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From Al Ghazali to General Douglas Haig

In her 1993 paper “Causality Then and Now: Al Ghazali and Quantum Theory” Karen Harding makes the point that what is now called the “Occasionalism” of the 11th century Islamic thinker Al Ghazali is similar to the 20th century “Copenhagen Interpretation” of Quantum Theory. Al Ghazail’s position being to deny cause and effect, to claim that things just happen because God (in the Copenhagen Interpretation “the observer”) make them happen. For example that dropping a pot on a stone floor does not make the pot smash – that God first makes the pot drop (no law of gravity as such) and then makes the pot smash, with no necessary connection to the dropping of the pot. In the “Copenhagen Interpretation”, in Schrodinger’s famous attack upon the theory, a cat in a box is neither alive or dead till we open the box and “observe” the cat.

David Hume, back in the 18th century took God out of this form of thinking and just made it “ideas” associating in “the mind” – although Mr Hume also denied the existence of the mind, the “I”, at least in the ordinary common sense meaning of the term.

Karen Harding was not led by all the above to doubt the “Copenhagen Interpretation”, on the contrary she wrote to praise Al Ghazali (and thinkers like him) in spite of the effect of such thinking in closing the Islamic mind to science, to objective reality, and thus ending the “Golden Age”.

And Douglas Haig? As a Calvinist General Haig, like Al Ghazali (and other mainstream thinkers of Sunni Islam) was a Predestinationist – whatever happened was the will of God. If 20 thousand British soldiers were killed and 30 thousand wounded on one day (July 1st 1916) this is clearly what God wanted to happen and was, therefore, not the fault of Douglas Haig. And as General Haig was part of the “Elect” (Predestined for Salvation) he was, by definition, a good man. Therefore he, Haig, showed no shame over his conduct – as his conduct was, by definition, good (as he was part of God’s Elect), whatever he did. Backstabbing his commanding officer to get his job? Getting hundreds of thousand of British soldiers killed in offensives such as the Somme and Passchendaele? Picking incompetents such as Gough to conduct parts of the Passchendaele offensive in 1917 and the defence of the Western Front in 1918? Supporting calling off the war in 1918 just as the Allies were stating to win? Sending ten thousand men on a suicide attack on the second day of the Battle of Loos (eight thousand British soldiers either killed or wounded – German dead? what German dead?) in 1915? None of this was anything to be ashamed of, as it was all part of the Divine Plan – Divine Providence, the Will of God.

The only commanders to be punished were those commanders who resisted Divine Providence – by, for example, not sending their men into suicide attacks on July 1st 1916 – such men were sent home in disgrace for not showing sufficient “fighting spirit”. The tactics were wrong? The plan could not work? That form of thinking assumes objective reality and cause and effect – for example a connection between the orders of Douglas Haig and 20 thousand British soldiers being killed and 30 thousand being wounded on one day (July 1st 1916). But if objective realty does not exist, and there is no law of cause and effect – then reality is just what God (or “the observer” – in this case Douglas Haig) want it to be.

So people such as Paul Marks – who “combine the obsessive intellectualism of a Jew, with the wild temper of a Irishman” are just silly to get upset about it.

95 comments to From Al Ghazali to General Douglas Haig

  • Uh. Quantum interpretation is only useful for small groups of particles. It originally came about by “observing” single particles. For large enough groups cause and effect seems quite reliable. F=ma still works when designing autos. Although the electronics in them are a somewhat different story.

  • NickM

    There is a hell of a difference between QMech and Islamic theology. Even if you accept the “orthodox” Copenhagen interpretation in all it’s glory (or gory if you’re a cat*) then you don’t hurl away causality at all or introduce predestination. The act of observation does of course cause the the wavefunction to collapse but it doesn’t predict how it will. That is irreducibly stochastic across the probabilities (wavefunction “squared”).

    Of course there are also other interpretations** of QMech and there are certainly problems with Copenhagen. The central problem is defining observation. Is it when your Mars probe clocks it or when you see it 20 minutes later?

    Anyway, however you cut your quantum cloth it is way different from Al Ghazali’s take on stuffwhich basically killed the Islamic Golden Age of Science (over-rated anyway) because that leads to the understanding that everything that happens is explicitly and precisely Allah’s will. In QMech you do have probabilities which is not the same thing. If Allah wants to make a mouse the size of an SUV He can. If he wants to make 2+2=5 he can. The trap Al Ghazali got himself into is the problem of whether or not a supreme being can have limitations. He reckoned no. This leads to problems metaphysically and practically speaking Islamic fatalism. Most Christian theology accepts limitations on God even if God created the rules He is still bound by them. There is also the issue of whether or not these laws (or some of them) a logically prior to God. Basically the laws of mathematics and logic. I would argue they are because they are a definition thing.

    *It is worth noting here that the experiment is not possible. The cat/box system cannot be completely isolated. Nothing can.
    **Such as hidden variables – a cop-out, a retreat into,”it’s only stats anyway” – a cop-out, the implicate order – incomprehensible but probably Marxist. There is also various many worlds approaches which are interesting.

  • John Galt III


    I love this one from the linked paper:

    “The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory says that it is impossible to predict the exact behavior on an object based on physical laws. As a result while one might expect a lead ball to fall when it is dropped, there is a definite possibility that the ball will rise instead.”

    Ms. Karen Harding of Pierce Community College is now retired. Shame really, as millenials around the world can not listen to her daily doses of such wisdom.

    I will keep her in mind as I drive to work this morning as my 2008 Chevy Trailblazer might very well turn into a giraffe or a banana a few miles from my destination. I am now prepared for any eventuality and will not be surprised by anything.

  • I will keep her in mind as I drive to work this morning as my 2008 Chevy Trailblazer might very well turn into a giraffe or a banana a few miles from my destination

    And we can only hope someone is on hand to catch that epic moment on their phone and post it to YouTube 😆

  • NickM

    The phone and the someone would therefore be part of the system…

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so John Galt.

    As for me I am an Anglican and was born on this island (as were both my parents) – but my charming opponents sometimes overlook these facts.

    Nick – yes I would rather have you (or any QM physics person) in command before July 1st 1916 than Douglas Haig (a man who had been on the Western Front for almost two years before the attack – and so had no excuse of lack of experience). His denial of objective reality was complete – his summing up of getting 20 thousand British soldiers killed and 30 thousand wounded was “the general situation is favourable” and he carried on the attack the next day. Even General Rawlinson (known as “The Cad” in the army) came out against one later attack – because the Earl of Cavan took him within sight of the place to be attacked (basically dragged him there) and showed him the attack was physically impossible – but Haig ordered it to proceed anyway.

    Any senior officer who refused to send his men on suicide attacks was sent home in disgrace – with the implication that they were cowards (even if they had been wounded many times, and had medals for bravery). This was rather rich coming from Douglas Haig – who never (as far as I can find out) in a life time in the army seems to have been wounded, or to have killed a man with his own hands (I am open to correction on these points). Even his “successful orders” in the Sudan appear to have really been the orders of General Broadwood (a man older than Haig – but who still considered himself young enough to be with his men at Passchendaele – where he, Broadwood, was killed) – as the man who wrote the newspaper account giving credit for the orders to Haig, turns out to have been Haig himself. Indeed normally Haig seemed to have an almost supernatural ability to find good reasons to be where the fighting was not.

    Be that as it may – to fail to kill himself (or even resign) after the second day of the Battle of Loos in 1915 (when Haig sent ten thousand men on a suicide attack – eight thousand of them being killed or wounded, in return for almost no German casualties at all) or even after July 1st 1916 (when Haig got 20 thousand British soldiers killed and 30 thousand British soldiers wounded – in one day) showed Douglas Haig to be man of no moral character, no remorse. A play actor – who presented the IMAGE of the “perfect soldier” (a man of “few words but manly words” and all the rest of the play acting – never a hair out of place, uniform always perfect without a bit of dirt, or blood, upon it), but did not have the basic decency to put the cold mental of his revolver deep into his mouth, point upwards and blow out his brains. If he found it so difficult to do the decent thing (and “have an accident cleaning his revolver”) I really do think someone should have helped him do it.

    No doubt the man starred, with anger, at his horse – for not turning into a set of golf clubs when he wanted to play golf, and then back into a horse when he wanted to ride away (physical reality being subjective – just a matter of his will).

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – if Samizdata is now hacked, it may well be my fault.

    Whenever this post went up on “Counting Cats” that blog was attacked (sometimes very shortly after the post went up).

    Whether it was by outraged defenders of QM (Nick what have you been doing….. – no I am just kidding), or by defenders of Douglas Haig I do not know. Although I suspect my attack on the leading Islamic theologian (indeed perhaps the most cited Islamic philosopher and theologian) Al Ghazali is what really irritated people.

  • By the way – if Samizdata is now hacked, it may well be my fault.

    Gosh, thanks for the advanced warning before it was published 🙄 That said we are not a particularly soft target.

  • Paul Marks

    I have every confidence in you Perry.

  • NickM

    I am sorry (perhaps) that I took the QM fork in the woods (which is frankly of only academic interest) whereas the Haig route which is of way more than academic interest. Clearly the blood is on his hands. I dunno if you have read John Buchan? His take on WWI is very Haigian in his adventure stories of Hannay. Some of his views are staggering to the modern mind. Very much dying for your country is the highest honour and all that. I honour our dead every 11th of November but… Well, the Somme should have had just one more death. I have a lot more time for George Patton’s dictum, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

    Oddly enough Buchan was a Presbyterian. Oddly enough (wikipedia): “Buchan then enlisted in the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, where he wrote speeches and communiqués for Sir Douglas Haig.”

    Oddly enough I would have lacked the moral backstop of Presbyterianism to spin 50,000 casualties in a day as anything other than a complete disaster. Morally, militarily, every way. Truly 4pi steradians of unmitigated fuck-up.

    Now it gets interesting. Richard Hannay’s first outing is of course in the “The Thirty Nine Steps”. This opens (pretty much) with lines like this from Scudder who essentially engages Hannay into the adventure:

    But if you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little, white-faced Jew in a bath-chair, with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his knife in the empire of the Tzar because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.

    The sequel to “The Thirty Nine Steps” is “The Whicker Gate” which is extremely pro-Islam (Greenmantle himself is a sort of Mahdi-like character). He’s going to bring about peace by taking the Ottomans (who have been mislead by Guess Who? out of the war).

    Are these things linked? Yes. Consider the munterings of TE Lawrence about his “Noble Arabs”. There was a bizarre reverence in Britain about this time for Islam and with that came anti-semitism. It is still here. Just recently in The House of Lords itself there was a shindig where Jews were blamed for the Shoah. Seriously.

    Also linked is the idea that dying for a cause is more noble than killing for it. Consider the grief Israel gets for being “casualty averse” because they have AH-64s and Hamas have bottle rockets. Because they conduct planned military operations rather than glory in martydom for the sake of it.

    And it all links back to Al Ghazali and, “Allah’s hand is not fettered”. It is the royal road to the worship of the noble savage. Hell is where that leads.

    Guess where the Intel i5 in this Thinkpad was designed? The machine was built in China of course but then Sun-Tzu wasn’t a fan of idiocy in warfare either.

  • Alsadius

    The Copenhagen Interpretation gets seriously misunderstood. What quantum theory gives us is math. There is a probability of particle X being at position, a, position b, position c, and so on. We have no way of knowing which of those will be the case – it is literally random, and cannot be predicted other than probabilistically by any physical means. Interpretations are a way of helping the human brain come to grips with this math – they do not contradict the math, they just build narratives around it.

    The Many Worlds interpretation(which I tend to prefer) says that there’s an infinite number of universes, one for each possibility, and that every time an electron moves in its orbit those universes divide up further. The Copenhagen interpretation says that there’s only one universe, and that the behaviour of a particle can be modeled as a probabilistic state which could be in a variety of different actual states. Again, mathematically these are equivalent – “we don’t know what state it’s in until we measure it” and “we don’t know which universe we’re in until we measure it” are indistinguishable. Likewise, “we don’t know what state it’s in until we measure it” and “as far as we’re concerned, it’s not even in a state until we measure it” are mathematically equivalent. Obviously, unobserved systems interact with themselves and each other, but you can treat that as “the wavefunction collapses when it’s interacting with the next particle over” or you can treat that as “there’s now a wavefunction system covering both particles that we don’t know the value of”, and it makes no difference.

    Yes, the cat is either alive or it’s dead, but you can’t know which without checking. If you’re going to open the box, do you bring a shovel or a litter box? If you’re sensible, you have both on hand, because you’re prepared for the possibility of life and the possibility of death. So what’s wrong with thinking of it as being 50/50? It describes the system as accurately as possible.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Lots of stimulating ideas in the OP and comments. I don’t want to irritate Paul Marks again, but i fear that some irritation is unavoidable even if i were to say the opposite of what i want to say.

    WRT Al Ghazali: apart from the quote in the OP, all what i know about him comes from The Black Swan. (Taleb is a fan iirc.) It seems to me that his metaphysics is actually very close to Berkeley’s. Not that i know much about Berkeley, either, but i know that he was an Anglican, like Paul Marks, not a Calvinist like Douglas Haig.

    WRT the relationship to QM: in some ways they are opposites: Al Ghazali posits that God ensures an apparent determinism in our world, while QM does not posits the existence of God, and the non-existence of determinism. But perhaps, out of these opposites, a similarity emerges: without God, there is no determinism.

    WRT the Copenhagen interpretation, that wavefunctions behave deterministically, except for collapses induced by measurements: i have no problem with that, as long as a physical law is specified for the exact conditions that constitute a measurement, and induce a collapse. The flaw in the Copenhagen interpretation is that it does not do that. I do not see how the many-world interpretation is an improvement in this respect: a law is still missing for when a “world” is split into two “worlds” by measurement.

    I note, however, that QM does not say: anything goes! In particular, afaik Newton’s Laws of Motion are still valid in QM, including F = ma. Conservation of mass/energy also holds in QM, so turning a car into just a banana is ruled out. (A cars into a giraffe, otoh…)
    In any interpretation of QM, there is also the issue of instantaneous action at a distance, but that is a relatively minor concern for me.

