We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The miracle of 1918

Early in 1918 the Earl of Derby, War Minister, bet David Lloyd George, Prime Minister, 100 cigars to 100 cigarettes that the war would be over within the year. Lloyd George eagerly accepted.

He had good reason to. The Allies’ prospects did not look good. Russia was in chaos. Italy had suffered defeat at Caporetto. France had only just recovered from the Nivelle Offensive and the subsequent mutinies. America appeared to be doing little. Only Britain had an effective army in the field and while it had prevented the Germans from launching an all-out attack on the weakened French there was no decisive or significant victory it could point to.

Initially, with the combination of a predicted barrage and tanks Cambrai had looked like a stunning success. But when the Germans counter-attacked the Allies ended up with less territory than they had started with. It looked like a stalemate.

At home, although the U-boat campaign had failed to bring Britain to her knees its impact was being felt. While only sugar was rationed, there was a whole panoply of other restrictions such as price controls, bans on hoarding, standard loaves and standard meals. There were sporadic shortages of such essentials as potatoes and matches.

About the only bright spot was the Middle East where both Jerusalem and Baghdad were in British hands.

As if things weren’t bad enough already, Lloyd George made his own, unique contribution. Convinced that the Western Front was a stalemate he kept troops back at home. He then agreed that the British army should take over more of the line from the French. So, the British army was being asked to do more with less at a time when the enemy was being re-inforced with divisions from the East.

And yet, Lloyd George would still lose his bet. Spanish influenza might have had something to do with it.

The Times 17 January 1918 p6. Notice that bearers had to register with a retailer. Why? one wonders.

The Netherlands and the oil crisis

I have a dim memory of a TV news report on how the 1973 oil crisis was affecting Holland. I can’t remember the specifics but it was something along the lines that the crisis was much worse in Holland than elsewhere. At some later date I got the idea that the Dutch had been selling arms to the Israelis and the Arab oil embargo introduced after the Yom Kippur War was much more strictly enforced on Holland than elsewhere.

As I got older (I was very young in 1973) this made less and less sense. How, I thought, do you control what happens to oil you’ve sold once it has been put on a ship?

For some reason this week I was reminded of this dim and distant memory and decided to do some duckduckgoing. I discovered that someone has written a book on the subject. This is what the rubric says:

The Netherlands played a remarkable role during the October War and the oil crisis of 1973. In secret, the Dutch government sent a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts to Israel. The Dutch supported Israel also politically. Within the EC they vetoed a more pro-Arab policy. The Arab oil producing countries punished The Netherlands by imposing an oil embargo. The embargo against the Netherlands was intimidating. The Netherlands was dependent on Arab oil. The embargo seemed to threaten the Dutch position in the international oil sector. The government introduced several measures to reduce oil consumption. However, within two months it became clear that oil continued to arrive in Rotterdam. There was in fact no oil shortage in the Netherlands.

Oh.

Some hippies on a road on a “car-free” Sunday in Holland, made “car-free” because the government was worried about oil supplies.

Would you have convicted?

I present a couple of cases from a century ago where there is little doubt about the guilt of the accused.

In the first a soldier finds out that his wife is having an affair while he is away. He shoots her dead.

In the second a soldier suffers shell shock and it sent home. He acts in an erratic and frequently violent manner. His wife kills their son and attempts to kill their daughter and herself.

In both cases the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty”.

Better late than never

The Times 26 November 1917

Reminder: The US declared war on 6 April 1917.

The If Only School of history

A commenter writes and I sub-edit to twist his meaning:

…history would have been rather different if the Black Prince had lived. Just as history would have been very different if Henry V had lived. History is decided by small events – individual choices (a choice is neither determined or chance – a choice is a choice, it cannot be reduced to something else) and luck (chance – such as getting ill, or dying in a shipwreck as Henry the First’s son Arthur did), not grand “historical forces”.

This brings up one of my bugbears, namely the If Only School of History. The If Only School states that “if only” event X had or hadn’t happened then disaster Y would have been avoided. For example:

  • if only the chauffeur had known the way, Franz Ferdinand would have survived and the First World War would not have happened;
  • if only the British hadn’t shot the rebels then the Irish wouldn’t have sympathised with them and Ireland would still be part of the UK;
  • if only Hitler had stayed a little longer then Elser’s bomb would have killed him and the Second World War would have ended much sooner;
  • if only the French hadn’t been so perfidious at Chesapeake Bay then America would still be British;
  • if only Harold hadn’t been in such a rush to get to Hastings then the Norman Conquest could have been prevented etc, etc.

Straight away there is an obvious problem with the If Only School. It assumes that if event X had not happened then things would have been better. It ignores the possibility that things might have been worse.

