The Fourth Reich is Rising

The Fourth Reich is rising. Not in Germany where, in spite of the recent elections, most people seem to have has learnt their lesson. But in Israel. The country which claims to be the only one in the Middle East which is democratic and in which free speech is allowed (nice of the authorities to allow free speech, isn’t it?). The country where my parents, having narrowly escaped the Holocaust, (see on this my post, “How My Family Survived the Holocaust,” 17.12.2015) immigrated. The country in whose military four of my five children have served. The country for which several of my relatives, acquaintances and students have died. The one in which I have spent practically all my life and which I have always loved.

No longer. For almost two years now a 33-year old Arab-Israeli (and self-proclaimed Palestinian) poet, Ms. Dareen Tatour, has been under house arrest. Far from home and relatives, with electronic cuffs on her leg, and without access to either a computer or a cellphone. Her trial got under way in April 2016, and has still not come to an end.

Did she kill an Israeli? No. Did she try to kill an Israeli? No. Did she assist terrorists or fail to betray them to the Israeli authorities, as those authorities, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, demand? No. Did she engage in any other out of God knows how many activities Israel has prohibited? No. So what why did the police knock on her door at 0400 in the morning, and what are the charges which could cost her eight years in jail?

Saying what she thinks. As by putting the following poem, originally written in Arabic, on Facebook.

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil,* they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali** called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

 

* Hadil al Haslamon, a 18-year old Palestinian girl who attacked—so the Israelis claim—a group of bullet-proof wearing, heavily armed, heroic Israeli soldiers with a kitchen knife and, like so many others, somehow managed to die after being shot “in the legs.”

** Ali Kosba, a Palestinian teenager who threw rocks at an Israeli military jeep, shattering its windshield. Trying to run away, he was shot in the back and killed by a heroic Israeli colonel who, according to the military spokesman, “felt in mortal danger” of his life.

On Counterfactual History

I’ll let you into a secret: Last week’s post, the one in which I tried to explain what might have happened if the 1973 Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal had failed, was inspired by a French magazine, Guerre et Histoire, that asked me to write it for them. For that I am grateful, for it forced me to think about the nature of counterfactual history. What it is good for (assuming, that is, it is good for anything) and what its problems are. Today I’d like to put some of my thoughts on paper.

As a rule, historians dislike counterfactual history. E. H. Carr (1892-1982), an Oxford historian perhaps best remembered for his little book, What Is History? (1961), went so far as to call it a mere “parlor game.” Not, mind you, that there is anything wrong with parlor games, incidentally. I find them very useful in keeping my grandchildren amused. And some of them, notably chess, go and others, are excellent intellectual exercise indeed—at least as good as writing history.

That, aside, though, Carr was wrong. Counterfactual history has its uses: it can counteract determinism and remind us that what happened was not necessarily what had to happen. It is, in other words, a method for keeping historians, and indeed anyone else interested in the way human affairs work, away from the ever-present danger of hubris.

But that is not the end of the matter. History, certainly history as practiced by modern academics over the last two centuries or so, is to a large extent an attempt to answer the question: why did X, or Y, or Z, happen? Rerum cognoscere causas, “to know the causes of things,” is the motto of the London School of Economics where I myself did my PhD almost half a century ago. This is good and well. However, without counterfactual history the search for causes, showing that everything that happened did so because it had to and could not have happened otherwise, will end up by degenerating into sheer idiocy. If, as Hegel (“the real is the rational and the rational is the real”) claimed, everything that happened was bound to happen, then what is the point of looking for what caused it?

That is all the more the case because the “laws” on which historians rely when they speak of causation are not nearly as strict as those we know from the natural sciences. There is no equivalent in social science (if it is a science) to Galileo’s laws of mechanics, Newton’s law of gravitation, Bernoulli’s law of pressure, and countless others. With very few exceptions, indeed, they are not laws at all; just generalizations that seem to make intuitive sense to those of us who have been educated within a given civilization, at a given place, at a given time.

In one sense all of us are constantly engaging in counterfactual history even if we do not mean to. When I say that A caused B, the implication is that, but for A, B would never have happened. When I say that World War I was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (see the above image) the implication is that, but for the assassination, the war would not have broken out. When I say that President Reagan, by increasing America’s defense budget to an extent that the Soviet Union could not match, caused the latter to break up, or at any rate helped it break up, the implication is that, without him and his arms buildup, it would not have happened. And so on. Paradoxically, then, counterfactual history is built even into the work of the very historians who claim to despise it so much.

All this means that counterfactual history is both useful and inevitable. However, that is not to say that all counterfactual narratives are born equal any more than all historical narratives are. Some are clearly much better than others. This leads me to the question, what is good counterfactual history? Follow some preliminary thoughts:

  1. Counterfactual history must be plausible, i.e it must not introduce all kinds of things that are a priori impossible. For example, the question what would have happened if Hitler and not the US had built the first nuclear weapons is a plausible one, given that, as late as the summer of 1939, German nuclear research led the world. An attempt to answer it can result in some interesting answers that will shed light both on the Fuehrer and on the role the weapons in question have played and are playing in international relations. However, asking what would have happened if Napoleon, or Genghis Khan, had had them does not make sense and should be discouraged.
  2. Counterfactual history should only go so far and no further. That is because, in human affairs, few if any events have one cause only. Trying to trace the immediate chain of events that might have resulted from one counterfactual event is hard enough. Pushing this more than a very few steps forward will, in the words of Winston Churchill (at a time when, as Lord of the Admiralty, he was responsible for guessing what future naval warfare would be like), cause thought “to diverge too fast.” The outcome is likely to be pure fiction with no link to reality at all. Let me provide another example of this. Many years ago I had a student, an American, who wanted to do a paper on the consequences following from the invention of print. This being Israel, he said that, without print, there would never have been a kibbutz. He was right, of course; yet writing a paper on the topic did not make sense. The reason why it made no sense was because, between Guttenberg and the kibbutzim, there were too many intermediate steps far more relevant to the topic than print was. I told him to limit his inquiry to the years before 1550. What came of it, if anything, I cannot recall.
  3. This warning also has an obverse side. The more plausible a counterfactual narrative, the less it will deviate from what actually happened. As it does so, it may very well turn into an exercise in futility. What is the point of writing counterfactual history that is only marginally different from that which actually took place? On second thought, perhaps this is what I did in the piece I posted last week, perhaps not. Let the reader be the judge of that.

