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Ten Feet Tall

[ 0 ] September 5, 2006 |

Zakaria says it all:

To review a bit of history: in 1938, Adolf Hitler launched what became a world war not merely because he was evil but because he was in complete control of the strongest country on the planet. At the time, Germany had the world’s second largest industrial base and its mightiest army. (The American economy was bigger, but in 1938 its army was smaller than that of Finland.) This is not remotely comparable with the situation today.

Iran does not even rank among the top 20 economies in the world. The Pentagon’s budget this year is more than double Iran’s total gross domestic product ($181 billion, in official exchange-rate terms). America’s annual defense outlay is more than 100 times Iran’s. Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are real and dangerous, but its program is not nearly as advanced as is often implied. Most serious estimates suggest that Iran would need between five and 10 years to achieve even a modest, North Korea-type, nuclear capacity.

Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall—and crazy. During the cold war, many hawks argued that the Soviet Union could not be deterred because the Kremlin was evil and irrational. The great debate in the 1970s was between the CIA’s wimpy estimate of Soviet military power and the neoconservatives’ more nightmarish scenario. The reality turned out to be that even the CIA’s lowest estimates of Soviet power were a gross exaggeration. During the 1990s, influential commentators and politicians—most prominently the Cox Commission—doubled the estimates of China’s military spending, using largely bogus calculations. And then there was the case of Saddam Hussein’s capabilities. Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons—and because he was a madman, he would use them.

And it’s really here that the “appeasement” trope really falls apart. To invoke 1938 does not simply argue “there’s an enemy and he’s getting stronger”, although it’s important to note that the analogy fails even on that level when applied to Iraq. Invoking 1938 suggests a conflict of world historical significance that threatens to destroy international order. This may not be the intent of the author, but it is the inevitable consequence of employing the analogy. If you don’t mean to suggest that Iran/Iraq/North Vietnam/Libya/Venezuela/North Korea is a threat to humanity on the same par as Nazi Germany, then use a more appropriate analogy. For example, when I describe DJW, I don’t say “he’s like Hitler” in reference to their similar dietary habits, because such a comparison invariably invokes a set of other associations that are inappropriate.

Indeed, conservative descriptions of Ronald Reagan as an appeaser in the 1980s are, while absurd, a good deal more plausible than the uses of 1938 by our current crop of hawks. The Soviet Union was a genuinely powerful state, and a potential threat to the international system if you squinted properly and ignored most of the evidence. Iran, Iraq, and North Korea are military midgets in their own neighborhoods; comparing them to Nazi Germany serves only to obscure the issue, rather than to shed light.

…also, read PTJ on why “appeasement” isn’t even logically possible in reference to Islamic terrorism.


Day at the Beach

[ 0 ] September 4, 2006 |

One of my favorite scenes…

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Queen Elizabeth

[ 0 ] September 3, 2006 |

The Queen Elizabeth class represented a leap forward in battleship design almost equivalent in degree to that of Dreadnought. Following the construction of Iron Duke, the Admiralty decided to pursue a class of ships that would be larger, more heavily armed, and faster than any predecessor or any foreign competitor. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill pushed forward the development of the 15″ gun, capable of outdistancing the weapons carried by American and Japanese battleships. The heavier guns gave the QEs a broadside heavier and with more penetrative capability than the preceding Iron Dukes in spite of carrying one fewer turret. The initial design provided for an armament of 10 15″ guns in five twin turrets, but the Admiralty decided to sacrifice one turret in favor of a higher speed. This decision would be critical for the future of the class. Perhaps of greatest consequence, a study by Jackie Fisher suggested that oil propulsion would be both possible and desirable.

Queen Elizabeth entered service in January 1915. She displaced roughly 28000 tons, carried 8 15″ guns in four twin turrets, and could make 24 knots. Queen Elizabeth was the first battleship equipped with oil fired boilers, which carried several advantages. Oil was less labor intensive as a fuel than coal, and did not require the employment of a large number of stokers to maintain speed. While human endurance and difficulties associated with the transportation of coal around the ship had limited the duration at which a ship could maintain its highest speed, oil could be transported automatically and stored more efficiently. Oil produced less smoke, helping a ship avoid engagements and perform better during combat (smoke tended to obscure firing positions). Finally, oil burned more efficiently, allowing a higher speed. This higher speed put Queen Elizabeth in between battlecruisers and traditional battleships in speed. The class, initially expected to include three ships and a battlecruiser counterpart, was eventually expanded to five by the cancellation of the battlecruiser and the offer of funds for an additional ship by the colony Malaya. An offer of three more ships by Canada was narrowly turned down.

