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04 August 2014


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Babak, i did not mean to say that these advances accounted for WWI, but they certainly seem to have affected the conditions under which ultimatums, threats, and deadlines were too-hastily issued.

That would support Collingwood's contention that things spun out of control -- people could not keep up with events.

This is an even more urgent problem today, IMVHO.
And I am an avid fan of the Internet, but the 24/7 news hawkers have become a danger to us all.

At this point, I think 'real leadership' might look like someone quietly but firmly telling the US cable outlets and many other news sources to 'get a grip', so to speak. Meanwhile, what I observe in my own small part of the world is people feeling so overwhelmed and powerless that they are 'tuning out' to the overload of urgency and pot-stirring.


Thank you for this excellent post and discussion.

"if indeed elements among the Kiev authorities are responsible, it will be very difficult to suppress the fact."

Here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS8t3CfAEaQ&list=UUVPYbobPRzz0SjinWekjUBw) is a video in Russian with English subtitles, which explains why suppression of the facts might be possible. It presents a plausible hypothesis of a couple of "dogs that didn't bark" in the tragic story of MH17: total silence of the separatists, and relative silence of the Russian authorities. The author is a well-informed Ukrainian journalist, who was chased into exile by the Yanukovich government, given political asylum in Holland, and remains highly sceptical of the current Ukrainian government and firmly opposed to the war. The guy's work is certainly worth attention. E.g. he presented videos which place Ukrainian Buk launchers at the site of the shooting the day before, and demolished the official Ukrainian story of tracing the Buk launchers delivery from Russia.

Peter Brownlee

Would BoJo (or anyone in sight) be any better? Though learning Iliad Bk I by heart is a mark in his favour --



Boris might be a lot more fun until he blows up. With the bimillennial commemoration of the death of Augustus coming up on the 19th of this month, it is hard to think of any contemporaries who will have the names of actual months changed at their passing. In his doco "The Dream of Rome" a nice Italian archaeologist told Boris that he had the eyes of an emperor to which BoJo responded that he could "think of worse fates". (Everyone wants to be the new Augustus but they may end up as Pertinax novus.)

A. J. Balfour is another hobby of mine and there is this bit in Churchill's "Great Contemporaries" which illuminates him, Grey, Lloyd George and Churchill -- "A taste most truly refined, a judgment comprehensively balanced, an insight penetrating, a passion cold, long, slow, unyielding -- all these were his. He was quite fearless; but he had no reason to fear. Death was certain sooner or later. It only involved a change of state, or at the worst a serene oblivion. Poverty never entered his thoughts. Disgrace was impossible because of his character and behavior. When they took him to the Front to see the War, he admired with bland interest through his pince-nez the bursting shells. Luckily none came near enough to make him jump, as they will make any man jump, if they have their chance. Once I saw a furious scene in the House of Commons when an Irish member, rushing across the floor in a frenzy, shook his fist for a couple of minutes within a few inches of his face. We young fellows behind were all ready to spring to his aid upon a physical foe; but Arthur Balfour, Leader of the House, regarded the frantic figure with no more and no less than the interest of a biologist examining through a microscope the contortions of a rare and provoked insect. There was in fact no way of getting at him. Once during the War when we were rather dissatisfied with the vigor of Sir Edward Grey's policy, I, apologizing for him, said to Mr. Lloyd George, who was hot, 'Well, anyhow, we know that if the Germans were here and said to Grey, 'If you don't sign this Treaty, we will shoot you at once/' he would certainly reply, 'It would be most improper for a British minister to yield to a threat. That sort of thing is not done.' But Lloyd George rejoined, 'That's not what the Germans would say to him. They would say, 'If you don't sign this Treaty, we will scrag all your squirrels at Fallodon.' That would break him down.' Arthur Balfour had no squirrels. Neither on the big line nor on the small line, neither by dire threats nor by playing upon idiosyncrasies, could anyone overcome his central will or rupture his sense of duty."

"Serene oblivion" is pretty good, I think, and vastly to be preferred to the faux-passionate, vacuous intensity and cheap sentimentality we see rather too often.

