Saturday, December 28, 2013

The self editing fantasies of some ALP senators

I had a great deal of amusement recently listening to an Australian Labor Party Senator make what I presume was his maiden speech. (I certainly hope someone who had been in the Australian Senate for any period would have lost such dewy eyed idealism. Though I admit that some politicians specifically stand for election on lists of stupid things, and therefore have to pretend to support those impossible and often even criminal concepts even when they realise that the very idea is ridiculous - if they want to stay in their nice cushy jobs.)

His basic premise was that the Australian Labor party had 'won' the twentieth century because their ideals had prevailed, and that it was important that they 'win' the twenty-first century too.

His samples of the ideals that were 'ALP', that had defined and 'won' in the last century ranged from the realistic, to the fantastic, to the head in the sand.

Let's start with the obvious. The party of entrenched racism.

The Australian Labor Party was the firmest bastion of the White Australia Policy of the first half of the twentieth century. Its unofficial lead sheet - The Bulletin Magazine - ran under the heading 'Australia for the White Man' for decades. Immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe and other places was opposed by the Australian Labor Party for a bigger part of the century than it was supported by it.

For an idiot politician to claim that the ALP's comparatively recent discovery that they could milk votes from 'multiculturalism' – which caused its belated embrace of that policy – proved that Labor ideals had won 'the twentieth century': is either pure ignorance of his own party's history, or naive acceptance of its rewriting of real history, or just cynical self blinkering of the truth. (Or a combination of all three probably.)

In reality, the historical inevitability of immigration ground the ALP's original policy to dust, and forced the ALP to adapt.

How's that for a win?

He was on a bit firmer ground with Socialism.

Not of course that version of socialist that the party supported for most of the century - communism - with its nationalisation of banks and industries claptrap (that reduced the British economy from second in the world to sixth or eigth in less than 25 years). That version was an unmitigated disaster. Both in the way Communism left millions dead and billions impoverished, and in the way that communism schismed the ALP and kept it out of office for 20 years. (A crucial 20 years, that very fortuitously saved Australia from the disasters the British economy faced under such stupid experiments with nationalisation.)

Still the version of socialism that provides a safety net for those who need it was undoubtedly always a central concern of the ALP. Certainly their contribution here has been useful.

On the other hand, this assumes that no other political party believed in a safety net. Which is ridiculous. Universal state funded schooling predated the ALP by quite a bit. Education of women; votes for women in some states; rights for Aboriginals... these things were elements of the colonies long before the ALP was thought of. One of the reasons they were not included in the original federal constitution was through opposition from people with policies like, oh, say, 'Australia for the White Man'!

Take university education for instance. The ALP claims great credit for making it 'free' (for a while). Unfortunately the previous scholarship systems provided by Liberal and other governments actually seems to have done a better job at getting the genuinely disadvantaged into the system. So the 'free' bit seems to have just been an early example of middle class welfare for those who didn't really need it. (And the later HECS was a reversion to straight loans whether anyone wants to admit it or not.. in fact one far less likely to get the genuinely underprivileged involved than the original scholarships.)

The recent no holds barred 'anyone can go' to university appears to be simply a way of reducing youth unemployment, not really doing university level training. Admittedly a basic degree these days is to prepare people for the modern version of factory work – tax office call centres –  not anything like a real tertiary education. But the fact that achieving 42% on school leaving certificates is apparently good enough for many 'university' courses, and the incredible drop out rates – two thirds in many courses – makes it clear that real education is not the target here. (Meanwhile the ALP's fantasy that everyone should go to Uni has gutted trade training and led to a huge whole in apprentices... one only made worse by the recent Union 'victory' that requires trainees get full adult wages... something that should lift youth unemployment to European levels with amazing speed.)

What we need of course is a smaller and better focused university system with real scholarships for those in genuine need, and a much stronger TAFE system. (And reinstated youth training wage rates to reduce youth unemployment.) These are the exact opposite to ALP policy, and make a bit of a mockery of the ALP having 'won' education.

The fact that literacy and numeracy has been in steady decline since the education unions grabbed the wheel and started demanding more and more funding: tells you everything you need to know about the importance of redefining 'winning' to suit your constituents – regardless of the baleful effects on the general population.

In fact the suggestion that an accretion of bad practices, that everyone knows cannot possibly be sustained over time: can only be considered a 'win' if you think that getting everyone used to bad practices is clever. Once you face the fact that vast middle class welfare, huge debt financing, and ever increasing youth unemployment might be bad things, then you start to see that this might not be a 'win' after all.

(An amusing recent comparison on radio admitted that rolling these things back was very painful... rather like taking drugs away from addicts. Which suggests that getting everyone hooked on addictive substances is what is really meant by a 'win' here?)

Lets look at aboriginal policy. Another place where the ALP likes to pat itself on the back. Aborigines had the vote in some states before federation (before ALP). Getting it back for them post ALP took 70 years. The ALP 'revised' version of this is that all the other parties (such as the ones that had given aborigines votes in some states previously) were evil. In practice the aborigines were never going to do well until the 'White Australia' party had a rethink.

Unfortunately the 'rethink' they had was a paternalistic 'for their own good' version that imposed idealised tribalism, and Communist inspired common property rights. Making the inevitably impoverished communities that resulted look good only by comparison with that other outdated bastion of communistic idealism, North Korea.

[I am sometimes amazed to have some people tell me that it is easier to get 'reform' under Labor governments. Yes it certainly is. Recent history in particular indicates that Liberal oppositions support good reform. Labor oppositions almost invariably block any reform. (I will note that the Nationals are also usually opposed to real reforms, being even more protectionist and sometimes almost as racist as the historical ALP.) I also note that that my suggestion here is remarkably simplistic... ie it is lowering itself to the level of thinking being discussed here... But please note that by 'reform' I mean a real and positive improvement. The word 'reform' under the recent ALP government being abused to the point that any increase in taxes for self evidently stupid, and even apparently corrupt reasons, was called a 'reform'.]

Socialism as a safety net is a pretty good thing, and here the ALP has some credence. But Socialism as a centrally controlled crutch to addict citizens to government supervision and support is a self evident social evil, and here the ALP is only outdone by the Australian Greens. Here the ALP should adapt the lessons it apparently failed to learn when it abandoned its beloved Communism to be electable.

Small 's' safety net style socialism – of the style that pre-dated the ALP – has definitely won the twentieth century. But this is despite the ALP's fixation on Centralised Statist Control - or large 'S' SOCIALISM – not because of it.

In fact the evils of statism are so evident, that it would really help if groups like the ALP would adapt a more middle of the road approach before we get the type of lunatic counter swing of the pendulum that is represented by the American Tea Party or by the French 'Le Pen' party. (Whoops, sort of forgot Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer here didn't I...)

To be fair, Bob Hawke's version of the ALP was better than almost any other part of the ALP's approach to the twentieth century. Despite its mantra of 'Big Government, Big Unions and Big Business' – and to hell with anyone else: it did actually deliver some balanced policies, and some genuine economic reforms that actually improved living standards long term.

Perhaps the Senator in question grew up during that period and is ignorant enough to believe that this period is representative. Perhaps he knows so little history, that he genuinely believes he is not denying and repudiating most of his own parties history?