    WRT Hume: i haven’t studied his thoughts on causation at first hand, but in my understanding, Hume (unlike Hobbes and Berkeley) was a true British philosopher, ie one who did not dabble in metaphysics, and therefore had no (metaphysical) opinions on causality, only (epistemological) opinions about our knowledge of causality.

    Going back to Haig: Calvinism did not make the Dutch and the Scots poor warriors; quite the contrary! In any case, Paul Marks attributes to Haig a reasoning that is full of inconsistencies: if Haig thought that 20 thousands British soldiers were predestined to be killed, then (were he logically consistent) he must also have thought that he was predestined to decide to send them to be killed. But then (still assuming that he was logically consistent) he must also have thought that the commanders whom he punished for disobeying his orders, were predestined to disobey his orders — and that he was predestined to punish them anyway.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I have had to take Paul Marks to task on the subject of Douglas Haig on innumerable occasions in recent years both in public and private. Despite presenting uncontested and uncontestable facts to him again and again he has shown no signs of even understanding them let alone incorporating them into his views. Meanwhile, despite numerous requests to provide evidence for his claims Paul has on every occasion refused to comply, often resorting to insults and obscenities and even unfriending me on Facebook.

    But let us repeat the uncontestable facts. In 1914 the British army was small. That meant it had a small number of experienced troops, especially officers. It had to expand quickly but there was no one to train these people. It was inevitable that the expanded British army would lack skill. In 1914 Britain’s munitions industry was also small. It would also have to expand rapidly and mistakes inevitably got made.

    On the Western Front, the British army was inevitably the junior partner. This meant it was inevitably going to be fighting battles at a times and places not of its choosing. So, it was with the Somme. That was originally intended as a French-led attack but the German offensive at Verdun put paid to all that. So it was that the inexperienced and ill-equipped British Army had to take the lead role. Despite this, Haig’s army was able to pull off a miracle. Rather than being defeated it pulled off victory after victory. For the first time in the war an allied army on the Western Front was regularly able to take ground from the Germans. Yes, it came at a high price. But that’s what happens when you fight the Germans.

    Did Haig lose lots of men? Sure. And so did the French. They lost far more in fact both absolutely and relative to their population. And yet they were not known for Calvinism. Indeed Joffre managed to lose 27,000 men in one day far more than Haig ever managed. I have tried to find out what religion Joffre was but without success. I very much doubt he was any sort of protestant let alone a Calvinist.

    Paul claims that Haig saw no connection between cause and effect. So, why were the steel helmet, tank, gas shell, Livens projector, 106 fuze and continuous wave radio all introduced while he was commander? Why did the British army employ so many more Lewis guns, heavy guns, smoke shells, Mills bombs and howitzers? Why did the British army adopt creeping barrages, predicted barrages, machine-gun barrages and new infantry techniques if its commander in chief did not believe in cause and effect? Why were civilians brought in to sort out railways, ports and roads if Haig did not believe in cause and effect? Why did the British army see a massive expansion in the number of trucks at its disposal if Haig did not believe in cause and effect? And why is his diary littered with references to the war in the air?

    In 1916 Haig – like just about every officer in his inexperienced army – was biting off more than he could chew. Inevitably mistakes got made. But on the big questions – on strategy and logistics – Haig got it absolutely right.

  • NickM

    Alsadius is spot on. But there is something else lurking. I hinted at this. There can be no uninvolved observer. Now, oddly enough although this really came to the front page with QMech it is also classical. How do we see? We bounce things off stuff to see it. That is an interaction. This is where QMech starts to make it explicit because it gets down to the sizes where this really starts to matter.

    More metaphysically it deals with the nature of reality which would appear to be as Alsadius calls “literally random” is (I think) what I call “irreucibly stochastic”. This is real random. This is not the toss of the die that follows Newton. It really, really isn’t a well-shuffled deck of cards. It is The Howling.

    And from this via the Josiah Gibb’s Grand Canonical Ensemble (available for weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs etc) happens to create all this order. That is the fascinator for me. Take two matches – simple. Ahundred – complicated. Avagadro’s number of ’em – simple again. Phase transitions of complexity.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick – I think everyone knows what I think of your following of establishment historians. They treat Haig’s writings as a “Primary Source” as if the man was not a liar – and even cite James Edmunds “Official History” without mentioning that Edmunds did Haig’s exams for him at staff college – and was employed because John Fortescue had come rather too close to the truth when he was employed as official historian. Edmunds was brought in as official historian not to find the truth – but to to do the same thing he had done as staff college, cover-for-Haig. Of course an effective cover could not claim that Haig was a good general (there were too many men still alive who might have killed Edmunds had he claimed that – or at least laughed at him), the purpose was to at least hide the fact (and it is a fact) that Haig was useless.

    Of course later we have apologia such as John Terraine’s “Haig: The Educated Soldier” – an ironic title not just because did not get a degree at Oxford, he also had Edmunds (mentioned above) do the “detail stuff” for him at staff college (the the active encouragement of the college authorities – oh yes the knew), failed his maths exam (sadly that had to be taken by the officer themselves) but resorted to yet more wire pulling to stay in the army, and then got low marks on another exam (alas! another exam he had to sit himself) – an exam in military matters where his examiner was Plummer, of course for giving Haig low marks Plummer was hated (by Haig) afterwards.

    But none of that would have mattered a fig if Haig had had a natural gift for military tactics – some people do, including people who are much less educated than Haig (indeed people who can not sign their own names have proved to have a wonderful grasp of tactical matters). But Douglas Haig had no such natural gift for tactics – he was useless (his military fault) and he would not ADMIT he was useless (which was his MORAL fault). Haig knew nothing in 1914 (when it might be forgivable – although not really in a professional soldier), and he continued to know nothing in 1915, 1916, 1917 and early 1918 (learning, essentially, nothing) – in late 1918 he was essentially sidelined, not in charge of tactics (which was the domain of Plumer, Currie and others) and not in charge of strategy (which was the domain of Foch – as Supreme Allied Commander). The account of Haig (especially his role in late 1918) given by his admirers, and by Haig himself, deserves to be described as what it is – a tissue-of-lies.

  • Mr Ed

    At the risk of breaching the Haig Convention, may I ask that the two camps give Haig as a leader of men marks out of ten relative to Leonard Cheshire?

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    I’m on Paul’s side; Haig was a splendid example of constructive inertia.


  • Paul Marks

    Damn I just lost a comment I was writing.

    It is my own fault – I have a fever (I wish I would just hurry up and die – dying is so damn boring) and I started trying to use the screen as if it was piece of parchment (that did not go well). I will now try and remember what I was saying.

    Nick I would not expect Buchan to attack Haig – they were near neighbours and their families were connected, but it is more than that. Buchan believed that you do not attack the man in charge – it is disloyal. Allenby had a similar view – he would silence (very forcefully) anyone who were critical of anyone (not just Haig – anyone) who was not physically present. “Say it to their face or not at all” was the rule of Allenby – and there is something to said for that.

    However, it is one thing to sacrifice your own life – and quite another to sacrifice large numbers of other people.

    I think it goes back to the difference between the Church of Scotland and the Churches in Ulster. Not theology – organisation.

    Since the time of Queen Anne – the Church of Scotland is “top down” the central authority picks most of the clergy. In Ulster the Churches were “down up” – the local people kept the right of picking their own clergyman.

    A small difference? What if I told you it led to people fighting on opposite sides in the American War of Independence?

    And the cultural difference carries on much longer – the Ulster culture of individual action (sometimes violent action) is not really Scottish whatever we say of “Scot-Irish”. And it shows in fighting style – Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain in the American War of Independence was a brave man (I do not believe Haig was), but he had no idea about the tactics of the men he was fighting (who did not line up in nice neat lines), anymore than (centuries later) Haig could understand the tactics of the Ulster Division (or others who fought in similar ways – on both sides) – he might (in theory) have been in support of their political cause, but he did not understand them. No more than he had any grasp of proper infantry tactics.

    Douglas Haig should have dismissed and there is an end to it. If the man does not have the common decency to kill himself – why waste a bullet (or a rope) on him.

    Snorri – you say that I should not get irritated with you, fair enough. So I will simply point out that you have missed parts of the points I made about Al Ghazali and Haig (and about QM) and I will leave at that – after all what is the point of typing the thing again if you did not understand the first time. No doubt I have also missed something of what you have said – and I am sorry for that.

    However, I was not aware that Berkeley was a determinist (indeed I do not think you are even saying that he was) and I do not believe that Berekely denied laws of cause and effect – he “just” said that the universe was actually ideas in the mind of God (yes there is a something of Al Ghazali there – but it is also very different).

    The American Samuel Johnson (like the British one an Anglican) was a free will man – a leading philosopher of the same (wildly read in the 18th century, forgotten now. He had something of Berkeley about him at times – but not at other times.

    Of course one can believe that the universe is ideas in the mind of God and still believe it is orderly – not random whims of God with people as puppets, as it is for many in mainstream Islam.

    David Hume has a special place – as he subjected everything to attack. Hume attacks everything – the mind (really his attacks are against the existence of the soul – the “I” whether in a religious or nonreligious Aristotelian sense), the physical universe (“prove it exists” is basically what he says – forgetting that the burden of proof is actually upon him to prove that it does not), the ability to know objective moral good and evil, and the ability to choose between moral good and evil.

    At the end there is nothing left – if one follows the path David Hume lays out, one is left with only acid fumes. Although, to be fair to him, he never claimed he was building a system (it is his followers who do that) – Hume is having fun.

    But put Hume in command on the Western Front and he would have resigned – not pretended (for years) he knew what he was doing.

  • Paul Marks

    The Danish Capital interpretation.

    I used to think (many decades ago) that it was actually a physical thing.

    Looking at something very small (tiny particles – bits of energy) means firing a stream of photons (bits of light – arranged in a wave) at it, that may move it (or change it in some other way).

    That is what, as a boy, I thought they meant.

    “The very act of looking at this thing PHYSICALLY CHANGES its position and so on” (because one is firing light at it to see it).

    However, eventually I accepted that they did not mean that – that they meant that the cat was not alive or dead till “an observer” said so.

    And that “the cat is also an observer” does not work – say the release of the electron means that a bit of paper turns blue, and if the electron is not released the bit of paper does not turn blue.

    Is the bit of paper an “observer”?

    The thing (this particular interpretation) leads straight to mystical notions (a denial of physical reality) which is why that Islamic physics man on the BBC loves it.

    “No it is just maths” – O.K. if it is not an effort to describe reality then it is not physics (as that subject has always been defined).

    If it is mathematics, and nothing but mathematics, then it is not physics – it is not a description of objective reality and scientific laws.

    The things that, in theory, Al Ghazali denied – and, in practice, Douglas Haig also denied.

    Al Ghazali believed that dropping a stone did not mean it would fall – God had to will the falling (and could will otherwise – on a whim) hence “if God wills it” which is said (endlessly) to this day.

    And Haig did not believe that sending men in straight lines, walking slowly towards enemy fire had anything to do with those men dying – not if he did not want that to be so.

    It was nothing to do with his orders that the men were dead (dead in heaps – with the rats eating them) – no fault of his. Douglas Haig was just the “instrument of divine providence” (as he put it). It was all God’s plan…..

    Fire off lots of artillery and rockets and the Germans would vanish – just as the Americans had NOT at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

    No need for the commanding General in an infantry war to know anything about infantry tactics – oh dear me no.

    I have had enough of this now – Haig is sickening, and his defenders are also.

  • NickM
    November 1, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Sun-Tzu wasn’t a fan of idiocy in warfare either.

    Well I did a post on that “yesterday” – depending on your time zone.


  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Not so, everyone! Einstein had it right! He looked for Hidden variables, but in the wrong place!
    We have only recently come to terms with zero point energy, and the reality of the virtual vacuum. The Casimir effect showed that the virtual particles can have the equivalent of pressure waves. All atoms would be under pressure from this effect. The unstable metals, like Uranium, are held together by outside forces- the pressure from the virtual particles. This pressure, unconsidered in Einstein’s day, constitutes the hidden variable. If the pressure becomes less for any reason (some neutrons passing by, thus causing a lessening of the virtual pressure,) then the pressure would be too little to keep the atom together, and it disintegrates.
    Imagine putting a blow-up balloon, filled with air, into an airlock. Take out the air, and the balloon would explode. Nobody would claim that the balloon chose to explode, or that it was holistically linked to other balloons in some kind of half-life pact.
    So I claim that this is what is happening- that variations in the virtual particle field are the secret cause of unstable atoms exploding. This should be easy to test- redo the Casimir experiment, and slip a wire of uranium into the space, and see what happens! If I am right, then the uranium should speedily decay into more stable atoms. And would a lead wire become radioactive if its’ heavy atoms had less outside force on them?
    And I also think that Hawking is wrong- there should be an equal number of antimatter particles falling into a black hole to match the normal matter particles. So black holes would not radiate away by quantum tunnelling.
    Can I have his Nobel prize?

  • Jacob

    “That meant it had a small number of experienced troops, especially officers. It had to expand quickly but there was no one to train these people. It was inevitable that the expanded British army would lack skill”.

    The most ridiculous defense of Haig is this: “the British army lacked skill”. It is obviously not true. Besides – the many casualties were not caused by lack of skill, any army would have suffered equally in such circumstances.
    The lack of skill or capability was Haig’s, but he cannot be exonerated because of his “lack of skill”. Officers are trained in military academies, and are supposed to learn from military history and from recent wars (for example the American civil war, or the Ruso-Japanese war). They are also supposed to learn from their own experience – that is – to understand the battles they fight and to apply this knowledge in subsequent battles. Seems that Haig repeated again and again his disastrous and costly tactics. It was not “lack of skill” – it was much worse – it was idiocy.

  • James Hargrave

    And as [university administrator/human resources manager/fill in whatever you like among modern rent-seekers] was part of the “Elect” (Predestined for Salvation) he was, by definition, a good man. Therefore he showed no shame over his conduct – as his conduct was, by definition, good (as he was part of the [secularist] Elect), whatever he did. Backstabbing his boss to get his job?… None of this was anything to be ashamed of, as it was all part of the Divine Plan – Divine Providence, the Will of God.

    Pretty familiar stuff. Head wedged firmly up fundament admiring the view.

  • This comment is about Haig.

