Monday, March 31, 2014

The Navy Way: USS Houston, April 1 1944

As April began, USS Houston (CL-81) was preparing to be deployed to the Pacific. Over the next weeks and months I will try to explain what was involved. 'Round the clock work, training, and cramming stuff into storerooms.

Years ago I concluded that the world would be a better place, at least more effective, if it were run like the Navy. I will explain later. But at least it should be clear that the US Army and the US Navy were very different organizations.

How to explain?

I just came across this passage in a 1941 essay by the British author, George Orwell about what it means to be British:

"It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is a perfectly sound instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship. What English people of nearly all classes loathe from the bottom of their hearts is the swaggering officer type, the jingle of spurs and the crash of boots. Decades before Hitler was ever heard of, the word ‘Prussian’ had much the same significance in England as ‘Nazi’ has today. So deep does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the British army, in peace time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty."

So. Did you ever hear of a naval dictatorship?

By the way, the dislike of standing armies Orwell refers to already existed in America in 1776. Our constitution attempted three ways of limiting the size of the Army: (1) by limiting the budget for the War Department (Army) to no more than two years at a time. There is no such limit for the Navy budget; (2) by stipulating that "the people's" military will consist of "well-regulated militia." The purpose of the Second Amendment was precisely to prevent a large standing army; (3) by requiriing a declaration of war by the Congress before calling up the militia and sending it off to war.

Most of our military actions from 1776 to 1940 were carried out by the Navy/Marine Corps team. Such small wars were viewed as within the executive power of the president to pursue and did not require a declaration of war.

We abandoned that constitutional arrangement with the so-called unification of the armed forces in 1947.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Good Friday Earthquake Fifty Years Ago - Alaska

I had forgotten that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Good Friday earthquake that devastated Anchorage, Alaska. Until NPR mentioned the anniversary.

I had been stationed at the US Naval Communication Station on Adak in the Aleutian Islands until September of 1963. Liz and I and our two boys landed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, rented a car and took a few days to explore Anchorage, Palmer and the Matanuska Valley and then drive up to Fairbanks to visit my sister and her children.

My previous connection with Alaska is that I lived in Anchorage from 1951 to 1954, graduating from Anchorage High School in 1954.

Anchorage in 1963 was much the same as it had been in 1954.

I haven't visited there since 1963, so I remember it as it was.

Not like this:

Nikogda Ne Zabudite! Kovno, Lithuania, March 27, 1944

There are so many things done during World War II that must never be forgotten, and yet we forget. Who remembers Lidice? Nanking? Kovno?

Here is the story of the action by Germans against Jewish children in Kovno.

Two children in the ghetto in February 1944.  Any Jew could be summarily shot for not wearing a yellow star - the parents of these two obviously took the threat seriously. It would have made no difference when they  became targets of the Nazi 'Kinder Aktion' on 27th March.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Slave Deeds

Some of my ancestors owned slaves - from as early as the 1650's in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and possibly Georgia, Arkansas and Texas.

I never knew how to trace those slaves, if ever I wanted to.

I just learned of a project in Buncome County, North Carolina that shows the way.

It somehow never occurred to me that if slaves were property, there must be some sort of title deed or other government record of ownership and sale. In Buncome County, the records were kept at the Register of Deeds. The county's web site explains:

"The Buncombe County Register of Deeds office has kept property records since the late 1700’s. In our records one can find a wealth of information about the history of our community. On this page, we have compiled a list of the documents that record the trade of people as slaves in Buncombe County. These people were considered “property” prior to end of the Civil War; therefore these transfers were recorded in the Register of Deeds office. The list below shows the book and page number where the deed is located in our record books as well as the seller (grantor) and buyer (grantee) of the “property.” For your convenience, you can view each original document by clicking on the book and page hyperlink.

"The Register of Deeds Office presents these records in an effort to help remember our past so we will never again repeat it."

Here is a link to Buncome County's slave deeds.

