We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Trafalgar Day, and another commemoration

Today is Trafalgar Day. The anniversary of Nelson’s victory “was commemorated by parades, dinners and other events throughout much of the British Empire in the 19th century and early 20th century” before declining in the aftermath of the First World War.

Those who have been reading Samizdata for many years will remember the immensely knowledgeable contributions by Findlay Dunachie. This post, “Trafalgar – and after”, was written two hundred years after the battle and a few days before Findlay’s death.

The Second Battle of Passchendaele

Of course, officially speaking there was never a First Battle of Passchendaele but most of us are aware that in 1917 in the space of 3 months at the cost of 80,000 dead the British advanced from just outside Ypres to Passchendaele Ridge.

In September 1918, they – along with the Belgians(!) – did it in a day.

A day. A couple of months ago I wrote about the Battle of Amiens. I still find it astonishing. And I find this astonishing too. Because it is so difficult to explain. The British army had been battered in the Ludendorff Offensive. It had been clinging on. It had lost huge numbers of men. The sense of panic went right up to the top. And yet, when it went on the offensive itself it found it was seemingly pushing at an open door. Second Passchendaele – as I choose to call it – wasn’t even the biggest victory that week. Sure, the British Army had got a lot better at attacking. There is a clear line of progression from 1916 to 1917 and one must assume that that continued in 1918. But there is nothing to suggest this amazing series of victories.

I imagine that German morale must have suffered a catastrophic collapse. But even that doesn’t make sense. More Britons died in the Hundred Days Offensive than at First Passchendaele. The Germans might have been down but they weren’t out. At least not yet.

The Times 30 September 1918. Right click for the full page.

A renowned Democratic Senator opposes the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court

To remind us all that the opposition of the Democrats in the Senate to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (or Justice Kavanaugh as he now is) to the Supreme Court of the United States is in accordance with the traditions of that party, allow me to quote the words from thirty years ago of that great defender of women, Senator Ted Kennedy, as he spoke out against the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

Bork was not confirmed, and the verb “to bork” entered the dictionary.

The feminist movement denies rape victims justice

Simple question: when reading about any accusation of rape or sexual assault, compared to five years ago, have you become more or less likely to believe the accuser?

To ask the question is to answer it. I can remember a time when if I saw a rape trial reported in the newspaper I had as few preconceptions as I now have in a case of murder. Stop for a minute and think how strange it is that in cases of murder nearly everyone would still say that the guilt or innocence of the accused is the very thing we have a trial to decide, and with the onus being on the prosecution to prove it.

For the information of younger readers, rape trials used to be like that. Of course I had heard that in some far-off times and places a woman accusing a man of rape was automatically believed. Everyone thought of this as an evil we had outgrown. The usual example cited was the southern states of the United States during the era of racial segregation. In those days a black man accused of rape by a white woman was presumed guilty. Anyone who even raised the possibility of his innocence was denounced as being indifferent to, or even wanting, the rape of white women.

One of the books I studied for English O-Level was To Kill a Mockingbird in which an innocent black man is accused of rape by a white woman. One of the books I studied for English A-Level was A Passage to India in which an innocent Indian is accused of sexual assault by a British woman. The lesson was clear: beware the human tendency to let rightful outrage at how evil rape is overwhelm rational assessment of whether a particular accusation of rape is true. Although I believe that To Kill A Mockingbird is still fairly popular as a set book, that lesson is no longer fashionable. I write this just after Professor Christine Blasey Ford has finished giving her testimony. Until a minute ago the Guardian headline was that “Christine Blasey Ford has been hailed as a hero”. And unless I’ve missed it, you will not find any hint in its pages that anyone other than pantomime-villain Republicans has failed to join the acclamation. In this the Guardian is, as ever, copying the US press.

And thus the #MeToo movement died. It did some good while it lived. Some sexual predators were exposed, some rapists brought to justice. We should not be surprised at how many of them were left wing icons: they were the ones who were being allowed to get away with it. Remember how Harvey Weinstein’s first reaction when it came out was to try to buy off the anger by saying he would “channel his anger against himself” by fighting the NRA and President Trump. He tried that trick because it had always worked before.

