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Friday, 23 June 2017
The Scourge of PDS
Topic: Politics & Elections

You needn’t look very far to find evidence of Political Derangement Syndrome or PDS. It boxes the political compass, from the fever swamps of the loony left to the dugouts and bunkers of the alt.right. Its signs and symptoms are visible everywhere. Few seem immune. 

A recent outbreak of PDS centered around the GA 06 special congressional election. For weeks we were told that a referendum on the deeply unpopular President Donald J. Trump was shaping up in that Georgia congressional district, which Trump had barely carried in November. Also, it would for the GOP be a harbinger of disaster in the 2018 midterm elections. The broad Left (Democrats, liberals, progressives, the antifa mob) convinced themselves that their candidate, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker with no political experience named John Ossoff, could flip what had long been a safe Republican district. And indeed, in the first go-round, Ossoff raked in 48% of the vote against a field of some fifteen GOP candidates. In last week’s runoff against Republican Karen Handel he was widely expected to pick up the handful of extra votes needed to bring off an upset. 

But the election-eve polls showed a tight race with a statistically insignificant lead for Handel. Gritting their teeth, Dem-friendly pundits and journalists forecast a long night and a squeaker of a victory for Ossoff. Because how could he lose? Trump had only carried GA 06 by one percent! And nobody likes the guy! 

Then came Election Day. The race was called at 11 pm. Karen Handel beat John Ossoff by four points. 

Well, so what? Everybody makes mistakes! That’s true enough, though in retrospect there were many reasons to think that the election would turn out more or less as it did. But in their detestation of Trump, the Dems and the media blinded themselves to the probabilities. Their predictions of an Ossoff victory, buttressed by reams of learned analysis, turned out to be the rationalization of a wish with a price tag of $24 million. That in itself was a manifestation of PDS— but merely the preliminary sniffle. 

Even as the dust of crushed Democratic and media hopes was still settling, reality was being twisted into a new shape. It was rather like the scene in Nineteen Eighty-four when a Party orator, haranguing the crowd on the theme of Eurasian war crimes, suddenly and without breaking rhetorical stride shifts to a denunciation of Eastasian war crimes. Oceania, Mr. Orwell remarks mordantly, was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally. And in the case of Ossoff versus Handel it turned out that GA 06 was GOP turf. GA 06 had always been GOP turf. Ossoff never had a prayer. 

That the new reality pretty much reflected reality does the broad Left and the media no particular credit. They adopted it only when their preferred reality didn’t work out. And they adopted it with scarcely a blush of chagrin. Suddenly this was what they had been saying all along: that GA 06 was a safe GOP seat, that Ossoff was probably going to lose, that the outcome wasn’t predictive of what would happen in the 2018 midterms, and that the broad Left had known this all along. 

Observing in a Quora answer that Democratic hopes has come to naught in GA 06, I myself was treated to a smarmy little lecture from another Quora denizen. Stuff and nonsense, she said in effect. Are we downhearted? No! We expected Ossoff to come up short. And besides, these special elections tell you nothing about the shape of electoral things to come. And so on and so forth. I was tempted to ask why, if all this was known, the Dems had poured $24 million into Ossoff’s campaign. But to what purpose? With crystal clarity, this comment on my answer paraded all the destructive, self-deceiving folly that PDS implants in the human brain. Contradicting it with a fact would have been an exercise in futility.

You see much the same thing when some Trump fanboy or -girl, confronted with the latest example of their hero’s instability or dishonesty, tortures it into some wonderfully convoluted political masterstroke. PDS makes a person impervious to facts, contemptuous of evidence and blind to elementary reality. What Trump is, and is not, is pretty clear—obvious even. But a supposedly savvy journalist like Mika Brzezinski thinks—and what is more, says on the air—that she sees in the President an aspiring dictator along the lines of North Korea’s Kim Jon Um. This bespeaks a definite abnormality of mind, albeit one that is, no doubt, confined to the sphere of politics. Certainly it explains why so much of what you read or see concerning politics turns out to be dead wrong. All those credentialed pundits and savvy journalists suffer from PDS.

The corruption of our political culture—its triviality, crudity, dishonesty, sneering viciousness—is roundly decried. Much less remarked upon is the malady that underlies all these vices: the disconnect from reality that enables otherwise sane and decent people to behave like bullies and idiots, all the while remaining convinced that they’re enlightened, virtuous and heroic. Political Derangement Syndrome: It’s hazardous to America’s civic and spiritual health.


Posted by tmg110 at 12:39 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 23 June 2017 9:28 PM EDT
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Friday, 16 June 2017
Assassination Porn
Topic: Decline of the West

Only one man bears the guilt for yesterday’s shooting in Virginia that targeted Republican members of Congress: the now-deceased shooter. He and he alone “has blood on his hands,” as the saying goes. I want to make that clear in the minds of readers because what follows will no doubt provoke the Left. 

In cases of political violence, the guilt of the shooter is separate from the responsibility of others and it’s legitimate to inquire whether society’s general political atmosphere, the general state of political discourse, played some role in setting yesterday’s events in motion. Regarding the current case, the Left summarily rejects any such suggestion, its escape hatch being the claim that the shooter was “mentally unstable”—a term, it must be noted, that’s somewhat lacking in precision. And Jay Cost, no leftie, has somewhat supported this defense, commenting yesterday that after all, America has a long tradition of overheated political rhetoric that usually does not spill over into actual violence. 

Cost’s point is fine as far as it goes but, after all, context matters. That political opponents said ugly things about one another fifty or a hundred years ago without sparking violence does not necessarily validate the point for present-day America. In Weimar Germany, for instance, extreme political rhetoric and actual political violence went hand in hand. The rhetoric of National Socialism—talk of the “Jew republic,” the “November criminals,” etc.—was meant to and did lead to violence, from street brawls to assassinations. In no way, shape or form was the violent political rhetoric of that time and place disconnected from political violence. 

So the current case must be judged, first, on the terms of contemporary American political culture and only second in the light of history. 