Thus writing good counterfactual history is a question of navigating between the Scylla of unforeseeability and the Charybdis of banality. In other words, it requires judgement. But isn’t that also true of most other things in life as well?

What if the Crossing had Failed?

My name is Ben Levy. Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Ben Levy, of the historical branch of the Israeli General Staff. My boss, acting in the name of chief of staff General Rafael Eitan (”Raful,” as he is popularly known), has ordered me to do an interesting study: namely to inquire, as best I can, what might have happened if the 1973 Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal—arguably the most important move in the entire war—had failed. Why he wants the study I have no idea. To use it as a weapon in his squabbles with his former commander, Ariel Sharon, whom Prime Minister Menahem Begin has recently made minister of defense, perhaps? Anyhow. He gave me six months to do the study. Today, 31 December 1981, I am supposed to hand in my work. What follows is a brief outline, prepared for my own use, of a considerably larger volume.

*

First, a word about the background. In May 1967, following a long series of incidents in northern Israel where the Syrians were actively assisting terrorists and also trying to divert the water of the Jordan away from the Sea of Galilee, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser decided to come to his beleaguered fellow Arabs’ aid. Thereupon he sent five divisions into the Sinai Peninsula—an area that had been demilitarized since 1957—chucked out the hapless United Nations peace keeping force there, and closed the Straits of Tiran (Sharm al Sheik, in Arabic) to Israeli shipping. He also concluded mutual defense treaties with Syria and Jordan. All over the Arab world crowds danced in the streets, brandishing knives and shouting, “itbach al Yahud” (slaughter the Jews).

Whether Nasser really planned to go to war will never be known. Israel, though, was terrified. It felt it could not live with a situation in which it was encircled on all sides and its armed forces, consisting mainly of reservists, kept on a full alert. On 5 June 1967, after coordinating with the Johnson administration, it struck, launching a brilliant blitzkrieg offensive. When a ceasefire was concluded six days later the IDF, or Israel Defense Forces, had occupied not just the Sinai but the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights as well.

The years 1969-70 witnessed the so-called War of Attrition along the Suez Canal. By using his superior artillery as well as commando raids on the fortifications Israel had built, Nasser hoped to force the Israelis to withdraw. Outnumbered on the ground, The Israelis brought in their formidable air force. Hostilities peaked in April-May 1970, when the Israelis shot down four Soviet-piloted Egyptian aircraft. Thereupon the superpowers intervened, imposing a ceasefire which could best be described as a draw.

In 1973, at 1400 hours on 6 October, the guns sounded once again. Israel came under a massive combined attack by greatly superior Egyptian and Syrian forces. Fighting back desperately, the Israelis took just five days to clear the Golan Heights, advance part of the distance towards Damascus, and defeat an Iraqi division which had come to Syria’s aid. In the south, however, things did not go well. Two Egyptian Armies, the 2nd and the 3rd, crossed the Suez Canal, captured the nearest Israeli fortifications, and established a bridgehead 5-10 kilometers wide on the eastern bank. Early Israeli counterattacks on 8 and 9 October, launched without adequate preparation, were defeated with loss. Thereupon the front was stabilized.

On 14 October President Anwar Sadat, overriding his chief of staff General Sa’ad Shazli, ordered his forces to resume their eastward move with a force of some 900-1000 tanks. This time, though, they were decisively defeated by well-positioned Israeli armor fighting on the defensive. As one Israeli former chief of staff, General Haim Bar Lev, said at the time, both sides reverted to their customary roles. The Israelis to winning, the Egyptians to losing.

Thereupon Israeli preparations for a crossing got into high gear. The moving spirit behind the crossing was General Ariel Sharon, one of the heroes of the 1967 War and a former commander in chief, southern front. Now he commanded an armored division. Engaging on “deep” reconnaissance to the west, on the night of 9-10 October some of his troops had actually located the critical gap between the Egyptian 2nd Army to the north and the 3rd Army to the south. Now the General Staff planned to use the gap in order to reach the Canal and cross it.

The first crossing was to be carried out by an elite paratrooper brigade. They would be followed, first by the rest of Sharon’s division and then by two additional divisions. The necessary motorized rafts and bridging equipment had been built and were ready. Now they were brought to the front, though not without some delays occasioned by monumental traffic jams on the way. Once across the forces were to take up defensive positions to the north while at the same time pushing south in the direction of the city of Ismailia, thus surrounding the Egyptian 3rd Army.

*

The first stage in the crossing, code-named “Gazelle,” was mounted on the night of 15-6 October and went very well. Using their rubber boats, the paratroopers did not meet any resistance and were able to build up a small bridgehead. Some of Sharon’s armor also made it to the other side. It was during the afternoon of the 16th, however, that things started going badly wrong for us. One reason why the initial crossing had been entrusted to General Sharon was because his division was equipped with Soviet-built T-54 and T-55 tanks. Captured in 1967 and modified to carry the heavier Israeli guns, their use was meant to mislead the Egyptian High Command and confuse it, thus giving the Israelis more time to move the rest of their forces. In the event, this did not happen. Thanks in no small part to their Soviet allies, who had satellites covering the front, the Egyptians were not misled. By the 17th they had managed to concentrate all the forces they had available west of the Canal to contain Sharon.

