Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
« August 2016 »
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Decline of the West
Freedom's Guardian
Liberal Fascism
Military History
Must Read
Politics & Elections
The Box Office
The Media
Virtual Reality
My Web Presence
War Flags (Website)
Culture & the Arts
The New Criterion
Twenty-Six Letters
Thursday, 25 August 2016
Here Come the Pronoun Police
Topic: Liberal Fascism


Perhaps the most insidious form of tyranny is that which compels us to pretend we believe in things that just aren’t so.


If I were to claim that I’m King Richard III you’d refer me for psychiatric treatment, right? But if I were to claim that I’m a woman in a man’s body, i.e. that I’m “transgender,” you’d be expected to nod understandingly and praise me for my bravery, wouldn’t you? That there’s really no discernable difference between the two claims matters not at all. Transgenderism (if that’s a word) has become an article of progressive orthodoxy. Unless you’re prepared to be reviled as a bigot, you must accept not only its reality but its goodness and virtue.


Now don’t get me wrong. It’s a matter of profound indifference to me if Harry wants to rebrand himself as Harriet or if Stephanie wants to transform herself into Stephen. Such people have been around for a long time: Check out the bio of the Emperor Elagabalus in The Augustan History. I do, however, object most strenuously to the demand that I accept as reality something that is quite obviously a mental disorder.


To be sure, human sexuality is a complex phenomenon. We’re still not sure why it is that a minority of men and a smaller minority of women are homosexual. Back in the day homosexuality sometimes went by the name of sexual preference. Later on it became politically convenient to claim that gay people are born that way. But there’s no hard evidence on way or the other and very likely there’s no single explanation. Nature, nurture, whatever…


Still, a gay male remains male regardless of his sexual orientation. But what are we to make of a biological male who insists that he is, in reality, a woman?


According to our progressive elites, we’re supposed to take his claim—or her claim—at face value. This includes permitting such people to use the public restroom of their choice, i.e. to let a male use the female facilities. You may say that’s no big deal—it probably happens all the time. A transgender male may present so convincingly as a female that no one would ever remark on her use of the ladies’. True enough. But now that we’ve made transgenderism a civil rights issue profound questions arise. In public schools is a transgender male identifying as female to be allowed to use the girl’s shower, locker room and rest room? Is she to be allowed to play on girls’ sports teams? Think about that last one. Most transgender males never surgically transform themselves into females. Biologically they remain male with all the physical advantages over women thereunto appertaining. So would it be fair, for example, to permit a transgender male identifying as female to participate in the LPGA Tour?


As the pronoun difficulties in the above paragraph attest, just thinking about this transgender business is exhausting. And, of course, using the wrong pronoun (the list seems to get longer every day) is an unforgivable offense. You find yourself pitched headlong into the world imagined by George Orwell, where two plus two sometimes make four, sometimes three, sometimes five and sometimes all of them together. Doublethink might have been invented to deal with transgenderism.


If this smoggy cloud of soft tyranny possesses anything in the way of a silver lining, it is this: Over the years the charge of bigotry has been so often hurled by progressives that it has largely lost its sting. I got into an online discussion of transgenderism with one such progressive and when, inevitably, he defaulted to the charge of bigotry I found myself unmoved. The predictability of his sally combined with the absurdity of his position—one moment transgenderism was an inborn trait, then suddenly it was a personal preference—provoked from me no more than a mocking smile that it was just as well he didn’t see.


The downside of the progressive promotion of transgender rights is that it will inevitably increase the pain and misery of people who need real help, not phony and self-serving expressions of approval. The statistics regarding personality dysfunction, substance abuse and suicide among transgender people makes sobering reading. And as ever, our enlightened progressive elites are out to make a bad situation worse.


Posted by tmg110 at 12:34 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2016 12:40 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
Could Lightning Strike?
Topic: Politics & Elections

As Election Day 2016 approaches, here’s the big question: Can Donald J. Trump win? Well, yes and no. 

Trump is so far behind in key battleground states that it’s hard to see how he can close the gap between now and November 8. Even assuming that he can stay on message, stay off Twitter and discipline his wayward tongue, the notion that he can flip Michigan, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania seems frivolous. No doubt the race will tighten. But Trump so seriously damaged himself in the early going that his own unaided efforts will never flip this race. 