We should all be grateful to Buncome County for showing us the way to find and preserve these records and make them available.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Russia And Putin's New Order

Michael McFaul, until very recently our ambassador to Russia, has an article in today's New York Times.

He takes a look at how things came to this pass. "We did not seek this confrontation," McFaul writes. "This new era crept up on us, because we did not fully win the Cold War. Communism faded, the Soviet Union disappeared and Russian power diminished. But the collapse of the Soviet order did not lead smoothly to a transition to democracy and markets inside Russia, or Russia’s integration into the West."

I have a different take on this. Prerevolutionary Russia was always undemocratic, and the state played an enormous role in the economy. 

A century ago, as the German Empire was flexing its muscle and a Serbian nationalist under instructions from Belgrade assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, France and England allied with Tsarist Russia to oppose Germany and Austria. The US remained neutral, in part because President Wilson was uncomfortable making common cause with Autocratic Russia. Even after the Zimmerman telegram (German proposal to Mexico to enter the war against the US in return for the return of territory taken from Mexico in 1846) and German unrestricted submarine warfare and sinking of six US Flag merchant ships, the US did not declare war until after the Tsar was overthrown in March of 1917.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991 brought with it the possibility of changes that would bring Russia into the general international system.

"Some Russians," McFaul writes,  "pushed forward on this enormous agenda of revolutionary change. And they produced results: the relatively peaceful (so far) collapse of the Soviet empire, a Russian society richer than ever before, greater protection of individual rights and episodically functioning democratic institutions."

But the transition did not go smoothly. I took part in a minor way in the transition, when I worked on projects by the United States Agency for International Development to assist in privatization. The contemplated transition was unprecedented. The truth is, no one knew how to do it and it was managed in a way that brought severe hardship to ordinary citizens.

The process also laid the foundation for well-connected government officials (the "nomenklatura") to skim great wealth from privatization. The most knowledgable and effective officials were KGB officers who had worked the international scene. They understood the workings of the west better than anyone else in the USSR.

McFaul explains that "the simultaneity of democracy’s introduction, economic depression and imperial loss generated a counterrevolutionary backlash — a yearning for the old order and a resentment of the terms of the Cold War’s end."

McFaul draws similarities between recent developments in Putin's Russia and the conflicts of the last century.

I would go further back. Since at least the time of Peter the Great, there has been a struggle within Russia between the "westernizers," who want to join the world of Europe, and the "slavophils," who see Russia as more pure and worthy. Slavophils oppose adopting the ways of the West.

There is much of that lind of emotion at work in today's Russia.

I recommend reading McFaul's article here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Freedom Is Just A Word

“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
― William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches & Public Letters

I think what Faulkner is saying here is that we don't become free by insisting on our own rights, but by granting rights to others.

The history of man is not replete with examples of such generosity of spirit.

It is easy for us to see that, though Russia holds elections, Russians are not free. Only a minority of Russians understand this.

How much more free are we?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Russia's Paranoid Schizophrenia and The Clueless West

The West's contribution to the totally unprecedented challenge of conversion of the Soviet Union to a democratic and market-based society was, in my view, spotty at best. I say this as one who was involved in projects in Russia, Ukraine and Poland and very aware of projects in Estonia, Rumania and Moldova.

I also deplored at the time the unrestrained triumphalism that proclaimed: "we're number one - nyah, nyah nyah, we won the cold war." That wasn't helpful. Especially in places like Ukraine where people, especially elderly pensioners, were suddenly plunged into poverty by policies we pushed. So-called "shock therapy," for example, was pushed by policy makers who had no idea what the previous seventy years had put into place. The idea of "privatizing" a complex industrial establishment by issuing coupons to the citizens so they could buy shares in crumbling enterprises was a disaster in the making.

One of the most disappointing viewpoints at the time was that of USAID, whose bureaucracy was certain we knew what to do because, after all, we had privatized railroads and coal mines in the UK under Thatcher, tin mines in Bolivia and such like. They were, in short, clueless.