There can be no denial that in recent years violent rhetoric has proliferated, and that it has insinuated itself into the political mainstream, Right and Left. Militaristic and revolutionary themes abound. Those opposed to Trumpism style themselves as “the Resistance,” as if they were battling a dictatorial regime or a foreign invader. Meanwhile, on the Right, progressives are excoriated as globalists, un-American rats, even traitors. Both sides characterize themselves as “fighting to take the country back.” 

From the Left, much of the vitriol is flung directly at President Trump. He is routinely excoriated as a Russian stooge, guilty of actual treason, a fascist, an aspiring dictator seeking to shred the constitution, a sexist, a homophobe, a racist, etc., and so forth, on and on. And this hymn of hate is not restricted to the goons of the so-called antifa (anti-fascist) movement. Coming from extremists and head cases like Noam Chomsky or Naomi Wolf, such rhetoric could be disregarded. But nowadays, with increasing force and volume, it comes from respected academics, celebrities and, yes, supposedly mainstream progressive and Democratic politicians like Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi. 

Naturally those who support Trump or even say anything positive about him come in for their own share of this hate speech—for that, literally, is what it is. Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of Trump voters as “a basket of deplorables” set the standard. In the eyes of the Left, there can have been no legitimate reason for people to vote for Trump, only racism, sexism, and hate. And this comforted the Left before Election Day, for surely such an ogre with such a following could never be elected president. 

So when Donald J. Trump was actually elected president, the broad Left went into a three-foot hover of utter rage. 

The assault on congressional Republicans cannot really be isolated from the escalating violence of the protests against President Trump. Groups like the antifa movement employ the tactics of intimidation and actual violence—and they do so, it must be said, with the tacit approval of establishment progressivism, the media and the Democratic Party. Which leading Democratic politicians have stood up to denounce antifa street violence or suppression of conservative speech and activity on college campuses? Which mainstream media outlets have decried the rising tide of leftist street violence? Few if any. And this is hardly surprising, for the hostility of, say, CNN to Trump is only somewhat less unhinged than that of, say, MoveOn.org. Mainstream progressivism, though perhaps made uncomfortable by the violent rhetoric and actual violence of the Resistance, doesn’t really disapprove of it. 

In New York City, the much-respected Public Theater is currently presenting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It has often been remarked that this play is a timeless commentary on politics and political ambition, capable of being staged against any backdrop. The Public Theater’s offering has its actors costumed in contemporary clothing—and Caesar himself is made up to look just like Donald J. Trump. Since Julius Caesar’s first climax is the title character’s bloody assassination, the Public Theater has come in for a great deal of criticism. The critics call it “assassination porn”; the Public Theater’s defenders appeal to the sanctity of art. How it actually differs from Kathy Griffin’s severed-head-of-Trump stunt is a good question. Both it seems to me are the product of the extremist rhetoric and occasional violence of the Resistance. 

And so we circle back to a disaffected leftist’s shoot-up of the GOP House baseball team. The broad Left, knowing that it had a problem on its hands, wasted no time trying to distance itself from the shooter. He was, we were told, mentally ill. It was, we were told, really the Republicans’ own fault because they oppose more gun control. And of course it was just disgraceful to claim, as some conservatives and Trump supporters immediately did, that the Left as a whole has blood on its hands. 

The last point is actually correct, though you’d think that Democrats & etc., who instantly blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords despite a lack of evidence of a connection between Palin and the killer, would blush to make it. (That shooter, incidentally, turned out to be a genuine head case: a paranoid schizophrenic, long obsessed with Giffords, who believed among other things that the rules of English grammar had been cooked up by the deep state as a mind-control measure.) No, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the Pussy Hat Brigade et al., are not guilty of murder. But on the other hand, they do bear responsibility for the climate of fear and hate in which the attack on the GOP congressmen took place. 

By all accounts the shooter, though he could certainly be described as a social misfit, was not clinically insane. He wasn’t ordered to open fire by his dog or some invisible friend. He was, rather, a man of radical progressive views, a heavy consumer of anti-Trump agitprop, a volunteer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. His stated reasons for attempting to kill Republican members of Congress were political. To claim, as the Left is doing, that the atmosphere of seething hatred and imperfectly contained violence in its ranks played absolutely no role in motivating the shooter is simply not credible. In fact—there can be no disputing this—it was one factor among several that led this man to pick up the gun. 

And I suspect that his desire to kill is shared by many others. The fervor with which Trump assassination porn is embraced by people describing themselves as progressives, devoted to social justice and all good things, shines a not-very-flattering light on the Left. Like many of the Roman senators who stood by while the conspirators stabbed Caesar to death, the progressives would not raise a hand against Trump themselves—but many wouldn’t mind seeing someone else bump him off. And before my conservative and Trump-supporting readers start feeling smug, I advise them to sample some of the rhetoric of the Right that gets put out, for instance, on Twitter. The only difference is that on the Right, there are many people who not only deplore but decry such extremism. On the Left, supposedly responsible leaders overlook it or make excuses for it. 

Probably the political violence in this country is going to get worse before it gets better. I have no hope at all that my appeal or anyone else’s will persuade the anti-Trump Left to examine its collective conscience and moderate its venomous rhetoric. On the other side, the more attacks that are directed against President Trump, the more firmly his core supporters will close ranks around them. I mentioned Weimar Germany above, whose liberal political order proved powerless to stem the tide of rage and hate that brought Adolf Hitler to power. The political polarization of contemporary America is nowhere near that extreme. But it seems to me that our political culture is sick and getting sicker. Our constitutional order can’t be expected simply to maintain itself. And there seem to be fewer and fewer people willing to stand in its defense. So take a good look at James Hodgkinson who, in a sinister sense of the term, is the man of the hour.

Posted by tmg110 at 12:55 PM EDT
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Friday, 2 June 2017
Oh, How They Hate Him...Hate Him...Hate Him...
Topic: Liberal Fascism

Every time I get fed up with Donald Trump, along comes someone like Kathy Griffith to remind me just how dishonest and vile his progressive opponents truly are. 

Yesterday the President announced that the US is pulling out of the Paris climate accord—and the response from progressive quarters was predictably unhinged. Take California billionaire  Tom Steyer, a climate-change fundamentalist who donated more than $85 million to the Democrats last year. Just before Trump’s announcement he Twitter-shrieked that the President was “committing a traitorous act of war against the American people.” And that wasn’t all! Steyer went on to moan that Trump’s action was “assault and battery on the future of the American people.” 

