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Wednesday, 4 May 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the East (Four)
Topic: Military History

(For clarity German units are rendered in italics.) 

Legends cluster around the famous Battle of Tannenberg. It has been said, for instance, that in the years before the war General von Hindenburg had studied the problem of defending East Prussia and developed the plan that produced victory. But there was not much to such tales. As noted earlier the Eighth Army more or less had its course of action laid out for it by the military geography of the region and the configuration of the rail net. By the time that Hindenburg and Ludendorff arrived at the Eighth Army’s headquarters staff officers, a certain Colonel Max Hoffman prominent among them, had produced a plan by which Rennenkampf’s First Army in the north would he held off by a thin screen of cavalry and Landwehr brigades while the bulk of the German forces hurried south to confront Samsonov’s Second Army. 

On the other side the actions of the two invading armies were becoming more and more disjointed. Their higher headquarters, Northwest Front (General Yakov Grigorevich Zhilinskiy) was some distance away in Warsaw and Zhilinskiy himself provided little in the way of leadership beyond exhortations to speed up the advance. Despite having won a tactical victory at Gumbinnen Rennenkampf was convinced that he faced the bulk of Eighth Army and could not resume the offensive until his supply situation was put to rights. Samsonov was more receptive to Zhilinskiy’s prodding. His troops had first met the Germans (XX Corps) on 22 August and pushed them back in several places. This encouraged Samsonov to press on despite his own supply problems. Zhilinskiy demanded that First Army should get going so as to support Second Army’s attack. But Rennenkampf was not short of excuses for doing nothing: German opposition, his own army’s exhaustion, lack of food, fodder and ammunition. 

As Zhilinskiy nagged, Rennenkampf dithered and Samsonov marched into East Prussia, the German plan was being put into execution. By 25 August I Corps had been transported from the Konigsberg area and occupied a strong position opposite Second Army’s left flank. I Reserve Corps and XVII Corps had similarly been moved to positions opposite Second Army’s right flank. Of all this Samsonov had no inkling. He thought that only his center faced a major concentration of troops in the form of XX Corps. Thus a great opportunity seemed to beckon. Second Army’s center in the strength of three corps would attack XX Corps, nailing it in place. Meanwhile the army’s flank corps would advance to complete the enemy’s destruction. 

In reality, Second Army was inserting its head into a noose. On 26 August, after an intemperate argument with Ludendorff over his supply situation, General von François launched I Corps into an attack on the Russian right flank. His corps artillery had not all arrived, however, and François did not press the attack that day. On the front of XX Corps there was heavier fighting, one Russian infantry division being largely destroyed. But Second Army was still advancing against the thinly manned German center and at Eighth Army headquarters nerves began to fray. A report that Rennenkampf had resumed his advance in full strength moved Ludendorff to say that the battle should be broken off. But Hindenburg steadied his Chief of Staff’s nerves and the report was soon found to be exaggerated. 

Also on 26 August Eighth Army was notified by OHL that three corps and a cavalry division from the western armies were being dispatched to East Prussia. Still confident of victory in the West but concerned about the situation in the East, Moltke thought that he could spare the troops. Ludendorff replied that the battle would be decided before the reinforcements could arrive; however, he added, they’d certainly be welcome. 

But there was no real reason for worry. On 27 August, with his artillery concentrated and his troops resupplied, François launched a heavy attack that drove the Russian left flank (I Corps) back in confusion. The same thing happened on the Russian right, where the XVII Corps and I Reserve Corps, now fully concentrated, attacked and drove back VI Corps on 27-28 August. This left Samsonov’s center group—three corps strong—in a perilous position, with German forces advancing past both flanks. By the time the Russian commander fully grasped the situation it was too late. I Corps and XVII Corps gained contact on the evening of 28 August. The bulk of Second Army was now encircled. Samsonov ordered a retreat but the German cordon prevented all but isolated groups from slipping away. Throughout the day on 29 August the Russians launched desperate attacks in an effort to break out, thousands dying in the attempt. By 30 August the surrounded troops had lost all cohesion and mass surrenders began. But General Samsonov was not among the prisoners. He chose instead to commit suicide, lamenting to his staff that “The Tsar trusted me. How can I face him after this disaster?” 

In all, the casualties of Second Army amounted to 78,000 killed or wounded and 92,000 made prisoner. Three corps were completely annihilated and two more were chased out of East Prussia in disorder. At the end of August the remains of Second Army amounted to the strength of a division: perhaps 12,000 troops in all. 

And through it all First Army had scarcely budged. The aggressive behavior of the German screening force—cavalry supplemented by Landwehr troops drawn from the garrison of Konigsberg—continued to convince Rennenkampf that he was facing much stronger opposition. He resumed his advance on 26 August, moving very slowly. On the day of crisis, 28 August, his leading troops were still fifty miles short of Second Army’s right flank. A week later, in the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, First Army was driven out of East Prussia. With the lesson of Tannenberg before his eyes, Rennenkampf made sure to retreat in good time and his army, though badly battered, regained Russian soil in one piece. 

