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Yezidis / Yazidis: more gleanings

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- continuing on from Yezidis / Yazidis: first gleanings with a diverse set of data points ]
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Here, to get us started, is some Yezidi music which I downloaded to give myself an insight into the heart of the Yezidi and our common humanity: music as touchstone.

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To recap my previous post on the Yezidi / Yazidi:

The Yezidi / Yazidi are a theologically fascinating group, and it’s a pity that their Peacock Angel has been misinterpreted by Muslims and others on many occasions as equivalent to the Islamic Iblis / Christian Devil. Like Iblis / Devil, the Peackock Angel Melek Taus is ordered by God to bow down to Man / Adam, and refuses to do so — but here’s where the narratives divide. In the Yezidi telling, Melek Taus had been forewarned by God *not* to bow down to Man, since Man was a creature and not God (defined as the proper object of worship). So in the Yezidi view, the Peacock Angel was obedient, not disobedient, good, not bad — but because Muslims when they hear the story conflate Melek Taus with Iblis, they consider the Yezidi to be worshipping the Devil — and thus fair game for numerous rounds of persecution across the centuries, with the current caliphal phase being the worst and arguably likely to be the last.

Furthermore…

The various conspiracies, fictions & hermetic adaptations of Yezidi religious thought (in Gurdjieff, Crowley, Gnostic/Templar circles, HP Lovecraft and his source, E. Hoffmann Price‘s The Stranger from Kurdistan) spring from the same misunderstanding of the role of Melek Taus. In their own rights they are interesting, but as revelations about Yezidi thought, not so much.

Matthew Barber of the University of Chicago, whose twitter stream I recommended in my earlier post, has been blogging from the ground in Iraq on Landis’s Syria Comment blog — recommended.

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Here’s an interesting interview on the History and Genocide of the Yezidis, which points out among other things just how difficult it is to get an accurate picture of Yezidi thought:

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Pat Lang, blogging at Sic Semper Tyrannis, comes at the issue of US military asistance with both an appreciation of local culture and a keen sense of military feasibilities:

Another awkward truth is the fact that getting the tens of thousands of Yazidis down off their mountain will require creation of a land bridge to Kurdish Syria or Turkey. (It is just too far to expect too be able to move all those civilians to the Kurdish mountsins in the east.) To build such a land bridge would require the participation of thousands of soldiers with heavy equipment, functioning logistics and lots of air support. Who would provide that, the pesh merga? Not! They lack the men, the equipment and the air support.

US air is still flying off an aircraft carrier in the Gulf. This is very far away and the distance, in itself, lmits the amount of air power that can be projected. It limits it a lot! If the administration is serious about the Yazidis or the Kurds they will have to start operating from Batman and Incirlik in Turkey as well as Irbil and Suleymaniyah in the KRG or start using heavy bombers like the B-52.

I make no claim myself as to the correctness of Col. Lang’s estimate, lacking the competence to agree or disagree with him. I simply have the impression that on topics of logistics, he is usually (unusually) well-informed.

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On a less tasteful note…

At least one embodinment of far-right US Christianity had to get the Yezidi wrong, mistaking them for devil worshippers:

and:

I don’t doubt that there are many more factors in Pres. Obama’s seemingly reluctant decision to intervene at this point than the somewhat dubious one suggested here. My point, however, is that Bryan Fischer is simply echoing the caliphate’s own misinterpretation when he claims the Yezidi are devil-worshippers — and the caliphate is hardly the best authority on Yezidi theology to follow…

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FWIW, on the differences in IS treatment of Christians and Yezidis, the Christian Science Monitor has this:

Unlike Christians, who have been told they must either pay a religious tax or convert to Islam to avoid death, the Yazidis are considered by Sunni militants to be infidels who deserve extermination.

“We believe that what they have done may be classified as genocide and a crime against humanity,” Gyorgy Busztin, the deputy special representative in Iraq of the UN secretary general, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “Regrettably the information indicates that they are not even given the choice of life or conversion but they are being treated as a group to be eliminated from the face of the earth.”

The persecutions, killings and explusions of Christians from the ancient churches of the Middle East is terrible enough: I had not expected to find horrors even worse..