By the way, do you know the photo of Grey with a bird on his hat?


which you can apparently get as a mouse pad!


There's also this oldish piece by Matthew Paris (one of the saner Spectatorers and BBCers, I think) on birds, Grey and the "link between political genius and the presence or absence of hinterland" -- http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/22nd-february-1997/8/another-voice

"Grey, famous for his remark in 1914, 'The lights are going out all over Europe', was elected Liberal MP for Berwick-on-Tweed in 1885. He was also a fanatical bird-watcher. In his spare time he was Foreign Secretary for a decade from 1906 to 1916, taking us into the Great War."

Vaclav Linek


Yes indeed, Rites is also on my list.



Wonderful digression. Thanks.

Peter Brownlee

Oops -- should be Matthew Parris. And you can get an Edward-Grey-with-bird-on-hat iPhone case...



"The Su25 and the shadowy companion plane which Russian claim exist"....

are recorded on Russian military signals evidence (radar tracking). This is not some "he said she said" CNN equivalency. Also, I believe the (increasingly credible) air - air shoot-down hypothesis involving these two (tracked ,recorded, identified) Su25 aircraft, makes the claim that the crime was committed by at least 1 (Su25) firing its 30mm automatic cannons ("machine guns") and NOT a rocket or missile. Somehow you failed to mention that either in your report or in a reply to a comment that brought up the OSCE reps' "machine gun" statement - specifically. Also your constant insistence on characterizing all Russian media as "possibly state controlled" is, I think, a misleading strategy.Is Russian media "state controlled" ? Is the Russian media that you refer to "state controlled" ? Moreover, after witnessing the staggering, sickening, completely unprofessional US/EU media propaganda storm being unleashed,I have no doubt at all that British and American corporate media are "state controlled". They have done nothing but widely disseminate prepared US state department accusations and PR releases . Its very, very notable that the incessant drone of accusations coming from these western corporate media outlets are based on 0, none, Nil, No "evidence" at all -only more baseless accusations from the state department and nameless, faceless, "official" cited in corporate media reports, with the same TOTAL lack of substantiation. Clearly, the US govt is leading this propaganda attack. If the US has evidence LET THEM PRESENT IT. The Russian have presented their evidence for inspection.

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your reply.

I do not think that "things got out of control" is an adequate explanation - I think that the war lasted more than they expected was the issue.


There is something that I was thinking last few days that your mention of "false consciousness" reminded me of.

I originally started in physics and moved into social sciences, for the most part because I liked history, I suppose. While I have enjoyed the problems associated with social sciences more than I did physics, as they are actually more intellectually challenging, I found the mindset in social sciences to be peculiarly unscientific, ironically, the more they insist on their being a "science."

In physics, the aim of the enterprise is to understand the nature, not to insist on how it should be. A theory is merely the best guess we have for how it works, and if the nature says it's wrong, then it's wrong. That means you have to go back and rethink the steps until the theory matches up with what the nature says. Even engineers, who try to harness nature for human benefit, do not presume to lecture nature on what it should be. They merely take advantage of what nature is.

In principle, social sciences should be the same. The "nature" that we observe is the product of human behavior, but, not unlike physics, if humans behave in a manner incompatible with our theories, we should go back to rework the theories, not insist that the "nature" is wrong by defying our sacred theories.

But, the latter is exactly what many social science types do, although those who are most guilty are not necessarily academics in ivory towers, but those who presume to "apply" their understanding to "real life."

Instead of political examples, let me start with an economic one, about maximizing profits. The idea that firms maximize profits by "rationally" exploiting every opportunity is not even a theory, but just a simplifying assumption. In practice, no firm truly "maximizes" profit, ever. To a "scientist," this fact is "nature" telling the theorist that the theory is wrong and that it needs to be rethought. To their credit, most academic economists have done exactly that. There is a vast amount of research on why, in various contexts, firms don't maximize profit for perfectly "rational" reasons. Those who insist on the "rationality" of profit maximization are efficiency experts, management consultants, and corporate raiders. While it may be that they do stand to benefit financially by maximizing profits of the firms they work on, I think a focus on the pecuniary side of their work is misleading. From what I've seen of them, the really capable ones are not driven by money, but by a sense of mission. They really do believe that firms "should" maximize profits and the impediments to profits are evil. Some of these, such as organizational inefficiencies, might be. But tossed out along the way are things like social, ethical, and other considerations that keep profit maximization motive at bay, the perfectly "rational" reasons why firms might not want to maximize profits singled-mindedly. Many of these people may have an academic pedigree, in terms of degrees and such. But their motive is not curiosity, but a sense of mission. Unlike King Canute, they actually feel that waves should obey their command...and they think they have the means to make it happen, provided by their training in social sciences, even if they might remain ignorant of the larger picture.

