Archive for the 'history' Category

A review of The Wind That Shakes the Barley winner of Cannes film Festival 2006

 

Just one gem from the past to help Steve notice his present. 

Posted by  anita  in  2006-09-30

I just saw the Ken Loach film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and what a splendidly made and politically-correct piece of pseudo-left propaganda (in the worst sense of the word) it is.

My partner is Irish Australian and quite familiar with this period of Irish history, but his first question was why would someone make this film now?  The answer was not long in coming as it quickly became clear that this film was made to make a, none too subtle, point about British involvement in Iraq.  When I came out from the film I picked up a leaflet and the message was crystal clear; ‘Speaking at the Cannes film festival Loach said: We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way they maybe weren’t in the previous four, five, six years.  The wars that we have seen, the occupations that we see throughout the world – people finally cannot turn away from that.  It’s very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn.’

This ‘historical’ film was made in order to tell a story that would be unacceptable to tell in the first-person.  This film was not really made to explain and explore Irish history from 85 years ago; it was made to encourage people to think negatively about the present British involvement in liberating the peoples’ of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Loach would not of course use the word liberation; he would speak of an illegal war and imperialist occupation forces etc.  Yuk!

From start to finish (in the current context) it’s a shameless film where the filmmaker hides behind the Irish people’s legitimate national struggle, to effectively promote the causes of Baathism, tribalism and the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as these scum hide behind phony nationalisms today; though once again Loach would as a matter of course deny that as well; he would assuredly tell all who’d listen that he is on the side of the Iraqi people no less.  He would be sure to hate Saddam and Al Qaeda and the Taliban but would have also proudly marched for peace when others were advocating war against them.  They would be in power today if it were up to Loach.

Loach and the rest of the pseudo-left ‘opinion leaders’ are leading little on the street, but they are in control of the vast bulk of the mass-media; they dominate cultural output throughout the western world.  This film would be awarded in any western film festival; so the west is overdue for a cultural revolution.

The Wind that shakes the Barley is about the harsh ‘reality’ of all ruling-class armies.  It was made to a formula, like shooting pseudo-leftist shibboleth fish in a barrel. Show innocent death; show brutality of imperialist rule; show arrogance of ruling-class types; show the noble resistance that was only brought into being by the occupation; show a resistance as both necessary and reluctantly brutal (yet clean compared to British); show that elections under occupation and threat are invalid and draw the conclusion that free and fair elections cannot be held under threat of the gun, and that therefore Iraq’s process and government is illegitimate!

In the end, having dragged the viewer through the realist muck of British imperial criminality in Ireland during a time where the British stood in the way of the democratic revolution, Loach had to crucially distort the relationship of the foreign troops to the democratic revolution and the issue of voting to make his big point.  IMV Loach’s position is on the spectrum of xenophobia and racism.  (That would have the unarmed peoples’ of Iraq liberate themselves from tyranny and not to shed the blood of other Mother’s son’s and daughter’s to secure an international solution).

The key question that he distorted (after all he was making this film when the triple election process was in full swing in Iraq) was; can there really be a free and fair vote in countries that have occupation troops on the streets that by his implication are making a threat to the population as clear as was the proposition put to Collins of ‘immediate and terrible war as an alternative to the Treaty’.  Loach stands with the ‘heroes’ that won’t sell out; won’t compromise and therefore go to their ‘noble’ death’s as delivered to them by the ‘collaborating’ majority, and sell-out leadership.  He implies that the current government of Iraq is comprised of sell-out collaborators.  Phleese.

I found myself fuming at this cynical and sick distortion of the issues involved in liberation, in the context of and to the basic level of the bourgeois democratic revolution in 2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the Ireland of James Connolly’s generation.

The core questions raised in the Irish struggle for independence from Britain were not adequately highlighted by this film.  Specifically, did Michael Collins sell out by negotiating the Irish Free State?  What about the role of Eamonn DeValera?  ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ answers unambiguously, Yes the movement was sold out, and engenders the film with a cynicism and fatalism that leaves me cold.

These sentiments formed the main part of the final dialogue spoken by Damien O’Donovan a hypothetical Irish freedom fighter and main protagonist of the film, who declined to save his own life by refusing to convey intelligence to his brother (a Commander of the Free State Army) after his capture.

I found this part most disconcerting as there was the feeling that in the character Damien refusing to ‘sell out’ his ideals and being prepared to die for his ‘principles’ there was a direct comparison being made with current fascist insurgents and suicide bombers?

This film doesn’t do justice to any of the important matters raised by either the Irish struggle of so long ago, or the Iraqi conflict of today, and also has nothing particularly credible to say about the personal aspect of the brothers in arms either.  The film was littered with false oppositions (pragmatist v idealist; internationalist v nationalist; socialist v nationalist) simplifying the subject matter down to caricatures, rather than un-raveling the complexity of the revolutionary experience of Ireland for the viewer.

Rather than ‘raise discussion’ this film contributes to a dumbing down of the subject matter; even obfuscation of the issues is not too strong an expression.

By contrast, the film Michael Collins was about the same period and done as a Hollywood block-buster in 1996 (before 9/11 and the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq).  It too portrayed the British and their Irish collaborators as thugs and made clear that the Black and Tans were not there to help the Irish but to keep them down. But the treatment of the election process was very different and the empathy for the position of the negotiators of the Treaty was evident.

All in all, this highlights for me the need to adopt a dialectical approach to the world.  No truth can be found in establishing false dichotomies.  If Loach wanted to highlight how bad the war in Iraq is (it is after all fairly easy to portray death negatively) he ought to have just made a film about Iraq from a scared soldier’s perspective and exposed to the world how bad it is.

Ken Loach is apparently known for spurning the position of history from the great-man’s perspective, and specifically taking the position of ordinary people in his films. (As opposed to the film Michael Collins).  However, I think this was another real shortcoming with this film in that a real understanding by the audience continues to revolve around the main issues and players and the film really suffered for this one-sided approach. The dialectical approach tells us that light and dark are defined against each other, so too, ordinary people need leaders, and leaders cannot lead unless there are ordinary people willing to support them, anything else is pure fantasy and romanticisation and is not telling the complete story.

