Back to: Making history personal | Forward to: Polite request

Catching a Blighty

(Yes, I am still on a road trip. Should be home Friday; meanwhile, I find it hard to blog (and write fiction) while on the move and living out of a suitcase.)

In other news: I'm shocked but unsurprised by the idiocy of Prime Minister David Cameron in saying that, for the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, he wanted to see a "commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, says something about who we are as a people". I never had a particularly high opinion of Call me Dave, but in this instance he's clearly intent on digging himself a new pit in my esteem.

David Cameron is an Old Etonian, a child of privilege who was schooled at Eton College: he therefore has no excuse for not knowing better. Eton College made a grim contribution to the British Army officer corps during that war—a contribution paid in blood, many times over. Call Me Dave spent his teen years surrounded by the charnel memorabilia of that war, but it seems to have skidded past his cranium as effortlessly as he himself swarmed up the greasy pole to the top of politics. So some remedial schooling in the history of his own school is in order ...

Dave, if you're reading this, I'd like you to imagine the class you were a member of at age 16. This class probably had 20-25 boys in it. To put the first world war in perspective, I'd like you to line your classmates up against a notional wall. Now imagine it's 1914, and you and your classmates are 16, and we're going to emulate the first world war. I want you to take a revolver, load one chamber with a bullet, and play Russian Roulette with each boy in turn. One random trigger pull each, up close against their head. If the gun doesn't go off, fine: if it blows their skull apart, reload with one round and proceed to the next boy.

Once you've finished playing Russian roulette, you can have your PR people drag the corpses away. Then you start all over again, this time holding the gun against an arm, leg, stomach, or crotch—it doesn't really matter—as you pull the trigger. This second game of roulette is not about killing: it is about savage, crippling, maiming injuries. Shattered kneecaps and hands, castration and colostomization. Oh, by the way, this time you load the pistol with two rounds to double the probability of each boy catching a Blighty.

The screaming, weeping, leaking survivors are the ones who made it back to England's green and pleasant land alive. I wonder if they'll have anything positive to say about your iterated game of Russian roulette?

If you'd been 16 in 1914, then of your class at Eton probably 4-6 would have died (Eton boys ended up as officers: the death rate among junior officers was double that among the non-commissioned ranks). Another 6-8 would have been wounded—faces burned off, arms and legs and spines shattered, lungs scarred by gas until they coughed themselves to death in middle years—these are not pretty injuries, duelling scars or badges of honour: these are vile blows that turn strong young men into lifelong cripples (the sort of people who these days fail their ATOS work assessments and are denied disability payments two weeks before they die of their condition: but I digress).

Only a small fraction of Eton's 1914 class survived the war without physical injury. Lest you assume the death toll was confined to gung-ho officer chappies leading their men over the top, even for the non-commissioned ranks it was a brutal war: around 5% of the total male population of the UK died on the front line, and another 10% were damaged, wounded in body or mind. (As a reference point for foreign readers, the death toll among the British was considerably worse than that of the American Civil War—and among the French it was bloodier by far.)

This is the event that Call Me Dave, our inexplicably ignorant excuse for a Prime Minister, thinks is a suitable subject for a commemoration that says something positive about the British people: a teachable patriotic moment for the masses. Only a second-rate reject from the marketing industry could come up with such an abjectly peurile pile of shrapnel-severed bollocks: that, or a fool who has swallowed Michael Gove's conveniently patriotic educational myths without so much as a pinch of skepticism or introspection. The first world war started as a family scrap driven by the bloated egos of the richest, most powerful family in Europe—lest we forget, Kaiser Wilhelm II was closely related by blood to both Tsar Nicholas II and King George V of Great Britain—and ended up as a nightmarish industrialized slaughterhouse. It was a mincing machine into which the menfolk of entire towns vanished, a Pals Battalion at a time: a death factory that manufactured an average of a thousand British corpses a day for years on end.

They said at the time that the British soldiers were lions led by donkeys. And it seems that as a nation we are still led by donkeys ...



It is certainly something that should be remembered, though you're right that a celebration is not the right tone. It's a gruesome war that risks being overshadowed in history by WW2. Which is a shame because in the scheme of great historic events WWI was probably the more significant.


This is the year that I did not buy a poppy. I just could not stomach the jingoism that has built up around them any more — the final straw was the promotional picture of 4 children carrying giant poppies, with 'Future Soldier' emblazoned across the T-shirt of one.

That message is so totally incompatible with the original 'Never Again' message that I must consider the poppy appeal to have been totally subverted. In future, I shall look for a white one instead.


I'm all in favour of remembering 1914 — as it was remembered in 1919: the start of a hideous, dreadful event that must never, ever, be allowed to happen again.


I think there is a distinction between the two World Wars that people have forgotten. WW1 was a tragically pointless war. While it did remove some monarchies, it may have set the stage for the totalitarian regimes later in the century. Would we still have gotten the USSR, Mao, etc? Would a German Reich of the 1930s and 40s been as bad as the Third Reich? Would decolonization have gone better if the wars hadn't damaged the British and French economies so much?


I assume the poppy sales happen in the UK, and I have no clue what you're talking about because I'm in the US. Searching Google Images for "four children poppy" and the like doesn't lead anywhere useful. Can anyone post the URL for the promotional poppy image with the future soldier?

If poppies were only good for making opium, that would be a truly bizarre promotional image.


While it did remove some monarchies, it may have set the stage for the totalitarian regimes later in the century.

Ya think? (What do they teach in schools these days ...?)

WW1 destroyed the monarchical system that had ruled Europe since the Treaty of Westphalia (modulo Mr Bonaparte's Excellent Adventure). At the start of the war, the only major power in Europe that wasn't a monarchy was France; by the end of the war, the only surviving monarchy was Great Britain (a very watered-down constitutional monarchy barely worthy of the name).

WW1 also ended inconclusively, leaving every side exhausted, bereft of combat-ready manpower, and in many cases with a power vacuum and a situation approaching or actually at the point of civil war. It took a generation to recover and breed enough cannon fodder to resume the struggle, but WW2 emerged directly from the wreckage by way of the toxic settlement at Versailles.

It can be argued that WW1 and WW2 were a single war 31 years long, with some time out in the middle for rearmament and reorganization. Ignoring the PacRim sideshow -- and it was a sideshow, unless you count the catastrophe that was China after the fall of the Empire -- the nature of the war was the bid by the Central powers to achieve empire at the expense of the Peripheral powers. (Spoiler: they lost.)


It might be argued that the massacre of the Old Etonians was what made the NHS possible. Think of the timing. By the end of WW1, most of the new officers were middle-class, the grammar school boys and the experienced sergeants. They were the men who, roughly our sort of age, were running things during and after WW2, filling the gaps opened in the ruling classes.

And here we are, 60-odd years later, and the bastards are back. Even John Major (only 3 O-levels) has noticed the change.

(Not every Old Etonian is a bastard, but there are a lot of them getting to the top.)


I know a couple of Old Etonians who are fine fellows. They are also extremely unlikely to send any children of theirs to their old school. Call them dissidents. (The ones to worry about are the ones who swallow the programming uncritically.)


I can see a germ of something sensible in what David Cameron is reported as saying. WW1 and how we react to it does have some significance in what it means to be British. So did the Diamond Jubilee, but that is not quite what he manages to say.

The Conservative Party, and the Public Schools of England, have produced better speech writers. Indeed, it may well be said that the Prime Minister of seventy years ago was a better speech writer drunk, than Mr Cameron is sober.


Well, I'm in the US so you never can be sure if our view of European history is accurate. :)

WW1 just doesn't get that much attention over here. The common view is basically that the US saved the good guys at the last minute and proved that the US was a power to take seriously (we also say that about the Spanish-American War, and the Mexican-American War). I think it showed that Americans are unpredictable and prone to suddenly interfering in things that don't really affect them and then confusing everything.

The question of whether or not we would have been better off without WW1, or with a Central Powers victory really swings on whether or not German, Austrian, and Russian monarchies would have turned out better than the mess we got. And longer term, if they would have turned out better than modern German, Russia, or Eastern Europe. I tend to think they would, that there would have been more democratic influences on them resulting in positive reforms. After all, the surviving monarchies in the UK, Scandinavia, etc. aren't bad.


>>>I'm all in favour of remembering 1914 — as it was remembered in 1919: the start of a hideous, dreadful event that must never, ever, be allowed to happen again.

And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.


The USA showed up late and lost fewer dead in WW1 than Serbia.

It's true that the presence of US troops at the front in summer of 1918 had a demoralizing effect on the German general staff: they could see the writing on the wall for 1919, and when the great summer offensive failed (with the troops released from the east by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk) it was clear to them that the game was up. But in purely military terms the US force was pretty insignificant, outnumbered more than 5:1 by the British alone.

As for the monarchies ...

The ones that survived were relatively benign: the ones that went down hard are what we would, today, more accurately describe as "hereditary dictatorships". Think Syria or Iraq before their civil wars/invasions, only more prosperous; secret police waiting in the wings to haul you away if your place of work's portrait of the Emperor fell off the wall. Corrupt and incompetent, and possible to earn a living in, but by no means free or benign.


I just entered 'poppy future soldier' into Google and the first link was to a page that linked to a promotional page that contains some of the pictures in question.

It's quite possible that in a different region, your results are different.

By the end of WWI, just about the only thing that still grew in the fields of Northern France was the poppy flower - the red colour reflected the blood that had been spilt, and the flower became the symbol of that enormous bloodshed. Paper poppies became what people bought at this time of year to show support for the veterans of that and subsequent wars, helping to raise money. But for a number of years, those opposed to war have been rejecting the red poppy, seeing its use as a symbol that glorifies war rather than mourning it, and they have been putting forward the white poppy as a alternate symbol for those who wish to remember, but with horror rather than glorification.

This year has been the one where I've come round to their point of view. I don't expect everyone to concur, but the whole tone of the WWI remembrance that Charlie refers to in the post is also part of something really rather distasteful.

And oh yeah - WWI went on into 1919 for an appreciable number of soldiers: my grandfather was one whose wounds were inflicted in that year. So when you see a War Memorial that lists WWI as 1914 - 1919, it's not incorrect, it's merely one of the ones that didn't undergo revision when we tried to pretend we hadn't been fighting the Red Army.


As it happens, I have the register for a broadly-comparable school to hand, a bit down the social scale (then if not now); children of minor landed gentry, rural clergy, and wealthy businessmen. The numbers are, if anything, worse than the estimate:

Fifty-seven boys entered the school in 1910. Of those, the bulk left 1913-15. Fifty-six served in uniform during the war.

Of those fifty-six, twenty-three died (41%). At least twelve more (21%) were wounded significantly enough to mention, one of whom died in 1920.


"But in purely military terms the US force was pretty insignificant, outnumbered more than 5:1 by the British alone."

In numerical terms, yes, but in terms of effectiveness, the US forces were significantly superior to the British and the French. The Brits wanted the US forces to simply fill in the gaps and join in the same pretty awful strategies they'd been employing to such horrific effect; the US forces under Pershing were having none of it.

I do have some good references for this but I can't find them right now. They're here somewhere.


Hmmmm. Cameron is sure pissing people off, here. Just a few days ago I read this article in the Guardian:


Addendum to 15 above: Ah, I remember one. John Mosier's "The Myth of the Great War". As with all history accounts, there is interpretation and argument to be had and one may of course not agree with his principal argument, but he certainly presents some salient points regarding the relative effectiveness of British, German, French and American tactics and strategy.


The lessons of WWI? Different people drew different conclusions.

I saw a documentary a few months ago abut WWI that concluded with the words:

"War *can* effect change. War *can* fulfill ambitions. War *can* work. That was the true terrible lesson of the First World War."

I didn't like hearing that, but for some people, yes I can see why some would think they could gain. The Serbian Leadership (NOT the Serbian People) probably considered themselves big winners.


I am a German, and for obvious reasons the way how Germany reflects about both world wars is very different to how people think about the wars in some other countries. Having lived in the UK (Coventry...) and in the US, I can best comment on the difference to these both countries.

First of all, perhaps the most important lesson that Germany learned from the wars is that you will find that the country as a whole is much less nationalistic than other countries. The day when Germany remembers the wars is called the "Volkstrauertag" (day of people's sorrow), and the emphasis is on reflecting the suffering that the wars brought to both its own citizens and to Europe and the world. This was the original idea behind the poppies in the UK: Never again. Soldiers were (and are) no heroes, they are victims of political power games, especially in WW I and also in many - if not all - of the wars that we see today. What politics is doing far too often is to use the term "hero" to hide this fact (to make the military more attractive?) and perhaps also to reduce the responsibility of the state's ruling class. Emphasizing heroism makes it easier to hide that wars are ugly and murderous. And this subtly reduces the threshold for participating in future wars. To be fair, when I lived in Coventry, I mostly met people who were pacifists, and when they wore the poppies, they did so to think of the death and not for hero worship - i.e., the original idea behind the poppies, which I fully subscribe to. As an foreigner and German, I found this a very positive contrast to the speeches that I heard from (conservative) politicians. But then, Coventry is a special place in this respect and I think the danger of subtly converting this event into something that implies that war is a fair political solution to conflict is unfortunately very real.

As a second point, I think for those readers on the other side of the Atlantic it is perhaps useful to put Charlie's numbers into perspective. Assuming I can trust wikipedia: in WW I 2.2% of the UK's population died, in WW II 1% of the population died. For France the numbers are 4.3/1.4%, for Germany they are 3.8/7-10%.

As Charlie points out, these numbers are huge: consider that only "about" a quarter or less are typically civilian deaths, so let's ignore this for the moment. Common soldiers were 18-35 years old and male, i.e., multiply by 8 to get the fraction of the generation of 18-35 year olds who were killed (a factor of 2 to get the fraction of males, another factor of 4 assumes a typical life expectancy of 72 years). The fraction of wounded is probably a factor of 4-5 higher.

Contrast this with the US, where 0.1%/0.3% were killed in the two wars, the US civil war killed off 2% of the US population, Vietnam 0.03%. It is no wonder that the US citizenry has a much more relaxed attitude towards wars than people in Europe, especially as in current wars soldiers are pretty much drawn exclusively from poor, non-middle class minorities with no significant political voice.