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Last but likely not least, here is a video documentary in two parts I ran across with further Yezidi background, including several clips from the scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, whose books I’ve recommended.

Part 1:

and Part 2:

Note particularly here Prof. Kreyenbroek’s assertion in the first two minutes of Part 2 that the “honor” stoning of the young woman Du’a Khalil Aswad, which brought considerable negative world press attention to the Yezidis in 2007, was uncharacteristic of Yazidi culture, and clearly instigated by pro-Saddam political forces intent on smearing the Yezidi good name.

Here we find ourselves, as so often, at the level of group hatred — but also at the level of individual humans, their aspirations and their griefs.

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John Quincy Adams on Gaza

Friday, July 18th, 2014

[redacted with extreme prejudice by Lynn C. Rees]

Our relations with Spain the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) remain nearly in the state in which they were at the close of the last session. The convention of 1802 Oslo Accords of 1991 and 1995, providing for the adjustment of a certain portion of the claims of our citizens for injuries sustained by spoliation, and so long suspended by the Spanish PA Government has at length been ratified by it, but no arrangement has yet been made for the payment of another portion of like claims, not less extensive or well founded, or for other classes of claims, or for the settlement of boundaries. These subjects have again been brought under consideration in both countries, but no agreement has been entered into respecting them.

In the mean time events have occurred which clearly prove the ill effect of the policy which that Government has so long pursued on the friendly relations of the two countries, which it is presumed is at least of as much importance to Spain the PLA as to the United States Israel to maintain. A state of things has existed in the Floridas Gaza Strip the tendency of which has been obvious to all who have paid the slightest attention to the progress of affairs in that quarter. Throughout the whole of those Provinces to which the Spanish Palestinian title extends the Government of Spain the PLA has scarcely been felt. Its authority has been confined almost exclusively to the walls of Pensacola and St. Augustine the West Bank, within which only small garrisons have been maintained. Adventurers from every country, fugitives from justice, and absconding slaves have found an asylum there. Several tribes of Indians Islamists, strong in the number of their warriors terrorists, remarkable for their ferocity, and whose settlements extend to our limits, inhabit those Provinces.

These different hordes of people, connected together, disregarding on the one side the authority of Spain the PA, and protected on the other by an imaginary line which separates Florida the Gaza Strip from the United States Israel, have violated our laws prohibiting the introduction of slaves, have practiced various frauds on our revenue, and committed every kind of outrage on our peaceable citizens which their proximity to us enabled them to perpetrate.

The invasion of Amelia Island the Gaza Strip last year in 2006 by a small band of adventurers Hamas, not exceeding one hundred and fifty several hundred in number, who wrested it from the inconsiderable Spanish PA force stationed there, and held it several months years, during which a single feeble effort only was made to recover it, which failed, clearly proves how completely extinct the Spanish PA authority had become, as the conduct of those adventurers while in possession of the island as distinctly shows the pernicious purposes for which their combination had been formed.

This country had, in fact, become the theater of every species of lawless adventure. With little population of its own, the Spanish PA authority almost extinct, and the colonial two governments in a state of revolution, having no pretension to it, and sufficiently employed in their own concerns, it was in great measure derelict, and the object of cupidity to every adventurer. A system of buccaneering was rapidly organizing over it which menaced in its consequences the lawful commerce of every nation, and particularly the United States Israel, while it presented a temptation to every people, on whose seduction its success principally depended.

In regard to the United States Israel, the pernicious effect of this unlawful combination was not confined to the ocean; the Indian Islamist tribes have constituted the effective force in Florida the Gaza Strip. With these tribes these adventurers had formed at an early period a connection with a view to avail themselves of that force to promote their own projects of accumulation and aggrandizement. It is to the interference of some of these adventurers, in misrepresenting the claims and titles of the Indians Palestinians to land and in practicing on their savage propensities, that the Seminole war Gaza war is principally to be traced. Men who thus connect themselves with savage communities and stimulate them to war, which is always attended on their part with acts of barbarity the most shocking, deserve to be viewed in a worse light than the savages. They would certainly have no claim to an immunity from the punishment which, according to the rules of warfare practiced by the savages, might justly be inflicted on the savages themselves.