Though Tannenberg was certainly a major victory that gave a tremendous boost to German morale, it was far from decisive. Even as Samsonov’s army was being destroyed fresh Russian forces were reaching the front in ever-greater numbers. In Galicia, as we shall see, the Austro-Hungarian Army had met disaster. And far away in France, the German offensive was beginning to falter. The Germans had gained a breathing space but it was clear that the war would continue for a long time. 

Tannenberg did show that the German Army was a military instrument of considerable efficiency. As has been noted the correct line of operations in East Prussia was obvious from a glance at the map. It was in the execution of that operation that the German superiority was revealed: the handling of reserves, the management of the rail net, the quality of the staff work. The Russian Army did not lack for brave soldiers or capable commanders. In 1914 it was reasonably well armed and equipped. But there was nothing on the Russian side to compare to the German Army’s Großgeneralstab (Great General Staff) or even to its NCO corps, whose excellence explains why even second-line reserve formations fought so effectively. That the Germans did not hesitate to strip fortified areas of their garrisons and send such relatively elderly reservists into the field demonstrated a level of confidence in NCO leadership that other armies did not share. 

Finally, a word about personalities. Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff were hailed as the saviors of East Prussia and the prestige they gained thereby was destined to elevate them to the summit of power. But the famous partnership was not as smooth as legend had it. Hindenburg was quite well aware that his Chief of Staff regarded himself as the brains of the operation, with the former serving largely as a figurehead. For his part Ludendorff resented the share of credit that went to Hindenburg for victories that he, Ludendorff, believed were due to his own genius. In truth the two men complimented one another, albeit not without friction. Stolid, phlegmatic, unimaginative but decisive, Hindenburg (usually) provided the steadying hand that Ludendorff, intelligent, driven, highly professional but nervy and high-strung, so greatly needed. 

As for Colonel Max von Hoffman, who was deputy chief of operations at Eighth Army headquarters during Tannenberg, it is to his diary that we owe much of our knowledge of what went on during those days of crisis. An extremely intelligent man with a sardonic streak, he was known to say that the famous Duo had received the plan of battle ready made on the day of their arrival in East Prussia. And as we have seen there is much truth in that claim. Hoffman remained on the Eastern Front throughout the war, playing a notable role in events yet to be related. 

The German victory in East Prussia and the Russian victory in Galicia set up the pattern of the Great War on the Eastern Front. It remains to tell how the latter came about.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:01 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2016 10:47 AM EDT
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Thursday, 21 April 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the East (Three)
Topic: Military History

(For clarity, German units are rendered in italics.) 

As the Austro-Hungarian armies marched across Galicia toward their rendezvous with disaster, Russian troops commenced the invasion of East Prussia. General Pavel Karlovitch Rennenkampf’s First Army crossed the frontier on 17 August, rather earlier than the Germans had expected. This was the northern prong of the Russian offensive, directed against Konigsberg. On 18 August its vanguard was repulsed with heavy casualties by Eighth Army’s I Corps  (Lieutenant-General Hermann von François) around the town of Stallupönen, some ten miles inside the frontier. But he had attacked without orders and when the Eighth Army commander, General Maximilian von Prittwitz und Gaffron, heard what had happened he ordered François to break off the battle and retire. Prittwitz intended to consolidate his forces some ten miles farther west, around the town of Gumbinnen. Once François’ corps vanished from their front the Russians resumed their deliberate advance. 

By 20 August, Prittwitz had the bulk of his army drawn up in the vicinity of Gumbinnen: I Corps on the left, XVII Corps (Lieutenant General August von Mackensen) in the center and I Reserve Corps (General Otto von Below) on the right—six infantry divisions and a cavalry division in all. Intercepted radio messages (the Russians were blithely transmitting in the clear) indicated that Rennenkampf had declared a rest day for his army on 20 August, so Prittwitz decided to attack. 

On the left after a hard fight, I Corps gained the upper hand over Russian XX Corps but in the center things went awry. Mackensen committed XVII Corps to a frontal attack against the Russian center that broke down after heavy fighting. Under violent fire from the Russian artillery the German infantry panicked and fled, followed closely by their artillery. Prittwitz thereupon ordered I Corps and I Reserve Corps to retire also. That evening he telephoned Moltke at OHL to announce that Eighth Army had been defeated at Gumbinnen and would probably be compelled to retreat behind the Vistula River, abandoning East Prussia completely. Prittwitz’s alarm was compounded by the news that Russian Second Army (General Alekesander Vasilevich Samsonov), with five corps and a cavalry division, had commenced its attack out of the Polish salient, moving northwest into East Prussia. Here there was nothing to oppose the Russians except XX Corps (Lieutenant-General Friedrich von Scholtz) and some Landwehr troops. Fearing that Second Army’s advance would cut the rear communications of the German forces standing against First Army to the north, Prittwitz succumbed to panic. Late that evening he telephoned Moltke again, confirming his decision to quit East Prussia. 

