Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Twentieth Century Britain

Originally published as part of THE MANY LIVES AND DEATHS OF JAMES BOND

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Britain was the only industrialized country in the world, and the only naval and colonial power of any weight. London was also the undisputed financial capital of the world. All of this meant not just British dominance in the world, but easy dominance by a wide margin, enabling Britain to run its empire "on a shoestring" as many a historian has put it.

However, the situation was clearly beginning to change by the 1860s, due to three interconnected developments. The first was a profound change the terms of economic competition. Industrialization was spreading and deepening elsewhere. Indeed, a "Second" Industrial Revolution based on the new technologies of oil, electricity and chemicals was getting underway, while the characteristic sectors of the "First" Industrial Revolution, like coal, steam-powered machinery and textiles, were going into decline. The tendency not only diminished the value of Britain's early lead, but threatened to make that early lead a liability as other countries began from scratch with the newest plant and newest practices.

The second was a series of geopolitical changes driven by nationalism and a revived imperialism that made some comparatively minor states consolidate themselves into larger and more formidable powers, and made other, established powers appear more threatening. The unification of Germany disrupted the old balance of power on the European continent. At the same time the consolidation of the United States in the Civil War, and its expansion to the Pacific and then overseas in the following decades; and Japan's emergence from its isolation to become a naval and colonial power; changed the balance of power in the Western hemisphere and the Far East. Meanwhile, France and Russia enlarged their empires, acquiring territories abutting British possessions in eastern Africa and southern Asia.

The third trend was likewise driven by nationalism, but within Britain's empire. At its height that empire ruled territories on which "the sun never set," encompassing a quarter of the world's land area – but the very diversity and dispersal of its subjects also made it subject to the centrifugal forces that wrested much of North America away from it in the American Revolution. Now nationalism was spreading in other, settler-dominated states like Canada and Australia, as well as nations like India where small numbers of British officials and soldiers ruled over vast populations of native subjects treated as a racial and religious "Other." Together these three trends raised the prospect of Britain being just one industrialized country among many instead of the unique "workshop of the world" it had earlier been; the metropole increasingly being outweighed by other powers which were both bigger and more dynamic; and the colonies ceasing to be a support to Britain's position. Essentially, it meant the reduction of Britain to being merely one of Europe's larger countries, and the first steps in this transition were already apparent at this time. First the United States, and then Germany, overtook Britain as manufacturers, while the country's commodity trade surpluses turned into deficits, covered by Britain's income from financial services and overseas investments. As this was happening, the growth of several foreign navies, especially those of Germany, Japan and the U.S., eroded Britain's confidence in its ability to project power globally. In the case of Germany, it even raised concerns about Britain's ability to protect itself against invasion (worries reflected in the flourishing invasion story genre). Britain consequently looked to alliances to protect interests it had once been able to provide for by itself, coming to terms with France and Russia (and concluding an alliance with Japan to secure its Asian interests) to better concentrate its military resources against the perceived German threat.

When war did come in 1914, the "Triple Entente" did of course prove victorious. Britain's primary challenger, Germany, was defeated and disarmed. Additionally, Britain gained new imperial acquisitions in the Middle East and central and eastern Africa, while South Africa, Australia and New Zealand also received former German colonies as mandates. Yet, the war was costly in ways beyond the bill for the fighting. The mobilization of the economy for total war meant that all production went to the war effort – exports collapsing, while imports skyrocketed (the more so because of what Britain's declining industrial economy was failing to produce at home, from steel to electrical goods). At the same time, world finance suffered amid the fighting, while much of the revenue-earning merchant fleet was sunk by German U-boats, forcing Britain to import even in this area too.

Covering the difference meant selling off foreign assets and raising loans abroad, while the overall national debt was twelve times bigger than it had been at the war's start. Meanwhile, many of the country's old markets had been snapped up during the conflict by its own, less-taxed Allies, like the United States and Japan. And matters were the worse because of the worldwide slump that followed the war, with wartime demand vanishing. Indeed, the gold standard that had been a pillar of the pre-war world economy was suspended in 1919, a major step toward Britain's ceding the financial predominance of the City of London to Wall Street, while stagnation prevailed through the 1920s.

Economic weakness, naturally, manifested itself in military weakness. America's size and wealth meant that Britain's days as the leading naval power were fast running out, while the country could not fight a major power without at least the "benevolent neutrality" of the U.S. – a fact which quickly had practical consequences, starting with Britain's not renewing its alliance with Japan.

This reinforced, and was reinforced by, Britain's weakening grip on its colonies. Independence movements grew more formidable from India to Ireland, where a successful revolt forced Britain to accept the country's independence in 1923. Even the Dominions increasingly asserted their independence, Canada refusing to back Britain in the Chanak Crisis that same year, when Allied troops at the Dardanelles confronted Mustapha Kemal's troops. The Allies ended up backing down in that crisis, with the result that Germany's wartime ally Turkey overturned the terms imposed on it at the end of the conflict – a humiliation that ended the career of Prime Minister Lloyd George.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 worsened matters. The older sectors on which British industry (steel, textiles, shipbuilding) remained dependent were particularly hard-hit, and put an end to the gold standard for good in 1931. That same year Britain recognized the independence of the Dominions of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand under the Statute of Westminster (confirming Britain's decreasing ability to rely on their significant resources). Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union appeared in the ascendant in these years as Britain remained mired in outdated economic policies at home (responding to depression with austerity). Abroad, Britain backed down in confrontations with Italy over its invasion of Ethiopia, and German over its remilitarization and expansionism (the enlargement of the German navy in 1935, the militarization of the Rhineland in 1936, the country's unification with Austria in 1938 and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939). World War II came despite this policy of "appeasement," and after the Battle of France, left the British Empire alone for nearly a year against Germany and its allies, until German actions – its invasion of the Soviet Union, and declaration of war on the U.S. after Pearl Harbor – brought both these powers into the war against it as full-scale belligerents.

The End of Empire
At the end of the war in 1945 Britain looked stronger than ever. Germany was defeated again, far more decisively than it had been in World War I, so that British troops were in Berlin, while Italy and Japan were similarly defeated and under Allied occupation – three of the great threats of the interwar period to Britain and its empire neutralized. Britain also possessed military forces larger than ever before in its history, nearly five million of its people in uniform, distributed around the world to an extent that had never been seen as they occupied an assortment of French, Italian and Dutch colonies from Libya to Vietnam. Reflecting this position, Britain appeared at the wartime conferences of the Allies in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam as one of the "Big Three."

