Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Poland: First to Fight

Originally posted 1 September 2010

The popular image of Poland in WWII is of a small nation that became the first victim of the Nazi blitzkrieg and the proximate cause of the war when Great Britain and France rallied to its side.

History records a different story. Poland fought Hitler’s Reich longer than any other nation. Her contributions to the Allied victory were significant and should be reclaimed from the memory hole.

First, about the defeat in September 1939:
The Polish Army-- almost completely unmechanized, almost without air support, almost surrounded by the Germans from the outset and, shortly, completely surrounded when the Red Army joined the aggression-- fought more effectively than it has been given credit for. It sustained resistance from September 1 until October 5, five weeks, which compares highly favorably with the six and a half weeks during which France, Britain, Belgium, and Holland kept up the fight in the west the following year
(John Keegan, The Battle for History)

Despite the defeats of 1939, the Polish nation never stopped fighting. Not only did the Home Army resist the Nazis inside of occupied Poland, but Polish forces fought on every major front of the European war.

The existence of a legitimate government in exile and of a strong army abroad--Poland, even in 1944, had the fourth largest number of men fighting German after the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom-- lent a powerful heart to the Poles, who produced few collaborators and no puppet chief, a unique distinction in the record of European response to German aggression.

Polish airmen filled whole squadrons in the Battle of Britain at a time when Britain barely had enough fighter pilots to hold off the Luftwaffe. (The Kosciuszko Squadron shot down more German planes than any other fighter squadron during the battle). Ground units fought heroically in key battles in Italy and France.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Poland made to the final victory was in the realm of intelligence. They played a vital role in breaking the Enigma cipher system used by the German high command and shared their discoveries with the French and British.

The Poles eventually designed a whole array of mechanical aids -- some of which they passes to the British, some of which the British replicated independently, besides inventing others themselves-- but their original attack, which allowed them to understand the logic of Enigma, eas a workd of pure mathematical reasoning. As it was done without any modern computing machinery, but simply by pencil and paper, it must be regarded as one of the most remarkable mathematical exercises known to history.
(John Keegan, Intelligence in War)

In the first desperate years of the war, Engima/ULTRA intelligence enabled Britain to hold off the Luftwaffe and then the U-boat menace.

The Nazis never discovered the ULTRA secret in five years of war. That is an amazing testament to the Poles and the French still on the Continent who knew the secret but never divulged it, not even under Gestopo torture.

The Polish Underground was the number one source of HUMINT in occupied Europe for the British. They provided vast amounts on information on the German V-1 and V-2 secret weapons, the movements of U-boats, and the German military preparations in advance of D-Day.

Witold Pilecki is a name every student should know. He carried out what the Times of London called “perhaps the bravest act of espionage of the Second World War”: he volunteered to go inside of Auschwitz. His reports documented the Nazi’s extermination campaign against the Jews.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Originally posted 31 August 2003

On this day in 1980 the Polish communist government agreed to the demands of the striking workers in the Gdansk shipyard. Workers would have the right to organize freely and independently

The strike marked the beginning of the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are, rightly, given the greatest share of credit for winning the Cold War. But Lech Walesa and John Paul II played indispensable roles.

In the 70s many experts believed that continuing the Cold War was pointless-- the Communists weren't so bad, not every society valued Western style freedom, cowed populations accepted what they could not change. Solidarity and the Poles put the lie to such talk.

In the long twilight struggle against Stalinism, the workers of Poland were the first light of sunrise.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Every real scandal needs a Sussman

That would be Barry Sussman a former editor at the Washington Post. He is one of Watergate’s forgotten men. But that makes him no less important.

Indeed, by ignoring Post editors Harry Rosenfeld and Barry Sussman, the oral history project doesn’t even fairly depict what truly went on inside the newspaper during those fateful months. This is particularly true in Sussman’s case. The author of a well-regarded history of Watergate, The Great Cover-up, Sussman provides a sorely needed corrective to the fabulistic account of the Post’s coverage that was presented in All the President’s Men (both the book and the film), and reprised in Robert Redford’s recent documentary, All the President’s Men Revisited.

Sussman was a city editor at the Post at the time of the break-in. He became the special Watergate editor in mid-July 1972, when managing editor Howard Simons decided to go after the story. Sussman put Bernstein and Woodward on the story full-time, and in reality, a troikanot a duowas responsible for the summer/fall 1972 coverage that won the newspaper (not Woodstein) a Pulitzer Prize. According to interview notes by Alan Pakula, taken as he was preparing to direct All the President’s Men, managing editor Simons and metro editor Rosenfeld thought if any single person at the Post was deserving of a Pulitzer it was Sussman.
From Washington Decoded

Sussman did not get his recognition. Woodward and Bernstein may not have gotten their Pulitzer, but they did get something better: a makeover by the mythmaking Hollywood dream machine. Sadly, the myths have clouded the public’s understanding of Watergate and investigative journalism ever since.

