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Notes from Military History Class

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Here are a few notes from my European Military History notebook, which I’m going through in the process of studying for finals.

I love that they have to put nutritional information on bottled water. It’s water.  It hasn’t got any.

In those times [Ed. note the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, 1611-1632], generals fought (insufficient comms tech for REMF approach).

England’s military spending went mostly on the navy during this time.  Not much call for land forces except during the Civil War.  They didn’t conscript army troops until 1916!  Incompatible with the English character.  Besides, if you raised a conscript army, you’d be arming commoners, for heaven’s sake.

Maintaining discipline: tricky.  Particularly with such crap officers.

("The Stuarts have chin problems." – Prof. M)

I like that warfare in this era [Ed. note ca. 1700] was traditionally so abstruse that a frontal assault was considered innovative and dramatic.

"The French cannot form… "  … the head?  Blazing sword?  What?  [Ed. note Bad time for Prof. M to have slide advance problems.]

French/Batavians break and run.  English win!  But 20% of them are casualties.  Still, you should see the other guys.

("There’s always a war in Canada." – Prof. M)

("Belgium itself is not that valuable." – QOTD out of context)

France’s worst enemy in the opening stages of the war [Ed. note the War of the First Coalition, 1793-1797]: France.

"… who had served in future wars"?  Wait, was Carnot a time traveler?

Sphinx thing: a myth.

1802: Peace of Amiens. British recognize N’s France, return seized French colonies, recognize the Republics, annexation of Belgium, etc.

1803: Britain realizes that wasn’t a good idea, resumes hostilities.

By 1812, N controls most of Europe.  Annexed or run by puppet states.  3 factors about to turn this around:

1) British blockade, strangling French trade.

2) The Russian thing.  Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

3) Nationalism.  Works for France when experienced by Frenchmen, not so much when experienced by Dutchmen, Germans, Italians, Swiss etc.

I think we’re into the counter-counter-revolution at this point.

Projector problems [Ed. note during film on Battle of Waterloo] result in the odd appearance of the British "beigecoat".

"This was widely believed to be the end of Nixon’s career."

[Ed. note Antoine-Henri Jomini] Becomes a colonel under Marshal Ney w/ no experience to speak of b/c it’s wartime and he wrote a book.  Those were the days.  Witnesses Austerlitz, the Prussian campaign, & the Iberian insurrection.  Is part of Grand Armee, marches on Russia… and stays there.  By joining the Russian army.  "A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience."

Guy here in a Hartford Whalers hat.  Vintage or ironic?

[Ed. note Carl von Clausewitz] Believed war’s essence was "total war", but that it never happens.  (Platonic ideal?  Regular wars are as Shadow, if you want to be all Zelaznian on it.)

CHINA: economically vast, militarily (esp. navally) insignificant.  BRITAIN: navally mighty, commercially rapacious.  I think you can see where this is heading.

Projector misaligned.  How does that even happen? It’s on the ceiling.

[Ed. note on the Crimean War] Nobody had any real clue what the hell they were trying to do.  Result: Fiasco, confusion, slaughter, and comedy.

Russians able to fortify Sebastopol while French & British argued about taking it.  War significantly prolonged.

Meanwhile, the British were gallantly screwing themselves by trapping themselves in Balaklava w/ no fresh water or easy access to interior.

Russians besieged, were repulsed, had about given up & were leaving when Raglan decided to counterattack for no particularly good reason.

(Raglan/Lucan/Cardigan – the classic clusterfuck lyricized by Tennyson in "The Charge of the Light Brigade")

Interestingly, the only battle I can think of in which two generals were named after kinds of sweater.

Cavalry charges: not so useful vs. barbed wire.

SA war [Ed. note the Second Boer War, 1899-1902] opened poorly for Britain.  This would become something of a pattern for them in subsequent wars.

Scotsmen unsuitable to battle in sun-baked hellholes.

Enter Col. Kitchener!  Owner of one of the era’s great moustaches.

When last we left WWI, Europe was tangled up in a ridiculous network of alliances and nobody really liked Russia.

Admiral Tirpitz, unsurprisingly, author of the Tirpitz Plan.

