A hundred years ago the British Army may not have been fighting a major battle on the Western Front but it was still taking casualties.
The Times 4 May 1916 p4
I make that 187 deaths. It represents the typical daily rate for the Western Front. How did these men die? Most would have been killed by shelling, or in trench raids or in machine-gun strafes while erecting barbed wire entanglements in no-man’s land. Others would have been killed by snipers. An unlucky few would have been killed in motor accidents or when shells exploded prematurely causing guns to explode or when grenades went off prematurely or in gas attacks or underground fights between tunnelers. Most of the Canadians would probably have been killed in German counter-attacks at St Eloi.
By the way, you will notice that some of the casualties are listed as suffering from shell shock. Obviously, this had become a recognised condition by this stage of the war and presumably didn’t incur the death penalty.
Barring an extremely unlikely set of results Leicester City Football Club will win this season’s English Premier League. This is extraordinary. Leicester have never won the Premier League even in the days when it was called the League Championship. Last season they only just avoided relegation and at the beginning of this one they were given odds of 5000 to 1 to win the title.
The club is not under the ownership of some Middle East potentate with an air force and in the figure of Claudio Ranieri – likeable as he may be – does not possess a genius manager.
A couple of seasons ago I had the unprivilege of watching Leicester play Watford when both teams were in the Championship ie the next league down. It gives me no pleasure to say that they gave us a right shellacking and I was surprised when initially they struggled in the Premiership. At Christmas 2014 they were bottom of the league.
Football fans use the expression “Championship player” implying that while a player might do well in the Championship he is not good enough for the next league up. It is cruel and it is true. The gulf between the two leagues is enormous.
So, I was surprised when I dug out the programme from that day to find that 6 or 7 of that Leicester team regularly start for them now. The equivalent number for Watford is 2. Yes, Leicester have won with a bunch of Championship players.
If Leicester’s success cannot be explained by either the owners, managers or players what can it be explained by? Sherlock Holmes said that: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that Leicester’s triumph is all down to finding that dead king in one of their car parks.
But to weightier matters. For those who’ve never heard of him, Gary Lineker is a legend. As a player, he scored a huge number of goals for club and country. If you want to see a middle-aged Englishman lose his composure just ask him what is meant by the expression “When Lineker scored.” Many of his goals came while he was playing for Leicester City, his home town. Since then he has made successful careers for himself both as a TV presenter, currently fronting the BBC’s main football highlights programme Match of the Day, and as a crisp salesman.
Earlier on in the season at a time when Leicester were doing well but no one expected them to actually win anything, Lineker promised that should they do so he would present Match of the Day in his underpants. Most people in similar circumstances would promise to streak down a public thoroughfare or clean the steps of St Paul’s with a toothbrush. But Lineker had to come up with something that was not only a bit naff but involved his employer as well.
Leicester’s march to the title has been not unlike the end of The Wicker Man. You think: “It can’t happen, it can’t happen, it can’t happen. Oh. It has.” And now that the structure is engulfed in flame, Lineker and the BBC – unless the latter decide to be ultra-pedantic – are going to have to make good on his promise. While I yield to no one in wishing Mr Lineker – or, the anti-Watford as I think of him – ill, I find the idea of the man sitting in a presenter’s chair wearing nothing but a pair of Marks and Spencer’s Y-fronts stomach-churning enough without anyone making it real. So, oh commentariat, can you come up with a way that Mr Lineker can stand by his word without outraging all that is decent, moral or civilised? If you can you will have the thanks of a grateful nation.
A few months ago I posted a graph of UK longevity and invited readers to guess when the NHS was created. This was difficult for the simple reason that the NHS had no effect on UK longevity.
In similar vein I now produce a graph of First World War recruitment. Now I could ask the same sort of question: when was conscription introduced? However, I won’t, because lots of people will know it was in early 1916. But the same point applies: you can’t tell.