Nonetheless, unlike the U.S., which realized its enormous latent power in the conflict, Britain exhausted its own power, the demands of the conflict exacerbating an already weak international position. Again British trade was dislocated. Again the shipping fleet was savaged by U-boats. Again foreign investments had to be sold off to cover expenses, this time half of them (compared with just a thirteenth in World War I). And as if this were not all enough, German bombing inflicted heavy physical damage on the country.

In all, one-quarter of the country's remaining wealth was gone by war's end, while the debt load had increased, markets had again been lost, and the country left insolvent, even before it could demobilize its forces and its economy, rebuild an industrial plant run-down by the sacrifice of all investment and maintenance to all-out production, and try to start paying its own way in the world again. Indeed, coming on top of the massive net wartime borrowing from the United States (and Canada), in 1946 the government had to take out yet a new multi-billion dollar American loan to keep its head above water.

Besides damaging British resources, the war also damaged British prestige, particularly in Asia, where many of its colonies were conquered and occupied by Japanese troops, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Burma. These losses destroyed Britain's credibility as a military power in the area, while strengthening local independence movements (in Burma, in control of the country when British troops returned), further undermining what remained of Britain's ability to control them. India (which at the time included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) was independent by 1947, Burma by 1948, Ceylon by 1949.

Nonetheless, withdrawal from these territories was initially conceived as part of a restructuring and rationalization of the empire, rather than its winding up. There were, for instance, hopes that Africa might constitute a "third" British Empire (replacing the "second" empire that was India, which in its turn had replaced the "first" American empire Britain lost in the Revolutionary War). Local opposition, and British weakness, made this impracticable, and by 1960 Harold Macmillan was speaking of the "Wind of Change." Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons, British Somaliland and Somalia gained their independence that year, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika the next. Kenya, which some had hoped would become a second South Africa, but which instead saw the Mau Mau revolt, was independent by 1963, as was Zanzibar, and all of Britain's remaining African possessions in the next few years.

With these colonies went both a crucial claim to Britain's great power status, and a crucial foundation of it, as they had continued to provide important props to the metropole's economy (like captive markets) and significant additions to it (like supplementary military manpower). The Commonwealth of Nations, despite all the hopes held out for it, proved no substitute for empire of any kind, and did little if anything to slow the drift of even Canada and Australia away from Britain toward the U.S. in their security and trading arrangements.

Naturally, Britain could not compete with the far vaster, and more fully mobilized, economic and military resources of the United States and the Soviet Union, the new "superpowers." Additionally, the reach of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union penetrated into Europe far more deeply and extensively by 1945 than had been the case in 1939, epitomized by the boots they had on the ground down through the middle of the continent. Even at sea, where Britain had still commanded the world's largest fleet at the war's start, it was eclipsed by the United States Navy during the conflict, without ever coming close to catching up. Not long after the war, it was to become increasingly clear that Britain could not even compete qualitatively with the superpowers in techno-military areas like nuclear weaponry, aerospace and blue-water naval capabilities. (The country's nuclear deterrent was to be founded on Polaris ballistic missiles imported from the U.S., its newer fighters like the Tornado built through international agreements rather than an independent British industry, its last fleet carrier retired in 1979.)

The result was that while Britain had historically been the "offshore balancer" in European politics, preventing any one country from growing powerful enough to dominate the continent by throwing its weight to this side or that one in a conflict (as when it joined the coalitions against France in the Napoleonic era), it had largely been supplanted in that role by the United States. The situation was much the same elsewhere in the world. Britain continued to play something like its old role in the Middle East and Southeast Asia through the 1950s and 1960s through client regimes, basing arrangements and the like. However, it quit Palestine in 1948, and lost its Egyptian client King Farouk just four years later – and when he was succeeded by Gamal Nasser, Britain's biggest overseas military base, its facility at Suez. Britain's attempt to reestablish its earlier position in the country by joining with France and Israel to overthrow Nasser, quashed by Soviet and American pressure, only underlined Britain's inability to act independently. Just two years later another client regime, the Hashemite monarchy, fell in Iraq, ending Britain's anemic attempt to organize collective security in the region under the "Baghdad Pact." In 1963 British troops faced an insurgency in the strategic colony of Aden, which led to British withdrawal from the country four years later.

Britain did not suffer such dramatic setbacks in Southeast Asia, the Malayan Emergency and the "Konfrontasi" with Indonesia that followed generally chalked up as successes. However, by the late 1960s the maintenance of a military presence there proved more financially costly than the country could afford, leading to the 1968 announcement that except for the retention of Hong Kong, Britain would withdraw "east of Suez" by 1971, an intention on which it soon made good.

There is no question about what these adjustments meant in practical terms, but there is considerable debate over what they meant in cultural and political terms at home. Some historians view them as having been relatively painless, and compare the process favorably with France's convulsions over Algeria at the same time. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe British culture has never quite come to terms with the fact, even now three generations after World War II's end; that the country never quite moved on, the old pretensions turning up in the most inappropriate places. As Jeremy Paxman put it last year,

When a British prime minister puffs out his chest and declares he "will not tolerate" some African or Middle Eastern despot, he speaks not as a creature of a 21st-century political party in a dilapidated democracy but as the latest reincarnation of Castlereagh or Palmerston – somehow, British foreign policy has never shaken off a certain 19th-century swagger, and the implied suggestion that, if anything happens to a British citizen, a Royal Navy gunboat will be dispatched to menace the impertinent perpetrators.

Nonetheless, wherever the truth lies, there is no doubt that at the time there was a significant current, especially in elite opinion, which was unhappy with the change.

Change at Home
While Britain experienced these changes in its international standing, British society was in flux domestically. In the years prior to World War I, the classical liberal consensus which had prevailed in Britain was challenged by increasing pressure from increasingly strong labor and feminist movements, and the dispute over the status of Ireland. The outbreak of the war only deferred these issues, however, the conflicts over them continuing in such events as the successful breakaway of Ireland; the decline of the Liberal Party to third-party status, while the Labour Party formed its first government in 1924; and the General Strike of 1926.

During and after World War II the discrediting of the Conservative establishment by its mismanagement of the early part of the war (epitomized by Dunkirk, viewed at the time not as some glorious "miracle," but as a catastrophic defeat); the failures of conservative, free-market economic orthodoxy in the 1930s, and the successes of government planning during the war, on the home front as well as on the battlefield; the war's effect in creating a sense of national togetherness, idealism, and promise of "broad sunlit uplands" ahead; contributed to a vision of a more egalitarian post-war Britain as a goal of the conflict, epitomized by the wide support for the wartime Beveridge Report, which called for "a comprehensive policy of social progress."