In the world of politics, the political "consulting class" seems to operate in much the same fashion. They have a sense of how the universe "should" look like, perhaps in a manner more complex than "firms should maximize profits"--politics is more complex than economics, after all. They received an academic training that they feel equips them to achieve their vision, and to be fair, are quite clever, in a limited fashion, in setting up their game. But, ultimately, they are uncurious about the world beyond their fantasy-mission beyond that either it is in their way or a tool that can be coopted for their goals. "False consciousness" is really the reality telling them their theory is wrong and they should go back and think things through again. But since their "theory" is divine and infallible, it must be the evidence that is wrong. Complete antithesis to science, and this, more than the curious people who do no "relevant" work, is becoming the face of "relevant" social science today.


Thanks for the link! It is most useful.



Yes, come the anti-revolution we'll all be rounded up and confined to a soundproof glass cage as suitable objects of ridicule.

Lane's view seems reasonable. All these aspects are different forms of independence. Hardly unique to Russia, as he notes, but what probably makes it particularly hard to swallow is the powerful lingering sense that Russia had been dealt with. Long ago dammit.

Loved your elegant précis of the dynamics of pre-Putin Russia in your reply to rkka, by the way.

different clue

Obama and his co-governators are doing their part to drive us toward World War Nuke with Russia. Why?

I have spent my time and energy thinking Obama's motives were primarily or even only all the beautiful money he will collect after he leaves office. I haven't fully wanted to accept Walrus's warnings that Obama is driven by a very real and pathological narcissism which will eventually lead Obama to do something amazingly stupid, even to the point of harming Obama's own interests. And it would be stupid for Obama to help cause World War Nuke because that would incinerate all of his beautiful money as well as incinerating the rest of us and much of civilization. So why is he taking and allowing his creatures to take this risk?
He certainly seems to dislike and resent Putin. The more Putin visibly fails to honor and validate Obama's vast regard for himself the more angry and offended Obama becomes. Could Putin's nonworshipful nonvalidation of Obama's own opinion of his own wisdom and power drive Obama's fragile brittle ego to a point of toxic narcissistic lashout? Does Obama's Inner Child look like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT4YbO_1mvA
If Obama began approaching the kind of visible flipout that Nixon is thought by Hague and others to have been approaching in the last days before Resignation, are there people in the White House, Military, etc. who would seek to interdict or at least delay and ignore any truly crazy order coming from Obama or his innermost circle of creatures?

William R. Cumming

Could be wrong! I view the Ukraine as a side show as to whether Russia west of the Urals is or wants to be part of Europe! For the passage of time since Catherine and Peter the Greats this has been the key issue for Russia. Clearly arguments both ways and some view Russia as Asian in its politics and governance.

What does the US FP establishment have to say on this and the EU as after all even Marx and Engels were German were they not?

Can the EU make it the end of this Century without Russia and vice versa?

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

I was fascinated by the story when you told it some years ago, partly perhaps because for different reasons none of the numerous members of my mother's family who served on the Western Front talked to me about it.

Whatever may be said about them, the old 'gentlemen' did not uncommonly recognise an obligation to serve.

My great-grandfather was vicar of a parish in Cornwall near where the River Fowey flows into the sea – one of the most beautiful places in the kingdom, in my view. On the war memorial in the church is the name of my great-uncle, who had gone out to work on a ranch in Canada and came back as a trooper in a Canadian regiment at the outset of the war. Subsequently he was commissioned into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, and was killed in 1917.

