Dame Sybil of Sark

An interesting article on Mental Floss, courtesy Stephen Bartlett:

How the World’s Only Feudal Lord Outclassed the Nazis to Save Her People

When Germany invaded the Isle of Sark—the last foothold of feudalism in the western world—Dame Sibyl Hathaway protected her people with the unlikeliest of weapons: Feudal etiquette, old-world manners, and a dollop of classic snobbery.

Read the whole thing.

The Centennial of the Armistice

Lapel poppy as sold by the Royal Canadian Legion.

For the past four years we have been observing the centennials of the various events that comprised the Great War, including the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) and the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917). Today we mark the end of it: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending hostilities on the Western Front, which had thus far killed over three million people and wounded over eight million, all started by some damned fool thing in the Balkans. And, as everyone knows, the settlement that ended the war simply set the stage for the next one: the Treaty of Versailles was not as fair as Wilson had promised in his Fourteen Points, nor as punitive as it needed to be to ensure that Germany did not rise again. So just as the Great Famine of 1315-22 weakened the immune systems of a whole generation of Europeans, and made the Black Death of 1346-51 more virulent than it otherwise would have been, so also did the First World War lead directly to the Second, which then overshadowed it in cultural memory.

Garden of Remembrance, St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, City of London, November 11, 2010.

This is especially true in the United States, which only joined the First World War in 1917, and only as a result of a potential threat as revealed by the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States also joined the Second World War “late,” i.e. over two years after Germany invaded Poland, but it did so as the result of a direct attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Americans played a significant role in defeating Nazi Germany; they played an even bigger role in the defeat of Imperial Japan, including through the use of the atomic bomb, which they had developed at great expense. So it’s only natural that, to an American, the Second World War means more than the First.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, 2018.

It’s somewhat different in Britain and the Commonwealth. Once the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, all the Empire, even the Dominions, immediately followed, and fought, and bled quite profusely, for the sake of Britain’s allies on the continent. For well-known reasons, the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate where the advantage was always to the defense, and it soon became obvious that this was going to be a war of attrition – the first side to run out of men and materiel was going to be the one to lose, and this is more or less what ended up happening. Four years of mass industrial slaughter on the Western Front was deeply traumatizing, and gave birth to rituals of remembrance that Americans generally don’t share: the sanctification of November 11 (at first designated Armistice Day, and now as Remembrance Day), the wearing of a lapel poppy* in the run-up to this, the ceremonial placement of wreaths of poppies at war memorials on the day itself, and the two-minute silence at 11:00 AM. (November 11 may be Veterans’ Day in the United States, but memorializing the war dead is the function of Memorial Day in May, which derives from the Civil War. The VFW occasionally sells poppies, but the practice is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Canada or the United Kingdom.) Of course, as with the United States, the UK and its Commonwealth also remember the Second World War, and probably to a greater extent, given Churchill’s refusal to make a deal with Hitler, his inspirational speeches, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, and an unconditional surrender forced on a monstrously evil regime.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia.

All the same, the First World War does loom larger in the Commonwealth than in the United States. And it deserves to be remembered, in both places. As pointless as all the killing was, the Great War turned out to be the Great Divide, and represented the real end of the nineteenth century and the birth of the twentieth. When the dust settled, four empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – had fallen, and many smaller nations won their independence. Communists took over Russia, and the stage was set for what Henry Luce called the American Century. Women were granted the right to vote in both Britain and the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Great War shattered European self-confidence, and caused the mainstreaming of skepticism, pessimism, and “uncertainty” (one of the reasons, unfortunately, why Britain and France did not stand up to Hitler until it was too late).

Diamond War Memorial, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So I was pleased to learn that a World War I memorial is being planned for Washington DC. From a BBC article about it published last year:

“The Great War” was overtaken in the national consciousness by the Great Depression and World War II, says Edwin Fountain, vice-chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission. The commission has been authorised by Congress to build the new memorial in Washington, DC, as well as increase awareness of the war.

“The Centennial is the last best opportunity to teach Americans that World War I was in fact the most consequential event of the 20th Century,” he says. “It had effects that we live and struggle with today, overseas and at home.”

“The debate about the role of America in the world, the balance between national security and civil liberties, the place of women, African Americans and immigrants in our society – all those issues were vigorously discussed during WWI.

“You cannot contribute to those discussions today without understanding our historical roots.”

Gable end mural, Northland St. (arbitrarily renamed “Thiepval St.”), Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the same time, how the war was fought, and not just its aftermath, deserves closer attention too. If anyone knows anything about the Great War, it is an image largely created by Remarque’s great autobiographical novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Historian Dan Snow recently countered several myths about it, including that most soldiers died, that it was the bloodiest conflict in history to that point, that the upper classes got off lightly, and that soldiers lived in the trenches for years on end (in truth, they were cycled out regularly).

Mural, Glenwood St., Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Still, it was no picnic, as a recent article in the Economist reminds us:

The first world war was not just a grand tragedy. For the 67 million who fought, it was a sordid hellscape. Few of the ten million killed in combat died from a “bullet, straight to the heart”, as pro forma telegrams to relatives put it. Many more bled to death in no-man’s land, their wails lingering for days like “moist fingers being dragged down an enormous windowpane”, as a British lieutenant wrote of the Battle of the Somme. Traumatised survivors sometimes slept in open sewers, and begged for their mothers as superiors ordered them over the top.

They guarded what slivers of humanity and dignity they could. At Compiègne today visitors can view silver rings from the trenches bearing initials (LV, MJ, SH or G) or four-leaf clovers; pipes with marks worn where teeth once clenched; a tube of insect-bite cream; letter-openers fashioned from shell casings, the names of yearned-for correspondents etched into their blades (“Marguerite”, “Mlle Rose-Marie”). A certain stoic humour also played its part. “I was hit. I looked round and saw that my leg had shot out and hit the fellow behind me (who got rather annoyed about [it])” wrote Charlemagne’s great-grandfather in his diary in 1915, just outside Ypres.

The article goes on to note that (emphasis added):

The first world war happened because a generation of Victorian leaders took for granted the stable order that had prevailed in most of Europe for decades. They should have read their history books. Yet the war was also a tale of forces beyond the power of any leader, however well-read; of nations and continents not as trains on history’s railway lines, run by drivers and switchmen, but as rafts tossed about on history’s ocean, dipping at most an occasional oar into the waves. Fate was the real grand homme of the “Great War”. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would not have happened had his driver not taken a wrong turning in Sarajevo. The German army’s initial advance was halted at Nieuwpoort by a Belgian lock-keeper who flooded the surrounding marshlands. Political twists in Berlin, not crushing defeat on the battlefield, pushed Germany to sue for peace in 1918.

I am chary of drawing “lessons” from history, but it seems in this case that history really does provide us with an instructive example.

Memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae, Guelph, Ontario, 2015.

* The poppy as a symbol of remembrance derives from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and who died of pneumonia in January, 1918. He was by no means the only English-language war poet: the First World War produced a remarkable amount of poetry from the viewpoint of its participants, a product of the war taking place after the advent of mass literacy but before other forms of entertainment relegated poetry to a niche interest (see Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for more on this). I was pleased to see the memorial to sixteen representative war poets in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey this summer, including the greats Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

Sadly, the poppy is “political” in some parts of the world, and not just because people believe that it justifies war. Among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the poppy represents “Britain’s War,” and thus represents British imperialism and British oppression. Nationalists, as noted, wear lilies in memory of the Easter Rising, and will generally refuse to wear poppies, even going so far as to taunt those who do.

George Orwell vs… Alex Comfort?!

From Reason (via Instapundit):

In 1972 Dr. Alex Comfort had a colossal hit with The Joy of Sex, making him suddenly rich and famous. Less famously, in World War II Britain, a much younger Alex Comfort had a heated dispute in print with George Orwell.

Orwell was an enthusiastic supporter of the war against Hitler, while Comfort was opposed to the war. Outside narrow literary and political circles, neither man was very well-known. Orwell had published several books and dozens of articles, but he had yet to write Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four. Comfort, 17 years Orwell’s junior, had produced a couple of novels, several poems, and some works of anarchist theory. His most enduring work came a few years later: Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State, which makes a good case that politics is an artificial game preserve for the kinds of anti-social predators whom it is a function of normal social life to curb and discourage….

The Orwell-Comfort debate occurred in 1942, most importantly in the pages of the Partisan Review, an American journal run at that time by former Trotskyists and open to various kinds of anti-Communist left-wing thinking. There was a brief continuation of the debate (in verse!) the following year, in a British socialist weekly, Tribune. The editors of Partisan Review were themselves split on whether to support America’s war against the Axis powers. The leading figure, Dwight Macdonald, was firmly antiwar and never regretted it.

A striking fact about debates over “pacifism,” especially when they occur during a war or during preparations for a war, is that discussion of the most fundamental, abstract principles tends to become disconnected from the practical choices facing decision makers. In the early 1940s there was only one major policy choice for Britain: Either pursue the war against Germany, or accept Hitler’s repeated offers of a peace deal. There were strong arguments on both sides. But in his new book, The Duty to Stand Aside, Eric Laursen gives the impression that there was some third alternative.

Read the whole thing.

Joachim Ronneberg, 1919-2018

From the New York Times:

Joachim Ronneberg, Leader of Raid That Thwarted a Nazi Atomic Bomb, Dies at 99

The Norwegian saboteurs skied across the Telemark pine forest in winter whites, phantom apparitions gliding over moonlit snow. They halted at a steep river gorge and gazed down at a humming hydroelectric power plant where Nazi scientists had developed a mysterious, top-secret project.

Lt. Joachim Ronneberg, the 23-year-old resistance fighter in command, and his eight comrades — all carrying cyanide capsules to swallow if captured — had been told by British intelligence only that the plant was distilling something called heavy water, and that it was vital to Hitler’s war effort.

Hours later, in one of the most celebrated commando raids of World War II, Lieutenant Ronneberg and his demolition team sneaked past guards and a barracks full of German troops, stole into the plant, set explosive charges and blew up Hitler’s hopes for a critical ingredient to create the first atomic bomb.

Mr. Ronneberg, the last surviving member of the 1943 raid and one of the most decorated war heroes of a nation renowned for valorous resistance to the 1940-45 German Occupation, died on Sunday in Alesund, Norway, his daughter, Birte Ronneberg, said. He was 99.

Read the whole thing.

Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens

From the New York Times:

Jeannie de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities, died on Aug. 23 in Montaigu, southeast of Nantes, France. She was 98.

The death was confirmed by her son, Pascal.

In 1943 Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In “1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Mr. Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix, and that “she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”

Read the whole thing.

Dieppe

August 19 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, an ill-fated mission during World War II that taught the Allies that any invasion of France would have to be planned a lot more carefully. (Just as the English Channel saved Britain from Nazi invasion, so also did it prevent an easy counterattack.) From the Globe and Mail (Toronto):

Dieppe raid, 75 years later: The country’s bloodiest day of the war

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr is leading a Canadian government delegation to France to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid during the Second World War.

The raid, launched on Aug. 19, 1942, would prove to be the bloodiest single day for Canada’s military in the entire war.

The Prime Minister released a statement Saturday to honour the hundreds of Canadians who lost their lives in the battle.

Of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers who took part in the ill-fated mission, more than half became casualties, and 916 would die on the rocky shore of Puys Beach on the northern coast of occupied France.

The beach landing was supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, but the Canadians, along with 1,000 British and 50 American soldiers, were late arriving on shore, and as the sun rose they were left exposed to withering fire from German troops on the cliffs above.

Justin Trudeau said the loss at Dieppe taught Allied forces valuable lessons, which he said helped “to turn the tide of the war on D-Day” less than two years later.

“As we commemorate the Dieppe Raid at events in Canada and France, I ask all Canadians to honour the people who gave so much at Dieppe, as well as their families at home who suffered the loss of their loved ones,” Trudeau says.

Governor General David Johnston noted that this year marks the centennial anniversary of two great victories for Canada — the battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in the First World War — but it’s equally important to remember the losses, like the one at Dieppe.

“We must never forget the terrible cost of armed conflict and ensure that future generations remember, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past,” Johnston said in a statement.

See also this recent Mark Steyn interview with screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd (video, starting at 22:45).

A Good One

An amusing comment by John Nolte on the Daily Wire:

USA Today’s Brian Truitt describes himself as a “shameless geek,” but oddly enough omits the fact that he is also just as shamelessly ignorant when it comes to the signaling of his own virtue. In his review of Dunkirk, director Christopher Nolan’s big-budget look (opening this weekend) at an actual historical event that took place in the early days of World War II, Truitt offers potential ticket-buyers the following trigger warning:

The trio of timelines can be jarring as you figure out how they all fit, and the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way.

Where in the world do these people come from?

Did Truitt do any homework about the background of this movie? He does appear to know that Nolan’s latest is based on a true story, which I guess is a start, but he probably learned that from the trailer. The real question, though, is just how clueless about history, about the biggest world event of the 20th century are you when you find it “jarring” that Wesley Snipes doesn’t show up to save the day or that Sandra Bullock is not driving a tank that will explode if it goes under 50 miles per hour?

Complaining about the lack of women and minority actors in a movie about Dunkirk is like complaining about the lack of Sinatra music in Straight Outta Compton or wondering why cancer failed to get equal time in Philadelphia or hectoring Hollywood over the omission of realistic sex scenes in the Toy Story trilogy.

And we cannot only blame Truitt, who is probably a victim of public schools. How did his trigger warning, one so feeble-minded it ranks as a non sequitur, make it past the USA Today editors? Are they all half-wits or does someone personally dislike Truitt so much they have stopped protecting him from himself?

Sorry if the following is inconvenient to your McCarthyistic desire to bully filmmakers into thinking and believing a certain way, but the settled science tells us the following: Trapped at Dunkirk were young, white males. Saving those young, white males were other white males. Trying to kill those young, white males were other white males.

UPDATE: From News Thump:

‘Not enough Americans’ in Dunkirk movie, says Hollywood

Hollywood’s top military historians are up in arms over the lack of Americans in the new film ‘Dunkirk’.

The film, which features some bunch of Limeys nobody has ever heard of, has been singled out for lacking realism and credibility by not showing Americans as the heroes.

American reviewers described feeling ‘robbed’ after the film failed to show any of their countrymen in a heroic, leading role, leading to accusations of ‘Britwashing’ the Second World War to make it look like anyone other than the USA was involved.

UPDATE: Apparently there were some colonial Indian troops at Dunkirk, although they numbered about 1800 men, about half a percent of the 338,000 troops who were evacuated.

Heligoland

779px-DE_Helgoland_COA.svg

Heligoland coat of arms. Wikipedia.

From the National Post:

‘Blow the bloody place up’: Why, 70 years ago, Britain blew up an entire German island

In 1947, Britain had a problem. It had thousands of tonnes of explosives left over from the Second World War. And it also had a German island in the North Sea that it hated.

So, 70 years ago this week, the Royal Navy enacted an elegant solution: Use the explosives to blow the island to hell.

“Blow the bloody place up,” was reportedly the instructions given to F.T. Woosnam, the British naval engineer tasked with making the island of Heligoland disappear.

The preparation wasn’t overly technical.

For nearly a year, crews had simply stacked up more than 7,000 tonnes of old munitions and wired them together: Depth charges, old torpedoes, boxes of grenades and stacks of aerial bombs.

Photos from the era show crews nonchalantly kicking dismantled torpedoes into large heaps.

The resulting April 19 explosion, triggered with the push of a button by a sharply dressed naval commander, not only shattered every vestige of human habitation on the island — but permanently altered the topography of the place.

The United Kingdom had plenty of reasons to hate Heligoland. For starters, the island had once been part of the British Empire after it was captured during the Napoleonic Wars.

But finding no use for a windy outcrop filled with vacationers, in 1890 London handed it over to the newly formed German Empire in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar.

To the Brits’ chagrin, the Germans then proceeded to spend two world wars using Heligoland as a fortress from which to attack the U.K.

The island was the site of the first naval battle of the First World War, and the first major aerial battle of the Second World War. In both conflicts, it was a key forward base for submarines looking to starve the U.K. into submission.

After the first war in 1918, the victorious Allies had simply ordered the island to be demilitarized.

But when that clearly hadn’t worked, the victors of another war settled on a backup plan: Detonate the place so severely that it could never again be used for military purposes.

“A very reasonable way of celebrating Hitler’s birthday,” proclaimed the narrator of British newsreel documenting the destruction.

Then, just for good measure, the Royal Air Force spent the rest of the 1940s using Heligoland as a target site for their bombers.

Only in 1952 were Heligolanders allowed to move back.

Why the Brits didn’t just keep it I do not know. I seem to remember that the place played a role in the John Malkovich movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Click on the link to read more and to see newsreel footage of the explosion.

Brunhilde Pomsel, 1911-2017

From the Washington Post, via the National Post:

Brunhilde Pomsel, Joseph Goebbels’ secretary and one of the last surviving top Nazi staffers, dead at 106

by Emily Langer

Brunhilde Pomsel, a secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who late in life came forward to publicly reflect on, if perhaps not fully reckon with, questions of personal and collective guilt in the face of the Holocaust, died during the night of Jan. 27 at her home in Munich. She was 106.

Her death was confirmed by Roland Schrotthofer, a director of “A German Life,” a documentary drawn from dozens of hours of interviews conducted with Pomsel when she was 103. No other details were immediately available.

Pomsel was one of the last surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy’s most intimate staff, but she spent all but the final years of her life in obscurity. She became widely known only after the premiere of the documentary in Nyon, Switzerland, in 2016. The U.S. release is forthcoming.

The film, directed by Schrotthofer, Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller and Florian Weigensamer, presents an arresting portrait of an ordinary German swept into the Nazi apparatus in her youth, then left to reflect for more than seven decades on her complicity, if any, in its crimes.

Pomsel sparkled on camera in her lucidity. She confessed to harboring “a bit of a guilty conscience” but professed that she had known nothing of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust — the “matter of the Jews,” as she termed it — until after the war was over.

 

More at the link.

Announcements

For those in the area:

Please join us on Saturday, February 4, 2017, when the Bandy Heritage Center presents the 2017 Civil War in the Western Theater Colloquium “Written in Blood and Carved in Stone: Remembering the Civil War at Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Vicksburg.” Three prominent scholars will discuss how the nation’s earliest military parks came into existence, how each contributed to the memory of the war, and how their commemoration of the historic landscape changed over time. The program starts at 10:00 a.m. and will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center (2211 Dug Gap Battle Road, Dalton, GA 30720) in conjunction with the Chickamauga Civil War Show.

*****

Looking for a date night idea in Cartersville?

January 28, 2017, 7:00-10:00 p.m.

Red, White, and You!
Live Jazz – Dancing – Cocktails – Refreshments
Come dressed in 1940’s attire
(Rosie, WACS, G.I., Starlet, Comic Book Hero, etc.)
Obtain your enlistment papers (tickets)
www.BartowHistoryMuseum.org.
For more information call our recruiter, Nicole Masters, at 770-382-3818, ext. 6288 or email her at nicolem@BartowHistoryMuseum.org.
Bartow History Museum
4 East Church Street, Cartersville, GA 30120

 *****

Evening Lecture: Touring the Wilderness of North America with Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodmer
January 19, 7:00 pm

Bergman Theatre, Booth Western Art Museum.

Join the Prince of Wied, Maximilian, as he takes you on a tour of North America as he saw it in 1832-33-34. Using Karl Bodmer’s illuminating illustrations, Prince Maximilian will escort the audience on an adventure from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to the Great Falls of the Missouri River, from New Harmony, Indiana to New Orleans, Louisiana. Travel with this intrepid explorer to meet America’s best scientific minds, explore the West in the wake of Lewis and Clark, camp among the Mandan, Lakota, Crow and Omaha and participate in traditional American Indian drumming songs. Storyteller and author Brian “Fox” Ellis steps into the shoes of Prince Maximilian allowing the audience to step back in time. Blending history, science, art and cultural anthropology, the Prince gives us a unique view of America as he saw it in the early 1830s. Much of the text for this performance comes directly from his journals. The backdrop includes the landscapes, portraits, and scenes from everyday life painted by Karl Bodmer. Program included with admission.