Though the possibility of losing East Prussia had always been recognized, Moltke shrank from its consequences. To yield the ancient heartland of the Hohenzollern monarchy in the first weeks of the war would deal an enormous psychological blow to the army and the nation. Agitated protests poured into OHL from East Prussian landowners and from the Kaiser himself. General von François, who was convinced that the situation was not as dire as Prittwitz supposed, protested directly to the monarch against the proposed withdrawal. On 21 August, therefore, Moltke decided that Prittwitz and his chief of staff, Major General Alfred von Waldersee, must be sacked. Looking around for suitable replacements his eye fell on one Major-General Erich Ludendorff, a man who had recently made his mark during the siege and capture of the Belgian fortress of Liege. But Ludendorff was too junior to be given command of Eighth Army; he would be made chief of staff. For its new commander Moltke resorted to the retired list. From it he selected Colonel-General Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War with a solid reputation, who had retired in 1911. In response to Moltke’s telegram inquiring when he could report for duty, Hindenburg responded tersely, “Am ready.” Still wearing the obsolete blue uniform of a Prussian general (he had not had time to be fitted for the new field gray) Hindenburg joined Ludendorff on the train that was to carry them both east. 

Meanwhile, ignorant of the fact that his fate had been settled Prittwitz had somewhat recovered his balance. Thanks to the Russians’ habit of transmitting radio messages in the clear, supplemented by aerial reconnaissance, he had good information of his opponents’ dispositions and intentions—knowing, for example, that having gotten the better of the fighting at Gumbinnen First Army was staying put. Rennenkampf judged that before the advance could resume his army’s supply situation must be cleared up. The offensive into East Prussia had been launched before the supply services had been full mobilized—this in response to insistent French pleas for early action. Moreover, owing to a difference in gauges Russian trains could not use the East Prussian rail net. It was thus proving difficult to furnish the rations, fodder, ammunition and replacements that the army needed. Farther south, Samsonov’s Second Army was experiencing similar problems as it advanced into East Prussia. 

Armed with this knowledge his staff proposed, and Prittwitz agreed, to leave only a thin screen of cavalry and Landwehr troops facing First Army. The bulk of Eighth Army would move south to confront Second Army, an operation made possible by efficient staff work and the well-managed East Prussian rail net. This was the situation on 23 August when Hindenburg and Ludendorff arrived at Eighth Army headquarters—bearing the news to Prittwitz and Waldersee that they had been sacked. The stage was thus set for the storied Battle of Tannenberg.

Posted by tmg110 at 11:07 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 25 April 2016 2:29 PM EDT
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Friday, 15 April 2016
The Man and His Claque
Topic: Decline of the West

To call Donald J. Trump a bully is not just a figure of speech. In the combination of bombast and threats with whining and crying he exhibits all the characteristics of the type. And there you have the explanation of his political appeal. 

Both his campaign and the claque that promotes him on Twitter and elsewhere echo and amplify Trump’s bully-boy persona. Confronted with criticism of the great man, they react first with bluster and insults, then with adolescent sniveling. Trump’s loss in Colorado, which demonstrated the dysfunction and incompetence of his campaign, also exposed the petty resentments and insecurities that energize his claque. Their guy has so far snagged 45% of the convention delegates with 37% of the primary vote and needless to say his supporters are not complaining about that. But Trump’s Colorado pratfall roused the claque to a peak of squealing outrage. The system was rigged! The people were deprived of their opportunity to vote! The fix was in! This to the accompaniment of a blizzard of crude invective directed against “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and the nefarious GOP “Establishment.” 

The system was not rigged, of course, nor did the Establishment disenfranchise the people of Colorado. Some 60,000 Colorado Republicans participated in the March 1 precinct caucuses, the first step in the long-established process by which that state’s national convention delegates are selected. But the Colorado GOP caucus system is one that rewards grassroots organizing and attention to detail. These are virtues much on display in the Cruz campaign, largely absent from the Trump campaign. Not surprisingly, therefore, Trump lost—big time. 

Don’t try explaining this to the Trump claque, though. Their outrage was immeasurable. And they knew who to blame: the “Establishment,” aided and abetted by that new category of political evildoers, “cuckservatives.” 

I don’t suppose it’s necessary to unpack the etymology of the latter term: Suffice to say that it embodies a toxic amalgam of sexual vulgarity and racism. Trump’s fanboys and -girls delight in applying it to anybody who opines, for example, that their hero is not actually a conservative. Because he is too a conservative! He’s going to build a wall on the border! Mr. Trump’s a builder! He builds great things! He’ll build a terrific wall and he’ll do it so fast your head will spin! And you’ll love it! And the Mexicans will pay for it! And they’ll love it! So there! 

