Balkinization  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The mixed record of Winston Churchill

Sandy Levinson

World War I broke out last night.  That is, I finished Christopher Clark's truly monumental The Sleepwalkers, one of the best--and most depressing--books I've read in some years, about the origins of World War I.  Everyone in government--especially anyone aspiring to be President--should read it.  It captures the importance of distorted perceptions, pettiness, bureaucratic infighting, sheer contingency, and the like, in bringing about what really does seem to be an unmitigated catastrophe (unlike the "mitigated catastrophe" of the American Civil War, which at least had the virtue of formally ending chattel slavery).  Anyone who continues to believe that the War was "caused" by rapacious German imperialists is simply mistaken, even if, like everyone else, the Germans did their share to bring about the catastrophe.   

Perhaps the single most chilling passage in the entire book comes from a letter that Winston Churchill wrote to his life on July 28, 1914, as Britain made the decision to support France and Russia and therefore guarantee unequivocally that it would be a continental war.  "Everything tends toward catastrophe, & collapse.  I am interested, geared-up and happy."  Churchill might have been one of the great figures of the 20th century because he was so monumentally right about Hitler and gave such great speeches reminiscent of Henry V at Agincourt.  That being said, he also had a truly disastrous record of misjudgments in both domestic and foreign policy, including his enthusiastic support for British entry into the war.  It strikes me that he may have had traits of Teddy Roosevelt, who, I am confident, would also have been "interested, geared-up and happy" had be been President during World War I (as he so desperately wanted to be).  Whether this would have been good for the United States is certainly debatable.  I am genuinely torn on whether I think Woodrow Wilson was right to take us to war in 1917, the main consequence of which was setting the stage for the even more catastrophic World War II because of Versailles.

I cannot imagine Barack Obama writing similar sentences to Michelle, and for me that remains a big plus, whatever my disappointments in his presidency.  One of the worst legacies of Churchill may be his "setting example" of grandiosity for, especially, George W. Bush, who, one suspects, was thrilled to fly onto the aircraft carrier and declare "Mission Accomplished."  (And, for what it is worth, Churchill the imperialist played his own role in supporting British colonialist practices that helped contribute to the 1947 disaster on the Indian subcontinent and throughout the Middle Ease unto this very day.) 

Comments:

In Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood played a Marine gunnery sergeant, Tom Highway, who failed in his marriage and nearly every other contact with the civilian world, which often ended up with Highway in jail. Highway was only good at one thing - leading men during war.

In a classic line, Highway's commanding officer said, "Characters like you are an anachronism. You should be sealed in a case that reads break glass only in the event of war."

Churchill was just such a warrior and a product of the British Empire's imperial age. England turned to Churchill when it needed to win a war and then turned him out when the fighting was through.

Not all men are equipped to lead and win wars.

If Obama was President during WWI, the US would have stayed out of the war and imperial Germany would have defeated France during the 1918 offensive.

As it was, Wilson barely entered the war in time after dithering for years.

The bottom line is that, you may not always like warriors, but they are nice to have around when the shooting starts.

NOTE: Before the usual suspects start up, this is not a partisan observation. Both Roosevelts were war leaders and the GOP was the party of isolation until after WWII.
 

> I am genuinely torn on whether I think Woodrow Wilson was right to take us to war in 1917

In retrospect it seems like a uniformly terrible idea. Even at the time, his motivations seems naive at best. It's hard to see a reasonably likely counter-factual where either the US or the world as a whole comes out ahead from US entry. Without US arms resupply and the likelihood of direct entry the allies would have been forced to take Germany's peace entities in 1916 seriously.

What are the factors on the pro side to your mind?
 

Brad:

France and England were not relying on US supply during WWI. Indeed, the AEF ended up using a great deal of French heavy equipment. The Allies problem was not supply, but a dearth of fighting age men.

It is very possible that France might have sued for peace after the army mutinies of 1917 without the prospect of American reinforcements rather than being defeated outright in 1918 when the Germans brought their victorious eastern front troops to the west for a final offensive. But the result in either case would likely be a victory for Imperial Germany and occupation of wide swaths of France, Poland, Belorussia and the low countries.
 

The Germans sure thought that the American supply route was important. That's why they sunk the Lusitania after all.
 

During WWII, once France fell and the BEF lost most of its heavy equipment evacuating France, England relied on US Lend Lease military equipment and munitions to prosecute the war.

This was not the case in WWI, when England was the preeminent industrial power of the time and France was very much still in the war.

It is true that the English economy relied upon sea trade with its then current and former colonies and the Germans waged submarine warfare against that trade. England mostly imported commodities and food to supply its industry and population, not military equipment and munitions.
 

