energetic sweep of th French camapign to be tied bak to the slow slog of the Italian one, and he now had to suffer repeated show pony performances while Clarke attempted to milk the media. On the other hand he was in charge of the most international of ‘American’ forces. (7th ‘American’ Army in France had consisted of 2 American and 8 French divisions, but that only made it a minority ‘American’ force. 5th ‘American’ Army in Italy almost always had more British and allied troops in it than American, a constant problem to Clarke whose attempt to avoid having any British troops at all enter Rome was the final straw for many of the foreign officers serving under him.)

Truscott was the ideal man to make a polyglot force work. British, South African, Polish, Italian, Brazilian and other troops were all equally acceptable to him. He worked hard with all of them, and did his best to help the units that were failing. (When the US 92nd ‘Black’ division repeatedly failed, he worked to reduce its weaknesses, and eventually rebuilt it by combining the best troops from the division in a single Regiment, and importing the Nisei (Japanese) regiment, and troops collected from anti-aircraft commands, to make it a tougher proposition.) He was reportedly respected and appreciated by all who served under him. (A more complete contrast to Clarke could not be imagined, and the morale of the whole Army must have benefitted enormously.)

After the final breakthrough and collapse of the Germans, he had a second chance at maneouvre warfare, and again performed well with his mixed command. The German surrender saw an Army Commander at the height of his powers. (And one who had overcome his reluctance at having to command Corps leaders who were senior to him, and fully justified the confidence of his superiors.) In fact when the failing Patton had to be replaced for political (and possibly sanity) reasons after the end of the war, Truscott was dragged back from an administrative command to take over 3rd Army and command the occupation forces in his part of Germany. Naturally he was a vastly superor choice for such a peacetime/administrative role in an occupied country than the unfortunate Patton. (Who died as the result of an accident soon after.)

After the war he was invalided out with a heart condition, but was soon recalled to head the Army studies on amphibious warfare. An excellent responsibility for the army's leading amphibious practitioner.

A second period of retirement was then cut off when he was appointed to run the new CIA operations in Europe, and later became deputy head of the CIA, in charge of such things as spying and coups (though apparently he objected to assassination).

The last is little reported, and there is scant information about his actual activities, but it does go to demonstrate his flexibility and trustworthiness. Two vital characteristics in a profession of arms that was often noted for inflexible dinosaurs (several of whom Truscott had replaced during his war career).

So how do we assess Lucien Truscott?

Frankly he was one of the, if not the, best American generals of the war. (Possibly of any of the Allied generals.) This was partly due to his outstanding natural abilities and willingness to be flexible and learn: and partly due to being in the right place at the right time.

It would be unfair to sugest that this was pure luck. He made it to Mountbatten’s command only partly on the amusing note of being a fellow Polo player. He was also obviously in the short list before this may have swung it in his favour.

From there he simply had he slow and careful build up of experience that so many other generals never got. He saw amphibious action going wrong (Dieppe), before being given a chance to make one that could have gone wrong turn out somewhat better (Morocco). He than got to observe how much tougher the Germans were (Kasserine), before leading a somewhat more successful invasion (Sicily) with troops that he actually got to train to his standards. He then had the luck to mainly face Italians, so that the 3rd division could become a well oiled machine before going head to head with serious German opposition in his third (Salerno) and fourth (Anzio) invasions. By the time he went into his fifth invasion and breakout (France), he was completley ready to achieve excellent results even with less experienced troops. (The fact that the navy was ready to do it right too, and the Germans already on the run, didn’t hurt.) Finally he led an army in the smashing and pursuit of the last remnants of serious German opposition in Italy. Even his post war command of an army of occupation in Germany must have been made incomparably easier by his experience leading the most polyglot army in the US inventory.

In fact a more perfect training regime for the production of a good solid and experienced general could hardly have been imagined. He led battalioins, regiments, divisions, corps and armies in combat, interspersed with staff duties where he mixed with the Allies highest commanders (a useful addition that few other generals came close to), and observed his seniors mistakes. Virtually no other major American commander had half the practice and experience he did.

