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The Surprising Cause of the Second World War

Per historian A.J.P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War, which was something of a classic when it came out, but has since passed on, due to its somewhat nuanced take.

The first thing that Taylor argues, rather effectively, is that no one was more surprised than Hitler to find himself at war with Britain and France in September 1939. Unlike in 1914, when Germany directly attacked France as a strategic corollary to fighting Russia, German in 1939 dismembered Poland with Soviet assistance only to have Britain and France declare war on it. Taylor makes the strong point that Hitler, while certainly being a wicked man, was not a lunatic or a fool until the hubris of success in 1940 caught up with him. Rather, Hitler aimed for diplomatic, not military success, playing his opponents off each other with patience and skill. Every move he made in the late 1930’s, from the Rhineland to the Anchluss to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, was accomplished without a shot being fired in anger, and with the acquiescence or even active support of significant sections of the local populations (Discovering the role that Poland, Hungary, and the Slovaks played in the Czech collapse alone makes this book worth it).

So what changed? Hitler pushed his success too far in Czechoslovakia, souring the goodwill of the British people. For it was Britain that was the key player in the crises of the 30’s. France refused to act without Britain, and so in every crisis the British line became the dominant one. Until the Czech crisis, Britain was chiefly concerned with preventing war, on the grounds that war would be the primary evil, and France was chiefly concerned with restraining Germany in order to maintain her own security.

After the Czech crisis, this polarity reversed. Britain gave Poland a guaruntee in order to prevent Hitler from doing to Poland what he did to Czechoslovakia. But there’s a strong argument that Hitler never intended that; that he was serious about only undoing the last Versailles stricture regarding Danzig and East Prussia, and that he expected the same old game: make diplomatic noise and let the Allies bring him a deal. That’s how the Rhineland, the Anschluss, and the Czech crisis worked.

It never occurred to Hitler that Britain had reached its limit, and feeling betrayed by the seizure of Prague, had no desire to accomodate him any further. At the same time, the desire to avoid war had not left them. Instead, they tried to restrain Hitler while keeping Stalin at arm’s length and threaten a war without really wanting to fight one.

As Taylor has it:

The British were overwhelmed by the difficulties of their position — devising policy for a World Power [The Soviet Union], which wanted to turn its back on Europe and yet had to take the lead in European affairs. They distributed guarantees in eastern Europe, and aspired to build up true military alliances. Yet what they wanted in Europe was peace and peaceful revision at the expense of the states which they had guaranteed. They distrusted both Hitler and Stalin; yet strove for peace with the one and for alliance with the other. It is not surprising that they failed in both aims.

The Origins of the Second World War, pg. 221

It is important to note that once war came and the restraints were taken off of Hitler, he embarked on Total Conquest without a qualm, and devoured states that had never been involved with the crises of the 30’s, such as Norway and Greece. Neither Taylor nor myself intends this as apologetics for the Third Reich, which was manifestly wicked and deservedly crushed. But it’s always worth pointing out the gap between grand strategy and diplomatic policy. The British were playing against themselves and their interests throughout the 1930’s, and so found themselves forced to declare the war they had never wanted.

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Let’s Not Go To the Movies: A Continuing Series of Curmudeoning at the Debased Art of Cinema

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Here’s what’s playing at My local Regal tonight:

  • Charlie’s Angels 2019. Because if you keep scraping, the barrell has no bottom, right?
  • Ford vs. Ferrari.  Days of Thunder made palatable to critics by historical place-setting.
  • The Good Liar. Old people intrigue, prompting a new generation to ask “Hey did you know Helen Mirren had her boobs out in some British movies in the Sixties? Seriously, I’ve seen the gifs. She was hot, bro.”
  • Doktor Sleep. Is this the longest wait for a sequel that no one asked for? Unless they crank out Citizen Kane 2: Mark of Kane, I mean?
  • Last Christmas, Game of Thrones had my trust, and the very next spring, they gave it away. This year, Emilia’s in this, and it won’t be very special, special.
  • Midway. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this. It’s supposed to be decent. So if I decide to completely ignore the title of this post, it will be for this. The odds are … enh.
  • Playing With Fire. The movie that, to the question “Is John Leguizamo still alive?”, provides the answer “Sort of.”
  • Harriet. Is it just me, or is this playing more like an action movie and less like “12 Years a Slave?” I mean, if anyone deserves an adventurous biopic, it’s Harriet Tubman, but I’m getting weird vibes off this one.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ve done this already. Begone to the ash-heap of multiple histories, you degraded piece of cyberpunk.
  • Countdown. There’s basic, there’s stupid basic, and then there’s PG-13 horror.
  • Malificent: Mistress of Evil. If Disney really wanted to be subversive here, they’d have cast Cassandra Thompson in the lead. The title fits.
  • Zombieland: Double Tap. As much as I liked the original, I am wary of this. I have a feeling it won’t be incompetent, just uninteresting.
  • Joker. This must be doing well to still be commanding theater space, and I’ve heard enough good things about it that I might check it out when it comes to Netflix. But I still don’t think the Joker should have a movie, so I might not.

So I think I’ll just stay home and finish my rewatch of Breaking Bad so I can finally see El Camino. I can have beer on my couch.

I Don’t Feel At Home in Pop Culture Anymore

Probably that’s not news. I haven’t felt at home in some time, really. Maybe that’s just getting old, but even when I was young I’ve found the pseudo-devotion off-putting. One thing I’ve said for years is that the reason I never became a Trekkie wasn’t because I didn’t like Star Trek, but because I didn’t want to have conversations with nerds about it.

Nerds are the absolute worst. I never felt comfortable as one. I refused to dig deep into comic books, D&D, or anything else, because having to devote that much mental energy about being right about something that doesn’t matter felt strange to me.

But Andrew, you say, there’s like fifteen essays scatterered around this blog about Star Wars. You’re absolutely a Warsie.

No, I’m absolutely not. I tried to be. I found it distasteful. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid, wanted to transfer that love to new movies, and couldn’t. The idea of raging at someone on Twitter about it seems like dumb games for dumb prizes. Star Wars is over. Even Disney has said so. It will exist as a niche market for streaming content on the Disney+ app, until the cost overlays get to be too much, and then it’s over, it’s done.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some comic books. If you want to have a chat about Watchmen, or From Hell, or Superman: Red Son, or a handful of others, I’m your guy. I’ve got no animus against the MCU. If those fans are happy, great. Keep doing more of that, or whatever.

But this I do not get:

Again, nothing against Stan Lee. I always reckoned him a cool dude, and have since he showed up in Mallrats for no particular reason. And it’s fine to admire him as an artist and creator. But crafting icons on his feast day is bizzarre, creepy, and kind of blasphemous. Yet this is what so-called “nerd culture” seems to bring out of people: the glorification of the mundane.

And quite frankly, I find this boring, and much of the conversation about his creation: stupid games for stupid prizes. That’s why I’ll ignore everyone who tries to get me to care about Mandalorians. It’s not that I’m prejudging it as being poor quality: I don’t even care if it’s good.

I want something else. I want to make something else.

That’s why this exists.

It Appears Disney Is Going All-In on Streaming

So suggests Variety.

This explains what I’ve been wondering about, both here on the blog and on my podcast: Disney’s current strategy of “nothing but live-action reboots and Frozen 2.” It also jibes with the news that they’re done making Star Wars films for the time being (and with the rumors that the test screening for Episode 9 have not been going well).

In a nutshell, movies are too expensive and risky to make when there’s a cheapier method to getting content onto the screen.

If you spend $250 on a movie, you’ve got a single run in theaters plus home-video sales to make your money back. If the movie doesn’t find an audience, that’s a bunch of sales you aren’t going to get.

But if you have a captive audience of people throwing down $7 a month for all of your content, you don’t need to worry so hard. They’re paying, and you just have to keep putting half-way decent content up, and they’ll be happy.

So it appears that the Spielbergs and Scorseses are wrong: this is what cinema is going to be. If a powerhouse like Disney decides it’s not worth it to put Star Wars movies in theaters, then movie theaters are going the way of the dodo.

Planned Obsolescence Update

Everything has moved on from my previous computing issue. As it turns out, putting 16gigs of RAM when you previously had 4 improves things nicely (Also, getting the dust out from inside of there… yeesh.) So I’ve upgraded my Scrivener and started on the short pieces for the next issue of UJ. Also, I’m planning on doing some recording and practicing with the new version of GarageBand, as I’m pretty sure it let’s you make your own drum loops and fills. That will be fun.

The difficulty always lies in using the computer as a tool rather than a distraction. To sit down with a goal in mind, even if that goal is “write 500 words” focuses the mind nicely, I’ve found. Scott Adams may disagree, but small, doable goals are a way to build to “systems”

Stick a Time-Traveling Fork In the Terminator Franchise

The problem with Corporate Art, as Andy Warhol foresaw, is that quantity eventually smashes quality. They keep repeating the same gestures, catch-phrases, plotlines, until whatever narrative existed logically has been spread out into meaninglessness. If you keep making enough seasons of a show, you will make it boring and tired. If you keep making enough films in a series, you will make it nonsensical. Everyone knows this. But they cannot stop.

