Friday, June 29, 2012

The Fall of France, X: A Machine For Controlling Space, III: The Shootists

So I'm staking out a position here where the mass conscript armies of 1914 aren't going to be traced back to the world-historical moment of the French Revolution, but rather to a series of events beginning with the Battle of Kӧniggratz. The reason for that is that they don't. The Prussians admittedly kept conscription through the first half of the Nineteenth Century, but if we look at the facts, as opposed to the "Prussians are awesome" stuff, we're talking about a traditional garrison army that took fewer than half of those eligible and furloughed many of those, and we're pretty much tea-leaving to find a difference between the Prussian military institutions of 1780 and 1830. (Even Christopher Clark, sad to say.) 

Besides, the whole point of the "Prussians are awesome" thing is the time of blood and iron. Something significant happened between 1866 and 1872, and it wasn't just the battlefield deaths of many good young men, or the unification of Germany or the Third Republic or the French Indemnity. In 1866, four nations of central Europe put almost one-and-a-half million young men in the field and kept them there for seven weeks. Fewer than 70,000 in all died. The rest, they lived. And surely that would be significant in its own right even were these days not the birth of the mass conscript armies that would soon be taking all of the male youth of Europe in precisely one of the most dynamic eras of human economic history

Why is all of this obscure? Well, we're in a weird place where we start with thLevée en masse and then agree to ignore the French so that we can talk about the evolution of the Prussian-type ideal liberal national  state. The old argument is that true universal conscription is only possible in the liberal national state that has its origins in the French Revolution but which was perfected in Prussia. So conscript armies are just something that happens at the end of history. No need for further examination.

Except that it is a biggie. Just a few years before 1872, there weren't mass conscript armies, and only our obsession with the awesomeness of Prussia obscures this. And, today, there aren't conscript armies again, for the most part, and it's completely unsurprising that there aren't. Britain even tried to bring in conscription after WWII out of some sense that the nation had been doing nit wrong, and managed to prove what the critics had been saying for years. National Service didn't work! 

Or, maybe, it worked for the fifty years between 1872 and 1918. But if that's true, if that's the historical conjuncture, then it's up to us military historians to explain what the hell happened. We have big wars, and also a humungous depression, and also the Lebel Rifle and its descendants. It seems like these are not historical events of equal weight, that the Long Depression must be bigger and deeper than the other two. I'm inclined to agree, but also to suggest that the Rifle might be a symptom of the depression, or rather of its causes, and use it as a probe to understand this period of dynamic change..

So what about the extraordinary resurgence of "volunteers" and "militias" that culminated with the Prussian Landwehr going to battle in 1866? Back to the story of 1813, again, which is of Germany awakening and chasing out the French with a truly popular army. It's politics. Here, I could do what Daniel Klang taught me to do and look at the Paris of 1848. Apparently, this is when the Revolutionary era ended. Specifically, when Louis Philippe's Civic Guard declined to fire on the mobs to save the July Monarchy, they acted in the tradition born of the Revolution in which governments lacked presumptive legitimacy and there was a point when their armed forces would refuse to kill for them. A few months later, the Guards did fire, to preserve de Tocqueville's "Parliament of Notables." In the moment when rural constituencies demonstrated that they were perfectly willing to return France's natural ruling class to the assembly, the Revolutionary era ended. (de Tocqueville's interpretation; My interpretation.) Volunteer militias could now (again) become the middle-class counterbalance to the unrestrained violence of the lower class. There's a lot that could be said about this, but most of it is bog-standard historiography, so, in the interest of being at least a little different,  I'm going to take it in a slightly different direction, starting with the war of the Sonderbund.

But first, talking about the corrupting effects on democracy of local notable dominance makes me, at least, think about Boss Hawg. So, badly recorded but worth some attention, here's Boss Hawg to lighten up this here front page:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From Now On, No Defeats: The Siege of Fortress Europe, I: An Hundred Circling Camps

Here's the thing about state-directed war. It matters how it comes out. If your company sprays the walls with "This is a Safety Culture" posters, it doesn't matter that it can't be bothered to supply safety equipment. I mean, there's posters! Who needs hard hats? We don't treat wars like that. 