Jeez. Take a chill pill, there, Tommy. 

Hyperbolic rejoinders in this vein were characteristic of the broad Left’s reaction to what was, after all, the fulfillment of a campaign pledge. Though Trump’s behavior in office has been erratic, it must be said that on some issues—border security, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and now the Paris accord—he has delivered as promised. In the run-up to yesterday’s announcement there was much breathless media speculation about the struggle to change the President’s mind, in which I placed little stock. Given the fact that (a) the Paris accord was tilted radically against American economic interests, (b) embodied no enforcement mechanisms ensuring that other nations would live up to their promises, (c) would do little or nothing to affect the planetary climate and (d) was a treaty with absolutely no chance of being ratified by the US Senate—what reason was there, really, for Trump to change his mind? 

That last point—(d)—has been somewhat overlooked, but it bears analysis. The Paris climate accord was negotiated by President Obama, as was his right under the United States Constitution. But the right of the Senate to “advise and consent” to a treaty so negotiated was disregarded by Obama, who seldom had time for such niceties as respect for constitutional norms. He was quite well aware that the Paris accord, if submitted to the Senate, would be rejected. So Obama simply ignored the Senate, pretending that he alone, as president, possessed the necessary authority to bind the nation to an unpopular and, in the view of many, economically harmful agreement. 

Don’t expect President Trump’s progressive critics to grapple with the realities of the situation, however. When it comes to The Donald, they’ve completely lost their minds. According to Amy Davidson, writing in the New Yorker, his decision was an “insult” to poor Angela Merkel—because, you know, “addressing climate change speaks to the most fundamental of values.” Progressives do have a habit of deciding what other people’s fundamental values should be, presumably including the values of American coal miners whose jobs, if climate-change fundamentalists got their way, would be destroyed. And this is one reason why they hate Trump so much: because he so often states the opposite of their most deeply cherished beliefs. When he said yesterday, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the denizens of the broad Left recognized this quip for it was: a smackdown directed at them. And their response was characteristically intemperate, not to say kooky.

So I have no doubt that in the months and years ahead there will be two, a dozen, many Kathy Griffins. We will be regaled with calls for the President’s impeachment or assassination, prayers that he’ll develop a brain tumor, crude sexist gibes directed against his wife and daughters, ever-more-zany conspiracy theories, etc. and so forth—all this in place of the well-reasoned and carefully considered criticism that he will undoubtedly deserve. I’m no fan of President Donald J. Trump. I thought—still think—that he’s unfit to be president. But there he is, sitting behind the big desk in the Oval Office and so when he does right in my view, as he did yesterday by withdrawing the US from a dumb and damaging climate agreement, I’ll say so. But when he does something ill-considered or stupid I’ll point that out as well. And I have to add that along the way I shall relish the spectacle of the broad Left’s accelerating descent into its chosen abyss of insanity and nihilism. 


Posted by tmg110 at 9:15 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 2 June 2017 9:57 AM EDT
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Monday, 8 May 2017
Shocking But Specious
Topic: Liberal Fascism

The specious comparison is a staple of progressive rhetoric, especially popular on those frequent occasions when the Enlightened seek to bash the Land of E Pluribus Unum. For instance: “Among developed countries, the United States [insert unflattering factoid].” And yes, indeed, it seems shocking that the United States has a higher rate of this or a lower rate of that than other developed countries—until you stop to ponder just what is meant by the term “developed countries.” 

Here are five countries that are usually classed as “developed”: the United States, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic. How much do these countries actually have in common? Or to put it another way, how probative are comparisons between and among them? It may be true, for example, that the murder rate in Denmark is much lower than it is in the United States—but is it really possible to put one’s finger on two or three specific factors that make the difference? Yes, say progressives who employ the “developed countries” comparison. But an argument is only as good as the assumptions on which it rests, which in this case is the “developed countries” model. 

According to Wikipedia, a developed country is defined as “a sovereign state that has a highly developed economy and advanced technological infrastructure relative to other less industrialized nations. Most commonly, the criteria for evaluating the degree of economic development are gross domestic product (GDP), gross national product (GNP), the per capita income, level of industrialization, amount of widespread infrastructure and general standard of living.” Which criteria should be used and how they should be applied is, according to Wikipedia, a subject for debate among experts, but this definition will do for present purposes. 

Now obviously the five nations listed above— the United States, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic—each fit within this definition. That is, both the US and, say, the Czech Republic are “developed.” But there the similarities end, for the definition of “developed country” excludes a myriad of factors—historical, cultural, social, demographic, economic, political—that give the two countries their unique national characters. And when comparisons are made between and among “developed countries,” all these factors are, literally by definition, left out of consideration. 

In some sense of course all countries are “developed”; that is, their present condition is the outcome of all the factors that called them into being and shaped their character. “National character” is, indeed, a slippery concept that has often been put to intellectually dishonest uses. But a France without the French Revolution, an England without tea or suet pudding, would hardly be the France and England we know. Every country is unique, even those that grew from the same root. A Dane would hardly thank you for lumping his country together with Sweden, nor would a Canadian appreciate having her country caricatured as America Lite. Consider the so-called Anglosphere countries: Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Certainly they have their similarities but a visitor from one to any of the others would be equally if not more greatly struck by the differences. 

For a comparison between the United States and some other developed country to be valid, all historical, cultural, social, demographic, economic, political factors ought to be taken into account. This being plainly impossible—no one person or group of persons is capable of weighing them all and a large number are unknown and perhaps even unknowable—any such comparison must surely be regarded with skepticism. This is not to say that such comparisons are without value. There’s nothing wrong in principle with looking at the Swiss healthcare system and asking one’s self if it could serve as a model for US healthcare reform. But that’s not where progressives are coming from with their specious comparisons between the US and other “developed countries.” For them it’s all about cosmic justice and virtue signaling. “Why can’t we be more like Canada, Denmark, France…?” progressives ask. The question is rhetorical in their minds but there’s an answer and it’s obvious: because we’re not Canadian, Danish or French. 