If so he is an excellent example of what his parties education policies have done to increase the ignorance and gullibility of Australian voters.

Personally I prefer to hope he is just the sort of cynical bastard who parrots things he doesn't believe in to get votes. Otherwise we face the very scary concept of him – and people like him – pushing the policies that 'won' the twentieth century into the future.

Perhaps they will even be able to pursue their ideals to the point of making the Australia of 2060 look like the Greece or Spain of today?

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Evils of Unearned Priveledge

It’s hard to believe that the ALP didn’t make a run on ‘The Republic’ a the last election. Usually when they are failing dismally and have not a policy leg to stand on they try to vamp up a ‘principle’ that they think will stir up the ignorant (or chattering – same thing really) masses. I suppose they gave their traditional xenophobia a bit of a go with an ‘anti-skilled worker’, but running that in opposition to their pro illegal immigrant waffle looked too hopelessly confused to motivate many people. They had to fall back on their traditional misguided and misunderstood class warfare claptrap, again with the problem that we live in an age where supposedly blue collar plumbers and miners earning several times what supposedly white collar accountants and technicians can earn. Their definition of class is about a century out of date.

This is where you would think an anti-monarchy diatribe might cut some ice. After all, what is better than hereditary priveledge for stirring the pot? Unfortunately the average voter has long since worked out that much, much worse than a hereditary monarch on the far side of the world who doesn’t bother us much: would be a republic run by the politicians who want more power over everything for the politicians and chattering classes who absolutely believe they know what is best for us, and what we should be forced to accept… for our own good of course.

My issue with this is that the problem is always unearned power.

Hereditary power is not necessarily unearned, and elected power is not necessarily earned.

For instance a current Monarch in a constitutional monarchy slaves for decades doing a lot of public service and often taking considerable risks in defense of their fellow citizens (Prince Harry on the front line if Afghanistan and Prince Edward decoying Exocet missiles away from his aircraft carrier with his helicopter for instance), before getting stuck with the uneviable job of state figurehead. While a current President is usually whichever undistinguished party hack has built the most connections within their - usually corrupt and venal – political party over decades. 

Given the choice between Prince’s Charles or Edward or Harry; and President’s Hollande, Putin and Xi Jinping: who would you trust to look after the interests of the general public? Who would you consider to be so corrupt and manipulative and self serving (and beholden to the manipulators and financiers who putll the strings in their parties) to be completely unprincipalled? (Should I put Obama in the mix to make you think harder?)

The point being that if monarchies become ‘divine right’, then they can’t be trusted. They will quickly become corrupt and venal. But if monarchies are about service to the poulation, with an expectation of working to earn that service, then they will probably be very very trusted by their people’s. 

Similarly if elected politicians actually came from the people and were interested in doing good for the people (as many once did), they might be trusted. But when the vast majority come from poitical machines where they have to work for decades backstabbing each other to get position, and are only interested in acheiving and maintaining power for their party, they cannot be trusted. (No matter how many fancy slogans they try to deceive people with.)

Let’s look at a few other samples of earned priveledge crossing the line into unearned.

Medieval knights and barons lived lives of luxury by comparison to their peaseants, but this is because if you are going to set up a protective warrior class, they need to be better fed, fitter, healthier, better equipped and spend their entire life training to be effeective. Otherwise why bother?

They also have to be willing to lay down their lives to protect their peasants (and their livelihood), and the assumption is that if they die doing their best to protect you, you owe their family and heirs loyalty as long as they are willing to do the same. Earned priveledge.

But if this aristocracy of talent devolves into a mere nobility of priveledge, it is no longer earning its way. When the French nobility lost their military role, but tried to hang on to all the accompanying priveledges anyway, they deservedly reaped a revolution.

Similarly the Roman Catholic Church was set up to do good, and to a large extent, still does good… at least in terms of charity and hospitals and education etc. Priests and nuns who slave to help the poor -  there still are a few -deserve the priveledge of respect. However (unlike many other denominations) the institution is far too hierarchical and overcentralised, and is subsequently in constant battle against the purpose being lost, and the concept of unearned priveledge making it seem reasonalbe to protect corrupt officials and outright pedophiles.

The decision to make the church celibate in the feudal period was specifically to maintain central control against the evils of local hereditary bishoprics going their own way. It may have been a good and even necessary thing at that time. Now, it is just a reinforcement of the tendency by too many priests to put the hierarchical structure ahead of the actual community. Combined with a fanciful celebacy, it simply means that Roman priests have a higher rate of pedophilia than protestant (or Orthodox) ministers and priests who are allowed to marry, have less hierarchical structure to impress, usually have to actually answer to their parishioners, and sometimes even focus locally not hierarchically. (Interestingly, per head of population, the most dangerous pedophiles movement in Australia is not the Romans, but the Salvo’s. Hierarchy or power?)

An Australian comparison is our Union movement. At the ground level it still has a vague memory that its good works amount to helping individuals who are being mistreated by an uneven power structure. In fact I have met shop floor unioinists who still do this work and actually believe in it. Unfortunately for them, their hierarchy has long since becoms a bastion of unearned priveledge, and most unioin ‘awards’ or ‘agreements’ these days are about priveledge, not helping people.

They dress it up well. Higher status, or higher education plans for ‘improving’ whatever industry it is effectively locking out the vast majority of lesser educated or immigrants. ‘Equality’ of wages effectively insuring that youth unemployment will skyrocket to European levels. ‘Local jobs’, effectively destroying the oppprotunities to get skilled workers in to spread the wealth and raise the standards across the board. In every case their appraoch is that it is much better to pay ever higher wages to an ever smaller group of good loyal unionists. Buggar the welfare of the general population.

It amuses me that some of the Union rhetoric talks about ‘bastions of priveledge’ as if that is some sort of wealthy elite, and the union movemnt is protecting us against it. The average union member in mining or car building or the civil service are the power elite, very often the wealthy elite, and even (considering the maritime workers) sometimes in hereditary positions. Their taxpayer funded priveledges are the same evil that the French aristocracy was 250 years ago… a once valuable service hanging on to no longer relevant priveledges for their own venalness.

At another level we have bastions of priveledge in the media, who honestly believe that everyone should be forced to think as they do; that people who don’t are immoral, even evil; and that legislation should be used to force people to their norms. This is not so much a problem with groups like Fairfax, who have to answer to the market eventually. Their superior sneering at the majority of the population is leading to their rapid irrelevance in the system. The Age in particular has its moral head so far up its own superiority backside that it will self destruct within a few years. The Age is absolutely certain that the moral superiority it once earned in the 60’s and 70’s is still there for it, and is actually earned priveledge. In fact its modern version of sneering at the majority is also unearned priveledge, and is just as offensive.

Unfortunately the taxpayer funded ABC - which has the same offensive self righteousness, and the same belief that anyone who disagrees is immoral and evil and should be forced into line – is not subject to the market. Taxpayer funds distributed by an unrepresentative political/chattering class make it practically immune from reality. From this perspective, the ABC’s pompous preaching is unearned priveledge at its worst.

