I haven’t been blogging as much as I would have liked to from 1915. It’s not as if nothing has been happening so I thought I’d outline the main events of the year so far.
The big story of 1915 is that it has been a disaster for the Russians. They have been continually pushed back and have lost Warsaw and most of their forts. The Tsar has made the fateful decision to assume direct command of the Russian Army. It is a fateful decision – at least, people say it’s fateful – for two reasons. Firstly it means that any Russian military failures are his personal failures. Secondly, it means he is not in Petrograd to keep an eye on the domestic situation. At least, that’s the theory. There’s every chance he would have been every bit as useless in Petrograd as at the front.
In the west, the French have launched numerous offensives, none of which have been particularly successful. The Germans are inflicting two casualties on the French for every one the French inflict on them.
Their allies, the British have one problem: lack of everything. For instance there was recently a spate of correspondence in The Times on the subject of the manufacture of sandbags. If something as basic as sandbags are in short supply what isn’t? Not much. They don’t have enough men, shells, rifles, grenades, binoculars, periscopes, huts or gas masks. That’s just the things that are in short supply. Lots of other things they don’t have at all. For instance, they don’t have any tanks, gas shells, 106 fuzes, rifle grenades, Livens projectors or Sopwith Camels. And they lack knowledge and experience. Make that two problems.
In September, at Loos, the British used their 1914-recruited “New Army” formations in an offensive for the first time. They were able to employ a much larger barrage than before but it was still not big enough and they had to use gas to make up the difference. As it turned out they didn’t have enough gas either so they had to use smoke to make up that gap. Gas did, however, have an interesting side-effect: it corroded the enemy’s rifles and stopped them working. Still, the results were disappointing and the British lost twice as many men as the Germans. In other words they were no better – and to be fair, no worse – than the French. Most importantly, Loos was the moment the British Expeditionary Force (to give it its official, if rather odd title) lost confidence in the command of John French. Douglas Haig would succeed him in December. If you are looking for a detailed account of the battle have a look here.
On the home front gold is disappearing from circulation although there are still one or two banks that continue to issue it. I am not quite sure why this is but if there is anyone out there who can explain why – it’s disappearance is officially encouraged – I’d love to know. My guess is that it has something to do with fractional reserve banking but I am far from sure.
The round has been banned. In many parts of the country it is a criminal offence to go into a pub and buy someone a drink. There is a blackout in London due to Zeppelin raids. Well, more of a greyout in fact. Some street lighting remains. Ireland seems quiet. Too quiet perhaps.
Elsewhere, after getting crushed by the Russians – yes, the Russians – in the Caucasus, the Turks have started massacring the Armenians and are making little attempt to keep it a secret. Germany has put out some peace feelers. They involve the loss of French and Belgian colonies and – implausible as it may sound – freedom for the Jews. I presume this is a way of humiliating the Russians. The Germans, Austrians and their new ally Bulgaria have just invaded Serbia. Gallipoli continues to rumble on.
The Times 4 September 1915
I cannot now remember any more than the general sense of a comment that was deleted by the moderators to this Guardian article:
Rihanna calls Rachel Dolezal ‘a bit of a hero’
(Dolezal, you may recall, was a white woman who pretended to be a black woman. Rihanna is a popular musical performer.)
But the general sense of the deleted comment was similar to these comments, as yet unmolested:
“Changing race pales into insignificance compared to changing sex, but everyone who thinks ‘correctly’ pretends the later is possible and that the result is absolutely valid; it’s about time a famous cis-African spoke up on behalf of trans-African rights.”
“If you accept that Bruce/Caitlin Jenner is female I don’t see what’s wrong with accepting that Rachel Dolezal is black. Who are we to question her identity?”
“Totally agree. I don’t get it – if we can choose our sex based on what we ‘feel’ we identify with, despite physical biology, then why not for race?”
“If a man thinks he’s a woman and must henceforth be referred to as “she,” then why can’t a white woman be considered black if that’s what she thinks she is? Watching the Left grapple with this (cheering on one, while ridiculing the other) was an absolute treat.”
Being a libertarian is, well, very liberating. I do not have to contort myself to fit through the very oddly shaped hoop that demands acceptance of a man transitioning to a woman and demands condemnation of a white person transitioning to black. My exact attitude can remain in a state of Heisenbergian uncertainty. Everyone could be this happy if they could just drop the demand for public acquiescence. Yet it appears they cannot. The assertion that race is objective and gender subjective is so important to some people that an assertion to the contrary must be expunged by the Guardian‘s guardians of public decency. That gives me an idea. We can settle this once and for all in a manner acceptable to progressives and conservatives alike. Never mind having dissent expunged by the moderators, expunge it in blood. Let him, her or xem who will assert that he, she or xe will prove his, her or xir chosen gender and race upon the dead body of anyone denying it by the traditional means of trial by combat. That will get respect.
