Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fall of France, 9: Manpower, Part 1

This is a posting about demographics, so I could be taking this opportunity to talk about the British Army and the late  Roman Empire while complaining about the fate of Generation X. I'm not going to, though, because politics blah.

So I put it elsewhere.

Besides, this is tricky demographics. As I keep saying, one way of assessing the catastrophe of 5/40 is that the Commonwealth did not have enough men at the front. Yet there were plenty of men who were not at the front. So it must be that there were not enough men qualified to be there. I find it implausible that countries that could draw on limitless supplies of (admittedly aging) veterans, a significantly  larger population in the case of the Canadian junior partner; and a cohort subject to conscription beginning three months before the outbreak of the war 8 months ago could field fewer fusiliers than in 03/15. So we are talking about men with a set of qualifications that could not be produced in eightish months.

That's a deduction a priori, or, to put it another way, I pulled it out of my ass. So let's look at evidence. It ought to be more fun than proctology!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

History of Now

Edge of the American West is on hiatus. And I'm sad. EotAW was the first blog I followed online, beginning three years ago. And having been a nodding acquaintance of blog proprietor Eric Rauchway when I was in graduate school, I felt as though I had some deranged-stalker-type personal connection to it.

Blogs come and go. Whether they're worth the effort in the abstract or not, you can't argue with a blogger who decides that it is no longer worth it for them. It happens, and I'll leave the sic gloria transit mundi of it all to someone who actually knows Latin.

Except this: I'm a hopelessly optimistic person, but the hiatising of a great University of California blog is still a depressing sign that the demographic trends first spotted by David Foot are not magically going to release our grip on us any time soon. And by "us," I mean the professionally over-educated. (But mainly you guys, who, all my pessimism aside, have a far better chance of getting gainful academic employment than I do.) We're just doomed, something I shall now dilate upon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Malthus, Trajan, Alexander, Adrianople: Why Not Think About Them Together, With Math?

Chris Wickham, one of the best historians working today, spent most of the last two decades working on two books to cover the period alternately called "Late Antiquity," "the Dark Ages," or "The Early Middle Ages." (Amongst others that could as easily include, "the period when barrels took over from amphorae.")

Of all the things that Wickham stresses in these books, I am singling out the terminological problem because it suggests two visual aids to me, which I will inflict on you if you like on the way to making this tenuous connection between the first of the Five Good Emperors, and the great prophet of catastrophe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Malthus More

There was one perfect day in college when it all worked out as planned. We learned something in calculus class (I think it was the natural log function), walked out of that lecture and into chemistry class, and saw what we just learned applied, I suppose to calculate concentrations. Then we went from there to physics class, and saw it used again --at this late date, I'm not sure on just what.

Needless to say, it's not common to learn something in math class and then see it applied in history! I mean, given that some historians use pretty extensive databases, there is a place for statistics, but beyond that? The one example I can think of is the day we were introduced to some old dude name Thomas Malthus, who told us that "population expands exponentially, food supply expands arithmetically." This was something we did, indeed, learn in math class, where we plotted x2=y and x=y and watched the rising curve of the exponential function ascend, intercept the straight diagonal of the linear function, and head for infinity. Math and social studies came together to tell us of of the three ages of Man: the age of abundance, represented by the corner below the interception point, the imminent point of catastrophe, and beyond that the post-apocalyptic age of horror. Though how it could be horrible with V-8 Interceptors and mutants and zombies everywhere I do not know. But that's beside the point, because at the interception point, we'd all be living in cars in the street and eating Soylent Green, and that's terrible.

It's also debatable in many, many ways. But when you get to the core point, you start with P. J. O'Rourke's take: "Way Too Many of Them, Way Too Few of Us." There's any number of things you can take away from O'Rourke's comparison of the hellish overpopulation of Bangladesh with the spacious elegance of life in a California county with the exact same population density, including some pretty effective criticisms, and also the updating observation that the rate of population increase in Bangladesh has fallen from 2.02%/year to 1.55%/year in the last three years alone. Certainly there's no getting around the fact that he shows the whole thing to be a little undertheorised. Which is putting it mildly. Historians and mathematicians have a heck of a lot to say about this.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Humans Not Being Bunnies: Malthus and Stuff

If anyone cared about my opinions, I would be rich and famous now. (Yes, that is an invitation to you to make me rich and famous.) So instead of inflicting them on you (for now), I offer the  links promised elsewhere.

Here's Archatlas. Have fun and come back soon! http://www.archatlas.dept.shef.ac.uk/Home.php.
Here's Ken Pomeranz dissecting Clark at length (probably limited access):  http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/pomeranz/AHRreviewofFarewelltoAlms/ahr.pdf
If you haven't had enough Pomeranz bashing, check out Jan Luiten van Zanden, “Simply a Better Class of People? The ClarkThesis Assessed,” Agricultural History Review 57, 1 (2009), 124—29, pimping a book that's probably better. 

The mere microhistorical world of the clock on the wall is remarkably unsympathetic to my need for more time before work to extend this post. As a result, this will be all for now, although I do promise a selection of monographs for a "round table"-type seminar Real Soon Now.

PS: Who is the real Malthus? Check out  James Bonar, Malthus and His Works, conveniently reissued by F. Cass's "Library of Economic Classics" in 1966. Remember: overpopulation isn't human nature. It's something that Hindus, Catholics, High Church Anglicans, and other barbarians do. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fall of France, 8: Money

Last time I suggested that the real problem for the BEF on 10/05/40 was that not enough money had been spent on it. Or there would have been more of this.

(Check out the divisional cavalry moving through the outskirts of Bruxelles at the end of the clip.)

Sure, you say. It's not for nothing that we talk about Neville Chamberlain and the Guilty Men.
Let's understand the absolute, rock bottom point here. British (and Canadian) governments had been supporting enough infantry, cavalry and support services to equip more troops than were in France on that date. In particular, two armoured divisions, one entire infantry corps, and 6 armoured regiments (1 Army, 5 divisional) existed, had existed, had been paid and quartered and fed year in and year out for 70 years, and were in France at the equivalent date after mobilisation in 1915. These units existed in 1940. Some, notably the first armoured division and the infantry corps were to come over within the next two months. So the gap in mobilisation is very, very small. And the reason for that is ....money?