My grandmother was 26 when WW II started. In her elementary school class half of the men did not return from war. Of the generation of my grandparents, virtually all men were afflicted by war. To this day it amazes me that out of these boundary conditions we managed to have the Europe we're living in today and that I was able to live in Coventry and talk with people of her age about the war. I think it is this aspect of reconciliation that we should strive for on days of remembrance, not the stupid political heroism.

Sorry for preaching...


I read a fascinating and heartening article today on subversive activity by the troops in the trenches at LibCom

Essentially, outside the major offensives and shooting wars and when their staff officers weren't looking, a number of the troops in the trenches took some care to appear hostile a way that put nobody at any particular risk.

So patrols out on recce in quiet sectors would bump into their opposite numbers and studiously ignore them.

Or, to use a particularly fine snippet:

' mutual agreement working parties between the lines were often un-molested - these might include soldiers who emerged in daylight to cut grass in front of their trenches'

Offensive actions that were felt to damage the status quo would be discouraged by the rank and file, who knew that retaliation of some form would probably follow such actions.

‘The most unpopular man in the trenches is undoubtedly the trench mortar officer, he discharges the mortar over the parapet into the German trenches ...for obvious reasons it is not advisable to fire a trench mortar too often, at any rate from the same place. But the whole weight of public opinion in our trench is directed against it being fired from anywhere at all’

(Not a million miles removed from Axelrod's strategy in the Prisoner's Dilemma.)

And a brilliant quote from Ashworth's conclusion:

'The experience of tacit co-operation came as a reality shock to combatants. It demonstrated to each side that the other was not the implacably hostile and violent creature of the official image. The latter eroded and was replaced, as we have seen, by an indigenous definition based on common experience and situation. This deviant image stressed similarities rather than differences between combatants. The institutionally prescribed and dichotomous WE and THEY dissolved. The WE now included the enemy as the fellow sufferer. The THEY became the staff.'

- the class struggles immediately following WWI make a lot more sense in the light of this shift in attitude.

This is something that almost never gets attention drawn to it, for a number of obvious reasons - it doesn't fit with the official record put forth by the general staff, it certainly wasn't something that the men concerned would admit to; it was something that was very hard to measure - but it happened.

Despite the training to kill, despite very clear orders from above, despite the risk of punishment, the rank and file would (to some extent) try to avoid killing each other and would also try to conceal it from their senior officers.

I recommend the whole article; it's one of those articles that really does give you a glimmer of hope for humanity; that despite the conditions and the conditioning, supposed enemies will resist the dehumanising of their opposite numbers.

(Naturally, not being any kind of expert on the subject, I have no ready access to corroboration, although the references searchable online do appear to check out.)



Just about everybody has got this wrong.

Though none nearly as badly as the grovelling traitor we currently have as a "Prime Minister".
The cause of WWI was, proximately, Imperial Germany invading a guaranteed-neutral country - Belgium.
At that point we had no real alternative, unfortunately.
Before that, the Austrian empire had received a grovelling reply to their ultimatum to Serbia, but chose to reject it ....
And Serbian paid assassins had killed Archduke Ferdinand, because he actually realised that Austria-Hungary could not go on as it had done, & wanted to "federalise" it. this tiny dose of liberalism was the last thing they needed, so they killed two birds with one stone ....
As for "lions led by donkeys" well, which country had the LOWEST per capita causalty & wounded rate?
The British.
The German & especially French rates were significantly worse - count the numbers on their war memorials.

All that said, it WAS a disaster, & no-one learnt the lessons, which meant that the nation with one of the higher rates of death & injury started the next round - you what?

Bellinghman @ 13
No Poppies ( Papaver rhoeas mostly) are flowers/plants of disturbed ground .. simple as that.
As for a white one - an opium one, no.
After all, two of my uncles lied about their age & went, one to day 2 of the Somme & one to Cambrai (The latter also survived the Burma railway second time around!) They came back - al of of their mates did not.

And Moschops @ 15
The US casualty rate was noticeably worse than the Brit one. (See above)

So yes: FUCK Camoron, whose defence cuts will get us another war, because someone will think we are weak enough to attack with impunity, & double-fuck the fake jingoism ... but I will still buy & wear my poppy, for other reasons.


"And Moschops @ 15
The US casualty rate was noticeably worse than the Brit one. (See above)"

Judging effectiveness by how many people are dead afterwards was militarily wrong then and militarily wrong now.


The way I'd put World War I in perspective for us Americans: the UK (and France and Germany Austria and Russia) lost more soldiers in that one war than the US has in all of our wars put together.


Every Canadian town, pretty well, has a cenotaph for WWI. In Toronto, where I live, there are plaques not only in the churches, but in the banks and larger department stores which were around then.

English Canada lost about the same proportion of its male population in the relevant age group as Great Britain, but differently distributed -- more farm boys and fewer toffs (we had more farm boys by proportion). A first cousin twice removed died at Vimy as a Major who was second-in-command of his Regiment; he had been a civil engineer of a "good" family, basically gentry farmers who had sent members to the legislature, but he was not of the class that would have been likely to make Major if he had been in an English regiment.

The red poppy is used throughout the commonwealth as a memorial for the war (largely as a result of John McRae's poem In Flanders Fields), and I've always associated it with the horror of the war which succeeded the Armistice.

Only an idiot would treat it as a locus for glory, after Wilfrid Owen. And Cameron, in his position, would do well to remember the warning Shakespeare put into the mouth of a common soldier: "if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make..."


I've got a reference or two that say the exact opposite re. American troops in WW1, with the appropriate caveat that they were fresh to the fight and hadn't had 4 years of demoralising death beforehand. THey basically had to re-learn what the British and French had spent their time learning.

As for WW1, it is indeed the source of WW2. Moreover, in comparison with today, the Owning class actually sent their sons to die in it, because that was the right and proper thing to do; the plebs of course were also expected to help defend the empire etc. But nowadays, the owning class in general would never send their children anywhere near a combat zone. The Queen doesn't count, she's not in charge of things.


Greg - who the hell is going to attach us anyway? THe only country on the planet that could attack us in the next decade or so is the USA.


Greg Tingey, we might need to agree to differ about your political take on the war. However, I have a personal message for you, and today is a good day to deliver it. Do you know if you had any relative called E Tingey in the British Army in late 1914 / early 1915?


To be fair to Mr. Cameron, the Prime Minister of 70 years ago was a better speech writer drunk than pretty much anyone who has ever lived, drunk or sober.


Do we have to be fair to the little sod?


The poppy symbol is not in commemoration of the war(s), it is worn to remember the soldiers of the Commonwealth who fought and died in them. Money from sales of the poppy went to the Earl Haig Fund to support veteran soldiers in their sickness and old age and is still used for that purpose many wars later.

My father was a committee member for the local Royal British Legion branch and I was impressed into service as a kid going around with a tray of poppies on the runup to Remembrance Day. At that time there were still a lot of WWI veterans around, never mind those from WWII (like my dad).


I note the correction to the phrasing. In Canada, the monies go to the Royal Canadian Legion (which is the veterans' association) with the same aims. Although poppies are sold (well, "offered with the expectation of a donation") at some tills in various shops, the norm/ideal is to have one pinned on by a veteran as a personal transaction.


By no means. I say we put the boot in every chance we get.

I was just noting that Churchill was a professional author all the years he was a politician; indeed, for many of them he was the highest-paid journalist on Earth. By 1943, he'd been earning his living with a pen longer than David Cameron (or his speechwriter) has been alive.

in terms of effectiveness, the US forces were significantly superior to the British and the French.
Err... the US contributed zero tank.

I'd seriously watch that sort of language, it can really come across as blind confidence in some sort of master race from Apple-pie-land.


Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien said it best:

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.


It is a God-damned shame that the sacrifice of millions in WWI is being turned into a feel-good talking point.

My great uncle on my father's side was Private Thomas Pincombe Bovingdon (Bovingdon is also one of my middle names). He was in the 28th Battalion, London Regiment of the... wait for it... ARTISTS RIFLES! He lived through it, and actually received the Military Medal for actions in November 1918 which resulted in his being wounded. I have tried without success to find the specific citation for his actions on that day. I would welcome any ideas as to where to look, for although I have found his Medal Card, and the 5 different London Gazette Entries regarding it (posted initially and then had to be corrected 4 more times), I can't find the citation.

I would like to direct your attention to a Canadian artist named Mary Riter Hamilton. She was commissioned to visit WWI battlefields and paint them by the Amputation Club of British Columbia. One of them is titled the Sadness of the Somme.

Definitely worth a look. I think the war is so horrible that it is best looked at reflected, rather than directly.


Contrary to popular belief, US Armed Forces are NOT "drawn exclusively from poor, non-middle class minorities with no significant political voice."

In point of fact, using DoD data from 2007, 11% of recruits came from the poorest 20% of US neighborhoods. 25% came from the richest 20% of US neighborhoods.

Enlisted ranks break down (roughly)as follows:
First and Second Quintile 50%
Third and Fourth Quintile 40%
Fifth Quintile 10%

Poor, non-middle class men and women are decidedly UNDER-REPRESENTED in US Armed Forces.

With regards to race, Whites and Blacks are over-represented in the US Armed forces. Looking at new enlistees, for example, report says of 18-24 year olds, 60% are White, 17% Black, and the other 23% are Hispanic or Asian. Enlistees are 64% White, 21% Black, and 15% Hispanic or Asian.

The first quintile is also massively over-represented in the officer class (40% of ROTC from this quintile).

Full report here:

Don't like Heritage? Dubner (of Freakonomics) took a close look at the report, and while he's got some qualms with some of the conclusions, he's got none with the data

I don't know what itch the falsehood that the US employs its poor minorities as mercenaries serving oligarchical aims scratches, but it must be a big one as I see it a lot from people who (shocker) don't live in the USA and can't imagine a nation where patriotism exists, let alone that service in the armed forces could be a highly respected, satisfying career, or that the desire to serve the nation in the armed forces could cross class and racial lines as much as it does.

I am terribly sorry if this is news for people. Plenty of great reasons still exist to oppose US policies, so feel free to draw on them, but the idea that, in addition to whatever issues you may have with US policies, they also dragoon poor, non-white people to fight their wars for them has got to go.


This is how it was.
Squalor, fearfulness, real people. Telling, that Richard Curtis & Rowan Atkinson chose the First World War to demonstrate the needless sacrifice of so many people. And for what?

It's not something that should be celebrated. My high school had a memorial board, and each year we had an assembly to commemorate the old boys who died, and their comrades. They should be remembered, our heads bowed in reflection. And we should look at ourselves and wonder what the hell we've become when that twat of a Prime Minister thinks the needless slaughter of cannon fodder is something to turn into a national celebration.

When he claimed to love 'Eton Rifles' did he ever really get it? Or was it just the mention of Eton that got his knob twitching? I know what answer I believe.


No, I cannot agree that you can discount China as part of WWI and WWII. It wasn't just about China being a wreck. It was about Japanese invading the county, as well as many other countries in southeast asia, killing civilians for the sake of making sure their soldiers had "drawn first blood" to name just one practice that helped push the body count in Asia to roughly 50% of the total in the war.

The result was a similarly radical change in politics, with most countries that had been invaded getting out of their previous colonial or quasi-colonial status and enjoying a much greater deal of political autonomy.

It is arguable whether the wars in eastern and southeastern Asia were part of the world wars, or if those were two disasters flying in close spatiotemporal formation on the same planet. But if you choose to ignore them, you certainly strip the "world" from the world wars.

'The poppy symbol is not in commemoration of the war(s), it is worn to remember the soldiers of the Commonwealth who fought and died in them.'

This is the current narrative, certainly; but it is not one that has been universally applied throughout the Royal British Legion's (RBL) history; and the RBL's tone since the end of the Cold War is one that would make many of its founder members deeply uncomfortable.

The RBL is a product of political expediency as much as anything; given the prospect of millions of trained (and somewhat disenchanted) soldiers coming back to no jobs and no prospects, the Government recognised in the wake of the Russian Revolution that their own position was perilous; and that they had better do something to help the ex-servicemen - before they founded an independent (and possibly anti-government) union of soldiers.

The RBL's tone has over time been steered towards moderation and according with the wishes of the political elite; and as a quid pro quo, the political elites have paid lip service to the RBL.

(The obvious weakness is that the RBL has been notably silent over unjust acts committed by British forces over the years of its existence.)

So: to sum up; the precise meaning of the red poppy is something that has changed over time; and public perception of the issues at the time have as much to do with it as the original intent.

There is one other point, however.

In the last 113 years, the First World War is the only war where military casualties were higher than civilian casualties.

For every other conflict in that period, the people on the sharp end have more often than not been civilians - shot, gassed or blown up in conflicts that they had no say in and by people they had no defence against.

What of them?

Hence the white poppy; a memorial to all victims of war, armed or not.


Cowboy Wally: I see it a lot from people who (shocker) don't live in the USA and can't imagine a nation where patriotism exists,

YELLOW CARD. This is a moderation warning. You're treading dangerously close to ad hominem abuse here, and if you continue in this direction you'll receive a red card (a ban from commenting further on this thread).

Hint: patriotism takes many forms, and is pretty much universal to some degree or other -- what do you think motivates the Taliban in Afghanistan?


I realise that this is not your main point, but I am rather shocked by your "lot from people who (shocker) don't live in the USA and can't imagine a nation where patriotism exists".

There are many ways to find a higher purpose in one's life that does not involve blind obedience and fanatical attachment to whatever nationality with which you happen to have been born. A nationality establishes the same sort of relation between and individual and a Nation-state as exists between a customer and an insurance company -- you pay your due, it pledges to protect you in case of need. I could not imagine swearing fanatical obedience to my insurance company, why should I support my country of nationality when she is wrong?

Your simultaneous admission that the foreign policies of the USA are flawed and exaltation of patriotism as a virtue in itself leaves me puzzled. That strikes at the very heart of the Nuremberg principles -- the sort of principle that founds the contemporary Western sentiment of superiority over other society models, ironically.


Sorry, I posted my answer to Cowboy Wally's comment before I saw your. Do feel free to remove my reply to Cowboy Wally if you find it opportune to do so.


I am Polish and I am certainly glad the war happened as it ended the German Empire, which was a very oppressive regime. It was quite different from other monarchies as it was influenced hugely by racism and had plans of ethnic cleansing after the war, plus it wanted to turn whole Eastern Europe into German colony based on German experiences in places like Namibia where population that resisted was exterminated.
In general people in Eastern Europe don't resent WW1 as much as people in the West. It isn't limited to Poles, I know that Czechs and Balts celebrate it as well.