    Much left-wing argument is absurd because it does not even think of constructing a “probable distribution for the problem” before then attacking someone savagely for not managing the perfect outcome.

    Germany mobilised more than 10 million men in WWI from start to end. The Royal Navy in Nelson’s day court-martialled any captain who struck his colours before losing a third of his crew. The WWI German army has at least some claim to a similar “world-class” status in its field and therefore should be granted a similar staying power. It was never likely they would quit before losing a large fraction of that more-than-ten-million men.

    The British army was one of three major combatant armies who had the task of inflicting enough harm on the German army to make it ask for an armistice. By the time it really got going (which was also the time Haig took control of it), the other two (France and Russia) had already been somewhat beaten up by their skilful German enemy.

    Ask yourself how many men an average British general, one who was neither a Wellington nor an idiot, would lose while inflicting a third share (at least) of the required German losses. Then ask yourself what the worst day of such a general would look like, since combat is not uniform and everyone has good days and awful days. After you have done this thinking (which is deeply profound for a typical left-winger but should be average for us), then it will be appropriate to compare Sir Douglas Haig with that hypothetical average general, either on the first day of the Somme (by far his and the army’s worst day) or over the whole 1916-1918 period.

    It is in any case sensible to know something of the real Haig. The left-wing widely-touted myth Haig was a callous idiot who hardly had two brain cells to rub together. The real Haig spent two days of his embarkation leave in 1898 touring a machine gun factory. The real Haig warned his officers about the folly of attacking machine guns with unsupported infantry in a conference four days before the battle of Mons in 1914. The real Haig made plenty of mistakes, some easy to see in retrospect, some not so hard to have spotted at the time, but you will never know which was which while blinded by the ridiculous caricature that is the lefty myth Haig.

    (The lefty caricature was not the sole creation of intellectuals; specific political spin played a role. Lloyd-George was chancellor of the exchequer in the pre-war period when British army requests to increase the number of machine guns were turned down on grounds of expense. He had his reasons for telling everyone that the generals failed to appreciate the need for machine guns. Haig, in a letter sent during the Boer war, wrote, “We felt the want of machine guns.”)

    So much for the specific case. This is an example of a more general truth. I can recall, when young, believing all this “WWI generals were idiots” stuff. How many even of our beliefs are insolent myths planted in our minds by left-wing spinners and surviving there only because inadequately examined.

  • This post is about Quantum Theory (almost all of it – Haig gets a mention at the end).

    The Copenhagen Interpretation says that the wave function collapses “when observed”. It defines the probably, possible (and impossible) classical states to which it may collapse. It does not define “observe”; the word insinuates powerfully but its implications are not part of the theory as such. It would be more accurate to say that the wave function will collapse “from time to time” (as the lawyers put it) – and is always found to have collapsed into a classical state by the time anyone with a Ph.D. has completed measuring their experiment’s data.

    One may impose on Al Ghazali – or many another thinker – the idea of God causing the wave function collapse, either directly or via some “Newtonian mechanism”. (Astigmatic curvature of space-time a.k.a source-free gravitational radiation would be my suggested mechanism.) I can’t see that even the mention of Al Ghazali does anything for either side of the argument.

    The Scottish presbyterian idea of predestination arises from compressing the idea of foresighted God within the small mind of John Knox after it had passed through the (not quite so small but still very limited) mind of Calvin. Their understanding of time was crude by Newton’s standards and even cruder by Einstein’s. They derived their doctrine of the elect by making divine knowledge of the future work within their concept of time. (Space-time theory is more relevant than quantum theory to analysing the issue.)

    The union with England had a very happy meliorating effect on Scots presbyterians; it’s wonderful what no longer being able to execute, or even silence, those who disagree can do for making people moderate the harsher aspects of their beliefs. (And vice-versa: hate speech laws harm the PC, not just us.) Haig is the product of long-post-union presbyterianism; the crudities of Knoxian thought do not need to be invoked to explain his character and actions.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The problem with saying that “quantum theory only applies for small groups of particles” is that Q theory applied to a sufficiency of small particles wholly exhausts the list of existing processes, while at the same time providing no mechanism for our large-scale description of those same processes. Q theory’s ‘observer’ would be shameless “deus ex machina” if it weren’t more like “deus ex nihilo”.

  • Patrick Crozier

    ”Patrick – I think everyone knows what I think of your following of establishment historians.”

    Well let’s see.

    Principal Haig detractors:

    David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
    Basil Liddell Hart, Time Military Correspondent (and all-round charlatan)
    Robin Prior, Australian academic
    Dennis Winter, Teacher
    J P Harris, Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst

    Principal Haig defenders:

    Cyril Falls, First World War officer
    John Terraine, Journalist
    Gary Sheffield, Academic
    John Bourne, Academic

    Paddy Griffith – who I tend to rely on – was a freelance writer, deeply suspicious of academe and to the best of my knowledge had no opinion on Haig at all.

  • Mr Ed


    One doesn’t prove a point by ‘weighing’ experts, but by citing facts from the reality of history and deducing proper inferences therefrom. How about my challenge to compare Haig to Cheshire?

    In WW2, there was, particularly in the RAF, a great deal of advancement on merit. Would you assert that Haig advanced on merit?

  • Mr Ed, November 2, 2016 at 3:33 pm: “Would you assert that Haig advanced on merit?”

    He had more merit than Sir John French (a most undemanding standard, admittedly). Kerfuffles around the Irish Home Rule debate had caused the Liberals (then in government) to become enamoured of Sir John just at the point when war broke out. From Kitchener down, both the British army and its allies tended to become less and less so as time passed. Haig’s replacement of Sir John happened too late, not too soon.

    The small pre-war British army meant there were a finite number of realistically-considerable choices until late in the war. By all means sing the praises of Dorrien-Smith, or anyone else who, in the 1914-16 period would have been a realistic alternative.

    It should also be remembered that Lloyd George thought Nivelle was a great commander and virtually put the British Army under his command for the 1917 spring offensive. It is unlikely a commander selected by Lloyd George would have been better. The opposition’s resistance to Lloyd George’s intermittent desire to replace Haig may have prevented his being replaced by someone worse.

  • Alsadius

    Paul: Re quantum, all laws of physics are actually math. That math is what we use to make predictions about how the universe works, but even such basics as conservation of energy or F=ma are subject to overhaul if we start observing exceptions to them. The fact that quantum laws are expressed as math doesn’t make them unreal, it just means that we cannot literally go read the source code of the universe and thus we need to make our best guesses about relationships between variables and then express those in consistent mathematical formulations. If your objection is “it’s math, not science” then you’re actually agreeing with Al-Ghazali here – both of you seem to be saying that mathematical formulations are not the right way to look at cause and effect in the real world. Also, “observer” being a synonym for a conscious human being is Deepak Chopra-style nonsense. The physicists do not mean the word that way.

    Re Haig, the fight over which historians to trust seems to miss the point. The biggest mistake made by the British army in Haig’s time was the decision to launch major set-piece offensives on the Western Front, and that decision was made above his head. Between the Marne and the Ludendorff Offensive, nobody had really figured out how to launch a successful attack in those conditions. The pieces were floating around, and the British army adopted them roughly as fast as anyone else, but they hadn’t really been synthesized into an effective doctrine for a major offensive by anybody until 1918. Look at the casualty ratios for the French army launching similar attacks at similar times(e.g., Loos/Champagne in the fall of 1915) – the casualty ratios were basically the same. Blaming that on Haig or his religion seems to miss the point if the French did just as badly, and the Italians did even worse.

    NB: The Russians faced significantly different conditions, mostly due to the lower force:space ratio in the East, and thus should be considered separately. And the Germans primarily did better because they only attacked when situations favoured them hugely(e.g., Verdun, which was a strategic offensive but a tactical defensive most of the time), and otherwise spent most of their time defending.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall and Patrick,

    May I clarify my query, and apologise for my lax expression. By ‘merit’ I mean ‘objective merit’ rather than ‘comparative merit’, as one is dealing with commanders who make the NKVD Blocking Detachments seem rather easy on their troops.

  • I’m no Haig scholar, to be sure; this Yank had to double-check that it wasn’t William Haig being discussed.

    To Snorri’s question of Haig’s “Calvinism”, this dissertation of Haig notes that both he and his mother were religious and fatalistic. Couple that with his being born in Scotland would make Presbyterian the default religion. While “Reformed” would be the descriptor self-applied by Presbyterians (at least those who still take their theology straight), “Calvinist” is often the pejorative form applied to those erring on the predestination side of the free-will-or-not debate.

  • Jacob

    “Blaming that on Haig or his religion seems to miss the point if the French did just as badly, and the Italians did even worse.”

    That there were no better officers available in the British army (or other armies) at the time – maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t excuse the idiocy of Haig. Sending, again and again, tens or hundreds of thousands of soldiers to attack and be mowed down by machine guns is criminal lunacy. All, for no useful purpose, achieving nothing. A normal, reasonable, average officer would have refused to do it, explaining that he refuses to take responsibility for such massacres. If necessary, if pressed by politicians or allies to do “something”, he should have resigned (or, better, as Paul suggests – committed harakiri).

    The urge and pressure to “do something” is natural, but a General is required to assess if after the attack he will be better off than before, and what the chances to succeed were. Sometimes it is difficult to estimate the losses in advance or the result of the attack. Generals have to take chances, sure. But it wasn’t so in WW1, it was easy to know in advance the losses and the uselessness of the attack.
    I don’t know that it has to do with Haig’s religion – but he surely was a catastrophe as a General.

  • Mr Ed

    Well since my challenge to comapre Haig and Cheshire has led to a deathly, eloquent silence, let us see some points from Cheshire’s career.

    During his time as the commanding officer of No. 76 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Cheshire took the trouble to learn the name of, and recognize every single man on the base. He was determined to increase the efficiency of his squadron and improve the chances of survival of its crews, to this end he constantly lectured crews on the skills needed to achieve those aims. The crews knew he was devoted to their interests and when, on an operation to Nuremberg, they were told to cross the French coast at 2,000 ft (the most dangerous height for light flak) Cheshire simply refused, stating they would fly at 200 ft or 20,000 ft.

    My reading of that is that he wanted his men to live, and to succeed. What would Haig have done?

    And another example:

    August 1942 saw a return to operations as an acting wing commander and commanding officer of No. 76 Squadron RAF. The squadron had recently suffered high losses operating the Halifax, and Cheshire immediately tackled the low morale of the unit by ordering an improvement in the performance of the squadron aircraft by removing the mid-upper and nose gun turrets along with exhaust covers and other weighty non-essential equipment. This allowed the bombers to fly higher and faster. Losses soon fell and morale rose accordingly. Cheshire was amongst the first to note there was very low return rate of Halifax bombers on three engines; furthermore, there were reports the Halifax was unstable in a “corkscrew” which was the manoeuvre used by bomber pilots to escape night fighters. The test pilot Captain Eric Brown, flying uncrewed except for an accompanying flight engineer, undertook risky tests to establish the cause and were told a representative of Bomber Command would fly with them. Brown remembers “We couldn’t believe it, it was Cheshire! We were astonished to say the least. I asked him not to touch (the controls) and to his ever lasting credit he never commented at all, he just sat in the second pilot’s seat and raised his eye brows at what we were doing!” The fault was in the Halifax’s rudder design and Cheshire became enraged when Handley Page at first declined to make modifications so as not to disrupt production.

  • Patrick Crozier


    The purpose of the Somme was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun. In this it was a total success.

    Mr Ed

    Please read my comment again. It is clearly a response to Paul’s claim that I follow “establishment” historians and he doesn’t – a claim that is clearly piffle.

    I fail to see any merit in comparing Haig to Cheshire. They were in very different positions fighting very different wars. And I am not in a position to do so because I know very little about Cheshire. The question I always ask is: “what would I have done differently?”

    “Would you assert that Haig advanced on merit?” Who cares? The only thing that matters is how he performed as Commander-in-Chief. As I said earlier on the key questions of strategy and logistics he was spot on.

    It seems to me that rather too many people have bought into the myth – doubtless taught to them at school – that the First World War was nothing but men marching into machine guns. It wasn’t. There were tactics. There were changes in tactics. Paddy Griffith managed to write two whole books on the subject. I have on numerous occasions listed some of the tactical and technical developments introduced by the British army. But I’ll do it again: creeping barrage, predicted barrage, machine-gun barrage, SS143, CW radio, airborne artillery spotting, flash-buzz, sound ranging, the 106 fuze, chinese barrages, the Livens projector. That’s just some of them.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    And Sir Edward Alderson, Sir Julian Byng, and Sir Arthur Currie acknowledge your listing of accomplishments and say “You’re welcome”.


  • Alsadius

    Jacob: The thing is, much as the mythos of WW1 says that the complete uselessness of attack was obvious, it wasn’t really so. They did try to innovate in every major offensive, to do *something* differently. Mostly that was heavier and heavier bombardments, which turned out to be a complete dead end, but it was a natural enough approach to the problem that they faced. They were not idiots, and they did know that machine gunners were a major problem for their offensives. They tried to deal with those gunners in various ways, and turning the battlefield into a blasted hellscape of “nothing could survive that” or bathing the enemy in awful poisonous gases were both eminently reasonable things to try. Neither worked for any useful length of time, but they couldn’t know that until they tried. The creeping barrage worked far better than the preparatory barrage, but again, they couldn’t know that until someone tried. It was not an obvious strategy, and they tried the obvious strategies first.

    Remember that the successful offensives of 1917-18 also looked a lot like “Sending, again and again, tens or hundreds of thousands of soldiers to attack and be mowed down by machine guns” – they just had different(and better) tactics for trying to stop the machine guns. With the tactical doctrines in place in 1915, nobody could have launched a successful attack on the Western Front. And so nobody did. That is not Haig’s fault – he tried, and he was about as successful as anyone else. By the time 1918 rolled around, the tools for success were there, and Haig was successful. He doesn’t deserve to have his name on the list of greats, but he seems to have been average enough, not some inhumane failure.

    Mr Ed: I had no idea who Chesire was, which is why I made no comment about him. He seems like a good commander, though. Thumbs up for him?

