Saturday, July 28, 2007


Packing, and a quick trip to the country hacienda tomorrow. . .so probably very little in the way of posting till next week. SWMBO thinks I have a few too many books. . .

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fidel at Moncada

Today, in 1953, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and their rebel gang attacked the Cuban Army's Moncada Barracks in Santiago-de-Cuba. The large structure held a battalion of about 400 troops. Attacking a military barracks (in the dark) held by 400 (presumably) trained soldiers with 160 or so rebels traveling in numerous automobiles is not exactly evidence of military genius, although it does show a certain amount of courage and a good deal more foolhardiness.
As one might expect, the attack was a complete fiasco, resulting in the capture of about 50 rebels and the killing of 61 more. (Why couldn't the soldiers have killed, oh, a couple more ?) Fidel seems to have blown his cool completely -- crashing the car he was driving before the attack was even fairly underway. Unfortunately for Cuba and everybody else, the soldiers failed to kill Fidel or Raul, who learned well from their military mistakes: graduating with honors into the club of dictators six years later. History will condemn them.

Winning There, Losing Here

The key theater in this global war is Iraq. Our troops are serving bravely in that country. They're opposing ruthless enemies, and no enemy is more ruthless in Iraq than al Qaeda. They send suicide bombers into crowded markets; they behead innocent captives and they murder American troops. They want to bring down Iraq's democracy so they can use that nation as a terrorist safe haven for attacks against our country. So our troops are standing strong with nearly 12 million Iraqis who voted for a future of peace, and they so for the security of Iraq and the safety of American citizens.

President George W. Bush, Speech, Charleston Air Force Base, Charleston, South Carolina, Tuesday, 24 July 2007.

Lieut.-Col. Ralph Peters, probably my favorite mainstream media military analyst, has an excellent piece in the New York Post today which says that the war is looking up in Baghdad, but being lost in Washington:

The herd animals on Capitol Hill – from both parties – just can’t wait to go over the cliff on Iraq. And even when the media mention one or two of the successes achieved by our troops, the reports are grudging.
Quite true, but what of it ? Even assuming, as I do, that Col. Peters is correct about the situation on the ground in Iraq, the military facts are irrelevant. President Bush's excellent speech quoted above (hat tip, Belmont Club) is so right on so many things: right about the need to beat al Qaeda in Iraq, correct that victory in Iraq is central to doing that. But President Bush is, unfortunately, wrong about the key theater of this war. We are losing this war today because the Democratic Party, the media and academia here have decided that we should. Our enemies have a superior operational concept: exploitation of our media, and manipulation of politicians who think that defeating Bush and his “illegal war” serves a higher, better purpose than winning it. The center of gravity is in Washington, LA and New York, and not Baghdad or the Sunni triangle.

We will never manage to win this war or any other unless we become better at employing the media – which, in the new era of total war – is just another weapon like everyone and everything else. No future war plan will be complete without a media strategy. One of President Bush’s gravest strategic mistakes in this war (the others may be discussed another time) was to sit quietly in the White House in 2003-05 while the insurgency gathered steam, and his political enemies developed their arguments, rather than pushing Rumsfeld sooner to find a strategy and spending every day tirelessly explaining and agitating: bringing people to his side on this war.

Can the war effort (both in Iraq and in Afghanistan) be saved ? Unclear. The military is doing all it can, and more. But victory depends on political factors that the President has allowed to slip beyond his control. We are now in the position of praying for our numerous enemies to make a mistake.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

And This Would Be El Jefe. . .

Amazing what you can do with a few of El Jefe's books, something his Dad gave him, Microsoft Paint, and frittering away the better part of an evening. . .

Town Lake ? Nope, It's Another LBJ

The Austin-American Spaceman reports that the Austin City Council is going to name Town Lake in Austin "Lady Bird Lake" in honor of recently deceased First Lady Lady-Bird Johnson at its meeting tomorrow. Austin calendar, stationery, map and poster-makers are no doubt ordering champagne tonight.
I'm sure Mrs. Johnson, a tireless preservationist, and worker for a better environment -- including the improvement of Town Lake -- deserves the honor. Still, I'm underwhelmed by the idea. Back in the bad old days, I enjoyed too many afternoons at Town Lake to get used to a new name.
In general, El Jefe, true to his role of old-stickimus maximus, disapproves of renaming things no matter how worthy the honoree, or how urgent the wishes of the new owners. (Here in Ciudad El Jefe, I still often refer to the former Home of the Rockets as the Summit, despite at least two nomenclature changes).
Occasional exceptions are okay, for, say, George Washington or something, but we've been out of the George Washington production business for a long time.
And yes, no doubt lookers searching long enough could find some inconsistency in my practices, but consistency's never bothered me, too much.