But it could flip nonetheless. Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular figure, regarded with dislike and suspicion even by many members of her own party. So far, Trump’s bizarre behavior and his parade of gaffes have shielded Clinton from the consequences of her unlikability. Suppose though, that one of the numerous scandals that snap at her heels reaches crisis proportions? Despite all the pooh-poohing from the Clinton-friendly mainstream media her email controversy still smolders. Even more ominously, questions about the activities of the Clinton Foundation are beginning to multiply. That the foundation is a pay-for-play operation, peddling the influence of America’s most notorious power couple in exchange for cash, much of it of questionable foreign origin, is all but an open secret. True, as long as no hard evidence of a quid pro quo comes to light Hillary can talk past the questions. Suppose, though, that such evidence does bubble up to the surface? Or suppose that the plentitude of questions about the foundation’s shady dealings simply reaches critical mass?


These dangers could sharpen to a point on the occasion of the presidential debates. Up to now Hillary has managed her scandals by the simple expedient of ignoring them, being aided in this by media that have more or less openly taken her side against Trump. On the debate stage, though, she’s likely to be peppered with some hard questions about the Clinton Foundation—and on that stage she cannot shelter behind the aegis of the New York Times, CBS, et al.


Assuming that the race tightens between now and the debates—the first of them will be held on September 26—Donald Trump may be handed the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow, backing his opponent into a rhetorical corner and forcing her into some disastrous gaffe. If Clinton were better liked this might not be so dangerous for her. But people don’t like her, nor do they particularly trust her, nor are they particularly satisfied with the status quo that her candidacy represents. In short, if she gives people an excuse to ditch her, they’re likely to seize on it.


But is Trump smart enough and disciplined enough to take advantage of such an opportunity if it presents itself? That remains to be seen. He seems to have settled down somewhat in the past week or so, staying on message and avoiding outrageous statements. He rather shrewdly exploited President Obama’s disconnection from events by visiting flood-ravaged Louisiana, shining the spotlight on a big story that the media have largely ignored. His campaign has been purged of some dubious characters and their replacements are seasoned political pros like Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager. So if the stars fall into alignment it’s possible that things could still break Trump’s way.


All this is a painful reminder of the opportunity that the Republican Party blew by nominating a dubious character like Trump. Any decent GOP presidential contender would be beating the pantsuit off Hillary Clinton by now. Trump’s nomination was, for her, a gift from on high. Even so, her ham-fisted political style, creepy public persona and trailing cloud of scandal could blow up her campaign. And perhaps the authorities on high also have a gift for Donald J. Trump…

Posted by tmg110 at 9:12 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2016 9:14 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Trump v. Khan: Everybody Lost
Topic: Decline of the West
Let it be stipulated (1) that members of the US armed forces who give their lives, and the families thereof, are entitled to the thanks and respect of a grateful nation and (2) that Donald Trump’s attack on the family of the late Captain Humayun Khan was, in a word, vile.
Having said that I must add, however, that in my view the speech given at the Democratic National Convention by the Captain’s father, Khizr Khan, was a distasteful spectacle. For the father of a fallen soldier to use his son’s death as cover for a partisan political attack was emotional blackmail in its worst form. (And yes, I feel the same about the similar performance by Patricia Smith at the Republican National Convention.)
It may be argued that families of fallen heroes have a right to place their views on record and this is true enough. Nor do I blame Captain Khan’s parents for their animus against the Republican presidential nominee. That Donald Trump’s Muslim-bashing has infuriated the family of a Muslim-American soldier who gave his life for our country is understandable. No, those to blame for the base practice of exploiting personal and family tragedies in this manner are the members of our political class: campaign strategists, pollsters, PR flacks, the candidates themselves. One thinks of them meeting around the table, going through the list of military families whose pain might motivate them to speak out against the other party’s standard bearer. And the last thing on the minds of the pols and their minions would be the honor due to fallen soldiers and their loved ones.
Mr. Khan’s speech was a sad and ugly performance that in no way honored the Captain's memory. In its aftermath everybody was bloviating about the late Captain Kahn—appropriating his record of service and his heroic death for their own political purposes—but the deceased himself was perforce silent. This would remain true even if the abominable Trump hadn't covered himself with shame and ignominy by his lowlife reaction to Mr. Kahn's attack. With his idiocy and malice, Trump merely doubled down on an already sorry situation.
Trump’s characteristically bad behavior has, no doubt, seriously damaged his campaign, so Mr. Khan’s speech may be said to have served its purpose. But let’s not kid ourselves: That speech did nothing to honor the memory of an American hero. On the contrary it made Captain Humayun Khan’s story grist for that base and dishonorable engine, the American political mill. As an old soldier myself and the father of an Afghanistan veteran I was sorry to witness it.

