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Tuesday, 9 February 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the West (Two)
Topic: Military History

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

Up to 25 August, the German offensive against France proceeded more or less according to plan. The three armies of the German right wing had swept over Belgium into France, pressing back the French and British forces in that area. Meanwhile the French offensives in Lorraine and the Ardennes had been repulsed with heavy losses. But General von Moltke, Chief of the Great General Staff and de facto commander-in-chief, was far from easy in his mind. 

It will be recalled that Schlieffen’s original Aufmarsch I West plan demanded the strongest possible concentration of forces on the right. Lorraine and Alsace were to be defended by only a thin screen of reserve and Landwehr troops, who would give ground if necessary in the face of a French offensive. Moltke, however, worried about a French breakthrough in this sector and took forces from the right wing to bolster up the left. Additional troops had to be subtracted from the right wing to guard the advancing armies’ lengthening lines of communication. Moreover the Belgian Army, seven divisions strong, had withdrawn into the fortified camp of Antwerp on the Channel coast. From this redoubt it posed a threat to the German flank, requiring a corps to contain it. And of course the series of engagements that the right-wing armies had fought cost them many casualties. Thus their strength steadily diminished as they drew closer and closer to Paris. 

Another worry nagged at Moltke. In far-off East Prussia the Russian Army had commenced a major offensive. Urged on by French pleas for the earliest possible action, the Russians had gone ahead without waiting for their mobilization to be completed. Now two Russian field armies were bearing down on the ancient heartland of the Hohenzollern monarchy. The defenders, embodied in Eighth Army, were outnumbered at least two to one. Formally the plan was to yield ground in East Prussia if necessary but patriotic sentiment and considerations of public morale argued against this. As the Russians advanced, pressure grew on Moltke to send reinforcements east, and these could only come from the armies in the west. Eventually he succumbed to that pressure, taking two corps from the armies of his right wing and dispatching them to East Prussia—where they arrived too late to take part in the Battle of Tannenberg. 

Moltke also erred in giving in to the pleas of the commanders of his left-wing armies for permission to launch a counteroffensive against the French in Lorraine. Having won a great defensive victory they were now eager to go over to the attack, tempting Moltke with visions of a double envelopment of the French armies. He therefore sanctioned an attack by Sixth Army and Seventh Army. But they made little headway against the French, who whom the advantages of the defensive now accrued, and suffered heavy casualties. 

Still, between 25 August and 1 September the advance of the German right wing continued. By the latter date the French line was bent at a ninety-degree angle with Verdun as the hinge. But Moltke continued to fret, observing to his staff that the evidence of decisive victory—prisoners, captured guns and impedimenta—was thus far lacking. Nor could he gain a clear impression of the situation in the field. Moltke and his headquarters (OHL) were situated at Trier, now far from the fighting front. There were no reliable telephone or telegraph communications; radio communication was fitful and uncertain. Information came to hand late or not at all. Gradually but steadily, Moltke was losing his grip on the operations of his armies. 

The problem of command was compounded by a lack of intermediate headquarters between OHL and the field armies. No provision had been made for army group commands to coordinate, for example, the three armies of the right wing. In their absence the movements of the individual armies became disjointed, each commander deciding as he thought best. This failure of command was to have fateful consequences. 

On the Allied side, though, the picture was quite different. Despite the breakdown of his offensive the French commander-in-Chief, General Joffre, preserved an invincible calm. His fixed intention was to stop the German advance and resume the offensive at the earliest possible moment and to that end he took energetic and decisive action. Troops were taken from Lorraine to reinforce the French left wing and in the Paris area, which constituted a great fortified camp, a new Sixth Army was set up using reserve and Territorial divisions. The Allied left wing continued to fall back but as it did it consolidated itself. 

If the strain of command told on Joffre he gave no sign of it. He preserved his normal working routing, including three meals a day—which were taken in silence, all shop talk being banned. Nor did he tolerate the failures and shortcomings of subordinates. Generals thought to be lacking in aggression or grit were ruthlessly sacked. Among them was the unfortunate commander of the Fifth Army, Lanrezac. His warnings that the Germans were attacking in great strength through Belgium had been ignored and his army, denied reinforcements, had nearly been encircled and destroyed. Thus Lanrezac paid the penalty for his prescience. 

The stage was now set for the First Battle of the Marne, whose outcome was to decide the whole course of the Great War in the west. Still advancing, the armies of the German right wing now sought to envelop the French left flank. To that end First Army and Second Army swerved southeast of Paris—a major departure from Schlieffen’s plan. He had projected for First Army a southwesterly march, enveloping both Paris and the left flank of the French armies. But now the German right wing was exposing its own flank to an attack from Paris by Joffre’s new Sixth Army. 

Even so the odds were nicely balanced. Despite increasing exhaustion and confusion the Germans yet held the initiative, they were still advancing, and one final effort might give them victory. On 5 September, battle was joined.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:26 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 9 February 2016 9:32 AM EST
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Monday, 1 February 2016
Ann, We Hardly Knew You...
Topic: Politics & Elections

There’s one thing to be said about the candidacy of Donald Trump: It’s separating the real conservatives from the poseurs. Case in point: Ann Coulter, who has not only swallowed the Trump Flavor Aid but is positively bathing in it. 

Coulter has been around since the Clinton Administration and I’ll admit that I’ve often enjoyed her rude, crude, take-no-prisoners slap-downs of the Left. She speaks aloud, and with relish, that which other people scarcely dare to think. After all, I’ve occasionally admonished myself, isn’t that exactly the sort of treatment that the hideous id monsters of progressivism so richly deserve? But Coulter’s act was getting old even before her new hero, The Donald, strode onto the political stage. And now that she’s turned her rhetorical artillery on erstwhile allies, it’s clear that Ann’s conservatism is just about as phony as Hillary Clinton’s laugh. 