All the President’s Men has a nice description of the key role Sussman played in the Post’s coverage of Watergate:

Sussman was a walking compendium of Watergate knowledge, a reference source to be summoned when even the library failed. On deadline, he would pump these facts into a story in a constant infusion, working up a body of significant information to support what otherwise seemed like the weakest of revelations. In Sussman’s mind, everything fitted. Watergate was a puzzle and he was a collector of the pieces
Alan Pakula’s notes are also revealing:

“Barry made [editorially] acceptable the work of two junior reporters . . . They didn’t understand what they had often and couldn’t write it.” Sussman’s role was to “interpret the significance [of what the duo gathered] and to structure it in terms of news articles [which necessitated] quite a bit of rewriting.” Sussman also played a larger role in guiding the reporters during the critical first months than was commonly understood.
New media have many advantages, but this suggests that there are also weaknesses in their business models. Fox News, like their cable competitors, has aggressively eliminated the Sussman role. (See here.)

The Army of Davids and citizen journalism can do many things, but until now it has lagged in supplying context (that thing that turns data into information) and reasonable inference (which turns information into intelligence). All too often we count on the reader to supply them.

Which is a fine and democratic attitude. A fine attitude that ensures that the vast majority of potential readers will be left in the dark since they are not obsessive consumers of political news.

No wonder HRC and Biden are still politically viable. Almost by design the sharpest, best-informed criticism of them is destined for the memory hole even as it is published.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Another innocent victim of the 'Red Scare'

Cedric Belfrage: The WW2 spy Britain was embarrassed to pursue

Britain failed to prosecute a member of the intelligence services who passed secrets to Russia in World War Two out of fear of embarrassment, files in the National Archives have revealed.

MI5 also appeared to have failed to grasp the significance of former film critic Cedric Belfrage's activities.

The Briton worked for an arm of MI6 in New York after a career in Hollywood.

But his colleagues were unaware he had become increasingly left wing, probably after a trip to the Soviet Union.

Historians say his espionage could be ranked alongside that conducted by members of the Cambridge spy ring during the Cold War.
Hey, let's see what a respected journalist had to say in his book the American style of (right-wing) paranoia:

McCarthy ordered an immigration officer to be present when an alien of long standing took the Fifth Amendment. The alien was Cedric Belfrage, an author who wrote for Hollywood fan magazines, had been Sam Goldwyn's press agent, and who had traveled to the Soviet Union in 1936. After taking the Fifth, Belfrage was arrested on a deportation warrant, held at Ellis Island, and then deported to Great Britain
Ooops. Warning to journalists. Archives and documents may be hazardous to your narrative.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Explaining the Trump phenomenon

This might be the explanation I've read about the roots of the Summer of Trump

Trump Is A Demon Of The Establishment’s Design

The circus that is the American election cycle has an added bit of flair this time. No, not the possibility of a female on the ticket. We had that buzz of excitement in 1984 and 2008. It is the spectacle of a self-promoting, billionaire blowhard taking the “Bulworth” approach towards a legitimate run for the presidency. Donald Trump has added spice to the 2016 presidential election cycle and in the slow, summer news season to excite cable news operatives. He has rocketed to the top of the polls, rustled Establishment jimmies, and caused conversations to take place that no one would expect.

As much as he is loathed by the Establishment, he is a demon of their design.

One point he makes is near and dear to my heart:

Trump has years of active Twitter use to get inside the media’s OODA loop and change the framing of any report. The media’s biased use of Twitter, as if it is the pulse of “the people” despite Twitter’s proven liberal and black demographic skew, allows Trump to use what is the equivalent of an Internet CB Radio to increase visibility and shape media coverage. The system has allowed Twitter to have an effect because Twitter is a leftist tool to shape narratives in the left’s favor.

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Blogging was a direct attack on MSM hegemony at both the micro (fisking) and macro levels (explanation space). I just don't see Twitter as the same threat. It is a flood of unmemorable chatter that is easy to ignore. Blogging had the potential to break the power of the MSM guild. Bloggers, at their best, presented arguments. Arguments can both change minds on the immediate subject and undermine the credibilty of those establishment pundits who present weak cases on a regular basis. (Yes, i'm looking at you Brooks and Frum).

At a minimum, blogging brought a lot of outsiders to the pundit/editor game. Twitter seems more useful as a way for insiders like Kurtz to extent their brand and magnify their voice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Roger Scruton reminds us that Britain had a public education system before the government got involved

A Point of View: The case for not leaving education to the teachers

Since the Middle Ages, education has been regarded in this country as a public duty. Originally the duty did not fall on the state. It was a general charitable duty, to which wealthy people responded by establishing schools and colleges, setting up the trusts that would fund them, and providing scholarships for poor pupils. A statute of Elizabeth I defined education as a charitable purpose, entitled to certain legal and fiscal privileges. Over the following centuries new schools proliferated, often established by the Anglican and non-conformist churches. In 1833 the government introduced an annual grant to two charities that provided both church schools and non-denominational schools for poor children. As a result of those and similar moves education rapidly expanded during the first half of the 19th Century, to the point where it was unusual for a child not to acquire sufficient numeracy and literacy to survive in the competitive environment of the industrial cities.

Conservatives for unilateral disarmament

Too proud to fight?

Or too fussy to win?

