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04 August 2014


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William R. Cumming

A brilliant exposition IMO DH! Many thanks! Would the application of the term "civil war" be apt in your opinion to WWI?


FWIW, as technically-oriented civil servants, the air accident investigators at Farnborough are most likely men of honour like those at Porton Down , so I would tend to trust their judgement. The Farnborough team have reported that the flight recorder had not been tampered with, but that is not to say that someone else hasn't a recording of the contents.
The problems if they do come, will most likely come from MI6. I have read news reports from anonymous sources which suggest that as far as the pilots were concerned, they had no idea of what was about to happen to them, which seems to be reasonable as they were flying a civilian airliner with no ECM capability. So, the opportunities for MI6 to "fix" the results are limited, I would have thought. And there is always the threat of another Snowden.
As for the official announcements by the Russians, I think there was another purpose. It was a warning to the British and Americans that they know what actually happened and they are allowing the British and Americans an opportunity to climb back out of the hole they've dug/are still digging for themselves. Unfortunately, American diplomats are too politicized to understand and most British diplomats are to enthralled with Washington to rock the boat or maybe they're all too stupid to see the lifeline the Russians have thrown them.



Thanks, you’ve joined Stephen Cohen with the best analysis of the Ukraine crisis that I have read.

We are on the march to a shooting war with Russia. The similarities to 1914 are frightening. Thanks to old age and being through this before during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the run-up to the Vietnam War, and the Iraq Invasion; I wake each morning surprised that I am still here.

I see no alternatives. The money men need to loot Ukraine and Russia. Their politicians can’t back down and lose face. They believe their own propaganda. I can vow to never vote for a Democrat or Republican again but so what. Perhaps the 1960’s anti-war and anti-nuclear protests will revive; but not likely in the surveillance state. So I wait, read SST, and write these comments.


Thank you very much. Mr Habakkuk. This piece helped me recall both Collingwood's _Autobiography,_ which I have read many times over the past 40 years. He emphasized that his view of history was that it is the attempt to imagine the thought process involved in various decisions and to understand them. There are, of course, other views on the task of historians, and many of them are useful. I also recalled several elegant essays by Hannah Arendt found in her book _Between Past and Future._ They are "The Concept of History," "What is Authority?" and "Truth and Politics." Many will know her from her concept of "the banality of evil" and her book _Eichmann in Israel._ For those who have not read "Truth and Politics," I would urge you to do so.

I came across this today that might be of some relevance to the attempts to understand the ongoing discussion of the attempts to explain the downing of the Malaysian flight: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/CEN-02-010814.html I do not know the bona fides of the author, but he seems to hold some credibility among British friends on the ground in the Middle East. There are a number of links to support his analysis. The bit I found illuminating, if accurate, was this claim:

"Meanwhile, the MH17 tragedy is undergoing a fast metamorphosis. When the on-site observations by this Canadian OSCE monitor (watch the video carefully) are compounded with this analysis by a German pilot, a strong probability points to a Ukrainian Su-25's 30 mm auto-cannon firing at the cockpit of MH17, leading to massive decompression and the crash.

"No missile - not even an air-to-air R-60M, not to mention a BUK (the star of the initial, frenetic American spin). The new possible narrative fits with on-site testimony by eyewitness in this now famously "disappeared" BBC report. Bottom line: MH17 configured as a false flag, planned by the US and botched by Kiev. One can barely imagine the tectonic geopolitical repercussions were the false flag to be fully exposed."

I would welcome anyone's comments who might be able to pass on ideas about this journalist's credibility.

Mr. Habakkuk,your reflections on the First World War also prompted this set off my thoughts on it as I ponder the ironies in the names for it in the US and in the UK, where, in the latter case the denomination "The Great War" might puzzle many who do not understand that "great" does not mean "wonderful" but "huge or big." The ultimate personal irony is that my paternal grandfather fled Canada from a physically abusive father and enlisted in the US Army at 15. He was trained and sent to the US border with Mexico to hunt Pancho Villa and then with the US Expeditionary Force to France. There he was wounded and unconscious when the Germans sent the gas. He died at 44 and my father was in and out of orphanages when his father was in VA hospitals. My maternal grandfather was of Pilgrim stock, a chemistry teacher at Boston English School and served in the US Army during this war working on the development of chemical weapons. I still shudder contemplating these ironies, and the cavalier manner in which our leaders seem to be conducting foreign policy and plans for wars.

Apologies for these rather off-topic pieces, but thank you to all who enrich my comprehension of our attempts at what Collingwood thought of imaginative reconstruction of decisions.


