Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How Germany Could Have Won WWI

Black: German Empire. Grey: German client states.

Though Hitler’s initial gains were more spectacular, the first Great War, far more than the second, was a close-run thing. In Hindsight, Germany’s strategy was exactly backwards. Their plan was to knock out France before Russia had fully mobilized, then turn and take on Russia. They should have knocked out Russia before it had fully mobilized, then taken on France.

Why? Firstly, Russia was more committed to war than France. While Germany was dealing with Russia, French attacks might have been less than vigorous, as happened in WWII. Once Russia and Serbia were knocked out of the war, France might have had little incentive to continue. They might have sued for an honourable peace; and Germany had no further territorial interests in the West, except perhaps for Luxembourg. Secondly, this might have kept England out of the war: they came in because of the violation of Belgian neutrality, and in fear of losing the balance of power between Germany and France in the West. No attempt to take out France quickly means no invasion of Belgium, and so perhaps no British entry. They had no love of, and much rivalry with, Russia. Thirdly, going after Russia immediately would have taken a great deal of pressure off of Austria and Turkey, who were both engaged with Russia in the East, but had no front with France. They needed the help; in the event, both collapsed during the war. Fourthly, defending in the West would have been much easier than Germany realized at the time. With the machine gun, defense was far cheaper and offense far more expensive than had previously been the case. Let France take all the awful losses of charging machine guns and completed trenchworks; meanwhile, the vast distances and Russia’s unreadiness still favoured a war of movement in the East. Fifthly, Russia was Germany’s main objective and main concern from the beginning: they wanted war now because they feared that Russia would be able to militarily overtake them in a few years. They had no similar quarrel with France. Sixthly, we know from actual events that Russia was politically weak and would probably not withstand well the shock of early defeat. The French Republic had sufficient popular support that it was strong and resilient.

German postcard.

So, in our alternative history scenario, Germany concentrates on Russia, and England stays neutral. Italy, acting purely out of self-interest at the time, has a treaty obligation to join the Central Powers. It stayed neutral, then joined the Entente, because it saw which way the wind was blowing. With England, its traditional ally, out, the wind might have looked better the other way. Italy would then have stayed neutral or even joined the Central Powers. The Italian reward might have been Tunisia, Corsica, Albania, even Savoy. Without Britain’s involvement, in turn, Germany would not have needed to be so active against shipping on the high seas, which means the US too would almost certainly have stayed out. Japan, like Italy out for the main chance, would have stayed neutral or allied with Germany.

Given that the whole war was a very close run thing anyway, this should have been enough to give Germany a clear victory. It could have knocked out Russia and taken Poland and the Baltic States as its own, kept its own possessions in Africa, China, and the Pacific, then, if France was not interested in a status quo ante peace, could probably have marched into Paris. As reward, Germany might have taken over France’s African possessions, for what they were worth.

German cavalry on parade, Berlin.

Having accomplished this, had there been, as is likely, a later collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany could have marched in unopposed and taken its various lands as her own. Turkey would be yet more solidly a German sphere of influence. Then, had war later come with England, Germany would have had the upper hand.

It really was close.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Current Temperature in Bethlehem, West Bank

20 degrees celsius. Sunny and mild.

I do this every year on or around Christmas, because one of the arguments always given for the date of Christmas being wrong is that shepherds would not be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter.

Maybe not in the middle of winter in Edmonton. But in Bethlehem, I have yet to see a Christmas temperature that seems daunting in this regard.

Mitt Romney in 2016?

Mitt Romney in 2013: a little grey and frayed around the edges?

By this point, especially with the Obamacare rollout,  the hallmark of the Obama presidency is beginning to look like managerial incompetence.

By 2016, as an antidote, Americans are liable to be craving a figure of unquestioned managerial competence for president.

And when that is said, who in American public life comes first to mind? Is it not Mitt Romney?

Pity he is not running this time, instead of last time.

For some strange reason, it has become accepted practice that, although they can run several times for the nomination, candidates now get only one shot at the finals, the actual head-to-head run for the presidency. This was not always so: Nixon got two shots, and won in the second. Adlai Stevenson got two shots, as did Tom Dewey, and William Jennings Bryan.