The Australian Greens are even more amusing in this. The remaining thin coating of green that is left on the ‘Watermelon Party’, had some semblance of reality in its defence of the wilderness in Tasmania. But the rampant socialism that underlies the vast majority of its modern platform is straight from the ‘reds’. Since their beloved communist parties have collapsed in the sort of horrendous bloodbaths and degradations that are inevitable for fanatically idealistic, but unthinking, losers like fascists and communists: they have had to find a new sheepskin for their stupidities. Green movements have been more than happy to be infiltrated and taken over by professional operators who are happy to use their genuinely earned moral positions to hide their unearned manipulations.

In truth any organistion that is founded for the best of motives can become corrupt and venal if the people on top become more interested in controlling and using the power of the organistaion, than in what the organistaion was originally put together to achieve. This is true of Kings and President’s, churches and unions, media and the law. Particulary the law.

In the last couple of weeks we have had representatives of Australia’s most priveledged vested interests, - the legal fraternity – actually state publicly that their superior understanding and morality should allow htem to overrule the legislative agenda of a popularly elected movement. (Queensland government and anti-Bikie gang legislation.) Simply because THEY KNOW BEST.

In fact there is little to choose between the two possible evils here. Voters as a mass are stupid enough to elect dictators and indulge in classism, racism or ethinic cleansing. So there is a need for a rule of law that preserves some basic human rights. But just because the laws should be followed, does not give the legal fraternity the right to say what laws they will accept or dismiss, or how they will choose to interpret what basic rights the rule of law will cover this week. That is dictatorship in its own form.

The tendency for our – and other – High/Supreme Courts to decide that our constitutions do not mean what they say, but what the legal fraternity would like to read in as more modern interpretations of what reasonable people might believe: is abuse of priveledge in an extreme form. In practice any such decision cannot be considered earned unless and until is is tested by popular referendum. Otherwise ist is just dictatorial behaviour by yet naother overpriveledged class who have not earned the right to such behaiviour.

Personally I will take an inherited monarch who understands their role and works hard for it, over any institutional functionary who has lost sight of the reason their organistation was once valued, and now uses and abuses a memory of earned priveledge to pursue unearned venality.

Perhaps that is why we won’t see another ‘Republic’ campaign in Australia any time soon… or at least not one that would need genuine public agreement and support.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ireland as an Economic Tiger! (Bad news for China...)

Found an old article I started writing in 2007, when I finished some reading on the development of the Republic of Eire since independence. At the time it was still being hailed by foolish 'economists' as one of the new Tigers. 

I wanted to say then that any artificially repressed state economy will go gangbusters when the breaks are taken off. (See any Communist country, or even overly centralised Socialist country. ie: UK post the disastrous ‘nationalisations’ of the 50’s and 60’s when Thatcher took the brakes off). 

Also planned to say that just taking the breaks off would get a ‘great leap forward’, but did NOT mean that the country concerned was inevitable going to rule the world. Really, really wanted to make the point that starting a boom just means taking the breaks off, but sustaining it means serious and ongoing economic reform… 

Was also going to suggest that Ireland, and China would have the same trajectory, and plateau, as the Asian Tigers a decade earlier, or Japan prior to that… Wish I had published this pre GFC…


One of the best quotes from Yes Prime Minister is when they are trying to arrange seating at an international forum, or funeral, or something; and it has to be pointed out that seating nations alphabetically will put Iran, Iraq and Israel in a line.  Benard suggests tht at least they will be seperated by Ireland which might be better, only to have Sir Humphrey explain that Ireland never makes anything better.

As the programs were written at the time when the IRA was still getting huge amounts of American donated money to help fund blowing up school buses, pulling bank jobs, and kneecapping fellow Catholics for not being Republican enough; it is fair to suggest that the writers were not being unfair in their comments.  However it is not until you investigate the real details of the Irish problem that you realise just how sarky the comments were.

The Irish problem that most people think about is terrorism.  Actually these days (still writing in 2007 here) it is more blatant thuggery and crime, because one of the side effects of 9/11 is that even Americans have come to accept that funding terrorists is probably not a good thing: so the IRA are resorting to more traditional methods of fundraising and intimidation.  However that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The IRA and it’s more cuddly front Sein Fienne, would like to pretend that the real issue is ‘integration’ of Ireland, by which they mean reconquoring the northern provinces – preferably by force apparently, seeing the Northern irish have absolutely no desire to be 'integrated'. (This can be compared to the Northern States of the US insisting on their right to reconquor the Southern states, when they insisted that they had as much right to issue a Declaration of Independaence as the northerners had 90 years earlier... but we digress.)

For those who don’t know, the only reason that the northern provinces of Ireland are part of the United Kingdom instead of part of the Republic of Eire, is that they have long objected to being threatened and intimidated in the name of unity and justice.  In fact the Act of Parliament which finally made the northerners part of the United Kingdom – instead of just another part of Ireland – was provoked by yet another aggressive and threatening act by the Southern provinces... when they ditched their Dominion status and formally became a Republic. 

(Which they did partly in a fit of pique when their great European ally failed to humble Britain in a short war... Poor Eire had as little success subtly supporting Adolf Hitler against the evil English as the US did actively supporting Napoleon. Though I suppose the English didn't have to burn Dublin to the ground in the 1940's. Amusingly, it was American troops that were eventually detailed by the Allies to occupy Ireland if they invited the Germans in... More digression.)

Ireland was granted Dominion status in the 1920’s, but, because of unresolved sectarianism, two sub sections were created, and the people in various counties got to vote for which one they wanted to join.  This was all part of the vast enthusiasm for national determinitation which an idiot American President – Wilson – foisted on the League of Nations at the end of the Great War.  It lead to the collapse of relatively stable multi-national states such as the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires (where peoples of many nationalities had lived in – relative – harmony for generations), and the formation of dozens of tiny competing statelets whhich have spent most of the 90 years since in bloodbaths of wars, pogroms and ethnic cleansing. (In 2007 I was thinking more about the Balkans, but in 2013 I am obviously more impressed by Syria and its neighbours...)

This misplaced idealism caused the partition of, amongst others, India, China, Palestine, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and of course Ireland.  It also caused the partitioned offshoots – Pakistan, Taiwan, Israel, large parts of the Middle East, and northern Ireland: to live in dangerous armed camps at perpetual fear of their obnoxious and aggressive neighbours.  (Or maybe I got some of those aggressors and aggrieved backwards – I suppose it depends on the year).

The division of the Dominion of Ireland was not the preferred option of the British.  It made no sense to them that a single island have two competing governments, and they couldn’t imagine that there was any good reason that such a minor point of doctrine would make for a permanent separation.  

However they underestimated the power of democracy.

Party politics in Eire got dirty fast.  Some of them were just the inevitable result of a bunch of ignorant peasants with no understanding of how modern states work trying to set up their own tailored idealised state.  They wanted to both reduce emigration, and return the state to an idealised rural peasant farm economy simultaneously:  without realising that you can only reduce the desire to leave by raising living standards - not lowering them.  (The result? More small farms inherited by the older sons who get married later and later, leaves an awful lot of women and younger sons wanting to leave. Fancy that!)   

As another example, attempts to ban women under the age of 21 emigrating to the much better educated and paid teaching and nursing jobs available in the UK should hardly have been considered sensible even by the dangerously stupid – but we are talking nationalistic, idealistic, and socialist politicians here. (Or maybe I should have just said 'politicians' without any qualification... except perhaps 'elected'?)

