Wondering why Medvedite critic Michael Medved is no longer adhering to his highly desirable earlier argument that conservative hacks should ignore Brokeback Mountain and leave discussions about it to those who actually care about movies? I suspect the fact that it’s been the number 1 movie in the country the past few days–despite playing on fewer screens than any other movie in the top 15–may have something to do with it…
I also agree with Wolcott about Transamerica; I haven’t seen it because I tend to be very skeptical of road movies. But, on the other hand, last year’s best picture kinda fits in that category, so you never know…
On the plane ride from London I finished Julian Jackson’s The Fall of France. While I was disappointed with the first chapter, I was very pleased with the volume as a whole.
It is common to assert that France fell because of inadequate tactical and operational doctrine. The story goes something like this; bright young German officers read a really smart pair of Britons named JFC Fuller and BH Liddell Hart, came to appreciate the importance of tanks, concentrated their relatively small number of tanks into Panzer Divisions, and used those divisions to smash holes in the lines of the idiot French, who felt that tanks should be distributed in support of infantry. This is the line that you most often hear on the History Channel, for example.
The only difficulty with this is what I call the historical coherence problem. In short, nothing about this story coheres even vaguely with empirical reality. It’s unclear that Guderian and the other important Germans read Liddell Hart and Fuller at all, much less that they were influenced by them in any meaningful way. The central aspects of what came to be known as “blitzkrieg” were worked out in 1917 on the Eastern Front and between 1927 and 1933 at a place called Kazan, in the Soviet Union. While German tanks were concentrated at a divisional level, French armor was, if anything, more concentrated at the battalion level. The initial German break-through, in the Ardennes, was produced almost entirely with infantry, just as the large German breakthroughs in 1918 had been produced. The role of armor was to enhance the ability of the Wehrmacht to exploit those breakthroughs, as armor is particularly effective against unprepared defensive positions (and particularly ineffective against prepared ones). French tanks were deployed and used in a very sensible manner, given the operational decisions made by the French and British high command.
The failure of France in 1940 was caused, essentially, by an operational level error. The Germans found and exploited a particularly weak French sector, punched through, and surrounded the bulk of the French and British armies in Belgium. The German Army of 1918, with no armor at all, would have made the same breakthrough, although it would have been more difficult to exploit and complete the encirclement. The line put forth by BH Liddell Hart is almost entirely wrong, although his self-serving histories of discussions with German generals would suggest otherwise.
Jackson repeats this inacccurate line in the first chapter of his book, which caused me to toss it away in disgust. Having nothing else to do (I was awake at 3am, recovering from jet lag) I picked it up and continued to read. The situation improved considerably, and, in contrast to the content of the first chapter, Jackson ended up giving a brief but sound military history of the campaign. Jackson tends to fall in the same direction as Ernest May regarding the military situation of 1940, although he believes, as I, that May goes to far in painting a portrait of German military insecurity.
In any case, the central value of this book comes in its discussion of the French decision to surrender. This is a question that particular interests me, so much so that I have decided to assign one of the chapters of the Jackson book to my National Security class. France in May of 1940 faced a desperate security situation. German conquest of metropolitan France was inevitable. The French reaction to this problem, however, was not determined. The French government could have moved to North Africa, kept the fleet out of German hands, and continued the war. The French decided instead to conclude an armistice with Germany that neutralized their fleet and colonial possessions. This had very bad consequences, but that’s beside the point; what’s interesting to me is how the French policymakers of the time weighed the question of whether or not to surrender. The German victory laid bare the debate on national values and national interests in France, and all of those values became contingent.
The French example reminds us that their can be patriots on either side of any security question. Petain and Laval were disgusting creatures, especially Laval, but they were both French patriots, as much as Degaulle. They simply understood France and French values in a different way. Laval’s allies believed that the Americans and British were as much a threat to core French values as the Germans were. Rebuilding what was great about France meant rebuilding the France that preceded the Revolution, and discarding the ideals of 1789. This wasn’t all, of course; Laval and Petain also believed that the physical security of the French people could best be protected by accomodation with, rather than resistance to, Nazi Germany. The decision to surrender must be understood in the context of the brutal political divisions that existed in France in the 1930s. Many believed, quite literally, that defeat at the hands of Germany was the only way to solve the political problems left over by the revolutions of 1789 and 1871.
The point isn’t that Petain and Laval shouldn’t be condemned by history; they clearly should. However, they cannot be condemned for a lack of patriotism. This is a lesson that needs to be learned and re-learned by Americans. There is no core value that cannot, in an extreme situation, be traded away. At the same time, what we believe our core values to be deeply informs how we think about securing them.
