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[ 0 ] September 11, 2006 |

Drunken Orson Welles

I can taste the bitterness… but where are the fish sticks?



[ 0 ] September 10, 2006 |

So here’s a question that I’ve been contemplating for the last two days in Council Bluffs, Iowa; what is the ugliest state in America? I’m going with Iowa, although I’ll also entertain Ohio, Kansas, Rhode Island, or Ohio as answers.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: RN Littorio

[ 1 ] September 10, 2006 |

The Regia Marina was one of the busiest navies of the interwar period. Four old battleships were rebuilt so completely that they barely resembled their original configuration. This helped Italy achieve what was really, by the late 1930s, significant ship-to-ship superiority over the French Navy. The re-construction of these ships helped generate ideas as to what their new battleships should look like. The new ships were to have enough speed to catch Dunkerque and Strasbourg, and enough firepower to destroy them. The result was the first post-treaty class of genuine fast battleships, the Littorio class.

Littorio displaced 42000 tons, could make 32 knots, and carried 9 15″ guns in three triple turrets. Although well protected from shellfire, Littorio was built with an experimental underwater protection system designed by Italian naval architect Umberto Pugliese. This system proved disastrous in practice, and limited the effectiveness of Littorio and her sisters, and they were forced to be unusually wary of torpedo attacks. Like the German Tirpitz but unlike Allied battleships of the day, Littorio did not carry a dual purpose secondary armament, a measure that would have saved weight and improved her anti-aircraft capabilities. The Italian 15″ gun was also something of a disappointment, as it fired a very heavy shell at a high velocity, but was difficult to reload, inaccurate, and incurred serious barrel wear. Finally, Littorio had a very short range, although this was of little concern in the Mediterranean. All in all, Littorio and her sisters were probably the least capable of the final generation of fast battleships, with the likely exception of Bismarck and Tirpitz. Nevertheless, they were useful ships, and in battle the difference between Littorio and, say, Prince of Wales, Richielieu, or Washington probably would have been minimal.

Littorio had an active war career. She participated in numerous convoy escort actions, resulting in the first and second Battles of Sirte, in which she briefly exchanged fire with Royal Navy vessels. Littorio also engaged in occasional missions to hunt and intercept British convoys. Her most notable battle service, however, was less than distinguished. On November 11, 1940 HMS Illustrious, escorted by a few Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers, launched an air attack on the Italian fleet anchorage at Taranto. One of three ships hit, Littorio suffered three torpedo impacts. The damage sank Littorio at anchor, although the damage was not so severe that she couldn’t be salvaged. Repairs took about four months, limiting the effectiveness of the Italian Navy at a critical point in the war. The Taranto attack was carefully studied by Japanese naval planners, and provided a model for the Pearl Harbor attack of December, 1941.

In September 1943, the Italian govenment decided to seek an armistice with the Western Allies. The surrender of the Italian fleet was a prominent condition of this agreement. Littorio had been renamed Italia upon the fall of the Fascist government, and was in preparation with her two sisters (Roma and Vittorio Veneto) to attack the Allied landing force at Salerno when the armistice was signed. Instead of heading to Salerno, Italia and her sisters laid a course for Malta. Along the way, the fleet was attacked by German glider bombs, of the same sort that later damaged HMS Warspite. Italia narrowly avoided one of the bombs, but Roma was hit twice, exploded, and sank with nearly all hands. Italia and Vittorio Veneto arrived at Malta without further molestation, and were then transferred to Egypt.

Some consideration was given to the idea of incorporating Italia and her sister into the USN or the RN. Italia technically became US war booty, while Vittorio Veneto was given to the United Kingdom. The ships certainly had the speed to operate with fast carrier groups in the Pacific, but there were several problems. Neither the USN nor the RN had the appropriate ammunition or spare part stores to operate the ships over a long period of time. Moreover, the short range of Italia would have proven a severe handicap in the Pacific. Had the war situation been more critical, the two ships might have been used nonetheless, but by 1944 the USN, the RN, and the Marine Nationale had overwhelming superiority in fast battleships over the IJN. Italia saw no further service, although she was physically returned to Italy after the war. Struck from the US list in 1948, she was scrapped in the 1950s.

(Images courtesy of, which has some outstanding photos and data about the Italian Navy in World War II.)

Trivia: What three battleships were sunk by Italian frogmen?


[ 0 ] September 9, 2006 |

Blogging will be light for the next couple of days.

One of these is more pleased than the other…

But I Thought it was about the Tariff…

[ 0 ] September 8, 2006 |

I’ll write more a bit later about Jeff Record’s latest on counter-insurgency, but I’d like to one of Matt’s comments. Wondering why the Confederacy didn’t engage in an insurgent campaign rather than a conventional military campaign that favored the strengths of the North:

The trouble is that insurgency couldn’t possibly have achieved some of the major political goals of the CSA leadership — namely maintaining slavery and the plantation economy. Insurgents could have made it impossible for the federal government to effectively govern the South, but wouldn’t have been able to maintain the apparatus of repression necessary to shore up the socio-economic system. You couldn’t fade away into the hills (or wherever) while simultaneously keeping control over the South’s black population, who would have run away, rallied to the Union cause, etc., etc., etc. just as they did wherever CSA territory came to be occupied by the Union. By contrast, surrender actually proved reasonably effective as a method of maintaining the plantation economy and, if not slavery, white supremacy.