Every so often I encounter a comment that seems to me to deserve to be dragged out of the credits at the end of the show, and given top billing in its own right.
Here is one such, by David Gillies, at David Thompson’s blog, on this posting. Someone had introduced the subject of Jeremy Corbyn into the comment thread. This was what Gillies had to say about the man:
Jeremy Corbyn was born in 1949. Stalin was still in power then. Since then we have been through the Korean War, the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the Prague Spring and its subsequent repression, the Communist takeover of Viet Nam and Laos, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, the fall of Eastern European Communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square and the recent upswing in Russian revanchism. We have also seen free markets and the rule of Law lift billions out of utter destitution, leaving mainly untouched those areas where the Left still has sway. Despite all this, Corbyn still cleaves to the most disgusting, barbarous ideology that has been seen on Earth since the Conquistadors put the kibosh on Aztec thoracic surgery. That’s not misguided. That’s evil. Just because he looks like a geography teacher shouldn’t let him off the hook. He is a wicked man busily surrounding himself with wicked (mainly) men and a few wicked women. We should not be afraid to state, plainly and repeatedly, what he is and what he stands for. To do any less is to acquiesce in his vileness.
On the other hand, the commenter directly above Gillies pours scorn on Corbyn’s fondness for photographing manholes. I see nothing wrong with that. And if Corbyn could be chased out of politics and persuaded to stick to doing only that, I would then see a lot less wrong with Corbyn.
If only there was some way for the Labour Party to be trashed, which is what Corbyn seems to be doing, without the trashing of my country also being risked.
Yesterday evening I attended a dinner, hosted by a bank, at the outstanding Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum. The collection of artifacts in that place is astonishing and I could have spent many happy hours there. Later, talking to one of the folk attending the dinner, we got on to the subject of how the BM has, notoriously, become a home to items of classical antiquity, and how, by a savage twist of fate, the museum’s experts are assisting people in countries such as Iraq and Syria to restore and recover the treasures being destroyed, defaced, or stolen by ISIS and other Islamo-nihilists. The conversation reminds me of this article by Daniel Johnson. Here is an extract:
The full significance of the demolition of Palmyra thus only emerges when we consider what it implies about the perpetrators’ attitude to Western civilisation. Ruins that had stood for nearly 1,800 years mean less than nothing to the genocidal ghouls of the new Caliphate, whose aim is to throw history into reverse and annihilate even the memory of all non-Islamic cultures. By harnessing the resources of Western culture — not only military technology but above all using the internet as a propaganda tool — the marauders of Isis have forced themselves into the forefront of our consciousness. Islamism is the face of nihilism in our time. The paralysis of the Western democracies when confronted with such radical evil is not unprecedented — we did not stop the Holocaust or the Cultural Revolution either — but what is new seems to be the brazen self-aggrandisement of the perpetrators. The great crimes of the 20th century were largely hidden from the world while they took place. This time, Isis has forced us to watch the agony of a civilisation. Whose civilisation is it? Ours — for the ruins of Palmyra belong to our cultural heritage no less than their architectural progeny, the English country house or the Capitol. The casual murder of Khaled al-Asaad in front of the antiquities that had been his life’s work recalls the death of Archimedes, who according to Plutarch was slain in Syracuse by a Roman soldier because he would not look up from his geometrical diagrams in the dust. Yet the Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, was apparently furious, having given orders that Archimedes was not to be harmed.
It is now a year since the formerly-United Kingdom woke up to an independent Scotland. What is your verdict on developments since the incredible news that Scotland had voted “YES”?
Prime Minister Alex Salmond’s decision to “walk away” from Scotland’s share of the rUK’s National Debt and the subsequent borrowing crisis has proved particularly controversial. Despite Mr Miliband’s softening of his predecessor’s stance in the “war of the gold reserves”, he has not actually agreed to release Scotland’s share until agreement has been reached. Nevertheless Mr Salmond’s groundbreaking use of “Progressive Quantitative Easing” to mitigate the effects on the Scottish economy of the manipulation of oil prices by hostile speculators is widely seen as an example to be emulated by the emerging People’s Union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The new Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has apologised for his 2003 remark that “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.”