Conservative solutions to social problems are often dismissed by progressives as “simplistic,” for instance when the former opine that the most effective way to fight crime is to arrest, convict and imprison more criminals. But this, we are told, takes no account of the “root causes” of crime, nor does it address the challenges of rehabilitation, etc. and so forth. In short, the problem is defined as being too complex to be solved by straightforward law enforcement methods. That poverty programs and rehabilitation of criminals have had no discernable effects on the crime rate, while on the other hand locking up more criminals correlates strongly with a decades-long fall in the crime rate, are inconvenient facts that are waved aside with appeals to “complexity.” But virtually in the same breath we’re told that the United States lags behind other “developed nations” in this or that category, as if the French tax system of France or the welfare systems of Scandinavia would be workable in a country so unlike them. Few comparisons are as simplistic—and specious—as that.


Posted by tmg110 at 1:16 PM EDT
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Thursday, 4 May 2017
Shattering the Elements of Style
Topic: Must Read

First let me say that you really should read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parks. In excruciating detail, it describes a candidate and a campaign so inept that they managed to lose the 2016 presidential election to a reality TV star trailing two ex-wives, a pride of former girlfriends and enough miscellaneous baggage to blow up a dozen political careers. If you hate the fact that Donald J. Trump is sitting in the Oval Office, blame Hillary Clinton—whose incompetence, paranoia and mendacity paved his way with flagstones of platinum. 

But I come not to praise Shattered, for there’s something else about this book, something that I found even more interesting than its story line. To illustrate what I mean, here are a couple of extracts from Chapter One, “Or I Wouldn’t Have Run.” The first: “The time would come for her to speak into the winds of history, but, as much as she knew Iowa wasn’t the place, she also knew that her moment hadn’t yet come.”  And a little farther on: “Obama had been relentlessly superb at telling voters why he was running and giving them a window into how he would govern.” 

Let us pause for a moment to contemplate the avoidable awkwardness of these two extracts. The first one should really be two sentences, and it needs further surgery to eliminate excess commas and that maladroit turn of phrase, “speak into the winds of history.” For example: “At the right time, in the right place, she would speak to history. But the time was not yet and Iowa, she knew, was not the place.” The other sentence suffers from both adjectival excess and metaphorical lameness. Superb skirts the perimeter of hyperbole, and relentlessly pushes it over the line. Then we’re asked to envision Obama as a building contractor, giving people a window through which to peer. Far better to put it this way: “Obama had been superb at explaining to voters why he was running and how he would govern.” 

Shattered is replete with similar examples of bad writing. All the literary vices are on display: convoluted sentence structure, moribund metaphors and similes, boringly familiar clichés, adjectival and adverbial overkill. We’re told that a certain campaign apparatchik had “tremendous autonomy”—not considerable or substantial but tremendous. Admittedly the phrase “the dynamics of American politics” is boilerplate—but is it really improved by tweaking it to read, “the thermodynamics of American politics”? And do we really need to know that a particular Clinton loyalist is “possessed of a tiny frame, a warm, toothy smile, and a high-pitched voice that belie her penetrating intellect and epic snark”? 

Now of course a book of this type needn’t aspire to the literary standard of, say, Julius Caesar. (I cite Shakespeare’s play because it prefigures some of the themes of Shattered.) And yes, I realize that the authors and their publisher had a potential best seller on their hands, knew this, and were under considerable pressure to bring it out at the earliest possible moment. But there’s really no excuse for literary malpractice of such magnitude. On every third page, it seems, there’s some rhetorical speed bump to break the reader’s concentration and leave him shaking his head. With the Iowa caucuses looking dicey for Clinton, we’re told that some of campaign manager Robbie Mook’s “internal critics began rattling their sabers” against him. On Election Night, “veteran Clinton consultant and summoner of gray clouds Mandy Grunwald” sounded an alarm about the returns from Virginia. 

This is the sort of thing you’d expect from a self-published book available through Amazon Unlimited. But Shattered is, supposedly, a professional production, written by two political journalists with the assistance, one presumes, of a professional editor. Given that background, the breezy incompetence of its prose style is all the more to be deplored. Surely it would not have imposed too much additional work on the authors and their editor to go through the book and touch it up. As I’ve demonstrated, some of its worst faults could easily have been remedied. 

Very likely, however, the badness of Shattered’s prose style was not even perceived by Allen, Parks and their editor. And that, you should pardon the cliché, is a sad commentary.


Posted by tmg110 at 10:01 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 26 April 2017
A Tale...Signifying Nothing
Topic: The Box Office

I should have seen this coming, really: Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has been adapted for television. In the Age of the Demon Trump, it seems, no dystopian screed, however crude, is quite stupid enough to be passed over.

The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted for the big screen in 1990, starring Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and the late Natasha Richardson. One wonders why, after reading the novel and perusing the script, they nevertheless signed on. Atwood’s tale is set in a near-future America, some time after a cabal of religious fundamentalists calling themselves the Sons of Jacob toppled the US government and raised in its place the Republic of Gilead. The new regime is militant, militarized and totalitarian, and one of its first orders of business is to strip women of their rights—going so far, even, as to forbid them to read. As well, environmental contamination has drastically lowered human fertility. Thus one class of subjugated women in the new society is the Handmaids, women of child-bearing age conscripted to serve as stand-ins for the mostly barren Wives (capitalization intentional) of the all-male ruling group. The Handmaids are in effect slaves, attached to the households of the elite ruling class, closely supervised, and required to participate in a bizarre ceremony of intercourse for the purpose of producing children. The penalty for disobedience, resistance or failure to produce a child is death.