"Cookie Jar ? What Cookie Jar ?"

Lindsay's innocent and the coke wasn't hers.
But we already knew that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Very busy at work, and preparing, at the end of the month, to relocate the Imperial Palace, so I'm rather behind on posting.
There is one matter that will absolutely not wait, for it portends a Serious Media Conniption-Fit -- maybe even as big as Paris Hilton. Lindsay Lohan has evidently been busted. . .as in serious DWI trouble -- again. Maybe even worse: the celeb sites are reporting car chases, drugs and probably space-aliens too. So what's up with her anyway ? Rich, gorgeous and still a walking disaster.
Besides the fact that this is a real ginormous crisis, and much bigger news than the stupid Democratic You-Tube debate, I really just wanted to find a plausible reason to link here. . .

Friday, July 20, 2007

20 July 1944

Today is the anniversary of the 20 July 1944 attempt by German Army officers and elements of the German resistance to assassinate Adolf Hitler at his deep-woods hide-out in the Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze ("Fuhrer Headquarters 'Wolf's Lair'"), located near Rastenburg in East Prussia. Unfortunately, the plot failed: a bomb, hidden in a briefcase full of papers carried into Hitler's daily military situation conference by Oberst Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg - failed to kill Hitler.
The plot was bigger, however, than a not-so-simple assassination attempt: the explosion triggered Fall Walküre (Operation Valkyrie) -- an attempt to overthrow the Nazi government by coup d'etat under the cover of a military contingency plan for army rule in the event of a breakdown of law and order.
As William Shirer later wrote, the "devil's hand" protected the Führer that day. The conspirators were dogged at every turn by plain bad luck. Hitler's daily conference, normally held in an underground air raid shelter (which would have magnified the effect of the blast), was, on this hot day, moved to an above-ground building. A colonel in Hitler's conference tripped over Count Stauffenberg's bomb-briefcase, so the unlucky colonel moved it behind one of the conference table's heavy wooden supports, on the side away from Hitler. The blast at 12:45 p.m. killed the colonel, among others, but Hitler survived with superficial wounds.
Once the explosion occurred, other conspirators in the Wolf's Lair's communications center failed to destroy the transmitting facilities. (Hitler out of communication that day was probably almost as good as Hitler dead).
Without confirmation of Hitler's death, the plotters in Berlin hesitated, fatally, to move. Had the coup began as soon as news of the explosion was received, enough of officialdom might have been induced to become too deeply involved in the plot to reverse course even given Hitler's survival. As it was, the coup in Berlin did not get under way until after 4 p.m., when Stauffenberg, (who had taken off for Berlin after planting his bomb), arrived in the city.
Only then did German Army headquarters begin transmitting a message, which began: "The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead. . ." The message did not specify the cause, but stated that a band of non-military conspirators were stabbing the fighting front in the back and that consequently, the Army was taking power. Orders were issued to arrest Nazi Party, SS and Gestapo officials, and this process began, but it was being carried out by officers and troops who believed that Hitler was dead. . .
Unfortunately, the Wolf's Lair could still transmit the news that Hitler had survived, and the plot collapsed. Graf von Stauffenberg and his closest collaborators were perhaps fortunate: shot by firing squad in the early morning hours of 21 July in the courtyard of General Staff headquarters in the Bendlerstrasse. The immediate execution of von Stauffenberg and the others was ordered by a general trying to cover up his own involvement (unsuccessfully, he was later executed also). Others implicated in the plot were handed over to the infamous Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court") where they received kangaroo trials before being executed by hanging, many with piano wire, in Plötzensee Prison, their executions filmed for Hitler's delectation.
About 5,000 persons were arrested for some kind of involvement or complicity in the plot. At least 200 persons were executed, the most senior being a Field Marshal, Erwin von Witzleben. (Generalfeldmarschall von Witzleben was one of the earliest of the anti-Hitler plotters, his disapproval of and plotting against the Nazi regime dating to at least 1934).
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, only tangentally involved in the conspiracy -- was induced by threats to his family to take his own life. Field Marshal Günther von Kluge also escaped the hangman by suicide: although he was not directly involved in the various anti-Hitler conspiracies, von Kluge allowed plotting to go on in his headquarters.
The 20 July plot's failure is one of the more intriguing "what if's" of the Second World War. The failure of the plot destroyed the German resistance, for all practical purposes; and eliminated the political power of the traditionalist-conservative military leadership class, which had always regarded Hitler with some distaste (which he returned with interest). The plot certainly increased mutual distrust between the Army and the Nazi Party (no bad thing from the point of view of the war).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The Daily Telegraph reports that one out of four Israeli draft-age males dodges conscription. Of the conscription class of 2006, only 75 percent of eligible males responded to the call to the colors.
Although Israel is an ally and a friendly state, Americans have no oar directly in the water on that problem. Still, this is disheartening to see, particularly for a country in as threatened a position as Israel is. That is not the spirit that made that country powerful.