  • Jacob

    About attack vs. defense – or the urge to “do something”. Few if any Generals have gained glory and fame by sticking to defense. It is the attack and breakthrough that is mostly remembered and glorified. So, naturally, Generals are motivated to attack. Haig was especially so motivated, being a Cavalry man. Alas, cavalry and the attack were wrong concepts for WW1. The consequences of the repeated failed attacks were horrendous.

    It is false to assume that the Attack finally succeeded in the second half of 1918, and won the war. It was Defense that won the war – the defense that broke Ludendorf’s spring offensive of 1918. It was this failure that broke the hope and spirit and morale of Germany. This defeat and the blockade and the hardship and deprivation led to Germany’s surrender (spurred also by inner turmoil).

  • Jacob

    Here is a thought: France and Britain were lucky when they were defeated by Germany in the May, 1940 blitzkrieg. Thus they couldn’t engage in premature, piecemeal, costly and failed offensives. They had to wait until 1944, and carry out the offensive only after adequate preparations were made, and circumstances were right to assure success. (One of the circumstances, maybe the main one, was the shifting of the main burden of losses on Russia, and securing the crucial help of the US).

    So, the loss of life, for France and Britain, was substantially smaller in WW2 than WW1, despite the more destructive armament of WW2, and the new practice of bombing cities.

  • Alsadius

    But if the attacks were demanded by the general’s superiors, then you can’t blame the general’s inclinations for them. And while successful defensives can certainly move the balance of power in a war to your advantage, they don’t tend to actually win wars. Germany may have tried the Ludendorff offensive and failed, and blew most of their reserves in the process, but they didn’t surrender until the Hundred Days. Defending in the spring helped ensure victory in the fall, but it did not itself win the war.

    I do agree that the relative lack of ground combat in the west in WW2 helped save a lot of British and French lives, though of course it wound up costing even more Russian and German lives.

  • Jacob, that your analysis ends by making you say that we won by losing in France 1940, and that Haig was a dreadful general because he did not turn pacifist and resign his command, is a fairly adequate comment on the dead end to which stubbornly clinging to myth history leads you.

    Germany lost WWI. The German army lost the large bulk of the men they had to lose on the western front, many of them while facing the British army.

    Germany lost WWII. The German army lost the large bulk of the men they had to lose on the eastern from. That was very lucky for us. Losing in France was not lucky for us. It took a lot of luck to turn that disaster around.

  • Paul Marks

    Infantry tactics are difficult – I do not deny that.

    Douglas Haig as an “inspector of cavalry” (his actual job in India and so on) could be forgiven for not knowing much about them in 1914 (neither did his boss – Sir John French, who was a cavalry man – although a brave fighting man, which I do not believe Haig was, who really did care about his soldiers – which I do not believe Haig did).

    However, that means that Douglas Haig should have been kept well away from any position of command – he should have been in the West Country riding to hounds, or up in Scotland playing golf (fair enough).

    But Haig was given a senior position (indeed he backstabbed his boss, with letters to the Royal Court that violated the chain of command, in order to take his job) even though he, Haig, did not know anything.

    Again other people started off ignorant – for example Arthur Currie (the Canadian commander) started off very ignorant about tactics.

    But what is striking about Douglas Haig was his inability (or unwillingness) to learn about infantry tactics – the subject just seemed to bore him, which is unforgivable in an infantry war. Indeed his supporters even talk as if it was O.K. for the commanding general to be ignorant of these matters – that is was not “the role of Haig” to know about such things.

    Again fair enough – if Haig had been prepared to resign and allow someone who was actually interested (say Plumer or the Earl of Cavan) to take over. But he did not resign – he clung to his position like a limpet on a rock, refusing to accept that the hundreds of thousands of dead British soldiers were anything to do with him.

    It is not just a matter of “do you attack” it is also a matter of HOW you attack – what tactics the infantry use.

    And, yes, the politicians were also to blame – for example David Lloyd-George did not have confidence in Haig (and he was quite right not to), but the Prime Minister did not have the guts to sack Haig (and to lose Robertson – to sack Haig one must be prepared to accept the resignation of Robertson), instead he just kept Haig in place – in spite of making it obvious that he (the Prime Minister) had no confidence in him. That placed the whole army in an impossible position.

    “Back him or sack him” was something that David Lloyd George just ignored.

    It was all rather nice for the Prime Minister.

    “Yes vast numbers of British soldiers are dying in the Passchendaele offensive – but it is nothing to do with me, it is the fault of Gough and Haig and everyone knows I despise them” was the de facto message.

    Had the Prime Minister appointed someone himself (rather than accepting the commanders he inherited from Asquith) then the “the Welsh Wizard” would have had to share the blame if things went wrong.

    Of course Flanders was a “dodgy” place to attack (Haig was repeatedly warned – heavy shelling would cause its drainage system to collapse, but as normal Haig ignored the physical laws of the universe), but it was still possible to have some tactical successes there – with very careful planning.

    One point where Denis Winter (“Haig’s Command”) is clearly wrong is his account of the Passchendaele offensive.

    For example Denis Winter states that the Germans had withdrawn from Messines before Plummer blew up the ridge. It is quite true that the Germans considered pulling out (so that the Allies would “punch empty air” – a common German trick), but they had NOT done so at the actual time that Plumer attacked (had Plumer waited, as Haig wanted, then the Germans would have been gone)

    Some 20 thousand German soldiers would (had they lived) have disagreed rather strongly with Denis Winter about them being withdrawn from the ridge before Plumer blew it up and then attacked. Talking about a tactical pull back is not the same as actually doing it. Ditto Polygon Wood and Broodseinde. Plumer was far from infallible and made mistakes, so did the Earl of Cavan and Arthur Currie (and the rest of the Canadian commanders such as Byng). But such men were clearly interested in what they were doing and did their best to learn – Haig and Gough (and so on) clearly were NOT interested in learning. They “knew nothing – and acted was if they knew it all”.

    As for Foch – one must be fair to Haig.

    Foch was responsible for the general orders that Haig (and his supporters – as echo chamber) claim the credit for. But these orders did not entirely come from the mind of Foch.

    French military intelligence had broken German security in the latter period of 1918- Foch knew what the Germans were doing (whereas they had no idea what he was doing).

    If one is fighting a blind man (and one is not one’self blind) one should be expected to win.

    It must have very frustrating for Haig to watch someone fighting with an advantage that he himself had not possessed – and the temptation to claim the credit for the orders of other men (Foch at the strategic level, Plumer, Currie and others at the tactical level) proved too strong for someone, Haig, whose basic moral character was unsound – and that is putting the matter mildly. And the echo chamber of Haig defenders help the deception by treating the lies of Douglas Haig as a “primary source” (Edmunds started that – the second official historian, after Fortescue had been forced out, Edmunds being the man who did some of “detail work” of Douglas Haig for him – way back at Staff College, and so well used to covering for Haig).

    However, that does not excuse Haig supporting a compromise peace – just as the Allies were winning (partly because millions of American soldiers were starting become available).

    One can feel the utter despair of Foch (and others) as victory was snatched from them – how the world was condemned to the “20 year truce” of 1918-18. Rather than the artificial German state (only created in 1871) being destroyed as it could, and should, have been.

    No the Second World War was not the fault of Douglas Haig alone – I have never claimed that it was. But the Second World War was the fault of the faction of which Douglas Haig was a member.

    The Allies were winning – the artificial state (created in 1871) could have been destroyed (with Hanover, Bavaria and so on regaining their independence), at the very least the Allies could have marched into Berlin to show the Germans that they had really LOST THE WAR. Instead we get the wretched compromise peace – which doomed the world to another World War.

  • Mr Ed, Cheshire was clearly an admirable commander. However…

    Are you aware that bomber crew losses in WWII compare with British army officer losses in WWI (bomber crew are almost all officers). The absolute totals are much smaller, but when you look at percentages, Cheshire was part of a system that sent men again and again into a battle where losses were high.

    Are you also aware of the contempt Goebbels expressed for “agricultural bombing” – his term for the early part of our bomber offensive. Are you aware that late in the war, Speer commented that the bombing strategy had improved and that “the enemy – from his point of view – has, until recently, been committing absurdities” (Speer memo, quoted in Speer’s memoirs, from which I quote it from memory). Cheshire was part of a system that lost a serious percentage of its combatants while taking a long time to start really harming its enemy. From 1916 (the battle of the Somme) to 1918 (the battle of Amiens, after which Ludendorff began to think the war was lost) was two years. From 1941 to (for example) 1943 (the Hamburg firestorm) was also two years – and bomber command were far from being consistently effective even then.

    Since he never commanded anything like the same number of men, it is hard to say how Cheshire would have performed if raised to Haig’s level of command. History is full of commanders who did well with a small force and badly with a large one. (Sir John French had a respectable record as a commander of small units in the Boer war. He was worse than Haig in WWI on any assessment.)

    If we assume Cheshire would have graduated to the command of masses without loss of effectiveness – perhaps, indeed, he would have done – I submit that these similarities between bomber command and the western front give no grounds for assuming he would differed from Haig by orders of magnitude. He might have been better – but he would still have lost many men in the process of killing enough Germans to win the war, and so been the target of the same vicious post-war myth-history that enveloped Haig.

  • Paul Marks

    As for following establishment types – even the language of Patrick (in past posts and comments) confirms this.

    “Easterners”, “Mad Schemes of Churchill”.

    There is no evidence, at least no evidence that I have seen, that Patrick has studied the works of Colonel Barker (and other soldiers) on operations against the Ottomans. As for Winston Churchill – perhaps “Too Important For The Generals” (written by a someone with long personal experience of being a soldier – and savaged by people on Amazon who have no experience of killing people) would be a good place to start.

    Where Winston Churchill can be faulted is not in his ideas (which were normally, although not always, correct) – but in his failure to to either gain personal command of operations or to have them placed in the hands of people he trusted. The establishment response to Churchill was basically “O.K. will will do X – but only half way, and we will put people in command who have no faith in the mission what-so-ever” and Churchill should have responded by just telling them to fuck off (those very words – sweet F.O.). There is a time for profanity – it can make a vital point where other words have no effect.

    It carried on actually – even after the Second World War the first thing the establishment (in this case the Ministry of Supply) did was to shut down the “Toy Factory” of Winston Churchill (where so many vital inventions had been made) and try to destroy all memory of it. The British establishment really are a rotten lot – they would rather lose (even a war that is a vital struggle for survival) than have anyone challenge their bureaucratic ways of doing things.

    I remember the years I spent at University College London – I used to go the Senate House (does not belong to U.C.L – it is much more general than that) to listen to the establishment historians (and other such) talk. They were all pro Haig – and all pro E.U. as well. The Establishment mind.

  • Paul Marks

    On physics.

    Either the electron has been emitted or it has not.

    Either the piece of paper (let us forget the cat) has turned blue, or it has not turned blue

    It is nothing to do with an “observer” – UNLESS we mean in a physical sense (i.e. the photons of light, arranged in a wave, that allow the observer to see – physically have a effect on what is observed).

    To argue otherwise is not physics – it is a mystical cult, fit for Al Ghazali (or a certain person of the same faith who makes shows for the BBC).

    On the universe in general.

    It is objective – it exists, even if we die and no longer “observe” it.

    On morality.

    Moral right and moral wrong are also objective – not dependent on “race”, “class” or “historical stage”. And, with effort, we can perceive what is morally right and what is evil.

    And we can choose (again with effort) to do what is morally right against our “passion” to do what is evil.

    In short both the Aristotelians and the Common Sense School (Thomas Reid and co) were correct – and David Hume and co were wrong.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall K,

    Bomber Command progressed from getting within 5 miles of a bomb release point to getting to 70 feet by war’s end, and with the Tallboy and Grand Slam, they had precision weapons, highly accurate and devastating, as the Tirpitz found. Bomber Command’s mission was effectively new in 1939, and they had to develop a host of technologies to navigate, jam radar and target mark.

    Yes Bomber Command had terrible losses, but a lot of the worst losses were probably early on with the Blenheims or the Fairey Battles, aircraft that were not fit for purpose. Then came the 4-engine heavies (although the Stirling was not quite what it might have been) and the Mosquito, the Berlin Express, twice a night to Berlin for some aircraft. Early on in the war, Bomber Command would often drop leaflets over Germany, ludicrous.

    What is perfectly obvious except perhaps to anyone who is either not immensely stupid or psychologically flawed in wishing to take a perverse contrary view on matters, was that (i) Cheshire was prepared to take the risks that he wanted his men to take (and the nature of his command gave him some discretion here, which to be fair Haig could not have had) and (ii) he actively sought ways to reduce the risks to his men and improve survival rates.

    Had Haig had Cheshire’s personality and attitude, he would have at least sought to maximise the effectiveness of his forces and minimise losses. The Sage of Kettering has set out Haig’s flaws at length, it is difficult to see how, had he been a German agent, Haig would have acted differently.

    And Goebbels, if he was so confident that Bomber Command was useless, why were the 1,000-Bomber raids not used to taunt the Allies and Occupied Europe about their ineffectiveness?

  • if he was so confident that Bomber Command was useless, why were the 1,000-Bomber raids not used to taunt the Allies and Occupied Europe about their ineffectiveness?

    In 1942, Bomber Command might as well have been carrying out agricultural bombing as it could scarcely hit large cities at night, let alone a synthetic oil plant like Leuna. By late 1944, Bomber Command was hitting point targets within 100 feet at night and sometimes in 10/10 cloud using Oboe/H2S and trashing synthetic oil plants as a matter of course.

  • Paul Marks, some minor comments on yours of November 3, 2016 at 2:17 pm.

    1) “Wullie” Robertson had the unique distinction of having occupied each and every rank in the British army from private to field marshal. If Haig, with his cavalry background, was too ignorant of infantry tactics for the job, why did Wullie – who clearly knew an unusual amount about infantry soldiering – stubbornly resist Lloyd-George’s attempts to replace him?

    In the years before WWI, British cavalry almost always fought dismounted, and trained accordingly. It was described as the finest cavalry in Europe for dismounted work. It’s pre-war machine-gun tactics manual proved to be more accurate than the pre-war infantry manual (both, of course, had a vast amount to learn).