If Obama was President during WWI, the US would have stayed out of the war and imperial Germany would have defeated France during the 1918 offensive.

LOL If Baghdad Bart was president during WW1 we would have invaded Japan. How is that WMD search coming along, you imbecile?

 

General BB:

Japan was an ally of the Entente Powers during WWI.
 

Bart

I think that is BB's joke, it is a reference to Bush invading Iraq when we were not attacked by Iraq (many people quipped it would be like invading Mexico because of Pearl Harbor).
 

Mr. W:

BB is not well versed in history and does not have a sense of humor.
 

Here's a comment by our SALADISTA on an earlier post of Sandy:
****
Shag:

As a matter of fact, my current book project is fiction - an alternative WWII history.

;^)
# posted by Bart DePalma : 11:16 AM

****

Perhaps he provides here a preview of his new work of FRICTION. The late Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World"* opens with "Don't know much about history ... ' which I think of every time our SALADISTA turns from his expertise in economics to his expertise in history. Query: Might Benito Mussolini be featured more prominently in his alternative WW II fictive history or perhaps placing FDR in the shadow of Churchill?

*Check out the lyrics to Wonderful World as an antidote to some awful events taking place in the world currently. Better yet, listen to Sam. With the right ingredients, it could be a "Wonderful World."

 

This in Sandy's post:

"I am genuinely torn on whether I think Woodrow Wilson was right to take us to war in 1917, the main consequence of which was setting the stage for the even more catastrophic World War II because of Versailles."

brings to mind Margaret MacMillan's "Paris 1919," documenting failures by all concerned, recounting 6 months' efforts down the drain.

Wilson's national security state actions via Congress gave us SCOTUS's decision in Schenck v. US on the First Amendment with Justice Holmes proclaiming no First Amendment protection for falsely yelling fire in a crowded theatre in a case in which no theatre was involved, only pamphleting against the draft on public streets, where the only things burning were the minds of war mongers in the national government.
 

Japan was an ally of the Entente Powers during WWI.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 9:11 PM


No shit, you idiot. That was the point. We were attacked by Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and you morons invaded the wrong country.
 

It's pretty amazing that a chucklehead like Blankshot, who still thinks that invading Iraq was a good idea, sees himself as a credible voice on anything.
 

I has Sleepwalkers on my wish-list for a while now. Given your praise for it, I think I will get it sooner than later.
 

If I had my way, I would bar Bartbuster from participating in any discussion, for the only tone he/she knows how to use is contempt and insult. The fact is that Mr. DePalma, with whom I usually (but not always) disagree and who sometimes irritates me immensely in his specific arguments, is, on the other hand, unfailingly courteous in tone, including his responses to Shaq, who also dissipates his often really valuable contributions by his desire to insult Mr. DePalma.

Mr. DePalma's initial posting about "warriors" presented a number of issues that could have generated an interesting discussion. It's probably true that "warriors" are different from those who hesitate, for whatever reason, to go into battle, and that, IF THE WAR IS A GOOD WAR, we certainly want dedicated "warriors" on our side. The issue is whether people with a "warrior" temperament, like Winston Churchill or Douglas MacArthur, are particularly trustworthy in their judgment about WHEN to go to war or, for that matter, even specific decisions as to how to conduct it.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Contempt and insult is all that propaganda spewing, warmongering troll deserves. The fact that you haven't figured that out by now says a lot more about you than it does about me.
 

The fact that he's smiling while he lies to your face is not a good reason to treat him with respect.
 

Sandy: "The issue is whether people with a "warrior" temperament, like Winston Churchill or Douglas MacArthur, are particularly trustworthy in their judgment about WHEN to go to war or, for that matter, even specific decisions as to how to conduct it."

As part of the larger polity and yes.

The decision of whether to go to war should be made by the people through their representatives. Let the hawks and doves debate and then have our representatives make a decision. I would not put that decision in the hands of one leader - hawk or dove.

Once the decision has been made to go to war, however, the time for debate and half measures should be over. You want warrior politicians like Churchill and warrior generals like McArthur prosecuting the war to the fullest extent to end it quickly and successfully. You do not want war leaders who delay tough decisions and want to quit when the military suffers reverses and casualties start showing up in the media.

The only thing worse than war in general is a lost war where the blood and treasury price has been paid for nothing.
 

The only thing worse than war in general is a lost war where the blood and treasury price has been paid for nothing.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 11:02 AM


Worse still is launching a war when there is nothing to win and the pissing away of lives and treasury for nothing is inevitable. Google Disaster, Iraq, Bush for a good example.
 

