Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Making The World Safe For Democracy - 1917 To 2000

In August, 1914, Europe erupted in warfare  For nearly three years, President Woodrow Wilson kept the United States out of the war, even in the face of actions that could have justified US entry.

American lives were lost on the high seas when German submarines sank the British civilian passenger ship Lusitania without warning and without stopping the ship and boarding it to determine if the cargo included contraband or offering passengers the opportunity to escape in life boats. These were well understood measures in maritime law intended to protect civilian life. To sink the ship without warning violated international law and custom.

Germany justified its actions because, since the last maritime war in the early 19th century, Marconi's invention of the radio made the traditional procedures too hazardous for warships to follow. The United States protested and Germany relented to a certain extent.

But Germany was becoming desperate. Enough so that they sent a telegram to Mexico offering to return territory taken by the US in 1846 to Mexico if they would join the war if the United States entered on the British side. That Zimmerman telegram alone could have been enough to justify US entry. But Wilson held off.

Then, in January 1917 a desperate Germany renewed unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking merchant ships on the high seas without warning no matter what flag they were flying. The goal was to starve England and France to the negotiating table. They expected this would cause the United States to enter the war, but expected they could defeat the allies before the US could recruit, train, equip and transfer to Europe a force sufficient to tip the balance against them.

It was a bad bet.

Last week PBS broadcast a three episode series showing the US entry into World War I:

If you missed the series, I recommend you seek it out and watch it.

Consequences of that decision produced powerful effects whose ripples are with us to the present time.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Axel Oxenstierna (Sweden) 1634 On Wisdom

"Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" Letter to his son, 1634.

The Brexit vote last night verified Oxenstiern's observation. More succinctly: The world is governed by fools.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Je Suis Belge

Terrible news from Belgium this morning.

We lived in Belgium for three years and have many friends there.

Good people.

The airport at Zaventem near Brussels was our closest international airport. Went in and out of Zaventem many times.

We also lived for a year in Paris. Bad times there as well.

By the way, Belgium is not a stranger to terrorism. In 1979, General Alexander Haig was completing a five-year stint as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He was driven each day from his Chateau to his office at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at very high speed along a route that varied from day to day among a small number of fixed routes. His last day in office was to be June 25, 1979. A group of assassins positioned a bomb along one of the routes and waited patiently for the general to select that route. On June 25, Haig unknowingly selected the route with the bomb. His staff car, traveling at very high speed along narrow Belgian roads, followed closely by a car full of body guards, crossed over a bridge with a land mine. The mine was detonated just after the rear tires crossed over the mine. General Haig's car sped away undamaged, but the chase car crashed into the crater, wounding three of Haig's bodyguards.

The general's only business that day was to deliver a farewell address to the officers on the SHAPE staff. As he stepped up to the podium, he announced: "I can't tell you how glad I am to be here today!" The assembled officers roared with laughter.

Authorities later attributed responsibility for the attack to the Red Army Faction (RAF). In 1993 a German Court sentenced Rolf Clemens Wagner, a former RAF member, to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt.

Friday, November 20, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

From our village in southern Belgium to downtown Paris was about a three hour drive. About the same as from Oriental to Raleigh.

Two decades later, we lived in Paris and my office was in the Marais (third arrondisement). It was a  ten minute walk to Boulevard Beamarchais for lunch near some of last Friday's shootings.

It was pleasant to stroll around the streets, sharing Paris with a diverse populace of Parisians and visitors.

I take exception to the MSNBC reporter recently describing the events of last Friday 13th as having "devastated Paris."

Paris is not devastated.

Parisians are back at their outdoor cafes. They gather at Place de la Republique and hug each other. They lay flowers as a memorial to victims. Life goes on much as before.

Vive le France!

Yet we must not forget that the terrorists who attacked Paris were themselves French men and Belgians. Not Syrians. Not refugees.

The France that was so welcoming to African Americans like Josephine Baker and James Baldwin has not been so welcoming to Algerians and Moroccans. I have seen it with my own eyes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The German Question

It is becoming pretty clear that the most urgent question facing today's Europe is the German question.