Queen Elizabeth’s first action was as part of an assault on the Dardanelles. Queen Elizabeth bombarded shore fortresses and supported the attack of March 18, 1915 which tried to force the Straits. Mines and shore defences turned back the combined British and French attack, and Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn for fear of loss on May 12. She joined the Fifth Battle Squadron, initially attached to the Grand Fleet and later to Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron. Queen Elizabeth missed the Battle of Jutland while in drydock for minor repairs and maintenance.

Bitter recrimination
after the Battle of Jutland led to the “promotion” of Admiral Jellicoe and the assignment of Admiral David Beatty to the command of the Grand Fleet. Beatty initially used Iron Duke as his flagship, but the crew, which had quite liked Admiral Jellicoe, apparently demonstrated a sullen and resentful attitude towards Beatty. In early 1917, Beatty transferred his flag to the newer, larger, and faster Queen Elizabeth. The only significant action that Queen Elizabeth engaged in was the escort of the High Seas Fleet to Scapa Flow at the end of the war.

Queen Elizabeth served as the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet until 1924, and as flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet for several years after that. Although Queen Elizabeth remained an impressive ship, changes in naval warfare had revealed problems with the original design. In the late 1930s, she underwent an extensive reconstruction that replaced her superstructure, improved her horizontal and underwater protection, and fit a more modern anti-aircraft armament. The reconstruction helped remedy the ship’s most serious problems, while retaining the high design speed. Queen Elizabeth’s high speed meant that she would be a more useful ship in World War II than the slow R class battleships or than any of the American “standard type” battleships. The reconstruction lasted until May 1941.

Upon her return to service Queen Elizabeth was posted the the Mediterranean Fleet. The Italian Fleet had essentially given up major operations by the time of Queen Elizabeth’s arrival, but in December 1941 a group of Italian frogmen infiltrated Alexandria harbor and attached mines to Queen Elizabeth and her sister Valiant. The mines exploded, sinking both ships in shallow water. The British raised Queen Elizabeth and conducted spot repairs, but found it necessary to dispatch the ship to Norfolk, Virginia in September of 1942. Repairs were completed there, and, as the impending surrender of Italy had made the Mediterranean Fleet irrelevant, Queen Elizabeth was assigned to the Pacific.

In the Pacific Queen Elizabeth helped escort carrier attack groups against Japanese targets in the Dutch East Indies. With Allied naval supremacy assured, she returned to Great Britain in July 1945, and was placed in reserve. Even after reconstruction, Queen Elizabeth could make little contribution to the post-war navy, and she was scrapped in 1948.

Trivia: In addition to Nagato, what battleship did the United States claim as a prize in the aftermath of World War II?

An Unwarranted Infringement upon Our Rights

[ 0 ] September 2, 2006 |

Good Christ. What’s next? No doubling down after 10pm on Tuesdays? I’m sure Iran is behind this, somehow…

Glorious Saturday

[ 0 ] September 2, 2006 |

September returns, and with it God’s most noble endeavour, Oregon Duck football. I’m going to tend toward the conservative this year and predict a 9-3 record; they’ll lose two of three to Cal, USC, and Oklahoma and one of two to Fresno State and ASU. Unfortunately, the twisted freaks who determine programming in Lexington have decided to show Ohio State crushing the life out of Northern Illinois rather than the Ducks-Cardinal tilt, so I’ll have to find myself a sports bar this afternoon.

Of the Wildcats, generally the less said the better. This year Kentucky has seen fit to build a home non-conference schedule that includes such titans as Texas State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Central Michigan. Unfortunately, they’re playing four ranked teams on the road, and they’ll lose all four. I’d say 6-6 with luck.

The Impulse to Sock Puppetry

[ 0 ] September 2, 2006 |

In the midst of a revealing summary of the Siegel episode (and I’m inclined to agree with Steve; Siegel was on a mission to destroy, and Ezra was quite reserved in his reaction), Ezra writes:

I’ve been a blogger for three-and-a-half years now, and I well know the business end of an angry readership with instant feedback mechanisms. The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming.