Meanwhile, east of the Canal, the 3rd Egyptian Army, now fully alert to what was happening, launched a counterattack against the Israeli corridor to its south. Barely able to hold their own, the two rearmost Israeli divisions, commanded by Generals Adan and Magen respectively, defended themselves as best they could. So ferocious was the fighting around the so-called “Chinese Farm” that, at times, the two sides’ tanks were only fifty meters apart. Fifty meters! Suffering heavy casualties, the Israelis only barely held on and failed to gain the operational freedom needed to reinforce the crossing. The fact that General Magen was killed by Egyptian artillery fire did not help either, sowing some confusion which took time to clear up.

Forced to slow down so as not to get too far away from his bridges, Sharon was unable to attack the Egyptian anti-aircraft missiles. Right from the beginning of the war, the latter had prevented the Israeli Air Force from intervening as effectively as it had in 1967. Less air support meant heavier fighting and more casualties on the ground, and so on in a vicious cycle. Nevertheless Sharon, an old warhorse if ever one there was, wanted to carry on. As he always used to say, nothing terrifies soldiers more than seeing the enemy come at them from behind.

It was touch and go. Back in In Tel Aviv General David Elazar, Israel’s handsome, 47-year old, chief of staff, hesitated. Early in the war the members of the cabinet put the blame on legendary Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, more or less neutralizing him. This left Elazar to bear the responsibility almost on his own. Elazar well knew how impetuous, how headstrong, Sharon could be. On the 21st, acting under immense pressure, he reluctantly asked Prime Minister Golda Meir for permission to withdraw Sharon’s division. Meir, a chain-smoking elderly lady who by her own admission did not even know what a division was, had little choice but to agree.

*

Luckily for the Israelis the Egyptian counterattacks, which still continued, never succeeded in quite closing the corridor their enemies had created on the way to the Canal. Their discipline held, with the result that most of them, albeit harassed by the pursuing Egyptians and slowed down by the confusion in the corridor itself, got out. Still the Israelis suffered heavy casualties in dead, injured, missing, and prisoners. Some of the prisoners were marched through the streets of Cairo where an enraged population could barely be prevented from killing them all. All in all about one half of Sharon’s division was lost, complete with most of its equipment.

At this stage there took place, at UN headquarters in New York, some attempts to achieve a cease fire; but the Egyptians, buoyed by victory, refused. After some hasty consultation it was decided to withdraw the Israeli forces, about three rather battered (or, as we Israelis say, “attrited” divisions, some thirty kilometers to the east unto the Giddi and Mitlah Passes. For foreign readers who may one day be allowed to see this report, let me add that the passes command the only practical west-to-east roads crossing the Sinai. They provided ideal defensive positions which a relative handful of troops should be able to hold forever.

Here it is worth noting that Dayan, who felt so heavily isolated among his cabinet colleagues that he spent almost all his time visiting the fronts, had advocated this course right from the beginning. Indeed he had proposed it as far back as the autumn of 1970, only to have Ms. Meir, in her usual blunt way, call him “nuts.” Now, however, she had little choice. By the end of the month the Israeli retreat had been completed.

On their part the Egyptians, having learnt their lesson on the 14th, were reluctant to follow. The two sides took up positions and continued to fire at each other. The Egyptians tried to move some anti-aircraft batteries to the east bank of the Canal; however, the Israeli Air Force, now starting to receive new stand-off weapons from the US, was able to prevent them from being properly deployed and used. The outcome was a war of attrition not too different from the one of 1969-70. Except that the Israeli position was, topographically speaking, much superior to the one they had previously held.

And so the struggle went on. On the ground, the Egyptians made no gains. On the other hand, the Israelis no longer had what it took to attack. As had been the case in 1970, the more time passed the worse Israel’s situation. With just three and a half million people, it could not keep its forces mobilized indefinitely. Adding to the strain was the fact that it also had to be on guard against a possible resumption of hostilities on the Syrian front.

With their backs to the wall, the authorities in Jerusalem started dropping hints concerning their nuclear weapons, the ultimate ratio of the modern world. On one occasion they invited foreign military attachés to watch a couple of F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers engaged on simulated toss-bombing, the technique used to drop nuclear weapons. On another they took their missiles out of the silos in which they were housed, thus allowing Soviet satellites to photograph them and pass the resulting images to their Arab friends. As someone wrote at the time, it was like Samson threatening to destroy the temple; but it did not seem to impress Sadat very much.

It did, however, worry the Superpowers. On 24 October 1973, just before the Israeli withdrawal was completed, they had come close to a direct clash. As a result, both got scared lest their respective clients would drag them to war against their will. The outcome was a ceasefire followed by several years of intermittent negotiations. The Americans in particular were very active. Unlike the Soviets, who had no diplomatic ties with Israel, they were in a position to talk to both sides. This meant that, whereas all the Soviets could offer the Egyptians was war without territory, the Americans could promise them territory without war.

In the end, after several interim agreements, this was what happened. In 1980 Israel, now under the right-wing government of Menahem Begin, and Egypt signed a peace treaty at Camp David. Notwithstanding that, even as I was working on this study, Sadat was assassinated by one of his own soldiers, so far it holds.

*

Looking back, the most important lesson of the war is that it could have been prevented. Had Meir not rejected Dayan’s proposals out of hand, then there is a good chance that it would never have taken place. For this the Old Lady, as Sadat later called her, should take the full blame.

As is well known, the outbreak of war caught Israel totally by surprise. Nevertheless its armed forces, though heavily outnumbered, only took a few days to clear the Syrians out of the Golan Heights. True, the offensives it launched on the Sinai Front on 6-9 October were abortive. However, as subsequent events were to show, these failures were too small to seriously alter the course of the war. The real turning point came on 14 October, which witnessed the destruction of much of Egypt’s armored forces; without such forces, fighting in the desert was impossible.

The Israeli crossing of the Canal, which started on the night of 14-15 October, was meant to destroy as many Egyptian forces as possible, thereby hopefully bringing the war to an end. However, its success was limited. On both sides of the Canal the Egyptians fought back ferociously, almost succeeding in cutting the corridor through which the Israelis passed.