    2) As regards

    “that does not excuse Haig supporting a compromise peace – just as the Allies were winning”

    I’m rather with you on that point (while noting that the decision was ultimately political, not Haig’s). However I must leave you to defend yourself against Jacob (November 2, 2016 at 8:32 pm) who seems to think that Haig should have demanded ending the war or else refused to play any more part in it, much earlier. 🙂

    Haig’s desire to end the killing as soon as possible is understandable. His failure to appreciate fully how certain it was to end very soon on any terms was perhaps a failure of political rather than military appreciation. His recent experience was of being able to kick the German army out of any line they took up, after which that army occupied a new line further back. He, like several on the allied side, failed to appreciate how rapidly and completely both home front and army were collapsing at the point the German command asked for an armistice.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course there are ironies in history – I hope I have never denied that.

    For example the Chaplin of Parliament during the Civil War was Ralph Cudwoth (the arch critic of Thomas Hobbes).

    But think about that – most key people on the side of Parliament (the “New Model Army” most certainly) claimed to be part of “The Elect”. Like Douglas Haig they thought themselves justified at the start of the universe (written into the Book of Life before the universe was even created) – although Oliver Cromwell (unlike Douglas Haig) never allowed any such belief to interfere with his study of tactics – perhaps NOT being a professional soldier made Cromwell more open to learning about tactics (I do not know). Cromwell may have believed he was part of a Divine Plan – but he always acted as if he was not, as if everything depended on him learning and thinking about things (not just leaving it up to the being upstairs “if God wills it” as the followers of mainstream Islam say).


    The Chaplin of the Parliamentary side was perhaps the most important OPPONENT of the doctrine of Predestination of the age.

    In theory Oliver Cromwell may have believed that Thomas Hobbes (and Martin Luther and John Calvin) were correct – that humans are sort of wind up dolls pre programmed to do what we do (English speakers often do not understand that “here I stand, I can do no other” is not a statement of moral conscience by Mr Luther, it was meant literally).

    But, in practice, Oliver Cromwell acted as if Ralph Cudworth was correct – i.e. that humans are not flesh robots (as Thomas Hobbes teaches), that we have moral agency (real choice). He studied tactics and thought about them deeply – changing his methods to suit the changing the situation.

    In spite of him being a cavalry soldier and from centuries in the past – I would have been much happier with Oliver Cromwell being put in command on the Western Front (after a few weeks of study to “get up to speed” with technical developments in the centuries whilst he was…… well wherever the dead go) than Douglas Haig being in command.

    Observe with your own eyes (for example the detailed observation at Nasby), think about what you have seen and seek expert advice on technical matters, then decide what to do (and decide fast – “slow = dead”).

    It should be noted that when Cromwell fell out with his allies in Scotland he crushed an army that greatly outnumbered his own forces – the invasion of Scotland was perhaps his best campaign.

    This was partly because the bureaucratic Scottish authorities insisted on being in command of the Scottish Army – even though they were many miles from the battlefield and (therefore) did not really understand the position.

    As far as they (the Scottish authorities) were concerned they did not need to see things for themselves – as they were acting as mere instruments for “Divine Providence” (as Haig used to say).

    Cromwell may have paid lip service to the same doctrine – but he acted as if he had no faith in it at all.

    In the 18th and 19th centuries both the Duke of M. and the Duke of W. had a touch of the Cromwell about them – no matter how much they might not have liked to be linked to the upstart farmer from Ely. They both really thought about what they were going to do – and then did it.

    Patton and Macarthur are good examples from the 20th century.

    Patton turned an whole army round in response to the Battle of the Bulge – Ike and the others thought it was impossible and where amazed when Patton managed it. What they did not know is that Patton and his junior officers had already put plans in place in relation to what they would do if the Germans attacked where they did.

    Douglas Macarthur controlled a battle space the size of third of the world (the Pacific) – but kept the tactical level in mind. As did his rival the Naval commander Nimitz.

    They commanders I have mentioned were sincerely interested in what they did – they had a genuine love of their subject.

    “Paul killing people is not a subject”.

    I am sorry but it is a subject – and unless you have a love of the subject you are not going to study it properly.

  • Paul Marks

    Niall Kilmartin – I have a biography in front of me of a “Teenage Tommy” in the cavalry, he indeed fought dismounted (although also mounted).

    The thing about Douglas Haig is that he had limited experience of either.

    Actually Haig was a good rider (unlike Allenby – who was not), but being good at riding to hounds (and so on) does not make one a good commander automatically. Indeed Haig was not voted in as master of the hunt – because his brother officers thought he lacked the skill to actually plan a hunt (Allenby could not ride as well – but he could think better, although of course he made mistakes).

    Why do I think Robertson stuck with Haig.

    “Organisation Man”.

    Robertson was loyal to the organisation – to the institution of the army (where he had been all his life). He was not some upstart farmer from Ely who came in as Member of Parliament and did as he liked.

    One might was well ask why the Managing Director of Wicksteed Park is not replaced – after all his policies have increased spending and reduced revenue (very large sums of revenue used to come from the main gate – especially on Sunday mornings, now they do not).

    I am not, however, sitting here waiting for the call to take over the park.

    It is the British way Niall – incompetence gets rewarded, if one “looks the part” and “says the right thing”.

    And Haig was a past master at that sort of play acting – “few words, but manly words”, never a hair out of place, uniform spotless……

    Organisation people.

  • Paul Marks

    If one had asked Robertson “what are we trying to do?” one would not have got a sensible answer out of him – he would (in his over stressed working class accent – dropping his hs as no one else in his family did) have just delivered a “put down”.

    He was playing a role – a different role to Haig. But still playing a role. Over stressing his humble origins (rather than hiding them) was part of that. As was always being “part of the organisation” – the good man who could be relied upon……

    A perfect approach for going from “Private to Field Marshall” – and that was an astonishing achievement.

    By the way – my mind is drawing a blank (alas my health is not good) what battles was Robertson in command of?

  • Mr Ed

    On this blog’s 15th birthday, this has to be the QOTD from the Sage of Kettering:


    The Chaplin of the Parliamentary side was perhaps the most important OPPONENT of the doctrine of Predestination of the age.

    I’m just saying, for the record.

  • Alsadius

    Paul: Re physics, your mental model of how the universe ought to work does not always line up with how it actually does. For example look at the classical two-slit experiment. You pass a wave through two slits, and you can see an interference pattern thereafter, as the waves spread out. Works with any wave. Light works a lot like a particle in some ways, but it acts like a wave in the two-slit experiment. A single photon can be fired through two slits, go through both, and interfere with itself. Interestingly, this doesn’t just happen with light. As it happens, you can do precisely the same thing with an electron. You might say “The electron has to go through one slit or the other”, but you would be empirically wrong. Electrons are particles, yes, but they act like waves sometimes.

    The physical universe is real, and it follows reliable rules, but it doesn’t always behave like you might expect it to. That implies a fault in your understanding, not a fault in the universe. The Copenhagen Interpretation(and every other interpretation of quantum mechanics, for that matter) provides a far more accurate description of how the universe actually works than classical physics does. This is not mysticism, this is fact. It may someday be proven to be imperfect, but it’s better than your model is. At the level of everyday experience the classical model is indistinguishable from true(which is why it is still taught, and why our intuitions are based off it), but it has holes that become evident as your ability to observe the universe gets better. This is why the Rothbardian approach of “Don’t worry about all that real-world observation stuff, just listen to philosophy!” is so painfully stupid. You have to reason from the right axioms to get the right results, and the only way to tell if you’re doing that is to go out into the real world and look.

    Re Haig, you’re getting too deep into the weeds for me to comment on much, but the armistice and the failure to march into Berlin seems like one where a point is worth making. Point one, the war had been going on for over four years, and millions were dead. The desire for peace(if it could be had on acceptable terms) was effectively universal. Point two, the interwar agonies of Germany were still in the future, and thus much harder to predict. Yes, some managed it, but more didn’t. For three, here’s a quote from Churchill’s book on the eventual German armistice offer:

    Parliament was disposed to be suspicious of the Armistice terms until they heard them. But when the document was read overwhelming thankfullness filled all hearts. No one could think of any further stipulation. Immediate evacuation of invaded countries; repatriation of all inhabitants; surrender in good condition of 5,000 guns, 30,000 machine guns, 3,000 minenwerfers, 2,000 aeroplanes; evacuation of the left bank of the Rhine; surrender of 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 waggons, 5,000 motor lorries in good working order(and with spare parts); disclosure of all mines, of delay-action fuses, and assistance in their discovery and destruction; immediate repatriation without reciprocity of all prisoners of war; abandonment of the Treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk; surrender of 6 battle-cruisers, the best 10 battleships, 8 light cruisers, 50 of the best destroyers; surrender of all submarines; the right of the Allies on failure of execution of any condition to denounce the Armistice within 48 hours. Such were the covenanted clauses. And thus did Germany hand herself over powerless and defenceless to the discretion of her long tortured and now victorious foes!

    Any Allied leader who refused that offer would have been criminally neglectful – nobody who had even the slightest care for the lives of their men could possibly have refused that offer. German self-delusion later on about how well they had done does not change that. If Haig wanted to accept it and Foch did not, you’re making Haig sound like he cared more about his men than Foch did. Of course, you’d be wrong about Foch – his famous quote was after the terms of the permanent peace treaty were announced, not after the armistice. He personally signed the armistice, and seems to have dictated many of its terms. But if your problem is what happened at Versailles, you need to blame Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando – they were the ones who wrote it. Haig wasn’t there.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall, if you are still here: i’d be interested in learning more about this:

    The Scottish presbyterian idea of predestination arises from compressing the idea of foresighted God within the small mind of John Knox after it had passed through the (not quite so small but still very limited) mind of Calvin. Their understanding of time was crude by Newton’s standards and even cruder by Einstein’s. They derived their doctrine of the elect by making divine knowledge of the future work within their concept of time. (Space-time theory is more relevant than quantum theory to analysing the issue.)

    I don’t suppose that this can be explained in a blog comment, but perhaps you can point to relevant literature.

    Mind you, i don’t think that a sophisticated concept of time is needed to reject incompatibilism: the proof is that everybody rejects it in practice. You often hear people say: she is just like her mother! or: of course he behaves like that, he grew up in Madagascar! And yet, ask the people saying that if they believe that (s)he has free will, and they’ll suspect that you have concussion. Paul Marks himself cannot bring himself to attribute to Haig consistent determinist-incompatibilist beliefs, as i said above.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “Some 20 thousand German soldiers would (had they lived) have disagreed rather strongly with Denis Winter about them being withdrawn from the ridge before Plumer blew it up and then attacked.” Paul Marks

    Wow, that’s a howler. The true number was less than a thousand.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Paul Marks: “But what is striking about Douglas Haig was his inability (or unwillingness) to learn about infantry tactics – the subject just seemed to bore him, which is unforgivable in an infantry war.”

    Drivel. If anything the First World War was an artillery war. That was the arm that did most of the killing. And anyway, Haig’s chief responsiblities were strategy and logistics. Infantry tactics were for the generals/training schools, artillery tactics for the MGRAs. It’s known as delegation.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Paul Marks, and Alsadius- I tend to agree with Paul about the Universe being Objectively real, and I claimed earlier to have found a way to bring back Einstein’s hidden variables. This could also be applied to the two-slit experiment! Physicists still act and theorise as though what we call vacuums really are totally empty! But Zero-point energy is real. Therefore no real vacuums exist- we are all surrounded by seas of virtual particles. the Casimir effect proved that you could create low-pressure areas for virtual particles. Why aren’t physicists using this to look into things like the two-split experiment? Pressure waves of virtual particles could also explain how light ‘knows’ the path of least resistance to take when travelling between mediums, going through water into air, etc. The photon would just take the path with more virtual particles with which it can react.
    Who needs the many-worlds theory when virtual particle theory could replace it?

  • Alsadius

    The two are not opposed – virtual particles are a quantum effect.

    The easiest way to think of quantum, FWIW, is that everything is a wave. Bigger particles are just waves with shorter wavelengths, and most particles are so heavy that this isn’t an issue(even protons can be thought of as classical particles for most purposes). With proper understanding(http://lesswrong.com/lw/r5/the_quantum_physics_sequence/ is a good guide for non-specialists, though it’s long and the author is kind of weird on a few points), it’s not really that scary.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Yes, but Einstein was still looking within the atom for the hidden variables! If he had taken the idea of quantum particles, and zero-point energy, seriously, then he could have used them to explain why atoms disintegrate, for instance.

  • Alsadius

    Yeah, but Einstein has been dead for 60 years. Lots of other smart physicists exist, and they’ve figured out atomic disintegration pretty well.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    So how come they never mention it in any of their textbooks? I look through physics books occasionally, and I never see anything about how zero-point energy is pressing the cores of atoms together, or how the creation of a vacuum between a proton and an electron, when their photons cancel each other out, brings them together, because the photons emitted on the opposite site are now not matched, and thus push their emitting particles in the other direction.

  • Jacob

    Alsadius: “But if the attacks were demanded by the general’s superiors, then you can’t blame the general’s inclinations for them.”

    A General, especially the top General cannot hide behind excuses like: “I just followed orders”.
    Actually – nobody can or should.

  • Jacob

    “In 1942, Bomber Command might as well have been carrying out agricultural bombing”

    This question is well worth asking: were the losses incurred by the “agricultural bombing” justified?
    Wasn’t this a case of the urge to “do something” ? Sacrificing people in vain.
    Wouldn’t it have been better or more logical to develop the accurate bombing sights and techniques first, and only then start the bombing campaign?

  • Jacob

    ” [Jacob] who seems to think that Haig should have demanded ending the war or else refused to play any more part in it, much earlier. ?”

    I didn’t say Haig should have demanded to end the war. I said – he should have refused to engage in offensive campaigns that resulted in huge casualties without any achievements. He should have convinced his superiors that this course was not wise and not acceptable, that you maintain defense until such time when an attack is not too costly, and has a good chance to achieve decisive results.
    He should have resigned if his advice was rejected.

  • Paul Marks

    Absolutely Alsadius – the universe may be quite different from what it appears to be.

    However, that must not be used as an excuse for pushing nonsense.

    Either the electron has been emitted or it has not been emitted – basic logic.

    Saying “it has neither been emitted or not been emitted till someone observes the situation” is just nonsense, non – sense.

    In fact it denies the basic subject matter of physics – the objective external world (the universe). If it is correct then there is no such subject as physics – it has “proved” is own nonexistence as a subject.