Paul Krugman sees Germany as killing the European project:  I agree, and have been commenting on the looming disaster for about three years now. The biggest surprise to me is how patient the long-suffering public has been. I hope Greece uses whatever time they have gained by this weekend's deal to print bales of new drachma and prepare to exit the Euro. Spain and Italy should do so as well.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times  claims we thought we had solved the problem of Germany in 1945. I take issue with that, though I think we did believe we had solved it by embracing Germany within the stifling arms of NATO and the Western European Union. As NATO's first Secretary General explained, the purpose of NATO was to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans here. To Europe, NATO was at least as much about Germany as it was about the Soviet Union. From 1945 for more than four decades, NATO publicly blamed the Soviet Union for a divided Germany and privately hoped the division would continue. It was Germany under Willy Brandt whose "Ostpolitik" began chipping away at the barriers between East and West for the purpose of making German reunification possible. In the United States, we studied what might happen after Tito died, but never examined the implications of a reunited Germany. Everyone knew that could never happen. Everyone was wrong.

The late George Kennan had some thoughts on Germany, which we should have considered, but of course no one did:

More recently, the economic historian Brad Delong had some interesting thoughts in response to Simon Wren-Lewis' ruminations on the Euro: "And we are seriously considering, after reading him, whether the Euro project needs to be blown up--indeed, whether the fundamental flaw was in U.S. occupation authorities allowing the formation of the Bundesrepublik, because a European Union that now had five members named "Brandenburg", "Saxony", "Bavaria", "Rhineland", and "Hanover" would be likely to have a much healthier politics and economics than our current one, with one member named "Germany":"

That's a thought worth retrospective consideration. It is a much more creative idea than the quickly-abandoned "Morgenthau plan."

It's very hard to get toothpaste back in the tube.

Did we waste a whole war?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Seventy Years Ago In Europe - The End Approaches

In early May, 1945, the German Army began collapsing. Soldiers on the Western Front were surrendering right and left. Here is one story of a German Army (150,000 men) surrendering to an American Division (10,000 men).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

47 Senators Violate Logan Act

Is there something significant about the number 47? That's the same number Mitt Romney used to describe the percentage of Americans who weren't going to vote for him. Just sayin'.

Those curious about US law may have learned that the 47 Republican senators signing the letter to officials of Iran appear to have violated the Logan Act and be subject to 3 years in prison.

So who was Logan and why was the Act passed? Here's a good summary of the history of the Act. And it is a long history.

In 1798 a certain American citizen named Logan travelled to France and worked to improve US - French relations and to free Americans captured by France during the Quasi-War. Logan was a follower of Thomas Jefferson (of the Democratic-Republican party). President Adams, of the Federalist Party, was outraged.  This was not just about Constitutional prerogatives - Adams sought improved relations with Great Britain while Jefferson sought improved relations with France.

So much for the idea that "politics stops at the water's edge."

It never did.

In more than two centuries, there has never been a prosecution under the Logan Act, though there have been some close calls.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Putin Opponent Slain

When I read about the shooting death of Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Putin, on the streets of Moscow, it reminded me of the 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov.

Kirov was a rising star in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, playing a significant role at the 17th Party Congress in 1934.

Since 1926, Kirov had headed the Leningrad Communist Party. At the 1934 Congress, Kirov received more positive votes than Stalin. That may have been his downfall. Stalin asked Kirov, who was becoming increasingly popular within the party, to come work for him in Moscow. But Stalin kept Kirov in Leningrad for 9 more months.

On December 1, 1934, an expelled party member named Leonid Nikolayev entered the Party headquarters at the Smolny Institute, waited in the hall for Kirov, and shot him down.

Stalin led that investigation, just as Putin is leading this one.

Stalin used the assassination as an excuse to round up all of his own opponents within the party. Few of them survived the subsequent purges.

A word to the wise for Nemtsov suppoters - it might be well to go into hiding.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vive La France

For the past couple of hours I have watched hordes of French citizens - Christians, Moslems and Jews, marching from Place de la Republique to Place de la Nacion, demonstrating national solidarity. It was a grand spectacle, more than a million, perhaps two million, demonstrators showing the best and most inspiring face of France.

Vladimir Lenin once observed, "it is the role of terrorists to terrorize!" If it was the purpose of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the slaughter of journalists and cartoonists to terrorize France, they utterly failed.

The French president did not hide in a bunker waiting for the dust to settle. Neither did the French people.

Last Thursday, while the killers were still at large, the French public held their first rallies, displaying signs proclaiming "I am Charlie Hebdo."