In the Daily Mirror, ‘Fleet Street Fox’ pours scorn on McDonnell’s apology, particularly on McDonnell’s claim that he only said these things in order to shore up the then-faltering peace process in Northern Ireland. (The title quote about the peace process comes from further comments he made in an effort to smooth over the controversy caused by his earlier remarks.) To praise the efficacy of “bombs and bullets” seems an odd way of waging peace, but when you are a man with McDonnell’s hitherto unsuspected influence on negotiations in which he played no part, perhaps an appearance of oddity is merely the equivalent of Clark Kent’s dorky glasses. There is a Twitter hashtag #McDonnellFacts recording Shadowchancellorman’s other thrilling deeds, all made under cover of his alternate identity as a mild-mannered fringe politician.
Me, I just admire the sheer anti-gravitic effrontery of the quote that makes the title of this post. In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan”.
My impression (gained from the internet, where everybody in the developed world gets their impressions of popular feeling nowadays) is that hostility to Islam has taken root in the West. This did not happen overnight. It certainly did not happen over the night of September 11th / 12th 2001. On that first night of the new world, while there were calls for the nuking of Mecca and so on, most people wanted very much to separate “Islam” from “Whoever Did This”. Back then I was probably more hostile to Islam than most people. I stayed where I was and most people overtook me.
I was going to rabbit on about Whither Islam and Whither Western Civilization and whether both, either or neither are withering. But I think I’ll leave it at this one assertion: the West has come to despair of Islam in the last fourteen years and that change is not banal.
The BBC, commendably, has taken to occasionally giving over a spare channel to its election coverage from days gone by, without modern commentary. The programme about the general election of 1955 can be seen here or here.
At 2 hours 25 minutes there is an interview with former Liberal Chief Whip Frank Byers. At 2:29 he says,
I should say that the major issue which has arisen as a result of the election, now that we know it, is the future of the Labour Party. Because quite frankly I think that if that party is gong to remain as the official opposition – and I don’t see it doing so, but if it is – it’s got to do a great deal of fresh thinking. It’s got to have, I think, a policy that does not include all this nationalisation and control, and I think they’ve got to bring a good deal of business experience into their academic economics; and until they do that I don’t see them getting back into power. In fact I hope they don’t, until they’ve got a proper policy. It may well be that this is the beginning of the Liberal Party transplanting the socialist party as the official opposition.
Byers was wrong. Nothing remotely like that came to pass in the years following 1955. But I predict that his prediction might be dusted off and sold as “mint condition vintage” in 2020.
This whole Jeremy Corbyn thing is a cosmic rebuke to the idea that chance plays no role in history. For those who do not follow British politics, what happened is this. The declining Labour party, desperate to attract more recruits, made it easy and cheap to register as a supporter. After Ed Miliband’s resignation at first all the candidates for the next leader were fairly centrist. There was a consensus among Labour MPs that they should take on board what the British electorate had told them in unexpectedly giving the Conservatives a majority in the 2015 election. Then a few MPs decided to give the perennial left wing rebel Jeremy Corbyn a chance to play too, basically out of pity. Thanks to their intervention he reached the threshold number of nominations from MPs needed in order to go on the ballot two minutes before the deadline. Big mistake. First some mischievous Tories decided to register as Labour in order to screw the Labour party around by voting for Corbyn the electoral no-hoper. Then the far-left entryists awoke from their thirty-year slumber and saw that this was a chance for them, too. Social media spread the idea among left wing students and beaten-down old socialists suddenly aflame with new hope. The role of social media, perhaps, could have been predicted – but nobody did predict it. Thousands then hundreds of thousands paid their £3 and registered to vote. It now looks almost certain that Corbachov will be the next Labour leader. Next prime minister, not so likely.
Though now it is established that in the ever-branching tree of alternate worlds we live in a stunted little twig poking out at an odd angle, I dare not predict anything with confidence any more. Johnny English did become head of MI7, after all.
Between 1945 and about 1965, atom bombs and then hydrogen bombs were devised and demonstrated by the two biggest Great Powers, and then manufactured and attached to rockets in sufficient numbers to cause any all-out war between these two superpowers very probably to be a catastrophic defeat for both, to say nothing of being a similar catastrophe for all other humans, within a few hours. This new kind of destructive power also spread to a small club of lesser Great Powers.
