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Shieldwall: Barbarians! Writing and self-publishing an old school boy's young officer story set in Attila's invasion

My Dark Age adventure, Shieldwall: Barbarians! is Young Adult, meaning, in this case, Sharpe or Conan but without the shagging, and with slightly more moral compass - really you can read it as being "in the tradition of" Harold Lamb and the Pulpmeisters of Yore and ignore the YA tag. When I wrote it, I had in my head "Robert E Howard does Rosemary Sutcliff (but not that way (though they would have made a lovely couple))".

It's also an old-school young officer story, albeit with a barbarian prince as the protagonist, and it's set in the Dark Ages during Attila's invasion of Europe. 

All this seemed like a good idea at the time.

It all started with, "Daddy, how did the Roman Empire fall?"

My son "Kurtzhau" must have been 7 at the time. He was going through a Roman phase and had discovered Rome Total War... a game which certainly improved his reading skills and granted him a precocious knowledge of Ancient Geography. (It also turned out to be a hell of an educational tool. "Daddy, I took too many cities at one go then my empire collapsed."/"That's called Strategic Overstretch, son.")

So I trotted out the answer I'd learned at university: one or more of the following killed the empire-- Religion. Disease. De-Romanisation of the army. Barbarians.  Economics. Tax dodging by the rich.

"Yes, but how. What exactly happened?"

So like a good parent, I dug out my old history books, bought some new ones. Found out what actually happened.

Holy Shit! It's epic stuff.

True, the broad sweep is pretty gradual. It doesn't really fall so much as... well it's like one of those psychology tests: is it a bearded lady or a hot girl in a fur coat?

Faced with a failing population and endemic tax dodging by the rich, the Romans pad out their Western empire with semi-independent barbarian settlements. The barbarians probably always think of themselves as separate kingdoms but acknowledge the Emperor as overlord and to an extent pose at being Roman. Over the years, that acknowledgment becomes more nominal and the pose less earnest. Then King Clovis I sneezes and the Roman cobwebs blow away to reveal Early Medieval Europe.

However, the devil is in the details. Rome burns. Two emperors and a great general die by related violence. There's Attila's invasion, the French Helm's Deep - the First Siege of Orleans - where I put my hero - and Chalons (I can never spell Catalaunian Fields), a battle so apocalyptic it sounds suspiciously like Ragnarok.

Jordanes, writing a generation after the event, has 100,000 dead on the field after the clash. That's obviously an exaggeration, basically chronicler speak for "Lots". However, if you assume an error by a factor of ten, then a typical 10% casualty rate, you get perhaps 50,000 a side, plausible given the armies involved (remember, "novelist", so plausible is my benchmark), pretty much Waterloo but with cold steel.

Just like at Waterloo, when the sun came up on the second day, nobody could move for exhaustion and shock. In this case there was still fighting to be done, but Attila slipped away - or did Count Aetius let him? - in order to invade Italy, retreat, then die under suspicious circumstances.

Wow wow wow wow! I had forgotten how very cool this all was (as long as you didn't have to live through it.)

This, plus listening to a lot of Viking Metal, resulted in Shieldwall.

I'd already been tinkering with the idea of writing a YA story, something for Ranger's Apprentice fans to move on to.

Commercially, the idea was, "They're going to read Bernard Cornwell when they are older; let's take some money off them now." However, my main motivation was wanting to write something my son could read - the magnum opus my agent was shopping owed too much to the War of the Powers (Am I the only person who remembers that series?). I also wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Welch, the YA writer I read when I was a kid.

Welch was a WWII veteran turned grammar school teacher. He wrote what we would now call YA books about young officers finding their place, and he did it in just about every major conflict involving English combatants from the Horns of Hattin, through Marlborough's campaigns, to his chronologically last book, Tank Commander, which is an utterly awesome tale of World War One, culminating in the Battle of Cambrai, the first modern tank assault.

We're not talking trash here. Each book was well researched, the writing is good - he even won a Carnegie Medal for Knight Crusader, which puts him in the same ballpark as Rosemary Sutcliff. As far as I can see, his star faded after his death, not because of his quality as a writer, but because he became unfashionable:

  • His books simply have boy cooties. They are about young men learning leadership and responsibility while being shot at and shooting back without qualms... doing their job in adverse circumstances.
  • He's not an anti-imperialist. I don't think he's pro-imperialist either. He just tells things as they were with people accepting the ethos of the time. His characters generally show matter-of-fact respect for other cultures, but don't question their own right to be in Palestine or India or wherever, or question very much at all.
  • He's not anti-war. His fight scenes also go all the way up to 11 on the Conan Scale. I don't think he likes war, but - having fought in WWII - he sees it as necessary, and the experience itself as worthy of writing about.

This last, bears further examination.

Modern war books aimed at younger people tend towards:

OMG my best friend just got killed. Look at that dying horse. War is Hell. At least I and my friends will (drum roll) Preserve Our Humanity.

Ronald Welch, who pulls absolutely no punches, by the way, is more:

OMG my best friend just got killed. You there, put that dying horse out if its misery. War is Hell. Watch the left flanks chaps and some of us will get to live through it. I said WATCH THE DAMNED LEFT FLANK!!

It's all about taking responsibility, keeping presence of mind, in just about the most hostile human environment.

Very few young readers will grow up to be soldiers. Many of them, however, will face crappy situations. At work when a project implodes. Socially when people turn on them. In a family when a child is very sick, or when a marriage breaks down or turns abusive...

In all those circumstances, there are points neither for maintaining a personal moral hygiene nor for being sensitive. If everybody is going to get through this thing, somebody has to watch the left flank. That person may well be you.

And that's the kind of book I wanted to write.

I wrote it for boys because I have a son, and, frankly, a rampaging early Dark Age warband more easily lends itself to male rather than female agency. (This isn't a zero sum game; I'm planning something for my daughter with a female protagonist. I'm also tinkering with an SF ensemble piece with viewpoint characters who just happen to be diverse in terms of gender, orientation and romantic arrangements. However, I only have one pair of hands to type with.)

I was also interested in exploring the consequences of the call it - "rugby club masculinity" I myself flinched from as a youth. For this reason, I had Hengest, my protagonist, partly raised in a Roman household as a hostage. A bit like Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon, the jocks-with-spears lifestyle does not come naturally to Hiccup. He has to learn to negotiate the monkey games and somehow save his warband from terminal testosterone poisoning. (Unlike Hiccup, Hengest racks up quite a high personal body count while he does this.)

The setting posed certain challenges to a writer of a broadly liberal mentality.

I dealt with the issue of ethnicity as a marker for allegiance by being both factual and matter of fact about it. The real facts are, contrary to earlier scholarship, the different tribes weren't actually ethnically homogenous, rather they included whoever they picked up. This was especially true for Attila's army, really a mobile multi-cultural empire. And it was easy to be matter of fact, since nobody in the early Dark Ages really looks particularly good from the comfort of a modern coffee shop.

Gender was harder since this was deliberately a story set in a man's world. I made sure it was clear that manly men doing manly stuff wasn't the only show in town. The female characters have their own agendas and agency, just not usually on screen. Where the paths do cross... well that would be a spoiler.

Violence? I believe that the right kind of violence does solve some problems (take a look at the map of Europe). And, I enjoy both reading and writing good fight scenes. However I think it's important that violence should have consequences... not so much handwringing Aesops as physical attrition, unpleasant ends, and personal tragedy.

So I had great fun writing the thing, took Hengest all the way to holding the breach at Orleans (several sequels planned if it sells) and sent it off to my agent.

He liked it and sent it on to publishers.

Boing!

We are talking a pinball machine level of bounciness here.

My book rattled around without finding a home. In the course of this, it got what I hope will be the most frustrating rejection email of my career: An editor loved it, thought it was a "classic", spent a page and a half discussing its virtues, then passed on it because they were "only comfortable marketing Fantasy".

Gah!

But the editor had every right not to gamble on the book if their gut told them not. Hence, with considerably less to lose - with a cover by Hugh Hancock - I put the book out myself.

It's not the only book like it. On Kurtzhau's Kindle you'll find Bradford's Young Samurai, Scarrow's Gladiator and there are battered copies of Jim Eldridge's excellent Black Ops books on his shelves. What other YA military/action adventures have you come across? What did you grow up reading? 

In hindsight, I should have set my book in Fantasy Land with a dark lord and orcs. I would have, except the AD450s are so damned cool! To visit this war-torn era yourself from the safety of your own e-reader -- shameless plug! -- click through and buy  Shieldwall: Barbarians! (UKAmazon-free Epub).


Well that's my stint over. It's been great fun, and I've enjoyed the comments. I'm a bit hung over and bruised -- last night was German Longsword Fight Night at my HEMA club -- but I'll stick around to join in the cut and thrust of debate. If you want more of the same, find me at my regular spot over at Black Gate Magazine, at my own site www.mharoldpage.com, or on twitter

432 Comments

1:

I remember the War of the Powers. I still have them on a shelf behind me somewhere. I must admit I did a double-take and read a bit more carefully after reading YA and no sex and then WOTP in short order!

My biggest regret really is nearly all my books as kids had boys as protagonists, or as the leaders of groups of children. I'd love to be 40 years younger if only so I could grow up with the YA books around today and look up to Katniss, Tris, Kate Elliot and the like. It's hard to remember what I was reading when I was 7. Arthur Ransome was around then. The Hobbit for sure, I think LOTR was a bit later. I'm not sure when I grew out of The Famous Five but around then.

I enjoyed a lot of CS Lewis, Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet and it's sequels. I never got into Biggles but I read some. I think it was the Willard Price "Adventure" series too.

Later on I added Margaret Attwood, Doris Lessing, Vardeman obviously (I bet that's not a sentence you see often!) Moorcock and more. And as it became easier to get US published books where I lived (or so it seemed) I added more and more both Golden Age and the new fantasy explosion.

2:

You might hate me for this.

There are all sorts of barely-known bits of history, if you're not into that particular narrow field. Some get a passing mention in TV documentaries, and are mostly forgotten.

That's how I first heard about Ahmad ibn Fadlān who, in 921m was a member of an embassy of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to the king of the Volga Bulgars. And he left a written account, including a description of a Viking ship burial.

There turns out to be rather a lot of evidence for Viking contact with the Islamic world, overland via Russia. It's much the same trade routes as brought Vikings to Constantinople. There are Arab coins scattered across northern Europe.

And then Michael Crichton took the character into fiction in Eaters of the Dead and applies the authorial blender to Beowulf. When that was filmed as The 13th Warrior he was played by Antonio Banderas.

I can't see Hollywood touching that character today...

And the general history, the accumulated evidence, will pop up and then be generally ignored. The latest iteration is an Islamic ring, found in a Viking grave that was excavated in the 19th Century. It was sitting buried in a collection until it was examined with SCIENCE! and the inscription recognised for Arabic.

Anyway, the Volga Bulgars lasted until the Mongols turned up. Though the Russian Princes were getting greedy.

3:

> My biggest regret really is nearly all my books as kids had boys as protagonists, or as the leaders of groups of children. I'd love to be 40 years younger if only so I could grow up with the YA books around today and look up to Katniss, Tris, Kate Elliot and the like.


Yes, modern YA and middle grade are fantastic for that. No trouble finding books for my daughter with strong female role models. It's also good that Kurtzhau's books routinely treat women as equal players. (As a litmus test, you should have seen his flabberghasted reaction to the original ending of the Knight of the Kitchen - how could Sir Gareth not want to marry the witty and robust Linnet?)

4:

> You might hate me for this.

Hah, no. I love this stuff -- and was familiar with the examples you gave. There's also the English settlement of the Black Sea region after 1066. Lots of history that goes up to 11.

Have you read any Harold Lamb?

5:

In all fairness there were books with female characters around. Black Beauty of course, the execrable Mallory Towers and their ilk. I just didn't want to read any of them.

I managed to avoid Jane Austen and the like until I was old enough to come to it on my own terms and I quite like it. She's got a wicked sense of humour in there that's probably wasted on most people when they get forced to read it. When I read it in my 30's I loved it because although I hope it's still not me, I know enough people like that to understand it better than I ever would have done at 15 or so. It's hard to get the comedy of manners and class when you're not really that worried about status and social class in the same ways and although teens certainly are, the "he has two thousand a year" doesn't make sense really as a marker of status, or wouldn't have to me. But she has a lot of good female role models. And some "OMG, don't go there!" ones too which serve a different sort of useful purpose.

Although we've mentioned her and the reasons not to read her, MZB did a lot of good female role models for me when I hit my 20's and could get access to her books. But that was 30 years before her name was tarnished.

6:

My impression is that the dearth of strong female characters
was really only so from the late 18th century to the early 20th,
roughly corresponding to the neo-puritan era. That won't stop
the more petulant feminists from complaining that the inherent
difference between the sexes is entirely due to men suppressing
them, though.

There always will be more 'action' heroes than heroines, simply
because that is the way humans behave. It's very basic to the
behaviour of most social mammals. And, if society wants stories
based on 'action', ....

7:

Action, of course, not being the only or even best form of agency.

I certainly see plenty of strong female characters in medieval literature.

8:

I don't object to reading stories, or seeing films and TV shows with men in the lead roles. What I want, and what I lacked as a child, was a range of leads, of role models.

And it's perfectly possible to make books, films and TV shows which fit into the action genre with female leads that do perfectly well. People that say otherwise cherry-pick their evidence to suit their prejudices. Xena and Buffy on TV. Hunger Games and Divergent in both print and film for example. The latest Mad Max film should probably have been called Imperator Furiosa, it was much more her film in the Mad Max universe, but perhaps that's more of a shared one.

I'm not advocating we only have women action heroes, that we only have fantasy with female leads. I don't think I've seen Chris Hemsworth in anything else, but I'm hoping the next Thor movie is a good one, with plenty of Tom Hiddleston's Loki too and you can't get much more testosterone driven than that clash.

But we shouldn't be told we can't have adventures, we can't lead the rebellion, we can only be a figurehead because we have breasts instead of a penis. In all fairness to Vardeman his female characters were rarely merely figureheads, even if they were pretty sexualised. But being kick-ass and getting the guy was half-right for me. Being kick-ass and getting the girl had to wait a while longer or for fanfic.

9:

> Being kick-ass and getting the girl had to wait a while longer or for fanfic.

It's on my list so I find the following heartening:

> And it's perfectly possible to make books, films and TV shows which fit into the action genre with female leads that do perfectly well.


10:

you should have seen his flabberghasted reaction to the original ending of the Knight of the Kitchen

With my oldest son, it was his reaction to the ending of PTerry's "Nation" (excellent book, strong female protagonist) - utter dismay that the heroes hadn't lived happily ever after.

In response to your "young officer story", the single most realistic, relevant, and useful set of cautionary tales for officering (i.e. mostly peacetime) as I may have mentioned it before, is George Macdonald Fraser's "The General Danced at Dawn".

It's a masterpiece, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Suitable for YAs, too. None of your "Watch the left flank" stuff here, it's mostly about the niceties of the job; what it's like to carry out that first parade and inspection at the start of your first job as a Platoon Commander? What it's like to try and cope with that wretch in 3 Section who will either break it or lose it? The continual worry about whether you're any good at the job? If you want the battle stuff, then he captures that in "Quartered Safe Out Here" (another masterpiece) in an unsurprisingly thoughtful way.

I did insist that firstborn read QSOH and "HMS Ulysses" (but considered it too much to insist on "The Cruel Sea", "First Flight", and "With the Jocks") before I allowed him to read anything Warhammer-related...

11:

> If you want the battle stuff, then he captures that in "Quartered Safe Out Here" (another masterpiece) in an unsurprisingly thoughtful way.

Yes, a bit of Quartered Safe Out Here (plus Storm of Steel and With the Old Breed, and various WWI after-action reports from the Tank Regiment) went into Shieldwall. Also, Grossman "On Combat", especially for the neuro physical experience of combat.

Like Bernard Cornwell, I am not a soldier, but I have studied the first hand accounts of soldiers, and as importantly, spoken to real ones.

> None of your "Watch the left flank" stuff here, it's mostly about the niceties of the job; what it's like to carry out that first parade and inspection at the start of your first job as a Platoon Commander?

"Watch the paperwork old chap" is also a useful lesson, but less interesting than, "Huns! Rah!" That said, Hengest finds himself sorting out the wounded, arranging quarters, keeping his men sober(ish) negotiating with local civilians...

> What it's like to try and cope with that wretch in 3 Section who will either break it or lose it?

Yes indeed. Rank in Germanic war bands owing much to monkey stuff, Hengest has the added problem of fragging: his senior NCO (warchief) is also his brother in law and has his eyes on the throne.

> I did insist that firstborn read QSOH and "HMS Ulysses" (but considered it too much to insist on "The Cruel Sea", "First Flight", and "With the Jocks") before I allowed him to read anything Warhammer-related...

Ha yes. I did read one or two first hand accounts to Kurtzhau, memorably "I sank the Bismark" and the wonderful "Out of the Rat Trap" -- more or less the General Danced" but Africa Corp, with an escape at the end. If you've not read it, you should, if only for the Bedside Cabinet of Siva
(review: https://www.blackgate.com/2014/12/19/review-out-of-the-rat-trap-desert-adventures-with-rommel-by-max-reisch/)

There was also a book of first hand accounts of Waterloo, which is where I got the post battle exhaustion from for Chalons -- that and Grossman.

We also watched some good WWII documentaries, especially that one with the veterans of both sides comparing notes at Omaha.

There's this other thing. Long ago he and his friends started running around the garden going "Bang! Bang!" and there was something horrible about watching my son run across open ground like that. Out came the Osprey WWII Infantry Tactics books.

I think it's fine and normal for kids to take an interest in things military, but it's important that they treat it with an appreciation for the realities. It's also better for their brains.

12:

I agree. You may be surprised to know that the situation was
(and perhaps still is) even worse for males - stereotypes were
rammed down our throats, even in my time, but it's a bit better
now. I find it very sad (and alien, but most people seem to
think that of me!) that most people are so one-dimensional in
their attitudes.

As M Harold Page says, action is not the only agency, and I
find it disappointing that extreme forms of it now dominates so
much of so many fields. Things were better, even a century
ago. But, again, science fiction and fantasy are rather better
than most 'mainstream' writing, where an even smaller set of
stereotypes seems to dominate :-(

13:

(Just to say: It makes me sad that we can't all sit and have this conversation over beer.)

14:

Which "First Flight"? It's rather a common name for books.
On this topic, I can recommend "The Jungle is Neutral", though
it says very little about the hardships compared to what they
were!

15:

These posts have been interesting, though I haven't really had any comments to make. I aways like to see how different writers work, and hopefully learn something.
One problem I have is the attitude that Wars/Battles/Monarchy = History! I think I've always taken a bottom up view, rather than top down (the Marxist view, I think) that the majority of history is what happens in between, and that war is the failure of diplomacy or rulers bypassing it (? I think I'm not putting this as well as I'd like--it's early here) Yes, wars & battles are major turning points, but most of history is what led up to them and the aftermath.

My attitudes are probably colored by being and American Army brat, growing up on post-Vietnam Army posts. And having a father that, today, might be considered a War Otaku. BTW it was my mother who joined the Army after the divorce, my father only played pretend, reenacting.

This is to say, wars aren't what I usually want to read about, there's the occasional exception. Of course, Y'all are free to do what you want.


As for my own writing, I've always had what would be considered a diverse cast of characters (in terms of ethnicity and gender), which I think comes from growing up around people from all over. It wouldn't have occurred to me to have a homogeneous group. That is, until I had the idea for the next story I want to write which is inspired by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition. A total sausage fest. I suppose I could have flashbacks, but I don't care much for having loads of backstory shoved in.

16:

I have to note that you said something that looks rather time-bound to me: "Very few young readers will grow up to be soldiers." That was true as early as the Victorian Era (when Kipling could rebuke civilians for their contempt toward enlisted men), but I think there have been lots of times in history when fighting in wars was a common life experience. It says something about our society that it's not.

17:

Not that I know enough about the end of the Roman Empire, but there is another take on it, and it goes like this:

Rome ended in 1453 CE, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. Yeah sure, the Western Roman Empire fell when the barbarian king Odoacer took the throne of Rome in 476 CE...or did it? That would be Flavius Odoacer, who was a Roman soldier, but whose parents weren't Roman. Oddly enough, the historians disagree on where his parents came from, but equally oddly, few mention that his personal name was Roman. AFAIK, he's considered a barbarian king only because someone called him "Rex" in a surviving document.

We actually see this kind of "crash" in modern corporations all the time: a large corporation that's too big to exist in its current form sheds its struggling divisions, radically rebuilds its corporate culture, rebrands itself, and keeps going. In a certain light, it looks like the western part of the Roman empire was in serious financial and logistical trouble, that they tried splitting it off as its own company (excuse me, imperium), and that it fell apart on them, while the remaining imperium underwent a major shift in corporate culture and survived, smaller but still functioning, with different language, religion, and hierarchical structure, for almost another 1,000 years. We're so focused on the history of our doomed divisions that we really downplay the other half of that story.*

Another weird thing is Odoacer, because there's echoes of similar craziness dating all the way from Babylon to Barack Obama. People with foreign names are always the barbarians taking the place down, at least in books written by more reactionary historians. What are they actually doing? It's harder to tell. According to the archeologists of the Fertile Crescent, those "barbarians" who took down various and sundry city states were often present in those city-states for generations before, suddenly, one of their own becomes the ruler. This gets interpreted by historians around that time or slightly later as a barbarian invasion, but the actual archeological record doesn't seem to show any violence during some of the periods in question. Funny how that happens.

Since I live near the US/Mexico border, it's akin to us describing the US taking Mexican territory as an invasion by northern barbarians (look at all those cities with Spanish names ruled by people with Anglo surnames!), then talked about the reconquest by the Mexicans when the politicians start having Spanish surnames again.

We could equally (and equally wrongly) envision the vast numbers of migrants currently crossing the US border, even as we militarize it, as some sort of barbarian invasion. In the US-Mexico case, we're seeing a massive economic migration caused in large part by US economic policies on everything from international trade to drugs. One of the outcomes of shifting borders and centuries of history is that occasionally, we get people with "foreign" surnames in positions of power.

It's hard not to see parallels between what we're seeing on the US southwestern border and what the western Roman empire saw on their northern border. Thing is, empires of any sort (including the US) absorb and naturalize a lot of people. It's tricky, long after the fact, figuring out when there's a real invasion, when there's a real collapse, and when shifting populations and demographics have simply naturalized a population of people who used to be foreigners.

That's not to say the dark ages didn't descend on western Europe, but it is to say that we in the west have to be very, very careful about how we look at that history, because we've been trained to see a very regionalized collapse as something of epic and epoch-making proportions.

*This ignores the whole strange history of the Holy Roman Empire.

18:
One problem I have is the attitude that Wars/Battles/Monarchy = History! I think I've always taken a bottom up view, rather than top down (the Marxist view, I think) that the majority of history is what happens in between
You've opened the door for my touting my favourite history book, John Darwin's After Tamerlane; a book that looks at history via economic and social forces rather than war. Partly this is down to the near-orbital level view taken to cover so much of the world for such a long period of time, partly due to its thesis that European success was accidental and not as complete as we like to tell ourselves. It's so unpreoccupied with war it disposes of World War 2 in about a page.
19:

Whilst it's lazy and a generalisation, I've found a lot of adults who seem not to like thinking for themselves in my life. As someone who has worked, and still does part time in adult education, I spend a fair amount of time trying to make them think. You'd imagine that, since adult education is voluntary, they'd be willing to try but it seems not to be true.

In all fairness there are a lot of counter examples too and I'm just feeling jaded today.

But I suspect for a lot of people if they can apply a label to someone, they will and then just assume they know how they'll react. As long as it's not too outrageously outside that behaviour pattern they won't change it. I don't know what label they apply to you, but they apply it and off they go.

I, of course, am perfect and never do this. I also never even slightly misread posts when they're near hot topics and fly off at tangents and rant.

20:

Ahh yes, William Spiers Bruce. I often thought his expedition, and the contacts with the Argentinians and handover of Orcadas station may have had more to do with the Falklands issues than popular history would let on.

He deserves far more credit than Markham ever let him get for funding and successfully completing a proper scientific expedition to Antarctica, a decade before Mawson did the same.

Neil Oliver did a good series episode on him a few years back in The Last Explorers

21:

@everybody

Yes, a lot of resonances between America and Western Europe and "fall" of the Roman Empire. See especially tax dodging by the rich and vassalification (I made up that word) of what passed for the middle classes.

What is real History? Great question. Agree that often military history isn't actually that significant. Also, most of the wars I like reading about were both amoral and pointless. However, War is a great place for Story, and Battle often illuminates what goes before and after.

Sweeping narratives. Haven't read "After Tamerlane." I do recommend Why the West Won (for now). It's not random, according to this well informed classics professor, but is is "just" geography.
Short Review here: https://www.blackgate.com/2015/03/20/the-history-manifesto-and-sweeping-histories/

Yes, few young readers will grow up to be soldiers. Thank god. As a parent of a boy, I note that male privilege evaporates under fire.

I think, though, it's a good thing for a culture to remember that war exists and that it is sometimes on your doorstep. History can take some odd turns.

22:

anonemouse @18: Thanks, the book sounds interesting, I'll have to look into it.

Mayhem @20: Didn't know about the Falklands bit. I hadn't gotten that into the research before being distracted by my current story. I'd had an idea for a horror story dealing with an Antarctic expedition, and lucked into the SNAE during early research, obviously my tale would be very loosely based on it. Thanks for the link.


One thought I had after posting was that war stories are usually best (imo) on the level of individual characters (or something along those lines)--but that's true of all stories. And I haven't read enough of that sort of fiction to have much to say. I could go on about other reasons I haven't, but that's too much of a tangent and we haven't even gotten over 50 comments yet.

23:

> One thought I had after posting was that war stories are usually best (imo) on the level of individual characters (or something along those lines)--but that's true of all stories. And I haven't read enough of that sort of fiction to have much to say. I could go on about other reasons I haven't, but that's too much of a tangent and we haven't even gotten over 50 comments yet.

It's an interesting line of investigation!

I think combat makes for easy to understand conflict that the reader can identify with, fear of death and injury being a universal.

I think it's also like Horror stories. We're interested to see how people react.

24:

I think combat makes for easy to understand conflict that the reader can identify with, fear of death and injury being a universal.

I think that's what I had in mind. Exploring how characters deal with extreme situations.

25:

It is of course a trap for unwary novice writers. Having combat going on isn't the same as having a plot.

26:

Not a fan of war stories. Too often, stories about war dismiss most of what life is about as irrelevant.

I also don't understand the need for guns & swords (testosterone-based?) warfare in SF/F.


In fantasy, if you have a powerful wizard or three or many, and a magical power struggle ensues ... what is the point of having foot soldiers whacking each other insensate if the battle/war will be decided by magic?


Same with SF and space battles where you have ships moving at respectable percents of light speed engaging each other. First off, how the dickens could they ever anticipate the 4-dimensional position of the enemy ship? Space is enormous, the slightest difference in initial angle/vector would send you millions of miles off target. And, even the tracking signal is subject to error/revision ... as it can't travel any faster than light. In fact, you'd probably have to go through some major voluntary coordination to get two or more ships within a couple of million miles of each other on the same day, let alone within a millisecond ... in time for the photon torpedo of about 0.2 inches diameter to hit a ship 1 million miles away. (As ever, anyone who actually works in/has studied the aeronautics/space industry please feel free to correct this impression.)

What I can envisage as future SF warfare is laying energy traps/barriers: basically passive warfare that sucks the energy out of the enemy's ship or supermassive caltrops to bend spacetime. But I guess the special effects folks wouldn't like this much.

27:

Haha yes. A realistic future sucks for blasters and space marines.* There are ways around this. I'd say "watch this space" but it won't remotely be your cup of tea.

*Though Jack Campbell carries it off.

28:

> I also don't understand the need for guns & swords (testosterone-based?) warfare in SF/F.

I'm reminded of a war story, I'm not sure which war, but I think Gulf I. The Americans didn't have troops on the ground so much. The British had a group of lunatics called the SAS. The SAS shot and stabbed people and also laser painted targets for the RAF. The RAF bombs hit their targets much more accurately than the USAF/US Marine Corps bombs. Shortly thereafter the US armed forces started using the tactic and by Gulf II it was part of their doctrine too. Not for all circumstances: Shock and Awe vs an armoured division in the desert, maybe not so much.

They also train the British Army in things like building clearance. A lot. And talking to people and things like that. How good do you think magic, super-weapons and so on are at that? Yes, a bomb might easily kill 100 soldiers or more, demolish 10 houses or more. Many more if go nuclear. But there are many times you want to keep the buildings. Soldiers with guns and the like are better than area-attack weapons, soldiers, spells or whatever for that. If you can add a light-sabre or whatever and effective on the future-field, I imagine people will go for it. "Here's a weapon that will chop through any armour you can wear and let you deflect any energy weapon attacks if you're well enough trained." It's a magic woo-woo stick but if you could make it, it's not a terribly hard sell.

And even if you don't, which side won when the USA bombed the hell out of the forests of Vietnam and the Vietcong poured soldiers with guns down? The argument they only won because people back home stopped supporting the war is kind of true, but ignores the fact that the North was willing to keep fighting and was putting in enough troops and killing enough US soldiers often enough and for long enough that the protest movement spread from "peace loving hippies" to be if not a majority (I don't think it was ever really counted formally) at least a big enough proportion of the population that it became impossible to ignore.

29:

If you really wanted to base a story on some extraordinary events in Antarctica, read Home of the Blizzard, by Douglas Mawson. His tale of survival is frankly astonishing.

Of course, no-one would believe it.


HMS Ulysses is one of the great war stories, Alistair Maclean had a knack for them. Paper thin characters, and the women were almost non-existent other than as trophies, but boy could he write a tale.

On the one hand, I like a good battle scene, on the other - you need to see it through a character's eyes to make it real. I think that's one reason I loved Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice so much - you have lots of short quick POV scenes that give you such an impression of a battle, and then combines the sweeping generalism that gives you the overall picture. But to get to them, you *need* the quiet scenes, where you get to know the individuals, and they can represent the army.

Otherwise it's like watching someone play Total War - lots of anonymous figures do stuff, but why should I care?

30:

> Otherwise it's like watching someone play Total War - lots of anonymous figures do stuff, but why should I care?

Yes. That's the challenge. Done right though, a combat scene can dump you into the middle of it all, e.. Sharpe's [ANYTHING]

31:

My bad, it was "First Light", by Geoffrey Wellum.

32:

I always liked the space battles in Forever War, which (if I recall correctly) basically boiled down to having the computer make a bunch of random course corrections and hoping you had more drones than the enemy.

33:

If you really wanted to base a story on some extraordinary events in Antarctica, read Home of the Blizzard, by Douglas Mawson. His tale of survival is frankly astonishing.

Thanks! Have now added that to the books by Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and others, that I've downloaded from Project Gutenberg. I'd read a little about Mawson, mostly reviews of a recent book about him. You don't really need supernatural horror when you're starving and trekkking across the ice to look back and find your companion has disappeared down a crevasse.

34:

They also train the British Army in things like building clearance. A lot. And talking to people and things like that.

The British Army has an awful habit of learning the wrong lessons and drawing the wrong conclusions from previous campaigns; see "inventing Blitzkreig and breaking the Heer in 1918" to forgetting it all by 1939. Or remembering the early 1990s in Northern Ireland but forgetting the hard work of the 1970s and 1980s that led to it. An unhealthy streak of anti-intellectualism doesn't help...

...so Iraq and Afghanistan aren't exactly shining examples of progressive operations. In fact, the one six-month period where they tried something different was when 52 Brigade was given the job (and no, the bloke in charge wasn't showered with praise).

There's a very long thread on this very subject on the Army Rumour Service...

http://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/how-can-the-army-develop-a-learning-culture.212533/

35:

Yeah, the moment when he comes out with the phrase "was there ever to be a day without some special disappointment" is indelibly etched in my memory. Hell of a man.
Also a hat tip to Australian Frank Hurley, who was his photographer, and on returning from that trip, signed up as photographer on Shackleton's ill fated expedition. Surviving that, he became a war photographer on the Western Front, particularly in Ypres ... the man used up more lives than a cat.

Actually another great read, and tying back to the war theme - We Die Alone, by David Howarth.
The story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian commando sent back in WW2, escapes near certain death, is nursed back to health, gets caught in an avalanche, is nursed again, smuggled up onto a glacier, literally buried alive under snow for a week, recovers but is forced to amputate all his toes, and finally is smuggled out through Finland to neutral Sweden and rescue. Once healed in England, he actually went back into occupied Norway till the end of the war!

It looks like the book was relatively recently put back in print, so should be easy enough to get hold of.

(I have a large collection of exploration and survival books, particularly first hand accounts from the Heroic age of the Artic and Antarctic. Reality complements Fantasy rather well at times)

36:

Yes, a bomb might easily kill 100 soldiers or more, demolish 10 houses or more. Many more if go nuclear. But there are many times you want to keep the buildings

Consider Neutron Bombs, where the entire design paradigm is to kill the people with radiation alone and leave the building infrastructure intact - at least as much as possible. They haven't got it down to a fine art yet, but they've definitely been working on it since the 50s.

There is also the secondary effect of making lots of metallic objects in the area strongly radioactive. That's a tricky one to fix. As is civilian casualties, which would be severe.

37:

Before he wrote the Aubrey/Maturin sea stories, Patrick O'Brian wrote the YA novel 'Road to Samarcand' , which starts with a typhoon and the teenage protagonist at the wheel of a sailing vessel in the South China Sea, and then comes a bit untethered in historical era as we encounter Chinese revolutionaries, Mongolian warriors, sinister Tibetan lamas, yetis and finally an escape by helicopter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_to_Samarcand

38:

Another bit of history I'm particularly fond of is Offa of Mercia. He was the King of Mercia in the mid to late 8th century, around the same time as Charlemagne came into power. As a symbol of his power, he decided to mint his own coins. Due to trade with the Abbasid caliphate, he had access to Abbasid dinars. He decided to copy some of the patterns on the coins. Unfortunately, he and his minter apparently didn't understand Arabic. This can be deduced by the fact that the coins had on them, in Arabic, the Shahada - "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God". And so an Anglo-Saxon king asserted, monetarily, the central creed of Islam.

39:

At least I and my friends will (drum roll) Preserve Our Humanity.

This one usually tends to kill the drama for me. It feels like if the protagonists still have time to worry about matters that don't immediately involve survival, the situation can't be that bad. It makes them feel less like daring heroes and more like spoiled teenagers. Which I guess is the point, since that's who they're marketed to.

40:

Napoleon famously said that the moral factor in war outweighed the material by a factor of three to one; an army that wants to fight can improvise the means more readily than an army that has the weapons can develop the will to fight. The most powerful new weapon of the past 30 years has been YouTube. Western military institutions have a very hard time understanding that.

41:

It might be the wrong lesson, or the right lesson forgotten. It's still an action where you need a body holding a weapon rather than a weapon of area destruction though, no?

42:

Rosemary Sutcliff, yes.
Some of us of a certain age will always carry the memories of "the Eagle of the Ninth" onwhat was then the BBC Home Service (Radio 4 now)
The quality-imprint The Folio Society have reprinted Eagle of the Ninth & "The Sliver Branch" recently - yes I have them.
Oh & needless to say the Hollywood re-make of "Eagle" is utter trash - don't waste your time.

43:

Ah yes. The infamous neutron bomb. Do they actually exist as useful weapons? And are they actually any use in clearing houses? Would you use one if you thought, to use a very recent example, the Taliban were in that building? Maybe there was a hospital next door and a school four doors down? Or would you rather round up a group of people to go in and clear them out?

If you swap Taliban for Hezbollah in Gaza we know Israel's answer (OK, it wasn't a neutron bomb, but it was missiles and bomb the hospital, the UN school and the like). Most other nations tend not to take that route, at least not in that situation. It's a bit different if there's a blanket bombing campaign.

44:

The infamous "neutron bomb" oh dear oh dear oh dear...

Nobody's got a deployable neutron bomb design in service, nobody's building any and as far as I can tell no-one ever seriously tried, same as the Doomsday cobalt-jacketed nuclear weapons of unfond memory. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that it's a fucking nuclear weapon and there just aren't a lot of them around. Second, its primary purpose was to be used against massed armour formations invading a friendly country or home territory hence the desire to "kill people and leave buildings standing" since the people in question are invaders in well-protected vehicles and the buildings (actually open country) belong to the defenders using it against the armour. Thirdly it's a fucking nuclear weapon (I may have mentioned this before) and it doesn't go off with a gentle pop, it's still going to have a blast and heat yield in the multiple-kilotonne region, Hiroshima-level at least.

In the end precision-guided munitions of various types were felt to be a better way to deal with armour formations, especially after the assorted war games involving West Germany tended towards a result where the first use of battlefield nukes (neutron-enhanced or standard) led to a full-out strategic nuclear war within a couple of days of escalating nuclear attacks by both sides.

45:

I think with regard to the Future of Warfare, it's well worth reading "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century" (http://amzn.to/1HLTUWC)

When you have clouds of micro drones, kill the people leave the buildings standing is pretty easy, as is capture the people.

46:

I can very strongly recommend Annapurna by Maurice Herzog as a
survival story.

47:

That's what I thought... I didn't go on to say it in quite that level of disparagement because it was raised as an alternative to houseclearing...

48:

"HMS Ulysses ... Paper thin characters, and the women were almost
non-existent other than as trophies, ..."

I think that you will find that was realistic - Arctic convoy duty
was so bad that its participants became seriously dehumanised.
That's a known problem, and everything I have read about that
theatre indicates that it happened. Monsarrat (a better author)
made his characters behave more like automata as The Cruel Sea
progressed, and the Atlantic convoys were much better than the
Arctic.

49:

Consider Neutron Bombs, where the entire design paradigm is to kill the people with radiation alone and leave the building infrastructure intact

Wrong. Just, wrong. Although you might see why the anti-nuclear movement might want to spin it that way.

The intent was as an enhanced radiation weapon - more radiation for the same bang, rather than reduced bang for the same radiation. This was because of the design specifications for the Soviet fighting vehicles of the 1970s (T-64, BMP-1); designed to operate closed down on a nuclear battlefield, and adding shielding to do so.

Remember, at this point the USSR has GSFG sitting in the DDR; massively outnumbering NATO in tanks, artillery, and soldiers. People like Brezhnev are running things. The electronics revolution hasn't really happened yet, NATO and Soviet kit are at rough parity in the quality / performance stakes, and the only way that SACEUR can hold off any Red Horde is to use those little drops of instant sunshine (probably after the first week or so).

Finding out that the Soviets are including radiation shielding as a primary design feature (as opposed to just collective protection against fallout) means that one possible way to take out that Motor Rifle Regiment is to boost the radiation output...

As Nojay quite correctly points out, we avoided this approach by winning at semiconductors and computer science. Which let us build better anti-tank weapons.

50:

Also #26

You start with active sensor missiles (include Star trek's "photon torpedoes" here; it's eventually established that these are missiles rather than blobs of light) rather than beam weapons then accept that there are limits to even what computers can deal with in relativistic relative velocity (As you say, Jack Campbell at least acknowledges the concept of relativistic speeds being an issue) and make that a feature of your combat...

51:

Ah! Arrse. The only reliable source of information on equipment
for serious hiking I have found (e.g. a week out, and I mean out).
It doesn't surprise me that they are negative about the total
clusterfucks in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's not as if the
disasters weren't predicted. God help us all, that Blair threw
much of what had been gained in 30 years in Northern Ireland,
just to massage his ego - but I had better not start on that.

Unfortunately, the same is true of most British institutions, as
we can see by the economically cretinous policies of today, and
it's not a uniquely British issue (though is particularly bad
here, at least where England dominates). The solution to being
in the red due to being uncompetitive is to cut back on training
and innovation? That's been tried many times, and it always has
the same effect. I can also witness that the failure to learn
from the past is as bad in leading universities as anywhere else.

There are references to this effect in a lot of fiction, but
most are about the Exceptional Man learning from history and
saving the day, I suppose because it's hard to make a good story
otherwise. The main exceptions are the total disaster ones.

52:

I should have made that clearer. HMS Ulysses is great, and the characters are well defined as their roles. I completely agree about the dehumanising effects, it shows up well in San Andreas and Partisans also.
Other books are much weaker - some like The Way To Dusty Death are good thrillers, but very much made of paper characters. But it didn't matter much - he was like the action equivalent of the Airplane movies - if one scene falls flat, the next is coming along right behind and will recapture your attention.