Further up the river is one of the local great houses, Llanhydrock, home of the Agar-Robartes family, which had vast estates in the area. At the outset of the war, the eldest son of the family, Thomas Agar-Robartes, was a rising Liberal politician. One could argue that the more responsible course of action would have been to stay out of uniform.

His name heads the list of the war dead of Lanhydrock in the parish church. An account of them in an address given there three years ago quotes the episode at Loos in which 'Captain Tommy' was fatally injured:

'At about 6AM on September 16 1915, two sergeants, Hopkins and Printer ... went out in front of our trenches at the chalk pit ... to bring in a wounded man. When they were about to return Hopkins was shot down by a German sniper. Sgt Printer continued on with the wounded man and brought him into the lines. Captain Robartes who had been watching the whole episode, at once went out with Sgt Printer and brought back Sgt Hopkins who was severely wounded. The whole ground in front of the chalk pit was covered in enemy machine guns, Captain Robartes was severely wounded shortly afterwards.'

(See http://lanhydrock.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/the-war-dead-of-lanhydrock-parish/ .)

The family never really recovered, which is why the house, now owned by the National Trust, is preserved more or less as it was in 1914.

David Habakkuk

readerOfTeaLeaves, Babak Makkinejad,

I think that you are both in a way right. As readerOfTeaLeaves notes, there are crucial background transformations which need to be factored into an understanding of Europe's descent into war in 1914.

This is a matter I need to think about, but there are clearly two distinct if related aspects -- just as there are today. One has to with the effects of technology on culture, and the other with its effects on technical military planning questions.

As to the latter, the argument that the widespread belief that rapid mobilisation was the key to victory is central to understanding why the European powers found it difficult to avoid war is to my mind compelling. So also in my view is the argument that a crucial reason for the difficulty was the widespread inability to grasp that technological changes were likely to make dreams of a quick decisive victory unachievable.

I cannot see any incompatibility between these arguments.

The reasons for the widespread inability to grasp that the idea of a short war was a delusion are an interesting subject in themselves. Again, this is an area I have not revisited for some time, but there were lucid voices pointing out the likelihood that decisive and rapid victory would be unattainable. This was the view taken, if I recall right, in a study published by the Warsaw banker Ivan Bloch, and also by the German theorist Hans Delbruck (umlaut missing, but I can't think how to insert it in Typepad), and also by Kitchener and the Russian military intellectual Colonel Aleksandr Svechin.

It is, incidentally, interesting to reflect on similarities and differences with the Cold War. It was in fact nuclear weapons which made it possible for people both in the United States and the Soviet Union to imagine the possibilities of rapid and decisive victory and defeat.

Absent such weapons, a critical strategic question becomes whether their greater ability to maintain forces in being in peacetime meant that the Soviets could realistically expect to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed, once it was remobilised.

If they could not, then eventually the Soviets would be likely to face defeat. Even if they could, they would then have been faced with the prospect of a protracted war of attrition against a power which not only had a vast economic and technological superiority, but also demonstrated capabilities at strategic bombing and at landing and supplying amphibious forces.

To initiate a war against the United States under these conditions would have been a clear case of what Marxist-Leninists called 'adventurism'.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to see why the United States should have initiated a war against the Soviets.

There is every reason, in my view, to believe that a conventional balance would between the Cold War antagonists would have been stable, while the nuclear 'balance of terror' was always latently unstable: the precise reverse of the conventional wisdom.


David Habakkuk

John was a sailorman through and through, first a bosun's mate and then quartermaster and navigator of a number of vessels, but the infantry thing never left him. At Nanjing, China in 1928 he suddenly and unexpectedly found himself acting leader of a squad of Japanese marines. This occurred when the Japanese sergeant was killed during a landing from the Yangtse by an international force. John was then in the ship's company of USS Palos and these marines had been embarked for the operation. John was coxswain of a boat in the landing. He took charge and led these men with hand and arm signals, pidgin Chinese and example for over a week. The Japanese command kept giving him more men. By the time he went back to his ship he had something like fifty. He received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum and his first Navy Cross. The Japanese battalion commander's last words to him at Nanjing were, "you are samurai." This tale is re-told in my story "Chrysanthemum." I am quite sure that he is the only enlisted man ever awarded the Order of the Chrysanthemum. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your comments.