It’s just plain wrong to compare the struggle of Ireland’s freedom fighters with the current situation in Iraq and thereby engender corresponding sympathy for the so-called ‘freedom fighters’ currently bombing and disrupting the formation of a democratic Iraq.  The message of The Wind TSTB is if you kill people’s family and friends you’ve got to expect that there will be a reaction and that they will organize to kill you.  There is nothing debatable about this but this is not the real story because we all know that at times people and culture operate in a tooth for a tooth kind of avenge manner, but this is different to having the right political conditions present to unleash a real movement for national sovereignty as occurred in Ireland after the murder of the courageous leaders of the 1916 uprising.  (It was not so much that the people of Ireland necessarily supported the program of the rebels but that they reacted to the fact that many of the most prominent were all Court Martial-ed and shot)

Though Loach’s film makes it clear that the struggle for national rights was occurring alongside of the struggle for class rights it was again a superficial and opportunist handling of the question.  For instance, there is a scene where the courts of the Free State are hearing a case against a money-lender who is extracting extortionate levels of interest for a loan given to an old woman who is refusing to pay.

When the court finds against the money-lender ordering him to pay money to the old woman, a split amongst the people at the court develops and the members of the Army say “wait on”, we want him to give us money for guns…This part of the film could have been illuminating but was very superficial and the court decision was presented as extremely whimsical and showing that they were not really ‘fit’ to decide.

The brutality of this film had a stunning effect on the audience but it was a lecture from a coward.  In many ways it is this romanticisation of the idea of dying for one’s ‘principles’, Like a packet of Benson Hedges – where only the best will do – that renders the message of  The Wind that shakes the Barley as poisonous as smoking that packet of Benson and Hedges!

 

Posted by  owenss  at     2006-10-01Anita Im unsure from your Ken Loach movie review which side of the Irish Civil war you think progressive people should support. The side lead by Michael Collins or the side lead by Eammon De Valera?

 

Posted by     owenss  at     2006-10-01 02:57 AMAnita you claim that Loach and un named other anti war people have “….control of the vast bulk of the mass media…” poor old Ken produces a handful of art house movies and he controls the mass media?Yes now I see it The Wind that Shakes is the equivalent pro war Rupert Murdocks Fox News and Land and Freedom is the equivalent of the Sun newspaper or that film about a boy and a bird rivals Murdocks Australian newspaper holdings. Dont worry Im sure Barry is already preparing a piece to prove that Murdocks empire is minuscule.

 

Posted by anita at 2006-10-01 10:00PMLoach and the rest of the pseudo-left ‘opinion leaders’ are leading little on the street, but they are in control of the vast bulk of the mass-media; they dominate cultural output throughout the western world.  This film would be awarded in any western film festival; so the west is overdue for a cultural revolution.

Steve, I’m not suggesting conspiracies or anything like it.   I was trying to explain how if this film’s so bad, it won such acclaim.  First I thought this could only happen in France (anti-British and anti-Iraq war); then I thought wait on this would have happened in Australia.  My point was about my own world; I do not have Fox for example, so mostly the media I’m exposed to is the Australian ABC.

There is no presenter on the ABC Radio or Television who is for the Iraq war as far as I can tell.  I would be happy to be proven incorrect but take ABC 891 radio from Adelaide; Peter Goers the evening commentator who interviewed Tariq Ali and referred to him as the ‘Sage of the Age’; but at least Peter Goers deliberately has a pro-war commentator once a week in his guest right-winger Andrew Bolt each Tuesday night.

Bolt regularly looks like an intellectual giant up against the pseudo-leftist Goers on these issues.  But other than that, there is, to use the colourful expression of Mark Latham, a Conga-line of suck holes, pushing anti-Iraq war sentiment from morning til night.

It is wall to wall.

On the morning program almost every one of their guests except actual members of the government are anti-Iraq war.  The best they have done outside of that (that I have noticed) is an interview of the dopey right-winger Greg Sheridan.

Like employs like and over a period each organization develops a corporate culture.  The ABC is notoriously biased – of course it is mostly exposed by the right-wing in this country who criticize the ABC as left-wing.  BAH. It is pseudo-left mush.  Take the line it runs from morning to night on global warming; organic food; water crisis; plastic bags; peak oil; they go on ceaselessly with this pseudo-leftist green dribble.

The ABC gardening program is Gardening Australia; where the one time British soldier and peace campaigner Peter Cundall has a grand old time filling people with his composted thinking.  They push imbeciles like Tim Flannery, Roy Slaven, and David Suzuki.  The National Press club put on Peter Garret and the ABC ran and then later re-ran the program; but when Bjorn Lomborg was at the club the ABC did not even screen it!  The best he got was a quick and hostile interview on Landline!

I know you will remember the lies that Maxine McKew spread about Iyad Allawi and then never revisited.

Nationally on the TV the ABC have a show called the Insiders, again the balance they achieve is with the right-wingers Bolt, and Piers Akerman alternating on the show.  The mix is greater than three to one!  David Marr ex-Media Watch; Ian Henschke Stateline almost froth with the anti-war/green line; on and on it goes (throw some names in yourself, you won’t find it hard).  Consider that great organic beef producer Philip Adams how much more of a constant anti-Iraq war campaigner can you get?  Not the slightest attempt to hide the campaigning.

I recall ABC Adelaide’s morning commentators once going so far as to say that there is a serious possibility that the war could be about nothing (thus a GW Bush mad whim).  They employ as their international expert Keith Suter (full on pudding-headed anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush campaigner).  One of his recent great ideas was that if he had been President, rather than invade (liberate) Iraq like that dumbo GWB, he would be clever and offer a reward for OBL of $$$500,000,000 and that would interest the Russian Mafia and the Kazaks to get interested in rounding him up –just like the old US policy of handing a billion to the Al Qaeda sorts and getting the Saudi government to cough in another billion- handing over the reward to another international criminal group.  They have learned nothing.  Nobody even rang up to laugh at them.

In the News there is the constant barrage of terminology that is sympathetic to the insurgents, though I admit that referring to Iraqi Jihadi’s as the ‘resistance’ is no longer so evident.