53:

@43, 44, 49

Enhanced radiation weapons were real - both the USA and USSR definitely built them - the W79 was manufactered for a decade and the A135 ABM system is live and in place around Moscow.

Whether they were ever actually practical and/or useful is a different issue, but since I was responding to a post saying that lightsabers were a useful magic woo-woo stick that can be sold in the right setting, I don't feel the need to prove anything - the fact that they were invented for that purpose is enough to prove the concept. The reality of how they are used now is different, but then it usually is.

Also it really would not be a surprise to find that Israel has a stockpile of reduced fallout enhanced radiation nuclear weapons - they have limited land to play with that they want to keep using and lots of relatively poorly equipped unhappy neighbors. Dialling down the boom and dialling up the radiation would be a logical tool.

54:

Also it really would not be a surprise to find that Israel has a stockpile of reduced fallout enhanced radiation nuclear weapons - they have limited land to play with that they want to keep using and lots of relatively poorly equipped unhappy neighbors.

Yes. They have the tested plans, so it wouldn't take a research effort. They have the technical people. They have the money. Why not?

Using them is something else. When the USA used nukes, they had the excuse they didn't know what they were doing. Israel wouldn't have that excuse. They would be bombing a nation that signed the nonproliferation treaty.

Other things equal (though of course other things are never equal, but...) for every person that a neutron bomb killed in time to be militarily significant, there would be 3 others who would die slower (4 pi - 1 pi), 5 that died slower still (9 pi - 4 pi), another 7 that died even slower (16 pi - 9 pi) and 9 that would die very slow (25 pi - 16 pi). The propaganda gift that just keeps giving.

It would seriously damage Israel's economy. Israelis visiting europe and other places would be asked to explain. "Israel is a tiny nation surrounded by enemies, and if we ever lose a war we will all be killed. We must keep eliminating arabs by any method until after they stop hating us."

They would do better to develop small nukes with primarily blast effects, with the radiation minimized. The equvalent of .05 kT, or even smaller. Then they could argue afterward, "We did everything we possibly could to make it into a humanitarian weapon. It was so small and had so little radiation.... It's just a little tactical weapon. It isn't really a nuke and you shouldn't think of it like a nuke." They have the tested plans etc, and they've probably built those too.

55:

The point of the neutron bomb was that in order to kill a tank with a conventional nuke you could not do it effectively simply by blast and heat. 15cm of armour is pretty resistant to both of those but transparent to neutrons. The doctine of using conventional nukes was to include the tanks in the lethal radiation zone of the detonation. In which case, why not keep the lethal radiation zone and cut down on the heat and blast - hence the enhanced radiation weapon.
And from what I recall of one lecture years ago on the topic, an Hiroshima yield nuke was capable of causing substantial physical damage to a tank anywhere within 300 metres of ground zero. Outside of that, the equipment might very well survive.

56:

However, the modern M1 Abrams tanks are particularly sensitive
to neutron bombs, because the bombs will cause fission in the
tanks depleted uranium armour, thus killing the occupants.

57:

The doctine of using conventional nukes was to include the tanks in the lethal radiation zone of the detonation.

Sure. At that time, NATO was pretty good at killing tanks in the open, but once they got into a town with stone walls (which Germany had plenty of) then it was very hard to get them out. And they might be able to dart from one village to the next.

So we got fairly small nuclear landmines to put in the places they might lodge, to dislodge them. And also neutron bombs. There was the problem that NATO plans did not extend to ways to evacuate civilians who were in the path of a rapidly advancing army from the east. There was reason to think that fleeing civilians would cause some trouble for NATO transport, but there was no policy to deal with that which was both politically acceptable and usable, so instead they assumed that german civilians would stay in place and wait for the Red Army to reach them so they could be nuked.

This was not a serious problem because it was becoming increasingly obvious that the whole thing was an elaborate fantasy. The Russians attack, NATO uses small tactical nukes on German soil, Russians use bigger nukes, we get global thermonuclear destruction, everybody dies. Therefore the Russians will not attack. The US military was in western europe to prove that the USA would not back down when they were slaughtered but would make sure everybody in the world died. They might back down if it was only a few US troops dying. It didn't really matter whether the battle plans made sense, because the US troops were there to die and be avenged. "If it isn't worth doing at all, then it isn't worth doing well."

This was glaringly obvious in 1973 when the USA took the tanks out of europe and gave them to Israel, and the USSR did not attack. It had to be done so quickly that there was no time to prepare a defense strategy for europe without those tanks, which had been considered vital to any defense. And still, given ideal military circumstances, there was no attack. After that, europeans increasingly treated Russia as a normal trading partner over US objections. "You can't do that! They're The Enemy!" "They're a trading partner first and The Enemy second."

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in this stuff, and my sources could be wrong. I would expect trouble tracking down links for some of it, though I can't be sure how hard it would be until I tried.

58:

Do you have a source for that? Depleted uranium doesn't undergo fission easily. That's what makes it "depleted".

59:

> since I was responding to a post saying that lightsabers were a useful magic woo-woo stick that can be sold in the right setting

The classic setting for a lightsaber has a variety of magic woo-woo devices: FTL travel; fully autonomous AI devices; anti-grav transport; viable personal energy weapons usable in an atmosphere and I'm sure there are more.

You might object to the adjective but in that setting I'm happy to accept a lightsaber could be technically feasible. And I still maintain, whatever WMD and other super-weapons you have, warfare will require the ground-pounders. Technological advances might make it easy to kill lots of people at once but we (or our armies anyway) still need to go places and do things where we don't want to do that for one reason or another.

Whether we ought to have war or not is a whole different thread but if we do, we're going to have people who get up close and personal about it.

60:

The Exceptional Person learning from history (or just being exceptional and carving out history) is a bona fide story in its own right, and often a good read. Whether it's a war story/history (Alexander the Great's history is spectacular and also makes great fantasy source material, keep it low fantasy and don't really add magic, stir in magic, active deities and the like and you get great high fantasy: I must admit I poked at the history after reading some of the fantasy but it was a good read and I don't normally do heavy war fantasy and certainly don't read a lot of history for fun). Exceptional people in other fields also make potentially great stories too - Marie Curie's story for example. Or Elizabeth Fry and William Wilberforce.

You can come more modern with Marshall and H. pylori. I'm not sure I could have done that, even though he was pretty sure he could cure it. But that's probably why he's got a Nobel prize and I don't.

61:

OMG William Marshal won the Nobel Prize? Some retro award?

62:

I think that I mistakenly quoted Wikipedia without thinking.
The phenomenon being described is neutron absorption and the
resulting decay, but my memory from half a century ago is
that fission is a small part of that. Anyway, the Wikipedia
reference is:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_bomb

63:

That's Barry James Marshall ...

Excerpts from Wikipedia ...

"Australian physician, Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine (2005). Marshall and Robin Warren showed that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the cause of most peptic ulcers, reversing decades of medical doctrine holding that ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid ... breakthrough in understanding a causative link between Helicobacter pylori infection and stomach cancer."

64:

Of the SF/F novels I liked where war is a recurring theme/backdrop, Ender's Game tops the list. Yes, various strategies/tactics are explained in detail but the point of all that explanation is to convey the significance of the decisions that Ender ultimately makes. The 'weapons' war is secondary to the characterization. (And as another poster mentioned, the PR war is at least as important as the war fought with guns ... something else that was done right in Ender's Game.)

One thing that I did pick up on in this novel is that the overall strategy is founded on whether the 'war' is personal or impersonal. This dictates the choice of weapons, the type and 'acceptable' number of casualties -- basically the price of war/of winning. To make war personal, thus ensure its continuation, you have to get as many people as possible to be complicit in the killing. So even though computers may be more efficient in targeting/delivering the killing blow, you need someone other than generals/heads of state to share in the blame.

65:

Oh I agree with that wholeheartedly. A good example would be the Honorverse, with its Great Space Battles, yet ships still need marine groups (in powered armour) for ground duties. On Basilisk Station neatly covers the variety, from using SuperDetectorTechnology to scan the ground and map out an underground base, SleepyGas to knock out the majority of inhabitants, and PoweredArmour guys to clean up the rest to full scale field battles with air support.

Which would be a fairly logical division of labour if you have the underlying magic tech.
I'm pretty sure Mesa or Sol will get and use the people killing building leave alone weapons sooner or later - it's an easy weapon for atrocities, and won't breach the Eridani Edict of the setting of no kinetic bombardment from space.

Then again, we're inventing bullets that can go round corners, and I'm fairly confident powered armour will be inevitable once they work out how to internally power it for long enough to be useful.


The real difference in the last 40 years seems to be in the acceptance of casualties. In the west, having soldiers die is seen as a failure of the military complex, who should be protecting them. In the third world, people are a renewable resource and considered relatively expendable. Hence suicide bombers vs drones.

66:

...by drinking a Petri dish of H. Pylori, which was EI's point about "exceptional."

67:

As people who have been here for a while will know I'm pretty fundamentally philosophically opposed to violence and war. It doesn't stop me watching and reading things where it's part of the show for some reason. And it doesn't stop me accepting it's likely to be part of our future as it has been part of our past - I'd like to change it but I don't think we will.

Given those provisos, I'm not sure I agree with your analysis about the acceptance of casualties and that surprises me more than a little.

I was, for example, opposed to the Gulf Wars, they seemed pretty much like Western Imperialism at it worst. Gulf War II absolutely. Gulf War I less so since it was clearly in response to Iraqi aggression. I know we're kind of addicted to oil, I'm just not that convinced we really had to go in, I AM convinced we wouldn't have gone in if Kuwait didn't have lots of oil which makes it a not clear-cut situation for me. I do accept a lot of other people have very different opinions on that.

But, from my perspective and living in Britain, the intervention in the disintegrating Yugoslavia, casualties and all, doesn't bother me at all. Whether you're nice and call it civil war or you reach for terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing and so on, it was brutal, extreme and intervening was a limited action to prevent that continuing. Yes, it would have been lovely if we could have done it without sending people to risk life and limb but the people that volunteer for the armed services choose to take that risk.

I think the issue is not that people aren't willing to accept casualties, it's more that we're not willing to accept all wars are worth fighting just because we're told we should go to war.

Classic example: The US et al are currently supporting various factions and bombing Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Don't get me wrong, I don't like what they're doing and opposing them seems like a really good idea to me. But currently that seems to mean we have to support the Assad regime in Syria. Before Daesh appeared they were "the enemy" and accused of using chemical weapons and barrel bombs on civilians. Much to Cameron's disgust he lost a vote for a big engagement force in that mess. When, literally within a few days, the enemy in Syria is suddenly the friend AND the troops are finally coming home from a war that we "won" ten years ago in Afghanistan is it any wonder the public is saying "No, we won't support another war you loon!"? Fortunately enough MPs of all parties listened to the public and not Callmedave.

68:

I think you'll find that depleted uranium is used in ammunition, because it's the densest available metal, useful for an armour penetrators. The armour of an M1,or a Challenger 2 is some sort of steel/ceramic sandwich, resistant to both kinetic energy weapons and shaped charges.

You can transmute U238 to fissionable Plutonium with the right neutron flux, and done right you can get a self sustaining reaction, which is how fast breeder reactors work.
I have no idea what it would take to induce a secondary nuclear reaction in a depleted uranium munition, but I'm pretty sure any organic life would already be dead.

69:

With regard to ground troops, in the next couple of decades most of them will be robots of various descriptions, not Humans.

70:

On the Gulf War, as I understand it, what led Iraq to invade Kuwait was that the Kuwaitis had put slant-drilling oil rigs near the Iraqi border, and were drilling into an Iraqi oil field. The rigs were purchased from a firm with ties to Brent Scowcroft, who was a national security advisor to Bush I at the time, and who has been a security advisor to everyone from Ford to Obama. Probably it was just business as usual, but it stank at the time, and it sure looks like it could have been preventable in hindsight (Bush to Kuwaitis: stop screwing around. War prevented). Whether or not this is all true, I'm with you, El. The only time I've marched in protest and worn a peace symbol was during the Gulf Wars.

As for Da'esh, it's reportedly a combination of former Iraqi baathists and AQ people, forming their own organization, and many of them met in Iraqi prisons run by Americans. I'm shocked, shocked that something like this happened. Actually, what's amazing is that shit like this doesn't happen more often within America. (Looks at problems with drug cartels in Central America run by former US gang members.) Oh wait. It does.

Getting back to the original theme of this article, I tend to think it's worth at least thinking about the degree to which Roman expansionism created the barbarians. For example, Gaul and Germania were covered with a network of oppida, which, if not city-states, were pretty close. When Caesar overran Gaul, the oppida in Germany disappeared too, according to modern archaeologists, and scattered hamlets took their place. This may have been a response to collapsing trade networks, but similar things have been reported in "shatter-zones" on the edges of modern expanding states, where the combination of waves of refugees plus the strong desire to be a smaller target encourages people outside the states to scatter, simplify their lives, and grow crops and tend animals that are harder for invading armies to seize.

The idea is that, if you can't stand up to an invader in a pitched battle, it's better to become as worthless a target as possible, and to make it as easy to run as possible. If, for example, you're growing wheat, your granaries are a great target for an invading army. If you're growing turnips (or in modern times, potatoes), the army has to dig up every single one if they want to confiscate them from you. A turnip farmer can leave his crop in the ground and have some still there when he comes back later. Herds of cattle are the essence of wealth, but a herd of goats can go wild with you up in the hills where the army can't go. This won't stop people trying to enslave you, but it's better than sitting there in your little village, with your golden fields of grain stretching to the horizon, watching an army come towards you. It's worth looking at which crops and animals have low social standing, and then looking at why that might be the case. In many cases, things that states consider of higher value are also things that are easier for tax men or soldiers to seize, and things that considered low class or evil (like goats) are things that "rebels" can run away with. That's probably not a coincidence.

It's also worth looking at how modern imperial problems might tell us more about what happened in the past. Rome and America or Imperial Britain aren't precise analogs, but when people adopt similar strategies to deal with imperial conquest all over the world, it's worth wondering whether our ancestors didn't do similar things to deal with the threat of Rome.

71:

I am aware of that, and it's irrelevant in this context. If the
articles I have read are right, it is ALSO used in the current
generation of M1 Abrams's armour, thus making its occupants
vulnerable to a neutron bomb via the same effect that is used in
fast breeder reactors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1_Abrams
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeder_reactor

72:

NATO was pretty good at killing tanks in the open, but once they got into a town with stone walls (which Germany had plenty of)

Nope. Soviet doctrine was to bypass built-up areas. Small German towns are the one place you wouldn't find Soviet tanks.

So we got fairly small nuclear landmines

Nope. There were small nukes for demolition, but not as "landmines" (there is an awful lot of explosive needed to take down a motorway junction; it takes a long time to rig; and the combat engineers to do it are in high demand for other jobs. Carrying SADM was a special forces job for very high-value targets.

the whole thing was an elaborate fantasy

Nope. You might want to look at the released copies of the Soviet operational plans; massive use of chemical weapons, potentially of nukes on key targets.

Remember, the planners for all this are the generation who watched 20 million Soviets die in WW2; they are more than willing to kill Germans (military or civilian) in response to any existential threat.

The real question is whether they perceived any threat as truly existential; up until the 1970s, the primary candidate was a reunified Germany or an expansionist NATO. After Andropov, the paranoia levels dropped significantly.

This was glaringly obvious in 1973 when the USA took the tanks out of europe and gave them to Israel, and the USSR did not attack

Nope. Just really, really, nope.

The US had two full Army Corps (over 200,000 soldiers and 1200 tanks) based in Germany. There was no "taking the tanks out of Europe".

The Yom Kippur war in 1973 required a US airlift to resupply (Operation NICKEL GRASS) during and after the war. AIUI, most of the equipment came from reserve stocks in the US rather than Germany; the M-48 was certainly not a frontline NATO tank by then. If you're replacing lost tanks after a war, you don't strip your own front-line units to do so.

73:

With regard to ground troops, in the next couple of decades most of them will be robots of various descriptions, not Humans.

So... why does a UAV squadron actually need just as many people to support it as a manned aircraft squadron?

Even after ten years of war, the drones are still remotely controlled, no-one is talking about deploying autonomous vehicles any time soon, and the money just isn't there in defence budgets for the kind of mass investment it would take.

Who's going to charge their batteries, repair their faults, resupply them? Where are they going to be based when doing so? How will they in turn be resupplied? (ISTR a figure that a gallon of diesel delivered to a patrol base in Afghanistan required an expenditure of forty gallons of fuel to get it there).

Are these robots going to sit in on a Shura, search people and their belongings, go and talk to the locals?

"Robot Warriors, just because" is an occasional claim, with no real credibility behind it.

74:

it sure looks like it could have been preventable in hindsight (Bush to Kuwaitis: stop screwing around. War prevented).

The wikipedia entry on April Glaspie has several versions of the conversation between her and Saddam Hussein. Possibly, it might have been avoided if the official US position, as relayed by the US Ambassador, was not:

"We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/02/AR2008040203485.html

75:

Nope. There were small nukes for demolition, but not as "landmines"

So you're telling me that Blue Peacock really was an April Fool's joke?

(Okay, that was a 1940s/early 1950s plan and the MADM and SADM weren't remotely comparable, but: atomic landmines, we had them.)

On the "robot warriors" thing: we've got them to some extent in the shape of fire-and-forget missiles. What we don't have is self-repairing/self-replicating robots or robots that can frisk a human suspect for suicide devices or a whole bunch of things that might eventually remove the need for human soldiers going in harm's way in some roles. In fact, I suspect a lot of the less-lethal stuff that the infantry do is going to be the last to be automated, long after every bullet is equipped with a guidance package and fins.

76:

Back in the day we were told that in the event of Soviet invasion Hanover was to be declared an open city.

As for West German motorways etc, I believe that all the bridges were predrilled to take demolition charges.

77:

Uranium 239 decays in about 23 minutes to Neptunium 239 which decays in a few days to fissionable plutonium (half-lives, of course). I wouldn't expect the flux from a neutron bomb to last more than a few minutes (tops, more likely less than a second). Significant quantities of fissionable isotopes would probably not be generated in time for the neutrons to cause fission.

If there are so many neutrons that multiple neutrons are absorbed by each nucleus during that pulse, things can get a bit more complicated. From the standpoint of anyone in the tank, it's pretty much moot by that point.

78:

I have to agree here. This is basically the concept of the continuum of the use of force, which starts with the presence of troops as a deterrent, threats, and the standard Stern Talking to, and escalates through nuclear arms. Stirling, in his Courts of the Crimson Kings, had the great idea of calling everyone who works somewhere on this continuum a Coercive, but we're stuck calling people on the lower end of the continuum things like police, wardens, and rangers, the middle part of the spectrum things like US Marines, and the upper part of the spectrum strategic divisions and artillery.

Some parts of the continuum are easier to automate than others, and it looks like the upper part (especially the nukes and the Dead Hand) are the easiest, and often the most necessary, to automate. Thing is, most interactions are actually at the bottom, and that's where humans do the best. To the degree that we automate future warfare, I'd bet that it will be on the lethal end, rather than on the sublethal end. In the hypothetical space opera, there may indeed be Space Marines, but they may also be armed with the semi-lethal equivalent of tasers and restraining devices, because their job isn't to bust skulls but to board ships that have survived the firefight and secure the survivors and the ship.

79:

Hey Heteromeles, one of your posts here pointed me towarsd James C scott - thanks for that, so far I only read Two chhers for anarchy but that was quite good. Anyway, do you have any in-depth examination of the thing with the oppidae and with the crops/animals? Both sounds interesting.

80:

Yeah, that. I'm not sure whether the "Kuwait issue" was Iraq regarding Kuwait as a breakaway province, or Kuwait bogarting Iraq's oil fields. Still, it's easy for left-wing paranoids to read this as the Bush I administration deliberately provoking the Gulf War, by enabling Kuwait to start the war, then trashing Saddam, turning him into the equivalent of a demon in a bottle there to be loosed if we need another war to win, and forcing the kingdoms in the Gulf (from the Saudis on down) to accept US military bases to keep Iraq and Iran from becoming real threats. If keeping Saddam around to whack later in a short, victorious war was what they intended, it went really, spectacularly, wrong. In fact, it's still going really, spectacularly wrong.

I guess that, just as so much of 20th Century history has been about messes caused by the British Empire, 21st Century history will be about messes caused by American attempts to capitalize on the messes left behind by the British Empire.

*Note: I consider the US an empire, not because of the way it acts overseas, but because of its political structure. An empire is a state that rules different groups of people differently. Due to the present of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other territories, Indian reservations, Inuit homelands, and the issues with Hawaiian natives, the US unequivocally has large groups of people in its borders who are subject to different laws than others. Hence we're an empire. The odd thing is that most Americans think, with good reason, that this is more just than turning the US into a truly democratic state ruled by a single law for all residents.

81:

Nope. Soviet doctrine was to bypass built-up areas. Small German towns are the one place you wouldn't find Soviet tanks.

I know nothing about your qualifications to pronounce about this sort of thing, but I don't consider my own good enough to argue with a random person who feels sure. I don't feel sure. I think my sources on this were thinking from first principles -- what would actually work? -- and not paying much attention to what the Soviets said they were going to do. That seems sensible to me since in any real war the Soviets would quickly find out what didn't work and fix it. But there's no guarantee the people I listened to were right about what would work, and they weren't telling what the doctrine was.

There were small nukes for demolition, but not as "landmines"

It certainly makes sense to use small nukes for demolition. I saw sources in the media at the time which said we had "small" nukes (the picture I saw looked like it was maybe 6 feet long) intended to be placed in small stone towns to deny their use to Warsaw Pact invaders. I don't remember the name they gave it, maybe something like MODM. Perhaps that was propaganda with no basis in reality?

"the whole thing was an elaborate fantasy"

Nope. You might want to look at the released copies of the Soviet operational plans; massive use of chemical weapons, potentially of nukes on key targets.

Yes. But that's compatible with elaborate fantasies on both sides. I don't know the truth. What kept the preparations for WWI from being ridiculous fantasies was that they were actually carried out. If they hadn't been, people looking back at them would have a hard time believing they actually seriously intended those plans to come true.

The real question is whether they perceived any threat as truly existential; up until the 1970s, the primary candidate was a reunified Germany or an expansionist NATO.

It seems like it would be pretty easy for the Warsaw Pact to prevent a reunified Germany. And NATO showed no sign of readiness to attack, none whatsoever that I could see. But then, I didn't have secret reports available. Maybe NATO was much stronger than it looked and there were serious plans to invade eastern europe. So an existential threat that would justify pre-emptive invasion of western europe looks utterly unlikely to me. But of course I can't know how the other guy is thinking. Maybe they really did feel they were on the edge of an existentia; threat that would leave an invasion of western europe as their best chance to survive. Maybe it was likely to happen and sheer luck that the world survived.

The US had two full Army Corps (over 200,000 soldiers and 1200 tanks) based in Germany. There was no "taking the tanks out of Europe".

That sounds plausible. Israel needed a lot of tanks to replace their losses, but the USA could not supply them quickly. The US airlift could supply one tank per round trip from the USA. Tanks could come quicker from europe, but europe refused to allow israeli resupply through their territory so it was important not to officially admit it was happening. So it makes sense that NATO could not lose enough tanks to matter. A bunch of NATO warplanes went to Israel from europe, but again probably not enough to matter.

I don't know how to get good numbers on it, since the effort had to be mostly secret. But isn't it true that many europeans took the message from 1973 that the USA considered Israel's defense more important than their own, and that the USSR was not such a dangerous attacker? Regardless of the unknown facts on the ground, didn't that become a widespread belief?

82:

You're still missing the point, due to my mistake in quoting
Wikipedia without thinking, and Wikipedia being in error :-(
It's NOT the fission that is the main problem, though it can occur.

As you say, when Uranium 238 absorbs a neutron, it decays fairly
rapidly to Plutonium 239 which is, in this context, fairly stable.
The damage to the humans is done by the gamma and X-rays emitted
as part of that decay and the absorption of the resulting beta
particles. So, while the depleted uranium protects against the
tank being destroyed by the neutrons, it positively enhances the
damage to the human beings by secondary radiation.

83:

War ficttion as well as propaganda likes to construct situations where there's only one viable choice and that's to shape up and act like a real man/officer/soldier and fulfill ones role and see how inevitable that all is. In fiction, and propaganda, we can exclude all those tiny, less dramatic or 'heroic' moments leading up to that: How lots of tiny and not so tiny (slanted drilling rig, Iraq doing the US dirty work against Iran without receiving a dime) decisions on one scale led to the war. And how many tiny and not so tiny decisions (growing up in an environment that does not discourage military, enlisting, not deserting, not feigning sickness ...) leads to our protagonist beeing there.

Vonnegut said something like this, I think in Timequake: "After WWII, the consensus in american society is this: War is hell allright, but the only way to becomea aman is some sort of shootout." It seems we want to see this in our fiction, and want you to write stories where it all seems inevitable enough to be morally ok. This irks me about a lot of war fiction.

btw, Marge Piercys Gone to soldiers is a great book about WWII with lots of different, fascinating POVs. Resistance, codebreaker, marine, aviation girl, sailor ... all there.

84:

I guess that, just as so much of 20th Century history has been about messes caused by the British Empire, 21st Century history will be about messes caused by American attempts to capitalize on the messes left behind by the British Empire.

Oh my yes. Exactly this. Almost every single hotspot in the world today dates back in a clear path to US intervention following WW2, and particularly to certain individuals who drove US policy in the 50s and 60s. Central America and the Caribbean. Iran. Iraq. Syria. Afghanistan. North Korea. About the only place they're relatively clean on is Africa, and Clinton screwed that up in the 90s with the fallout from Somalia and Haiti leading directly to the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia.
(short version, US retreated rather than lose men or material. This made them appear weak, so other countries started pushing. The US backed off further rather than back up their rhetoric, and the UN lost status in many parts of the world. Result: Bosnia and Rwanda.)

85:

So you're telling me that Blue Peacock really was an April Fool's joke?

What, the chicken-powered part of it didn't give the game away? :)

86:

I know nothing about your qualifications to pronounce about this sort of thing,

Our battalion's Cold War role was to defend critical infrastructure in the UK, not die in a ditch in West Germany. However, you couldn't pass your Captain's exam without understanding low-level Soviet doctrine.

Basically, if you want to fight through just one typical European house, room by room, expect it to soak up a platoon of 30 infantry soldiers for 45 minutes or so. A village of (say) twenty houses is going to take a whole battalion several hours. Training exercises for this were very hard work (there are some excellent training facilities in the UK; do an image search for "Copehill Down", or "Imber Village"); I'm rather glad I never had to do any of it for real.

Fighting in built-up areas is hideously expensive in lives and equipment. Think Stalingrad; ISTR the Red Army lost something like 50,000 dead in the last nine days of the battle for Berlin. They fought for it because they had to; it was the only way to put that Red Flag on the Reichstag. Tanks are vulnerable in cities; for example, the casualties among the first Russian armoured column into Groznyy were nearly 100%

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Grozny_%28November_1994%29#The_attack

The British and Canadian Armies made very good use of flamethrowers in North-West Europe during 1944/45, and found it quite useful in lowering casualty rates; google "Churchill Crocodile". The modern equivalent is TOS-1, RPO-A, but back in the 1980s was morelikely to be a short-range / direct-fire artillery shell containing lethal chemical agents, as they would overmatch respirator filters at a high-enough concentration.

If you're aiming to get your Operational Manoeuvre Group onto the Rhine by Day 14, you don't achieve it by clearing every village house by house across the whole frontage. You drive past what you can, engage what you have to, and only clear the positions on your Main Supply Routes. Think Blitzkreig, only without the lackadaisacal attitudes.

There is a reason for the bad-taste joke from the 1980s that "small towns in Germany are typically 10kT apart"...

87:

But isn't it true that many europeans took the message from 1973 that the USA considered Israel's defense more important than their own, and that the USSR was not such a dangerous attacker? Regardless of the unknown facts on the ground, didn't that become a widespread belief?

Only among those who wanted to / had a vested interest in believing it... read up on ABLE ARCHER.

It's OK to make claims that the other lot are cuddly and non-aggressive; e.g. that's an Anti-Fascist Wall along the border, and the use of lethal force against anyone attempting to cross westwards is purely defensive. However, the threat is all about capabilities, not intentions, as the Intelligence Corps used to point out. No-one who actually understood the military on the other side of that border took it lightly.

It's rather hard to believe that something isn't dangerous when it can deploy a tank and an artillery piece every 100m across its entire frontage (add together GSFG and the NVA; that's over 6,000 tanks and 5,000 artillery pieces.

When Germany reunified, and the Bundeswehr took over the Volksarmee barracks, they apparently found the fighting vehicles lined up, fully loaded, and expected to be able to deploy on operations at half-an-hour's notice. The training areas in Poland allowed the use of live chemical agents. Having seen ACTIVE EDGE as a child, the British never operated at that level of readiness...

88:

Basically, if you want to fight through just one typical European house, room by room, expect it to soak up a platoon of 30 infantry soldiers for 45 minutes or so. A village of (say) twenty houses is going to take a whole battalion several hours.

That makes sense. I think the idea the people I listened to were going by, was that the soviets would find a collection of undefended villages and towns they could advance to. NATO was not going to put little bunches of soldiers in all the villages for the other side to clear out or ignore until the front moved well past them, so they were looking for an alternative. I don't know enough to defend that point of view. It made sense to me, but I don't know enough to separate out things that make sense but that don't fit reality.

Tanks are vulnerable in cities

In, say, the late 1970's were tanks more vulnerable attacking hostile cities than they were defending cities? If they were in a town and you were out on the plains trying to get into the town, who was worse off?

I'm not trying to say you're wrong about anything. I'm wondering if what I thought I understood before can be compatible with what you know, or if it's only workable in some alternate reality.

89:

Mayhem wrote:
Clinton screwed that up in the 90s with the fallout from Somalia and Haiti leading directly to the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia.
(short version, US retreated rather than lose men or material. This made them appear weak, so other countries started pushing. The US backed off further rather than back up their rhetoric, and the UN lost status in many parts of the world. Result: Bosnia and Rwanda.

Uh, you are aware that the UN and US are not actually the same thing?

I know it's fun to blame the USA for EVERYTHING, but here you're arguing that Rwanda and Bosnia came about because the US didn't intervene militarily in Somalia and Haiti?

So let me see ... the US was wrong to send troops into Kuwait. The US was wrong NOT to send troops into Somalia and Haiti. The US was wrong to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably they're wrong NOT to send troops into Syria?

Why would countries think they can push back against the UN if the US military is weak? Because there aren't enough other countries willing to spend what it takes to deploy your military overseas.

Without the US, the UN has very little muscle. If you're a non-interventionist, this is a good thing. But if you're going to blame Rwanda and Bosnia on the lack of US military intervention, vote for a bigger military budget in your country.

90:

I know it's fun to blame the USA for EVERYTHING, but here you're arguing that Rwanda and Bosnia came about because the US didn't intervene militarily in Somalia and Haiti?

I don't agree with the sentiment, but he does kind of have a point.

The Falklands war happened entirely because the USA did not intervene. If the US had told Argentina not to take the Falklands, probably they would not have. If the USA had told them afterward to evacuate from there, probably they would have. And the British fought only because the USA let them.

If the USA had taken a more active role, the whole Falklands war would not have happened.

Any time there is a conflict anywhere in the world and the USA does not intervene, it makes the USA look weak. It gives people the impression that the USA might not intervene in the next conflict, which encourages other nations to go ahead and get into conflicts.

There's nothing that encourages nations to fight more than the USA giving hints of nonintervention, except for hints that the USA will intervene on their side.

If the USA would agree to intervene with overwhelming force in any conflict anywhere in the world, and stick to it, within 50 years probably there would be no fighting anywhere, except against the USA.

91:

I don't know what Soviet doctrine was, but tanks tend to have trouble in built-up areas. They're full of places where an enemy could be hiding with a bazooka/RPG/Javelin/antitank weapon of choice. Tanks aren't good at quickly responding to threats from odd directions (some are better than others).

92:

"Our battalion's Cold War role was to defend critical infrastructure in the UK, not die in a ditch in West Germany. However, you couldn't pass your Captain's exam without understanding low-level Soviet doctrine."

To be more accurate, what the NATO claim of what Soviet doctrine was.

In the past decade or two, it has become clear from semi-official
USA and UK publications (e.g. The Defence Of The Realm) that
everything we knew in the 1950s to 1970s about the USSR's nuclear
capabilities and politico-military strategy (following the death
of Stalin) was close to the CONVERSE of the truth. Most effective
propaganda on behalf of the warmongers, but not conducive to
peace. I have no idea whether what you were told was similar.

93:

Utter, total complete make-believe & cobblers.

Starting with: And the British fought only because the USA let them.
We fought because we had to, as the Joint Staff chiefs actually told the pathetic madwoman of Grantham, who was wetting her knickers at the time, because of the fiasco her announced military budget cuts had got us in to.
There were voices in the US moaning on about "Monroe Doctrine" & letting the "Argies" win - until it was quietly pointed out that US personnel would really like to remain on Ascencion Island, wouldn't they?

And now, thanks to the two stooges of Blair & Camoron, we've thrown it away completely (Helped by totally incompetent defence procurement)

There's the part-equivalent of the Spanish Civil War going in in & around Syria, Callmedave is following Baldwin with more defence cuts & the RN is horribly weak (& to some extent, the RAF also) ....
Who will be the equivalent of the much-maligned Chamberlian (Neville) & start a partial re-armamemt against real threats?
And get no thanks for it ...

Wasn't it Heinlein who suggested that the Armed forces' job was to stand around ( & practise ) looking so fierce that no-one was going to be stupid enough to start a fight?

94:

"Without the US, the UN has very little muscle."

The main reason for that is that the USA and UK ensured that it
is the case. That is why NATO is the agent of choice, being
effectively the political and executive arms of the USA military-
industrial complex. Ike was right :-(

95:

I'm not a historian but from what I know and read I do think there's a general tendency to say, at least in the Anglophone world, history from ~1845-1945 is "Britain's fault" and since 1945 is the USA's fault.

It strikes me that's a load of bollocks. I'm pretty sure the Chinese and Japanese had at least one war in that first period and I suspect they would be far too civilised to snigger at the thought the British were too blame. The French might like to blame the Americans, or the British for the mess in North Africa but I think it was rather of their own making. My history of Central and South America is spotty but it's sufficiently Hispanophone (except Brazil, where they speak Portuguese instead) you probably can't blame the British too much. American adventurism in Central America is a different story.

The British Empire, even in decline, certainly had its thumbs in many, many pies and interfered all over the place. It might well be fair to say it's the biggest single operator in history in that period - I don't have the background knowledge to judge and I'm not really willing to do the research. But it's either silly or wilfully or otherwise ignoring quite a few other large civilisations and their activities to say they did everything.

96:

"..., because of the fiasco her announced military budget cuts
had got us in to."

Actually, they were a minor cause compared to the incompetence and negligence of the Foreign Office. At the time, I (and many others
outside the FO) correctly predicted events, and (in time) knew of
three occasions on which minor diplomatic action would have
stopped the war in its tracks. One of the people on the Franks
committee admitted a week or so after publication that they had
deliberately ignored such data.

97:

:) Strange Attractor Warning :)

Don't worry, there are plenty of soldiers who don't "get" tanks... and regarding Soviet Doctrine, try the old US Army manual of USSR Doctrine and tactics:

https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm100-2-1.pdf

So: tanks are a compromise, the traditional balance being between mobility, firepower, and protection. The British and Israelis lean toward protection; the Germans and Americans lean toward mobility; the Russians lean more heavily heavily towards mobility.

You need something that isn't going to break every bridge that it crosses (which limits it to 70-80t in weight) and want something that is proof across its frontal arc against the main armament of other tanks. To increase that frontal protection, you skimp on the other bits. You shrink the internal volume, so that you can get the same thickness of armour cover for a lower weight. You might add an autoloader to remove the fourth crewmember, or cover it in reactive armour, or add IR jammers, or active defence such as Trophy.

You then design your tactics so that the other side is most likely to (only) see that protected frontal arc, and for as short a time as possible; so you work hard at a tank that doesn't have to stand still to fire accurately. If you plan on fighting an attacking war, you look at reducing fuel consumption and increasing range. If you plan on fighting a defensive war, you look at being able to reload tank ammunition / extract wounded crewmen through a door in the back, rather than a hole in the top. If you come from a flat, wide open country, you don't need to elevate or depress the main gun to such wide angles, so you can make the turret lower / smaller / lighter. If you count your key human cost to be fighter pilots and tank commanders, you add more armour.

Western armies don't even agree in how to crew a tank; I believe that the US Army gives the loader's job to the junior bloke of the four-man crew - open door, extract lump of metal, feed to gun, repeat. The British give it to the second-in-command of the four; man the radios, work a remote weapons station, control the boiling vessel and make the Tea.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand... take a look at a tank; those little vision blocks are all the crew can reliably see. Cameras are improving things, but still... If they're in a city, and the crew stick their heads out to see, they die. If they sit still, snipers can attack the vision blocks (apparently the Shah's tanks found this in the 1979 Iranian revolution, source apocryphal).

Once you're in a built up area, the back or top of the vehicle is just as likely to take a hit as the front. Because of the short ranges, anti-tank weapons can be used much more accurately - the Chechens would fire from buildings, down onto the crew hatches and engine covers. Even worse, the tanks can't shoot back, because the big gun can only travel a few degrees either side of the horizontal (the Soviets redesigned the BMP-1 infantry vehicle into the BMP-2 after some painful experiences in Afghanistan; maximum elevation of the turret went from 30 degrees to 70 degrees).

Add to this the technical advances in anti-tank weapons - the RPG-29 is a bit of a beast. Javelin et al are now top-attack weapons. There are now a lot of GoPro camera videos on Youtube of Syrian tank tactics in ruined cities, from the perspective of the crew; they travel carefully, and make sure to keep their distance from enemy infantry while staying close to their own.

So: here's the US Army manual on fighting in urban areas

http://www.bits.de/NRANEU/others/amd-us-archive/fm3-06.11%2802%29.pdf

98:

everything we knew in the 1950s to 1970s about the USSR's nuclear capabilities and politico-military strategy (following the death of Stalin) was close to the CONVERSE of the truth

I rather doubt that. Yes, there was exaggeration, and it suits some people to make that claim (in CAPITAL LETTERS, no less), but it was largely on the money. Duncan Campbell being mostly right doesn't invalidate the threat that the West faced.

So they flew BISON in circles over Red Square to make it look like they had more? Big deal, they've just done the same this year with the T-14 and ARMATA programme. Five years later, they've got the kit. Note that there are an awful lot of Russians fighting in Donetsk region, and the little green men of Crimea were, in fact, Spetsnaz. What a surprise.

Consider the work of people like Professor John Erickson at Edinburgh University; he wasn't just respected by the west as an authority on Soviet strategy, he was respected by the Soviets as an authority on Soviet strategy... he had bright officers from both US and USSR studying with him, and was apparently a useful back-channel during the chillier parts of the Cold War.

(Fascinating bloke, by the way - heard him lecture a few times).

99:

I didn't know about the disappearance of the oppidia. What I am is not a historian but a microbiologist/immunologist, at least by academic background.

I'm irresistibly reminded of the way colonies behave when you culture them. They expand rapidly, consuming resources at their edge until they reach a point when they have reached the diameter where they can't expand any more because they just can't get the resources fast enough. They look like they stay stable but the numbers of viable cells decline and, although you'd expect them to die from the middle out, it's often on the edges first. (The cells in the middle switch to a sort of 'low energy mode' early on as resources become scarce, which is unlike an empire typically, but all analogies only stretch so far.)

Anyway, for your hypothesis to hold up - and it seems attractive, don't get me wrong - why didn't it happen against the other obvious great expansionist empires? We've got the Mongols, the various wars with Napoleon, the expansion of Alexander the Great. China probably isn't a great model because it wasn't a greatly expansionist country. Or is there something missing in those cases to refine your hypothesis?

100:

Please reread what I said. I did NOT say that everything was like
that - only those two aspects. There was a thread on this on this
blog a while back. The two key books were the Skunkworks (one of
them) and TDOTR, where it was said that a USA first strike would
destroy at least 95% of the Soviets second strike capability and
the USA would survive that largely intact, but where a Soviet
first strike would destroy no more than 70% of the USA's and the
USSR would NOT survive that. And that the USA, UK and USSR all
knew, and all knew that the others knew, so the USSR was justly
scared, especially when the USA did things that looked as if it
was preparing for a 'preemptive' first strike (as was being openly
advocated by many important people in Washington).