Every one likes a short victorious war; as Mr. Blair fully would attest to its veracity when being cheered by the crowds in Pristina.

I have thought for a very long time that Peace cannot be predicated - at least not completely - on balance of power. Rather I am led to contemplate the existence of "Peace Interest" to be the major dis-incentive for war.

By 1914, the foundations upon which Peace Interest had rested in Europe had eroded 20 years before or longer - such as the rise of Germany.

On the other hand, during the Cold War, you had to highly integrated and industrialized military blocks that did not and could not gain from war - they would not physically survive a nuclear war.

It is difficult for me to take the Cold War seriously when USSR was supplying Europe with its energy and US was supplying Russia with its food.

The present moment, in many way, is analogous to the world of 1914 - a globalized economy, a rising China, an America that is fighting small wars as Britain did, an assertive Russia & Iran, and more importantly the dissolution of the foundations of the order upon which the previous peace had rested - the Peace of Yalta.

We also can see the expectation of quick victory in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, Iran, and now in Russia by the NATO states and their allies.

If the passions of 1914 were nationalistic, those of today are clearly religious and, to a lesser extent, civilizational.

All the ingredients for a conflagration are there - in my opinion - just as what obtained in August 1914.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

I remember the story well, in particular the moment when your uncle got the strange force he found himself commanding over the wall by going first.

And I remembered your quoting him saying something along the lines of after the officer went over the top at Passchendaele, they followed -- 'what else could we do?' But maybe I misremember.

different clue

William R. Cumming,

I have always thought that Russians regard Russia as all one country, smoothly sliding over the Urals all the way to the Pacific. I read that the Soviet leaders were intensely annoyed by de Gaulle's formulation of "Europe . . from the Atlantic to the Urals" and they were annoyed for Russian sentimental reasons.
Wouldn't all Russians regard any attempt to re-float the "European Russia west of the Urals" meme as an attempt to prepare the brainwar battlefield for dividing Russia into helpless colonizable pieces?

If Russia were to be "part" of Europe, wouldn't Russians consider that to mean Europe, from the Atlantic to the Pacific?

Ursa Maior

We were better off only after the Uprising of 1956. Before that it was as bad here as in the baltic states.


Just ran into this post. Today an MH17 monument was displayed to markt the place where the victims bodies were returned.

Often, were the Volga-Dnepr Il-76s that were often present at hot cargo flying for NATO (Russians are not that difficult with dangerous cargo)

Interesting AirBridge Cargo (part of Volga-Dnepr) also flies a lot for Boeing (probably because they helped keeping the B747 production line open). Amsterdam is used as a transfer-hub for this. Because of sanctions they were losing slots at this airport. But this reduction hurts Boeing more than ABC, so they got the slots back.

Interesting how globalisation with offshoring, inshoring, outsourcing works. The new trade wars will have unsuspected effects.

But back on subject. MH17


MH17 crash: Ukraine pilot blamed by Russia 'kills himself'

A Ukrainian military pilot blamed by Russia over the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has killed himself, Ukrainian media report, quoting police.

Capt Vladyslav Voloshyn had called the Russian allegation a lie. Dutch investigators concluded that a Russian Buk missile had destroyed the Boeing 777 jet, killing 298 people.


Butusov expressed bewilderment over Voloshyn's death.

"Dear Vlad, how can this be?! Why?!" he wrote.

"He didn't let himself break down, he wasn't depressed at all - he always acted as an exemplary officer."

According to Butusov, Voloshyn had bombed Russian paratroops during the battle of Ilovaisk in August 2014, one of the bloodiest in the Donbass conflict. More than 300 Ukrainian soldiers died in the fighting there.

Voloshyn was shot down but ejected from his Su-25, and reached Ukrainian lines despite severe injuries, Butusov said.

"I didn't hear him speak of any enemies or unresolved problems," he wrote, adding that Voloshyn was happily married and adored his wife, his little boy and two-year-old girl.

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