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]

Exactly what does the Kremlin expect people to hear?

When the Kremlin says something like this

In an interview in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, said he did not think Danes fully understood the consequences of joining the programme.

“If that happens, Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” Vanin told the newspaper.

What exactly are people supposed to hear? What I am hearing is…

“Yes I know you would rather spend your taxpayer’s money on outreach programmes for gay radical muslim single parent transgendered climate change threatened whales, but we really really want you to get those defence budgets up to the NATO required 2% figure!”

What reaction are they expecting to overt threats pretty much explicitly saying “if you, as a NATO nation, assist NATO with the deployment of a defensive weapon system within NATO borders, we will point nukes at you!”

Might this not be a tad counter-productive when the Russian Troll Army are tirelessly trying to convince assorted useful idiots to push the line that “Russia is no threat to anyone, honest guv!”…?

I guess the the Russian ambassador to Denmark did not get the memo ;-)

I get the impression Kurdish politicians are cut from very different cloth…

Fresh from previous disasters, Churchill embarks on another

What is a military correspondent to do when in the course of wartime his government is doing something sensible? Why, support it of course. But what if that government is doing something very, very stupid like launching the Gallipoli campaign? The answer, of course, is to support that too – in wartime loyalty trumps honesty – but point out the difficulties.

Which is precisely what Charles à Court Repington, Military Correspondent of The Times, does. In some detail.

The reasons in favour of this operation are overwhelming, provided that the risks and necessary preparations have been coolly calculated in advance, and such naval and military force as may be allotted to the object in view can be spared from the decisive theatre of war.

Note the use of the word “decisive”. The meaning is clear: the Western Front is decisive, this isn’t.

The defences of the Dardanelles are formidable, and nothing is gained by denying the fact. The Straits are narrow, the channels are winding and they are mined. A considerable current runs down the Straits, and the ground on both sides offers excellent sites for batteries both high and low, and for guns giving high-angle fire for the attack on ships’ decks.

The best way to attack the Dardanelles is by means of a conjoint naval and military expedition,…

Which they’re not doing… yet. By the way, I was once told that strictly speaking the word “military” refers exclusively to land-based warfare. I think this is how the word is being used here.

… and a purely naval attack can only be justified if the necessary and very large military force cannot be spared,…

Which it can’t, not least because it doesn’t exist.

… or if our information is so good,

Which it isn’t.

…and the chances have been so carefully weighed, that the success of a naval attack is reasonably probable.

But hey…

…if they can master these formidable Straits, and appear before the walls of Constantinople they will have accomplished a feat of arms which will live in the history of the world.

He’s not kidding.

And whose bright idea is this campaign? Why, Winston Churchill, of course. If you want a way of thinking about Churchill prior to “We’ll fight them on the beaches” and all that, think Tigger from the Winnie-the-Pooh books – loud, abrasive, energetic, enthusiastic, convinced of his genius and indispensability, hare-brained. Such an attitude has already caused problems but now it will cause the sort of problems that cannot be ignored. Ultimately, it will lead to Churchill’s removal from government and a stint in the trenches. It is not something that will ever be entirely forgotten. Indeed one wonders if Churchill timed his death in January 1965 to avoid the 50th anniversary of Gallipoli in the February.

About the best that can be said for Gallipoli is what would they have said had it never been tried? There would doubtless have been people claiming that here was a scheme that would have won the war much more quickly at far less cost and it was only a lack of imagination and institutional stubbornness that prevented it being pursued.

The Times 22 February 1915 p6

The Times 22 February 1915 p6

Russia has been attacking Ukraine directly

Nice work by Bellingcat showing what anyone not wilfully blind or on the Kremlin’s payroll already figured out, that Russian forces have been firing across the border into Ukraine.

Ukraine peace agreement?

Oh good, a peace deal has been hammered out for the Ukraine.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France announced that a ceasefire would begin on 15 February. The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled.

… and in other news that is no doubt unrelated…

Around 50 tanks, 40 missile systems and 40 armoured vehicles crossed overnight into east Ukraine from Russia via Izvaryne border crossing into the separatist Luhansk region, a Kiev military spokesman said on Thursday.

Thank goodness we have Putin’s word for it that Russia is not sending troops and large quantities of equipment into the Ukraine as part of a barely disguised invasion, for a moment then I thought there might be vastly less to this ‘deal’ than met the eye.