I admire both Charles Cooke and Kevin Williamson of National Review. I usually find myself in complete agreement with them. But on their most recent Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast they went off the rails.

On the matter of outrage mobs they both came out in favor of not fighting fire with fire.

This is a recipe for defeat.

It is nice to believe that taking the high road will cause the Left to renounce such tactics and create a more open area for vigorous debate.

And puppies and unicorns and rainbows......

Why should the Left renounce a tactic that is working? Moreover, look at how much the Left has come to revel in the pseudo-violence of their debating methods. They praised their hero Jon Stewart, not because he refuted his ideological opponents, but because he (in their eyes) CRUSHED them, DEMOLISHED them, EVISCERATED them, DESTROYED them.

Hardly an audience to be won over with self-abnegation and moral suasion.

The Left denounces Citizens United and Wall Street. Despite their high-mindedness they are happy to have the help of Super Pacs funded by Hedge fund millionaires.

Taking the advice of Cooke and Williamson guarantees the continued cultural hegemony of the Left. Power matters. People will come to understand that to run afoul of the Left could be career-ending. (Brendan Eich anyone?) And so fewer people will challenge the Left. Attacking the Right will remain a safe and popular sport.

Stephen Koch on the Bloomsbury and its methods:

Even by the ungentle standards of most literary cliques, Bloomsbury was exceptionally malicious within its own ranks, and with outssiders cruel to the point of systematic sadism. All the talk of 'friendship' concealed quite different interests, ….

Paul Johnson on Strachey:"From the Apostles he grasped the principles of group power: The ability not merely to exclude but to be seen to exclude. He perfected the art of unapproachability and rejection."...

First, last, and always, the real politics of Bloomsbury was a search for elite cultural power in England.
Asymmetrical standards of discourse mean that the Left gets credit for being raw, edgy, visceral, and iconoclastic. Their opponents can only oscillate between bigotry and boring.

Hence, the Left becomes cool.

Style and fashion matter.

Robert Conquest:

The Austrailian poet James McAuley wrote pentetratingly of the pro-Communist phenomenon: 'During the thirties and forties Austrailian intellectual life became subjected to an alarming extent to the magnetic field of Communism. All sorts of people who would regard themselves as being non-Communist, and even opposed to Communism, in practice were dominated by the themes and modes of discussion proposed by the Communists, danced to the Communist tune, and had serious emotional resistances to being identified with any postition or institution which was denounced by the Communists as "reactionary".' He adds that 'one reason for all this was that schools of thought genuinely independent of and opposed to Communist suggestion were in this country not well organized and publicly present. They lacked prestige, that magical aura which captures the minds of the young in advance of argument and establishes compelling fashions

Monday, August 17, 2015

Forging alliances with education

Nice BBC report on the role Sandhurst plays in Great Britain's relations with the Arab worl

Sandhurst and the Sheikhs
I discussed this aspect of military education a while back (see here).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

This seems timely

Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski in The Right and the Power (1976):

In criminal law the rule is well recognized that one who learns of an ongoing criminal conspiracy and casts his lot with the conspirators becomes a member of the conspiracy. Once the existence of a conspiracy is shown, slight evidence may be sufficient to connect a defendant with it. But one odes not become a member of a conspiracy simply because of receiving information regarding its nature and scope; he must have information regarding its nature and scope; he must have what the courts describe as a "stake in the success of the venture." He "must in some sense promote the venture himself, make it his own, have a stake in its outcome. …" Although one member of the conspiracy must commit a overt act, it is not necessary that every conspirator do so.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Robert Conquest, RIP

Nice appreciation from Roger Kimball:

In memoriam: Robert Conquest, 1917-2015

His magisterial book about Stalin’s infamous tyranny, The Great Terror, was published in 1968 to snivels of opprobrium from the bien pensant left-wing establishment, who complained that he had wildly exaggerated the death toll of Stalin’s effort to bring about utopia. When the Soviet archives were finally opened after the fall of the Soviet Union, it turned out he had actually underestimated the butcher’s bill.
Remember The New York Times received a Pulitzer Prize for helping cover-up and explain away the brutality that Conquest wrote about.

In his Reflection on a Ravaaged Century, Conquest explained why the Communists held sway over so many "smart people" for so long:

The Austrailian poet James McAuley wrote pentetratingly of the pro-Communist phenomenon: 'During the thirties and forties Austrailian intellectual life became subjected to an alarming extent to the magnetic field of Communism. All sorts of people who would regard themselves as being non-Communist, and even opposed to Communism, in practice were dominated by the themes and modes of discussion proposed by the Communists, danced to the Communist tune, and had serious emotional resistances to being identified with any postition or institution which was denounced by the Communists as "reactionary".' He adds that 'one reason for all this was that schools of thought genuinely independent of and opposed to Communist suggestion were in this country not well organized and publicly present. They lacked prestige, that magical aura which captures the minds of the young in advance of argument and establishes compelling fashions
If you think about it, that also helps to explain why the Left and the MSM (sorry, is that redundant?) love Jon Stewart so much.

Also worth noting, as Klehr and Haynes document in In Denial, that hstorians have been waging decades-long battle againt the truth about Stalinism and other communists. That fight continues to this day.