One can understand Captain Bombastico’s appeal to fed-up average Americans who believe, with reason, that they’ve been given the brush-off off by the nation’s governing class. Yes, their enthusiasm for Trump is deplorable. Let us remember, though, who prepared the ground for Trump: not just the Obamas and Clintons of the world but also people like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and John McCain and Karl Rove. I can’t help thinking sometimes that the Trump candidacy is exactly what this gang deserves. But the price of their penance comes high, for Donald Trump, citizen politician, is a destructive force. Authentic conservatives understand this—which is why, for example, National Review has come out so strongly against his candidacy. 

On the other hand, there’s Ann Coulter. Her big issue for the last few years has been the menace of immigration, legal and illegal, which admittedly poses a serious problem. Though Trump has connected with disaffected Americans on more than one issue, there’s no doubt that public anger over immigration has fueled his ascent. As for Coulter, she has with her characteristic intemperance ripped the political establishment for its failure, nay refusal, to control the border or enforce immigration laws. She makes many fair points and some that aren’t fair at all. Like Ayn Rand, Coulter is a stranger to moderation or compromise. It’s her way or the highway—every time. 

Then along came Donald. His proposals for dealing with border security and immigration range from the frivolous, through the cruel and malicious, to the impossible. He will fence off the US-Mexican border—and make Mexico pay for it. He will slap a ban on all Muslim immigration. He will round up and deport all eleven or twelve million illegal aliens. How he will do all this is left rather vague. We’re assured that clever dealing and smart management will miraculously banish all problems. It’s ridiculous, all of it—and Coulter absolutely loves it. 

What’s the attraction? I suspect that Coulter is besotted with Donald Trump because, after all, they speak the same language. Finally—a politician whose rhetoric is just as crude, vulgar and vicious as her own! And he gets away with it! People actually cheer when he taunts his opponents with schoolyard insults! Yes, it turns out that Ann Coulter and Donald Trump were made for one another. 

Still, you’d think that Trump not being a conservative would give Coulter pause. Nah! See, it turns out that she’s not a conservative either. In recent days Coulter has been excoriating those well-known pillars of the political establishment, National Review and Fox News Channel. The former’s sin was to editorialize against the Trump candidacy, pointing out that he is (a) no conservative and (b) a man of unpresidential temperament. The latter’s offense was, supposedly, to have subjected the candidate to unfair treatment. Trump pronounced himself “insulted” over questions posed by FNC’s Megyn Kelly: rather an audacious pose for a man in the habit of hurling ugly and misogynistic insults. Never mind that this magazine and this network have long been celebrated as bastions of conservatism. As far as Coulter is concerned they’ve sold their souls to the establishment and she hasn’t been shy about saying so. 

Well, I shall not be shy in replying that by selling her soul to this down-market Mussolini Ann Coulter has cast off the mask of conservatism. Now we see her as she is—as she probably was all along—a shallow opportunist with a certain gift for invective but very little else to recommend her. I used to believe that she had her place on the Right—up in the nosebleeds, perhaps, but Ann’s voice always carried well. Now at a moment of crisis for conservatism and the country we find her by the side of Donald J. Trump. 

Adios, Ann.

Posted by tmg110 at 2:46 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 1 February 2016 3:06 PM EST
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Thursday, 28 January 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the West (One)
Topic: Military History

(Note: For clarity, German formations are rendered in italics.) 

The first campaign of the Great War in the west was dominated by two factors: Germany’s amended Schlieffen Plan (already described) and France’s Plan XVII. The latter was a straightforward proposition: a mobilization and deployment scheme anticipating an all-out offensive, the objective of which was to clear German forces from Alsace and Lorraine and carry the French armies to the Rhine River. For this purpose France’s five field armies were to be concentrated between the Belgian and Swiss borders. On the left, Fifth Army was to act as a flank guard in case the Germans attempted an attack through Luxembourg and southern Belgium. The remaining armies—from left to right the Fourth, Third, Second and First—were to drive into Lorraine. To the south of this main effort, a detached corps would advance into Alsace. 

Though the French commander, General Joseph Joffre, recognized the possibility of a German flank attack through southern Belgium he never seriously considered the idea of a large-scale German maneuver on the pattern of the Schlieffen Plan. Joffre reasoned that the Germans possessed insufficient first-line divisions for such an audacious operation. Discounting the value of his own reserve divisions, he failed to foresee that the Germans would use theirs in an offensive role. Thus the Fifth Army, supplemented by the seven divisions (six infantry and one cavalry) of the British Expeditionary Force (Field Marshal Sir John French), seemed to him adequate to secure the French left flank. Farther north along the Franco-Belgian border there was to be nothing more than a thin screen of second-line Territorial troops. 

This strategic misjudgment was compounded by serious tactical deficiencies. In the years prior to the war the French Army has fallen under the sway of a faction that preached the doctrine of the offensive in its most extreme form. All professional soldiers in Europe felt similarly, of course, but in France the offensive was embraced with almost religious fervor. Relying on an aggressive spirit supposedly native to the French soldier, the armies would plunge ahead in dense formations, supported by the rapid fire of the excellent French 75mm field gun, overrunning the enemy in one audacious rush. 

There were, indeed, doubters and critics. Some argued that insufficient attention had been paid to infantry tactics or to the problems of coordination between infantry and artillery. Others pointed to the French Army’s lack of medium and heavy field artillery. These criticisms the prophets of the offensive waved away with assurances that French cran—guts—would compensate for any such minor shortcomings. To suggestions that the traditional infantry uniform—dark blue coat, madder red trousers—should be replaced by something less obtrusive, they replied scornfully: Les pantalons rouges, ils sont la France! 

