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Tales of the Sea: The Orzel Incident

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

In February 1917, the German Navy resumed unrestricted submarine warfare after a two year break. The campaign was launched in an effort to drive Great Britain out of World War I. Weak British tactics helped produce enormous early successes for German U-boats. For a time, British supply lines from the United States were seriously threatened. The entry of the United States into the war, however, and the development of convoy tactics staunched the bleeding for long enough to allow an Allied victory in France. Although the German submarine offensive of World War I failed to force Britain out of the war, it succeeded in threatening the Allied war effort.

Like the rest of the German Navy, the surviving U-boats were scrapped post-war or distributed among victorious allied navies. Some efforts were made to restrict submarines in the inter-war period, but in the end no significant action was taken. Remarkably, apart from Germany most interwar navies did not strongly consider the possibility of another major submarine anti-commerce campaign. Rather, submarines were valued for the threat they posed to enemy capital ships. Both the United States and Japan, for example, envisioned submarines as part of a Mahanian trans-oceanic campaign. Weapons of the weak, submarines could help equalize the odds for small navies.

Poland had one of these small navies. After two centuries of subjugation to foreign powers, Poland had regained its independence at the end of World War I. The primary military threats to Poland were the Soviet Union and a potentially revanchist Germany. In 1920 and 1921, Poland fought a war against Soviet Russia, finally defeating a major offensive led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky at the gates of Warsaw. Victories in the Polish-Lithuanian War and the Polish-Ukranian War helped expand the borders of the new state. Although land warfare represented the most dangerous threat to Poland’s existence, the new Republic nevertheless began development of a navy.

In February 1939, the Polish Navy took delivery of ORP Orzel, an 1100 ton submarine built in the Netherlands. Orzel could make 19 knots surfaced, 9 knots submerged, and carried 12 torpedo tubes. Although the Poles planned to use her for coastal work within the Baltic, she was actually a bit large for the envisioned mission. Orzel (meaning Eagle) was accompanied by her sister Sep (meaning Vulture). Due to Dutch fears of a Polish-German War, Polish sailors were forced to essentially steal the nearly complete Sep during trials in April 1939. Bad feelings between the Dutch and the Poles were smoothed over by full payment and the return of the two Dutch specialists who had inadvertantly been kidnapped along with the boat.

By September 1939, the Polish Navy had grown to include five submarines and four destroyers. Unfortunately, this force was no match either for the Kriegsmarine or the Soviet Navy. German threats against Poland had grown through 1938 and early 1939, and in late August 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop ensured Soviet neutrality in the event of a Polish-German war. A secret part of the agreement divided Eastern Europe between Russia and Germany, with Germany to control Lithuania and much of Poland, and the Soviets to control Finland, part of Poland, and Estonia and Latvia. Eventually Lithuania would be traded by the Germans for more of Poland. In any case, the agreement left Germany with a free hand against Poland, apart from the threat of intervention by France and the United Kingdom.

On September 1, 1939, German forces invaded. Polish forces were outflanked and overmatched. The Poles fell back to the east, but their position was rendered hopeless by the invasion of 800000 Soviets across the Polish-Ukranian frontier. The Poles, nevertheless, exacted a significant price on the German invaders. Before the battle ended in early October, 140000 Polish soldiers escaped to either Romania or Lithuania, with most fleeing from their to the West. These troops served in Allied supplied and organized units for the rest of the war. The Poles who failed to escape would suffer some of the most devastating atrocities of the Second World War. Including Jewish deaths in the Holocaust, over 18% of the pre-war Polish population would die between 1939 and 1945.

The Orzel was among those to escape. After slipping through a German minefield, she broke into the Baltic, and began hunting German targets.

To be continued…

"Through the dancing poppies stoleA breeze most softly lulling to my soul."

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

After they finish helping the Mariners, there’s perhaps more work to be found for O’Pollahan in Helmand province, the “Taliban stronghold” located in southern Afghanistan. To the untrained eye, and to those who lack the kind of exclusive perspective dispensed by EvenLiberalWarCritics(TM), the situation looks well-nigh shitty. Behold:

Here in Helmand, the breadth of the poppy trade is staggering. A sparsely populated desert province twice the size of Maryland, Helmand produces more narcotics than any country on earth, including Myanmar, Morocco and Colombia. Rampant poverty, corruption among local officials, a Taliban resurgence and spreading lawlessness have turned the province into a narcotics juggernaut.

Poppy prices that are 10 times higher than those for wheat have so warped the local economy that some farmhands refused to take jobs harvesting legal crops this year, local farmers said. And farmers dismiss the threat of eradication, arguing that so many local officials are involved in the poppy trade that a significant clearing of crops will never be done.