We’ve also had Triple J using the ‘Don’t want to be an American Idiot’ song as its signature advertising jingle.  (Now if they were singing ‘don’t want to be a Jew idiot’; or ‘don’t want to be a Japanese idiot’; Indonesian; Aboriginal; etc then it would be clear what the sentiments are about.  Yet Australian tax-payers have funded the production of material on the xenophobic/ racist spectrum because anti-Americanism is perfectly acceptable in polite company).

Listen to today’s ABC News.  Or the national program AM.  Or the world at noon. Bob Woodward’s  book ‘State of Denial’.  I am sure you can get it from the net as a Pod Cast.  ‘Opinion poll today shows 80% think the war in Iraq hasn’t done anything to reduce terrorism.  91% think …85% …’ (The Lowy institute poll.)   ‘Doctors start campaigning to end Australia’s involvement in Iraq.’

The people are getting their views from somewhere.  They are not engaged in independent research but parroting back what the politicians and culture workers are feeding them.  Howard and Blair and Bush have been pathetic at selling the revolutionary requirement for this war against most of the ‘left and right’ intelligentsia.  But cultural food like this is breeding political cynicism, and paralysis not action- they all got re-elected – as the ordinary masses are much more sensible than the more ‘committed’ activists to the fact that the Coalition can’t just cut and run etc.

Now I think that I have been a little sloppy; but in my defense I’d been working on this for a while and wanted to get it published… but it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the old right and the pseudo-left.  They are saying the same poisonous things.  Bruce Springstein; Neil Young; The Dixie Chicks; they all believe the same stuff, while some think they are leftists and some think they are rightists.  They are all like Green Peace; nasty right wingers, it’s just that the pseudo-left uses some strange terms and methods for hiding from their bottom-line; terms that are utterly meaningless when combined with the policies that they push.  They can sing the Internationale all they like, but they want Australian troops withdrawn from Iraq and not involved at all in draining the swamp.

Loach’s film explicitly promotes the position currently being pushed by media internationally, namely that the war in Iraq is increasing the terrorist threat… there will be more Damien O’Donovan’s due to the ‘occupation’ of Iraq, you share this belief and subsequent rejection of the Iraqi government’s requests for assistance.

The American Peace movement currently relies upon celebrities as a draw card to Marches and rallies, and even this has not been successful in sustaining mass support against the war and moaning about how the people are just not getting it.  The anti-war movement do not want debate, they want one sided agitprop material, songs/films etc to change consciousness; they can’t stand up to in-depth analysis and rigorous effort; like yourself over the oil issue when you resort to a claim that oil was just a form of short- hand.  The real clear point is that the lastsuperpower could not do what the anti-war campaigners were claiming it was doing, and or would do.

As to your question about whom I support…Well I don’t feel well read enough about the period to put forward a hard position on it but since you asked my quite tentative and uninformed opinion based upon the films is that I am on Michael Collins’ side.  I was deeply moved when I first saw the Michael Collins film, and I am not sure if it is because Liam Neeson is OK by me whenever he is on screen (we are talking animal magnetism here-he is not a Hollywood Star for no reason) or whether Michael Collins was really such an engaging and brilliant leader in reality.  I take to heart Eamon deValera’s comments when he was the President of Ireland in 1966 (I got the spelling wrong last time) saying in effect that history would be kinder to Michael Collins than himself.

Speaking of being kinder I think you were really nasty to Barry commenting about how he is off attempting to back me up.  What a lot of nonsense.  As well, I was not commenting about anything else Ken Loach has directed but Wind.

The view that has been consistently put at lastsuperpower is held by a minuscule number of people around the world and it is not to be found on the ABC.  The closest we get is Hitchens served up from time to time.  Rather than continue to nit pick, while determinedly avoiding the main thrust of the articles on this site, you ought to try to write a larger piece trying to bring the bigger picture together as you have now come to understand things five years after 9/11: as an example the impending Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a Palestinian State.  Israel just pulled all troops out of Lebanon, having been strung out to dry by being unimpeded by Rice and Bush.  Have they not thus demonstrated Israel’s limited military and political envelope, to the world?  Almost forty years after launching its 1967 war to grab Greater Israel, the war is coming to an end in defeat and the mass media and the pseudo-left just don’t get it.  Perhaps they are too busy applauding the re-making of Irish history.

 

Posted by  owenss  at  2006-10-02 04:09 AMAnita thank you for stating that in the Irish Civil war you would give your support to the side lead by Michael Collins.My next question is to Patrickm. Patrick do you support the side lead by Michael Collins?As to my offense to Barry. Guilty as charged. When Barry stated that the Iraqi resistance was minuscule I couldnt believe that he would defend that statement rather than just admit that he had overstated his case.Anita you invite me to make a serious contribution to this site and I wish I had both the time and the intellegence to do so. However it goes against the way I have become involved. I first contributed in response to Albert who stated that the Iraq project was going well.  I was further stimulated to contribute when people stated that the way forward in Iraq was to ramp up the killing of Iraqis who resisted. Again I couldn’t resist when contributors characterise the resistance in exactly the same terms used by the Whitehouse as I think this characterisation is a gross oversimplification.I was encouraged to contribute when Bill posted about resistance figures being paraded on Iraqi TV at the same time that a US soldier was let off after clearly murdering a wounded Iraqi who had already surrendered.

I uphold the Iraqi government as being just that. Having said that I look on them with the same contempt that I hold for Michael Collins who used Brittish weapons to kill Irish Republicans.

The Sunni arab population has the right to resist the oppression that they are experiencing. The Iraqi governments duty is to protect these people a duty I think they fail in the same way Collins failed the Irish. The rejection by the Iraqi government of peace proposals from numerous resistance groups is in my oppinion a tragic mistake.