Given this background, what happened when Joffre launched his offensive may readily be inferred. Between 14 and 23 August the French armies were bloodily repulsed at all points in Lorraine. Attacking in close-packed formations, bayonets fixed, regimental colors and saber-waving officers in front—sometimes even with bands playing—the French infantry was mowed down in droves by rifle, machinegun and artillery fire. Against German troops in well-sited defensive positions the fire of the 75mm field gun proved ineffective. Only in Alsace, where the defending Germans were weakest, did the French enjoy some measure of success—but the ground gained there was mostly yielded back after the disasters in Lorraine and the Ardennes. 

Preoccupied with the fortunes of his attacking armies Joffre was slow to recognize the danger looming on his left flank. The information that did come to hand convinced him that the Germans were attempting no more than the anticipated flank attack through southern Belgium. He therefore ordered Fifth Army to sidestep to its left, establishing touch with the BEF, now in the field with four infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade. The Third and Fourth Armies were called upon to advance into the Ardennes, there to blunt the German advance. But as in Lorraine the French attack broke down amid heavy casualties. 

Meanwhile the German right wing, consisting of First, Second and Third Armies, was advancing through Belgium. Brussels fell on 20 August. After a hard-fought battle at Mons on 23 August the BEF was pressed steadily back by First Army.  Fifth Army found itself confronted, badly outnumbered and driven back by Second Army and Third Army. This heavy pressure on the French left also forced the Fourth Army to give ground. The Battle of the Frontiers was over, a grievous and costly French defeat, and the Great Retreat was underway. 

But not all was well on the German side. At the headquarters of OHL (Oberste Heeresleitung or Army High Command) in Trier, General von Moltke fretted. His armies had done well thus far but where were the spoils of decisive victory: prisoners, captured guns and impedimenta? What was happening at the front? As the field armies advanced, communications between them and OHL became fitful and uncertain. And from the east, where a mere fraction of the German Army stood in defense of East Prussia, there came grim tidings of a massive Russian offensive. As the terrible uncertainties accumulated, the nerves of the Chief of the Great General Staff began steadily to fray. 

(To be continued)

Posted by tmg110 at 8:16 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 9 February 2016 9:29 AM EST
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Tuesday, 26 January 2016
A Candidate and His Claque
Topic: Politics & Elections

I take Donald Trump seriously because he has touched a nerve— undeniably. Whatever one may think of his prescriptions, it’s obvious that he’s talking about issues of great concern to large numbers of people. And he understands what the political class either cannot grasp or prefers to ignore: that Americans have lost faith in government. Through systemic incompetence and, what is worse, a blank refusal to listen to the voice of the people, the political class as embodied in both major parties, the permanent bureaucracy, the mainstream media and academia has shattered the nation’s governing consensus. Trump gets this and he knows how to exploit it. 

But I must say that I find it more and more difficult to take his supporters seriously—if the vocal social media cohort of Team Trump fairly represents the whole. Indeed, having spent the last few weeks perusing their commentary on Twitter and elsewhere I’ve come to the conclusion that they rival the campus-based grievance mongers for boorishness, ignorance and bad faith. 

If I were Trump I’d be worried about the fact that he has attracted to his banner a decidedly odious bunch of anti-Semites, racists and broad-spectrum bigots. Yes, we should all be concerned about the Islamofascist threat—but does that require intemperate denunciations of all Muslims? And yes, illegal immigration is a scandal—but will racist hate speech solve the problem? Trump’s own rhetoric on immigrants and Islam edges close to the racist/xenophobic line—and pretty obviously it encourages some of his supporters to step over that line. 

Then there’s Team Trump’s near-total inability to entertain criticism. Here again the mob takes its cue from Captain Bombastico himself. Trump has evolved a crude but effective technique for dealing with his critics. Did you say something negative about The Donald? Then you’re a pathetic loser, a failure, an inconsequential nobody who’s at three percent in the polls and possesses a face that only a mother could love, etc. His supporters follow the same playbook, e.g. their reaction to National Review’s “Against Trump” special issue. As recently as August of 2015 the candidate was singing the praises of conservatism’s flagship publication. But now? National Review is pathetic! Nobody reads it! It’s garbage! It’s going down! And the candidate’s own diatribe was slavishly echoed by his claque. Indeed, their reaction to NR’s attack was reminiscent of the Isamofascist reaction to Charlie Hebdo: How dare some lousy magazine dishonor the name of the Prophet? 

Hatred and malice are usually accompanied by ignorance and here again Trump’s supporters do not disappoint. For instance, they’ve glommed onto the notion that what America needs is a national CEO in the White House: a canny business mogul who understands the art of the deal. It does no good to point out to them that the presidency is a political office having few points in common with corporate leadership. The idea that President Trump could run the executive branch of government like a corporate autocrat has captured the imagination of his supporters. They refuse to see that it’s a fantasy. Ditto the idea that President Trump possesses some magic deal-making formula enabling him to browbeat Congress—which he doesn’t. 

Donald Trump is, as I’ve noted before, one of those people who has the great advantage of seeming much less intelligent than he really is. He also possesses impressive political skills. These qualities have taken Trump a long way and may yet gain for him the GOP presidential nomination. But his oafish, know-nothing, bullying, hate-spewing supporters represent the dark side of this Force that threatens to upend the American political process. Repulsive as they are, they may very well upend their hero.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:28 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 26 January 2016 9:35 AM EST
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Friday, 22 January 2016
The Great War: The Armies of August 1914
Topic: Military History

Before proceeding to an analysis of the opening campaigns of the Great War, a few words about the opposing armies seem advisable.