As a result the backward looking paternalistic and peasant oriented (and Catholic dominated) state of Eire had a hard time attracting the enthusiasm of even Catholics in the more modern, secular and freer north.  In the post Second World War period when the British introduced the welfare state, even the most hard nosed republican idealist would have had to think twice about taking the massive cut in living standards and life expectancy involved in voluntarily joining the south.

Not that voluntary joining seemed much of an option.  Repeated attempts to work out compromises in the 20’s and 30’s had fallen foul of democratic politics, as parties in both north and south dug in harder and harder to impress their constituencies.  The North put more and more theoretically unofficial restrictions on Catholics, but, to be fair, often in response to the South putting harsher and harsher restrictions on their Protestants.  Both ‘sides’ were behaving appallingly, but the demographics indicate that more and more people were leaving the South for the North throughout – both Protestants and Catholics.

The Republic of Eire belatedly realised that such stupid policies as excusing the idealised farmers from taxation, and making anything resembling a modern industry carry the tax burden, might be a problem. They finally faced the need for a modern economy, and took the brakes off. Leading economists and other stupid commentators were quickly encouraged to suggest that Eire was the ‘next big thing’ in European super economies. (Theoretically economists aren’t necessarily stupid, but in practice a surprising number seem to take pride in achieving that distinction.)

The truth is of course, that the ‘great leap forward’ by the economy of the Republic of Eire – like that of China and many other places – is not inevitably going to lead to an ever increasing standard of living for all their citizens. It will certainly lead to their living standards mostly catching up with, or even temporarily overtaking, those of their more advanced neighbours. But it is unlikely to see them completely supplanting those neighbours unless their institutions can adapt fast enough to keep up.
More likely the ‘great leap forward’, will lead to a ‘great big bubble’, and to an inevitable 'great big, bloody painful’ correction.

Having reviewed the above 2007 text in October 2013, and found it amusing, I will add some final comments on China, which many commentators are still imagining as a Tiger…

The Republic of Eire has leapt, and fallen, and is struggling to get back on its feet. This was both inevitable, and easily predictable, to anyone with a modicum of historical understanding of economics.

China has removed the brakes, and has leapt forward: and, despite the bullshit from the ‘inevitable superpower’, ‘world’s greatest economy’  theorists, China will have its fall and its pain, before it advances – far more slowly – again. Probably fairly soon, unfortunately. 

(Infrastructure investment in China is at impossible levels as a percentage of the economy; whole empty cities and go nowhere freeways have been built, often shoddily; wage levels and competitiveness are now being effectively undercut by many other countries such as Mexico; and the restrictions on private investment are leading to a property bubble that might make Spain look restrained. And that is before the Communist Party wakes up to the monster they have unleashed by educating a large middle class which now wants a say! Invest by all means, if you have funds to spare, but please don't fantasize about double figure returns for decades to come.)

This does not mean the end for either economy. It just means that future growth is going to take a lot more ponderous and painful reform than the first easy steps of removing aritificial roadblocks and letting her rip.

The moral of the story... if 'economists' announce that your economy is the next unstoppable tiger, be afraid, be very afraid.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Was Barbarossa derailed by the Balkans Campaign?

This is a short extract from a 15,000 word article on Operation Barbarossa that I wrote for the special annual edition of  "Against the Odds" Magazine a couple of years ago. I offer it here as a fun bit of speculation. I look forward to your comments.

Operation Barbarossa started later than was planned, that is incontrovertible.

Many historians follow then British Foreign Minister AnthonyEden in pointing to the diversion of large numbers of Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe forces into a two month campaign in the Balkans, as a key reason for the Germans being ‘too late and too slow’ in Barbarossa. Historian John Keegan for instance, claims that Germany’s response to the Britain landing troops to support Greece’s fight against Mussolini, diverted resources which “immensely assisted” the survival of the Soviet Union. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl claimed that Hitler had told her “if the Italians hadn’t attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course. We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad”.

This view has been disputed, not least by the Soviets and their apologists. Many and varied claims explain how diverting dozens of crack divisions to a hard campaign, in incredibly difficult terrain, where they suffered significant losses, really had no affect whatsoever on the effectiveness of Barbarossa.

Amongst the dross is one very good point: spring was late in Russia in 1941; this caused the Germans to delay the attack until good weather. This excellent suggestion even has supporting evidence from repeated delays in the attack on France the previous year, most due to poor weather. The parallels are far from identical: Germany was already at war with France, which was mobilized, fully entrenched, and combat ready (and attempting counter-attacks in some places). Notably, Germany paid much less attention to weather when mounting surprise attacks on countries with whom it was at peace – Poland, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, Greece etc.

We will assume (for argument’s sake) that HQ convinced Hitler to hold back for better conditions as they had the previous year (dubious given Hitler’s growing confidence that he was a military genius who knew better than his sluggard generals.) We will further assume that the Wehrmacht was better off waiting for the clearer weather, because it allowed faster and more effective attacks, and better logistic support to maintain momentum. That is still far short of saying the Balkans campaign did not negatively impact the success of Barbarossa.

The first and most obvious way the Balkans campaign negatively impacted the success of Barbarossa is casualties: casualties amongst men and machines on the ground, but also in the air and at sea. The Yugoslav and Greek elements of the campaign, despite remarkable successes, cost a significant number of men and machines. The most experienced, and best-trained, crack assault troops are damaged, not the slow moving infantry who form the vast bulk of the Barbarossa assault.

The German order of Battle for the Balkans campaign shows that the vast majority of the forces diverted to the Balkans were crack troops. Of the 33 odd divisions listed 10 were Panzer, two were Light, 4 were Mountain, 2 were SS, with only 15 infantry divisions (several of these the rare and elite motorized ones). Indeed six of the ten army corps involved was motorized, meaning 50‑60% of the divisions in the Balkans campaign armored or motorized compared to 15‑20% in Barbarossa as a whole.

The actual casualties the Germans suffered in most of their Balkans campaign were not all that heavy, with one exception...

Losses in the assault on Crete are truly horrific. Probably 284 aircraft lost, and several hundred damaged. To quote the Wipedia Crete articleThe major loss of transport aircraft would later seriously affect attempts to re-supply German forces in Stalingrad. The elite assault infantry (5th mountain division) were massacred at sea by the Royal Navy. Worse, the remains of the elite paratroops were so decimated that Hitler declared they would never risk an airborne attack again. This was a grave blow to the Directive 21 plan that “Russian railways will either be destroyed… or captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops”. General of Paratroops Kurt Student dubbed Crete, “the graveyard of the German paratroopers… a disastrous victory”. Fortunate Soviets!

Imagine the impact of those extra divisions of elite ground and parachute troops at, for example, Moscow. Is it possible to believe that the loss or weakening of those units had no effect? 

In addition, the rest of the war would see an ever increasing need to garrison the Balkans against insurrection and Allied counterattacks. (The Wehrmacht was in such a hurry to get back to the Barbarossa start lines, that it did not ‘clean up’. An estimated 300,000 armed Yugoslav troops simply headed to the mountains.) An ever increasing number of divisions were no longer available for the Russian front. Did that have no effect either?