Rest assured, though — the US is on the case:

Loren Stoddard, director of [USAID's] agriculture program in Afghanistan, cited American-financed agricultural fairs, the introduction of high-paying legal crops and the planned construction of a new industrial park and airport as evidence that alternatives were being created.

Mr. Stoddard, who helped Wal-Mart move into Central America in his previous posting, predicted that poppy production had become so prolific that the opium market was flooded and prices were starting to drop. “It seems likely they’ll have a rough year this year,” he said, referring to the poppy farmers. “Labor prices are up and poppy prices are down. I think they’re going to be looking for new things.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Stoddard and Rory Donohoe, the director of the American development agency’s Alternative Livelihoods program in southern Afghanistan, attended the first “Helmand Agricultural Festival.” The $300,000 American-financed gathering in Lashkar Gah was an odd cross between a Midwestern county fair and a Central Asian bazaar, devised to show Afghans an alternative to poppies.

Under a scorching sun, thousands of Afghan men meandered among booths describing fish farms, the dairy business and drip-irrigation systems. A generator, cow and goat were raffled off. Wizened elders sat on carpets and sipped green tea. Some wealthy farmers seemed interested. Others seemed keen to attend what they saw as a picnic.

True, the United States has blown $600 million on a counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan — a program so wildly unsuccessful that the religious maniacs who uprooted the country’s poppy fields in the late 1990s have now re-emerged as the world’s opium kingpins. The good news is that opium cultivation is so vast, and its benefits so thoroughly entwined with local governments, that scorched-earth eradication efforts are a non-starter.

But with enough goat raffles, meager financial incentives that attract only the most prosperous farmers, and burnt offerings to the free market, this is a war on drugs we just might win.

Wankers Unity ’08!

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

You’ll be shocked to know that David Broder is thrilled about the prospect of a ticket that represents “post-partisan leadership” composed of two moderate Republicans (OK, one is not technically a Republican anymore.) As Benen says, “The column reads like a daydream of a writer who believes a liberal independent and a very conservative Republican will join forces, solve all of our problems, and ‘get something done.’ Get what done? It doesn’t matter; it’ll be something.” But taking explicit policy positions is so vulgar!

On a related note, I saw about 20 minutes of the even-more-atrocious-than-you-would-expect Robin Williams vehicle Man of the Year on HBO recently. The comedian was running on an exciting platform: he would transcend partisanship, you see, by denouncing “special interests” and explicitly supporting “getting something done” about education and the environment. Broder must consider that the greatest film made since Capra died. (And for a talented director, boy has Barry Levinson directed some crappy films.)

If Only We Could Get Brookings To Take Over the Twins

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

I really don’t understand why Matt won’t take the Pentagon’s secret evidence at face value; would they really lie to use about such matters?

In related news, on a superficial, fuzzy-math, pre-9/11 way it may look like the incomparable Horacio Ramirez has been torched for 67 runs and a .400 OBP in a great pitchers park while striking out only 32 batters in 80 innings. But Bill Bavasi, who if you use such unsophisticated figures might look like the biggest dumbass in the known universe for trading a talented reliever for the privilege of paying this lemon $2.65 million, after my tour of the executive boxes at Safeco Field has shown me top-secret data complied by his assistant Micken O’Pollahan demonstrating that Ramirez is in reality having a year that makes Sandy Koufax look like Jose Lima‘s sickly little brother. I assume that Terry Ryan is smart enough to use the real, top-secret numbers, and will be trading Johan Santana and Justin Morneau to acquire him before the deadline. The Twinkies could be contenders yet!

Why Is John Galt?

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

Apparently NYC development officials had warning that the John Galt corporation was not an ideal choice to demolish the Deutsche Bank building, but went ahead and did it anyway. This was also in violation of the general principle that “giving important municipal contracts to shell corporations named after Ayn Rand characters is a bad idea.”

Speaking of which, don’t forget to register for the conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, with a lunchtime keynote by Mr. Charles Murray!

Plausible Deniability

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

From an MSNBC piece on the unpleasantness that awaits Iraq fraud whistleblowers:

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company — with which he was briefly associated — bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

I’m sure there’s an actual argument behind that finding, but this really helps illuminate the boundless insanity of this war.

Yoosta-Bee Sunk Costs

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

It’s a generalization, and therefore subject to exceptions and qualifications, but this seems basically right:

If we discount the out-and-out hacks, my entirely unscientific impression that apparently smart1 pro-war bloggers who were/are genuinely right wing have been much more likely than apparently smart pro-war bloggers who were (or who claim to have been) left of center to accept that they were wrong and that their former comrades appear to be increasingly deranged.