The armies of the major belligerents were all organized in roughly the same manner. First came the numbered field armies, consisting of a variable number of corps. For instance, the German Army in the west was organized into seven field armies, each controlling two to four corps depending on the task allotted to them. The corps was the basic tactical formation; it consisted of two or three infantry divisions plus various corps troops. These latter usually included a medium artillery regiment, a cavalry regiment, a pioneer (combat engineer) battalion, and various supply columns. Cavalry corps were similar but substantially smaller.

Except for the British Army, infantry divisions were “square divisions,” so called because they embodied two brigades, each of two infantry regiments, each regiment with three battalions. The infantry divisions of the British Army, which did not recognize the regiment as a tactical echelon of command, were “triangular” with three brigades of four battalions each. The division artillery usually consisted of a brigade of two regiments with a total of eight to twelve batteries or 36 to 56 guns. Divisions also included a reconnaissance element—usually a horse cavalry squadron—and the divisions trains (supply and ammunition columns). Though a few motor vehicles were to be found, most transport was horse drawn. The total strength of a 1914 infantry division was 20,000 to 25,000 men, depending on nationality. Cavalry divisions had a similar organization but a much lower strength: usually 8,000-10,000 men and 12 to 24 guns.

The field armies of the belligerents embodied the divisions of the active army plus the first-line reserve divisions. The former, consisting of long-service professional soldiers and the current intake of conscripts, were maintained at full strength. The latter, maintained at cadre strength only, were brought up to war strength on mobilization by absorbing the most recently trained reservists. In most cases the first-line reserve divisions were slightly smaller than the active divisions, for example having less artillery.

Older reservists formed the second-line reserve units: territorial or Landwehr battalions and brigades for such duties as protecting lines of communication, guarding prisoners, garrisoning fortresses and the like. Usually they were armed with older weapons that had been superseded in the field army. In 1914, however, these territorials often found themselves pressed into service as combat troops.

Once again, the British Army was an exception to the rule described above. As a small all-volunteer force its reserve, consisting of men who’d completed their service with the colors, was only sufficient to bring the Regular Army (six infantry divisions and one cavalry division) up to war strength. The Territorial Army, somewhat analogous to the US National Guard, was a part-time volunteer force whose members in 1914 bore no obligation for foreign service, though the great majority did so volunteer.

The weapons in the hands of the soldiers of 1914 were few and basic: the pistol, the rifle and bayonet, the machine gun and, for cavalry, the saber and lance. Machine guns were usually grouped in regimental machine gun companies of 12-16 weapons. Division artillery consisted mostly of light field guns with a caliber of 75mm to 80mm. Only the German divisions possessed significant numbers of light 105mm field howitzers capable of high-trajectory fire. Medium and heavy field artillery, such as it was, was controlled by the corps and armies, the Germans being somewhat better off than the others in this category of weaponry. Large numbers of heavy guns and howitzers that were permanently installed in fortresses were hurriedly dismounted and pressed into field service in 1914 when the importance of heavy field artillery was realized.

The uniforms of the soldiers of 1914 present a varied picture. The British, the Russians and the Germans had already replaced the brightly colored uniforms of past times with khaki (for the first two) and gray-green (for the Germans) field uniforms. The Austro-Hungarian Army had done likewise, though its new blue-gray field uniform had been adopted with an eye to war on the mountainous frontier with Italy and proved rather too conspicuous for the Eastern Front. Only the French Army went to war in its traditional, highly visible, blue coats and madder-red trousers—not the least costly of the many mistakes it made in 1914. No army provided its soldiers with steel helmets.

Though such weapons were under development in the years leading up to 1914, no army as yet possessed the submachine guns, light machine guns, mortars, grenade launchers, etc. that would be in widespread use by 1918. Even so the firepower of an infantry battalion, particularly on defense, was orders of magnitude greater than that of its 1814 ancestor. Bolt-action magazine rifles like the British Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) were capable of delivering eight or ten aimed shots per minute with an effective range up to 1,000 yards. Supplemented by machine guns and supported by artillery, a 1914 infantry battalion in defensive positions was capable of stopping an attacking force many times its own size.

Most armies championed the tactical offensive, holding that a rapid, audacious attack could overcome any defense. Hence the emphasis, for example in the French Army, on the importance of high morale, an aggressive spirit and the bayonet. Small-unit tactics received little attention, professional soldiers believing that mass armies comprised of civilians in uniform would be incapable of executing complicated maneuvers. Here again the British Army was exceptional, consisting as it did of well-trained, long-service professionals with considerable experience of colonial war. As for the others, the German Army had with its usual attention to detail equipped its troops with entrenching tools, a measure scorned by other armies.

Such, then, were the armies that marched to the sound of the guns of August 1914. What happened when they clashed remains to be told.

Posted by tmg110 at 12:33 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 22 January 2016 12:46 PM EST
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Monday, 18 January 2016
The Great War: The Myth of the Master Plan
Topic: Military History

In August 1914 there were as yet no front lines, no trenches, no barbed-wire entanglements. All these things were called into being by the marches, maneuvers and battles of the Great War’s first few months. 

In the west it was the so-called Schlieffen Plan—or rather its failure—that established the trench stalemate. Field Marshal Count Alfred von Schlieffen, the Chief of the Great General Staff from 1891 to 1906, grappled for fifteen years with the military dimensions of a problem that had long distracted Germany’s leaders: the dread prospect of a two-front war. To the west lay France, nurturing bitter memories of the humiliation of 1871, meditating upon revenge. To the east loomed Russia, smarting from past slights, maturing vast ambitions. In earlier times Bismarck’s adroit diplomacy had prevented the iron ring from closing around Germany. His policy was to keep France isolated by foreclosing the possibility of a Franco-Russian alliance. This meant staying on friendly terms with the eastern colossus despite the tensions between Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary, and Russia over Balkan issues. After Bismarck’s retirement, though, this policy was abandoned—and a Franco-Russian alliance duly followed. 