I found this strange, because I’ve never felt that temptation. I have an alternative persona and blog that I use as a homepage and to occasionally post observations that I don’t think meet the high standards of LGM (and, given that I only post over there once or twice a month, you can imagine how low that bar really is), but I’ve never felt the urge to bring Raoul Vega into a conversation over here, or use him to defend me on some other blog. Angry commenters are, well, angry commenters, but the best reactions have always seemed either to engage or ignore. Reaction to my mild Ken Pollack defense was almost universally negative (and from people I respect), but it didn’t even occur to me to have my alter-ego ride into the conversation on a white horse and try to save the day.

It seems to me that most incidences of sock puppetry come from writers who are moving to the blogosphere from another medium, and who are unused to a) the immediate feedback, b) the vitriol, and c) the freedom to be whatever or whoever you want to be. I also, like Gavin, think that sock puppetry is a relatively mild crime as blogospheric sins go. Siegel’s examples were particularly pompous and mean-spirited, but I still suspect that sock puppetry is the excuse more than the cause for his suspension, and that the real reason is that his blog proved to be an embarassment (and perhaps even legal liability) for TNR.

Count One for the Blogofascists

[ 0 ] September 1, 2006 |

In comments, Ryan from Pigs and Battleships (best blog name ever) reports that Siegel is gone.

I have to believe that the rest of the TNR crew is breathing a sigh of relief about this.

Cue Babs….

Like the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were

… at the risk of making some meta-blogging observations, I’m not really surprised that Siegel has found himself in this kind of trouble. Siegel is precisely the kind of voice that is most endangered by the blogosphere. He’s written a number of interesting things for a number of different publications over the years, but nothing that distinguishes him to the degree that someone would seek out his work. In the pre-blogospheric era, this was enough to help him achieve a mild degree of fame and a profound degree of self-importance. With the advent of the blogosphere, however, the kind of voice that Siegel offers isn’t in short supply. There are many, many writers available now who are smarter, more interesting, and less self-absorbed than Lee. It’s not as if projects like this, in which Slate allowed Siegel to publish his meandering observations about his own life for five days, have become worthless, but there’s certainly nothing particularly insightful about Siegel’s observations that can’t be found, for free, at a hundred other outlets. It seemed to me, reading Siegel’s rants about the blogosphere and popular culture, that he was raging more than anything else at the loss of his own status as an authoritative voice. In denouncing Kos, or Kincaid, or people who wear baseball caps, what seemed to come through more than anything else was a frustrated “Listen to me!!!! Why aren’t you listening to me!?!?” Indeed we did; Siegel was able to capture a bit of notoriety through making the most ridiculous and absurd arguments conceivable, but even that notoriety was dependent on his position at TNR, which now seems to be at an end.

Anyway, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

The Appeasement Train, Revisited

[ 0 ] September 1, 2006 |

I discussed this in comments below, but because the fallacies are so common, it deserves a post of its own. The “Appeasement” argument generally relies on false parallels, indefensible declarations, and an ignorance of historical fact. First, the false parallel:

I’d argue that there is a fraction of dictators that acquire a taste for blood, and look for excuses to kill as many people as they can get away with. I believe Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam all fall into that category.

At least one of these isn’t like the others. In arguing that it’s wrong to appease nasty dictators, Jon argues (and he is hardly the only one) that Saddam Hussein should be lumped in with Hitler and Stalin. Whether the parallel to Hitler is fair or not I’ll leave to others (although I have serious doubts), but the parallel with Stalin is obviously absurd. Although Stalin was undoubtedly a blood thirsty tyrant, he was also known for pursuing modest, achievable foreign policy goals. Indeed, the West essentially pursued a policy of appeasement vis-a-vis the Soviet Union from 1944 onward, granting that the Soviets would have de facto (and eventually de jure) control over the territory that the Red Army conquered. Soviet-sponsored coups in Czechoslovakia and Poland were met with mild complaints and no meaningful action. It turned out, of course, that this was the correct policy; Stalin may have wanted to control West Germany, Italy, France, New Jersey, etc., but he was satisfied with control of what he had, and felt no need to initiate a war with the West. The upshot is that domestic nastiness does not have any necessary foreign policy corrollary, such that sentences starting with “bloodthirsty tyrants like” almost invariably end in nonsense.

