Showing posts with label international. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international. Show all posts

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.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

May Day, 1960

May Day, 1960, CIA pilot (former Air Force officer) Francis Gary Powers, flying alone at more than 70,000 feet, was on his 27th U-2 mission, flying over Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union. The CIA estimated the altitude of the U-2 was above the reach of any Soviet missile or aircraft. That estimate proved to be too optimistic, and Gary Powers was shot down on one of the biggest Soviet holidays.

Contrary to the CIA's expectations in such an event, Powers survived and was captured.

Stephen Spielberg captures much of the drama of that time in the Cold War in his new movie,Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks. The main hero of the story is a New York lawyer who negotiated the eventual release of Powers. A second important character is the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, who was offered in exchange.

It is mostly a true story, with some embellishment for effect. Here is a useful comparison of the true events with the fictional movie version: http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/bridge-of-spies/

Go see Bridge of Spies.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cuba: 1955 - 2015

Watching the news this evening reminded me of the first time I saw Cuba. It was 1955, I was aboard USS Iowa (BB-61) for a training cruise - it was early August, and we were sailing along the southern coast on the way to Guantanamo Bay.

We could see smoke from campfires in the Sierra Maestra mountains, which we were told was home to a guerrilla uprising. Nervous about the welfare of the midshipmen, Naval authorities didn't allow us off of the naval base at Guantanamo. Over the 60 years since then, I was to visit Gtmo about half a dozen times, but never set foot off the base.

Now that we have established diplomatic relations, I hope to visit Cuba someday soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Iran Nuclear Negotiations

I hear a lot of hysterical hyperbole coming out about negotiations with Iran.

I am glad the negotiations are going on. The opponents seem to want war with Iran. Bad idea.

Most of the opponents are right wing neocons, who seem to be afraid of everything and everyone.

I want to share a link to an article by a retired Navy commander and Naval War College professor on the subject. I don't know Commander Dolan, but I think he is pretty close to the mark. There is more that could be said about Munich, but the main point is to analyze the events in the real historical context.

Here is Commander Dolan's article.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paying Respects To Deceased Soldiers

From time to time I hear Americans complain about our ungrateful allies (usually the French) not paying sufficient respect to the Americans who saved them in the two world wars.

I have lived in France and Belgium and traveled widely in Holland and elsewhere in Europe. This image of ingratitude is just not true. I could give many examples. In fact, tributes to our soldiers who died in Europe put our own observances to shame.

To make the point,I want to share the following post forwarded by a former shipmate.


>
> 'IL  SILENZIO ' ...BEAUTIFUL & HAUNTING
>               
> About six miles from Maastricht, in the Netherlands, lie buried 8,301 American soldiers who died in "Operation Market Garden" in the battles to liberate Holland in the fall/winter of 1944.
> Every one of the men buried in the cemetery, as well as those in the  Canadian and British military cemeteries, has been adopted by a Dutch family who mind the grave, decorate it, and keep alive the memory of the soldier they have adopted.  It is even the custom to keep a portrait of "their" American soldier in a place of  honor in their home. 
>
>        Annually, on "Liberation Day," memorial services are held for "the  men who died to liberate Holland." The day concludes with a concert.  The final piece is always "Il Silenzio," a memorial piece commissioned by the Dutch and first played in 1965 on the 20th anniversary of Holland' s liberation. It has been the concluding piece of the memorial concert ever since.
>               
>  This year the soloist was a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Melissa Venema, backed by AndrĂ© Rieu and his orchestra (the Royal Orchestra of the Netherlands ).  This beautiful concert piece is based upon the original version of taps and was composed by Italian composer Nino Rossi.
>
http://www.flixxy.com/trumpet-solo-melissa-venema.htm



> After you watch the above web site, check out the below.

>    Our war heroes in alphabetical order:
>        1.  The American Cemetery at Aisne-Marne , France ... A total of  2289
>        2.  The American Cemetery at Ardennes , Belgium ... A total of  5329
>        3.  The American Cemetery at Brittany, France ... A total of  4410
>        4.  Brookwood , England - American Cemetery ... A total of 468
>        5.  Cambridge , England ... A total of 3812
>        6.  Epinal , France - American Cemetery ... A total of 5525
>        7.  Flanders Field , Belgium ... A total of 368
>        8.  Florence , Italy ... A total of 4402
>        9.  Henri-Chapelle , Belgium ... A total of 7992
>        10.  Lorraine , France ... A total of 10,489
>        11.  Luxembourg , Luxembourg ... A total of 5076
>        12.  Meuse-Argonne... A total of 14,246
>        13.  Netherlands , Netherlands ... A total of 8301
>        14.  Normandy , France ... A total of 9387
>        15.  Oise-Aisne , France ... A total of 6012
>        16.  Rhone , France ... A total of 861
>        17.  Sicily , Italy ... A total of 7861

Then stop and think about the Frenchmen who died in America fighting for our independence. More than two thousand of them. Where are they buried and how do we Americans remember them?

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, August 30, 2014

Another "Chiffon de Papier" A Century Later?

On August 4, 1914, Germany attacked neutral Belgium. Great Britain protested that the invasion violated Germany's treaty obligation to respect Belgian neutrality. Germany's Chancellor replied that the treaty was only "a chiffon de papier" - (a scrap of paper). That same day, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany.