Gates of Vienna Locked ?

The Gates of Vienna blog, one of El Jefe's favorite spots on the blogosphere, was evidently blocked for a time, apparently by Blogger software. During the blockage, Baron B. and Dymphna, the proprietors of Gates of Vienna were unable to post, the software telling them that their posts were being blocked by Blogger's "spam prevention" robots. Gates is open again, but it seems that Gates of Vienna was probably the victim of malicious persons flagging the blog as some sort of spam site.
The matter has evidently been resolved, but this is a very sinister matter: the robots are evidently induced to emplace blockages, and the matter is reviewed only after the blogger figures out how to protest later. As a Gates commenter put it -- guilty till proven innocent.


It seems the Senators had a sleepover last night, so that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and company could gas about Iraq. I cannot imagine anything more miserable than being locked in a chamber with a bunch of Democrats in full-whine mode, although perhaps that's their natural state.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Disgrace

It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. . . .After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader [Hitler] of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.
Rep. Keith Ellison, speaking on subject of 9/11 to a conference of atheists, (quoted in Daily Telegraph, 16 July 2007) ([brackets] in original).
Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn), among other things the first Muslim in the US House of Representatives, has compared the Al Qaeda 9/11 attacks on the United States to the Reichstag fire. (Video here). The Reichstag fire, in which the German parliament building was (probably) burned by the Nazis, allowed the Hitler government to justify the suspension of civil liberties under the Weimar Republic constitution, and the assumption by Adolf Hitler of emergency powers in Germany.
Mr. Ellison, the UK Daily Telegraph story reported: "said he would not accuse the Bush administration of planning 9/11 because 'you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box -- dismiss you.'" So rather than just coming out and saying that Bush planned 9/11, he'll just get where he wants to by implication, by dropping references to the Reichstag fire. Mr. Ellison's little homily hints (but is careful not to say) the Bush administration is the equivalent of the Nazi Party, and that President Bush is none other than Bushhitler.
For a United States Congressman to compare, even by implication, the responses of the freely and constitutionally elected President of the United States to an attack on this country by foreign terrorists to the Reichstag Fire is an disgraceful abomination and an outrage. Shame on the demagogic Mr. Ellison; shame on the people who put him in Congress; and shame on the Democratic Party if they do not expel him from the House of Representatives forthwith.

Who's Harry ?

I must be the only person in America with ZERO interest in Harry Potter, and I even read books.

Elections Approaching

El Jefe still has not managed to muster much interest in the approaching elections. I think Hillary is probably the next President no matter what happens anyway. That is, unless Gore gets in. The really, truly terrifying part of imagining Mrs. Clinton as President is that Hillary Clinton is now what passes for moderate in the Democratic Party, and we will have to count our blessings if we are lucky enough to wind up with President Hillary, instead of President Saint-Barak; President Breck Girl; or Robot Leader ALGORE.
Personally, I will probably support Fred Thompson, although I was ready to give John McCain a respectful hearing before he imploded over immigration. I could be persuaded to support Mitt Romney (about whom I know little) provided I was first convinced and reassured that he was not a conservatively-dressed wolf of a Massachusetts liberal. But I've been having trouble staying interested. I must confess that I find politics in general somewhat distasteful: especially in this cycle, when the rhetoric and positions of both Right and Left are suffused with so much populism. Not at all my cup of tea.
On a somewhat related subject: as I have said many times before, I think impeachment hearings are a good bet for the late summer, and that the Democrats will at least go through the motions of trying to impeach the President, and will seriously go after Vice President Cheney. The Democrats cannot deliver on the war, at least not the total American humililation the Left wants, so they must offer the Left something. Nancy Pelosi, now being stalked by Cindy Sheehan, would confirm this.
With the American political scene in such depressing chaos, what will our various foreign enemies do ? If they are wise, and can afford to do so, they will sit, and wait out President Bush. There is no sense in giving Bush the opportunity to recoup Conservative fortunes by making fat political targets of themselves. But once Bush is gone. . .
I have several things I'd like to talk about, once my present bout of laziness is done with. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Very Precise Retaliation" = Very Big Disaster

In a twenty-minute speech via audiotape, Mr. Ayman al-Zawahri, the al Qaeda gang’s number two, has threatened “very precise retaliation” against the United Kingdom for the Queen’s awarding of a knighthood to Sir Salman Rushdie.