The folks the big six accounting firms sent out to do this gargantuan task were, for the most part, recent MBA's who didn't speak any local language and who were ignorant of the context. Bright, energetic, but ignorant.

We could have done better. Germany did do better. The Germans managed the conversion of East Germany not perfectly, but well enough. One reason Estonia is doing pretty well these days is that the Germans managed that conversion. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary had the advantage of pre-war experience in a market-based system.

Not only did the people we sent not have a background in Soviet economics, they had no background in Western Europe. They thought the American Way was the Only Way.

Let's do better next time.

I've been reading the news from Ukraine with dismay.

Didn't we win the cold war? Didn't we do away with Communism? Didn't George W. Bush look into Putin's soul and see someone we can do business with?

The truth is, our cold war conflict with the Soviet Union had little to do with Communism except in the minds of our own paranoid capitalists. In fact, in the opinion of the last Prime Minister of Russia before the October (Bolshevik) revolution, the Soviet Union didn't have a socialist or communist system at all - it was a case of State capitalism.

Anyhow, I wish the Ukrainians well. I have probably read more articles on the developing crisis than most Americans. I have collected links to a number of articles, mostly from the NY Times, but also from other sources. Please take your time and read them.

Cox v Town Of Oriental Now On Line

All of the documents for the case of Cox v Town of Oriental are now available on line at the NC Court of Appeals web site:

Any of you who are interested in the right of way dispute can now read all of the documents the Court of Appeals will consider.

No one can predict how the Court will rule, but I thinkI have by far the better argument.

Right of Way law is a bit esoteric. For the most part, it is based on Common Law - that is, law made by courts, not by legislators. Statutes can always override Common Law, but often they merely codify or clarify Common Law where there is some ambiguity.

In most cases, people's eyes glaze over when the topic of "right of way" law comes up. Even Linda Greenhouse, a  Supreme Court wonk who writes about the US Supreme Court for the New York Times, missed the significance of the US Supreme Court's ruling in its most recent case, MARVIN M. BRANDT REVOCABLE TRUST, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. UNITED STATES, decided March 10, 2014.

On the face of it, Brand was just another boring right of way case. Greenhouse couldn't figure out what the case was really about until she read Sonya Sotomayor's dissent in the 8-1 decision. The U.S. lost, by the way.

One thing becomes clear from the case: precedents matter. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, explains: “The government loses th[e] argument today, in large part because it won when it argued the opposite before this court more than 70 years ago,” he wrote.

Sotomayor's was the sole dissent. She argued that the 70 year old case shouldn’t govern the outcome of this one because it had involved subterranean rights — the right to drill for oil — rather than the simple surface rights now at issue. In Justice Sotomayor’s final paragraph, Greenhouse at last understood why the decision might matter: “The court undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation,” Sotomayor wrote, adding: “And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Rails to Trails. Established by Congress with the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983. A procedure established in the public interest.

My case is not dissimilar. I have not argued that the Town [that is, the municipal corporation which has legal rights like any other corporation] made a bad deal. I argue that they have no statutory right to make any deal at all - that the only thing of value they had to sell or trade was their vote. And that what's at stake is public access to the water.

I'll address our arguments in more detail later, but as the Town's web site says, "it's all about the water."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I'm Getting Too Old For All-Nighters - Or Even Almost-All-Nighters

Cox v Town of Oriental is taking more energy than I had hoped. Or maybe it is that I'm not as young as I used to be - but who is?

Last Sunday I was up most of the night reviewing the plaintiff appellant's (that's me) reply brief. What should I say about "defendant-appelant's" ( the Town) brief?

There was a lot to cover. Cases to read, past records to review, logical connections to think through. It isn't easy.

Is it worth it?

I think what is at stake is, at bottom, whether we will have the rule of law, and whether that law will protect the public interest.

In my view, those are pretty high stakes.