The Confederacy did employ guerrilla tactics in some areas (Missouri, Northern Virginia), but Matt is largely correct in noting the conventional focus of the Confederate Army. He’s also right about the reason why; maintaining slavery (and, more generally, the institutions of white supremacy) was much more important to the Southern aristocracy than indepedence. Given the choice, they opted for a strategy less likely to succeed, but one that gave them the chance to maintain their property and social position. Propertied aristocrats, with some notable exceptions, just don’t make great revolutionaries. Now, in fairness, parts of the Confederate power structure (Davis, Lee) preferred independence to slavery by 1865, but they arrived at this position only after four years of brutal struggle and still weren’t able to convince the bulk of the Confederate political class that this was the right choice.


[ 0 ] September 8, 2006 |

Via Ezra, Ralph Peters wrote an outstanding column on modern warfare this week. Money quote:

Precision-targeting systems and other superweapons are dangerously seductive to civilian leaders looking for military wins on the cheap. Exaggerated promises about capabilities — made by contractors, lobbyists and bedazzled generals — delude presidents and prime ministers into believing that war can be swift and immaculate, with minimal friendly or even enemy casualties.

It’s a lethal myth. The siren song of techno-wars fought at standoff range makes military solutions more attractive to political leaders than would be the case were they warned about war’s costs at the outset. Inevitably, the “easy” wars don’t work out as planned. Requiring boots on the ground after all, they prove exorbitant in blood, treasure, time and moral capital.


Why are defense contractors and partisan generals nonetheless able to convince Congress and one presidential administration after another that technology has all the answers? Because Congress and the White House want to believe machines will get them off the hook when it comes to sending our forces into battle. And there are huge practical incentives to buy big-ticket weapons systems from politically supportive defense contractors.

The defense industry silences military leaders who know better by employing them on generous terms after their retirement from service. The system is legal, but it’s morally corrupt and ethically repulsive.

Meanwhile, the impressive-in-theory capabilities of the latest weapons cloud the vision of military planners, leading them to focus on what the systems can do instead of concentrating on what needs to be done. Rather than buying the weapons we really need, we twist the conflicts we face to conform to the weapons we want to buy. The results are flawed war plans based on unrealistic expectations — in short, Iraq.

I would add that there’s some variance across the services in their attachment to the technological fantasy (the Air Force, always, is the worst), although that may be changing. One of Ezra’s commenters noted that different implications can be drawn from this argument; the inherent nastiness of war might incline some to avoid conflict, while it might incline others to eschew any effort to make war less destructive. Peters probably falls into the latter camp, but this doesn’t invalidate his analysis of the situation.

[ 0 ] September 8, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Ha! Losers.

[ 0 ] September 7, 2006 |

Was there any doubt that Oregon State fans are Chamberlain-esque francophile appeasement lovers? I’d suggest that the Beavs hold off on getting that tougher non-conference schedule; when Boise State applies a beating as fine as the one I’ve watched tonight, you really don’t want to have to contend with a team of quality…

Note: The aforementioned mockery is withdrawn if the Ducks lose to Fresno State this Saturday.

[ 0 ] September 7, 2006 |

Lollapalooza – Raconteurs


How Sinned Lee?

[ 0 ] September 6, 2006 |

I was planning on writing a post on Jack Shafer’s ruminations about the Siegel affair, but Lindsay said everything I had to say and more.

Like Lindsay, I’m still wondering when someone at Slate is going to comment about the fact that Siegel repeatedly denounced one of their contributors as a pedophile.

"Islam is Very Unpopular in Iran Nowadays"

[ 0 ] September 6, 2006 |

If there really were a serious and politically meaningful Zoroastrian revival in Iran, how long do you think it would be before Zoroastrianism became the next big threat to the West, and how long would it take for Michael Ledeen to herald a new “clash of civlizations”?


[ 0 ] September 6, 2006 |

It may be that democracy is a risk in Argentina, although Nancy Soderbergh really fails to make that case in her LA Times Op-Ed. It may also be that making friends with Hugo Chavez is a bad thing, even when he gives you lots of free stuff. But I think I can assert, without qualification, that Argentina’s position on loan repayment has absolutely nothing to do with its status as a democracy.

It’s worrisome that many Latin Americans seem to be looking for strong leaders who will make the trains run on time — even if they have to break the rules to do so. That’s a dangerous brand of populism because leaders who are willing to flout international norms are also likely to trample over domestic rules.

The Bush administration should press for a negotiated settlement with Argentina, but it also must make it clear that the patience of the international community is not limitless. The IMF should hold up future loans to Argentina if it fails to negotiate in good faith. And, absent an improvement in Argentina’s actions, the United States should consider whether such a wealthy country deserves the special trade benefits that will come up for renewal at the end of the year. Kirchner must understand that any alliance with Chavez will be costly. The new Argentina-Venezuela axis should serve as a wake-up call to President Bush. Democracy is at risk in Latin America.

Yes, taking a position that is wildly popular among all segments of the Argentinian electorate and that has rewarded its enactor with 70% approval ratings certainly IS undemocratic, don’t you think?

The problem here is that values conflict. It is not, remarkably enough, in the (immediate) interests of Argentina (conceived in a realist sense or in reference to domestic politics) to pay back all of its loans. That an Argentinian government takes a hard line against international lenders has nothing to do with the presence or lack of democracy. Obviously, there are and always have been serious tensions between democratic governance and the liberal international economic order. A government responsive to its electorate may engage in activities that are detrimental in some sense to the economic order, even assuming (for the moment) that the structure of the international economy is basically one of cooperative amity. The decisions of the Bush adminstration to adopt steel tariffs and to maintain agricultural subsidies may be bad and problematic, but they weren’t undemocratic.

…I think it’s fair to note that most democracies do follow rules and procedures on the international stage that could be characterized as counter-majoritarian; this is, in a sense, the “embedded liberalism” that John Gerard Ruggie wrote about. However, this doesn’t so much relieve the tension as reveal it, demonstrating that participation even in the liberal international order requires the compromise of certain democratic principles.

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