BB:

You have been following me around the internet for a decade now to tell the world you think I am a loathsome piece of conservative excrement.

I think everyone here is now well aware of your opinion of me.

Ask yourself, as a loathsome piece of conservative excrement, am I really worth the time it takes to post?

Aren't there more important things you could be doing with your life?
 

It's definitely worth the time to respond to the warmongering propaganda that scum like you are spreading.
 

Sorry, Sandy, I tried.
 

You have accomplished one good thing. Thanks to you I vote even when it does not matter.
 

Aren't there more important things you could be doing with your life?
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 11:15 AM


Coming from the guy who spends his days trolling liberal websites, this is quite comical.
 

unfailingly courteous in tone

Tone is no substitute for facts, and pretty manners don't count for much if you get your facts wrong:

These poll numbers are great news for John McCain!

MSNBC didn't televise the speech of a Hispanic or African American elected official or candidate at the RNC

My well armed little mountain town has not had a shooting or any other type of serious violence in decades

Expect Rice to resign within the week and accept all responsibility to protect the President

The center right electorate still opposes Obama policy, which is why they will fire him on Tuesday


The hits just keep on coming. What's next? I'm sure its tone will be nice.
 

"pretty manners" many not count "for much," but they count for something. There has been no shortage of posts pointing out Mr. DePalma's frequent errors. I loathe the Iraq War, but it is, alas, simply not the case that anyone who supported it is incapable of making of making arguments worth listening to about other things. Tom Friedman often frustrates me, as I have blogged somewhat frequently, but there's also no doubt that he is capable of great insight about the Middle East, an area about which he won two deserved Pulitzer Prizes. Life would be so much easier if we could simply dismiss someone completely because he/she was wrong on an admittedly important issue about which we care deeply.

With regard to "warriors," perhaps it's true that once a decision to go to war is made, we want "warriors" to fight it. But do we want "warriors" to make the decision in the first place. My concern about Churchill has to do with his general bellicosity, not with, say, his disastrous decision as First Admiral to support Gallipoli, which raises other questions about the necessity of reining in "warriors" (like Churchill and MacArthur) whose judgments may be highly questionable.


 

The problem isn't that Blankshot was wrong about Iraq, the problem is that he learned nothing when that disaster blew up in his face. That's why he isn't credible.
 

The same with "these polls are great news for John McCain". That would not get thrown back in his face if he learned something from it, but 4 years later he was crowing about cherry picked polls, and 4 years later he was wrong again. But his tone sure was nice!!! Seriously, at a certain point you need to stop listening to the tone and look at the unending string of wrongness. And when the constantly wrong person keeps arrogantly treating you like you're the idiot, it's time to just start mocking him. That time was a long, long time ago for Baghdad Bart.
 

Then there is this little gem...

If Obama was President during WWI, the US would have stayed out of the war and imperial Germany would have defeated France during the 1918 offensive....

NOTE: Before the usual suspects start up, this is not a partisan observation...

# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 2:50 PM


This is the same Obama that got Bin Laden. The same Obama that got Gaddafi. The same Obama that has drones bouncing the rubble in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and assorted other places. How can you NOT mock assinine assertions like that one?
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Sandy: With regard to "warriors," perhaps it's true that once a decision to go to war is made, we want "warriors" to fight it. But do we want "warriors" to make the decision in the first place.

No. They are not objective on the subject.

I have struggled since my service to explain to civilians why warriors want to go to war.

Warriors love to practice their profession, but generally not the death and destruction. (The military like the police attracts thugs and killers, so there are exceptions).

Let me try an imperfect analogy.

Warriors are to the military profession what trial attorneys are to the legal profession.

A trial attorney does not want to spend his or her life in law school training to practice law, the attorney wants to get into court and try cases, even when they do not care for the client or unfavorable outcomes.

Similarly, a warrior does not want to spend his life training and wants to practice his profession, even if he dislikes the inevitable death and destruction.

This point of view varies from those warriors who go to war because it is their job and those who live for it. The movie Patton shows this range in comparing Omar Bradley with George Patton:

Bradley to Patton: I do this job because I've been trained to. You do it because... you love it!

Later Patton admits to himself: "I love it! God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life."

For obvious reasons, you do not want a Patton determining whether the United States goes to war.
 

For obvious reasons, you do not want a Patton determining whether the United States goes to war.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 2:18 PM


Except Iraq, of course. We should listen to everything 'Blood and Guts' Depalma has to say about Iraq.
 

