Freedom: Lost and Delivered

Today is a day of anniversaries, one overshadowed even as it happened, and another that lies shamefully dormant.

Today is the day that 75 years ago, US 5th Army and the British 8th Army liberated Rome. You will, of course, remember that Fascist Italy had surrendered sometime earlier but the Germans occupying Italy and the terrain itself made this anything but the soft underbelly.

This was the culmination of Operation Diadem launched on 11 May 1944. While this was the first of the Axis capitals to fall, it had essentially no impact on the war, other than perhaps reducing the stress marginally, of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France which would happen on 15 August 1944. A great victory, but overshadowed by other events.

Freedom: Delivered


30 years ago today, on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the People’s Liberation Army crushed the student’s quest for freedom, not to mention their Goddess of Democracy under the treads of their tanks. Somewhere between several hundred and ten thousand were deliberately killed by the government. It continues its bloodthirsty ways to this day, imprisoning over a million Uigher Moslems and Falun Gong in concentration camps, as well as persecuting Christians and other believers.

Tank man, as we have come to call him, a very brave Chinese, indeed, was, of course, killed by the Chinese government. But the Goddess of Democracy, whose resemblance to The Statue of Liberty moved Americans deeply, while also destroyed, lives on, I warrant, in the hearts of many Chinese and she does in a fair number of Americans as well.

(AP Photo/Jeff Widener, File)

Freedom Lost, for now.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, the day we as Americans have set aside to remember those who gave their lives for us, and for others. Americans have always been willing to die for freedom, and far too many have. Memorial Day (which was Decoration day until roughly World War II) was established by the people, not the government, after the Civil War, originally recognizing the war dead of the Federal Army, in time it expanded to all American war dead, even the Confederate, also in time those war dead spread around the world. In England, France, Italy, Australia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, as America became the champion of freedom worldwide.

A hundred years ago, American troops were just beginning to firm up the Allied lines in France, they would go on to attack and seal the doom of the German Empire. Sammies, I’m told the French called them, after Uncle Sam, they called themselves doughboys, often shortened to dough.

But was there any meaning to all those men dying in France? Well, it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Here’s the eye of one beholder, Vera Brittain, a British nurse serving in France.

“Only a day or two afterwards I was leaving quarters to go back to my ward, when I had to wait to let a large contingent of troops march past me along the main road that ran through our camp.  They were swinging rapidly towards Camiers, and though the sight of soldiers marching was too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their swift stride caused me to stare at them with puzzled interest.

They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed.  At first I thought their spruce, clean uniforms were those of officers, yet obviously they could not be officers, for there were too many of them; they seemed, as it were, Tommies in heaven.  Had yet another regiment been conjured from our depleted Dominions?  I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect.  But I knew the colonial troops so well, and these were different; they were assured where the Australians were aggressive, self-possessed where the New Zealanders were turbulent.

Then I heard an excited exclamation from a group of Sisters behind me.

‘Look! Look!  Here are the Americans.!’

I pressed forward with the others to watch the United States physically entering the war, so God-like, so magnificent, so splendidly unimpaired in comparison with the tired, nerve-racked men of the British Army.  So these were our deliverers at last, marching up the road to Camiers in the spring sunshine!  There seemed to be hundreds of them, and in the fearless swagger of their proud strength they looked a formidable bulwark against the peril looming from Amiens.

…An uncontrollable emotion seized me – as such emotions often seized us in those days of insufficient sleep; my eyeballs pricked, my throat ached, and a mist swam over the confident Americans going to the front.  The coming of relief made me realise all at once how long and how intolerable had been the tension, and with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated, I found myself beginning to cry.”

From ” Look! Here are the Americans!” The U.S. in World War I and Popular Memory

Today is the day to remember all those we left behind.

Sunday Funnies: Memorial Day

All around the world, and at home, American war dead will be honored this weekend.