If the embarrassments of Spain the PA prevented her from making an indemnity to our citizens for so long a time from her treasury for their losses by spoliation and otherwise, it was always in her power to have provided it by the cession of this territory. Of this her Government has been repeatedly apprised, and the cession was the more to have been anticipated as Spain the PA must have known that in ceding it she would likewise relieve herself from the important obligation secured by the treaty of 1795 Oslo Accords and all other compromitments respecting it. If the United States Israel, from consideration of these embarrassments, declined pressing their claims in a spirit of hostility, the motive ought at least to have been duly appreciated by the Government of Spain the PA. It is well known to her Government that other powers have made to the United States Israel an indemnity for like losses sustained by their citizens at the same epoch.

There is nevertheless a limit beyond which this spirit of amity and forbearance can in no instance be justified. If it was proper to rely on amicable negotiation for an indemnity for losses, it would not have been so to have permitted the inability of Spain the PA to fulfill her engagements and to sustain her authority in the Floridas Gaza Strip to be perverted by foreign adventurers and savages to purposes so destructive to the lives of our fellow citizens and the highest interests of the United States Israel.

The right of self defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals, and whether the attack be made by Spain the PA herself or by those who abuse her power, its obligation is not the less strong.

The invaders of Amelia Island Hamas had assumed a popular and respected title under which they might approach and wound us. As their object was distinctly seen, and the duty imposed on the Executive by an existing law was profoundly felt, that mask was not permitted to protect them. It was thought incumbent on the United States Israel to suppress the establishment, and it was accordingly done. The combination in Florida the Gaza Strip for the unlawful purposes stated, the acts perpetrated by that combination, and, above all, the incitement of the Indians terrorists to massacre our fellow citizens of every age and of both sexes, merited a like treatment and received it.

In pursuing these savages to an imaginary line in the woods sand it would have been the height of folly to have suffered that line to protect them. Had that been done the war could never cease. Even if the territory had been exclusively that of Spain the PA and her power complete over it, we had a right by the law of nations to follow the enemy on it and to subdue him there. But the territory belonged, in a certain sense at least, to the savage enemy who inhabited it; the power of Spain the PA had ceased to exist over it, and protection was sought under her title by those who had committed on our citizens hostilities which she was bound by treaty to have prevented, but had not the power to prevent. To have stopped at that line would have given new encouragement to these savages and new vigor to the whole combination existing there in the prosecution of all its pernicious purposes.

In suppressing the establishment at Amelia Island Hamas no unfriendliness was manifested toward Spain the PA, because the post was taken from a force which had wrested it from her. The measure, it is true, was not adopted in concert with the Spanish PA Government or those in authority under it, because in transactions connected with the war in which Spain and the colonies Fatah and Hamas are engaged it was thought proper in doing justice to the United States Israel to maintain a strict impartiality toward both the belligerent parties without consulting or acting in concert with either. It gives me pleasure to state that the Governments of Buenos Ayres and Venezuela Fatah, whose names were assumed, have explicitly disclaimed all participation in those measures, and even the knowledge of them until communicated by this Government, and have also expressed their satisfaction that a course of proceedings had been suppressed which if justly imputable to them would dishonor their cause.

In authorizing Major-General Jackson the IDF to enter Florida the Gaza Strip in pursuit of the Seminoles terrorists care was taken not to encroach on the rights of Spain the PA. I regret to have to add that in executing this order facts were disclosed respecting the conduct of the officers of Spain the PA in authority there in encouraging the war, furnishing munitions of war and other supplies to carry it on, and in other acts not less marked which evinced their participation in the hostile purposes of that combination and justified the confidence with which it inspired the savages that by those officers they would be protected.

A conduct so incompatible with the friendly relations existing between the two countries, particularly with the positive obligations of the 5th 8th article of the treaty Declaration of Principles of 1795 1991, by which Spain the PA was bound to restrain, even by force, those savages from acts of hostility against the United States, could not fail to excite surprise. The commanding general was convinced that he should fail in his object, that he should in effect accomplish nothing, if he did not deprive those savages of the resource on which they had calculated and of the protection on which they had relied in making the war. As all the documents relating to this occurrence will be laid before Congress the Knesset, it is not necessary to enter into further detail respecting it.