By Wkloot – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38219353
This is extraordinary even to a state-o-sceptic like me. You would have thought it was a fairly simple matter to round up all the males between 18 and 40 and put them in uniform. But no.
One of the reasons for this was that a large number of men were in starred (or reserved) occupations. These were industries such as agriculture and munitions manufacture that were deemed to be vital to the war effort. Indeed, in 1915 the government had to issue posters asking munitions workers to stay where they were and not join up.
The truth is that voluntary means – posters, white feathers, belief in the cause – were extraordinarily successful in getting men to sign up. Family legend has it that my great-grandfather was in a starred profession (farmer) but still joined up – mainly due to being badgered to do so by the locals.
There is another aspect to this. Conscript armies aren’t supposed to be very good. And yet, the almost entirely conscript British army of 1918 performed very well.
The wonderful Gary Kasparov finds that Donald Trump reminds him of someone:
Trump doesn’t talk much about policy and is incoherent when he does. This makes it difficult for the pundits to make useful policy contrasts with the other candidates. This is by design. When Trump’s lies and flip-flops are pointed out, he presses on twice as loudly as before. What Trump does talk about relentlessly, instead of policy, are simple words with positive connotations. “Strength”, “power,” “greatness”, “energy”, “winning”, “huge”, “amazing.” Trump delivers these words, over and over, with the bravura of a carnival barker and the righteous anger of the oppressed, the trademark combination of the populist demagogue.
Trump also refers regularly to how he will demolish any and all critics and obstacles, from entire nations like Mexico to elected officials like Speaker Paul Ryan. He doesn’t talk about boring things like legality or procedure or how any of these threats and promises will be carried out. Before anyone can even ask, he’s on to the next audacious claim. “It will be taken care of!” “He’d better watch out!” “We’ll take the oil!” “They’ll pay for it all!” “It will be amazing!” Bold, decisive, fact-free, impossible, who cares? His followers love it.
All of these rhetorical habits are quite familiar to me and to anyone who has listened to Russian media—all state controlled—in the past decade. The repetition of the same themes of fear and hatred and racism, of victimhood, of a country beset by internal and external enemies, of how those enemies will be destroyed, of a return to national glory. How the Dear Leader apologizing or admitting error shows weakness and must never be done. Inspiring anger and hatred and then disavowing responsibility when violence occurs. It’s a match. As is the fixation with a leader’s personal strength and weakness, intentionally conflated with national strength and weakness.
This is by far the best anti-Trump article I have read. This is probably because, rather than be simply repelled by the man, it attempts to understand what is going on.
I appreciate that Mr Kasparov is a genius but even so I wonder how well he understands terms like “trademark” (in this context), “bravura” and “carnival barker”. And what’s wrong with “taking the oil” – especially if it’s Gulf oil?
Charles à Court Repington was a former army officer who became The Times’s military correspondent. I have mentioned him before and so far I have been pretty impressed with his analyses. But in this article (here and here), in which he considers strategy and high-level tactics, he outdoes himself.
Here are his main points:
1. The Western Front is the key theatre. It’s also the nearest. Britain’s main effort must be concentrated here.
2. The allies must co-ordinate their efforts. Going on the offensive at the same time stretches the enemy’s resources.
3. The search for a breakthrough is futile. The allies need to wear out the enemy through bite-and-hold techniques – in other words, take a chunk out of the enemy’s line and hold it.
4. Cavalry is useless.
5. There are too many cavalry generals in senior positions.
6. Artillery is the dominant arm in this war, or as the French were later to put it: “artillery conquers, infantry occupies.”
7. The artillery needs more shells.
So, what happened?
After the catastrophe at Gallipoli, the “Easterners”, as they were known – or “cranks” as I tend to think of them – were largely ignored. The main effort was indeed put on the Western Front and that is where the war was eventually won.
