Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fall of France, 9: Manpower, Part 7: French Drains

(Edit: A little bit of tweaking.)

So if I were going to write a history of modern Europe with the insouciantly glib broad brush that I'm not afraid to apply to the Iron Age, how would it look?
Well, I'd start with the effects of the forward movement into the Atlantic, tie it to the Price Revolution, note that we now think was a sixfold rise in prices between 1460 and 1610, and suggest that if the story of the Price Revolution is a story of increasing agricultural surplus (spoiler: it is) that it starts with lutefisk and ends with the potato. That'll be your syndoche here, so that I don't wander off and waste time in the cassava fields of the Gold Coast, the peanut fields of Siam, the prickly pear plantations of the Maghreb and the sunflower plantings of Old Russia.

And, oh look, I have, anyway. So what's a guy to do when potatoes make feeding peasants cheaper? Offer them work. Because now that they don't have to buy wheat on the open market to make up for time lost not raising wheat, they can work for lower wages than ever. I know, it sounds exploitative. It is exploitative. But it ends up with better-fed peasants with more money in their pockets.

What will that work look like? The Price Revolution is an increase in government revenues. And what does an early modern government do with more money? It fights desperate wars over existential issues like whether people will be allowed to wear a scarf while showing people a plate of crackers. (No, really, it's important.) And those wars turn on sieges. Which are attacks on vital communications nodes that happen to be able to afford strong fortifications. Which, ta-da, describes cities on Europe's plentiful flooding lowlands, and not, say, castles on hills.

So you're getting down in the ditches, and learning to work in this wet, muddy environment. There's nothing new in this learning, but it's new to you, by whom I mean a young striver of "upper middle class" social origin. Which means, just to extend the thought experiment illegitimately extended without establishing evidence, that your family owns a manor in a hamlet on the Northampton Sand.

So you come back from the wars in the Netherlands, brimming with new experiential knowledge of drains and dykes. Your family land doesn't happen to  hold a prosperous manufacturing town on a cross-roads by a river crossing, or you would be much richer than you are. But it is on flooding ground, which means that you are less rich than you could be, because your neighbours, with land of much the same quality, but a little higher up, are using theirs for up-and-down husbandry .

What's the problem? Water doesn't drain off your land. Well, now you know how to fix it. You put in french drains.* No-one's done it before because the work wasn't economical. Oh, and because your land is actually lower than the drainage canal. Well, no problem, because they actually have a solution for that over in Flanders, too. Just put a windmill on the top of the rise and run a pump with it. Sound expensive? No problem. Put a watermill on the canal at the mouth of the spume, and set it to running, say, a trip hammer. If you're really ingenious, you can run a shaft back up the rise and put a reservoir on the crest so that you can run the pump from the water mill. Hey, it's no Machine of Marley, but wind power is free. The ROI depends mainly on getting labour costs down, and there's the potato, and also you: Lord of the Manor, and master millwright.

Is that a crazy combination, I hear you say? Have you been told, in strident terms, about how aristocrats aren't inclined to such things, that only virtuous members of the middle class do that? Hmm. Who told you that? John Wesley, you say? Yeah. About that. If you don't have time for the links, I'm allusively suggesting that you've bought one of two competing ideological visions of how science happened, as laid down in the pre-Reform Britain of the 1820s and 1830s. The Anglicans fought the Nonconformists for credit for "science," and lost.

That's one insufferably broad brush history, taking us from cod drying on a Norwegian shore to a windmill/watermill regenerative power cycle floating on a broad-bottomed dyke above a Lincolnshire bottom. Another, the one that I just sketched the other day, features a story about the emergence of the post-WWII automobile engine, with its high-octane performance, reliable electrics and automatic transmission out of the Fokker Panic of 1915. The notion is that governments, galvanised by the existential question of whether or not the assassination of an eminently disposable Archduke by some rather obnoxious young students should be met by Very Stern Measures, spent vast amounts of money on internal combustion engine performance in the course of three years, far too short a time frame to actually see results, and that that money, to all appearances, went down the drain, only to reappear in 1939.

The idea is that today I follow it down the drain.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Backs to the Wall: A Somewhat Technical Appendix

The big thing that we're told, again and again, about WWI is that the world went into it not anticipating the impact of new military technologies. I want nuance here. I've suggested that  the impact of the machine gun is overstated relative to the rapid fire gun. But I'll pivot on that when this discussion gets to its end. As I've already signalled, I'm going to suggest that the light machine gun is a hugely socially transformative technology. I'm just taking my time getting there because the argument that I can feel in my mind looks so much more convincing there than in any form that I've so far articulated it. 

