Change, My Dear

And not a moment too soon!

So I’m back. Yeah. I just couldn’t stay away. I’ll be back to doing this daily, too, so that’s a thing.

What brings me back? Well, I’d always intended to return for things like the conventions and the debates, and live-blogging the election results. But I decided to come back prior to all that. Partly because today marks exactly one year since I last blogged on here, but also because of another important event.

Today marks 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. This 5 month battle resulted in the death or wounding of over 57,000 British soldiers on day one. It got worse from there. Over a million soldiers on all sides died or were wounded in this single battle. Over 6,600 men per day were killed or injured. Let that sink in. And what did they die for?

the battle of the somme1

Hell if I know. This was one of the worst moments in one of the worst, most pointless wars in all of human history, and I’m sad to say that all those men who were killed died for exactly nothing.

On that cheery note, it’s good to be back!


The Great Butchery

97 years ago today, World War One, that meat-grinder of a generation, came to a halt, with 38 million people dead or injured. It was the worst war up to that point in history, and the levels of sheer brutality and waste stagger the mind even today.

Of those 38 million, 17 million died. That’s over the course of four years and change. That’s approximately 11,000 people per day that were killed. That’s more each and every day than the total number of soldiers the USA has lost during the War on Terror. That means every five days, the allies lost the same number of soldiers we lost during the Vietnam War.

The First World War was a terrible, pointless affair, best summed-up in this exchange from Blackadder Goes Forth.

Baldrick: The thing is: The way I see it, these days there’s a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn’t a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: How did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?

Edmund: Do you mean “Why did the war start?”

Baldrick: Yeah.

George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire-building.

Edmund: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front.

George: Oh, no, sir, absolutely not. [aside, to Baldick] Mad as a bicycle!

Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ’cause he was hungry.

Edmund: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.

Baldrick: Nah, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.

Edmund: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war.

George: By Golly, this is interesting; I always loved history…

Edmund: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

Baldrick: But this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

Edmund: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

George: What was that, sir?

Edmund: It was bollocks.

Baldrick: So the poor old ostrich died for nothing.

Sadly the ostrich wasn’t alone, and by the end of that episode, had plenty of company.

World War One doesn’t loom large enough in the American consciousness, and that’s a shame. We like to remember our clear-cut, wonderful victories, like in Revolution, when we beat the British, World War II, where we beat the Axis, and the Civil War, where we beat…well, other Americans.

But World War I is different. On paper, the US and the Allies won. But in reality, no one won that war. Millions dead, billions of dollars wasted, huge swathes of land devastated, nations destabilized, and the stage set for World War II: Adolf’s Revenge. It was a pointless, terrible waste, and maybe, just maybe, if we focused on this war and it’s outcomes more often, we might be somewhat less eager to rush into the next war.


A Confederacy of Dunces

Who won the American Civil War? It seems like a very clear-cut question. The Union won, slavery was ended, and the nation remained intact. But who actually won the Civil War? By the end of Reconstruction, the black population of the south weren’t slaves, it’s true, but they were slaves in all but name. They had no civil rights, they earned subsistence wages, they were routinely oppressed and sometimes lynched. A very real argument can be made that while on paper the Confederacy lost the war, they did not, in fact, lose it, and in the process they and their descendants made themselves out to to be something other than a movement entirely dedicated to slavery and its preservation. History may be written by the winners, but in the case of the Confederacy, they’ve sure done a great job of editing the final draft.

That’s the overall thrust of an article I read this morning, that also makes some very valid comparisons between the Confederacy, various Confederate-style movements, and the Tea Party. I strongly suggest you all go read it. The comparisons made between the way many liberals acted after the 2000 election and the way many conservatives acted after the 2008 and 2012 elections are quite striking. Can you honestly look at the Tea Party people and tell me we wouldn’t have had an armed insurrection crop up if Obama’s win had only come via the Supreme Court?

Another Forgotten War

Americans have lots of forgotten wars. These are wars that we collectively sort-of pretend never happened. Usually this is because we lost them. A prime example? The War of 1812. The Korean War and Vietnam are both great examples as well. Sure, we aren’t forgetting Vietnam yet, but give us 100 years and most people will have stopped remembering it. Same thing with Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which we lost by any reasonable measure.