In the August 1945 general election, the Conservative government of Winston Churchill was swept out of power, and replaced with a Labor government under Clement Attlee with a broad reform mandate. This extended beyond the treatment of full employment as a national economic priority, to labor-friendly legislation (like the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1946, which widened the powers of organized labor), the establishment of a "cradle-to-grave" welfare state (with such measures as the National Insurance Act of 1946, and the launch of the National Health Service in 1948), and even the nationalization of key sectors of the economy (including the Bank of England, the coal, gas and steel industries, and the railways). These policies ultimately became the foundation of the "social market" or "welfare" capitalism that characterized the "postwar consensus."

As economic policy the consensus proved a significant success. Despite all the difficulties previously described, the post-World War II was a period of rapid economic growth and rising living standards for Britons as a whole – of prosperity unexampled in the country's history – such that many historians have dubbed it a "golden age" for the nation. Nonetheless, like all compromises, it left many dissatisfied at both ends of the political spectrum. On the left were those who had hoped that the policies of the Labor government of 1945-1951 would prove just the beginning of a movement toward deeper change. On the right were those who felt these changes had already gone too far, and even that any such movement was much too far, opposed as they were to such "leveling" tendencies on principle. (Author Evelyn Waugh famously remarked that during the years of the Attlee government the country felt to him like it was "under enemy occupation.")

These economic and political changes were accompanied by socio-cultural changes, evident in everything from personal relations (from a new working-class assertiveness to the Sexual Revolution) to the arts (shaken up by everything from the arrival of the "Angry Young Men" in British letters to rock music). And all these together interacted with those currents in opinion that lamented Britain's lost imperial status, with many resentful about the former seeing the latter as a cause, pointing to such things as generation gaps and rising labor militancy as culprits. All this lent a new edge to the age-old lament of the privileged that the young and the lower social orders did not "know their place," and that other age-old lament of anxious conservatives that "things are going wrong," but it seemed to many that all they could do was wax nostalgic for a romanticized version of the past.

After 1973
Britain's shift from world-spanning empire and international hegemon to "normal" country had largely run its course by the 1970s. Nonetheless, the decade saw other problems intensify as the post-war boom came to an end in Britain, just as it was doing in the rest of the world. The downturn saw increases in inflation, unemployment and fiscal strain, such that the country got a loan from the International Monetary Fund in 1976. The times took their toll on labor relations as unions clamored for pay increases in line with rising prices. The response among some observers to these events was hysteria, exemplified by the rise of organizations like GB 75 intended to combat trade unionists if they got too far out of line, and the rumored coup plot against Prime Minister Harold Wilson from within his own government, and culminated in the "winter of discontent" of 1978-1979.

The period's troubles also created a significant opportunity for right-wing opponents of the post-war consensus, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher making history with the implementation of a neoliberal economic program. This aimed at reviving the economy by making the country more business-friendly by privatizing state enterprises (like those nationalized under Attlee), deregulating business activity (as in the famous "Big Bang" deregulation of British financial markets), chipping away at the welfare state (as with the 1986 Social Security Act) and the suppression of organized labor (as in the Employment Act of 1980, which targeted closed shops and picketing), as well as monetarist policies aimed at controlling inflation.

The actual accomplishments of these policies were meager, their effectiveness at taming inflation and unemployment spotty at best. United Nations statistics on British GDP, when adjusted for population growth and inflation, show that even with the help of North Sea oil, growth in the eighteen years of Conservative rule that began with Thatcher (1979-1997) was only slightly better than what the country enjoyed in the much-maligned 1973-1979 period (1.9 percent, compared with the earlier 1.4 percent a year), and a far cry from its pace in the '50s and '60s. These years also saw the continued decay of British manufacturing, and along with it, a worsening balance of payments situation as sizable trade deficits in manufactured goods became a way of life.

The result is that such growth in Gross Domestic Product as did occur was hollow. Moreover, the harm such policies did the less affluent made Thatcherism proved deeply divisive in Britain, in a way that contemporary "Reaganomics" has not been for the United States. However, this "post-postwar consensus" continued to prevail through the "New" Labor premierships of Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010). The 2008 economic downturn, which internationally has contributed to some of the deepest questioning of neoliberal economics seen in a long time, has instead pushed the country farther along this path as the British government responded to recession in the same way that it did in the 1930s, with austerity measures.

The Thatcher era is also associated with a more assertive Britain on the world stage. Nonetheless, while British Prime Ministers sometimes spoke as if their country were still a superpower, the country's economic weight only continued to decline. Quickly as Britain grew in the post-war years, Japan, West Germany and France grew even faster, and all eventually overtook it in the area of economic output. Unsurprisingly, Britain was most prominent when acting in concert with the U.S., as when it allowed the U.S. to station intermediate-range nuclear forces in the country in the 1980s, cooperated in the American bombing of Libya in 1986, and committed more troops than any other of the U.S.'s NATO allies to Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. Even when Britain did pursue its own objectives, as in the 1982 Falklands War, it proved heavily reliant on the assistance of the United States (like its provision of the latest Sidewinder missiles for its Harriers, reportedly crucial to winning the air war over the islands).

The end of the Cold War, and the years that followed, saw the continuation of these trends, as the reunification of Germany and the closer integration of the European Union – a process from which Britain kept aloof – changed the distribution of economic power in its region. Globally, there was also a shift in world output and the balance of trade to East Asia, with the rise of Japan followed by China's emergence as an economic colossus, while India, Brazil and Russia have also, according to certain measures, overtaken Britain in the area of GDP. In the military sphere, defense cutbacks following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the 2008 economic crisis, have only further diminished Britain's capacity for long-range military action, as demonstrated in the Anglo-French intervention in Libya in 2011 – ultimately dependent on the backing of the U.S. for its success.

Today Britain still enjoys a number of great power trappings, like its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The City of London remains an international financial center, in the view of some of comparable importance to Wall Street. Yet, Britain's strongest claim to global influence in the post-war era may actually be British culture and media, reflected in the status of the BBC and Reuters, the Beatles and Mr. Bean, and of course, James Bond himself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity": Thoughts

Having spent some years and some hundreds of pages on the question of Britain's economic rise and decline (you can check it out here), and gone through a good deal of the controversy about the process, I find myself with something to say not just about the subject, but about the debate.

On the whole, my explanation is that it was mostly a matter of the ways in which the changing technical state of the art interacted with the physical geography of Britain (size, location, natural resources) within the context of a complex international economic and political system to favor and disfavor it in various ways over the century.

