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

An accurate poster about the Cold War

The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago. Some are forgetting about it, others are never even learning about it. Many others are deliberately forgetting about the Cold War, because it, and how it ended, made them look bad. But the Cold War needs to be remembered. What it was. What it meant. And why it was such a good thing that the good side won and that the bad side lost.

Sights like this poster, I suggest, which I managed to photograph at Pimlico tube station yesterday before the train I was awaiting blocked it from my view, might help. It is advertising a German series now running on British TV, set during the final years of the Cold War:

Deutschland83Poster

I have not been watching Deutschland 83. Comments from any who have would be most welcome. If such comments materialise, I would not be surprised to learn that it contains many little touches of moral equivalence, inaccuracy, and deft little claims to the effect that the winners of the Cold War won it by mistake and that the losers of the Cold War lost it on purpose. I don’t know, but fear the worst on that front. (A little googling led me to this piece, which, with its typically snearing Reagan reference, does not reassure me.)

But meanwhile, the above poster struck me yesterday and strikes me still as a breath of fresh, clean, truthful air.

I particularly like the colour contrast. I further like that Marx and Lenin get blamed for this colour contrast. I like that there is barbed wire on the bad side but none on the good side, grim and grey sky on the bad side and blue sky on the good side, privation and militarism on the bad side and an abundance of tasty food, romantic pleasure and technological inventiveness on the good side.

Perhaps the makers of this poster – and if not them than at least some of those distributing it and displaying it in this country – thought that they were being ironic rather than truthful. Perhaps some of these people think that this poster does not so much present truth as mock the truthful opinions of people like me and my fellow Samizdatistas, for being “simplistic”. If so, to hell with such anti-anti-communist imbeciles. I prefer the truth about the Cold War and I rejoice that this poster proclaims that truth, especially to people who may not now be aware of it.

The gift of India

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

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:
151216p11_GiftofIndia_bottom

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.

The White Swan Four

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

The Times 8 January 1916 p3

Samizdata factoid of the day

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.

Discussion point: good and bad inaccuracies in movies

Was it tough going cold turkey? Have you still not finished the cold turkey? To lighten the post-festivities hangover, may I suggest a little helping of the traditional New Year’s activity of passionate argument about trivia.

Which examples of factual inaccuracy in films annoyed you the most? And which film inaccuracies do you think were best justified by the requirements of runtime, drama or adherence to the Rule of Cool?

I welcome discussion of inaccuracies in the cinematic portrayal of history, of scientific and technical matters, of law, of war, and of common procedure in various types of human activity. However, restrain yourselves if possible from simply listing deviations from truth that merely arise from ignorance. A more interesting case for good or evil is those compressions, negations and exaggerations that were the deliberate choices of the filmmakers.

A somewhat-related post touching on some of the results of filmic inaccuracies is here.

There might be some truth in this …

“the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign”

… given that the International Brigades fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War were Communists who followed Stalin’s line, which was to ruthlessly suppress rival militias such as the Trotskyist POUM in which George Orwell found himself by accident. Once I would have believed that the Spanish Civil War was simply a trial run for WWII with the Republicans as the Allies and the Fascists as the Axis. Nothing will make me view Franco’s overthrow of a democratically elected government with approval, but I can no longer see either side as the good guys. That, too, is a parallel with the current situation in Syria and Iraq.

That quote, by the way, is from a piece called “Groundhog Day in Syria as Mr Benn goes bombing”originally published by the Stop the War Coalition (National Chair: Jeremy Corbyn MP) but since removed from its website. The whole piece can be still found on the website of Matt Carr, its author, here. A fuller version of the controversial quote is:

Benn does not even seem to realise that the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign – except that the international jihad takes the form of solidarity with oppressed Muslims, rather than the working class or the socialist revolution.

Many left wingers have reacted with anger. The sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, has resigned from the committee of the StW Coalition partly as a result. The Guardian commenters laud her wisdom in stepping down without questioning her wisdom in ever having anything to do with the Stop Some Wars* Coalition in the first place. It is, and has been for years, the Emu to the Rod Hull’s hand of the Socialist Workers Party. As I said in 2011,

Three quarters of the posters [at the left wing demos I attended in the 70s and 80s], and almost all of the printed ones, were produced by the Socialist Workers Party. Busy little bees, they were. They still are: it is an astonishing fact that this tiny and fissiparous Trotskyist sect has twice dominated massive popular protest movements in my lifetime; the Anti-Nazi League / Rock against Racism movement of the 80s and the Stop The War Coalition of 2001-2008. Sorry, 2001-present, only they stop wars much more quietly now that Mr Obama is president.

*Wars against Israel are OK.

Joseph McCarthy was right

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.

McCarthy3

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.

The British army gets steel helmets

In late 1915 steel helmets were introduced on the Western Front.

The Times 8 November 1915 p7

The Times 8 November 1915 p7

They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.

One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.

On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.

By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.

This was one of many changes to frontline equipment during the course of the war. Others included the introduction of the Mills bomb, the Lewis gun and the Stokes mortar.

Samizdata quote of the day

Far leftists do not laugh to mock communism. They laugh to forget communism. They dismiss the mass murders, and the suppression of every right that makes life worth living with a giggle and a snort, and imply that you are a bit of a prude if you cannot do the same.

Then they throw a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book across the chamber of the House of Commons and look round with utter bemusement when no one gets the gag.

Nick Cohen

With thanks to Mick Hartley.

1915: the story so far

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

The Times 4 September 1915

Choose your sex, choose your race, choose your weapons

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.

David Gillies on Jeremy Corbyn

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.