The al Qaeda organization generally carries through on its threats, or tries to, so I don’t think that Mr. al-Zawahari is indulging in bluster. It seems more probable that Mr. al-Zawahari truly believes “very precise retaliation” is necessary: that the “insult” to Islam of a knighthood for an extraordinarily tedious author that nobody but the ivory-tower literati reads can indeed only be redressed by blood.

Obviously Mr. al-Zawahari has something ghastly in mind, but carrying through on such threats seems to me to be rank political lunacy. If Mr. al-Zawahri and company really want to revive support in the West for the war, and provide cover for politicians to take active measures against their own Muslim minority populations -- “precise retaliations” or repeating 9/11 is a sure road to that objective.

Perhaps the weakness of al Qaeda and militant Islam in general is that what its followers see as keeping faith with their God necessarily involves what amounts to a death wish for their own civilization ? Yes, yes, al Qaeda and its radical friends wants to wipe out the decadent West: to bring death to America, to Israel, and to the apostates and re-establish the caliphate, but at the end of the day, I just don’t think they’re big enough. The West has more money, more guns, and may Study War No More because it’s too good at it. (By war, I don’t mean Iraq, I’m talking about the all-out kind -- Dresden and Hiroshima. This beast must not be roused again, and al Qaeda is playing with it). The question before the House is: how many of us will Mr. al-Zawahiri and company be allowed to kill before the West decides that If There’s No Hoof-and-Mouth Disease, There Won’t Be Any ?

Islam must save itself from Mr. al-Zawahiri and those like him, such as Mr. Ahmadinejad. The hour is very late.

Ginormously Uber-Cool News !

The latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (dictionary of choice for those who don't use El Jefe's favorite Oxford) -- is going to include, for the first time, one of El Jefe's all-time favorite, uber-preferred words: ginormous.
This sumptuous, really spiffy and all-round fun adjective (which can do duty as an adverb also) is, of course, a portmanteau word combining gigantic and enormous, and should be used by all visitors to the Kingdom of Chaos and citizens of beautiful downtown Ciudad El Jefe, as often as possible. This bit of splendid news put El Jefe in a ginormously good mood that should last for hours.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Ill Wind Blowing. . .

I'm not much interested in blogging so far this week. There's plenty happening, and lots to think on, but so far I'm just brooding about it. Basically, I see some rough times coming this way, and I don't want to think about them quite yet. But they're out there.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

In the Country

I'm at my hide-away hacienda in the countryside. Heir and SWMBO are in California visiting in-laws, and it's just the cats and I, at least it was till late this afternoon when mother-in-law showed up (she accompanies me back to Cuidad El Jefe manana).
Worked part of the day fixing things around here, and doing a little yard work, then set up some cans, got out the pistol (a Browning .22 semi-auto), and took some target practice. Read my books and papers for a spell, then took a long brisk walk right at sunset and talked to the horse on the neighboring property. Drank the better part of some passable Australian Merlot with dinner. For some strange reason, I didn't mess with the blog today.
Back to reality tomorrow. Such a bummer.