Certainly if Central Powers would win the best case scenario would be resembling an authoritarian regime like in Japan and its experiments in Manchuria and China.

One thing I regret about WW1 is the abrupt fall of Russian Empire, before it had a chance to turn into constitutional monarchy.
If I could change history I would make WW1 more decisive victory for Entente, with Russian state weakened but remaining.


The US college dorms I lived in had war memorial plaques and statues for students killed in The World War. The university was built after the Civil War, and there may have been some memorials on campus from WW II, probably none from the Korean War or Spanish-American War (or if there were, it was in the ROTC classroom area), and the tear gas from anti-Vietnam War protests had blown away but the anger hadn't cooled enough to put up any memorials for it; my class was the last year of the draft lottery so only a few had been taken, and not too many of the class before mine, but the upper classes and grad students had significantly more draftees and probably some deaths.

And of course US civilian deaths from the war were mostly from the influenza epidemic that was spread by returning soldiers.


The British Legion (it was accorded the Royal honour in 1971) I grew up with was more of a self-help and support organisation than anything political. The big efforts I saw were things like raising the funding for a block of sheltered homes for ageing ex-servicemen and women and the ongoing charitable and social works as well as the poppy appeal and the Remembrance Day observances.

One function my father's branch carried out was the presence, if the family requested it, of Legion colours at the graveside of ex-servicemen and women whether they had been members of the Legion or not. When he died himself the local Legion marched in the cortege and presented colours at the graveside in his turn, something the family (including myself) were very grateful for.


Thanks for the reminder about what today is really about.

Grim but worth reading:

WWI casualties by country

and WWII casualties by country

The few relevant points are that more subjects of the British empire died in WW1 (1,226,597) than did English (995,939).

I'd also point out that, by percentages, the smaller countries on the periphery (Serbia, Romania, Ottoman Empire) lost far more than did the central Allies or Axis, in both wars.

I'd also gently suggest that a Western European focused-view of WWII is really a bit much. In terms of death and devastation, Eastern Europe and the USSR took the greatest number of casualties (perhaps 40 million of the 60-80 million total deaths). Also, there were over 10 million deaths in China, India, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines, most of them civilian deaths. That rather dwarfs the losses the US and UK suffered--combined (

Good time to praise diplomats, who never get enough credit for all the wars they've helped us to avoid.


I'm not surprised, sad, but not surprised Cameron wants to try and get all jingoist about "The Great War" and try to forget its other soubriquet - "The War To End All Wars" because if he can pull the timing off, rally everyone to the flag, sneak in some actual economic recovery that hits people's purses he might just pull off a miracle and get re-elected. The way it looks at the moment that's a decent strategy for him.

Speaking personally the jubilee left me cold - and it left a lot of people of people cold and wet.

But I think Remembrance Day, both the big official act yesterday and the two minutes silence today is one of the bits of pomp and circumstance we do pretty well as a nation. Yes, at the official ceremony there are lots of military personnel but it doesn't come across to me as glorying in our victories, it's a much more sombre marking of those who have died while in active service. I appreciate those they've died fighting against might have a different opinion but they really don't stand up and say "Yay, boo, we lost 'em here, and here and here, beating up you and you and you" it's much more "We're remembering the dead" and I bet I'm far from the only one that remembers the dead on the 'other' side too.

We couldn't have four years of that kind of thing. But massive rallying and celebration too - just no.

And just to emphasise Charlie's point about how devastating the war was to the UK, Arthur Mee coined the term the Thankful Villages for those villages where no one was lost to the first world war in the 1930's. According to Historic England's research there are 41 parishes in England and Wales and according to BBC News 52 in the whole of the UK. 52 parishes without a war memorial after WWI. Scary.


...I went to a traditional English boarding school (in Scotland, but that's another story). The school chapel --- a lot bigger than the local church --- had wooden panelling all round one end. This was the WW1 war memorial.

There were 157 names on it. In 1920, the school had room for 200 pupils.


Every Canadian town, pretty well, has a cenotaph for WWI.
Most American towns had some kind of WWI memorial; often a tank or field piece, or a statue of a doughboy. As late as the 1960s, some towns still had victory parades.

In my town, the doughboy statue has been hauled away, replaced by a concrete spike with a generic "TO THE VETERANS OF ALL WARS" inscription. It's not like there are acres of public land where they could have put up their generic spike without removing the statue, but the palimpsest must be scraped clean when there is no political benefit to be had...


Remembrance Day in Britain at least commemorates WWI more than WWII and the furore inspired by that wally Cameron is because next year will be the centenary of the beginning of that war in 1914. I'd rather any commemoration be delayed until 2018 myself when we could have one last centennial Remembrance and then put the thing to bed for good, but that's just me.


guthrie @ 26
The exact same question was asked in 1981, just before our proposed defence cuts got us the Falklands war, ahem.


I went and listened to the actual clip which seems to have helped spark it, as seen in the BBC article Charlie links to.
Paraphrases of what he said:

3 vital elements - vital transformation of museum, national program of commemorative events, and 3rd an educational program, world class advisory board overseeing it.
More ideas for a truly national commemoration, needs to be local too. e.g. young people in their community, conserve explore etc local history, So whether its friendly football matches to mark the Christmas football,

Quote from a 20 year old soldier a week before he died,

Honour those who serve, remember those who died, and ensure the lessons learnt

- - - - - -
So on the face of it, not so bad really. The question is whether loonies like Ferguson will weasel their way onto the advisory board, and it all comes down to the interpretation. Nobody is against commemoration after all. I'd also like to know how much of that speech was written for him.

The thing that makes me feel a bit off is that, basically, it sounds more like an insular, inward turned view of Britain and the war, rather than a more international one. And the clip was too short to tell, but it is lacking in depth and appreciation of all the facets of the war. Too simple, in other words. The obvious conservative sub text is that Britain was great and strong and helped beat the evil Germans, which can then be parlayed into anti-Europe rhetoric, anti-immigrant etc, or, more subtly into simply ignoring everything that doesn't fit with their world view. This is standard practise with this government, as we have seen with their higher education deforms, school destructions and forced academisation against the wishes of the parents, their policy towards poor and disabled people and those on benefits.

Personally, I think 1918 would be more worth going all out for the commemoration, i.e. the end of the war (ignoring the attempts to crush the Russian revolution etc).


What, so you're saying that our intelligence services will fail to spot the USA gearing up to invade us despite all the evidence that they are going to? That sounds about right...


Mike Cotton @ 28
No - though he probably was a distant relative.
It is NOT a common name.
My paternal grenfather had to be prohibitef from trying to join up, because his health wasn't up to it - ex-Edwardian factory conditions fianlly killed him in 1924.


Disagree profoundly, for reasons given.

The Poppy, AIUI, is to remember those who did not return, or who returned maimed.
I think that is enough.

Also, I think of myself as a patriot,
but that does NOT equate to the US version of same - oh, seen Charlie has spotted that yawning gap, as well.


guthrie @ 52
Yeah, unfortunately, that is exactly the sort of problem I'm worried about!

To be true to our supposed ideals is something to hope for.


The problem is that it is possible to have multiple interpretations of what the poppy is worn for, that differ from those promulgated by the British legion, which are different again from those pushed by the establishment and by whatever opposition still exists. Thus conversations about it can get confusing as people don't always make it clear whose interpreation of the poppy they are referring to.


You got what he said exactly backwards.

"It can be argued that WW1 and WW2 were a single war 31 years long, with some time out in the middle for rearmament and reorganization. Ignoring the PacRim sideshow -- and it was a sideshow, unless you count the catastrophe that was China after the fall of the Empire..."

Stross's argument is that the only part of the Pacific theater of WW2 that wasn't a sideshow was the war in China. Which is the same thing you're saying.


Haha, oh no! Whatever would have happened if you'd been able to defend a cold pile of rocks on the other side of the world? It might have been a small inconvenience for the 500,000 locals, I admit, but I think the 498,000 sheep wouldn't have complained much.


That last comment should have read "...if you hadn't been able to defend...", of course.


OK Greg, ta for the reply.

This is why I asked: A couple of weeks ago, as part of my mission to buy as many Gale and Polden books about late C19th military administration as possible, I bought a copy of the 'Non-Commissioned Officers' Guide to Promotion - Lance Corporal to Sergeant', in a September 1915 edition. It's got 'E.N.Tingey' written along the inner edge of the paper, and on the flyleaf. I thought it possible he was a relative of yours.


For all it was bad for the British, I would argue the colonial troops in some ways had it worse.

I'm Australian. We use the battle of Gallipoli (a bloody, mismanaged, hideous atrocity of poor planning, incompetent generalship, and flat-out refusal to accept reality) as a defining moment in our national mythos. And what a definition it is: good little colonials, shipped out to invade a foreign country on the orders of our overlords (under the command of the British, not Australian generals - and oh, *wasn't* there an outcry about Curtin saying Australian troops would be commanded by Australian officers and an Australian chain of command in WW2!), set down at the wrong location, and told to carry out our orders anyway, despite having basically been dropped at the foot of a cliff where the Turks could pick us off one by one. Given tactics and orders which were intended for the original location, and never adapted to suit the changed terrain, and suffering hideous losses (our population took a major hit as a result of WW1) which we couldn't afford. Yes, our soldiers learned to band together in adversity and never, ever leave a mate behind (because if you didn't care about him, High Command certainly weren't going to). They learned to fight like rats in a trap, and earned the sympathy and respect of the Turks for their dogged determination.

But I often think it was a pity they didn't learn to mutiny instead. The myth of the ANZAC has caught Australian troops in the eternal role of good, unthinking support for our colonial overlords (first the British, now the USA) and we're stuck with being good little colonial troopers, there to stand the shock, because it's unthinkable now that we should turn around to our colonial overlords and say things like "this isn't our fight, and we're not getting anything out of it; we're not playing". So instead we turned out to fight in Africa, and in France, and Italy, and the Pacific, and Malaya, and Vietnam, and Kuwait, and Iraq and Afghanistan, and got the shit shot out of us all over the fucking world to the greater glory of the UK and the USA.

And every April, we get the same stupid glorification of the balls-up that started it all, and I want to scream from a combination of horror, frustration, and anger. All those wasted lives, because the lessons haven't been learned.


My grandfather was in the battle of the Nek at Gallipoli, which was the one where the commanders (who were Australians, by the way) sent a line of men along a narrow ridge into machineguns, and having noted that the attack had failed miserably decided that the canny thing to do was to repeat it another three times just to be on the safe side.
He survived the battle by finding some dead ground (got his arm shot off at Gaza later, though) but his brother died in the first charge.
Grandad did think it was his fight, because he didn't see being an Australian as meaning you weren't a Scot and a Brit just like his aunts and uncles. You couldn't be an Australian citizen at the time, after all - we were British subjects, and that was enough.


Chris Borthwick @ 61: By the time Gallipoli came around, Australia had been its own country for fifteen years. This was the first time Australians were fighting in a war as Australians (when they fought in the Boer war, about twenty years earlier, they'd been fighting as colonial auxiliaries). Australia federated and became its own nation back in 1901, the beginning of a new century.

... then we fell back into the old colonial habits, and we've never quite gotten out of them.


Let me get this straight -

A charge is made:
"It is no wonder that the US citizenry has a much more relaxed attitude towards wars than people in Europe, especially as in current wars soldiers are pretty much drawn exclusively from poor, non-middle class minorities with no significant political voice."

The alleged underpinnings of that charge are specifically refuted with data. Not with alleged ad hominem abuse, but with figures and sources that people are free to investigate and question if they so desire.

I state that the above charge is most often made by people who don't live in the USA and can't imagine a nation where patriotism exists.

Objections are then made by those who can't imagine patriotism exists, and compares nations to insurance companies.

What is the difference between the allegation that US citizens have a much more relaxed attitude toward wars than people in Europe, and the allegation that the false belief that the US Armed Forces are made up of poor non-whites is held mostly by US Citizens who look at patriotism with negative connotations?

Why is one deemed ad hominem and the other not?

Further, comments in this very thread buttress my allegation, while I at least provided some numbers regarding the actual composition of US Armed Forces.

Yet I am the one who is warned?

So be it.

While it is certainly true that some (repeat SOME)insurance companies have a track record that is beyond reproach in comparison to some nations, the US is not one of them. Further, vigorous support for and blind allegiance to [a nation] are not the same thing. If they were, we wouldn't have to modify the word patriotism with blind, would we?

I am surprised that what the men and women of the US Armed Forces are taught regarding unlawful orders is not more widespread. They are taught not only that they do not have to obey them, but further, they have an obligation to disobey such orders and oppose the person who gives them. Those are the Nuremberg Principles in brief. From personal experience, I can tell you that these are ingrained into the Armed Forces at every level, along with fanatical (to borrow a word) veneration for civilian control of the military. Sadly, history has shown us that nothing is impossible, but the equation of US Armed Forces with automatons would would carry out any order given isn't supported by current training or actual history. Perhaps blind patriotism could be equated to rejection of the Nuremberg principles, but I can't see it.

Finally, I did not admit that US policies are flawed (although some definitely are). I meant that one would have to be blind not to see that US policy can be objected to on numerous grounds. Plenty of those have actual facts to support those objections. What I have a problem with are fact-free objections, including, but not limited to, the idea that the US Armed Forces are voiceless, poverty-stricken minorities. Too many innocent civilians killed by US actions around the world? Let's talk about it. Not a good idea to have one nation with all that power? Let's kick it around. We all have the right to be wrong, but in our errors, I would hope that we make them with correct information, and not allegations that make us feel good because they match our world view.



You got a shoeing not for making a positive argument refuting a common misconception about recruiting patterns in the US military (which, you will note, I didn't advance or argue for), but for making a negative attack on other folks' perceived patriotism.

Your yellow card is nothing to do with the content of your discussion and everything to do with your tone -- if you haven't read it already, please read the moderation policy. TL:DR version: argument and disagreement is fine but there's a line in the sand between argument and abuse, and the latter is strongly discouraged.