Next comes the issue of wear and tear. The divisions first assembled for Barbarossa were, in the main, either completely new formations, or veteran formations at least partly re-equipped with more powerful and more modern tanks and guns. Most of the 600,000 trucks available were refurbished since the French campaign, or indeed were of French origin (increasing spare parts problems), and many had suffered from being driven the length of Europe to the start lines. It seems likely that tanks and trucks which broke down several hundred miles into the Soviet steppes might have made it a bit further had they not done several hundred miles through the Balkan mountains a couple of months earlier? Kleist’s 1st Panzer Group in particular, the group that achieved such a comparatively slow advance at Army Group South, had detoured most of the way to the Mediterranean before reaching its start point for Barbarossa. Von Weich’s Second Army, the one that ran out of steam in the western suburbs of Moscow, was another army that had toured the Balkan Mountains first. No effect?

Munitions have to be an issue too. The profligate use of carefully built up supplies during the Balkan campaign would not have been easy to replace on the Russian front. Even if German factories could replace them in time, they had to get them to the front line in Russia.

This brings up the biggest issues: logistics. Germany had limited access to the logistical support necessary to move the vast quantities of material needed to keep an army in the field and fighting. In many campaigns you find reports of German generals (Rommel for instance), practically going down on their knees in gratitude when they capture a supply dump, which allows them to keep moving a few more days. (General Patton later reported similar feelings in his advance through France.) Redirecting vast quantities of supplies from the Barbarossa supply dumps into the Balkans must have put an even greater strain on transport services and their trucks, than it did on the fighting troops. There are, of course, other ways to fill up gaps in the logistics train... transport aircraft spring to mind but see above re losses at Crete. The German army also had 750,000 horses for Barbarossa, creatures even less likely to be fresh after a quick trip to the Balkans than trucks.

It is simply unreasonable to imagine that the Balkan campaign did not make a significant difference to the chances of survival of the Soviet Union.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The British Pacific Fleet in 1945, an issue of academic honesty...

Last year I reviewed a very poor book, by the very well known naval historian H.P.Wilmott, on the British Pacific Fleet and its operations against Japan in 1945 called 'Grave of a Dozen Schemes', so it is delightful to finally review a good book on the topic 'The British Pacific Fleet' by David Hobbs.

Grave of a Dozen Schemes read like what it was, an academic thesis in the early 1980's, which either by preference of the author, or possibly just in an attempt to pander to the preconceptions of examiners, rehashed the concepts of the inevitable collapse of British power in the Far East during the war which was so popular at that time. It was a largely self contradictory muddle of ideas, where attempts to justify imperial collapse fought with the reality of the vast British Commonwealth fleets mounting simultaneous operations in both the indian and Pacific Oceans. The Acknowledgements for instance make the astonishing statement that,

"It would be pleasing to record that this book first saw the light of day as a result of a conviction that the story of the British contribution to the war against Japan in 1944-45, and specifically the story of the British Pacific Fleet, deserved an account that did both justice. Unfortunately this author cannot honestly make such a claim. This book took shape as a result of the realisation that a doctorate, and with it admission to the most mysterious Masonic order in the Western world, would be required if the author was to work in the United States".

In other words, I tailored my stuff to what people in university circles wanted to hear to be acceptable to the powers that be in academia…

The resulting book does all it possibly can to hide or diminish the achievements of the Commonwealth navies in the last year of the war against Japan, and yet still fails to be convincing on its main thesis.

By contrast Hobbs, who actually served as an aviator and planner with the Royal and US navies, and became an awarded journalist on defence topics, has produced a book that quite factually portrays exactly what was done up to the stage japan unexpectedly surrendered, and what was in preparation for the invasion of Japan. His interpretation of events is both more realistic, and far far more interesting.

The British Pacific Fleet was born out of the British Eastern Fleet, when it split into the East Indies Fleet and the Pacific Fleet in late 1944.

The Eastern Fleet had been created after Japan attacked in late 1941, and in early 1942 was the largest and most powerful Allied fleet in the world, with 5 battleships and 3 aircraft carriers assembled in April 1942 (one carrier lost that month), and another four battleships and 3 carriers expected to join within weeks. (This was in fulfillment to the British governments long term plan to move the main fleet to the East within six months of the Japanese attacking. It was also at the cost of the RN practically abandoning the Mediterranean for several months, which allowed Rommel's counter-offensive that got as far as El Alamein… so in practical terms it also filled Churchill's promise to put the defense of India and Australia above the defense of the Middle East.)

Fortunately for the allies the last serious offensive by the Japanese was the raid into the Indian Ocean that month which managed to wreak havoc, but without achieving its objective of finding and engaging the main British fleet before it could be reinforced. This was the only serious attempt by the japanese to solve their 'two front war' problem. The Japanese could be fairly described as having 'run out of steam' at this point, and over the next few weeks their naval forces were fought to at least a draw at Coral Sea, and then a significant defeat at Midway, while their land forces were stopped cold in New Guinea and Guadalcanal, and Allied counter-attacks really began.

The blunting of Japanese naval offensive power was so great that the Eastern Fleet was quickly diverted to the invasion of Madagascar, and then slowly milked (along with the US Pacific fleet which sent units to the British Home Fleet as well) for the invasion of North Africa. By the end of 1942 the Eastern Fleet was hardly more than a shell, and in 1943 the Commonwealth's main anti-Japanese effort was the 'TG17.3' cruiser squadron in Macarthur's command, and the loan of the modern armoured aircraft carrier Victorious (codename USS Robin) to work with USS Saratoga in 1943 after the American losses at Santa Cruz reduced the USN to a similar hollow shell with just the Saratoga available in the Pacific.

After the Italian surrender, the British Eastern Fleet was increased again, and after D-Day, it grew to include several battleships and carriers. Late 1944 saw it practice a number of offensive operations (including one where the USN loaned Saratoga back to assist with training), but for the 1945 seasons it was split into the Pacific Fleet, and the East Indies Fleet.

Many of the authors who do mention the Commonwealth contribution to the air operations off Okinawa and Japan make comments along the lines that naming the British fleet a Task Force was generous when it was actually only the size of a Task Group. This is already a bit of a long bow in January when the fleet consisted of 4 armoured carriers, a 'light fleet', and 4 escort carriers. By August it was 4 armoured, 8 light fleet, and 9 escort carriers (along with 4 battleships, 12 cruisers, 3 fast minelayers, 40 destroyers and 70 odd escorts, 29 submarines, and a fleet train of about 100). The total comes to approximately 286 ships. Imagining that this did not count as a reasonable Task Force is pretty hard to justify, particularly as it does not include a steady stream of new vessels due to arrive over the next few months in preparation for the planned invasion.

Nor does it include the East Indies Fleet, which added another 16 escort carriers (plus 2 battleships, 12 cruisers, and 230 odd other ships). These were the ships that invaded Burma in early 1945 and were preparing to invade Malaya when the Japanese surrendered.

In total the Commonwealth (and French - they had a battleship and some cruisers involved too), naval forces arrayed in preparation for the final attacks on Japan came to about 700 ships.

Wilmott's attempt to suggest that all this effort was a waste of time, and that it somehow reveals the weakness of the British Empire and the paucity of their resources, can't help but sound a bit self-delusionary.