Arguably Israel was lucky in that its attack was discovered early on and that Sharon’s division did not drive deeper into Egypt than they did. Had they done so, then there is good reason to believe that, finally forced to withdraw, their losses would have been even heavier. In that case they might well have been compelled to bring their nuclear weapons—Doomsday weapons, as they called them—into play even more provocatively than they actually did. For example, by allowing journalists into the Dimona reactor complex or holding a test. Thus triggering off a nuclear arms race whose ultimate consequences both for the Middle East and for the world as a whole can hardly even be imagined.

As Machiavelli once wrote, there are situations in which the best one can do is to do that what the enemy wants one to do out of one’s own free will. By retreating to the passes, a wise move that could and probably should have been undertaken some years earlier, the Israelis largely drew their enemies’ sting. Both they and the Egyptians knew it. The ultimate outcome was peace. Looking back, one can only mourn the losses this highly preventable war inflicted on both sides. In the words of the Old Testament (2 Samuel 1.27): “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war lost!”

Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity

Weinstein and A. Zakai, Jewish Exiles and European Thought in the Shadow of the Third Reich: Baron, Popper, Strauss, Auerbach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

What did Hans Baron, Karl Popper, Leo Straus, and Erich Auerbach have in common? All four were born between 1892 and 1902. Culturally speaking, all were Jewish Germans, or German Jews (take your pick). All were brilliant intellectuals, and all were forced to flee after Hitler’s ascent to power. Baron to the U.S, Popper to New Zealand and later to England, Straus and Auerbach to the U.S (the latter, after a spell in Turkey.) And all did some of their most important work by way of a reaction to the fate that had overtaken them and their fellow religionists—which, of course, is not surprising.

Baron was primarily a historian who specialized in the Italian Renaissance. The way he understood it, early on that Renaissance was optimistic and forward looking. Did not the Humanists cast off the chains of the “dark” (a much later expression, of course) and superstitious Middle Ages? Didn’t they seek, with some success, to restore the lost glories of ancient Greece and Rome? But wait. From 1494 onward Italy, with Florence as its cultural epicenter, found itself overrun by barbarians—Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Germans—who treated it as little better than part of the stamping ground on which they fought for hegemony in Europe. To Machiavelli and others, the resulting enormous bloodshed and destruction required a reassessment of history. One that would take it away from a forward march and emphasize its more realistic, political and military, side; storia effetuale, as he called it. For Baron, the parallel with Hitler was obvious. So was the need to reassess, in the light of National Socialism, not just Renaissance history but the direction which the whole of Western history was taking.

Karl Popper, who of the four is the one with whose work I personally am most familiar, is perhaps best remembered for his 1934 volume, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. In some ways following in the footsteps of David Hume, he argued that science, resting as it does on experiment, extrapolation and induction, can never attain absolute certainty; hence, that the only way forward is by showing that existing theories are not true. In Popper’s favor it must be said that his seems to be the only theory of science ever to have raised the interest of practicing research scientists. Here and there a few of the latter have even claimed that he greatly influenced their work.

Weinstein and Zakai, however, are primarily interested in another of Popper’s books, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). As the title indicates, the author’s purpose was to trace the roots of Hitler’s totalitarian state as far back as possible, in this case to Plato’s Republic. Personally I find Popper’s attack on Plato unfair and unwarranted. But that does not change the fact that his work, like that of the other three, was decisively shaped by Popper’s own experiences—precisely the aspect that most interests Weinstein and Zakai.

Strauss, I am proud to say, was as critical of Popper as I (and my revered teacher, Prof. Alexander Fuks), am. “Popper,” Strauss wrote, “is philosophically so uncultured, so fully a primitive ideological brawler, that he is not able even approximately to reproduce correctly the contents of one page of Plato.” Strauss himself was primarily interested in the age-old interaction between the rational and the irrational. The rational was represented by Socrates with his relentless, and often very annoying, questioning of everything. Gaining the upper hand through Hobbes, Spinoza and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, it reached the point where it admitted no one and nothing above itself. On the way, morality and religion were reduced to a means for keeping people in their place and leading them by the nose. As a result, when Hitler and his storm troopers, whom Strauss understood as the culmination of irrationalism, appeared on the scene, it had no intellectual tools left to oppose them with.

Finally, it was during his years of exile in Istanbul (1935-47), that Auerbach produced his widely acknowledged masterpiece, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Here he put forward the idea that Western literature, starting with Greece and Rome and leading all the way to Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, could be divided into two main groups: that which started with the works of Homer, especially the Odyssey, and that which went back to the Bible. The former relied mainly on rhetoric, which meant that it could only treat certain topics in carefully prescribed ways. The latter was less flowery but also more realistic, more diverse, and more concerned with the fate of common people. What the Nazis—always, it seems a fertile source of ideas, in the sense that they literally compelled others to think and think again—did was to do away with the Bible, especially, but by no means only, the Old Testament. You can guess where Hitler fitted into this scheme.

As anyone who has read some of Weinstein and Zakai’s earlier work knows, they are fine historians. Their presentation of the above four scholars, complete with their often complex background, their reactions to their fate and that of others, and their interactions among themselves is far more nuanced than this short review can relate and makes for fascinating reading. As the authors fully recognize, though, it also raises, or rather re-raises in particularly sharp form, the age-old question. Is “objective” thought possible at all? Or is thought, all thought, no more than a thin veneer for our own experiences and prejudices? Suppose, as our authors clearly imply, that we answer the first question with yes and the second, with a no: in that case, what is the point of it all?

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. It is almost certainly no accident that Weinstein, Zakai and Yours Truly are all old and retired. For those of you who are younger, though, the book is highly recommended.

Male and Female*

As many readers know, I have spent part of my career as a historian doing my modest best to understand the relationship between men and women. The outcome, so far, has been two scholarly books—Men, Women and War and The Privileged Sex. Between them they were published in five languages. As well as numerous articles in scholarly and not so scholarly journals and magazines; some of which I have put on this blog.