But it’s over now, though the corpse may kick for a while. Senator Dianne Feinstein killed it off by sitting on the letter that accused Kavanaugh all through the nomination hearings only to release it at the last minute. That is not the action of someone who has a disinterested concern for justice. Frankly, it is not the action of someone who actually believed in the accusation they were passing on.

Whatever the results – whatever the truth – of the testimonies of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, from now on half the US (followed after a short delay by the rest of the developed world) will assume until it is proven otherwise that similar accusations in the future are just another tactic in Dems vs Repubs. Even those who strive not to assume anything, those whose horror at the way Kavanaugh has been treated is rooted in a belief in the old fashioned principles of impartial justice, will find it almost impossible to avoid that fatal twitch of cynicism. The burned child fears the fire.

If nothing else, we are getting a show. There have been so many weird developments in this case today that I cannot keep up. I gather that someone else accused Kavanaugh of rape and then recanted, and that two separate men have accused themselves of being the person who assaulted Christine Ford.

We in the UK blazed the trail. Read about Operation Midland for a demonstration of how once the idea of “believe the victim” is in the air it inevitably attracts liars and fantasists from miles around. Never forget that in addition to bringing misery to those they falsely accuse and their families, liars and fantasists such as “Nick” are parasitical on genuine victims of rape.

Is to the disgrace of the feminist movement that it insisted that rape victims should no longer be entitled to justice.

Instead they have the dubious privilege of being forced into the same category as “Nick”. Their testimony will be heard all right, but only on the understanding that it doesn’t matter. Its hearers are forbidden to believe it, because they are forbidden to assess it at all.

The injunction to believe the “victim” – that is, the accuser – in all circumstances cannot be obeyed. Belief does not work that way. If you are forbidden to even consider the evidence in an accusation then you can never come to believe it. Oh, you can be made to say you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it. You can be made to scream that you believe it so loudly that you can no longer hear yourself think, which is the aim of the process. But that is not belief.

Related post: If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape.

Film Review – Hurricane

Hurricane opened recently, I went to see it with the Sage of Kettering. The film tells the story of the Polish 303 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. The film starts with Polish pilots working their way to England in the chaos of falling France. One pilot, with some Swiss ancestry, pretends to be a Swiss Swiss watch salesman, another steals a biplane from a French airforce aerodrome, a fine Czech pilot is also in the Squadron. They end up at RAF Northolt, sharing the base with a plotting station and hence a large number of WAAF personnel, with predictable consequences.

The Poles appear to be a ramshackle lot, lacking the discipline and bearing that the RAF expects. A Canadian officer is given the apparently thankless task of knocking them into what the RAF would recognise as ‘shape’, the pilots (many very experienced and some aces) are frustrated as they are kept back from action whilst they learn English and how to manage their fine steeds. There is some humour as a truculent Warrant Officer is brilliantly mis-translated by one of the pilots as he barks to his colleagues.

It should be said that whilst the Hurricane, Sir Sydney Camm’s wonderful, chubby little puncher is the nominal star of the film, with it featuring in all the fighting and airfield scenes, it hardly gets any mentions, except a passing comment that a pilot thinks it is wonderful. They start off with training flights and escorting Blenheim bombers (There is still one flying in the UK, for what those guys went through, here is a 1989 documentary). Some of the Polish pilots are sent off to bombers, despite their experience. From what I have read, at the time, RAF training didn’t include simulating combat or even gun firing for some pilots. The Poles harmonise their guns at around 150 yards, because they like to get close before firing.

After a bit of indisciplined flying (breaking mission orders by going to attack German aircraft), the squadron is declared operational and success starts to come, one pilot has the foresight to make a rudimentary chapel in an old hut. News of their success spreads, Air Chief Marshal Dowding and Sir Keith Park discuss the squadron and are pleased with it (there are no politicians in this film). They are not introduced, and the actor playing Dowding looks a bit more like Park than he does Dowding imho, but you eventually find out who they are).

