Someone Tell Der Spiegel: Germans Can’t Vote in U.S. Elections

Well, actually that’s only technically true.  Any potential Obama voter who can afford the fare and tell a red state from a blue state becomes an honorary U.S. citizen as soon as they set foot on these shores.  They can vote as often as they like, as long as they don’t do it all in the same precinct.  Still, I had to chuckle when I glanced at the website of Der Spiegel this morning.  They are so in the tank for Obama they make MSNBC look like the soul of objective journalism.  Here are the stories I found in a quick glance through:

Headline:  Candidate Embarrassing  Byline:  Stiff as a board, clueless, artificial.  Republican Presidential candidate exposed many of his weaknesses on his European tour.

Headline:  Romney Enrages Palestinians (have they ever not been enraged?)  Byline:  Romney campaigns on his foreign tour – and arouses the Palestinians against him in the process.

Headline:  Romney’s Blundering Tour through Europe  Byline:  The U.S. candidate for President booked a week of blunders and slip-ups in Europe.  Things just aren’t going right for the Republican.

Headline:  Stepping in it On Tour  Byline:  The Palestinians accuse him of racism, the British are cross, and Polands Solidarnosc doesn’t like him.

Headline:  Romney Advisor Curses Reporters in Warsaw  Byline:  There’s no end to the criticism directed at Romney’s foreign tour – now one of his advisors lost his cool.

And mind you, that’s just what I saw in a quick glance on a single day.  Actually, it’s a huge improvement.  Back in the last years of the Clinton and first years of the Bush Administrations, Der Spiegel’s website was so full of vile, quasi-racist anti-American rants that it was often difficult to wade through it all and find any news about Germany.  They only gave it up when a few people across the pond started to notice, and the editors realized they were putting all those prestigious international prizes for “objective journalism” in jeopardy.  They still occasionally throw out some red meat to the Amerika haters, but only enough to keep them on life support.

A European Liberal Interprets the French Election

Jakob Augstein is the quintessential European version of what would be referred to in the US as a latte Liberal.  Heir to what one surmises was a significant fortune from his adopted father, the Amerika-hating founder of Der Spiegel magazine, Rudolf Augstein, he nevertheless imagines himself the champion of the poor and downtrodden.  His writing is certainly not original, but he is at least a good specimen of the type for anyone interested in European ideological trends.  His reaction to the recent election in France is a good example.

As those who occasionally read a European headline are aware, that election resulted in the victory of socialist Francois Hollande over his austerity-promoting opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy.  While certainly noteworthy, such transitions are hardly unprecedented.  No matter, the ideological good guys won as far as Augstein is concerned.  He greets Hollande’s seemingly unremarkable victory with peals of the Marseillaise and Liberty leading the people:

It is not just a piece of political folklore that France is the land of the revolution.  No other European country has such a lively tradition of protest.  La lutte permanente, the constant struggle, is part and parcel of the French civilization.  In France, the centralized state historically formed an alliance with the people against feudalism.  Now the time has come for that to happen again.  The fact that the French picked this particular time to vote a socialist into the Elysee Palace is no coincidence.  A revolutionary signal will now go forth from France to all of Europe.  The new feudal lords who must be resisted are the banks.

Great shades of 1789!  Break out Madame Guillotine.  What can account for such an outburst of revolutionary zeal in response to what is ostensibly just another garden variety shift from the right to the left in European politics?  It is, of course, “austerity,” the course of belt-tightening prescribed by Sarkozy and his pal, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, for Greece and some of the other more profligate spendthrifts in the European Union.  Has austerity worked?  Augstein’s answer is an unqualified “No.”

…Can one overcome a recession by saving?  The answer is:  No.  those who save during a recession deepen the recession.

I personally rather doubt that anyone knows whether austerity “works” in a recession or not.  Modern economies are too complex to simplistically attribute their success or failure to one such overriding factor and, in any case, serious austerity measures haven’t been in effect long enough to allow a confident judgment one way or the other.  Certainly the opposites of austerity, such as the recent “stimulus” experiment in the US, haven’t been unqualified successes either, and have the disadvantage of leaving the states that try them mired in debt.

No matter, Augstein goes on to teach us some of the other “lessons” we should learn from the events in France.  It turns out that some of these apply to Augsteins’s own country, Germany.  The German taxpayers have forked over large sums to keep the economies of Greece and some of the other weak sisters in Europe afloat.  Germany’s robust economy has served as an engine to pull the rest of Europe along.  German’s should be patting themselves on the back for their European spirit, no?

Not according to Augstein!  As he tells it, what Germans should really be doing is hanging their heads in shame.

The Germans are poster boys of the market economy.  Never have interest rates been more favorable for Germany.  It’s a gift of the market at the expense of the rest of Europe.  She (Merkel) isn’t concerned about the European political legacy of Adenauer and Kohl.  Those are such western ideas, that mean little to the woman from the east.  Driven by cheap money from the international finance markets, the German export industry has scuttled European integration – and Merkel lets them get away with it.

Ah, yes, the socialists of the world have no country.  We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we?  If you’re successful, you must be evil.  The proper response is guilt.  Poor Germans!  They just can’t ever seem to catch a break.  Somehow they always end up in the role of villain.

According to Augstein, without the support of France, Germany and her “saving politics” are now isolated in Europe.  What’s that supposed to mean?  That Germans are now supposed to fork over even greater funds, this time with no strings attached in the name of “European integration?”  If I were a German taxpayer, I know what my response would be:  “Let the other Europeans spend and spend to their heart’s content, just as long as they don’t reach into my pocket to do it.”

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see how this flight back to socialism turns out.  Who am I to say?  I’m no economist.  There’s an election in Germany next year.  If the socialists return to power there as well, things might really get interesting.  We’ll finally find out just how European socialists plan to go about ending austerity after they’ve run out of other people’s money to spend.

…and One More Thing about Religion.

In my last post concerning Prof. Hanson’s pronouncements on religion in an article about the decline of Europe, I mentioned in passing that the truth actually matters.  It’s worth elaborating on this point.  Notice that nowhere in his article does Hanson explicitly claim that the Christian religion is true.  Rather, he merely asserts that societies become ill in its absence.  Let’s set aside for a moment the extremely dubious nature of this assertion, in view of the numerous historical incidents in which Christianity has been directly responsible for mass slaughter, gross exploitation, and other forms of social malaise that one doesn’t normally describe as “healthy.”  Rather, let’s focus on his practice of putting the cart before the horse by claiming that Christianity is valuable as a tonic against social “illness” without first bothering to explain why he actually considers it to be true.  Of course, the Christians aren’t the only ones guilty of this.  Regardless of who is making such arguments, though, they’re all more or less beside the point.

Suppose, for example, that Christianity really is true.  In that case, what use is it to ascertain whether it promotes healthy societies as well or not?  After all, even if we do live in an “ill” society, in that case we will only have to endure it for a trivial amount of time.  If, however, we annoy a God who, as the Christians assure us, has in common with humans the emotional behavioral trait we refer to as vengefulness, in spite of presumably having neither an amygdala, orbital cingulate cortex, or any other of the bits of gray matter responsible for expression of the trait in mere mortals, then, unless we don’t at least make a convincing show of pretending to do what he wants, we stand to burn in hell for quadrillions and quintillions of years to satisfy the requirements of divine justice.  Under the circumstances, it would seem that the effects on society, one way or the other, are trivial to the point of irrelevance by comparison.

The essential question to answer, then, is not what effects Christianity, and all the other systems of belief in supernatural beings, for that matter, have on social wellness, but whether they are true.  It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent person who is willing to use his gray matter as something other than a convenient stuffing for his skull and undertakes to investigate the matter with diligence and an open mind instead of simply following the usual path of least resistance and blindly accepting some hand-me-down opinion on the subject and then rationalizing it after the fact will conclude that they most certainly aren’t true.  One might start by reading the recent books on the subject by the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.  However, the authors tend to go off on tangents of sanctimonious moralizing without troubling to explain to the reader what branch they happen to be sitting on to support the same that they haven’t already sawed off.  Dawkins book is also blemished by the gross anti-Americanism that was fashionable among European intellectuals at the time it was published.

I personally prefer the Testament of the brilliant French cleric, Jean Meslier, who had no such ax to grind, and thoroughly demolished any basis for belief in supernatural beings a century and a quarter before Darwin’s Origin of Species. If your tastes run to poetry, try Edward Fitzgerald’s so-called “translation” of the Rubaiyat, which is actually a deconstruction of Islam, but serves as well for other religions.  Add to that the wonderful works of Bart Ehrman, such as Jesus Interrupted, in case you seriously believe the Bible isn’t full of gross contradictions, and his Misquoting Jesus, which documents the literally tens of thousands of textual variations in the most authoritative manuscripts of the Bible if you really believe every jot, tittle, and typographical error therein is the inspired word of God, and you’ll have at least a fighting chance of coming to your senses in matters of religious belief.  (By the way, any cleric worth his salt who’s been to a reputable seminary knows that what Ehrman says is true.  They just don’t usually bother to tell their flocks, for obvious reasons.)

Do all of the above quickly, if possible.  After all, what if the UFO fanciers are right, and we are soon to experience a visit by some race of extraterrestrials?  Think of how embarrassing it will be for all of us if they discover that 90 percent of us still believe in imaginary beings with magical powers.  We’ll never live it down.

On the Bigotry of Victor Davis Hanson

When it comes to inclination, or emotion if you will, I tend to be more conservative than liberal.  There are some things about the right in the US today that rub me the wrong way, though.  For example, they’re constantly harping about their love of Liberty, but they don’t define the term quite the same way as Webster.  When it comes to religion, for example, it means you’re free to think just like them.  Beyond that, there are certain constraints on your “liberty.”  According to their idiosyncratic definition of the term, you are endowed with freedom “of” religion, but not freedom “from” religion.  If, like me, you are unfortunate enough not to believe in supernatural beings, as far as your liberty is concerned, “certain restrictions apply.”  In spite of the fact that you can no more voluntarily decide to change your mind in matters of religion than you can voluntarily change you skin color or ethnicity, you can no longer be considered a citizen in the full sense of the term.  As an atheist, you are relegated to one of the last remaining officially approved outgroups, and are, at best tolerated.

Some artifacts of this attitude recently turned up in an article by the conservative essayist, Victor Davis Hanson.  The article in question, entitled “Europe in the Rearview Mirror,” deals with the familiar theme of European malaise, and includes the following observations on religion:

Yes, I know Europe is sick, ill with loud secular agnosticism and atheism, aging and shrinking, wedded to an unworkable redistributive socialism.

and,

We seem to have forgotten that what is admirable in the U.S. is not just the result of the vast American landscape, a natural selection of the more audacious and risk-taking immigrants, frontier life, and the resulting rugged individualism, but because the Founders were nursed on the European Enlightenment, Christianity was imported from Europe, and Anglo-Saxon law was built upon in a new continent.

I wonder, what are my chances of enjoying anything like genuine liberty among people who consider my religious opinions an “illness?”  Let’s consider the implications of these statements by Davis.  The possibilities are,

a)  Mr. Hanson is a prophet.  In other words, God has fluttered down from on high and spoken to him personally, giving him detailed instructions about how all of us are to live our lives in order that our societies may not become “ill.”  Surely he would not dare presume to declare that some millions of his fellow citizens were a “sickness” on his own authority.  After all, has he not spent a good portion of his career railing against just such people – those he and the rest of the right call self-appointed “elites?”  Surely he would not willingly join such an elite himself.  After all his anathemas specifically directed at such gentry, it would be the grossest hypocrisy.  If, on the other hand, Hanson really has been endowed with the authority to declare millions of his fellow citizens a “sickness” directly from God, by all means let him announce it to the world.

b)  Hanson is not a prophet, but is merely personally convinced of the truth of Christianity.  However, rejecting the taint of elitism, he does not presume to dictate to the rest of us what we should believe in matters of religion.  In that case, it logically follows that his argument is essentially utilitarian.  In other words, he is of the opinion that we should all pretend to be Christians whether we actually are or not because otherwise our society will become ill.  If so, then we must conclude that, as far as Hanson is concerned, the question of whether what we believe, or at least pretend to believe, is true or not is irrelevant.  It is the duty of every citizen, regardless of their actual convictions, to pretend to believe that which is most conducive to the health of society.

Unfortunately, I suspect I will always be ill-suited for life in a society which requires me to base my actions on premises that are untrue.  However, if the criterion for acceptance of these premises is their promotion of the health of society, and avoidance of social “ills,” then Christianity is a most unlikely candidate.  After all, admitting that the country our forefathers left us was, indeed, admirable, are we really to attribute the fact to the coincidence that many of them happened to be Christians?  Were not the founders of the countries currently occupying central and South America Christians as well?  Would Hanson be so bold as to claim that, thanks to their Christian faith, these countries have never been sick a day in their lives?  What about two of the greatest success stories of western civilization, Greece and Rome?  Presumably, based on his writings, Hanson knows something about them.  Were the Greek city states Christian?  Was Rome Christian except in the decades of her decline and fall?  What of the Crusades?  Were the Christian states they established all free of “illness?”  Was the murder of the the citizens of Jerusalem after its conquest, not to mention 50,000 “witches,” a sign of health?  From the senile stupidity of the Papal States to the suicidal proclivity of scores of monarchs by “divine right” to hold their subjects in a state of abject ignorance, I could cite thousands of other historical data points that demonstrate that, far from promoting the “health” of society, Christianity has been the source of its most virulent diseases.

Certainly, if we are an “illness,” Hanson must question the patriotism of American atheists.  Well, I’m an American atheist.  I also attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and volunteered to serve, and actually did serve, in the armed forces of my country in Vietnam, at a time when serving ones country in that way was hardly a popular thing to do.  I was there from 1971 to 1972, at a time when Hanson was just of an age to be a soldier.  My question to him is, “Where were you?”  You, who reserve to yourself the right to decide who among us are patriots and who, on the other hand, will make our country “ill,” you, who have always been full of such fulsome and unctuous praise for our nation’s armed forces, where were you?

Germans Reconsidering Nuclear Power?

I don’t think so!  Less than a century after H. L. Mencken wrote that the Uplift was a purely American phenomenon, there may now be even more of the pathologically pious in Germany per capita than in the U.S.  They all think they’re far smarter than the average human being, they all see a savior of mankind when they look in the mirror, and almost all of them are cocksure that nuclear power is one of the Evils they need to save us from.  Just last November tens of thousands of them turned out in force to block the progress of a spent fuel castor from France to the German radioactive waste storage site at Gorleben.  The affair turned into a regular Uplift feeding frenzy, complete with pitched battles between the police and the peaceful protesters, who were armed with clubs and pyrotechnics, tearing up of railroad tracks, etc.  It’s no wonder the German government finally threw in the towel and announced the country would shut down its nuclear power plants.

At least the decision took the wind out of their sails for a while.  As Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “nothing fails like success” for the Saviors of Mankind.  Success tends to leave them high and dry.  At best they have to go to the trouble of finding another holy cause to fight for.  At worst, as in the aftermath of their fine victory in establishing a Worker’s Paradise in Russia, they’re all shot.

It would seem the “bitter dregs of success” were evident in a recent article on the website of the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, entitled “Electricity is Becoming Scarce in Germany.”  Der Spiegel has always been in the van of the pack of baying anti-nuclear hounds in Germany, so I was somewhat surprised by the somber byline, which reads as follows:

The nuclear power shutdown has been a burden for Germany’s electric power suppliers in any case.  Now the cold wave is making matters worse.  The net operators have already had to fall back on emergency reserves for the second time this winter, and buy additional electricity from Austria.

That’ s quite an admission coming from the Der Spiegel, where anti-nuclear polemics are usually the order of the day.  Even the resolutely Green Washington Post editorialized against the German shutdown, noting, among other things,

THE INTERNATIONAL Energy Agency reported on Monday that global energy-related carbon emissions last year were the highest ever, and that the world is far off track if it wants to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, after which the results could be very dangerous.

 

So what does Germany’s government decide to do? Shut down terawatts of low-carbon electric capacity in the middle of Europe. Bowing to misguided political pressure from Germany’s Green Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a plan to close all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022.

 

European financial analysts (estimate) that Germany’s move will result in about 400 million tons of extra carbon emissions by 2020, as the country relies more on fossil fuels. Nor is Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, who ominously announced that Germany has put coal-fired power “back on the agenda” — good for his coal-rich nation directly to Germany’s east but terrible for the environment and public health.

…and so on.  Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the German Greens optimistic plans to replace nuclear with solar in a cloudy country that gets cold in the winter and lies on the wrong side of the 50th parallel of latitude.  Poland’s prime minister is right to worry about being downwind of Germany.  In spite of the cheery assurances of the Greens, she currently plans to build 26 new coal-fired power plants.  It’s funny how environmental zealots forget all about the terrible threat of global warming if its a question of opposing nuclear power.  But Poland has a lot more to worry about than Germany’s carbon footprint.

It’s estimated that 25,000 people die from breathing coal particulates in the U.S. alone every year.  The per capita death rate in Poland, directly downwind from the German plants, will likely be significantly higher.  Then there’s the radiation problem.  That’s right, coal typically contains several parts per million of radioactive uranium and thorium.    A good-sized plant will release 5 tons of uranium and 10 tons of thorium into the environment each year.  Estimated releases in 1982  from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium.  China currently burns that much coal by herself.  The radiation from uranium and thorium is primarily in the form of alpha particles, or helium nuclei.  Such radiation typically has a very short range in matter, because it slows down quickly and then dumps all of its remaining energy in a very limited distance, the so-called Bragg peak.  On the one hand that means that a piece of paper is enough to stop most alpha radiation.  On the other it means that if you breath it in, the radiation will be slammed to a stop in your sensitive lung tissue, dealing tremendous damage in the process.  Have you ever heard of people dying of lung cancer who never smoked a day in their lives?  If you’re looking for a reason, look no further.

No matter.  As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy.  One million is a statistic.  Germany’s Greens will continue to ignore such dry statistics, and they will continue to strike noble poses as they fight the nuclear demon, forgetting all about global warming in the process.  For them, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing.

Antediluvian Anti-Americanism

Habitués of the European media are aware of the anti-American slant commonly found in “news” stories about the US, unless, of course, they happen to belong to that rather common species, the anti-American Americans. In fact, there was recently something of an “algal bloom” of anti-Americanism there, lasting more or less from the last years of the Clinton into the first years of the Bush Administration before it finally choked on its own excess. The tone is rather more subdued today, although one still sees the occasional piece of red meat thrown out to the proles. It’s good for the bottom line.

The phenomenon is hardly a novelty. As I noted in a recent post about George Orwell, he often referred to instances of it in his essays, stretching over a period from the early 20’s to the late 40’s, and unabated even during some of the darkest days of World War II when, by all accounts, we were supposedly allies. It actually goes back much further than that. In fact, I recently found some amusing examples in a copy of the British Quarterly Review, the great organ of the Tories in the first half of the nineteenth century, dating back to April, 1822. There, in a review of several books about our country that had recently made their appearance entitled, “Views, Visits, and Tours in North America,” we find ourselves described as a vulgar and inconsiderable tribe engaged mainly in the mutual gouging out of eyes and taking of potshots at each other. For example, one of the authors recounts several anecdotes about the “rough tumblers” he ran into in Pennsylvania:

…he was told of another who had been so milled in a rough and tumble, that a compassionate bystander said to him, ‘you have come badly off this time, I guess.’ ‘Have I,” replied the fellow with a triumphant grin, ‘what do you think of this?’ holding up an eye which he had just taken out of his pocket.’

Potential emigrants are advised to avoid the “pestilential vapors that hover over the thick savannas of the American wilds.” By way of example, one of the books describes a party of disappointed pilgrims, on their way back from the new state of Illinois:

These poor people informed him that they had purchased a large tract of land in the state of Illinois, and settled upon it the preceding summer, since which period they had lost eight of their number by dysentery, fever and ague; and the remainder had determined to quite the pruchase, and return with the loss of all their time and nearly all their money.

I trust that at least a few of the brave souls who risked their fortunes in Illinois had better luck. The author of another of the books recounts a similar tale of woe:

In addition to the misery of travelling in an old carriage, ‘with springs of hickory-wood, and horses fitter for the currier than for harness,’ he meets with rattle-snakes, and alligators, and dead carcasses, and putrid smells; butcher’s meat not fit for any creature but a dog; cows that give only a quart of milk a day, and, worst of all, with dreadful agues and fevers which carry off a great part of the population.

In summing up the tale of all these torments and miseries, the reviewer reflects sadly on the folly of those who would leave their happy home,

…to replunge into that state of savage life from which we happily escaped so many centuries ago; – to forego all the comforts and all the blessings of civilization; to be set down for life in the midst of a lonely and pestilential wilderness, surrounded with disease and death; – to be devoured by fleas and bugs, and mosquitoes within doors, and to live in the constant dread of snakes, scorpions, and scolopendras without…

etc., etc. I rather suspect that some of the British coal miners in the Manchester of that day had a rather less charitable view of “all the comforts and all the blessings of civilization” to be found in the England of the time. But as for us poor Americans, alas, we had not even the solace of a respectable religion in these miserable surroundings. One of the authors describes a “representative congregation” of our countrymen as,

…an ignorant, vulgar and fanatical horde, who, under the name of Shakers, have established themselves at a town named Union, not far from Cincinnati. This sect originated with a woman of the name of Ann Lee, of Manchester, who having, with her associates, committed various offences against public decorum, was glad to take refuge in America. The essentials of the creed are nearly allied to blasphemy; and the admission to the holy state of matrimony is so opposite to any thing like decency, that none but the filthiest pen could prostitute itself in detailing it.

In fine, then, the reviewer can foretell no great future for our country;

…in vain should we look for the arts, the elegances, the refinements, and general intelligence of this country (England) among so heterogeneous a population as that of the United States, where, with the exception of a few cities and towns on the shores of the Atlantic, the inhabitants of which are mostly engaged in trade, a great part of the population is perpetually on the wing, confined to no fixed home, and changing their occupations with their places of abode. Among a people thus circumstanced, the refinements of intellectual and polished society are not to be found or expected; and whether they ever will exist under the present form of government is a point on which our opinion is not called for; …but we have very little hesitation in repeating a conviction we have long felt, that as population becomes more dense in the Western States the present republican form of government will be found inadequate, and that Old and New America will necessarily become at least two, if not more, distinct and rival nations; the result of which would, in all probablility, be advantageous to both or all of them.

Thus the wishful thinking of an old English Tory. I should say we did rather better than he expected. Readers of this blog will recognize European anti-Americanism, both antediluvian and modern, as a sadly predictable manifestation of what Robert Ardrey referred to as the Amity/Enmity Complex, that aspect of human nature that we so love to ignore in spite of the mayhem, slaughter and warfare that have played such a constant and pervasive role in human history and of which it has been the prime mover. One can but speculate on why we Americans have never been so quick to identify the Europeans as an outgroup and return all this spite and hatred in kind. We certainly have had no lack of hatreds and animosities of our own in the meantime. Perhaps we can just be more easily imagined as a single, distinct entity upon which to foist all the stigmata of evil.

Whatever the target, though, it is in our nature to perceive an outgroup for every ingroup, and an evil for every good. As the horrific events of the twentieth century amply demonstrated, that tendency of ours is becoming a greater existential threat to our species with every advance in the technology of destruction. We would do well to stop ignoring it and at least try to find ways to minimize its destructiveness. Our survival may depend on it.

Who Says Russia Can’t Beat Napoleon?

The Edinburgh Review, that’s who.  The liberal Edinburgh was one of the two great British political and literary journals of the first half of the 19th century.  It’s conservative counterpart was the Quarterly Review, which enjoyed its heyday at about the same time.  An article in the April, 1810 issue reviewed a Letter on the French Government that had just been published by an anonymous “American recently returned from Europe.”   Unfortunately, we still don’t know who he was, but we gather from his letter that he was an anglophile, highly educated, and very well informed about the financial arrangements of the Napoleonic government in France.  The Letter deals mostly with taxation and the other sources of revenue of France at the time, and includes estimates of the total income and disbursements of the Empire, the amount spent on the military, etc.

The British reviewer, also anonymous as usual at the time, threw in some interesting speculations of his own regarding the current political and military situation, likely reflecting the journal’s editorial point of view.  It will be recalled that in 1810 Napoleon was at the zenith of his triumphant career, with an army of around 800,000 veterans.  His power on the ground in Europe seemed unchallengable, at least as far as liberal opinion in Great Britain was concerned.  The reviewer’s comments about Napoleon and France have an uncanny similarity to some of the “informed commentary” about Hitler and Germany that was appearing on both sides of the Atlantic after his stunning victories in 1940 and 1941.  They also reveal, yet again, the pitfalls of attempting to predict even the immediate future.  Political pundits take note.

Then, as in 1940, victory created a deceptive aura of invincibility.  In both cases, Russia appeared to pose the only remaining credible challenge to the power of the autocrats on the European continent, and in both cases a remarkably large number of “well-informed” commentators dismissed her with a wave of the hand.  Here’s what the Edinburgh’s reviewer had to say about her:

The states that border upon France are ruled either by the kinsmen, or by the vassals of Bonaparte; – all but the Spanish chiefs, who have only a little hour to strut and fret.  The more remote empire of Russia is still in peace; and in peace she must remain, or be crushed without mercy, and without hope of restoration, for she seemed powerful only by the prudent reserve of Catherine.  The succeeding governments, less sagacious, have experimentally shown us how much we overvalued the resources of that country.

Of course, we know in retrospect that both Napoleon and Hitler had a disastrous penchant for undervaluing the “resources of that country.”  Both of them found it rather more difficult to “crush her without mercy” than they had expected.  The rest of the reviewer’s comments about how to deal with the “hopeless” superiority of Bonaparte seem hopelessly naive to those of us who know “the rest of the story.”  They are, however, interesting by virtue of their striking similarity to the advice of a class of writers that we now refer to as “appeasers.”  In both cases, the proposed “solution” to the problem was to avoid offending the triumphant dictator.  Here is what the Edinburgh’s man had to say:

We do think, then, that there is no chance of our being able to crush the power of France by direct hostility and aggression; but still we are of opinion, that, by skilful and cautious policy, we may reasonably hope to disable it.  This, however, we must do by gradual and cautious means; …we ought not to disturb the quiet of the Continent.  Every agitation that we can now excite there, is a fresh advantage to our enemy; …We should rather endeavour to keep the states of Europe so completely tranquil, that he shall have no cause or excuse for war – no resistance to fear, no plots to punish.  If we could but behold the French forces inactive, we might hope to behold them subdued. …”What then?”  it may be said – Are we to congratulate ourselves on the helplessness of all the states that might make head against France?  Certainly; – if we are convinced, as it appears we should be, that nothing can be expected from their exertions, while every thing may be hoped from their repose.

Just as the appeasers of a later day, the reviewer’s sanguine hope was that, if England just stopped provoking the boogeyman, he would eventually go away.  His people, informed of their folly by the burgeoning power of modern means of communication, would become restive, and his army would just “melt away”:

While the war continues, and especially while it is possible to impute its continuance to the restless hostility of England, the vanity and impetuosity of the French people may second the ambition of their ruler; but if they be ever allowed to settle into the habits and enjoyments of peace, all the natural interests and reflections which are generated by the very structure of modern society, will expand with tenfold vigour, and oppose a most formidable resistance to the tyranny which would again repress them for the purpose of its own extension.

Napoleon’s mighty army would simply fall apart of its own accord,

…degenerating, by disuse, toward the level of a new and inexpert militia.

Of course, as we now know, Napoleon’s mighty army, and later Hitler’s, did not “degenerate by disuse.”  Rather, their “degeneration” resulted from their attempts to “crush without mercy” a foe both they and the respective “experts” of the day had underestimated.

I suspect that the pundits of our own day will have no more luck in their attempts to predict the future than those of earlier ages.  However, the psychological type of the appeaser is as familiar today as it was in 1810 or 1940, as is that of their more bellicose and militant counterparts, who once wrote for the Quarterly Review.  In fact, neither type has had much success in predicting events.  It’s a great deal easier to predict how they will react to those events when they happen, though.

George Orwell and the Pacifists

Orwell despised pacifism, and wrote some very interesting critiques of pacifist ideology during World War II.  On reading them, one notes a striking similarity between the pacifist ideology of Orwell’s time and the different variants thereof that existed in the United States during the Vietnam era and thereafter.  A particularly interesting example appeared in the US literary and political journal Partisan Review entitled A Controversy.  The piece included an attack on Orwell and elaboration of their own ideas by several pacifists, and Orwell’s reply.  The bit by the pacifists actually amounts to an excellent piece of self-analysis.  The reply exposes the gross self-deception that has always been inherent in pacifist thought, and points out the equally obvious fact that pacifists during wartime are, objectively, enemy collaborators in whatever country they happen to be active.

A remarkable similarity between the Vietnam-era pacifists and those of Orwell’s day is their tendency, against all odds, to perceive their own side as the moral equivalent of the enemy.  Occasionally their own side is recognized as an outgroup, as for example by Jane Fonda who struck a heroic pose on a Communist anti-aircraft gun as her countrymen fought them further south.  By that time Gulag Archipelago had been published, and a torrent of details was available about the mass slaughter, misery and torture that was a common feature of Communist regimes.  As for Orwell’s British pacifists, the murderous nature of Hitler’s regime was already abundantly clear by 1940.  It didn’t matter.  In both cases, the facts were simply ignored.   D.S. Savage, one of the pacifists writing against Orwell in the Partisan Review, provides us with what could well be described as a self-caricature:

It is fashionable nowadays to equate Fascism with Germany. We must fight Fascism, therefore we must fight Germany. Answer: Fascism is not a force confined to any one nation. We can just as soon get it here as anywhere else. The characteristic markings of Fascism are: curtailment of individual and minority liberties; abolition of private life and private values and substitution of State life and public values (patriotism); external imposition of discipline (militarism); prevalence of mass-values and mass-mentality; falsification of intellectual activity under State pressure. These are all tendencies of present-day Britain. The pacifist opposes every one of these, and might therefore be called the only genuine opponent of Fascism.

Don’t let us be misled by names. Fascism is quite capable of calling itself democracy or even Socialism. It’s the reality under the name that matters. War demands totalitarian organisation of society. Germany organised herself on that basis prior to embarking on war. Britain now finds herself compelled to take the same measures after involvement in war. Germans call it National Socialism. We call it democracy. The result is the same.

…we regard the war as a disaster to humanity. Who is to say that a British victory will be less disastrous than a German one?

…and so on from one of Hitlers most valuable “useful idiots.”  The striking similarity between these puerile arguments, as transparently specious to Orwell then as they are to us now, and those of the Vietnam-era pacifists must be apparent to anyone who lived through those times.  Orwell points out the disconnect with reality, seemingly obvious to any child, in his rebuttal:

Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, “he that is not with me is against me”. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr. Savage remarks that “according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be ‘objectively pro-British’.” But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories. They would stimulate pacifism in Russia as well if they could, but in that case they have tougher babies to deal with. In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of feedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.

If Mr. Savage and others imagine that one can somehow “overcome” the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen.

I am interested in the psychological processes by which pacifists who have started out with an alleged horror of violence end up with a marked tendency to be fascinated by the success and power of Nazism. Even pacifists who wouldn’t own to any such fascination are beginning to claim that a Nazi victory is desirable in itself.

As one who listened to the chants of “Ho, Ho, Ho chi Minh, NLF is going to win” back in the Vietnam era, I know exactly what Orwell is talking about. As students of the Civil War will know, there were pacifists in those days with precisely similar arguments. Just as Orwell’s pacifists were objectively pro-Nazi and tended to sympathize with the Nazis, and the Vietnam-era pacifists were objectively pro-Communist, and tended to sympathize with the Communists, the Civil War pacifists were objectively pro-slavery, and tended to sympathize with the slavers.

In a word, when it comes to pacifism, we have left the realm of rational argument. As Orwell points out, we are dealing with a psychological type, very similar across populations and across long stretches of time. The pacifist equates peace with “the Good,” and war with “evil.” Identification of “the Good” represents, not a logical, but an emotional process. If peace is “the Good,” one becomes “good” and defends “the Good” by supporting “peace,” regardless of any real situation or consequences, no matter how obvious to anyone whose mind has not been artificially closed in the same fashion.

One should not become too smug in judging the pacifists. After all, we are all human, and we all have a similar tendency to form emotional attachments to “the Good,” whether it be pacifism or any other ideological tendency. As a Monday morning quarterback, it seems to me I can detect similar phenomena, associated with other “Goods,” going on in Orwell’s own mind. For him, socialism was “the Good,” so, for a long time, he had the fixed idea that Britain must try the highly dubious experiment of attempting a socialist revolution if she was to win the war. For him, the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War was “the Good,” as well. After all, he had nearly been killed fighting for that side. As a result, one finds highly exaggerated predictions of the disastrous results that would “inevitably” follow because the Allies had allowed Franco to win. In retrospect, with Franco safely in the grave and Spain a democratic state, Orwell’s prediction that she would remain a totalitarian dictatorship until the fascists were overthrown by force didn’t exactly pan out.

I have any number of similar emotional attachments of my own. Perhaps the example of a man as brilliant as Orwell will help me to detect and compensate for some of them. It would seem to me that it would behoove us all to make the attempt, assuming we really value the truth.

…and our “Allies” Grieved

The European media don’t flaunt their anti-Americanism the way they did in times past.  I follow the German media, and the level of spite and hatred directed at the United States by the Internet media there a decade ago was amazing.  Der Spiegel was always at the head of the pack of baying hounds.  It was often difficult to find any news about Germany on their website in the maze of quasi-racist anti-American rants.  People on this side of the pond began to notice, and eventually the “respectable” media began to refrain from wearing their hatred on their sleeves.  Apparently some rudimentary sense of shame still existed among them.  However, the phenomenon of anti-Americanism is still alive and well.  Inevitably, it reappears on the occasion of any significant American victory.  The squaring of accounts with bin Laden is a case in point.  Here’s a sample of the headlines that have appeared on the Spiegel website since that happy event:

Merkel’s Joy Outrages Critics  (The usual cheap shots from the pathologically pious against the German Chancellor for daring to approve of the raid.)

How a Judge wants to Bring Merkel to her Senses (A terminally self-righteous Hamburg judge wants to sue Merkel for “approving of an illegal act.”)

Bin Laden, the Victor (Psychobabble deploring the fighting of “evil with evil.” Hand-wringing over an action described as, “an assault by 79 elite soldiers, who shot an unarmed old man, surrounded by women and children.)

Poll – Germans are not Happy about bin Laden’s Death  (no kidding?)

American Justice  (Oh my!  It seems there are some questions about whether the operation was justified under international law.)

Schadenfreude over bin Laden’s Death is Unworthy  (A particularly nauseating display of ostentatious self-righteousness by a “theology professor.”)

…and so on, and so on.  All this isn’t a purely German phenomenon, of course.  Other bloggers have noted the pervasive grief in the rest of Europe over bin Laden’s demise.  Seen from a purely psychological perspective, it’s encouraging.  Apparently the Europeans still perceive us as “King of the Hill.”  After all, they would hardly have worked themselves into such a lather if Gautemala had succeeded in bumping off its public enemy number one.  It may be that China’s turn is coming, but they’re not there yet.

Libyan Insurrection and German Jingoism

Back in the day, coverage of U.S. military operations in the German media consisted mainly of a melange of self-righteous posing and predictions of imminent doom.  For example, according to Der Spiegel, Germany’s number one news magazine, in an article published less than two weeks before the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. Army was “stuck in the sand,” it faced a “worst case scenario,” the Iraqis were fighting “much harder than expected,” and the war was likely to last “for months,” and then only if the troops already on the ground received “massive reinforcements.”  Unabashed when all these prophecies of doom turned out to be so many fairy tales, Spiegel immediately shifted gears to the usual fare comparing Iraq to Vietnam that Americans became familiar with in their own media.  Inevitably, as well as being another Vietnam, Iraq was a “quagmire.” By 2006, Spiegel was confidently assuring its readers, in lockstep with the NYT and WaPo, that, “The Iraq strategy of the Bush Administration has failed.”

Fast forward to the next President.  The winds of insurrection are blowing in the Middle East and North Africa.  In Libya, however, the revolutionary wave has been checked, at least for the time being, by the stubborn refusal of Muammar Qaddafi to play his assigned role and bow out gracefully.    Meanwhile, the U.S. President seems in no hurry to take any “unilateral action,” and seems to have a distinct aversion for any action more forceful than declaring that Qaddafi’s bloody massacres of his own people are “unacceptable.”  Oddly enough, Der Spiegel seems to have changed its tune.  According to the headline of an interview with delegate to the European parliament Martin Schulz, the “opportunism (Taktiererei) of the European states is a scandal.”  Schulz thinks that “a military intervention in Libya may be considered as a last resort.”  Spiegel has a long history of expressing its editorial opinion via such “expert” mouthpieces.  It would seem the Schulz interview is no exception.  For example, according to the bolded opening paragraph of another article under the headline, “Qaddafi’s Counteroffensive puts the West under Pressure,” we read,

Intervene or watch and wait? After ever more violent battles, Libya threatens to sink into civil war, and with it into chaos. There is increasing pressure to intervene, and it is falling above all on western states. Meanwhile, Germany, the EU, and the USA are standing idly by.

All this sounds harmless enough by US standards.  For the German media, though, it’s positively jingoist.  In the past, their MO has always been to wait until we actually do take action, then print a stream of articles about civilian casualties, bombings of hospitals and old folks homes, allusions to Vietnam and “quagmires,” the selfish motives of the U.S and its evil corporations which, in this case as in Iraq, would undoubtedly be oil, etc., etc.  But Obama isn’t playing along.  By all appearances, it’s starting to get under their skin.  A byline of the above article refers to the U.S. as the “Helpless World Power #1.”   The U.S. military is portrayed as “skeptical” about intervention, and “playing for time” to avoid it.  Pentagon spokesman is using the excuse of Libyan air defenses “more effective than those of the Iraqis in 2003,” to explain this “stalling.”  In a word, Der Spiegel is positively egging us on to send in the cavalry.

Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that the German media, along with the rest of that of “old Europe,” would turn on us with a vengeance as soon as the first boot of the first U.S. GI touched Libyan soil.  I have a better idea.  Let’s just stay out of it.  Give peace a chance!  If the Europeans are so worried about the fate of the Libyan people, I’m all in favor of letting them have a go at saving them, but without our assistance.  There are occasions when I feel positively comforted by the fact that Barack Obama, and not John McCain, is our President.  This is one of them.