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]

Syria: a scenario of awesome splendiferousness?

Fortunately Obama and assorted hard-of-thinking folks across the political spectrum in the USA seem to have backed away from becoming allies of Al Qaeda in Syria. But that means it looks like a fascinating lose-lose-win scenario is coming to pass: Al Qaeda and its allies lose, Hezbullah and its Iranian and Ba’athist allies lose, everyone else wins.

Syria’s deputy prime minister says the civil war has reached stalemate with neither side strong enough to win.

So Hezbullah and Al Qaeda are bleeding each other white in Syria in an attrition war that shows no sign of ending, and moreover this state of affairs costs us in the West not a penny.

Awesome.

I still think selling both sides ammo would be a really great idea as it would be hard to overstate the need to keep this on the boil as long as possible. Perhaps now is a good time to urge the UN to remain fixated on vital issues such as ‘climate change’ in Kazakhstan or ‘gender inequality’ in Nicaragua or ‘indigenous rights’ in Mordor or whatever, so they do not make any meaningful attempts to broker any unhelpful ceasefires.

The World in 1913 – Part VI: War

What follows is the final part of a series based on a talk I gave at the end of August at one of Brian’s Fridays. See also Parts I, II, III, IV. & V

When reading about the time it is impossible to be unaware that in less than a year Europe will be plunged into war. It is not as if they are unaware of the risk. Churchill, hardly a pacifist, describes the prospect as “Armageddon”. A recent series of articles have appeared in the Times under the title “Europe’s Armed Camp”.

In the 1900s, Germany began to build up its navy. Britain responded. By 1913 Germany is ready to throw in the towel. Britain has not only shown herself prepared to outbuild Germany at every step but has raised a Territorial Army to fend off a potential invasion. She has also developed plans to send an Expeditionary Force to the Continent should the need arise.

Meanwhile and simultaneously, France and Germany have both expanded their armies.

It is worth spending a little bit of time describing the political systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia all had systems that were partly monarchical and partly parliamentary. In Germany the Kaiser made all the appointments. The Reichstag was elected on a wider franchise than the House of Commons i.e. universal male franchise and it had the power to block the Kaiser’s bills including the budget.

Austria-Hungary had parliaments everywhere although the Hungarian was elected on an extremely restricted franchise and there were some magnificently complicated arrangements for making decisions, such as military spending that affected the whole empire.

In the wake of the 1905 Russian Revolution, a parliament, the Duma, was elected on a universal male franchise. It had rather too many socialists for the Tsar’s liking so the franchise was narrowed until he got something more acceptable. The Duma is not entirely powerless but does not appear to have any control over the budget.

The 1905 Revolution took place in the wake of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. This severly weakened Russia both on land and on sea. She has been rebuilding her forces but it is a slow process.

In the absence of a strong Russia, Austria has been having a field day in the Balkans. It annexed Bosnia in 1908, created Albania to prevent Serbian access to the Adriatic and has detached Bulgaria from her alliance with Russia.

And yet Austria is worried. Historians of the period love telling us how many times Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the Austrian General Staff, urged war on Serbia. The number is well into the twenties. The Serbs make no secret of their desire to add the Austrian territories of Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia to their own. The Austrians see this has highly destabilising: should Croatia go why not Bohemia, or Slovakia, or Ruthenia?

There are some extraordinarily disturbing ideas knocking around Germany. In his book “The Next War” General Bernhardi talks about the need to smash France, curb Britain and ignore treaties and other promises into the bargain. The Prime Minister, Bethmann-Hollweg, the “Good German”, talks of a coming race war between Teuton and Slav.

In addition to threats abroad they face threats at home. The Socialists are the largest party in the Reichstag and it is becoming ever more difficult to get their army and navy bills enacted.

The Times, 5 August 1914 page 6

The Times, 5 August 1914 page 6

David Cameron will sleep well tonight

Humiliated? As a prime minister and party leader, yes. But there are compensations.

To President Obama he can say, “Sorry guv, tried to help, but the boys just wouldn’t let me. We are going to remain neutral”. And then sotto voce he can add, “Neutral like you are ‘in terms of the Maldives or the Falklands, whatever your preferred term is’”

To Parliament, and through Parliament to the voters, he can say, with great ceremony “I respect your decision” and get all sorts of strange new respect from anti-war people while not losing the respect of those who thought British support for US military action against Assad was necessary, because, after all, he did try.

To Syria he can say all the right things without having to do anything. Given that it is damned difficult to know what to do, or even what is happening over there, that is a silver lining for him. In that link, Jim Miller says, “we need an explanation for the attack — whoever is responsible — that includes a motive.” Assad was winning. Why jeopardize that? A member of my family suggested that Assad might have said to his henchmen something equivalent to Henry II’s “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” “Destroy those rebels in Ghouta, and I don’t care how you do it.” Bashar Assad is an evil man, which does not make his enemies good.