Maybe it's because of freedom and liberty and whatever. Maybe it's because occupying foreign armies are really, really mean. Or maybe it's because important people's jobs are at stake.

Okay, back up. Seventy years ago today as I begin to write, Panzerarmee Afrika launched an attack into Tobruk that will, on 21st June, harvest a full South African division (half the Union's combat force) and other formations adding up to 30,000 men, 2000 vehicles, 2000 tonnes of fuel, and 5,000 tonnes of rations. Rommel received his baton had and enough fuel, he promised his Fuehrer, to take Suez.

Well, we know how that ended up: turn of the tide, Eighth Army, Monty, El Alamein, etc.

But before that, on the first and second of July, the ministry was called to defend themselves in the only non-confidence moved against the Churchill ministry: a motion by Sir John Wardlaw-Milne: "This House has no confidence in the higher direction of the war." The last time non-confidence was moved in wartime, Chamberlain's government fell. The two votes before that brought Lloyd George to power in a two-step process that established the context for the strange death of Liberal England. (Awesome title remains awesome.) As David Edgerton has recently pointed out, it was an odd, self-defeating vote. Most people didn't want Churchill out of the Ministry of Defence. They wanted a vote about the industrial direction of the war. Sure, it was potentially  toxic to pit Conservatives against Labour on industrial policy, but the general thought was that Singapore to Tobruk showed the need. Just as Lloyd George had been brought to power from the Ministry of Munitions, so Churchill's days were numbered, and the next prime minister would come out of the military-industrial nexus somewhere or another. As the rapidly increasing implausibility of each successive candidate for the prime minister's office in the preceding series of links suggests, a collapse in the national pro-war consensus was also a possibility --and certainly it was in Churchill's mind.  

Instead, we know, there was Monty, and the House got its total industrial war. On 6 June 1944, the end of the story that stretched from the fall of Singapore to that of Fortress Tobruk came with the greatest storming in human history. 

So I'm going to take a while getting to the storming. The higher direction of the state being at best an imperfect planner of such things, this unprecedented operation required much and uncertain preparation, and many unexpected bottlenecks emerged. Bottlenecks that were resolved by throwing labour at them. 

And that's what I do want to think about today: a magic time when it wasn't a question of whether someone would deign to employ a person, but rather finding a few more hands to do the work. It's about resolving bottlenecks. It's about one holy helluvalot of North Americans living in Britain for eighteen months (see below), and what that actually means.

Though I'm not entirely sure it happened that way. Arnold's children would have been in their 20s, for one thing, but whatever. (Some more Miller.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fall of France, X: A Machine For Controlling Space, II: Peloton et Equipe

This starts with some not-so-random-at-all thoughts inspired by the current state of the Vancouver retail market. I have blogged about why I think that the new Canadian Census results might explain these later in this vacation week, over on my (more) self-indulgent blog.  Check it out, if you like.

The thought is that governments get into far more wars than they ought, for confirmation of which thesis see the history of Afghanistan. The proximate reason that this happens is that there are always loudmouths about who, for some reason that is only incomprehensible to me because I am unwilling to believe that the average workplace shit disturber isn't just laughed off the national stage. 

Or, turn it over again, and perhaps we do recognise them and let them go about their work because we see advantage to it. Not the governments, of course: far too many ministries have fallen as a result of wars that they started. Of course, governments are just people, and people's private destiny is different from their public. Sure, you may get voted out of office in disgrace, but being really, really rich must take some of the sting out of it.

So there are wars, and there are constituencies that want them. And that has to be true of the soldiers, too. By and large, war (or at least military service) has to offer them enough compensation to turn passive (or worse) resistance into grudging (or better) acquiescence. I've suggested that those compensations are the ones that recruiting sergeants have always emphasised: money, skills training and social capital. 