Well, out here where the rubber of reality meets the road of rationality Donald Trump’s the Minuteman—because a minute ago he was a Clinton-hugging, pro-choice, big-government progressive. Maybe St. Paul on the road to Damascus experienced a quicker change of heart but he had the help of divine intervention whereas Trump’s conversion was the offspring of ambition, ego, hubris. He wants to be president and he’s running as a Republican because he knows that he could never get the Democratic nomination. And if he gets aced out of the GOP nomination he’ll launch an independent candidacy. Because Donald J. Trump is entitled to be president! He’s a terrific leader! He knows how to lead things! And he’ll lead so fast your head will spin! And you’ll love it… 

In all this his claque will support him. Some of these people, perhaps the majority, are decent, well-meaning albeit misguided citizens. But an alarmingly large number of them are bullies in the Trump mode—and nativists and xenophobes to boot. It says a lot that the anti-Semitic and racist alt-right is riding the Trump Express. Their presence aboard explains the vicious invective directed against Trump opponents and critics. Birtherism, false and lying stories about adulterous affairs, charges of un-Americanism and treason, intimidation and threats of violence—anything goes. 

That’s the Trump claque. And that’s also Donald Trump, who seems quite comfortable with the atrocious behavior of his mouth-breathing supporters and even on occasion encourages it. So maybe this is where we are as a country now and maybe he’ll manage to get himself elected president—but it won’t be with my help.

Posted by tmg110 at 8:55 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 15 April 2016 12:43 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 13 April 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the East (Two)
Topic: Military History

(For clarity, Austrian units are rendered in italics.) 

The German war plan—maximum effort in the West, minimum defense in the East—depended in large part on the cooperation of the Austro-Hungarian ally. Staff talks before the war had produced agreement in principle that in the event of a general European war, Austria-Hungary would launch an offensive against Russia from Galicia, thus relieving the pressure on the German Army in East Prussia. The Austrian Chief of Staff, Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, confirmed this arrangement to his German counterpart only months before war broke out in August 1914.

But in fact Conrad was a prey to uncertainty over Austria-Hungary’s best course of action. The strategic problem was a difficult one. It seemed likely that the cause of war would be a Balkan crisis—specifically, a clash between Austria and Serbia. In Vienna the Serbian kingdom with its designs on the Slavic provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy was seen as an existential threat, the elimination of which must be the primary Austrian war aim. But the agreement with Germany, not to mention the Russian menace, demanded the greatest possible concentration of forces in Galicia. Militarily, Serbia was much the lesser threat. Emotionally, however, she was regarded as the main enemy and Conrad was determined to “strike Serbia down with rapid blows” in the first weeks of the war. 

The Austro-Hungarian mobilization scheme divided the Army in three: A-Staffel, (30 infantry divisions and 8 cavalry divisions) would go to Galicia. Minimalgruppe Balkan, (8 infantry divisions and some cavalry) would deploy against Serbia. B-Staffel (10 infantry divisions and 2 cavalry divisions) was the strategic reserve, to be directed against either Serbia or Russia as the situation dictated. If the war remained localized, B-Staffel would go against Serbia; if it became general, B-Staffel would go to Galicia, against Russia. The railway timetables, heart of the mobilization plan, were carefully plotted to allow for an independent movement by B-Staffel

In August 1914 The German High Command expected the main body of the Austro-Hungarian Army—A-Staffel and B-Staffel with 40 infantry divisions and 10 cavalry divisions—to deploy well forward in Galicia, poised for an offensive. It was with consternation, therefore, that Moltke learned of Conrad’s intention to launch an immediate attack on Serbia. For this purpose the latter had sent most of B-Staffel, now designated Second Army, to reinforce Minimalgruppe Balkan, now designated Fifth and Sixth Armies. What was more, the three armies of A-Staffel were now to deploy well inside Galicia, there to await a Russian offensive. 

This last, though it violated the accord with Germany, made good sense. The Austro-Hungarian Army was small and badly armed, particularly in terms of artillery. The always-exiguous prewar military budgets had stymied rearmament plans and reduced the annual intake of conscripts to a fraction of those eligible. Reserves of weapons, munitions and trained men were, therefore, strictly limited. To risk the active Army in an early offensive against Russia seemed inadvisable in the extreme. Heavy losses in the first months of war, particularly of professional officers and NCOs, could never be made good. Far better to take up a strong defensive position in Galicia from which a Russian attack could be repulsed, with the fair prospect of a successful counteroffensive to follow. 

Pushed and pulled by these contradictory considerations, Conrad dithered. Insistent German protests against a defensive deployment in Galicia, culminating in a direct appeal from Kaiser Wilhelm to the Emperor Franz Josef, forced the Austrian Chief of Staff to shift to an offensive deployment in Galicia after all—this after the troops had detrained far from the frontier. Thus to reach their new positions they were forced to march forward on foot over distances of up to 200 miles, exhausting men and horses in the process. As the Austrian offensive against Serbia developed, Conrad sent a large part of Second Army to Galicia after all—thus robbing the attack of the strength necessary to ensure success. And crowning this tale of muddle and indecision, Second Army arrived in Galicia too late to influence the course of events there. 