Was this vote a good thing or a bad thing to happen? I do not know.

It is a generator of ironies, and not just for Cameron.

Intervention in Syria…

Some people wants to intervene in Syria to stop Al Qaeda backed people and Hezbollah backed people killing each other.

Really?

I have a better idea… sell ammunition to both sides.

On Self-Policing

After the My Lai massacre, only one person, William Calley, was charged, and then only after enormous public outcry. He ultimately served 3.5 years in house arrest for ordering and participating in the murder of at least 347 and possibly as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians, presuming he had no knowledge of the gang rapes and mutilations of bodies, which seems unlikely given eyewitness accounts.

The events of My Lai were initially covered up, itself a crime, but no one was ever charged for participating in the coverup.

During the massacre, Hugh Thompson, Jr. saved countless lives by ordering his helicopter crew to protect innocent civilians from execution. For his trouble, he was initially given a medal for a non-existent event in an attempt to shut him up, then condemned in public once the true events were revealed. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mendel Rivers, went so far as to say that Thompson was the only person in the incident worthy of punishment.

Has the world changed much?

Today, it was announced that Bradley Manning, whose chief de facto offense was providing the US public with evidence of multiple war crimes, will be serving ten times the length of William Calley’s punishment, 35 years, and in a real prison rather than house arrest. The people who committed the war crimes he revealed evidence of will never be charged.

(On the latter, if you have any doubts that he revealed criminal activity, compare, as just one example, the video of the helicopter machine gunning of two Reuters reporters in Baghdad with the official DoD investigation report of the incident, which had full access to said video. Even if one can bring oneself to believe that the incident itself was not a crime (although it almost certainly was), the subsequent investigation was a fabricated tissue of lies. The events in the video and those described in the investigation report are manifestly not the same. Presumably those engaging in this coverup believed they could never be caught because the video was improperly classified to aid in the coverup, itself a crime. The coverup itself was a felony — but no one was charged but the messenger.)

The State protects its own. It cannot be trusted to police itself.

A domestic army

Browsing Instapundit this morning, I found this link to this video…

Update:

Commenter Alisa contributed a link that includes a pointer to the Homeland Security Grant Application (PDF) by the Concord police department.

Section 1 B begins:

Application to purchase BearcatSection 1B

It would be interesting to hear the specifics of what kind of “active and present daily challenges” the Free Staters constitute.

Steve Davies supplies some different and better history dates

I have long admired the libertarian historian and activist Stephen Davies, my previous posting here about him being this one, in connection with a talk he recently gave to Libertarian Home, in the superbly opulent setting of the Counting House‘s Griffin Room, in the City of London.

Here is a photo of Davies that I took that night:

StephenDaviesGriffinRm

Here is another, together with a photo of someone else also photoing him.

The Davies talk was predictably excellent, and this on a day when he had also given another talk elsewhere in southern England somewhere, to a bunch of sixth formers. I know this because I happened to share a tube journey with Davies afterwards, during which we talked about, among other things, his day, and why he was so very tired. I don’t recall where this other talk was, but do recall that it was definitely out of London and that Davies also organised for three other speakers to be present, as well as himself speaking. All this being part of the networking and speechifying enterprise that Davies masterminds from the IEA, along with his IEA colleague Christiana Hambro.  LLFF2013 was but a London manifestation of a nationwide libertarian outreach programme.

The way Davies seems to operate is that he has a number of set-piece performances on particular themes, each of which he delivers pretty much off the cuff, with almost intimidating fluency but which he will typically have done several times before you get to hear it. So, when a particular audience assembles, they get to choose from a menu. There’s that history of libertarianism talk, which Davies did for Libertarian Home, having previously done it for the Essex University Libertarians and presumably for plenty of others besides. There is a healthcare talk, which I heard Davies do at LLFF2013, which he also did for those sixth-formers earlier in the day of the Libertarian Home performance. And there are several more of course, which I also asked him about, during that tube journey. I know. He was by then just about dead on his feet, but just sitting there and not asking such things would have felt even ruder than picking his exhausted brain.

A particular favourite of Davies himself, and of me now that I have heard about it, concerns history dates.

→ Continue reading: Steve Davies supplies some different and better history dates

Samizdata quote of… er… 2010

When I saw this today:

After a decade in the making, cost over-runs to the tune of billions of euros, and delays of more than three years, the next generation of European military transport aircraft is finally poised for entry into service.

I was reminded of this from back in 2010:

New RAF transport plane is ‘Euro-wanking makework project’

Quite.

Let’s use nuclear weapons!

Look, I want you to know that if I thought there was the slightest chance that it was really going to happen my first reaction to this story would probably not have been to say “Cool”.

Lord Gilbert Suggests Dropping A Neutron Bomb On Pakistan-Afghanistan Border

Even cooler: he is a former Labour defence minister.

Responding for the government Lord Wallace said the coalition did not share the “rumbustious views” of Gilbert.

Quite.