Although the reasons which induced Major-General Jackson the IDF to take these posts were duly appreciated, there was nevertheless no hesitation in deciding on the course which it became the Government to pursue. As there was reason to believe that the commanders of these posts had violated their instructions, there was no disposition to impute to their Government a conduct so unprovoked and hostile. An order was in consequence issued to the general in command there to deliver the posts–Pensacola unconditionally to any person duly authorized to receive it, and St. Marks the Gaza Strip, which is in the heart of the Indian country, on the arrival of a competent force to defend it against those savages and their associates.

In entering Florida the Gaza Strip to suppress this combination no idea was entertained of hostility to Spain, and however justifiable the commanding general was, in consequence of the misconduct of the Spanish PA officers, in entering St. Marks and Pensacola the Gaza Strip and to terminate it by proving to the savages and their associates that they should not be protected even there, yet the amicable relations existing between the United States and Spain Israel and the PA could not be altered by that act alone. By ordering the restitution of the posts those relations were preserved. To a change of them the power of the Executive is deemed incompetent; it is vested in Congress the Knesset only.

By this measure, so promptly taken, due respect was shown to the Government of Spain the PA. The misconduct of her officers has not been imputed to her. She was enabled to review with candor her relations with the United States Israel and her own situation, particularly in respect to the territory in question, with the dangers inseparable from it, and regarding the losses we have sustained for which indemnity has been so long withheld, and the injuries we have suffered through that territory, and her means of redress, she was likewise enabled to take with honor the course best calculated to do justice to the United States Israel and to promote her own welfare.

Copies of the instructions to the commanding general, of his correspondence with the Secretary of War Defense Minister, explaining his motives and justifying his conduct, with a copy of the proceedings of the courts-martial in the trial targeting of Arbuthnot and Ambristie Hamas’ leadership, and of the correspondence between Israel and the PA the Secretary of State and the minister plenipotentiary of Spain near this Government, and of the minister plenipotentiary of the United States Israel at Madrid with the Government of Spain, will be laid before Congress the Knesset.

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Connecting dots: Luther learns découpage from Bowie

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from a British TV cop via teh glitter-glam rocker & William Burroughs -- a helpful analytic technique and its pre-history ]
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You take your learnings where you find them. DCI Luther (in the BBC cop show, series 1 episode 4) has a great many data points — in this case, photos and maps.

He arranges them in a circle around his chair, squats, studies them, rearranges them. DS Ripley comes in…

For your convenience, here’s the exchange:

DS Ripley: What’s all this?
DCI Luther: Découpage, a cut-up technique. Take a bit of text, cut it up, randomise it, make new text, see new patterns.
DS Ripley: Where’d you learn this?
DCI Luther: David Bowie — it’s how he wrote his lyrics.
DS Ripley: Are you a fan?
DCI Luther: Don’t I look like a fan?
DS Ripley: What, of songs about, like, aliens and that?
DCI Luther: Well, there’s a bit more to him than aliens. I’ll make you a tape.

Randomize, to see new patterns.

Once again, it’s a near-instinctive move, but one worth sharpening into a tool. Take it out of the zone of tacit knowledge and bring it into the explicit.

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Novelist William Burroughs learned the cut-up technique from that jack-of-all-arts, Bryon Gysin.

Interviewer: How did you become interested in the cut-up technique?

Wm Burroughs: A friend, Brion Gysin, an American poet and painter, who has lived in Europe for thirty years, was, as far as I know, the first to create cut-ups. His cut-up poem, Minutes to Go, was broadcast by the BBC and later published in a pamphlet. I was in Paris in the summer of 1960; this was after the publication there of Naked Lunch. I became interested in the possibilities of this technique, and I began experimenting myself. Of course, when you think of it, The Waste Land was the first great cut-up collage, and Tristan Tzara had done a bit along the same lines. Dos Passos used the same idea in ‘The Camera Eye’ sequences in USA. I felt I had been working toward the same goal; thus it was a major revelation to me when I actually saw it being done.