Also, that the USA and UK knew that all of the USSR's claimed
aggression (including the Cuban missile crisis) was not that, but
was an attempt to defend itself against an implacably hostile
enemy with overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons. It took
50 years for that information to become available to us peasantry,
but it's now largely on the record.

101:

What, the chicken-powered part of it didn't give the game away? :)

Per the BBC, a day or two later: 'Tom O'Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives, replied to the media that, "It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes."'

Remember also that this dates to the era when the RAF fielded hundreds of De Havilland Vampire and Venom jet fighters. Jet fighters largely made out of plywood. (Think about that for a moment. We're not talking Mosquitos, with wooden fuselage and wings and a couple of V12 engines in metal nacelles; we're talking about a single engined jet fighter with a jet engine burning inside a plywood fuselage.)

This also comes from the same fine folks who gave us the safety mechanism for the insanely unsafe Violet Club bomb, a hollow sphere of HEU greater than one critical mass (safety mechanism: the hollow implosion core was full of ball bearings, with a plug that had to be removed before the bomber took off: AWRE were "almost certain" that a nuclear explosion couldn't occur with the balls inside).

Some people might praise the British military of that period for their ingenuity; others might accuse them of a reckless disregard for safety and sanity. Personally I'd call it a bit of both ...

102:

So... why does a UAV squadron actually need just as many people to support it as a manned aircraft squadron?
As a general rule, ground crew (and pilots and UAV operators) tend to be based at air bases, which may be several hundred miles removed from the battlefront. Anyway, the only one of the 3 groups who visit the battlefront are the pilots.

That removes one of the drivers in "reducing ground crew", since they're not exposed to battlefront hazards regardless of what aircraft they're maintaining.
Next, the UAV actually has more technology in it to be maintained than the piloted aircraft, because of its need for duplex telemetry, it uses the same base technologies for engines, avionics, and radio frequency detection and communications. This means that it should actually need more of certain types of maintenance specialists even though it doesn't need ejection seat maintainers.

103:

all of the USSR's claimed aggression (including the Cuban missile crisis) was not that, but was an attempt to defend itself

That's a very rose-tinted view of history. I note specifically that you say "all".

I think the East Germans in 1953, the Hungarians in 1956, and the Czechs in 1967 might have a few words about the Soviet Union "defending itself" against their "implacable hostility". The Crimeans might be wondering exactly how they posed a credible threat.

Perhaps Georgi Dimitrov might have a few words to say about Stalin's attitude to fraternal socialist relations (Tito made damn sure he never visited the USSR after disagreeing with Stalin, unsurprisingly).

I will acknowledge that Russia has a very defensive mindset (Erickson made the point that the Russian word for "security" comes from a root of "absence of threat") but that's an explanation, not an excuse. The speeches by Putin justifying the annexation of Crimea hark back to those days.

I will even acknowledge that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wasn't expansionist, but a huge cockup that stressed the Politburo beyond belief (three heart attacks among them during the key period - Erickson again). Even so, it wasn't "defence against perceived aggression".

104:

Please stop trying to change the goalposts. I specifically
said the USSR post Stalin.

East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. The USSR was defending
itself against the implacably hostile NATO, and (with very
good reason, in hindsight) was afraid that NATO would advance
into its buffer zone. I don't know whether NATO intended to
at the time, but it assuredly has done since then.

Crimea has been dominated by Russian speakers for centuries,
and the threat to them was the NATO-supported (even if not
actually sponsored) coup that overthrew the democratically
elected pro-Russian government of Ukraine, which followed
it up by discriminatory anti-Russian legislation. The fact
that it was part of Ukraine at all was purely an artifact of
administrative action of 1954. That is indicated by the
fact that the vast majority of the inhabitants voted to join
Russia.

All of my statements can be checked.

105:

Ok then; name a case where NATO (as NATO, not under a UN mandate implemented by NATO members) has invaded a foreign sovereign state (or even a NATO member).

106:

You're not just moving the goalposts - you're moving the whole
stadium!

You would be hard put to find such an example for the USSR or
modern Russia,that wasn't intended solely as a defence against
NATO's massive superiority or covert NATO aggression. What I
am saying is that their actions (POST STALIN) have been neither
aggressive nor expansionist, though several have been brutal,
and almost certainly both excessive and illegal under
international law.

This is precisely the converse of what we (the general public
and all except the most senior military) were told from the
1950s to the 1970s. And are being told today!

107:

Once you're in a built up area, the back or top of the vehicle is just as likely to take a hit as the front. Because of the short ranges, anti-tank weapons can be used much more accurately

Everything you say makes perfect sense.

I would like to believe that my previous sources weren't just doing sheer fantasy, so I wonder if there's a way that could make sense too. Consider 1970's, NATO has TOWs on jeeps and some that can be carried by one or two men. If they are hiding in woods or towns they can shoot at you as you go by. It might make sense to blow up every forest or building as you reach them, just in case. But that's a lot of explosives. So part of the time when you're in the open you're a target to little groups of men who need no mobility, who can stay hidden until they get their one shot in.

While you are in a built-up area that you own, you can be hull-down behind piles of rubble that don't take long to create. If you get bombed by artillery or airstrikes, the surviving buildings and rubble will to some extent contain the damage in small areas. The enemy can get close and attack in dangerous ways there, but first he has to get to you in tanks or APCs and you can shoot at him in the open while he does.

So could it make sense to create a corridor the enemy is mostly cleared out of, and defend it from the rubble while advancing deeper? It's expensive to attack the enemy when they're holed up in towns, because while you're rushing at them they can shoot at you better than you can at them (though that front armor helps both sides some). And then when you have to fight them inside the city that's hard for both of you. But if you can get a path where you aren't being shot at much, and you can defend it well enough to deny mobility -- the ones who're already hidden can get their one shot in, but anybody who wants to replace them will get shot at in the open before they can reach a place to hide -- isn't that worth doing?

And if NATO's strategy did not involve defending each little built-up area with suicidal troops in case the enemy decides to attack them, then the enemy could move into some of those places unopposed. If in fact they want to use them to concentrate fire on any NATO units that come in range, including NATO units that are trying to get into the area to fight them, as opposed to just bypass them all on the way to the Seine.

I can imagine that tactic as plausible for that time and place, and some of our subsequent weapons development being designed to make that less plausible. But I can't argue that it's true. I may have misunderstood the thinking when I heard it.

108:

Afghanistan? The first and only exercise of Clause 5 of the NATO treaty was to roust a bunch of boxcutter-wielding religious nutters out of their cave hideouts in the Afghan hills. Not what the original signatories to the treaty had in mind though...

109:

"You would be hard put to find such an example for the USSR or
modern Russia ..."

Correction. I meant to add a qualification about Afghanistan,
but forgot. The CIA started arming the Mujahideen 6 months
before the USSR invaded but, even if that was the trigger, the
invasion was not solely a response to NATO, and perhaps not
even primarily. The CIA was the deniable arm of the military-
industrial complex at the time.

110:

The Soviet Union's entire history was one of defending itself from attack and invasion by outside forces, from the 1920s when the Western powers sent troops to support the White Russians through the war with the Japanese in the 30s and Germany's invasion in 1941. What were they expected to think when they saw the big buildup of US and allied troops and the rearmament of West Germany after WWII?

111:

Not entirely, though I agree that it was a major part of its
entire history. Lenin was definitely expansionist and Stalin
was aggressive (to put it mildly!) But, yes, after the death
of Stalin, the west could have stopped the Cold War at any time,
just as we could stop the conflict today. The USSR and Russia
could not, except by letting themselves be destroyed piecemeal.

112:

The Soviet Union's entire history was one of defending itself from attack and invasion by outside forces,

Sure, when they attacked small neighboring nations it was for defensive purposes, just as the USA has been fighting defensive wars all over the world.

But when the USSR conquered a nation they would install a communist puppet government. When the USA did it, they would establish a freely-elected government. Then if the local government was too disobedient they would either invite a US-trained general to stage a coup, or invade and set up a new freely-elected government. It's an important difference in style.

A lot of western europeans decided that the USSR was not going to invade them. One reason was that the USSR economy depended on a lot of european imports that would be unavailable after western europe was a smoking ruin. Another was that any invasion might result in a nuclear war, and even a small nuclear war might be enough to ruin your whole decade. A third reason was that the soviet concept that quantity creates its own quality implied that there would be heavy russian casualties, and the benefits expected from conquering western europe were not big enough to justify those casualties. A fourth reason was that the Russians did not really trust their Warsaw Pact allies to fight vigorously for them, so they would have to do the brunt of the fighting themselves.

Once you are ready to assume there will be no war in europe, it opens up a lot of opportunities. Opportunities to cut costs, to improve the economy, etc. It's a tremendously liberating belief, provided it works out.

And so far it has.

113:

The Falklands war happened entirely because the USA did not intervene. If the US had told Argentina not to take the Falklands, probably they would not have. If the USA had told them afterward to evacuate from there, probably they would have. And the British fought only because the USA let them.

Bullshit.

(Throws up hands and decides to ignore J Thomas on all matters of military history, if this is a reasonable indicator of their cluelessness.)

114:

But when the USSR conquered a nation they would install a communist puppet government. When the USA did it, they would establish a freely-elected government.

Ahem. Who are the candidates in these elections? Hint: you don't get to run if the US doesn't approve of you.

The US is nominally a democracy and therefore applies democratic forms as an ideological cover for its actions when engaging in overseas adventurism. This is, functionally, exactly the same practice that the Soviet Union engaged in when it imposed a communist regime.

115:

To be fair, the following two sentences are

Then if the local government was too disobedient they would either invite a US-trained general to stage a coup, or invade and set up a new freely-elected government. It's an important difference in style.

I'm assuming he meant the irony.

116:

"The Falklands war happened entirely because the USA did not intervene."

Bullshit.

It isn't unreasonable to make the judgement that this is bullshit.

However, some Americans believe that the USA has the right and the obligation to preserve the peace all over the world. And so they consistently support the USA intervening when it appears to be in the USA's interest to intervene.

This is an important point of view because the USA is still strong enough to cause a lot of disruption in almost any part of the world they take too much interest in. I should have put a sarcasm tag on that comment.

The USA had the physical resources to prevent Britain from military action in the Falklands, but of course would not have done so even if it had been popular among the US public. They would not have told the British to take it up with the ICC because the US government disapproves of the ICC. They would not have taken the Falklands themselves and given it back to Britain because they understood that the British government needed a victory symbol and doing that would hurt them. Etc.

I think it's plausible that a warning and a bribe might likely have gotten the Argentine government not to do it in the first place, but it didn't happen so there's no way to find out now.

The Argentines, of course, believed that no one would attack them for taking back their islands. If they had thought the British would make a serious attempt to fight, they would have either not done it or prepared a stronger defense.

117:

"But when the USSR conquered a nation they would install a communist puppet government. When the USA did it, they would establish a freely-elected government."

Ahem. Who are the candidates in these elections? Hint: you don't get to run if the US doesn't approve of you.

Yes, agreed. So I say it is an important difference in style, and not an important difference in substance.

118:

At the time, I was wondering what the Blessed Margaret would do
if the USA had told her semi-publically not to send the task
force, and that it was proposing to host negotiations. There
was certainly some dithering in Washington over whether to do
that. I didn't have a clue then, and I don't now.

119:

And then Michael Crichton took the character into fiction in Eaters of the Dead and applies the authorial blender to Beowulf. When that was filmed as The 13th Warrior he was played by Antonio Banderas.

Wow. So I wasn't the only one who bought that book way back when. I've never met anyone else who read or even heard of it except a few friends at the time I loaned it to.

I missed the movie due to a somewhat aversion to anything with Banderas in it. Apparently most of the planet avoided it also.

120:

The fleet would still have sailed. If the Argentinians had backed out then nothing much would have happened other than the islands being fortified as they were after the war, but the murderous junta in charge in Argentina couldn't back down and stay in place, they had bet everything on a Short Victorious War to "reclaim" the Malvinas to distract their countryfolk from what they had been doing to them and the dire economic situation they were in.

121:

But would the USA have backed down and accepted that amount of
loss of face? I admire your self-assurance, but do not share it.

122:

As someone who has worked, and still does part time in adult education, I spend a fair amount of time trying to make them think. You'd imagine that, since adult education is voluntary, they'd be willing to try but it seems not to be true.

A lot of friendships my wife and I start fad away as the conversation carried by the others seems to devolve to repeating talking points rather than actual discussion of topics.

123:

Charlie ... You DID see my reply @ # 93 ??

& J T @ 116
More bullshit.
The Argie miltiary had the entire time from the sailing of the Falklands Task force, until their arrival ( Ignoring S Georgia) to prepare.
What did they actually do?
Nothing - relied on their air-force & Navy, which did them no good at all ....

Elderly Cynic @ 118
The US were told "You did want to go on using our facilities on Ascencion Island didn't you?"

124:

If you think that the UK had a hope in hell of winning that sort
of pissing match with the USA, what will you offer me for Tower
Bridge?

Inter alia, if any serious opposition from the USA had become
public (let alone the issuing of such a threat!), the chances
of Thatcher winning in the Cabinet or Parliament or surviving
the ensuing panic in the Conservative party would have been
slim to none.

125:

Oh rlly? sersly?

Your best answer to "ok, give us examples" is to accuse the questioner of moving the stadium and repeat your opinion?

126:

If you had asked for examples of what I had said, I would have
given some. As you asked for examples of what I had NOT said,
my remarks were perfectly in order.

127:

The Argie miltiary had the entire time from the sailing of the Falklands Task force, until their arrival ( Ignoring S Georgia) to prepare.
What did they actually do?
Nothing - relied on their air-force & Navy, which did them no good at all ....

Not unlikely they were panicked by then. I don't know what they were thinking. But it seems pretty clear that when they actually took the islands they didn't really expect a fight, and if they had expected one they would have done something different.

128:

that's an Anti-Fascist Wall along the border, and the use of lethal force against anyone attempting to cross westwards is purely defensive.

In my mother-in-law's German family we get tales of the very liberal relative who kept saying how much better things would be if the east German's took over the west. Her father's main argument was to ask her for just how many West Germans were getting shot in their attempts to cross the wall going east.

129:

"I was, for example, opposed to the Gulf Wars, they seemed pretty much like Western Imperialism at it worst."

Are you familiar with the actual British Empire, and how it went around occupying and claiming countries as permanent parts of the British Empire? The only way to say that the Gulf Wars were western Imperialism at its worst is to take the viewpoint that there's nothing actually wrong with doing that, and what makes the Gulf Wars the "worst" examples is how badly the regions were culturally and politically incorporated into the empire. Which, I suspect, is not what you wanted to say.

130:

Without really wanting to get into a semantics and history debate, the way the term is used in the last 25 years or so in the general population doesn't refer to actions of the British Empire, even if it's used that way in some circles still. It's a more general "WTF are the Americans/NATO doing sticking their noses in here?" In that sense I stand by it.

And if you want to play the history card on Western Imperialism, you are aware that the French, Germans, Spanish, Belgians, Portuguese and others carved out empires across the globe with greater or less levels of success?

131:

No, that's fine. If that's the definition you're playing with, knock yourself out. Just seemed a very odd thing to say given that Imperialism has done far, far worse things.

As for "play the history card", I have no idea what you're talking about of why you're bringing it up. Gosh, was there really another empire builder in the world? I had no idea. I thought that the British were the ONLY ones. I really really did. Gosh, were some of them MORe successful, and some of them LESS successful? Wow. I never EVER would have guessed.

132:

Thatcher couldn't back down. She was trailing the SDP/Liberal alliance massively in the polls at that point, and her own back-benchers -- and the "Wets" in her own cabinet -- would have eaten her liver and lights. It'd have been the end of Thatcherism (and probably of conservative government for a decade).

I think the Reagan administration would have been very unwise to tell her to back down, too. It'd have been another Suez moment, and one where the British might well draw the same lesson that the French drew in 1956. And it would have had interesting implications for relations with the USSR.

Just as the Junta went for a short, victorious war, so too did Thatcher -- her back was against the wall. The real question is what would have happened if the fleet had lost one or both carriers. All it would have taken was for the Argentinian Air Force to take a closer look at how they were fusing their bombs and instead of having to deal with a bunch of UXB and losing a couple of frigates and transport ships the RN could have been in a world of hurt ...

133:

Oh, yes, precisely. That is why I said that it would have been
very interesting, and I didn't and don't have a clue what would
have happened!

134:

"Are you familiar with the actual British Empire, and how it went
around occupying and claiming countries as permanent parts of the
British Empire?"

Well, yes - I am a colonial from the last days of the Empire (over
which the sun never sets)! It wasn't like that - Seeley put it
well: "we seem, as it were, to have conquered half the world in a
fit of absence of mind." See, for example (and there's lots more):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robert_Seeley
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_South_Africa_Company

135:

Sorry for the late reply, been swamped.

I know it's fun to blame the USA for EVERYTHING, but here you're arguing that Rwanda and Bosnia came about because the US didn't intervene militarily in Somalia and Haiti?

So let me see ... the US was wrong to send troops into Kuwait. The US was wrong NOT to send troops into Somalia and Haiti. The US was wrong to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably they're wrong NOT to send troops into Syria?

You misunderstand. The US did intervene militarily in both Haiti and Somalia - operations Uphold Democracy and UNOSOM II. Both were US led interventions backed by UN Security Council Resolutions, as was Kuwait.

The underlying logic was based on the US led UN interventions in 1991/92 in Kuwait and Cambodia that were to all appearances 100% successful. This suggested that similar policy would be effective elsewhere in the world. Then the government changed in 1993, and the hawks went out of power. Clinton didn't have the same tolerance of casualties, which meant that the turf war with Aidid in Somalia in 1993 - which was an overwhelming US victory - lost the propaganda war back home and in the UN. The US then reversed its strategy, and backed off from supporting their positions on the continent. Very similar to the Vietnam war following the Tet offensive.

This meant that when the Rwandan Patriotic Front kicked off in April 1994, the appeals for support from UN observers on the ground were disregarded on the basis that there was no-one that could be sent - despite there being a large US/UN military presence a few hours away in Kenya/Somalia. Which meant that the mission in country was literally powerless to do anything. They were effectively ignored by the Hutu, who walked past them to kill people they were trying to shelter.

Bosnia is a different case, but I will have to come back to that later.
The fact that the US and UK were effectively considered the military arm of the UN for the 80s and 90s should be held at the back of your mind though.

136:

Hi, you may recall in a previous thread that I advised you not to waste your time discussing things with me. Still stands, I'm afraid.

137:

Anyway, for your hypothesis to hold up - and it seems attractive, don't get me wrong - why didn't it happen against the other obvious great expansionist empires? We've got the Mongols, the various wars with Napoleon, the expansion of Alexander the Great. China probably isn't a great model because it wasn't a greatly expansionist country. Or is there something missing in those cases to refine your hypothesis?

The simple answer is that it did happen. The pattern of oppida collapse is an example of what's called a "shatter-zone" in the sociological literature, and my reference to it is Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed. In his book "Zomia" (the highlands of southeast Asia and the Himalaya east of Tibet) are basically one huge shatter zone predominantly caused by people fleeing the various Chinese expansionist dynasties, the short-lived kingdoms of lowland Southeast Asia (which, as he describes it, are potentially the Galapagos for studies of state evolution and collapse), and to a lesser extent, Tibet and India.

Similar phenomena certainly happened in the US (What is now Wisconsin was recorded as a shatter-zone as the US expanded west to Ohio), mountain ranges including Switzerland, the Atlas in North Africa, much of the Himalayas (some want to extend the label of Zomia all the way to Afghanistan), and possibly the Guyana Highlands and western Amazonia (due to Spanish and Portuguese expansion).

And yes, the Mongols got into Zomia from the north.

Napoleon's not a great example, because his wars took place largely in the context of states fighting other states, and a shatter-zone is the expansion of a state into a stateless area. The only place Napoleon could have caused a shatter zone would have been in North America, so we'd have to check the history of the Cherokee to see what the French did.

As for Alexander, he might have had similar effects. The evidence would be hidden in the archeology of Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, to the extent that such evidence still exists.

138:

"The fact that the US and UK were effectively considered the
military arm of the UN for the 80s and 90s should be held at the
back of your mind though."

Hmm. Given that the campaigns and objectives were chosen by the
former, it's a rather loaded way of putting it. But I agree that
we were closer to the side of the angels then than in the middle
eastern destabilisations.

139:

Yes - I've just read about that.

BTW- Martin J. Blaser has been studying the impact of eradicating H.Pylori plus other microbes. (Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues) I'm about a third of the way through the book and not liking how many antibiotics are in our food chain. Even so-called organic produce is regularly dowsed in antibiotics.

140:

I assumed you knew; I was just attempting to give Our Guest Host the full context. Sorry if it came across badly.

I'll have to look that up; how US-centric is it? (The EU is somewhat better about antibiotic use in animal feed. Not a lot better, but use for growth promotion is banned at least.)

141:

As per Wikipedia, seems that the UN, EEC, US and a few other bodies all OK'd the U.K. going to war against Argentina.


Below is the U.S. stance:

"The United States was concerned by the prospect of Argentina turning to the Soviet Union for support,[28] and initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the US peace overtures, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the US Congress passed resolutions supporting the US action siding with the United Kingdom.[29]"

142:

I am a believer in keeping my immune system well-exercised :-)
Actually, I am fairly serious, and you can find medical articles
that provide supporting evidence.

143:

Yes, but it was closer than that implies. There were a surprising
number of sabre-rattlers who seemed to be stuck in a 1780 time warp
as far as their attitude to Britain was concerned, as came up with
NORAID etc. - not all of its supporters did so because they
supported the unification of Ireland. See also:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303816504577313852502105454

I agree that the Argentine's worst enemy was themselves - if they
had not cocked it up at almost every turn, they might have stopped
the task force (by getting Thatcher deposed) and, if not, the war
would have been really bloody and we might have actually lost.
I was then and am still undecided whether winning did the UK more
harm than losing would have done.

144:

I'm not a historian but from what I know and read I do think there's a general tendency to say, at least in the Anglophone world, history from ~1845-1945 is "Britain's fault" and since 1945 is the USA's fault.

It really depends on where in the world you are looking. The US really didn't start meddling properly until the early 50s, but the rise of Anti-communism and the proxy wars meant they really rode a boom of playing silly buggers across the Middle East and Asia up until the late 70s.

That wasn't necessarily them being heavy handed though - some, such as Syria, were mostly the fault of the US standing back and going "These elections are fair and we won't bias them" and the French and British bribing the hell out of the opposition and winning by a landslide. The US soon learned the trick though, and most foreign policy from the early 60s onwards was heavily involved in supporting favourable regimes. Afghanistan is a good example - the city of Lashkar Gah was build by the Army Corps of Engineers, and could have been any city in the midwest. Helmand province was remodelled based on the Tennessee river developments, and Pan Am did clothing lines. Then the soil changed, and it all fell apart.

Adam Curtis has recently released a very interesting film on that time period called Bitter Lake. It's only on iPlayer as being over 2hrs long it doesn't work well on TV schedules. It covers the US, UK, USSR, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan amongst others.

This blog post from him should be interesting reading for those in the US though.

145:

And it is true that we shouldn't forget the communists, the fascists, nor the contributions of the French, Portuguese, Belgians, Japanese, and more recently Chinese to various and sundry peri- and post-colonial debacles around the world.

However, I do think think that former British Imperial gambits have shown up disproportionately on the recent global stage. Part of this is the politics of Middle East oil. Churchill was the one who got BP started on Iranian oil back in the 1920s(?), and the British and Americans have certainly been messing with that region before and since.

One of the interesting factors is the rise of the CIA in US foreign affairs, because the CIA was modeled explicitly on and at first trained by British intelligence. Our own homegrown counterintelligence agency, the FBI, is a fairly different fish, and arguably more effective at its mission than the CIA is.

146:

Oh god yes.
Pre WW2 we had in Africa alone ... lets see now ... the Italians in Libya, Tunisia and Ethiopia, the French owned all of central and west Africa, Belgians in DRCongo, the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, and Britain pretty much everywhere else.

To be fair to Britain, most of its former colonies have done reasonably well post independence. So have the former Dutch colonies.

The French colonies are middling, the Portuguese barring Brazil are poor, and the ex-Belgian ones turned into hell on earth. Rwanda was originally Belgian, and ruled through local Tutsi chiefs, which should explain some of the hatred that culminated in the Genocide.

The rise of the CIA is fascinating, because as far as I can tell, they have never achieved anything of great success other than to destabilise neutral countries and offend nearly everyone. Compare and contrast with Mossad or the DGSE, and particularly the KGB, all of whom had notable successes.

I think MI6 has done reasonably well in the UK, unlike MI5 who were completely incompetent.

147:

"Pre WW2 we had in Africa alone ..."

Don't forget the Germans! They had more colonies there than most
people realise.

148:

... including most Germans. Also, there's still streets named after von Trotha (who was one of the commanders of the Herero massacre) in some cities.

149:

Good point: I'd folded the Germans and the Italians into the fascists, but they do deserve to be separated and hung out separately, because their colonial ventures started before their descent into fascism, and I did pull out the Japanese for the same reason (always worth remembering that Korea and Manchuria were Japanese colonies until 1945, something none of the four nations has forgotten).

150:

Crimea has been dominated by Russian speakers for centuries, and the threat to them was the NATO-supported (even if not actually sponsored) coup that overthrew the democratically elected pro-Russian government of Ukraine...

I have the sneaking suspicion that you view "Russia Today" with the same uncritical belief that a US Republican views Fox News... You've insisted that I only consider actions after Stalin, but it was Kruschev that sent the tanks in to Budapest, Brezhnev that sent them into Prague and Kabul, Yeltsin that sent them into Groznyy, and Putin that sent them into Georgia, Crimea, and the Donbass.

At what point is democratic protest turn into a "coup overthrowing the democratic government"? Was the uprising against Ceaucescu a coup, or democracy in action? Was the Prague Spring a coup, or democracy in action?

You claim that Russia has been purely defensive, not at all aggressive or expansionist; I would suggest that you look at the material condition of Groznyy after the Red Army acted in a purely defensive fashion against the implacably hostile forces of NATO...

As Erickson pointed out at the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry was completely blindsided by the armoured columns heading for Grozny in 1994. The fact that Pavel Grachev (buddy of Yeltsin, head of the Armed Forces, and notorious drunk) had spent the best part of a week "celebrating" his birthday with his mates in the Transcaucasus Military District; and that he'd unilaterally decided to deploy the tanks through the haze of alcohol; seemed to be the most plausible explanation...

151:

Hmm...

Somewhere in it's history I think this was an interesting comment thread. Now it's more the tailings from a gold mine, with odd nuggets of unlooked for chemistry lurking in the dross.

152:

Except the Argie air force never even got close to the carriers & were extremely unlikely to have done so.
IMHO, losing Atlantic Conveyer was the worst ship-loss, given what she was carrying.
I mean, we are already forgetting - this was 1981/2, right - I remember it all too well. Though my contempt for Thatcher dates from her days as Min of Education for the Grocer.

153:

At least two, possibly three major acquisitions were almost literally forced on to the then Brits.
The three classic cases are lower Burma, Upper Ghana & Uganda, where there was either a major trading station or adjoining territory ... & the local ruler then decided to commit some dreadful atrocity. { IIRC the Burmese case involved a mass slaughter by deliberately trampling people under an elephant herd-charge, euw. In Ghana the local ruler was indulging in semi-genocide & bathing in the blood of his victims, euw again.)
And the reaction to that was "We're not having that happening right next door, it's bad for relations & business".
Egypt WAS going to be a joint operation with the French (Suez Canal was theor operation, remember ...) but they backed out for internal financial & faction-reasons......

154:

No
Because ... as previously mentioned, the US was politely but firmly told to at the very absolute minimum, stay neutral ( for reference to future co-operation in the UN - as someone else has said - a reversal of Suez ... )
And the entire wrong lessons wer drawn afterwards ... we have continued to disarm & what armaments we have are often ineffective.
Thus making us vulnerable again.
See my comment about looking fierce prevents people having a go at you.
The vile War Criminal Blair has a lot to answer for, as well ....


Err ... Heteromeles @ 145
Churchill was the one who got BP started on Iranian oil back in the 1920s(?)
MUCH EARLIER.
The amazing QUeen Elizabeth class battleships, designed approx 1912 were oil-fuelled from the start, because Winston & Jackie Fisher had decided 1911/12 to go over to oil-fuel for all new ships.
See R Massie; "Dreadnought"

155:

"Was the uprising against Ceaucescu a coup, or democracy in action? "

A coup. Complete with the British military attache joining the demonstrators in the streets.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_Revolution

156:

You are blinkered to a degree. No, of course, I don't believe the
Russian line - and Russia Today is ghastly. I am basing what I
say mostly on UK and USA sources - including semi-official ones,
like the ones I mentioned and released secret documents. You
should read such things. Unlike you, I almost always check the
statements of camp pro-X by checking up on the base documents
and, failing that, reading the statements of camp anti-X. I then
draw my OWN conclusions - and, over the past 50 years, I have a
regrettably high rate of being both heretical/treacherous and
proven right by later events :-(

All of the Hungarian, Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and other 'uprisings'
were democracy in action. But what you are ignoring is that there
was a USA/UK/NATO policy of trying to destabilise those countries,
as part of the Cold War active operations. You are ALSO ignoring
the large numbers of nuclear missiles in Germany and Turkey,
aimed at the USSR, and the fact that - from 1945 until at least
the 1960s - a fair number of influential USA (and less effective
UK) politicians and generals were openly advocating opening
limited (hot) war against the USSR. The USSR was scared, and
with very good reason.

I am not going to justify the brutality of the suppressions, nor
the atrocities of the Russian forces, and I agree that they were disgraceful. I should point out that the NATO policy of
destabilisation and encroachment continues - the agreement with
Brezhnev was that NATO would not expand up to Russia's borders.
So where is it today? And how much closer are those missiles to
Moscow now? Look those up. Those are trivially checkable facts.

The same applies in Ukraine and Georgia, where the intent seems
to have been to close Russian bases and ports, and join NATO
(possibly even installing missiles). I notice that you have
ignored my statements about Crimea's history and democratic wish.
Again, it's checkable. From 1991 to recently, Russia fought
NATO's encroachment mainly politically but, with Georgia and
Crimea, Putin decided that he could do so no more, and stood his
ground. Bluntly, he had no other option but to accept further
NATO encroachment.

I was and am talking about the STRATEGIC REASONS, which were and
are purely defensive. The tactical ones were often offensive
and brutal. And I know that you know the difference between
strategy and tactics.

157:

Many more than three. Look up Rhodes (and Twain's wonderful
comment on him). There were also a lot of protectorates that
were given to Britain to administer after the first world war
(and probably at other times).

I admire your assurance about the certainty of success of
Thatcher's tactics in the Falklands, and am sure she would have
shared it. I, however, am much less certain - while I could post
why, I don't want to start that very smelly red herring.

158:

You are blinkered to a degree.

We all are, once we accept some particular point of view.

All of the Hungarian, Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and other 'uprisings' were democracy in action. But what you are ignoring is that there was a USA/UK/NATO policy of trying to destabilise those countries, as part of the Cold War active operations.

Well, yes....

I am not going to justify the brutality of the suppressions, nor the atrocities of the Russian forces, and I agree that they were disgraceful.

Yes....

I was and am talking about the STRATEGIC REASONS, which were and are purely defensive.

Suppose that you are talking to someone who pledged his life -- who was ready to die if necessary -- to stop the USSR.

You can't expect him to look at it from their point of view. Sure, it was an empire that had solid strategic reasons for what it did. You can look at the reasons for that.

But at a higher level still beyond tactics and strategy, they had no moral right to create strategies to stop US/NATO etc efforts to destabilize their subject nations. They had no right to exist. What they should have done was to surrender, or -- failing that -- to die.

Arguing that their strategic goals were reasonable for an evil empire to have, will cut no cheese given this fundamental viewpoint.

Oops, I mean it will cut no ice.

159:

Well, yes, but what really horrifies me is the way that our rulers
and their useful idiots are creating the conditions for another
Dzhugashvili, with all that might imply :-( And I don't believe
that at least the more clued-up people in TPTB (including NATO,
Whitehall and Washington) aren't aware of exactly what they are
doing and its likely consequences.

160:

I have to disagree with you on this one. From being on the receiving end of Obama administration policies on things like solar power, I suspect that the simpler explanation is that they really haven't thought about the consequences of what they're doing.

Note that I voted for Obama. This isn't a conservative position, but one borne of experience. At the lower levels, there wasn't a lot of change between Bush II and Obama, in terms of the stupidity with which policies are being carried out. I've dealt with it with solar development, my friends have dealt with it with wind development, we've all seen it with the financial sector, and I'm increasingly dealing with it with fire policy in the western US. In every case, the most hamfisted, potentially corrupt or corrupting path was the one chosen. It's enormously frustrating, because Obama doesn't strike me as a stupid guy, but somewhere between him and reality things get messed up.

161:

Sure, and since you think they know what they're doing, can you tell us about the strategy that makes it a good defensive move for their own empire? It makes sense from their point of view, they don't just intend to create horrors for a joke.

They basicly just want to protect what's theirs, right? They need to control the world oil supply because if they don't they could lose everything, and Russia has a lot of oil that could support a big war if it got developed well. But if another Stalin sets Russia back as much as the last one did....

162:

Stalin took Russia from a wrecked state after WW1 to a global superpower. I doubt there is any realistic way it could have been done faster.

163:

Also to Heteromeles. I didn't say that Those With Clue were
necessarily listened to! The story of my career is littered with
occasions when I have said such things, been ignored, and proven
right. We know that the principals in the Afghanistan and Iraq
invasions, and Libyan and Syrian destabilisations, ignored the
advice of their experts in favour of their own prejudices (e.g.
what EVERYONE wants is the Madison Avenue American Way of Life).

An equally likely scenario is that most of the decision makers
don't care. They can see a benefit for themselves in the short
term (and it's not just oil, though that's part), and damn the
long term or what happens to anyone else. Thatcher was prepared
to sacrifice 25% of the British navy to save her career, and I
doubt they are much better.

God help us all :-(

164:

As a Polak, you can imagine the hives this thread is giving me.

Re: colonial reputations: the Germans actually had one of the better reputations as colonial masters, outside of Europe that is.* The Dutch and the Belgians the worst. There are several doctoral dissertations in there, I suspect.

*People forget that Bismark wanted to "de-encephalate" Slavic peoples long before Hitler. Yet there's a state capitol in the U.S. named after this mook.

Re: Stalin and the mountain of skulls on the path to industrialization: we forget how many mole-hills of craniums lie under American, British, French, etc. modernization. Because that's all in the past, ahem... Lest we forget, May Day (the anarchist/socialist version) started in the U.S. But that was a different country (and the metaphorical wench is dead, of course.)

165:

The Three Body Problem bizarrely gave me some sympathy for how difficult it would be for anybody trying to modernize China as it was. There were better roads to development, but how many plausible ones?

Despite the underlying hypocrisy in the motivation, I enjoyed the fact that Chinese managers had to go out and do manual work every once in a while for political reasons. Yes, I get that it's inefficient allocation, bladdy blah blah; I still get a kick out of it. It's working class porn either of the schadenfreude variety or of the idealist Walden Two/Beyond the Urals flavor.

166:

"As a Polak, you can imagine the hives this thread is giving me."

Yes. God alone knows why your ruling lunatics were so insane as
to poke missiles into the face of the bear.

167:

WHAT "Thatcher's tactics"?
Didn't you read my earlier comment about her wetting her knickers, after the disaster started to unfold?
Thw whole thing was put together by our defence chiefs & she was told to ticck the box - after the rest of the cabinet decided to back a rapid response.
Ghastly creature, she was almost as bad as Eden & Blair - almost everything she touched turned to shit - but with a longer delay-time, allowing her to escape.

168:

WHAT "Thatcher's tactics"?
Didn't you read my earlier comment about her wetting her knickers, after the disaster started to unfold?
The whole thing was put together by our defence chiefs & she was told to tick the box - after the rest of the cabinet decided to back a rapid response.
Ghastly creature, she was almost as bad as Eden & Blair - almost everything she touched turned to shit - but with a longer delay-time, allowing her to escape.

169:

Oops - sorry - that above was a response to Elderly Cynic ...
As for Dirk, that comment on Stalin is pure cobblers - he set the SovUnioon & Russia back, massively.
Read Bullock, or just look at the famine-figure & the population-loss or the sheer waste of effort involved in the Gulag.
So there

170:

I should point out that the NATO policy of
destabilisation and encroachment continues - the agreement with Brezhnev was that NATO would not expand up to Russia's borders. So where is it today? And how much closer are those missiles to Moscow now?

It would be interesting to see what you consider "encroachment"; at the moment, Russia appears to believe that any attempt in the Near Abroad to move out of their sphere of influence (i.e. not have a kleptocratic President, or at least not one that can be bought) is "encroachment". The Baltic States were grabbed in 1940, they got out when they could; and decided that allying themselves with the west offered the only realistic means of staying independent. Was that "Western Encroachment", or was it an understandable desire for self-determination?

I note that the Finns are getting twitchy, having made their own break in 1917 - would their continued views on (say) independence and democracy rather than rule from Moscow, or any attempt to join the EU, be counted as "encroachment"?

Likewise "Destabilisation" - I'm interested to hear your thoughts as to the scale and credibility of "destabilisation activities" by NATO. Does "broadcasting lies" (aka propaganda, aka offering an alternative interpretation from that of the government) count? Both Russia and the US make attempts to proselytise, but does the BBC World Service?

Or is it local political activism - say, the Communist Party of Great Britain on one hand, or sundry non-Communist parties in the East? Rules on political contributions, and appropriate political behaviour, exist on all sides (e.g. watch the Dutch Ambassador to the US "not comment" on Rick Santorum). I'm not aware of any successes by either.

Perhaps it's active political involvement - going across a border, and offering Russian passports to any disaffected locals, and then (coincidentally) moving to defend those poor oppressed citizens? tricky. Yes, there are Nationalist numpties in many former Soviet states, who insist that "everyone must speak Latvian/Georgian/Ukrainian to be true citizen" - but the majority of it is local dog-whistle politics, and never makes it past the first vote in the local Parliament.

Perhaps it's active military involvement - except that appears to be a Russian thing. For all the claims of "Western Mercenaries" in the Ukraine, none appear to have been caught - while many serving Russian soldiers have been found in the Ukraine. There were some truly amusing claims about evil Western snipers in the Maidan, which most people place on a credibility level with Russian claims that a Su-25 shot down flight MH377.

Yes, there is a paranoid mindset to the Russian worldview. As a light read, I recommend "The Moon Goddess and the Son" by Donald Kingsbury as an insight. But that's an explanation, not an excuse. Killing thousands, stealing land, invading neighbours, "because, because, encroachment in the Near Abroad!" smacks of the Sudetenland excuses.

So, Crimea wants to be Russian? Perhaps. So why not use democracy rather than invasion, sorry hybrid warfare? So, the US wants to set up a missile defence system in Poland - obviously, it's a plot to threaten the Rodina!

Yes, NATO stationed Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and flew RB-57, U-2, and A-12 across the USSR. Perhaps Stalin, Budapest in 1956, and half a million soldiers in Germany facing west had something to with it. In turn, I suggest you examine the reality in which SS-20 was introduced to Europe before Pershing-2 appeared.

Similarly, do you think Ukraine should have believed Russia when it signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances

Not exactly a great pragmatic argument for the benefits of nuclear disarmament...

So, in the round, no. I don't believe that Russia is aggressive or expansionist - beyond what the more Nationalist Russians see as "theirs by right and history". In other words, I don't see them going past Finland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, or the Transcaucasus. I do wonder whether they're insane enough to try...

171:

YOu might like to read up on what happened in German South West Africa, followed by German East Africa. It wasn't nice, to put it bluntly. Who is it that thinks Germany hasn't such a bad reputation?

172:

If it gives you any consolation, some people regard North Dakota as one of the most racist states in the union (especially according to the Dakota and the Lakota), so naming its capitol Bismarck unfortunately isn't misplaced. It's also worth remembering that Washington owned slaves, and they named a (majority white) state after him.