The Poles have a constant awareness of the horrors being visited on their homeland, going to the Polish government-in-exile offices for invariably bad news of relatives executed, which the film shows in grim ‘flashback’, one shot by firing squad, another NKVD-style, another hanged. The contrast with the attitude of the British, who seem to regard the war almost as an unpleasantness is brought out with a trip to the Dorchester where Society ladies treat the pilots to a reception in their honour, which turns out to be an awkward occasion. A press visit to the Squadron ends with one reporter getting punched for ghoulishness. The generally good publicity leads Dowding to hope out loud that it might induce friendly volunteer pilots from overseas to turn up and help. Relations with the Poles and British crews aren’t good at the start, but they improve. May I digress? There is a little bit of a sub-plot with a passing incident of ‘domestic violence’ towards a WAAF, which may explain why there was an advert in the trailers for Women’s Aid, which to me gave the misleading impression that only men commit domestic violence, the man in the trailer hits the woman, but he vapes rather than smokes, you can’t show really bad things you know. In the film, everyone seems to smoke, well, not when refuelling.

The film suffers a bit in the depiction of aerial combat, the CGI has an old video game feel to it at times, and we appear to be seeing the same scenes over and over again. As the film goes on, they start to take casualties, some get horribly burned, some crack up and can’t get themselves to kill Germans. The film does not pretty-fy the war, it does get across the burning hatred that the pilots had for those who had destroyed their homeland. At one point, a British officer says that they will be back in Warsaw soon, and the Sage and I muttered ‘1989’ and ‘1990’.

The film skips forward to the end of the War once the Battle of Britain concludes, the characters not apparently any older 5 years on, and the Poles are excluded from Victory Parade, and they are fully aware of what Stalin is doing to Poland, and they are told that they are to be booted out and sent home, one of the Attlee government’s choicer crimes, but it turned out that many were allowed to stay or emigrate to a third country. Some of the pilots are seen in Civvy Street, one a newspaper vendor (apparently people used to buy newspapers). It cites an opinion poll stating that 56% of the British population wanted the Poles to be sent back to Stalin’s new Poland.

The film is a great tribute to those fine men and their ground crews and it’s well worth seeing if you get the chance. It’s better than Dunkirk, with its wet Bank Holiday at the seaside feel, if not as tense as Darkest Hour.

And we saw the film in Corby, after a fine carvery in Rockingham. Corby is perhaps a strong contender for the most soulless town in Britain, a riot of 1960s and newer architecture, complete with its own ‘mass hero’, the Steelworker. We go there, so you don’t have to. It does however, name a square for James Ashworth VC.

On This Day

On 3 September 1939 the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. But we are in no danger of forgetting that.

When did you last think about Beslan?

The dream of peace

“Jeremy Corbyn: I was present at wreath-laying but don’t think I was involved”, reports the Guardian.

Jeremy Corbyn said he was present but not involved at a wreath-laying for individuals behind the group that carried out the Munich Olympic massacre, a partial admission that led to a row between him and Israel’s prime minister.

The Labour leader had been asked if Palestinian leaders linked to the Black September terror group were honoured at a memorial event he attended in Tunisia in 2014, at which victims of the 1985 Israeli airstrike in Tunis were remembered.

Corbyn said “a wreath was indeed laid” for “some of those who were killed in Paris in 1992” and added, in response to a question: “I was present at that wreath-laying, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

The Guardian picture shows Jeremy accidentally holding a great big wreath.

He added: “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence; the only way you can pursue peace [is] by a cycle of dialogue.”

Victory at Amiens

On 8 August 1918 in Northern France, a mainly British force attacked on a 15 mile front and advanced to a depth of 7 miles. In so doing it inflicted 70,000 casualties on the Germans capturing 500 guns while suffering 44,000 casualties of its own. The Battle of Amiens as it became known, was the first clearly-successful, large-scale, Allied offensive operation on the Western Front. Ludendorff, the German commander, famously called it the “Black day of the German army”. But then again he was always a bit of a flibbertygibbet.