Some random thoughts and observations:

1. One French journalist was amazed that, not even when France won the World Cup in 1998 were there such large demonstrations in Paris. I was more amazed to consider that the demonstration was more massive than those celebrating the liberation of Paris in 1944. I suppose it is a generational thing;

2. A TV reporter asked a French rabbi about Benjamin Netanyahu's invitation for French jews to emigrate to Israel. "We are jews, he replied,"but we are French. We live here. We will stay here. Today we have marched together with French Christians and French Muslims, marched for Liberty and for Unity. This is our country."

3. A handful of disgruntled terrorists, no matter how thorough their planning, can't intimidate a country that refuses to be intimidated. They can't take away the liberties of a people who refuse to give them up.

Vive la France!

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Last Man Killed (In the Great War)

When we lived in Belgium and traveled in northern France, we soon learned that Frenchmen had little to say about World War II. After all, we finally understood, to France, WWII consisted of two brief periods: one from the German invasion until Dunkirk and surrender, and eleven months between Normandy and the German surrender. The rest was German occupation.

The war of vivid French and Belgian memory was the "war of 14-18" as they call it. In 1980, we attended a wedding feast in Belgium, sitting across from an octagenerian who had been a young woman of twenty when the Germans (les Boches, she called them) invaded.  Her memory of those four years was as clear as if the events had happened yesterday. And she had no use for "les Boches."

Today's New York Times  has an article by Richard Rubin (author of The Doughboys) describing his search in the Argonne forest region for a monument he had seen years earlier. Finally, with the help of a local woman, he found it:

"It’s an unassuming marker, a stone just a few feet high. Someone had placed a bench next to it since the last time I’d visited, but [my guide] didn’t sit; perhaps she felt that would be irreverent. This, after all, was the very spot where the very last man was killed in the Great War: Pvt. Henry Nicholas Gunther of Baltimore, 23 years old, shot through the head at 10:59 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918."

There is surely a story here. The Armistice was to begin at 11:00 a.m. November 11, 1918. Surly the Sergeants told their soldiers to keep their heads down. Why did Gunther stick his head up? What was the German shooter thinking? What was the point of pulling the trigger?

Rubin's article is worth reading for many reasons. He tours the battlefields and is impressed with the formidable and technologically advanced German installations. "How could Germany have lost?" He asks repeatedly.

Historians still grapple with that question. But when Rubin asks local Frenchmen how the Germans lost, their answer is succinct: "Les Americains."

It is worth reading Rubin's other New York Times articles touching on the same subject:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day, 2014

The calendar says today is Veterans' Day. History says today is Armistice Day - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns that had roared in August, 1914 fell silent. The war that decimated Europe had come to an end not with victory, but with an Armistice. A truce.

There was still hope that this had been a "war to end wars."

But the Armistice had been a fiction. Germany was defeated, and the country was falling apart.

The failure of the Allies to insist on a German surrender was to create problems in the years ahead.

The peace was still being negotiated at Versaille. It was to be a draconian peace imposing harsh terms on Germany that, if fully implemented, would destroy the economy of Europe.

None of the belligerents was satisfied with the outcome. England and France wanted greater reparations payments, notwithstanding the damage this would do to their own economies. (John Maynard Keynes described what would happen in his book The Economic Consequences of The Peace.)

The only belligerent that achieved its war aims was Serbia (in the form of Yugoslavia) who started the whole thing in the first place.

Europe was in discord. Hungary didn't like the settlement and attacked Czechoslovakia. Poland didn't like the settlement and attacked the Soviet Union.

Russia (the Soviet Union) lost Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland, and for a time lost Ukraine. Central Asia did its best to avoid incorporation into the Soviet Union.

The United States intervened in the Russian Civil War in the Murmansk area and in Eastern Siberia. Japan tried to carve out a part of Siberia.

The Czechoslovak Legion fought its way west to Vladivistok and on by sea to the newly independent state of Czechoslovakia.

Great Britain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Italy, Germany and the remains of Austria licked their wounds and sulked.

It was a long way from a peaceful world (I won't mention the Far East), but still the Armistice brought hope.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I wish we still called it Armistice Day.

In memory of the hope the day brought.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back To Work

As most of you know, we had an election last week. I've been pretty preoccupied with that (as Chair of the Pamlico County Democratic Party) and haven't written much. I have a backlog of things I want to write about, and will get on with it as soon as I can.

But there are other things, as well.