However, a good many people prefer to simply say "culture." By which they mean that once upon a time the British people, or at any rate their elite, were practical and tough-minded, and then they stopped being that. After three decades and four volumes, this is what Correlli Barnett's celebrated study of the issue has to say. Apparently the public schools and the churches made Britain's rulers just too "gentlemanly" for their own good!

There is no point in denying that I, for one, am extremely suspicious of explaining large historical events in terms of nebulous cultural forces.

There is also no point in denying that such explanations are basically a matter of political axe-grinding, and especially where the Barnett version is concerned, right-wing axe-grinding.

It was those damned uppity workers and their labor unions! The lazy college kids who studied the humanities instead of engineering or business! Those nouveau riche businessmen who turned their backs on trade in favor of the country estate! The soft-headed aristocrats who went in for welfare states and socialism and appeasement and all the rest! Oh, would that we had a bit of Prussian iron in us! (And indeed, many a Thatcherite did read Barnett, or claim to have done so, like climate change denier Nigel Lawson.)

Still, at this point in working through the material (one can literally make a lifetime of this, and many have), I can say that it is also a matter of the simplicity of such explanations, compared with the sheer intricacy of the more material explanations that seem to me so much more persuasive.

After all, it wasn't simply that Britain had coal. It was that Britain had an abundance of easily exploitable coal--vast amounts of bituminous coal rather than, for example, lignite, and in surface deposits that were easy to mine, and the more attractive because Britain was so poor in wood, while the abundant water transport Britain's mix of rivers and coastline conferred on it made it, with a little work, feasible to move large amounts of bulk mineral around the island. And it wasn't just the value of coal as a fuel. It was also the fact that the need to transport all that fuel encouraged canal-building, and port development, and shipping, and ship-building, all of which had vast implications by integrating the British economy, while the ports and the ship-building and the rest also helped integrate its economy into the world economy. It was, too, the fact that, just as the flood control problem had factored into the Dutch development of inanimate power sources (windmills to power the pumps), digging deeper and coping with flooding gave Britain a greater incentive than any other country to refine the steam engine . . .

Meanwhile, coal and steam are bound up with the expansion of Britain's iron output in the critical period, which is hard to understand without some reference to metallurgy. Indeed, many histories do mention something called "puddling" and another thing called "rolling," and offer some description of them, along with the assertion that they made a difference, but the descriptions tend to be fragmentary, missing the key details, while in general they give little sense of why they made such a difference.

Getting a fuller description of the process takes some doing--in my experience, going to much more specialized books dealing with metallurgy and its history. (I certainly did--as the footnotes in the paper testify.) One has to concern themselves with the ways in which carbon and sulfur and phosphorous affect ironmaking; the differences between Baltic and British ores, and between charcoal and coal and coke in themselves and their uses as fuels. They also have to spend some time figuring out how prior methods of smelting and processing iron worked, and didn't work--get to the bottom of the differences between blast furnaces and puddling furnaces and finery forges and a whole host of other technologies no one uses today . . .

It helps to have some geology, some physics, some chemistry. (In fact, there were formulas to explain just what limestone is doing in the middle of all this.) Even as someone who is not a physical scientist, it seems to me that a high school education is enough to get a handle on the basics here.

But then, as Sinclair Lewis wrote, those things everyone is supposed to know, no one knows. And I get the impression that even a good many of the more talented and diligent historians can't cope with it, or can't be bothered to try, or if they do get a handle on it, feel they don't have such a firm handle on it as to be able to explain it concisely to a general reader.

Rather than dig into all that it is far, far easier to just say "culture," the more so because a substantial part of the population responds to such "Big Thinks" by grunting in admiration like Tim Taylor at the remarks of neighbor Wilson. Especially that part of the population which hates labor unions and college kids and all the rest.

"Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity"
7/19/18
Empire, Spies and the Twentieth Century
7/16/18
Writing on the Post-1945 History of the Royal Navy: A Few Thoughts
7/15/18
Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
3/8/16
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
2/7/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15

Sixth Generation Fighters: An Update

Back in 2010 I posted here a piece on the sixth generation fighter which laid out the generational system for classifying jet fighters (What exactly makes for a first or a third or a fifth generation jet?) and made some unconventional predictions about them--specifically the case for why we might never actually see that generation of fighters constructed. (I argued that the rate of technological change, economic stagnation and the continued shift from interstate warfare to other kinds would make them infeasible, unaffordable or irrelevant.)

For quite some time that piece was actually the most popular item on this blog.

I have recently published a polished and slightly updated version of the item over at SSRN. The U.S., after all, is no longer the only country flying fifth generation fighters (China and Russia have them too) and the club may well grow. (Japan and India, and even South Korea and Turkey, want them too.)

But the essentials are the same. Granted, the international scene has changed somewhat since then. (Unfortunately, great power relations are more aggressive, and more governments seem more intent on having ultra-advanced conventional weapons as a result.) So has the technological outlook. (Circa 2010, technological expectations were dimmer, including those pertaining to what may be a key sixth generation fighter technology, artificial intelligence.) Due to both those developments, one would think such fighters more likely than before, rather than less. Still, that seems to me to make the other side of the case more important than before. In fact, I expect to have much more to say about the matter on this very blog soon enough.

My Posts on the Sixth-Generation Fighter
9/12/13

More World War Two Stuff

Again it seems I have been reading (and reviewing) a lot of World War Two historiography as of late.

One of these is Stephen Zaloga's Armored Champion, devoted to an assessment of the "best" tanks of the 1918-1945 era.

By and large, however, those books I have found myself writing about are works challenging the received view of the conflict.

One of these is Clive Ponting's fascinating 1940: Myth and Reality, about which I have a review, and a comment regarding Ponting's critics.

Two others have to do with the course of the war on the "Eastern Front."

"The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture, by Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies."

"Operation Barbarossa, by Christer Bergstrom."

I also wrote a brief piece about the latter debate, which you can read here.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The War on the Eastern Front: Alternative Views

The conventional view of the Axis' invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 seems to go something like this:
In June 1941 the German army and its allies struck against the Soviet Union. While vastly outnumbered in manpower and equipment by the forces arrayed against them, German troops inflicted six or eight or even more casualties on the enemy for every one they suffered, while even larger numbers of Soviet troops surrendered as the Germans went from victory to victory in a string of triumphs.