The Russians, meanwhile, were completing their deployments against East Prussia and Galicia. Southwest Front was responsible for the Galician offensive, controlling four armies with 46 infantry divisions and 18 cavalry divisions, a force considerably larger than the Austrians could muster and one that would be further strengthened by troops transferred from points east. The shortages of weapons and munitions that would later plague the Russian Army were yet to emerge and supplies were ample for the initial campaign. The Russian plan was, broadly, to defeat the Austrians in Galicia and debouch onto the Hungarian plain via the Carpathian passes, thus dealing a death blow to the Habsburg Monarchy. 

After some preliminary cavalry skirmishes the battle for Galicia commenced on 23 August 1914 and its course would do much to determine the outcome of the Great War.

Posted by tmg110 at 12:26 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 14 April 2016 10:38 AM EDT
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Thursday, 10 March 2016
Trump's Leftie Soul Mate
Topic: Politics & Elections

Donald Trump is an obvious con artist, as anyone not blinded by wishful thinking and spite can very clearly see. But he’s not the only one. On the other side the Democrats are saddled with a grifter of their own: the Burlington Bolshevik, Bernie Sanders. 

Sanders is often portrayed as an earnest advocate of democratic socialism, a man who wears his ideological heart on his sleeve, and this illusion of authenticity has served him will in his uphill fight against Ms. Mendacity, Hillary R. Clinton. Sanders may be a daft old codger, the conventional wisdom goes, but at least he’s honest

Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing this. Unless he’s an absolute fool Sanders must realize quite clearly that there’s a considerable gap between the airy promise and the dismal reality of his democratic socialist vision. Any number of people have pointed out that his math is fuzzy: Sanders would fund free healthcare and college, etc., by plundering greedy corporations and the filthy rich. But that wouldn’t begin to pay for the cornucopia of goodies he proposes to shower on the proles, who also would have to be hit with hefty tax hikes. Sanders and his supporters rebut this inconvenient truth with the claim, not very plausible, that all the free stuff would more than offset those higher taxes. Right. If you believe that there’s a bridge in Comrade Sanders’ home town that might interest you… 

But the question of democratic socialism’s price tag is boringly familiar: Left and Right have been fighting over that ground for generations. And since where politics are concerned it’s not difficult to make two plus two add up to four, three or five according to the needs of the moment, the Left can usually slither off the budget hook. The Sanders con embodies another great falsehood, however, that is seldom remarked upon but is even more damming that the money question. 

I suspect that in his heart of hearts Barack Obama was dismayed by the inefficiency and dysfunction of the administrative/bureaucratic state. Good progressive that he is, Obama was brought up in the belief that the key to all social problems is the rule of enlightened experts and administrators, embedded in the federal bureaucracy, rule-writing their way to the Radiant Future. The failure of his stimulus scheme, of his green jobs initiative, of the Obamacare website provided must have perplexed the President. Then there was the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme—what genius thought that one up?—and the seemingly insoluble problems of the Veterans Administration. Even the Secret Service, charged with Obama’s security, was exposed as a clown-car operation, fueled by alcohol, in hot pursuit of Columbian hookers. 

In short, the federal government does not work. But Bernie Sanders is running around the country telling people that if only we give the federal government enough money and power, America will once more have a future to believe in! There’s only one way to characterize this claim: It’s a gigantic, glaring, bare-faced lie. 

And it’s not as if we haven’t been down this road before. The problems of the administrative/bureaucratic sate have long been obvious, if acknowledged only tacitly by the Left. Back in the Nineties Bill Clinton gave his vice president, Al Gore, the job of reinventing government to make it more efficient, cost-effective and responsive to the needs of the citizenry. I think it’s fair to say that Gore failed in his mission. Year by year the performance of the federal government grows worse. Abuse of power, corruption and plain old institutional stupidity run rampant. Civil servants, so called, loot the budget with impunity—it being next door to impossible to fire them. Over at the Justice Department, there have been “discussions” about bringing legal action against “climate deniers.” Thus do our bureaucratic lords and masters reign over us. 

This is the heart and soul of Bernie Sander’s con: the promise to deliver all good things through the medium of an institution so thoroughly arrogant, inept, corrupt. Free healthcare for all? Think the Veterans Administration. Free college for all? Think two hundred students per class. Reversing climate change? Think gas at $9 per gallon. Protecting the most vulnerable Americans? Think welfare fraud, squared and cubed. It’s ridiculous—and Sanders knows it—and he doesn’t care. But like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders is a skillful player upon the anxieties, fears, resentments, envy and greed of his fellow Americans—a man who knows how to make people feel good about their darker and more sordid impulses.

Posted by tmg110 at 8:08 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 10 March 2016 9:28 AM EST
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Monday, 7 March 2016
Never Trump
Topic: Politics & Elections

Of the many reasons why I could never vote for Donald J. Trump, one stands out: the man’s casual attitude toward atrocities and war crimes. 