Remembrance

Earlier today I visited my elder brother, in the family home we shared as children in Englefield Green, up the hill from Egham in the county of Surrey. I chose today for this fraternal reunion because the weather forecast was particularly encouraging, and I wanted also to include a visit to the nearby Air Forces Memorial.

This was my first view of this Memorial:

AFM1s.jpg

As you can see, the weather forecast was not wrong.

What I have always liked about the Air Forces Memorial is the views from the top of the tower. Climb that, and you are above the trees and can look out over the Thames Valley. On a day like today, you can see clearly, for miles. → Continue reading: Remembrance

Was Britain right to fight the First World War?

David Cameron thinks it was. David Cameron thinking anything is reason to believe the opposite.

Seumas Milne thinks it wasn’t. Seumas Milne thinking anything is reason to believe etc, etc.

Up to now I’ve tended to the Cameron line: appalling war, unsatisfactory conclusion but still worth fighting. But is that true?

We can begin by throwing out some of the canards that Milne so usefully supplies. The fact that Belgium’s government had acted appallingly in Congo does not mean that Belgians had no right to self-defence. It also does not mean that Britain was wrong to aid that defence.

Incidentally, I would be curious to know, were the imperial regimes any more or less brutal than the regimes that either preceded or followed them? Was George Washington really an improvement on George the Third? If commenters plan responding to that last one I would appreciate if they come armed with some comparative facts.

Milne also seems to confuse causes with justice. It may be true that the war was the result of imperial rivalries but that does not mean there weren’t good guys and bad guys – or perhaps more accurately, bad guys and worse guys. And in a fight between bad guys and worse guys I favour the bad guys. Human progress is almost never a case of the good taking over from the bad and almost always the bad taking over from the worse. For example, Deng taking over from Mao.

Getting back to the subject in hand and talking of imperial rivalries – I really don’t think that was a major cause. Europe was going through a political revolution. The masses no longer accepted that monarchs had a god-given right to rule. Ideas such as socialism, nationalism and democracy were challenging the old order and the old orders were scared. Even in liberal, prosperous Britain, suffragists were breaking windows, trade unionists rioting and Irishmen preparing for civil war. When there’s trouble at home regimes start making trouble abroad.

Anyway, back to those canards. Germany was far more of a threat to Britain in 1914 than it was in 1939 (note to Seumas: the second world war started in 1939 not 1940). In 1914 Germany had a powerful navy and it was coming our way. Moreover, in 1939, Germany had a clear ideological commitment to expanding to the East. In 1914 it was far from clear what it was trying to do.

That Britain had a right to defend Belgium is not the same as saying it had the obligation to do so or that doing so was sensible. However, if you are going to go to war with one of the most powerful countries in Europe it is usually a good idea to do so as part of a coalition. In that regard the prospects in 1914 were much better than in 1939. Really, can anyone think of a worse decision in the 20th Century than the Soviet Union signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany?

So, if there ever was a time to go to war with Germany, August 1914 was that time. But that is not the same as saying it was sensible. Two Liberal cabinet ministers, John Morley and John Burns, resigned over the declaration of war. In looking into Morley’s reasons I came across this and then this. I haven’t finished reading either but they do put a rather different perspective on things. Was the Triple Entente as much to blame as the Triple Alliance?

Mastery of the waves

As we head in to the final days of the US elections, an issue that has been aired has been the size of the US navy. The number of ships that the US navy has will, according to Mitt Romney, decline from its current number of below 300 towards the lower 200s if projected cuts are put in place. Some conservative parts of the blogsphere, such as Pajamas Media, are giving Mr Obama a hard time for his comments, and maybe his arrogance is annoying, but is he necessarily wrong? Does the US actually need more than 300 vessels to do its job? And if so, what sort of vessels? If you have, say, a carrier, it needs a large fleet of support vessels and frigates, not to mention other kinds of support, to operate effectively rather than be a burden.

As I noted some time ago, the world of military hardware is being dramatically changed by developments in science and technology, as recounted in this astonishing book, Wired for War. Romney and his advisors should not just blindly go along with the “we need a vast navy to do our job” mindset. The US is broke; frankly, if Republicans want to be taken seriously on the case for cutting spending, they need to recognise that the sheer scale of the US military at present is financially unsustainable and needs to be focused more on domestic defence, and defence of certain key trade routes of importance to the US (which is where a navy comes in) against the likes of pirates.

I know it is going to get me unpopular around here, but not everything that Obama says or does is necessarily wrong, or even done for malevolent reasons (cue reaction from Paul Marks!). And even so, there is a need for small-government conservatives and genuine liberals to think about the fundamentals of what a defence policy should look like, and what can be afforded. This article at Reason magazine by Nick Gillespie is a good starting point, in my view, as this Reason magazine piece also.

Talking of the US navy, let’s not forget that this is the 200th anniversary year of the War of 1812, in which the sailors of the US gave the Brits quite a licking.