The truth is that you never know. You only get one history. You cannot know what would have happened had the world gone down another path. But I tend to assume that it would have been much the same. Why? Because there are millions of people in this world and they all have beliefs and something happening, or not happening, is unlikely to change those beliefs. Also, we have a certain level of technology. That too only changes slowly. When it does, of course, it has profound implications.

Of course, this is something of a numbers game. If there aren’t so many people about then the impact of one person’s decisions or one person’s luck can be much greater.

Getting back to my main point, take for instance, Sarajevo. Obviously, had the chauffeur taken a different turn that day the Archduke and his wife would probably have survived. But the great forces of history would still have been in play. Serbian nationalism would still have existed and posed an existential threat to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The German military would still have felt threatened by the build up of the Russian military. The German monarchy would still have been under threat from German republicanism.

Indeed, it may not have made any difference at all. The Austrians still had plenty to play with that day, assassination or not. The bomb throwing orchestrated – as it was – by Serbian intelligence still constituted an act of war and – as was subsequently shown – they needed little excuse to commence hostilities.

We can also take a look at similar situations down the years and see if different actions lead to significantly different results. Take, for instance, the ways in which monarchs have re-acted to the threat from republicanism:

  • Charles I was inflexible and there was a bloodbath
  • Louis XVI was very accommodating. And there was a bloodbath
  • Wilhelm II tried to focus his population’s attention on foreign adventures. And there was a bloodbath.
  • Nicholas II was inflexible. And there was a bloodbath.

And only one of them survived to not tell the tale. And he was lucky.

Did I say “lucky”? Am I admitting that luck plays a part? Not really. Actually, this example rather makes my point because Willhelm’s survival – lucky or otherwise – wasn’t of any great importance. For sure luck exists but it is more in the nature of waves on the sea rather than the great tides. The big changes may have happened in a different way at at different time but they would still have happened.

But there are other examples. Ask yourself why it was that all Medieval monarchs were such bastards? With one exception they were violent, dishonest, disloyal and untrustworthy. Indeed, the exception, Henry VI, rather proves the rule.

Yes, maybe, had Harold taken his time to assemble at Hastings he might have won the day but do we seriously believe that the invention of the stirrup or, if you prefer, the rise of mounted warfare, would not have had profound consequences for the structure of medieval society?

Of course accepting that we are subject to the great forces of history does leave us with the problem of where we as individuals come in? Why not sit back and relax as there is not much that any of us can do about it?

The Russian Revolution as it appeared in The Times

I suppose – given that it is the centenary of that catastrophe known as the Russian Revolution – I ought to drag out something from The Times. I have to confess that this is no easy task; not because there is too little but because there is too much. Anyway for your intellectual delectation we have the following selection: the initial report (8/11/17), a background report (9/11/17) and The Times leader (same date) which gets it pretty much spot on:

The latest developments in Russia will hardly surprise those who have watched recent events in Petrograd. When constituted authority is palpably incapable of backing words by deeds, when anarchy is allowed to increase daily, when arms are recklessly given to the mob, then the end cannot be far off.

Update One more (9/11/17 again) but this one comes with a free Balfour Declaration

Samizdata quote of the day

The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has.

Walter Williams

Samizdata quote of the day

Washington is a parasite that sucks the rest of the country dry. The counties surrounding Washington, D.C., have the highest per capita income of any metropolitan area in the country including New York, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The unemployment rate is also the lowest of any large region in the country.

At least New York, Silicon Valley and Hollywood all produce something we need or enjoy. Washington produces red tape, taxes and new ways to handicap innovation on a daily basis.

While America staggers after its first lost decade (2007–17) and with a new lost decade set to begin (Japan, anyone?), Washington grows fat and rich. Trust me, the hotels and restaurants in town are jammed. No depression here.

Jim Rickards.

Not sure I’d agree with him on Hollywood but he is one of an apparently growing number of commentators who have noticed the parallels between the West’s current predicament and the Fall of the Western Roman Empire.

No wonder they were peeved

From a letter in The Times (28 September 1917):

I propose to relate a few facts which came within my knowledge in the summer of 1872, the time when the inhabitants of Aisace-Lorraine were called on to determine as to their future nationality and, on a certain day, to vote whther they would remain French or become German. I was then brought into daily contact with all classes of the inhabitants. This “option,” as it was called, was in everybody’s thoughts, as all French families in the annexed provinces had in the immediate future to decide whether they would continue to reside where they had been born, or leave their homes in order to live in France, from which they had been torn, or in some other country, or, as an alternative, to become German, with all the effects and responsibilities involved in such a change. In cases where fathers were beyond the age for conscription and there were not sons, the choice was generally in favour of remaining in homes where most of them had been born, and submitting to a foreign yoke. But the wrench was a terrible one in cases where there happened to be sons, as these, if they remained in what was soon to be called the Reichsland, would be compelled to be educated in German schools and eventually to be enrolled in the German Army. Thus it was that in many cases homes were broken up and French families hurriedly sold their property at a great sacrifice and migrated in order that they might remain French and continue to dwell in the country they loved.