That explains why I keep receiving quite a few emails on the topic. Some correspondents call me names, among which a reactionary patriarchal-male-chauvinist-racist-pig-who-does-not-deserve-to-live is one of the more sympathetic. Others, apparently in the belief that anyone who does not accept the feminists’ claims in their entirety must be out of his mind, try to psychoanalyze me. And some simply dispute my views.

The first and second categories I routinely ignore. The third I rather enjoy; to quote Epicurus, what is better than discussing things with friends? If possible, while sitting in a garden (mine is small, but it will do for the purpose) and enjoying a glass of wine. Over the Net, if it is not. As long as it is done in the spirit of inquiry and without rancor.

Sticking to the enjoyable kind, most of them point out how much things have changed. As, for example, with women now forming the majority among students and getting better notes both at school and at the universities. And as with women abandoning marriage, children and household to take up all kinds of careers.

Here, to the contrary, I want to point to a few things that have not changed. Needless to say, all references to men and women apply to averages. Meaning that they say very little about individual people of either sex.

* For reasons unknown, proportionally twice as many women as men visit psychologists, faith healers, etc. What that means about their state of mental health, past, present and future, I leave it to readers to decide.

* Women suffer from penis envy (see my post, PE? PE!, 16.6.2016) whereas men, whatever other problems they may have, do not. As a result, women believe that whatever men are and do is better than what they themselves are and do. Proceeding chronologically, more or less, if men have the vote women must have it too. If men get a higher education, women must do so too. If men drive, women must drive too. If men smoke, women must smoke too. If men are wage slaves, women must aspire to become the same. The more the better! If men go to war, then women must do so too. To use an example from my own people, if Jewish men wear tales, Jewish women must do so too. Or else, they feel, there is something missing from their Jewishness.

* Always imitating men—as Marx wrote, whenever revolution comes women, the ugly ones included, are swept along—rarely do women initiate any important discovery or invention. Even the term feminism itself was coined by a man! That is why, though a minority of dissatisfied and aggressive women were able to inflict the vote on the rest and make them work outside the home, they have contributed nothing new to the solution of the world’s problems.

* It is also why, the more modern and innovative an industry the fewer the women who work in it, especially at the higher levels. Also why, as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has just said, men continue to rule the world. Conversely, the presence, beyond a certain point, of women at the higher ranks of any kind of human institute or organization is itself a sign that the institute or organization in question has started to decline and may soon become moribund.

* Women—real women, not emaciated nervous wrecks, desperate not to develop precisely the physical characteristics that distinguish them from men—give birth, whereas men do not. To speak with Nietzsche, the latter are “the infertile sex.” The resulting existential problems do much to account for men’s stronger drive to achieve, as manifested throughout history.

* Partly because they are stronger, physically, and partly because they do not have to take time off for pregnancy, delivery, and lactation, men’s income is considerably greater than that of women. Retirement apart—so many successful men, dying before their wives, leave them their property and their pension—the older people of both sexes are, the larger the gap. Not just in terms of money, but in those of power and fame as well.

* Today as ever, the higher on the greasy pole one climbs. the fewer women one meets. Proportionally more of those one does meet are where they are because they stand on the shoulders of their male relatives, as Sirimavo Bandaranaike (the first female prime minister in history), Indira Gandhi, Corazon Aquino, and Hillary Clinton e.g. did. Or else because they are active in fields, such as modelling, singing, and acting, where men, as men, are excluded.

* Is it necessary to point out that men, apart from being stronger, are also more resistant to infectious diseases that result from dirt entering the body’s orifices? This explains why, at all times and places the hardest, dirtiest, and most dangerous work has always been done almost exclusively by men. As figures concerning industrial accidents show, this continues to be the case today.

* Since women can have far, far fewer children than men, biologically speaking their lives are more precious. Much as feminists cry out for their sisters’ right to become soldiers and fight, no society, on pain of extinction, can afford to lose large numbers of women. That is one reason why men—and, in some nonhuman species, males—keep sacrificing their lives for women; whereas the opposite only happens very rarely. Also why very, very few women have ever fought in war. True, the number of those who did so in uprisings, rebellions, insurgencies, etc. was somewhat larger. However, in all countries without exception it still remains far smaller than that of men.

* Women who have sex with men, being considerably weaker than their partners, put themselves at the latter’s mercy. That, rather than a weak libido, is why they require greater security, both physical and emotional. The difference in strength also explains why, outside the bedroom they are more likely than men to rely on cunning and flattery. If those two don’t work they are also more likely to complain, open the tear-faucet, and show a bit of cleavage.

* Men, producing almost inconceivably large number of spermatozoids each of which is capable of fertilizing an egg, are naturally polygamous; women, producing far fewer eggs but requiring assistance in raising their children, are naturally monogamous. That is why polyandrous societies are rare indeed. Also why attempts, and there have been a few, to set up brothels for women have invariably failed.

Conclusion: Some things have undoubtedly changed. But others, including many of the most important ones, have not. Nor do I see any signs that they will.

 

* Thanks to Mr. Larry Kummer, whose post on this topic made me think. Really think.

Book of the Month

B. Bueno de Mesquita and A. Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics, New York, NY, Public Affairs, 2011

From time to time, as if by some miracle, one has the pleasure of coming across a good book on political science. A book, say, like Kautilya’s Arthashastra (The Science of Politics) which goes back to the third century BCE. Or Machiavelli’s Prince, which was ritten in 1512. Or, to mention a modern example, Edward Luttwak’s 1969 volume, Coup d’Etat. A book whose author does not content himself with trying to answer abstract questions such as what the origins of government are, what it is, why it is needed, what its purpose is, what its elements are, how it has developed through history, how it is constructed, what kinds of government there are, etc. etc. But one that offers practical advice on what is almost the only thing that matters: namely, how to gain as much power as possible and keep it for as long as possible.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have written such a book. Right from the beginning, they make it clear that their work is about power, not the glory of God, or morality, or how to improve the lot of the governed. For them (as for George Orwell in 1984, incidentally), the objective of power is power; something which rulers have known and understood since time immemorial, but which philosophers, academics, and assorted do-gooders tend to overlook. Forget about religion, philanthropy, justice, equality, liberty, fraternity (fraternity!), ideology, community, and similar soft-headed fancies. They exist, if they do, in order to serve power, not the other way around. At best they may adorn it; but only fools believe they form its essence.