Bowie borrowed the cut-up from Burroughs and Gysin — glitter from the avant garde:

Burroughs had a technique that would enable Bowie to renew his entire method of writing lyrics and making music. During the early 1960s, Burroughs and his colleague, the painter and writer Brion Gysin, had developed the cut-up as a method of visual and verbal reassembly that was equally applicable to painting, montaged artworks, calligraphy, tape manipulation and the word. It offered, in fact, a whole new way of seeing.

Having read Burroughs’ cut-up novel Nova Express to prepare for the interview, Bowie applied the technique to the words and sound of his next album, the darkly dystopian Diamond Dogs – a fusion of Burroughs and George Orwell. The cut-up, as he admitted later, perfectly suited his own fragmented consciousness, and also enabled him to cut through the tangle of expectation and image that threatened to slow him down. It sped everything up.

Here’s Bowie:

You take your learnings where you find them.

Randomize, to see new patterns.

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Sources:

  • Luther
  • How did you become interested
  • Burroughs had a technique
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    Norway’s “cultural Christian” crusader revisited

    Friday, May 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a minor incongruity? -- Breivik and Wallander ]
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    This is a quick (I wish) note about something that caught my eye — a character in the British (Kenneth Branagh) version of Wallander is decribed as a “cultural Christian” when he’s in significants way about as far from what Anders Breivik meant when he called himself a “cultural Christian” as one can imagine.

    The question this raises for me is whether the phrase has a single clear meaning — and the English Wallander series simply mangled it — or whether perhaps in Scandinavian society it has a wider meaning, and Breivik was limiting it for his own purposes. Let’s start with Wallander:

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    The novel Before the Frost, by Henning Mankell, opens with a Prologue about Jim Jones and his Peoples’ Church in Guyana where 909 people died in 1978 after “drinking the Kool-aid” — meaning both a cyanide laced drink with bullet chasers for any who were reluctant to participate, and the alternate and aberrant version of Christianity which Jim Jones preached — but no mention that I can see of Heaven’s Gate, the group led by Marshall Applewhite which suicided in 1977 to attain a “level of existence above human” in the trail of the comet Hale-Bopp.

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    No matter, there’s a Heaven’s Gate reference (see above) in the Kenneth Branagh version of Before the Frost, in Wallander, series 3 episode 3, which is the version that caught my eye, and gave rise to this post.

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    We thus have two clear historical “cult suicide” references, each adding a touch of realism to a narrative that begins with the burning of some swans, and in the TV version includes a Bible with the Book of Revelation heavily marked up, and at least one tract –

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    — about Leviticus 20.13, which reads:

    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    — a narrative which ends with a series of self-immolations by members of a wayward church, each one accompanied by a “confession” that the member in question is dying to atone for some specific sin committed by others, accompanied by such words as:

    Two of them were burned alive in the fiery lake of burning sulphur, the rest of them were killed by the sword that came out of the rider on the horse. And all the birds gorged themselves on the flesh. I confess to murder. I am sacrificing myself for the sins of others. I am doing this in the name of Him who was dead and rose again.

    Note that it wasn’t swans that were “burned alive in the fiery lake” in the original context. The King James Version gives Revelation 19 verses 20-21 as reading:

    And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

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    The group portrayed here as “culturally Christian” in this episode of the Wallander series is a group with a fixation on the inerrancy not only of the Biblical text but of their own particular and peculiar interpretation of it and their own aberrant and abhorrent way of expressing that interpretation.

    How different that is from Anders Breivik‘s version of “cultural Christianity” in his Manifesto, prepared before the 2011 slaughter of 77 in Oslo and Utoya, Norway.

    Section 3.139 of Breivik’s 2083 European Declaration of Independence, Distinguishing between cultural Christendom and religious Christendom – reforming our suicidal Church, reads:

    A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians?

    If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

    A majority of Christians, especially liberal, humanist Christians oppose the doctrines of self defence. I believe that self defence is a central part of Christianity as documented in another part of this book. The modern day pacifist Christianity is among other things a result of our current regimes and their deliberate influence of the Church. They castrated and made the Church impotent and irrelevant, we will rejuvenate it by implementing our own reforms. But pragmatism will be the basis for which direction we chose to go. A strong church (on certain areas) is essential for the unity of our European countries.