I never intended that the case be seen as a personal dispute.

I keep thinking of that scene in Godfather where the racketeer is taken for a ride: "This isn't personal - it's business!" the killer assures his victim.

My action isn't all that drastic.

I am told that the NC Court of Appeals has the goal of issuing its rulings no more than sixty days after receiving a case. The attorney filed the reply brief yesterday.

We may know the outcome in two months. But some cases take longer.

I will let my readers know when the reply brief is posted on the Court's web site.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Have You Ever Visited Beringia?

I have never quite bought the conjecture that North America was populated by people walking along the "land bridge" from Asia and bringing their Clovis points with them.

Why could they not have come by Sea? In fact, that's the way the aborigines reached Australia 30,000 years ago.  My surmise is that the land bridge theory is written by landsmen. Seamen know that the most efficient way to get from one place to the other is by water.

Now, though, we have new tools for investigating our ancient past. We have, for example, DNA studies that have been able to trace the migration of certain populations across the globe as they came out of Africa and dispersed.

We have been able to trace particular DNA mutations from place to place. We also know, to a fair degree, how often mutations happen.

Another improving tool is that of linguistic analysis. Linguists can also track evolution of languages and language families as they spread, mutate, interact and evolve.

A powerful new marriage of DNA research and linguistics postulates that, instead of a bridge connecting Asia and North America, there was an area of shrub tundra between Alaska and Siberia where ancestors of both Native Americans and Siberian peoples lived in isolation for 15,000 years before migrating both Eastward and Westward as the sea level began to rise.

Here is a summary of the research that tends to support this view.

I still like the hypothesis that Native Americans came by sea.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Is Ukraine's Economy So Fouled Up?

Justin Fox in Harvard Business Review has an interesting article on Ukraine's economy. Why is it so bad? In a nutshell - rampant corruption.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New Town Manager

I like what I read about the experience and education of the new Town Manager. I look forward to meeting her.

I have just one piece of advice - but she seems sharp enough to figure it out herself. Don't have a protracted turnover. I suggest no more than two or three days. Any more than that tends to confuse staff about who they really work for.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scenes Of Kiev, 1997

In 1997, I took a couple of business trips to Kiev. I was working on a USAID contract to assist in privatization of Ukrainian real estate. Not a simple matter. But I was able to see some of the city.
Ukraine National Day 1997- Band Played Only Sousa Marches

Maidan Square

Fountain In Maidan Square
Column In Maidan Square
Musician On Cathedral Grounds

Affordable Care Act - The Real Story

Two weeks ago we were all watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi (as Putin was plotting the takeover of Crimea), frequently interrupted by a blonde woman whining that "Obamacare doesn't work." She also said she doesn't like political ads, even as she was making one. Her complaint that millions of Americans were losing their health insurance just isn't so.

Anecdotes about losing insurance, when examined closely, mostly relate to insurance policies that don't insure. So-called "catastrophic insurance."

A friend of mine had one of those. It didn't cover preventive care. He couldn't afford regular doctor's visits, but kept enough savings to cover the deductible. In short, he was as responsible as anyone in his economic circumstances could be.

When the catastrophe came, he had stage four colon cancer. Treatment took all of his savings and kept him alive for about a year. As insurance, his policy was all but worthless.

Since the Affordable Care Act, previously uninsured individuals now have insurance. Persons who previously would have been unable to get insurance because of "pre-existing conditions" can now get insurance.

Here is the story of one cancer patient whose life was saved.

Here is an earlier post of mine explaining the Republican scheme to discredit ACA. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine's Memorandum of 1994 Agreeing to Give Up Nuclear Weapons In Return For Security Guarantee

Here is the agreement of 1994 whereby Ukraine gave up her nuclear weapons in return for a security guarantee.

Russian occupation of Crimea clearly violates that agreement.

History Doesn't Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes

This was Mark Twain's take on the lessons of history.