What a great way to celebrate the 10,000,000 page views' milestone. Amazing commentary. Thank you so much for this.

Peter Brownlee

Thank you, David Habakkuk and Col. Lang, for this immensely thoughtful piece which I will reread with, I hope, growing understanding and appreciation for what it was like to be there when the future was unknowable but we "had to do something".

Edward Grey has been something of a hero of mine for nearly as long as I can remember (and the dynamics of the cabinet that also included Churchill, Lloyd George, Haldane, Morley, and the rest must have been quite delicate for Asquith and everyone else).

Perhaps one of Grey's errors (not unique to him or then) was the assumption that what was said to ambassadors in London would be perfectly transmitted and understood by their distant masters. This was most problematic, perhaps, in regard to Lichnowsky -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Max,_Prince_Lichnowsky -- and the German ambassador's failure to drink the Kaiser's Kool-Aid.

"Lichnowsky deplored the German alliance with Austria-Hungary (though he owned land in Austria and had served as a diplomat in Vienna), feeling that it inevitably pulled German diplomacy into Balkan crises and tensions with Russia, without any compensating benefits to Germany with its new industries, trade and colonies. 'This is a return to the days of the Holy Roman Empire and the mistakes of the Hohenstaufens and Habsburgs'.

"The Kaiser had commented on 31 July 1914 about an encircling British diplomacy during the crisis: 'For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves — knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria-Hungary — to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us... Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honorable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e. playing off all European States for her own benefit against us'.

"In contrast, Lichnowsky outlined how the British foreign minister Sir Edward Grey had helped with two treaties on dividing the Portuguese Empire and establishing the Berlin-Bagdad railway, and had supported Germany's policy in the resolution of the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 that excluded Russia.

"Britain had held back from declaring war until 4 August, after Belgium was invaded, yet in a telegram sent to him from Berlin on 1 August: '... England was already mentioned as an opponent...'

"Lichnowsky summed up his view on blame for the outbreak of war, and the failure of diplomacy, in 3 main points:

"We [Germany] encouraged Count Berchtold to attack Serbia, although German interests were not involved and the danger of a world-war must have been known to us. Whether we were aware of the wording of the [Austrian] Ultimatum is completely immaterial."

"Between 23 and 30 July, Sazonov having declared that Russia would not tolerate an attack on Serbia, all attempts to mediate the crisis were rebuffed by Germany. In the meantime Serbia had replied to the Austrian ultimatum and Berchtold was 'content ... with the Serbian reply'.

"On the 30th July, when Berchtold wanted to come to terms, we sent an ultimatum to Petrograd [Russia] merely because of the Russian mobilisation, although Austria was not attacked; and on the 31st July we declared war on Russia, although the Czar pledged his word that he would not order a man to march as long as negotiations were proceeding – thus deliberately destroying the possibility of a peaceful settlement.

"In view of the above undeniable facts it is no wonder that the whole of the civilised world outside Germany places the entire responsibility for the world-war upon our shoulders."

Although not mentioned much (at all?) in the current Anglophone commemorations the War seems to me to have begun with the declaration of war by the German Empire on the Russian Empire on 30 July. Russian mobilisation (easier and quicker to say than to do) and the German response to that was the real tipping point. After that, what was happening far to the west compounded things getting right out of hand.

The silence about here may be part of the demonization of Mr Putin in the unending quest for the new bogeyman but it may just be the quest to magnify our significance and control over events.

And there may be another factor -- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10991582/Revealed-how-King-George-V-demanded-Britain-enter-the-First-World-War.html

"A note which has remained in private hands for a century details a previously undocumented meeting between George V and his Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, on the eve of the First World War.

"The King, mindful of his position as a constitutional monarch, made no public declarations about the situation in Europe in the lead-up to the conflict.

"But in the newly-disclosed meeting, the King informed Sir Edward it was 'absolutely essential' Britain go to war in order to prevent Germany from achieving 'complete domination of this country'.

"When Sir Edward said the Cabinet had yet to find a justifiable reason to enter the conflict, the King replied: 'You have got to find a reason, Grey.'

(An image of this memorandum of a much later meeting between KGV and Grey's nephew is at http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02987/PX5689635_Lewis-Wh_2987125a.jpg )


Mr. Habakkuk,

Please accept my heartfelt thanks for writing such a Tour de Force of our current situation and the eery parallels with 1914. One can only hope that older and wiser heads might listen.

When I hear President Obama repeating the false "choices" argument I just despair: "In other words, today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress. And it doesn’t have to come to this -- it didn’t have to come to this. It does not have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made."