The changing face of war in the air

Earlier this week, Brian Micklethwait of this parish gave an excellent talk about sport and how it sometimes has taken the place of military activity as far as -mostly- men are concerned. Brian will want to perhaps go into this issue in a lot more detail on his own but one question that came up is how such an issue relates to women. Well, a recent trend has been the rising involvement of women in front-line combat operations. They are not yet doing so in the UK infantry, although that could change soon, but in the Royal Air Force of the UK, that is now the case:

A woman who has become the first to command an RAF fast jet squadron is expected to lead bombing missions over Iraq this summer.

​Wing Commander Nikki Thomas​, who took charge of the newly reformed No 12 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk​ ​yesterday (Fri)​, flew a daring low mission to help foil a deadly rocket attack on a UK base in Afghanistan.

​​The 36-year-old is a weapons system operator with extensive experience of combat operations, clocking up more than 35 missions in Afghanistan within three months alone.

This is a woman with a lot of guts. Consider the fact that she knows that, in the event of her aircraft being hit, she might have to eject over land run by Islamists who are not going to be amused at being bombed by Western, feisty women. But then women in the Kurdish regions have already been showing that when it comes to dealing with these thugs, there are no real differences between the sexes when it comes to courage and skill.

There is also a broader point. With professional, volunteer forces, there is a premium on young, fit, smart people who have the ability to do a challenging role. Flying a fighter plane is not the sort of thing anyone can do. Given the ruthless process of selecting for flight training, it is pretty clear that a person who can reach the rank of this RAF officer and do what she is doing must be top-class. The pool of talent is finite. So if a woman is good enough to do this, well fine by me.

And this has nothing to do with PC nonsense, by the way. There is no room for Political Correctness in flying a supersonic jet.

Basil Liddell Hart: genius, fool, fraud

Ever since I have been aware of something called military history I have also been aware of someone called Basil Liddell Hart. He is usually described with great reverence as the man who invented the Blitzkrieg.

This is not really true. Yes, he was an advocate of an independent tank arm. Yes, he saw that it could achieve a tactical breakthrough. And, yes, he saw that it needed close support from the air. But that is not the full story. Firstly, he wasn’t original – that accolade goes to Major-General J F C Fuller. Secondly, while he saw the need for penetration the Blitzkrieg took it much further. Thirdly, there is no direct link between what he wrote and what the German armies did.

It gets worse. As Jonathan Mearsheimer points out in Liddell Hart and the weight of history there’s more to him than that. Or perhaps, depending on your point of view, less. For while Liddell Hart had indeed come up with some far-sighted ideas on tactics, by the 1930s he had more-or-less abandoned them.

In their place he argued that Britain’s generals were irredeemably incompetent and Britain should never again get involved in a continental war. He even found himself arguing that the tank was in fact far more useful in defence than attack.

These were dangerous ideas. Should the advocate of such ideas be in an influential position it would be likely that the British army would be starved of resources. This would mean that it would be in no state to fight a continental war and certainly be in no position to go on the offensive. That would mean that Britain would have no ability to deter an aggressor. As I said, if the advocate was in an influential position. Unfortunately, Liddell Hart, as Times military correspondent and confidante of Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of War, was in just such a position – to the extent he was sometimes known as the unofficial Chief of the Imperial General Staff – and the British army in 1940 was indeed in no state to fight a continental war. Surveying its parlous state Field Marshal Montgomery Massingberd was in no mood to be generous:

He accuses Earl Haig and the British generals of losing lives in the last war, but I wonder how many lives are going to be lost in this war because of the teaching of that man and of people like him.

It took Liddell Hart a long time to realise he was wrong. He continued to argue that defence was stronger than attack. After the German annexation of the rump of Czechoslovakia he continued to argue against a continental commitment. And when the Germans broke through at Sedan he argued that it was only a matter of time before they were stopped.

The Times 18 July 1939 page 9

The Times 18 July 1939 page 9

After the Fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk Liddell Hart found himself (rightly) ignored. But you can never keep a bad man down and in the 1950s with the help of skint German ex-generals he managed to rebuild his reputation. He did such a good job of it that by the 1960s he was being lauded as the “Captain who teaches generals.” Such was his influence that it was almost impossible to make a career as a military historian without his help. The only exception to this was John Terraine: chief script writer of the Great War series part of which was recently repeated on BBC4 (amongst other things). When Terraine published a generally positive biography of Haig, Liddell Hart secretly organised a campaign against it.

Keeping colleagues out of the frame

I am suspicious of almost all political state apparati. But I make an exception for the State of Israel. My attitude towards the State of Israel is one of unconditional positive regard. Their fight is my fight, and they are actually fighting it. Whenever I hear that Israel has done something bad, I assume that (a) if it was bad they definitely had some very good reasons for doing it, but that (b) it almost certainly wasn’t that bad, and that whoever is telling me that it was that bad is deceiving me, either because he is himself deceived or because he is a malevolent fool.