The problem with Poland is, unfortunately, geography. There's no forbidding massif of steep mountains, no great dismal swamp, no burning desert that the Poles could flee into or which would stop the armies marching. It's miles and miles of lush, fertile, welcoming country, so far as I know. It's just the thing to give a would-be conqueror notions. Of course, the Ukraine and western Russia have similar terrain, so perhaps these kinds of lands contribute to a certain paranoid attitude about border security? If so, it's well-placed.

Note that I don't think this excuses the invasive idiocy that everyone from the Swedes to the French to the Brits to the Germans to NATO has indulged in. It's just to point out that there's fundamentally and terribly useful about having godawful terrain as your homeland. Ask the Swiss.

173:

Or indeed the British.

174:

"So, Crimea wants to be Russian? Perhaps. So why not use democracy rather than invasion, sorry hybrid warfare? "

A really good idea. I suggest that the EU and Ukraine government suggest an internationally supervised secession referendum for East Ukraine. You really think that would be allowed?

175:

Stalin took Russia from a wrecked state after WW1 to a global superpower. I doubt there is any realistic way it could have been done faster.

You could be right. We can't go back and run the experiment again to find out.

Maybe Russia was just plain overpopulated and caring for their surplus population would inevitably have slowed industrial expansion. Maybe it was necessary that the surplus people die, and perhaps the only way to expand faster was to kill more of them. I'd rather not believe it, but that's just me.

They preferentially killed older experienced people, leaving lots of room for young men to move in and make big changes. Maybe that was necessary. I'd prefer to believe that there was room for experienced MDs, microbiologists, secret police, engineers, etc. That things would have expanded faster if they had used that expertise some places. But maybe people who were experts at the old ways to do things would have inevitably have slowed things down and it was necessary to get rid of them.

They killed people who had their own ideas. Lots of socialists and communists who wanted a say in how things went. I tend to think some of those people probably had useful ideas that could have been adopted. But maybe letting them live would have caused too much disruption. Maybe the only way to keep Russia from sinking back into an anarchy where the experts killed each other because they disagreed, was to kill everybody who disagreed with Stalin.

From a simple Leontieff input-output diagram it's obvious they would have expanded faster without the extra deaths. More labor means more inputs and then more outputs, and so the economy expands faster. But that isn't the whole story.

For all I know any approach that left more people alive would have come out worse. For example it may have been absolutely necessary to kill off the malcontents, and especially the bolshevik early adopters.

I don't want to believe it, but you might be right.

176:

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't suggest that it's preferable to the current mess. The problem comes if the more Nationalist factions in the Russian leadership decide that they got away with it this time, so why not next?

In return, I'd ask what you would say to Chamberlain in 1938. "Go on, negotiate with the Germans, let the inhabitants of the Sudetenland have a referendum"...

It's worth noting that while they are single-source, and no doubt will be dismissed as Western propaganda, there are some interesting claims by Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov (Putin's former chief economic adviser) about Putin's alleged desire for "historical justice".

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-wants-to-regain-finland-for-russia-adviser-says-9224273.html

177:

"China probably isn't a great model because it wasn't a greatly expansionist country"

It very certainly is, just over a longer time period than we usually look. 'China' was originally a number of city states along the Yellow river, they and subsequent empires pushed the borders hard deep into the Ordos and Mongolia, north and east through Manchuria, west into the deserts of central Asia. And south into the jungles of the along the Yangtze at one point stretching far enough to occupy large parts of Vietnam. If China is quintessentially a densely populated intensively agricultural polity look at how far they pushed the borders beyond the biomes of their staple crops, deep into rice growing areas and far into deserts and steppe. I've recently been reading a book on wall building in China which had a comment on the difficult of getting grain to the Han positions near the Jade Gate - I don't have it to hand at the moment but it reminded me of nothing so much as the figure for getting a gallon of diesel into Afghanistan mentioned up thread (something like 40 pounds to 1 pound at the wall - but as I say I don't have the book handy now). China today is still littered with the remains of ethnic groups that once comprised the independent cities and tribes they conquered.

178:

I suggest that the EU and Ukraine government suggest an internationally supervised secession referendum for East Ukraine.

That sounds like fun!

If they do a good job of it, maybe we could invite them to the USA to do it for Texas.

I'm not sure whether the USA is better off with Texas as a US state or with Texas as a next door neighbor. Both choices are bad, but I'm leaning toward the latter.

("Given a choice between two evils, I'll take the one I haven't tried yet." Though the USA did have Texas for a neighbor for 9 years. Their government built up a national debt they couldn't pay, and they had no way to win their continuing war with Mexico, and the USA perhaps-unwisely bailed them out.)

179:

That's a really hard call. Would the USSR have been better without the Holodomor famine in the early 1930s, that killed between 3,000,000 and 8,000,000 Ukrainians?

Would the increased number of Russians possibly have deterred the Nazis, ameliorating or preventing the over 20,000,000 people the Soviets lost?

I suspect it would have.

There's the *long* shadow of empire hanging over the place, with a long history of imperial strongmen running Russia into the ground. In part that may be due to the intelligence services, which the Soviets inherited from the Tsars fairly intact. And note that we've got an intelligence-trained strongman angling for Tsar again? They've got a bad addiction to authoritarianism over there. I don't envy them.

Now the question of whether a Russian strongman could have done better, and my answer probably is that Stalin could not have. He was who he was. However, the Russian equivalent of Ataturk might have pulled it off, had such a person existed and managed to defeat Stalin. It didn't happen, but I suspect it was in the realm of possibility in the early days of the USSR. If someone wants to write an alt-history of the reds, that would be a very interesting place to start.

180:

Re Ukraine - on one hand, a closer connection to the West (EU, NATO) gets a decent chance for the well educated ones to improve their conditions, makes part of the oligarchy richer and means mass unemployment for the industrial workers (except seom handpicked sctors.), unenmploayment elsewhere because of competitioan from high-capitalized EU companies.
Closer connection to Russia safes more of the heavy industry, deprives many young, well educated folks of the mobility and chances they'd like to have, makes (possibly other) oligarchs rich.

Both options are bad. So how is a fair decision between plague and cholera to be made?

181:

Yes. As I have pointed out, and he has ignored, the democratically
elected pro-Russian government of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup.
Whether the Crimean independence referendum (which he has also
ignored) was more or less flawed than the Ukranian election which
legalised the result of the coup, I can't say.

182:

''It would be interesting to see what you consider "encroachment"''

Well, you could start with this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlargement_of_NATO

183:

Ukraine nationalists... Azov Battalion
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6qXNSO6fbUs/VHcOdfzCIaI/AAAAAAAAYE8/28I1sNymNTM/s1600/oYSPOCYhtB0.jpg

In E Ukraine, which way do the refugees flee? Towards the Ukraine army or towards Russia?
There is not going to be any reconciliation. Ukraine as a unitary nation is finished. The rest is details.

184:

"To be fair to Britain, most of its former colonies have done reasonably well post independence. So have the former Dutch colonies.

The French colonies are middling, the Portuguese barring Brazil are poor, and the ex-Belgian ones turned into hell on earth."

You're much too generous, British settler colonies mostly did well (unless of course you were part of the original population in which case you're probably still suffering today) of the others, well India is a democracy and almost stable but they're still trying to deal with a Maoist rebellion, sectarian tensions that regularly spill into violence and an economy that I'd describe as disappointing. Burma is a horror show, Pakistan is a basket case, ex-Rhodesia, and the bits of Sudan are in a mess, Nigeria is busy (badly) fighting their ISIS-alikes, New Guinea is hardly a state, Iraq less said the better, then there's Somaliland and Yeman.

There's a pernicious myth that British imperialism was somehow a kinder more civilised sort of affair that the British only accidentally stumbled into somehow but if we're honest we can trace the empire building straight back to 1066 (see France, and Wales and Ireland).

As for the Belgian colonies they were hell before they left and only got worse.

185:

---In return, I'd ask what you would say to Chamberlain in 1938. "Go on, negotiate with the Germans, let the inhabitants of the Sudetenland have a referendum"... ---

Ironic for your argument given it was Stalin and Churchill that divided Europe up.

186:

It's interesting times for anyone who wants to write about the fall of empire, especially say (oh) the western Roman empire.

Even though we've got more wealth sloshing around the world than we literally know what to do with, there are still at least a billion people, most of whom live in former colonies, who are miserably poor and suffering. I'm not sure whether the former Romans were in the same boat or not (my bet is they were), but all the politics are interesting. While we perhaps shouldn't get too carried away with the analogy, I think there's a lot to learn from the Third World (and yes, I'm using that term very deliberately).

187:

"In return, I'd ask what you would say to Chamberlain in 1938. "Go on, negotiate with the Germans, let the inhabitants of the Sudetenland have a referendum"..."

The inhabitants should have been allowed a referendum. The land belongs to the people living on it, not to whoever draws a few lines on a map. That lesson is being learned in the Middle East all over again. Iraq, for example, should be broken up into three nations - Shia, Sunni and the Kurds. Now it is happening the old fashioned way with bloodshed and conquest. Islamic State may very well become what it says it is.

188:

OTOH by almost all measures the world is getting better quite rapidly.

189:

On Rome, I like Adrian Goldsworthy's The Fall of the West (as was pointed out it was the Turks what did the Roman Empire in the end) - his thesis is that the collapse was ultimately due to the collapse of political legitimacy. All the other factors are there but they can be traced back to weak generals and weak emperors doing what is expedient to survive, got to pay the troops? Debase the coinage, need an ally? invite a friendly tribe over the Rhine with concessional settlement rights, Sea raiders on the British coast? Sorry need those troops in Gaul and I'll fix it all as soon as I'm Emperor. And then they become Emperor and they still need to pay the troops, and the barbarian's aren't paying taxes from what used to be a wealthy province and the generals are whispering to each other in the corner...

Some Emperors managed to reverse the decline temporary but reading a history of the late Western Empire its one Emperor after another spending much of their time putting down revolt after revolt while the money and the power drains away.

190:

"Iraq, for example, should be broken up into three nations - Shia, Sunni and the Kurds. Now it is happening the old fashioned way with bloodshed and conquest. Islamic State may very well become what it says it is."

While I agree in principle I don't think its at all that easy, while its often presented the other way on the ground the Shia and Sunni communities intermingle and overlap separating them would require something like the Partition of India albeit on a smaller scale (and boy that worked well) - and that's before we even get to the messy politics of creating a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq.

191:

The Shia and Sunni parts of Iraq have been quite well ethnically cleansed over the past 12 years or so. You won't get much intermingling and the multicultural one-nation dream of the Western liberals is already down the toilet. See Yugoslavia for a preview.

192:

Ah yes, because if we're negotiating new state borders we're just going to accept that grandma's house is in the enemy's land because some terrorists shot it up and you had to move her?

193:

That's the way it works. Of course, you can miss out the negotiating part and whoever can carve out their state does so, killing everyone they don't like in the process. It's traditional.
So, Islamic State will actually become The Islamic State or it won't. My bet is that it will succeed because having a breakaway Sunni state in that area satisfies too many interests from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to USA.

194:

Iraq, for example, should be broken up into three nations - Shia, Sunni and the Kurds.

In 2003 we had a lot of reports from Iraqis saying that sunnis and shias were getting along fine. There were lots of intermarriages, lots of mixed neighborhoods where nothing was particularly wrong.

Saddam had a government that included a lot of shias, whoever looked competent, it wasn't so much that he discriminated in favor of sunnis as he discriminated in favor of people from his hometown.

But in the Gulf war the CIA tried to get a specifically shia rebellion going. They promised supplies and air support, and then they cut them off cold for Saddam to massacre.

And after the 2003 invasion the USA did everything they could to distinguish between sunnis and shias. Shias were the good guys who had been oppressed, and sunnis were the bad guys who'd done the oppressing. They dug up as many mass graves as they could find to demonstrate sunni killing of shias. They tried to keep sunnis out of politics. The Marines raised a lot of hell in the Sunni Triangle. They made a big deal about sunni suicide bombers blowing up shias. Somebody blew up the shia Golden Mosque without killing any of the guards; there were Iraqi speculations that this was US special forces because Iraqis who did that would have killed the guards, and that it was done to get sunnis and shias angry at each other, "divide and conquer".

Sunnis and shias did get upset enough at each other to get a lot of internal ethnic cleansing, plus a lot of emigration. They had felt safe living together before, and then they didn't.

If the attempts starting in 2003 to promote democracy had involved local elected governments that collected local taxes to pay for local police and trash collection etc, and if the local governments had then noticed which other local governments they wanted to ally with, it might have built up to some number of regional governments. They might possibly have worked out their problems without a lot of bloodshed, and while the Kurds would surely have their own government that might be allied with the others, the others might or might not have gone according to religious lines. They'd work out for themselves what worked for them.

I think that approach might be considerably more stable than outsiders trying to split it up into a few nations based on their perceptions of the strengths of the local armies, or other outside criteria.

That trick never works. [\Rocky J Squirrel voice]

195:

You put pressure on a multicultural society and it fractures along those lines. We could have done it then but we didn't. Now those nations are going to form the good old fashioned way with blood and a touch of genocide. The new borders being the lines where the fighting and killing stops because all sides have reached stalemate. I guarantee they will not be straight lines like the old ones.

196:

"That's the way it works."

Except, not really. India and Pakistan had an ethnic cleansing, then they fought three wars and a decades long terrorist/dirty tricks campaign and finally developed nuclear weapons to wave at each other. Not to mention Pakistan breaking in half.

Alternately you could look at the Palestinians, they're massively outmatched but there's still been a couple of wars and a long terrorist campaign and some of them are only just coming round to the idea that they may not get their old homes back after 70 odd years - the ones currently being kicked out of the west bank settlements?

How is separation working out for South Sudan by the way?

Drawing lines on a map is a fun little western pastime but it tends to go badly on the ground because people really don't like being told their homes are being taken away to make someone elses life easier.

197:

by almost all measures the world is getting better quite rapidly.

Personally I would have said "hotter", and been more demonstrably right.

Any attempt to summarize the state of the world as improving or worsening says more about you than it does about the world.

198:

One big problem there is that the Kurdish territory is divided between Turkey, Iran, and The Clusterfuck Formerly Known as Iraq. Turkey and Iran don't want to give up their bits, and the U.S. doesn't want the one kinda-sorta-OK part of TCFKAI to get its Poland-circa-1943 on.

199:

You forgot Syria

200:

"Any attempt to summarize the state of the world as improving or worsening says more about you than it does about the world."

It certainly says that I like numbers and specific criteria for evaluation rather than just knee-jerk feel-badism.
http://startupguide.com/world/the-world-is-actually-getting-better/

Extreme poverty has fallen
Hunger is falling
Child labor is on the decline
Life expectancy is rising
Child mortality is down
Death in childbirth is rarer
War is on the decline
More and more countries are democracies
More people are going to school for longer
And literacy is, predictably, up as well.
Solar power is getting cheaper

201:

So, countries aren't allowed to join a political grouping that isn't at the behest of the Russian leadership, because the Russians don't agree? And if they do, it's "encroachment", and proof of "implacable hostility"? Sorry, that's just paranoid delusion.

You do realise that the entire armed forces of the Baltic States would act as a minor speed bump to the Russian Army, and pose no threat to them whatsoever? That the sum total of NATO forces stationed in the Baltic States is the occasional visiting unit of one or two hundred, and a handful of fighters to support the air policing mission? That the total offensive capability is effectively zero?

By Russian logic, the Norwegians should be complaining about the "constant encroachment" of the enlarged EU. And using it as proof of the EU implacable hostility to the Norwegian way of life. And the Swiss would complain that it's a real plot, they've now been completely surrounded!

The reason that the Baltic States are members is the hope that Article V will prevent Russia from pulling another land grab (remember that Russian DDOS against Estonia a few years back?)

202:

All good reasons for Islamic State to exist, as I mentioned

203:

China today is still littered with the remains of ethnic groups that once comprised the independent cities and tribes they conquered.

Very much so, something like 55 officially recognised groups from memory. And they're popular tourist attractions within China, in the same way that native american groups do performance shows to attract tourist dollars. And often about as genuine.

China is honestly the one country in the world that seems to plan ahead. They think long term, and have done for a VERY long time. Stability is extremely important to them, as is ensuring the borders.

These days China has bought up the land holding much of the third worlds mineral reserves, leases vast amounts of fishing rights, and has spent the last 50 years sending its best and brightest abroad to be trained in modern science and engineering. They then bring those skills back home where they are appreciated. And Cambridge and Stanford pat themselves on the back and claim to be educating the world, while their own countries go backwards.

204:

"It certainly says that I like numbers and specific criteria for evaluation rather than just knee-jerk feel-badism. "

I think its about liking things that are easy to measure - I don't absolutely disagree with you on whether things are better or worse, its obvious that things have improved in a whole range of areas. However there's large areas on unknown risk - the increasing pressure on the environment and not just in warming but across a whole range of issues covering pollution, freshwater, biodiversity and so on. Then there's the increasing complexity of our economic systems - very efficient but what happens if China runs into some serious civil conflict? Those sorts of risks are hard to quantify but they make the simple numbers like GDP per capita, hunger and so on look good right up until they catastrophically don't.

205:

I stand by my most though.

You can add Kenya (which breaks out in violence every election then simmers down, due to a 60/40 split in tribes, the 60% wins every election)
However Tanzania is doing well as is Malawi. Botswana and Namibia are stable and prosperous, but they are relatively ethnically uniform and lightly populated.
Zambia is ok. South Africa is ... well ... mixed.

Africa is still heavily controlled by tribal politics, so democracy isn't the panacea it would be elsewhere as it isn't evenly distributed.

In Arabia, Oman is doing well. Sri Lanka has recovered fairly well from the civil war. Malaysia is good, and most of the island nations are doing well. Guyana is one of the better South American nations, and makes some damn good rum.

206:

I'd suggest your African stares are prosperous for African values of prosperity they're stable but not exactly bounding ahead. Sri Lanka just had the army massacre thousands of civilians and POWs at the end of a long and barely ended civil war and only barely avoided a descent into dictatorship at the last election - I don't think you can call that good at all. Malaysia is goodish in material terms but tends dictatorial, Singapore is a huge success but also thoroughly one party.

207:

Would the USSR have been better without the Holodomor famine in the early 1930s, that killed between 3,000,000 and 8,000,000 Ukrainians?

Interesting tidbit. Story on NPR a few days ago said that one factor in that famine was taking the grain from the region to feed the workers building the new Soviet factories and project like their Moscow subway. Plus selling it for hard currency to buy tech from the rest of the world.

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/06/02/410487989/glory-of-moscows-80-year-old-subway-tainted-by-stalin-connections

(If you don't know NPR is sort of like the US version of the BBC. Sort of. Kind of.)

208:

And then there's Egypt and Bangladesh...

209:

Didn't we say similar things about Japan back in the 1980s?

Governing China has always been a neat trick. Until the 20th Century they had the political theory of the Mandate of Heaven, and that helped unite a group of kingdoms that weren't that different from Europe back into something called the Chinese Empire over and over and over again, despite massive hardship and bloodshed. Their history, like that of the ancient Egyptian dynasties, is the grandfather's axe paradox raised to a high art, and it's worth applauding them for emphasizing the continuity of their history, just as it's worth applauding western Europe for its failure to reunite as the reborn Roman Empire, because (according to our political theorists) Europe's massive hardship and bloodshed gave it the advantages it needed to conquer the world for a couple of centuries. Or something like that.

Do the Chinese plan ahead? Oh yes, every bit as much as do the Americans and everyone else. Their problem is that China's not terribly stable, any more than Russia is. Each one's one big drought away from shit getting serious again, and their leaders all know it. China's also sitting on an enormous real estate bubble and apparently trying to deflate it rather than pop it, they've got horribly serious environmental issues, and they've got horribly serious corruption issues, and sooner or later, they're going to have to deal with them all.

As for ownership, even ten years ago, the Chinese were taking all sorts of American debt. As they see it, we used their money to buy all sorts of neat weapons. While we'll eventually pay them back, we've got the weapons and they've got the IOUs. It's not so clear who was cleverer here, unless it was the people who made sure our financial systems were so entangled that neither of us could afford to go to war with the other.

210:

British only accidentally stumbled into somehow but if we're honest we can trace the empire building straight back to 1066 (see France, and Wales and Ireland).

So it's the Vikings fault?

211:

"Their history, like that of the ancient Egyptian dynasties, is the grandfather's axe paradox raised to a high art, and it's worth applauding them for emphasizing the continuity of their history"

I read a history of China a couple of years ago that pointed out that depending on how you defined unity it wasn't hard to make a case that 'China' had spend about as much time in some sort of disunity as opposed to united under a single government.

"It's not so clear who was cleverer here, unless it was the people who made sure our financial systems were so entangled that neither of us could afford to go to war with the other."

And whenever I see that sort of argument I am reminded of Normal Angell the founding farther of the discipline of international relations who proposed that the economies of Europe were so intertwined that it would be futile for them to go to war, he first published in 1909 but there was a 1913 edition too.

212:

The land belongs to the people living on it, not to whoever draws a few lines on a map.

Which would tend to make many of Russia's claims valid due to the way the Soviets pushed ethic Russian speakers into many of their puppet states so they now make up a sizable population in some of these places.

Not that I agree or disagree with you entirely. It's just that it's hard to figure out just who has a valid claim to the land they "currently" live on. The entire Poland / Ukraine area being one example.

As to Africa the governments there really don't like their borders but are afraid if they start trying to draw ethnic borders the current level of warfare might start to look peaceful. Especially now that there's much more known about what valuable stuff is under the dirt than prior to WWII.

213:

"So it's the Vikings fault?"

Are they Vikings if they speak french and worship in a Church? I think its not unreasonable to trace the polity back to William. The ango-saxon kingdoms certainly had their own expansionists and they pushed the Romano-Britons to the fringes in Wales and north to the area round Glasgow but were themselves stamped on pretty hard by the the real Vikings and later Caunte's North Sea empire. William brought a decisive break with the old leadership, new laws, new social structures....

214:

In the way this is being discussed here William was in power directly due to the Vikings conquering Normady. He basically was a Viking.

A quick version from Wikipedia.

The Vikings started to raid the Seine Valley during the middle of 9th century. After attacking and destroying monasteries, including one at Jumièges, they took advantage of the power vacuum created by the disintegration of Charlemagne's empire to take northern France. The fiefdom of Normandy was created for the Danish Viking leader Hrolf Ragnvaldsson, or Rollo (also known as Robert of Normandy). Rollo had besieged Paris but in 911 entered vassalage to the king of the West Franks, Charles the Simple, through the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. In exchange for his homage and fealty, Rollo legally gained the territory which he and his Viking allies had previously conquered. The name "Normandy" reflects Rollo's Viking (i.e. "Northman") origins.

The descendants of Rollo and his followers adopted the local Gallo-Romance language and intermarried with the area's original inhabitants. They became the Normans – a Norman-speaking mixture of Scandinavians, Hiberno-Norse, Orcadians, Anglo-Danish, Saxons and indigenous Franks and Gauls.

215:

I could trot out a list of ways that the world is getting worse, and somebody already has, but what would be the point?

Aren't you a Buddhist? I would have thought you'd see the meaninglessness of the whole good/bad dichotomy.

216:

I did forget Syria, but I'm honestly not sure to what extent Syria qua Syria is still a going concern.

217:

"In the way this is being discussed here William was in power directly due to the Vikings conquering Normady. He basically was a Viking."

I'm aware of the history, but I'd suggest he's really not a Viking in anything other than circumstance - I'd bet he never pulled an oar in his life, he doesn't seem to have much interested in trade but very interested in land and feudal rights, he didn't have a warband or housecarls he had knights and vassals, he was Christian (for values of didn't worship Odin), he spoke french and his concerns and interests were driven by England and France. The Normans has been settled in Normandy for more than 150 years before they invaded England. I don't see any particular explanatory power in saying he was a viking, any more than saying its all Adam and Eve.

218:

Most of the Roman officials and troops of the eastern part of the empire spoke Greek and likely worshiped the Greek gods more than their Roman equivalents. Most never made it to what we call Italy today? Were they not Roman?

If you can push the start of the British empire back to 1066. I can push it back another 150 years without breaking a sweat.

219:

Got signed out too annoying retype everything

Roman government conducted in Latin long after fall of Western Empire, standard troops/formations/weapons, standard roads, common customs, forums, baths, colloseums etc etc etc etc

William point at which Normans start imperial style government with different laws and customs for separate regions of Angevin Empire + start of border wars with Wales and soon Ireland leading to eventual Anglo-Norman conquest... You can push back by 150 years but why?

221:

"The land belongs to the people living on it, not to whoever draws a few lines on a map."

Which would tend to make many of Russia's claims valid due to the way the Soviets pushed ethic Russian speakers into many of their puppet states so they now make up a sizable population in some of these places.

It isn't enough to force your people to live someplace. You also have to persuade them to want you to govern them after you move them outside your borders.

Ethnic russians have as much right to vote against being owned by Russia as anybody else does.

But if you can get the locals to start killing them, and then promise to protect them, you've got a good start at getting their votes.

Not that I agree or disagree with you entirely. It's just that it's hard to figure out just who has a valid claim to the land they "currently" live on. The entire Poland / Ukraine area being one example.

I kind of like how the EU did it, if I understand it. You get to move to wherever you fit in? If two populations in one nation don't get along, it's just the populations not getting along and not the government persecuting one of them? It sounds like a really good idea if it can be made to work.

But I'm afraid maybe it runs up against human nature. "People are assholes and they annoy each other."

222:

If you extend that logic far enough, countries will eventually be smaller than houses. There's an unavoidable element of compulsion in governance. We pay lip service to the idea that governments serve at the will of the people, but in practice it usually takes a civil war to get rid of one.

223:

@44:

"One is that it's a fucking nuclear weapon and there just aren't a lot of them around."

Yup, just around 10,000 to 15,000 nuclear warheads in the US and Russia alone (I read contradicting accounts). Barely enough to bomb mankind back into the stone age, globally. In the pockets where some freshly formed tribes might actually manage to survive, that is. Not a lot at all.

"especially after the assorted war games involving West Germany tended towards a result where the first use of battlefield nukes (neutron-enhanced or standard) led to a full-out strategic nuclear war within a couple of days of escalating nuclear attacks by both sides"

Oops, an pop goes the rationale for peppering western Germany with Atomic Demolition Munitions and Special Weapon Platoons just waiting to place them in the way of attacking Commie tank armies?

Only, you must be believably crazy enough that you might just use your nukes anyway, in order for nuclear deterrence to work.

224:

Except that Angell was right ... the economies of Europe were trashed by WWI & didn't actually recover, properly until about 1960.
Militarist adventurers should remember this.
I'm surprised Putin is doing what he is, because Russia's economy is dodgy & becoming more so.
"A short victorious War" ain't going to work ...
Though as someone else noticed, he's using the Sudeten playbook @ present .....
NOTE: 1. Finland is in the EU, but not, I think in NATO. "The Baltics" are in both.
2. There were plenty of Sudeten Germans who wanted nothing to do with Adolf - like the Russian trick in Ukraine, now. I used to know one - German-name father, Czech mother ... put into the "junior" section of Thersienstadt approx 1943/4, survive, went to Uni, thrown into the Gulag in 1948, escaped to West, by jumping off a ferry in a Danish harbour in February, with his wife & daughter.

225:

"Except that Angell was right ..."

Oh the analysis was spot on, its the conclusion drawn from it (there will never be a war in Europe again) that was way off. Which is why I'm reminded so strongly of it when someone tells me our financial systems are too entangled/they hold too much US debt/killing millions is so passe...

226:

There are maybe 4000 ready-to-go strategic nukes in the world, quite a few of them aimed at the Other Guy's silos in Siberia and South Dakota. The US and Russia each have several thousand spare nukes without the missiles and bombers to put them on which could be put back into service if the arms limitation treaties break down but in a hot war there wouldn't be time to do this.

Battlefield tactical weapons don't have the range to bomb everyone back into the Stone Age despite what a lot of Golden Age SF writers claimed. I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed...

227:

And a 1933 edition of Angell as well, I picked it up a few weeks ago and finally had a read of some of it a couple of days ago. It made a lot of sense, especially in hindsight.

228:

It would be interesting to see what you consider "encroachment"; at the moment, Russia appears to believe that any attempt in the Near Abroad to move out of their sphere of influence (i.e. not have a kleptocratic President, or at least not one that can be bought) is "encroachment". The Baltic States were grabbed in 1940, they got out when they could; and decided that allying themselves with the west offered the only realistic means of staying independent. Was that "Western Encroachment", or was it an understandable desire for self-determination?

Russia's relationship with the "near abroad" is historically much like England's relationship with the rest of the UK -- with some parts it's generally peaceful (Scotland was a negotiated merger) but with others it involved lots of screaming and burning and huge fortresses to hold down the rebellions over a period of centuries.

Consider that there have been allegations of a dirty tricks propaganda campaign waged during the Independence Referendum in Scotland, with inputs from MI5. Consider that MI5's mandate is "defense of the realm" where "realm" is defined as the United Kingdom, emphasis on "united". Substitute FSB or GRU for MI5 and you've basically got the Russian approach to the Near Abroad -- except here in the UK there's rather less reliance on shooting dissidents because successive British governments for the past couple of centuries have been more representative and less repressive than is the case in Russia.

Thing is, it's very easy to disapprove of Russia's tactics with respect to what it sees as part of its natural territory and we -- the rest of the world -- see as other countries that were illegally occupied/subjugated over a period of centuries and which now aspire to freedom. But on a political level that boot fits the other foot reasonably well, and we should be pretty cautious about it.

How, for example, would you feel if Russia had whole-heartedly endorsed the SNP-led campaign for Scottish independence, fed money to the "yes" campaign, and condemned the British government in the UN for suppressing the legitimate aspirations of Scottish people to self-determination (and membership of a treaty organisation led by Russia)? Hint: that's how Putinistas think about the Ukraine.

229:

"Only, you must be believably crazy enough that you might just use your nukes anyway, in order for nuclear deterrence to work."

When it came to the 7000 battlefield tactical nukes in W Europe at the time we were 100% certain to use them if the Soviets invaded. NATO estimated it could delay the Soviets for about 3 days before collapsing, using conventional weapons. The idea being that in that time some sense might prevail. NATO only had enough ammunition to fight for two weeks in any case.
After the 3 days were up there would have been a few token nuclear strikes against Soviet divisions as a "serious warning", and if that did not work there would be a general release down to divisional commander level. In that even we estimated that NATO would be using some 200 per day in W Germany alone. The next escalation at that point would be to attack forming up areas and logistical bottlenecks well into Eastern Europe with bigger nukes.

The alternative to that plan was losing the war and accepting the Soviet occupation of Europe. So, how serious were we?

230:

"Aren't you a Buddhist?"

More Zen practitioner, but as for religion, Asatru.

231:

You're much too generous, British settler colonies mostly did well (unless of course you were part of the original population in which case you're probably still suffering today) of the others, well India is a democracy and almost stable but they're still trying to deal with a Maoist rebellion, sectarian tensions that regularly spill into violence and an economy that I'd describe as disappointing. Burma is a horror show, Pakistan is a basket case, ex-Rhodesia, and the bits of Sudan are in a mess, Nigeria is busy (badly) fighting their ISIS-alikes, New Guinea is hardly a state, Iraq less said the better, then there's Somaliland and Yeman.

From the top: I think it's a bit of a reach to say that former British colony, the United States of America is doing badly. Ditto Canada, New Zealand, Australia.

India: started out really badly after independence but for the past decade-plus has been growing its GDP at around 7.5%. Yes, there's huge rural poverty and backwardness. There's also a space probe in orbit around Mars: if you take the good with the bad, they seem to be going in the right direction (and they're a fifth of the planet's population).

Pakistan: yep, that's a mess. But it's also a fission fragment from India's cataclysmic political mis-management at birth in the late 1940s. Pakistan and Bangladesh, arguably, should not exist. (Or there should be a whole bunch more, smaller, independent state left over from the deconstruction of the Indian Empire. Take your pick.) A big problem with Pakistan is that it's about three or four different geographic regions and cultures flying in loose formation under the banner of an artificial state constructed as a reaction against a perceived external threat: like that ever ends well.

Burma: destabilized by the French and then US meddling in Indochina post-WW2, so that for decades the west tolerated/supported a military junta because at least they weren't communists. Again: like that ever ends well. On the other hand, Burma seems to be gradually sorting itself out, much like Cuba, now the cold war pressure cooker is off the heat. For a countervailing example from the same region: look at Malaysia/Singapore. Yes, rampant corruption and gerrymandered state borders to keep the Chinese from buying the whole store, but they've also got the world's richest city-state and Malaysia itself has a per-capita GDP around the same level as Mexico. That's not too far off where Burma would be if not for the whole Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia mess on its border.

Africa ... Africa is now recovering from decades of brutal mismanagement. And I'd put a chunk of that down to the borders inherited from Cecil Rhodes and his industrial-scale extension of the British divide-and-conquer recipe to an entire continent. Also from the prolonged grudge-match between the London School of Economics and Sandhurst to find out who could graduate the most kleptocratic dictators during the 1947-1990 period. But hey, the continent is managing a better than 6% economic growth rate this century, despite on-going wars in some neighbourhoods; we generally only hear the bad news, because good news doesn't get you the ratings.

232:

It's worth noting that a lot of folks don't realize just how many nukes have been decommissioned since 1984. At their peak in the early 80s, the USSR is estimated to have had around 30,000 and the USA around 20,000.

A lot of those can't be remanufactured, thanks to the USA kindly volunteering to mix Soviet-surplus HEU and Pu into the fuel in its civil reactors to render the high-grade stuff inaccessible/useless.

Even though we have more nuclear-armed powers these days, it's highly unlikely that China, Pakistan, India, and Israel have more than 1000 nukes between them. (The UK and France, maybe 200-300 in service.)

But more nukes could be made if necessary; the UK alone is sitting on a plutonium stockpile measured in tens of to a hundred tons, ditto Japan.

233:

But on a political level that boot fits the other foot reasonably well, and we should be pretty cautious about it. But on a political level that boot fits the other foot reasonably well, and we should be pretty cautious about it.

Thank you! That was a beautifully clear explanation.

234:

When it came to the 7000 battlefield tactical nukes in W Europe at the time we were 100% certain to use them if the Soviets invaded. NATO estimated it could delay the Soviets for about 3 days before collapsing, using conventional weapons. The idea being that in that time some sense might prevail. NATO only had enough ammunition to fight for two weeks in any case.

My wife was attending high school there in the early 70s. Her father was a Colonel with 7th core and the other group nearby. Everyone associated with the US military was issues "IBM cards" with their individual instructions on what to do when fighting broke out. She says they were universally considered a joke and every expected that nukes would show up long before they could get away. They instructions seemed to be written assuming the Germans would not be filling up the roads with their own traffic fleeing west.

235:

Question. If we'd decided not to invade Iraq but Sadam had gone ahead and had a heart attack anyway, would Iraq be on the road to somewhere better, somewhere worse or about the same?

236:

Just how could it be worse?

237:

The alternative to that plan was losing the war and accepting the Soviet occupation of Europe. So, how serious were we?

Probably, nobody really knew.

If NATO had been attacked, would the US President tell them to go ahead and use the tactical nukes, knowing that it would probably result in the entire USA getting nuked? I'd give that something like 50% chance, though I don't have much confidence in my estimate.

If the US forces in europe were ordered not to use their nukes, would they use them anyway? I don't know how to estimate odds on that at all. The US government would not be able to do much about it if they did -- either way their main hope of survival was to become POWs. In a situation where anything they did would lose, I'm thinking it would be a choice between following orders versus following their training.

I think the uncertainty was enough deterrent. If the Russians were certain that a war would be over in 2 weeks with total victory, they might have done it. But there was a great big risk, and they could expect to take a lot of casualties, and western europe might get all torn up and no longer ready to export the things the USSR needed to import. They were risk-averse, and the benefits did not balance the costs and the risk of further costs.

Also, they might have known or suspected that their forces were not really strong enough. If they couldn't depend on their Warsaw Pact allies for much when it came to the crunch, then their numbers weren't as big as they looked. Their supply system had not been subject to a test that size since WWII.

It's hard to be sure what was going on, but in hindsight we can be reassured that in fact they did not attack. So our defenses were strong enough. They were in fact deterred.

238:

There was also the uncertainty of the British and French battlefield nuclear weapons.

239:

I don't get you comment.

You seem to be more at odds with the guy I answered to, who seems to think the tactical nukes wouldn't have been used to avoid escalation. (And who seems to regard global thermonuclear war as a mere mussing of humanities collective hair.)

/My/ point was that from a game theoretical POV, even a believable threat of using those nukes should have been sufficient for deterrence (and eventually was). I did not at all claim that some wouldn't have (including top echelon leaders). Those people are exactly what made the threat believable.
Still the whole thing was a bit of a gamble, to put it mildly.

240:

Everyone I knew at the time connected with the military would without a doubt have used the tactical weapons. Whether the politicians in charge would have allowed it is another matter.

I strongly suspect that the topic of whether we would REALLY use nuclear weapons was, as a matter of policy, never discussed at senior government level.

241:

There's a bit of a difference in colonization outcomes between those who conquered non-tropical areas dominated by dispersed neolithic cultures and those who temporarily suppressed semi-tropical and tropical civilizations to build their cultures. North America, parts of South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa turned out to be reasonably good places to export European-style agroecosystems, although Australia may still end badly if they don't innovate fast enough. Papua New Guinea's a different case (tropical), India and the Middle East are different cases, Africa is a different case, and only the edges of China were colonized (by the British, Portuguese, Germans, and most notably, the Japanese).

The Burma region has been in turmoil for well over 1,000 years. It has a long history of river-valley kingdoms that last at most a few centuries before collapsing, and that pattern only really started to change after WW2. This is the setting for Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed, and along with Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and China's Yunnan province, it's Zomia.*

The rebellions by the Kachins, Kayah, Karens, Shan, and others are simply the latest in the very long and tumultuous relationship between the hill tribes and valley kingdoms, in the 20th century rephrased successively into the idioms of the cold war, struggles for tribal identity, struggles for religious freedom (the hill tribes have a long history of being religiously separate from the Buddhists and Hindus in the valleys, and many of them have become evangelical Christians in the last century), and the fight for democracy and/or self-governance. Modern military technology currently favors the valley powers (aka the Myanmar government) over the hill tribes, but we'll see what happens next. Incidentally, similar things are going on in Vietnam, possibly with less violence and certainly with less publicity.

*For those of you who don't get Zomia, imagine how the Romans would have fared if all of Great Britain basically looked like the Scottish highlands all the way down the center of the island, except that these highlands gave rise to some great rivers and broad valleys that contained absolutely wonderful farmland along the river banks, especially in the lower reaches. The problem is those blasted highlands. There are a lot of Celtic and Pictish highlanders divided into even the Gods don't know how many tribes, they're a pain to control because their homelands are rugged (armies don't do mountains very well), they're so poor that they're only worth raiding for slaves (poor buggers herd goats and live on turnips, from what you've seen), and every time you try to enslave them to work on your latifundium in the river valley, the bastards run back to the hills as soon as your back's turned. Oh, and they raid you every chance they get. That's what South East Asia was like in the old days. Their highlands are Zomia and the old Burmese kingdoms (designed on the Hindu model) were valley rice plantations that went in for slave power on the grand scale. Their problem was that freedom in the hills was so close that, if anything went wrong, the slaves and peasants bolted for the hills and the kingdom collapsed. Myanmar is the latest incarnation of this system, and for some reason, I doubt it will be the last.

242:

"especially after the assorted war games involving West Germany tended towards a result where the first use of battlefield nukes (neutron-enhanced or standard) led to a full-out strategic nuclear war within a couple of days of escalating nuclear attacks by both sides"

Oops, an pop goes the rationale for peppering western Germany with Atomic Demolition Munitions and Special Weapon Platoons just waiting to place them in the way of attacking Commie tank armies?

It did not make sense for the Soviets to attack western europe. But they were not obliged to make sense, and we were not obliged to plan for them to make sense.

However, both sides did have some obligation to announce plans that would satisfy their citizens. NATO's plan was to stop a Soviet attack, and when that looked too expensive, the plan changed to making a Soviet attack so expensive for the enemy that they would not attack.

Russian citizens would be appalled by a plan to conquer western europe at horrible cost, and the Russian government did not present one. Also they would be appalled by a plan to accept gigantic casualties with no attempt at victory.

