Bill Kristol yearns for war

The prominent neoconservative has a fever, and the only cure is more regime change:

Bill Kristol China tweet

As if setting the entire Middle East on fire wasn’t enough, now Kristol proposes to overthrow the government of the world’s largest nation. The fact that people like Kristol have been running US foreign policy for the better part of two decades explains a lot.

Let’s just be clear about what Kristol is calling for here. Despite his later obfuscatory verbiage, he is calling for war. There is no realistic way to remove the Communist Party from power – especially not within the next couple of decades! – without a foreign invasion or civil war. Kristol is not stupid. Presumably, he understands that “regime change” by 2038 means large-scale, violent upheaval.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has over 89 million members, more than the population of Germany, and is deeply entrenched in every aspect of Chinese society. It is not going to give up power willingly. There is no force or group of people that is remotely capable of dislodging the CPC from power, or of governing the country in its wake, now and for the foreseeable future.

It is appropriate that Kristol got “ratioed” for his bloodthirsty tweet, with a ratio of 3.4 thousand comments to 641 retweets. Now Twitter should apply its rules consistently and ban the influential pundit for promoting violence and inciting harm towards others.

Lincoln on disunion

A couple days ago I posted about a provocative article in New York Magazine envisioning the peaceful breakup of the Union. Lincoln’s thoughts about the prospect of carving up the United States are pretty interesting, if not entirely applicable, in this context. Here’s an excerpt from his Second Annual Message to Congress dated December 1, 1862, when America was in the throes of the Civil War:

A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever.” It is of the first importance to duly consider and estimate this ever-enduring part. That portion of the earth’s surface which is owned and inhabited by the people of the United States is well adapted to be the home of one national family, and it is not well adapted for two or more. Its vast extent and its variety of climate and productions are of advantage in this age for one people, whatever they might have been in former ages. Steam, telegraphs, and intelligence have brought these to be an advantageous combination for one united people.

In the inaugural address I briefly pointed out the total inadequacy of disunion as a remedy for the differences between the people of the two sections. I did so in language which I can not improve, and which, therefore, I beg to repeat:

One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them, Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

There is no line, straight or crooked, suitable for a national boundary upon which to divide. Trace through, from east to west, upon the line between the free and slave country, and we shall find a little more than one-third of its length are rivers, easy to be crossed, and populated, or soon to be populated, thickly upon both sides; while nearly all its remaining length are merely surveyors’ lines, over which people may walk back and forth without any consciousness of their presence. No part of this line can be made any more difficult to pass by writing it down on paper or parchment as a national boundary. The fact of separation, if it comes, gives up on the part of the seceding section the fugitive-slave clause, along with all other constitutional obligations upon the section seceded from, while I should expect no treaty stipulation would ever be made to take its place.

But there is another difficulty. The great interior region bounded east by the Alleghanies, north by the British dominions, west by the Rocky Mountains, and south by the line along which the culture of corn and cotton meets, and which includes part of Virginia, part of Tennessee, all of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Territories of Dakota, Nebraska, and part of Colorado, already has above 10,000,000 people, and will have 50,000,000 within fifty years if not prevented by any political folly or mistake. It contains more than one-third of the country owned by the United States–certainly more than 1,000,000 square miles. Once half as populous as Massachusetts already is, it would have more than 75,000,000 people. A glance at the map shows that, territorially speaking, it is the great body of the Republic. The other parts are but marginal borders to it, the magnificent region sloping west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific being the deepest and also the richest in undeveloped resources. In the production of provisions grains, grasses, and all which proceed from them this great interior region is naturally one of the most important in the world. Ascertain from the statistics the small proportion of the region which has as yet been brought into cultivation, and also the large and rapidly increasing amount of its products, and we shall be overwhelmed with the magnitude of the prospect presented. And yet this region has no seacoast–touches no ocean anywhere. As part of one nation, its people now find, and may forever find, their way to Europe by New York, to South America and Africa by New Orleans, and to Asia by San Francisco; but separate our common country into two nations, as designed by the present rebellion, and every man of this great interior region is thereby cut off from some one or more of these outlets, not perhaps by a physical barrier, but by embarrassing and onerous trade regulations.