The only land we hold from the Wars of the Twentieth Century, This is Cambridge, England, on land donated by Cambridge University in 1942. And here is where ceremonies will be held, from the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Ceremony Location Country Date
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Ardennes American Cemetery Ardennes American Cemetery Belgium
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery Luxembourg American Cemetery Luxembourg May 25, 2019 at 2 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Somme American Cemetery  Somme American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery Belgium May 25, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Italy
Memorial Day 2019 at Manila American Cemetery Manila American Cemetery Philippines May 26, 2019 at 8 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery Aisne-Marne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 9:45 a.m
Memorial Day 2019 at Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Rhone American Cemetery Rhone American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Epinal American Cemetery Epinal American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery Normandy American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Lorraine American Cemetery Lorraine American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Suresnes American Cemetery Suresnes American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 2:30 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Brookwood American Cemetery Brookwood American Cemetery England May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Flanders Field American Cemetery Flanders Field American Cemetery Belgium
Memorial Day 2019 at Netherlands American Cemetery Netherlands American Cemetery Netherlands May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery Oise-Aisne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Brittany American Cemetery Brittany American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at St. Mihiel American Cemetery St. Mihiel American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Corozal American Cemetery Corozal American Cemetery Panama
Memorial Day 2019 at North Africa American Cemetery North Africa American Cemetery Tunisia May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Mexico City National Cemetery Mexico City National Cemetery Mexico May 27, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Cambridge American Cemetery Cambridge American Cemetery England May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Florence American Cemetery Florence American Cemetery Italy May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Clark Veterans Cemetery Clark Veterans Cemetery Philippines

 

 

And now back to our regular programming.

Break Time. Because Sophia Loren

It really is astonishing. For quite some time, the Tory leadership’s bizarre actions made me suspect May & the party grandees knew something we didn’t. They were playing a diabolically cunning long-game, weaving some devious ploy unfathomable to mere mortals such as us. But I now realise I was mistaking a room full of well educated but basically stupid château-bottled shits for genius supervillains. And as I started adjusting my expectations of their smarts downwards, they kept coming up with displays of ineptitude & Westminster-bubble insularity that have me in a near perpetual state of amazement.
– Perry de Havilland

Is it Time? Yes, yes, it is

Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

NATO at 70: What Is It Good For?

Frank Hawkins has an excellent article at American Thinker entitled NATO in Crisis. Let’s have a look.

In 1949, with the debris of WWII still clogging German cities, Western nations led by the United States and Great Britain formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The primary purpose of the alliance was to provide a multinational shield  against Soviet aggression.

Today the alliance itself is threatened, with President Trump rightly accusing Germany and other members of not living up to their pledges to support the pact. Of the 28 members of NATO, only seven are paying the required 2% of GDP to support the alliance. The United States weighs in with a hefty 3.39% while Germany, the second largest economy in the alliance, is only contributing 1.36%.

After being called out by Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that Germany would begin increasing its defense contributions reaching an initial plateau of 1.5% by 2024.

But it’s not working out that way. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz threw the target into doubt with the new German federal budget that suggests their percentage is actually going to shrink to 1.23%.  What’s going on?

In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert Kagan addressed the issue in an article titled, “The New German Question, What Happens When Europe Comes Apart?

Kagan’s article opens as a thoughtful overview until it becomes obvious he’s just another ideological #NeverTrumper. He covers the grand sweep of German history and the country’s historic position in Europe before dissolving into shameless Trump bashing.

There has always been something ironic about the American complaint that Europeans don’t spend enough on defense. They don’t because the world seems relatively peaceful and secure to them. When the world is no longer peaceful and secure, they probably will rearm, but not in ways that will benefit Americans. If one were devising a formula to drive Europe and Germany back to some new version of their past, one could hardly do a better job than what U.S. President Donald Trump is doing now.

Trump bashing seems a bit strong here to me. Kagan plainly doesn’t like what he sees Trump doing, but his description of it is not that different than mine. Nor, does Kagan appear to like Trump, but few establishment Europeans do. I pretty much agree with Trump, however, I see little point anymore for NATO, unless it is there as a check on the EU, which is increasingly plausible. The main trouble with that is that it is the Americans v. everyone and his Slavic cousin. Don’t forget it was Leonid Brezhnev who commented in the 1990s that it was like the Soviet Union had relocated to Brussels.

From where I sit (and I think Trumps sees it similarly) the main threat to freedom today in Europe is the European Union, itself.