Norbert M Salamon

Thank you Sir for this excellent summary!


This article from Reuters on the 27th describes immediate changes in leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic.


The local Ukrainians are replaced with Russian professional operatives.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

US and EU, rather than strengthening the Peace of Yalta after 1991, went about dismantling it.

Now Russia has joined in that activity as well, shredding what was left of the International Law in the process.

I suppose China would soon join that effort as well.

The current moment is comparable, in my opinion, to the 1914 only because the foundations of the Peace of Vienna (a.k.a Congress of Vienna) also had eroded more 20 years before 1914 - just like those the Peace of Yalta.

None of the Great Powers are interested in creating a new Peace to supersede the defunct Peace of Yalta as far as I can tell.

Even small countries such a s France and England think that there is a margin in a zero-sum game of strategy against Russia.

I would not be surprised if a world war breaks out - there is nothing to prevent it - nothing in International Law and nothing in globalized economy or in what is left of the international institutions.

We just need to look for the equivalents of Sarajevo or Italy's War against Ethiopia.

They might already have occurred.

Vaclav Linek

I found this interview of Chris Clark (dated March 27, 2014) a few days ago:


I admit the opening sentence "Looking at the current crisis in Crimea, there is only one sleepwalker—Vladimir Putin," dismayed
me, but things have moved on since this interview. I have yet to read a book on WWI, but would be happy receive suggestions from SST (and any opinions on Clark's book).

The CBC page dedicated to the anniversary is here


but I saw no mention of Russia anywhere in it.
So I followed the first link on the above page, "Analysis: the 100 year conflict that is WWI", and there I did find one reference to Russia:

"In just four years it [WWI] collapsed four entire empires — the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman (Turkish)."

But still no mention of who the allies were! This
"Analysis" btw was written by a former CBC journalist who is now at the Munk School for Global Affairs at the U. of Toronto.


David Habakkuk

A minor personal note on your splendid piece; My uncle John enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1916, although he was a US citizen. He was seconded to the British Army after arriving in England. He went into the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch. This was the most senior regular battalion of the regiment. by that time they had been so torn by two years of what Clausewitz would have considered total war that men could not be found t fill the ranks with Scots or even Englishmen. He told me that in the third battle of Ypres his company lost over half its strength including the captain commanding. On his way "home" to Canada after the armistice he decided to join the US Navy. The fools who are constructing mythology from spiderwebs of untruth and distortion seem to seek a return to the madness in which Europe tore itself to bits in 1914-1918. pl



Thanks for this very thoughtful note!

At the link below Pater Tenebrarum writes that an OSCE monitor notes the evidence of holes on the cockpit which seems like machine gun fire. This fits closely with TTGs note of an Ukrainian fighter trailing MH17. Apparently, there is a theory that the fighter aircraft and a missile launcher on the ground were coordinating to bring down an aircraft that had Putin returning from South America.


With respect to the lead up to the Great War, I am glad you bring up Colingwood. I agree with two of his points - one, events spin out of control; two, "..the hard sciences had caused in man's ability to control nature, and the complete absence of any corresponding increase in man's ability to understand and control human affairs." I have noted for some time that while the human being has developed his intellect substantially, he himself has not "evolved" much in the past 5,000 years. There is an immense role that ambition, ego, greed, fear, jealousy, hate and other human traits play in decision making. This is one reason why I have diverged from my contemporaries in the field of finance who believe that mathematics trumps and human behavior at least on a macro scale can be modeled. The academic economists who have run our economic policies in the past decades believe that our economy is a machine that can be tuned and turned by omniscient technocrats like them.

IMO, the political class today are good at the game of electoral politics and the use of media and language to "win" at that game. They are not good statesmen. They are not historians or students of the classics and do not have an adequate sense of context. Their motivations seem much shallower. As Pat noted earlier the foreign policy clique in the US are motivated by a sense of imagined imperial supremacy. We see how Clinton & Blair & Petraeus & now Keith Alexander and this big revolving door are caught up in influence peddling to make a fortune, corrupting the decision making process of government.