 

Posted by  patrickm  at     2006-10-08 01:01 AMWhile a revolution unfolds in the Middle East, the pseudo-leftist web site ‘Socialist Worker online’ had this to conclude of its review of The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
But by the end of the film you can’t help being reminded of the British army in Iraq today, and Loach is the first to admit this.He said, “I think what happened in Ireland is such a classic story of a fight for independence, to establish a democratic mandate and to resist an occupying army.“Yet it was also a fight for a country with a new social structure.“The British army in Ireland during 1920-21 did what armies of occupation do the world over – adopt a racist attitude towards the people they are attacking and occupying.“They destroy people’s houses, engage in acts of brutality and generally oppress the people – and in Iraq that’s exactly what the British army is doing.“In spite of the suffering depicted, the fact still remains that the British marched out of Ireland. There is an element of hope in that.”Loach knows that British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in WW2 so why not show them?  But that would never do.  When trying to make his point about Iraq he had to skip WW2 and go back to British ruling class savagery in Ireland.  This film is only incidentally about the Irish.No liberation in Iraq folks; no elections; nothing to see but British brutality – move along and remember to chant no blood for oil, and later explain it away as a sort of metaphor when it turns out to make no sense whatever.
Anita thinks Michael Collins did the best he could; so did a majority of the Irish Parliament and so did a majority of the Irish people when the Treaty was put to a referendum.  The other side then brought on a fight and they lost that as well.  So there seems to be a pattern developing.

Steve ought to have a cover to cover read of Mao: losing is not a good idea.  The rejectionists were not sensible to fight and lose.  They ought to have not fought at all.  Mao often talks of avoiding fights unless you’re sure to win.  The blood was on their hands.  They had a way forward without slaughter and they chose blood instead.  History has yet to see the nationalist cause ‘victorious’ in all of Ireland, and I think interest is falling away in the context of being part of the reality of modern Europe; but history has, I think, recorded the civil-war in Michael Collins’ favor.

I can both appreciate the injustice of the Treaty and the decision of the negotiators to sign it and to trust to ongoing struggle to unfold further progress.  People both in the North and South were prepared to struggle for their rights, (in the long run they always are) and the civil-war in the Free State harmed that struggle.  History moves on and the Free State is ‘Gone with the Wind’.

The always required civil rights struggle in the North broke out again in the context of the same struggle in the U.S. in the sixties.  It was part of a world wide movement.   This struggle is now fully flowering (with power sharing; police force reform; anti- discrimination legislation enacted producing the inevitable demographic results and so forth).  All in the context of ongoing British ruling class decline in any ability to project imperial power.  The context of our reflections on the Irish Treaty is from this era of globalization and the rise of the Europe project.  Peace has broken out, and the continuity IRA, are a bad joke.  They are history repeating itself as a farce.  I am in favor of the IRA having ‘sold out again’.

 

Posted by  owenss  at  2006-10-08 06:29 PMPatrick so you think that you should never fight unless you are sure you will win.Well the Easter uprising never stood a chance, so they should not have done it?The provisional IRA could never defeat the British army, so they should have done what?You are also very kind to Michael Collins. Churchill put it to Collins either you attack the rebels or we will. I still lack respect for any Irish nationalist who will kill Irishmen at the behest of the British government

Hitler’s Dunkirk Blunder

Lately it’s been all too common for me to come across people who can tie their own shoe laces and yet they tie up the political loose ends they have come across via the MSM and life in general into conspiracy theories such as 9/11 was an inside job; or the moon landings were faked.   I kid you not… the other day I had a person tell me they did not believe that an airliner slammed into the Pentagon on 9/11!

When we throw in the range of clear mental illnesses, and milder obsessions that affect large numbers of people, and then supercharge our access to people generally via the internet and then discuss war,  well… all I can say is you will soon be  shaking your head at the range of odd beliefs that people can and do generate.

So, to get us thinking more rationally about “grand strategy” issues d-bbc-image2 for our time I think it’s useful to look at actual historical events and the differing explanations for why things turned out as they did in the past.  As World War 2 is for most people the ‘unavoidable fight’ or ‘the good war’ and is rich with events which are worth reviewing and drawing lessons from, I’ll go there and my example is the Dunkirk evacuation (Operation Dynamo).    (click here to see this BBC animation of the fall of France and after reading this article you can play spot the quite blatant errors).

In raising this topic I don’t want to debate about the revolutionary value of working people uniting with the imperialists of Britain, France and the U.S. in WW2.  I take that as a settled issue that firmly establishes that united front type politics  may be a possible good policy position for western leftist to consider in this ‘the era of Imperialism’ in any specific war.  But I digress…

Dynamo was a fantastically successful operation cobbled together by the British Navy in an era when darkness provided great protection for those under air attack.  The British air-force had not yet won the Battle of Britain but its splendid efforts in protecting the retreat pointed (on reflection anyway) to that future success.   The protection of the air force and the channel dominance and world’s best practice capabilities of the Navy were however all matched by the continuous highly effective and professional and just as often heroic efforts of the fighting ‘gunners’ (both British and French) that go quite unsung as heroes by the general populace.  In conducting their systematic fighting retreat through the series of descending pockets as they were conceded from one defensive position to the next they were a formidable force.  Even when the retreat was shambolic in the eyes of the infantry or themselves or anyone not involved in firing the guns directly at the enemy those guns were well fed and coordinated and they never ran out of ammunition nor targets.

What unfolded from 10May – 4June was a huge defeat but never a complete rout and the 25 days that unfolded surprised more than just the Allies.  The German High Command who had never been in favour of the Manstein plan were perhaps the most surprised of all.

Dynamo was just a small part of the big picture, the long term significance of which was clearly missed when the short term ‘golden’ prize was what had escaped the Germans in WW1 and that was victory over France.  The great victory for all these WW1 soldiers -who were now in command- was that the battle of the Marne was not repeated and the trenches were not dug a second time.  When looking back from the 21st C one must recall that the commanders then were only too well aware that over two million men fought in the first Battle of the Marne and perhaps 500,000 were killed or wounded.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne  ‘French casualties totaled 250,000, 80,000 of them dead. Of note, the French poet Charles Péguy was killed while leading his platoon’s attack at the beginning of the battle. British casualties were 13,000, 1,700 of them dead. The Germans suffered 220,000 casualties. No future battle on the Western Front would average so many casualties per day.[11]’

The raw numbers for the retreat were – Dynamo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dynamo 338,226 men (110,000 French and a ‘few’ thousand from Belgium ) cross the English channel over 9 days with only about 8,000 pulled out on the first day and 4,000 on the last!  The weather ‘gods’ favoured them and so luck also played its part.  (27th May)8,000;  (28)18,000;  (29) 47,000;   (30)60,000;  (31)61,000;  (1June)64,000 (2-last few thousand of the British)40,000;   (3)40,000;  (4June)4,000: till 3.40 am when Shikari was the last ship with French troops to leave.