So I'm not going to talk about that, but rather something else where the timing of the great industrial-social-strategic rhythms of the Twentieth Century were determined by this (understandable) failure to extrapolate the scale of the tactical transformations that took place in 1914--18: the gas engine.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Fall of France, X: A Machine For Controlling Space, V: Backs To The Wall

(Edit: An earlier version of this post identified Podolians as Slavic-speaking northeast Germans. The author meant the Wendisch Sorbs of Pomerania. Podolia is in western Ukraine.)

What's that coming at us out of the smoke? Not 99 red balloons so much as the last kaiserliche Armee. Prussians, Saxons (Upper and Lower), Frisians, Westphalians, Rhinelanders, Thuringians, Hessians, Franconians, Swabians and Bavarians. (Also Danes, Lusatians, Alsatians, Lorrainers, Jews and Poles. Lots and lots of Poles. Let's ignore them, shall we?) It's a last offensive for the Kaiser. They're coming for you.

It's 21 March, 1918, and your back is to the wall.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cannonball Run: Technical (More-or-less) Appendix

Do we remember? Planes, I think, more than people. This is an appendix about planes, but it begins and ends with people, because it's people who order, and make, planes.

There's an article I read once. I've got a photocopy from the microfilm of the old journal, although it's available online. I've linked to it in the past many times, but the link goes to the idiosyncratic archives of Flight, and links aren't always clicked through.

That's unfortunate, because this article deserves a wider reading,* published on 9 November 1944 in "Flight, "Official periodical of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain," and written by "Catapult." Someone really needs to do a literary study of the interaction of evidence and authority claims here. (If literary scholars ever develop an interest in articles about "Fleet Air Arm Equipment." I guess it could happen.) The convention, even if it's not spelled out here, is that a pseudonymous author published in a "respectable" periodical of this kind, especially one backed by a (Royal) club, has unassailable authority. More specifically, I think the convention ins that he is a serving officer on active duty.  My entirely speculative reading between the lines is that the author is future Admiral of the Fleet Sir John D. Cunningham, currently CinC Mediterranean, and First Sea Lord 1946--8. And, no, I  haven't omitted his peerage. He didn't get one, not even a KB, like Harris and Freeman. And that  is strange. Perhaps in his memoirs, if they exist, there's the usual excuse about lacking the money to support a peerage. But then he got on as a director with a petroleum company, so I think his posterity was pretty much set.

Okay, let's look it all, and think about what it tells us.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From Now On, No More Defeats: Cannonball Run

(Edit: fixed a link.)

Operation Pedestal (9--15 August 1942): The Santa Marija Relief of Malta.

Oh. the title. Well, if I'd referenced the movie this came from, no-one would know what I was talking about. Think "Smoky and the Bandit," but instead of Burt Reynolds mugging, there's an attractive young couple (Kristy McNichol's brother and the first TV Nancy Drew!) who bond. With car chases. And the boy is wearing a tuxedo for plot-related reasons that are still a class-something-something. Inversion affirming social order? Uhm, some kind of charivari? Is the New Cultural History still taking calls? I should find out.

So, okay, that's a light hearted and digressive start. Believe me, if you don't want light-hearted, you only have  to click on this link  to see how the great relief run from Gibraltar to Malta ate the lives committed to it. So no more eating precious lives.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Old Europe: The Axe

When I planned my writing for the week, I was going to take it easy, ripping off material coming out of the introductory chapters of Plantation of the Atlantic. Then I got drawn into talking about Red Air Force fighters. Hopefully this doesn't spin out of control on me, too. I want to talk about iron axes and the coming of "modern" Europe, 3000 years ago or so. Or was it 3000 years ago. Maybe it was 1500 years ago. You really can't go too late into history and not still find skeptics about the frequency of iron tools in Europe. Eighth Century AD Bavaria, anyone? That's a problem.

So why am I worrying about it right now? Because it's still too early to write about Operation Harpoon (soon, my pretties), and because a thinkpiece at Slate (don't judge me, it's got Doonesburyabout horses and social class, by Maria Mycio. Here's yet another meditation taking off from Gimbutas' not-dead-but-rather-undead argument for the early domestication of the  horse, and a starting point for a thousand darting thoughts that I shall strive  mightily to draw together.

Anyway, first this, to explain Europe, presumably before inequality. You know, "Old Europe":

It's a science fiction novel. Our hero gets involved in a time war and ends up being stranded in Neolithic Denmark. Oh, well, he consoles himself. He's got the girl, and nice neighbours. Sure, the kind, gentle, matriarchal, peaceful people who lived in the Old European oecumen that stretched from Crete to Denmark was going to be wiped out by the patriarchal, warlike Indo-Europeans in 1500 years, but that's still lots of time to do cool stuff like discover America. (WTF, Poul?)