I really had no idea that German rule in Alsace-Lorraine was that brutal. I understand that Bismarck was totally against the annexation. Smart cookie that Bismarck.

He may have to wait a while

The Times 4 October 1917 p3

We are all familiar with Churchill’s soaring rhetoric from the Second World War but how do his efforts from the first time around compare?

Sadly, this is a report of what he said as opposed to a transcript but you get the general idea:

So now the weight devolved squarely on our shoulders. If we failed, all failed. If we held, all prospered. It rested with us to carry it out. Was there a man in this country who doubted our capacity to maintain and sustain the moral and military effort of the Allies against Prussian militarism until the weight of the United States could be brought to bear? We felt an assured confidence that we should not fail. But our confidence was shared by the Germans. (Cheers.) It was not for nothing that they were making these desperate efforts to strangle our shipping, to terrorize our cities, to drive our soldiers back in their remorseless and methodical advance. They knew where the vital point in the world struggle was. They knew that this island stood alone between them – and even at this last moment, even after all this struggle – and complete victory. They knew that in this island there resided the forces which were appointed from the dawn of history to frustrate that great evil and shield the world from its unmeasured consequences.

Not bad I’d say.

“Perhaps the advent of Bolshevik Government is a necessary evil.”

This quotation comes from an article entitled “Russia To-day”; not words one normally associates with accuracy:

Perhaps the advent of Bolshevik Government is a necessary evil. It may be an indipensable ordeal through which Russia must pass before the bulk of the people realize the fact that the Bolsheviks are the real counter-revolutionaries, who are doing their best utterly to ruin the country, and are working hand-in-glove with the enemies of Russia and the secret agents of the old regime. But we know enough about the Bolsheviks to realise that methods of peaceful suasion will never rid the country of ther evil sway. There is only one remedy against them. M. Kerensky indicated it when he asked General Korniloff to send a cavalry division to Petrograd “to subdue the Maximalists.” The proverbial “whiff of grape-shot” is the only medicine, and until it is administered in the proper dose the present situation will continue.

But of course it wasn’t.

There is a lot to get ones teeth into here. I mean there’s the obvious point that the Bolsheviks really did “ruin the country”. So, there’s at least one person out there in 1917 who could see the dangers of communism.

And then there’s Korniloff. At school I was taught that he was attempting a coup and that he had the “brains of a sheep”. I am beginning to think that in reality he was one of the good guys – or at least one of the less bad guys.

The Korniloff affair remains murky – see the Wikipedia page – but the consequence was clear enough: the army was no longer willing – and probably not able – to support the Provisional government. The correspondent here gets this.

I am not an expert on the ins and outs of the Russian Revolution. So whether the Bolsheviks and Okhrana were working hand-in-hand I have no idea.

I wonder what the “M” in “M. Kerensky” stands for?

The Times 28 September 1917

So what should we do about North Korea?

By “we” I mean the American government of course.

Let’s try some Q and A:

Does North Korea currently possess the means to destroy cities in South Korea, Japan and even the United States?
I’m guessing that’s a “no”. My understanding is that building a missile is one thing, building an atomic bomb another thing and combining the two really difficult.

If not, are they likely to acquire those means any time soon?
Well, they seem to have spent a hell of a long time just getting to this stage. So, it could be a while yet.

Were they to acquire them how likely would they be to use them?
I suppose the question here is whether or not the threat of instant nuclear annihilation would deter them. The point is that the Norks are atheists. They do not have a heaven to go to. They want to receive their rewards in this world. There is no upside to being nuked. So, they can be deterred.

Of course, I say they are atheists but their system of government is clearly a hereditary monarchy. Monarchies tend to have gods attached. But as yet (to the best of my knowledge) the Norks haven’t come up with a heaven. But when they do… watch out.

So, the best approach is probably to do nothing and let deterrence do its thing?
Probably. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the US doing the deterring. Japan and South Korea could do much the same, after they had developed nuclear weapons of course.

Getting back to this god stuff, the Iranians aren’t atheists are they?
No they’re not. And they believe in heaven. And they believe they would go to heaven if they nuked Israel. And rumour has it that the Norks are helping them with the tech. But my guess is that the Israelis have the means to deal with this threat before it becomes serious.

So, what you’re saying is that the US’s best approach is to do nothing?
Yes, I guess I am.

I would just add that it is remarkable how difficult smaller tyrannies find it to replicate 60-year old technology.