So their official plan was that if the west required them to fight, they would attempt a quick victory before NATO could get positioned. If NATO did not use nukes they could win. If NATO did use nukes then everybody would die, which was a strong argument that NATO should not force them into war.

Neither plan was adequate. Both were plans for what to do if the other guy did something so stupid that they had to respond when there were no adequate choices.

We have the example of WWI to show that wars sometimes happen when no important player wants them to or has an adequate plan. Luckily, it didn't happen this time.

We did get americans trying to spread the idea that they could stage a precision strike on all the USSR strategic missiles, eliminating them with minimal loss to Russia. Then when the Russians had no second-strike capability, the USA could require them to surrender. They did not get enough support from US civilians to publicize their plan more than they did, but it must have been pretty scary for russians.

Only, you must be believably crazy enough that you might just use your nukes anyway, in order for nuclear deterrence to work.

NATO tried to salami-slice their strategy. If they could hold off the Russians without nukes, fine. If they needed litle tiny tactical nukes only on NATO soil, that is not a giant step. It's a bigger step for the russians to use nukes on NATO soil, and not on NATO troops in poland etc.

Then if NATO was still losing, it was only one more step to use small nukes in eastern europe on staging areas and bottlenecks of various sorts. Our side wasn't doing anything so bad, but if the other side escalated then we would escalate too. At any stage before the last they could back down. So our guys could have that awful feeling that it was going to end up with everybody dead, but they could still do their duty without feeling they were the ones killing everybody.

The trick is to make it so the other guy has the decision whether to get everybody in the world killed or not. You have taken the next-to-last step, and is he going to take the last step or not? If you can arrange that, then there's a strong chance he will back down.

243:

"There was also the uncertainty of the British and French battlefield nuclear weapons."

That's an interesting question. If the US had decided against going all in during an invasion of Western Europe would the British? Or would they pull back as much of the army as they could and hope the USSR stopped at the channel while saving their nukes for the ports?

What if's aside I suspect from what I've read of the US military during the various cold war flash points that there would have been a lot of pressure on the President to ahead if the tanks were over-running W Germany - and I'm not sure a military coup would be off the table if he refused (the US military seems fiercely attached to civilian control but if the USSR was overrunning their men and they could persuade the Vice President or the Speaker that the President was incompetent? I think there's a log of unknowns in there - lucky we never had to find out).

244:

Angell spends a lot of time in the 1933 edition pointing out or claiming, whichever way you want to put it, that he never said war was impossible, simply showed that it was stupid and couldn't possibly meet the actual claims made about it being good for a country and its economy and population. THis has been proven correct many times in the 20th century.

245:

" I think it's a bit of a reach to say that former British colony, the United States of America is doing badly. Ditto Canada, New Zealand, Australia. "

Which is why I said the settler colonies were mostly doing well - with the obvious exception of the original native populations who were mostly wiped out and remain severely disadvantaged.

Asia/Subcontinent/Africa - yes things have been looking up recently but that's a world wide trend with the occasional exception. And we're now maybe six decades plus from decolonisation?

I'm not trying to claim the British Empire was a disaster for everyone - I think for instance it played a large role in the spread of democracy round the globe which may well be a long term good completely outweighing the bad. But I do take exception to the rosy-tinted "Well the Empire was naturally better than what those continentals did in their colonies and we didn't really mean it anyway" view that gets widely promoted even today.

246:

The ridiculous thing about the British empire is how it was basically cobbled together by accident and by money pursuing merchants trying to get their own way.
I read "The scramble for Africa" by Thomas Pakenham last year, and it was amazing how badly done the colonisation of Africa was, and how little planned.

247:

Consider that there have been allegations of a dirty tricks propaganda campaign waged during the Independence Referendum in Scotland, with inputs from MI5.

Certainly the allegations have been made against the Security Service. However, I would suggest that their credibility is right up there with the normal run of swivel-eyed lunacy that believes faked moon landings, Nazi UFO bases in Antarctica, and a secret world government run by lizard people. No credible evidence, just "well, it's obvious!".

...there are also allegations of "video proof that the referendum was fiddled", the screeching about how the BBC was biased. I currently see on Facebook from my more disappointed friends that apparently "Scotland's Shame" is all the fault of unionists - as if the Old Firm will never cause a problem in an independent Scotland.

But on a political level that boot fits the other foot reasonably well, and we should be pretty cautious about it.

Exactly. It all went horribly wrong in the Former Yugoslavia, the second that we started recognising parts of it as independent. That was a very, very, two-edged sword; and a lot of people pointed it out at the time. "Recognising" former part-states was always going to cause trouble, even when it was the only option.

The mixed messages coming between Europe and the US State Department didn't help; the Bosniacs wouldn't settle, because Izetbegovic thought that the US would come in on his side, and there were two or three years more bloodshed until the Dayton agreement ended up largely the same line drawn by the Vance-Owen plan.

When it came to Kosovo, you had an Orthodox nation being attacked by NATO for having the audacity to react to a separatist movement in an appropriately firm manner. You know, like the Russians did in 94 to Chechnya. I mean, if you can't just bomb and shoot your separatists, where would it all end? How dare the meddlers in the UN try to allow those pesky Nationalists to make off with chunks of the Empire, sorry Motherland?

So: Russia can point to the NATO "forced separation" of Kosovo from Serbia, and claim that their actions are no different.

Well; apart from the fact that the Ukraininans weren't carrying out discrimination against ethnic Russians (as the Serbs did to the ethnic Albanians), weren't carrying out ethnic cleansing (as the Serbs did to the ethnic Albanians), and weren't bombing and shelling any village that dared to harbour them (as the Serbs did to the ethnic Albanians). And unlike the Serbians, didn't get caught ordering the military to commit war crimes, as the telephone intercepts apparently demonstrated of Milosevic.

But; apart from all that, it's the same thing, and thus a justification for the Russian Historical Imperative.

248:

Well yes, and that's possibly been true since Bonaparte in Europe (1870 worked out well for Bismark but it wasn't a traditional war of conquest in that Prussia was mostly gathering the German states - not sure if Alsace-Lorraine would have paid for the war in itself).

I think we're talking at cross purposes a bit here - what Angell showed was that war for economic benefit but the meta narrative here and the point he didn't quite hit is that states are going to go to war anyway for a whole range of reasons logical to illogical. Its the missing the wood for the trees - the same thing that happens when someone says 'China is holding too much US dept for them to ever go to war with the US'. Its maybe true they hold a lot of US debt, its also quite likely that it doesn't even figure into their war planning.

249:

If NATO had been attacked, would the US President tell them to go ahead and use the tactical nukes, knowing that it would probably result in the entire USA getting nuked? I'd give that something like 50% chance, though I don't have much confidence in my estimate.

Hint: what were the British and French nukes for?

It wasn't to destroy the USSR, that's for sure -- they never had enough. It was officially so that they could credibly deter an invasion of their respective territories. But a secondary reason was to be able to force the USA to go nuclear, because the USSR wouldn't differentiate between a British or French strike on Moscow and a US-led one; either way, it would be NATO going nuclear.

250:

"The ridiculous thing about the British empire is how it was basically cobbled together by accident and by money pursuing merchants trying to get their own way"

That's how its presented - and maybe once is a mistake, but it just kept happening over and over to the British Empire... But even taking it completely at face value its used today as an excuse and justification, a way to say "Sorry old chap we didn't mean to destroy your country, rape your women, steal your land and force your people to work as indentured servants, bit of a slip of the old imperial dominance there, wasn't our fault. Don't see why you're so upset, honest mistake... (and have you watched the Monty Python skit about the Romans? Really you should be grateful, after everything we did for you!)"

251:

Well, except for that whole mess with the British East India Company...

Seriously though, I think that's one reason why empires that expand fast (Brits, Mongols, Alexander...) seldom last very long. The conquest is so easy, they can't imagine why it turns out to be so stinkin' hard to actually govern all of those places once they've conquered them. It's actually a problem with all empires, but I *think* that what data we have says that the empires that expand slowly if at all last a lot longer, and the ones that try to force all their subjects conform to the one true creed tend to be shattered fairly rapidly by religious fights.

252:

If you assume that the British wanted to encourage ethnic strife amongst the locals as a way to prevent them from uniting against British interests, it makes more sense.

253:

It still wasn't planned out, it still sort-of happened. There were reasons it happened but they were not because of smoke-filled rooms and evil moustache-twirling, it was more to do with Britain being the first nation to industrialise and merchantise on an international scale. With shipping went the navy and they needed ports abroad to trade through and to support the fleet (see Pearl Harbor for an American Empire example). The ports needed stable local governance, the governance needed troops to keep the peace locally, roads and canals and railways were built to encourage commerce, laws and courts, police and judiciaries, schools, hospitals and so on and hey presto! Empire!

Virtually none of the expansion of the British Empire involved expeditionary forces and direct military conquest, it was more gradual than that. Sure there was always a military presence (just like in Hawaii) but it came later.

254:

Hadn't thought of it that way, interesting. Thanks :)

255:

"It still wasn't planned out, it still sort-of happened."

Well maybe once is an accident, but think of it this way, after the first time you bail out a merchant with troops, or find you need to secure the hinterland of your supply port can you really call it a surprise the second time, the third? I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the 'we didn't mean it' argument if I could see any evidence of a serious attempt to hand sovereignty back to the local rulers but there's not much sign of that is there?

Its 'accidental' thing isn't unique to the UK either, Spain just wanted a short cut to India, Portugal and the Dutch just wanted some trading posts, the Mongols were probably just looking for a bit of loot but once these things kick off they develop their own momentum. No one does the mustache thing (except maybe Leopold II)

256:

The local rulers still got to rule (just like in Hawaii), it's just they did so at the sufferance of the administrators running the business side of things, the Customs officers, local military governors and the like. Kipling's stories of India are rife with local maharajahs and such who sometimes needed to be brought up short but who are otherwise left to their amusements.

Acquiring the Empire wasn't a surprise, I never said that. It wasn't planned per se as in one day the British government said "let's go and conquer India!" and the troopships sailed the next week. It was more like "The spice must flow!" so we ended up running Hong Kong and Rangoon, Aden and Egypt, Australia and Africa, India and the like because somebody had to otherwise trade would be affected.

The US' military conquest of the Western continent was more centrally organised by the US government (the Oklahoma land rushes, for example or the Trail of Tears), ditto for the invasion and annexation of Texas by slaveholding interests in the 1850s. I'm trying hard to think of a case where the British Empire was extended by a *premeditated* military land grab in such a fashion.

257:

The CIA ...compare and contrast with Mossad or the DGSE, and particularly the KGB, all of whom had notable successes.

I think MI6 has done reasonably well in the UK, unlike MI5 who were completely incompetent.

Based on what? Because no-one who knows is telling, and those who know about their own mob are unlikely to know about any of the others to provide an informed comparison.

We base our opinions on the few occasions where the cockup hits the headlines, not those occasions where presumably things go quietly, and approximately to plan (with "the plan" involving either benevolent watchfulness or evil cackles and moustache-twirling, according to personal taste).

The Security Service (MI5) seem to be doing a reasonable job in that nothing has gone *BANG* in the UK for a while; between them, SB, and the Army they had Irish Republican terrorism just about stitched up - and the radical Islamists have been rather quiet lately. All this from a permanent staff of a couple of thousand, not bad.

Meanwhile, the primary goal of the KGB appears to be "take over Russia and run it for fun and profit" - so well done them. I do wonder why the GRU didn't appear do so well out of the deal.

258:

Kandyan Wars
Opium Wars
Would be the top picks at the late stage
Wales (and the attempts at Scotland) would be classic examples earlier on

I've left out the wars on the sub continent because they were mostly by the EI Company but lets say there were a lot of them and the company was explicitly sponsored by the Crown. Anyway even outside the areas of direct control there's a long gap from being permitted a few amusements and exercising sovereignty - the Romans had client rulers too.

But that aside England didn't generally recognise in the formal sense people who didn't have a proper country - which includes pretty much all of the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and much of SE Asia there they just turned up, fenced off what they wanted and shot or chased away anyone who resisted (granted a little more nuanced than that but it captures the essence) and generally the locals weren't organised or equipped to offer much resistance. Where the British deigned to recognise resistance as a war we get;
Māori Wars
Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars
Xhosa Wars
So in a sense you're right, they didn't plan a military land grab in many of the colonies, they just turned up and assumed it was free.

259:

It was officially so that they could credibly deter an invasion of their respective territories. But a secondary reason was to be able to force the USA to go nuclear, because the USSR wouldn't differentiate between a British or French strike on Moscow and a US-led one; either way, it would be NATO going nuclear.

We're way off in hypothetical never-never land, but I'll continue the logic.

Our first implausible assumption is that the warsaw pact forces attack, after they accept the possibility they will start WWIII. There are strong reasons for them not to do that, and in fact they didn't.

Then there's the US response. There's a strong chance the US president would be paralyzed with fear, and not ready to tell his troops to use nukes or to surrender. The troops would presumably follow their training and go with the original plan. The russians would think they knew where the nukes were stored, and they would be bombing those sites, and dropping paratroopers on them, and calling up sleeper cells to do sabotage, etc. They would be moving across europe faster than we had thought they could but maybe on narrower fronts than we expected, which might leave room for special initiative if we could get past our supply problems. But I make the maybe-unlikely assumption that the President says not to use nukes after getting expert advice that they can hold out for maybe 5 days without them, and 2 weeks with them. In the confusion of war it's obvious that some tactical nukes are being lost already to the enemy advance, but unclear how many or which ones. So that's a second maybe-unlikely assumption.

Now it's the turn for the British and French. They try to rouse the US president. They tell him that if he doesn't start WWIII and get everybody killed, they will do it for him, so he needs to go ahead.

Also presumably they contact the Russian leader. "We have decided that if you don't back down right now, we are going to start WWIII. It is unacceptable to us that you conquer West Germany and Belgium. So we will start the war that kills pretty much everybody in the world. Stop right now, or else. Also, if your troops cross the French border than the French nukes will definitely launch. And if you get close to Paris then they will be launched without doubt. And there is no possible way you can cross the Channel without the British nukes attacking you. So stop your attacks right now and spare Germany, or else."

Once we assume a particularly crazy action by the russians, and a different crazy action by the americans, I don't know what to expect from the french and the british. Would they insist on starting WWIII to protect the germans and the belgians etc? Or would they hold off and try to protect their own nations without creating global thermonuclear destruction? I just don't know. To my way of thinking, it's all fantasy. There's no track record.

Like, if a beautiful young woman came to me and offered to share $100 million with me if I would leave my wife for her, I like to think I'd be faithful to my wife. But in reality, it might depend a lot on how the other woman smelled. Or she might have a particularly sympathetic dog, or Oscar fish. Or maybe she'd feed the Oscar live guppies and I'd get grossed out. I want to think that the central ideas are all that matter, but the devil is in the details.

That's a very different and more pleasant fantasy. I'd be happy to give my wife proof she was worth more than $100 million to me, and I'd be happy to have $100 million. Far more pleasant than deciding whether to start a nuclear war.

260:

Perhaps, but for those that don't know you outside a few forum posts its really difficult to decide under what conditions you'd take the money - this sort of speculation demands detail damit!

261:

People in general aren't good at deciding what they would do in circumstances far from anything they have actually faced.

I extrapolate from that to think that I'm not good at that either.

If I don't know myself what I'd do, why would you or anybody else know?

262:

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

People don't have a much of a clue about what they do or why in general.

As for what you'd do no one else could know -but- making models of how other people think is a fundamental part of being human, as is making models about the world, which is why many of us find it fun.

263:

Oh and one of the things Kahneman mentions is that the $100m will give you a temporary boost after which you'll be no happier - assuming you believe that, or check the source there's no reason to leave your wife.

264:

Every boost is temporary. If I decided to let that stop me from trying to get things I want, I might as well be a buddhist or something.

Isn't that how life works? You go out and try to get something you want. Win or lose, you then go out and try to get something else you want. Rinse and repeat, over and over, and then you die.

265:

That's one common way to approach life. It seems needlessly irritating to me, but if you like it, enjoy. If you don't, you might enjoy chilling out more.

266:

There are times I want to chill out, and I go out and achieve that. It's temporary like everything else.

I've found it's soothing to practice being happy. Being happy is pleasant, and I can do it any time I don't have anything urgent to do, but somehow it's easy to forget to do it unless it's on the schedule.

267:

I don't manage "happy" all that often, but at least I can manage "not particularly stressed" more often than not.

Supposedly your emotional baseline is pretty much fixed. Mine is set to melancholic. So it goes.

268:

Supposedly your emotional baseline is pretty much fixed.

I have an explanation which fits my experience and observation. But when I describe it people tend to get upset and tell me I'm wrong, so I'll skip it unless someone is interested.

269:

I'm Polish, the way Charlie is an Israeli. My actual nation state stuck a lot of missiles in the face of the bear, for better or worse. If you think Russia/USSR needs a continent sized condom to allay their "natural" insecurity, you should try being the people on the flat plain between Germany and Russia. They probably need one or both to be transplanted to a new planet in order to actually feel safe by those standards.

Have we really descended into blaming the victim? It would be perfectly reasonable to just let China annex Korea, Vietnam and Formosa rather than let tensions arise in the future. Of course, Japan would go nuclear in that scenario. Maybe Australia/NZ and Indonesia as well. That's the ticket. Encourage any country that wants self-determination to ascend to the Club.

270:

It's relative. Colonialism on an absolute scale is almost always a horror show. (I live in the crater of a tremendous genocide, but then probably almost everyone does if you look hard enough.) I was going by what people who study colonialism assert to me, not actual knowledge. There is certainly a case for bias here. Germany decolonized rapidly and before the other Western powers; so there was less skin in blaming them than people who were still in the process of decolonization when academic studies of colonialism became more widespread. So apologies if I relayed bad intel.

271:

"Have we really descended into blaming the victim?"

I don't think anyone is trying to blame the victim, but rather looking at things from Moscow's perspective.

Prefacing all this by saying I think its wonderful that we have democracies in Eastern Europe and those people should determine their own fate.

Now, imagine you're a former KGB agent or maybe an apparatchik all your life the old farts have been telling you how the French invaded and sacked Moscow, then the Germans invaded twice and you can never ever trust the Germans or the French or their capitalist-running dog allies in England or America because first chance they get they'll invade and drink all the vodka.
But the war was a while back and Germany doesn't look that threatening and the experiment with opening things up maybe went a little far but you're a modernish sort of dictator and you don't really want to roll the tanks through Warsaw plus NATO totally pinky swears to never ever on former Warsaw Pact territory... and then damn suddenly Germany's running Europe like they won the war, NATOs in your face, not just on Warsaw Pact countries but inside the former USSR, they're busy talking about how they're going to neturalise your strategic deterrent with missile defense ... and being a paranoid former KGB type do you really believe it was a spontaneous people's uprising that tipped out your buddies in Kiev? A prudent type might want to check the vodka stockpile and maybe give the army a bit of exercise to show some teeth as it were.

272:

You forgot the Soviet-era invasion by the western powers in the early 1920s, the invasion of Siberia by the Japanese in the 1930s and the pre-Soviet Russo-Japanese War of 1905 -- that one led to losses in Russian/Soviet territory that weren't reversed (and then some) until 1945.

As far as the Soviets were concerned NATO was out to get them, why park an invasion force of half a million troops, armour and transport on the Inner German Border and rearm the Fascists if they weren't going to drive for Moscow like everybody else?

On the other hand, why would the Soviets push west and conquer France etc. as NATO feared? What was in it for them? What happens next?

273:

My bad, though to be fair Poland doesn't do much good as a buffer when Japan invades.

274:

Germany did NOT "decolonise rapidly"
ALL the Imperial German colonies were taken, by League of Nations Mandate - & given to other colonial powers.
Usually the Brits & French.

275:

I get what you are saying. There is a long trail of Russian historiography (both domestic and foreign) that takes this line about the need for security, going back to the Mongols, the Teutonic knights, etc. I think Elderly Cynic is pushing a ridiculously accommodating version of it, though. If Russia cannot sleep at night without a buffer zone, then by the same token wouldn't Poland need one, there are plenty of strategic or historic rationales for Poland annexing X territory. "Waving a bunch of missiles" is actually pretty mild when that's your starting point. Rinse and repeat for a lot of nations.

Was Siberian expansion done for the same reasons? Will the Russians ever be secure without Alaska and San Francisco? Will the Caliphate be secure without Iberia and Sicily? Will the United States ever be secure from French adventurers in Mexico? How does the UK sleep without the Vexin firmly under its control?

I don't buy the Manifest Destiny rationale for American colonialism. Why would I buy this one? We supposedly live in an international regime of sovereign nations now. I don't like America pushing the boundaries on this, but the last time I looked we were not actually annexing anything. Why would I give Russia the only free pass on the planet for this sort of aggression?

As for the Crimea, you could split a lot of countries into ethnic bits: at the time of decolonization Algiers and Oran were French and Catholic. At then end of World War II all sorts of "demographic shifts" took place. You cannot open that can of worms again. It is not a route to stabilization by any means.

However, I will allow there is some precedent for the thinking the Russians don't actually want to occupy Western Europe. After they defeated Napoleon, Russian troops were all over Europe, but then they just marched back home. (I will ignore the Tsar that walked away from Berlin because he was such of fan of Prussians; his mom and his wife really did not approve of this.)

276:

Greg, in America, we have this thing called dry understatement. I have to remember the British don't go in for that sort of thing.

Seriously, Germany did decolonize rapidly. I just did not specify the means by which it happened. You could argue they chose to decolonize rather than make the Allies fight their way to Berlin. And related to this thread, this served everyone' purpose in containing the Soviets, who at the time seriously considered themselves an international revolution and not just a colonial overlord of a different flavor.

If you are saying this to point out that there was no decolonization from the perspective of the colonized, then thanks for clarifying this point. It was lost in the terseness of my prose.

277:

" I think Elderly Cynic is pushing a ridiculously accommodating version of it, though. If Russia cannot sleep at night without a buffer zone, then by the same token wouldn't Poland need one.."

I can't speak for Elderly Cynic but my understanding of what she wrote is to look at understanding Russian actions, not trying to justify them. We're not talking about Poland's deep insecurities and desire to aggressively project beyond its borders because it doesn't have them, or at least does a much better job of managing and hiding them.

The answer to most of your later questions (with the exception of the Caliphate that ISIS and co want) is that the countries involved are dealing with the issues in a more normal way - where they remain issues at all. Its not about giving Russia a free pass, its about answering 'WTF were they thinking?' If we woke up tomorrow and found Poland had invaded Belarus there'd be a lot of people wondering what the motive could be ('Wait what? Don't we already have a Lithuania?')

278:

"Just how could it be worse?"

That's what I'm asking!

But here are some stats from iraqbodycount.org. Deaths over the last couple of years are below a 2006/2007 peak, which itself is smaller than at the time of the invasion. Iff things had fallen apart instantly, perhaps we could have seen the 2006/2007 levels sustained for the entire period.

279:

On the other hand, why would the Soviets push west and conquer France etc. as NATO feared? What was in it for them? What happens next?

Sure, but look at it from the NATO point of view. If they announced "We will do nothing if the USSR invades western europe except complain about them in the UN" and looked like they meant it, then why *wouldn't* they get invaded? They had to make it cost more than it was worth, on general principle.

But the more it looked like the USSR was not going to invade, the bigger the temptation to cut the costs of stopping them. So we got forces we said were too weak, reliance on tactical nukes, reliance on strategic nukes on the assumption the tactical nukes would fail. We got plans to keep essential troops in the USA where it was cheaper, and commandeer commercial airliners to ferry them to europe after a Soviet attack.

How did the soldiers feel about it? Their purpose was to die, to prove that the USA would not bug out but would make sure that everybody else died with them. They didn't want to believe that, so they trained hard intending to die stopping a soviet attack. They had to believe the threat was real or else all their efforts were pointless. They had to believe they could do something that mattered, that they weren't just human sacrifices. And in discussions with civilians the assumption was that they knew something special.

So any time the subject came up, there would be some soldiers or veterans there to flatly state that the threat was real, that NATO was not strong enough, but still they would do whatever it took to stop the Russians.

There was an officer at Fulda Gap who said his unit was intended to take 98% casualties while delaying the attack by 36 hours. Asked whether he considered those casualties acceptable, he said yes, fine, as long as they delayed the advance long enough. This was a fantasy. They could make up anything they wanted as long as the Russians didn't attack. But maybe if the attack had come the fantasy would have come true. Who knows?

280:

"There was an officer at Fulda Gap who said his unit was intended to take 98% casualties while delaying the attack by 36 hours. "

That sounds more delusional than fantastic - is there any regular military unit anywhere that's managed to sustain that many casualties without breaking?

281:

The point was he knew his unit would break. Just that it would take at least 36 hours.

282:

That sounds more delusional than fantastic - is there any regular military unit anywhere that's managed to sustain that many casualties without breaking?

My point is that it didn't matter whether it was delusional. It would never be tested unless the Russians attacked.

Both sides publicly agreed that any fight in europe which involved tactical nuclear weapons would expand to total war. The americans had a delusional plan to defend europe with tactical nuclear weapons. The russians had a delusional plan to attack so fast the nuclear weapons could not be used, if they were forced to fight at all. Neither side intended to carry out their delusional plans, they just needed to be ready in case something bad happened they must respond to.

It was all make-believe. But something could possibly have happened that forced them to carry out their plans, and then perhaps archeologists might someday find out how well the various plans worked.

283:

I used to spend time (this was before home computers were good enough) playing the board games produced by companies such as Avalon Hill and SPI. Some were historical, some more speculative. There were games about a Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap, and about trying to defend Berlin.

Looking back I can see that delusional attitude in the games, though the detail of the casualties were masked by the status of a cardboard counter on a hex-gridded map. It was, to some extent, there at all levels, tactical to strategic. You got some of the same in the more British version of the gaming hobby, using detailed model tanks on a table, with scenery more or less resembling reality. Was a Chieftain tank really that good? Either way, the typical gamer , whichever side he picked, could be beaten by an opponent using the published tactical methods of the other side.

When you look at that world, it may give you an insight into a certain US SF writer who was in the US Army in those days, and whose works including one which makes Waffen-SS veterans the heroes of a fight against alien invasion. It was possible he was warped by that somewhat delusional experience of those years.

I don't think the explanation works as a justification.

(The guy is a couple of years older than I am, and apparently enlisted in 1973/74. The Cold War was pretty scary in those days. He was in the army that would have fought the battles I gamed, and he wasn't a cardboard counter on a map. What maybe also comes into it was that this was the post-Vietnam era for the US military.)

Anyway, the things about the Russian preparedness for sudden war, in the Cold War days, ring true. But I have seen Russian-built tanks close up, and they would have left some behind in the barracks with frantically grinding starter-motors. But I sometimes wonder how much I can trust some of the sources for that. Both sides in the Cold War glossed over the problems of the reliability of machinery, though some novelists hinted at the give-away signs that the enemy was preparing for war. There would be a shortage of lead-acid batteries for civilian purposes, for instance, as all those tanks and army trucks were prepared.

And maybe some of the mil-sci-fi crowd would have been writing in that genre, rather than of alien invasions. How much different are Daleks from the GSFG in their story function? Would a novel such as Harold Coyle's Team Yankee really be so different as mil-sci-fi, with it's handling of the reactions of the characters if they were facing Daleks.

That's stretching it, I know.

Harold Coyle was there, living with the reality of preparing to defend against apparently overwhelming force. And he wrote about the soldiers, making the situation as realistic as he could. Ten years later, the US Army had soldiers who had experienced a short victorious war, in which they had been in the position of the hypothetical alien invasion.

Maybe that is why mil-sci-fi has become so frequently toxic.

284:

"Was a Chieftain tank really that good? "

Yes. A little bit of info that was at the time classified as secret. The Chieftain had a 90% first shot kill probability against a T72 at 2km, using laser sights.

As for attitudes in the military, it always seemed a completely different world. It was never about if the Soviets would invade, but when.

285:

"I can't speak for Elderly Cynic but my understanding of what
she wrote is to look at understanding Russian actions, not
trying to justify them."

Yes, precisely. Russia is scared and believes it has its back
against the wall, for very good reasons, and that is WHY it is
behaving the way that it is. Russia was happy to see Poland
join the EU, not so happy with it joing NATO, but the really,
really stupid decision was to put NATO missiles aimed at Russia
into Poland. The official NATO explanation was obviously total
bollocks - inter alia, even if the NATO electorate cannot read
a map, the Russian high command can.

Ditto in Ukraine. Following the putsch, the first action of
the anti-Russian rulers announced that it was going to repeal
the law that allowed Russian to be a (second) state language
in Crimea, where it is the first language of 77% of Crimeans.
Is it any surprise that the Crimeans felt under attack? And,
for Russia's view, consider what it means for Sebastopol, and
what Sebastopol means for it.

I could go back to Russia's attempts at joining the EU and
NATO, shortly after the USSR broke up, and the way that they
were rudely, publicly and unconditionally (sic) rebuffed. The
clear message was that Russia is more useful as an enemy than
a friend. That's NOT the way to encourage peace.

I don't like the Russian government, and wouldn't like to live
there, but I don't want the western military-industrial
machine to get another Stalin elected and really, really don't
want Russia pushed into a position where it believes it has
to fight a war in order to survive. We will all be losers.

286:

I'm Polish, the way Charlie is an Israeli.

Excuse me, but I'm not Israeli. I have Israeli relatives and could acquire Israeli citizenship and a passport if I wanted to. I think that would be about as morally questionable as applying for South African citizenship circa 1980 so it ain't going to happen.

Hint: we're circling around a discussion of the evils of colonialism here. Zionism may not have started out as a racist creed, but it was sure as hell a colonial one when Theodore Herzl came up with it, and by picking an already-inhabited chunk of land in the middle east and not exterminating or exiling the inhabitants completely (an utterly unacceptable strategy IMO, by the way) the founders made a slow generational descent into Boer-style racism-driven apartheid inevitable. Maybe if they'd picked Antarctica for the Jewish Homeland instead ...

287:

If Russia cannot sleep at night without a buffer zone, then

The "buffer zones" date to the Yalta agreement in 1944. Back then, while Stalin had some intel on the Manhattan Project, nobody -- not even the folks running MP -- really knew for sure that these new-fangled atom bomb things would work, much less what the third-generation strategic consequences of much, much bigger bombs (in large numbers) would be. Nor was it obvious that ICBMs would work; let's bear in mind that in 1945, Vannevar Bush (Roosevelt and Truman's science advisor) poo-pooh'd the idea of ICBMs as impossible for many years. (He was right: he just overestimated how many years it would take to develop them when you throw Wernher von Braun or Sergei Korolev and several tens of billions of dollars at the problem on a war footing.)

Back then, a "buffer zone" meant that a revanchist German (or French, or American) army couldn't bushwhack the USSR the way that Operation Barbarossa managed in mid-1941; a few hundred miles would give the USSR enough breathing time to marshal a counter-attack by way of defense.

Of course, even by 1948 this strategy was in tatters. But why would Stalin respond to that by pulling back and giving up the territory he'd spent all those millions of Soviet lives to gain? He's still a Communist, even if in name only, and these new dominions might come in handy as economic contributors to the grand program (reality check: in the long term, they didn't), so ...

288:

"Hint: we're circling around a discussion of the evils of
colonialism here."

Very much so. The tragedy of the six day war was that the perfectly
justifiable occupation (which was welcomed by many Palestinians,
on the grounds that Israel couldn't be worse than the PLO) was
not followed up by treating the occupied territories as non-owned
protectorates, applying for money from the USA and Europe, and
improving the life of the Palestinians. Quite a few people (within
and without Israel) spoke out for that at the time. If that had been
done, they would now be allies, and might even have asked to
merge with Israel.

289:

There's a theory in international relations that most states have security as their primary goal, but two states can't be secure against each other. Either one dominates, or the other does, or both threaten each other. Each state's attempts to increase its security are therefore seen as threatening by other states, which tends to lead to war.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offensive_realism

290:

Maybe if they'd picked Antarctica for the Jewish Homeland instead ...

Well, Herzl did consider Argentina (presumably the emptyish pampas) as an alternative to the "Holy Land". Influenced by him, a dozen villages were founded there by German Jews over a century ago, but they've been dying out for a while. Could be fodder for some Alternate History there.

But, I haven't been paying too much attention to the previous comments. The Strange Attractors settle in and I start losing interest, usually.

291:

Clearly, if the UK leaves the EU and Scotland leaves the UK, it
would be time to resuscitate the Auld Alliance.

292:

BTW has everybody read Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians [PDF 1.3Mb]? pp26-28 has a few paragraphs about wargaming WWIII and the attitude of NATO and Warsaw pact students.

293:

Papua New Guinea's a different case (tropical),

New Guinea is a completely different case in that it was effectively a continents worth of cultures embedded in a single island. And over 800 distinct languages today, some families as different as chinese and english. Which means the island contains 10-15% of the known languages of the entire world.

No one really explored the island outside of small coastal enclaves and the Highlands until the second world war, and there are still uncontacted tribal groups in the hinterlands - it is a seriously difficult place to move around in at ground level.

(Disclaimer, a friend of mine grew up in Port Moresby - his family were involved with the Australian administration of Papua New Guinea and the independence handover)

294:

The "Auld Alliance" has always benefitted one country ONLY.
And that country, doing very nicely out of it ... was NOT Scotland.
And the Scots, or many of them, don't seem to notice this.
You what?

295:

Was a Chieftain tank really that good? - Yes

The best tank in the world, if you could persuade it to break down in the right place :) It actually got to fight Soviet tanks for real - in the hands of the Iranian Army, when Iraq invaded in the first Gulf War...

It was underpowered for years (the insistence on the L60 multi-fuel engine was a bit of a problem), and pack changes were a sod by all accounts. That's what happens when Leyland decided to fit a opposing-cylinder railway engine (constant revs, variable load) into a tank (variable revs, mostly constant load).

Note for the non-enthusiasts - if you're going to repair a tank with a broken engine, you turn up with a spare engine, swap them over to get the tank back into the fight, and repair the broken engine in safety; this is why military repair vehicles have rather hefty cranes on them).

Some informed comment from a few former users here...
http://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/l60-engine.54633/

296:

...it may give you an insight into a certain US SF writer who was in the US Army in those days, and whose works including one which makes Waffen-SS veterans the heroes of a fight against alien invasion. It was possible he was warped by that somewhat delusional experience of those years.

Nope, not warped, just a fanboi for those Hugo Boss uniforms. See also his taste for "torture as a necessity" - utter rubbish (according to one former professional interrogator I know), but he seems to enjoy writing it.

Contrary to belief, the Waffen-SS just weren't that good. Blond, blue-eyed, took twice the casualties of the Heer on average for any given battle. At their best on parade, and when murdering the unarmed.

As for "Blood and Honour"? They were thugs from day one. Don't believe the defence that "Lidice and Oradour-sur-Glane only happened at the end of the war because of falling recruiting standards", they were busy murdering prisoners from 1940 onwards; see the Royal Norfolks and the Royal Scots at Le Paradis and elsewhere.

297:

Perhaps quite good at being told to stay there and fight until you die...
Relatedly, I recently read a book, which of course I now can't find in my library, much of it translated from German, which makes it clear how much the Wermacht were involved in massacres of civilians and anyone they didn't like. Not just hte SS, the entire German army was shot through with the idea that killing innocent civilians would clear up problems. And it started before they were losing the war.

298:

We got plans to keep essential troops in the USA where it was cheaper, and commandeer commercial airliners to ferry them to europe after a Soviet attack

Not quite. It's rather difficult to mobilise an Army of half-a-million without anyone noticing; one of the near-triggers in the whole ABLE ARCHER nightmare was the Soviet detection mechanisms getting it wrong.

We did the same thing, in lots of small ways; e.g. one of the tasks of the BRIXMIS teams in Berlin was to do a daily drive around the city near nightfall, and take a peek at the places that would have to be used as assembly areas and forming-up positions for any assault on the city. They would also keep a weather eye on Soviet vehicle movements, much as the SOXMIS teams did in West Germany.

Once the indicators start to light up, the "Transition To War" phase begins - in the UK, Queen's Order 2 gets signed, and the TA and Regular Reserve would mobilise and play Wacky Races to get to their deployment locations in Germany over 48 hours or so; the Channel Ferries would be mobilised to carry the green fleet; the airlines would be flying soldiers in, and dependents out.

The US had entire formations of equipment sat in sheds well back from the fight; their plan was the Reinforcement of Forces in Germany (REFORGER), and the airliners that brought the soldiers in would hopefully be carrying the families back - Harold Coyle mentions the mechanism in one of his books.

Asked whether he considered those casualties acceptable, he said yes, fine, as long as they delayed the advance long enough. This was a fantasy.

Nope, reality. Performing a withdrawal in contact is very, very difficult to do - and if you don't manage to hold the position, you've got a choice of that or surrender (historically, if you hold on too long, and make someone fight too hard to take your position, don't expect to be allowed to surrender).

If you look at history, that kind of order has been given, and carried out - Hugh Sebag-Montefiore has written a book about the units who were ordered to stand and hold, in order to cover the withdrawal at Dunkirk. They stood; they held; they fought to the last round.

Look at the defence of Skyline Drive during the Battle of the Bulge; specifically the defence of Clervaux. They stood; they fought; they held for a crucial three days; and of 5,000 US soldiers, 532 were "fit for duty" at the end of the battle.

It's fashionable to mock the Home Guard of 1940 as "Dad's Army" - but remember, these were the men who had utterly destroyed the German Army in the "Last Hundred Days" of 1918. Twenty years later, their orders were to fight where they stood - and no-one doubts that they would have done so, to defend their homes.

And here's an example from East of the IGB. Look at the survival rates of the firefighters who went in to fight the Chernobyl fire, knowing both that it would kill them, but that it had to be done.

Please, don't deride it as fantasy.

299:

Please, don't deride it as fantasy.

I certainly don't intend to deride the courage of the men involved.

I call it fantasy because in hindsight, they were defending against an attack that the Soviet high command would be collectively insane to authorize, and both sides agreed that the result of the defense would have little effect on the result of the bigger battle.

Both agreed that use of tactical nukes would result in a global nuclear war. The russian plan involved a hope that the west would not use tactical nukes, and then they hoped the west would not use bigger tactical or intermediate nukes.

I have reason to think that the Fulda Gap battle would not go according to plan, but my reasons are based on generalities without knowing many details. It's possible that if I knew all the details I would see that everything must inevitably go as scheduled.... Still I'm arguing from ignorance and any specifics I say are likely to be wrong.

We spent a long time planning a defensive war, and people who do that tend to get stuck in ruts. The russians planning an offensive war had more room for creativity. So for example, very often defensive plans involve writing off particular routes as impassible, and often the first they find out that an army can get through that way is when an army attacks them there. Given decades to think about the problem, not unlikely the russians would find ways to build roads in hours through "impenetrable" forests.

But of course, it's likely that the russian war machine would not be able to move as fast as they planned. They might be delayed the desired time simply because their plans were not something they could carry out on such a large scale.

Two battle plans based on fantasy, revised over a 40 year period to match 40 years of technological change. How good were the spies for both sides? If each general knew what his opposite number was supposed to do, that would take a lot of the uncertainty out of it, right? Or maybe it wouldn't....

I can't help thinking that both sides would have a much better idea what they were doing after they had been fighting each other for a few months. But nobody intended to let that happen.

300:

Or, for that matter, "The Odessa File" where the Waffen-SS turn out to have murdered the protagonist's father in the final twist ... who had won the highest award for bravery.
Max Hastings is also, err, impolite, about their behaviour.

301:

"Last Stands" whilst keeping the rest of the Army (or whatever) alive to fight another day?
The Battle of Imjin River ??

302:

"I call it fantasy because in hindsight, they were defending
against an attack that the Soviet high command would be
collectively insane to authorize, ..."

Hindsight be damned. As I posted, official documents now show that
the USA and UK knew that the USSR could not win an all-out war, and
that the USSR knew that, and knew that the USA and UK knew. While
Stalin was in power, we had to plan very, very seriously for such
idiocies, but not thereafter. Both sides had plans for offensive
action, to be used only in utter desperation.

Oh, yes, if NATO was prepared to eschew the use of nukes even if the
USSR conquered Europe as far as Ireland and Iceland, the USSR might
be able to win. Might. But that was NOT what the NATO strategy
was, and the USSR knew damn well that it wasn't. We knew that the
ONLY way that the USSR would start an invasion of the west was if
its rulers went completely insane.