Atwood is Canadian and her patent dislike of the Colossus of the South perhaps explains the sheer preposterousness of The Handmaid’s Tale. Not that the basic idea—the rise in America of a fundamentalist religious dictatorship—is a bad one. Robert A. Heinlein used it for his 1940 novella “If This Goes On—” But he took pains to make his tale plausible. The First Prophet—the man who led the fundamentalist revolution that toppled constitutional government, got his start as a radio and TV evangelist. And though the office of president has been replaced by the Prophet Incarnate (whose personal regiment of guards is titled the Angels of the Lord) West Point, the Hollywood Bowl and Time magazine are still there. Heinlein's dystopia is still America, albeit an America that took a wrong turn. But Atwood’s Republic of Gilead, though existing in our near future, is virtually unrecognizable as America. And she takes no pains at all to explain how a nation of 300,000,000 diverse individuals could possibly have been reduced to the condition she depicts: in thrall to a small group of religious fundamentalists who make the most hard-shell Southern Baptist look like a left-wing liberal. Her scenario is, in the strictest sense of the word, incredible.

Now of course one could say the same of “If This Goes On—”But Heinlein, an accomplished professional, knew how to make his imaginary America appear plausible and besides that was mostly concerned with telling a good story. Atwood, alas, is addicted to progressive finger wagging and she hits all the mandatory stops: anti-American, anti-religious, feminist, environmentally conscious, etc. and so forth. The suspension of disbelief so necessary for the success of a story of this type never happens for The Handmaid’s Tale. Consciously or not, Atwood was preaching to the converted, for whom the racism, sexism, religious insanity and militarism of the United States of America are all givens. To satisfy that audience, plausibility was hardly necessary.

And this brings us to the zombie-like reappearance of The Handmaid’s Tale in the form of a Hulu original series for TV. One can readily understand why this lame and dated example of dystopian literature has been dredged up at the present moment. The series was announced in April 2016 and now here it is, almost precisely at the one-hundred day mark of the Trump Tyranny. Critics have of course describe it as “timely.” Gail Pennington of the Detroit Free Press opined that “Viewers and readers may understandably see The Handmaid's Tale as cautionary.” Well, of course. Dictatorship! Sexism! Fundamentalist religion! The Bible-thumping far-right barbarians are at the gates of progressivism! It’s time for a wake-up call and The Handmaid’s Tale…The Handmaid’s Tale…

Well, The Handmaid’s Tale is just about the last dystopian vision that anybody with an ounce of discernment would pick to criticize the Age of Trump. Here we have a president trailing two ex-wives and a pride of girlfriends, a product of the New York City celebrity culture, whose references to God and religion seem as casual as “Have a nice day,” whose vulgarity carries the taint of fanny-patting sexism—and he is supposed to be the target of this Atwood revival, a jeremiad against religious fundamentalism? Please!

Nevertheless it may be that The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV series, will succeed after a fashion. Though the novel itself is a tiresome piece of dreck, the 1990 film version did possess a certain entertainment value—providing that one chose to regard it as a parody or farce. So with good production values and a decent cast, this new TV version may actually be worth watching. The Walking Dead isn’t plausible either, and up to now it’s done pretty well. But as a cautionary tale, as an attack on America, religion, conservatives or Trump it’s bound to fall flat, just like its predecessors.

Just the other day the New York Times published an op-ed that more or less directly advocated the revision of the First Amendment so that it no longer covers that nebulous category of expression, “hate speech”—otherwise known as “statements and opinions that liberals, progressives and leftists don’t like.” The op-ed was written by a professor at New York University. And recently Howard Dean—that stupid man who used to be governor of Vermont, DNC chair and a Democratic presidential candidate—has been running around saying more or less the same thing. And they’re not just blowing smoke.Threats, intimidation and actual violence have been employed by academic leftists to prevent conservatives from speaking on campus. Pretty much explicitly, the broad Left has embraced a concept of group rights that has no patience with traditional civil liberties like freedom of speech. In that abandonment, it seems to me, may be discerned the germ cell of totalitarianism in contemporary America. And thereby hangs a tale that will never be told by Hulu.


Posted by tmg110 at 11:07 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 27 April 2017 12:06 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 18 April 2017
Mr. Orwell's Revenge
Topic: Liberal Fascism

There is irony in the anti-Trump Left’s current craze for Nineteen Eighty-four—once again a best seller, albeit for reasons that would, no doubt, make George Orwell roll his eyes. It seems likely that few of the Trump bashers have read it or, if they have, that its message actually has penetrated their skulls. That their own behavior in many ways mimics the dogmas of Ingsoc as Orwell imagined them is a cosmic joke that they just don’t get. 

Today on Twitter I happened across a bit of extraordinary news. It seems that Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate Majority Leader, and Paul Ryan, the GOP Speaker of the House of Representatives, colluded with V. Putin to funnel Russian cash into the campaign coffers of Donald Trump. Various replies to this tweet were of the “Aha! Now we’ve got them!” variety: expressing absolute confidence that once this story breaks Demon Trump, his minions and his enablers will disappear behind bars. Winston Smith, toiling in his cubicle at the Ministry of Truth, could not have concocted a more audacious political fantasy. So here we are, almost one hundred days into the Trump Dystopia, and the Left has embraced its very own variant of birtherism: the conviction, apparently unshakable despite a total lack of evidence, that Donald Trump & Co. colluded with V. Putin to hack the 2016 presidential election and steal it from the rightful victor, Hillary Clinton. 

It’s amusing to recall the scorn and contempt with which the Left treated the original birtherism: the claims by various fringe figures on the Right that Barack Obama was not really a native-born US citizen and was, therefore, ineligible to serve as president. Conservative dislike of Obama was such that many people who ought to have known better gave credence to this fact-free theory. Most notoriously, it was embraced and promoted by one Donald J. Trump—though one wonders whether he really believed it. Anyhow, the Left was right to revile birtherism, a political fable in the tradition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion that was and remains a blot on conservatism. 

But then a funny thing happened: Donald Trump actually managed to get himself elected president, and the Left lost its collective mind.

The essence of the original birtherism was a stubborn belief in a claim that was obviously not true and was soon refuted by clear documentary evidence. Admittedly this sort of thing is nothing new in political history. I already mentioned The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a product of the Tsarist secret police that is still cited nowadays by dedicated anti-Semites. There was, too, the charge that the Great War, whose centenary we’re currently observing, was engineered by those Merchants of Death, munitions and weapons manufacturers, in a quest for ever-higher profits. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy spawned literally dozens of conspiracy claims, many of which live on today despite repeated debunking. Some seemed more plausible than others, but all, if not at blatant variance with the facts, were unsupported by any real evidence. 