And this is true, wherever a dividing or boundary line may be fixed. Place it between the now free and slave country, or place it south of Kentucky or north of Ohio, and still the truth remains that none south of it can trade to any port or place north of it, and none north of it can trade to any port or place south of it, except upon terms dictated by a government foreign to them. These outlets, east, west, and south, are indispensable to the well-being of the people inhabiting and to inhabit this vast interior region. Which of the three may be the best is no proper question. All are better than either, and all of right belong to that people and to their successors forever. True to themselves, they will not ask where a line of separation shall be, but will vow rather that there shall be no such line. Nor are the marginal regions less interested in these communications to and through them to the great outside world. They, too, and each of them, must have access to this Egypt of the West without paying toll at the crossing of any national boundary.

Our national strife springs not from our permanent part; not from the land we inhabit: not from our national homestead. There is no possible severing of this but would multiply and not mitigate evils among us. In all its adaptations and aptitudes it demands union and abhors separation. In fact, it would ere long force reunion, however much of blood and treasure the separation might have cost. Our strife pertains to ourselves–to the passing generations of men–and it can without convulsion be hushed forever with the passing of one generation.

Tried and found wanting

General James Mattis growing stronger meme

The steady decline of the US military is getting mainstream attention with the publication of a scary new report by a panel of national security experts:

The United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, which ordered a vast reshaping of the U.S. military to compete with Beijing and Moscow in an era of renewed great-power competition.

While endorsing the strategy’s aims, the commission warned that Washington isn’t moving fast enough or investing sufficiently to put the vision into practice, risking a further erosion of American military dominance that could become a national security emergency.

At the same time, according to the commission, China and Russia are seeking dominance in their regions and the ability to project military power globally, as their authoritarian governments pursue defense buildups aimed squarely at the United States.

Full report here.

The Heritage Foundation came to similar conclusions in a report released last year.

This is really bad, the product of decades of neglect. I don’t think it’s too late for Trump and Mattis to turn things around. But time is running out.

Time to go home

Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman

The US is taken to task for shrugging while a new pack of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East consolidates power:

What’s happening in the Middle East today can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, which sparked a desire for democratic change among ordinary people and, among governments, a countervailing desire for stability based on the status quo ante.

To go back in time, as it were, the counterrevolutionary bloc—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and their allies in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—believes the future must be more authoritarian than ever. Based on extensive conversations with senior Arab officials, I’ve found that the dominant outlook could be summed up as follows: A heavy-handed domestic and regional approach may well carry risks, but the alternative is worse. […]

No space for reconciliation or compromise exists between authoritarian governments and their democratic or Islamist opponents. If the strongmen win—and they have a real chance—then the West will have to abandon its dream of a more politically open Middle East (the vision sparked by the Arab Spring). If they fail—and there is a compelling argument that they could—their countries could experience a period of turmoil on the scale of the Syrian civil war. In this volatile environment, the United States is ominously absent.

I remember when the US was condemned for its foreign interventions. Now it is criticized for its dangerous aloofness. The reality is that the US is terrible at managing an empire and has no ability to impose its own political norms on the Middle East. Any interest that Americans once had in such a grandiose project evaporated a long time ago. The US is completely unable to effect the outcomes that it wants, and can’t even distinguish the “good” guys from the “bad” guys in most of these conflicts. When is a democratic/Islamist revolution preferable to a stable, authoritarian regime? I don’t know, and chances are neither do you. It’s ridiculous for any Americans to think they can, or should, decide the political future of a radically different country 6,000 miles away.