This did not happen overnight. It didn’t all come about in 1945. But it happened pretty quickly, historically in the blink of an eye. It changed the world from a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be prepared for, at all costs, to a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be avoided, again, at all costs. That is a very big change.
I do not assert that all wars have ended. Clearly they have not, as one glance through a newspaper or news website will tell you. Small powers still have small wars, and Great Powers regularly join in, in small ways. Sometimes, Great Powers start small wars, like the one in the Ukraine now. But even these small wars have been getting less numerous and smaller in recent decades. Small wars can get big, so even small wars are now discouraged by Great Powers.
Nor do I assert that all preparations for war by Great Powers have ceased, or that they should. But more than ever, the purpose of such preparations is to enable mere confrontations to be emerged from victoriously or failing that satisfactorily, rather than for such preparations – such weapons – constantly to be “used”, in the sense of being fired, fought with, and so on. The purpose of weapons is to scare, as well as to win fights, and they are being “used” whenever anyone is scared by them. Great Powers will still spend lots of money on weaponry.
But what has not happened, for many decades now, and what still shows no sign of happening despite all kinds of diplomatic, ideological and financial turbulence, is an all-out fire-every-weapon-we-have war involving two or more Great – by which I of course mean nuclear – Powers. In this sense, countries like mine, and almost certainly yours too given that you are reading this, have become peaceful in a way that they have never experienced before in all of human history before 1945.
In case anyone mentions Iran, I don’t believe that Iran’s leaders want to use nuclear weapons, as in: detonate them. I think they want to scare their enemies while trying to win other, non-nuclear victories, just like any other nuclear power. I didn’t believe Chairman Mao when he played the nuclear madman either. He was just trying to scare people, and he succeeded also.
And if you want to say that like all historical trends, this one could end, because of this or that imaginable or unimaginable circumstance, then I of course agree with you. History keeps on happening. But for the time being, the trend is as I have described it. We now, still, live in an age of peace more profound than any of our ancestors have ever experienced.
There have already been many, many consequences of this historic turnaround, this Great Change, and there will surely be many more. Indeed, I would say that just about everything of importance, not just politically but in the wider culture, that has happened to the world, anywhere and everywhere, between 1945 and now, can only be understood properly if you factor in the invention of and the deployment of nuclear weapons.
Do I really mean that? Yes, I really do mean that. Indeed, I offer the world, and in particular the Samizdata commentariat, a challenge. Tell me about a change that has happened in the world in recent times, any change, to absolutely anything, and I will be able to show you, at about one or at the most two or three removes, how your particular change has been affected by this great thermonuclear transformation, this Great Change, that I have just described. Indeed, there is nothing in the entire world, I assert, that has not been affected, often very profoundly, by this Great Change. (I don’t promise actually to answer all such comment-challenges on the spot. I merely announce that if I had nothing else to do for the next week, I could. So, let’s make it a team effort. Let those of us who already understand the truth of what I am saying respond as a tag-team to those who are still unconvinced.)
Talking of team efforts, let me offer the example of sport, and in particular the inexorable rise in the importance and in the social and economic impact of professional sport, during the last clutch of decades.
→ Continue reading: From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground
Reports of company meetings are usually a bit dull – those from a hundred years ago even more so. So why I bothered to read this one I don’t know. It concerns Farrow’s Bank, a small bank that despite there being a war on seems to be doing just fine.
“So”, I wondered, “what happened to it?” My assumption was that it got swallowed up in one of the gazillion or so mergers that have taken place in the banking sector in the last century or so.
Well, not quite. Actually, in 1920 it went bust. Spectacularly.
It turned out that at no point in its 13 or so years in existence as a publicly-listed company had it made a profit. By the very time this company meeting was taking place losses were routinely being covered up by inflating asset values.
So, were there any tell-tale signs that all was not as it appeared? Obviously with accounts that were largely fictional it would have been difficult to tell from the numbers. But were there other clues?
It is difficult to tell from this distance but a few things stick out. The first is that, the chairman and founder, Thomas Farrow, prior to founding the bank wrote a book entitled The Moneylender Unmasked in which he criticized the methods of moneylenders. Was he, perhaps, a gamekeeper turned poacher? – someone who had worked out all the tricks of the dishonest and then applied them for his own benefit. I doubt it. More likely, I suspect, that his ideas were nonsense in the first place and the acid test of their commercial implementation simply proved it.
The second is that one of the depositors described the Chairman’s speeches as “sanctimonious” and “treacly”. Does this, perhaps, suggest a lack of attention to the business of making money?