Ukraine's travails of the past three months and Russia's intervention remind me of nothing so much as the events leading up to Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

After World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled into a number of constituent successor states, among them Czechoslovakia. The Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia were prosperous, modern, productive economies. But a substantial percentage of the population were German - speakers who had previously enjoyed a privileged position in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They resented the new ascendancy of speakers of Czech and Slovak languages.

On top of this loss of prestige, Czechoslovakia was suffering, like the rest of Europe, from the worldwide depression, affecting the economic prospects of the formerly dominant group.

Resentment boiled up against what the German speakers viewed as Czech atrocities against them. These so-called atrocities were mostly invented, but founded on resentment. Reinvented as a new nationality, the "Sudeten" Germans invited Germany under Hitler to occupy first the "Sudetenland" and then all of Czechoslovakia.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a settlement with Germany. In a radio broadcast of 27 September 1938, he had this to say about it:

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war."

In the end, the agreement didn't work out well for any of the parties.

John Maynard Keynes foresaw the economic aspects of the disaster in his essays "The Economic Consequences of The Peace" and "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill."

Diplomatic efforts collapsed with the collapse of the League of Nations.

Czechoslovakia was well prepared to defend itself so long as it retained the "Sudetenland." But it couldn't stand alone against the major powers. France couldn't come to the aid of Czechoslovakia because many of her leaders were more worried about the Communist "menace" than about Germany and the French military cowered behind the Maginot Line. Britain had a formidable navy, but not much of an army. The Soviet Union had no direct border with Czechoslovakia either.

Neither Ukraine nor any other power wants to see war break out. The risks of letting Russia get away with the partition of Ukraine are greater than most of the public seems to realize. Russia is violating agreements made to assure Ukrain's territorial integrity as a price of Ukraine agreeing to turn over nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons. Such agreements are generally necessary when nuclear proliferation is at issue.

Good luck getting other near-nuclear powers to give up their capability if existing nuclear powers don't make good on Ukrainian security.

For what it's worth, the stock market doesn't seem pleased with events.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Что Делать? What To Do?

Что Делать? Is the title of one of Lenin's books. "What is to be done?" is one way to translate the phrase. I like the simpler and more direct "what to do?"

I offer the following list of things to do:

I: Military

1. What Russia has done in Ukraine is an act of war. Recognize Russia's belligerent status. Ask Turkey to close the Turkish Straits to transit by Russian warships under the Montreux Convention. [By the way, we have to ask politely, since we never adhered to the convention and therefore do not have the rights of a signatory. Why not initiate discussion with Turkey to seek status as a signatory?]

2. While Ukraine is not a member of NATO, she has been granted membership in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Let's send an allied mission to Ukraine to assess their defense needs.

3. Reactivate discussions with Ukraine concerning transfer of warships from our reserve fleet to Ukraine. Include mine warfare vessels in the discussion.

4. Investigate modernizing Ukraine's Air Force and Air Defense.

5. Schedule friendly warship visits to NATO allies in the Black Sea: Bulgaria and Romania, and possibly Ukraine.

II. Economics

1. Don't threaten to withdraw from the G-8 conference in Sochi - withdraw! Now! Withdrawing from a conference may sound like a weak sanction. Not nearly as weak as threatening someday to think about doing it. Just do it!

2. Freeze Russian assets! Now! We can always unfreeze them later;

Getting Ukraine's economic house in order is probably the most urgent task. But it must be done in a way that improves the lives of ordinary citizens and builds Ukraine's productive capacity for the future. Here are some ideas set forth by economists Gorodnichenko and Roland:

"Although it is only a few days after the successful February revolution and the country is still in a state of flux, a new government is needed to deal with emergency economic measures.
  • The country is days away from facing a $2bln payment to international bondholders.
  • The provisional Ukrainian government does not have the necessary legitimacy to make all the changes demanded by the Maidan protesters.
The new government is inheriting a political system and a government administration that are in need of fundamental change. Because of this weakness, the new government needs to focus on a set of emergency measures that are both urgent and immediately feasible. In the long run, establishing a well-functioning democracy necessitates a new constitution and a popular referendum on a constitution, but that takes time. What must be done now? What needs to be changed in the long run?
  • First, the Ukrainian currency Hryvnya should be switched to a float and it should depreciate significantly.
The current-account deficit (about 10% of GDP) is clearly unsustainable. This should stimulate the economy and preserve precious foreign currency reserves. Barriers to export should be removed.
  • Second, the banking system badly needs liquidity and capital.
Raising these in the international financial market has become nearly impossible. The government should inject capital (for example, use a program similar to the TARP in the US). The Central bank should provide liquidity. Some form of temporary capital controls and temporary limits on withdraws of deposits appear unavoidable given the current ongoing bank run (deposits fell by a third in the last few weeks and are falling further on a daily basis). Banks should “reopen” after the infusions of capital and liquidity.
Third, the government must immediately present a plan to address fiscal imbalances over a period of several years.

Given the deeply depressed state of the economy, now is not the time to implement deep budget cuts. But fiscal authorities can still lay out a budget plan for a gradual decline in deficits to restore confidence in the long-run solvency of the Ukrainian government. Stricter monitoring of spending to minimize corruption and waste of public functions must be implemented immediately to make the eventual fiscal consolidation less painful and restore confidence.
  • Fourth, external payments are a heavy burden on the collapsing Ukrainian economy.
One step is to bring in the IMF as well as other donors (EU, USA, etc.) to bridge the short-term gap in foreign currency reserves.
These funds are essential to avoid a drastic immediate fiscal contraction in the immediate future. They are necessary to enable authorities to inject capital into Ukrainian banks. The amount of required support is likely to be in tens of billions of dollars. Moreover, a restructuring of some of Ukrainian debt is necessary to avoid outright default.
  • Most of Ukraine’s external debt was accumulated under the previous corrupt regime.
  • The new leaders have little moral obligation to commit to reimburse that debt, and creditors have little moral standing to demand repayment: they knew who they lent to.
On the other hand, the amount of Ukraine’s external debt is not that high, and costs of defaulting – exclusion of Ukraine from the bond market for five years or so – are not-zero.
Ukraine badly needs immediate breathing space to introduce reforms and relieve the burden imposed by the Yanukovych government. The main risk here is that the absence of primary fiscal surplus makes an immediate fiscal consolidation or monetization of spending unavoidable in case of outright default. But Ukraine had a nearly zero inflation rate for two year. Some inflation could be a stimulating force if it can be kept under control later on. The new provisional government of Ukraine must weigh the costs and benefits of these scenarios. But right now, it should not exclude the option of default if external support is not coming. An external default would then not alienate Ukraine from the international community, despite the short run disorder it might create.
  • Fifth, a possible trade war with Russia and increased energy prices are looming.
Ukraine should prepare to obtain energy from alternative sources (including reversing the gas flow to get energy from the West).
  • Sixth, some people and businesses will be hit very hard.
The government should prepare short-term relief for all those likely to fall into temporary poverty: guaranteed minimum food, heating, electricity and water, all supplied on a lump-sum basis.
  • Last and not least, the EU and Ukraine should sign the association agreement.
This will anchor economic and political forces toward reforms and growth as well as provide credibility to the new government.

These emergency economic  measures will not address the need for fundamental long-term change. Once there is a legitimate government, elected on the basis of a Constitution approved by referendum, fundamental long term reforms can be implemented. These include a fundamental overhaul of government administration to root out corruption, fiscal decentralization to give more power to the regions, regulatory reform to break up monopolies, opening up entry to foreign firms and small private business, and securing a stable supply of energy by exploiting Ukraine’s large reserve of shale gas.
The need to act fast now does not mean one should not also begin in the necessary process of constitutional change. The people of Ukraine demand it. Ukraine had two revolutions in the last ten years. Both expressed people’s discontent with the status quo and aspirations for democracy. It needs to build a consolidated and participatory democracy. There will likely not be a third chance."