    It is essential that we preserve and even strengthen the Church and European Christendom in general (by awarding it more political influence on certain areas), when it comes to the moral, cultural and social aspects of society. It should even be granted monopoly on certain areas to strengthen European cohesion/unity. This does not mean that we will continue allow the feminist-liberal, humanist faction of the Church to propagate its pacifist-humanist (suicidal) views/anti self defence doctrines. The Church must be anti-pacifist in the manner that it actively preaches self-defence and even support preemptive strikes as a mechanic to safeguard either Christian minorities in Muslim dominated areas or even Europe itself. We must ensure that a sustainable and traditional version of Christendom is propagated. This will involve that we take decisive steps to disallow the liberal leaders of the church to prevent them from committing suicide. We must ensure that the churches of Europe propagate an values that are sustainable and that will even contribute to safeguard Christian European values long term. European Christendom and the cross will be the symbol in which every cultural conservative can unite under in our common defence. It should serve as the uniting symbol for all Europeans whether they are agnostic or atheists.

    The pacifist/suicidal Christians must never be allowed to dominate the church again which one of the reasons why I personally believe that the protestant Church in Europe should once again should reform to become Catholic (Nordic countries, the UK, Germany, Benelux etc). Re-introduction of cultural and Church aspects relating to honour should be the core of our objective when reforming the Church. My hope is that the future nationalist leadership in Western European countries will agree. At the very least, we must support the conservative, anti-pacifist cultural Christian leaders and ensure that they are able to influence the European churches. There must however be clear distinctions. The Church must not put any limits whatsoever on issues relating to science, research and development. Europe will continue to be the world’s center for research and development in all areas, strengthened by a predictable and “unchangeable” cultural framework. This again will considerably strengthen European and societal cohesion and therefore contribute to sustainable societies where harmony, progress, freedom and the furtherance of mankind are the primary civilisational pillars.

    No Biblical inerrancy there — indeed, Breivik’s “cultural Christianity” is entirely compatible with a similar version of Hinduism, which he also endorses. It is Islam that he perceives as a threat, repulsed from Christendom once by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, and again at the Gates of Vienna — with Europe now exposed to a third wave of assault by its own fondness for muticuluralism and its resulting inability to perceive the very real threat that Islam in his view represents…

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    Breivik’s “The Church must not put any limits whatsoever on issues relating to science, research and development” is a far cry from Wallander’s sect, a member of which was booted out of the school where he taught, for attempting to present the creationist view in a biology class…

    So. Breivik is Norwegian, and wrote his manifesto in English. Henning Mankell, the author of the Wallander novels, is Swedish, and his novels have been brought into Enlgish and transformed into dramatic scripts for the TV Series. I don’t believe the words “cultural Christian” are to be found in the English translation of the novel, Before the Frost. But I do think I’ll be checking closely to see what meaning of the phrase is intended, if I run across it again in my studies of new religious movements, terrorists and other outliers.

    It appears to be somewhat more ambiguous than I’d thought at first.

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    The play’s the thing but blood is its trumpet

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    [resuscitated by Lynn C. Rees]

    A book review of Max Hastings’ book Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945:

    John F. Kennedy said that in 1940 Churchill mobilized the English language and sent it to battle. But that was the problem. Churchill saw war in rhetorical terms, as pageantry and drama, as though eloquence alone were enough.

    At the beginning of the war Evelyn Waugh joined a new unit of the Royal Marines, for which Churchill, when he was first lord of the Admiralty, was responsible. As Waugh dryly put it in a letter, he was “now in a very fine force which Winston is raising in order to provide himself with material for his broadcasts.” Rhetorical was what these forces and their derring-­do often were.

    What Churchill quite failed to grasp was the importance of sheer mass in modern war, as opposed to “The British Way in Warfare.” That was the title of a book published in November 1942 by Capt. B. H. Liddell Hart, the self-appointed, and sometimes self-important, military oracle, in which he returned to his pet theme: England’s greatness had formerly rested on indirect attack and limited aims, a policy tragically forgotten in 1914.