The exceptional German performance was due to several factors. One was the extraordinary military proficiency of the country's armed forces, in combination with the extraordinary weakness of their massive, but decrepit enemy. The Soviets suffered from a characteristically rigid command system and shoddy equipment, while many Soviets greeted the Germans as liberators from a wicked Communist rule. All of this was worsened by the madness and incompetence of Stalin--who destroyed his officer corps with a purge in 1937-1938; ignored the signs that an Axis attack was in the offing; and then collapsed for several days, doing nothing as the Wehrmacht rampaged in the west. However, in combination with Hitler's altering the plan mid-course, and exceptionally bad weather--a rainy and muddy fall, an early and harsh winter--Soviet numbers eventually told in the Battle of Moscow in December, finally breaking the six-month succession of victories.
If one accepts Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies argument in The Myth of the Eastern Front that the conventional view of the Axis-Soviet portion of World War II, and especially the contrasting images of German and Soviet capability, has been skewed by Nazi propaganda, then what would the alternative look like? One way is to look to the far opposite end of the spectrum of opinion for "the other side" of that portion of the war--not least, the Soviet version. There are not many books offering that version available in English, of course. By and large it seems to be just a matter of old translations of Soviet-era books (the kind of thing the Moscow-based Progress Publishers would put out). One of the better known seems to be Grigory Deborin's Thirty Years of Victory, which to go by my limited survey of such material, seems typical.

What does it say about the comparative German and Soviet military performance? Obviously it cannot dispute the astonishing run of German military victories in 1941--the depth of their penetration into Soviet territory, the vast area they captured and the massive losses they inflicted. It cannot deny that it was nearly three years of very hard fighting before the Soviets flung the German army back out of the country. And indeed it does not.

However, it does stress that the Soviets were not just up against Germany, but a Germany that had expanded its resources considerably through annexations, occupations and other forms of control over most of the European continent--over a million Romanian, Finnish and other troops marching east along with their own forces.1 Another is that the Soviets could not use the whole of their forces in the western theater because there were threats from other directions--in the south from Turkey, in the east from Japan. The result was that the Axis assault substantially outnumbered Soviet troops in the key theater. It stresses, too, that the Soviet army had been in the midst of a rapid expansion and reequipment (the world-beating T-34s just beginning to arrive while in the meantime Soviet troops made do with older gear, and were just beginning to learn the use of the new) that left it vulnerable at the decisive moment, in contrast with the Germans who had spent the '30s preparing to strike, as they did at the time of their choosing. And finally it acknowledges that the German army of June 1941 had a vastly greater fund of practical operational and battle experience.

In short, far from the image of German supermen fighting a more numerous Soviet foe, it was the Soviets who were outnumbered, outgunned and outmatched in the practical experience that knocks the kinks out of a system, and badly, all of which seems ample to explain losses and defeats. Deborin also emphasizes the relative speed with which the initial shock passed, the stiffening of Soviet resistance, and the first successful Soviet counter-attack at Yelnya (in late August and early September).

As it happens Western studies of the war do not deny any of this, especially when they get away from generalities to discussing hard numbers. However, in their analysis they tend to give these factors comparatively short shrift and instead emphasize matters to which Deborin pays less attention, and sometimes none at all. They stress the damage done by the armed forces' leadership by the purges of the '30s (the liquidation of a fraction of the officer corps that included such dynamic elements as the remarkable theorist and reformer Mikhail Tukachevsky, and the intimidation of the rest), and the extent to which Stalin was taken by surprise when the attack came and allegedly paralyzed, while citing poor and often disastrously poor generalship generally.1 Western historiography also pays a great deal of attention to Soviet collaborators with the invading forces, while attributing much of the German failure to inclement weather. Deborin mentions the purges, but on the whole there is glowing (if vague) appraisal of Soviet generalship instead (I must admit I got an impression of some strategic silences here--saying nothing about certain decisions of Stalin's rather than badmouthing him) while in such accounts collaboration was solely the purview of "priests and criminals," and the weather is marginalized. It is notable, too, that the Soviet accounts I have seen tend not to be light on actual numbers, these surprisingly sparse in Deborin's book, where Western writers emphasize the numbers of Soviet troops who became casualties or were taken prisoner.

In short, when writers make reference to concrete specifics, they tend to be agreement. (The only Soviet claim I didn't repeatedly find in entirely mainstream Western historiography is the one regarding Turkey's role, though Turkey did sign a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany mere days before the invasion; and there was a precedent in Napoleon combining forces with the Turks when he invaded Russia, a little known part of that well known story; making the tying down of some Soviet forces by fears of a Turkish attack in the south less implausible than it might appear.) It is the omission of some items from the analysis, the marginalization of others--the weight attributed to them as relevant or irrelevant--that makes the difference, and this by and large seems predictable in light of the differing biases. Interestingly, Chister Bergstrom recently endeavored to produce an account of Operation Barbarossa, reviewed here.

1. In contrast with Deborin Georgy Zhukov in his autobiography has a good deal to say about the surprise the Axis achieved in June 1941, and explains Stalin's refusal to heed warnings that an attack was coming in terms of concern that the West was trying to entangle Germany and the Soviet Union in a war--make the Soviets do the brunt of the fighting to take Germany down, and wreck the Soviets in the process.

Review: Operation Barbarossa, by Christer Bergstrom

I have already remarked the common view of Operation Barbarossa, which some have criticized as badly flawed, among them Christer Bergstrom in his recent book by that name. Here he argues from the outset that the Axis attacked the Soviet Union with a 2-to-1 advantage in troops, and similar advantages in tanks and aircraft, especially at the outset and frequently through the rest of the period, as well as having a great edge in battle experience.1 It was also of consequence that Soviet forces were in the process of a hasty expansion, and at a particularly vulnerable point in a reequipment cycle--particularly where their air force was concerned. (Had the timing of the attack differed by as little as two weeks, the German air operations might not have been nearly so successful, or gone so far to winning air superiority for their side.)