Co-ordination. As it happens, at Chantilly in December 1915, the Allies had already agreed to co-ordinate their efforts. Unfortunately, the Germans took the initiative at Verdun, more or less completely taking the French out of the picture. Still, the Somme, the Brusilov offensive and an Italian offensive did take place at more or less the same time.
Haig continued to look for breakthroughs until about August 1917. He did so despite just about everyone around him – including Robertson, his nominal superior – thinking he was wrong. He did so in the belief – partly fed by an intelligence chief who told him what he wanted to hear – that the German army was about to crack.
Cavalry. Some claim that cavalry was useful in the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918. Personally, I am doubtful. It certainly wasn’t any use beforehand with the exception of 1914.
Cavalry generals. If we look at the really useless Western-Front commanders (army commanders and above) we find Allenby, Gough and French – all cavalry. The successful ones were Plumer, Horne, Byng and (belatedly) Rawlinson, of whom only Byng had any background in cavalry.
That artillery was the dominant arm is beyond question. In battle after battle, if the artillery was right, victory followed. If it wasn’t, it didn’t. That’s not to say there weren’t great changes in infantry tactics and equipment, just that these were a lot less important. It took until 1917 for the artillery to acquire the shells it needed.
About the only thing he gets wrong is his 150,000 figure for German casualties at Loos. The real figure was about a fifth of that. Otherwise he is bang on the money.
In 1916, the Reverend Swan of the Brotherhood Church in Hackney held (I kid you not) a “Stop the War” meeting. It did not go well.
Trouble was forseen by the police
Now, why would that be?
…the first hymn was sung. Then the trouble began.
…soldiers and civilians rose in a body and denounced the cha’rman [sic] and his companions as traitors.
[The vicar’s supporters] tried to drown the opposition by singing “The Red Flag”…
…but the public voice was stronger and carried the day with “Keep the home fires burning.”
Those were the days.
…some one began throwing down Chinese crackers. Hand-to-hand struggles became common all over the floor of the church. A man, who said he was wounded at Neuve Chapelle and had been invalided out of the Service, stood up on a seat in the centre of the building and pointing at the little crowd of young men, asked why they were not in khaki.
The vicar abandoned the proceedings but the crowd did not.
…a resolution demanding that the war should be carried on with all vigour until Germany had been beaten was carried with cheers.
When I first read this article, I assumed this meeting was the doing of some wooly-headed cleric. Not so. The Brotherhood Church’s other great claim to fame was that in 1907 it hosted the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (General Secretary, one V. I. Lenin). And, in case you were wondering, no, they were not duped.
You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.
The Times 17 January 1916 p5
At the beginning of the Great War people wrote and the The Times published a lot of poetry. The main themes were glory and sacrifice. By 1915 The Times was publishing a lot less poetry and what it did publish was a lot less upbeat. Even so, I was a bit taken aback when they published this:
The Times 16 December 1915 p11. Click for full page.
There is nothing about glory. There is a lot about death. There is a bit of empire bashing. And there’s a bit of: “You owe us.” Frankly, I was a bit surprised that the pro-war, pro-empire Times had anything to do with it. And, oh yeah, there’s the author:
Not a lot of Indians wrote to The Times in 1915. Or, if they did, they didn’t get published.
I thought I’d google the name just in case. Interesting. The writer, it turns out was a woman, a graduate, an Indian nationalist thick with the Indian nationalist bigwigs and, after independence, a state governor. My guess is that that last bit means she did a lot of bad.
In 1915 regulations on drinking were introduced on a town by town basis up and down the country. These regulations included restricted opening hours and the banning – I kid you not – of buying a round. The ostensible reason was to get munitions workers to show up for work on time.
One of the very first – if not the first – hostelry to fall foul of the new regulations was The Swan in New Lane. Annie Hives, the landlady and three customers were all charged and found guilty of various breaches of the regulations. She had committed the heinous crime of serving alcohol after 9.30pm – without demanding payment, I might add – and they, the heinous crime of drinking it. Mrs Hives was fined 35 guineas in total which by my reckoning was about half a year’s pay for a working man on a good wage.