Romney lost largely, in my opinion, because he seemed too perfect. It was hard for the average American to identify with him, and so to like him. But, having once lost a close contest, and getting a little old, could be his saving flaws.

He really ought to consider another run.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Poor Little Fuhrer

Rich Jewish shop owners. From a Nazi poster.

It is a truism in the social sciences that abusers are people who have themselves been abused. But this is obviously wrong.

Simple common sense: who would understand the pain of being abused more than one who has suffered it? How then could they visit it on others? Moreover, abusing others morally legitimizes the original abuse. This should be an intolerable contradiction to anyone who has themselves been abused. So the I Ching, repository of the wisdom of the east, observes that “through oppression one learns to lessen rancor.” Just the reverse of what the social scientists say.

Social science has been interviewing abusers, the abusers have all said they were themselves abused, and the social scientists, not being very bright, are accepting this at face value.

Enter history. History is a far better source for understanding humanity than social sciences will ever be. Social sciences are worthless in principle. The study of history, however, leads to wisdom. Wisdom comes with experience. History is the study of the whole world’s experience.

To get to the bottom of what causes people to become abusive, consider societies and groups of people from the past universally understood to have been abusive. Who comes first to mind? Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, the segregated US South.

All of them would indeed, like those modern abusers interviewed by social scientists, have insisted that they have been abused. They too would have insisted that this is the reason for their actions. The Nazis held themselves intolerably oppressed by the Versailles Treaty--and, yes, by the rich Jews. The Boers considered themselves oppressed by the British during the Boer War, and by Imperial policy after that that they felt favoured blacks. The Southerners considered themselves oppressed by carpetbaggers and reconstruction following the Civil War.

An oppressed Afrikaner.

Were they in fact oppressed? Perhaps briefly; but this came within a wider experience of privilege. Versailles may have been bitter to the Germans, but it followed a period of success after success, culturally, economically, and militarily, during the late nineteenth century, not incidentally including imposing punitive treaties on their own opponents several times. Up until 1918, they were very much accustomed to seeing themselves as the rising star of Europe and of the world. The growing tip of evolution; the master race. It is when that seemed to be thwarted that they went berserk.

So too, the Afrikaners had a credible claim to being oppressed, but this was brief. Fifteen percent of all Boers died in British concentration camps during the Boer War. But this was a group accustomed for many years to owning and commanding black slaves, and to moving into new lands and throwing off the former inhabitants at will. They were a group of people so accustomed to having their own way that they found virtually any government intolerable.

A carpetbagger oppressing Southern U.S. whites.

And so with the whites in the US South: used to having black slaves do all the hard work, they saw themselves as New World aristocrats. Virginia credibly claimed to be the leading state of the union, home of most US presidents, until they lost the Civil War. Or the Protestants of Northern Ireland, accustomed to seeing themselves as the ruling class, then faced with the loss of that status at Irish independence.

Compare Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, or Jomo Kenyatta, who emerged from the deliberate oppression of years in prison to prove exceptionally mild rulers, reconciliation turning out to be their main concern. You don't hear a lot of whining from the Armenians either.

The lesson here is that it is not the oppressed who abuse, but those who have been accustomed to being pampered and to having their will obeyed. When they suddenly have that rug pulled out from under their jackboots and stilettos, they shift into overdrive, becoming obvious abusers. In other words, it is not the abused, but the spoiled, who abuse.

Yet these abusers will also see themselves as abused, and complain loudly about it. This is the psychological phenomenon dealt with so well in “The Princess and the Pea.” By contrast, the truly abused are most often incapable of seeing the extent of their own oppression, since it is what they have always been accustomed to. Fish know nothing of water.

Why do we hear so much more about the holocaust of the Jews by Hitler than about the holocaust of the Ukrainians by Stalin? Or the holocaust of the gypsies or Jehovah's Witnesses by Hitler? Or the much higher death rate under Mao? Because the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe were indeed, as the Nazis portrayed them, wealthier than their non-Jewish neighbours. Until the holocaust, they were accustomed to viewing themselves as in the higher reaches of the social order. They knew immediately that there was something wrong with the way they were suddenly being treated. Ukrainian or Chinese peasants? Gypsies? Not so much.