The third, was his fullsome praise for the then Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George. Businessmen don’t usually praise the government, far less individual government ministers. I could say a lot more about that particular minister but I’ll save that for another time.
The Times 5 August 1915 p2
I have posted very little recently from a century ago. This is because my main source, The Times, has become rather dull. You would have thought with hundreds of people being killed every day on three continents it would have lots to say but it doesn’t. Part of this is due to censorship. For understandable reasons, there is very little that the military authorities are prepared to make public. Another part of it is due to self-censorship. In wartime newspapers are extremely reluctant to criticise. Criticism is close to defeatism and defeatism is close to treason. Criticism can also carry a high price. A couple of months ago The Times criticised Lord Kitchener’s handling of munition supplies with the result that copies of the paper were burnt on the floor of the Stock Exchange.
Britain has to recruit, train and equip an army and until such time as she does there is very little she can do that’s going to make much of a difference. Even after she does these things it won’t make much of a difference because the army won’t have the experience to make itself truly effective.
So, actual front line reports tend to be all very similar. It’s all talk of our brave men, victories and heavy losses inflicted upon the enemy. Sure, the men are brave but it is difficult to cover up the fact that the frontline is hardly moving.
I was on the verge of giving up. My plan was to find a particularly egregious example of this sort of vapid war report and hang up my typing fingers until next year when things will get a bit more interesting. But occasionally you get an article that pricks your interest. In this case it’s a sentence: “Gradually, but inevitably, the voluntary is yielding to the compulsory”. It appears in a leader prompted by a bunch of City types asking the government – I kid you not – to increase taxes.
The sad thing is that it is true. Conscription will be introduced. Restrictions on the sale of alcohol are already starting to come in. Indeed, in some places it is already a criminal offence to buy a round of drinks. There will be rationing. Before long the Liberal Party will split and then wither away. Many liberals are giving up on liberalism altogether and becoming out and out socialists.
Before we condemn the war for this it is important to bear in mind that the voluntary principle was in big trouble well before its outbreak. The telephones had (effectively) been nationalised. State pensions and sick pay had been introduced. Many doctors found themselves working for the state. There were also the beginnings of unemployment benefit.
It’s all very sad – although not for The Times. The Times is all in favour of compulsion. Long before the war it was in favour of trade barriers or “imperial preference” (as it was then known) and national service. Ever since it has been campaigning for conscription and restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The paper is enjoying itself:
The truth is that all these so-called principles are nothing but expediency generalized and embodied in a formula. When the circumstances are sufficiently changed to make them no longer expedient, then they cease to be valuable and become mischievous.
The voluntary principle is a case in point. People are still clinging to it when it has already half gone and must go altogether. They cannot readjust their ideas, and the more they resist the more painful it becomes. They are kicking against the pricks – the pricks of war.
Nice, although it does beg the question if principles are bosh then what exactly does The Times think we are fighting for?
However, that is not to deny that this does rather put me in a bind. I think Britain was – perhaps I should say “Britons were” – right to fight the First World War. Willhelmine Germany posed a direct threat to Britain’s peace and prosperity. But do I really think the war could have been fought without compulsion? There are two questions here. After all, the British government existed long before 1914 and a government is nothing if not a mechanism of compulsion. So, could the war have been fought without any compulsion? and it could it have been fought without any extra compulsion?
I’ll deal with the second question and leave the first to the idealists. Could the men have been recruited? Large numbers of men signed up shortly after the outbreak of war and I have heard it said that conscription which was introduced in 1916 was not particularly successful. So maybe they could.
But could they have been equipped without a massive increase in either taxes or deferred taxes in the form of borrowing? That I very much doubt.
In the days before the welfare state there were all sorts of ways that funds were raised for “good” causes: friendly societies, public subscription and flag days were among them. There were all sorts of social pressures applied to get people to cough up. Not nice but a lot nicer than outright extortion via the tax system. Even so the amounts raised by the best-known funds were not spectacular. There was a fund created after the sinking of the Titanic and it raised a lot of money but nothing on the scale needed to fight a war.
It’s all very well sticking up for your principles but if a society that follows those principles can’t defend itself those principles are worthless. And if you abandon your principles in order to win what was the point of fighting in the first place? It seems to me that wars are often – if not always – battles of ideas. Oh, those ideas might be well hidden but more often than not they are there. War is often the ultimate test of political ideas. So, it seems a bit of cheat to go into war proclaiming a set of principles that you then abandon.
The Times 23 July 1915 p9