    Naught to do with a “mental image” – just a matter of basic logic.

  • Paul Marks

    Robertson was an astonishing man.

    A wonderful runner, marksman, an expert at every sport. A “fine figure of a man” as the saying used to be.

    He was also a very hard working – doing every job (no matter was) 100%, map making, transporting prisoners, writing reports. All would be done perfectly.

    With the help of his wife he was also a language teacher and translator.

    And he was also physically brave.

    However, a military structure where someone can get to such a high position without actually being in command in any major action – is a rather odd military structure.

    Also his habit of refusing to discuss tactical or strategic options was odd.

    The attitude of Robertson was simple.

    I will present the view of the army (as an institution) – and I will not seriously discuss alternative options. I am just going to sneer at you (deliver short, one line, put-downs) till you agree with the army – or sack me.

    I would have done the latter. The primacy of the government over the army must be maintained. And there are always options – if one’s military adviser refuses to seriously discuss options, he is of no use as a military adviser.

    Discuss does NOT mean “agree” – but if Robertson was not prepared to even seriously discuss other options, there was little point in having him in this particular post.

    A combat command – where he could have used his physical bravery and fine mind (and been his own boss), would have been a much better use of the talents of Robertson. It would have been interesting to see what he could do – I am sure he would have given the same 100% commitment Robertson had given to all other roles in his life.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Mr Ed raises an interesting question about commanders caring about their men and gives Cheshire as an exemplar.

    So how does Haig measure up to the Cheshire yardstick? The first question is how could/would he? I believe to be a military axiom that the shorter a war the fewer people die. If true, then the commander-in-chief’s job is to make the war as short as possible.

    How would he have done that in the case of the First World War? Well, he wouldn’t have done it by flair. The Western Front was, by its nature attritional. Therefore, the key was to concentrate on its system. This includes things like equipment, supply and tactics; making sure that the men had the right stuff in the right quantities, in the right place at the right time and knew how to use them.

    But there’s a problem with this. In 1915 they didn’t know quite what was needed. They had a pretty good idea that they were going to need a lot of shells and a lot of guns. But when it came to precisely how to use them they were far from sure. So they were groping around for solutions. Unfortunately, when you are groping around for solutions in the middle of a war lots of people get killed.

    The improvements made in the BEF’s system of war under Haig were extraordinary. Just about everywhere you look you will find better equipment, better numbers, better tactics. Haig cannot take all the credit for this – obviously the expansion of the munition industry in Britain and America was hugely important – but there was still plenty to do when it arrived in France.

    But there’s more to this. Britain was fighting a coalition war. The BEF could have been the best army in the world but it still needed its allies. Another military axiom is force concentration. If you all strike at once the effect will be greater than if you all strike separately. Hence the need to co-ordinate with the French. Hence, the Chantilly agreement in 1915, hence the Somme when Verdun was attacked, hence Arras just before the Nivelle Offensive and hence the unified command in 1918. And hence, it might be added, Passchendaele – an offensive fought when the Russians were disintegrating and the French still recovering from the mutinies.

    Again and again Haig did everything he could to be a good coalition partner.

    There’s another thing. In August 1918 Haig became the first senior allied commander to spot that victory was possible before year end. Thus he issued his “Risks” order. The Hundred Days Offensive was, of course, extraordinarily bloody but imagine what if the war had carried on into 1919. The Germans would have had many months to prepare new defences on shorter supply lines at a time when 300,000 British soldiers were getting killed every year. There is only one conclusion: Haig’s “Risks” order saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

  • Patrick Crozier

    @Mark Byron

    Thanks for the link. Fascinating stuff.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick – as you have been told many times………

    The tactics the British army used, for example, in the Second Day of the Battle of Loos in 1915 (fire off a lot of stuff – and then send in the infantry in line) had not worked a 100 years before at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

    British observers had condemned the Russian Army for using tactics like this at the siege of P. in the war with Turkey in 1878.

    There is no military excuse for the actions of Douglas Haig in 1916, 1917 or early 1918 (afterwards he was basically sidelined – although he and his defenders deny that he was sidelined)

    And there is no moral excuse for the failure of Douglas Haig to take responsibility for his blundering, which cost so many lives. Whether it is strategically and tactically misconceived offensives, or his poorly planned defence (although he blamed Gough for the poor defence – whose crony had Gough been for four years?) with relied on redoubts.

    If Haig had a Christian objection to suicide (and I accept he may have done) he should have resigned. And then gone to live somewhere where he could have been of service – in some humble capacity.

    By the way – although this has been pointed out to you many times Patrick.

    Your account of the Western Front from August 1918 onwards (giving Douglas Haig the credit for X,Y,Z) is fiction. And you know it is fiction as above you list Denis Winter as one of the people you have read on the subject.

    But then that does fit in with your account of the rest of the war Patrick – an account which is also fiction.

    Good day to you Sir.

  • NickM

    There is an old, old military dictum, “never reinforce failure”. Surely they taught that at Sandhurst?

    Haig did just that. So did Arthur Harris a quarter of a century latter.

  • Snorri Godhi, November 3, 2016 at 7:52 pm, requested more on my remarks about predestination and scientific understanding in the 16th century and after. He correctly notes it might be a huge subject. He suggested references to the relevant literature – but that’s a huge subject in itself. Being asked, I will write a little – and I do mean a very, very little in relation to the subject.

    When I was at Oxford, I knew philosophers who disbelieved in free will. They claimed that all our acts are in fact predetermined (by our upbringing, social influences, body chemistry, et al.) It was one of their students who once baldly stated to me that it must be so “because I can’t understand how it could be otherwise”; the philosophers themselves were less obvious (and less self-aware). However the student’s summary seemed to me an exact explanation of their position (an exact philosophical explanation, that is; the opinion had its advantages for left-wingers, especially as selectively applied by them).

    (From memory – I’m not at home right now so the book is not in front of me, so it may well be in another work by him), Roger Penrose, in “Spinors and Spacetime”, has an early chapter on how Newton could have described his theory to make it obviously generalisable to Einstein’s. Newton was worried about how his distinguished set of inertial frames could be known to the universe, and has discussions about what it means that water dimples in a twirled bucket, etc., etc. Of later thinkers pre-Einstein, only Berkeley (IIRC) reflected on that aspect. Newton did not present his theory in that way, and almost all ignored that aspect of his thought before Einstein – or rather, before Einstein’s work caused people to realise why Newton had been worried.

    John Calvin (and his Scottish imitator John Knox), were pre-Newtonian. They believed that God knew the future but, as C.S.Lewis put it (in The Screwtape Letters and elsewhere), they unreflectingly imagined that this was a peculiarity of God’s perception – that time as they themselves experienced it and (mis)understood it was the ultimate reality. Thus God’s omniscience was simply thought of as if a John Knox had the ability to consult some book of “what will happen next” and say to John Smith in his congregation, “Tomorrow, you will commit a grievous sin!” not, as the actual John Knox would do it, by simply assuming that his vile and degenerate flock were doing that kind of thing all the time, but from absolute knowledge of the exact deed and absolute certainty that it would be done.

    If John Knox, living n a single universal timeline with the predicted person, could state that person’s every action tomorrow with utter certainty, he would appear to have removed free will from that person – or rather, to have demonstrated that he never had it. So (among many other things) God must know who is damned before they are born and they have no free will to alter this knowledge.

    That these conclusions violently contradicted normal Christian thought was pointed out by many. In the hilarious written dispute between Knox and “Careless by Necessity” (a Dutch anabaptist minister – think Quaker and you’re not too far wrong), must readers of this blog will choose the compassionate Dutchmen over Knox’ furious denunciations of his ‘Amsterdamnable opinions’. However the common unreflecting idea of time that was held at that time ( 🙂 ) made it puzzling how to refute Knox ‘scientifically’. The idea of God as outside the timeline very much existed in Christian thought but in a vague form; it was not much thought of, still less systematised.

    In modern physics, a massless particle experiences no time. A being in this universe that consisted of pure energy would, if it could exist at all, experience all of its existence as one single unbounded now, without depriving anyone of free will, any more than a light ray deprives you of free will when it travels from the sun (8 minutes ago in your time) to your eye. And a curved space-time naturally raises speculations of whether anything or anyone could be outside it. So the logic of Calvin and Knox, never mind their (lacking) compassion, will convince few.

    Snorri, as this long comment indicates, the literature is spread out. For theology, C.S.Lewis is very interested in time and would be one starting point. For the science, Penrose’ essay is one way to approach the subject. John Muir’s biography of John Knox looks at the logic or illogic of how Calvinism was understood in Scotland. There are loads of books that contain relevant insights and none I know of that actually cover this subject.

    Of course, when commenting on a post that goes from Al Ghazali to Douglas Haig, one can hardly complain that no single book covers the subject. 🙂

  • Snorri Godhi, November 3, 2016 at 7:52 pm, requested more on my remarks about predestination and scientific understanding in the 16th century and after. He correctly notes it might be a huge subject. He suggested references to literature – but that’s a huge subject in itself. Being asked, I will write a little – and I do mean a very, very little in relation to the subject.

    When I was at Oxford, I knew philosophers who disbelieved in free will. They claimed that all our acts are in fact predetermined (by our upbringing, social influences, body chemistry, etc.) It was one of their students who once baldly stated to me that it must be so “because I can’t understand how it could be otherwise”; the philosophers themselves were less obvious (and less self-aware). However the student’s summary seemed to me an exact explanation of their position (an exact philosophical explanation, that is; the opinion had its advantages for left-wingers, especially as selectively applied by them).

    (From memory – I’m not at home right now so the book is not in front of me, so it may well be in another work by him), Roger Penrose, in “Spinors and Spacetime”, has an early chapter on how Newton could have described his theory to make it obviously generalisable to Einstein’s. Newton was worried about how his distinguished set of inertial frames could be known to the universe, and tried to address this via discussions about what it means that water dimples in a twirled bucket, etc., etc. Newton did not present his theory in Penrose’ way and almost all (Berkeley may be an exception) ignored that aspect of Newton’s thought before Einstein – or rather, before Einstein’s work caused people to realise why Newton had been worried.

    John Calvin (and his Scottish imitator John Knox), were pre-Newtonian. They believed that God knew the future but, as C.S.Lewis put it (in The Screwtape Letters and elsewhere), they unreflectingly imagined that that was a peculiarity of God’s perception – that time as they themselves experienced it and (mis)understood it was the ultimate reality. Thus God’s omniscience was simply thought of as if a John Knox had the ability to consult some book of “what will happen next” and say to John Smith in his congregation, “Tomorrow, you will commit a grievous sin!” not, as the actual John Knox would do it, by simply assuming that his vile and degenerate flock were doing that kind of thing all the time, but from absolute knowledge of the exact deed and absolute certainty that it would be done.

    If John Knox, living in the same single universal timeline as the predicted person, could state that person’s every action tomorrow with utter certainty, he would appear to have removed free will from that person – or rather, to have demonstrated that John Smith never had free will. So (among many other things), God must know who is damned before they are even born and they have no freedom to alter their predestined fate.

    That these conclusions violently contradicted normal Christian thought was pointed out by many. In the hilarious written dispute between Knox and “Careless by Necessity” (a Dutch anabaptist minister – think Quaker and you’re not too far wrong), most readers of this blog will choose the compassionate Dutchman over Knox’ furious denunciations of his ‘Amsterdamnable opinions’. However the common unreflecting idea of time that was held at that time ( 🙂 ) made it puzzling how to refute Knox ‘scientifically’. The idea of God as outside the timeline very much existed in Christian thought but was not much thought of, still less systematised, in what then passed for scientific reasoning.

    The special theory of relativity says that a massless particle experiences no time. Even within this universe, a being of pure energy (assuming such could exist) would have all their experience in a single unbounded now (no past or future), but would no more detroy your free will than a photon of light does when it leaves the sun (some 8 minutes ago by your time) and enters your eye. The general theory of relativity asserts the curvature of spacetime – and so easily gives rise to conjecture whether anything or anyone could be outside not just space but also time. Thus Knox would have a hard time today selling his reasoning in science and logic, let alone as regards its less compassionate aspects.

    Snorri, you mentioned literature. You will not be surprised that a comment on a post about Al Ghazali and Douglas Haig offers no single book on the subject. A vast literature has insights into one or other aspect of all this. For the theology, C.S.Lewis is much interested in time and is one place to start (there must be thousands of theological and philosophical works on freewill and determinism). For the pre-and-post Einstein idea, Penrose’ essay is one of many places to start. John Muir’s biography of John Knox discusses how calvinist reasoning was understood in Scotland – and loads of other people have written about that, about Calvin, etc.

  • “John Muir’s biography of John Knox’ should have been “Edwin Muir’s biography of John Knox ‘ (John Calvin, John Knox, John Smith – it was an easy mistake to make 🙂 ).

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: many thanks. Even after imbibing more alcohol than John Knox would probably approve of, it sort of makes sense to me. Still, i’ll want to reread and possibly reply tomorrow. (No predestination implied.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heh… “Johns, Johns, Johns — the world is full of Johns!”

    (To be taken as you will *g*. But blame Niall just above — his list reminded me of “Words, words, words, / I’m so sick of words!” as Eliza sang.)


    But to the point, thanks for your discussion of “free will” (the quotes to emphasize that not everyone has the same idea of the meaning of the phrase) and its place in Christian and scientific thought some centuries ago, and the interplay of these lines of thought.

    Should you care to write a series of long, serious articles on the topic (“Epistemology in scientific and Christian thought in the 16th-17th centuries, with special attention to the issues of predestination and free will”?), I for one would be very interested to read them.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Paul, Just to be sure on this, are you denying the existence of the “Risks” order of 22 August 1918?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: after re-reading your latest comment, it still makes sense, as regards the possibility of reconciling God’s foreknowledge with “free will”. I claim that there is a problem with your concept of “free will”, however, which is prior to issues of Divine foreknowledge and even physical determinism. You say:

    If John Knox, living in the same single universal timeline as the predicted person, could state that person’s every action tomorrow with utter certainty, he would appear to have removed free will from that person – or rather, to have demonstrated that John Smith never had free will.