It is not unfair to suggest that many other generals who failed might have done much better had they gone through his experiences on the way to commanding large units.

On the other hand much of his success also comes down to him. He was a really solid trainer and commander, from Truscott’s Trott to his detailed rehearsals for invasions. Despite having to repeatedly take over from officers who had failed in one way or another (Lucas - twice, Fredendall, Clarke, even Patton), he had phenomenal success, and always rebuilt the morale and fighting integrity of the units. He got on with soldiers regardless of race or nationality, and was certainly one of the top ‘Allied’ generals in the way he treated, and was responded to, by his troops.

In fact, as an all round performer, Lucian Truscott (Jr) was certainly one of the top ten generals on the Allied side, and possibly the best American general of the war.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Primogeniture (or concentrated inheritance): the making of the modern world

Equal inheritance amongst children has been one of the most destructive patterns in human history.

At it’s simplest level, a farming family may live comfortably and easily support four to six children on something in the order of ten acres. But if that ten acres is divided into four plots of 2.5 acres, it will no longer support a family of six. Nonetheless two surviving children in the next generation are enough to reduce the arable land per family to an acre or so, which is below subsistence for the next generation, particularly if more than one child survives. This situation has driven much of the third world into perpetual poverty, and has had baleful effects in modern countires such as France. (Where the 1792 Revolutionary State’s policy of equal inheritance amongst children has entrenched a peasant farming economy that shocked British Tommies in the Great War, and remains a constant economic and political drain on the economy of the European Union even now). Napoleon dismantled many of the social ‘reforms’ of the revolutionary state, but chose to leave this one intact.

On a larger scale the effects are most easily visualised amongst the great land holders and kings. Charlemagne united much of Europe, including what we now call France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the Low Countries, under one kingdom. A kingdom that ran reasonably smoothly and remarkably effeciently., and which triggered a minor Renaissance of literacy and government services. Unfortunately that kingdom was soon split between his three grandsons (into roughly France, Germany, and ‘the middle bits’), each of whom had multiple children of their own. Within a few generations the entire system had collapsed back into a hodge-podge of territories constantly in conflict with each other. The Dark Ages returned with a vengeance, as Danes and Norsemen (Vikings) and other marauders gleefully moved in to pick over the remains.

The problem was largely solved in Europe by the introduction of the system of primogeniture, which theoretically implies that the oldest son inherits the families property, and dispenses only minor inheritances for other sons, and sometimes doweries for daughters. (The doweries could be quite substantial of course. When Eleanore of Aquitaine divorced her French husband and took an English one instead, she moved enough of France into Norman/English control to greatly expand a conflict between the two nations that would last for centuries.)

The most recognised explanation of the system is the original folk story of Puss in Boots. The oldest son inherited the mill, the middle son the mules, and the youngest son a cat. The more recognisable version is the medieval truism that the oldest son inherits the estate, the middle son goes into the church (often for those from influential families to become an important abbot or powerful bishop magnate in his own right), and the younger son becomes a military adventurer… (see the vast majority of crusaders and conquistadores).

In terms of great landholders and kings, primogeniture meant that careful managers steadily increased their holdings, and, if careful investors, their wealth. The resulting estates became the foundations of most of the modern nation states of Europe. The French were particularly impressed that a fairly second string noble family called the Capetians, who started as fairly minor nobles, managed to ruthlessly pursue concentrated inheritance to the point of making their family Kings of France, and then France the eventual greatest power in Europe.

[As an aside, it might be interesting to note that traditionally the better great families have invested in the living standards of their communities, and the original great industrial magnates were equally keen to build idealised estates for their workers – though of course that didn’t last for long with the bourgeoise that followed. These families were also the founders of all the great hospitals and universities and charities. But the idealistic imposition of death duties on the ‘rich’ by jealous ‘socialists’ in many coutries stopped that pretty much cold. Only places that do not have death duties, like the United States, have maintained high levels of philanthropy by the great families… from the Rockefellers and Carnegies to the Gates and Buffets.]