Diplomacy having failed, military solutions were substituted. These took the form of a number of deployment (Aufmarsch) plans, each specific to some particular contingency. For example, Aufmarsch I West was Schlieffen’s deployment plan for a war between Germany and France with Russia remaining neutral. It envisioned an offensive with the bulk of the German Army massed on the right, moving into Belgium and the southern Netherlands, down the Channel coast, crossing the Somme and Seine rivers, wheeling south and west of Paris. The enemy’s left flank was to be crushed in a series of encounter battles culminating in the annihilation of the French Army. 

The march through Belgium was necessary because only in that way could the full strength of the German Army be brought to bear. Along the common frontier the space needed for such a deployment could not be found. Between Belgium and Switzerland the French had constructed a number of strongly fortified positions, so sited as to “canalize” any German offensive, narrowing its front and rendering it vulnerable to counterattack. Schlieffen proposed to hold this sector with minimal forces. He reasoned that a French offensive across the border would actually facilitate his plan in the manner of a revolving door. The harder the French pushed against the German left, the more surely and swiftly the German right wing would descend on their rear. 

Aufmarsch I West was only one of four deployment plans available to the German Army in August 1914 and the case on which it was predicated—Russian neutrality in a Franco-German war—was considered unlikely. General Helmuth von Moltke, who replaced Schlieffen as Chief of Staff in 1906, at first favored Aufmarsch II West, the plan for a war pitting France and Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary. It was assumed in this case that both France and Russia would launch offensives after their mobilizations were complete. Aufmarsch II West allotted four-fifths of the Army against France and one-fifth against Russia. In the east, the German and Austro-Hungarian armies would stand on the defensive. In the west the Germans would mass their forces against the attacking French for a counteroffensive. After its successful conclusion, about a quarter of the Army in the west would go east to join in a counteroffensive against the Russians. 

Aufmarsch II West was based on Ermattungsstrategie: “strategy of exhaustion.” Moltke and his General Staff colleagues had come to doubt that the alternative, Vernichtungsstrategie or “strategy of annihilation,” was feasible in the age of mass armies. By standing on the strategic defensive and winning battles on the tactical offensive, Germany could hope to create a diplomatic situation leading to a negotiated peace on favorable terms. In 1906, with the Russian Army in a shambles after its drubbing in the Russo-Japanese War and the country itself reeling from the effects of the 1905 revolution, this strategy appeared to be Germany’s best military option. Owing to Russia’s size, sparse rail net, administrative inefficiency and social instability mobilization required at least two months, about twice as long as German and French mobilization. There would be ample time, therefore, for Germany to win the defensive battle against France in the west, then to redeploy forces to the east against Russia. Moltke also counted on the German Army’s qualitative superiority for success on the battlefield. 

But with the passage of time the assumptions underlying Aufmarsch II West seemed more and more dubious. Russia and the Russian Army recovered much more quickly than expected from the ravages of war and revolution. An economic boom provided both the industrial base and financial resources for large new military and naval programs, while French loans underwrote a major expansion of the rail net. Watching all this with alarm from Berlin, Moltke and the General Staff saw their margins of time and military superiority ebbing away. They reacted with a decision that was to determine the course not only of the coming war but of twentieth-century history. 

Fearful that the strategy of exhaustion would commit Germany to a long, eventually losing, war of attrition, Moltke turned again to the strategy of annihilation. Aufmarsch II West was modified to embody the strategic offensive that Schlieffen had drawn up for a war between Germany and France only: the right wheel through Belgium, aiming at the destruction of the French Army. The Chief of Staff believed that Russian mobilization, improved though it was, would still take more time than that of the other powers. Here, then, was Germany’s opportunity. If the French Army could be destroyed before the Russian Army was ready to march, the iron ring would be broken. Then, with France prostrate, Russia could be dealt with at leisure and would probably opt for a compromise peace. 

Strategy aside, Moltke also made some important tactical alterations to Schlieffen’s plan. Whereas the latter had called for maximum strength on the right and was willing to yield ground on the left, Moltke worried about a French breakthrough in Lorraine. He therefore took forces from the armies of the right wing, allotting them to the left wing. Schlieffen had planned for the right wing to pass through the southern tongue of Dutch territory; Moltke decided that it would be better to preserve the neutrality of the Netherlands. 

Thus the famous Schlieffen Plan was not, as many believe to this day, the brainchild of one man imposing his will on the future. Though the German deployment plan of 1914 was largely based on Schlieffen’s work it also reflected the thinking—and the fears—of his successor. As mobilization came to an end and the day of battle dawned, no man could say what consequences would flow from the decision to seek victory through Vernichtungsstrategie.

Posted by tmg110 at 10:06 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 18 January 2016 7:09 PM EST
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Thursday, 14 January 2016
We Do Not Like Thee, Hillary
Topic: Politics & Elections

Much smoke has been blown over the political phenomenon that is Bernie Sanders. How is it that an old, cranky, doddering, screwball leftie senator from a state that has no particular rationale for its existence has become a genuine contender for his party’s presidential nomination? Hillary Clinton, whose property that nomination was deemed to be, seems befuddled by the Burlington Bolshevik’s ascent. Among her supporters the grins meant to communicate confidence are become a little bit more desperate every day. Meanwhile the pundits and prognosticators sit around shaking their heads. It’s just incomprehensible to them that the Clintons, who’ve spent years building their organization, buying up political support and laying their plans might in the end be denied the glittering prize of a third term. 