At dawn German troops overcame the last of the fighting rear guard and reached the beach.   The very next day the Panzers that had already been reorganised and redeployed launched the attack across the Somme to ‘settle accounts’ with the French.  Once  more they  showed the effectiveness of what

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.F.C._Fuller  and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._H._Liddell_Hart

had first theorized  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_Guderian had developed and just demonstrated.

Evacuating these troops was the great ‘deliverance’ as described by Churchill.  Those saved enabled the British to rapidly train many others and to eventually come back and fight another day.   The French however all went back to France over the next few weeks just in time for most to surrender!

Now we all know that the basic crisis had been that prior to the evacuation all these troops had become trapped by the Germans in a pocket with their back to the channel, but that pocket still had munitions and most other things they required to fight and were effectively fighting.  These supplies especially fuel (that they no longer required much of anyway) were shrinking.  But paradoxically the big pocket kept becoming a ‘tougher nut to crack’.  It required the troops to run out of stuff and that required a little time.  Because they were trapped without the ability to dominate their space and out-range their enemies they were obviously staring at eventual defeat and that was only days away but they were a formidable force till the inevitable exhaustion of the artillery and then the total defeat and surrender that loomed.

Blitzkrieg as a tactical method brought the trap about and Hitler had begun to grasp the method but he was far from the expert who were only one handful anyway.  But he did grasp that the Panzers were not to be used against hard points as this ‘pocket’ had become; rather the hard points were systematically avoided and left for the air force and artillery to attend to.  The precious panzer units were required to be preserved and deployed for the job that only they could do.  Thus on his orders these precious ‘few’ were transferred to launch an attack across the Somme and did so on 5th June.

The myth that Hitler by not allowing the Panzer units to be used in a manner opposed to the principles of the new and effective doctrine and actually allowing the British to escape the trap in order to prepare a political position of rapprochement is to miss the big picture altogether.  For Hitler his splendid air-force and the conventional artillery led forces of Army Group B could attend to those in the ‘trap’.  He required the fast moving Panzers to do to the rest of France what they had just done on this front; and they did just that!

Hitler had ordered  Panzer units; led by General Guderian to stop their advance, with the consequence being that despite heavy casualties as a result of mostly air and artillery attacks, this huge allied force was able to escape across the channel – even though they had to abandon their weapons and so forth.

Was this a blunder on Hitler’s part?  Yes!  But Hitler never took a strategic decision to allow the British to escape as part of a larger scheme to end all fighting with the British and come to sensible terms (which only in hindsight can be seen to have been an error because such a deal did not eventuate).  He was always keen on dealing with the British but that had nothing to do with letting any troops escape their trap.

It’s just that they were not as trapped as he thought and his splendid air-force was not as splendid as he thought and he was never very solid in his understanding of the capabilities of the British Navy.  He was a WW1 soldier and a couple of days was not the same for him as it was for that tiny number of cutting edge battle field German generals of WW2.

Occasionally we ought to remind ourselves of the boilerplate realities where any sensible analysis ought to assume that leaders have strategies, (which are very often not made clear in declaratory policy) and that they are fundamentally rational, however this does not rule out blundering and disruption due to unexpected events (obviously these things often happen together).  Both sides are trying to win the war, but the unfolding of events is not mechanical, surprises happen.  Sometimes errors are due to blundering. World War 2 began with the Phoney War in the west, which lasted from  September 1939 until the 9 April when the invasion of Norway began.  A month later on  May 10,  the Germans swept into Belgium and the Low Countries, and at the same time mounted a surprise attack into France via the Ardennes, from where they were able to move rapidly towards the English channel reached by 19May, essentially trapping the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in a pocket from which they could only escape via the Navy back across the channel.

This German attack west was a stunning victory for them and a crushing defeat for the Allies and the way it unfolded surprised both sides.  Paris fell to the Germans on June 10, and on June 17, France announced that it was ready to ask for an armistice (officially signed on June 22).

With the precedent of  WW1 as a template, the WW2 Battle of France especially considering the size and sophistication of the French armed forces, was over very quickly.  It’s difficult for many people lacking an interest in military issues to understand why, at what appears to them to be the last minute,  Hitler held back his precious armoured divisions from pushing on with an attack.  But they were NOT supposed to operate as siege artillery against concentrated enemy artillery.

It was after all those Panzer divisions that had produced the stunningly unexpected advance to the channel that had left the BEF cut off from the main French forces with their French allies who they were now deceiving and fighting under constant air and artillery attacks for their very existence.   Hitler did not ‘hold them back’ he exerted his authority and that held them back for a crucial 2 days when they could have prevented much more of the hard pocket from forming and this prevented the destruction of more troops when the battle was still fluid in the manner that suited exactly the panzer tactics (those 2 days were that important).

The final result of the various deployments of all the other armed forces was the preservation of 338,226 Allied troops, who could be used to train others and fight again later in the war.

It was also a huge morale boost for the British taking the edge off an utterly disastrous defeat as a start to the real war.

Back in 2006, there was some discussion of this on the old LastSuperpower forum.  Arthur argued that Hitler’s order to halt may have been based on strategic decisions – as Hitler still hoped to avoid all-out war with the British because his main target was the USSR.  He had hoped to avoid creating a situation in which the USSR and Britain would end up on the same side.