June 28, 1914: Austro-Hungarian Archduke assassinated in Bosnian capital by Serbian nationalist.  This eventually leads to UK-German war, because Europe in 1914 was just that stupid.

Russians and Germans try to find a way out, but b/c of the inefficiency of the Russian train system, the mobilization can’t be stopped.  Aug. 3, Germany declares war on Russia & France.

And Belgium, ’cause it was neutral and in the way.  And it’s THAT which brings the UK into the war.

No wonder US policy & public opinion were that this was an incredibly stupid war & we should stay the hell out of it.

4 Aug 1914 – Germans, as they are wont to do, invaded Belgium.

Meanwhile, astonishingly, the Russians mobilized much faster than anticipated.  Moltke sacked, Paris not taken, Germans’ momentum broken.  Stage set for 4 years of pointless stalemate.

And there we are, fighting pointless battles of attrition like Ypres, in which 150,000+ casualties accomplish precisely dick.

Meanwhile in the East, the Russians were doing what they do best: producing infantry tokens. [Ed. note Axis & Allies joke!] By the time they’re done they’ll have 12 million men in uniform . Admittedly that’s 12 million soldiers with Russian training & equipment, but still.

Meanwhile, Austria fails to accomplish anything vs. Serbia – the whole point of this ridiculous war in the first place.

And thanks to our old friend Fritz Haber, there was plenty of poison gas for everybody.

U-boat warfare vs. Britain economic.  Aim to force UK out of war by cutting off overseas trade.  That didn’t work, but since they kept blowing up US ships, they did eventually get us into the war.  So, well done, U-boats.

Germans thought taking Verdun would break the "exhausted" French.  French thought holding Verdun would break the "exhausted" Germans.  And there you are.

In the East, Russians fail to convert.

Polish-Soviet War, 1918-1921 – sort of a feature of the Russian Civil War, but not really.  It’s confusing.  Poles on offensive, Red Army crap but enormous.  And so it goes.

And so to Italy, perpetually trying to put on its big boy pants and mostly failing.  This paves way for Mussolini, who will… not really accomplish anything either, but looks like he might for a while there.  Comes to power in 1922, pseudo-legally.  Seeks to restore Italy’s pre-eminence in Europe.  You know, that it lost in 490.

British & French foreign policy in the 1930s responded about as effectively [Ed. note to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia] as you might expect  – condemning Italy but not doing anything effective to oppose them.  This way they can anger Mussolini and Haile Selassie while helping no one.  It’s 1935, after all.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil War.  Short version: Reds fight among selves, Fascists monolithic, Fascists win.

At the time no one had any real idea why this [Ed. note the Condor Legion bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, 1937] happened, since Guernica was not really involved in the conflict.  Only later did it emerge that the whole thing was basically a huge explody German science experiment.  Basically the Luftwaffe just wanted to see if they could really blow up a whole town.

Meanwhile, Italy blunders.  Going for easy glory, ends up walking into the screen door of history. [Ed. note The Italians come in for a pretty regular kicking in my notes on the ’30s and ’40s.]

British, American volunteers took part on Republican side (& the Americans were tagged as Commies for their trouble, though to be fair a lot of them were).

Causes of WWII.  Somewhat simpler than those of WWI.  Ready?

1. Hitler

That was easy.

The thing about early-WWII movies is that you know things are never going to end well.

The Poles: mystifyingly sanguine.  "Run headlong into certain death because you think you can win: 5." [Ed. note HOL reference!]

Man.  Look at that map.  The Italians didn’t even make it to Monte Carlo.  How sad is that?

Why does Hitler invade the USSR?  As Mallory probably didn’t really say, because it’s there.

Russians as ever unprepared.  Soviet leaders actually managed to be surprised by this.

Then, with the sort of timing Hitler could always count on from his allies, Japan attacked the US and brought us formally into the war.

Oh, what a surprise, the firebombing of Japanese civilians was Curtis LeMay’s idea.

Truman figured the A-bomb would win the war, save a ton of Allied casualties, and impress the Russians so much we would never have any trouble out of them ever again.

So THAT worked.

2nd bomb proved we had more than one, although ironically we DIDN’T have more than two.

Korean War: you know the lyrics.

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