Posted by tmg110 at 7:47 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2016 7:50 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Saturday, 9 July 2016
A Murderous Lie
Topic: Decline of the West

Dostoevsky wrote that every great evil begins with a lie. I was reminded of his words as I perused the online reactions to the shooting of twelve police officers in Dallas by a black radical whose name I disdain to mention. He proclaimed that he was out to kill white people, particularly cops, and in fact he murdered five white police officers before being put down. 

By and large the Internet reaction to his atrocity illustrated the principle of polarity: supporters of the cops versus supporters of the Black Lives Matter narrative. The middle ground was sparsely occupied. Nor was the atmosphere improved by tweets and blog posts from the anti-cop movement that approved of and celebrated five dead cops. “Now they’re getting a taste of it” was the tenor of such commentary. On the other hand, the pro-police commentary often characterized Black Lives Matter, the core of the anti-cop movement, as a terrorist organization. 

Now it’s true of course that as an organization BLM isn’t calling for the murder of police officers. But BLM is pushing a narrative in which cops are racist, militarized thugs, waging war on black America. This happens not to be true; almost all police shootings of blacks turn out to be justified. It is true blacks are disproportionately represented in the total police-shootings body count but what is usually omitted here is the fact that the black crime rate is many times higher than the white crime rate. And the cops have to go where the crime is. 

So the BLM narrative is deceptive in many particulars, whereas on the other side supporters of the police freely acknowledge that there are bad cops out there who do abuse their authority. But it’s worse than that for BLM—because the organization’s very existence is based on an egregious, very particular lie. 

“Hand up, don’t shoot!” the proto-BLM protesters yelled on the streets of Ferguson Missouri in the days following the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer. Various eyewitnesses claimed that Brown had been standing with his hands in the air when the cop wantonly shot him to death. But the subsequent investigation revealed that it hadn’t happened that way. Brown had first tried to disarm the officer while the latter was still in his cruiser, then fled with the officer in pursuit. When ordered to halt he turned and charged, whereupon the officer shot and killed him. 

But “Hands up, don’t shoot!” remains the mantra of BLM and there has never been the slightest acknowledgement that the movement is built on a lie. On the contrary, BLM continues to behave as if every death of a black person at the hands of a police officer is a case of cop racism. In Baltimore the death of Freddie Gray in police custody was spun into such an outrage, prompting an ambitious state prosecutor to indict six police officers for crimes including “depraved heart murder.” Though it soon became clear that there was not a speck of evidence to support such charges the charade went on. The score so far: one hung jury and two acquittals. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that the BLM narrative—racist cops assassinating innocent blacks—has contributed to the poisonous atmosphere in which violent attacks on police officers are escalating. Those who promote the lie bear moral responsibility for its results. BLM, therefore, has blood on its hands. Nor do I expect the movement to reform itself by acknowledging the lie behind “Hands up, don’t shoot!” They’re as wedded to it as National Socialism was to anti-Semitism. So there’s no point in pandering to BLM or trying to see its point of view. Every great evil begins with a lie. Many of those who belong to Black Lives Matter may be well-meaning and sincere. But the organization itself is evil and its activities spread nothing but hatred and bloodlust.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:16 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Thursday, 30 June 2016
The Agony of the Elites
Topic: Liberal Fascism

British voters did the unthinkable last week: they disregarded President Barack Obama’s sage advice. Incredibly, inexplicably, undeterred by his threat to send Britain “to the back of the queue,” these ingrates ignored the Philosopher King-in-Chief’s demand that they vote to keep their country in the European Union. He lost little time in claiming that the Brexit vote, like the campaign of Donald J. Trump, was fueled by “xenophobia” and a fear of “funny-looking people”—a comment that neatly encapsulated the reasons why Trump arose and Leave won. 

“Out-of-touch elites” ought, I think, to be classed as a redundancy, since on the available evidence to be a card-carrying elitist is to be utterly clueless. I don’t mean that political, economic, intellectual and cultural elites are stupid as a class. Like all human groupings our various elites exhibit a range of intelligence, from mouth-breather (most Hollywood celebs) to really, really smart (B.H. Obama). But whatever their IQs members of the elites share a common characteristic: ignorance of, and contempt for, ordinary people. 