I really don't remember the rest of the novel at all, but that ending sure stuck with me. Old Europe was a very nice place, before Kurgan-building chariot-riding, ax-wielding Indo-Germanic invaders  crossed the Volga and rode their wagons up the Tsaritsyn onto the Kuban steppe to bring Dumézilian caste and sky gods and like that. (Naturally.) It's also a meditation on time. What can I say? I'm a sucker for that stuff.

So, anyway, axes. Axes come naturally to the thesis, since presumed battleaxes are widely found in Urnfield burials in eastern Europe, and the Urnfield is descended from the kurgan-building Tumulus Culture. Whatever that means. Unfortunately, axes have a complicated role in this thesis, because they also play a big role in the "Old European oecumene." Arthur Evans famously found evidence for the ritual use of a double-bladed ax at Knossos, which was clearly the Rome/Mecca of Old Europe.

Evans knew what to call this tool quite well from his classical studies. In Roman usage, the double-bladed ax-as-tool was called a bipennis. When used to represent the thunderbolt of Jupiter Dolichenus and the badge of authority of the high priest of the mystery cult of this god of Commagene, once as popular in the army as Mithras, it was called a labrys, Plutarch's formulation of the axe-badge of the cult of Zeus Labraunda in the mountains of Caria.

The word is a loan into Greek, so Evans decided that it was a loan from the mysterious pre-Greek language of Knossos, because there was a "labyrinth" and Knossos and that the labrys was the symbol of the continental mother goddess of Old Europe. Because.

My sarcasm is elicited by the unquestioned fact that "labyrinth" already had a well-known explanation. The well-known morturary complex of Amenemhet III at Hawara beside Lake Moeris in the Faiyum Basin was fourteen hundred years old when it was visited by ancient tourists such as Herodotus, and the tourists all agreed that it was a "labyrunth," even if it's not clear exactly why. I'd just like to point out that besides pyramids and temples, the site had the flood gates by which the Nile was drawn off into the Faiyum via an artificial 90 mile canal. There's even an inference, which I know I've seen somewhere, but cannot find (scholarship; we has it!) that it is named after a nearby Egyptian town then called something Labryinthy. It makes a certain sense that the sanctuaries at Labraunda and Knossos and many others that were inspired by this site were named after it, so that the word is of ultimately Egyptian, not Old European, derivation. But if I said that, I'd probably be called a reverse racist, and associated with someone who is legitimately crazy.

So let's just call "labrys" a Lydian word. Lydian is a language closely related to Hittite, and, yes, we're getting back to Commagene.

Never mind, the labrys was the cross of Old Europe, and in a heroic example of lifting a thesis by its own bootstrap, proof of a pre-Indo-European substrate to Greek (hence more largely European) civilisation.

 I guess the takeaway here is that the single-bladed ax is bad, Indo-European, and warlike, while the double-bladed ax is Old European, peaceful, and good.

Second, this:

And since the German girls don't really sing along, here's Karine Vanasse, playing Collette Valois, and the one thing we're likely to remember about Pan Am:

That's the "forbidden" first verse of the Deutschlandlied, out of favour not because of the anodyne "Deutschland über alles" lyric, but because of its belligerent geography. If Germany lies between the Belt, Etsch, Meuse and Memel, it includes Schleswig-Holstein, South Tyrol, Lorraine, East Prussia, and a chunk of Lithuania of which you probably haven't ever heard. 

On the other hand, the song was written in 1844. If the verse claims this as the territory of a future, united, German state, then it is a very naughty little verse. If it says that these are part of the homeland of the Deutsches Volk, then, well, it's something else. Still something repudiated by history, but rather more innocuous. Since as far as we can tell, "Deutsche" and "Volk" are the same words, the phrase means "the people people," and Deutschland means the "The Land of the People." Old Europe, if Old Europeans spoke Indo-Germanic, which they surely didn't.

But you know me: I'm trying to find a way around culture and language. Hence axes. Hence this: the passing away of Old Europe.

The corps of pioneers, like the corps of grenadiers and carabiniers, is formed from the pioneers of each battalion of the line. The corps takes its place "on the right of the line," first in honour, because the battle line wheels to the left to become a column of march, and the "corps of pioneers" marches at the head, breaking the path. Pioneers shoulder axes rather than fusils because axes are the tool of their work, but they also storm the palisades with them, a frightening prospect for its defenders, I'm sure. 

They wear beards to signify that they are men. And before saying that makes me look like I'm going Iron John (or, more socially redeemably, ZZ Top) let me explain. "Pioneer" is a term of art from the Army of Flanders days, coming from "person of the country," which is to say, the conscripted labour details. Before it came to be the name of the corps d'honneur, it had to displace the older "carpenters of the army." [Die Zimmerleute] They are men,because they are grown into the mastery of their craft. Hence the aprons, and the slow march, to allow heavily laden men in their 40s to keep up. They build the way, and the army follows. 

The beards, on the other hand, are totally ZZ Top tributes.