From the false parallel to the indefensible declaration:

Saddam almost certainly would have succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, and we’ve seen that he considered himself at war with us, and was less than rational about WMDs.

Several commenters have noted that both parts of this are ridiculous. It’s impossible to argue that Saddam Hussein never would have developed nukes, but the state of his nuclear program in 2003 was so primitive that it’s far from clear that he “almost certainly” would have developed such weapons. The second part is patently ridiculous, as Iraqi WMD policy was the very picture of rationality. Hussein used WMD against enemies that could not retaliate in kind (Iran, Kurdistan), and did not use them against enemies who could (Israel, the United States). In spite of giving up his WMDs, he made an effort to deceive Iran into thinking that he did. There’s a word we have for this kind of policy: rational.

And finally, general historical ignorance:

The points over Czechoslovakia were rather, first that an agreement was ignored, and secondly that the West sacrificed strategic position. Czechoslavakia had a good, big, and especially well-placed army. Hitler’s tank and other construction programs were much less far along, and didn’t get far until 1940. The Allies might’ve been able to attack before that instead of being kept off by the Siegfried Line, which is what happened in real life. Even if his construction had finished, taking over France would’ve been alot harder because he would’ve had two land fronts from the start. And Russia was inclined to get in early against Hitler until Munich.

The first point, regarding Czechoslovakia’s military capacity, is simply untrue. Jon is probably thinking of the defensive emplacements in the Sudetenland, and forgetting (as many do) that Germany’s annexation of Austria in early 1938 rendered those defensive works irrelevant. Gerhard Weinberg, for one, has argued that the Wehrmacht would have defeated Czechoslovakia in a few days at most, and I tend to agree. British military assessments at the time vary, but accord in general with that position, and were not at all optimistic about the future of Czech resistance. The question of the military balance in 1938 is a complicated one, but it has very little to do with tanks in production or on the construction of the Siegfried Line. Put simply, there was no chance that France or the United Kingdom would have engaged in an offensive against Germany in 1938; both maintained defensive doctrines, and did not consider an offensive against Germany a plausible option. Russia is a wild card, but neither Poland nor Czechoslovakia was eager to allow the Red Army to cross their territory, and the combat capacity of the Red Army was bottoming out following the purges of 1937. The military capacity of the Wehrmacht depended much more on doctrine, training, and organization than it did on tanks, and it was almost undoubtedly the most formidable fighting force in Europe in 1938. This is what I call “History Channel Scholarship”, and regarding the Wehrmacht it tends to be particularly bad, replacing actual German military tactics and operational stance with a visions of a blond general riding at the head of a column of tanks as French and Poles toss aside their weapons and flee.

Elsewhere, note Glenn Greenwald’s catalogue of “appeasement” whines on the part of warhawks, including some particular juicy examples of the genre from the 1980s. Bill Petti coins the term “henny-penny” to describe appeasement rhetoric, and correctly connects warhawk discussions of appeasement to equally inept arguments about reputation and will. Yglesias points out that warhawk appreciation of the “lessons” of Munich is quite selective.

The point, again, is that warhawk invocations of appeasement and 1938 are simply garbage. They have no content whatsover, and are invoked whenever anyone opposes any war at any time. These arguments do not deserve to be taken seriously.

[ 0 ] September 1, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Go Greece

[ 0 ] September 1, 2006 |

Not that I particularly care, but what are the standard explanations for the failure of the United States to win international basketball competitions? That the US, in spite of having the best talent, lost the World Baseball Classic was no surprise, because the margin of US superiority was relatively slim and because baseball doesnt reward superiority on a game by game basis as well as basketball. But why does the US lose in basketball?

Union Busting

[ 0 ] August 31, 2006 |

Yglesias reminds us that reality TV isn’t just evil; it’s Evil.

Oddly, the last 10-15 years has seen some of the most complex and interesting television in the history of the medium (Buffy through the Sopranos through Deadwood through Veronica Mars), and some of its most irredeemable garbage (any reality show). On the upside, the prevalence of reality TV means that I don’t have to worry about paying attention to half of the schedule in any new season…

In Other Nerd News…

[ 0 ] August 30, 2006 |


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