As the authors, following Thomas Hobbes, say, the key point is that no one is so strong that two or three others, joining together, cannot overcome him. In other words, no man can govern alone; he, much less often she, needs supporters. Simplifying a little, this means that there only exist two forms of government. In one, which throughout history has been the most common by far, the man at the top must make a relatively small number of key supporters happy in order to keep the majority of people in check. In the other, which historically has been far less common, the benefits of government are distributed among a far larger number of people. The former is known as autocracy, the latter, as democracy. As Machiavelli, speaking of aristocrats versus commoners, says, government consists of a balancing-act between the two groups. Anyone who forgets that is lost.

Having erected this framework the authors use it, in my view very effectively, in order to answer a whole range of questions. If dictatorships are often poor that is because, by extracting the resources in question, they discourage people from working and producing. If dictatorships have an abysmal human rights record that is not, at any rate not necessarily, because dictators are bad people. It is because, in order to survive, they have to extract as many resources as possible from the majority of the people so as to pay off their supporters. If natural resources-rich dictatorships often have the worst human rights record of all, that is because, controlling the resources in question, the number of supporters they must bribe is even smaller than in other regimes of the same kind.

If dictatorships are bad at coping with natural disasters—as, for example, the military government of Burma was when it allowed over a hundred thousand people to die in the aftermath of a cyclone—then that is because they tend to divert any outside aid they may get to their own supporters. If revolutions devour their children, as the saying goes, then that is because the dictators whom they bring to power fear, often not without reason, that those “children” could use the same tactics as they themselves did.

If democracies rarely fight one another, that is because the people at the bottom—who, under this kind of regime, do have a voice—seldom have much to gain from war. The same consideration also makes democracies wary of casualties; if their rulers do not care for the dead and the injured, at any rate they are forced to put on a pretense, attend funerals, stand to attention, shed crocodile tears, etc.

Yet do not deceive yourself. Democracies are not necessarily peaceful. Precisely by virtue of being democratic, they simply cannot stand the idea that someone does not like them or share their alleged values. As Franklin Lane, who was President Wilson’s secretary of the interior, once put it: “If the torch of liberty fades or fails, ours be the blame.” Off with the Kaiser’s head! From ancient Athens through the French Revolution to the USA, there are few things democracies like doing better than beating down on small, weak dictatorships. Just ask Kim Jong un.

Briefly, it is all a question of who supports whom and what resources he or she is allocated in return. Morally speaking, democratic rulers are no better, no less inclined to doing whatever they can to cling to power, than their autocratic colleagues. The one difference is that the former rely on the many to keep the few in check; the latter do the opposite. In return, democrats provide some public goods: such as roads, education, healthcare, and, most important of all, the kind of stable legal framework people need in order to work and to prosper. This basic fact, and not ideology or people’s personal qualities, shapes the nature of the governments they form and lead.

Though oversimplified at times, the volume is a real eye-opener. All the more so because it deals, implicitly if not explicitly, not merely with states but with every kind of hierarchical organization: including churches, corporations, trade unions, and what have you. And all the more so because, in the end, all it deals with are things as they have always been, and are, and will always remain.

Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

Once upon a time, a little less than eight decades ago, one of the things the German air force was famous for was the speed with which it could and did push forward its bases. First in Norway, where fighters actually landed on, and took off from, frozen lakes even as the campaign was proceeding. Passing through the French campaign; even before the armistice was signed on 25 July 1940, Luftwaffe units, operating from newly captured Norwegian, Dutch, and French bases had started to turn their attention towards England. Later the same speed and determination were evident both in North Africa and Russia.

Though distances were measured in thousands, rather than hundreds, of kilometers, the campaigns in Norway and North Africa were relatively small. Not so those waged in the West and Russia. The latter in particular was the largest in history, dwarfing anything that came before or after. To focus on the Luftwaffe, thousands of aircraft, tens of thousands of men, and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment had to be redeployed. Often repeatedly so as the Panzers advanced and the Blitzkrieg unfolded.

Captured enemy airfields, many of them rather primitive, had to be reconnoitered and re-equipped. Others had to be constructed from scratch. Sheds for repair and maintenance had to be erected. Communications-networks had to be established. Fuel, spare parts and ammunition had to be brought forward, stored, and secured as best conditions allowed. A weather service had to be installed. Shelters, however improvised, had to be built for crews, all sorts of ground personnel, and commanders. Often anti-aircraft defenses had to be provided as well—this, after all, was a real war in which some airstrips were located as little as 25 kilometers behind the front and, occasionally, exposed to enemy action.

All this, without the benefit of modern transport aircraft. The Luftwaffe’s workhorse, the famous “Tante” Ju-52, could only carry 17-18 men. It had an operational radius of less than 500 kilometers and a maximum speed of just under 200 kilometers per hour. And all this, against the background of a chronic shortage of motorized vehicles of all kinds. A shortage which, on the eve of Operation Yellow, the code name under which the invasion of the West was known, had forced the Wehrmacht to start replacing many of its trucks by horse-drawn vehicles.

And today? Here is what Zeitonline, a website run by one of Germany’s most respected newspapers, has to say about the matter. The date is 17 June 2017, the translation and the material in square brackets are mine.

“Bundesrepublik minister of defense Ursula von der Leyen (Christian Democratic Union) has presented a timetable for moving the German air contingent from Turkey’s Incirlik air base to Jordan. ‘Until the end of June we shall remain part and parcel of the anti-Daesh coalition,’ she told the newspaper Bild am Sontag.’ Then we shall move the tankers to Jordan as quickly as we can.” From that point on our troops will operate from the Jordanian base of al Asrak, not far from the southern border of Syria.