(For what it's worth: I suspect a chunk of the differing attitude to war of Americans comes from the fact that there haven't been foreign enemy boots on the ground in the USA since 1814. (I discount civil wars as a special case.) In contrast, most of Europe was steamrollered flat by 1945, and in a few cases as recently as 1995. Nearly everyone's got a parent or grandparent who was personally involved. This tends to put a big reality check on the isn't-war-just-a-great-adventure-overseas tendency. Give Europe fifty years to go to the bad and there could well be a return to our historic bloodthirsty throat-slitting norm ... although I hope not.)


When I first heard about all this jingoism about what a great war WWI was my first thought was that it had been said much better than I ever could;
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

For those that didn't go to public school, that Latin translates as 'It is sweet and right to die for ones country'. Old lie indeed.


"commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, says something about who we are as a people"

Which decodes as "A people that sees the past as glorious, and wants to get back to it, via the Conservative and Unionist Party".

Cameron is often far more comprehensible if you remember that he's talking to his knuckle-dragging back-benchers, and to his image of voters who have deserted his party for UKIP. The rest of the nation isn't a priority, as long s they keep on spending money with the right companies.


Only 14 villages in the UK had no casualties from both World Wars. Including the appropriately named village of Upper Slaughter.


It's up the hill from Lower Slaughter, what else would you call it?


Ok, I'm going to ignore "Cowboy Wally" and his insistence that he is the only person who knows the meaning of the word "patriotism".

Having said that, I wear a poppy and donate to the fund as a mark of respect and thanks to veterans.

Also, I am 100% behind our services personnel, and would like to see the politicians who put them in harm's way being 100% in front of them, both physically and literally!


N f @ 58 & 59
NOT funny, or clever.
So we should lie back & allow even a few people to be trampled on by a fascist Junta, when it is, legally, "our" territory?
I think not.


Higher Slaughter?, or if there was also a similarly named village at an intermediate location, Top Slaughter?


JD @ 67
Which made me sick.
The monarchy is SUPPOSED to be "above politics" ...
Queenie had her arm twisted to go to the Madwoman's funeral, I believe, since it was known that HM did NOT love M.H.Roberts, at all.

As Cowboy Wally does not seem to complrehend, one can be a patriot, without wishing to be gung-ho, at all, ever.


strummist @ 68
Well the BBC got it wrong
The Thankful Villages numbered 41.

Oh & the "No War Memorial" story is often just that - a story.
You'll find a memorial, in the church, usually, that evryone did come back ....


@ Greg Tingey - "Well the BBC got it wrong. The Thankful Villages numbered 41."

You're at cross purposes with strummist and the BBC; you're talking about the exclusively WWI Thankfuls, they're talking about the Doubly-Thankfuls who lost no-one in WW2 either.

The current Wiki figures are 53 Thankful parishes (all from England and Wales) and 13 Doubly-Thankful. An oddly disproportionate nine thankful and two doubly thankful are from Somerset, where I live. A couple of them a just a few miles (five and seven) from me; one is Shapwick, which has a long settlement history - it's sited where one end of the 39thC BC Sweet Track was.


"Ignoring the PacRim sideshow -- and it was a sideshow, unless you count the catastrophe that was China after the fall of the Empire -- the nature of the war was the bid by the Central powers to achieve empire at the expense of the Peripheral powers. (Spoiler: they lost.)"

Charlie, sometimes you overreach in your zeal.

One, the goal of the Japanese was to control China and other interesting places. These places already had colonial masters; so the Japanese had to displace said masters. Hence the rest of that half of the war. You cannot choose which part of that war is a sideshow. Confronting the US was the path to getting to play in China. I could just as easily say the entire Western front in Europe was a sideshow. Hitler wanted to expand into Central Europe and Russia. If he thought France and the UK would simply acquiesce to that, he would not have wasted a few months getting you out of the way.

Second, if you want to argue the Pacific was a sideshow, I suggest that the hundreds of millions of people in China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Indochina and Korea would like a word with you. Not to mention the Dutch and French who spent so much time after the war realizing they actually lost it. (Even with Red China and Vietnam, I would argue that America at least broke even and probably won.) As far as future consequences went, the Pacific was at least as important as the European conflict. It was also a new kind of war, possibly the first and hopefully only large scale example of its type.

Third, I would gloss your last sentence as the nature of the war was for Western European powers to decide who got the most colonial cake. Hint, they all lost. Addendum, the Central Power did eventually get the consolation prize of being the regional hegemon its geopolitical position dictated it was always going to be.

As an aside to your general comments, I am actually quite glad America lost almost nobody in WWI. I would say not losing people but being on the "winning" side is quite nice when you can get it. It worked out well in the short term for Japan as well. I think it was great that we actually tried to stay out of a war that was happening thousands of miles away. The problem was that we could not exploit both sides to take advantage of the power vacuum. We had to choose you (it would have been too hard to run the blockade; much harder than dodging U-boats) and eventually that dragged us in. We could not stop Versailles from being a dog's breakfast and we could not reverse the Russian Revolution that the French and English helped make inevitable. But hey, no casualties and we got the Allied T-shirt. Oh and we became the center of the Western Universe, regardless of how we felt about it at the time.

Meanwhile the English spent the interwar years undermining French policy. Since French policy included strengthening the buffer states between Germany and the Soviet Union, guess what, the British made sure that did not happen. You also saddled all the new countries with proportions of Germany and Austria's war reparations; so that their economies could instantly fail and help foster nasty poltical movements.

Quite frankly we all came out of this better than we deserved.


Nick, wrote: "Haha, oh no! Whatever would have happened if you'd been able to defend a cold pile of rocks on the other side of the world? It might have been a small inconvenience for the 500,000 locals, I admit, but I think the 498,000 sheep wouldn't have complained much."

A small inconvenience? Living under Junta rule for any length of time, a small inconvenience? Really?

Mmph. Serious question: How much longer would the Argentine Junta have been able to hold power with the "We liberated LAS MALVIINAS" trophy on their wall?

Ten years? I doubt it. Five? Maybe.

Even three would have been more than an inconvenience for everybody concerned. And I wonder if their fall would have been bloodier in the bargain.


Sideshow? 10-20 million dead, plus two nukes, is a "sideshow?" Taken by itself the Pacific Rim is probably the third largest total number of deaths in a war ever.* Charlie, I don't want to be unpleasant, but your phrasing is somewhat... undiplomatic.

Furthermore, as a US reader who buys your books in hardback, I could do a very long rant about which country's soldiers took the vast majority of casualties while destroying the powerful Japanese Army and Navy, thus freeing China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Korea, Vietnam, The Philippines and a dozen little islands, and whether it was a "sideshow" to the families of those casualties or the people of those countries - but I think you're smart enough to get the hint without me carrying on any further.

*On a year-to-year basis, at least. A couple long-running European conflicts, such as the "Thirty Years War," might have killed more people in toto, but not nearly so many each year.


Sideshow? 10-20 million dead, plus two nukes, is a "sideshow?" Taken by itself the Pacific Rim is probably the third largest total number of deaths in a war ever.

Judging by what he says in the rest of that paragraph, I suggest that OGH means the Pacific war in World War I in which NO US troops were involved AFAIK :-)


"Ignoring the PacRim sideshow"

Compared to the Eastern Front, everything in WWI was a side show (Pacific, Burma, North Africa, Italy, D-Day, U-Boats, bomber campaign, etc.).

Total tank losses in the single Battle of Kursk approached 6,800 (760 for the Germans and over 6,000 for the Soviets).

Patton's entire 3rd Army had only 300 tanks.

Monty had only 1000 tanks at El Alamain.


After reviewing the relevant posts I'd agree. Not least because Charlie would not describe Midway as "Pac Rim" (the clue is in the name "Midway Atoll").

If that's too subtle, Midway Atoll is about as far from any continental coast as it can be got!


You speak as if the Great War was somehow avoidable.

Given the politics, demographics, diplomacy and economics of the era, the First World War was as inevitable as a landslide.

Given the weapons of the time (barb wire, poison gas and machine guns) and theadvantage they gave the defenseuntil the invention of the tank - a slaughter was also inevitable.


The Battle of Tsingtao was a major event no doubt, but compared to the Battles of Passchendaele, Verdun, Tannenberg, Gumbinnen, Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge or even Caporetto, it was fairly small beer


The biggest battle ever fought anywhere anytime was in the Far East between the Soviets and the Japanese, the battle for Manchuria in August/September 1945. A Japanese army over 1.5 million strong was decisively defeated.


I was referring to the "doubly thankful" - those that had no casualties in either wars.

There is a relevant wikipedia page, although the page claims 13 were doubly thankful - while using the same BBC article I linked to in my previous comment. (Having had a less than fun time with wikipedia editing in the past, I'm not going to correct the page.)

You're quite correct that the absence of a memorial is insufficient evidence, and that the actual number is probably impossible to determine, but is almost certainly lower than the 14.

The only point I was making was that (as you certainly know) Britain was severely affected by both wars, and that - to me - is why we have a Remembrance Sunday instead of a Veteran's Day - though some would have it otherwise.

RE: Scotland and Ireland, and the general discussion "No Scottish community appears to have been left unscathed, and no thankful villages have been identified in Ireland". It's not clear from the story whether they mean all of Ireland (WW1) or N Ireland (WW2), and not being a scholarly article it is poorly referenced, but cites people who seem to have spent more time than I have on looking into it.

France had it worse - in WW1 it was literally decimated. China, eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, all suffered unimaginable hardships in WW2. But once you reach the point where every family has lost a mate or a member, there's no point getting into coffin-measuring, except to note that in those places a greater proportion of the dead were civilian.


"France had it worse - in WW1 it was literally decimated."

Sorry, I meant the male population was decimated, which is quite a different figure. Sloppiness rather than sexism. My apologies.


@ 75
I stand corrected - I was, as you surmise, referring to WWI ONLY.


First time around:
err - ever heard of the Zimmerman Telegram?
You had no choice but to join the Allied side.
Second time around:
err - ever noticed that Adolf delared war on you?
Agaim, you had no choice.
I suggest your historical knowledge is a bit thin.


Just a couple of side (snide?) comments on the "US in the first part of the Second Thirty Years' War" issue --

Individual US soldiers made lots of mistakes in 1918. Small units made lots of mistakes in 1918. Even relatively large units made lots of mistakes in 1918. And unit-for-unit, they were still more effective than anyone else... because they hadn't been bled by four years of trench warfare and therefore were not making the mistake of neglecting logistics and rear-area functions and maintenance of operational/strategic reserves in the name of getting more fodder into the front lines.

Further, the writing was more on the wall in terms of logistics than of troop strength. The US hadn't had the "opportunity" to destroy a generation of soldiers, materiel, morale, etc. in Belgium and France and Silesia. Further, a very high proportion of durables that were the foundation of economies throughout Europe were wearing out due to nonreplacement since early 1915. For example, the official US history remarked on the problems with moving supplies from French ports to the front caused not just by the different rail gauge (meaning everything had to be reloaded), but the broken-down and missing rolling stock and locomotives. The implications of that for getting food to the general population should be pretty obvious. Factory machinery was even worse off. Then there was the access-to-minerals problem; unlike every European power, all of the minerals in common industrial use in 1916-20 were available in sufficient quantity in the US, whereas no European power could obtain its industrial needs entirely from within its own 1914 borders.

Western Europe in 1918 was rather like tag-team professional wrestling (which, given the preordained "side plots", etc., is disturbingly close to what appears to have been going on): The UK, and to a lesser extent France, tagged their previously uninvolved partner the US to put a flying supplex onto the Hun... and the match ended with a fake submission hold, to be reignited in a few weeks years with lots of posturing between has-been leaders.


The point about Scottish communities is arguable. No military war memorial exists on the island of Barra (at least that I know of). There is one war memorial there which is explicitly dedicated to fallen members of the Merchant Navy however.


I dare say it was, but in the context of discussion of the 1914-1918 or 1919 war, a comment on the scale of battle in 1945 is superfluous.


some interesting stuff about the impact of actual real life veterans in upper echelons of Government where US foreign policy is concerned.

Tidbits Andrew Sullivan highlighted from that page:

— On issues that concern the use of force and the acceptance of casualties, the opinions of veterans track more closely with those of active military officers than with civilians.

— The U.S. initiates fewer military disputes when there are more veterans in the U.S. political elite (the cabinet and the Congress).

— The U.S. uses more force in the disputes it initiates when there are more veterans in the U.S. political elite.

— Veterans are less likely to accept U.S. casualties for interventionist uses of force than for “realpolitik” uses of force.

And this book seems to merit reading on my part:

Choosing Your Battles:
American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force

Peter D. Feaver & Christopher Gelpi


That's an advantage of the mostly appointed Upper House in the UK. Get to General, Air Marshal or Admiral and there's a reasonable chance you'll get a Life-Peerage on retirement and have a chance of trying to guide policy.



Way back when moons ago at an Origins convention I had the privilege of talking with commercial wargame designers John Prados and Mark Herman about their experiences with the Pentagon.

Both assured me - in separate conversations - that civilian officials were far more tolerant of casualties than actual military officers.


The Legion has certainly changed in recent years. When I was a kid growing up it seemed to be much more of a grass roots movement - perhaps because there were so many WW2 survivors and people who had done national service in the immediate aftermath of the war during Britain's decolonisation period.

But now it seems to be a slick juggernaut that shamelessly uses children (as mentioned above) and celebrities to sell a message. I grew to hate the modern Legion when it decided to take money from the arms manufacturer BAE.

And that is a tragedy, because although we're now talking about grand-children, great-grand-children and great, great grand-children of the survivors of the two wars we should be able to look back in horror at what they went through and admiration for their bravery - even if we can't agree with the cause they fought for.

Cameron's decision to turn this into a feel-good, big audience figure television event that will play well in the runup to the next election sickens me. My grandparents and great grandparents didn't suffer and die in the wars so this greasy nonentity can wrap himself in the flag.

Thanks for writing it better than I could Charlie.


I'm afraid a citation is still needed for the "unit for unit they were still more effective than anyone else".

The rest of it is fine; things were wearing out, shortages etc, we don't often hear about the genuine shortages and deprivation in Germany etc, although Liddell-Hart comments at length on the german soldiers being so starved of good food and such that the advance in march 1918 was slowed by many of them going off foraging and looting and drinking.