In the collective consciousness of the elites, these feelings are justified by their superior insight and wisdom. The benighted proles simply don’t understand the complexity of the world: its nuances and shades of gray and ambiguities! And how could they, lacking such credentials as a master’s in peace studies or a law degree? In times past our elites were a trifle reticent about voicing such opinions but nowadays they’re not so shy. To hear Michael Moore tell it, Americans are the stupidest people on the planet, bar none—except now, perhaps, for the British people. 

All this, of course, is self-serving rubbish. Despite their blather about the complexities of the world the elites didn’t lack for a simplistic solution after the recent terrorist massacre in Orlando. Gun control! Ban “assault weapons” and all will be well! Think about it: Confronted with Islamofascist terror, they demanded action against—white guys living in Flyover Country square states who hug their Bibles and AR-15s in defiance of all that is progressive and enlightened. Banning so-called assault weapons would do nothing to deter terrorists or reduce violent crime, but it would strike a blow against a class of people whom the elites despise. And that was the point. Gun control, Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, gender-neutral bathrooms, the European Union, peace studies, electric cars, the school lunch program—all of it is really just a middle finger flourished in the faces of ordinary people for whom the obsessions of the elites are incomprehensible and offensive. 

But when it comes to effective action, e.g. measures that actually do decrease “gun violence” such as the NYPD’s late, lamented stop-and-frisk program, the elites are not so enthusiastic. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive elitist in good standing, made it his business on assuming office to abolish stop-and-frisk—and to wage broad-scale ideological war on the police, crying that their tactics had a disparate impact on “minorities.” Not surprisingly, this discouraged the police from doing their job, which resulted in a spike in violent crime, particularly murder. And speaking of disparate impact, the principal victims of this crime wave in New York and other big cities are—you guessed it—members of minority groups. Nor will you be surprised to learn that the results of his assault on the police has not at all deterred de Blasio and people like him from pressing it with redoubled fanaticism. 

But every once in a while the elites find themselves crossed and when that happens, as it has with the ascent of Trump and the Brexit vote, the petulance and venom of the elites provides an amusing spectacle. The latter in particular touched off a broad-scale meltdown, with cries of doom and Armageddon resounding in the media. Barack Obama’s whining and crying about Trump and Brexit is of a piece with the panic of the elites, and I for one am finding it a treat to watch.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:45 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 1 July 2016 11:46 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, 24 June 2016
John Bull Hits the Door
Topic: Decline of the West

Last night I went to bed with the opinion that though it would be close, British voters would opt to keep their country in the European Union. I woke up this morning to the news that the vote, though fairly close, had gone the other way. Despite a tsunami of pro-EU propaganda, dire predictions of economic disaster, charges of racism and xenophobia, etc.,the British people voted to exit the EU by a 52%-48% margin. 

It was entirely plausible to suppose as I did that fear of the unknown would be enough to tip the scales for Remain. Most people are risk-averse, after all. Usually they can be relied upon to prefer the status quo with all its shortcomings and inconveniences to a leap in the dark. Suppose, though, that the status quo becomes not just inconvenient but intolerably irksome and blatantly authoritarian—what then? People in Britain apparently judged the EU in that light and decided that a leap in the dark was preferable to the soft tyranny of Brussels. 

Since many people who dislike the EU probably voted for Remain out of fear, the actual margin of victory for Leave—the psychological and emotional margin, so to speak—was probably higher than 52%. Perhaps that’s what induced Prime Minister David Cameron, strong for Remain, to throw up the sponge with such promptitude: He knows that the balance of opinion against the EU is solid. This, incidentally, illustrates one feature of the British political system that’s superior to ours in the United States. A prime minister who fails as Cameron did feels duty-bound to resign; a president who screws up remains in office, perhaps to screw up again… 

So why did Britain opt for Brexit? Many people have pointed to the immigration issue, which undoubtedly played a role, but I think it goes deeper than that. Britain has always had an uneasy relationship—politically, culturally, economically—with continental Europe. Today, despite decades of EU-driven integration, this remains true. There’s a limit beyond which British participation in a pan-European project could never go. Economic cooperation—yes. Political and diplomatic cooperation—certainly. But the progressive loss of basic national sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, transnational bureaucracy based in Brussels of all places turned out to be intolerable to a majority of the British people. The elites—in Britain, on the Continent, here in the US—couldn’t see that ordinary people were becoming increasingly fed up with an arbitrary and pettifogging regulatory regime that was being imposed on their country by a cabal of faceless foreigners. Elsewhere in Europe discontent with the EU is, I think, largely driven by the immigration issue but in Britain that discontent has deeper sources. 