Therefore, those who complain most loudly of abuse or of being bullied in the public square are not those who have been treated the worst, but most often the bullies themselves. When these squeaking wheels are inevitably given government grease, it is almost always an additional injustice, which aids and abets their injustices against others.

Thus we see abusers branding the abused with being abusers.

Oppressed women, NYC, 1912

Such, for example, is the case with feminism. Who is more accustomed to being pampered than the average young woman?

Phil Robertson and Homosexuality

Looks like this one is non-controversial: practically everyone thinks A&E is off their nut, right?

I would fault Robertson for citing only sexual sins; this is the kind of faulty focus Pope Francis has been speaking out against.

But if one is no longer permitted to say that homosexuality is a sin, this is tantamount to prohibiting all religion. All religions say it is.

I think we may be witnessing a turning point in American culture. Political correctness may have finally overreached itself. It may now become more fashionable to publicly stand up to it and refuse to apologize. It could then die quickly.

Here's a great summary of the entire controversy so far.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Faith

Cohen gets away with highly religious lyrics where Dylan cannot; indeed where most poets have not been able to.

Why? Perhaps because nobody understands him.

The lone comment on this song at the "Song Meanings" website:

I don't know how this song has yet to be commented on :|
That said, I'm not really able to figure out the meaning just yet, but I do love this song.
 I'm surprised. I would not have thought it was that subtle. What could be more obvious than the title?

OK, here's a quick sketch:

First stanza is the story of creation, whether you want to read it Biblically or in Darwinian terms. It starts in the sea, without consciousness ("blind") –darkness on the face of the deep. Then it emerges to see the light—and God created light, his first creation. Wild regret? Original sin. That suggests the religious meaning is primary, not the Darwinian one.

Club/wheel/mind –the progress of human culture. Hunting to agriculture to literacy.

Love is presented as the essential driver behind all of this. In evolutionary terms, love is sex, leading to reproduction and evolution. In religious terms, God is love, and he makes the world and man as something to love. Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship.

Blood/soil/faith—this second trinity is paralleled with the first. Blood = club, soil = wheel, faith = mind. As the club is grounded in blood, and the wheel is grounded in soil, so the mind is grounded in faith. Faith is the proper place and medium of mind.

“These words you can’t forget/Your vow” surely refers to the covenant of God (with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the people of Israel); antidote to the wild regret of the first stanza. Covenant is religion, literally "binding." There is a secondary allusion, no doubt, to the marriage vow, as sex consecrated, becomes love. Hence, religion is a love affair with God that ends in marriage. To God.

“A grave on every hill” – from the evolutionary standpoint, every birth implies a death. Hence love creates death. From the religious standpoint, though, each grave is a consummated marriage to God. That the cross/star/minaret is on a hill, and the graves are mentioned after this, suggests that the religious meaning is the dominant one. The upward journey of “evolution” ends in the “holy place” on top of the hill.

As an aside, fellow Montrealers will notice an allusion here to Cote-des-Neiges cemetery and the cross on top of Mount Royal.

"Love aren't you tired yet?" Is ambiguous. The Buddhist longing for an end to the wheel of becoming. A desire for the end of the world. Or a hint that it is time for you and your lover, God, to slip off to bed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Is the Pope Promoting Sin?

Here’s another attack on Pope Francis.

No, by condemning “inequality,” he is not promoting sin. If envy is one of the seven deadly sins, so is avarice. And, if Cain’s envy of Abel was the second sin, Eve’s coveting the apple was the first. On that argument, a call for redistribution of wealth is morally neutral. It may encourage envy, but it discourages greed.

I agree with the author of the piece that “Poverty matters; injustice matters. Mere [financial] inequality is beside the point.”

However, a distinction between financial inequality and absolute poverty probably works only in the First World. Pope Francis is responsible for a larger organization than that, and is himself from the Third World. For most people in most places, extreme financial inequality automatically means that some do not have the basic necessities for a dignified life.

In that circumstance, there is indeed a moral obligation, according to Catholic teaching.

In any case, having a great deal more wealth than your neighbour is soul-destroying. As Jesus said, "a rich man can no more enter heaven than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle."