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Category archive: War

Monday October 27 2014

Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”.  He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.

Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):

Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).

In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.

And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.

Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art.  (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.

The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance).  Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.

Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography.  Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things.  Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer.  Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.

But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism.  What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly.  For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.

To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist.  It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.

All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday.  As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.

Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk.  It will be an illustrated talk.  Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.

A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed.  But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:

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Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

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The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Wednesday October 01 2014

Taking the first question first: is it practise or practice?

This is the kind of question that, in the days before the www, used to rattle about inside several million heads for decades on end.  As it so happens, it did so rattle in mine.  But for a decade and more now, such questions could and can be answered, and today I answered this question for myself, by finding my way, very quickly, pretty much as soon as I started trying, to this site.  I’d been meaning to do this for a long time.  Today, I did.  What it says at the other end of that link, assuming I read it right, is that practice is the noun and practise is the verb, as with advice and advise.  I know, you knew that.  I must be an uneducated pillock not to know it.  But, although in many ways not an uneducated pillock, I was for many decades just that, in this particular way.  Besides which, the essence of educatedness is not mere knowledge, it is knowing that one needs to acquire this or that further item of further knowledge, and if far later than is dignified, well so be it.

I’m not saying that this answer is correct.  I’m just saying that from now on, this is the answer I will try to apply whenever the practice/practise dilemma presents itself to me.

Moving on to the question in the brackets above.  Answer: no.  The site where I found this answer (right or wrong) is called “Future Perfect”, and its subtitle is “Improving Written Communications”.  Like, that’s all it would take to make the future perfect.  I do not believe this.  I get it.  Future perfect is also a piece of grammar, and grammar is (along with spelling) one of the things this place is about.  Ho ho.  But, future perfect?

Perfect communication could just mean perfectly expressed abuse.  Remember that fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide, which enabled everyone to communicate perfectly with everyone else, and which started terrible wars, because now everyone could understood everyone else’s insults.  Perfect communication is indeed, maybe, part of the perfect future, but saying perfectly nice things is also an important part of perfection, I would say.  And that’s quite aside from the fact that actual perfection would also be terrible, for other reasons.

Monday August 18 2014

Richard Morrison’s article about the impact of WW1 on music, for the Times, is very interesting, but it suffers from an outbreak of PID (Permanent Italics Disease).  This is when you switch on the italics, but then forget or fail to switch them off again.  Here is a screen capture of the offending moment and its surroundings:

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This was posted on August 16th, in connection with a Prom that happened last night, but it has yet to be corrected, as I write this.

PID is particularly pernicious when it afflicts not only the rest of the text of the piece itself, but then continues throughout the entire page as you see it, as it does here.  That is a site software blunder, as well as a posting blunder.

I got to this piece via Arts and Letters Daily, which perhaps explains how I got to it at all, what with the Times paywall and all.  Does anyone know how that system is working out for the Times?

It seems a bit shoddy that you have to pay for such typographical ineptitude.  It’s not so much the original error that I am unimpressed by.  It’s the fact that nobody quickly corrected it.  And the fact that the site software doesn’t confine the problem to the one posting.

To be a bit more serious, about the content of the article, I have long regretted Schoenberg’s depressing impact upon music, but I had no idea that the man himself was such a German chauvinist.  “Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God …” Good grief.

Monday July 14 2014

I have just done a comment at Samizdata, on this (about the recently concluded football World Cup in which England did its usual rather badly (although it did at least get there)), saying this:

I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.

I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks.  Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.

But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup.  The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career.  A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England.  That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.

Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else.  That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me.  For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their team to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever.  For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.

Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this.  The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse.  But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies.  Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team.  I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.

Sport.  War by other means.  Discuss.

That last point is one I definitely want to write about more in the nearish future.  How A-bombs and H-bombs have made all out war between Great Powers impossible, and caused an unprecedented outbreak of peace between Great Powers, and thus caused national rivalry to express itself in sport rather than war.  That kind of thing.

Tuesday June 17 2014

Michael J, frequent contributor to this blog (he contributed yesterday’s photo, for instance), has a piece up today at Samzidata concerning a mysterious tank that he photoed in Southwark.  It’s an old T-34 apparently.  Michael calls it “a Soviet tank”, but it might make more sense to call it “the Soviet tank”, for this was one of the decisive weapons of World War 2.

Here is another tank:

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This is to be seen outside the “Firepower Museum”, which is next to the Woolwich Arsenal.  According to one of the contributors here, this is “an Iraqi 2SC Akatsiya”, but another commenter says its a “2S3 152mm spg”, spg meaning self-propelled gun, aka tank.  Sounds like a type of computer file.  Or then again it could be the Special Patrol Group.

Here is something else you can see across the road from the tank, in the form of some armour plating that has been rather severely tested:

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But best of all, I think, is the nearby clutch of Metal Men.

Friday June 13 2014

I went on a photo-expedition to Erith, last Tuesday.  Well, strictly speaking, from Erith.  What I did was go to Erith by train, and then walk back along the south side of the river, to Woolwich.

I took about a thousand photos, truly about a thousand, of which the one below was one of the first.  My journey to Erith by train started at London Bridge Station, and this photo was taken at that station, while I awaited my train to Erith.

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This guy has the full story of this strange circumstance.

First off, he notes, it’s not a V2.  It’s a sixties vintage Atlas booster.  So, what gives?  Someone, he pointed out, is looking after this object, so it must be there for a reason.  But, what reason?

A commenter explains:

It’s advertising the Britain at War experience below London Bridge Station.

And all is explained.  That link no longer works, on account of the Britain at War Experience having now been closed down, on account of the redevelopment around London Bridge Station.  But advertising the Britain at War Experience is how it got to be there.