It’s true that Ted Cruz has spoken of “carpet bombing” ISIS, a tactic that if adopted would kill thousands of innocent civilians. But Cruz, probably, was using the term as a figure of speech—not very thoughtfully in my opinion. Trump's comments along the same line cannot be so easily explained away. In a presidential debate he explicitly guaranteed that he would order US military personnel to target and kill the families of terrorist enemies, order them to mistreat and torture captive terrorists—order them, that is to say, to violate both US and international law. And he guaranteed that his orders would be obeyed, because that’s what leadership is all about. 

Following the inevitable storm of criticism stirred up by these comments Trump appeared to backpedal but it’s clear that he hasn’t really changed his mind. The solution as he sees it is to change the law, to legalize torture and atrocities. Because, you know, if we as a country give our soldiers the green light they’ll cheerfully proceed on a course of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. 

This is the mind-set of the man who at the moment is favored to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. I won’t say that I don’t understand how any decent person could vote for such a man because I do understand it. Trump the demagogue has a natural ability to connect with people’s dark side, to channel their fears and resentments and hatreds. Nor is he entirely wrong in his diagnosis of the problems our country confronts. Our political, economic, academic and media elites have lost touch with mainstream America. Political correctness is a corrosive acid eating away at the national character. Crony capitalism has rigged the system in favor of well-connected insiders. But when it comes to solutions, Trump offers nothing but empty promises. It’s abundantly clear that he hasn’t thought deeply—if at all—about any serious issue. He says whatever comes into his head from moment to moment and his bloviations make plain to any objective auditor that he’s an arrogant know-nothing—ignorant and proud of it. 

Trump is also unbearably vulgar, though here he breaks no new ground. LBJ was famously vulgar and so in their ways were Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. If Trump’s own lack of dignity seems more glaring, that’s only because you can’t get away from it in our media-saturated celebrity culture. 

But the reason why, finally, I’ve decided that I can never vote for Trump is simply this: Having been privileged to wear the Army uniform, having served through the years with so many great soldiers and, not least, having a daughter who also served in the Army and is a veteran of Afghanistan, I know that Donald J. Trump is unworthy to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States. It would not be possible for American soldiers to serve with honor under the command of such a man. His own words prove this. 

I’m just one not-very-important citizen, of course, and my opinion is unlikely to influence the course of history. Maybe Trump is inevitable and if so the damage may be extensive but America will survive. More likely, though, he’ll go down in flames in November and we’ll find ourselves saddled with that corrupt harpy, Hillary R. Clinton. Some choice! But even so: never Trump.

Posted by tmg110 at 11:09 AM EST
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Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Their Ignorance, His Strength
Topic: Liberal Fascism

The lazy man’s explanation for the popularity among Millennials of Bernie Sanders may be summarized in two words: free stuff. And as far as it goes this explanation is valid enough. Considering all the goodies that he’s promising, Sanders really should consider adopting as his campaign logo the Horn of Plenty. But there’s more to his appeal than mere envy and greed. Free college, elimination of student loan debt burdens, gratis healthcare for all etc. are beguiling promises but what really sends a thrill up the legs of Millennials is the branding: social justice. 

Everybody like flattery, of course, but when it comes to the young you should lay it on with a snow shovel. Whether consciously or not the Sanders campaign recognizes and acts upon this great truth of life. To inspire emotions of hatred, envy and greed, then to market them in the name of justice, equality, progress, is a strategy well calibrated to appeal to the judgmental self-righteousness of the young. 

It helps also that the young are largely ignorant of history. They praise the concept of “democratic socialism” while having no idea in the world what it means. To Millennials Sanders’ proposals sound bold, innovative, radical. That the candidate is, in reality, a standard-issue leftie progressive whose ideas date from the 1930s is a truth they cannot grasp because they inhabit a perpetual present. To them the past is a blank slate and everything that has happened up to now is irrelevant. What counts is the future—a future destined to be brightened by the radiance of youthful idealism. 

This fog of ignorance reflects poorly on American public education, which has largely abandoned the teaching of history and civics in favor of ideological indoctrination. In New York, for example, students are taught that the men who crafted the United States Constitution merely copied the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. There’s not a scrap of real evidence to support this claim but there it is, polluting the curriculum, because racial/ethnic grievance politics trump the facts every time. No wonder, then, that today’s young people so easily swallow Bernie Sanders’ specious claptrap: They’re incapable for lack of information of judging his proposals on their merits. That’s bad for them but good for Bernie Sanders for as George Orwell put it: Ignorance is Strength. 

It may seem remarkable that after the great disappointment of Barack Obama, Mr. Hope & Change of 2008, young people are falling for Comrade Sanders’ line of bull. But, after all, today’s twenty-four-year-olds were only fourteen or fifteen in 2008. They weren’t really paying attention then; thus Obama’s failure to deliver on his lofty promises hasn’t tempered their idealism. Like the evidence that Sanders is full of it, that sorry episode dwells in the disregarded past. 

It’ll be interesting indeed to see how Millennials react when, as is likely, their hero fails to win the Democratic Party nomination. Will they hold their noses and vote for that champion of crony capitalism, the opportunistic and inauthentic Hillary R. Clinton? That, no doubt, is the Clinton campaign’s (increasingly desperate) hope. But I wonder, because Bernie Sanders has raised the hopes and expectations of young people to such a height that when they come down again, the crash will be shattering.

