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Samizdata quote of the day

What a wretched lot of weaklings we have in high places at the present time!

– Douglas Haig, diary entry 1 September 1918. This was written in response to the Cabinet’s refusal to take responsibility for any failure of Haig’s upcoming offensive. The Storming of the Hindenburg Line was, of course, a huge success. Any similarity between this and more recent events is entirely coincidental.

6 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • shlomo maistre

    The people who are really in power are not weaklings. It takes enormous strength to go against the will of the people by preventing Brexit after the British people voted to Leave the EU. Don’t mistake ulterior motives for weakness. Theresa May is achieving exactly what she set out to do: Prevent Brexit.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    It takes enormous strength to go against the will of the people …

    The people do not have a unified will. In the 2016 Referendum, 37% of UK citizens voted for separation, 35% voted for the status quo, and 28% chose not to vote. This is curiously close to the claimed approximate split of popular opinion in the American Colonies at the time of the US Declaration of Independence — 1/3 in favor of independence, 1/3 in favor of remaining as colonies, 1/3 keeping their heads down and hoping to survive.

    What UK politics has lacked is Brexiteers with the leadership skills and vision to convert that narrow plurality in favor of separation into a much broader strong majority ready to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of life outside the EU. Unfortunately, Brexit will not solve that lack of leadership or do anything to increase the quality of UK politicians.

  • Mr Ed

    shlomo nails it. It was often said of John Major that he was weak, I disagreed. He took one decision, and apart from liberalising Sunday Trading in England and Wales (and perhaps something else, but I forget), what he decided was to be a total sh*t, and he stuck to that position like a limpet, boasting in 1997 that he had spent more money since 1992 than Labour had promised to spend in the 1992 General Election campaign, and generally doing the wrong thing with an unswerving devotion.

    But coming back OT, a strong Cabinet would have long before had Haig shot pour décourager les autres from wasting lives, perhaps by troops from the Royal Naval Division to add insult to fatal injury.

    May’s ‘weakness’ is her strength, she can pretend to be powerless to prevent the Remainers riding roughshod over her plans (which are to ruin the UK’s independence).

  • I prefer Burke’s take. He argued that people who had tasted power were apt to become addicted. As a drug addict, though their life be hellish, still looks to the next fix for relief of misery, so May, though she is having a lousy time, really does not want to cease being prime minister a moment earlier than she must and, when she finally does, really wants to have a narrative of achievement to tell herself that she will believe, even if most others will look at her home office time, election and negotiation with amused contempt. It was not strength that made her dependent on the DUP for a majority and then promise the EU what the DUP will not grant. It was not strength that made her walk into water over her head – unless it be strength that makes a druggie resist all pressures to reform.

    I also note, surely central to many a problem we have, that it takes strength for a politician to resist the SW1 consensus in order to keep faith with a distant electorate. The last thing any SW1 denizen needs to become popular there and unpopular elsewhere is enormous strength.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – the Allied offensives of late 1918 did well. At a tactical level General Plumer and even General Rawlinson (who had been Haig’s puppet on the Somme two years before) did well, and at a strategic level General Foch did well – although he was helped by French intelligence breaking the German military codes.

    As for Douglas Haig – he should have been removed from active service (at least on the Western Front) after the Battle of Loos in 1915, but he went on to disasters such as the Somme in 1916 and Passchendaele in 1917, contrary to his dairies (both versions of his diary are filled with falsehoods as are so many “official documents” that some historians choose to rely on) Douglas Haig was not in charge in late 1918 – not at a strategic level (Foch) or at a tactical level either, even Geoffrey Powell (an establishment man to his fingertips – utterly different from say Denis Winter) admits, in “Plumer: The Soldier’s General” that by late 1918 General Plumer was “interpreting” the orders of Douglas Haig in a very liberal way (often doing things quite differently from what a literal understanding of the words of Douglas Haig would have indicated).

    Sadly the success of late 1918 was thrown away by the peace “deal” with Germany (a very Mrs May type thing) – to the horror of the American and French Generals (who believed that victory was in sight – and that that to fail to destroy Germany now would mean another, and worse, war in a couple of decades).

    Douglas Haig clearly supported the “peace faction” by 1918 – but I think that Denis Winter is WRONG about how much influence (political influence) General Haig had. In short Haig was NOT to blame for the disaster of the “peace deal” which would have happened even if he had opposed it as the French and American commanders did. Of course Denis Winter hero worships General Ludendorff (in much the same way that British establishment historians try and cover up for Haig) – and Ludendorff (contrary to Denis Winter’s ravings about what a nice man he was) was a monster (a proto Nazi). As for Denis Winter’s claims that Germany was in a fairly strong position by the end of 1918 – this is so utterly and completely WRONG it makes even the Haig apologists of the “Haig: The Educated Soldier” type, look sane and reasonable.

    As for military tactics – the writings of Douglas Haig even AFTER the First World War show that he had learned nothing. He was unfit for command – at least on the Western Front. Unlike General Ludendorff, General Haig was NOT a totalitarian and he was NOT a Devil worshipper (or close to be being a Devil worshipper) – but I think this is a rather low bar to judge Haig by (“he was not utterly evil – unlike his opponent” is really not good enough). Yes Douglas Haig, unlike Ludendorff, was not a villain in a Denis Wheatley novel (such as “The Devil Rides Out”), but NO he was not a good commander.

    The failure of the British establishment to understand basic matters (whether by a priori reasoning – or by the hard lessons of experience) is the great tragedy of British life.

    The British establishment is not “conservative” in the sense that they do not change things – they do change things, but they change things FOR THE WORSE. They get some policy (normally from the left – but they are too ignorant to know what the source of their own policies are) and they carry on with it, in violation of both reason and experience (as neither reason or experience matter to the establishment).

  • Paul Marks

    Oddly enough the only film I have seen which gets close to the character of Ludendorff (although it shows him as much younger than he was – and as dying in the war, which he did not) was the Superhero flick “Wonder Woman” – other films just assume that “well their Generals must have been like our General” NO they were NOT.

    General Haig’s interests were in horse riding (he was a very good horse rider in his youth) and golf. The main interests of General Ludendorff (basically the real power in Germany from 1916 onwards under WAR SOCIALISM – and typical of an entire set of people who influenced the Kaiser long BEFORE the war) were in the Dark Spirits who would crush the “Jewish lie” Christianity (the Kaiser would not have gone this far – but then he often did not seem to understand what the people he associated with really believed, not even Houston Stuart Chamberlain) and bring the German race to power over the world – if the correct sacrifices were made to the Secret One. Although war must be kept going FOR EVER – both as war was the only fit occupation for a man, and to provide blood sacrifices for the infernal powers.

    I suggest that this indicates that “well their commander must have been, basically, like our commander” (the common view today) is not accurate.

    Yes, Denis Winter, Ludendorff was a better commander than Haig – but when James Edmonds said that Ludendorff was “not a gentleman, even by Prussian standards” he was quite correct, indeed he was using classic “English Understatement” – which Denis Winter totally failed to understand (or research to see what James Edmonds meant).

    The ideas (the beliefs) of General Ludendorff were much the same as Himmler – later the head of the SS.