However, in spite of all these advantages (and sometimes disastrous military leadership by Stalin) the Germans inflicted fewer casualties and losses than they have sometimes been credited with (2-to-1 rather than 6-to-1).2 They also took fewer prisoners than is often claimed, due to their counting of huge numbers of civilians rounded up as prisoners-of-war, and these, never in mass surrenders--as these simply did not occur.3 Indeed, as the initial surprise war off the Wehrmacht came to suffer high losses of equipment and manpower in stalling offensives that ended the hopes of quick victory, and only a real, though decreasing, advantage in air power enabled its further progress, with the Soviets winning their first tactical victory in the Yelnya offensive.4 Later that year, despite the Soviet defense still being outnumbered, it beat the invader back from Moscow in a victory that was the true turning point of the war, making Axis triumph an increasingly remote prospect.5

In assessing the Soviet victory Bergstrom also pays ample tribute to the tenacity of a not merely patriotic but ideologically committed Soviet people in resisting them; Soviet skill in relocating industrial plant eastward before the Germans could capture it; and the Soviet doctrinal innovations, both the "deep operations" doctrine and the Soviet system for regenerating doctrines that fortunately did not die with Mikhail Tukachevsky when he became a victim of the purges, but endured and if less quickly implemented than they might otherwise have been, were put to use just in time to stave off defeat.6

As Bergstrom promised, this is a very different account than the one we are accustomed to seeing in the West--one which goes beyond merely debunking the "superman" image of German forces to rating the Soviet defense much more highly than is usual. Indeed, given their disadvantages in numbers, equipment, and other areas, it is the Soviets who appear to have overcome the greater odds than the ostensible supermen. And even with all those disadvantages they did no worse than their Western counterparts in the Battle of France in Bergstrom's view, while at least as described here Soviet doctrinal and operational failings appear rather less appalling than those of the French in 1940, and as Bergstrom's statistics make clear, the losses of the Soviets less lopsided, even in the face of a more formidable offensive than the Western allies ever faced. (If the Germans made three or even five casualties or prisoners of the Soviets for every loss of their own, the proportion was more like nineteen to one in their western campaign in light of the huge number of French soldiers taken prisoner.)

Especially as Bergstrom's account is not only more than usually sympathetic to the Soviets, but reflects specific factors much more stressed in Soviet historiography than Western, some will be tempted to dismiss Bergstrom's book out of hand as merely substituting Soviet conventional wisdom for Western. Still, Bergstrom does not minimize the technical and operational proficiency of the Germans, whom he argues could not have fought any more skillfully they did on this level (even if it was ultimately mooted by their strategic failure--the question of what to do if the Soviet Union did not simply collapse at the first blow as Hitler expected).

Moreover, Bergstrom makes much of factors that the Soviet writing on the subject I have seen tend to slight--like the way the purges and the readiness of at least some elements within the Soviet Union to collaborate with the Axis helped its advance, or favorable weather aided the Soviet defense.7 (Indeed, just as Bergstrom argues that Western writers have made too much of the weather, he criticizes Soviet writers as having made too little of it.) Bergstrom is especially profuse and withering in his criticism of Stalin, of whom he takes the conventional Western view--whether discussing the purges, his refusal to heed the signals that Hitler was about to attack, or his handling of the war, refusing to order timely retreats that might have extracted badly needed forces for later use, and scapegoating able and loyal generals for defeats.8 Indeed, in Stalin's missing many an opportunity to defeat Hitler more quickly, Bergstrom assigns him equal responsibility with the Nazi dictator for the deaths of tens of millions.

Only someone completely unfamiliar with the conventional Soviet view could see all of that as simply a conveyance of it. One might more plausible charge him with deliberate striving for a compromise view, attempting to create a "balanced picture" at the expense of the truth (the way that the mainstream media does when it pretends there is a "debate" about whether or not anthropogenic global warming is a fact). However, this too strikes me as unfair, especially where the military aspects he emphasizes are concerned. The detailing of the operational history (some four-fifths of the text) is not only comprehensive, but backed up by ample statistics, lavishly sourced, and put into perspective. This does, admittedly, come at some cost in the book's readability--even those who can cope with such perhaps tempted to skim quite a few stretches--but it makes his case for his position a very formidable one.

1. The count is 3.35 million Wehrmacht troops, backed by 1.1 million Finns and Romanians, versus 2.3 million Soviet troops in the key theater. The Soviets had 24,000 tanks--but over 21,000 of these were outdated light tanks (the largest portion of them 6-ton T-26s), so that in medium and heavy tanks the Soviets were outnumbered. Moreover, only a portion of the tank force was present in the relevant region (some 12,000 tanks of all types).
2. The Axis inflicted 2 million casualties on Soviet forces--while suffering 1 million of their own, a 2-to-1 ratio. Even when prisoners taken are counted, this amounts to a 3-to-1 or at most 5-to-1 ratio. The Germans destroyed 7 Soviet tanks for very one they lost (20,500 to 2,800), but again, most of those were the aforementioned light tanks rather than the advanced T-34s and KVs then available only in small numbers. The situation was more favorable to the Germans in the air--a 9-to-1 exchange rate in aircraft (16,000 to 1,700), and 20-to-1 in aerial combat (7,000 to about 360)--but this reflected the massive destruction of Soviet planes on the ground and the shooting down of numerous unescorted bombers in the early period of the war rather than the norm over the course of 1941.
3. Of 3.3 million Soviet "prisoners" taken in this phase of the war, Bergstrom estimates 500,000 were actually civilians.
4. The first month alone saw 300,000 Axis casualties, as well as a quarter of its tanks out of action and half its aircraft destroyed or damaged.
5. The Soviet forces were outnumbered 2-to-1 in manpower and 3-to-1 in armor in the battle for Moscow, and only had an advantage in the air (important as that admittedly proved). By the end of the year the Axis armies' casualties would be up to a million, while their tank and plane losses were equivalent to two-thirds of its initial stock.
6. Examples of these include the propensity of Soviet pilots for ramming their planes into attacking German aircraft to destroy them, and the voluntarism and self-organization manifest in the Military Soviet for the Defense of Leningrad in late 1941, which helped save that city. Bergstrom recounts numerous expressions of shock and even admiration on the part of the Germans for the acts they witness, down to Hitler's dismayed expression as the German offensive underperformed that the "rotten" and "subhuman" Soviet Union was in fact a "colossus and strong."
7. Bergstrom emphasizes that where the purges did not actually eliminate capable officers, they made many of them hesitant to take the initiative, and reversed earlier progress in doctrine with regard to the use of armor.
8. Soviet writers--like Marshall Zhukov in his memoirs--do not deny Stalin's missing the warning, but argue that the West had long been trying to push the Soviets into war with Germany, so as to make it bear the brunt of defeating the Nazis, making his overcaution plausible. Notably Bergstrom does not take this view.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Considering Britain's Military Drawdown After 1945

Looking into the historians' debate on British decline I was struck by the coverage of the country's military drawdown between World War II and the 1970s, when it turned from dominant power and global military superpower into a regional military actor with some residual out-of-area commitments and capabilities, but in most ways, roughly on par with other industrialized states of the same size (of which there are several in its neighborhood alone). Some parts of the story are fairly well-covered in the literature, like the development of Britain's nuclear deterrent, and some of the other aspects of the story have at least been the subject of some solid books, like Eric Grove's study of the post-war British navy, From Vanguard to Trident (reviewed here). Still, there was little about the period compared with other phases of British military history, what there was of substance usually narrowly specialist stuff, and I sought in vain for really concise, really comprehensive pieces about the whole process, or even many portions of it. (Because of its connection with the nuclear deterrent there was a fair amount on, for example, the V-bomber force; but try finding anything comparable on the post-war Fighter Command, let alone Transport Command.)