The Clark book is pernicious, pretty much a defense brief for Germany. It should be no one's only book about how the war began. Fromkin's little book "Europe's Last Summer" fills in some things Clark is happy to pass over. Saying Germany "did its share" is just ignorant. Russia and France did not declare war on Germany.

Re: Churchill, the quotation is unfair. He wrote, "Everything tends towards catastrophe and collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be built like that? The preparations have a hideous fascination for me." He was the First Lord of the Admiralty; he had reformed the Navy as few ever had before him, and he was justifiably proud.

He also added in the same letter, "Yet I would do my best for peace, and nothing would induce me wrongfully to strike the blow."

As for his support for bringing Britain into WW1, why was that wrong? The German Empire was an illiberal, aggressive regime - why was it preferable, let alone advantageous to the UK, to let France be steamrollered and Belgium made a German dependency?
 

"not with, say, his disastrous decision as First Admiral to support Gallipoli"

Forcing the Dardanelles and opening the Black Sea route to Russia was not a "disastrous decision." The execution was awful, and throwing in troops after the failure of the naval attempt was not a good idea. But that was not Churchill's show.

It is ironic that anyone willing to say that Germany was just one power of many at fault for the war, would also try to hang Gallipoli around Churchill's neck.
 

"pretty manners" many not count "for much," but they count for something

Oh please; once you've gotten your facts wrong, dead wrong, repeatedly, confidently; no, they don't. There's no putting lipstick on that pig.
 

Russia and France seem quite unequivocally to have discouraged Serbia from accepting some of the quite reasonable demands issued by Austria-Hungary, given that a Serb who was in fact linked to Serbian intelligence had killed the heir apparent to the Austrian Monarchy. Nor was Austria-Hungary serving as the catspaw for a Germany eager for war. Yes, they were illiberal, but so was Russia, the great ally of Britain and France. And one reason that some supported British entry was to stifle Home Rule in Ireland.

As I said, I'm uncertain about my views of World War I. But I see no reason to describe Clark's book as "pernicious" unless one disdains the copious evidence he has brought forth, in many languages, from many countries. It is true that he is, generally speaking, not a hard core structuralist; instead, he is an old-fashioned historian who emphasizes the importance of individuals, specific decisions, and contingencies.
 

If Henry V made a speech before Agincourt, we have no idea what he said. There´s a character in a play by Shakespeare called ¨Henry V¨ who makes a terrific speech, all made up.
It´s ¨First Lord of the Admiralty¨ not ¨First Admiral¨. In theory the Royal Navy was commanded by a committee, in the absence since 1708 of a Lord High Admiral.
 

Mr. Wimberly is, of course, absolutely correct on both counts. I should have been more careful with my reference to Churchill, though I assume that everyone realized I was referring to Shakespeare's version of Henry V and not the real one. Still, I could have said so....
 

Our SALADISTA with this:

"Let me try an imperfect analogy."

succeeds imperfectly, attempting to compare the warrior with an attorney. Perhaps our SALADISTA considers himself a warrior as well as an attorney. While the attorney, he says, " ... wants to get into court and try cases, even when they do not care for the client or unfavorable outcomes.", just how many cases are actually tried? The attorney serves as an officer of the court, is bound by rules of conduct; and often the attorney plea bargains for various, including personal and economic, reasons. Perhaps our SALADISTA can provide personal stats on actual trials and plea bargains in his DUI practice. I don't see our SALADISTA as being in any sense in the same legal league as Bradley Manning's attorney.

Manning was a reluctant warrior. There are rules governing war that apply to warriors. What happens when a reluctant warrior become aware of "secret" documents that might constitute violations of rules of war?

So, yes, our SALADISTA tries an imperfect analogy, and indeed it is imperfect. Many highly ranked warriors serve without risk, with too many grunt warriors at actual risk.

Our SALADISTA points to Heartbreak Hill starring Clint Eastwood (also a debater of an empty chair), comparing Churchill as a warrior in the mannter of Clint. I counter this with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. "So it goes ...." I'm more curious about how our SALADISTA's alternative WW II hysterical novel, perhaps making Ronald Reagan a WW II hero.
 

Shag:

As any competent trial attorney knows, you put your arguments in terms the jury will understand applying their life experiences. There is no perfect peacetime analogy to war.

Your response suggests that I need to clarify what I mean by "warrior."

Warriors are those who enjoy and who are talented at combat.

All large militaries are by necessity bureaucracies and only a small percentage of its members are warriors.

Even in combat arms, not all are warriors.

Petreaus, Schwartzkopf and Patton were warriors.

Haig was not.
 