On Friday, speaking to a group of Russian youth at a camp, Vladimir Putin said, "We must always be ready to repel any aggression against Russia and (potential enemies) should be aware ... it is better not to come against Russia as regards a possible armed conflict." In the same appearance, he claimed that Russia is improving its nuclear arsenal.

December 5, 1994, when Ukraine, which then held a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons, agreed to join the non-proliferation treaty, the Presidents of Ukraine, Russian Federation and United States of America, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom signed three memorandums (UN Document A/49/765) on December 5, 1994, with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Through this agreement, these countries (later to include China and France in individual statements) gave national security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Joint Declaration by the Russian Federation and the United States of America of December 4, 2009 confirmed their commitment.

Highlights of the 1994 Declaration:

"Welcoming the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon State,

Taking into account the commitment of Ukraine to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory within a specified period of time,

Noting the changes in the world-wide security situation, including the end of the cold war, which have brought about conditions for deep reductions in nuclear forces,
Confirm the following:

1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine;

2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;

3. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind;

4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear
weapons are used;

5. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm, in the case of Ukraine, their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclearweapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State;

6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.

This Memorandum will become applicable upon signature.
Signed in four copies having equal validity in the Ukrainian, English and Russian languages.

For Ukraine:
(Signed) Leonid D. KUCHMA

For the Russian Federation:
(Signed) Boris N. YELTSIN

For the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland:
(Signed) John MAJOR

For the United States of America:
(Signed) William J. CLINTON


 OK. Russia has clearly violated provisions 1, 2 and 3 of the memorandum, and therefore provision 6 should be invoked.

Last week's meeting in Minsk accomplished little, but it was apparently not called forthrightly in connection with alleged violations of the 1994 memorandums.

It may be time.

We don't need another "chiffon de papier" like the one in 1914.

This is serious stuff.

Here is what I said last March about the problem.

And here's what I said in April.

Now Ukraine is apparently going to formally request admission to NATO.

I hope there is some serious conversation going on behind the scenes.


Where have all the flowers gone?

When will they ever learn?



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ukraine, Russia, Malaysia: Fools Act And People Die



I just listened to the tapes released by Ukraine of separatist militiamen talking to Russian military officers about the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner. It helped that Ukraine provided a transcription in Russian, but the Russian was clear and not hard to understand. I didn't get a hint of remorse or even much excitement when they reported it was a civilian passenger liner.

Here is a link. It is worth listening to, even if you don't understand Russian. Pretty cold-blooded.

The missile used was apparently a Russian SA-11 GADFLY, a medium-range, semi-active, radar-guided missile using solid-rocket propulsion that provides defense against high-performance aircraft and cruise missiles. The SA-11 represents a considerable improvement over the earlier SA-6 GAINFUL system, and can engage six separate targets simultaneously, rather than the single target capability of the SA-6. Single-shot kill probability are claimed to be 60-90% against aircraft, 30-70% against helicopters, and 40% against cruise missiles, a significant improvement over the SA-6. The system is more mobile, taking only about 5 minutes to move from road march to engagement. The new system also offers significantly greater resistance to ECM than previous systems. The SA-11 system is comprised of the TELAR (9A310M1), Loader/Launcher (9A39M1), SNOW DRIFT Surveillance Radar (9S18M1), and Command and Control vehicle (9S470M1).

The Mach 3 semi-active homing 9M28M1 missile has a maximum slant range of 28 km and a minimum range of 3 km. It is capable of engaging targets between altitudes of 30 and 14000 m and can sustain 23 g maneuvers. The solid fuel missile is 5.6 meters long with a diameter is 0.4 m and a wing span is 1.2 m. The launch weight is 650 kg, which includes a 70 kg HE warhead with a 17 meter lethal radius.

More than enough to destroy a civilian airliner flying under civilian air traffic control using ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) procedures at normal operating altitude flying straight and level.

Ultimately, Russia is responsible for this shoot-down.
 




Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ukraine, Nuclear Weapons And Japan

A little over a month ago, I posted a reflection on the danger of failing to live up to the international security guarantee the nuclear powers gave to Ukraine in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal.

Today's New York Times article reporting Japanese concerns over the U.S. reaction to Russian takeover of the Crimea should, therefore, come as no surprise. The article makes it clear that failure to carry out the security guarantee to Ukraine not only complicates efforts at nuclear non-proliferation, it also complicates conventional diplomacy.

It is a bit reminiscent of the inter war diplomacy of France. After World War I, France signed a guarantee to defend the independence and territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia. But France lacked a common border with Czechoslovakia and besides that, had built a vast fixed fortress (the Maginot Line) and a military designed to operate behind that line. How were they to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if necessary?

It created a mismatch between miltary planning and diplomatic efforts. In the end, it didn't work.

I would hope we have learned something useful in the intervening eighty years.

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.

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/opinion/trudolyubov-putins-honest-brokers.html?hp&rref=opinion

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/opinion/mccain-a-return-to-us-realism.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=article

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/business/crimea-through-a-game-theory-lens.html?ref=international

http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/04/opinion/la-oe-walker-ukraine-nato-expansion-20140304

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/opinion/getting-ukraine-wrong.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults%230&version=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry347%23%2Fukraine%2Bwest%2Bmistakes%2F

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2014/03/24/140324ta_talk_surowiecki

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 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

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!