On a related note, the US is still chasing the Taliban around Afghanistan after 17 years:

When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls “regaining the tactical initiative” — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

“This is not going to be won militarily,” Miller said. “This is going to a political solution.”

In other words, the war is unwinnable. Afghanistan cannot be pacified, as the British and the Russians and many others throughout history have learned to their chagrin. So go home.

Taiwan is gone

Han Kuang military exercise Kinmen Taiwan

Annual military exercise in Kinmen, Taiwan, a few miles from mainland China (Source)

I’m not entirely clear on who this guy is, but he has a strong opinion on what would happen in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan:

Now let me tell you the biggest military fiction to be found on the planet.

Taiwan will be able to defend itself against a Chinese invasion. The US will rush to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an invasion. Finally the combined might of the US and Taiwan with MAYBE the assistance of others in the region will be able to retake the island in the event that the Chinese establish a foothold/successfully take it.

Sorry boys and girls. Ain’t happening.

No matter how you slice it, we are victims of time and distance. The Chinese are too close, we’re too far away and the Taiwanese have been so thoroughly infiltrated that success is impossible.

Look at the Chinese order of battle.

Count numbers.

Do the same for Taiwan.

The results of your count should be obvious. Taiwan will fall.

Some numbers to consider:

China’s armed forces have long outnumbered and outspent Taiwan’s. China now has 800,000 active combat troops in its ground forces, compared with 130,000 in Taiwan; its budget last year was $144 billion, compared with Taiwan’s $10 billion, according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military. (Congress approved a $700 billion Pentagon budget in September, with an even larger increase than President Trump had requested.)

Back to the military blogger guy:

Remember the proposal (don’t know where it came from) to forward position US Marines on the island? If that was followed thu then the calculations change dramatically depending on the size of the force. Put a Platoon forward and its pretty much the same. Make it a Battalion and suddenly you have enough Marines in harm’s way where abandonment or rapid evacuation becomes impossible when ships show up on the horizon. Additionally you have the spectre of a Battalion of Marines “cutting and running” or being destroyed by Chinese forces. That would require a full scale military push if not to save the Taiwanese then to save the Marines.

That proposal would have signalled our determination for Taiwan to remain free.

But we didn’t bite.

Which means that this conversation has already occured at the highest levels of the Pentagon/State Dept/National Command Authority.

It has certainly been obvious for a while that when the pedal hits the metal, the US will throw Taiwan under the bus rather than fight China. As time goes on, China’s military edge over the self-governing island grows more extreme. It’s also very telling that Taiwan is struggling to recruit soldiers as it phases out conscription. The national morale needed to risk life and limb fighting off a PLA invasion seems… lacking.

There is some interesting back-and-forth about China’s capabilities in the blog’s comments section:

Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

You say Taiwan will vote to reunite with the mainland in a decade; that really shows your lack of understanding of the Taiwanese hatred of the communist regime of China. The only way the commies can “unite” the island with the mainland is by force.

Also I find your understanding of the local geography lacking as well. The Taiwan strait is 130 kms at its narrowest. The waters of the strait is considered the roughest in the northern hemisphere and the western side of the island (facing the mainland) has no beaches, only mud flats – the beaches are on the eastern side. This isn’t a Normandy crossing and the PLAN still hasn’t the capacity/capability to bring a significant number of troops ashore without them being sunk and drown at sea.

Solomon Mod Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

80 miles? hardly a long distance. i drive further than that on an almost daily basis. sorry bro but you’re dealing with an American. we know distance. we conquer just for shits and giggles in our personal lives much less militarily. 80 miles? that barely qualifies as a decent training opportunity much less a real world military mission…especially for forcible entry forces.

so what does that SHORT FUCKING DISTANCE mean? it means its within range of EVERY SINGE FIGHTER AND TRANSPORT PLANE IN THE CHINESE AIR FORCE! it means that an LCAC can cover the distance FROM FREAKING CHINA to Taiwan in 2 hours (assuming a transit speed of 35 knots)…it means that you have the almost IDEAL conditions for everything from a RAID to an AIR ASSAULT to a PARACHUTE ASSAULT to a MASSIVE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT using AERIAL INSERTION and SURFACE ASSAULT ASSETS!

you talk about me not knowing geography? hell yeah i know the geography. what i can’t figure is why China hasn’t already attacked. the ground is laid. this would be the stroke that would cement them as a Super Power with muscle to enforce their will.

no matter how you slice this thing. from a military point of view Taiwan is undefensible.