303:

Hindsight be damned. As I posted, official documents now show that the USA and UK knew that the USSR could not win an all-out war, and that the USSR knew that, and knew that the USA and UK knew.

While there probably were official documents stating all that, still governments have a sort of official ingrained stupidity that cannot be overcome by mere documents.

There are today official US documents which show that gasohol is a bad idea which costs far more than it saves, that it does not give much savings in fossil fuels to balance against its monumental waste. But every gallon of petrol I buy still has 10% alcohol.

I could probably give a dozen other obvious examples. What we know has very little effect on what has already been decided.

NATO spent a lot of money on creating, building, stockpiling and training with weapons specifically designed for conventional defense of western europe. They maintained a large army trained mostly for conventional defense of western europe. They did a lot of theory about nuclear defense of europe in the absence of any real experience and in the face of the conventional wisdom that any such defense would lead to global destruction.

Everybody involved was going through the motions even though they had documents which said it was an utter waste. Maybe they didn't completely believe those documents? Maybe nobody had the authority or the gumption to change the plans?

There were people then who believed -- against all available evidence -- that it was a real possibility. There are even people today who still believe that. Should we have ignored them? What if they had been right, and the Russians did attack, and the result was almost everybody in the world got killed? Afterward they would ruthlessly say I Told You So and we would deserve their withering scorn. [\sarcasm]

Today US ICBM crews are still at their stations. The boomers under the sea are still ready to launch at 5 minutes warning or less. Does anybody seriously believe that Russia would launch a nuclear attack? Yes, they do. And if the automated system that's in charge of giving them the order to launch actually does send them those signals, they will attack.

304:

Not to mention the Battle of the Kokoda Track where the Australian forces were consistently heavily outnumbered, and essentially fought a succession of rearguard actions.
The initial battle was so fierce that the Japanese reported they had defeated some 1200 defenders, instead of the 77 actually present.

The Kokoda campaign was incredibly tough - casualties were low in comparison to Europe because the area was rough foot trails only, no vehicular access at all. That meant every bit of supplies had to be hand carried by both sides, many hours over mountainous terrain. It makes for a great hiking trip today, and is still not easy.

305:

Well, yes, but I doubt very much that most of those near the top
of the military believe that Russia will attack. There are also
several other reasons to keep up the propaganda that we are under
threat. NATO was stuck without a role at the end of the Cold War,
and was desperate not to be abolished. There are a lot of companies
whose business is dependent on an arms race. And a frightened
population will accept restrictions on its liberty and taxation that
it would otherwise reject - look what That Blair did with the minor
danger from religious lunatics and May is doing today. Minor?
Well, I can assure you that the danger to England from the IRA was
much, much more severe, but we never needed what is being done today.

And the converse risk to being unprepared is starting a nuclear
war by accident or mistake - which we have come very, very close
to several times.

306:

The German Army was pretty bad in WW1 too. They were shooting civilian hostages and burnings town in Belgium. The evidence in plain to see in cemeteries. See chapter 17 of The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchmann.

There's more than one reason why they play those bugles at Ypres.

307:

Neither side in the Cold War was monolithic. The American side had some who thought the USSR would attack any moment, some who thought they never would, some who kind of wished they would (mostly military types), and some who just liked having an enemy to rally their own side against. The Soviet side presumably had the same divisions, though they were less able to honestly express themselves.

308:

Hindsight be damned. As I posted, official documents now show that the USA and UK knew that the USSR could not win an all-out war

You keep insisting that this is the case, but I don't recall anything like that coming out of the PRO. Have you got a link, a cite, an author, or anything I can use as a hook for my googling? Because it sounds suspiciously like urban legend, or a radical misreading of context.

There were period during the 60s, 70s, and even early 80s where the balance of forces swung more one way or the other as each side re-equipped with a new tank / artillery piece / aircraft (e.g. the T-64, or ERA, or Shtora; correspondingly, the first digital radars, smart munitions, or stealthy bombers). The (almost) joke was that the British plan was to conduct a fighting withdrawal, the Americans to hold the line, and the Germans to try and counterattack eastwards.

Here's a "for instance" - the Soviet General Staff College at Frunze didn't even consider the British Army in its courses (what, only four small divisions?), because it focussed on the German and American Forces. That was, until after 1982 - they decided that being able to mount and succeed an amphibious operation 8000 miles from home; at a few days' notice; while outnumbered and outgunned on the ground; meant that perhaps they should consider the British too...(particularly when it came to the northern flank of NATO)

There was a belief that NORTHAG could defeat the first echelon, perhaps some of the second echelon of attacking Soviet forces - and buy enough time to either finish REFORGER, mobilise remaining reservists and war stocks, or even for the politicians to agree a peace.

But that isn't the same as a belief that one side could, or could not win, and to paint it in terms of certainty is just intellectual dishonesty.

You have to base your plan on the forces facing you, not what you believe to be their current intentions. It's taken us twenty years to demilitarize Germany - gradually and slowly. The RAF bases are gone, the British Army is moving home, the tank / ship / aircraft fleets are shrinking all across Northern Europe. If it's all a "cunning plot by the arms manufacturers", they aren't doing very well... they've nearly all either merged or disappeared.

309:

But that isn't the same as a belief that one side could, or could not win, and to paint it in terms of certainty is just intellectual dishonesty.

As I understand it, the NATO position was that they would lose if they did not use tactical nukes, so they would use tactical nukes. The Soviet position was that any use of nukes would inevitably lead to global nuclear war, and further that they pledged never to be the first to use nukes but that if we did use tactical nukes in europe they would consider that first use and implied they would respond with a full-scale counterattack.

Both sides agreed that war in europe would become strategic nuclear war.

It seems to me that this is enough to say that pretty much everybody agreed that everybody in the world would decisively lose such a war.

You have to base your plan on the forces facing you, not what you believe to be their current intentions.

Yes, that's true for generals who must make contingency plans. And they must work with the resources they have, and not what they wish they had. And a general faced with defense of western europe against a giant combined-arms attack need not pay any attention to the strategic nuclear forces of the enemy, which do not involve his mission in any way. Except ... they kind of do get involved ... but I guess above his pay grade.

310:

What comes out of the PRO is what the government wants us to know.
You should ask yourself why the government was so keen to ban
Spycatcher in the UK even AFTER its publication worldwide!

You can start with The Defence Of The Realm and the Skunkworks (but
I can't remember which), as I have now said three times. There are
even links in Wikipedia.

311:

Going a bit off topic and addressing various books:

Since no one else has mentioned it, there is Once an Eagle which is sort of a cult book among officers in the US. It is military fiction following an officer from before The Great War through Vietnam. War and peace, for that matter, are just backdrops. The book is about leadership, initiative and responsibility. The villain of the piece is a staff officer, so the story is timeless.

For young adults interested in a different point of view, the early Cherry Ames nurse stories set during WWII are a bit dated but fun to read. (Yes, I know, no one would name their female protagonist Cherry these days. It was a joke, or perhaps a homage, in the television series China Beach.)

I was always fond of Knight's Fee, another book where combat plays a role, but the real story is about growing up, finding one's place and learning responsibility. A major character is a jester, the setting post-Conquest England.

Also, Gillian Bradshaw wrote a number of military themed stories set in the Roman empire, eastern and western. They are accessible to young adult readers and often have outsider protagonists, for example, an east African scout or Sarmation lancer working for the Romans in ancient England.

312:

Never mind 1914, if you want to know where the German army got its bad habits with respect to civilians from, you need to go back to 1870 and read up on Francs-tireurs and the German reaction.

313:

You can start with The Defence Of The Realm and the Skunkworks (but I can't remember which), as I have now said three times. There are even links in Wikipedia.

Fortunately, I have a copy of the former (although I find it strange that you're using a history of domestic counterintelligence as a source of assertions on military strategic policy).

...it was said that a USA first strike would
destroy at least 95% of the Soviets second strike capability and the USA would survive that largely intact, but where a Soviet first strike would destroy no more than 70% of the USA's and the USSR would NOT survive that.

Dump a few megatons on the UK, and you're just bouncing the rubble - and it's game over for the next few generations unless you're got a business plan involving glass carparks. Small island, dense populations.

Please explain how a Soviet first strike could fail to destroy the UK? Three or four warheads onto London (and a handful onto TURNSTILE), and I think we can fairly safely say that the successor Prime Minister has lost enough voters that re-election is unlikely. Remember, the nuclear logic isn't a two-player game; the Russians know only too well that the UK and France are easier to destroy than the USA, and that they are aware of this.

You make the assertion that only Russia was justifiably scared, that America wasn't, and deny that it is hindsight - except that no-one knew for sure. Remember, the high-quality satellite imagery only starts to turn up in the 1980s; until then, it's "Ice Station Zebra" and packets of film being parachuted to earth - or Gary Powers discovering that SA-2 is no longer a theory.

It wasn't until 1976 that Viktor Belenko turned up with proof that Russian aircraft were a bit agricultural.

The 1950s and 60s saw Soviet rocketry achieve more than American rocketry; the 60s and 70s saw Soviet aircraft setting world records one after the other (see Ye-266). They carried on working on their Desant forces, with attendant large helicopters and air-portable armoured vehicles. The Mi-24 was a very unwelcome surprise, and the T-64 simply outclassed the M-60 and Leopard-1.

As recently as the 90s, it was announced that the US had carried out firing trials with their shiny new DU longrod penetrator from their shiny new M1A2, to discover that the T-64 with Kontakt-5 heavy ERA was fully protected over its frontal arc. Losing several M1A2 to RPG-29 in Iraq proved that the opposite was not necessarily true.

So, I would reassert that you are operating on "interpretative hindsight"...

314:

Losing several M1A2 to RPG-29 in Iraq proved that the opposite was not necessarily true.

Are you saying they were lost due to front on fire of RPGs?

315:

I believe -- though I'm not sure -- that France would be a whole lot harder to nuke into rubble than the UK. Yes, Paris could be toasted easily enough; but France has about 3-4 times the land area and the mountainous bits include some that are a whole lot higher than those of the UK. You could still level it with a hundred SS-20s, but the UK is a ridiculous target in a nuclear war (as witness the abandonment of any pretence at civil defense in the late 60s/early 70s).

Belenko and the MiG-25 ... [EDIT: snipped because you got there first as I realized when I googled on Ye-266. Sigh.]

316:

Not to the turret front, I'll grant you (I think it was to the hull rear, and another to turret side); although there's a Challenger-2 driver missing a foot after an RPG-29 penetrated hull front, through the ERA...

If you look at the toll taken of Merkava during the Most Recent Mistake in Lebanon, Russian anti-tank kit is no slouch. In 1973 they provided a very nasty surprise to the Israeli tanks with AT-2 SAGGER, and to the Israeli aircraft with SA-3 GOA and SA-6 GAINFUL.

317:

Not to mention the Battle of the Kokoda Track

School of Infantry were still using that as a good example of "withdrawal in contact" in the 90s...

We also sat through a full hour on Long Tan - from the Australian exchange officer at the School; by coincidence, my dad was on a scuba course in Singapore with the OC from RAR, when said OC was told that he'd been awarded the MC.

318:

as witness the abandonment of any pretence at civil defense in the late 60s/early 70s

Not quite "any pretence". Dad's first job on leaving the Army was as a full-time officer in the Royal Observer Corps, so I got to see the inside of the bunker at Turnhouse a couple of times. The point he made was that no matter how serious it got, some people would survive, and anything that made their continued existence less miserable (i.e. fallout plots, knowledge of what fell where, possibly the last reliable communications system) was worthwhile.

"Civil Defence" became "Emergency Planning" in the 1980s, devolved down to Regional Councils. Some councils were "morally opposed" to the whole thing; Lothian let the Barnton Quarry bunker lapse, while they declared the area to be a Nuclear-Free Zone (nicely grounded in unreality - given you've got a Divisional HQ out by the airport, and a major ammunition store just across the Forth). Meanwhile, twenty miles south, Borders Region took their planning seriously - a copy of the Borders plan in every library, etc, etc.

Rather than focussing on instant sunshine, the Emergency Planners (by now including Dad) started to focus on less apocalyptic problems, and on getting agencies (Police, Fire, Ambulance, Social Services, Health, Education, Transport) to start talking to each other and thinking in advance about how they can cooperate, and what resources each has - although Dad's example planning exercise based around "what happens when someone puts a digger through the gas main into Stirling, in winter" was eerily prescient when someone did exactly that, a couple of months later. All of the school halls that get opened up after widespread flooding, or frozen and blocked motorways? That's what your Civil Defence evolved into; complete with the "Civil Defence College" at Easingwold turning into the "Emergency Planning College" (although apparently the new buzzword is "Resilience").

(Another happy thoughts exercise he had was "what happens when that steamer on Loch Katrine sinks, and you suddenly have eighty to a hundred slightly-hypothermic pension-age tourists at the wrong end of an unfortunately long and narrow road; and only two ambulances on duty in the area...")

319:

Probably this one

Worth a read. The continued lionising of the Waffen-SS, Wehrmacht and Germany in non-fiction alone, continues to perplex me. Let alone in fiction.

The brief version why the Wehrmacht were so successful?

In nine months, the Third Reich defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Of those, Poland was jointly attacked with the USSR. The other countries, were, of course, neutral

And of course the amazing Wehrmacht then advances deep into the USSR in less than six months - a country the Third Reich had been in non-aggression pact with for 19 months!

Of those countries invaded, only France could be expected to defend itself, it already being at war with Germany.

Only the gross incompetence of the French and Soviet militaries gave it the success its leader craved

Forgone conclusions can easily be mistaken for military genius.

As the war progressed, Nazi weapons got progressively more baroque and useless, its tactics more brutal [not they were mild to start with], its global strategy more deranged.

Yugoslavia in 1941 was the benchmark for Germany's future conduct in battle.

320:

Nope, not that one, wrong cover.

Ah, found it - "War of extermination - the german military in world war II 1941-1944"Edited by Hans Heer and Klaus Naumann.
And of course the invasion of France was not a foregone conclusion, as you say the incompetence of the politicians and generals gave them a good chance.

321:

OKay, most effective stuff needed to have an effective survival situation for a large part of the populace. What I've read is that there grew a larger and larger gap between what the government spent on the problem and what was actually required in order to get the kind of protection the public thought they aught to get or indeed what other countries managed to do. But the politicians still kept pretending there wasn't an issue, which is the real point.

322:

Phew, expensive book! I'll stick with Soldaten

The French defeat wasn't a forgone conclusion, but a nation that had preparing for war six-seven years defeating neutral countries, or countries it had non-aggression pacts with (Poland, USSR) were.

In France in 1940 the Wehrmacht showed a martial prowess it demonstrably lacked in the rest of the war.

It also makes me wonder why the Nazi/Wehrmacht fanboys focus on the weapons that lost them the war, not the ones that won their battles.

The Panzer III, Panzer IV, Panzer 38(t), Ju88 and Bf109F just aren't monstrous enough, I suppose.

The Bf109 and the Ju87 were the most important air weapons in the German arsenal. The most successful aircraft any air force has ever operated.

But if you ask a aircraft buff which was the best German aircraft of WW2, they'll most likely say the Me262 [fail]

323:

...it was said that a USA first strike would
destroy at least 95% of the Soviets second strike capability and the USA would survive that largely intact, but where a Soviet first strike would destroy no more than 70% of the USA's and the USSR would NOT survive that.

Nobody knew what would happen from a big nuclear war. At first, neither side had enough nukes to destroy the other, but they pretended they did. They made bigger H-bombs because they couldn't expect very many to be delivered but even one would be a big deterrent. There were stories that the Russians had built a doomsday device they could trigger on their own land, to make sure the USA didn't win.

US theoreticians made a living off nuclear game theory. Some of them reasoned that everybody was better off if we all knew that nobody could win a nuclear war. Others thought the USA could win at negotiation by appearing to be insane enough to start a nuclear war so that the Russians had to back down. But theory showed that the most effective way to pretend to be crazy enough to start a nuclear war, was to actually be crazy enough to start a nuclear war. So they drove themselves crazy on purpose.

Meanwhile there was the possibility that a nuclear war might be survivable. Maybe a US strike could be so effective that the Russians could not hit back. It was worth spending a lot of money to explore that, since the only alternative might be that everybody dies. What about that doomsday device? Let's assume they don't have it. What if the USA survived a nuclear war and Britain didn't? There would be many a tear shed for Britain.

Considering just how *many* nuclear weapons it would take to stop the Russians from hitting back, what was the chance that the US effort would blow back and hurt the USA too much? Nobody knew, but maybe the only alternative was that a war killed everybody so maybe they should take the chance. In theory there wouldn't be much bad result, only a tiny bit of radioactivity, the blast effect on the other side of the world wouldn't matter, etc. The nuclear winter controversy proved that they had not thought it out. After a whole lot of research they came up with computer models which predicted they could do a successful sneak attack on the USSR provided they did it at the right time of year. But they had already demonstrated that they had not thought it out, and there was good reason to expect other unknown side effects they had given no thought to.

Civilians who followed out the logic of all this quite reasonably decided it was bonkers.

Here's how that relates to defense of western europe -- if the USA believed that the Russians would back down on any issue where the USA demonstrated insanity unless backing down was worse than a nuclear war, then why the hell would they expect the Russians to invade western europe?

Well of course, this is an argument from intentions which you say we must never do. If the Russians go crazy and invade western europe, we must be ready to destroy them one tank at a time, because otherwise we are not prepared for them going crazy. No matter how much it costs to be prepared, we must pay that cost because we can't predict when they might go crazy and invade western europe.

And then we get into all the details about just how good their tanks are versus our tanks. We grab onto the odd piece of rare actual data about tank warfare between third world nations because it's real while all the rest is just theory. We repeatedly demonstrated that the USSR was ready to back down rather than provoke the crazy Americans into a nuclear war. Why would we think they would provoke the crazy Americans into a nuclear war by invading western europe?

The US government was already betting the lives of 99.99% of US citizens that the Russians were not as crazy as they were. Why not also bet western europe on that?

You make the assertion that only Russia was justifiably scared, that America wasn't, and deny that it is hindsight - except that no-one knew for sure.

I sure don't make that assertion. The Russians were justifiably scared because the Americans pretended to be crazy in convincing ways. The Americans were scared because they convinced themselves that the Russians might be even crazier than they were. I'm not sure whether that was "justifiable" but it was a "fact on the ground". They were both scared and it's predictable that being fearful and lacking information, either or both of them might do random stupid things. NATO spent a tremendous effort being prepared for an attack that predictably would never come, and the preparations would be irrelevant if it did come.

If the crazy Americans threatened global nuclear war, and meant it, it would make no difference how far the Russian tanks got in western europe.

If the crazy Americans nuked Russia hoping they could survive themselves, it would make no difference how far the Russian tanks got in western europe.

If the Russians never invaded western europe, it would make no difference how far the Russian tanks would have gotten in western europe if they had attacked.

So, I would reassert that you are operating on "interpretative hindsight"...

Pretty much all my claims were being made back then. But they weren't necessarily believed. There was a lot of uncertainty. So people made conservative decisions.

"Hey, maybe we really need to stop the russian tanks on the ground in west germany, and maybe we aren't strong enough. How bout we put an extra five tank divisions over there. It can't hurt, and it might help."

"That would be good, but we just can't afford it."

"Then let's put the tanks in warehouses over there, and we just fly the crews over in commercial airliners when we notice we need to. That's a lot cheaper. We'll tell the Russians we're doing that, and they won't be able to sabotage the warehouses or shoot down the airliners. It's a foolproof plan and cheap too!"

324:

You missed something here.

"Then let's put the tanks in warehouses over there, and we just fly the crews over in commercial airliners when we notice we need to. That's a lot cheaper. We'll tell the Russians we're doing that, and they won't be able to sabotage the warehouses or shoot down the airliners. It's a foolproof plan and cheap too!"

The Russians had chemical weapons, including nasty persistent stuff like mustard gas. The warehouses were far enough back to be a tricky target. You need to deliver a lot of chemistry to be effective.

Both the USSR and the USA were signatories to the Geneva Protocol of 1925. Both had declared get-out clauses for the case of an enemy state using them. Both had stockpiles.

The delivery problem goes both ways.

So it's worrying that the term "weapons of mass destruction" which started a reference to the original use of A-bombs, was extended to include chemical weapons. Was the USA willing to go nuclear over a chemical attack? Some things I heard at the time, the US and Soviet forces both had relatively poor personal protection equipment.

Some WW3 novels used the plot of a hi-tech version of the WW1 Western Front running across Germany which involved chemical weapons.

The exercises which tested the preparedness of military airfields in West Germany assumed chemical weapon attacks. I definitely had the feeling that it could trigger nuclear weapon use.

325:

Some things I heard at the time, the US and Soviet forces both had relatively poor personal protection equipment.

Not really - it worked, it was just cumbersome.

The Soviet kit was essentially non-disposable rubber, the American kit was disposable but heavyweight. The comparable British gear was to use a replaceable thin outer layer (nonwoven, with a charcoal backing) over normal uniform, and rely on both layers being in place. In the runup to DESERT STORM, the US Marine Corps bought a pile of British NBC suits; with the discovery that you could fit 1,000 British NBC suits into a truckload, or 250 American ones.

Personal protection isn't the key feature, though; collective protection is, and Soviet vehicles were all equipped with NBC overpressure filtration systems. Even that's not the important thing, though - it's the organisational stuff that makes the difference. The Soviets were very prepared to wage chemical warfare; every artillery piece could fire chemicals, they had well-equipped decontamination units, they had excellent chemical reconnaissance equipment from the outset (look up BRDM-2RKh).

Meanwhile, the US personal equipment was sufficiently good that they would routinely test it with live agents (the furthest the British routinely took it was to use CS gas when practising personal NBC skills). Both US and Soviet Armies would occasionally troops with live nerve agents, to validate suit design etc; Porton Down handled the UK stuff. It worked, and we certainly spent a chunk of time wearing it during the Cold War; e.g. shooting tests and competitions all had "firing while wearing the respirator" as part of the conditions; the NBC suit and respirator was a permanent part of everyone's personal equipment.

It gets more interesting when you discover concepts like "penetrants" - irritants mixed in with the lethal agents, designed to get through NBC filters sufficiently to make the user break the seals (e.g. it's hard to breathe through your gas mask if you're vomiting into it).

A note to believers in unilateral disarmament: the UK unilaterally disarmed itself of chemical weapons after the 1960s; and maintained only a (very, very good) detection/protection capability. It made exactly zero impact on the other chemical weapon capable nations.

326:

I can't guarantee that it is the same Skunkworks (there are three),
and I did NOT use it for information on the policy, but about what
the USA/UK knew about the USSR (and the USSR knew that they knew).
I.e. almost all of the nuclear missile silo locations, which had a
45 minute minimum launch time.

"Please explain how a Soviet first strike could fail to destroy
the UK?"

Enough is enough. I am no longer prepared to respond to you
pretending that I wrote what I did not, and will stop here.

I said the USA and I meant the USA. The UK was bankrupted by
WWII (especially by the USA!), and was AT BEST an optionally-
consulted junior partner of the USA. Our survival was (and is)
not a critical factor in their plans.

327:

I was always surprised that we never countered the Soviet offer with a "No first use of nukes outside of NATO nations"

328:

The Russians had chemical weapons, including nasty persistent stuff like mustard gas. The warehouses were far enough back to be a tricky target. You need to deliver a lot of chemistry to be effective

Minor nitpick - mustard isn't "nasty"; not really a lethal agent. Slam on the NBC suits, break out the fire hoses, wash down the warehouse (assuming any agents got inside) and you're good to go.

Thickened GD? VX? That's nasty. Attack concentrations of HC? Nasty. It's why we trained to mask up if any shells went off nearby, the assumption was that you would face lethal chemicals mixed in with the high explosive.

Note also that REFORGER is (hopefully) running during the transition to war, i.e. when the widespread shooting starts, the warehouses should mostly be empty(ing).

329:

Not just a few nukes for London, but if it was anything like one US tageting plan for Moscow it would be a 6 x 6 grid of 300kt nukes spaced at 3 mile intervals.

330:

For anyone in any doubt on the subject, in the 1980s declaring yourself a "nuclear free zone" was a political statement with no basis in fact or logic.

Cunninghame DC (Hunterston A and B nuclear power stations) and Dumbarton DC (CSB Faslane where the UK's nuclear power submarines were based, and RNADs Coulport and Glen Douglas where ICBM warheads were stored) both still declared themselves "nuclear free".

331:

Strange attractor warning!! ;-)

Best Luftwaffe type of WW2 - As an all-rounder I'd have said the JU-(1)88.
Honourable mentions to the Ju-52 as best transport, Fieseler Fi-156 "Storch" as best STOL machine, Fw-190/Ta-152 as best fighter, and Fw-200 "Condor" as best MPA.

332:

I.e. almost all of the nuclear missile silo locations, which had a 45 minute minimum launch time.

Not from the mid-1960s (i.e. after Vostok, before Gemini). Down to 20 minutes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-8_Sasin

Remember also that it's a nuclear triad; Tu-95 BEAR and Tu-16 BADGER have the range to make US cities glow in the dark, if you assume that the DEW line is now a series of smoking holes. We certainly trained to put the V-force out to dispersal sites, and SAC trained to put the B-52/KC-135 force up on alert missions. There is a reason that the Vulcan bomber takes off like a scared cat...

The HOTEL-class SSBN and ECHO-class SSGN are in service from 1960, YANKEE-class SSBN from the late 1960s. Strategic weapon system technology goes from "can't reach orbit" to "man on the moon" in ten years; from Dead Hand to FOBS; to space stations with gun turrets (seriously; look up Almaz and R-23). This is a period of revolution, and we risk forgetting how fast things were changing.

Maintaining the insistence that those pesky kids over the garden fence are just a bit twitchy (they're only defensive you know) is somewhat difficult when they're launching a new "purely defensive" SSBN every couple of months.

333:

''The Russians were justifiably scared because the Americans
pretended to be crazy in convincing ways.''

It wasn't entirely pretence. There were a hell of a lot of people
near the top who were fanatically anti-socialist, anti-communist
and anti-Russian. Quite a few influential people were advocating
nuking Russia back to the stone age while the USA had enough
superiority to do so and survive. They didn't change after the
facts you mention (nuclear winter etc.) became known.

''The Americans were scared because they convinced themselves that
the Russians might be even crazier than they were. I'm not sure
whether that was "justifiable" but it was a "fact on the ground".''

The American people, yes, and SOME of those near the top. But
there were - and are :-( - a hell of a lot who whipped up the
hysteria (i.e. using propaganda), either for the afore-mentioned
fanaticism or because they cold-bloodedly calculated that they
could make political or financial profit out of it. As I said,
Ike was right.

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

334:

Minor nitpick - mustard isn't "nasty"; not really a lethal agent.

Tell that to the great-uncle of mine who got a lungful in the trenches during WW1. (Or the many thousands who died of it.) Yes, modern chemwar equipment and techniques are pretty good at dealing with the original mustard agents, but to say the stuff isn't lethal is a bit of an exaggeration: any use near civilians would rack up fatalities (and horrible lung and eye injuries) very rapidly indeed.

And that's before we get into more sophisticated vesicants like Lewisite (it's a blistering agent, no, wait, it's also a neurotoxin, oh hey, it wrecks your liver too!). Yes, we've got usable antidotes, it doesn't penetrate rubber or activated charcoal well, and its lacrymatory action kicks in concentrations low enough to give soldiers time to mask up before they hit really lethal levels: but again, it's cheap, nasty, easier to handle than nerve agents, and if you want thousands of just barely sub-lethal civilian casualties clogging up your hospitals it's the way to go.

I'm just startled that nobody actually weaponized dimethyl mercury. Maybe it's too slow and too persistent for battlefield use, but as an area-denial terror weapon ...

335:

I was always surprised that we never countered the Soviet offer with a "No first use of nukes outside of NATO nations"

Part of that was that the US claimed the Soviets did not keep their agreements. So why make agreements with them?

If the USA made an agreement then they, being moral and ethical, would be bound by it while the Soviets would do whatever they wanted. So it was a bad deal. Of course we've since seen that the USA was not particularly keeping its agreements either, but that doesn't affect the argument -- why make agreements that neither side will keep?

They eventually settled for making agreements about verifiable capabilities, and not about intentions. If both sides agreed to not be able to do something, and could back out of the agreement at any time (particularly when they were ready to accuse the other of breaking the agreement), then they could make agreements without needing to trust each other.

Anyway, the USA did not want to give up their right to nuke anybody in the world if they thought they needed to. I remember in college I talked to a ROTC student who said his instructor told him that the USA needed a whole lot of nukes because after a nuclear war with the USSR, the USA might be so weakened they couldn't win a conventional war with Mexico. So they would need nukes to tide them over the period they were only a regional power.

I reported that to my father, and he said it was crazy talk. A few bad apples could become ROTC teachers, but the US government would never make crazy plans like that.

336:

You probably remember the document releases that showed there
was significant support at top levels for nuking North Vietnam.
While sanity isn't what prevailed, at least those idiots lost out.

338:

The Russians had chemical weapons, including nasty persistent stuff like mustard gas. The warehouses were far enough back to be a tricky target. You need to deliver a lot of chemistry to be effective.

You could deliver a moderate number of small nukes, if you could get the precision good enough. Of course, that would encourage NATO to nuke you back, but they were going to do that anyway.

If you could smuggle small bombs onto 10% of the airliners carrying troops to europe, that's 10% casualties in the first round right there, and the second round of transfers would go 10% slower. That's hard to do, you'd need sleeper cells in the USA waiting years or decades for the signal. The soviets were theoretically good at that sort of thing, but I don't know whether they could make it work really.

Similarly for sabotaging stuff that's pre=positioned. The farther it gets done ahead of time, the more likely something gets tested and they find out too soon and fix stuff. There are lots of potential weak points -- find someone who can add something to the fuel which destroys engines, arrange for stored ammunition to blow itself up, etc etc etc -- but the enemy will be ready to stop many of them. Not something you'd want to depend on working.

But my point is that this is an example where the details are not important. Here's the flowchart:

1. The USSR insanely attacks western europe.

Branch: Maybe NATO can stop them with conventional weapons. Then everything is fine and the USSR was stupid to attack.

Other branch: NATO fails to stop them with conventional weapons and uses tactical nuclear weapons, escalation results in mostly everybody dead. The USSR was stupid to attack.

It didn't really matter whether REFORGER succeeded or failed, the outcome was the same either way.

The whole exercise was being done for political and diplomatic reasons. The USA wanted NATO allies to believe that the USA would not sell them out. Providing a whole lot of US military people as hostages encouraged that belief.

The US public fondly remembered US armies sweeping across europe. They were comfortable with that idea. They were not comfortable with the idea that their government was protecting western europe by threatening to start a nuclear war that would get them all killed. Keeping a big expensive army in europe helped them to avoid thinking about that reality.

339:

My preference would be nickel carbonyl. After degrading the nickel in the soil is nowhere near as dangerous as mercury

340:

"Part of that was that the US claimed the Soviets did not keep their agreements. So why make agreements with them?"

Propaganda. By the time you get around to breaking that agreement it will be the least of your worries.

341:

Third branch: NATO fails to stop them with conventional
weapons, and escalates directly to strategic weapons, and the
USSR and most of Europe are destroyed (with the USA severely
damaged but possibly not totally). The USSR was stupid to
attack.

I.e. precisely. The USSR (post Stalin) knew that they couldn't
win. Stalin was a paranoid psychopath, so was anyone's guess.

342:

It was effective propaganda. May US congressmen were dead-set against any negotiation or compromise with the USSR. If they never keep agreements, why make agreements with them?

The USA could have made a unilateral announcement of principle. But some of them really didn't want to. MacArthur proposed using nukes in the Korean war. (He got overruled and also the USA only had a few then.)

The USA certainly did not want to rule out using nukes on Cuba when Cuba was hosting nuclear weapons.

There were various proposals when the USA was doing badly in Vietnam. One of them was to pile a lot of nuclear waste in the DMZ so that north vietnamese troops crossing it would fry themselves.

In 1973 when the USA threatened the USSR with nukes to stop them from defending Egypt from Israel, it would have been inconvenient to threaten them only with use of nukes inside NATO nations. ;)

Etc. That limitation just did not fit US needs. The US strategy was to persuade the Soviets that they were crazy enough to start a nuclear war, and the easiest way to be convincing was to actually in fact be crazy enough to start a nuclear war. That was not compatible with reasonable offers to limit the threat of nuclear war.

343:

I think I got it from postscript actually...

344:

"In 1973 when the USA threatened the USSR with nukes to stop them from defending Egypt from Israel..."

IIRC it was also the other way around. At the time I recall seeing reconnaissance pics that (supposedly) showed Russian ships unloading tactical nukes in Egypt. Didn't seem too convincing to me, but it was probably enough to make sure neither side was allowed a total victory.

345:

I don't remember that, and it sounds like a story invented from
whole cloth - where did you see it? Also, it conflicts with the
official USA version, which says "The Soviets, who were uneager
to intervene on behalf of their clients" and does not mention
any such lunacy (and lunacy it would have been):

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/arab-israeli-war-1973

346:

At the time I recall seeing reconnaissance pics that (supposedly) showed Russian ships unloading tactical nukes in Egypt.

You could be right. The story I heard was that some sort of nuclear material was detected on a ship passing through the Dardanelles, and the US freaked out and demanded that not happen.

The Israelis had spread the word that they had assembled some nukes to use if they did not win the conventional war. The rumor spread that they could bomb the Aswan dam, resulting in a 300 foot wall of radioactive water sweeping down the Nile, killing everybody who lived within a few miles of the Nile -- that is, most of Egypt. I doubted that since it had a long distance to lose momentum over, though it would surely be a very bad thing. Somebody brought it up a few years ago and I looked at Google earth and figured it would have slowed a whole lot around Kom Umba, more at Edfu, and take it from there. It wouldn't do a whole lot to the delta. But still that's the sort of attack it's hard to make a peaceful peace after.

The idea that Israel would have or will nuke Aswan does not die. Lieberman made the public threat in the media in 2001.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4246949,00.html

Here is an unreliable source that provides a whole lot of details.

http://i-hls.com/2013/05/who-is-authorized-to-press-the-nuclear-red-button-at-the-time-of-an-existential-threat/

347:

The version I heard was that the IAF paint-bombed the face of the Aswan High Dam early in the war, and rolled out suspiciously fat and odd-looking bombs in front of a couple of Skyhawks right under the view of the photorecon MiG-25s the Soviets were sending over from Egypt to Syria and back. As 95% of the Egyptian population live within 5 miles of the Nile, it was a credible threat. The message was that Israel would not go down quietly under an Arab invasion.

The course of battle turned, and three weeks later an Israeli armoured spearhead commanded by Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and drove on the Egyptian capital. (Sharon was a loose cannon even before he went into politics, and his intent appeared to be to defeat the Egyptian army in detail and then park his tanks in Cairo.)

The Egyptians appealed to the USSR for help, hence the delivery of Soviet nuclear-capable battlefield missiles, presumably in a misguided attempt to put a finger on the balance in favour of their client state.

But when the Israelis learned about the Soviet counter-move to their "local" nuclear stand-off, they began making noises about Moscow being within range of a one-way suicide mission, at which point the Soviets freaked and went to full nuclear alert ... which the US spysats picked up and which led in turn to a US nuclear alert.

Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev then got going on the hotline and agreed to yank the choke-chain on their respective client states and drag them kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, because nobody wanted to fire up the end of the world over a water rights squabble in the middle east.

I'm not certain who started the nuclear pissing match in 1973, but the extent to which it escalated, and the speed, was alarming: there are definitely lessons that could be applied to the situation in Europe around the same time (notably the significance of the British and French nuclear forces in time of war).

348:

The US strategy was to persuade the Soviets that they were crazy enough to start a nuclear war, and the easiest way to be convincing was to actually in fact be crazy enough to start a nuclear war.

The trouble with that strategy is that fairly frequently two adversaries try to use it at the same time.

349:

Eh? Where on earth did you hear that? I won't describe why it
sounds tinfoil hat territory, but have you read the link I posted?
If the US Department of State Office of the Historian publishes
something that flatly contradicts that, I am inclined to trust it,
and believe that the story about the Soviet nuclear actions was a
purely malicious invention.

350:

Where on earth did you hear that?

It's widely reported and widely believed.

I won't describe why it sounds tinfoil hat territory, but have you read the link I posted?

Unfortunately, experience has shown that we cannot trust official US sources more than tinfoil hat sources like the New York Times. There is no reliable way to decide what to believe.

Try a search engine on 1973 Israeli nuclear threat and you'll find lots of unreliable sources, and no reliable source. The Israeli government used to be careful not to officially admit they had nukes at all. You can't depend on Israeli politicians who were there.

Here is a revisionist account which claims it didn't happen. He has secret Israeli sources which contradict all the other secret Israeli sources, and so 40 years later they say there was no truth to it. Do you believe that?

http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/6909/israel-nuclear-weapons-and-the-1973-yom-kippur-war

There is one minor thing I'm reasonably sure about. The US government announced at the time that they were raising their threat level against the USSR to Defcon 3. Much later they announced that certain selected military units were raised to Defcon 2. I talked with six people who were in the military at the time, and each of them independently told me they personally were told it was Defcon 1. Nobody has told me he was recalled under Defcon 2 or 3. I believe those 6 random military men. I do not believe the US government on this minor point. They lied to the public so that the public wouldn't freak out.

351:

First, right after I published the comment I knew it was a mistake to invoke your name in this context. I apologize.

Second, as it seems to be unclear, I am completely aware you are not Israeli. I am not a Polish citizen. (I also probably have a "right of return" that I have no intention of ever invoking.) I assume you still take the historical (and current) treatment of Jews everywhere somewhat personally. That was the analogy I was trying to draw, badly apparently.

352:

The list was meant to be ridiculous because Russia's stance is ridiculous. As I stated Russia's "insecurity" is a useful myth of national exceptionalism. It is useful for the Russians sometimes and it's useful for their adversaries at others. It has a longer history than America's Frontier Push or Germany's Inherent Militarism, both of which seem to be in abeyance these days, while Russia's myth lives on for some reason.

If we start off with the premise that the U.S. "believes" it has a Manifest Destiny and the U.S. has an understandable expectation of eventually occupying Canada, then the world is not happy with that, but maybe it throws us a bone and allows that maybe it's acceptable for us to have Vancouver for "reasons." Most countries could not get away with it, but yes, we totally could. That's basically the Russian perspective we are trying to understand here.

Realistically we will not stop Russia from doing some of these things, but not granting them legitimacy is important over the long run. They don't have any legitimate security concerns over NATO. They have concerns they can no longer project influence outside Russia, but they don't have any real concern that Belarus or Estonia are going to be cat's paws for German irredentism. They think all of Ukraine belongs to Russia, not just the Crimea. That's the motivation: greed and pride, not fear.

353:

I said the USA and I meant the USA. The UK was bankrupted by WWII (especially by the USA!), and was AT BEST an optionally-consulted junior partner of the USA. Our survival was (and is) not a critical factor in their plans.

That may be true; but it is also irrelevant :)

When it comes to nuclear warfare, perspective is important. What counts as "tactical" to a Russian or American is almost certainly "strategic" to a German, particularly if Hamburg or Dresden are the cities concerned. That goes double for Belgium and Holland, and is downright apocalyptic if you're Luxembourg.

As has been pointed out, Britain and France are both densely-packed and in the downwind hazard. Drop a "tactical" nuke on the Channel Ports, or an airhead at Gatwick, and Britain and France will likely reply by flattening St. Petersburg or Moscow, and screw the SIOP.

Optionally-consulted junior partner maybe, but it's an independent deterrent, and the Strategic Rocket Forces won't really care who flattened Moscow - Washington DC is next.

354:

"It's widely reported and widely believed."

It certainly never was nor is believed by anyone With Clue; hell,
the story isn't even highly visible on the Web any longer. Inter alia, just HOW would anyone tell whether a ship was carrying
nuclear missiles or anything else? Telepathy? X-ray vision?

Also, the USSR was seriously untrusting and, in 1973, they did
not have the computer technology to put cryptographic codes into
missiles. No way would they have trusted Sadat with them, and a
few Russian soldiers couldn't have stopped the Egyptians from
getting hold of them. Why on earth would the USSR risk being
totally destroyed in a nuclear war for the benefit of a state
that was not of critical importance to them?

"Unfortunately, experience has shown that we cannot trust official
US sources more than tinfoil hat sources like the New York Times."