Patrick,  I am still inclined to think you overestimate the importance of the military difficulties and blunders and underestimate the importance of political considerations. Both British and French governments were led by the architects of Munich throughout the phoney war period and both still hoped to avoid a real war with Germany by reaching some compromise. Likewise Hitler wanted to avoid a real war with Britain and even directly ordered Guderian to halt the panzers 10km from Dunkirk to allow the British expeditionary force to escape after von Kleist had ignored a previous less emphatic order. This “blunder” and the corresponding “miracle” of Dunkirk would not have been a blunder at all if it had succeeded in avoiding real war with Britain.  On 5 February 1940 the Allied High Command offered 100,000 British and 20,000 French troops to Finland in support of its war with the Soviet Union. But Churchill “blundered” in stuffing the invasion of Norway (for which Chamberlain took the blame) and Stalin “blundered” in both rushing the invasion to achieve a breakthrough before the Allies could actually join the war, at a huge cost in “unnecessary” casualties, and then quickly accepting an armistice despite the Finnish army being on the verge of complete collapse.These blunders were remarkably serendipitous from the viewpoint of grand strategy in that they prevented a war between Britain and the Soviet Union and ensured the collapse of appeasement.The political evolution of the imperialist war into a war against fascism was no more inevitable than the specific military history. Both required strategic decisions which were intertwined and hard to follow even with the hindsight of the historical record since grand strategy issues like these are not necessarily recorded in historical documents or the knowledge of subordinates later writing their memoirs but only known with certainty in the minds of the top leadership who often don’t have any reason to reveal what they were thinking afterwards. (Stalin certainly never claimed to be trying to encourage the Germans to attack the Allies, so you certainly won’t find my view of it in any party documents!) Remember that in making political decisions Stalin had the benefit of extremely detailed intelligence on both Allied and German intentions whereas the converse did not apply. Obviously I can’t claim to have any proof of these undocumentable assertions, and I admit such speculation could easily be wrong. BTW we also differ about certain “serendipitous blunders” in the Iraq war like not using the Baathist armed forces as a construction brigade. I think that difference is also related to different estimations of the importance of political calculations.

In that old discussion,  I went on to express agreement with Arthur’s position:

Arthur is right that Hitler by effectively ordering the preservation of the British troops when the German Army was rushing to destroy or capture them was preparing a political position. But it only goes to show that Hitler was clueless as to what the British ruling- elite would agree to, having badly lost round one.

As a result of Hitler’s political blunder, 338,000 trained soldiers escaped enabling them to train many others and to fight another day. It would have been a genius move if the British had not been well… British. Once they were at war they were not going to cut their losses and stop the fight especially with Germany in the position to dominate the imperialist world. They would fight the maritime war they were well suited for and the U.S. would be their great ally and arsenal. The U.S. people were still overwhelmingly isolationist but the U.S. ruling-elite would never have permitted a successful invasion of Britain.

Hitler just ‘knew’ (from his own theories), that the British and Germans should be fighting side by side against the hated communists, and nothing else made much sense to him at this point, than that they would come to terms. He did not have a plan B, and so he cobbled it all together based on the stunning success of the German Army and the apparent confirmation of his idiotic theories of racial superiority. If the fighting had been harder perhaps he would not have become so deluded by the early victories.

Since then, I’ve thought more about this and have concluded that the more likely explanation is that it was a blunder, rather than an error which arose from strategic reasoning.  The destruction of the trapped troops was to be achieved more at the hands of the Luftwaffe and the artillery rather than risk more Panzers that were required to be readied for the rapid push into and right through France.

I think that at  the crucial moment Hitler panicked and became cautious. Heinz Guderian’s success had been  spectacular, but at the time Hitler ordered him to halt, he’d already twice disobeyed orders to slow down, and had unilaterally implemented a plan of his own which varied significantly from the plan authorised by the OKH (German High Command)  prior to the initial attack.

At the time Hitler told him to halt, Guderian’s supply lines were stretched and he was well ahead of the slower moving infantry tail (the greater part of it horse drawn).  Hitler would have been wondering whether his senior officers were correct in worrying that he was vulnerable to a  flank attack.  After all, how often had officers let down Corporals in WW1?

Hitler blinked and the politics involved were entirely internal. The retreating troops, not just the BEF had not run out of munitions or other supplies and were conducting a fighting retreat where their defensive perimeter was well directed and shortening.  Meanwhile the German lines were lengthening with exposed flanks while Guderian (Schneller Heinz) was rapidly implementing his, at this stage, highly disputed theories.

The politics behind what happened can be seen more clearly  if we look at the struggles which occurred within the German military in the months before the attack on France. Early in October 1939, the general view of the German military was that  it was probably only possible at that point  to occupy sufficient Dutch, Belgian and French territory to launch naval and air attacks on Britain and to protect the Ruhr area.  The first detailed plan of attack  (19 October 1939) was produced by Franz Halder, head of the OKH (Nazi Germany’s High Command of the Army). It envisaged  a long and difficult campaign launched via an unimaginative frontal attack from the middle of Belgium. Hitler didn’t like it, and a series of variations were produced by Halder, none of which were substantially different.

Eventually General von Runstead in conjunction with his chief of staff, Lt. General von Manstein developed  a substantially different proposal based on surprise and mobility. Their idea was to draw the allied forces into central Belgium by mounting an initial attack there while actually positioning the bulk of the German forces further east from where they would thrust through the difficult terrain in the Ardennes area, entering France at Sedan. This would enable them to  attack the Allies from behind. (i.e. from the south) Hopefully cutting them off.  The expectation was that the Allies would not bother to allocate much of their military strength in the Sedan area due to the fact that the Ardennes area was regarded as an unlikely entry point, due to the “impossibility” of the terrain there.

While developing this plan,  Manstein spoke informally with Heinz Guderian who was the commander of the XIXth Army Corps – an elite armoured tank formation.  Guderian  came up with a more radical (and risky) version of the plan.  He proposed that not only his tank unit , but the entire Panzerwaffe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzerwaffe) should enter France from Sedan and then move  to the west, towards the English channel, hopefully trapping the Allies. He proposed doing this without any pause to wait for the slower main body of the German infantry to catch up.  The idea was that this could lead to a very quick victory and avoid the level of (German) casualties typical of the annihilation battle which would result from the other plans. This was considered risky because rushing ahead of the infantry would create a vulnerable open flank of about 300 kilometres that the infantry tail would have to rush to form up into a defensive line every day while the advance proceeded.