Maybe the Not-V2 will soon start to look at bit tatty.  It may even vanish altogether.  All the more reason to photo it now.

Monday April 14 2014

This evening I visited New Zealand House, for an ASI do.  On the way out, I passed this bust, with “FREYBERG V.C.” on its plinth:

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Inevitably, when you stick up a photo of such a notable, you do some googling.  Not only was Freyberg awarded the VC.  He also scored four DSOs.  My Uncle Jack got three of these, but this is the first time I ever heard of anyone getting four.  It seems that sixteen men have won four DSOs, with just two of these (Freyberg and Frederick Lumsden (who died towards the end of WW1)) getting four DSOs and a VC.

Blog and learn.

I see that another of the DSO four-timers - but no VC, although he was recommended for one - was Group Captain Tait, who succeeded Cheshire (VC) as commander of 617 Squadron (aka the Dam Busters).  Tait lead them when they flew from Lossiemouth to Norway and sank the Tirpitz.  I remember reading about Tait when I was a kid, because the book I read about the Dambusters wasn’t just about the dams raid but recounted their whole war.

Tuesday April 01 2014

Two photos of signs, taken on the south side of the river between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, about a fortnight ago.

On the left, some of the verbiage on this statue.  My reason for showing it here is simply that I think this writing photographs so very well:

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And on the right, snapped moments later, another sign, on the side of a coffee stall.  It must be a very old joke indeed, but I was encountering it for the first time.

In general, signs make very good photos, I think.

Friday March 07 2014

Incoming from 6000, aware of my Feline Friday habit, about a 16th century plan to use cats and doves as weapons of war:

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Asking for trouble, I’d say.

Thus encouraged on the cat front, I went looking for other weird stuff, in the cat category.

I found this, which is a camera decorated with a logo that is part Hello Kitty and part Playboy Bunny.  Weird:

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I guess the Kitty is wearing those big pretend rabbit ears.

And weirdest of all, beauty bloggers are decorating cat claws:

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It seems that doing crazy things with cats is a permanent part of the human condition.  Although to be fair, the excuse for the pink claws above is that they stop your cat from scratching the furniture.  And I suppose making them brightly coloured means you can see at once if the cat is wearing them, or has managed to get rid of some of them.

In the latest manifestation of the original Friday ephemera, there are no cats.  Not this time.  But 6000 included the weaponised cat notion in an ephemeral collection of his own.  His final ephemeron was an octopus photo.  That also just about qualifies as feline, if you focus on the final three letters.

Saturday February 22 2014

One of the things I did today was copy, from one TV hard disc to another, a documentary (fronted by Richard Hammond) about the D-Day fighting that took place on Omaha Beach.

One of the shots at the end of the programme looked a lot like this:

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That is one of the photos at the bottom of this page.

I recall flying over the Normandy Beaches, on the way to the South of France.  Later in the journey, I took snaps like this one, of the Millau Viaduct, but I don’t recall seeing anything like that cemetery.

Wednesday January 08 2014

I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs.  One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work.  What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.

Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb.  When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion.  I did not know this.  Now I do.  Tremble, world.  Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb.  But I now understand a bit better how others make them.

The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere.  This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.

You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”

Thursday December 19 2013

I am, as noted in the previous posting, reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity.  At the join between page 350 and page 351, I learn this:

The second sons of British aristocrats, such as Richard Howe, had long joined even the technically demanding and bourgeois navy.  They stood on the quarterdecks facing enemy fire, as aristocrats should, but their fellow offers were the sons of lawyers or of clergymen (such as Sir Frances William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet in 1863 and Jane Austen’s brother; and Sir Charles Austen, another brother and another admiral).

I did not know this, that is to say, I did not know (in particular) the bit in the brackets.  That explains a great deal about the novel Persuasion, in which the best men are navy men, and the biggest arse is an aristocrat.

Jane Austen’s books are popular because, despite the way they look on television, they are precisely not unthinking celebrations of aristocratic privilege and excellence.  Upwardly mobile traders are accorded dignity, and aristocrats who despise tradesmen for trading are in their turn despised by Jane Austen.  Yes, Mr Darcy owns half a county, and Elizabeth Bennet falls for him when she first sets eyes on his gigantic stately home.  But his aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, who despises Elizabeth for being related to tradespeople, is another pompous aristocratic arse (of the female sort), bested at the end by bourgeois Elizabeth Bennet.

By the way, McCloskey is a cricket fan.

Sunday November 10 2013

Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.

imageI was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it.  That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural.  Were they all heroes?  Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever.  It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them.  It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.

The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead.  I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars.  But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured.  That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.

I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born.  He was the victim of a training accident.  I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since.  But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness.  Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all.  But, he did not die heroically.  War is like that.

The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”.  This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire.  Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically.  Most, however, are merely described as victims.  No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims.  Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.

A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it.  There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good.  Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.

If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right.  I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly.  I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.

Monday September 23 2013

Today I did something I very rarely do these days.  I bought a newspaper:

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It was The Times of May 24th 1940.  Originally it cost 2d, which means two old pennies, from the days of pounds, shillings and pence, which I remember very well, because they lasted into the sixties.  Today, I bought it in the local gay charity shop in Churton Street, for £1.  There were quite a few more copies of The Times from that time still on sale there, most of them from late in 1939.  £1 each.  How long they will last, who can say?

Patrick Crozier, do you want me to get more copies for you, if they are still there?

Patrick Crozier’s talk at my place last month, based on The Times in 1913, was superb.  He turned the talk into six Samizdata postings, which you can find by going to the last one, and following the links back.  Highly recommended if you’ve not read them yet.

LATER: Twenty more copies.