Friday, July 6, 2007

This and That

Somewhat behind on the reading and writing this week: will try to catch up this weekend and make some posts.
Read Senator Joe Lieberman's op-ed piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal Online on the proxy war Iran and its stooges are waging against us. What's wrong with the Democrats ? They have practically run Senator Lieberman out of their party, when they ought to be running him for President. Instead we get the present crop of has-beens and third-raters with really spiffy hairdos.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf's aircraft was fired on this morning as it took off from a Pakistani military base near Rawalpindi. According to the AP story, the security forces raided a nearby house, and found anti-aircraft weapons and a light machine gun. This doesn't sound like wackos who visited the Pakistani equivalent of Academy or WalMart for "home defense" or "hunting" weapons to misuse later, or bought themselves "saturday night specials" -- and this probably troubles the President's security apparatus no end. Among other things, Rawalpindi is a big garrison town, and is the headquarters of the Pakistani Army. Wackos can be handled, but anything that remotely smells like military discontent is perhaps another matter. Meanwhile, the President of Pakistan, himself a Pakistani Army general, is not safe on a Pakistani military base.
In the small-hours of the morning, President Musharaf no doubt thinks of what befell one of his predecessors, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. An occupational hazard that, but one that must be accepted by those who would ride the white horse in triumph through Persepolis and be king. All that the President-General can do, in the night watches, is hope that the guard at his bedroom door is loyal, and keep the pistol in his bedside table loaded.
We are on borrowed time for a disaster in Pakistan, and we cannot count on continued stability there. I wonder what our lackwit congressional leadership will do when Pakistan blows up ? Whatever happens, it will, of course, be Bush's fault, or Cheney's.
My first cousin deploys to Iraq on Sunday. He was in Afghanistan in 2005, so he's getting quite a tour of the world. God be with him and his unit.
This morning, I'm listening to good old Sir Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major (Op. 63). As I think I have said before, Movement No. 4 of that symphony, (Moderato e maestoso), is probably my favorite piece of music.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hey Guys, Nice Boat

Look what turned up on Google Earth. . . Here's more details.

I suppose if I was Lord High Admiral of John Chinaman's navy (or ours), I'd want to build me some U-Boat pens like these, to keep my pretty new submarines away from snoopy neighbors.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day, 2007

Happy Independence Day ! Although this is the 231st year of American independence from Great Britain, American nationhood, as distinct from political existence, was already a well and long established fact in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was 169 years after the founding of the Jamestown colony, which means, in this Year of Grace 2007 -- 400 years of America.
The separation from the mother country was less an abrupt break than a belated alignment of the politics with the facts. When the rebellion against Britain began: the leaders of the political movement wanted, or claimed to want, the "rights of Englishmen." This was of course, absurd, and a solecism in terms: why would Americans ever be content with the rights of Englishmen ? What could Americans: who spoke in different dialects, ate different foods, hunted different animals, fished different waters and read different newspapers, possibly have in common with another people in another continent ruled by a foreign Parliament and a foreign king ? American nationhood could not be stopped, but had Sir William Howe been a general as good as his splendid troops, American nationality would have taken some different form.
The Declaration of Independence, which did not look like such a good military bet in 1776, is, chronologically at least, long in the past. But the struggle to maintain, to develop and to define American nationhood continues, and if you seek the evidence, check the Red State/Blue State map and the recent debate over immigration. Today there is a rift between those loyal to the traditional concept of nationality: to a 400 year old culture; to political institutions of our own; to the concept of American citizenship conferring a real distinction; to our own language, our own flag, the idea of borders and all that it means to be a separate, distinct people.
On the other side, we have the newer multicultural world produced by globalization: divorced from parochial national loyalties; of people as at home in Berlin, London or Buenos Aires as in New York (let alone such gauche places as Branson or Dallas); who look on the whole idea of nationality as a dated concept. To the global citizen, no place is better than any other; no culture worth defending, all religions equally valid, no values better than others. All that matters is that the banks take wire transfers, and that the local labor is cheap. For the multicultis, the ancient totems of divisive nationalism can and best be forgotten, as long as the restaurants worldwide take American Express. Culturally, the anthem of the globalized is John Lennon's Imagine.
Happy Independence Day. Whatever you're doing, fellow Americans, may it bring you joy and God's blessings on you and your family. But we have some work to do. We still need to work out what the Fourth of July means: whether we're really commemorating 231 years of the independence of the United States of America, or just enjoying another day off of work.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Solution to Energy, Environmental Problems

The President is not ruling out an eventual pardon for Mr. Libby.
On a not-unrelated note, El Jefe proposes a simple, environmentally-friendly solution to all of the world's energy woes. Just wire all the liberals into the world electrical grid, or just drop them in your gas tank. You could power every gadget on Earth and have plenty of juice left if you could just harness all that Lefty anger.
Until we can plug in the liberals, the cardiac wards need to prepare some extra beds.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bush Comes Through

President Bush has commuted the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, convicted of obstruction in the Valerie Plame political leak investigation. The President's statement on the matter is here, and the text of the Proclamation granting Mr. Libby executive clemency is here. The commutation came after the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit refused to delay Mr. Libby's prison sentence pending disposition of his appeal.
Good. The whole Plame proceeding was a travesty. Besides, a President should stand behind his servants when they get into trouble.
The question is, what will the Left do now ? No doubt the usual suspects are absolutely incandescent with anger over being so deprived of their prey, but on this particular issue, they're boxed in, legally speaking. That's going to be unpleasant for the call-takers in Democratic congressional offices this week, and adds up to more rage from the Left wing base at the Democratic establishment.
There's an opening in the Democratic spectrum that Obama and Edwards (let alone Mrs. Clinton) do not adequately fill, and this is going to make that gap really itch to be filled. I wonder what Al Gore is going to do ?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