By contrast Hobbs is quite clear that the effort of assembling and training these two fleets for operations, particularly preparing and practicing the fleet train for long term operations off the Japanese coast, was very difficult. He makes no bones about the fact that in the early days there was a lot to learn from the Americans who had had 3 years to build this experience, but without ignoring that the British Pacific Fleet caught much of that up in about 6 months.

He lists in detail the many times that American generosity was vital to progress, but (unlike Wilmott) also lists the many times Admirals Spruance and Halsey were more than grateful to get unexpected extra assistance from the Commonwealth in return. (Not just the extended contribution of Britain's armoured carriers against the Japanese kamikaze's at a time when the Americans were having to amalgamate their own Task Groups due to heavy losses, but also detailing just a fraction of how reliant American forces had been upon the same bases and personnel and supplies in Australia and New Zealand that the British fleet needed to operate effectively.)

Whereas Wilmott often belittles the contribution of the British Task Force, Hobbs simply records its effects, and the comments of the American liaisons. Whereas Wilmott acts as if the British fleet has nothing to offer, Hobbs discusses the radar directed fighter interception techniques developed against the Italians and Germans that the British taught the Americans in return.

Hobbs' book is a straightforward discussion of what two different navies managed to achieve in co-operation, and includes an outline of what was planned for the invasion of Japan, and what happened after hostilities ended. He raises both the successes, and the failures, but allows events to speak for themselves. He covers Halsey's very political decision to refuse to let the British fleet undertake any strikes on major Japanese warships without rancour, and makes only the barest of comments on American anti-British co-operation with the Chinese Nationalists post war, but pretty much leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions on these issues.

What he doesn't discuss, except for the briefest passing mention, is on the decision to have a British Pacific Fleet in the first place.

Churchill wanted the Eastern Fleet to leave the Pacific operations to the Americans, and to kick the Japanese out of South East Asia. Reconquoring Burma, Malaya, the Netherlands East Indies, and possibly Thailand or formosa in the process of heading up to Hong Kong and maybe even to join the USN in a final attack on Japan. (He believed Britain needed to liberate British colonies themselves.) The British Chiefs of Staff however, thought a Pacific Fleet would be a better idea, possibly in terms of being seen to help the Americans, and possibly in terms of prestige of being in on the kill.

Both possibilities were to prove overly optimistic.

The Chiefs of Staff got their way (in fact they unanimously threatened to resign to get it), and the resulting split of British naval forces slowed down the reconquest of Burma, and delayed the invasion of Malaya until after Japan surrendered. (Interestingly the Australians had been in favour of a Pacific solution too, until it became clear that MacArthur was abandoning them, at which point they tried to rejoin Churchill's China Sea 'middle way'.)

Wilmott's book is largely about this debate, with the confusing assumption that not only was the eventual attempt to follow both options wasteful, but that even following one of them was beyond British power. Seeing they were actually doing both, successfully (though admittedly slower and with far less efficiency than they might have done either one on its own), at the time of the Japanese surrender, his logic is pretty hard to fathom.

Hobbs practically ignores the debate, but nonetheless draws a convincing case for both being within British power, if possibly excessive efforts for the returns achieved as a result of an earlier than expected surrender.

So a few quick 'what if's?'

What if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, and a full British Task Force of the same size as an American task Force had been involved in the invasion of Japan, even as another similar sized British Fleet had finished the invasion of Malaya, and moved on to clear the East Indies. What would post war international affairs, decolonisation, and history have looked like then?

Or, what if the entire effort of the Commonwealth forces operating with the British Pacific Fleet had been put into invading Malaya while Okinawa was still underway? Would American losses without the support of the British armoured carriers have slowed the invasion of Japan?

Or, if the atomic bomb had still ended the war at the same time, but with Britain in possession of Malaya and most of the East Indies (using the elite Australian Corps as ground troops as the Australians had suggested), and possibly closing in on Hong Kong as Churchill had originally planned? What would post war international affairs, decolonisation, and history have looked like then?

Personally, I have always believed that Churchill was the best geo-political strategist of the war, and that his approach would have been better, not just for the British Commonwealth, but for the entire post war decolonisation process. (Far less likely to have the Communist Domino's and the Vietnam war etc under Churchill's approach.) I find this particularly pertinent as the majority of history books – certainly US history books, but also people like Wilmott – act as if the Commonwealth had virtually no contribution to the defeat of Japan, which they treat as an all American achievement.

But to consider this question is difficult with inadequate information. Hobbs' book gives us the practical information, but with virtually none of the political discussion (and is obviously disinterested in the efforts of the East Indies fleet at the same time). Whereas Wilmott's book gives us the political debate in huge detail, (but with an underlying dismissiveness about why anyone was even trying that makes it very hard going to interpret reality).

Hobbs has written by far the better book, and the factual detail gives an infinitely better insight into what was real, and what might have been possible, than Wilmott would even consider. But Wilmott gives the political and strategic background necessary to analyse whether the capabilities of the forces Hobbs outlines could in fact have been better employed.

If you want a real analysis of what the British Pacific fleet could and did achieve, stick to Hobbs. If you want to consider what alternatives might have been possible, then you could do a very careful dip into Wilmott.

But please accept that Hobbs is a serious student of military history, whereas Wilmott is a serious practitioner of academic arse kissing.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Britain's War Machine" and recent British portrayals of their own role in World War Two

In a recent post I was asked to discuss whether the US could, possibly, have been more valuable to the Allies as an 'arsenal of democracy' than as a combatant. How the British and their allies might have won anyway. I am going to look at the confused response of some people to my answer, with a further discussion of how I could consider such conclusions given the offerings of many, particularly British, historians since the war about British 'weakness'.

The generally accepted version of the story is that Britain in World War Two was too backward, poor and insignificant to have won without help. This appears to be a story constructed by British writers and propagandists for their own purposes, and is probably as useless a fictional construct as Holywood presentations which suggest that the US won the war almost single handedly, and with no help from anyone else at all, or Russian apologists suggesting the same.

(In reality the US was no more capable of winning the war without Britain and her Empire and Commonwealth, than Britain was without Russia, or Russia was without Anglo-American support. Any one of those nations on their own was incapable of facing all three Axis powers, and could not have won a world war against them all unaided. Nor has there ever been any power in history who could successfully take on any other three major unaided. Full stop, and end of story.... For those who have some fantasy that the US has ever been a unique 'superpower' consider what would happen if China, Russia and Iran all got uppity at once today, and NATO and Japan and the rest of America's allies gave the type of two fingered salute that the US gave British attempts at peacekeeping in the 1930's? Well you don't have to really, just watch Obama trying to workout what to do about Syria!)

My particular point with this post being that the British have rubbished their own wartime record and achievements since halfway through the war..

Now I used to think that this was mostly the traditional British self deprecatory understatement. Whereas an American or a Russian or Frenchman boasts about their superiority and how much their nation has achieved, a typical English stiff upper lip type always downplays their efforts. (Dawn French does a good take-off of upper crust lunacy in a comedy skit where she accidentally chops of a finger. Having fed it to a dog, she realises the proper British thing to do is give the other dogs a similar treat, and starts chopping off more fingers... If you think this is a joke, go and find the story of how the nutty British general Carton di Wiart pulled off some fingers at an aid station in WW1 so he could get back to the front faster...) But a new writer has made me consider the possibly more sinister motives behind this dismissie attitude.

