Bench Grass is a blog about the history of technology by the former student of a student of Lynn White. The main focus is a month-by-month retrospective series, covering the technology news, broadly construed, of seventy years ago, framed by fictional narrators. The author is Erik Lund, an "independent scholar" in Vancouver, British Columbia. Last post will be 24 July 2039.
This should have gone up on 4/22 (if not 4/20), but I've had it in mind to do something with Notre Dame for a while, and by the middle of last week, I was also in the middle of that one, and you see where that went.
22 April 1943 is the day of the Holy Thursday Massacre. Per Wikipedia, 21 of 27 Messerschmitt Me 323s were shot down attempting a resupply flight from Sicily to Tunis. According to Njaco at WW2Aircraft. Net, this is not quite what happened:
"The Holy Thursday Massacre came on the heels of the Palm Sunday Massacre which involved [the shootdown of 24] Ju 52s. ...
[On 22 April, 1943] [t]he Luftwaffe again tried to supply the forces in Tunisia. . . 10 Ju 52s of Kampfgruppe zbV 106 took off from Pomigliano at 06:40 hours bound for Tunis. The formation was led by Staffelkapitaen Oblt. Biedermann. the Junkers were supposed to fly with a group of 14 Me 323s which took off from Pomigliano at 07:10 hours with the maximum available fighter escort. . . .
....The fighter escort of 39 Bf 109s assembled over Trapani at 08:30 hours. Another 35 fighters were supposed to fly out from Tunis to meet the formation. At 08:35 hours, the formation overflew the island of Marettimo, west of Sicily and descended to a height of 20 to 50 meters above the sea. The specified route [was followed by the Ju52s, but not the 323s, which deviated for unknown reasons.] Most of the escort fighters which had taken off from Sicily stayed with the Ju 52s . . . . This splitting of the fighter force meant that the Giganten had only 36 escorts instead of the planned 104.
....The SAAF sent out 38 P-40s, covered by a[n] SAAF Spitfire squadron and additional flights of British and Polish-manned Spitfires. . . . [at] 09:25 hours, two large groups of Allied fighters began attacking the Me 323s between Cap Bon and the island of Zembra. Conditions were hazy. The first group of Allied fighters engaged the Bf 109s of II./JG 27 which were flying at an altitude of about 2400 meters, and forced them away from the transports. This allowed the second formation, which was larger and made up mainly of P-40s of the SAAF to attack the Giganten. . . ..The Allied fighters estimated the size of the Me 323 formation at 20 aircraft instead of the actual 14. Once attacked, the Me 323s took evasive action . . . . the Me 323s were shot down one after another . . . fighters from JG 27 . . . claimed 2 Kittyhawks [and a Spitfire].
.... . . All 14 transports with 700 drums of fuel were shot down, [along with 7 fighters; only 19 of 138 shot down survived]. . . .
.. According to Me 323 pilot, Oblt. Ernst Peters, from the end of November 1942 to 22 April 1943, KGzbV 323 had transported 15,000 meteric tons of equipment to Tunis and Bizerte in approxiamately 1,200 sorties. Among the items delivered: 309 trucks, 51 medium prime movers up to 12 tonnes, 209 guns up to 150mm caliber, 324 light guns, 83 anti-tank and AA guns, 42 AA radars including'Wurzburg Riese' and 96 armoured troop carriers and self-propelled guns
Credit to Njaco where credit is due. There were 14 aircraft in the flight, not 27, and all were shot down, not 20 of 27. I would add that the Allied aircraft were from 1, 2, 4 and 5 Squadrons SAAF. Or, "shot down."
If you haven't heard of the Me323 before, here's today's stoner moment:
Okay, look, I've done this before. My thesis is that the history of the United States needs to be understood from the claim that its received demography is impossible. First, not enough people crossed the Atlantic at the right time, and that those that did were mainly West Country men who sailed to the Newfoundland --and possibly a prior Greenland-- fishery, and who therefore entered North American population history through an opaque mechanism that is detached from the conventional chronology of settlement, and whose historical linguistic and ethnogenic consequences are not explored in that narrative.