[…]

wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

Taiwan isn’t gone. If Taiwan were gone then the Trump administration would not be shoring up US Taiwan relations. Pence would not have recently singled out Taiwan as model of democracy in the Chinese speaking world. Trump wouldn’t be conducting all these FNOP operations right in China’s face if he didn’t believe the US could prevail over China. Losing Taiwan would signify to the world that Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam heck most of the Pacific is up for grabs thus the US isn’t just going to hand Taiwan over to China on a silver platter. If anything, the US seems be closer to Taiwan today, than it has been in decades.

Trump knows that China is the US’s biggest threat. He’s already taken steps to neutralize China starting with its economy. I’d even go so far as to say that USMCA was written in a way to specifically counter China’s exploitation of NAFTA loopholes to access America’s market.

Solomon Mod wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

wait. are you being serious or are you just being a nationalist (Taiwan) on this issue? i’m just looking at things as they are not as i wish them to be. you point out that as goes Taiwan so goes the Pacific? i think you’re just not being honest there. Taiwan could fall and the rest of the Pacific would remain unchanged. the same talk happened with regard to Hong Kong. it fell underneath China’s orbit and everything else remained the same.

quite honestly Taiwan COULD BE SEEN JUSTIFIABLY SO (to some) as properly being Chinese territory. a breakaway Republic but Chinese territory none-the-less.

but my bigger issue is the defense of Taiwan. i just don’t see how it could realistically done. we’re certainly not going to launch a nuclear war in defense of Taiwan so how do we defend it? additionally the US and Russia and NATO have ALL STARTED CONDUCTING LARGE SCALE EXERCISES! we claim that Trident Junction is peaceful but given past tensions it could mask an invasion. the same occurred with the large scale Russian exercise. i heard talk from some that it was a mask to make a move into Western Europe (yeah crazy talk). i said all that to say that the “we can see it from a mile away” is just plain happy talk. China has too many forces in the area. they run too many snap drills. the only real alert we’ll have is when we see Chinese Paratroopers and Marines loading transports and then its all over but the crying.

explain that away before you slam me for my thoughts on the subject. how far away is Taiwan from the mainland? a shorter drive than Atlanta to Louisiana! MUCH SHORTER. in today’s military that’s incredibly short.

Invasion of Venezuela in the works?

Things may be heating up in South America:

A top Colombian official told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that its government will support Brazilian’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if he wants to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela.

According to Folha, a top diplomatic official said that “if [President-elect] Bolsonaro wants to help overthrow Maduro with a military intervention, he will have the support of Colombia.”

According to the anonymous source, Colombian President Ivan Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe, would agree with a military intervention.

“If it is [United States President Donald] Trump or Bolsonaro are the first to set foot in Venezuela, Colombia will follow suit without hesitation,” the diplomat told Folha. […]

Ivan Duque Colombia

Colombian president Ivan Duque

Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque, who is supported by the far-right in his own divided country, considers Maduro a “dictator” and has refused to rule out military intervention.

“Duque is confident that if such an operation is underway, with the involvement of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps the US, they will participate. The region can no longer bear a worsening of the Venezuelan diaspora,” said the source.

Regarding that diaspora, the Miami Herald reported in June:

Almost 1 million people from Venezuela are thought to have poured into neighboring Colombia in the last two years, amid a grinding economic, social and political crisis that has rattled the region.