While the comparative scanty and uneven nature of the coverage of a fairly important bit of history is unfortunate, it is unsurprising given the biases of military historians that Jeremy Black described so well in his book on the subject. Ultimately I wound up forming my picture of what went on from scattered bits. And as I had previously written about the country's economy I wound up consolidating them into new writing, which it seemed worthwhile to post up at SSRN given the scarcity of detailed material.

Apart from the more military-related bits in my long "Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity" (overall, more concerned with economics than defense) I have completed four pieces:

"The Evolution of Britain's Defense Posture, 1945-1979."

"The Restructuring of the British Navy, 1945-1979."

"The Evolution of the British Carrier Force, 1945-1979."

"Foundations of Semi-Superpower Status: Financing Britain's Defense Posture, 1945-1971."

The first paper, "Evolution," considers the country's overall posture as it developed phase by phase between 1945 and 1979. The following two consider the British navy (the funding and manning of the forces, their mission and distribution around the world, the key changes in their technology), "Restructuring" its overall development in the 1945-1979 period, while "Carrier Force" (naturally) focuses more tightly on its carrier force during the same years. The last, "Foundations," considers how Britain's posture was resourced.

Having gone through all that, I find myself less concerned with putting together a picture of British policy in that earlier period; and for that matter, the ways the issue echoed in British culture at the time; and more interested in relating it to what we are seeing now. A half century ago Britain decided to give up the global military aspirations, deeming carriers, "east of Suez" forces and the rest unaffordable and focusing on Europe. Now Britain is exiting the EU, commissioning supercarriers, and once again, getting a base "east of Suez" (in Bahrain, where it had a base until 1971). Any thoughts about all that?

"Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity"
7/19/18
Empire, Spies and the Twentieth Century
7/16/18
Writing on the Post-1945 History of the Royal Navy: A Few Thoughts
7/15/18
Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
3/8/16
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
2/7/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15

"Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity"

Back when I wrote the first edition of The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond I included in the appendix a brief essay discussing Britain's extraordinary industrial, imperial and military predominance at its nineteenth century peak, and its subsequent passing over the following hundred years. Basically what it came down to was the spread of industrialization as other nations increasingly consolidated. One result was larger-scale industrialized states, another was states which evolved a more sophisticated form of industrialization, and still another were states which combined both features, epitomized by the United States. The balance of economic power shifted in a hurry, the balance of military power with it. Meanwhile the declining acceptability of colonial rule, and the cost of two world wars, accelerated the unraveling of Britain's empire, but that economic change was first and foremost.

Given my historical and other interests I did much more reading and thinking about the issue, unavoidably rethinking what I wrote earlier (just why did others make a bigger success of the "Second" Industrial Revolution, for example?), and writing more. Initially I intended to produce a longer, better-grounded version of the piece in my appendix, later a few short pieces, but it eventually blew up into the paper I have just published through SSRN, "Geography, Technology and Opportunity: The Rise and Decline of British Economic Power" (the second revision of which is now up). About 74,000 words long it is less an appendix than a book in itself--which I suppose offers the same explanation in the end. With (I hope) more rigor, in detail and depth (unexpectedly I found myself coping with matters raging from the comparative phosphorous content of different iron ores to waterway-territory ratios in countries around the world to the finer points of the 1965 National Plan), but nonetheless, the same essential explanation.

If nothing else, I've done a fair job of convincing myself.

Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
3/8/16
The Cult of Ian Fleming
3/5/16
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
2/7/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15

Monday, July 16, 2018

Empire, Spies and the Twentieth Century

Studying international relations certain subjects come up again and again and again. Even when one approaches such things as the rise and fall of great powers, hegemony and hegemonic cycles, systemic wars, industrialization and deindustrialization on a principally theoretical level, Britain, its rise and subsequent decline as an economic, military and imperial powers comes up again and again and again--and does so that much more when one takes an interest in concrete history, when one considers the situation of the recent or present or future United States in which so many have seen so many parallels.

Dealing with the spy fiction genre and its history, the same theme is almost inescapable. Much as we may think of spy fiction as a Cold War genre, the truth is that it was already well into middle age when the Cold War took center stage in international life, the thread that has really run through it from its beginning to the present the passing of the British Empire that already by 1900 saw its peak behind it. Anxiety that that empire would pass, bitterness that it seemed to be passing or actually was passing, denial about what was happening, and criticism of all these attitudes, are already there at the very beginning, in such founding works as Erskine Childers' celebrated The Riddle of the Sands and William Le Queux's contemporaneous but much less celebrated Secrets of the Foreign Office. ("The name is Drew, Duckworth Drew.")

As both of these have been major interests for me for decades, thinking about one matter naturally leads back to my thinking about the other, one reason why when writing about the James Bond films and books I spent a certain amount discussing the actual history of the period--more than most such writers, I think. When I published The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond I actually included a thirteen page essay devoted to just such historical background in the appendix (and included it again when the second edition of the book came out back in 2015). You can check it out here, reposted on this blog.

Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
3/8/16
The Cult of Ian Fleming
3/5/16
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
2/7/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture, by Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies

In The Italian Navy in World War II James Sadkovich argues that the common view of the Mediterranean theater and Italian arms in it is deeply distorted by American and British prejudices of the time (particularly a racist disdain for Italians), as well as the prejudices of the German officers who had a surprisingly large impact onthe formation of that image. In the Myth of the Eastern Front Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies make a comparable case with regard to the conduct of World War II in Eastern Europe--that American prejudice, and the post-war influence of the German generals--have had such distorting influence, even more consequential for the understanding of the war, and with greater effect.

Sadkovich argues (as many have before and since) that had the Germans lent Italy a small proportion of their resources to pursue the "Mediterranean strategy" properly, events in this region could have been decisive. However, it would have been decisive because of what it meant for the Nazi-Soviet conflict, to which the book by Smelser and Davies speaks directly, a conflict that in our own history rather than some counterfactual actually was decisive for the war and all that could or did come from it. And the distortion to which they point has, in their view, also had more profound implications for the way the war as a whole is viewed. Rather than contemptuous dismissal of Benito Mussolini's armed forces, and the prejudices into which this plays, Smelser and Davies argue that this tendency has led to a whitewashing of Axis crimes, and even a cult of the World War II German army in the United States itself comparable to the "lost cause" mythology of the Confederacy.