The current birtherism of the Left—let’s call it trumputinism—has this resemblance to the Merchants of Death charge: some basis in reality. It’s certainly true that the prewar arms race played a role in the coming of the Great War, and it’s also true that Russia was meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. But that is all. Just as there is no evidence that munitions manufacturers actively conspired to start the Great War, there’s no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents to corrupt the 2016 election. Indeed, there’s no plausible scenario by which either thing could actually have happened. Where trumputinism is concerned, on a small foundation of fact was raised a vast, ramshackle superstructure of speculation, wishful thinking, distortions and plain falsehoods. And the less credible it appears, the more fanatically it’s embraced and promoted by the faithful. 

Supposedly the leaders of the institutional Democratic Party are becoming nervous about trumputinism. It served their purpose for a time, perhaps, but if it doesn’t pay off in terms of gigantic headlines, indictments, perp walks and impeachment, the letdown may be such as to ruin the Democrats’ long-term political prospects. The problem is that many trumputiners are also part of the party base. If nothing happens, these people may turn on the Democrats, accusing them of selling out to Trump. Then too, as journalists pursued the story certain details emerged that look problematical for the late Obama Administration. It just goes to prove that so-true truism: Be careful what you wish for… 

The author of Nineteen Eight-four would certainly have relished the irony of all this: The trumputinist Left has become a mirror image of the birther Right they so despise, clinging to a political fable that makes them appear ridiculous to anyone with a scrap of objectivity. It’s condign punishment for the people who are attempting to hijack Mr. Orwell’s intellectual legacy.


Posted by tmg110 at 11:06 AM EDT
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Monday, 17 April 2017
The Great War: Opening Round in the West (Four)
Topic: Military History

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

The Battle of the Marne and the German right wing’s withdrawal to the Asine River did not mean the end of mobile warfare in the West. The German right—the Allied left—constituted an open flank and there now followed a series of attempts by both sides to turn that flank, somewhat misleadingly called the Race of the Sea because it ended at the North Sea coast, in the southern part of Belgium. The final battles in the series were fought in Flanders from mid-October to late November. At their conclusion the Western Front was solidified along a line that changed very little until 1918. 

The two commanders-in-chief, Joffre and Falkenhayn (the latter, it will be recalled, had been brought in to replace Moltke at OHL), were undaunted by the course of the campaign so far. Both intended to resume the offensive, and the open flank was the obvious target. Should the German Army’s right flank be turned, it would be compelled to retreat, probably all the way to the frontier. On the other hand, if the Allied left flank could be turned, the Germans might yet capture Paris and compel France to seek peace. 

For Falkenhayn there was an added, and worrisome, consideration: the Eastern Front. Germany’s Austro-Hungarian ally had met with catastrophic defeat in Serbia and Galicia, and already there were fears that the Habsburg Monarchy might collapse. Even the victory of Tannenberg, welcome as it was, gave rise to complications. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, exploiting the prestige they’d gained as the saviors of East Prussia, were demanding reinforcements for a further offensive against the Russians. But Falkenhayn set his face against these ideas. In his view the offensive proposed by Ober Ost (Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten or Commander-in-Chief of German Forces in the East), as Hindenburg and Ludendorff’s headquarters was now designated, would merely swallow up the German Army in the depths of the Russian interior. Certainly in view of the debacle in Galicia the Eastern Front must be reinforced—but decisive results could only be procured in the West. And for the time being he carried his point in this, the opening round of the long dispute between the “Easterners”—those who wished to concentrate against Russia—and the “Westerners”—those focused on beating France. 

No such arguments bedeviled Joffre, however, and he was first off the mark. Both sides had been transferring troops from east to west and on 22 September the reinforced French Second and Sixth Armies went over to the attack. There followed the battles of Picardy and Albert, which by the end of September extended the front line to the vicinity of Arras, though without smashing the German right flank. Then came Falkenhayn’s turn. Sixth Army having been redeployed to Arras, he ordered it to advance against the French left. There followed another see-saw battle that, by 6 October, carried the front still farther north. By this time both sides had troops in southern Belgium, mostly cavalry, and it was clear that the decisive battle of the 1914 campaign in the West would be fought there. 

At this stage Joffre moved the BEF to the left, where it linked up with the Belgian Army in Flanders. The latter had abandoned Antwerp and retreated down the Channel coast to the line of the Yser River. By now the remainder of the original BEF (two infantry divisions and part of the cavalry division had at first been held back in Britain due to fears of a German invasion) and some further reinforcements had reached France. The Allied front in Flanders thus embodied, from left to right, the Belgian Army (with some French troops) on the coast, the BEF around Ypres and the French Tenth Army. As both sides brought troops into the area a series of encounter battles flared up, which stabilized the front without producing decisive results. By mid-October the Race to the Sea was over; the Western Front stretched from the Swiss frontier in the south to the vicinity of Ostend on the Belgian coast in the north. 

But Falkenhayn was not yet finished. Seeing that the Allied line in Flanders was thinly held, he remained determined to crush its left flank. By this time some six new divisions, composed of war volunteers, were more or less ready for active service and with them in hand the German commander-in-chief judged that he possessed sufficient strength to smash the BEF and the Belgians. The offensive was entrusted to Fourth Army, which had been redeployed and reconstituted, and Sixth Army. On 18 October the German attack began and the First Battle of Flanders was on.


Posted by tmg110 at 10:01 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2017 1:11 PM EDT
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O Brave New Postmodern World
Topic: Liberal Fascism

Sadly, Karl Marx is still with us—no doubt he’s the most-read political philosopher on campus. It wouldn’t be correct, though, to muster all present-day leftists under the red flag, though some of them undoubtedly belong there. But the abject failure of scientific socialism has been too glaring to deny, and with the exception of a few zealots the broad Left—BL for short—had to move on. By broad Left I mean liberals, progressives and leftists: three groups which, though they have their differences, share a common outlook and set of goals. Liberals are represented mostly in the institutional Democratic Party and its auxiliaries, such as the mainstream media. Progressives are found there as well and they form the bulk of the non-formal Democratic Party base. Leftists, particularly numerous on campus, tend to reject the party label and quite often they may be heard reviling the Democratic Party. But when push comes to shove—say, in a presidential election year—almost all of these people can be relied upon to vote Democratic. 