On Wednesday, Colombian authorities said a nationwide census found that 442,462 Venezuelans are living in the country without proper documentation and 376,572 Venezuelans are in the country legally — for a total of 819,034. […]

The Venezuelan exodus is being felt throughout the hemisphere. According to the International Organization on Migration, there were at least 1.6 million Venezuelans living abroad in 2017 — up from 698,000 in 2015.

Venezuela exodus Columbia

Venezuelans looking for a better life in Colombia (Source)

On a possibly related note, the “Axis of Evil” has a successor in the Western Hemisphere:

Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Daniel Ortega Nicolás Maduro

Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega

Operation Urgent Fury

Invasion of Grenada

An interesting recap of Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. I didn’t realize the operation was such a near-debacle, with 19 killed and 116 wounded on the American side:

In the end there were no maps of Grenada to be had anywhere at Fort Bragg. In an inspired moment a division staff officer headed for downtown Fayetteville, where he procured tourist maps of the island. Planners superimposed a military grid atop the map and distributed copies to the invading troops before they boarded their air craft. Interestingly, many senior leaders were relying on articles copied out of The Economist for the most up-to-date intelligence on the island. […]

Things did not go as smoothly for the Army. Newly obtained aerial photos showed obstacles on the airfield—something the SEALs might have cleared had they landed. Presuming the enemy was anticipating the assault, the Ranger commander decided to jump at 500 feet in order to minimize his troops’ time in the air. Such a low-level jump made reserve parachutes useless, so they were discarded. Worse, only the first assault company had expected to jump, so only they were wearing parachutes. At the last moment the rest of the Rangers scrambled to get into their harnesses, a task made infinitely more difficult when attempted in an aircraft crowded with men and equipment. As a result, the Rangers began landing more than 30 minutes behind schedule, and the successive drop waves took 90 minutes to complete —in daylight and initially under heavy enemy fire. So far, Urgent Fury was a perfect example of how not to conduct an airborne operation and was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. […]

A separate JSOC mission failed to capture the transmitter broadcasting the government-controlled Radio Free Grenada, after PRA counterattacks drove a SEAL team from the position. Similarly, Delta and Ranger assaults on the enemy command posts at Fort Rupert and the prison at Richmond Hill stalled after antiaircraft fire downed two helicopters and damaged others. Adding some macabre mockery to the unfolding spectacle, attacking U.S. aircraft accidentally hit a mental hospital, killing 18 patients and setting others free to aimlessly wander around a nearby town.

Etc. Apparently at one point, a solider had to use a payphone to call in support for his unit:

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces. Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

Mistakes were made, and lessons were learned…

Former Army general predicts war with China in 15 years

Chinese troops Vostok 2018

Chinese troops during Vostok 2018 war games in Eastern Siberia

A dire prediction, but is it correct?

The former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it’s very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that European allies will have to do more to ensure their own defenses in face of a resurgent Russia because America will need to focus more attention on defending its interests in the Pacific.

“The United States needs a very strong European pillar. I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable — but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” Hodges told a packed room at the Warsaw Security Forum, a two-day gathering of leaders and military and political experts from central Europe.

“The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat,” Hodges said.

I think it unlikely. What would they fight over? No doubt the Sino-American relationship is heating up, but China has no interest in war, and it’s hard to imagine the US going to war to defend the South China Sea or Taiwan. China will eventually replace the US as the dominant power in East Asia, and there’s not much the US can or will do about it.

In any case, the 2030s is almost certain to a very interesting decade all around. Buckle up.

The Good and Bad War

A review of The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion by Peter Hitchens

The Phoney Victory Peter Hitchens“Facts are better than dreams.” – Winston Churchill

The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion by journalist Peter Hitchens is a powerful and unsettling book that aims to correct the historical record surrounding Britain’s involvement in World War II. It casts a cold eye on British decision-making before, during, and immediately after the greatest conflict in human history, and finds that large swaths of the conventional wisdom about the Good War are simply not true.