Many theories have been offered in explanation of the Sanders boomlet: economic anxieties, discontent with the state of the nation, disgust with political business as usual. No doubt all these things are playing their part but I think that the deep explanation is very simple: There are lots and lots of people who just do not like Hillary R. Clinton. 

And there’s so much to dislike! We’re constantly told that in private HRC is a warm, witty, caring person—just a joy to be around. Perhaps. But if all that cuddly humanity really exists the candidate seems incapable of letting it shine forth in public. Her nails-down-the-blackboard laugh alone is enough to make one pine for the carefree, jolly days of the Carter Administration. Add to that her invincible sense of entitlement and naked opportunism—not surprising in a politician to be sure, but she seems incapable of masking it. Phoniness hovers about Hillary like a fog. If at some future date the United States Treasury decides to print $3 bills, hers is the portrait that should grace them. 

By examining the Sanders claque you can determine just which segment of the Democratic electorate likes Hillary least: young people. For all his populist rabble-rousing it’s youth, not the working class, that has rallied to Comrade Sanders’ red banner. This should surprise no one. Those of us who’ve lived long and grown in wisdom tend to be tolerant of the shortcomings of our fellow human beings, politicians included. Though I think that Ted Cruz is slippery and a bit of a charlatan, if he snags the GOP nomination he has my vote in November. But self-righteous intolerance is the hallmark of youth. Millennials look at Hillary and see a cynical machine politician who, no doubt, would do or say pretty much anything to get what she wants. A clever politician—Bill Clinton, for instance—would flatter their egos by covering up his ambition and lack of principle. Hillary tries—she really does. But whenever she’s called upon to empathize with the middle class or minorities or women or undocumented immigrants, you can hear the gears shifting in her head. Now we know what the Stepford Wives would have been like if they’d gone through menopause. 

If, as may happen, Bernie Sanders manages to pry the crown out of HRC’s jealous clutch the peculiar political atmosphere of 2016 will have played a role in that great upset. Basically though, it would prove that Barack Obama was wrong about her in 2008. Sorry, Hillary, but you’re not likeable enough after all.

Posted by tmg110 at 12:06 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 14 January 2016 1:38 PM EST
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Wednesday, 13 January 2016
The Great War: The Armies March
Topic: Military History

When the guns opened fire in the summer of 1914 no one, the generals included, knew just what to expect. No general European war had been fought since 1815, a year in which the military state of the art was represented by the Brown Bess musket. With this weapon, generally considered to have been the finest of its type, a well-trained soldier could load and fire two or three rounds a minute. The effective range of the Brown Bess and other flintlock muskets was about 80 yards. As for the artillery, in 1815 it consisted mostly of cast bronze muzzle-loading smoothbore cannon of various types, such as the French 12-pounder field gun. This weapon had an effective range of about 1,000 yards with solid shot and 500 yards with canister. Its rate of fire was one or two rounds a minute. The main weapons of the cavalry arm were the sword, the saber and the lance. 

The armies that employed these weapons were of modest size. At Waterloo about 75,000 French troops fought some 120,000 allied troops. The battles of the Napoleonic era were, indeed, larger and more sanguinary than those of the preceding Seven Years War. But a soldier of the army of Frederick the Great would not have felt entirely out of place at Austerlitz or Borodino. Between the general adoption of the flintlock musket around 1700 and the defeat of Napoleon military technology had remained relatively stable. Such improvements as occurred were incremental, for instance the replacement of wooden musket ramrods by more durable iron ones. 

By 1914, however, armies and the weapons they employed had been altered out of all recognition. The musket had been replaced by the magazine rifle (rate of fire 10-12 rounds per minute, effective range 800-1,000 yards) and the machine gun. The smoothbore muzzle-loading cannon had been replaced by breech-loading field guns and howitzers firing high-explosive and shrapnel shells to ranges up to 10,000 yards. In the cavalry arm, though the sword and lance still held sway they were now supplemented by rifles and machine guns. And the armies themselves were much larger. In 1914 France mobilized nearly 3 million men to bring its peacetime army of about 800,000 up to full strength. The mobilized German Army contained 4.5 million men. What would happen when such gigantic armies clashed, no one could say. 

But it was the business of the generals and general staffs who controlled these forces to plan for war. In Germany, Austria-Hungary, France and Russia this planning proceeded on the assumption that the impending war would be decided in a single campaign. There were reasons to think that modern Europe could not sustain a long war. Many people felt that Europe’s economic interdependence, the vast cost of war and, perhaps, the social unrest accompanying it would soon bring any fighting to a halt. So, having read their Clausewitz, the general staffs of the major continental powers thought and planned in terms of decisive battle. 

Or rather, they planned in terms of a series of battles leading to a decisive result. Military leaders perceived that no single battle would determine the outcome of the next war. Their planning thus focused on the mobilization and initial deployment of their forces. All the major European powers, Britain excepted, employed a similar military system. Their peacetime armies were relatively small, consisting of long-service officers, NCOs and soldiers whose main business was to train the annual intake of conscripts. These latter served for two or three years, afterwards passing into the first-line reserve where they remained for six or eight years. Thereafter they passed into the second-line reserve, called the Territorial Reserve in France and the Landwehr in Germany. Upon mobilization the first-line reservists would be used to fill out the units of the active army and form additional units. The second-line reservists would also be formed into units for employment on subsidiary duties: rear-area security, guarding prisoners of war, garrisoning fortresses, manning quiet sectors of the front, etc. By this means an army of millions could be raised in three weeks to a month. 