The basic problem in western Europe is that Germany tends to dominate it the way the US does North America. While the US is a reasonable partner and neighbor, and especially Canada has a reasonably similar background, none of that is true with regards to Germany and Europe. The only real competitor is the United Kingdom, which of course has much to do with the US involvement as well. That also explains why the US is quite firmly in the Brexit camp, and his alignment with the EU explains Obama’s willingness to interfere with the referendum. (That holds for both Clinton and both Bushes, as well.)

And there is this, for the US, Europe is becoming a sideshow. Russia is a commercial competitor, not an enemy, and no one else perhaps excepting the UK is particularly important to our interests these days.

Those interests are first Israel, and Europe is a very poor ally in this area, other than some in the Visegrad area.

But the main US interest for the foreseeable future will be China, a physically and militarily aggressive competitor verging on an enemy, who will soak up much of our interest and available force.

Do read Hawkin’s excellent article, and Kagan’s, which is linked in the quote is also quite good.

But in short, Europe needs to grow up, America has some work to do elsewhere.

American Historic Moments; Then and Now

Don Troiani- “The Last Salute” HAP

Our friend, Practically Historical, reminds us that 154 years ago today General John B Gordon (seven times wounded, including 5 Minnie balls at Antietam) by order of General Robert E. Lee, surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, to General Joshua L. Chamberlain (won the Medal of Honor at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, wounded six times, nearly mortally at Petersburg, and cited 4 times for bravery) of the Army of the Potomac.

As the Army of Northern Virginia marched past the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the Army to “Carry Arms” (the marching salute) in respect, and at Gordon’s order, the Confederates responded. Chamberlain described the scene:

At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.”    Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”

There is a lesson there for those who would destroy the heritage of the Confederacy. At least 300,000  Americans died upon those fields to (amongst their reasons) to destroy chattel slavery in America. At the end of it, they respected their opponents enough to salute them in honor, and the Confederates enough to return the salute. Without a worthy enemy, there is no honor, and so far no more worthy enemy for American arms has ever appeared than American arms. Both sides fighting for freedom, even if their definitions differed. When you denigrate the Confederates, you also denigrate the forces that fought them and freed the slaves.

And so with salutes and honors, and with terms that meant no proscription lists and no hangings, America’s hardest war ended.


Then there is this:

That is the first ever photograph of a Black Hole, something so dense that even light cannot escape. So how can we take its picture? It’s complicated. Here’s part of the explanation.

And this:

Both of those are some seriously good explaining of a subject that is quite hard to understand.

But how did this happen? A badass stem professor, of course. In fact, a Cal Tech professor with a doctorate from MIT, who graduated from West Lafayette High School. And back in the day when she was in high school used to work with her dad’s colleagues, professors at Purdue. Professor Dr. Katie Bouman. Her dad is Charles Bouman, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue. Wonder what dinner conversation was like in their house.

She explained in a TED talk what she was trying to do a couple years ago as well.

And it worked, as the picture above indicates. Pretty cool, essentially turning the entire Earth into a camera.

This is a very big deal, confirming relativity amongst other things, and another major major accomplishment for American science. I’m not a huge fan of government subsidizing stuff, but I’m not sure that any corporation would really see the point of this research, although I’ll bet there will be commercial benefits derived from it. Most corporations these days are insanely short-sighted about research. Hammer and Rails reminds us:

The combined budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are just over $63 billion for FY 2019. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the US’s 2019 federal budget is $4.746 trillion, the three major scientific foundations and government institutions that allow for such ground breaking scientific research account for just under 1.5% of the federal budget.

For just 1.5% of our budget, we’re able to fund the great work of Dr. Bouman, along with other great scientists at Purdue, the Big Ten, and beyond. While Dr. Bouman didn’t go to Purdue (I guess I can’t blame her for going to MIT instead), her connections to the university allowed her to cultivate her passion in the STEM fields, and it shows that the impact of Purdue continue into interstellar space.

Congrats to Dr. Bouman, former President Córdova, and all the researchers involved in the Event Horizon Telescope.

Yep, and MIT had a couple things to say, as well. First, they noted how important women in Stem are to our success in space.

As noted in the comments to the Tweet above, all these women, and all of us men, as well, follow in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron who wrote the first algorithm. And this:

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