Posted by tmg110 at 11:51 AM EST
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Friday, 12 February 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the East (One)
Topic: Military History

(For clarity, German units are rendered in italics.) 

Having set the stage for the Battle of the Marne a shift to the east seems advisable, since the two fronts influenced one another from the first hour of the war. 

In 1914 the military geography of the Eastern Front was dominated by the Polish salient: that tongue of Russian territory projecting between East Prussia to the north and Austro-Hungarian Galicia to the south. On the one hand it provided a jumping-off point for a Russian offensive heading toward Berlin, less than 200 miles to the west. On the other hand it was vulnerable to converging German and Austrian attacks from the north and south respectively. The belligerents’ plans, however, did not envision such operations in the initial stages of a war. Since the Germans intended to make their main effort in the west against France they were compelled to stand on the defensive, relying on an Austrian offensive in Galicia to take some of the pressure off their Eighth Army in East Prussia. 

As for the Russians, in the years before the war they had not succeeded in formulating a single, integrated war plan, this thanks to rivalries and divisions within the officer corps. The great disagreement concerned the placement of the Army’s main effort. Some argued that it should be placed against Germany, seen as the main enemy; others preferred Austria-Hungary, seen as easier to defeat. The French ally, anticipating a German offensive against them, pressed for the earliest possible Russian action against Germany. So in the end two entirely separate plans were made: one for an offensive into East Prussia and one for an offensive into Austrian Galicia. Only the Russian Army’s great numerical strength made this non-decision appear plausible. 

For the East Prussian offensive two field armies were provided: First Army, attacking due west from the vicinity of Vilna toward Konigsberg, and Second Army, attacking northwest from the Polish salient toward the Vistula River. The defending Eighth Army would thus be enveloped and destroyed. The two Russian armies had fifteen and a half infantry divisions, seven cavalry divisions and rather over 400,000 men. Eighth Army had nine infantry divisions (six active, three reserve), two Landwehr infantry brigades, one cavalry division, various fortress troops and about 200,000 men. 

Though heavily outnumbered the Germans did possess some advantages. First among them was the geography of East Prussia. The two attacking Russian armies would be separated by the Masurian Lakes region, called the Angerapp-Stellung (Angerapp Position) by the Germans. This area of marsh and forest was practically impassible for a large force, the few narrow paths through it being blocked by fortifications that could only be reduced by heavy artillery, of which the Russians possessed little in any case. Thus the defending Eighth Army, operating on interior lines with good lateral railroads at its disposal, could in principle concentrate against each attacking Russian wing in turn, defeating each without interference from the other. The Germans also had the advantages of a much superior staff organization, more medium and heavy artillery, and better-trained troops. 

The Russian Army’s deficiencies should not, however, be exaggerated. The shortages of weapons and ammunition that were to plague it later were not a factor in August 1914. On the whole the troops were well equipped with rifles, machine guns and light field artillery. Indeed, the Russian 76.2mm field gun was an excellent weapon of its type, definitely superior to its German counterpart. Medium and heavy artillery were insufficient but this deficiency was not as important as it would become later. In so far as the organization of the two invading field armies was concerned, the most glaring flaw was too much cavalry, whose requirements for rail transport and fodder made excessively heavy demands on the supply system. More infantry and less cavalry would have served the Russians better. 

But the most serious problem was lack of coordination between the two attacking armies. Though an army group headquarters—Northwest Front—had been set up to control the overall operation it proved ineffective. As with Moltke in the west, communications problems prevented the army group commander, General Zhilinski, from exercising effective command. 

Given all this, the Russians’ numerical superiority was much less decisive than it appeared. The two attacking armies would be out of touch, unable to support one another. As they advanced their outer flanks would become exposed to attack from the fortified areas of Konigsberg (First Army) and Thorn (Second Army). The additional divisions that could have provided the necessary flank protection were, however, being concentrated around Warsaw in the Polish salient for a projected offensive into Germany—this to be launched after victory in East Prussia. 

Resolutely handled, therefore, the Eighth Army had every prospect of conducting a successful defense. It was just this resolution, though, that proved to be lacking in the first phase of the East Prussian campaign.

Posted by tmg110 at 2:37 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2016 2:21 PM EDT
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Thursday, 11 February 2016
Our Duck-and-Cover Politics
Topic: Politics & Elections

Donald J. Trump, GOP political candidate, has pledged to deport all 11-12 million illegal aliens in the United States. His various opponents decry this on reasonable moral and practical grounds—and I agree with them. But here’s where they lose me: All those candidates swear up and down that they’re against “amnesty.” 

Excuse me? 

Perhaps I’m missing something here but it seems to me that opposing Captain Bombastico’s deportation plan means that most of these illegals are going to be staying in this country. Are Trump’s opponents proposing that they should continue to live in the shadows? Surely not. If they’re not going to be deported than something must be done to regularize their status. And that something amounts to…amnesty. 