Blah blah fancy talk: Men, mainly Welsh, Basque and Breton speakers, but also Moroccans, began entering North America through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence region in the first quarter of the Sixteenth Century, and possibly well before that. Prior to the establishment of the first Crown colonies, they and their descendants were well-distributed through the Eastern Seaboard, but nearly invisibly, since they embraced ethnogenesis as "Indians." Insofar as the typical American does not look Indian (and this point can be overstressed), it is because of the "leaky pump" that moved thousands of male labourers back and forth across the Atlantic every year. There is just not enough genetic material being moved in other ways. An implication that I will dig out here and underline is that the crazy people who claim to hear Welsh (and Basque, and "Moorish" spoken on the early American frontier need to be taken more seriously.
Second: ethnogenesis works the other way. "Indian" populations transformed into "White," once it was in their interest to do so. I take this to be uncontroversial on its face to scientific investigator,** albeit endlessly amazing to people who should know better, even if the precise numbers and chronology can be debated. Why forget? Because of that "in their interest" clause. The process through which this was "forgotten" (and I think the scare quotes are amply justified) is where this thesis takes a turn through radical history. As a first pass, the argument begins with the very old one that the idea of race and nationality conceals the reality of class struggle. "Forgetting" allows the perpetuation of a Creole elite without challenging the ideology of American egalitarianism, specifically by allowing most Americans who want to claim the status to be "European White Americans," and have some small slice of power in society over the melatonin-challenged. But Marx was all about "proletarian" this and "means of production" that. Bullshit. This is about real estate.
So here's the radical claim buried here: that the pre-Columbian social order has been perpetuated forward. Hey, North Americans: when your oldest and richest families whimsically claim to be descended from an Indian princess, it's not whimsy. It's a statement about how their back forty came to be their back forty.
So that's the claim.
The motivator for revisiting this claim? Like many unwashed Internet dwellers, I visit Brad DeLong's sight frequently, and he's currently blogging from Notre Dame University in (actually, near)*** South Bend, Indiana, and I'm totally not jealous at all.
So, anyway, Notre Dame. What do we know? That it's a Catholic university with a French name in the middle of Indiana, which some people are going to manage to find anomalous (see folk derivations of "hoosier" that manage to blatantly ignore the structure of a French borrowing), with a financially and sometimes competitively successful football team called the Fighting Irish that some people hate and many more people love, as happens with sport teams, and with the usual consequences. And that as far as my thesis goes, it's pretty much a sitting duck. I mean, come on: Our Mother? "Raise a volley cheeron high/Shake loose the thunder from the sky?" I could go political here, sketch out a story in which Knute Rockne driving the Crimson off the battlefield is a victory for Middle America against Harvard, back in a day when Harvard football was thuggish and menacin as well as patrician, rather than hapless and charming, and that this somehow mirrors and reflects change within the Republican Party during the 1920s that one can then connect with Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, Jack Dempster, Conan the Barbarian, Robert Heinlein --really, with this cultural stuff, you can go anywhere.
On the other hand, Notre Dame can just as easily seen as a mix of old-fashioned Catholic piety and cliches imported from Europe. It's the Catholicism that immigrant and Irish brought with them, and which they turned against the old Wasp on the football field. Surely it's a stretch to find Notre Dame des Lacs more at home in the Eastern Woodlands cosmology than medieval Europe. After all, how much do we actually grasp about late Eastern Woodlands cosmology? When other anthropologists insisted on normalising the vast site of Cahokia as the capital of a proto-empire, Michael Byers struck back by identifying it as the site of a "World Renewal Cult Heterarchy."
The New World does not necessarily follow Old World norms, says Byers. Think of, say, Cahokia, and all the Cahokia-lights that existed throughout the Eastern Woodlands, conceivably even on the future campus of Notre Dame, even if it doesn't look like a geographically promising candidate, in terms of "heterarchy." Heterarchy is the opposite of Old World hierarchy. Heterarchic cult centres are places where multiple elective social affinities come together to perform a central ceremony of world renewal in the spring, in the context of an overall ritual centre in which many different cult practices, including the oft-cited astronomical observations are enacted in many kinds of edifices. Totally different from, say, old Athens or Rome. Arguably.