Right, other bits - Mosier was mentioned above, with his denigration of the British and French. Unfortunately I looked up for his book "The myth of the great war" and found a wheen of 1 and 2 star reviews by people who give every sign of knowing whereof they write. The long and short of it is that many of the opening chapters are okay, nothing particularly new, but okay, then he goes off the deep end later into a hate of the British and French for various reasons which are, according to the reviewers, total mince.
Read for yourself:

Now oddly enough I bought a book called "The defeat of Imperial Germany" by Rod Paschall earlier this year, it was pretty good until I realised that it's discussion of the last 6 months of the war missed out much of what the British and French were doing. Basically the author spends the last couple of chapters saying how wonderful the americans were, and ignores the actual useful work by the British especially. There's not even a mention that I can find scanning through it of the famous 8th of August! To the author, the end of the war started in October.

So that's two books I've happened upon, both rather well liked by americans, which belittle or ignore the British and French efforts.

In contrast, I turn to Gary Sheffield's book "Forgotten Victory", a popular treatment of the last 30 odd years of revisionist history. Naturally it puts the British first, because by the title the aim is to rehabilitate the british learning during the war and get rid of the old idea of lions led by donkeys. Instead, he writes about the technological improvements and sophisticaiton, in everything from artillery and countery battery fire, indirect laying, to the use of tanks and aircraft in increasing numbers and sophistication.
When we turn to the americans, it's not so good.
For instance, page 253 of the 2002 paperback:
"The results were disastrous for the AEF. The parallels between the American offensives of 1918 and the BEF on the Somme are unmistakeable. In both cases enthusiastic citizen soldiers launches clumsy, frontal assaults; in both cases the inexperience of commanders and staffs was all too evident. General con Unruh, the chief of staff of German IV reserve corps, noted that at Chateau Thierry and Belleau wood in June 1918 he saw "young regiments coming on in masses, exactly the same as earlier in the war I had seen the Russians advance" - although he was impressed by the volume of fire produced by american artillery."

Page 254 - "Irnically, given Pershing's obsession with the rifle, German reports indicate that some Americans taken prisoner had only the scantiest of training with their primary weapon, an asessment confirmed by the AEF's own reports."

"Many of the AEF's tactical problems can be put down to sheer inexperience. In ttheir attack on the Hindenburg line while operating as part of the British fourth army, US 108th infantry regiemnt neglected mopping-up operations, with the result that German machine gunners bypassed by the initial waves were able to fire on American stretcher bearers. This is the sort ofmistake that the BEF had learned not to make as a result of hte Somme, and no doubt many of AEF's errors would have been corrected in time for the spring campaign of 1919, had it occured."

Page 255 - "The AEF did not need to work out the details of flash spotting and sound ranging, for instance; the British and Canadians showed them how to do it. Yet Pershing distrusted the advice given by French and British instructors, whom he regarded as peddlers of trench warfare dogma, and refused to accept more help in training from those quarters."
Later on that page:
"American historians have been scathing about Pershing's methods, Paul F. Braim goes as far as to say that: 'In the main there weren't any tactics employed. Committing hundreds of thousands of infantrymen in a narrow zone direclty against heavily fortified and defended positions guaranteed high casualties and small gains."

"By the armistice in November 1918, the AEF was dangerously close to played out. Its logistic system was groaning under the strain; it had taken 250,000 casualties on the battlefield. At the same time, though, the AEF was beginning to show distinct improvements."


this 'doughboy' nickname, its not a compliment
my granddad told me about it,
'Kneaded in 1914,rose in 1917'
it was a jibe


USian here ....

One of my earliest memories as a very young child, was of Mom buying a red paper poppy from a woman she knew selling them. This is in the northern midwest, so it is very cold (our prairie state's northern border is Canada's Manitoba and Saskatchewan). The brilliant red of the poppy contrasted starkly with the winter white, black and grey sky, streets and storefronts. I still recall her white breath puffs as she fastened the homemade poppy on her coat (as I learned later the ladies auxillary of the local VA club made these poppies themselves in those days). I was fascinated by this flower, a flower I'd never seen where we lived. A little later we 'stopped in' at the grandparents as we did every time we went 'to town.' Grandfather saw Mom's poppy and did something so out of character for him. He kissed her on the cheek. Then he retired as he did, down to his basement cave. I didn't have the vocabularly yet to effectively ask what I wanted to ask. But Grandmom said, "It's the War."

When I got a little older I learned that Granddad had been in Europe for this World War I. He'd loved Europe. He'd also loved New England, where he'd trained before going over. He did get gassed, which is why he spent so much time alone in the basement. Talking was too tiring. When he returned from the war, he wanted to move to New England. But my Grandmother wasn't having it, moving away from her family.

This was my first introduction to the very concept of 'war.' I couldn't have been older than three-going-on-four years old yet. It is very distant from this latest outbreak of soldier and war worship.

Love, C.


Perhaps I should add, that the state in which I grew up didn't become a part of the United States until 1889. Thus the WWI Memorial in our towns is the first war memorial you'll find in this region.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, they have Civil War Memorials and Spanish American War Memorials as well as those to WWI and WWII, because they became states earlier.

Love, C.


Cameron's decision to turn this into a feel-good, big audience figure television event that will play well in the runup to the next election sickens me. My grandparents and great grandparents didn't suffer and die in the wars so this greasy nonentity can wrap himself in the flag.

Very well put - let's not also forget that my/your ancestors suffered in peacetime as well, largely as a result of opportunists of Cameron's ilk.

"A lot of hard-faced men who look as if they had done very well out of the war." as Baldwin described the MPs who abdicated their responsibility for caring for the veterans of the Great War they had profited from.

Perhaps remembrance of the Geddes Axe should form part of the "commemorations"

or would that be uncomfortably close to Osborne's Austerity


I do believe that Charlie combined WW1 and WW2 into a single war before labeling the War in the Pacific a sideshow.

Now, as I posted before, I sort of agree. Eastern Europe and the USSR took the bulk of casualties in both wars, and I know I forget that far too often.

That said, civilian casualties in WW2 in Asia and the Pacific were enormous: most of that 10-20 million deaths are civilians, not soldiers, which is (AFAIK) not the case for the western Allies.

Still, I think we all have to be careful about claiming victimization in either world war, because we tend to forget that many people who don't (or didn't) speak English, and don't look like most of us, had it much, much worse.

In that vein, I'd rather buy a red poppy for remembrance of the dead, and watch Oh! What a Lovely War again.

If we can't do that, perhaps someone should do a tasteless t-shirt with a bull's eye over the heart, centered on a poppy, with the words "Future Doughboy?" underneath. They could sell them next November for the protests. I also think that stylized red poppies are good accessories for Guy Fawkes masks. Just saying.


I do believe that Charlie combined WW1 and WW2 into a single war before labeling the War in the Pacific a sideshow.

Yes he did.

However it isn't just Charles Stross that think the Pacific war was a sideshow

The US Government, Military and Commander-in-Chief at the time thought it was!

The reason civilian deaths were particularly grievous in the Pacific War was because the US adopted a mostly defensive stance until late '43, early '44.

The reason nuclear weapons were used on Japan and not Germany was because the War in the Pacific had dragged on to such an extent because of the more favourable strategic and logistic position in Europe.

Had their not been a Germany first policy in the Pentagon, the outcome would have been....



I was in a very odd state of mind when I read this. When the cascade of thoughts it provoked finished, I found myself thinking, "He wants to be Norman Arminger. Or maybe they do."

I think part of the motivation for all the bellicosity we are seeing from the very wealthy is that they think they will be able to win and rule in vast dislocations that will come in this century, as climate change makes itself felt.


"using DoD data from 2007, 11% of recruits came from the poorest 20% of US neighborhoods. 25% came from the richest 20% of US neighborhoods."

There are many more poor neighborhoods than rich. Therefore many more people from poor families than rich families in the US military. You dun bin hornswoggled by Heritage.


Ah, Raven268....

Cowboy Wally's statistics refer to quintiles. Each is one fifth of the population, so the population sample sizes are, in fact, the same.

We can get into the definition of neighborhood, but it seems to me that since he is referring to the richest quintile in the country and the poorest quintile... the sample source of recruitment population sizes for comparison do seem to be the same.


It's income quintiles •by neighborhoods*--check out the original article.

There are probably, literally, 100 times more poor neighborhoods than rich. The count of neighborhoods is, for some reason, inexplicable I'm sure, omitted from the original article.

"Figures don't lie, but liars sure can figure."


Thanks for the links. I'd point out that there was a grimly practical element to the Germany first strategy: the US needed both to rebuild its Pacific fleet after Pearl Harbor, and to develop the resources needed to take islands back from Japan.

The other issue was that the USSR was officially neutral against Japan until August 1945, and given that the US and USSR were allies, going after Japan in strength would have complicated the war against Germany. Even in July 1945, the Japanese attempted to pull the USSR into the Pacific war on their side (obviously without success--the USSR entered the war against the Japanese AFAIK a day or two after the request.).

So, long story short, the Pacific War wasn't a sideshow (per Charlie), and there was a good strategic rationale for taking Japan on second, rather than first.



The problem I have with your analysis is this:

11 out of every hundred recruits come from the poorest fifth of neighborhoods. 25 out of every hundred come from the richest fifth of neighborhoods, so more than twice as many soldiers are coming from rich neighborhoods as from poor neighborhoods.


I can't really see a German victory over the USSR in WWII happening. Even before the Lend Lease, the Germans weren't able to capture Moscow in 1941. By the end of 1942, they were massively overstretched.

Now, if the USA *hadn't* sent supplies, the war could have gone on for a long time. The USSR had far more manpower, though, and once they began to get organized, the Germans were going to be pushed back, lend-lease or no.

My nightmare scenario for WWII: everything happened as it did until July 1st, 1940, when Hitler dies (plane crash, car crash, stroke-- doesn't matter). This would leave whichever Nazi apparatchik who wound up in charge in control of Europe from France to the Molotov-Ribbentrop line in ex-Poland. Would the Second Fuehrer have been crazy enough to attack the USSR? Probably not. Which would leave Western Europe to enjoy a lengthy period of tyranny. Good thing that didn't happen.


We're certainly back to one of the usual strange attractors here, but it is interesting.
If the offensive had started on time, and Hitler hadn't been such an idiot, it does seem likely that they could have captured Moscow, and it's railway lines, which were rather important to the Russians, or so I have read. Basically Hitler tried to do everything and everywhere at once, with 3 main thrusts, when in fact two would have done - Moscow and the oil fields. With a reduced target list and area of operations they would have been better able to deal with the fact that the Russians had dozens more divisions than the Germans thought they had.
The interesting thing would have been whether any sort of truce would have been possible between them; that after all was the threat Stalin implicitly made as often as he could, and it seems a lot of people in the West thought it possible.


Neighbourhoods aren't necessarily that homogenous; poor folks live in Beverly Hills, well-off folks live in rather rough but gentrifying downtown areas like, say, Little Five Points in Atlanta. A better analysis would be to look at family incomes for military service candidates, assuming most of them are in the early-adult clade (17-25) hence still financially connected to the folks who raised them. Are there any numbers for that?

Another analysis worth looking at would be family incomes for officer candidates versus enlisted candidates; the days when the gentleman ranker was a notable figure are not necessarily past but it seems that privilege hath its rank even today.


I can't really see a German victory over the USSR in WWII happening. Even before the Lend Lease, the Germans weren't able to capture Moscow in 1941. By the end of 1942, they were massively overstretched.

Quite, but the US concentrating resources in the Pacific rather than Britain/Russia means a more protracted/costly war on the Ostfront.

The only reason the USSR was able to outproduce the Nazis was the US and UK guaranteeing Stalin's grain/oil/steam locomotive/motor transports need, allowing the Soviets to [over]produce T-34s, SU-85s, Il-2s, Pe-2s, Yak-3s, Katyushas etc

after Fall Blau, the Nazis were deep inside Soviet territory, in full control of the Ukraine and its prairies, and interdicting Soviet fuel supplies from the Caucasus.


The "Germany first" policy was devised before the US entered the war, and retained even after attack not by Germany, but another Axis power. That "Germany first" survived Pearl Harbor seems counterfactual in itself.

The rebuilding of the Pacific fleet was a critical factor as you say, and it was easier for the US to build lots of Liberty ships to ship men and material to Britain, Russia and the Med than it was to build the aircraft carriers and assault craft necessary for the island-hopping war.

The USA had the latent industrial might to do both at the same time, but Europe got a higher priority throughout. The USSR was still getting Lend-Lease material after VE Day!

Also, to obtain the ability to bomb an Japan from within the range of a B-24 or B-17 required the capture of five or six island groups, and the logistical nightmares that entailed.

Nevertheless it was done...eventually.

However, in the European theatre, you just shipped the aeroplanes to Britain and flew the bombs to Germany from Norfolk or Suffolk!


The red poppy is used throughout the commonwealth as a memorial for the war (largely as a result of John McRae's poem In Flanders Fields),

And odd how everyone seems to forget the third verse:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Basically, "keep fighting for your dead comrades". Not exactly an anti-war poem. I think Eric Bogle summed it up far better.


Furthermore, as a US reader who buys your books in hardback, I could do a very long rant about which country's soldiers took the vast majority of casualties while destroying the powerful Japanese Army


Chinese casualties:
3.7 million military casualties, 20-35 million total casualties.


“Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.”

― D.H. Lawrence

(My apologies if nobody likes him in this WW1 context!)

It bothers me greatly. Are we doomed to cycle² to nowhere again and again ad infinitum, ad nauseam?

Inject some Carl Sagan (sorry, love that guy) to complete the mental "atmosphere", and just choose something/anything from Cosmos really, it all is worth storing up for further cogitation...

I witness a lot of people here know an awful lot about warfare, previous posts included; the politics and machinations of manipulation and suchlike. But what I wonder, in this current world of commerce, Cultural Marxism and personal gain, are we actually making any inroads in solving the real issues that are so underlined by this time of year? and this is to me is what this is about... The remembrance is about attempting to learn and succeed the next time such a problem comes back, and how to evade such problems constantly afflicting our species - and where/when does/can that end?

Oops, this is sounding like a Q. for "Deep Thought" (42), but it is not intended as such, but to wonder aloud (and see if anyone else has noticed the same) on whether there is some solution to the trap of power, and our atavistic urges to the negative aspects to living - voyeurism, sexual oppression, violence and such (the list is long) etc etc... So avoiding Plato (leader/power/volition), why are there not more people spending their brain "horse-power" on solutions? Hmm...