The tankers will only take a few days to start operations, probably towards the middle of July. ‘Moving the Tornadoes and the complex equipment needed to support photo-air reconnaissance [the German aircraft are not equipped to participate in combat, and in any case Daesh has no air force and no serious anti-aircraft defenses of any kind] is more difficult,’ said the minister. It will take two months, from August to [the end of] September [the entire French campaign only took six weeks, MvC]. From October on the reconnaissance-Tornadoes will recommence operations according to plan. The most important considerations are shortening the transition-time as much as possible and the safety of Germany’s troops.” Against what? One asks. Suicide bombers? The oh-so great temptations of Amman’s famous nightlife?

Never mind that the entire mission, such as it is, could have been carried out by drones to better effect and at a fraction of the cost. Now guess how many troops, how many tankers, and how many Tornado aircraft we are talking about here.

Answer: 280, one, and six respectively.

What to Do?

While tensions in Korea have gone down, those in the Middle East, specifically along Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, are going up. As a flurry of consultations in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Sochi shows, they are higher today than at any time since Israel invaded Lebanon back in 2006.

That round, let me remind you, got underway when Hezbollah, apparently in the hope of freeing some of its prisoners who were being held by Israel, kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and killed several others. This led to what the Israelis call the Second Lebanese War, which ended with a smashing Israeli victory. Not because Hezbollah was finished—it was not—but because, for what is now more than a decade, it lost its will to take on Israel. And not because Israel’s forces performed particularly well—especially on the ground, they did not. But because their sheer firepower, mercilessly delivered over a period of some six weeks, taught Sheikh Nasrallah, his Hezbollah organization, and Lebanon’s population in general a lesson they did not quickly forget.

Now, with the Syrian civil war perhaps—perhaps, I say—finally starting to wind down, the situation is changing. Hezbollah’s recent victories against Daesh and other anti-Assad organizations have raised its morale and made it feel more confident in its own capabilities. Behind Hezbollah is Iran, which is intent on gaining some kind of presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and is using its anti-Israeli policy as a sort of battering ram to enter the Arab world. And behind Iran there is Russia. Like Iran, Russia wants a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Iran, it has no particular reason to oppose Israel, let alone engage in hostilities with it. Especially because doing so may very well cause complications with the U.S. On the other hand, it also has no particular reason to restrain Iran or Iran’s client, Hezbollah.

In my post of last week, My Meeting with Mr. X, I argued that never since 1945 have two nuclear powers engaged each other in earnest. Instead calm—albeit often a tense one—has prevailed. So, first of all, between the superpowers. So, later on, between the Soviet Union and China. So between China and India, and so, since at least the 1999 “Kargil War” (which in reality, was not a war at all, only a skirmish between minuscule forces over impossibly difficult terrain along an impossibly difficult border), between India and Pakistan. In all those cases, to quote Winston Churchill, some form of peace has become the sturdy child of terror. Hence the idea, presented to me in a half-joking, half serious, manner, of periodically assembling the world’s heads of state so as to show them the damage nuclear weapons can really cause.

So what to do? I am not worried about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. As I have argued before, there is excellent reason to believe that such an arsenal, far from leading to war between Israel and Iran, will force both sides to behave more responsibly than they do now. Not to speak of preventing Benjamin Netanyahu from ever realizing his threat to attack. Rather, the real crux of the problem is formed by the fact that Hezbollah, unlike Israel, does not possess a nuclear arsenal. Paradoxically, but as also happened during the October 1973 War (and, some say, the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands), it is precisely this fact which, in a certain sense, gives it a free hand and enables it to confront the Israelis without fear of nuclear retaliation and escalation.

So following the logic of my friend, Mr. X, here is what I propose. Let Israel, or anyone else who is feeling generous, hand Nasrallah a few bombs. Big or small, old or new, as long as they have the word NUCLEAR written on them in giant letters it does not really matter. Complete with their safety devices, so as to put responsibility for anything that may happen squarely on his shoulders. Without ifs and without buts.

And then, as the Jewish prayer has it, there will be peace upon Israel.

My Meeting with Mr. X

Here is a story that took place many years ago—about twenty-five, if memory serves me right. I was conversing with a high-up defense official in the Pentagon; since he is still alive, though retired, I shall not call him by name. He and I had known each other for some years, and I knew that normally he was the most tight-lipped of men. As, indeed, his position required him to be.

That day, however, he was feeling unusually expansive. We were discussing something, I can’t remember what. “Martin,” he suddenly said, “Out of about 30,000 persons who work in this building today, I am probably the only one who has actually seen a nuclear weapon exploding.” And, he added, “It is not at all like what you see on TV.”

From this point the story went as follows. In 1955—if memory serves me right—Mr. X, who at that time was a young economist cum mathematician, and a friend of his were invited to witness a one of a series of nuclear tests being conducted by the U.S Army in Nevada. Along with many others, they were told to sit down in the desert, about three miles from ground zero. Wearing goggles, they were ordered to turn their backs to the planned site, close their eyes, and put their faces on their arms and knees. Also, for heaven’s sake not to turn around and look before counting ten from the moment of the explosion—or else, if they did so, they would go blind.

If these arrangements sound primitive, that is because they were. This, after all, was the period when U.S combat aircraft, carrying nukes, were standing at the end of runways in West Germany, ready to take off. With little if anything to prevent them from doing so if, for example, one of the pilots went mad. In Nevada, though, there was no time for ifs and buts. Both men were understandably worried about the possibility that they might turn around too early. But they did as they were told, waiting for the explosion to take place.