This article, by Matti Friedman, explains some of the many reasons why I think and feel as I do about Israel. The article focuses in on, so to speak, a subject that has been very dear to my heart for the last decade and more, which is the vital role in the modern world played by photography, professional and amateur, and especially in its digital and hence instantaneously communicable form. Friedman includes a very telling photograph in his article, of a sort you don’t usually see, of a rally in Jerusalem in support of Islamic Jihad. Does the camera ever lie? It certainly squirts out a stream of lies by omission.

Says Friedman:

Hamas is aided in its manipulation of the media by the old reportorial belief, a kind of reflex, according to which reporters shouldn’t mention the existence of reporters. In a conflict like ours, this ends up requiring considerable exertions: So many photographers cover protests in Israel and the Palestinian territories, for example, that one of the challenges for anyone taking pictures is keeping colleagues out of the frame. That the other photographers are as important to the story as Palestinian protesters or Israeli soldiers – this does not seem to be considered.

In Gaza, this goes from being a curious detail of press psychology to a major deficiency. Hamas’s strategy is to provoke a response from Israel by attacking from behind the cover of Palestinian civilians, thus drawing Israeli strikes that kill those civilians, and then to have the casualties filmed by one of the world’s largest press contingents, with the understanding that the resulting outrage abroad will blunt Israel’s response. This is a ruthless strategy, and an effective one. It is predicated on the cooperation of journalists. One of the reasons it works is because of the reflex I mentioned. If you report that Hamas has a strategy based on co-opting the media, this raises several difficult questions, like, What exactly is the relationship between the media and Hamas? And has this relationship corrupted the media? It is easier just to leave the other photographers out of the frame and let the picture tell the story: Here are dead people, and Israel killed them.

Mick Hartley, at whose blog I first learned of this article and first read the above quote, thinks that Friedman’s article is worth reading in full. I agree.

Samizdata quote of the day

Normally it’s rather difficult to get the news media to lose their shit like a bunch of screeching schoolkids over a story like, “Defense Manufacturer Offers New Product That Makes Incremental Advances on Existing, Widely-Used Technology.” But fortunately for Israeli defense manufacturer Rafael, the maker of the Iron Dome short-range air defense system, reporters don’t always understand what it is they’re reporting on.

Ryan Faith

Another kind of creative destruction: the technology driving drones-as-an-industry is…

…mobile phone technology!

VICE has a very interesting report, looking at at how the US military is adjusting to the astonishingly rapid proliferation and deployment of cheap drone technology. Faced with using multi million dollar weapons platforms firing munitions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars against these things, they are seeking more feasible ways to counter air threats costing thousands or even mere hundreds of dollars. And the threat is not hypothetical: even the daesh Islamic State claims fairly plausibly to be using cheap reconnaissance drones right now, and Hezbollah appears to have fairly sophisticated armed drones (fast forward to 1:25 or thereabouts to see the boom and hear the invocations to Admiral Ackbar or whatever). We really are entering a new era not just commercially but also militarily.

Bravo for extending the middle finger to Turkey!

The fact Turkey was an early enabler of the Islamic State has been made starkly clear from its behaviour towards the Kurdish defenders of Kobani.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said his country would not agree to any US arms transfers to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

So the US has started air dropping supplies to them. This means that the supply situation within Kobani must have reached a truly critical state.

Moreover for extra added political significance, the supplies being dropped are in fact ones provided by the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil, in Iraq (i.e. US supplies that were promised to the Peshmerga but which the KRG agreed to instead see sent to the Syrian Kurds). This will give the wily Masoud Barzani in Erbil a nice political boost, cementing his position as the godfather of Kurdish nationalism.

I really did not think the current leadership in Washington had it in them, but by the actions of the USAF within sight of the Turkish border, Tayyip Erdogan cannot be in the slightest doubt he has just been invited to go rotate. Clearly there as been a significant rethink in US regional political strategy.

What is Kurdish for ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ?

The BBC is reporting something that made the hair on the back on my neck stand up.

Islamic State ‘being driven out of Syria’s Kobane’

If this proves to be correct, then the Syrian Kurds of the YPG and their FSA allies have pulled off a breathtaking feat of arms worthy of being likened to Thermopylae, but with hopefully an altogether better ending. I am hesitant to start breaking out the champagne just yet, but I really really hope this proves to be the case.