What has not proved to be a good thing, is election. The traditional Germanic tribal pattern of electing a replacement King after the death of the previous incumbent led to endless squabbles and feuds between competing families, and almost inevitably led to exactly the drain on resources and defections of provinces that were trying to be avoided. Similarly an overfond father choosing an incompetent or obnoxious favourite son has traditionally led to poor results, not least for the chosen incompetent. (The story of William Rufus being ‘accidentally’ shot on a hunting trip being a pretty clear example.)

The Saxon version of inheritance was half and half. The Witan elected a candidiate, but it had to be one eligible to inherit through the royal line. In the tenth century only 3 out of 8 Saxon kings succeeded their fathers. (For a continuing version of nobles and officials appointed by previous monarchs getting together to elect the next one, see the Papacy.)

But considering the system of primogeniture to be always in favour of the 'eldest son' is still an oversimplification. In fact the orignial Norman version, although it theoretically specified eldest sons, was far more practical. Of the first 9 monarchs of Norman England, only 1 was direct from father to eldest son. William I was succeeded by his third son William II (Rufus), who was succeeded by his brother Henry I, who was succeeded by his nephew Stephen (because his daughter Matilda was considered unfit). Stephen was succeeded by his second cousin Henry II, grandson of Henry I. The seventh Plantagenet (and first eldest son), was Richard I, who was succeeded by his brother John (who was so bad that the nobles crowned a French prince as the next king), before the throne was returned to John’s easily controlled infant son Henry III.

The key therefore is not inheritance by an eldest son, but the principle of concentrated inheritance regardless of who is chosen. In fact for many great families, kingdoms and empires throughout history, the ideal has been to choose the best candidate for inheritance, either from amongst immediate relatives, or by adoption into the family. (A point reinforced by the fact that the only direct primogeniture on the above list led to the dynastically disastrous Richard, who once claimed he would sell London if he could find a buyer.)

Just to emphasise that I am not being entirely Eurocentric here, the Japanese families were masters of concentrated inheritance, as were most of the great imperial dynasty’s of history. (One of the great dynastic mistakes that could be exampled was when Charles V of the Hapsburgs split the Spanish and overseas territories from the Austrian/Italian lands. It might have worked, except that he reflexively gave his favourite son a continental part – his favourite territories of the Netherlands – as a disfucntional annex to the overseas bits, rather than leaving it with his brothers part, the logical Austrian bits that were also in the Holy Roman Empire. The resulting mess sapped both empires fatally.)

Almost every modern nation state established prior to the First World War (and that is still the vast majority of all stable states), has been built on the principle of concentrated inheritance. Even radically Republican ones such as the United States started as assemblies of colonies that evolved under a hereditary monarchy. In fact the only obvious thing uniting the 13 colonies was their relationship with, and eventual opposition to, the English crown. Otherwise it is hard to imagine how such a disparate group could have been brought to combine! Russia, China, Japan, most of the Asian and South American nations, and certainly most of the island groups, can all trace their origins to such an approach.

The post Great War states also have a suprising correlation. Even in Africa and the Middle East, where European powers largely established states by drawing lines on the map, the ‘nations’ established came from what had been accumulated by the colonial powers – usually monarchies or empires – in the first place, and were almost always established as independent on the basis of tribal groups that could be in some way combined under a reasonable facsimile of a monarch with some claim to traditional loyalty through the region. The greatest exceptions were places like Iraq – where the British lumped three unrelated groups forced together by the Turks under a dubious imported royal house – and Liberia, which the Americans created as an imperial exercise for dumped ex slaves in a fit of idealistic romanticism. (And before anyone gets too romantic about Liberia, it, like most other Republics – and in mimicry of its founders – has been subject to dictatorship, multiple civil wars, and hundreds of thousands of deaths.)

Post World War Two, some different conglomorations were attempted… or so it might appear. India was a group of British crown colonies and dependencies – almost all established by monarchies of some sort – combined with the ‘Independent Principalities’ which were also under the hereditary protection of the British Empire… Hmmm. Botswana, the closest thing to a successful Republic of the last century, was pretty much a single tribal group under a hereditary ruling family (who now take turns calling themselves ‘Presidents’).