Do you SERIOUSLY believe that the US Department of State Office
of the Historian is publishing falsehoods that show the USSR up
in a good light and the USA in a bad one? If so, I suggest
contacting a good psychiatrist.

"Try a search engine on 1973 Israeli nuclear threat and you'll
find lots of unreliable sources, and no reliable source."

Oh, hell, I know that. My position is that I don't have a clue,
but I am sure that there was a lot of bluff and bullshit.

355:

Inter alia, just HOW would anyone tell whether a ship was carrying nuclear missiles or anything else?

We had detectors for the signatures of SNMs even back then, that we installed at choke points. They could often detect nuclear submarines at those choke points, though SOSUS worked in a wider variety of locations. And they could detect nuclear materials. It was possible to shield those signatures somewhat, but other things equal to shield large amounts you ran into something like the square/cube problem.

The Bosphorus and Dardanelles were choke points where the USA had every reason to install such detectors. When they announced that they had detected something in the Bosphorus, I didn't find it surprising. It might have been possible for the Russians to hide that stuff but they were in a hurry and maybe they didn't want to hide it.

No way would they have trusted Sadat with them, and a
few Russian soldiers couldn't have stopped the Egyptians from
getting hold of them.

You could make the same argument for Cuba, but they had something to gain there, so it wasn't the same. I dunno.

One possibility is that maybe they did trust Sadat not to kill the operators and take the nukes himself. A second possibility is they may have wanted to demonstrate their support while dragging the USA into actually stopping the war. Kissinger had a lot of sympathy for the Israelis and understood their desire not to stop fighting while they were winning. So much better to encircle and destroy the Egyptian 3rd army first, and accept a cease-fire later. Maybe they wanted to give Kissinger a reason to actually make peace. The nukes didn't have to reach Egypt for that, and maybe they didn't intend it to get that far. Then there's the possibility they were being stupid or crazy.

Why on earth would the USSR risk being totally destroyed in a nuclear war for the benefit of a state that was not of critical importance to them?

At the time, Kissinger argued that Israel was of such vital importance to the USA that we should and would risk being totally destroyed, but that Egypt was not important to the USSR and they should just back down and let the USA decide what would happen. I don't actually know what the Russians thought. It did look to the world like a demonstration that US weapons were better than USSR weapons, though the USA gave Israel their best while the Russians sold Egypt their cast-offs. I dunno. They took some risk and then negotiated franticly with Kissinger.

Do you SERIOUSLY believe that the US Department of State Office of the Historian is publishing falsehoods that show the USSR up in a good light and the USA in a bad one?

A large fraction of the US documents about all that are still classified. I don't know whether the truth would make the USA look better than the story that document tells.

Do you trust that document to tell the truth, considering that it will not reveal anything that's still classified?

My position is that I don't have a clue, but I am sure that there was a lot of bluff and bullshit.

I agree with that. I have a collection of clues but they don't add up to any certainty at all.

It's vaguely possible that the DefCon 1 alert came because a great big US fleet and a great big Soviet fleet were practically intermingled in the Mediterranean. There were 2 US carriers, and the Russians had no air support. So if fighting started their only hope to survive was to cripple both carriers quickly. Their doctrine was to hit as hard as they could with everything they had, if they thought they were about to be attacked. That was scary.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army was killing the Egyptian army, and the USA said we'd make them quit but there was no hurry, things would would work out in due course. The Russians announced that if we didn't do something soon they would take "unilateral action". But of course if the Russians put troops in Egypt to attack the Israelis, inevitably the USA would put troops in Egypt to defend the Israelis, and that would head somewhere bad. So Kissinger risked getting the USA destroyed in a total war in order to keep that from happening. It's the main alternative story to the nuclear one.

You can't trust the official documents because at the time Israel did not admit they had any nukes, and the USA to be nice to them also did not report anything that claimed that Israel had any nukes. The USA could not report that Israel threatened to nuke Egypt, without breaking their agreement with Israel never to admit that Israel had nukes. So if any of that was true it had to be kept secret.

It would be stupid to believe the official account, though it might accidentally be true. But there isn't strong evidence for any of the alternatives either.

356:

"I don't remember that, and it sounds like a story invented from whole cloth - where did you see it?"

Military Intelligence briefing just after the war, delivered (IIRC) by one Captain Watson of the Intelligence Corps, British army. Can't recall where, but it might have been Ashford.

357:

Charlie & J Thomas.
That set of slightly-differing accounts of the steps taken in 1973 reads HORRIBLY like the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia in July 1914, doesn't it?

358:

Er, there is just a LITTLE difference in the amount of gamma
radiation emitting from an operating nuclear power plant and an
inactive bomb. Even today, you have to be right on top of one of
the latter to detect it, which is why TPTB are so scared of
suitcase nukes.

"Do you trust that document to tell the truth, considering that
it will not reveal anything that's still classified?"

I trust it not to publish pro-USSR and anti-USA propaganda. And
the logical consequence of their being any truth in the story you
favour is that the USA Department of State is doing just that!
All of the available evidence is that it was probably a Big Lie,
however many people believed or repeated it.

Dirk Bruere: "Military Intelligence briefing just after the war,"

Just the stuff to give the troops :-(

Greg. Tingey has put it exactly right, and I am horribly afraid
that we are seeing the same today. Anyone with an open mind
should look up the Montreux Convention, "russia warm water ports"
etc. (and, yes, Syris is relevant). One of the many things that
I am really, really scared of is that the warmongers in NATO will
pressure Turkey in closing the straits to Russian warships unless
it abandons Crimea. I can't see an option for Russia but to
surrender or fight.

359:

Military Intelligence briefing just after the war, delivered (IIRC) by one Captain Watson of the Intelligence Corps, British army.

Thank you. I consider your status higher than "somebody said on the internet". You are a public figure, though unfortunately your credentials are the wrong sort to convince somebody who wanted to disbelieve you. I believe you.

"In 1973 when the USA threatened the USSR with nukes to stop them from defending Egypt from Israel..."

IIRC it was also the other way around. At the time I recall seeing reconnaissance pics that (supposedly) showed Russian ships unloading tactical nukes in Egypt. Didn't seem too convincing to me, but it was probably enough to make sure neither side was allowed a total victory.

As Elderly Cynic points out, we can't fully depend on military briefings either, sometimes they amount to a better grade of cover story. But it wasn't just tinfoil hat people who made up this story. Lots of people considered it credible.

And yes, neither USA nor USSR wanted one side to have a total victory. After 1967 the Israelis had refused to negotiate peace, because they had a total victory and they didn't think they needed peace. Why should the winners make any concessions to the losers? In 1973, 6 years later, they were first faced with the possibility of total defeat, and then they definitely did not want to settle for less than total victory. But they had to get along with the USA.

360:

Oops. I apologise to Dick Bruere. I meant to say the same as
you. Yes, I regard him as a reliable source and, given that,
there will have been a lot of people that believed the story.

I am afraid that, for the reasons I am not going to repeat, it
was and is a remote brainwashing barrier headgear story, even if
better crafted than the usual tinfoil hat ones. It just made NO
sense from the USSR point of view, makes even less sense with
hindsight, and is now contradicted by the USA's official story.
Oh, yes, the USSR delivered missiles and was definitely causing
trouble.

361:

Er, there is just a LITTLE difference in the amount of gamma
radiation emitting from an operating nuclear power plant and an
inactive bomb. Even today, you have to be right on top of one of the latter to detect it, which is why TPTB are so scared of
suitcase nukes.

I don't remember now whether I read it in the Washington Post or Time magazine. It didn't seem incredible to me at the time. They weren't suitcase nukes, and maybe the Russians weren't going to great efforts to hide them. If the point was to send a message to the USA, hiding them would be counterproductive.

We had low-tech ways to detect nukes in the early 1950's. You build a cylindrical structure out of something that slows neutrons, with an open end facing the strait. Then you pack it with neutron detectors at various depths. First you detect neutrons slowed by the thickness of the shielding. Then as the ship gets closer to the opening you detect neutrons that are slowed by the thicker material at an angle. Then as it passes the open side you detect neutrons that aren't slowed at all. You'll also get gamma rays at special frequencies. Put three of those in line and a ship which triggers two out of the three is worth inspecting.

I've seen structures at the Chesapeake bay which fit the description. I'm sure they've found better ways in the last 70 years.

The Bosphorus is only 700 meters wide, they might have been able to detect stuff there. But they don't want to admit how well they can detect, because that will get people to look for ways to hide their nukes better. Anyway, Dirk saw photos of things that the crateology experts said were nukes.

"Do you trust that document to tell the truth, considering that
it will not reveal anything that's still classified?"

I trust it not to publish pro-USSR and anti-USA propaganda. And the logical consequence of their being any truth in the story you favour is that the USA Department of State is doing just that!

I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. Are you saying that the story they did publish, makes the USA look significantly worse than the story I tell? I don't at all see that it does.

But just for a moment try it my way: Let's say they know the truth (or anyway the classified stories that the US government has told itself, which may not be "the truth"). But they don't want to tell the things that are still secret. Do you expect them to make up a bunch of new stuff which makes the USA look good, or would they instead publish a reasonably plausible story constructed from the part of the truth that they can reveal? I would hope they'd do the latter. And if a cynic then says it must be the whole truth because it makes the USA look bad, and they would have said something that sounded better unless it was the truth, then so be it.

362:

It just made NO sense from the USSR point of view, makes even less sense with hindsight, and is now contradicted by the USA's official story.

Maybe I'm more cynical than you. I regard the USA official story as just one more story.

Here's one possible way to make sense of the USSR position, though the evidence for it could be mostly lies:

One of the ways the Egyptians persuaded the Israelis they weren't going to attack, was to throw out their Soviet advisors. The USA had said they weren't going to do much to get Israel to agree to peace, while Egypt was a Soviet client state. Sadat made various overtures to the USA to become a US client state, which the US mostly rejected. it would be awkward for the USA to have both Israel and Egypt as client states, they'd already had trouble with both Greece and Turkey as NATO members.

There's strong reason to believe that it was a real dislocation between Egypt and Russia. If it was a secret agreement to look like they weren't getting along, they hid it well. But then the war came, and the USA did massive resupply for Israel, and the USSR felt a need to resupply Egypt. Their cumbersome supply system was not good at sudden fresh demands, and when Egypt desperately needed better anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tank stuff, the Russians were supplying field kitchens and whatever was next in the pipeline. Still, they weren't ready to abandon their recent ally.

They saw that it was a dangerous situation, and so Brezhnev called Nixon on the "hot line" and they talked personally. They both agreed to rein in their client states before something really bad happened. Nixon told Kissinger to tell the Israelis to stop attacking, they would have a cease-fire in place.

But Kissinger told the Israelis to go ahead and do what they liked, it would be OK. Nixon was busy with Watergate and couldn't devote much attention to the war. The Israelis kept attacking.

Brezhnev called Nixon again and reminded him of their agreement. He suggested that if Nixon couldn't control the Israelis, they ought to have a joint US/USSR military solution, both would send in their troops and cooperatively enforce a peace. Nixon, distracted with Watergate, agreed.

But Kissinger told the Israelis it was not going to happen. Don't worry, keep attacking. Nothing was done toward developing a joint strategy with the USSR to stop the fighting. The Israelis kept advancing.

The Russians then announced that if the USA was not going to help them, they would pursue a unilateral approach. THEN there was the DEFCON 1 alert and the DEFCON 3 announcement.

It looked to the Russians like Nixon was jerking them around, he made agreements that he then immediately broke.

Does it make better sense in that context? They started out supporting their former ally, but then they felt the need to tell Nixon that he couldn't just tell them lies from his mouth personally and then ignore them in reality.

Did the Russians plan to use the nukes? Did they send them as a message to the USA or to Israel? Were they starting to send Russian troops into Egypt, and the nukes were just in the pipeline to go with them, and nobody thought to pull them out? Were there really no nukes, but the US intelligence guys mistakenly thought there were? I dunno. Nobody made an issue of the US aircraft carriers with nukes on them, or the warplanes carrying nuclear bombs which regularly flew from them.

I could find sources for most of this, but they are not reliable sources. Some of them are Russians, that we can assume would lie. Some of them are from the US government that we can assume would lie. There are Israeli sources who definitely lie. Some of them are retired diplomats. And there are media guys who say that they were told things by Kissinger and other politicians, diplomats, etc. Sometimes retired military guys tell stories.

I can construct a story that fits together pretty well, but I can't really vouch for it.

363:

"Anyway, Dirk saw photos of things that the crateology experts said were nukes."

Actually, missiles crates that were assumed to contain nuclear armed missiles IIRC. It's a long time ago and I wasn't exactly high on the food chain. There is no way from the photos that one could say with any assurance they carried nukes. There was also a possibility of playing this up for Israeli consumption.

364:

You can't trust the official documents because at the time Israel did not admit they had any nukes

They still don't.

But you don't send Mossad to snatch a whistleblower, try him for treason, find him guilty, and stick him in solitary for 20 years (in a country that doesn't have the death penalty, so this is basically the heaviest sentence available) if he's just taking his Walter Mitty style confabulations out for a stroll.

365:

"Does it make better sense in that context?"

No, because the USSR knew that it could not win a nuclear
exchange, and Egypt was not critical to it. Also, you provide
no reason that the USSR would have shipped nuclear missiles
previously. Anyway, enough is enough. I shall stop.

366:

"You can't trust the official documents because at the time Israel did not admit they had any nukes"

They still don't.

Just to try it out, what if they really don't?

Nuclear development facilities are expensive, and a continuing expense. Once you get things scaled up you can mass produce plutonium bombs at low unit cost, but the whole thing costs a lot. And they're dirty -- Livermore and Hanford etc have bad contamination problems. Why would a small nation do that to themselves?

Imagine it was a bluff. Then Vanunu could be a plant. He pretends to be Vanunu and releases documents and photos, and before his story can be checked he gets "kidnapped' back to Israel and put in solitary confinement -- that is, he goes back to his previous life. Twenty years later he gives a few more interviews as Vanunu but before he can get any real questions he gets arrested again for talking to the press and again disappears. I can't make it plausible, but it comes closer than I expected.

But when an Israeli submarine traveled through the Suez canal to the Iranian coast with a US fleet, and the media widely reported it was armed with nukes, nobody particularly thought it might not be. That's a very long way to go if you're bluffing. And you don't want to informally threaten other nations (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Russia) with nukes when they don't have any, and then face the chance they might get some. That would be crazy.

367:

They definitely do have a nuclear facility at Dimona, but the scale is hard to tell. It was confirmed by French sources, who built the facility and sold them uranium. The UK was revealed to have sent a lot of other nuclear related equipment and materials in the 60s.

A lot of rumours had Israel collaborating with the Apartheid regime in South Africa on nuclear related issues in the 70s after they were both ostracised by the global community.

I'm pretty confident that they do have nukes, it just makes too much sense given their history and behaviour.

368:

They definitely do have a nuclear facility at Dimona, but the scale is hard to tell.

Sure. When Eisenhower asked Ben Gurion about it, Ben Gurion said it was a textile plant. Later he claimed they were experimenting with peaceful reactor designs, hoping to desalinate seawater cheap enough they could pump it uphill and turn the deserts green.

A lot of rumours had Israel collaborating with the Apartheid regime in South Africa on nuclear related issues in the 70s after they were both ostracised by the global community.

Yes, that makes sense. It bothers me some that the South Africans did a whole lot of research about things the Israelis could have just told them. And they did research on innovative designs, like Hilsch tubes, while ignoring innovative Israeli designs like laser-mediated separation.

I'm not an expert on that sort of thing, but it seems like in general nations that start their own nuclear programs start out by enriching their own U235 and go from there to separating their own plutonium, and the assistance they get from other nations is mostly advice. But if they just gave them enough plutonium to build a breeder reactor, they could skip that step entirely.

It's like somebody wants a fire, so you tell him how to get one by rubbing two wet sticks together, when it would be cheap and easy to give him a box of matches.

I'm pretty confident that they do have nukes, it just makes too much sense given their history and behaviour.

I agree, I'm pretty confident too that they do. It's just, when I look at how hard it would be for them to play "Let's don't and say we did", that looks easier than I would have expected. Although they don't say they did. They refuse to confirm or deny. Every now and then an Israeli politician says (or implies too strongly) that they do, and then everybody treats him like Daft Wullie for awhile and they go back to refusing to confirm or deny.

369:

As someone who is in the technical nuclear nonproliferation community, I don't know anyone who's here in it who doubt that Israel has nuclear weapons.

Nobody *knows* for absolute sure, but everyone's going to put the odds at well over 90%.

They clearly had credible fear of being attacked and genocided at the time they would have been making the decisions. All the involved technology was available to them. Dimona is not run as a power reactor in any useful sense. They've built SRBM, MRBM, IRBM, and long range cruise missiles with warhead sections too small to be strategically militarily useful unless it's a medium-sized nuclear payload. They have all the constituent nuclear engineering tech, talent, etc.; also all the explosives engineering / physics / etc etc.

They have put a lot of their GDP into the program over the years. It's too expensive to be a credible deception (though, our external judgments on that may not match their internal value of it).

We could all be wrong. Consensus was wrong on Iraq (who had kept a shadow program after Desert Storm, but abandoned it mid-90s and had just been running a deception campaign since). Keeping prior errors in mind is important. But I don't think this one is an error.

370:

As someone who is in the technical nuclear nonproliferation community, I don't know anyone who's here in it who doubt that Israel has nuclear weapons.

For what it's worth, I agree with you.

I wanted to look at the alternative. If they had chosen to fake it, and they got small amounts of covert help from third parties including the USA, could they have gotten away with it? And I think they could.

They have put a lot of their GDP into the program over the years. It's too expensive to be a credible deception

They wouldn't have to actually put that much of their GDP into it if they were faking. They could fake putting that much of their GDP into it. But as you point out, they couldn't fake the missiles. They have to publicly test the missiles, and that's a great big expense right there, one that is mostly useless to them unless they have nukes. (But then, it isn't that useful to them if they do have nukes. They get value from people believing they have nukes, and when they actually need to use them, things are very bad and not likely to get better.)

Still I agree with you. They really are the kind of people who think they need nukes. They aren't faking that. So I have to figure it's very unlikely that they're faking the nukes, either.

When Lieberman publicly threatened the Aswan dam, he wasn't faking.

When Israel publicly decided to keep a submarine off the Iranian coast (which they did not come out and say was loaded with missiles and nuclear warheads), they were not bluffing. It was an almost-explicit threat to nuke Iran.

371:

Dirk Bruere: "Military Intelligence briefing just after the war,"

Just the stuff to give the troops :-(

Actually, they don't generally lie in military briefings, they tend to just say "we can't tell you that". Or you might be told something unclassified, but under Chatham House Rules.

Lying to your own troops is daft; these are the people who actually appreciate the whole "need to know" thing.

So if someone did a briefing in Templar Barracks, it won't be disinformation. It might be misremembered, or mistaken, but there will have been a clear identification of the quality of both the source and the intelligence (i.e. "information of dubious quality from an unreliable source") that leads to a briefing that (depending on the quality of the soldier doing the briefing) differentiates between "what we know" and "what we believe". But it won't be a lie.

372:

I shall clarify this point, but not continue.

While I agree that it is daft, and is VASTLY better than it was a
century ago, it still happens - but not in the simplistic way
that you imply. I know people who fought in the Iraq war, and
they were being told falsehoods, that were known to be false at
the time - but not by anyone as pissant as a mere military
intelligence officer! And, again, I know that even generals were
being given false information in briefings about the relative
capabilities of the USA and USSR in the 1950s and 1960s. My
background is closer to the military than might appear :-)

One common phenomenon is that TPTB select an implausible, and
often unsupported story over the known data because it supports
their agenda (WMD, for example), and propagate it downwards to
the mere generals and military intelligence. Another is that
someone one step below TPTB translates something from political
speak to military speak, enhancing it in the process. Remember
that information of that type is usually received via external
and often political channels.

To take this example, it would only need someone in the Pentagon
to feed such information on to Whitehall as reliable, on the
grounds that they felt that Britain's spine needed stiffening.
Remember that the PM was Heath, who was widely regarded as a wimp
in Washington.

373:

Just to try it out, what if they really don't?

Then it's kind of hard to see why the Israeli Navy bought into cruise missile carrying U-boats in a big way, isn't it?

See second para in that wikipedia entry. It basically describes a theater-level nuclear strike/deterrent capable of making the rubble bounce in Jeddah or Tripoli. Not hugely useful against fully worked-up NATO or Russian spec air defense networks, but more than adequate to give any Arab nation (or Iran for that matter) second thoughts about popping caps at Tel Aviv.

Note that while it's hard to get figures, these boats cost on the order of $500M-$1Bn each. For a country of 7 million people, that's a fuckton of money. As Israel has a relatively short coastline to defend and the neighbours don't have any real amphibious naval assault capability, Israel doesn't need these subs for plinking at sea freight or cruisers or whatnot: they could save a lot of money by sticking to surface missile boats and corvettes for coastal protection.

In fact, the cost of this submarine program is so steep that the cost of building nuclear warheads for those cruise missiles is probably a line item detail on the bill. So why bluff, when for 5-10% extra you can have the real thing?

Finally, there's the Vela incident from 1979 -- believed to be a joint Israeli/South African atmospheric nuclear test. The US State Department officially denies it, but when you take into account the presence of Israeli warships near the location in the South Atlantic (which is totes on their regular patrol route), and Jimmy Carter noting in his diary that he thought it was an Israeli nuclear test (hint: he was POTUS at the time) the denials look positively Clintonian.

374:

I'm not an expert on that sort of thing, but it seems like in general nations that start their own nuclear programs start out by enriching their own U235 and go from there to separating their own plutonium, and the assistance they get from other nations is mostly advice. But if they just gave them enough plutonium to build a breeder reactor, they could skip that step entirely.

You need ~1.5-2% enriched uranium to build a reactor, unless you've got access to lots of heavy water (in which case you can run with natural uranium, at about 0.72% 235U). It's probably an engineering process toss-up between whether it's easier to brew up several tons of D2O or build an ultracentrifuge cascade just good enough to double the relative abundance of 235U in your uranium reactor fuel from 0.72% to 1.44%. (In contrast, weapons-grade enriched uranium is around 70% or higher 235U.)

Creating plutonium using a uranium reactor is another process entirely. Once you've got a reactor neutron capture naturally turns a proportion of the 238U into 239Pu over time; you can then refine it chemically.

Breeding plutonium implies you're running a reactor on Pu as fuel and producing more than you consume. This is a rather harder trick to pull off, as witness the number of decommissioned failed experimental fast breeders in countries like Japan, France, and the UK who otherwise show no signs of being incapable of manufacturing nuclear materials. As I gather it takes around 50 tons of 239Pu to fuel a fast breeder -- which is enough material to make on the order of 7000 atom bombs -- this tends to be a minority pursuit.

375:

Then it's kind of hard to see why the Israeli Navy bought into cruise missile carrying U-boats in a big way, isn't it?

Agreed. That's a horribly expensive bluff. Not plausible. If they could get them for free, then maybe, but .... They could have made a convincing bluff much cheaper, if they were bluffing.

Finally, there's the Vela incident from 1979 -- believed to be a joint Israeli/South African atmospheric nuclear test.

Sure, the official story on that doesn't make sense. People who wanted it to not have happened managed to deny the data almost enough to say it didn't happen. I'm not an expert on that so I doubt I could figure the truth even if I had the real data, it turns into he-said/she-said, and the side that said it happened looks more plausible to me.

The alternative story doesn't make sense either. Let's review the bidding -- presumably a number of US nuclear experts and technicians emigrated to Israel along with a lot of classified documents, so that by 1960 Israel knew pretty much everything the USA knew about building nukes. They could build nukes and be confident about them without testing, because their nukes were copies of US nukes that had been thoroughly tested.

Then they helped South Africa build nukes, but from the published data about the SA nuclear program, the south africans duplicated a whole lot of research that Israel could have simply given them. How did Israel help them? South Africa needed to test their home-built bombs a lot more than Israel needed to test their copies. But it appears it was a small clean advanced bomb that got tested, nothing like the big clunky ones south africa was making.

Taiwan needed nukes just like SA did, and it made sense for those two nations to share research info and testing sites. Israel could help them and not get much in return except -- a secret testing site? And the evidence doesn't show Israel helped them much. I just don't know. The puzzle pieces don't fit together very well.

376:

"And the evidence doesn't show Israel helped them much."

Why are you assuming that the help was nuclear? What Israel
wanted included uranium, but South Africa wanted quite a lot
of high tech. in many areas. No, I don't know, either, but
the pieces fit together quite well if you assume that the
help was non-nuclear.

377:

AFAIK what I was shown and told was not classified beyond the usual Restricted. This was just some info on the war and lessons learned.

378:

Plutonium isn't needed in a greater-than-unity (GTU) breeder reactor (i.e. one that will produce "surplus" Pu that can be extracted and used in other non-breeder reactors), just a lot of high-energy unmoderated neutrons which can be obtained from U235. Thermal moderated neutrons are also needed to sustain fission and produce the high-energy neutron flux for breeding Pu isotopes from a U238 breeder blanket. Having Pu to begin with in the fuel mix is an advantage but it's not absolutely necessary; anyway assuming the fuel loadout isn't isotopically pure U235 the fuel will breed Pu itself to be burned itself in turn.

The assorted attempts at building and operating GTU breeders for power purposes foundered mostly on the rather experimental form of the reactors plus the financial side of things as a breeder can't pay for itself purely by the amount of extra fuel it produces, especially since uranium is crazy cheap right now. The breeder has to provide commercial electrical power as well, and gas and coal are cheap and light water reactors are a lot cheaper to build and operate too.

The new breeder reactors being designed and built today are mostly less-than-unity designs which breed Pu and burn it in-situ. They use a lot more of the initial uranium fuel load to generate electricity this way as well as being configured to be able to burn surplus Pu from decommissioned nuclear weapons and leftover Pu from LWR spent fuel rod reprocessing operations. They even have enough neutrons to (theoretically) burn waste actinides in certain core configurations at the expense of other functions. This new "breed" of reactors such as the Russian BN-800 rely heavily on what was learned from the previous generation of lame-duck breeders in terms of core materials, coolant, neutron economy, control systems etc. since a lot more happens in a much smaller space compared to a typical LWR or CANDU.

379:

Breeding plutonium implies you're running a reactor on Pu as fuel and producing more than you consume. This is a rather harder trick to pull off, as witness the number of decommissioned failed experimental fast breeders

Maybe if I knew more about this I would be more confident. The US government very strongly discourages research on breeder reactors, and some of the information available about them may be lies intended to discourage their use. They have not been commercially successful as power plants, partly because uranium has gotten cheaper, partly because they tend to be a bit more expensive to build and operate, and partly because they are proliferation magnets and get discouraged by various methods.

As I gather it takes around 50 tons of 239Pu to fuel a fast breeder

Why would that be? You can make a regular reactor with 1.5% U235. Pu239 fissions easier and it makes more neutrons. Why would you need more than 1.5% Pu in a breeder reactor? If you have some other neutron source, you don't need plutonium. With fast neutrons and good neutron reflectors, a lot of the U238 fissions releasing multiple slow neutrons to be absorbed.

Anyway, I think maybe new attempts to make nukes consistently attempt a traditional method because they know it works. They don't want to research something that doesn't have a known track record.

And attempts to assist proliferation tend to consist only of data about what worked before, and nothing substantive. (Except in the old days there was a lot of help with reactors. France helped Israel build the Dimona plant, and later when France helped Iraq build the Osirak plant the Israelis were sure it was secretly for weapons, because theirs was.)

380:

"Consensus was wrong on Iraq (who had kept a shadow program after Desert Storm, but abandoned it mid-90s and had just been running a deception campaign since)."

So you're saying the consensus in the "nuclear nonproliferation community" was that Iraq really had WMD?

381:

I know people who fought in the Iraq war, and they were being told falsehoods, that were known to be false at the time - but not by anyone as pissant as a mere military intelligence officer!

Anyway, the classified briefings give the people who get them a sense that they know the truth that the hoi polloi don't know. And the most *interesting* pieces of that filter out into the general community. The claim that Israel assembled nukes in 1973 and threatened Egypt with them is one of those, that spreads from both US and Israeli sources. The claim that Russia at least attempted to send nukes to Egypt after that, is another spread by the US government but not in a form that diplomats would swear to publicly. Believed by large numbers of respectable people, whether or not it was true.

The Samson Option is a third. The Israeli government does not say whether it has nukes, and so does not explain its policy about using nukes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samson_Option

Israel's policy *might* be that if they ever are about to lose a war, they could nuke europe, and Russia and the USA, all the nations that failed to help them. Maybe get a war going between Russia and USA and kill everybody. If they can't survive themselves, why should they let anybody else live?

There has been discussion in Israeli newspapers whether this is a good plan, and Israeli public opinion was divided. It was a mainstream position that people could agree or disagree with, not something that only people with tinfoil hats would consider.

382:

Why are you assuming that the help was nuclear? What Israel
wanted included uranium, but South Africa wanted quite a lot
of high tech. in many areas.

OK, you're right. Israel could have bought uranium from SA, and sold them various hi-tech stuff including machinery for building bombs etc.

Here's the part I don't have straight:

SA: "We like each other, yes? We are both strong, smart peoples surrounded by hoards of inferiors who hate us, and the rest of the world wants us to die. We are alike. We both need nukes. You need uranium and other things we can give you. We need information. It will take us four years to build our first nuke, starting now. But if we knew how to do it, it would take only two years. What could we give you in exchange for copies of your notes about how you did it -- which cost you nothing -- and a few techies to supervise and confirm that we are doing it right?

Israelis: No, we won't do that.

Depending on how you count and subject to various uncertainties, it looks like it took them six years. Israel could have helped their friend get nukes 4 years earlier at essentially no cost to themselves, but they didn't. I don't know why not.

But people widely say they did.

383:

That would be proliferation, and could well have triggered the USA
into demanding that Israel sign the non-proliferation treaty.
I have no information that was the reason, but it's very plausible.

384:

That would be proliferation, and could well have triggered the USA into demanding that Israel sign the non-proliferation treaty.

Disclaimer: I haven't noticed anybody but me say that Israel did not give SA lots of nuclear assistance. When I looked at the public description of their nuclear program it did not look consistent with them getting the kind of help Israel could provide. But I could be wrong. Israel got all the propaganda losses you'd expect for helping SA get nukes -- pretty much everybody publicly believes it. The SA government has said that Israel gave them some design advice and a lot of tritium.

Would Israel limit their assistance to SA for fear of US demands? Their overwhelming US support only started in 1967. Their assistance to SA wouldn't have started earlier than 1969 and plausibly as late as 1973. So they might still think the USA would make demands on them, they wouldn't be used to the idea that the USA would let them do anything they wanted. So that's possible.

Also, if they only started cooperating with SA when SA had already done the needed basic research and set up their Hilsch tubes, their own instructions wouldn't have that much effect on the program.

The SA records claim that SA didn't test a bomb, and their records of HEU production don't show enough missing for a bomb like the ones they made. It isn't that plausible for them to falsify that -- while they kept the program secret they didn't need to, and when the government fell and they opened up the records they again didn't need to. It was too late to do much good by that point.

So my best guess is that the Vela incident was an Israeli test of a sophisticated low-yield weapon. A primitive low-yield device will just be dialed back like a fizzle. It doesn't produce as big a bang and it produces more fallout from the stuff that didn't fission. Sophisticated low-yield devices have less fissionable stuff and they use most of it. This was presumably more like the latter since it was hard to detect.

So it all fits together better now that I've done a quick new lit search and thought about it more.

385:

I know people who fought in the Iraq war, and
they were being told falsehoods, that were known to be false at the time

And I had friends sitting immediately behind the battlegroup that they were supporting, with their one NBC suit, the filter they'd brought with them, no body armour, and exactly ten rounds of ammunition - who had to listen to a Prime Minister insist that the troops were adequately equipped, that it hadn't been a rush job, and that the supplies were in place. Yeah, right.

However, regarding your main point, there are two main ways of looking at the "falsehoods":

1. Grand Conspiracy. It was all a cunning plan by the USA, determined to get its hands on the oil and dominate the region, aided and abetted by the Little Satan. They knew very well that Saddam had absolutely no NBC capability, it was just an excuse. Cue the moustache twirling, possibly stroking of white furry animals while wearing a Nehru jacket. Add some CAPITALS about the true evil of it all! Eleventy!

2. Cockup. They actually believed that Saddam had some NBC capability, and was actively pursuing more - and that it was better to take him now than later. There might not be the high-quality evidence, but hey! We'll find it after we invade, and then we'll be able to show the world that we were right. Shut up and stick that 45 minute claim in, it's the right thing to do.

2.a Contributory to Cockup - a British PM with delusions of "making a real difference to the oppressed masses", on a high since Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

2.c Contributory to Cockup - an American Vice-President who knows how to run a military far more efficiently than those namby-pamby Generals who keep whining about post-conflict stabilisation, and wanting more soldiers on the ground. It's almost as if Powell is scared of war, dammit!

2.b Contributory to Cockup - a bunch of intelligence agencies still feeling twitchy about having failed to spot the rise in Al Qaeda's effectiveness; and nervous about the fact that they have no credible human sources on the inside because Saddam's counter-intelligence agency is outperforming them. Claiming that "such and such is not a credible threat" looks positively naive after the fall of the Twin Towers. Better to re-calibrate the risk assessments of likelihood/impact.

2.c Contributory to Cockup - a bunch of exiled senior Iraqis who want to get back inside the tent, because that's where you can skim off the cash. Proof? You want proof? We can get you proof, and what's more the Iraqi people will welcome their liberators with flowers and open arms and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, honest. And our Ba'athist buddies will back us up, for a slice of the pie.

The reason I lean towards a perfect storm of cockup and just don't go for conspiracy is because it just doesn't add up:

- I would have expected a lot more effort to make sure NBC weapons were actually discovered somewhere. You know, "oops, look what we found!" Except they weren't, even after an awful lot of effort by people who genuinely expected them to be there.

- The smart conspiracy move would have been to take over the mechanism of an existing government, rather than disbanding the Iraqi Army and trying to carry out de-Baathification. Because that's what every money-driven conspiracy wants, armed groups and chaos preventing the oil from flowing. And of course Iran won't meddle in a majority-Shia country on its border.

386:

You are assuming multiple conspiracies and interests are somehow unified, and are rational.

387:

Nope; because it rather makes my point. Namely, that there is not some overarching group of "The Powers That Be" who knowingly push the opposite of "The Truth" for their own ineffable reasons, within a Grand Plan.

If it's just a gaggle of actors, each with their own perspective and own agenda (driven by desires for power, money, and/or revenge), it hardly fits the Elderly Cynic view that it's all a Big Lie.

I'm perfectly happy to accept that the group noun for a set of incompetent/wannabe conspiracists is "a cockup". Possibly even a chaotic cockup, i.e. a sensitive dependence on initial conditions (with a nod to Kim Stanley Robinson)

388:

However, regarding your main point, there are two main ways of looking at the "falsehoods":

There are multiple ways to do it, and not nearly enough evidence to choose among them.

As Dirk points out, when multiple conspiracies interact there's room for lots of cockups.

I'd suggest something like the following:

1. Israeli military: Significant threats to Israel must have a large population and a working economy. Egypt has been on life-support since 1973 and is no threat, so the remaining threats are Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Iraq and Syria have been on sanctions and are weak, so Iran is the biggest threat that the USA should destroy.

2. PNAC and fellow travelers: Iraq and Iran are the big threats to Israel. Easiest approach is knock Iraq over, then invade Iran from bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkeyk etc. Also invade Syria from Iraq. Turkey is a problem being in NATO, so ignore them for now.

3. Normal American imperialists: If we can arrange a hostile take-over of Iraq, Saddam says it has lots of undeveloped oil plus there are big areas that haven't even been tested. Pump the oil fast and the world economy prospers and the US economy prospers even more!

4. Saddam: Saddam was depressed. He sat in his room and wrote romance novels. His nation was under sanctions, his own people didn't like him that much, nobody else wanted him. Running Iraq was no fun but it was a tiger he couldn't get off of alive.

5. Various Iraqi conspirators: Most of these got paychecks from Saddam, but there was always a chance they would fall out of favor and be killed, and if things worked out right they could be rich and important. They could supplement their income by telling foreign intelligence agencies whatever they wanted to hear. Probably some of them also got paid by Iraqi intelligence services to tell foreign intelligence services what the local intelligence service wanted them to hear.

6. US intelligence agencies: Cheney wanted them to tell him what he wanted to hear, and they didn't want to be responsible if it turned out wrong.

What happened:

American intelligence guys knew their info was bad and they could get in trouble. They worked out a deal with foreign intelligence services. Each of them rejected the bad data. And then each of them said they thought somebody else had good data which proved what Cheney wanted to believe. But the other guy's good data was really the same bad data they had rejected that the other guy had also rejected. They could all say what Cheney wanted and it was nobody's fault.

Israel had provided Cheney with lots of bad data. They didn't want to be responsible for it either. They told the US media to start reporting that it came from Chalabi and other Iraqi informers and not from them, even though they had introduced the Iraqi informers to the CIA.

Cheney invented his own personal intelligence service that told him what he wanted to hear. He didn't care that it would be discredited later.

After it was definitely too late to change the plans, Israel announced that they were doing it wrong. Iraq wasn't that much a threat, they should invade Iran first. They didn't change their plans, but some people figured this meant if anything went wrong it wasn't Israel's fault because Israel told them not to do it that way.

Cheney ordered the US military not to make any plans for the occupation. Maybe he believed that Chalabi or somebody had a well-organized popular resistance movement that would immediately take over running the country. Maybe his intention was that Iraq should descend into chaos and never recover (at least for a very long time). If their economy was destroyed they could not be a threat to Israel until it recovered, so the longer it took them to recover the better.

I don't know what he was thinking. The military ran an occupation for one month mostly using whatever planning they had managed to do in secret. Then they ceded official control to a US civilian initiative that was about to be organized. The US civilian administration sort of self-organized itself on the job. Possibly Cheney didn't want to have the army running the occupation because he wanted to provide jobs to civilians to do it. They tried to get a lot of the work done by private corporations they hired, maybe their theory was that government is better done by private enterprise. Or maybe it took them a while to figure out that Chalabi couldn't just do it for them. It's hard to be sure what was going on.

When they took Baghdad they looked at Saddam's secret oil data. They found out he had been lying. He didn't have nearly as much oil as he said he did. They were shocked! Oil companies were not very interested in taking over Iraq. Their computer models did not predict that Iraq had much undiscovered oil. The official plan had been to get a great big oil boom with lots of jobs for Iraqis, and everybody would be too busy making money to revolt. But that fell through.

There were lots of conspiracies but Cheney seemed to be central.

Did he believe in Saddam's nukes? Did he care?

Did he believe in Saddam's oil?

Did he believe Chalabi could run Iraq with no occupation?

It basicly boils down to his intentions. Did he intend for Iraq to be a prosperous nation pumping lots of oil? Or did he intend for Iraq to become a blasted wasteland that could not possibly be any threat to Israel? Or something else?

I tend toward #2. If Iraq had a lot of educated people and a vibrant economy, they would gradually remove themselves from US control and become a threat to Israel.

But generally when people believe in conspiracy theories, it's easiest to take whatever happens and assume it's what the conspiracy wanted. Successful conspiracies are easier to believe in than unsuccessful conspiracies. If you assume multiple conspiracies that jog each other's elbows then *anything* can happen, and that is a lot less fun than thinking you know what one successful conspiracy is doing.

389:

I disagree to some extent. While there may have been no over-arching conscious conspiracy, "The System" self selected the players to be pre-disposed to a commonality of ethics, beliefs and actions. In this instance the commonality converged on Iraq.
Oil, Israel, Bush family, military-industrial opportunists, PNAC...

390:

While there may have been no over-arching conscious conspiracy, "The System" self selected the players to be pre-disposed to a commonality of ethics, beliefs and actions.

Even when there isn't that much commonality, still there are various entities that get a semi-veto, and the more of them line up for their own reasons, the more likely the war happens.

You could try out Rapoport's list of reasons for war.

Usually both sides have to think they can come out OK, or they won't fight. Iraq was unusual because we didn't let Saddam surrender.

There's religion, there's resources. Important position in another coming fight. The military needs a war every so often or they'll be led by officers with no combat experience. Various businesses expect to profit from war, while various others expect to be sidelined. Etc.