New Lane is now known as New Row and The Swan appears to have been renamed The White Swan. That’s good enough for me and it’s good enough for Michael Jennings. We’ll be revisiting the scene of the crime to toast the memory of the White Swan Four – as they weren’t known – at 9.31 (or thereabouts) on Monday. Please feel free to join us.
The Times 8 January 1916 p3
During the 15 years before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech.
– Mark Steyn quoting from his book Lights Out.
I had some incoming from Uber yesterday. The TFL consultation on their proposals to bugger-up-all-competition-to-the-cossetted-black-cab-mafia is underway. I am usually rather sceptical about these things but Uber is such an obviously Good Thing that I participated anyway. You never know, it might make a difference.
Here is a chart of average life spans for women from the Office of National Statistics with the dates replaced with letters. At some point on the X axis the National Health Service was created. Can you guess where? Answer below the fold.
→ Continue reading: When was the NHS created?
Let’s do some word association.
McCarthyism: Senator Joseph McCarthy, witch-hunts, reds under the bed, blacklists, Hollywood, the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Or to put it another way: it was a Jolly Bad Thing. Hey, the term “McCarthyism” still gets used to this day, so it must be true.
Not so fast. We can dismiss a few of those things straight away. McCarthy had nothing to do with either Hollywood or blacklists. His focus was Soviet sympathisers in the Federal Government, initially the State Department (the US Foreign Office) and, later on, the Army Signals Corps. And as a Senator he could have had nothing to do with a House committee, un-American or otherwise.
But what about the rest? Is it true? Did he hound entirely innocent people or was he on to something? The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that he made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.
Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.
It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.
So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.
The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.
According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.
You would have thought that even Democrats might have been interested in whether the State Department was full of communist moles. But no. Were they communist sympathisers themselves, or attempting to save the reputation of their side (in Truman, they had their man in the Whitehouse)? Probably the latter but you do wonder.
The Tydings Committee established a pattern for the McCarthy era. McCarthy would make a claim and then the establishment would investigate McCarthy while obstructing the investigation of his claims at every turn.
One of the surprising things for me is how poor Congress was (and probably still is) at holding the Executive to account. More than once the Executive showed utter contempt for Congress’s attempts to get at the truth. This included, as mentioned earlier, tampering with files but also making witnesses unavailable. But this never led to any consequences. Whenever, a confrontation got serious, Congress backed down.
There is a tendency amongst libertarians to imagine that there was some golden age when politicians were decent and honest. If there was, early 1950s America wasn’t it.
If there is one organisation that does come out well out of this it is the FBI. They were onto communist subversion at a very early stage and were responsible for producing most of the evidence that McCarthy later used. This may explain the extraordinary lengths communists and others have gone to over the years to tarnish the reputation of J. Edgar Hoover.
You’d would have thought that with the election in 1952 of Eisenhower as President things would have been different. After all why should a Republican Cold Warrior have any qualms about removing communists from the government especially when he had no need to defend the decisions and practices of a previous administration? Sadly, as it turned out, Eisenhower was every bit as bad as Truman. With Republicans divided between McCarthy and Eisenhower and the Democrats an anti-McCarthy bloc, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy. That was the end of the McCarthy era. He died a few years later, ignored, if not forgotten. He was 48.
Blacklisted by History is an extraordinary achievement but it is not without its faults. One gripe is that it is not particularly well-written – frequently I’d find that I had read several paragraphs without really understanding what was going on. I it is also not particularly well-organised. The same topics seem to crop up again and again often many hundreds of pages apart. And it is also worth bearing in mind that this is not a biography: it is an examination of McCarthy’s claims. McCarthy, himself, doesn’t really appear until 200 pages in and we get very little sense about what he was like. But it makes its case: Joseph McCarthy was a hero.