I don’t have a whole lot to add to the Court’s status-quo-preserving Ayotte decision yesterday. I still think it would be more logical to have struck down the law and permitted New Hampshire to craft constitutional legislation, rather than having the courts read a health exception the legislators clearly didn’t intend into the statute. (This is classic O’Connor, writing a decision that gets praised for “restraint” and “modesty” for no obvious reason.) Still, the must crucial aspects of the case were 1)ensuring that Roe‘s health exemption was preserved, and 2)not applying the Salerno rule to abortion litigation. The decision accomplishes both, so I can certainly live with it.
I was just watching a bit o’ The Falafel Factor (hey, when you’re staying in a hotel that offers about six channels, ugly choices are inevitable), and as if on cue who would Bill have on but
Ned Flanders Michael Medved to share his pensees about Brokeback Mountain. Needless to say, the quality of the film was not discussed. Medved, after complaining about how the “insidious” tagline “love is a force of nature” “justifies adultery,” he hauled out a favorite wingnut talking point: Brokeback has made only a tenth of the new C.S. Lewis picture. Oddly, the fact that it hasn’t even been in wide release yet, or comparisons with the profitability as such conservative faves as Cinderella Man and The Great Raid were not brought up; I wonder why…
Greetings from Washington D.C. This post feels different as it is being written on my brand new ibook, which I got as my traveling laptop. I must admit that I’m already reluctant to go back to Windows on my other computers. I might have to take the new girl down to the Starbucks near Dupont Circle, where I can submit the one billionth blog post filed from the location…
My first evening was very lucky, as I was treated to dinner by the lovely and talented Rox Populi. Tomorrow will be spend poring over various conservative publications at the Library of Congress, which will be rather less entertaining…
…a Blogger + Safari question: as of now, blogger isn’t showing the icons that allow me to add hyperlinks, edit as HTML, etc. Does anyone know how to fix that?
At Wilton Park, a German general made the case for conscription. Germany is more or less prohibited from maintaining a purely professional military force, so it isn’t really all that surprising that the general would make a virtue out of necessity. Nevertheless, at least one part of his argument was particularly interesting; he suggested that conscription actually improved the quality of the Bundeswehr.
Now, this is not an argument that is typically given on behalf of conscription. Lots of people argue that conscription can help solve shortfalls in recruitment, and the German general echoed this claim, specifically referencing the difficulties that other Western European nations have had in filling recruting quotas. Conscription is usually described as a trade-off between numbers and quality; conscripts are believed to perform at a lower level of expertise and with less enthusiasm than volunteers. The US Army certainly holds to this belief, and various commentators have implied that conscription explains the relatively poor performance of the Army in Vietnam. This is absurd, of course; the difficulties the Army faced were at the tactical and operational planning levels, rather than at the level of tactical execution. Poorly trained conscripts are also blamed for the failure of Russia’s army in the first Chechen War.
The general rejected the idea that conscription requires a trade-off. Instead, he argued that conscription (which takes only a percentage of eligible German males in any case) allows the Bundeswehr to appropriate a cross-section of the skills it needs to operate as an organization. Instead of relying on volunteers to fill its ranks, the Bundeswehr can simply take what it needs. When those personnel are in the army, they can be offered particularized incentives for becoming professional soldiers, at least for a time. Thus, conscription allows the Bundeswehr to maintain a higher level of human capital among its personnel than a similar volunteer army. The general suggested that this was particularly important given the increasing technical demands that digitization puts on soldiers.
This argument is particularly interesting coming from a German, because the experience of the German Army in the 20th century has consistently defied the argument that conscripts damage military quality. Throughout the 20th century (and before, back to Prussian times) the German Army has managed both widespread conscription and extremely high quality, all the way down to the level of tactical execution.
To be clear, I’m not calling for conscription in the US. I do, however, think that some arguments against conscription are nonsense, and I suspect that the “quality” objection may be one of these. The experience of Germany and other Western European nations with conscription should also serve to dispel the notion that a draft makes a country more militaristic, violent, or conservative; there would appear to be virtually no evidence to back up these claims.
Has a state ever wasted so much money on so pointless a project? Even if the interceptors worked, they would be useless; at best they would convince the Russians and Chinese to develop more and better missiles, at a fraction of what we’re spending. And if a missile shield isn’t 100%, or very near, it does not break us out of the deterrent relationship with even a small nuclear power like North Korea.
Yet we continue to pour the money down the rathole…
Just read an interesting report in Defense News about the proliferation of aerial IEDs in Iraq. Apparently, insurgents are developing IEDs that can propel themselves into the air and explode. This has damaged several helicopters. Since US helicopters have been flying a very low altitudes since 2003 or so, the tactics may turn out to be quite effective.
No link, unfortunately.