So Cahokia was a strange and deeply different place that happened to be exactly like the one where Byers was educated and now works. At first glance, this is a staggering failure of the effort to "make it strange," an even greater failure than his original notion to call it Cahokia a mall: Cahokia was a Midwestern American mid-tier football school.
But then there is Notre Dame. It is a loosey-goosey cultural claim to say, "Oh, yes, in the thirteenth century, there was this place called Cahokia, and we think we know how it works, and even though Cahokia-like places vanished over the next century or so, it's not like the Eastern Woodlands Indians stopped building ritual centres/towns, and Notre Dame could have been the site of one, to the extent that the archaeology will support, and nowadays Notre Dame University does all sorts of stuff that I can vaguely wave at as being like 'Southern Death Cult' stuff, and there you go." Not even an argument, but I just can't resist deploying it. That's the power of this kind of 'argument.'
It would be better, I think, to ground things. Literally. Let's talk real estate.
Puck says: "Weland gave the Sword, The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It's as natural as an oak growing." Apparently, the lesson is that Puck can't be trusted. The Urwald was willow, birch and lime, Puck. You should know that. Why are you lying to these children? Is there something that you're hiding? Probably. The Fey are tricksome folk, with treasure to hide.
Uncle Scrooge has to hide his treasure, too, albeit only from the Beagle Boys. We see him smiling above, but he wouldn't be smiling today. Except that, Scrooge McDuck being Scrooge McDuck, I imagine he shorted gold a month ago or so. (You can short commodities, right?)
Now I should probably motivate this post: half of it comes from listening to goldbugs. Yesterday, I actually got to hear someone ask, on CBC Radio, no less, "Is there gold in Fort Knox?" Apparently, he thinks that all the gold has been shipped to China. Because reasons. Anyway, the point is, unless you've actually bought physical gold coins and hidden them away in a money bin of your own, you'll be very sorry. Real soon.
Also, I was rereading the exemplary David Mattingly, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire (2006), another in the fine Penguin "History of Britain" series for academics looking to read themselves into an unfamiliar period so that they can do a Very Important Project, and not just because it's cool, and, look, Dean, I don't need to justify this to you, because there will be a Groundbreaking Publication imminently. Can haz tenure now? And Mattingly chanced to observe that what we assume to be (since we've all got "informal empire" in the back of our minds) Roman client states in southeastern England minted above a million gold coins in the century between Caesar and Claudius.
A. Million. Gold. Coins. That's 50 tons of gold, less rather than more. (83.5 grains for this one.) What the hell? Now let's motivate the conversation: let's suppose, just for the sake of the conversation, that the Roman Empire, fell, more or less, because its failure to manage its monetary system led its citizens to go Croat[o]an. Someone might say that this has some small contemporary relevance, but I'm not sure what to make of that article. I'm not even sure that "going Croatoan" is a thing, yet, even though it godamn well should be. Take it from someone who supervises a great many hardworking young people who keep taking one vocational course after another just to find themselves with more student loan debt and yet another line on their resume to justify sending out letters to employers that ignore them, because "supply side economic stimulus" means pushing the price of things lower, and why the fuck are we driving the price of educated and skilled people lower in this economy of ours....
Never mind, answered my own question there, I did. Anyway, Rome, informal empires, and gold.
These packets keep getting thicker, don't they? It's not my fault. Blame Herr Hitler, and other matters that Spring brings with it. I gather that even the Canadian press has managed to notice the annexation of the Czech lands into the German Reich. Perhaps I should say, rather, "especially," since it seems to me that all the Hussites ended up in Canada. Or was that America? Or am I confusing my Bohemian heretics? Or, again, is the story of people going to America more complicated than I am given to understand? (Don't we know about such things!)