It turned out that they need not have worried. Not because the detonation was not powerful, but because it was much more powerful than they had thought. Miles away from ground zero, with their backs turned to it, with their faces on their arms and knees, wearing goggles and with their eyes closed, Mr. X and his friend actually saw it taking place. How was this possible? Because the light, reflected from the rocky soil, was so strong as to go right through all the obstacles that had been put in its way.

“Since then,” he concluded, “I have been walking around with an idea in my head. Let there be assembled, every few years, a gathering of all the world’s heads of government. Bring them to Nevada or to some other suitable site, and make them watch a real-life nuclear test. It might drive the fear of God into their heads.” And, by doing so, contribute to world peace.

“It might indeed,” I countered. “But consider the following. There could be, among all these people, a few who do not see your point. Instead of concluding that nukes are too awful to use, they might just say: ‘How wonderful! I too want a couple of these things. Just in case!’” Whereupon we both laughed.

Why am I telling you this story? Because we now have, in the White House, the wildest, least restrained, president in the whole of American history. One who even many of his supporters think may be more than slightly mad. One who, by some reports, asked why his country should have nuclear weapons if it did not intend to use them. One who has openly threatened to launch an offensive war against another nuclear power. One whose verbal bellicosity seems matched only by his ignorance of the consequences that could follow if he carried out his threats. Not just for North Korea. Not just for South Korea, not just for the whole of East Asia, not just for the U.S. But for the entire world. Both present and future.

As Clausewitz wrote, many barriers only exist in man’s ignorance of what is possible. With the result that, once they are torn down, they are not easily set up again. In plain English: if one nuclear weapon is used in anger, then it is very likely that all will be. And sooner rather than later.

There is, however, a silver lining. A few days after the crisis in Korea started, it seems to be more or less over already. The threats, instead of being translated into action, are beginning to fade into history. As, given that no nuclear weapons has been used in anger since 1945, so many other nuclear crises have in the past.

So perhaps Mr. X was right after all. If the prospect of a nuclear war can deter a Trump, then presumably it can deter anyone. Even a Hitler, if you ask me: see on this my recent book, Hitler in Hell. Meaning that proliferation, rather than nonproliferation, is the right route. If not to peace on earth and the brotherhood of men, at any rate to preventing major war between major powers.

And Pray, Sir, What Does Italy have to Offer?

What has not been said about President Obama’s failure to deal with Pyonjang and its ballistic missiles? That he did not have what it takes. That he was hesitant. That he was unsure of himself. That he was weak, weak, weak. Too weak for this particular job, too weak for holding the presidency in general.

After January 20th 2017, we were told, all that would change. A new and decisive, albeit mentally somewhat disturbed, president would take over in the oval office. He would not allow his hands to be tied by political correctness. To provide advice, he would surround himself not by nancy-pancy Department of State types but by tough, no-nonsense, former generals (including one who had been nicknamed “Mad Dog” by his fellows). He would disregard diplomatic niceties. He would call a spade a spade, and a punk a punk. And he would take action, decisive action. Including, if nothing else worked, military action.

Two thirds of a year have passed. Kim-Jong un has continued to “provoke the world” by testing his ballistic missiles. Here it may be worth mentioning, in parenthesis, that there is really no reason why North Korea, a sovereign state that has long been under siege, should not own and do what other states, the U.S included, have owned and done for several decades. Also that, for a small state like North Korea, virtually the only way to defend itself against the great bully, the U.S, is to acquire nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.

After each test headlines were broadcast or printed, screaming that “a crisis” was at hand. Each time “top level” conferences were hurriedly organized and held. The armed forces of several countries were put on alert, and militarily units made to maneuver as close to the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas as safety would allow. And then, nothing except, earlier this month, yet another round of sanctions that everyone knows will achieve nothing.

The immediate reason why so little has happened, of course, is North Korea’s armed forces. By using his conventional artillery Kim-Jong il could inflict enormous damage on Seoul. By using his ballistic missiles, assuming they carry nuclear warheads, he could inflict much greater damage still on South Korea as well as Japan, a key U.S ally, and perhaps at least parts of the U.S as well.

Faced with nuclear weapons in particular, no wonder President Trump, for all his professed love for grabbing women by the genitals, has found himself castrated. A fate that often overcome many other rulers, both American and foreign, over the last seventy-two years. And one which, almost regardless of any developments that may still take place in the field of anti-ballistic missile defense, is likely to be shared by many future ones as well.

In- and out of the administration, quite some people put their hope in China. Beijing, they say, has what it takes to bring its troublesome client to heel. By applying serious economic sanctions such as North Korea, which has few other major trading partners, could hardly survive. Or massing troops on the border and make them engage in maneuvers. Or even launching a limited strike (limited it would have to be, or else it might lead to a nuclear exchange). Briefly, anything that might pull Washington D.C’s chestnuts out of the fire for it.

Sounds nice. But what could the U.S offer China in return? Several options exist. Perhaps a withdrawal, partial or complete, of its troops from South Korea. Or perhaps a loosening of ties with Taiwan (instead of selling it weapons, as Trump has recently announced he would do). Or making concessions in the South China Sea, an area which China, not without some reason, sees as historically its own and strategically vital to its future development.

So why doesn’t the U.S, with Trump at is head, pursue this option? Presumably there are many reasons; presumably one of them is that Trump, as a self-declared He-man, cannot afford the damage to the image of himself he has tried so hard to cultivate.

All this reminds me of an old story told about another self-declared he-man, Benito Mussolini. In November 1922 the newly appointed, young—he was just 39 years old—Italian prime minister went to Territet, near Montreux in Switzerland. There he, the son of a small-town blacksmith, one time day laborer, agitator, and recent goon-in-chief met with British foreign secretary Lord Curzon, 24 years his senior. As ancient, as well-heeled, as courteous, and as flinty a representative of Britain’s ruling aristocracy as there used to be.

Mussolini opened by discussion by announcing that he had come up with “a new principle in diplomacy: nothing for nothing.” “Very interesting, very interesting,” Curzon is supposed to have answered. “And pray, Sir, what does Italy have to offer?”