On November 24 at 10:00, I will appear before a judge in Pamlico County Superior Court to present my case against the Town of Oriental in Cox v Town of Oriental, concerning the Town's closing of the end of South Avenue. Last Monday (the day before the election) I received more than 300 pages of the Town's memorandum of law supporting their motion to dismiss my complaint. That seems like a lot for a case that some commissioners have characterized as "frivolous" and that the Town's attorneys characterize as "without merit."

We'll see.

In the next few weeks, I will have comments on the recent election and observations on American Democracy, concepts of representation, economic realities and other election- related matters.

I was busy during the 70th anniversary of the near-sinking of USS Houston (CL-81) and the heroic saga of the ship's survival. I intend to tell that remarkable story.

Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall was breached after standing in place for thirty years. I will have a few things to say about that. My wife and I visited (then East) Berlin in 1981. I will reflect on that experience.

As for Tuesday's election in North Carolina - it was a bad year for Democrats except in a few places. I have some ideas about that.

Then there is this thought:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: October 5, 1944 - Audie Murphy Gets Another Silver Star

Soldiers and sailors mostly understand that success in war involves a lot of luck. Who survives and who doesn't may depend on a slight difference in the ballistic trajectory of a warhead or the difference of a foot or so in where the soldier stands.

But some soldiers have more luck than others. Or perhaps enough skill and determination to make a difference.

Such a soldier was Audie Murphy.

Before he was a movie star, he won a lot of medals.

Here is part of his story: his second Silver Star in three days.

The Big Lie Technique in Action A Century Ago

Last August I published the link to an extract from Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August concerning the burning of Louvain in Belgium by German invaders. The loss of priceless historical documents and works of art from the incomparable Belgian library at the University should have concerned Germans in academia.

Rather than being outraged, though, ninety-three prominent German scholars, including winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke out against the charges, defended the German invaders, and blamed it all on Belgium. Their lengthy rationalization is here.

Academics, seem no more inclined than the general public to question assertions of their national authorities in time of war. We see this again and again during World War I.

But Germany's policies of  treating occupied territories severely long predated World War I and can be documented during their occupation of Samoa in the 1880's.

Was our own treatment of Native Americans more enlightened?

Not so much.

And we can all remember more recent events of misrepresentation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Another Day At Arnhem: A Bridge Really Too Far - September 19, 1944; Some Heroic Tales

Anyone who has ever seen the movie, "A Bridge Too Far," knows something of the heroics of British, Polish and American paratrooperes, with very light equipment, attempting to hold a road through Holland leading to the Bridge at Arnhem.

These were very determined men. They had a job to do: hold the bridge for two days, until the tanks arrived. They did their very best, even when the tanks didn't come. They lasted four days.

In some respects, the operation was, as the Brits say, a "shambles." Still they persevered. Some say they fought for their country. Maybe so. But more importantly, they were fighting for their fellow soldiers.

None would ever to claim to be a hero. They just did what had to be done, and none fought for any kind of personal gain or glory. They had a job to do.

Here are some of the stories.

RAF aerial reconnaissance photo of the Arnhem road bridge on 19 September, showing signs of the British defence on the northern ramp and the wrecked German vehicles from the previous day's fighting.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Best Laid Plans Gang Aft Agley

Scotland votes today on the referendum to leave the United Kingdom. Yes or No?

The polls don't reveal how the vote will go. Earlier this week opinion seemed to run slightly in favor of staying in the UK.

I sympathize with the Scots who want independence. Staying in a union run by Tories isn't a great prospect. On the other hand, leaving the union while keeping the British Pound (as the proposal would do) is madness. The fate of an independent country with no currency of its own is in the hands of others. Every experiment along those lines in the past has turned out badly, including the present European experiment with the Euro.

Staying in the union is a more rational choice.