Today’s BL is the child of crisis. The crisis of contemporary conservatism—the rise of Trumpian populism—is reminiscent of the trauma inflicted on the BL by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of classical scientific socialism. The Radiant Future having been thoroughly discredited, what then could the BL be said to stand for? But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The salvation of the BL turned out to be postmodernism, which supplied the foundation for a relativistic ideology by which facts, evidence and reality itself can be disregarded in favor of the BL’s preferences. Better still, causes and crusades could now be manufactured out of thin air. 

Perhaps the most obvious example of postmodernism’s contribution to a post-socialist leftism is the ideology of gender, marketed as the current chapter of the civil-rights movement. Gender ideology is based largely on the claims of academic gender feminists that something called "gender" exists independently of biological sexual differentiation, e.g. that a human being, biologically male, may yet be female in terms of gender. But these tendencies are, supposedly, stamped upon by an oppressive, sexist, patriarchal society which demands and enforces conformity to an arbitrary binary gender regime. Thus gender identities are socially constructed and, therefore, by overthrowing the present oppressive society, gender can in some sense be liberated from biological sex, with every individual free to assume any gender identity that can be imagined. 

None of this theorizing is supported by a speck of scientific evidence. There may be, indeed, a biological basis for the gender confusion to be observed in some few troubled individuals but the overwhelming majority of human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, experience no conflict between gender preference and biological sex. A gay male, that is to say, remains a male and has no particular desire to feminize himself via wardrobe choice, makeup, drugs or surgery. And when you think of it, the concept of socially constructed gender rather contradicts another item of leftist dogma: that homosexuals are "born that way." So you can choose your gender but not your sexual orientation—a strange situation indeed! 

Because it has no basis in reality, the concept of socially constructed gender can be expanded virtually without limit. New gender identities are constantly being added to an already long list, accompanied by learned dissertations on the challenges of pronoun use in this brave new world of liberated gender identities. The absurdity of it all no doubt explains the fascistic bullying by which the cause is advanced. Were I an academic, composing an email of this kind and broadcasting it to the campus community would lead to furious denunciations, violent riots, death threats and, no doubt, my prosecution before some Stalinist-style university tribunal. 

Nor can the ideology of gender be dismissed as ivory-tower theorizing, with no implications for the real world. The push is on to mainstream transgenderism and the cause has been embraced the BL as a whole. The Democratic Party is now the party of gender-neutral restrooms, even in public schools. Biological males who identify as female are being permitted to play on female sports teams in many schools, to the accompaniment of much doubletalk such as this, courtesy of the National Federation of State High School Associations:  

There is no research to support the contention that enabling a transgender girl to play on a girls [sic] team creates a competitive imbalance. In reality, the overlap in skill and performance in sports among biological males and females and the wide variance within each gender group are important considerations to remember in addressing concerns about competitive equity. Concerns about competitive equity also perpetuate a gender stereotype that assumes that anyone with a male body will outperform anyone with a female body. As girls and women take advantage of increased opportunities to participate in sports, performance gaps between girls and boys have decreased

Now if it’s true that there’s no research bearing on the point at issue, then everything following the first sentence of the extract quoted above is mere speculation. But of course the whole transgender concept is no more than a speculative premise, so intellectual rigor is perhaps too much to hope for. But however scanty the evidence, however, dubious the reasoning, the ideology of transgenderism is opening the door to the girls’ restrooms, locker rooms and showers in schools across the country, and ushering in biological males who, in their heads, are female. And to question the probity or wisdom of such policies is held to be a heinous act of bigotry and hate speech. 

Thus by a different route—postmodern relativism instead of Marxism—the contemporary BL is heading in the same direction as its predecessors: toward totalitarianism. Already on college campuses the atmosphere is alarmingly reminiscent of Paris in the days of the Terror. And things are bound to get worse, for the virus—a kind of ideological HIV—is spreading as well through corporate America, where the price of admission to an upwardly mobile career path demands a pledge of allegiance to the dogma of the broad Left. 

Whether the individual liberals, progressives, leftists actually believe in such absurdities as the ideology of gender is a vexing question. One’s instinct is to say no, that such things are just political weapons: new ways to smear the opposition as racist/sexist/ homophobe/etc. and so forth. But there’s a real and disturbing possibility that many of them do believe it—or discipline themselves to believe it. The fervor they demonstrate in their support of such absurdities as the ideology of gender seems unlikely to be fake. And after all, postmodern relativism rests on the premise that there is no such thing as objective reality. So perhaps, for the BL, it’s really not so hard to believe the unbelievable. 

 


Posted by tmg110 at 7:59 AM EDT
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Sunday, 2 April 2017
The Great War: Opening Round in the West (Three)
Topic: Military History

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

As with Tannenberg, legends cluster around the (First) Battle of the Marne. Famous incidents like the taxicabs of Paris rushing troops to the front have been magnified out of all proportion and the battle as a whole became known as “the miracle of the Marne.” The facts are more prosaic, for the outline of the miracle was not too difficult to envision. Winston Churchill did so before the war in a remarkably prescient Cabinet paper that forecast a forty-day campaign with a German advance to the vicinity of Paris culminating in a decisive battle that would check the invading armies and throw them back. Churchill pointed out that as the Germans advanced their front would become wider, their communications more tenuous, the security of the area to the rear of their forces less certain. Troops would have to be detached to mask fortresses, guard rail lines and occupy captured cities. Casualties would further thin the Germans’ ranks and exhaustion would reduce their battle capacity. 

But what seemed so clear in the cool shade of peacetime reflection was less easy to perceive in the heat of battle. As August gave way to September and the armies of the German right wing loomed closer and closer to Paris, many men took counsel of their fears. The French government decamped to Bordeaux, leaving Paris to its military governor, General Joseph Gallieni, whose orders were to place the city in a “state of defense.” Gallieni, who was General Joffre’s designated successor as commander-in-chief in case of the latter’s incapacity, demanded three regular corps—some six divisions—to bolster his scratch force of Territorials. This Joffre refused, though later, as the German’s drew near Paris, he placed the newly raised Sixth Army under Gallieni’s command. 