The argument goes something like this. Britain, wanting to preserve its credibility as a great power, foolishly committed itself to a war it was unprepared to fight. This tragic folly led to a long series of disasters. By June 1940, after the costly evacuation at Dunkirk and the German occupation of the Channel Islands, Britain had lost the war it had declared nine months earlier – chased out of continental Europe and defeated though not conquered by Germany.

The world’s greatest empire was reduced to a bankrupt, marginal power at the fringes of the war, essentially out of the fight in Europe, and had to be rescued by the United States. Why did this happen? The origins of this disastrous situation can be traced back to March 1939, when Britain and France made an unconditional guarantee to protect Poland’s borders and independence, knowing full well they were unable to enforce this pledge militarily. When Hitler invaded Poland in September, they were forced to declare war, although they did nothing practical to help Poland, then or later.

German occupation Guernsey

German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey (Source)

In examining the background to the guarantee, Hitchens finds evidence that the Chamberlain government was actually looking for a fight. As he argues:

Far from blundering into a guarantee they did not mean to fulfil, they wanted the guarantee to commit them irrevocably to an idealist war whose practical details interested them very little. For they had resolved to fight such a war that year to reassert their fast-shrivelling power and importance. [Italics in the original]

Hitchens asserts that Hitler needed to be overthrown at some point. His quarrel is with the motives and circumstances of Britain’s ill-timed intervention:

I am saying that we might have done better to follow the wise example of the USA, and wait until we and our allies were militarily and diplomatically ready before we entered that conflict.

The book later delves into “the wise example of the USA,” specifically the cold, harsh calculations of American self-interest that undergirded Roosevelt’s policy towards Great Britain. In a fascinating couple of chapters, Hitchens records how the US took advantage of Britain’s helplessness to strip the empire of its assets and its naval supremacy in exchange for desperately needed aid.

Stalin FDR Tehran

Stalin and Roosevelt in Tehran (Source)

Under the “cash and carry” agreement, a hopelessly indebted Britain shipped its life savings in the form of gold bullion and securities across the Atlantic to pay for war supplies. Much of this loot still remains in Fort Knox. Under the Destroyers for Bases deal, Churchill handed over British territories across the Caribbean, Bermuda and Newfoundland to the US, a humiliating loss of imperial possessions, in return for 50 decrepit ships. The ruthlessness of these bargains is stunning and very damaging to the trope of the Anglo-American “special relationship.”

The Churchill myth also takes a severe beating here. There is no doubt that Churchill was a great leader with many admirable qualities. But as the book reveals, he was also prone to absurd posturing and hubris that led to a number of damaging errors. One of these was his refusal to send reinforcements in time to Malaya, which paved the way for the devastating loss of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. Churchill was also bizarrely fixated on Egypt, sending scarce resources to the Mediterranean and Middle East theater at the expense of nearly losing the all-important Battle of the Atlantic. A failed intervention in Greece “was also begun for reasons of prestige, not military ones.”

In the book’s most upsetting chapters, Hitchens addresses the British bombing of German population centers during the war, and the ethnic cleansing of Germans from large parts of central and eastern Europe under the post-war Potsdam Agreement. The first issue tends to ignite strong emotions. Many people believe that the deliberate mass bombing of German civilians in their homes was a justified response to Nazi aggression and was necessary to break the will of the German population.

Operation Gomorrah Hamburg

Effects of Operation Gomorrah (Source)

The chapter titled “Gomorrah” – named after Operation Gomorrah, the carpet-bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 which annihilated ten square miles of the city and killed over 40,000 civilians – dismantles these arguments, showing that the “area bombing” of entire towns and cities was futile and morally indefensible. The bombings had limited military value, and were done mainly for psychological and PR reasons, because they pleased Britain’s ally Stalin, and because, as Churchill put it, they were “better than doing nothing.” Huge numbers of British airmen were sacrificed in the raids, which accomplished little compared to the targeted bombing of industrial and military sites. The suggestion here is that Britain turned to carpet-bombing, a savage and largely pointless policy, because this was one of the few ways it could project power after having blundered into a war it was physically unable to win.