Then work to rid the UK of Cameron.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: A Bridge Too Far (Market Garden)

Imagine you are dressed in your best parachute, flying over Holland enroute to a bridge over the Nederrijn at Arnhem. 70,000 years earlier, Neanderthals had lived nearby. It seems like the war in Europe is coming to an end.
It is September 17, 1942.
Landing at Arnhem, the objective deepest into German occupied territory, were the British First Airborne Division. John Frost, commanding 2nd Parachute Battalion who were to spearhead the attack, was pleased to find that the landings had gone nearly as well as could be expected. He and the Parachute Regiment had come a long way since the Bruneval Raid in 1942. It was a warm Sunday afternoon and he reflected how the countryside and the neat Dutch houses were not so very different from the outskirts of Aldershot, home town of the British Army. He describes the early stages in the operation as the paratroopers collected together at their rendezvous point in a wood:
It was by now about half-past two in the afternoon and quite hot. The sweat was pouring off the cheerful faces of the men as they filed past me into the wood. Wireless sets seemed to be the only casualties from the drop, among them the brigade set, but fortunately a spare was available. Just as I was beginning to feel that on the whole things could not be going better, the sound of firing broke out in the woods not more than three hundred yards from where I was standing and I moved to a track junction in the middle of the wood, which was where we had planned to set up Battalion Headquarters.
A battle at our rendezvous in the woods was one of the things to be feared most of all. It was vital that we should be able to move off without delay and equally vital that our ammunition should not be expended unduly early when we had so much to do. At first it was hard to tell what the trouble was, but we didn’t let it interfere with the process of forming up and getting ready to move. The troops and anti-tank guns allotted to us arrived punctually, also most of our airborne transport, consisting of five jeeps and a bren carrier. I passed some anxious moments while they were being sorted out. All army drivers have a predilection for driving into the middle of a headquarters, thereby causing the utmost confusion, and our drivers were no exception to the rule. To the tune of vigorous cursing, order was restored.
The companies reported in over ninety-five per cent, and the firing turned out to be caused by a small party of Germans who had driven up in a lorry with one armoured car as escort. By the time I thought of moving off, the armoured car had fled, leaving the lorry and several prisoners. Soon after three o’clock a message came from Brigade Headquarters telling us to move on with all possible speed, without waiting for stragglers, and just as the message went to ‘A’ Company, who were the vanguard, firing broke out afresh from their area. However, there was no delay, and as we passed their old positions we found two lorries and three motor-cars in various stages of destruction, also an untidy little bunch of dead and wounded Germans. It seemed a pity that the vehicles were now unusable, but there had been no time to arrange a road-block.
It was however a very encouraging start. Approximately thirty Germans, including officers among them, and valuable transport, accounted for without loss to ourselves. We marched towards Arnhem. A man and a woman on bicycles made as if to ride on past the column and seemed quite surprised at being ordered to turn back.
See Major General J. Frost: A Drop Too Many

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Canadian Forces Clear Up Russian Confusion About Ukraine

Here is a link to a Canada NATO tweet clearing up Russian confusion about Map of Ukraine and Russia.

Geography can be tough. Here’s a guide for Russian soldiers who keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: Paris, August 24, 1944 - The Night Before Liberation

Matthew Halton was a Canadian reporter travelling with General Le Clerc’s tanks that were approaching Paris. During the day he was to broadcast:
"Wherever we drive, in the areas west and south-west of the capital, people shout: “Look, they are going to Paris! ” But then we run into pockets of resistance here or there and are forced to turn back. It’s clear that we are seeing the disintegration of the German Army — but we never know when we are going to be shot at.
"There are still some units of the German Army, fanatical men of the SS or armoured divisions, who are willing to fight to the last man. They are moving here and there all over this area, trying to coalesce into strong fighting forces…
The people everywhere are tense with emotion. Their love of freedom is so very deep, and a nightmare is lifting from their lives; and history races down the roads towards Paris."
The first of LeCerc's arrived in the capital at 11 o’clock that night. It was clear that Paris would be liberated the next day.

French radio announcer Pierre Crénesse announced over the newly liberated French public radio:
"Tomorrow morning will be the dawn of a new day for the capital. Tomorrow morning, Paris will be liberated, Paris will have finally rediscovered its true face.
"Four years of struggle, four years that have been, for many people, years of prison, years of pain, of torture and, for many more, a slow death in the Nazi concentration camps, murder; but that’s all over…
"For several hours, here in the centre of Paris, in the Cité, we have been living unforgettable moments. At the Préfecture, my comrades have explained to you that they are waiting for the commanding officers of the Leclerc Division and the American and French authorities.
"Similarly, at the Hotel de Ville the Conseil National de la Résistance has been meeting for several hours. They are awaiting the French authorities. Meetings will take place, meetings which will be extremely symbolic, either there or in the Prefecture de Police — we don’t yet know where."
 It would be a sleepless night in Paris.