The curent passion for devolution is interesting. Nations are moving into ‘federations’ – such as the European Union or the more fanciful ‘Arab League’, at the same time that Yugoslavia splits into separate ethnic states, and Scotland mutters about independence from Britain.

They can do this because international stability has reached a point where states don’t need to be big to survive. But the inevitable result of smaller and weaker states is much less capactiy to deal with issues like famine, or collapse of vital industries by reliance on disparate parts of the economy. Too many of the modern states are ‘all our eggs in one basket’ cases (often known quite quickly just as basketcases.) Scotland for instance, will look pretty stupid if it splits from English tax subsidy in the assumption that it can rely on North Sea Oil, only to have the (let’s face it different ethnic group) Shetlands split from Scotland to keep the oil for itself.

Bigger is not always better. The Roman and British (and French and even American) Empires eventually started calving off separate states as soon as they could stand on their own, because that is far more sensible and cost efective than trying to run everything centrally. (And far more likelly to avoid revolts by the colonies who have recognised the problems of over-centralisation and lack of regional control.. did I mention the 13 colonies?) The process is particularly attractive if international stability suggests that independence can be granted to disparate groups without them being immediately conquored by rapacious neighbours. (See the unseemly haste with which post war British taxpayers abandoned only half established states in Africa well before their social development or infrastructure was really ready to stand on its own.)

States need to big big enough to survive and prosper in the context of their period, but flexible enough to ‘calve’ into smaller states if that helps. It is notable that the really big ‘republics’ like the United States and the Soviet Union and China have more trouble with devolution than the monarchies. (The American Civil War being an example at lest comparable with the fall of the Soviet union, and the Chinese attitude to Tibet and Taiwan showing interesting potential.) India was perhaps fortunate that Pakistan and Bangladesh ‘escaped’ a forced union… the conflicts have been bad enough without an American style civil war.

Concentrated inheritance has been the making of successful states, and a stable international system for the modern world. But the counter-balancing principle of devolution of estates to pass on non vital elements to other siblings has also proved useful in allowing states who understand the principles to devolve govrnment. Britain has been the most succesful proponent of this. (A Commonwealth of 54 nations containing a quarter of the world’s area and a third of its population that gets together regularly to play sporting challenges – and sometimes to discipline errant members – is a considerably more impressive achievement than the relative farce we call the United Nations.) But France, and even the United States have managed something similar, although on a much smaller scale. (The independence of the Philippines after 40 years of revolts could be compared to the American War of Independence for instance… certainly a third of the local population was pro, a third anti, and a third disinterested, in each struggle.)

The principles of primogeniture could be said to have had an unequalled effect on the shape of the world we see today.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dangers of self deception - American racism in WW2

At the risk of this being taken as another anti-American rant, I want to make another comment on the self delusion in their history.

(Though I will pause to note that I recently wrote that Americans have the worst written and perceived history in the Western world, which viewpoint i have had to revise recently after looking at some more French history. Lets just say the two fight for worst place.)

In 1942 Roosevelt lectured Churchill about granting immediate independence to India. He was of course contentedly ignorant of what effect setting off a civil war between hundreds of millions of Hindu's, Muslim;s, Sikh's, Independent Principalities, etc: might have on the Allies losing World War Two.

Churchill, being a polite, as well as somewhat more intelligent and knowledgeable, world player, contented himself with pointing out that of all the nations in the world with armies in the millions, only one was entirely composed of volunteers not conscripts. India was the only nation with a completely voluntary military, and deserved respect for that fact that it raised the largest all volunteer force in history.

He did not go on to point out that India was at the same stage in the Independence process as the Philippines, and way ahead of Puerto Rico and various other American imperial possessions.

But what he might have pointed out, had he been impressed enough by Roosevelt's ignorance to think it worthwhile, was the complete hypocrisy of the American position. Particularly that of the American military.