Von Manstein put forward several variations on this plan, all much less radical than Guderian’s (and without mentioning his discussions with Guderian).  However, all of these plans were rejected by the OKH without ever reaching Hitler. Late in January 1940, Halder, who disliked Von Manstein,  arranged for him to be posted to Prussia.  This backfired on Halder because members of von Manstein’s staff managed to draw Hitler’s attention to it.  As a consequence Hitler invited Von Manstein to present his ideas to him personally.  Not long afterwards  he instructed Halder to produce a new plan incorporating a surprise attack through the Ardennes to Sedan.

This became known as the Manstein Plan. The Manstein plan did not however incorporate the idea that German armour  should advance quickly west without waiting for the infantry.  Most of the Generals saw this as far too risky. Instead the plan called for the armoured units (led by Guderian) to cross the river Meuse at Sedan, establish bridgeheads for the slower moving infantry,  and then to wait (several days) for it to catch up. As it turned out, the attack through the Ardennes  was remarkably successful.  The French troops allocated to the area were an inexperienced Reserve Division and panic and disorder broke out among them very quickly resulting in rapid retreat. At this point (May 12) Guderian disobeyed an order to restrict the bridgehead he’d established to 8km and to dig in there until he had more infantry support. Instead he continued  to extend  it west and south.

Although this theoretically could have been dangerous, the French continued to fall apart and retreat.  Similarly, Erwin Rommel disobeyed orders and advanced his Panzer division rapidly.  Both knew what they were doing. Again on May 16, Guderian and Rommel both disobeyed orders  and continued west.  Guderian advanced about 70 km from where he was supposed to have been and Rommel’s forces advanced 100 km.  Effectively Guderian was unilaterally implementing his own plan, on top of the official Manstein plan. As a consequence, on  May 17 Guderian was relieved of all duties by his superior (von Kleist), but Rundstedt refused to confirm the order, so Guderian stayed in charge.

At this point the Panzer Corps were considered by some of the senior officers to be in a vulnerable position and could if the French had launched a determined flank attack have been mauled and run up against supply problems.  However such an attack didn’t happen and the German infantry tail kept racing forwards as best they could and establishing the all important thin defensive line eventually reaching the Somme and then continually reinforcing all along it while simultaneously bringing up supplies for the units fighting their way forward through the various defense pockets that became established.   Panzer troops took the opportunity to rest regroup and repair equipment for two days and then continued on but always towards a more concentrated foe holding ridge lines with well supplied  artillery.

The French and BEF eventually coalesced into a pocket that reduced systematically through several retreats  and always over ground less favorable for Panzers.  By now the German High Command knew that victory was within reach and ordered a further advance with the direct aim of cutting of the Allies’ capacity to escape south but the unsuitability of the territory between the pockets and the advancing German Panzers and the concentration of artillery was going to cost tanks.   As we know the advance was successful and the Allies became trapped in a pocket around Dunkirk.

The original Manstein Plan

The original Manstein Plan

The ACTUAL course of German forces

The ACTUAL course of German forces

The order to pause was from the 23-26 and only applied to Army Group A’s armoured formations.  The period of the evacuation or Operation Dynamo was 27 May till 3.40 am 4th June. [date-evacuated]  (27)8,000 (28)18,000 (29)47,000 (30)60,000 (31)61,000 (1)64,000 (2)40,000 (3)40,000 (4)4,000.   The Dutch had surrendered on 14 May and on 28 May the Belgian army capitulated.  At the 29th May Cambrai meeting Hitler tells the commanders of his Army Groups that he has decided to ‘deploy the armoured forces immediately for a southward offensive to settle accounts with the French, attacking south on 5thMay.  1st June German artillery bombards the Dunkirk beaches, 2nd June Operation Dynamo completed for the BEF.

The final Dunkirk pocket was established on 31 May and held till 4 June at which point 2,000 guns, 60,000 vehicles, 600,000 tons of fuel and supplies and 76,000 tons of munitions were abandoned. The Germans began their attack south on 5 June so we can see that the Panzers had been reserved for and moved to that task. On May 25, the 1st Panzer division could have thrust forward again and forced the Allied forces in the Dunkirk area to surrender.  But Hitler had ordered it to halt the day before. I would put this down to a real concern on Hitler’s part that Guderian’s advance force was vulnerable to a devastating flank attack, combined with a need to assert himself as Fuhrer, in the face of Guderian’s repeated insubordination.

Liddel Heart was mostly responsible for the promotion of this ‘Hitler let them escape’ thinking along with and as a result of Guderian himself AFTER the war but the records of the actual period do not provide the evidence (rather to the contrary).

I think the following spells it out.   http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v02/v02p375_Lutton.html

I hope I get to write about Putin in the rear vision mirror but only the good die young so….

the grapes of wrath

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is a movie based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, widely-read 1939 novel. I watched it in my youth and was moved by the graphic descriptions of grinding poverty in The Great Depression and the fight by the Joad family underdogs (and their preacher friend, Casy, who stopped preaching because he didn’t know what to preach anymore) against the powerful forces of the State.

I watched it again a few days ago (here is the torrent) and it is still an amazing movie. The overall wealth of industrialised countries has improved dramatically since The Great Depression. Rather than abject, grinding poverty and starvation the poor are better off absolutely although not relatively. Nevertheless, the fundamentals haven’t changed, the rich get richer and the poor adapt and / or resist according to their organisation and circumstances. How much things have changed and yet how much they remain the same.

Filmsite Movie Review: The Grapes of Wrath

The English Civil War Is A Crucial Part of Australian History

There’s an appalling article in Crikey today by Associate Professor Tony Taylor of Monash University, co-editor of an upcoming book History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives.

The article responds to an article in The Age, “Coalition would scrap Curriculum” saying Federal Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne is prepared to scrap the new national history curriculum. The article says Pyne thinks there is to much emphasis on Asia, indigenous culture and sustainability in the history curriculum, and not enough on Christianity, Greece and Rome, and the English Bill of Rights and English Civil War.