"Russia and France seem quite unequivocally to have discouraged Serbia from accepting some of the quite reasonable demands issued by Austria-Hungary"

As even Clark has to admit, the demands were designed to be refused; Austria didn't want them accepted. It wanted to wipe Serbia off the map. That was recognized by other powers at the time; Clark has to defend the "reasonable" demands by comparing them to what NATO did in Serbia in the 1990s!

The point is not whether Austria was a "catspaw" for Germany; as Fromkin correctly demonstrates, there were really two wars, Austria vs. Serbia (and Russia), and Germany vs. Russia and France. What Germany did was to *guarantee* backing for *whatever* Austria did.

The Germans should have known that Russia would not, could not, accept Serbia's being crushed. Perhaps they were incompetent and did not know this. But when Russia mobilized, that was the time for Germany to withdraw its assurances to Austria and seek a conference to stop the oncoming general war.

Germany didn't do that, because Germany was convinced a war was inevitable, and better sooner than later. So Germany declared war on Russia. And when France refused Germany's demand to occupy the French frontier, Germany declared war on France, too. And then invaded the sovereign state of Belgium simply because it was in the way. Why anyone defends such conduct is beyond me.
 

I am not 'defending' Germany. What I'm trying to do is understand why Europe entered into a catastrophic war in August 1914. And I continue to believe that Prof. Clark demonstrates that it won't do to blame German perfidy as the primary cause. Perhaps Germany did give Austria a blank check. But, equally, France and Russia did the same with Serbia, which had much to explain (and atone) for regarding the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Was Germany hell-bent for war in August 1914? Some Germans were, but others, including the Kaiser, seem to have been considerably more ambivalent. We'll literally never know what would have happened had Serbia not been goaded by France and Russia to reject in toto the Austrian ultimatum.

We know how the story turned out. Knowing that, was World War I worth it? What were the gains of the slaughter? Substituting Communist rule in what became the Soviet Union for rule by German oligarchs? Allowing the British to wreck the Middle East as part of the spoils of destroying the Ottoman Empire?
 

Sandy Levinson:

"but there's also no doubt that he is capable of great insight about the Middle East, an area about which he won two deserved Pulitzer Prizes. "

Actually, there is, since he has shown none for decades now. As for Pulitzer Prizes, I believe that the WSJ editorial page has won one.


As for courtesy, by the time of the Iraq War ('Suck on This'?), Friedman has forfeited any such claim.
 

Blankshot has never won a Pulitzer. There is good reason to believe that he has never won an argument.
 

Now our SALADISTA seems to limit warrior status to certain generals. I'm not convinced that the late Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. would enjoy our SALADISTA's sandwiching:

"Petreaus, Schwartzkopf and Patton were warriors."

What about general Powell? And what about lower, including enlisted, ranks? Perhaps our SALADISTA needs to better refine "enjoy" in this assertion:

"Warriors are those who enjoy and who are talented at combat."

Does that mean in the line of fire, with their physical derrieres on the line of fire?

I;ll try to remember our SALADISTA's definition of a warrior next Memorial Day.



 

Austria Hungary was demanding that Serbia suppress all criticism of it within Serbia's borders. Was that actually a reasonable demand of a sovereign state. Could thr US legitimately demand that governments in Islamic countries suppress all "anti-American propagabda" after 9/11 on pain of invasion? Would it be inappropriate for those countries' big power allies to assure such a country of its support against thr US in those circumstances?

And if Serbia did anything wrong, how does that justify the invasion of Blegium -- which was Britain's causu belli.
 

I'm not "justifying" the invasion of Belgium, which violated a number of treaties. For what it is worth, which may be nothing, Clark states that Germany, recognizing its violation, offered to compensate Belgium should it basically acquiesce to the violation of its space (which, alas, was apparently the best route to France). Nobody comes out of the initiation of WWI smelling like a rose, beginning with crazed Serbian nationalists who thought it would be a fine idea to assassinate the heir to the throne while visiting Sarajevo. I have no hesitation to condemn Germany, a very unattractive country, so long as the condemnations are directed also at Serbia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Russia. One doesn't even have to engage in "equal condemnation." The point is to stop treating one country--in this case, Germany--as the unequivocal villain in an historical morality tale.
 

I was at the gym, lifting to some 80s music and I recalled a video which perfectly encapsulates the difference between warriors and others.

Enjoy!

;^)
 

"the Middle Ease" in an interesting typo.
 

Or perhaps a Freudian slip?
 

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In any case, Cruz himself better know the answer to this question before running because the Clinton oppo research trolls will most certainly be looking.

Hope Cruz is a citizen because he will most certainly liven up the race.

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