Rapoport predicted that the more important entities that want it, the more likely it happens. They don't have to agree on much, they just have to agree to the war.

Of the winning coalition this time, the people who wanted lots of oil at low prices, lost. The people who wanted to create a secular materialist arab society that loved Israel lost. The people who wanted democracy to spread in the middle east lost. The people who wanted a stable reliable US bases in Iraq probably lost. The people who wanted a good staging area to invade Iran and Syria lost.

But the people who wanted to eliminate Iraq as an economy and a conventional military that could threaten Israel, won. The people who wanted to split the arab world into Sunnis and Shias who fought each other bitterly, won. The people who wanted to see a lot of arabs get killed and a lot more turned into refugees that stressed neighboring economies, won. The people who wanted the USA to spend trillions of dollars buying expensive military equipment and auxiliary civilian military services, won. The people who just wanted to get rid of the evil dictator Saddam and who didn't care what happened afterward, won.

When alliances form and the allies have different goals, it's only natural that some of them achieve their goals and some do not.

391:

"it hardly fits the Elderly Cynic view that it's all a Big Lie."

Please will you STOP misrepresenting me? Your previous posting
about conspiracy versus cockup puts a extreme strawman against
a multiplicity of alternatives, but you have now put claims in my
mouth.

What we learnt from the Iraq enquiry is that Bush said to Blair
that he was having trouble with Congress and some evidence for WMD
would be a great help. Blair did a Henry II and made it clear
that he would like such evidence. The intelligence services
found someone who would provide such evidence in return for a UK
resident's visa. The original report was 'simplified' as it was
rewritten for the politicos, removing almost all of its original
reservations. The technical intelligence people knew that it was
impossible to launch that sort of missile in 45 minutes, and
completely implausible that the weapons were still functional,
even if they hadn't been decommissioned. The mandarins and
politicians took care to avoid asking questions that would lead
to them being told that on the record.

So the claim was a lie because TPTB had set up the conditions for
false information, taken care not to check it when they got it,
and propagated it as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth. So it was a tacit conspiracy to cock things up,
provided that cock-up gave an acceptable result.

And, given the way that the new government was pressured into
signing VERY favourable, long-term deals with USA companies even
before it was up and running, if you think that the reason was
altruism and not the oil, I have this bridge for sale.

392:

"Disclaimer: I haven't noticed anybody but me say that Israel did
not give SA lots of nuclear assistance."

I have. I was a bit surprised when I first heard that they hadn't,
even though they had both denied it previously, but it seems to
have been so. I would give my hypothesis a high chance of being
correct, but I have damn-all evidence for it.

393:

Please will you STOP misrepresenting me? ... you have now put claims in my
mouth.

No, I don't think I am. Anyone who reads this thread can check out the primary sources for themselves:

From your post 92: "Most effective propaganda on behalf of the warmongers, but not conducive to peace"

Your post 106: "This is precisely the converse of what we (the general public and all except the most senior military) were told from the 1950s to the 1970s."

Your post 159: "And I don't believe that at least the more clued-up people in TPTB (including NATO, Whitehall and Washington) aren't aware of exactly what they are doing and its likely consequences."

Your post 305: "There are also several other reasons to keep up the propaganda that we are under threat."

Your post 333; "But there were - and are :-( - a hell of a lot who whipped up the hysteria (i.e. using propaganda), either for the afore-mentioned
fanaticism or because they cold-bloodedly calculated that they could make political or financial profit out of it."

Your post 372: "One common phenomenon is that TPTB select an implausible, and often unsupported story over the known data because it supports their agenda (WMD, for example), and propagate it downwards to
the mere generals and military intelligence."

And finally, your post 358: "All of the available evidence is that it was probably a Big Lie,"

394:

Yes, you are. Grossly, and not for the first time. You said,
in a GENERAL context, "it hardly fits the Elderly Cynic view
that it's all a Big Lie."

I never said that it is ALL a Big Lie, and it is clear from my
postings that I didn't. I said that there is consistently
biassed misrepresentation, often including claiming that mere
speculation is a known fact, and sometimes including known
falsehoods.

And, lastly, your last sentence is another grossly offensive
misrepresentation. That was referring SPECIFICALLY to the
claim that the USSR had delivered nuclear weapons to Egypt.
That was and is probably a Big Lie.

395:

the claim that the USSR had delivered nuclear weapons to Egypt. That was and is probably a Big Lie.

The USA tried hard to find out about USSR movement of nukes. They preferred false positives to false negatives -- they thought it was more important to find the nukes that were actually moving than to never make a false accusation. I think it's plausible they really believed what they said. But it could have been a Big Lie. After all, biggest lie is best lie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_APoSfCYwU

Here's a link that has some references. You can decide for yourself whether you believe any of them, and how much. This particular issue is described at the bottom of chapter 3.

http://fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

You and I agree that we cannot trust government sources, particularly when they may have reason to lie. And any private source can be lied to. So it's hard to be sure about very much.

I tend to believe in the laws of physics, on the assumption that governments do not have secret laws of physics that they keep suppressed. You argued that the USSR could move their nukes so secretly that the USA could not detect them, and so the US claims that they detected Soviet nukes are lies. That's this kind of belief.

But the Russians may not have wanted to hide their nukes. They wanted the Israelis to keep the cease-fire, to not just say they agreed to a cease-fire but then keep killing Egyptians, but to actually stop attacking. I don't think they wanted to actually get into a nuclear war with Israel, that could then spread to a global nuclear war.

So it made sense for the Russians to make the USA think they were doing it, whether they were or not.

The USA could have found out by other methods -- electronic eavesdropping or spies -- and said it was nuclear detection because they didn't want the Russians to know how they found out.

The USSR could have intentionally given us those signals by reports from spies we didn't know were compromised or send each other electronic messages they thought we'd overhear. Whether or not it was true.

396:

"You argued that the USSR could move their nukes so secretly that
the USA could not detect them, and so the US claims that they
detected Soviet nukes are lies."

That's misleading. They assuredly COULD have done, with enough
shielding, but my point was that I didn't believe the claim that
the USA could have done at that date and that distance. It might
be right but it really doesn't match up with the difficulty of
detecting radioactive materials even today. They could certainly
detect nuclear reactors, but that's irrelevant. I am disinclined
to check the figures, because of the amount of data I would have
to look up, but it would be possible.

The reason that I am pretty sure that claim was and is a Big Lie
is not one particular aspect, but the fact that it conflicts with
almost everything that we know, whether or not we knew it then,
AND that the USA Department of State is now saying that Nixon
'went nuclear' first. I can believe that the USSR might have
shipped nuclear weapons out through the Dardanelles, but it's the
claim that they then handed them over to an 'ally' they didn't
trust, knowing that they could not win a nuclear war with the
USA, that is so implausible. Brezhnev was deeply untrusting,
not insane!

While the USSR could have originated the story, so it was THEIR
Big Lie, that doesn't make much sense, either, though it makes a
bit more.

397:

I can believe that the USSR might have shipped nuclear weapons out through the Dardanelles, but it's the claim that they then handed them over to an 'ally' they didn't trust, knowing that they could not win a nuclear war with the USA, that is so implausible.

From my previous link:

The first U.S. flights arrived on 14 October.[63] Israeli commandos flew to Fort Benning, Georgia to train with the new American TOW anti-tank missiles and return with a C-130 Hercules aircraft full of them in time for the decisive Golan battle. American commanders in Germany depleted their stocks of missiles, at that time only shared with the British and West Germans, and sent them forward to Israel.[64]
A similar Soviet pipeline to the Arabs, equally robust, may or may not have included a ship with nuclear weapons on it, detected from nuclear trace emissions and shadowed by the Americans from the Dardanelles. The Israelis believe that the Soviets discovered Israeli nuclear preparations from COSMOS satellite photographs and decided to equalize the odds.[67] The Soviet ship arrived in Alexandria on either 18 or 23 October (sources disagree), and remained, without unloading, until November 1973. The ship may have represented a Soviet guarantee to the Arab combatants to neutralize the Israeli nuclear option.[68] While some others dismiss the story completely, the best-written review article concludes that the answer is “obscure.” Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev threatened, on 24 October, to airlift Soviet airborne troops to reinforce the Egyptians cut off on the eastern side of the Suez Canal and put seven Soviet airborne divisions on alert.[69] Recent evidence indicates that the Soviets sent nuclear missile submarines also.[70] Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine claimed that the two Soviet SCUD brigades deployed in Egypt each had a nuclear warhead. American satellite photos seemed to confirm this. The U.S. passed to Israel images of trucks, of the type used to transport nuclear warheads, parked near the launchers.[71] President Nixon's response was to bring the U.S. to worldwide nuclear alert the next day, whereupon Israel went to nuclear alert a third time.[72] This sudden crisis quickly faded as Prime Minister Meir agreed to a cease-fire, relieving the pressure on the Egyptian Third Army.

So, the Egyptian army was in serious trouble, and the Soviets were bailing them out. One ship that the Americans claimed they detected nuclear material on, was not unloaded. Would the Egyptians capture that ship from the Russians to get its nukes? Brezhnev would not be insane to think they would not.

If the soviet SCUD brigades did have nukes, would Sadat attack them to get their nukes? I doubt it. If seven Soviet airborne divisions brought some nukes with them, that wouldn't be the same as giving them to Sadat either.

So what is being claimed doesn't look insane to me.

398:

You are forgetting that the Russians have always been somewhat
paranoid, and extremely distrustful of even their closest allies,
of which Egypt was not one. Even in Eastern Europe, they didn't
trust the puppet states to protect their bases! There is no way
that they could ship enough troops to feel secure.

In any case, why on earth would they want to retaliate if Israel
started nuking Egypt? Brezhnev etc. were not idiots, and knew
they could make MASSIVE political gains for the loss of an ally
they didn't much care about. You are assuming that Brezhnev was
as insane as Stalin - he wasn't.

Anyway, enough is enough. We have no proof, and probably won't
see any.

399:

We have no proof, and probably won't see any.

In a situation where governments lie, and lie to themselves, and individuals involved try to play CYA during and after, most of them trying to make themselves look good to their bosses, or to the public -- while they also have to consider the diplomacy with other nations, and world opinion....

I'm not sure what the concept of proof even means in this context. Some things are definitive. If a city gets nuked it's hard to argue about whether it got nuked or not. It's clear that 9/11 happened though there's no real evidence who did it. But mostly it's guesswork. And this is true for almost all historical government policies. Oh well.

Here's a claim that 2 weeks before the war, the Israeli government thought that the USSR was shipping tactical nukes into Egypt.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4285092,00.html

This has some info about the russian navy's maneuvering during the war, good background but nothing about the nuclear issue.

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/A+tale+of+two+fleets%3a+a+Russian+perspective+on+the+1973+Naval...-a0118039860

400:

In any case, why on earth would they want to retaliate if Israel started nuking Egypt? Brezhnev etc. were not idiots, and knew they could make MASSIVE political gains for the loss of an ally they didn't much care about.

I think you're right - it's potentially win/win.

- If Israel nukes Egypt, massive political gains to the USSR, massive economic damage to the West as a result of the fallout in the region (literally).

- If Israel doesn't nuke Egypt, a state friendly to the USSR sits on top of the Suez Canal.

The question is which does the USSR prefer? In either case, they don't need to actually have nuclear weapons in Egypt, but it might be helpful to look as if they do. The very worst-case outcome is for the USSR to either mobilise, or to detonate a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, the whole 1973 war has been a huge success for them - they now have proof of the limitations of US intelligence gathering, as strategic and operational surprise was achieved; in live firing, they've discovered that their portable anti-tank weapons work rather nicely against Western tanks (SAGGER was a shock; the first counter-attacks onto the Bar-Lev line were decimated); and that their air-defence systems are rather effective against Western aircraft - it took the Israelis a week or two to develop tactics against SA-3 and SA-6; and it's arguable that the Egyptians only started to lose when they moved out from under their own air defences to relieve pressure on the Syrians, who were less successful on the Golan.

On the downside, the Soviet tank guns and fire control systems aren't quite so effective against Western designs up on the Golan, but they can write that off to them being crewed by a much less well-trained army. Worst case, they can hope that Western Armies will now underestimate the T-55 and T-62 after seeing 500 of their export versions burning in the Valley of Tears.

401:

Yes, you are. Grossly, and not for the first time.

I politely gave seven instances in this one thread where you made reference to "the powers that be" deliberately and knowingly lying to their own people; including an instance where you specifically use the words "the big lie" in context. That's a fairly consistent track record, and would not be unreasonable to suggest you believe it to be the default position.

I accept that you believe that I'm misrepresenting you; will you accept that I believe I'm treating your position fairly?

After all, you've spent much of this thread arguing that we need to understand that Russia is acting honestly on the basis of justifiable evidence, however much we disagree with their perceptions...

402:

I think you're right - it's potentially win/win.

- If Israel nukes Egypt, massive political gains to the USSR, massive economic damage to the West as a result of the fallout in the region (literally).

- If Israel doesn't nuke Egypt, a state friendly to the USSR sits on top of the Suez Canal.

Let's try that the other way round. Imagine that Israel did not actually have working nukes, and USSR/Egypt nukes Israel. That's a massive political gain for the USA and very bad for the USSR, and provided they, say, limit it to 4 fairly small nukes on 4 israeli cities, not much fallout.

If Israel doesn't get nuked, then the USA gets a friendly state in the middle east, an unsinkable aircraft carrier, we can have all the airbases and supply depots and barracks we want there. Plus any time we want to control the Suez canal or the Saudi oilfields or whatever, we can just tell the Israelis to conquer it for us and they will. And they'll be so grateful to us that they won't attack anything we don't want them to.

Both outcomes were perfect for the USA, so we should have been happy with either. But we weren't. I think possibly the rationale was that if one US client state got nuked, the others would worry that the USA might let them get nuked too. And just maybe the USSR had concerns like that too.

Meanwhile, the whole 1973 war has been a huge success for them - they now have proof of the limitations of US intelligence gathering, as strategic and operational surprise was achieved;

The USA had all the evidence of their mobilization, but didn't believe they'd actually do it. They'd threatened to multiple times before and hadn't actually carried it out. The guy who predicts that they'll do it *this time* looks stupid if they don't, and the odds were against him. Sadat was threatening to attack because the Israelis refused to negotiate a peace. They said publicly that they didn't need to negotiate with arabs because arabs couldn't fight, so they had nothing to gain from peace. It was an insult. Sadat had said that 1972 would be the "year of decision" and then nothing happened. The Israelis laughed at him and said he'd never attack.

in live firing, they've discovered that their portable anti-tank weapons work rather nicely against Western tanks (SAGGER was a shock; the first counter-attacks onto the Bar-Lev line were decimated);

Yes, the main egyptian general predicted where the Israeli attack would come, and gave that army most of the anti-tank missiles from the other two armies. They had three times the tank defenses as usual.

and that their air-defence systems are rather effective against Western aircraft - it took the Israelis a week or two to develop tactics against SA-3 and SA-6;

The Israelis had a whole lot of help from the USA for that, too. The Americans were very interested in how the Russian systems worked and wanted to find out all they could about them. And the USA replaced their warplane losses with US planes from europe that had their ECM tuned for that, and got to test those too.

and it's arguable that the Egyptians only started to lose when they moved out from under their own air defences to relieve pressure on the Syrians, who were less successful on the Golan.

Yes, the egyptian general's autobiography claimed that. He knew that they were going to lose those tanks with no air support, but he was ordered to do it anyway. When the Israelis saw that the Egyptians had dug in instead of bringing their air defenses forward so they could advance more, they concentrated their new US warplanes and new antitank weapons (stripped from the NATO forces in europe) against Syria first.

About the nuclear stuff, when Egypt had lost and was about to see Egyptian armies massacred, they offered to have a join US/USSR force to supervise the cease-fire that the UN had ordered. And they said if the USA wouldn't do it, they'd do it alone. They needed to make a credible preparation to do that. Their troops were trained to use chemical or tactical nuclear weapons, and routinely carried those. If they believed that Israel had tactical nuclear weapons, why would they send their own troops to face them without that? Not that they intended to use nukes, but they wouldn't want russian troops to get nuked without any chance to hit back.

Their intention was to get the Israelis to stop slaughtering Egyptians, not to fight across the Sinai to Gaza.

403:

It's clear that 9/11 happened though there's no real evidence who did it.
REALLY?
When al-Queada actually CLAIMED to have done it?
And all non-totally-tinfoil/paranoid evidence agrees with said claim?

404:

"It's clear that 9/11 happened though there's no real evidence who did it."

REALLY?
When al-Queada actually CLAIMED to have done it?

I find it plausible that they planned it, and secretly prepared to do it.

I've seen the claim that they had teams ready to hijack 80 planes, and when only four teams were actually told to go ahead, the others were rolled up easily since they had not been given any orders at all.

That claim looks plausible to me. If I was going to do something like that, and if I had the money, why settle for just a few planes when there would never be a second chance?

It was a long-term plan, with agents getting training over a period of years and then staying in place, waiting to get the signal. Hundreds of agents, plus couriers etc -- probably a thousand people in the USA, keeping a secret that the US intelligence services had no clue about.

Then four teams got the go signal and the others got no signal at all. That could have been an accident or it could have been somebody else sending the signal.

Afterward AQ denied it. Then somebody claiming to be AQ did not deny it. Somebody claiming to be Ben Laden gave an interview that admitted it. Various AQ members later were publicised admitted it under torture, people who mostly had no direct connection to the plan. The ones who knew what were going on would be those thousand who were picked up in the USA right after 9/11, but I've seen very little published about what they revealed under torture.

To my way of thinking, the most plausible story is that AQ planned it, and prepared for it, but did not intentionally give the signal to start it. It may have been intended as a retaliation against some dramatic US attack which had not yet happened. When a botched 5% of the plan fizzled at a random time, the AQ propagandists had no idea what to say.

To argue that AQ had no part in it, somebody else would have to have done it and blamed it on them. They must either have agents on the ground filling the shoes, establishing the cover stories, people who could duck out at the last moment. Or else they could recruit arab fanatics and train them, pretending to be an arab fanatic organization themselves.

For the stories about the fourth flight to be true, the stories that fanatics were killing passengers, that passengers reported that on their cell phones etc, it would have to be the latter. Or else the US government faked those stories, which doesn't seem very plausible to me.

Could someone other than AQ have recruited a few dozen arab fanatics, and done 9/11? Easily. The FBI has been doing that on a small scale for over 10 years. They recruit arabs, make a sabotage plan, give them fake explosives, and arrest them. Recruit a thousand arab fanatics and waste most of them? Implausible. That would require the story about the 80 teams to be false.

After the attack, with AQ websites getting shut down and AQ spokesmen arrested as fast as they could be identified, could somebody else pretend to be AQ and make public statements? Yes, but competent intelligence services would probably detect them. "This isn't the real secret AQ, this is some other secret organization." Could we depend on CIA etc to announce which ones were really AQ? The same CIA that was reasonably sure Saddam didn't have nukes but that knuckled under to Cheney? No, we couldn't depend on them to do that.

The US government decided very early that it was AQ and that they were going to invade Afghanistan, and it's completely plausible that they would believe any evidence that pointed that direction and discard any evidence that did not.

If the USA had a competent intelligence service which had the reputation for reliable, honest reporting to the US public, and that service said they had reliable evidence it was AQ, I'd tend to believe them. We didn't have that.

Did AQ really have a secret plan known to at the very least 50 AQ agents, that nobody else knew anything about? Did somebody know about it and not tell the USA? Did the PNAC-led US government know about it and let it happen? Did somebody who had infiltrated the project *make* it happen? Was it not AQ at all but somebody else, somebody who thought it would be easy to pin it on AQ since they were widely known for trying to attack WTC before?

If there was somebody I trusted collecting evidence about it, I'd trust them. As it is, I haven't heard about any reliable evidence. There's plenty of evidence that 9/11 happened. About who did it, much less.

Still, AQ is a plausible candidate. Just like nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, and nobody got fired for buying Microsoft, nobody got fired for buying that AQ did 9/11.

405:

al Quaeda was not a coherent organisation - it was an umbrella
term for some loosely cooperating organisations. bin Laden
(i.e. al Quaeda in Afganistan) initially denied it and claimed
they did it only later. Almost all the terrorists were Saudis,
as was bin Laden, and none were Afghans or even from further
north than the UAE. Perhaps the USA knows whether bin Laden
etc. really did organise it, but there's no definite evidence
either way. As far as I know, the Saudi links were never
followed up, even by the USA. Clear as mud.

406:

May I be permitted to be inspired to sign up mainly to comment on some of the nuke stuff in this interesting thread, particularly as one of the things that first attracted me to Charlie's books was his inclusion of nuke stuff that is actually accurate unlike most authors...

To Charlie himself re engineering of heavy water production vs ultracentrifuge enrichment: I'd pick heavy water every time, since all you basically need is lots of electricity and some big vats. Also, politically, deuterium is not a controlled nuclear material. Ultracentrifuges require very high precision engineering (the mere attempting of which tends to attract unwanted attention) and also uranium hexafluoride, which despite the US nuclear establishment's apparent cavalier attitude to leaving leaky drums of it lying around is really horrible stuff to handle: frighteningly toxic, fiercely corrosive to nearly everything, and with an unpleasant tendency to decompose inside the machine and clog it up. Though getting started is the big hump, and once you have, then making a bigger installation for higher enrichment is pretty much incremental.

Problem is the amount of irradiated fuel you have to process to extract WG plutonium in the case of a natural-U/D2O reactor is enormous, and enrichment even to a relatively small degree can knock an order of magnitude off that. So if that was my goal I'd be inclined to use an enrichment process which though less efficient than ultracentrifuging is a lot easier to set up. Liquid thermal diffusion is one possibility, and variations on processes like CHEMEX would also be worth looking into.

To Charlie, Nojay, J Thomas, re breeders: You cannot, practically, build a U-Pu breeder using thermal neutrons. If you could arrange everything in your favour it might just about be possible using fuel in solution in heavy water, but the excess plutonium produced would only be of the order of 1%, and so the slightest deficiency would have you under unity again. There simply aren't enough spare neutrons from U slow fission to cover losses _and_ breed. Pu is better but has a higher rate of non-fission captures so it doesn't make a lot of difference unless you have lots of it before you start.

U-Pu breeders need to use fast neutrons because fast fission produces a lot more spare neutrons. But to get this to work requires that the neutrons have a high probability of hitting a fissile nucleus while they are still going fast. This means using unmoderated, dense fuel assemblies, of HEU or Pu, in metallic form rather than oxide. This in turn means the power density is orders of magnitude higher than a thermal reactor, while the fuel assemblies are much more vulnerable to thermal damage, and much of the difficulty in developing them has been down to getting the heat out fast enough - and uniformly enough over the entire core.

WG plutonium is produced in thermal reactors using very low burn-up rates in order to get the 239Pu out before it has too much chance to absorb another neutron and become 240Pu, whose much higher spontaneous fission rate causes severe difficulties with predetonation resulting in a fizzle. You could produce it in the blanket of a breeder but you would simply be adding huge amounts of difficulty to no purpose. I would suspect the US government doesn't like breeders because of the need to produce high-purity fissile isotopes to fuel them rather than because of what happens next.

Current breeder research is mainly on thermal Th-U breeders - India is particularly keen on this because of their abundant thorium resources. These require a uranium charge to set them off but after that can keep going themselves: they are _not_ under-unity devices; they can't be, because thorium is useless until transformed to 233U. They can be made using thermal neutrons because 233U produces more spare neutrons in slow fission than 235U or 239Pu. Their overall operation can be made very clean because there are enough spare neutrons to eventually fission all the higher actinides produced by parasitic neutron capture, and indeed they can consume existing "waste" fuel as part of the charge. The 233U they produce, on the other hand, tends to be contaminated with prolific emitters of high-energy gammas; making reactor fuel elements with it is one thing, but making high-precision bomb cores is quite another because of the handling difficulties.

Going back a lot further, to neutron bombs: they do not, and never did, "kill people but leave buildings standing". To produce lots and lots of neutrons requires lots and lots of fission and so there is a very big bang indeed. Where they differ from "standard" fission bombs is in the lack of a neutron-reflecting tamper around the core: this allows the neutrons to escape but also means that self-disassembly halts the chain reaction sooner, so they are less efficient in their use of fissile material. Those who have stated that they are an anti-armour weapon are correct: neutrons pass through armour largely unimpeded and the immediate kill radius for neutrons (as opposed to "dead man walking but can still drive the tank for a day or two" radius) is significantly greater than that for blast. "Significantly" is still a rather disappointing amount, though, which is mainly why they have never been as popular as some people expect.

DU armour and neutron bombs: 238U can be fissioned by neutrons faster than 1.4MeV or so. Those neutrons from the fission explosion that were that energetic to begin with (most aren't) and make it to the tank without losing too much to collisions with air molecules will _have the capability_ to fission nuclei in the armour and thereby multiply themselves (note that this is not saying that they will actually do it). A small proportion of the neutrons so generated will have enough energy to cause further fissions themselves. A self-sustaining chain reaction is not possible. The generated neutrons are just as likely to be heading out of the tank as in. DU can also scatter some of the arriving neutrons so they end up heading back out again. Whether there is any overall neutron multiplication effect I cba to calculate but even if there is it won't be significant. Neutron activation of 238U is not a problem as the capture product 239Np decays by beta emission which can be stopped by a piece of tinfoil, and its decay product 239Pu decays by alpha emission which is even easier to stop.

Various comments about low-yield nukes being clean: no, they aren't. You need a certain amount of fissile material to get the thing to go off at all, and the only way to make the resulting explosion low-yield is to allow the chain reaction to terminate with most of it still unfissioned. So they spray more vaporised plutonium around the place than the same size pit in a high-yield configuration.

Vela incident: The whole point about SA building uranium-gun nukes is that there is no need to test one to present a credible threat. The Little Boy design was not tested. You can be pretty sure of getting an explosion just by dropping one lump of HEU onto the other out of an upstairs window; the gun bit just transforms "pretty sure" into "nigh on certain". All you have to do is make it credible that you have actually built the things. Israel, on the other hand, is into plutonium-implosion nukes which are a different kettle of fish (cf. North Korea repeatedly cocking it up). So my money's on it being an Israeli test.

Non-nuclear things... Decolonialisation and the like: my impression is that what happens when the colonial (or equivalent) power withdraws is that the country undergoes a sort of rebound effect: it sort of pings back to where it was before, and then overshoots, only now it has much better weapons. I don't think it really makes a lot of sense to blame colonialism for eg. Burma being in a state: it always was. Much like once the totalitarian hand was removed from Yugoslavia the various parts reverted to their centuries-old tradition of knocking the crap out of each other only this time they had automatic small arms and 15" naval guns. Orwell's account of his time stationed in Burma shows the Burmese doing horrible things to each other and the British - some conflictedly, some pragmatically, some uncaringly - allowing them to get away with it to a limited extent in order to avoid provoking an uprising; Kipling's accounts of India are somewhat similar. I suppose one could argue that the colonial power should perhaps have been more emphatic about suppressing it but I think Yugoslavia shows that it wouldn't have helped.

British imperialism dating back to 1066 or beyond: not really. Two distinct situations. In 1066 England came under the rule of people who already had large parts of France, and the next few hundred years of English history were all about the ones who had come to England squabbling with the ones who had stayed in France over who would have how much of it. It was basically all about dick-waving and did nothing for England but drain its resources. The result was that, after some really freaked-out ding-dongs, power in England passed to someone who as it happens was descended more from the Welsh than the Normans; he and his descendants put a lot of effort into exterminating everyone in the nobility who might still be a little bit Norman, and were more concerned with defending themselves against Europe than invading it. That concern, more or less accidentally, led to the establishment of England as a naval power; and it was that which then allowed commercial, rather than monarchical, interests to initiate the imperialistic phase, which was all about making money.

Russia, and Ukraine etc: Props to Elderly Cynic for being pretty much the only Western person I've seen who has their head screwed on the right way round about this. I am amazed that nobody else seems to notice the outrageous arrogance in the reports on Crimea in Western media, the blatant assumption that the West has an unquestionable right to tell the rest of the world how to conduct its affairs, the attitude that Putin must of necessity be in the wrong simply because he disagrees and also because he's Russian. To me it's really really obvious - perhaps this is because when the media invoke the name of the Great God Democracy I do not fall down and worship, but instead think "horseshit"? - and it's only natural that Putin should consider the West as a threat if that's the way they carry on.

The only reason Crimea was part of Ukraine in the first place was that Khrushchev gave it to them back in the 50s to make himself look nice. It was not certain that he even legitimately could do this but nobody really chased that up because back then it made no practical difference and nobody ever imagined that it would. It wasn't until the Soviet Union was in the throes of collapse that anyone thought to try and do something about it but they never actually did because the whole caboodle fell to pieces before they could get anywhere.

Then Putin sees Ukraine after getting into bed with the EU, and NATO to follow. Is he really going to just sit there and watch his only warm water naval base end up in the middle of NATO territory without doing anything about it? Does nobody even register that access to warm water ports has been a matter of concern for Russia for centuries? Given the impossibility of shaking Western prejudice and thereby enabling other solutions there was really little else he could do about it, and if anything he is to be congratulated over the smoothness of the operation.

Cold War stuff: I can't say I felt at the time that there was a risk of the USSR attacking the West out of the blue. Not as long as we had nukes. I didn't think they'd be dumb enough to think they'd gain anything. I did feel there was a risk they might be provoked into it, either by a mistake or by the US going too far.

It feels weird now looking back at that with post-Cold-War knowledge. The USSR didn't rate their second strike capability so their plan was to wait until the last possible moment before the US attacked and then try and press the button before it was too late. They had a real fear that they might have to do this, and quite justifiably given the number of headcases like Curtis LeMay on the American side.

In comes Reagan thinking he's John Wayne and off he goes ordering more spy flights over Russia and blatant prods and pokes at the USSR's defences. Then he tops that with Able Archer. By pure luck that happens to finish just before the USSR totally cack their pants. And it isn't until six months after that that anyone from US intelligence gets round to telling Reagan, to his astonishment, that the USSR actually were genuinely afraid of a US attack.

Falklands: as I remember it the Argentine air force was pretty much at the limit of its range and their naval command was pathetic. If they had seriously expected resistance I think they would indeed have done something different: not invaded. They must have been aware of their limitations and realised that, whatever the eventual outcome, the quick victory they needed would not happen if Britain fought back.

407:

You cannot, practically, build a U-Pu breeder using thermal neutrons.

Yes, that makes sense.

This means using unmoderated, dense fuel assemblies, of HEU or Pu, in metallic form rather than oxide.

Yes.

This in turn means the power density is orders of magnitude higher than a thermal reactor, while the fuel assemblies are much more vulnerable to thermal damage, and much of the difficulty in developing them has been down to getting the heat out fast enough - and uniformly enough over the entire core.

Ah! I hadn't thought of that. "No project is too hard for the man who won't be involved with it himself." I've read a little bit, but that's no substitute for experience.

uranium hexafluoride ... is really horrible stuff to handle: frighteningly toxic, fiercely corrosive to nearly everything, and with an unpleasant tendency to decompose inside the machine and clog it up.

Which is reason not to use it for heat transfer. But if you use anything but uranium for heat transfer, you're adding something that can absorb neutrons and cause trouble other ways.

The 233U they produce, on the other hand, tends to be contaminated with prolific emitters of high-energy gammas; making reactor fuel elements with it is one thing, but making high-precision bomb cores is quite another because of the handling difficulties.

How about using a thorium reactor and make plutonium with some of its waste neutrons? The added uranium (as opposed to the uranium made from thorium) needn't get contaminated with U232 etc.

Neutron bombs To produce lots and lots of neutrons requires lots and lots of fission and so there is a very big bang indeed. Where they differ from "standard" fission bombs is in the lack of a neutron-reflecting tamper around the core: this allows the neutrons to escape but also means that self-disassembly halts the chain reaction sooner, so they are less efficient in their use of fissile material.

Oh. I had read somewhere that they were efficient, and so I assumed that they had a neutron mirror that was destroyed at precisely the time that let the last round of neutrons escape easily. Then they could use a smaller amount of fissionable material and still get a big blast, lots of neutrons, and reduced radioactivity. This is a disappointment (in terms of wanting neutron bombs to work well, which in the bigger picture I don't much care for).

Vela incident The whole point about SA building uranium-gun nukes is that there is no need to test one to present a credible threat. .... So my money's on it being an Israeli test.

The USA had teams that were supposed to detect the fallout from nuclear tests, and they didn't publicly report that they found anything. Many people have concluded from this that it was a test that did not release much fallout. From other lack of data, many people have concluded that it did not release a whole lot of energy. If they're right, it could have been a test of a small efficient nuke, like a small efficient neutron bomb as you say does not exist. ;-) The south africans may have wanted to test such a thing, since if you want a tactical bomb you definitely want to know how big a blast you'll get so that you won't be too close when you use it. But from published data people say that SA was not ready to test even their big bombs at that time. I don't know. The fallout data was classified; I don't think that's proof they found nothing. Lots of data is still classified. People who've seen that data either take the official line that nobody knows, or else say it was Israel.

I'd consider the possibility that SA was ahead of schedule and did have material for a small bomb, but why would they lie about it now? On the other hand, it isn't the SA government that says they couldn't have done it, it's people who've looked at their old records, and *they* might have reason to lie.I don't know why they'd lie that it wasn't SA when that throws more suspicion on Israel, though. Given everything I've seen, it's an open question. But on a bet I'd give 3:1 odds it was Israel and not some other nation or a glitch. Maybe 4:1.

I am amazed that nobody else seems to notice the outrageous arrogance in the reports on Crimea in Western media, the blatant assumption that the West has an unquestionable right to tell the rest of the world how to conduct its affairs, the attitude that Putin must of necessity be in the wrong simply because he disagrees and also because he's Russian.

Yes.

Then Putin sees Ukraine after getting into bed with the EU, and NATO to follow. Is he really going to just sit there and watch his only warm water naval base end up in the middle of NATO territory without doing anything about it?

It might be arrogance on my part but I don't see that we should let Putin trample over people's rights just because the Russian Empire wants to have a warm-water port. I mean, if it's practical to stop him. Why should we respect the right of the Russian empire to oppress people to get a military advantage? Apart from the giant army and the nukes and all....

Some ways it seems silly to let local people decide their own fates, when they aren't strong enough to defend themselves. But if competing empires would accept that as a principle in their competition, maybe they wouldn't fight so much.

So OK, Crimea is full of people who speak Russian and maybe that means they ought to be ruled by Russia. But I say, let them have a free election and vote whether they want to be Russia's warm-water port, or run their own nation, or what. It's potentially less killing that way. If the Russian Empire and the American Empire can coexist with less killing, that's a good thing.

... when the media invoke the name of the Great God Democracy I do not fall down and worship, but instead think "horseshit"?

A whole lot of Americans do worship democracy, and that can be useful. Sometimes it can restrain the US military. It would have been much harder for the USA to invade Iraq if Saddam had been an honest-to-god elected leader. Similarly with Syria, if Assad hadn't suspended democracy there. The recent US attempted coup in Venezuela would have been less secret, less tentative, if Chavez hadn't kept winning elections. The USA never admits to invading democracies. They couldn't get rid of Chavez without giving him cancer. To even think about invading Iran they had to persuade the US public that Iran is not really a democracy but only a pretend-democracy. The democracy-worshipping Americans make the US empire into a better empire -- better for Americans and for the world.

And if a whole lot of Russians worshipped democracy that way, enough to sometimes curb the government, that would make Russia a better empire for most of the people the Russian Empire owns, and for the world.

Given the impossibility of shaking Western prejudice and thereby enabling other solutions there was really little else he could do about it, and if anything he is to be congratulated over the smoothness of the operation.

It would have taken time, but -- get Crimea to agitate for a referendum about seceding. Eventually Ukraine would have allowed it. Then the ethnic russians in Crimea would have won the referendum, and could peacefully arrange to secede. (If the Ukrainians didn't allow it, that would look bad for them and reduce US support.) Then have another referendum and all those ethnic russians would voluntarily choose to be ruled by Putin. Putin has his warm-water port and the USA would have no valid complaint. Sheer democracy. Problem solved!

Of course, if all those ethnic russians in fact did not want to be ruled by Putin, that would present some slight obstacles. Maybe he could stage a bunch of terrorist attacks and claim they were by Ukrainian dissidents, and then send in Russian troops to "protect" the Crimeans, and take it from there. Maybe later have elections supervised by Russian troops or something. You could congratulate him about how smooth the operation was.

408:

"You need a certain amount of fissile material to get the thing to go off at all..."

The interesting question is "how little".
I know that 1kg is quoted as a lower limit but I recall seeing a summary of some Polish paper a few decades back suggesting it might be closer to 100g. I assume the actual answer is still classified?

409:

uranium hexafluoride, which despite the US nuclear establishment's apparent cavalier attitude to leaving leaky drums of it lying around is really horrible stuff to handle: frighteningly toxic, fiercely corrosive to nearly everything, and with an unpleasant tendency to decompose inside the machine and clog it up.

A bit over the top here?

Well it is certainly not the same as distilled water but I don't think it's quite what you portray here.

410:

Nearly all of the UF6 in store in the US and elsewhere is depleted uranium byproduct from centrifuge enrichment plants. It would cost money to convert it back to metal or oxide form whereas it can be used directly as feedstock for other processes such as downblending military-surplus weapons-grade uranium or high-enriched uranium from research reactors and the like.

The MSDS on UF6 does make it out to be quite nasty stuff, reacting with water, solvents etc. but I've seen worse -- chlorine gas is a lot nastier and it gets transported around the world in thousand-tonne lots without much in the way of concern.

411:

I guess it should be pretty obvious why breeder reactors are so tempting for me.

You get a little bit of metallic plutonium, maybe only a few kilograms. You add a neutron source or put good neutron mirrors around it, to make a small reactor which produces more fast neutrons. You use uranium control rods, if you get too many neutrons the uranium absorbs them. You use Uf6 as coolant to keep it from getting too hot.

The original plutonium accumulates contaminants which renders it non-weapons-grade, but you don't care about that, you're busy extracting WG plutonium from your used control rods and coolant. You can add plutonium to the reactor until it reaches its optimal size.

A beautifully simple design. What could possibly go wrong?

412:

Any loose Fluorine or HF is going to be far more toxic than it's Chlorine counterpart. HCl exists in stomach acid. You spill a drop of HF on you finger and you better cut it off ASAP.
Antimony pentafluoride dissolved in HF ( Fluoroantimonic acid) is the strongest acid known - millions or billions of times stronger than Sulphuric

413:

If the fluorine molecule is so dangerous then why is Poly Tetryl Fluoro Ethylene (PTFE) so inert?

H2SO4, HCl, HF and the other common acids all have hydrogen molecules in them, UF6 doesn't. It's not particularly safe but it's not a creeping horror roaming the countryside at night eviscerating farm animals (something attributed to nuclear power and radiation generally by some of the crazier types).

414:

Fluorine is dangerous for the same reason PTFE is inert - it binds strongly to it excluding all others. The problem arises when you have not already been bound to the atom. And UF6 is exceedingly dangerous because the Fluorine atoms are not bound strongly enough to the Uranium. When it meets water, for example, either moisture in the air or your shin, you get HF

http://www.kumed.com/~/media/Imported/kumed/documents/hydrogen-20fluoride.ashx

415:

Pigeon wrote in part:

To Charlie, Nojay, J Thomas, re breeders: You cannot, practically, build a U-Pu breeder using thermal neutrons. If you could arrange everything in your favour it might just about be possible using fuel in solution in heavy water, but the excess plutonium produced would only be of the order of 1%, and so the slightest deficiency would have you under unity again. There simply aren't enough spare neutrons from U slow fission to cover losses _and_ breed. Pu is better but has a higher rate of non-fission captures so it doesn't make a lot of difference unless you have lots of it before you start.

You have a hard time creating weapons-usable excess Pu in a breeder cycle with slow neutrons but you certainly can pull usable Pu out of a PWR/LWR cycle. India and the US (at least) have detonated RGPU bombs. They're more radioactive and thermally hot, but they kaboom. The design features that make weapons single-point safe, minimize fissile mass, and let you do variable yield also largely predetonation-proof the resultant design.

416:

Dirk Bruere wrote:

The interesting question is "how little".
I know that 1kg is quoted as a lower limit but I recall seeing a summary of some Polish paper a few decades back suggesting it might be closer to 100g. I assume the actual answer is still classified?