There’s plenty to criticise there. Australian students need a good grasp of indigenous culture and the deadly and destructive effects that white settlement had on it, and of the history of Asia. Sustainability – we can do without that, thanks very much! We could replace sustainability with a discussion of how humans have moved away from being at the whim of nature every moment of the day.

However, the response in Crikey is arrogant, dismissive and, frankly a joke. Taylor’s lowest moment is when he says the English Civil War is “arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume).” Anyone with even a basic knowledge of how bourgeois Parliamentary democracy works knows that this is ridiculous. Most of the assumptions behind it come directly or indirectly from that Civil War. The most important tenet of parliamentarism – the idea that only the parliament, not the executive on its own, may tax – is a direct result of the war and the main issue it was fought over. You can’t understand the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, which lead to the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, without understanding that crucial point.

But the bad thing about Taylor’s article is not just that he is wrong, but that he is in a position to affect the curriculum of Australian schools but clearly has contempt for democracy. He implies that Pyne’s threat to scrap the curriculum and start again is an example of the “arbitrary rule of one”. Of course, Pyne will never be in a position to change the curriculum unless he is part of a government elected in the closest thing we have to a democratic election. Does Taylor really contend that elected Governments have no right to change public policy?

Taylor’s contempt for outsiders interfering in work only he and his priesthood should be allowed to carry out is revealed in another passage, where he discusses criticism of the new curriculum: “I read it and dismissed it as someone who doesn’t know much about how education or history works.” Not because it was wrong, or misguided, or suggested a poor use of scarce classroom time, but it came from  an outsider.

What’s worst of all about this article is it carries on the smarmy pseudo-left habit of congratulating themselves that they must be right, because the slightly more right-wing ruling class party is against them. This is part of the nature of the bureaucratic pseudo-left; they push the line that their work must be done behind closed doors because evil right-wingers and the stupid populace they fool are too dumb to know what’s best for them. There is no sense at all of actually trusting ordinary people, of welcoming outside debate or being ready to submit their decisions to the judgment of the great unwashed.

We need to keep attacking the pseudo-left with this – with the idea that, while they parade their moral virtue, they are utterly unwilling to actually try to win public debates.

A cached version of the Crikey article is here, and my first comment replying to that article on the original site is here.

What can we do about Xmas?

Xmas reminds us of what life used to be like prior to the modern era. In the old days it was “Xmas” everyday in one way or another, when people’s lives were ruled by rituals and festivals, and our relatives had to be endured on a constant basis not just once a year. Social pressure was even greater then than now. There was no space for the individual. What you did and how you thought was totally prescribed.

By Xmas I mean the in-your-face stuff that fills the public space, physical and electronic. What Christians (or quasi Christians) do in the privacy of their own dining room or in church of course is their business. We will call that Christmas.

Oliver Cromwell and the Pilgrim Fathers banned Xmas. We can’t do that, but it would be helpful if some Christians were to denounce the whole thing as a pagan travesty, which it is, of course. George Washington had the right spirit when he crossed the Delaware River and launched a surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries while they were singing Stille Nacht (or doing something equally Xmasy) on December 25 1776.

An interesting way to spend Xmas. Washington crossing the Delaware

Continue reading ‘What can we do about Xmas?’

Postone’s analysis of the malaise of the “left”

History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism by Moishe Postone (pdf 18pp)

This article is an analysis of the reasons behind the malaise of the Left which has in common some of the themes discussed at this site as well as raising some new angles

For example, the following quote outlines the superficiality of the reflexive anti-Americanism of many on the “left” in response to the 9/11 attacks:

“Let me elaborate by first turning briefly to the ways in which many liberals and progressives responded to the attack of September 11. The most general argument made was that the action, as horrible as it may have been, had to be understood as a reaction to American policies, especially in the Middle East. While it is the case that terrorist violence should be understood as political (and not simply as an irrational act), the understanding of the politics of violence expressed by such arguments is, nevertheless, utterly inadequate. Such violence is understood as a reaction of the insulted, injured, and downtrodden, not as an action. While the violence itself is not necessarily affirmed, the politics of the specific form of violence committed are rarely interrogated. Instead, the violence is explained (and at times implicitly justified) as a response. Within this schema, there is only one actor in the world: the United States.

This sort of argument focuses on the grievances of those who carry out such actions without engaging the framework of meaning within which those grievances are expressed. The actions that flow from those meanings are taken simply as expressions of anger, however unfortunate. Such arguments neither interrogate the understanding of the world that motivated this violence nor critically analyze the sort of politics implied by violence directed intentionally against civilians. Consequently, such arguments can become implicitly apologetic rather than political; they make little attempt to understand the strategic calculations involved — not so much of the bombers as of their handlers — and ignore issues of ideology. It is a serious error, for example, to interpret the felt grievances underlying a movement like al-Qaeda in narrow terms, as an immediate reaction to American policies and Israeli policies. This ignores too many other dimensions of the new jihadism. For example, when Osama bin Laden speaks of the blow inflicted on the Muslims eighty years ago, he is not referring to the founding of the state of Israel but to the abolition of the caliphate (and, hence, of the purported unity of the Muslim world) by Ataturk in 1924 — long before the United States was involved in the Middle East and before Israel was established. It is noteworthy that the vision he
expresses is more global than local, which is one of the salient features of the new jihadism, in terms of both the struggles it supports (transforming them into manifestations of a single struggle) and its driving ideology. And an important aspect of the global character of that ideology has been anti-Semitism.

Addressing anti-Semitism is crucially important when considering issues of globalization and antiglobalization, even if it can be subject to misunderstandings because of the degree to which the charge of anti-Semitism has been used as an ideology of legitimation by Israeli regimes in order to discredit all serious criticisms of Israeli policies. It is certainly possible to formulate a fundamental critique of those policies that is not anti-Semitic, and, indeed, many such critiques have been formulated. On the other hand, criticism of Israel should not blind one to the existence today of widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim world. As I will try to elaborate, anti-Semitism poses a very determinate problem for the Left.”

Continue reading ‘Postone’s analysis of the malaise of the “left”’