Prewar military planning concerned itself with two problems: (1) mobilization and organization of the army; (2) its deployment for battle. It was the second problem that most exercised the minds of the general staffs. After reporting to their regimental depots recalled reservists would have to be uniformed, equipped, armed and organized into units. Then they would have to be transported by rail to the area of operations. The complications involved in this process were formidable. All general staffs included railway sections whose specialists concerned themselves exclusively with the scheduling necessary to bring off a smooth deployment. In 1914 the German Army’s western deployment required 11,000 troop trains. At the height of the effort, trains were crossing the Rhine River bridges at two- or three-minute intervals. 

Men realized that a mistake made in the initial deployment of the army could never be rectified. Millions of soldiers with all their horses, guns, ammunition, supplies and impedimenta could not be summarily moved from place to place like counters on a game board. Getting the initial deployment right thus became the focus of prewar planning. The German Schlieffen Plan, that famous right hook, was really a deployment scheme, not a battle plan. General von Schlieffen, poring over his maps at the turn of the century, sought sufficient ground for the deployment of the German Army in full strength. His eye fell inevitably on Belgium, “the cockpit of Europe.” There the main strength of the Army would array itself, pressing down the Channel coast into France, turning the left wing of the French army in a series of engagements whose cumulative effects would bring decisive victory south and west of Paris. 

It was the Industrial Revolution—not just its productive capacity but the social changes that it wrought—that had called into being this new military world. The growth, development and diversification of industry had been accompanied by that of the administrative state. The former made it possible to arm, supply, transport and sustain the new mass armies; the latter operated the machinery of conscription and mobilization. Now war had come and the military instrument thus forged was about to be tested in action. 

Posted by tmg110 at 9:31 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 18 January 2016 10:08 AM EST
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Monday, 11 January 2016
Unavoidable Tragedy: Looking Back at the Great War
Topic: Military History

There’s been a lot of attention paid in recent years to the greatest generation and the war they fought—very appropriately as those modest, unassuming heroes, the saviors of the world, pass from this life. But the war that truly made us what we are was not their war but the one whose centenary commenced in July 2014. The Austro-Hungarian guns that opened the bombardment of Belgrade on 29 July 1914 announced the coming of a cataclysm that shook the West to its foundations. On the smoke-choked, mud-bound, trench-scarred, barbed-wired battlefields of the First World War, deservedly called the Great War, was staged the first act of an historical tragedy on which the curtain has never really fallen. 

All wars bequeath to posterity memorable words and images: Mathew Brady’s Civil War photography, Winston Churchill’s speeches, the Stars and Stripes going up over Iwo Jima, the diary of Anne Frank. But no such bequest is quite as iconic, quite as integrated, as that handed down to us by the Great War: the muddy miserable trenches, the barbed wire entanglements, the rattle of machine guns and the whine of incoming shells, the stoic front-line troops, the choleric, well-fed, incompetent chateau generals. Men of good education, elevated taste and sensitivity answered the call of duty in 1914, with the result that we have an affecting literary portrait of the war. Listen to Siegfried Sassoon, British infantry officer and poet:


“Good-morning; good-morning!” the General said

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,

And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack

As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.


But he did for them both by his plan of attack.


“The General” is a summary condemnation of the hidebound, narrow-minded, aristocratic cavalry officers who, we are told, commanded the British Army on the Western Front. A more detailed and damning account was given in C.S. Forester’s novel of the same name. Published in 1936 The General recounts the life and career of one Herbert Curzon, presented as a typical product of the prewar British Army. Curzon is a cavalry officer: stolid, unimaginative, of no more than average intelligence albeit brave, patriotic, devoted to duty, a man of iron will who would never waver in the execution of an order. Such men as this, Forester notes ominously, were destined to command the British Army on the battlefields of the Great War. 

Curzon receives his baptism of fire in the Boer War and by 1914 he has risen to the rank of major. The coming of the war proves to be his great professional opportunity. A series of promotions eventually elevate him to the rank of lieutenant-general and to the command of an army corps of four divisions and 100,000 men. In France he orders his troops over the top in a series of attacks that flounder in the mud and barbed wire under a hail of German fire.  Finally, in the spring of 1918 his corps is routed in the course of the German “victory offensive” and Curzon himself is wounded, losing a leg. 

The fictional Lieutenant-General Herbert Curzon seems to be a composite creation: part Douglas Haig, part Herbert Gough. These two generals acquired a particularly negative reputation during and after the war, supposedly epitomizing the incompetence that led to such vast slaughters as the Battle of the Somme. Forrester’s portrait of Curzon, though far from hostile, is nonetheless damning. But how accurate is it, really? Indeed, how accurate are the memories of the Great War handed down to us by writers and filmmakers? Were the generals really so stupid? Were the soldiers really sacrificed so uselessly? Was the slaughter really so futile? Supposedly Europe blundered into war a century ago—a war that nobody really wanted. The iconography of the Great War rests ultimately on that point: It was an avoidable tragedy. 

In fact, though, the war that came in August 1914 was one that had long been anticipated. Germany and Austria-Hungary, conscious that the balance of power was tilting against them, fearful of “encirclement,” deliberately chose war that summer on the argument that the longer it was put off, the worse for them. “Better last year than this year—and better this year than next year.” In Berlin they regarded with alarm the growing economic and military strength of tsarist Russia. In Vienna they gazed fearfully upon the Serb-inspired nationalist ferment in the Balkans, an existential threat to the multi-ethnic Habsburg Monarchy. The assassination in Bosnia of the Habsburg heir by Serbian terrorists provoked a crisis that both countries welcomed: in Austria-Hungary as an excuse to stamp out Slav nationalism by crushing the upstart Serbs; in Germany as a chance, perhaps the last chance, to make its bid for European dominance and world power. 