    I reject this proposition. That John Smith has free will, as the term is commonly understood (outside the Oxford Philosophy Department), means that John Smith can choose, from the range of actions physically feasible by him, the course of action that best conforms with his values. If (by hypothesis) John Knox had perfect knowledge of John Smith’s values, then Knox could predict “with utter certainty” what Smith was going to do in any circumstance. To deny that, is to deny that Smith’s actions are determined by Smith’s values: unpleasant as that might be in Oxford (and to Paul Marks), it is free will that makes Smith’s actions predictable in principle. That is why i see the “problem” of free will as a pseudo-problem. (Pace Wittgenstein, there are authentic philosophical problems, but free will is not one of them.)

    Just to be clear, when i say “values”, i mean a system of explicit (verbalized) principles, moral intuitions/moral sentiments, and instincts: human action is determined by the interplay of these 3 sets of factors, and inner conflicts inevitably arise, and even Smith cannot know in advance which value/factor will have the upper hand in his inner conflicts, because he does not know their relative strengths.

    Now, i suppose that the Oxford view is that free will does not exist, because Smith’s instincts, moral intuitions, and principles, must come from somewhere. Since Smith, unlike God, does not live outside time, and was born a finite number of years ago, they must come from outside Smith himself: from his DNA and lifetime of sensory experience, and possibly also by his perception of some transcendent moral code outside Smith himself*. As far as i can see, that is true; but it is completely irrelevant to the issue of the existence of free will, because the fact remains that Smith can choose a course of action that best fits his values, and therefore has free will, no matter where those values come from.

    * The moral code must be transcendent to avoid violating the is/ought dichotomy, and must exist independently of Smith to avoid begging the question.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Just a few words about this sentence by Niall:

    the opinion [that free will does not exist] had its advantages for left-wingers, especially as selectively applied by them

    Presumably, what Niall meant is what Paul Marks keeps saying (if i understand him correctly), that if there is no free will then the State is not taking any of our freedom away, because we don’t have any freedom to start with.

    At first sight, the inference is daft: if we don’t have any free will, then we have no choice on whether to believe or disbelieve in free will, and if so what is the point of trying to convince us to disbelieve?
    Also, if we don’t have free will, then we have no choice on whether to submit to the State, and if so what is the point of trying to convince us to submit?
    (I am modifying an argument by Popper, who i believe adopted the argument from JBS Haldane.)

    This seems to me another case of a motte+bailey strategy: the motte is that our values come from outside us; whether this motte is impregnable, i don’t know and don’t care.
    The inner bailey i that therefore we have no free will: this bailey is indefensible, as i wrote in my comment above.
    The outer bailey is that therefore the State is not trampling on our freedom. Even if we concede the inner bailey, the argument i made in the previous paragraph can still be used to lay waste to the outer bailey. But we should lay waste the inner bailey as well, for good measure.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick you are pointing at the fine piece of language that Haig produced on August 22nd 1918.

    Risks that would have been criminal to take a few days ago are now a duty…… (and so on)

    I have never denied that Douglas Haig (supposedly an inarticulate man) actually had a great gift for rhetoric – indeed I fully accept that he was a great actor, a man of “few words but manly words”, always very keen on giving a certain impression in his words and his “body language”, how his uniform looked (not too flash – but not shabby and so on), and all the rest of it.

    Indeed you should also point to his “order” (actually message – just as the August 22nd thing was a message) of April 11th 1918.

    “With Our Backs to the Wall, but believing in the Justice of our Cause” for “the safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind”.

    Now do not get me wrong Patrick – I would have killed Douglas Haig with my own hands (and ill as I am – I would still have found a way to do it), but his words do “reach” me. I am impressed by the rhetoric of the man. Indeed I am profoundly moved by it – including the “order” (really message) of August 22nd 1918. I have found myself in tears (more than once) reading his stuff.

    However, it is rhetoric – words, not what he actually did.

    For what Douglas Haig actually did in August 1918 (as opposed to what he and his defenders – such as Gary Sheffield, claim he did) see Chapter 12 of “Haig’s Command” (by Denis Winter) “August 1918: A Turning Point?”. A book you say you have read – which is why I am so sharp (perhaps harsh – and I am sorry if I am harsh) with you.

    I am far from an uncritical admirer of Denis Winter – indeed you know Patrick that I have been very critical of Denis Winter (at length), but in this he is clearly correct.

    To claim that Douglas Haig is responsible for Allied success from August 1918 onwards is not true. He was not responsible for Allied success from August 1918 onwards – not tactically, and not strategically either.

    What Douglas Haig did do was support the peace faction – thus preventing the war being carried on to a successful conclusion.

    You talk of Haig “saving hundreds of thousands of lives” – and it is very hard for me to forgive you saying that Patrick, as I knew men who were commanded by Douglas Haig (I spent every summer with them as a boy) so I know what Douglas Haig actually did. But, in justice to you Patrick, you mean “in 1919” (you are NOT making a claim that Douglas Haig saved lives in the actual war – so I must not be unjust towards you) – by ending the war early.

    In short you now ACCEPT what you previously have denied Partick – that Haig supported the peace faction – at least in this period of time. In short that Douglas Haig was partly (I repeat – partly, it was not his fault alone) responsible for the TENS OF MILLIONS OF LIVES lost in World War II by failing to carry the First World War to a successful conclusion – the breakup of the artificial German state created in 1871.

    To lose a million men from the British Empire to achieve a task that should have cost the lives of a small fraction of that (had such basic things as taking Constantinople in 1915 – in order to link up with Russians and truly encircle the Central Powers, been done) would have been bad enough.

    But to lose a million men (and all the millions of men for other powers who also died in the War) to NOT EVEN DO THE JOB of destroying the German threat, is even worse.

    The men died for nothing – the job had to be done after 1939.

  • Paul Marks


    Karl Popper believed in Free Will (moral agency).

    And, as you know well, there is very much a point in “trying to convince people to not believe in free will” (i.e. undermine their self belief – literally, their belief in the self, in the “I”).

    The point is to undermine the resistance of the people to tyranny. To the “euthanasia of the Constitution” as David Hume put it. Ayn Rand may not be up the standard that her supporters claim for her – but she understood this trick, and explains it in “Atlas Shrugged” where the junior government scientist explains how useful his “scientific” book “So You Think You Can Think” “proving” that humans do not have the power of real choice, is politically. Even if submission to authority is NOT the logical consequence – it is what tends to happen, because people are left filled with self doubt (in the most literal sense).

    One can not get the politics of Bill of Rights from the philosophy of determinism and “compatibilism” (that “squalid tactic” leading to the “quagmire of evasion”). People who claim that “a thought does not mean a thinker” or “the “I” is an illusion” are in the business in undermining faith in the dignity (indeed in the very existence) of the human person (of the soul in the Aristotelian sense – of the mind in the sense of Alexander the Aphrodisias in “On Fate”), and whether their objective is tyranny, or just to “make mischief”, they deserve the Order of the Boot.

    Now please depart Sir.

  • Paul Marks

    The German-Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said that “the English are hopelessly Pelagian” – the word “hopelessly” is a sneer, but the rest has some truth in it.

    Had he said “the British Old Whigs were Pelagian” he would have been closer to the truth – and that included those Old Whigs who lacked religious faith.

    Indeed it is what 1940 is really about – 1940 was not really about political lines on a map. It was a philosophical (indeed spiritual) struggle between good and evil (between individual moral responsibility, Free Will, and the lies of determinism and compatibilism) fought above the fields and towns of this island (which is not called “England” by the way), a small (tiny) part of the conflict between good and evil in the cosmos – but no less important for the people involved because it was small in relation to the size of the universe.

    The readers of Ralph Cudworth from 1688 onwards into the 18th century – and of the Aristotelians and the Scots Common Sense School were there in 1940. They were there in spirit – even if the soul does not not survive the death of the body.

    It may be the case that the soul (the self – the “I”) does not survive the death of the body – that nothing but memory of us and our deeds remains.

    But that does not alter the fact that, if only for a brief while, we exist – we face the choice (the real choice) between good and evil, each day of our lives.

    And that is why determinism and “compatiblilism” must be opposed – to the death.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul, you have addressed NONE of the points that i made, in fact i see no evidence that you understood them. Fighting against a straw Hume doesn’t help.

    Under the circumstances i see no point in answering your comment, except for this:

    Even if submission to authority is NOT the logical consequence – it is what tends to happen, because people are left filled with self doubt (in the most literal sense).

    Good of you to acknowledge that there is no logical connection between views of free will and political views. As for filling people with self doubt, it is just your wild speculation afaik: i see no evidence that people have stopped believing in free will, and a fortiori i see no evidence that people are filled with self doubt when they stop believing in free will.

  • NickM

    If I might play Devil’s Advocate (aka Alan Dershowitz) then the whole free will v determinism thing comes down to this.

    Get a determinist and a wet fish (slightly on the turn – TESCO fish counter at about 8pm in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire is ideal for this). Smack the determinist round the chops with the aforementioned ex-fish until he or she objects (or you are arrested for a public order offence) then say, “You had no choice”.

    It’s a bit like dear old Dr Johnson and his rock.

    Without free will nothing really matters.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Paul Marks: “…see Chapter 12 of “Haig’s Command” (by Denis Winter) “August 1918: A Turning Point?”. A book you say you have read…”

    I have never said I have read it.

    Out of interest, why do you think Denis Winter is more believable than Gary Sheffield?

  • A hypocritically selective disbelief in free will is, like many another hypocrisy, useful politically. For example,

    – PCer: “That ‘criminal’ is an innocent victim of circumstance. He had no choice. If you had been raised as he was, you too would have done his deed. Curb your vile sadistic urge to punish him!”

    – Citizen: “Is my urge to punish him not as predetermined by my upbringing as his crime by his? If he could not control himself, how can I be asked to?”

    – PCer: … words to the effect of ‘Shut up”, he explained …

    An honestly held and consistently applied disbelief in free will is more constraining, but does commonly have implications. Paul, in a comment above, mentions the demoralising effect on people wanting to defy the state. There is also the demoralising effect on the agents of the state. If people have no free will, taking freedoms from them needs less defence. The political correlation is strong; consider, for example, communism’s belief that economics determines consciousness.

    Individuals who doubt or wholly disbelieve free will may of course be exceptions to this commonly-observed correlation. If politics were more the result of deep analysis and less the result of immediate perception, it might be of political interest to decide whether denying free will is in fact logically compatible with enthusiasm for political freedom. As it is, it is of philosophical interest – so interesting to me if e.g. Snorri attempts a logical defence of that view – but so politically dangerous that it seems to me the end of such defence would be to make its believer fear the effect of trumpeting their disbelief in free will. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    What Paul said, of course.

    What Niall said just above, very good commentary on Paul — of course.


    In any case, I still say it comes down to a given person’s exact meaning of the term “free will.”

    Whether there is such a thing as, say, the square root of a given Natural Number depends on one’s definition, or understanding, of the meaning of the term, and on the given particular context. These two factors are both crucial.

    Among the Natural Numbers (positive integers, “counting numbers”), few have square roots at all (within that set, that context of discussion). You might as well be talking about black goldfish & neon unicorns.

    But of course, it is possible to construct much broader logical systems, in which “number” includes certain extrapolations from the idea of the positive integers — with many other ideas introduced as well.

    So one can reasonably broaden the context or topic of discussion — the mathematical domain — to include all the Real Numbers. The “Reals” are gotten by extrapolation of the Naturals, with various rules about how these objects are to be combined. And in this perfectly logical, sensible, and empirically as well as logically useful system, all of those Natural Numbers have square roots!

    Similarly, the most naïve concept of “free will” can’t logically exist in a strict cause-and-effect (by which I mean “rational,” understandable-by-humans) universe.


    I see no problem whatsoever with expanding this naïve concept of “free will” so that it applies to the entire person as a single, unitary object or entity or system, even though this “human system” — this human entity, this human being — includes many subsystems which for certain purposes, but far from all purposes, can be thought of or investigated separately from the rest of the whole system.

    One can think of and investigate the Positive Integers without including the set of all Real Numbers in the inquiry, even though the results will not include everything that can be said about the Positive Integers as a subset or subsystem of the system of Positive Integers.

    “I” is the whole human person: all of its works and all of its workings.

    Or so I understand the word “I.”


    Most of us, I think, intuitively think of “I” as being the “observer” part of us and the “superego” or critical (in the proper sense). Actually, “I feel happy” is a statement by the Observer part of “I” about another part of “I,” the part that experiences “I” via what we call “emotions.”

    As long as we understand “I” or “the human being” holistically, there are quite obviously “free will” and “moral agency.”

    Because every one of us has influence over what we do, although the degree of this influence varies greatly.

    There are always external constraints on what a person does and even thinks. That doesn’t mean a person has no genuine “decisions” to make, decisions about what he thinks or how he acts.

    The person also is built on a physical substrate (in my view), and whatever the rules of physics may be, they apply, and they do ultimately make a person’s actions (and thoughts) possible (inevitable) or impossible at a given instant.

    But that substrate is PART of the person; one of his subsystems; and THAT is the ultimate determiner of what he will think or do in a given instant. The important point, then, is that it is HE and no other that does what he does. In this sense Miss R is right: what a man does is caused by his nature. (Although it doesn’t seem that she saw the remark as applicable in this way.)

    (“Moral agency” I suppose is usually meant to refer to what we do when our consciously or partly-consciously judging subsystem, and the “control” subsystem that we experience as “will,” are active. To drown when outfitted by Mr Big in a concrete wetsuit and dropped off the Brooklyn Bridge is not an act of the drownee’s Moral Agency, even though the verb to drown is transitive.)

  • Paul Marks

    Correct Nick – quite so (both Dr Johnson’s – the British one and the American one, and there was an American one in the same time period).

    Niall – Snorri is engaging in an old game.

    There was a philosopher-theologian back in 18th century America by the name of Johnathan Edwards. By the perversity of modern fashions he is honoured by modern philosophy whereas much better American philosophers of the period are forgotten – much as David Hume is honoured whereas Thomas Reid (and other good Scots philosophers) are largely shoved down the Memory Hole

    Anyway – Johnathan Edwards used to tell young children how if their names were not written in the Book of Life before the creation of the universe (Predestination) they were going to go to Hell and nothing they could do would save them. He would then go on to describe to the children the sorts of things that would be done to them in Hell (the Hell they were going to – regardless of that what they said or did). Some of the children would get really upset over this.