I've also suggested that a massive investment in the skills/knowledge capital of the workforce ought to have its consequences, and that this might help explain the post WWII boom. At the same time, we have a pretty obvious counter-example in the First World War, which was followed (at length), by a Great Depression. I know that the economists like to argue that the Great Depression was a financial markets failure, but that can't be the whole of the story. It remains the case that the armaments making industries that expanded rapidly in 1914--18 floundered and failed in their attempts to transition to peace, while their WWII counterparts moved more-or-less smoothly into consumer goods production. 

It's a difference worth looking at, and so is this.

The point of the title of this blog post is that the French use the same words for sports team and the Tour de France as they do for small infantry units! I assume that sports historians have worked this over at length, although this this random package of readings for a course on sports history at a British Columbia community college that clever Google found for me has no articles on the subject. The point of the video is that it's less politically loaded than this

Unless you count the politics of gender, but my take on this is that the parade step was always been about erotic performance. You think you're celebrating your monolithic state when your aging President takes the salute from his massive parade mount; but the reality is that the people marching are doing this to elicit exactly the reaction that you had, dear reader, to either the "Beautiful Chinese Pink Army" or  the Chilean army conscripts in my link. You think that the history of war and armies is all about the agency of the state, when the soldiers you're looking at are really just trying to pick you up. You can rationalise the parade step as a mode of physical exercise all you like, but it's a tool of bottom-up agency, first.

Other tools of ascending as well as descending agency:  the Baker Rifle; the Minie Rifle; the "needle gun;" the Lebel Rifle; the Lee-Metford; the Lee-Enfield; and the Pattern 1913 Enfield. They're not nearly as sexy as the parade step, but I do think that they can be seen as instruments of bargaining with and against the grain of hegemony. Here's what I think was bargained.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fall of France, X: A Machine For Controlling Space And Killing Fascists, I.

I preferred "Rasputin."

I want to talk about a much misunderstood machine today. This one:


Not a submachine gun, or a "medium machine gun," or even a "heavy machine gun." It's a "light machine gun," although that doesn't mean that you can't hunt pretty big game with it, at least if you're Jesse Ventura.Google Images wouldn't turn up Sergeant Rock firing a Browning from the hip.)

Or, no: the social change that flowed from and to some extent directed the agricultural-industrial transition in Europe in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, and the relationship between conscription and the technology at hand.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Art of Not Being Governed, VII (Actually VIII): A Pirate To The Rescue!

A Europe of Regions: A  Köppen-Geiger Climate Map of Europe, thanks to Wikipedia.

 Let me start by disclaiming originality in pointing out that you can draw a map of the Roman Empire off a Köppen-Geiger climate map of the continent, though I don't remember who I owe the insight too. Let's say Braudel. He's the smart guy around here, and if there's one thing you learn when you're trying to read your way into a subject well enough to put it into one of those sweeping histories that make all the money (he said naively), it's who the smart guys are. You're reading one of those edited conference proceedings, and one paper makes you think to yourself, "I could do better than that!" And the next is so luminously smart that you go green with envy, especially as you realise that the one of your clever insights into the period that's actually correct is old news to the smart people in the field, who must be very frustrated that they can't get it across to the larger public. 

That's no surprise, of course. If your subject is something like Roman numismatics, and you're using your expertise in the field to reconstruct what you can of Roman fiscal policy in the context of Ancient macroeconomics as revealed by poststructural archaeology, you're going to need animations with dinosaurs and narration by Keira Knightley* with lots of funny to get people's attention.

And pirates, too. 

(It turns out that the world's so big that there's even someone with a sense of humour rescoring Pirates of the Caribbean clips.) 

Not to bury the lede or anything, but the smart money says that the pirate was a guy named Carausius. And, apparently, he tried to save Roman Britain by issuing good silver coins. Diocletian destroyed him, because an independent western silver standard would have meant that the Romans would have had to abandon their military adventures in Iraq.

 Well, that and the fact that Carausius was a piratical usurper.