First Day on the Somme

A support company of the "Tyneside Irish" (103rd Brigade, 24-27 Northumberland Fusiliers) advances opposite La Boisselle (Battle of the Somme) 1 July 1916. Photo taken by a member of the Royal Engineers No 1 Printing Company.Imperial War Museum catalogue number Q 53.

Saturday 1 July
Glass rose slightly during night. A fine sunny morning with gentle breeze from the west and southwest. At first some mist in the hollows. This very favourable because it concealed the concentration of our troops. . .
General (later Field Marshal) Sir Douglas Haig, (later 1st Earl Haig), Journal entry for 1 July 1916, from War Diaries and Letters, 1914-1918 (edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005), at p. 195.

I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow flowers appear.

Alan Seeger, American, serving with the French Foreign Legion (Legionnaire No. 19522). Killed in Action attacking the walled village of Belloy-en-Santerre, France (Battle of the Somme), 4 July 1916 (quoted in Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (Henry Holt, New York, 1994), at p. 263).

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. On this date in July of 1916, in the Somme valley of France (northeast of Paris), after almost a week of artillery bombardments, thirteen British and eleven French divisions, opened what was supposed to be a decisive, war-winning offensive against the German Army.
The Somme was mostly a British show, and the first real test of the new British armies of citizen volunteers. The British troops were for the most part very green, and incompletely trained -- the regular soldiers who could have trained the volunteers had mostly died in the war's first year. The new armies, many units composed of men from the same towns and neighborhoods -- bearing nicknames like the "Liverpool Pals"; the "Grimsby Chums"; the "Tyneside Irish"; the "Glasgow Tramways Battalion"; even units formed out of soccer clubs -- would learn most of their new trade by on-the-job training, paying in blood.
On that morning of Haig's "gentle breeze," nearly 250,000 shells were fired at German trenches in just over an hour. The morning's artillery barrage was so intense it was heard as far away as London. At precisely 7.28 a.m. mines planted in tunnels dug deep beneath the German lines were detonated, and two minutes later, along a 25 mile front, the British and French troops, impossibly weighed down with almost 70 pounds of equipment -- left their trenches and, for the most part deployed almost shoulder-to-shoulder, in long, successive lines -- moved out at a walking pace.
The result was one of the bloodiest days in the history of human conflict. The artillery barrage intended to blow holes in the German lines was largely ineffective and lifted too soon -- and the attackers who survived the trek across no-man's land to reach the German lines found carefully sited positions safe behind intact barbed wire which made them sitting ducks for the German machine-gunners. However, few of the British troops got this far. As John Keegan described it:
A sergeant of the 3rd Tyneside Irish recalled seeing "away to my left and right, long lines of men. Then I heard the 'patter patter' of machine guns in the distance. By the time I'd gone another ten yards there seemed to be only a few men left around me; by the time I had gone twenty yards, I seemed to be on my own. Then I was hit myself." The whole of the Tyneside Irish brigade, of four battalions, nearly three thousand men, was brought to a halt inside British lines. . .One of its battalions lost 500 men killed or wounded, another 600. . .
John Keegan, The First World War, (Vintage Books, New York, 2000), at p. 295.
On that one day in July, the British Army suffered a total of 57,470 casualties, including the staggering number of 19,200 dead. (For comparison, total US combat deaths in the three-year Korean War were some 19,334). The French and Germans suffered too: 7,000, and 8,000 casualties respectively. But the offensive did not stop: the Europeans massacred their future for month after month: the allies losing 630,000 killed and wounded, the Germans 435,000 before the generals called a halt in November. All this carnage was for absolutely no result -- in November, the lines were about where they'd been in July, and the war that never should have happened -- which killed civilization -- no closer to being over.
That same summer of the Somme, the British explorer Ernest Shackleton, after living in isolation for two years in the remoteness of Antarctica, reached the British outpost on the south Atlantic island of South Georgia (near Argentina). Shackleton's first question to the manager of the whaling station there was "when was the war over ?" The station keeper replied: "The war is not over. Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad." (Gilbert, at 257).