Although no one knew it at the time the Battle of Amiens heralded the beginning of the Hundred Days Offensive in which Allied success followed Allied success. By November the Germans realised that the game was up and sued for peace.

Amiens did not take place in a vacuum. At the Second Battle of the Marne which took place a few weeks earlier the Germans had attacked and the French and Americans had successfully counter-attacked. This brought to an end German hopes of a quick victory.

By this stage the Germans had been on the offensive since March. While they had taken plenty of territory they had failed to deliver a knockout blow. To achieve even this they had had to put everything on the line: men, material and, crucially, morale. Meanwhile, back in Germany the population was starving and Spanish influenza was killing thousands.

So was Amiens the consequence of German weakness? It certainly played a part and the propensity of German soldiers to surrender – that morale thing – was unprecedented. However, all the casualty figures I have seen from the Ludendorff Offensive indicate that the numbers were pretty even with any advantage there was going to the Germans.

One thing it wasn’t was the Americans. They weren’t at Amiens. Indeed it is debatable as to whether they were ever very effective offensively. That is not to denigrate American efforts, it is merely to point out that success on the Western Front required skill and experience which the Americans never had the time to acquire.

The missing piece in the jigsaw is British tactics. At Amiens they used tanks, gas, smoke, creeping barrages, predicted barrages, new infantry tactics and airborne resupply. The predicted barrage was particularly important because it managed to introduce an element of surprise to the battlefield. Some claim that a lot of British success in 1918 was down to its embracing wireless radios. Others to the 106 fuze. Others to investing heavily in motor lorries. That last one might sound mundane but in war logistics matter.

Even Haig had learnt. Normally he would have ordered his men to press on but when Foch – by this time his nominal commander – urged Haig to do precisely that, Haig said “no”. He had learnt that Western Front battles were a case of diminishing returns. Better to close down this battle and start another one somewhere else – something that his lorries would now allow him to do.

So why have so few heard of Amiens? Why doesn’t it occupy a similar position to Agincourt, Waterloo and El Alamein? Quite simply because it doesn’t fit the narrative. The lazy story we’ve all heard a million times tells us that the Western Front was all about incompetent generals and stalemate. Amiens and the Hundred Days Offensive show this to be nonsense.

A more accurate narrative might be that winning on the Western Front was never going to be easy but they got there in the end.

THE HUNDRED DAYS OFFENSIVE, AUGUST-NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 9273) Dump of German heavy artillery guns and howitzers (15 cm guns and a 21 cm Mörser 16 heavy howitzer) captured in the Battle of Amiens by the British Fourth Army, 27 August 1918. Those in foreground were captured by the 2nd Canadian Division and the B Company, 3rd Battalion, Tank Corps. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245048

It was a date to remember… and an astonishing feat of politics, given the cost

In the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, Parliament committed the huge sum of 20 million pounds sterling to compensate slave owners for the loss of their “assets”. That was equivalent to 40 percent of the entire national budget (and five percent of Britain’s GDP at the time), requiring the government to borrow most of the 20 million from private sources.

Lawrence Reed. These numbers really put the political feat of achieving this in perspective.

Is it time for Parliament to dust off impeachment?

Our friends in the rebellious Colonies have the still active remedy of impeachment for those in office who, one might say, go off the rails, and other remedies as well. In the UK, impeachment is now considered ‘obsolete’ as a means of removing Crown officials, but ‘obsolete’ does not mean ‘defunct’:

As a House of Commons Paper puts it (in the link at the bottom to the pdf.):

It was a medieval means of removing the protection given to a royal servant whom the Commons found objectionable but could not otherwise persuade the Crown to dismiss.

