Monday, November 11, 2013

Open Thread

Gas attack at the Somme photo courtesy of the History Blog

Also meant to mention the 10,000 dead in Tacloban.  Wasn't that MacArhtur's HQ after the Leyte landing?  They also had trouble back then with flooding this time of year.  Nothing like this of course, which was a million times worse.  But most of the MacArthur's airfields were swamped and useless.


  1. When I was a gunner, our honourary colonel was a WWI gunner who was gassed at the Somme. He became a BRA in WWII. He had a handicapped child (possibly because of the genetic damage from the chemical attack) and so he set up the provinces first school for the severely handicapped.

  2. If there's anything I can think of that truly distinguishes the United States from the nations of western Europe it is the utter lack of lingering effects of the First World War.

    I honestly don't know if I can understand that war at the level that it seems to have permeated the societies that really fought it; Britain and the Commonwealth countries, France, Germany, Belgium...and I'm not sure if too many other Americans can, either. Our experience was so peripheral and so brief that even my own family, who lost someone (my great-uncle who was killed in the Argonne) in France in 1917 has no real connection.

    But even the worst of WW2 - the Russian campaign or parts of Italy - seems to lack the horrors of the Western Front. They have their own horrors, but...

    Gas was a big part of that, but the immense, pointless slaughter just seems overwhelming even from this distance. So I guess I can say "I understand" how it left such an impact on the survivors and their descendents. But I just "understand"; I don't have the sort of bone-deep reaction that so many people east of the Atlantic Ocean seem to have...

  3. I think with my long sojourn in Europe that I have picked up on the whole Great War attitude to a point. That this particular period was my main interest as a history undergrad and grad student helped . . . I'm looking forward to see how the various media outlets deal with it, especially the Brits . . .

    Btw, I live on a street in the second largest city in Portugal named to commemorate the greatest defeat the Portuguese Army has ever suffered and it was in the particular war . . . in 1918 . . .

  4. Ael - B-R-A?

    seydlitz - Must be La Lys? Or from somewhere in Angola in a battle against German Southwest Africa?? Or Mozambique??/ Tell us more. That rates a post of its own in the near future.

    1. Brigadier Royal Artillery (BRA). Commands a divisions guns (which is a scary amount of firepower).

  5. Did anyone see the Opinion piece in the NY Times by Cpt Carter? It was a Veterans Day article about the plight of vets who were not honorably discharged and are therefore ineligible for the benefits due those with honorable discharges.
    NYT is now subscription but look up the title to find others who've re-printed/re-published the article: "The Vets We Reject and Ignore"
    Good to see that Cpt Carter is still active and doing good work.

  6. mike-

    Yes, La Lys . . .

    Been thinking about a post, but simply become overwhelmed by the various topics I could/should address . . . Snowden, strategic theory, the First World War, William Lloyd Garrison, "America", 70th anniversary of WWII, or simply the corruptive influence of various dubious ideologies . . . such is it when faced with the unprecedented scale of social/political dysfunction that we have today? . . .

    I have this reoccurring vision of being unable to see the sun above, no matter how high I climb the ruins of corrupt interest always loom above me, above all, ruins without end . . . and then there's the smell . . .

    Reading James Burnham's "The Managerial Revolution" from 1941 . . . highly recommended, providing you can find a copy . . .

  7. wourm-

    Yes, I read it. Phil's "bad paper" argument . . . reminds me of the long attempt to get a Cold War Service medal authorized which was torpedoed by Rummy and Co . . . repeatedly . . . and then dropped after years of lobbying . . . obviously sent the wrong message according to those making the calls for war . . . Ditto here.

  8. I read a similar article about the whole "Warrior Transition Units" and how a lot of the commanders are using the Chapter system to flush guys who are too disabled to RTD but not enough for an immediate medical discharge. Pretty fucked up, but, then, the military medical system has always been about "conserving the fighting strength", not caring for the individual soldier...

  9. "...when faced with the unprecedented scale of social/political dysfunction that we have today."