Not just self deprecation, but consciously targetted and frighteningly nationalistic political propaganda by self righteous 'reformers'... (My favourite historical villains.)

I have just finished a book by David Edgerton called 'Britain's War Machine', which has enormous fun poking holes at all this 'weakness' nonsense. It starts with images like the famous dramatic cartoon of a British soldier standing defiantly against a dark and stormy sea shouting "all right, alone", which he contrasts with the more accurate cartoon of British and Dominion soldiers sitting relaxed on the beach saying "poor old Empire, just the 500 million of us". It is a fair point about propaganda versus reality.

More interestingly, it is not just a matter of the first being motivational propaganda at the time to buck up the population, while the second was a bit dangerous at the time for offering excessive complacency. Instead the emphasis of the book is on those who even after the war pretend that the first is reality, and consciously try to cover up the second. (The British politicians  and dons were not alone in this game. Australia's Curtin government started an invasion scare campaign in 1942 through ignorance, but kept it up for its motivational value during the war even after they knew it was false, and many historians have continued the baseless myth since… often for party political purposes.)

Just to explain the concept of why we can't take the image of 'poor little Britain' seriously... Britain was one of the richest nations in the world in 1940, and in terms of living standards per head, the Dominions, and even much of the Empire, were right up there with her. None of the Axis powers came close to a similar standard of living. In terms of modern industrial output for instance, 30% of Germans were still involved in agriculture, whereas only 8% of the British workers were.

Whereas the Axis powers planned to fight a traditional mass conscription war, Britain expected to fight her traditional 'industrial power and money' conflict, and let other people do as much of the fighting as possible. Ie: a concentration on increasing the capacities of allies and undermining the capacities of enemies through industrial and economic might, rather than on removing men from industry to field huge armies in the field. (The approach used against Napoleon and - to a lesser extent - in World War One writ large, and indeed the approach copied by the United States in World War Two and the Cold War.)

British industry alone was already outproducing the Axis powers in ships, aircraft, tanks, and most other war fighting tools by 1940. Add in the Dominions (an extra 20 million Anglo's with substantial industry of their own - particularly Canada), and the Empire (450 million assorted races in nations dominating much of the worlds resources, trade, and industry), and the idea that Britain could do what it had always done seemed perfectly reasonable.

In fact British investments in other parts of the world - particularly South America and the Middle East - and British domination of the sea lines of transport (not to mention US bias to trading with Brits not Axis via these routes) gave an overwhelming advantage in access to the worlds productive resources.

Even in sheer production terms, Britain alone outproduced the Germans and Italians (and Japanese) in ships, warships, tanks, aircraft, and most munitions (except heavy artillery and infantry arms  - not unreasonably since the Axis were into mass armies while the Commonwealth was not). Given access to American production by purchase or Lend-Lease, and much of the rest of the world's resources by purchase or loan (Sterling Balance was effectively a technique of allowing much purchase now with promise of repayment from accumulated investment funds later), Britain was 100% correct believing winning the war was practically inevitable, even after the fall of France.

But this strength is not what British historians and propagandists portray after the war. Instead the 'Britain alone' myth is backed up with an unrealistic 'poor little Britain' playing 'David against Goliath' combined with a very nasty version of British nationalism that pretends Britain really was alone.

I have always suggested that post war the British taxpayer had completely lost interest in paying for the 'privilege' of being the world's policeman, and was more than willing to let the stupid Americans give it a try (and see how they liked being universally condemned as arrogant by nations they were paying to protect...) I felt that the consequences were unfortunate (particularly for colonies abandoned to an independence they were not ready for... see any African or Asian dictatorship of the last 50 years), but that the motivation was fairly understandable. But I had not much considered the more cynical perspective.

David Edgerton argues that the 'Socialist' parties in Britain went 'Nationalist' by 1945, and won power on a completely un-British 'Little England/Britain' wave of truly offensive propaganda. He suggests that the chattering classes rewrote the international achievements of the British Commonwealth to portray a 'Britain Alone' perspective, and then used that to justify protectionism, and nationalism of industry, and all the other disasters that Labour governments inflicted on the British economy for the next 30 odd years. 

His argument is extremely detailed, and fairly convincing. He particularly notes that the British Labour parties 1935 platform endlessly repeated the word 'socialism', while their 1945 platform had a singe mention of that word, and endlessly repeated 'nationalism'. In fact the nationalisation program of industry and energy and health, and all sorts of other things that the socialist parties experimented with after the war, used the 'National' or 'British' title endlessly.

Edgerton points out that this centralised economy approach was in fact a pursuit of Soviet or Nazi ideals in how a state should work, and completely opposite to the way the British capitalist colossus that effectively dominated world trade pre 1942 had always worked.

He did not spend much time on the effects of attempting a centralised economy. But British living standards relative to the rest of the world fell throughout the 20th century, and faster post war than interwar, so it is likely that this had as much - if not more - to do with misunderstood socialism and incompetent centralisation as with any losses from the wars themselves. (I will do another post on this concept later).

His main point is that the fantasy of poor little Britain against the big bad world is rubbish. Until Japan joined the war, Britain was the world's leading military industrial power, with world's most advanced technology (including the world's leading nuclear bomb program, radar, penicillin, proximity fuse, and many other things that were passed on to Americans to continue development of as part of the United Nations approach to the rationalisation of wartime resources). Britain was eventually almost certainly going to beat Germany and Italy, even if it was only by arming Russia.

(In December 1941, one of the reasons Malaya was in danger was because 249 Valentine and 187 Matilda II tanks, delivered to Russia instead of to British troops in Egypt and Asia, were providing something like 30-40% of the medium/heavy tanks defending Moscow. Fighters like Hurricanes and British supplied Tomahawks were probably 16% of Russian defenders at this vital point. Britain probably lost Malaya and Burma - possibly the Netherlands East Indies too - because of such resources sent to Russia. The effect on the British Empires war effort was very bad, but possibly not as bad as Moscow falling in 1941 would have been. Was it a good choice? From whose perspective? British interests, or world history?)

After 1942 things changed of course. The United States became the leading military industrial power by 1945, which for some reason has been labelled a British 'decline'. Again, he would say that this is rubbish.

Britain came out of World War Two as the world's second largest military and industrial economy, and the second largest international trading power. (And that is excluding Empire and Commonwealth resources... Canada and Australia also coming in the top ten world military industrial powers in their own right.) 

Now I have always argued that the un-natural economic dominance that the tiny Britain achieved after the end of the Napoleonic wars could hardly be considered an inevitable or sustainable right. No nation that small can remain so dominant forever. That would be extremely unnatural.

For the same reason I have never felt that the unnatural economic dominance that the United States achieved after World War Two was sustainable. As did Britain in 1815, they dominated over ruined economies, not over healthy trading rivals. I have never accepted  that the modern 'decline' in US power is anything but a natural correction.

But you will note that these two liberal democratic capitalist states still vastly outweigh the power their respective populations should have in world affairs. (Despite unnecessary damage done by socialist ideology in Britain.) 