    In a fascinating review that Hastings might have quoted, George Orwell summarized this “traditional strategy” favored by Hart, not to say by Churchill: “You attack your enemy chiefly by means of blockade, privateering and seaborne ‘commando’ raids. You avoid raising a mass army and leave the land fighting as far as possible to continental allies.” What few people seemed to have noticed, Orwell went on, was that for the past three years we had “waged the kind of war that Captain Liddell Hart advocated,” and yet neither he “nor anyone else would argue that this war has gone well for us.”

    I once leafed through Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn at a local bookstore. I put it down in disgust: Atkinson’s introduction fawned over the World War II-era British Army. Even by our low national standards, glorification of the World War II-era British Army is a silly exercise in American self-loathing. The British Army started the war badly, fought the war badly, and ended the war badly. Its leaders occasionally rose to adequacy but were almost uniformly terrible. Two British generals, Harold Alexander and His Serene Highness Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas “Chainsaw” von Battenberg Mountbatten were selected for theater command more for their agreeable temperament than their military talent. The one World War II-era British general of any stature among the Great Captains of History was frowned upon by Churchill and exiled to a military backwater.

    While American military leaders insisted on a cross-channel invasion in 1942 and 1943 (which would have failed) and incompetent Soviet military leadership killed uncounted millions of Russian soldiers and civilians, they were right on the big picture: the war in Europe would not end until enough military force was brought to bear on the North European Plain to break the Wehrmacht and destroy the Nazi regime.

    Churchill’s indirect approach fantasy was built on the proposition that penny packets of American Allied forces landed in small isolated pockets in Italy or the Balkans would somehow drain away significant amounts of German strength. This drainage would occur despite how indirectly approaching Germany from its “soft” Mediterranean underbelly involved directly and repeatedly banging the American’s Allies’ head against the southern face of the Alps. When Italy tried this same indirection during World War I, it worked so well that they went on to make ten sequels.

    In contrast, Churchill vehemently opposed an Allied landing in Provence, the Mediterranean gateway to the only significant gap in the mountain ranges guarding southern Europe. He must have instinctively found its strategic rationality offensive. The Allied landing there in 1944, two months after the Normandy landings, was an outstanding victory (as Churchill, to his credit, gracefully admitted).

    Churchill was a brilliant scribbler and weaver of narrative but a mediocre to utterly pathetic strategist. While he rightly recognized the core need for an energizing plot line in underscoring any successful war effort, this was not a unique insight or skill among Allied leaders: FDR and Stalin were also masters of story telling. Consider the opening to Stalin’s famous (in Russia) July 3rd, 1941 speech:

    Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy! I am addressing  you, my friends!

    This is not “never surrender” “finest hour” “owed by so many to so few” “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” inspirational to Western ears, but it was the first and last time Stalin’s rhetoric was personal. Starved for love from their Little Father for so long, Soviet subjects citizens responded to Stalin’s genocidal terror wooden brand of charisma with alacrity. The difference between Churchill and the other Big Two was that FDR and Stalin remembered that, while a strong strategic story is crucial in war, it is not sufficient unto itself. The Carl observes:

    Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective  principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war.  Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the  medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for  psychological forces exert a decisive influence on the elements  involved in war.

    And reiterates:

    Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way  to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might  imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds,  it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business  that the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst. The  maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use  of the intellect. If one side uses force without compunction,  undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains,  the first will gain the upper hand.

    The rationale behind Churchill, Brooke, Fuller, Liddell Hart, and Bernard Law Montgomery’s desire to limit British casualties is understandable: there wasn’t enough white Britons to fight the way the Russians and Americans fought. But the message of war is nothing without its medium: bloodshed. Liddell Hart and fellow advocates of “the British way of warfare” willfully ignored this. Both Fuller and Liddell Hart conjured up an undead and unholy Clausewitz roaming the Somme and Passchendaele battlefields, killing off the best British military talent of the next generation while whispering sweet nothings in Field Marshal Haig’s ear. On Flanders field, the “Mahdi of Mass” sucked the lifeblood out of the British Empire. From where they stood, Clausewitz, a lidless Prussian eye wreathed in flames, could even be the original model for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sauron (Tolkien fought at the Somme).