    I'd argue that the "social" dysfunction is hardly unprecedented; that, in fact, we're really returning to a degree of social polarization that was fairly common in the United States for much of our history. Certainly from the late 1820s all the way to the Civil War over slavery, and then for most of the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first quarter of the 20th over labor vs. fact, I can't think of many periods of social tranquility as extended as the 1950-1980 period. Possibly the first couple of decades after the Revolution...but you had Shays Rebellion, and slavery, and Know-Nothingism, and Federalists versus Anti-Federalists...

    Political? Yep. I'll agree with that. But I think that's because nobody in 1789 anticipated that there would be a faction in politics as apocalyptic and crazy as the teabaggers. Can you imagine trying to explain to Madison or Hamilton or Washington that there would be Americans excited about shutting down their own government, the government that they (the Founders) had bled and suffered to set up? First they'd have laughed out loud. And then they'd probably have looked around for someone's ass to kick.

    But IMO those are all worthwhile topics. Just pick one and start in on it. Go for it, and then move on to the next.

  10. Following up the Fourth Battle of Ypres I ran into this guy; Aníbal Augusto Milhais (, "Soldier Millions".

    Pretty amazing dude, but the part of his story that sounded so familiar was this one: "He received many decorations and much public praise, but the highly decorated soldier still could not provide for his family. In 1928, he emigrated to Brazil in an attempt to improve his financial standing. The Portuguese community in Brazil received him as a hero. When the Portuguese living there realized that Milhais was in Brazil by need, the community gathered funds to send him back to Portugal with enough money to provide for his family. The Portuguese thought it a national indignity and were angry that the military had forced such a degrading life on Milhais."

    "In time of danger or in war..."

  11. Chief- Funny you should mention how common social dysfunction has been in the US. Sunday, we went to the Rascals Concert, "Once upon a Dream" in Chicago, on our way back home from Calif. Felix Cavalieri, the lead singer and I grew up together. We spent some time before the show catching up.

    I remember an article in our town newspaper back in the late 60's praising the group for always having black artists perform as part of their shows, and refusing to play in southern venues that told them to cut the black acts.

    Once Upon a Dream is not just the Rascals singing again, but tells the story of the Rascals. A truly grand show.

    Near the closing, they say:

    Our time in the limelight ended in 1970. We were singing, fighting and protesting against racial inequality, discrimination, poverty and an unpopular war that was going nowhere. 40 or so years later, we are together singing again - -

    and not a fucking thing has changed!

  12. While it’s true that the United States has had a history of internal conflict over race and class, what’s new is the omnidirectional focus of response. Previously we had defined enemies, particular groups or countries that were targeted. Today, everyone on the planet is a potential enemy who must be watched and, when it seems appropriate, preemptively interdicted. The same attitude seems to be shared by individual Americans, who conceal and carry, stand their ground and who have colluded in the construction of one of the most draconian penal systems yet devised. The same attitude is expressed in television dramas – lone heroes, shoot and car-crash their way into self-realization.

    This development, so different from the world of our grandparents, seems worthy of discussion.

  13. Paul - If everyone is the enemy, life is much simpler. Only one "Good Guy" to keep track of, unless you have an identical twin. But then, it could be an "evil twin", couldn't it?

  14. FD Chief-

    Well, same old argument of ours . . . you say "same old, same old" and I say no . . . rather, something completely different . . . from this perspective, the 1830s US looks quite positive . . .

  15. Well, I don't say that it's exactly the same today as, say, the 1830s...but the similarities are strong and perhaps stronger than the differences.

    I think what you're discounting is the real oddity of the post-WW2 period (1945-1970), when the political parties were more homogeneous than they have been since and to a large extent more than they were before. The Rockefeller Republicans and the Dixiecrats meant that both parties had liberal and conservative wings. And the widespread acceptance by the GOP of the New Deal status quo, and by the Democrats of the "free market" ideology meant that there was a pretty huge gray area between the two parties.

    That gray area is gone now, but base on my reading of U.S. political history it's very existence was something of an anomaly.

    So I'm still unclear about what is it about the teabaggers that makes you see them as such a unique dysfunction in U.S. political history.

  16. "...everyone on the planet is a potential enemy who must be watched and, when it seems appropriate, preemptively interdicted..."

    I'd argue, instead, that the "enemy" - the invisible but somehow invincible Islamic "terrorists" - is very much a distinct group.