What has however baffled me is how the ethos of the American people have changed during my lifetime. How they have traded their independence & common sense for a culture of dependence that is easily manipulated. Tocqueville was prescient - "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”


I don't want to respond to such a fine philosphical essay like a police reporter hack--which I have been-- but I have just discovered that an airlines pilot named Peter Haisenko argues that the Malaysian flight was brought down by cannon fire. In a follow-up to his original blog post he reports that he has taken a look at the whole question of this ground attack plane's capabilities. By 1984 Jane's had evaluated the SU-25 as having a maximum flight altitude of 10,670 meters. All a pilot would need would be oxygen; which brings to mind that at 29,000 feet a climber on Everest can survive with an oxygen bottle. Global Research --which I read cheerfully but with caution-- has picked up on Peter Haisenko and on the Canadian investigator's remarks. The photograph of the wing is particularly interesting to me. The impression I get is that the scoring along the wing towards the pilot's cabin seems to be cut by a projectile that is stable in flight and is smooth on its surface. I would guess that shrapnel would have left an entirely different marking line. It would cut more erratically and deeply. I have a piece of wood made into a small table that is a vivid reminder of what a projectile--a rifle bullet in this case--will do when the bullet hits one plane on almost exactly the same plane. Leaving an accident which is a little startling to see. My piece of wood is quite beautifully carved by design on most of it and with an ancient patina; it came from an Buddhist stupa in a temple in Burma that was destroyed in WWII, evidentally burned. It took me a while to figure out why that wing photo bothered me.

I think this thing is going to be as big as the JFK assassination.

Ursa Maior


what is a legal and/or military issue for you (or even only a financial one), is a question of life and death for us eastern europeans.

We may not like the EU for being more and more undemocratic and oppressive, yet we still dont want another Yalta over our heads.

Soon the decisionmakers in the US and in the EU will have to decide between interests and values. Alas I have serious doubts about any of them.

We are left to our own devices, as always. So dont expect a surge in atlantism soon.

Ursa Maior


yet this time thge decision does not come from Europe. I dont see french, german, italian or even polish politicians lining up for more sanctions against Russia. On the other hand american and british ones are being more and more hawkish. We hungarians have a saying: it is like beating the nettle with some else's dick (sry for being rude).

I know that you would prefer a more isolationist US, but so would I. Ne meddling with areas where one has no stake at all.

For me it was one the most biggest shocks of my life, when the US oil company's petrol stations (JET) was bought by the russian Lukoil. I knew the times have changed.


Excellent exposition of the shortsightedness of the current western policy toward Ukraine; and of the traps created for the players by the "truths" and "false narratives" created by those players themselves.....

Do Nuland and her ilk have any idea of chess; or even, more simply, the idea of setting up a winning shot in tennis through several preceding shots, rather than just one lunge for a winner? Do she or any of her kind have any comprehension of history? Do they know that effective propaganda is based in truth?

Bending the arc of history has more to do with gentle changes at very obtuse angles/arcs, not sharp changes that fly in the face of historical precedents.

Who sanctioned this Ukraine gambit/plan?? Who knew her plan and allowed her to act, perhaps endorsed her plan?? Do any decision makers in our foreign policy and governing circles read history?? Are there no longer responsible and educated actors in our foreign policy establishment? (One light of hope in this vein….CJCS Martin Dempsey.)

Perhaps the real problem may be that we no longer have a true foreign policy establishment like the one that evolved post WWII, tempered in the common experience of that war and nurtured in the pursuit of international business.

The interests of our mideast allies, the tails that wag this large dog in far too many instances, have led to the creation of a school of foreign policy within the group that now comprises our foreign policy actors. This school of thoughts and beliefs has warped the pursuit of our true national interests. Unlike Cerberus with multiple heads, we have multiple tails....and one voracious maw..... whose juice is well worth the squeeze. (Think what Bandar was trying to pull off in Syria.)

There are agendas at play, but they are not agendas with origins in the true interests of the United States. If one could find one individual responsible for this evolution, this manipulation of the thinking that often seems to underlie our foreign policy, one would deem him/her craven and treasonous. Instead, because these evolutions in our foreign policy are a product of a larger "groupthink", no one will be deemed responsible. It is just something that happened...... too many actors "drinking the koolaid"..... or going along to get along.

The Ukraine imbroglio and its shortsightedness is a byproduct of the flawed and manipulated evolutions that corroded (and continue to corrode) U.S. foreign policy.
By letting our foreign policy be manipulated by schools of thought that did not and do not serve U.S interests, by not thinking clearly and rigorously, we set ourselves up for actions in our policy that are not self serving, but instead are adventurous and dangerous. A kind of "blowback" in our foreign policy...... like Ukraine.

Jason L

It is very disconcerting to wake up one day and realize those setting american foriegn policy are like villainous rejects from a Tom Clancy novel. Backing Neo-Nazis, blatantly deceiving the public and having personal conflicts of interest that prevent them from taking the obvious course to avoid war, it is so like a bad movie plot that sometimes I think I am dreaming.