The new Terminator movie that nobody asked for is tanking so hard, it’s probably gonna lose the studio $120 million. Many have said it’s the latest and greatest incarnation of “Get Woke, Go Broke”, and it could be so. But I think this franchise had become a joke, and this film would have failed even if it wasn’t an ideological zombie.

This isn’t merely the absurdity of time-travel premises. I, and better men than me, written on that before. This is what happens when you take the story and treat the previous chapters like a tabula rasa you can retcon to do whatever you want. You lose continuity, you lose clarity, you lose viewers.

Now I’m gonna pat myself on the back here. I haven’t seen a single Terminator movie since I was 14. Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out in 1991, seven years after the original. It built off the plot of the first movie; it did not retcon it. It amped up the stakes: not merely saving the future leader of the human resistance; but preventing nuclear armageddon itself is the goal. It was, in short, a perfect sequel to a good film. If they had left it alone, we would only thing of the series fondly.

Instead, they destroyed everything they had built. Because they had to. T2 left everything final; it had to be undone in order to even have more story. That this did not give the writers and producers pause about doing it tells you everything you need to know about the film industry and what it thinks of its product and its customers.

So when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out, twelve years later, I skipped it. “The story is done, they’re just gonna ruin it,” I said. And of course, they did. Nuclear Armageddon arrives anyway, because it has to. And then in Terminator: Salvation, we’re in the future shattered world, in which a bunch of stuff happens that is sort of related, but not decisive or meaningful outside of its immediate context.

Because none of this is. Terminator: Genisys retcons this entire thing, with more time-travel jumps than Back to the Future Part II. Everything that happens previously is thrown out the window, and although this film did decent box office, critical reception was negative and very few people liked it all that much. So even though Terminator: Dark Fate was supposed to throw out everything that happened after T2 and be more of a direct sequel to that, no one cared and enough whiffs of Woke reached the core audience that they all finally decided to join me in the Camp of Wisdom.

Stop seeing these bastardizations; and they’ll stop making them.

Pompey’s Counter-Insurgency

Quintus Curtius has a fine article on his web site about Pompey’s most impressive victory:

Every victory seems easy in retrospect, of course.  But the campaign against the pirates was successful for very specific reasons.  They are as follows:  (1) deployment of sufficient forces to deal with the threat; (2) assignment of specific sectors of operation to local commanders, with each one made responsible for what happened in his area; (3) relentless pursuit of fleeing pirates so that they could not rest or hide; (4) a policy of “paroling” captured pirates and allowing them to return to their homes provided that they swore to abandon crime; (5) execution of the worst offenders; and (6) the capture of the main pirate strongholds in Cilicia.

These principles translate well to the modern age:

  • Overwhelming Force – The insurgent must respect your strength, and eventually learn to fear attacking you.
  • Divide, Clear, and Hold – pick the areas where they are weakest. Secure these first. Then painstakingly expand into areas where they are stronger, and drive them out of these. Pompey didn’t try to do it all at once; he ground them slowly down. This is the only thing that has ever worked.
  • Mercy to the Masses, Punishment to the Criminals – As Sun Tzu reminds us, men with no possibility of escape will fight to the death. The impulse to treat all insurgents the same must be avoided. During the Chinese Civil War, the Communists made it a policy to release Nationalist enlisted men who surrendered, and only imprison or kill their officers. This made it hard for the Nationalists armies to maintain fighting morale. The United States Army used a similar policy to great effect against Aguinaldo and the Phillipine insurgents at the turn of the 20th century. Any rebel could surrender and be paroled; only those accused of specific crimes would be punished.
  • Co-ordination. The disadvantage of government forces is that they lack the complete freedom of movement the guerrilla has, being weight down by the need to defend territory and the weight of institutional impedimenta. But with shared responsibility and independent action, they can bring their strength to bear.
  • Attack Their Sanctuary. None of the above matters if the insurgents can constantly regroup safely. Successful insurgents almost always have safe areas where their enemies cannot or will not go (North Vietnam and Cambodia, Tribal Areas of Pakistan, etc.). All effort must be made not to allow this.  When insurgents have no sanctuary, and their supplies are cut off, their institutional weaknesses become fatal.