There is an episode of The West Wing, where the military's representatives are arguing with the White House staff about why it is not possible to acknowledge gays in the armed forces. The Chief of Staff wanders through and amusedly asks if they have used such and such half a dozen excuses as to why it would be a bad idea. When they ask how he knew, he laughs and says they are the same excuses used against him when he first joined. He is of course black.

The racism in the British or French or Russian or even German forces during World War Two was at least tempered by officers regularly commanding units of different races and nationalities. In fact in the British and French army, it was practically impossible to progress without time spent working in the colonies or with native troops at some time. Racism was there, but tempered by some small elements of knowledge of reality.

Americans however were different. (Though in fact service in teh Philippines or Panama was also important to the careers of many officers!) Racism in their forces was almost completely untempered by any version of reality. Whereas the Royal Navy had had Asian or Jamaican sailors for centuries (in fact it had been some black Jamaican frigate captains in the RN that had caused much of the outrage by American financial/piracy interests in the 1770's): the USN was still trying to keep blacks off its battleships in WW2 because of their 'poor eyesight'.

Whereas the British army in WW2 was composed of dozens of races - including Indians, Jews, Poles, East and West Africans, Jamaicans, Burmese, Kerens, Sikhs, Ghurkha's, etc, etc. The American army was violently opposed to letting black troops into front line units... until manpower shortages in France caused the more progressive generals like - God help us - Patton, to overcome the resistance of men like Bradley and Bedell-Smith.

(The attempts that were made with Japanese American units in Italy were actually quite successful. But I suppose Americans had worked out the Japs could be tough opponents by 1943? The attempt at an American black division - the 92nd - was less successful, but its incredible failure - it actually had to be rescued on occassions from attacks or counter-attacks by Italian troops! - was probably more to do with the way the higher command and its senior officers treated it, and failed to train it, than with any inadequacy of basic personnel.)

But the cincher on the argument could have been taken from the American black non-combat units in Australia. 1942 saw the mutiny by the black troops in the US 96th Engineers - a labour battalion in Queensland. 600 of them went on the rampage, hosing down their (white) officers tents with machine gun fire, and then many escaping into the Australian outback for weeks or months. They were furious about institutional racism, and apparently the mutiny was spiked by the death of a black Sergeant, supposedly at the hands of a white officer.

The future President Lyndon Johnson, then a junior Congressman, investigated while in Australia and produced a report (or more probably plagiarised it from the work of Robert Sherrod, a journalist for Time and Life magazines). The whole incident was hushed up, and Johnson felt it should be kept that way. It is almost by accident that the report resurfaced from Johnson's archives recently.

Now this is not to say that terrible things did not happen in many nations backyards. Particularly during the stress of major wars. Mutinies and violent repression of them are part and parcel of modern industrial scale war.

The point I am making here is that American 'holier than thou' attitudes, particularly during WW2, were shrouded in ignorance and self delusion.

Having said that, I will point out that a holier than thou attitude is just a sign of national immaturity. Every major nation I can think of has gone through it, from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to modern Russia and Iran. (China has almost never not had a 'holier than thou' attitude, and Japan has often been a close second.)

Unfortunately the Americans were still in the worst stages of theirs when events thrust them into the international limelight. Wilson's ridiculously idealistic 14 points - a major cause of WW2, and Roosevelt's 'Independence for India now', while still running a 'I can work with Stalin' line - major causes of the Cold War and the drop into dictatorship and penury for much of the third world after WW2 - are just samples of how unhelpful such an attitude is for 'statesmen'.

I would happily give samples of many other nations holier than thou attitudes, but in this case it is more fun to point out that most of the people now lecturing the Americans from a holier than thou perspective (say the Europeans for instance), are using exactly the same language, and often with the same self delusional self righteousness, as American used 50 or 100 years ago (towards the Europeans for instance).

PS: Just to be clear. Racism is stupid. And that includes affirmative action, or cultural relativism, or any other sort of hypocrisy... People are people and virtually any person of any race has strengths and weaknesses and information or ignorance that defines them, and what they can do. But that's for another post.