Edgerton makes the very interesting point that the reason British industry was still so dominant in world affairs in 1939-1942 was because US industry was still being kept artificially repressed by the stupidities of the New Deal. (Whereas capitalist free market economies around the world largely recovered by 1936 from the Depression, the US economy was kept in recession until war in 1942 released it from the fell hand of Roosevelt's socialist command economy claptrap... another post...)

He points out that Britain during the war could increase its labour force by only about 6-8% above 1939 levels. Britain hadn't all that much flex in reserve. It's economy was too efficiently active already. (By the way he points out that despite propaganda about the wonders of US mass production, British man hours per ship were way below US for the same ships for the entire war... except for a couple of US companies that concentrated only on one very simple design - the British Liberty ship - where they came to about British standards by 1944. It was therefore very sensible for the more skilled British labour force to build more complex ships, and leave the simplest mass production to the less skilled American workforces. He has similar interesting statistics on aircraft factories and other industries which the British 'intelligentsia'  has written off as poor performers during the war in probably self deprecating and self serving propaganda of their own.)

By contrast the United States was so underemployed as late as 1941 - with as many as 20 million workers unemployed - that they increased their workforce participation by up to 50% during the war. (20 million unemployed being almost as much as the entire British workforce at full employment.) His argument being that Britain did not decline at all, it is just that the US finally got on its feet and started reaching the military/industrial standards its vastly larger workforce should have been capable of many years earlier.

The replacement of Britain with the United States as the leading military/industrial power at some stage was both inevitable, and logical. All that was needed was for the US to finally shoulder its part of the burden of international peacekeeper. At that point a much larger industrial population should, inevitably, have a much greater role. No decline on Britain's part necessary at all. (In fact had the US stepped up to the plate when Wilson tried to get it too after WWI, then an earlier 'special relationship' would have easily prevented most of the things that eventually led to WWII!)

In fact the question is why Britain was still, in 1944 as much as in 1939, so far ahead of the Axis and other powers in military/industrial power. Why could Britain outproduce all 3 Axis and all their conquests and slave workers, even without the Commonwealth? Why were the rest so inefficient?

Or perhaps more importantly, why does Britain downplay this power so much? What did the chattering/intellectual classes hope to achieve with the whole 'Britain alone', 'David vs Goliath', 'incompetent bumbling', and 'pathetic and needy' dialogue they so carefully crafted between the 1930's and the 1980's?

The truth is, that much British history written about this period tells worse lies than the contemporary Australian or American or Russian history of the period tells about their countries, and does so for reasons that should be examined for political motivation.

It is clear that some academics have done so to pursue their idealistic left wing agenda's, or to pretend that Socialism isn't as destructive to economies as it clearly is: but unfortunately far more have done so because they are either not bright enough, or not brave enough, to challenge the house of cards they found their academic careers on.

But perhaps we should investigate what negative effects these lies eventually had on such minor things as British living standards, Keynsian economics, third world development, and our understanding of how history works? 

Friday, August 2, 2013

More on why republics are bad

I was teaching ancient history at a girls school recently, and they asked whether women had greater rights in the Ancient republics...

When I managed to stop laughing, I pointed out that they clearly had a very fantasy version of democracy in mind.

In reality of course, Spartan women (from a sort of prototype Constitutional Monarchy) had far more rights than Athenian women in their prototype Republic... Come to think of it Spartan Helots (read Serfs) had more rights than supposedly free Athenian women.

The same applies to Rome. Women did start to get rights in Rome, but only after the Republic was ended and the Empire began...

If I had had a bit more time to explore the point, I could have given many other examples from history where individual rights are repressed to the advantage of the power group that is pretending to push 'rights' – American slave owners pretending to revolt for 'freedom' for instance – but we only have 50 minutes per class usually.

Instead I suggested that they check their assumptions at the door, and have a look at the 220+ odd 'republics' started in the last 200 years and see how many of them had succeeded in human rights. Given that 90% became criminal dictatorships or mass murdering junta's within a couple of decades, this should not take long.

This ties with some strategic studies articles I have been reading recently, which discuss 'exit strategies' for imperial powers. They were making a few pointed comments about Americans imagining that you go into a backward illiterate tribal country and magically set up a stable democracy...

In fact exit strategies come in various types. Britian had particular success with self governing Dominions - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Singapore, etc... Rather more limited success where independence had a component of violence - civil wars in the American Colonies, South Africa, Ireland, India, Pakistasn, Ceylon, Malaysia, Cyprus, etc... but most turned out pretty well in the end (or at least still might). Considerable success in places that had a well established rule of law and literacy and free press - Singapore, Hong Kong, Palestine. Often failure in places that were not developed, or educated enough to make a go of it... Egypt, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Burma, etc. But still, 'relative sucess' is a long way from 'great for women'.

Note that, with the possible exception of the American federation, there is a direct correlation between becoming a republic and failure rate. Of the first group above only Malta became a republic and joined the Euro (and when I was there recently was bemoaning both decisions). Of the second group, the ones that became republics had, on average, a rougher time than those that didn't. Of the non-developed group: you get those coutries that have been amazing successes, normally monarchies or constitutional monarchies like Malaysia, Jordan, Jamaica and Brunei; those that have been more varied like the Arabian Gulf Emirates, Kenya and Nigeria; and those Republics that have been appalling and disastrous failures... pretty much the other 40 odd countries that became republics... (the exception to the rule being Botswana, where the 'President' is usually the next in line from the tribal chieftainship anyway...) 

The US exit strategy from empire has been equally varied. Germany Italy and Japan were all educated nations with well established rules of law rather than 'proper' colonies. They worked, sort of. Of course Japan was left as a Constitutional Monarchy, and Germany still pretty much has American and other troops in occupation (let alone the threat of Cold War invasion focusing the mind for 30 or 40 years), so I suppose that leaves the question of whether the Italian Republic could be classifed as a success? More or less than the Philippines under Marcos? What of more recent invasions to promote Republicanism? Panama, Iraq or Afghanistan?

The simple truth is that republican democracies are pretty unlikely NOT to become nasty dictatorships. If you build in enough safeguards – strong federalism, limiting the franchise to contributors, special interest houses, or constitutional monarchies to play emergency brake – they might make it... might. But one vote one value = 99% chance of dictatorship. Pure and simple.

And that includes when the one vote is limited to the male citizen warrior castes of the Ancient world.

For homework I asked the girls to check up how women were doing in the modern world of Republics? If you delete most of northern Europe and the Commonwealth (most of them constitutional monarchies of some sort anyway), that mainly leaves Muslim North Africa, Middle East and Asia, India, Latin America, Central and Southern Africa, 'Communist' China, and about half of mainland Asia. My test was they try and find 3 of those countries where they think women have (something approaching) equal rights and equal potentialities.

You can find a few of course - US, France, Germany, Finland, and others... whoops that's just European style states. Sorry. How about non-European?

Personally I can probably think of half a dozen republics that would be more or less OK to send a (purely imaginary) daughter to live in.... out of 140 or so. Whereas of 30 odd constitutional monarchies, I can think of 3 where I wouldn't want my daughter to go (and out of straight monarchies, maybe half – pathetic, but also pathetically better than republics).

It is sad that the girls I was teaching thought that a funny label might actually make a difference in the Ancient world, but frightening that they think that because they have a purely fantasy view of what that label means in the modern world.