Especially if you fold the Reynolds/Althouse “right-wingers who refuse to admit that they’re (at least now) right-wingers” into the mix, this seems right. Some initially pro-war liberals bailed either just before or soon after the shooting began — Yglesias, JMM, Drum — but otherwise among the “liberal hawks” or “decents” there have been very few conversions against the war comparable to actual conservatives like Cole, Sullivan, Bainbridge, etc. (Did Drezner support the war initially? I don’t remember and don’t have time to check.)

Another exhibit of both strands of the premise: Greg Djerejian on O’Pollahan.

Dick or Phil?

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

Harder than I thought.

Semper Fidel

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

Honestly, I haven’t had this much fun watching a blogger trainwreck since Khamenei supposedly went toe-up. This episode has an extra layer of appeal, in that the usual wingnut blogs have been joined by their intellectual equals in hyping the apparent non-story. Wonkette, for example, has a revealing selection of comments from the Perez Hilton site, whose proprietor — taking a brief respite from his usual schtick of drawing jizz stains on celebrity photos — first “reported” the passing.

That said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Castro died sometime in the next few weeks. Among the lesser geopolitical ripples caused by his passing, I would take a commanding lead in the Dead Pool to which I belong. Last year was rough — only three of my entrants surrendered their carbon — but this year I’m ahead of the curve with four. For the morbidly curious, here’s my list:

1. Ariel Sharon
2. Fidel Castro
3. Emiliano Mercado del Toro [d. 24 January]
4. Robert McNamara
5. Lady Bird Johnson [d. 11 July]
6. Bruce Bennett [d. 24 February, 100]
7. Brooke Astor [d. August 13]
8. John Wooden
9. Oral Roberts
10. Claude Levi-Strauss

Undermining The Electoral College

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

I’ll have a longer piece about the general subject coming up next week, but in the meantime Brian Beutler notes an interesting proposal by California Dems. In response to the California GOP’s “21st century democracy for thee but not for me” initiative, the Democrats have a proposal that would award the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Given current circumstances, it’s not a terrible idea; it would still be unilateral disarmament, but at least the it would matter much less frequently, and would have a better chance of being balanced by a couple other states. I still probably wouldn’t support it, but as a way of undermining the electoral college through initiative (assuming that Article II is read so as to permit this at all) it’s probably the best one can do, at least without a trigger requiring other states to come on board before it goes into effect.

Man-Child With A Mustache

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

The Editors replay some of Tom Friedman’s greatest hits. Although being op-eds in an otherwise respectable paper the sentiments are at least not expressed entirely in 80′s action movie chiches, “suck on this” captures the puerility of the “thoughts” much better. It’s particularly amazing that Friedman, having supported a war that he concedes was fought “because America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world,” reacted to the inevitable resulting chaos by claiming that Iraq may be “beyond transformation” because they “hate others more than they love their own children.” Democracy, you see, isn’t something that emerges from an exceptionally complex series of social, cultural, and economic, and institutional factors, but it something you choose like a new brand of soap. If razing a state in a country (not to produce a democracy or even for security reasons, mind you, but because the thought of invading an Arab country selected almost at random in retaliation for an attack by people who had nothing to do with the country in question gave people like Tom Friedman a boner) riven by ethnic conflict and without the institutions of civil society that characterize democratic states doesn’t immediately produce a stable, democratic state, why, it’s just that those Iraqis are beyond help!

What can one even say at this point?

Southern-Fried Rock

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

Saw Scott Miller and Commonwealth on Wednesday in Lexington, and Jason Isbell last night in Louisville. Thoughts:

  • Miller opened with Highland County Boy, which awakened in me latent urges to find and shoot a Yankee.
  • Miller is a lot younger and skinnier than I envisioned. Indeed, he looks kind of like Michael O’Hanlon…. weird.
  • The Dame is the primary music venue in Lexington, but lacks air conditioning. The outside temp at show time was 88; it was easily 100 inside. Lesson learned: When you sit in 100 degree temperatures for two hours, any number of drinks will produce a hangover.
  • Isbell was good, but you really become aware of how great a frontman Patterson Hood is when he’s not there. Hood’s charisma and energy add a tremendous amount to a show, even when the music is pretty similar.
  • Not to rumour-monger, but a couple I spoke with at the show (who seemed in the know) suggested that Isbell’s break with the Truckers is a result of a set of contradictions inherent between the “hard living rock star” project and the effort to maintain a marriage to your bass player.
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