Babak Makkinejad

During the Peace of Yalta, Eastern Europe was oppressed but was at Peace. I would think that preferable to million of dead, homeless, injured, raped, maimed, etc.

Like all other human institutions, the Peace of Yalta had a capacity to be improved. That, that road was not taken does not detract from the value of the Peace of Yalta.

Yes, that Peace could not do anything for the Baltic states but was Hungary really in such a bad place? Or Bulgaria?

Charles Dekle

You are inside my head. I have similar thought/fears every day. It appears that the lunatics are on the loose and in charge.



"Splendid", our host's choice of adjective, feels right. Your essay is full of wisdom and humility, that rarest of combinations.

It saddens me that I now trust Russian statements over those from "my side". They require prudent scepticism too but at least Russia seems to have a rational view of international relations, a fair grip on reality and a recognition that credibility is a precious resource. Long may it be so.

"Blowback" wrote:

"It was a warning to the British and Americans that they know what actually happened and they are allowing the British and Americans an opportunity to climb back out of the hole they've dug/are still digging for themselves."

Makes sense, and fits with the apparent Russian determination to keep their diplomatic door open. This "lifeline" is akin to the one Obama used last year to clamber out of his self generated Syrian debacle. Will he grab this one too? Who knows but I don't like the odds. He, and America, have gone much further out on a limb this time around with a contender of an altogether different calibre.

In searching for explanations for the extraordinary animus against Russia, I'm drawn to Immanuel Wallerstein's recent summary:

"The basic problem is that the United States is, and has been for some time, in geopolitical decline. It doesn’t like this. It doesn’t really accept this. It surely doesn’t know how to handle it, that is, minimize the losses to the United States. So it keeps trying to restore what is unrestorable – U.S. “leadership” (read: hegemony) in the world-system. This makes the United States a very dangerous actor."


Perhaps Russia, by quietly but ever more openly treading their own path, has brought this latent pathology fully into the light of day. Given it a living target, if you like.

If so, it doesn't bode well.

Charles Dekle

Thank you for the excellent article.

Vaclav Linek

Regarding China there are some similarities between China/Taiwan and Russia/Ukraine, and then there is
the "tilt toward the Pacific".

David Habakkuk


It is a difficult one. One of the reasons I have found it difficult to take Samuel Huntingdon's 'clash of civilisations' theory very seriously is that in both world wars we were fighting Germany, probably culturally the closest of us of the major European powers, and allied with Russia, certainly culturally the most remote.

However, the ambivalence is not new. The argument over 'ship money' which did much to precipitate the English Civil War resulted from the belief of Charles I and his advisors that Dutch naval power posed a major threat. Religious and cultural identification was, I think, a major element in the opposition. But Cromwell ended up fighting the Dutch, all the same.

Conflicts around the Eurasian periphery created a 'realpolitik' basis for Anglo-Russian antagonism -- and indeed one might say still do. However, faced by the prospect of a single power dominating Europe, the two powers would sink their differences.

It is I think fair to say that, for the British, the Cold War order in Europe was as much, if not more, about containing Germany as it was about containing Russia. As you probably know, when belatedly Mrs Thatcher realised that Gorbachev was not doing to continue to hold down the Germans for us, she panicked.

(See http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/112006 .)

An argument can also be made that what is happening at the moment is also to a very substantial extent about 'containing' Germany. A nightmare of many in Washington, as in London, as also in Poland among other places in Eastern Europe, continues to be that of a German-Russian rapprochement.

Recent events may indeed have set back the prospects of such a rapprochement, insofar as they were not already gravely weakened. However, there are interesting questions as to what might happen, if it became clear that the overwhelming burden of evidence suggested that Germany had been inveigled into sanctions on Russia which could be quite costly as a result of an atrocity actually orchestrated by rabidly anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists.

Of course, Robert Parry may be barking up the wrong tree. But if he is on the right track, an interesting period may lie ahead.

David Habakkuk


I hope that you are right, but in an investigation of this kind, it should not be necessary for us to have to rely on the integrity of British government scientists.

It is not clear to me whether or not there is any reason why the black boxes should be analysed at Farnborough, rather than centres in a country whose leadership has not committed itself as directedly as ours has to the claim that the insurgents are responsible for this atrocity.

And even if there are good reasons for the analysis to be done at Farnborough, there ought to be provision for independent analysts to be present throughout, to ensure that there can be no conceivable question of evidence being distorted.

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