Thus the Great War was no avoidable tragedy. Like all wars it was the offspring of the long-accumulated fears, ambitions, miscalculations and misunderstandings of many people, from crowned heads, prime ministers and generals to ordinary citizens. At some point between the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a general European war became inevitable. Perhaps the tipping point was reached in 1871, with German unification. Perhaps it was reached later, with the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance or the commencement of the Anglo-German naval armaments race. However that may be, the war that came in August 1914 was a war that had to come. 

The specific tragedy of the Great War was that it came at a time when science and technology had created the conditions for a profound revolution in the art of war. The mobilization of the armies and their first battles set that revolution in motion—with results that only a few visionary thinkers had even dimly perceived. 

(To be continued)

Posted by tmg110 at 11:37 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 12 January 2016 7:44 AM EST
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Saturday, 9 January 2016
Feminism's Sad Failure
Topic: Decline of the West


The congenital dishonesty and bad faith of the Left—in this case of its feminist faction—has been well on display recently:


(1) For some time now feminists have had their knickers in a twist over something called “the campus culture of rape”—shorthand for the claim that US college campuses are the happy hunting grounds of predatory males who sexually assault and rape women with promiscuous abandon while university administrations close their eyes to the horror. That this narrative is incredible in the literal sense of the word seems not to faze its partisans, who have, with some success, substituted stridency for logic and evidence. Relying on bogus statistics and slippery redefinitions, campus activists have succeeded in creating an administrative mincing machine in the Stalinist mode. Is an accusation of sexual assault unaccompanied by evidence? No problem! University tribunals will adjudicate them anyway. Hauled before one of these kangaroo courts the accused, typically a male student, will find that he has no right to legal representation, no right to confront and cross-examine his accuser, no right to introduce evidence and witnesses, and no right of appeal. In short he can have his name blackened and his life ruined on someone’s mere say-so. Because, you know, women don’t lie about these things…


(2) On the evening of December 31, 2015, something rather shocking occurred in the German city of Cologne. A mob of  around 1,000 men, mostly of Muslim/Middle Eastern background, converged on the city’s central square to launch a series of sexual assaults against the non-Muslim women gathered there to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Operating in organized gangs, the men followed a preset playbook: First, surround a target, walling her off from bystanders and the police; second, molest and rape; third, move on to the next target. The Polizei, present in inadequate numbers, did nothing to stop them and neither did anyone else. Even worse, though, was the conspiracy of silence that followed this carnival of sexual abuse. The authorities were mute; nothing appeared in the media. Even so the story could not be suppressed: Too many people had seen what happened. But when German officialdom did finally speak in the person of the (female) mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, it was to advise women  that in the future they should travel in groups, taking care not to provoke potential assailants. That way, they might avoid getting raped.


We now know that similar New Years Eve attacks took place in other European cities, and that the perpetrators were mostly Muslims, including recent arrivals. In Germany the federal government, which at first seemed principally worried that the story would tarnish the image of “migrants” from Muslim countries, has been forced by public outrage to review and tighten its deportation rules for criminal aliens.


You might think that this sorry episode would have been greeted with righteous indignation by feminists everywhere. Surely they would rise up to demand that immigrants from wherever they come be made to conform to Western standards of behavior concerning women. And surely feminists would be outraged by the Cologne mayor’s proposition that women should take care not to “provoke” Muslim immigrants by dressing and acting in ways condemned by the Qur’an.




It’s one thing, apparently, to emote over the sexual depravations, real or imagined, of white male college students like the members of the Duke University lacrosse team. But to call out Muslims for similar misdeeds raises the specter of that dreaded thought crime, Islamophobia. Besides, condemning Muslim gang rape might further the cause of conservatives. Consider the argument in this example of left-feminist handwringing by Anna Sauerbrey, opinion page editor of the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and a New York Times contributor: “Integration will fail if Germany cannot resolve the tension between its secular, liberal laws and culture and the patriarchal and religiously conservative worldviews that some refugees bring with them. We cannot avoid that question out of fear of feeding the far right. But integration will also fail if a full generation of refugees is demonized on arrival.”


This may seem reasonable but it’s not. Why should Germany—or any Western nation—be required to “resolve the tension between its secular, liberal laws and culture and the patriarchal and religiously conservative worldviews that some refugees bring with them”? Ought not refugees, migrants and immigrants be informed on arrival that they’re expected observe the legal and cultural norms of the host nation? For instance, shouldn’t they be pointedly reminded that in Germany, France, America, etc. women are free citizens, not chattel?


On the other hand Ms. Sauerbrey’s preferred policy—multicultural groveling in the European mode—is a sure and certain recipe for the demonization of Muslim migrants, signaling new arrivals that they can impose their cultural norms on the host nation. Such misbegotten sensitivity might not be very harmful when such immigrants are relatively few in number. But when they’re flooding in, clustering together, establishing cultural enclaves, etc. bad things will happen—inevitably. I suspect that Ms. Sauerbrey realizes this but shrinks from the obvious conclusions. She prefers to split the difference, even if women’s rights get sent to the back of the bus.


Set against its hysteria over a non-existent “culture of campus rape,” feminism’s extreme reluctance to acknowledge a real and troubling Muslim culture of rape adds the charge of hypocrisy to that of pusillanimity. The sisterhood’s refusal to confront the number-one human rights issue of our time, the oppression of women in which Islam plays so prominent a role, would be scandalous if it weren’t so boringly familiar. The Left, feminism included, has a dismal habit of obsessing over minor or even imaginary injustices—“income inequality,” “institutional racism,” “microaggressions”— to the exclusion of actual atrocities like the Cologne rape riot. 

Posted by tmg110 at 12:08 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 10 January 2016 2:02 PM EST
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