And @ the person whom mentioned Volkstrauertag, a good use of words, more apposite I fear.


The experience of the Aussies was echoed in New Zealand with a couple of differences: a few more servicemen died and the Kiwis fought in Europe in WWII.

One of the side effects of modern education is that no one reads the war poets any more. There are no recollections of the people who died. And there are no old servicemen whispering what happened.

And when we forget, it could happen. All over again: in fact the more pagan and nationalistic we become (the current "unamerican" meme -- which is similar to "inconsistent with European values" scares the shite out of me) the more likely it is that will happen again.

With two teenage sons who would both be enlistable by WWI standards I thus pray (without apologies to the athiests) that it will not be in my time, or that of my children


I do find myself wondering how "neighbourhoods" compare with populations. Does a poor neighbourhood contain the same number of people as a rich one.

Also, the top quintile is massively larger than just the people who could be called bosses. Household incomes are certainly comfortable, but a huge chunk of that group are the people such as Doctors and Lawyers who could be grouped in the upper middle class.

There's a bewildering amount of data on this that is available on the net, but it seems clear that comparing quintiles just isn't good enough. You probably need to be looking at the top 1%, which is still a huge number of people. That's one or two families in a large English village, and on the order of 10,000 families in the British Isles of 1914. That feels in the right range for the ruling class of the time, and still could be high.

The top quintile would have to include, in that old-time village, most of the actual farmers, the shopkeeper, people who have to work for a living and who went to the same village school as their neighbours. They would not have been taken as officers in 1914. By 1918, the survivors might have been, commissioned from Sergeant. (And that alone is a sign of how big a change the War made.)

It would be different now, but the governing class would still be mixed with a lot of relatively ordinary people in that top quintile. It's a lousy measure for comparing the military enthusiasm for the ruling class.


On the "thankful villages", I live in the next village to one of them.

The local war memorial bears a couple of family names my father reckoned were from the that village. Because of the railway, this one was maybe where they moved for a job, or a house. The distance is short enough that they could have walked from one to the other as an easy commute.

I don't know if that Thankful Village even had a pub in those days. There isn't one there now.

The next village southwards is tiny, essentially a small "big house", an ancient church, and a few scattered farms on land that was maybe not brought into cultivation before the late 18th Century. But in the days of horses every farm needed a lot of people.

I suspect the Thankful Village status is an accident of administration. Where did the War Office send the telegram to? Was some soldier's mother working at the big house, just across the Parish Line?


Firstly a big thanks to Guthrie for pointing out the clip that has sparked the furore.

As someone who crossed swords with Cameron when we were both students at Oxford, I was very surprised by the reports of what he had said. Remember the upper echelons of our politicians are not daft, they just march to a different (and usually inaudible) drum-beat to most of us.

For those not living in the UK, you can see the effects on the British population (~37 million in 1921, with 1.3 million men dead during 1914-18) look at the population statistics (flip to 1921):

You'll note a lot of babies (of both sexes) died during the 1919 pandemic. But there is also a male/female imbalance for the 20-40 somethings.

I'll post some more personal -- and I think more shocking -- indications of the traumatic effect of WW1 later, if I get time.


The USSR was still getting Lend-Lease material after VE Day!

Yeah. That might just have had something to do with supporting an allied nation in the build-up to this. (For which Americans should probably be jolly grateful: because it was this, rather more than the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that convinced the Japanese government that they were fucked if they didn't surrender to the USA. Thereby saving probably a million American lives, not to mention countless war wounded and tens of millions of Japanese lives in the long run.)


Since no-one else has said it, thanks for this personal account of knowing a gas attack victim.


@Dave Lester: "there is also a male/female imbalance for the 20-40 somethings"

My grandfather survived WW1 (apart from anything else, he was a Quaker and a conscientious objector and spent some time in Wormwood Scrubs); he would have been 31 in 1918. Obviously he had kids, as he wouldn't be my grandfather.

But he had four sisters, none of whom married or had children, I assume mainly due to a dearth of men in their age bracket.


"I can't really see a German victory over the USSR in WWII happening."

Quite the contrary, Hitler came within an ace of beating the Soviets in late 1941. Had the Wehrmach taken Moscow, the Soviet regime would have never survived the loss of prestige. Not to mention Moscow's importance as and industrial center and transportation hub. In the USSR all railroads quite literally led to Moscow. It's loss would have made strategic rail movement by what was left of the Red Army well nigh impossible. By the summer of 1942 German mopping up operations would have reached their Barbarossa stop line of the Volga river and either seized or cut off from what was left of Russia the all important Caucasus oil supplies. Assuming what was left of Russia wasn't ruled by a White Russian collaborationist government similar to Vichy, future Russian resistance would have been weak an ineffective with half their population under occupation, all of their POL supplies cut off, all their decent agricultural lands behind German lines, and most of their industry in a state of disorganization.

A second scenario for Russian defeat involves the near death of Stalin during the opening weeks of Barbarossa. Suppose Stalin does not pull out of his emotional nose dive after the early German kessel victories at Minsk. He was in a near catatonic, emotionally depressed condition for the first weeks or so of Barbarossa. In this scenario, Stalin eats a bullet in his dacha outside Moscow. The now leaderless Soviet state has to sort through a succession struggle while being gutted by Germany's panzers. Given the centralized nature of the Soviet state, it is quite possible that a leaderless USSR would perform much more poorly and perhaps even collapse during the crucial first three months of the invasion. A winter line of Leningrad-Gorki-Rostov becomes a real possibility with the confused Russian government unable to organize effective resistance let alone major counter-attacks. The Caucasus oil fields and the Volga river are within reach for the Germans in 1942. A (probably White) Russian government ruling in the Urals signs an armistice by the end of 1942.

As for the Western Allies, the British were in grave danger from being strangled by German U-boats (the only thing Churchill said that he feared during the war). A direct invasion of Britain would not be necesssary to bring them to their knees. Had Doenitz posses a few dozen more u-boats at the start of the war, or if the British had failed to break the Ultra Code (or conversely, if the Germans wised up to the fact that the code was broken and changed their u-boat signal codes), the Germans would have won the Battle of the Atlantic. Britain would have been starved into submission.

As for an isolationist America, it would have been in danger by the early 1950s. Plans for a V-3 ICBM were on the drawing boards at Peenemunde when Berlin fell. They had even tested a U-boat launched ballistic missile (in tow behind mode) in 1945. Without those same German rocket scientists there would have been no American rocket or space program. With the resources of all of continental Europe (an the colonial empires of their puppet regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia), the developemnt of a German atomic bomb was an eventuality. A rain of atomic warheads delivered on every major American city by the mid 1950s is a near certainty.


It's not obvious to me that the piece linked to, nor necessarily the DoD have an agenda with their report. But reporting by quintiles seems odd to me, and reporting by neighbourhoods too. That's from a non-USian and non-demographer perspective mind: maybe it's the typical form of reporting for US demographics like this. But I would naively expect quartiles not quintiles, and I would expect household income, not neighbourhoods - I find it hard to believe the DoD doesn't have that information.

It's also recent data - not necessarily true about the era being discussed. Both world wars had conscription, which isn't current present. That almost certainly skews the demographics. I don't know if a "GPA of 2.5" is particularly challenging but I would like to see the data (the fact that I can't find it after a few googles makes me wonder why the DoD report their data this way even more - it's clearly not a completely standard form). If, for example, 75% of people from the richest neighbourhoods are achieving a 2.5GPA but only 25% are serving then 1/3 of those that could are choosing to enlist - which seems high to me but ok. However, if only 12% from the poorest quintile are achieving that grade and 10% are serving then the Army is the escape it's reputed to be - if you can scrape the grades, it's basically your way out for everyone. I doubt the stats for education are *that* extreme but it's not clear from the data presented what's going on.


The statistical method appears to be chosen to lead to an invalid conclusion: that there are more children of "rich" families than "poor" families in the military. This doesn't tally with my experience, and the questionable statistics strongly suggest that, in fact, the presentation of the data is deceptive, and the conclusion is false.

Hey, it's Heritage.


Heritage is a radical-right organization; you don't seem to be aware of it. Statistics presented in a way favorable to their politics is a normal part of their output.


von hichthofen ...
Not quite
The "Germany First" policy was agreed at the highest level: Roosevelt + Churchill + thier top General staff officers.
Partly because the Nazis were seen as a greater threat & partly because the US had to build not only two larhe armies, but re-constitute their Pacific Fleet (& win the battle of Midway) before they could even start, down at Guadalcanal (Euw) to re-capture what Imperial Japan had siezed.
A logistical problem, in fact.


I interpret that poem differently.
I think the writer was speaking to the sucessors - those who would come after that war, that the trust & sacrifice would not be betrayed.
But it was, & has been & still is being betrayed.
The curse he wrote, however, has not (yet) come home to roost.
When it does, it will be a black day (Year)


Would the Soviets have ever surrendered, knowing that they faced extermination?

If the Germans had managed to take Moscow, could they have held it for long? The Siberian divisions that, IRL arrived in Moscow to assist with the defense wouldn't have been far away. They could have counter-attacked and taken the city back.

We'll never know, of course.


@ 117
"Gott mitt uns"
On the uniform of every Imperial German soldier & also of the Nazis.
Your non-apology to the atheists shows you to be profoundly ignorant, if nothing else.

I am seriously unimpressed, in case you hadn't noticed.


Heck. I'm derailing the thread. Delete as necessary.



OK, I agree that the statistical method is bugus - what the hell is a "neighborhood" in this context? -,

But the thing is, the poor just do not have the education the US military seeks in recruits.

The one percent do no contribute in any meaningful way to the pool of recrjuits, I tend to agree.

But the upper 20 percent? I think they do. There has been some angu8ishing in the blogosphere over how 0t he US Army in particular has gotten "Whiter" over the course of the past decade due to a loss of support among Blacks for the war - a perfectly justified attitude, I think.

But. This study won't show that, it is too flawed. The US Military does keep track of the socioeconomic background of recruits, the info is available.

*Armoring up for a renewal of old Usenet SHWI battles.....*

DanielDuffy, errr... you need a long chain of What-ifs here. For one, what if the Wehrmacht actually attack Moscow.

Just being in a position to make a realistic grab for said capitol requires the Landsers to do quite a bit better than historical performance for Army Group Center.

Now sure, without the Excellent Southern Adventure that bagged Kiev and two thirds of a million Red Army troops,the Boys in fledgrau have more time and resources to go for Moscow... but then the troops not destroyed at Kiev are available for a nasty counterattack against the southern pincer of the Moscow envelopment.

Stalin eats a bullet, Timoshenko steps in. Predator pressure from the Germans will keep the STAVKA/Politbureau infighting to a minimum.

If Stalin is that bad off... Timoshenko may be the one firing the bullet.

V3? The German scentists don't have American resources to play with, and do have Nazi internal bickering and empire building to deal with.

The Convair MV776 program would still be chugging long. THAT is the technical predecessor for the Atlas ICBM, not the V2.

We learned a lot from the V@2s we captured, but it was how to handle rockets, not build them. We would have built and practiced with MV776's instead.

Would a V3 actually have been able to hit NYC? What was the CEP for that thing, was it within a 20 (or fifty) kiloton blast radius?

And the Bomb itself. Jewish physics,anyone? The USA still gets the damn thing first.


It looks as though figures from the US Census are reported by quintiles, but for household incomes, not neighbourhoods.

The US Army publishes demographic figures so if anyone is really interested, and knows stats, they can have a go.

As for the Heritage Foundation, there's a Wikipedia page giving their history, and the issues they were involved with during the terms of various Presidents, but there's an odd gap between Clinton and Obama. They're a Right-Wing think-tank, but that gap is weird.


Certainly not aware of it - I poked a bit but I don't keep up with think-tanks on this side of the pond, let alone on the US side. The bits I did poke didn't make it obviously right wing to me, but US left-wing is pretty right-wing from where I'm sitting.


On the demographics of recruiting, I wouldn't trust Heritage Foundation as far as I could throw them. I did find another site which is

and indicates that the top 20% and bottom 20% both make up around 16-17% of the Army intake. More comes from the middle.


Attributed to both Dudley Moore and Peter Cook: "American Politics? Very simple. You have the Republicans - the equivalent of our Conservative party, and then you have the Democrats, the counterpart of our Conservative party."


It's absolutely certain that more Chinese soldiers died fighting the Japanese than soldiers of any other nation, certainly by at least one order of magnitude, possibly by two.

However, the Chinese did not take their casualties "while destroying the powerful Japanese Army." They took their casualties while, at best, achieving a stalemate and after losing considerable territory. What might have happened if the US had not intervened is unknown, and given the number of complex factors involved, unpredictable. I suspect that in the end the Japanese would have been driven from the mainland, but that's mainly speculation on my part.

Please note that no offence was intended - I was mainly targeting OGH's less-than-diplomatic treatment of the Pacific War - the US is a major market for Stross books, but with enough intemperate language that could change. (Personally, I don't care and I'm not making any threats, but there are a shitload of powerful jerks in the US and many of them have microphones.)

I should also note that OGH's feelings towards Cameron are entirely appropriate - the PM clearly made an ass of himself.


@121 -- You're very welcome.

I had the very good fortune to have what even back then outside our isolated rural world didn't have so much: long, close relationships with four grandparents and a great-grandparent. I was always demanding they tell me about 'when you were little like me.' I also spent hours all way through even my high school years poring over the photograph albums, of which there were many, as both my grandmothers were camera lovers.

Is this why I was called to be an historian?

Love, C.


Even if the Nazis took Moscow, and the Soviets had to retreat to the interior with or without the vozhd, smart money would still be on the Soviets.

In order to strangle the Soviets, you'd have to take Baku, which is as a far from Rostov as Berlin was from the Molotov-Ribbentrop line in Poland.

Also, the Nazis could have a military capable of crushing the Red Army and the US/British/Canadian armies in the West, with Tiger IIs and Me 262s galore.

a ballistic missile programme,

and a nuclear weapons programme

but crucially not all three at once!

The Manhattan project was an expensive luxury for the Allies, and a small consumer of manpower and resources compared to the M4 Sherman or B-24 Liberator production lines.

A nuclear weapons programme would have crippled the Nazi war economy just as surely as the V-weapons did.