    Now parents complained to Johnathan Edwards (about the crying, the nightmares and so on) – but he had an answer. And I am sure both you and Nick would be able to guess what his answer was……..

    It was, of course, that he, Johnathan Edwards, was predestined to say these things to the children (from before the creation of the universe), he had no real choice over the matter.

    Now a possible response to this charming man (and I am not saying I would have done this myself – it is just a possible response) would have been to tie his hands behind his back and tie a rope round his neck, in a noose, and then drag him to the nearest tree with a sturdy branch to tie the other end of the rope for the drop. And if Johnathan Edwards complained, reply as followers……

    “I am terribly sorry Sir, but it was predestined (from the start of the universe) that I would hang you – I have no real choice over the matter”.

    Meanwhile in the South……

    George Whitfield (the Calvinist “Great Awaking” person) spent his life preaching – even though (according to Predestination) preaching is totally beside-the-point as who is going to be saved was decided at the start of the universe.

    Of course Whitfield could simply respond that his preaching was also predestined. But what was he actually preaching? Was he preaching against SLAVERY – then a growing moral evil in the area?

    Oh no – George Whitfield was in favour of slavery, indeed he was part of a corrupt court case in London that overturned the ban on slavery in Georgia. So what did he actually preach against?

    Well the darling man preached against Wedgwood china – evil luxury. So introducing slavery was fine – but buying Wedgwood china was wicked. And this was nothing to do with the manufacturer (Josiah Wedgwood) being a noted OPPONENT of slavery – oh dear me no, perish the thought, that was just a coincidence. And if one pushed the matter George Whitfield could just play the Johnathan Edwards defence card and claim that everything he said was predestined from the start of the universe and he no real choice of defending the (introduction of) slavery, opposing Wedgwood china and so on. At some point one has to either punch these (if I may use a technical term) charlatans in the mouth – or just walk away. Determinist (or “compatiblism”) philosophy, is a con – and that is all it is.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, Whitfield’s preaching (deplorable: I agree! –as you know) may have been “predestined” in some sense or other, but it was still HIS preaching, and therefore HIS responsibility.

    In any case, his theory doesn’t claim that he’s not “evil” because he “can’t help it — it’s predestined.” The proper conclusion, given his premises and understandings, is that he’s predestined to be evil.

    So the argument is only over whether he should be held responsible for being evil. (Or at any rate for preaching and insisting upon evil ideas at the expense of good ones.)


    Afterthought: Legally, state-of-mind and similar considerations may constitute legally mitigating circumstances attending what’s usually considered an evil act; but they don’t imply that the act didn’t occur or wasn’t actually, really, technically DONE BY the accused. I would assume that legal theory thus recognizes degrees of responsibility, and (I hope) attempts to achieve justice by lessening formal declarations of legal responsibility and the legal consequences of the act if responsibility is found to be less than maximal.

  • Julie near Chicago

    ….his theory doesn’t claim that he’s not “evil” because he “can’t help it ….

    I mean, that’s not the LOGICAL result of Whitfield’s claim.

  • Paul Marks

    “Paul you are only saying what many others have said – Philosophy Professor Harold Prichard (he is the one who you got Ralph Cudworth from),Philosophy Professor Sir William David Ross (Major Ross of the First World War – whose name may or may not have something to do with a certain character by the name of Colonel Ross in the Harry Palmer films), Tolkien of the “Lord of the Rings” and C.S. (Jack) Lewis of “The Abolition of Man”.

    And that just covers a few names from early 20th century Oxford – the teachers of some of the Battle of Britain pilots against their “I can not do other than I do” enemies in the Battle of Britain.

    Of course I admit that – I am no great original thinker.

    I might as well pretend that I invented the stuff I know about the First World War – not got it from Colonel Barker and the others.

    But the obvious needs repeating. The obvious (whether about human agency, Free Will, or the First World War – or lots of thing) needs repeating – because some people DENY it, and one has to fight such influence, that is part of the duty of being a human being.

    1+1=2 or A is A or a thought means a thinker (an “I”), is indeed all “obvious” – that that does not mean it is not important. Or that one should stay silent when people deny it.

    Just as it is obvious that what happened on July 1st 1916 (almost two years into the war – so no inexperience excuse) was an example of extreme military incompetence.

    And what happened after July 1st 1916, the failure to take personal responsibility for such terrible actions, the deaths of 20 thousand British soldiers and the wounding of 30 thousand British soldiers, was an example of extreme moral failure.

    One must not just let this go. Have Haig defenders try and downplay it. Or downplay all-the-other-times. Or make up stories (or rather take Haig’s stories as truth) about how Haig later won battles HE HAD WIN – giving Haig the credit that belongs to others..

    It is like listening to lawyer in court – first claiming that his client did not rape and murder a child, then when he turns out that the client did exactly that claim he had only done once, and then when it turns out the client has done it multiple times saying “yes but he but he jumped in a lake and saved some children later”, when it turns out that OTHER PEOPLE (Foch at the strategic level, Monash, Currie and Plumer at the tactical level) did the real “saving” work later.

    In the name of some basic decency if an aristocrat has to be in charge (if Currie’s fat belly and dirty uniform would offend people, and Bying would not push himself forward – being a man seemingly without ambition) then give the job to the Earl of Cavan.

    If it has to be a “toff”, better a real aristocrat who actually understood a bit about battles – rather than a man who is not really an aristocrat at all (Haig) but his constantly trying to ACT like the very model of a British “gentleman soldier”. Of course Haig acted “up” and Robertson acted “down” (exaggerated his lack of “social graces” by dropping his “Hs” and so on), but it still ACTING. No one cared about how the Earl of Cavan behaved – he did not have to think-about-it (thus leaving his mind free for other things – such as battles).

    “Paul you did not get the idea of appointing the Earl of Cavan – you nicked the idea from Mallinson of “Too Important To Be Left To The Generals”.

    Yes, yes, yes – I confess. See above – I nick a lot of stuff. I find I have to state the obvious (about a lot of other things) even though lots of other people have already said it.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way…..

    Eric Brown “Wings On My Sleeve” – who Mr Ed kindly took me to see before his, Brown’s, death.

    Eric Brown personally questioned every guard at Belson before they were hanged. They knew they were going to be hanged – whatever they said. And Eric Brown was rather good at spotting lies – indeed he was good at a lot of things….

    All of the guards, without exception, admitted that they knew what they were doing was wrong – they knew at the time they did it.

    And all the of the guards, again without exception, admitted that they could have chosen to do other than they did.

    So no more of this determinism (or compatiblism) and no more of this moral relativism (historicism – the idea that there are no basic principles of moral right and wrong that apply to all “races” and “classes”, or that there are such principles but people can not possibly choose to do what is morally right against our passion to what is evil).

    Stop it, and stop it now.

  • Paul Marks

    Good point Julie – if the idea is “I am predestined to be evil”, but I rather think that both Johnathan Edwards and George Whitfield would have denied being evil (I think they would have claimed to be part of the “Elect” predestined to be saved).

    However, that great work of philosophy “Captain Kronos [or some spelling] Vampire Hunter” gives an example of what you are talking about.

    A man is bitten by a vampire and can not stop himself attacking people “destroy me” he screams in agony to the gallant Captain.

    “But I survived the vampire’s bite” declares the Captain.

    “He is not a man such as you” replies his assistant and friend.

    If either Johnathan Edwards or George Soros (I mean George Whitefield) had screamed out “I can not stop myself – DESTROY ME!” would it not be an exercise of free will (even if they could not control their bodies – much like the people in an episode of “Star Trek” who are taken over and scream out a warning before they attack people).

    Of course the determinist would claim that everything that is said (not just everything that is done) is predetermined.

    Which leaves us with the response from Thing from “The Fantastic Four” – “Its Clobbering Time” (Bulldog Drummond and also Dick Barton had a similar response to fiendish “intellectuals”).

    At this point someone from the “Alt Right” (fresh from lovingly working on their scale model of Belson) pops up saying “You are drawing a lot examples from American science fiction and fantasy – everyone knows that such things are dominated by JEWS and that Free Will is a Jewish theological principle”.

    Well Captain K. was actually a British production (with a German actor), but I get the point.

    Still the determinist Spinoza was also from a Jewish background. So the argument “it comes from Jews – therefore it is wrong” does not work for the determinist.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick – I forget whether I answered you or not (sometimes I think things without typing them – and then assume I have typed them).

    Anyway – I thought you listed “Denis Winter – teacher” in your list of people you have read. I apologise if I misread your list.

    As for Denis Winter – where his facts are wrong I have been critical of him, where I already know his facts are correct (for example over Haig of 1918) I have no problem citing him.

    An obvious example is when Denis Winter says that Henry Wilson was confronted by “a Sinn Fiener”.

    Actually there were two IRA men – not one.

    Winter also says that Henry Wilson could have “easily escaped into a house” – no he could not, not in the position he was in.

    If Wilson did use his sword (it was found drawn by his body) it was because he had no other weapon – and one can not outrun bullets, so running away is pointless (especially when is a man of mature years in a full dress military uniform – how fast could Wilson have run).

    I do not know if Wilson called out “you cowardly swine” before trying to close on his attackers – I was not there, but calling out something (to distract the attention of the men with guns and, just possibly, make them shoot wild) and try and close on the attackers (where a sword would be more effective) would be the rational thing to do in that, very difficult, situation. Besides IRA men are “cowardly swine” – everyone who knows them know that.

    As for Haig trying to take the credit that belonged (at the strategic level) to Foch and (at the tactical level) to such men as Currie and Plumer – of course I already knew that. I have know that for 45 years – yes I knew that when I was six years of age.

    Even Geoffrey Powell (an arch establishment man) mentions, almost in passing, that Plummer was ignoring the orders of Haig in a lot of matters by late 1918.

    As Ronald Reagan said “there is no limit to what a man can achieve – if he is prepared to let others take the credit”.

    And taking the credit (in a quiet way – very sly on the quite was Douglas) was what Haig really cared about – what he says and writes is about that.

    The Haig view of Wilson?

    His view was that Wilson wanted to artificially prolong the war – to have an excuse to round up Sinn Fein (via introducing conscription in Ireland) and send them in Haig-style suicide attacks against their friends the Germans – with British guns behind them to make them move forward.

    Wilson would have said he wanted to win the war – not artificially prolong it (win it – not have to fight the Germans again, as Kitchener had feared would be the result of a compromise “peace”, and Foch and the French and Americans also feared).

    As for conscription in Ireland – well a lot of brave and loyal men (Protestant and Catholic) had been killed, whilst the Sinn Fein types were drinking the health of the Kaiser and waiting for more German aid. Just as the father of Jerry Adams (and a lot of IRA men) helped the Nazis in the Second World War – for example building bonfire in the hills above Belfast to guide in the German bombers (to rain death on Protestant and Catholic alike).

    But there is no evidence that Henry Wilson wanted to use Irish conscripts in Haig style suicide attacks. Although he had made optimistic noises about chances on the Somme – which is a very bad sign.

    Still back to Denis Winter.

    No Henry Wilson was not an “Orangeman” – he was Church of Ireland for a start (yes it is possible to be Anglican and in the Orange Order but they are mostly Presbytarian).

    I am a Unionist (my first Party Card in 1979 said “Conservative and Unionist Onward” – Kettering did not yet get up understand there had been a break), but you can search my home – there is no bowler hat or sash here I am NOT an “Orangeman” – I am not a member of the Orange Order (nor was Wilson – at least not as far as I know).

    Nor is there any contradiction between being loyal to Britain and loyal to Unionist cause – there is no “divided loyalty”, because men like Wilson (and me) see Ireland (now Ulster) as part of the United Kingdom.

    I suspect Denis Winter may be dead (I do not know) I am still a bit annoyed with him over stuff like this.

    And then there is the endless praise for General Lundendorff.

    When Edmunds says that Ludendorff was “not a gentleman even by Prussian standards” this is NOT (repeat NOT) refuted by Ludendorff showing “great courtesy” and his practice of promoting the “ablest men”.

    Real monsters sometimes use “great courtesy” and “promote the ablest men” and are highly intelligent and write really well (and on and on).

    Edmunds was using English understatement Denis Winter – you ignorant Aussie (no offence meant to the great nation of Australia and its fine people), Ludendorff was a PROTO NAZI.

    I should not need to tell someone who is an expert on the First World War about the “not quite a gentleman” beliefs of General Ludendorff. Basically the ruler of Germany for much of the war – and sadly (contra Edmunds) a rather common type among the Imperial elite. There were good people in the elite certainly – but the idea that were common in German intellectual circles had corrupted much of the German elite long before 1914.

    This was an ideological war – even if Denis Winter (or his enemy Douglas Haig for that matter) did not really understand the point.

    The Imperial German elite were not just the British in different uniforms – they (or many of them) had different ideas in their heads.

    I doubt that Haig and co would have understood whether the philosopher Fichte (and other such) were philosophers or types of cheese – but such things mattered a great deal to “educated” German elite members such as Lundendorff – and no I do not mean they cared about cheese.

    Now if only I can get the swine to explain his evil-plan-for-world-domination-and-exterminating-inferior-races (TM) to me, while I am working my hand loose from these ropes….

  • Paul Marks

    I wonder what Denis Winter would have made of James Power – a veteran of both World Wars and loyal to the Union under the Crown.

    I wonder if he would have called my grandfather an “Orangeman” – not understanding what to have the Christian name “James” tends to mean in an Irish context.

    There were a lot of Roman Catholic Unionists – and they were not all killed in the First World War, some were murdered after it (and some still exist).

    A famous ex military man and RUC commander was a Roman Catholic – the name escapes me (alas for my old and sick brain).

  • Paul Marks, November 6, 2016 at 6:09 pm: ” …. One must not just let this go. …”

    Actually, as regards Haig, one must. I and others on this now very long comment thread have written our views and so have you. I regard your arguments against Haig as specimens of left-wing-style reasoning such as you, in other contexts, would be quick to denounce. I have stated why. You disagree. I cannot speak for others – though I can guess – but for myself, it is past time to say, “Let us agree to disagree on this topic.” If you write more on it here, I predict it will be to yourself, unless the tone with which you handle dissent changes noticeably.