The follies continued long after Hitler self-terminated in his Führerbunker. The chapter “Orderly and Humane” covers the brutal, chaotic transfer of between 12 and 14 million ethnic Germans, mainly innocent women and children, out of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia under the aegis of the victorious Allied powers. An estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people died in this process, which is shockingly unknown to most people in the Anglo-American world.

Pointing out these facts is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Hitchens goes to considerable lengths to fortify his book against the predictable misunderstandings. He makes it perfectly clear, for example, that condemning certain actions by the Allies in no way amounts to a defense of Nazi Germany or an argument that the two sides are morally equivalent. The book is also careful to praise the undeniable courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought in and otherwise lived through the war, even as it shines a harsh light on the political and military decisions that were made by the people in charge.

Not being an expert on WWII, I am in no position to assess the book’s historical claims. My opinion is that Hitchens’s arguments are well supported and have the ring of truth. However, The Phoney Victory has attracted a couple of highly critical reviews, by Sir Richard Evans – described as “arguably the pre-eminent historian of 20th-century Germany” – and by Daniel Johnson, editor of Standpoint magazine (and son of historian Paul Johnson). Hitchens has also responded in detail to these reviews on his blog:

You can judge for yourself whether the above critics have successfully undermined Hitchens’s arguments. In my humble opinion, the book survives these attacks virtually unscathed. The sneering, dismissive article by Professor Evans can be, and is, easily demolished by Hitchens. It’s not clear whether the great academic even bothered to read the book.* Johnson’s review is far more thoughtful and detailed, but also ignores key parts of the book’s argument and veers off into embarrassing Churchill-worship.

I should also note that the book includes a highly entertaining and well-written index, which could almost hold its own as a separate work. Here’s a sample:

Great Britain, moderately important country off NW coast of Europe; its principal concern in 1939 preservation of its standing as a great power, 34; actively obstructs single largest escape route for persecuted European Jews, 34; naval weakness in Mediterranean, 34; seen by many Americans as selfish, mean and bullying, 37 […]

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*A reader posted the following astute comment on Hitchens’s blog:

Sir Richard’s rant reaffirms my belief that Mr. Hitches is correct about the lingering power of the WW2 myth: it’s striking to witness a historian of his standing react so emotionally and with so little grace; especially the nitpicking that Mr. Hitchens highlights, a common refuge of those who duck and weave around a challenge they’re unwilling to face head-on.

Just as the Great Patriotic War’s been dragooned into service by successive Soviet and Russian governments eager to prop up their ramshackle hold on power, so the Second World War’s been used by successive British governments to mask imperial decline.

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UPDATE: The book has also been reviewed by Ross Grainger, Dr Nicolas Lewkowicz, and Niall Gooch. And Mr Hitchens has kindly mentioned my review on Twitter:

Peter Hitchens tweet

Playing chicken in the South China Sea

How close did a Chinese warship approach a US Navy destroyer in the South China Sea before the latter swerved out of the way? This close:

USS Decatur China

USS Decatur (left) and PRC Warship 170 (Source)

From maritime industry website gCaptain:

The U.S. Navy confirmed the incident on Tuesday, accusing China’s navy of conducting an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” that nearly led to a collision as the U.S. destroyer was underway “in the vicinity” of Gaven Reef in the Spratly Islands on Sunday, September 30.

According to a Navy spokesman, during the incident, the Chinese warship “approached within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision.”

As was reported over the weekend, the USS Decatur on Sunday conducted the U.S. Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, coming within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs claimed by China.

China issued a statement Tuesday accusing the U.S. of violating its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands.

Dangerous times.