The true success of the Combined Bombing Offensive was stoking Hitler's ruinous obsession with revenge weapons.


First, my bad on terminology: "Unit" in US military parlance means "battalion". Most of the "horror stories" of US units that one sees about inexperience, poor marksmanship, etc. are relics of the then-common practice of making companies up from local areas (and compared to the draftees in the front lines from the European powers in 1918, weren't that far off).

At the battalion level — and above — measured by both (a) achieved mission objective, and (b) didn't give up that mission objective in the inevitable counterattack, my general citation is to the official Army Air Corps histories, particularly around St. Mihiel. Unfortunately, my copies are packed away at the moment so I can't be more detailed than that... except to note that the German histories I've read (again, packed away and/or still in the Pentagon libraries because I never had personal copies) made the same point. That's not to say that there were no awful American units; it's only to say that at the battalion ("operational") level and above, the incidence of "bad" battalions by 1918 was no greater than that of any other combatant — and that's primarily because of logistical concerns.

It's somewhat ironic that the American inexperience with trench warfare meant that it had not reset its entire system based on three years of static trench warfare at a time that even infantry warfare was evolving out of the trenches... and that American doctrine therefore still required mobile logistical support.

And this is definitely a tangent, except to note that once again the logistical tail is wagging the teeth of the dog, which was my main point.



" ...and they have the Democratic party, which is like" - pause - "our Conservative party."


I'm with you on the risk of the UK and USSR being defeated, but ...

As for an isolationist America, it would have been in danger by the early 1950s. Plans for a V-3 ICBM were on the drawing boards at Peenemunde when Berlin fell. They had even tested a U-boat launched ballistic missile (in tow behind mode) in 1945. Without those same German rocket scientists there would have been no American rocket or space program.

Von Braun and his team did sterling work with liquid fuels, but lest we forget, US liquid-fueled ICBMs proved to be a first generation stop-gap; the real breakthrough was IIRC made by Jack Parsons and involved solid fuels -- that's what Polaris A3 ran on and, later, Minuteman, MX, Pershing, et al. And Polaris went from drawing board to in service in about four years flat in the 1950s. If the USA witnessed a Von Braun A4 launch (V2), let alone a V2 bombardment, the missile gap would have closed fairly rapidly. (Lest we forget, nobody really had guidance platforms that could target an ICBM at intercontinental range with a CEP much less than 5-10km before the mid-fifties. As Vannevar Bush pointed out in his other 1945 study, the one that -- correctly -- ruled out ICBMs (given 1945 guidance and warhead technology constraints).)

By 1942 the British Tube Alloys project was well under way -- it merged with the Manhattan Project in 1943, but began to roll in late 1941 -- and it's a certainty that a capitulating UK would have shipped the likes of Tizard and the Atomic scientists to Canada and thence to the USA, purely as a "fuck you" gesture (not to mention many of the scientists in question being Jewish and not enthusiastic about the Third Reich).

The Manhattan Project can therefore be expected to proceed at a similar or higher priority in this counterfactual; in our history it began producing pits in July 1945 and was ramping up to make 3-4 a month by the end of 1945 when VJ was declared. It's not unreasonable to expect the USA in this time line to therefore have up to 200 A-bombs on inventory by mid-1947, with more piling up on the production lines.

Also note the B-36 program commenced in 1941. Its original remit was to develop a bomber that could carry a 30 ton bomb load from CONUS to Berlin and return; only later was this turned into "carry an H-bomb from CONUS to Moscow". The prototype first flew in August 1946, arguably late due to competition for war resources from 1942 onwards. While the RLM was working on an Amerika Bomber, heavy bombing wasn't a Luftwaffe priority after Walther Weaver's death; so I suspect by 1947 in this variant time line the USA would be fielding B-36s with A-bombs in significant number, while the Reich would still be messing around with paper designs for a long-range rocket and the odd prototype similar to the Me 264 or Ju-390.

The main threat to the USA in the 1942-47 time frame is probably the Royal Navy's flat-tops in Kriegsmarine hands -- demanded as payback for 1918 and the fate of the Imperial Navy. A bunch of ex-RN carriers with Stukas (or more modern dive bombers) on board and supported by U-boat wolf-packs would clearly threaten the US eastern seaboard.

My guess is therefore that sooner rather than later -- some time circa 1947-49 -- Hitler would say something stupid in public, the US/Reich cold war would turn hot, and the USAAF would teach everyone all about carpet-bombing with A-bombs. Messy, very messy ...

(This assumes Hitler's Parkinsonism didn't get to him first, leading to gradual replacement by a junta and then relative pragmatists, for Nazi values of "pragmatist" -- let's remember that the Reich had chronic economic management problems: the invasion of France in April 1940 was essential, as otherwise Germany would have effectively been bankrupt by July-ish.)


Hadn't noticed the Heritage Foundation angle first time around; thanks for clarifying.

(Heritage Foundation: right wing think-tank recycling slush money from the Koch brothers. If you're ignorant of their political orientation, just bear in mind that they take after their father, who co-founded the John Birch Society.)


Don't worry; the original thread has reached the gloopy turning-grey consistency of plasticine or indeed any toy that comes within a 50cm radius of the mouth of a 9-month-old baby, and is of course spiralling down into close orbit around one of the usual Strange Attractor topics.


What writers of "hey, lets explore how the Nazis won the war would affect thing" fail to realise is that Germany is thirty-one flavours of fucked, whichever aggressive path it takes.

Without access to vast quantities of raw materials [which it doesn't have, even if it did hold the Caucasus], vast quantities of manpower [which it is busy killing off] any initial success is bound to be short-lived.

If the Nazis had built no V-1s, V-2s, Me262s, Bismarck-class battleships, Tiger IIs, et al it would have stood a better chance than it did - in many ways the way WW2 played out for real was the best case scenario. 8-o

However, the moment when Germany's chance for continental domination came and went while Hitler was still a Bohemian Corporal.

A moment between Lenin's arrival at the Finland Station and the second battle of the Marne.


The last sentence is an insult to donkeys. And an acquaintance of mine was kind enough to track down the text of Cameron's speech and reproduce it here, not sure of the source.

Very seldom have I ever wished serious and lasting physical injury on someone the way I wish it on David Cameron right now.


THanks Jake, lets quote some of it shall we?

From the breathtaking sights of the hanging gallery to the unforgettable smell of the trenches, from great art - like this painting of The Menin Road by Paul Nash - to the many moving stories recorded from the front line, the Imperial War Museum is not just a great place to bring your children - as I said, as I’ve done - it is actually a special place for us all to come, to learn about a defining part of our history and to remember the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for us, from the First World War to the present day.
So it's to be reduced to the wow factor of smelliness is it? Hmmmmm.
And I'm sure all the ex-colonies are really happy to have played their part in providing targets for our soldiers.

As Major J V Bates from the Royal Army Medical Corp wrote:

‘Being our first experience of war, we men were not so much frightened, as very excited. It wasn’t until after two or three weeks of continually fighting rear-guard action, reconnaissance patrols and seeing our mates killed and wounded that the real horror of it came home to us. And if everyone else was as frightened as I was, then we were all petrified.’

Four months later, one million had died in the heavy artillery battles that actually came before the digging of the trenches. Four years later, the death toll of military and civilians stood at over 16 million, nearly 1 million of them Britons. 200,000 were killed on one day of the Battle of the Somme. To us, today, it seems so inexplicable that countries which had many things binding them together could indulge in such a never-ending slaughter, but they did. The death and the suffering was on a scale that outstrips any other conflict. We only have to look at the Great War memorials in our villages, our churches, our schools and universities.
OKay, so far so good. It seems his speech writers have been doing some work at least.
But wait

Second, I think it is also right to acknowledge the impact that the war had on the development of Britain and, indeed, the world as it is today. For all the profound trauma, the resilience and the courage that was shown, the values we hold dear: friendship, loyalty, what the Australians would call ‘mateship’. And the lessons we learned, they changed our nation and they helped to make us who we are today.

It is a period of our history through which we can start to trace the origins of a number of very significant advances: the extraordinary bravery of Edith Cavell, whose actions gained such widespread admiration and played an important part in advancing the emancipation of women; the loss of the troopship SS Mendi, in February 1917 and the death of the first black British army officer, Walter Tull, in March 1918, are not just commemorated as tragic moments, but also seen as marking the beginnings of ethnic minorities getting the recognition, respect and equality they deserve.
OKay, we've got a general brushing over of all the other things we can learn from the war, a mawkish sentimentality and ticking of boxes marked 'minorities'.

On the other hand, this bit actually makes sense and I have little to say against it:
Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations, and I am determined that Government will play a leading role, with national events and new support for educational initiatives. These will include national commemorations for the first day of conflict, on 4th August 2014, and for the first day of the Somme, on 1st July 2016. Together with partners like the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the custodians of our remembrance, the Royal British Legion, there will be further events to commemorate Jutland, Gallipoli and Passchendaele, all leading towards the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day in 2018.

The ending of the war must be the focal point, as a climax to remind people not to be so fucking stupid.

Speeches really are a shit way of putting things across, aren't they?


and it's a certainty that a capitulating UK would have shipped ...#
Errr ... no.
The UK would have copied Norway & the Netherlands with a government-in-exile (Canada) & not surrendered (officially) A figurehead would have been nominated to "Submit" but not surrender ...
Of course there would have been quislings ... which would have made the retaking & subsequent bloodletting, err, interesting.
Plans were actually laid for such an eventuality, IIRC.

The main threat to the USA in the 1942-47 time frame is probably the Royal Navy's flat-tops in Kriegsmarine hands
No chance at all - not after Mers-el-Kebir ...
the RN would have been ordered to "Run or Scuttle - no third option allowed"

@ 147 & 148
OK let everyone look at the masterpiece of a great painter - usually known as (just?) a "society" portraitist - J S Sargeant. The picture is simply called: "Gassed".
Obviously, again, that Camoron is a traitor & a liar - just like Blair.


The Heritage Foundation airbrushing Dubya out of history is all that any honest person needs to condemn them. Thanks for pointing that out.


OK let everyone look at the masterpiece of a great painter - usually known as (just?) a "society" portraitist - J S Sargeant. The picture is simply called: "Gassed"

Here, I'll save a little trouble:
It's an image that popped into my mind when when the subject came up.


And I should record, in this context, a line I heard at a dinner party in California last year -
"At the start of the second world war in 1941....."


Charlie, of course you're entitled to your opinion, but it would do everyone a lot of good if you read Richard B. Frank's Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire before you trot out the idea that it was the Soviet army on the march in Manchukuo rather than the atom bombs. That book is based on declassified archives from both sides, and was written to be as definitive a documentation of the last days of Imperial Japan as possible at this date.

According to the Japanese archives, it was primarily the atom bombs. In particular, it was the fact that the Americans dropped two of them in close succession, and promised more (with a list of targets, no less) that convinced the Emperor to surrender. At that point, the only option the Japanese had for defending themselves were human wave defenses against the projected American invasion of Kyushu. When the Americans demonstrated that they didn't have to invade, and that they had even more destructive weapons than the fire bombs they had been using (which caused, IIRC, bout afour times as many casualties as the atomic bombs), the Japanese emperor managed to get his top officers to agree to surrender, and managed to survive the abortive coup that was staged to stop his surrender.

It's worth reading, for a wide variety of reasons, and one is that it puts the soviet involvement in perspective. The major issue there wasn't the projected invasion of Hokkaido, it was that the Japanese could not count on the Kwantung army to reinforce the homeland against the US invasion, because that army was already in tatters due to the Soviet attack.


"(For what it's worth: I suspect a chunk of the differing attitude to war of Americans comes from the fact that there haven't been foreign enemy boots on the ground in the USA since 1814."

Well, technically 1916.

But given fewer than a thousand involved there on both sides, yeah.


I think Eric Bogle summed it up far better.

Oh hell yes.

Robertprior is referring to Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", a song about the futility and carnage of the Battle of Gallipoli.

Sung from the point of view of an infantryman, now a double amputee, who watched most of his mates get pureed over the course of a few weeks.

The Pogues do an absolutely amazing cover version of the song.


Rod (COL?) Pascal was a US Army Historian, a focus on the US Role is to be expected from him. Not sure what his end rank or position was, no Wikipedia entry and don't think I ever personally encountered him.


Technically, or not so technically really, 1944 - the Japanese invasion of Vattu, an Alaskan Aleutian island.


Quite possibly, and you'll understand my view that even good once-removed testimony is starting to get rare.


"the RN would have been ordered to "Run or Scuttle - no third option allowed"

Nicholas Monsarrat's wartime account Three Corvettes is good on this. He and his RN comrades already had the example of Free French and Free Polish ships sailing with them on the Atlantic convoys, and they would have been far more likely to head for St. John's or Halifax than scuttle their ships.

Didn't a lot of the French sailors at Mers-el-Kebir assume that they were going to be invited to join the British fleet that sank them?


I'd disagree about the Bismark class. Just by existing in a Norwegian fjord, Tirpitz kept a British fleet tied up for most of the war, absorbed a fair bit of the novel submarine systems effort for several months, and tied up 2 of our most elite bomber squadrons as well for several months.

As to the Me-262, there's evidence that the Jumo turbojets were being subtly sabotaged (a few file stokes undersize on a "christmas tree" were enough to cause the gas erosion that resulted in the 12 hours MTBF), and this was also the time of the Gloster Meteor and early US jets were entering development too.


DJPoK @ 160
Yes ... but the French admiral got a very bad case of stiff neck & refused.
Not a good day.
Meanwhile, of course, there was a similar French squadron in Alexandria, which did very quickly surrender to the RN.
The ships IIRC were either interned or became Free French & the sailors dispersed, to either FF units, or back to France.
No bloodshed at all.
Pity Mers-el-Kebir didn't go the same way.


I second Heteromeles' recommendation of DOWNFALL BY Richard b. fRankj.

it is a very good read, and his account of the attempted coup against the Japanese Emperor, well, not only gripping, but it really is a news flask to many people, they don't even know it happened.

One thing that Frank demolishes is the idea that there were competing plans for forcing Japan to surrender, an idea which seems deeply ingrained in some.

Strategic Bombardment/Blockade, Invasion, or Drop The Bomb.

No, he makes very clear that there was one plan: All Of The Above, a unified campaign.