Smelser and Davies, more interested in cultural history than military history per se, do not attempt to offer a corrected reconstruction of World War II in the East the way Sadkovich does (persuasively) with the war's course in the Mediterranean, but rather the history of how that war has been understood. They begin at the beginning, with an account of the brief and now forgotten "love affair" American public opinion had with the Soviet Union, a virtual selling of the Soviet Union on Main Street, laid out at length and in detail to show how different the situation was before the Cold War put an end to it.

That post-war conflict quickly led to the plans for a thoroughly de-Nazified, demilitarized Germany being set aside in favor of Germany's conservative Establishment, implicated as it was in Nazism's crimes, being rehabilitated and put in charge of a West Germany not only under non-Communist rule but contributing substantially to the industrial base and military might of the Western alliance. Which, naturally, meant taking a softer line.

This was further encouraged by the turn to German generals for insight into the Soviet armed forces and their capabilities, the Germans having fought them for four years. Naturally there was a more forgiving attitude toward the record of particular German figures (clemency for many and all of whom were to be right-wing cause celebres, with Joseph McCarthy championing war criminal Joachim Peiper, for example), and plenty of opportunity for the German generals to tell their side of the story--particularly the very senior Franz Halder, Erich von Manstein and Heinz Guderian of World War II fame. Halder oversaw the production of a vast amount of military history and analysis by German officers for study by U.S. forces, while the latter two penned widely read memoirs, that were just the leading edge of a barrage of memoir, history and fiction presenting their side's account.

These accounts, fiction and nonfiction, took a variety of courses. Some not only excused but justified the war--stressing the evils of Communism from which Nazi Germany was supposedly defending the West; the welcome of German forces as liberators by ethnic minorities and others in the Soviet Union; or even arguing that Operation Barbarossa was a preemptive strike that saved the West from conquest by Stalin. Amid all this they treated as marginal or incidental the issues of aggression, atrocity, genocide, not only slighting the reality that these were the motive for Barbarossa, but distancing the German armed forces from them--depicting the soldiers as innocent patriots doing their duty by their country, oblivious to the crimes that others committed, and horrified at or opposed to them when they found out about them, with higher officers emphasizing their conflicts with a fanatical, interfering Hitler. Others delinked the experience of individual soldiers from the larger political context altogether--the reader encouraged to not think about those troublesome matters and instead admire the courage, professionalism, dutifulness to country displayed by men who were often presented as family-oriented, religious (in the term's most positive sense), humane. Whether the larger cause was held to be valiant, or merely the individuals who fought in it, they also contended that German forces were defeated by bad weather, by the sheer overwhelming numbers of the enemy, by the enemy's "subhuman" indifference to life and decency, by American Lend-Lease, or by the meddling in operational decisions by Hitler, rather than genuinely "military" failures on the part of the virtually superheroic German soldiers and their commanders, or any military skill on the part of their Soviet opponent (not unlike the "lost cause" view of the Civil War).

Smelser and Davies also devote a considerable portion of the book to showing why a significant swath of American opinion was open to such a view. American occupation troops in Europe, they note, were rather more inclined to identify with German civilians, or even former German soldiers, than with the inmates of Displaced Persons camps (or the Soviets, from whom they were increasingly isolated)--and if this had its effect on George Patton, the effect was still greater on cohorts of new draftees coming in after the fighting was over. All this reflected and fed into widespread prejudices that the Cold War each exacerbated--racial as well as ideological (the anti-Slav feeling that was often bound up with anti-Semitism and anti-Asian feeling, and all of which interacted with militant anti-Communism), all as the earlier, sympathetic attention to the Soviet experience virtually vanished from memory, and with which much of the pro-Nazi writing (or simple apologism) was all too consistent. In subsequent years the extent to which German historiography, official and popular, colored American perceptions was, in time, to be taken for granted, unnoticed--making the more distinctly German view more acceptable.

The result is that the "German" view of the war in the United States was far from limited to people espousing blatanly Neo-Nazi opinions, but has substantially colored the general understanding of the war, and found wide enough currency to produce a surprisingly sizable, widespread coterie of American "romancers" of the Nazi-era German armed forces and their war in the east. Avid consumers of books and magazines devoted to the theme, many of them participate in wargaming and even public recreations of Eastern Front battles, in which they find pleasure in personally playing the roles of Wehrmacht soldiers they regard as exemplars of military and other virtues.

Reflecting on this book's argument I recalled my own reading of World War II historiography, and many of the works they cited prominently--the works by Trevor Dupuy and Martin Van Creveld and Basil Liddell Hart, particularly The German Generals Speak--and had to concede that the notion of a cult of the German army coloring the historiography is not so far-fetched. Reflecting on Hart's interviews with the surviving German generals and subsequent commentary in The German Generals Speak, I now find myself thinking of Hart as not merely respectful to his subjects, but taking them totally at their word--the more so given his uncritically reusing in copy-and-paste fashion much of what they had to say in that book in his later Defence of the West (in which he was very hard on Winston Churchill). Still, that Smelser and Davies say relatively little about the facts of the war that contradict the "cult" image leaves a reader forming their impressions from this book with little basis for judging just how much such assessments diverge from the reality.

Reflecting on the treatment of World War II in popular culture, it struck me that they could actually have said much more of evidences of such a cult. Detailed as the authors' attention is to some of the relevant aspects of pop culture, they virtually ignore others that seem far more conspicuous--for example, the vast body of alternate history fiction, which years before Smelser and Davies published, already led to a massive, noteworthy study (Gavriel Rosenfeld's The World Hitler Never Made). Instead his discussion of "What if" material is limited to two counterfactual histories, by R.H.S. Stolfi and Samuel Newlands. Similarly there is no reference to other science fiction novels like John Ringo and Tom Kratman's Watch on the Rhine, or for that matter mainstream fiction like George Robert Elford's The Devil's Guard, which certainly seem germane to such a discussion.

Still, if the book's coverage of the subjects could have been more comprehensive, what it does cover it treats in detail, and is more than ample to make the point--and leave me convinced (as I was, after reading Sadkovich) that what we all think we know about a very large part of the war (the biggest part of it) may need to be rethought. It leaves me convinced, too, that much more may remain to be said about this most seemingly exhausted of subjects.

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