    But Britain, as Orwell points out, was saturated in Liddell Hart thought. And how did this mindset work in practice?

    Miserably.

    Churchill’s obsession with striking on the periphery following Liddell Hart’s indirect prescription and “the British Way of Warfare” condemned British soldiers to slaughter in small, inconsequential driblets like Greece, Dieppe, or the Dodecanese. While this may be more emotionally tolerable to the large consequential massacres of World War I, it doesn’t bring you any closer to the Ruhr and so it doesn’t bring you any closer to victory.

    The British Army didn’t display much flair for the indirect approach either. The most successful British-only operation of the European theater, El Alamein, was a methodical set-piece battle focused more on boring attrition than splendid maneuver. Eighth Army’s pursuit of the remnants of Panzerarmee Afrika afterward was more dogged than dashing. Slim’s 1945 campaign in Burma was an exception to this general mediocrity but then Slim was exceptional among British commanders in not being a mediocre general. When the British Army really tried something like the indirect approach, the result was usually more Arnhem than Mandalay. A British general could be adequate when you drew a line on a map and ordered them to hold it. Scenarios that relied on maneuver and initiative were doomed.

    Material trumps spirit. Material wedded to spirit trumps spirit doubly. The Huns and Japanese emphasized fighting spirit to make up for deficiencies in material. They portrayed Americans as soft paper tigers who relied on fighting the Materialschlacht (battle of material). Yet this propaganda was simplistic, as befitting a Fascist regime. America effectively wed narrative to mass in World War II. FDR, for all his flaws, was a great showman. He peddled an American story that sold well at home, at the front, and overseas.

    If FDR had relied on rhetoric or clever indirect approaches alone, as Churchill advocated, the Russians would have ended up in Paris. War is more than shock and awe and the sowing of confusion and disorder in enemy ranks. It is more than a gentle wooing of enemy populations with compelling stories. Confusion wears off and love is fickle but death (from a strictly military perspective) is forever. A critical part of war is making the other fellow die for his country, tribe, or non-state actors guild or, at least, persuasively convincing him that there’s a strong possibility thereof.

    If you ignore the physical forces in war, you get the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. If you ignore the moral forces in war, you get Vietnam. In Vietnam, the U.S. Army killed Vietnamese a plenty but lost the contest of moral forces (the North Vietnamese had the good sense to liquidate their media lackeys and hippies when they got uppity). In the opening phase of OIF, there was a lot of emphasis on psychological effect but not enough emphasis put on physically locking down Iraqi forces. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a master of shock, speed, and maneuver, had two parts to his strategy. A Churchillian war of eloquence may deliver the first part, put the scare into ‘em, but it may fail to deliver the second: and keep it on. Iraqi forces certainly fled and eventually disappeared but no control was exercised over these wandering soldiers. They were allowed to wander off. Large parts of the country were left un-Americaned for too long. The scare was put into them but it wasn’t kept on. Eventually shock and awe, however much there really was, wore off and it was open season on American soldiers. Contrast this with Germany and Japan after World War II. The scare was put on and if it wore off, there were still American troops with guns patrolling the streets to put it back on. And, if the Americans annoyed you, they could always go home and leave you to the tender mercies of the Russians.

    The implicit threat of Muscovite hordes may have done more to keep the fear on the Germans and Japanese than anything the Americans did. After all, the Russians had the most effective mix of narrative and mass of the second World War. Marxist-Leninist-Stalinism had the strategic advantage of integrating Clausewitz at its inception. This helped Stalin demonstrate a masterful grasp of mixing politicking and warfare under the direction of politics. If people thought Americans could be bled into disengagement, they were under no illusions that they could do the same to the Russians. If the Russians came, they would break you. They had the narrative of communism to inspire fellow travelers and useful idiots (the first to go into the GULAG when Soviet troops actually arrived) and they had a well-earned reputation for brutality to inspire everyone else. This narrative was backed by masses of tanks, artillery, planes, trains, automobiles, millions of Russian soldiers, and generals who weren’t afraid to use them to the last man.

    If today’s Americans need a Churchill to seek strategic inspiration from, especially in wedding story with mass, they’ll have more luck with John Churchill than his loquacious great-great-great-great grandson.

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