With use of Chemical Weapons not conclusively ruled beyond the pale, just to give everyone an extra dimension of hell to contemplate,


Yes, I agree that the push to get Japan to surrender was all of the above, but IIRC, it went, in order:

--firebomb (which caused a majority of direct casualties)
--blockade, mine, and destroy bridges. Most commerce in Japan went by boat, with a few critical rail connections. All harbors were mined, and inter-island railroad connections were destroyed, by August 1945. Hunger was a problem for most of a year after the surrender.
--atomic bombs
--invasion (Operation Downfall)

Note in the following comment that I'm definitely not a fan of nuclear weapons, and if we manage to get rid of the damn things, I will be very, very happy.

That said, I'm pretty sure the American commanders of the time hoped that the atomic bombs would persuade Japan to surrender, because the alternative (Operation Downfall) was going to be the bloodiest battle of the war, with hundreds of thousands to millions of people dying on both sides. The Japanese were hoping the invasion would happen, because they were counting on the US having no stomach for that kind of butchery, and signing a peace agreement that preserved the monarchy. The Japanese were probably right about us, too. According to Downfall, something like 20% of Americans polled in July 1945 did not want the invasion of Japan to go forward. That number would have undoubtedly climbed as the casualty figures came out the invasion, and it's not clear that Truman would have been able to finish the invasion had it happened. In this context, I'm persuaded that the two atomic bombs caused fewer deaths than Downfall would have. They were, in a sick but real sense, the more merciful option.

Getting back to Charlie's original assertion, the one thing that Soviet involvement caused, aside from regaining the the Sakhalin islands and precipitating the Korean war, was to preserve the Japanese monarchy. The emperor and at least one of his brothers were clearly war criminals, but MacArthur quashed their prosecution. The general was worried that demolition of the Imperial house would have unleashed chaos in the streets, opening a big space for Japanese communists to take over the country and create a communist Japan. To prevent that from happening, MacArthur propped up the emperor, and one result is that Japanese right-wing nationalism is alive and frothing to this day.


Spam alert @ 158, shengqioaling
Also looks like they left some in the New Bookcover thread.


Getting back to the OP... I was struck by Cameron's repeated comments in the speech about visiting the Imperial War Museum as a small boy and then later taking his son there. And it occurred to me that we were watching someone still playing war games and shouting TAK-A-TAK-A-TAK-A with a tennis racket machine gun. This is Lord of the Flies territory with Dave thinking he's playing the part of Ralph but actually being Jack Merridew.

On a slightly different tack, I've long been bothered by the patriotic propaganda inherent in a lot of Victorian Anglican hymns. I vow to thee my country. There's no better sacrifice than giving your life for your fellow man. Etc, etc, etc. There's nothing like using religion (when religion mattered to a majority of the population) for manipulating people into wanting to be cannon fodder. Or at least, not complaining too much. Back in 1914, these hymns were well known and well understood in the UK. There's some rich semiotic pickings in there amid the usual questions of whether this was deliberate, reflected or unconscious propaganda.


To clarify and be less harsh, I get that Charlie gets fed up with talking with "ignorant Americans" and I can sympathize. I get fed up talking with ignorant Americans and I probably have to do it even more than Charlie does. I enjoy Charlie's ribbing of the US, even when it's unfair, especially when it's unfair because then I don't have to be feel guilty about whatever it is we might have done. But yadda, yadda, yadda-ing the War in the Pacific? That's a bit much if you want to be taken seriously. Perhaps you didn't. In which case, carry on.

Greg: I have read this time period from Poland and France and Germany and Russia and postcolonialism, as well as the UK and the US. It's a big freaking world and judging by your contributions to this site, while you seem to have read a lot of books, they all seem to have been written by the same kinds of people with the same basic ideas. There's a forest above the trees and a bunch of tiny ecosystems beneath it. To your more specific comments, we did not get forced into going into WWI, at least not by anyone external. We could have stayed neutral. You forget that the evil British Empire would have fired on any merchant ships we sent as a "neutral" to Central ports. The U-boats were just an unexpected, unpleasant tax on our intentional decision to make a profit by trading with you. No trade with you, no Zimmerman telegram. As for WWII FDR wanted a war with Hitler and he had a genuine fear that Pearl Harbor would prevent that. (Seriously, the post-attack attitude in Congress was heavily in favor of solving our own problems first.) Hitler solved that problem for him.

Someone above was appalled by an American saying the war started in 1941. Everyone has their own perspective. The war in the Pacific arguably started in the 1930's. The war in Poland ended in 1947 or 1948. The Finns no doubt have their own timeline for the conflict as do the Vietnamese. Even for the official war, there's a lot of detail that just gets ignored because it does not fit with the big themes people get fed in school in their particular national education system.

To get back to the central theme of the post, France and Britain relied heavily on colonial troops to occupy the Rhineland. They could not levy enough home troops to do the job and the ones they had they needed for the colonies. Whether the main cause for this was demographic or morale based, it still is a signal of how badly the War damaged Europe. Strangely enough, the Nazis did not systematically cleanse the 10,000 or so Afro-Germans who resulted from this policy. They were still there in 1945.

There are of course a million psychological theories about how fascism is a search to replace a missing (or deformed or otherwise inadequate) father.


"Strangely enough, the Nazis did not systematically cleanse the 10,000 or so Afro-Germans who resulted from this policy. They were still there in 1945."

An alternative view:

African German mulatto children were marginalized in German society, isolated socially and economically, and not allowed to attend university. Racial discrimination prohibited them from seeking most jobs, including service in the military. With the Nazi rise to power they became a target of racial and population policy. By 1937, the Gestapo (German secret state police) had secretly rounded up and forcibly sterilized many of them. Some were subjected to medical experiments; others mysteriously “disappeared.”


That's worse than I heard before, but still better than I would have expected given the circumstances. And isn't it a terrible world where I can write those lines.


I don't want to sound nasty, but if around San Mihiel, the salient which the Germans were evacuating when the Americans attacked, is the ideal, then you or rather your sources, aren't making much of an argument. It was an important battle, but hardly a major part of the last 4 months, if you see what I mean and the Americans did plenty more fighting before and after it.
They did at least gather a fair load of prisoners, a good sign that the German soldiers were losing the will to fight. BUt the British army captured almost as many inthe period of 18th July to 11th November as the French, American and Belgians combined, despite having a smaller army, capturing 188,700 versus 196,700.

My main source is Gary Sheffields "Forgotten Victory". SOmewhere near the end he also says that the British commanders have been accused of being too slow in following up the Germans, or not setting ambitious enough goals for a days fighting, but he points out that setting goals you can make, rather than as in earlier the war, ones you can't, is a good thing and shows improvement in knowledge.


For fellow Canadians who may have missed it, here's Rick Mercer's reaction to our conservative party's treatment of disabled military veterans (made while grabbing Remembrance Day photo-ops, of course).

For non-Canadians, Rick Mercer is a well-known Canadian comedian. This is one of his rants (that's what they're called: "Rick's Rants"), where he skewers something stupid someone influential has done. Black comedy, but damned good black comedy.


Sorry for replying to my own message. I hit "post" too soon — I'd meant to include this rant as well:

(Our government's solution to closing Veterans' Affairs offices? They can download an app to their smartphone. Because every WWII vet has a smartphone…)


Charlie --

Regarding the Nazi V3 counterfactual proposed -- which you rightly shot down with 'US liquid-fueled ICBMs proved to be a first generation stop-gap; the real breakthrough ...was solid fuels -- that's what Polaris A3 ran on and, later, Minuteman, MX, Pershing, et al.' it's ridiculous for a couple of other technological reasons, both fascinating to any student of technology history - --

[1] In 1953, even missiles bearing A-bombs would have performed too inaccurately to hit targets at intercontinental distances. The game-changer was that H-bombs, with their far greater thermonuclear yields were going to become reducible to practical throw-weights.

And for that insight –- as with the digital stored-program computer, the A-bomb's detonating mechanism, the maths formalizing quantum mechanics, game theory, and much else –- John von Neumann was largely responsible. In March 1953, at the height of his Cold War eminence as head of the von Neumann Committee for Missiles and a member of various bodies like the Atomic Energy Commission, von Neumann attended a conference on intermediate-range bombers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. There, alongside fellow Hungarian Edward Teller, he told the assembled brass that the Teller-Ulam design for the “super” –- tested the previous year with Ivy Mike, a eighty-two-ton thermonuclear fusion device that produced a 10.4 megaton explosion –- would be downsizable enough that by 1960 the U.S. might construct such H-bombs at less than a ton.

If von Neumann was the initial catalyst for the ICBM – as he phrased it, “nuclear weapons in their expected most vicious form of long-range missile delivery” – in von Neumann's audience, a 42-year-old U.S.A.F. colonel called Bernard Schriever immediately grasped the idea, arranged a meeting with von Neumann at Princeton to enlist von Neumann's aid, then formed alliances with figures high enough in the Eisenhower administration to get an ICBM development program launched.

Schriever had a significant personal motivation. Curtis LeMay was trying to destroy him, after Schriever told LeMay that the nuclear bomber project -- origin of the molten-salt reactor -- was impossible because it could never generate sufficient thrust for take-off. Schriever isn't as well-known today as Hyman Rickover or Leslie Grove, but was apparently even brighter. NASA's Mercury and Redstone projects relied on adapted versions of his ICBMs, and he also established the contracting system Apollo relied upon.

Schriever even looked the part --

[2] While ICBMs were initially very blunt weapons, their guidance systems advanced very rapidly. What enabled that was U.S. development of the semiconductor at Bell Labs in 1947, and then of the microprocessor and the integrated circuit. In 1963, one-hundred percent of ICs made in the U.S. were bought by the Pentagon; even as late as 1967, seventy-five percent were still being bought by the U.S. military.

Contrary to Silicon Valley's myth about itself, therefore, the Valley was entirely built on government, military spending -- and specifically military spending for the U.S.A.F.'s ICBM guidance systems and for the SAGE early-warning system in the 1950s (a significant ancestor of the ARPANET.)


As to the idea that the US sends off poor minorities to die in its wars, the reality has been a bit weirder. For the first half of the 20th century blacks served in segregated non-combat units. There were exceptions like the Tuskeegee Airmen, but they're notable for being the exceptions that fought damn hard to see combat. (As an aside, IIRC Gandhi campaigned hard for the right of Indians to fight in WWI). Latinos and Asians didn't fare much better, though if there was a lack of "whites" in the draft quota they might have been used to fill out a unit.

President Truman signed an executive rider desegregating the US military in 1948, but real desegregation didn't really start until the Korean War. The Vietnam War was when the issue of political weak people being forced to fight really came up. Since it was an unpopular war with a draft people would use any means they could to avoid service and that left the people with the least social capital in the lurch. After Vietnam though the US switched to an all-volunteer force and took integration very seriously, to the point where the military is now probably the most integrated institution in the country. While the officer corps still isn't at parity, it's a helluva lot easier to find a black general than it is to find a black Fortune 500 CEO (Googling now there are currently 6 of the latter).


One thing about Gallipoli is that while there is a tendency to regard it as an Australian tragedy, there were more British and French present (and dying) than Australians...

Anyway, I've been in California with work this week, disappointed that it caused me to miss my annual visit to church (I'm an atheist; but I go to the Remembrance service). Instead, I visited the local memorial on Sunday. The US tradition of observance meant that it was deserted at the time; I spent Sunday explaining why I was wearing a poppy.

To those who wonder about how close the Germans came to defeating Russia, I commend this thread; the generally agreed opinion of many was that the relevant Fuhrer directive (linked in the thread) is every bit a work of fantasy as Operation Sealion.

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"



There is a joker in the Russia Stands Alone deck, one that few talk about.

It is not in Great Britain's interest that a single power dominate Europe.

At what point does GB start selling raw materials - at increasingly generous terms - to the Reich?

When do British Empire factories start manufacturing finished goods for the German war machine?

When the Germans are hanging on desperately to the Dvina/Dnepr line?

When the Red Army clears the Heer from Russia proper and reenters Ukraine/Byelorussia?


Japan, Oh God. Japan will have the undivided attention of the British Empire and the United States. Maybe they will go with Strike North.

They will not like what Zhukov and the lads do to their bright shiny Kwantung Army.

IF the Reich is starting to rely on British Empire goods and services... does Hitler declare war on Japan if Japan goes with Strike South?

Oh God.


late reply to Cowboy Wally at 35, and not a snarky one either ... the various branches of the American military provide a respected and respectable career structure because the US outspends everyone else on the planet? so there are a lot of positions to fill...
by contrast, the UK is currently cutting its regular army manpower by around a fifth because of financial pressures...


Apparently (I think it's in the book "Hitler's Table Talk"), when Singapore fell he apparently said that he wished he could give UK some battalions to "hold back the yellow men".

That must have been the point when the penny dropped for at least some of the brighter sparks on his crew. . .

Anyway, let's not give too much thought to this brand of counterfactual. In our timeline at least, the good guys won.


"Contrary to Silicon Valley's myth about itself, therefore, the Valley was entirely built on government, military spending -- and specifically military spending for the U.S.A.F.'s ICBM guidance systems and for the SAGE early-warning system in the 1950s (a significant ancestor of the ARPANET.) "

There's a great YouTube video called 'The Secret History of Silicon Valley'.


This is a nice example:

"War casualties account for just 0.05 percent of total life-years lost annually"

which I assume makes it more then 0.05 of the population deaths since we have very few battalions of 70 year olds (I hope).


hecklebalzer @ 174
For a skewed aside on that topic, please look at this blog entry and note the role of Abbie Sweetwine.
Who came back to Britain once or twice, at least, & was honoured & loved in that part of London ...




Ok, Late to this thread, but FWIW if anyone is still interested I have (Finally) posted brief notes about a couple of my favorite books about the Military History if WW I to my personal military blog.

And I have a couple of more books that give a bigger overview of the "Lions Led By Donkeys" (Alan Clark, The Donkeys, 1961) meme and it's historiography. But that will wait a couple of days, I do recommend the Battle for Europe: 1918 by H. Essame for anyone seeking a short account from a now vanished perspective.


Apparently I don't have permissions to view your blog - you might like to check who can access it.


I can't read it either (and I'm logged in with google/blogger.)



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 11, 2013 5:17 PM.

Making history personal was the previous entry in this blog.

Polite request is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog