Category Archives: History

Learning from the past

Playing The Bubble Game: Investing In The 21st Century

Summary: Investment commentary these days overflows with mentions of bubbles. The concept is vital to understanding our economy yet encrusted with myths in the minds of most investors. This post cuts through those to the known history and theory of bubbles. As usual with economics, this gives us clues about the future – but only clues.  {Second of two posts today.}

  • We’re in an era of bubbles, but they’re masked by myths.
  • Understanding their history and dynamics can guide our investing.
  • Bubbles create high risks not easily managed.
  • Failure to prepare for these risks has created serious losses, and will do so again.

Bubbles

Bubbles in history

“You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man.”
Title of W. C. Fields’ 1940 movie, harshly and cynically describing the essence of bubbles.

Bubbles are an inherent aspect of free market systems, easily produced in classroom exercises. Whether managing a nation or a portfolio, they must be understood.

Those who lived through the giant 19th century UK and US investment bubbles would find our bubbles quite familiar. Journalist and promoter Charles Mackay participated in several, and the scars from them led to his bitter polemic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds. See more about this history in “Charles Mackay’s own extraordinary popular delusions and the Railway Mania” by the brilliant Andrew Odlyzko (Prof Mathematics, U MN).

Then and now, bubbles have common characteristics.…

Read the rest at Seeking Alpha. Post your comments there.

Inspirational words for the New Year

Summary: As we start a new year, we should take a moment to consider what we’ve become by looking at what we once were. Fifty-five years ago this speech by Kennedy inspired our ancestors to try great things. Some were great albeit partial successes (ending government-sponsored racism). Some were successes that went nowhere (the space program). Some were disastrous (Vietnam). But they tried. Perhaps we too can gain some inspiration from his words.

President John Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech

20 January 1961

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end as well as a beginning — signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge — and more.

Continue reading

Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War

Summary: Douglas Macgregor has a new book coming out soon, combining his experience planning and fighting modern wars with his knowledge of military history. As we fight our new long war, knowledge of past battles can help us see our way forward. Here is Professor Citino’s Forward to pique your interest.

Margin of Victory

Five Battles that
Changed the Face of Modern War

By Douglas Macgregor
(Colonel, US Army, retired)

Forward by Professor Robert M. Citino
Posted with permission.

There is nothing readers seem to like more than a book that discusses great battles, major campaigns, or turning points, but a number of factors set Margin of Victory apart from the pack. That’s what makes Douglas Macgregor’s book a great read.

First, we have the battles themselves, each one a turning point in the history of the twentieth century. We have the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) desperately holding the line at Mons; the Imperial Japanese Army grinding it out at Shanghai against an outclassed but numerically superior Chinese army; the Red Army smashing an entire German army group in a rapid and seemingly effortless blow; the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) getting surprised early by an Egyptian thrust across the Suez Canal in 1973; and, finally, an irresistible U.S. armored juggernaut tearing through Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards in 1991 as if they were not even there.

Beyond serving as a tour d’horizon for twentieth-century operational level warfare, however, Margin of Victory does something all too rare in the world of “great battle books” — it actually manages to link its battles thematically. If one thread ties together all of these fights, it is Macgregor’s warning that change is constant, but it is the reaction to change that really matters.

The British, for example, would not have had a BEF deployed at Mons at all if a few clear heads (above all that of Secretary of State for War Sir Richard Haldane) had not recognized the changed realities of industrial-age warfare and carried out a series of far-reaching reforms from 1906 to 1912, including the establishment of a general staff, the formation of an elite strike force backed by a large trained reserve, and an emphasis on soldier education. Haldane’s pre-war military reform prepared Britain (just barely) to fight and win the war. If the BEF had not been at Mons to hold up the Germans for a crucial few days, the German 1st Army of General Alexander von Kluck might have had an open shot into the left and rear of the entire French battle array — with incalculable consequences.

Continue reading

The 1914 Christmas Truce gives us hope for tomorrow

Summary: Hope for a better future comes from flashes of the past, proof that we’re capable of better things that we do today. Once such moment was the creation after WWII of a new world order based on law (now ruined by our hands). Another was the truce on Christmas 1914 in the trenches of Europe, a spontaneous movement by the soldiers on both sides. They had the desire for peace, but lacked the will and leadership to make it hold. It can inspire us today.

Christmas peace

By December 1914 the stories confidently told in August 1914 became known as lies. The boys would not be home by Christmas. By October the trenches ran from Switzerland to the sea, dashing hopes for victory except through bloody attrition. The complex reasons for fighting became vaporous when examined. Morale sank.

On December 7 Pope Benedict XV called for a “Truce of God”, a halt to fighting during Christmas deeply rooted in western tradition. Leaders on both sides rejected it.

On Christmas Eve the soldiers celebrated in the bitter cold of the crude trenches. Candles were lit and trees along the German trenches. German and British soldiers engaged in a “carol sing-offs”.

In the light of Christmas Day some men bravely emerged from their trenches and entered No Man’s Land to retrieve their wounded and bury their dead comrades. In some place the enemies met, exchanging rations and taking photos. The war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment recorded that their men brought out a ball…

Continue reading

Did NATO betray Russia, breaking the deal to stay out of Eastern Europe?

Summary:  The news that “NATO invites Montenegro to join alliance, defying Russia” has sparked return (again) of stories that the US broke its deal with the Soviet Union to stay out of Eastern Europe. These accusations by Putin and other Russian leaders frame and poison relations with the West. Here are the facts.

Trust broken

Putin’s claims of perfidious behavior by the West show his understanding that the moral high ground is, as so often the case, of value. His most vehement accusations are that the NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe violates agreements made in 1989 and 1990. In his February 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference he said…

“And we have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? … I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.” Where are these guarantees?”

In his March 2014 speech justifying Russia’s annexation of Crimea (we’re bad, so he’s bad)…

“{Western leaders} have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.”

Many on the US Left take Putin’s claims seriously, an example of the Left’s long affection for tyrants (shared, of course, by the US Right). These claims have have only a weak basis in fact. The last years of the Soviet Union were marked by remarkably hasty and poorly thought-out actions by its leaders. Their reliance on a vague verbal agreement — between Secretary of State James Baker and the USSR’s Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze — was poor statecraft (but by no means their worst errors).

Continue reading

Lies about Thanksgiving have consequences. That we’re so easily fooled has even more.

Summary: Now that the celebrations have concluded, let’s look at the history of Thanksgiving, as sad case study of how America’s history has been stolen and replaced by myths to deceive us. We ignore these lessons at our peril. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Breaking the Myths

A step towards freedom.

Start with the myth about Thanksgiving that has become established in the minds of Americas by decades of right-wing propaganda, as told by Kate Zernike’s famous debunking in the New York Times (2010).

In one common telling, the pilgrims who came to Plymouth established a communal system, where all had to pool whatever they hunted or grew on their lands. Because they could not reap the fruits of their labors, no one had any incentive to work, and the system failed — confusion, thievery and famine ensued.

Finally, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, abolished this system and gave each household a parcel of land. With private property to call their own, the Pilgrims were suddenly very industrious and found themselves with more corn than they knew what to do with. So they invited the Indians over to celebrate. (In some other versions, the first Thanksgiving is not a feast but a brief respite from famine. But the moral is always the same: socialism doesn’t work.) The same commune-to-capitalism, famine-to-feast story is told of Jamestown, the first English settlement, in 1607.

It’s a sad story, showing how we have come to believe stories that are almost an inversion of the truth — told to us for tawdry political actors. Annual debunkings by journalists and historians have had little effect.

Some attempt direct attacks on the liars, such as this by Ben Norton at Salon: “Rush Limbaugh’s ‘The True Story of Thanksgiving‘ is a lie-filled load of stuffing that turns villains into victims” — “Tea Party Thanksgiving mythology bludgeons socialism with lies while covering up capitalists’ genocide of Natives.”

Some do rebuttal with detailed narratives, like the Charles C. Mann’s superbly told account tin the Smithsonian Magazine; “Native Intelligence” (December 2005). Some articles attempt to shock us into awareness, telling the facts in an entertaining way from another perspective. The best of these I’ve seen is Scott Alexander’s brilliant “The Story Of Thanksgiving Is A Science-Fiction Story” (2013).

Continue reading

Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it)

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives a timeline of modern history for the “Holy Land” , putting present events in a larger context. While the struggle with jihadists has overshadowed that between Irsrael and Palestine, it remains a front line in the dispute between the West and East. We ignore it at our peril.

Protester with knife at Gaza

A masked Palestinian at a protest near the fence between Gaza & Israel (photo: REUTERS).

Turmoil in the Holy Land

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

The Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Hews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

The outlook

Eight times during the last century — 1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), and 2016 — did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period.

With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done

Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?

———————-———————-

About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written two books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace and The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

He’s written one of the most influential books of our generation about war, his magnum opus — the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about Israel, about Palestine, and especially these…