World War I is an odd case. We didn’t lose the war, and in fact had total victory by rushing in to the rescue during the third act. But it pushed us in all sorts of weird directions and immediately after the war, it became more-or-less official governmental policy to forget it.

But the war was waging 100 years ago, and it’s important to take some time to remember that, and to understand it.

Goodbye to All That

A few months ago, the new controller of Syfy announced that the network was going to step back from non-genre programming and move into showing actual science fiction. They announced production of an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic series Foundation, and began airing the extremely good mini-series Ascension.

This pleased me to no end. While shows like Sharkando were inexplicably highly-rated programs, they were crap, and not what Syfy should have been airing. That isn’t even getting into them airing reality TV shows or televising wrestling.

Yesterday the new chief at the Discovery Channel announced that they’re done with fake “documentaries” about mermaids and giant sharks, and that they’re moving, at last, back to more science-based programming.

I couldn’t be happier about these developments. In the Syfy announcement, the guy in charge lamented the fact that shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead were airing on other networks instead of on Syfy. He’s absolutely correct; the network hasn’t had a prestige show since Battlestar Galactica went off the air, and even then they didn’t know what to do with it.

As for Discovery, yeah, the network went from showing responsible, actual science programming (including things like Mythbusters), to airing crap about a man being eaten by a snake and people gathering seafood.

I really hope this works for both of these networks, and I hope that History pays attention. They’re getting somewhat better, with Vikings being a bit silly, but at least historically-based program, and they have a series about the American Revolution coming up, though that looks more like “EXTREME REVOLUTION!” than anything thoughtful. Still, it’s a good start.

Er…wait…isn’t that background music by a British rock band?

Anyhow, it’s still progress! Now if we can get them away from programs about people harvesting lumber and driving trucks, and get Pawn Stars to focus on the items and their history and not the “hilarious” antics the “boys” get up to, we might just be on to something.

Oh, and on a side note, hopefully they’ll soon get around to putting a stake through the heart of that shitty American version of Top Gear

The Way it All Began

100 years ago today a group of Serbian conspirators managed to kill Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary and the heir to the throne, and his wife. They were the first of many, many deaths that would come in the next four years, as this was the start of World War One.

I’ve said before that World War One is the single most important event of the 20th century, and I still believe that. It not only laid the groundwork for World War Two (and, indeed, one can argue it was all the same war, with a protracted cease-fire in the middle), but it also enabled the Communist revolution in Russia, thus laying the groundwork for similar uprisings in various other countries, as well as the groundwork for the Cold War, as well as setting the stage for all the current problems in the Middle-East, the problems in the Balkans in the 1990s, etc, etc. It’s also why 1912 was the most important US Presidential election.

It all started because of Serbian nationalism. The Serbs had had the fires of nationalism stoked for a couple of decades, and actually believed they could fight and win in a war against Austria-Hungary. For comparison’s sake, this would be like Denmark deciding they could win a war against Germany. It was a terrible mistake, and it led to the assassination, which then led to World War One.

For more information on the war and America’s eventual role in it, check out these two videos.

And for a bit of a cry…

To Preserve Our Freedom


It’s Memorial Day here in the USA. It’s one of two national holidays we have to remember the sacrifices made by our military, etc. It’s an excuse for BBQ cookouts, big, summer movies, mattress sales, and for companies to offer discounts to our veterans, because all these things are easier than working to make sure we stop making veterans.

Our country fetishizes its military to a very unhealthy degree. Publicly, we loudly and often praise them; it’s regarded as very unpatriotic not to do so, really. There are likely many reasons for this, including your basic machismo, the fact that we’ve never lost a really damaging war, and the fact that we came into existence via a war.

One of the ongoing memes that come up as a result of this, particularly around this time of year, and later in November for Veterans’ Day, is that the various soldiers we’ve sent off to war fought and died for our freedom. They kept us safe from tyranny, and made sure we can continue to live our lives as we please.

This is somewhat true, but there’s also a huge heap of bullshit here.

The American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Punitive Expedition, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I, the Afghan War, and Gulf War II are the various wars I can think of off the top of my head. In addition to those, we invaded places like Russia, Panama, Grenada, and really much of Central America.