Of course, different parts of the Commons may find the current First Lord of the Treasury ‘objectionable’ for widely varying reasons, either that she is not an avowed openly Marxist destroyer, or that she is simply a ‘Tory’, or that she is far from satisfactory in terms of her integrity.

But we appear for now to be in a situation where neither a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons on Mrs May’s government, nor a vote in her Party via the 1922 Committee in her as a leader, appear to be imminent or practicable.

As the Commons briefing paper notes:

No Prime Minister has ever been impeached. Ministers have been impeached, but those instances occurred before the modern concept of the Cabinet was established.

The first edition of Erskine May, published in 1844, describes impeachment as: “the commons, as a great representative inquest of the nation, first find the crime and then, as prosecutors, support their charge before the lords; while the lords exercising at once the functions of a high court of justice and of a jury, try and also adjudicate upon the charge preferred”.

Let us look at some of the criticisms of impeachment:

Impeachment operated in an era when Parliament and the courts had very limited oversight of government power. Different mechanisms have developed in modern politics to allow for the scrutiny of the executive. These include parliamentary questions, inquiries by select committees and independent committees of inquiry. The growth of the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility, and the use of confidence motions have both contributed to the disuse of impeachments in modern times. Judicial review also now provides an effective check on the legality of the actions of public officials and government ministers. The impeachment process, last attempted in 1806, has not been revised to reflect the fundamental changes that have occurred in Parliament.

What use is a Parliamentary Question when the Prime Minister has misled the House and the Country for over 2 years? Who would trust an answer now?

Select Committees? All very well for getting some MPs to look at something in-depth, but when there is a cowpat in the Ballroom of State, the answer is steaming away in front of you for you and all your guests to see.

Collective Cabinet responsibility? The Cabinet largely remains in place, happy for this farce to carry on. They are not acting responsibly.

Confidence motions? As noted, there is a confidence motion procedure for the government, which due to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act now has a cooling-off period, and it is not the government that is the major problem (although it is a big problem generally), but the leader of it.

Party confidence motions are internal matters, nothing to do with Parliament.

Judicial review: Sir Edward Coke left the Bench long ago. Judicial Review is not applicable to this sort of situation.

The beauty of impeaching the Prime Minister would be:

1. It would enjoy cross-party support, helping to ‘heal the wounds’ caused by the contentious issues we face 😉 .

2. It would leave the current Parliamentary composition intact. After all, it is removing a Crown Servant, not a Member of the House. Mrs May would remain an MP.

3. It would leave Mrs May as the unelected Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, and put her in the same situation as another notorious appeaser, Neville Chamberlain as leader of the Party and an MP but not Prime Minister. Not quite following the Joseph Chamberlain that she aspires to emulate, but as close as we can manage for now.

4. It would revive the prestige of Parliament, at a time when Mrs Battenberg’s presumed function of ‘to advise, encourage and to warn’ appears to be obsolete. After all, it has recently (in Constitutional timeframes) been used in the United States, an offspring jurisdiction of England, so why should it be ‘obsolete’? We may have reached the lacuna where the remedy has some use.

5. It would (or should) save us paying Mrs May a Prime Ministerial pension later on in a richly-deserved retirement. That will help to reduce our ballooning public sector pensions liabilities.

6 It would cement Mrs May’s place in history, whether or not the Lords were to convict.

What Paddy Ashdown said when he thought Remain would win

Given the recent Brexit-related shenanigans, it seems appropriate to post this video showing what the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, said as the referendum votes were being counted but before the result was known.

“I will forgive no one who does not accept the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is by one percent or twenty percent.”

Update: Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray very reasonably asked what Baron Ashdown is saying now. When he was asked last December if he remembered saying the words above, this was his response:

“The UK people voted for Brexit – but not this Brexit. Their vote has been hijacked by the extreme Brexiteers to support their own prejudices. This is not respecting the vote it is abusing the vote for extremist nonsense which damages the UK.”

Samizdata quote of the day

That there are now more overweight humans than starving humans is one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

Damien Counsell has said it many times. Good for him.