Already there’s been speculation whether the outcome of the EU referendum in Britain has implications for the United States. It was certainly a slap upside President Obama’s head. With his trademark superciliousness he lectured the British people on the inadvisability of leaving the EU and promised that if they dared to do such a silly thing, their country would go to the back of the queue as far as America was concerned. Well, the British branch of the bitter clingers apparently disregarded his advice and it only remains to be seen if he’ll respond with the type of petulant outburst that’s so characteristic of him when he’s crossed. 

Speaking in Scotland, Donald Trump claimed a clear connection between the Brexit vote and his own insurgent presidential bid, and there are some in the media who agree with him. I myself think that he and they are correct but exaggerating. Certainly there are parallels between the grievances of Leave voters in the UK and Trump supporters in the US. But the former were voting for a proposition, not a person. Trump’s fate, on the other hand, largely depends on people’s judgment of his fitness to serve as president. Unless he can severely discipline himself, avoid catastrophic gaffes and formulate a succinct, compelling message, the voters will turn thumbs down on him in November. Can he do all that? Color me dubious. 

The Brexit vote certainly was, as everybody has been saying today, historic. But historic in what sense is, at the moment, an unanswerable question. I’m inclined to think that anything that shocks and dismays the elites is a good thing—imagine how grumpy Hillary Clinton must be feeling right now! Still, by opting to exit the EU Britain has rolled the dice. And as I contemplate what has happened across the pond I’m reminded of that ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times…

Posted by tmg110 at 1:19 PM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Saturday, 11 June 2016
'Tis a Vile Thing...
Topic: Decline of the West

On the high side of sixty intimations of mortality come upon you thick and fast. Parents, uncles, aunts and those of their generation begin to pass from this world. On your Internet home page the death notices of public figures and celebrities who cast long shadows over your twenties and thirties begin to appear with depressing frequency. You remember people from your past—a fellow student, a soldier with whom you served, an old girlfriend—and the thought occurs that they may no longer be alive. As you age—as you live—your past is progressively erased by implacable death. And in the end death will erase you also. 

Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But human beings, it seems, have been spiritually conditioned to live with these increasingly clamorous intimations of mortality. Mostly, when death strikes down a parent or an old friend, we grieve but go on. The very inevitability of death is a kind of balm. That a beloved mother should die at the age of ninety-three is a sorrowful thing for her children but not really a cause for regret. Our anger, as opposed to our grief, is reserved for those occasions when death jumps the line. 

“Tis a vile thing to die, my gracious lord, when men are unprepared and look not for it,” Catesby tells Lord Hastings (with sly foreknowledge) in Shakespeare’s Richard III—a vile thing indeed and not only for the deceased. Mothers and fathers who’ve lost sons and daughters to disease, accident, war, are conscious above all of a seeming reversal of the natural order: Parents are supposed to die before their children. To their grief, therefore, are added profound feelings of unfairness and anger. A cancer diagnosis is bad news at any age but the earlier it comes the more it seems like a cosmic con job. If one were handed to me today I wouldn’t be thrilled about it but at least I’ve seen my children into adulthood, become a grandparent, enjoyed the blessings of an exceptionally happy marriage of thirty years and, on the whole, have had a good life. 

Last year a young lady of my acquaintance—we used to work together—was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve followed her fortunes via Facebook and am glad to report that she successfully completed treatment (surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy) and was recently pronounced cancer free. But imagine getting news like that in one’s early forties! Looking back she recalls being “terrified and overwhelmed” by her diagnosis. I have no doubt that she was angry too. Angry at whom, though? At what? In a short story I wrote a couple of years ago I imagined that a dying young woman’s anger would come to focus on the living, who would still be here after she was gone. Her rage eventually turned her into a monster. I thought then and still believe that we romanticize those felled by an untimely death, endowing them with a possibly unmerited nobility. Not everybody dies well. But on the other hand our expectations may supply the courage a dying person needs to meet the end calmly. Such are the labyrinthine mysteries of human nature. 

Personally I hope to be felled by some bolt from the blue—no hurry, though. I may owe God a death but “Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me?” Thus Falstaff according to Master Will and I echo the former's cry: “Give me life!”

Posted by tmg110 at 10:15 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2016 10:17 AM EDT
Post Comment | Permalink
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
Post Comment | Permalink
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
Post Comment | Permalink
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
Post Comment | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older