The disastrous course of the Battle of the Frontiers had shaken the confidence of soldiers and civilians alike. Prominent among those exhibiting signs of stress was the commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Field Marshal Sir John French. The hard-fought Battle of Mons with its many casualties had shocked him, the Great Retreat had depressed him, and his suspicions about the intentions of his French allies had matured into defeatism. Late in August he informed the British government that he intended to take the BEF out of the line entirely, withdrawing it to the Channel coast in anticipation of an evacuation from France. Prime Minister Asquith and his Cabinet colleagues were aghast. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, hurried to Paris with preemptory orders: The BEF was to stay in the line and conform to Joffre’s general plan of campaign. 

On the face of things it seemed that the German offensive was unfolding according to plan. By 29 August the German First Army had advanced to within 15 miles of Paris and its commander, General Alexander von Kluck was confident of victory, his immediate opponent, the French Fifth Army, having been badly battered. Supposedly Kluck was under the orders of his left-flank neighbor, General von Bulow, commanding Second Army, this to ensure that the advance of the right wing was properly coordinated. The Chief of the OHL, General Helmut von Moltke, far away in Luxembourg, had delegated command authority to Bulow in compensation for his own inability to control the battle. But Kluck took little account of this technicality. Believing that one final thrust would lead to the collapse of the French left flank and the fall of Paris he disregarded Bulow’s call for support. The advance of Second Army had stalled out to the east of Paris, just south of the Marne River and Bulow was becoming concerned for the security of his right flank. He wanted First Army to sidestep left so as to close the gap that had opened between the two armies. But Kluck remained intent on his quarry: the tottering Fifth Army. 

On 30 August, therefore, he made a fateful decision: Seeking to turn Fifth Army’s left flank, he altered his line of advance. Schlieffen’s plan had the German right wing enveloping Paris to the north and west; Kluck now proposed to pass to the east of Paris. And there can be little doubt that had his ploy succeeded the French Army would have sustained a heavy defeat, with the loss of Paris and perhaps even the loss of the war. Nor was Kluck’s turn unwelcome to Bulow, who judged that it would close the gap, now 30 miles wide, that so worried him. It seemed that victory was almost within the Germans’ grasp. 

But it was not to be. As Churchill had foreseen, the German advance became more and more disjointed as casualties, fatigue and the fog of war exacted their toll. When Kluck made his turn he had no inkling of the presence near Paris of the new Sixth Army. The French, however, were better informed: Radio intercepts, confirmed by air reconnaissance, had alerted Gallieni to the German change of front. “They offer us their flank!” he exclaimed and with Joffre’s agreement he ordered Sixth Army to attack. It did so on 5 September, striking at First Army’s exposed right flank. This was the opening move of the Battle of the Marne. 

A prompt counterattack on 6 September by IV Reserve Corps, the right-flank corps of First Army, stopped Sixth Army in its tracks and drove it back. Kluck, now alert to the danger, turned his army to face west, a necessary move but one that prevented the closure of the gap between it and Second Army. The latter was by now in a precarious position. On 8 September Joffre ordered Fifth Army to join the attack, striking Bulow’s right flank, driving it back and widening the fatal gap. Into to it marched the BEF. Brushing aside such German cavalry patrols as they encountered the British troops reached and crossed the Marne, and by 10 September they held a bridgehead six miles deep. Second Army’s flank had been turned. Farther east, attacks by the French Fourth and Ninth Armies added to the pressure on the German right wing. 

Deepening anxiety at OHL had already led to the dispatch to the armies of a staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hentsch, charged by Moltke to ascertain the situation and, if necessary, to issue orders in OHL’s name. It may seem remarkable that an officer of modest rank was given such powers, but this was a feature of the German general staff system. Arriving at Bulow’s headquarters on 8 September, even before the BEF had reached the Marne, he concluded that Second Army was in danger of encirclement, and that an immediate retreat of the entire German right wing was necessary. Kluck, whose army was still fighting well, protested that victory was just around the corner but Hentsch, making use of the authority he had been given, carried his point. Orders were issued for a general retirement to the line of the Aisne River. Thus was the Battle of the Marne decided in favor of the Allies. 

The German armies retreated in good order, not too closely pursued by the French and British, who were as tired and worn out as their opponents. On 13 September the Germans reached the Aisne and there they established an entrenched position: the first appearance in the West of a defensive system that would soon become ubiquitous. The armies of the German left wing were ordered to desist in their attacks around Verdun and give up troops to reinforce the Aisne. 

Kluck’s turn is usually represented as the cardinal error that ruined Schlieffen’s master plan. But in fact the plan had already gone awry when Second Army became stuck while First Army continued to advance, thus opening the gap between them. It would not have been possible for Kluck, with both flanks unprotected, to pass north and west of Paris. Somehow or another that gap had to be closed, either with fresh troops or by a move to the east on the part of First Army. Had it been closed the Germans might still have prevailed. But the presence of the French Sixth Army scotched that possibility. Its attack on 5-6 September, though tactically unsuccessful, compelled Kluck to halt his army and face west. Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch, who in later years was much maligned for role in the battle, ordered nothing more than the inevitable. 

The failure of the great offensive had a shattering effect on Moltke. He is said to have reported to the Kaiser, “Majesty, we have lost the war.” Shortly thereafter he suffered a nervous breakdown. For fear that the news would depress national morale, he was not immediately relieved as Chief of the OHL. But all business was taken out of his hands and entrusted to his eventual successor, General Erich von Falkenhayn, the Prussian Minister of War. For a month the wretched Moltke lingered on at OHL, his ghostly presence an unwelcome reminder of the victorious hopes that had been dashed on the banks of the Marne. Later he was placed in command of the Ersatzheer (Replacement Army), responsible for mobilizing reserves, raising new units and training conscripts. But his health continued to deteriorate and he died in June 1916.


Posted by tmg110 at 11:38 AM EDT
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