Speaking of things that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company, I would rather that the club didn't know that I am reading The Economist now, as next they will be suspecting me of having Non-Conformist leanings. The Nineteenth Century never dies around here. Or, rather, the whitewashed Nineteenth Century of their asinine imaginings. Which brings me to the clipping, which purports to show how the American economy has come adrift due to the decline in the number of millionaires since 1929(!) and the decline of investment funds due to Roosevelt's swingeing tax raises. The moral of the story might be that we should think long and hard about how British manufacturing will compete once the Americans finally twig to the idea of allowing investments to be deducted from income tax payments.
Or it might be that The Economist's American correspondent is making disingenuous arguments in favour of lower taxes on the wealthy, but I shan't call him out on that. On the contrary, I shall wish him every success, just so long as I do not have to be seen in public with him.
Now, at my age, hour-long Youtube videos are, well, I vacuumed my apartment while trying to keep an ear on Rob Thompson's "By the Leave of the Ground: The Engineers at Third Ypres," so I'm a little hazy on the subtle sinews that connect the big ideas that the Ypres battlefield was more like a cityscape than a traditional battlefield; that it was vital to be able to move the artillery up, as loads are delivered on streets to addresses; that there was not enough labour/skilled labour to do this, and this is why Third Ypres was a botched battle; and that it was because reasons.
The specious "because reasons" is there because I am especially unwilling to reduce an argument that I didn't quite catch (it turns out that vacuums are loud! I wonder if someone out there has designed a technology that would put the speaker right next to your ear. That would make it easier to listen to all sorts of things while you're doing things. Hmm. Maybe I should patent the idea?) to some parody of what Thompson is really saying.
So let's detach the argument from Thompson and rephrase it as something that someone might say on the basis of the circumstances that Thompson elaborates: which is, put very briefly, that the engineers are neglected and stuff, because technocrats get the short shrift in every day's military in comparison with [in-group to be named later.]
Now, I've got no problem with excoriating military in-groups to be named later. I think that the Navy should get its hands off strategic air power, and that it was a bad day for American industry and trade unionism when Special Forces/Light Infantry were allowed to become the tail that wagged the Army's dog. If it turns out that the counterinsurgency doctrine approach doesn't work, and, at the moment, all signs point to "yes," it will prove to have been a bad day for assorted Third World playpens, too. Seriously, Gary Trudeau notwithstanding, who allowed the world to get away with calling occupied Iraq 'the Sandbox?'
But there's a big problem here: Or, rather, a lot of big problems: Kitchener. Roberts, Gordon,Wolselely, and for that matter Napoleon, Radetzky, Joffre, Lee. . . . It does not, on its face, seem as though the Victorian armies of Europe were ones in which military engineers and artillerists had to stand at the back of the bus.
That being said, from the creation of the office of Chief of the Imperial General Staff through to 1912, the office was held by cavalrymen (1,2), twoRiflemen, a Guardsman,Highlander, an infantryman, and a solitary engineer, and artillerist. It is a little difficult to make a statistical case with so small a sample, but let's take the critics seriously. This is too many cavalrymen, and, indeed, over the next twenty years we see engineers and artillerists take a more prominent place, and the cavalry vanish until Harding's appointment in 1952, and of course by his time the cavalry rode tanks, so that's all right.
On its face, the technical arms should dominate. Entrance into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, which trained infantry and cavalry officers, was so competitive in the late Nineteenth Century that even one future CIGS couldn't get in, a not completely atypical story. Yet the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, was even more competive. At this point, one is obliged to point out that exam-taking doesn't necessarily prove anything, which is all very well, except that there are exams to be passed for promotion and for entrance into the Staff College, as well. The total number of engineer and artillery entrants into the College was capped before 1914 precisely to give the other branches a chance. And, of course, that was a problem, but certainly not an explanation.
As a first pass at the problem, cavalry is getting more prominent in the British Army in the years before 1914. There are explanations for this: above all, the Boer War, which gave cavalrymen a chance to shine. But there's more to it, and Exhibit A, above, a lavishly spread "shaded relief" map of China produced for Fortune magazine by Richard Edes Harrison, is supposed to be communicating my point visually right now.
So please do stare at it until it produces a new, non-verbally articulated understanding of the semantic unit "China" in your consciousness. I'd explain what you're supposed to be looking for, except that would be using words, and so defeat the point of the exercise.