But of course no Republican presidential candidate is prepared to utter the A-word except in tones of dismissive contempt. This, to me, is an all-too-typical example of the cowardliness fostered by our focus group-disciplined, poll-obsessed political culture. Rule Number One is never to say anything that might anger or disturb any member of any of the voter groups or demographics that constitute one’s winning majority. And when it comes to illegal immigration, the GOP candidates’ pusillanimity goes off the chart. 

Yes, yes, I get it—in the age social media and the 24-hour news cycle the consequences of saying the wrong thing can be deadly. Just ask Marco Rubio. But surely people who aspire to the presidency should demonstrate at least an occasional modicum of courage. Ted Cruz rather puts me off but I give him credit for dissing the atrocious ethanol mandate in Iowa, its spiritual home. The Republican presidential field could do with more such displays of spine. 

So what about those illegals? The candidates who say they oppose Trump’s deportation proposal should say frankly that the only alternative is amnesty—but amnesty with no path to citizenship, and only after the borders of the country have been secured. In brief, any illegal who came here as an adult and has no criminal record would receive a green card but would be barred by law from acquiring US citizenship. Some exceptions could be allowed, e.g. for those who enlist in the armed forces and serve honorably. 

This proposal—let’s call it the Gregg Amnesty Plan—combines practicality, humanity and justice in a form that the American people could certainly be persuaded to accept. The Left would squeal, of course, but this would only demonstrate that what the Left what is the issue, not a solution. So I make my proposal free of charge to any Republican presidential candidate who cares to adopt it. Sadly, though, I doubt that any of them will take me up on my offer. Why take a chance—right, guys?

Posted by tmg110 at 11:07 AM EST
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Wednesday, 10 February 2016
A Revolution Is Not a Game of Solitaire
Topic: Politics & Elections

Suddenly the possibility looms that Hillary R. Clinton could actually be denied her party’s presidential nomination and that it could go instead to a self-described democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. His crushing 20-point victory in the New Hampshire primary left the Clinton campaign stunned and staggering. Though ideology certainly was a factor—Sanders’ Santa Claus act plays well among Millennials—the really bad news for HRC was this: The sizeable segment of the electorate for whom honesty and trustworthiness were the most important qualities in a candidate went for Sanders by a nine-to-one margin. In fact it was striking to me how many voters seemed to have supported him for non-ideological reasons. The grumpy old progressive is sincere, they said, he cares about people like us, he has principles. Clinton, on the other hand, was described as a trimmer, a chameleon, an opportunist, a phony. 

As I thought all this over, though, it occurred to me that the news isn’t particularly good for Sanders, either. HRC, of course, is still favored to win the nomination but let’s assume for the moment that Sanders snatches it away from her. Indeed, let’s go the whole hog and assume that he gets himself elected president. Would that represent the “political revolution” of which Sanders so often speaks? 

Almost certainly it wouldn’t. 

A revolution isn’t a one-man show. It’s the outcome of a movement, whether embodied in a rising social class or in a formal political organization. In France, 1789, the Third Estate—then bourgeoisie—carried the standard of revolution. In Russia, 1918, it was the Bolshevik Party. In Iran, 1979, it was a variant of radical Islam. In America, 2016, it’s just Bernie. Perhaps that wouldn’t matter if power lay in the street. But that’s not where power is found—as demonstrated by the precipitous rise and abrupt fall of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In this country, power resides in a complex of institutions that no single man can command. 

Now imagine President Sanders on the morrow of his inauguration. He’s been propelled into office by popular disgust with the political establishment, by economic anxieties and discontents and, let us be frank, by envy and greed. But the President has come to the seat of federal power virtually alone. Very likely his electoral victory was a narrow one. Very likely one or both houses of Congress remain in the hands of the opposition party. Very likely many members of his own party regard him with distaste as a usurper, a disturber of the peace, a threat to the comfortable status quo. In these circumstances how many of his campaign promises would he be in a position to keep? Very few, if any. 

Our obsession with presidential politics, our unfortunate tendency to make presidents and presidential candidates responsible for all our hopes, fears and desires, is a trap for them, as President Obama could perhaps attest. Bernie Sanders isn’t leading a revolution. He does not stand at the head of a political cadre whose members would go to Washington with him. He reviles the system but his campaign doesn’t really threaten the political establishment. In the White House he’d find himself confronting all the special interest groups of his own party, with all their investments in things as they are. The opposition would still be there as well, eager to pay him back after a vitriolic campaign. And the deadly inertia, incompetence and corruption of the administrative/bureaucratic would be working every day for the frustration of his aims. 

Yes, it matters who becomes president next year—not for such good as the winner may do but for how little harm he may do. Barack Obama has made many specific mistakes but his great disservice to America was to take the cult of the personal presidency to a new level. Between presidential promises and presidential performance a great chasm has opened. It swallowed the incumbent in a couple of gulps and it would make even shorter work of a morsel like President Bernie Sanders.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:55 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 10 February 2016 2:27 PM EST
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