    But the response has been to assume that these enemies ARE everywhere, and respond by erecting an immense expansion of the national security state to seine the world more finely to catch them.

    So not a broader definition of "enemy" as much as a bigger edifice to catch that enemy.

  17. "So I'm still unclear about what is it about the teabaggers that makes you see them as such a unique dysfunction in U.S. political history."

    I should add; other than their kamikaze willingness to destroy the U.S. in order to "save" it.

    But if that's your definition, then you'd have to accept that the slavery Democrats of the 1840s and 50s were as bad - worse. And the Dixiecrats of the Gilded Age managed to do a pretty good job of shortstopping any attempt to spread the New Deal beyond white males. They never brought government to a standstill but only because FDR and the New Deal Dems weren't willing to fight them over that...

    So I'm still curious; what is it about the current reactionary radicals that makes them so unique.

  18. Chief: "So I'm still curious; what is it about the current reactionary radicals that makes them so unique."

    In so far as the federal government is concerned, I think it is simply that the teabaggers figured out how to game the system to their advantage. Our form of government has always been open to such antics, it's just a matter of no group figuring out, or being willing to do what it takes to use our constitutional legislative peculiarities to serve their ends.

    In the most general terms, a "coalition" government, as found in countries with parliamentary style rule, it is generally in the interests of the coalescing parties to find a common ground to hold the coalition together, or the coalition fails, the "government" falls, and the decision is immediately turned back to the voters to elect a new government. Since there is really no way, under our Constitution, to form a real coalition that is subject to a "confidence vote" or the like, small radical groups can act with virtual impunity, as long as they perceive they can be re-elected at the next scheduled election. Thus, their very existence and their ability to hold a party, legislation and/or the function of government hostage gives them undue clout.

    Add to that, the emergence of "political process forces" most likely never foreseen by the Framers, and I have wondered for years if our Constitution was really serving us well. Back in grad school, in the 70's, we studied the evolution of forms of city and county government arising from changes in population size, services demanded, etc. In short, villages can do quite well with forms of government that would be disasters in cities, and large cities are not necessarily served well by the form of government used in smaller cities. That there is such a variance in municipal government forms might well provide a hint here. The local constitutional form of government found in many cities today is a far cry from those found in 1783.

    The Radical Left and Right parties in Greece may hold some seats in Parliament, but they are virtually powerless to affect legislation. If anything, their existence only forces a moderate coalition government by denying any one party a clear majority of seats. They can neither form nor topple a government, and have never been invited into a coalition when no given party earns a majority. In effect, they are simply a cathartic for their political adherents.

    Not so, for the radical right in the US. They have learned how to constipate the process, and since they are "anti-government" to begin with, preventing governance is well in line with their views, and our form of government is the perfect tool for their antics.

    1. "They have learned how to constipate the process, and since they are "anti-government" to begin with, preventing governance is well in line with their views, and our form of government is the perfect tool for their antics."

      I would not characterize them as 'anti-government', but rather as looters and takers. They are very, very happy pulling government spending into their own pockets, or the pockets of their masters. They just don't like government spending helping those they don't like.

      In this they align well with the elites (and note that the Tea Party hasn't done a d*mn thing against the interests of the elites).

  19. Barry: - " They just don't like government spending helping those they don't like."

    In all honesty, the above can be said of most of the population. It's just a matter of who you don't like, be it the poor, uninsured or the defense establishment.

  20. I recently offered this reply to a Navy wife friend's worries that the budget cuts might "further erode benefits for the troops", particularly the Commissary:

    Unfortunately, far too many Americans (and not just the "poor") really believe that there is indeed such a thing as a "Free Lunch", and expect it at many turns. Thus, we see, for example, the notion that we can "Support the Troops" without bearing the resulting tax burden. Or that in return for your children not having to face the draft, the significantly increased salary and benefits costs of the all volunteer military are not going to impact your tax bill. As is so typically the case, Americans expect someone else to pay for their Lunch, and in this case, it's the troops who might be expected to pay the bill, as the bill must be paid.

  21. In the interest of clarity, what I meant was "a friend who is a Navy wife".