III Political

- Hold elections soon, with credible international observers.

- Convene a constituent assembly and  draft and ratify a new constitution as soon as possible.

Lots to do and not much time to do it.

Ukraine - March, 1944

The Spring thaw in Ukraine turned the roads and fields into a quagmire of mud. Retreating German soldiers did the best they could to destroy the railroads, the only viable means of transporting supplies across the muddy fields.

Here is an account written by a Soviet platoon commander faced with the challenge of moving his platoon across Ukraine in pursuit of retreating Germans. nearly out of ammunition and having lost the battalion field kitchen, the platoon depended on the kindness of local peasants to feed them:

"...we could not always have a normal meal — the battalion kitchen was stuck in the dirt somewhere and could not catch up with us. It was impossible to find a dry spot during breaks, we had to sit down right in the dirt and immediately fell asleep for 10 or 15 minutes. Some soldiers even fell asleep while walking from exhaustion. One should not forget that most of the soldiers were just 18 years old.

"We only survived on food provided by the population of the villages that we liberated from the Germans. At night and very rarely during the day we would make one-and-a—half- or two-hour stops in those villages to have a snack with what God had in store for us.

"The population welcomed us warmly, regardless of how hard it was for them to provide food to soldiers; they always found some nice treats — some villagers boiled chicken, others boiled potatoes and cut lard (soldiers dubbed this kind of catering ‘a grandmother’s ration’).

"However, such attitudes were common only in the Eastern Ukraine. As soon as we entered the Western Ukraine, that had passed to the Soviet Union from Poland in 1940, the attitude of the population was quite different — people hid from us in their houses, as they disliked and feared the Muscovites and Kastaps (a disparaging name for Russians in Ukraine – translators comment)."

So the dislike of Western Ukrainians for Russians that we see  in today's Ukraine is nothing new.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Balaklava - 160 Years Later

Reports of Russian Occupation of Crimea describe columns of Russian military vehicles passing by a customs check point at Balaklava near Sevastopol. A hundred and sixty years earlier, during the Crimean War, Balaklava was the main encampment of the British forces. The war, which pitted French, British and Ottoman forces against Tsarist Russia, ended in Russian defeat.

Russia under Tsar Alexander III recognized the need for reform of the Russian military. Great Britain, whose military forces competed with Russia for the incompetence prize, was victorious and therefore did no serious rethinking of military tactics and strategy until 1914.

The most famous account of the war was Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "Charge of the Light Brigade," which celebrated a glorious, courageous cavalry charge that accomplished nothing except the loss of most of the brigade. Tennyson's highly romantic poem is worth rereading:

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
  Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
  Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
  Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
  Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
  All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
  Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
  Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
  All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
  Noble six hundred!

Ukraine And Crimea: Iran, North Korea, Iraq And Syria Watching

Our leaders don't seem to have figured it out yet (though maybe they have) - if we (US, Germany, Great Britain, and France) don't keep Russia from dismembering Ukraine, it will become very much harder to persuade non-nuclear and near-nuclear powers to refrain from developing nuclear weapons.

How does that work?

In 1992, as the Soviet Union broke up, we persuaded Soviet successor states to return nuclear weapons in their custody to Russia for dismantling. In 1992, Ukraine had the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world - almost 2,000 warheads. In 1994, after an international agreement, Ukraine began shipping warheads to Russia for dismantling. By late 1996, the last warhead had been shipped to Russia.

In return, Ukraine was given solemn international guarantees that the major countries (plus Russia) would guarantee their sovereignty and territorial integrity. If Russia dismembers Ukraine, the lesson will be clear - the great powers leave nuclear states alone (e.g. Israel and Pakistan) and don't touch states with their own nuclear weapons. But non-nuclear states: resist great powers at your own risk.

If that happens, you can kiss non-proliferation good-bye.