In the revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, we clearly were indeed fighting for our existence as a nation, and therefore, arguably, for our freedom. So the next time you see someone who is a combat veteran from any of those wars, do take the time to congratulate them for a: fighting for our freedom, and b: being alive. The Punitive Expedition was an adventure into Mexico to find and stop Pancho Villa, who had launched attacks against a small town in New Mexico. I guess we can chalk that one up as an effort to protect American freedom.

World War II is a bit iffy, surprisingly. Was our freedom as a nation in jeopardy? Probably not. Japan wanted land in Asia, and had they not attacked Pearl Harbor, we probably wouldn’t have gone to war with them. Having Americans die to protect China and the British Empire wouldn’t have sat well with the public. As for Hitler…that’s a bit more dicey. He probably would have been content to have a little empire in central Europe and western Russia, especially if he could have had access to the gas and oil in Romania and the Caucuses. Not a good thing for the untermenchen who lived in those places, but, it must be said, not a direct threat to our freedoms. But I’ll give this one a pass as a fight for freedom in general.

But the other wars? The Mexican-American War was a land-grab, pure and simple. We did pay Mexico for the land we took, to be fair, and they offered us more, which we refused because we didn’t want to have to deal with expanding slavery. The Indian Wars were clearly a land-grab, too (and certainly not about preserving freedom for the Indians), as was the Spanish-American War, which was blatantly about trying to create something akin to an empire (akin to, because without an emperor, it’s hard to have an empire). These were not wars that were waged to protect American freedoms, or indeed, to protect freedom as a concept.

World War I was fought because, as Captain Edmund Blackadder once famously observed, it was easier than not having a war. We were officially neutral for most of the war, but realistically, we were in it up to our eyeballs fairly early on. The war itself was complicated and messy and was actually about a great many issues, like Serbian nationalism, UK/German rivalry, Japan’s desire to have a European-style empire, etc, none of which had anything to do with the United States, and none of which were about protecting freedom here or abroad. We could have kept our noses out of that one, and the war would likely have rolled to an unpleasant end sometime in 1919, instead of 1918.

The Korean War and the Vietnam War were also not even remotely about protecting our freedoms, and only barely about protecting the freedoms of the people in those countries, many of whom weren’t especially fond of the USA, and wanted the freedom to establish their own governments without our interference. These were wars that were all about appearing tough before the Soviet Union who, arguably, were also not a threat to our freedoms. They were never going to invade the USA, and weren’t likely to go nuclear at any point, given the concept of MAD. In fact, we could have let them run roughshod over the entire world, aside from the USA, and we likely would have been just fine, given our resources. I’m not saying we should have done that; standing up to them and not allowing the spread of Stalinist-style government was probably a good thing, but we could have done that.

Gulf War I and Gulf War II were about oil. Let’s not even pretend otherwise. Had Saddam invaded, say, Iran, like he did in the 1980s when he was our little pet, we wouldn’t have cared less, despite the fact that Iran is, at least mostly, a democracy and Kuwait certainly isn’t. But Kuwait has oil, as does Saudi Arabia, and we didn’t really want to have to deal with having a new person run the store. So we went to war. The second Gulf War was also about revenge, since as George W pointed out, Saddam had tried to have W’s father, George HW Bush, assassinated. 100,000+ dead Iraqi civilians later, and I guess we have revenge for someone nearly having an attempt on their life. Does Iraq have more freedom? Possibly. Did it affect our levels of freedom even slightly? No.

The Afghan War is a bit more tricky. Clearly, no, it wasn’t really a fight for our freedoms. In fact, I’d argue we lost some freedoms (TSA and NSA, anyone?), and we certainly stained our honor by becoming a nation that used torture. But had we not invaded Afghanistan, our country would have ticked along just fine, only with several thousand not-dead soldiers and several billion dollars richer.

That said, I still think it was a good thing to do. We did actually bring freedom to large parts of the country, and ending the Taliban’s stranglehold wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just a pity we screwed up the peace so royally.

As for the various invasions of Russia (it was in the 1900s, and part of our effort to keep the tsar, a man who was rigidly opposed to freedom, in power), Grenada, Panama, and other places in South and Central America, please. Not even one of those invasions was even slightly about protecting freedom for anyone, much less Americans.

Our combat soldiers do a tough and unpleasant job, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that they are, in general, in our various wars and military adventures and police actions, actually defending the freedom of anyone, much less those of us at home.