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04 August 2014


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This new article at CounterPunch suggests a new line of explanation for the MH17 tragedy.
"There have been two or three pieces of fuselage that have been really pock-marked. It almost looks like machine gun fire; very, very strong machine gun fire that has left these unique marks that we haven’t seen anywhere else."
One of the questions that this article posts is why Boeing does not want to investigate the downing of its own plane. Yet the most puzzling part of the story is the US complete lack of cooperation re satellite images of the plane and its demise.

Ishmael Zechariah

David Habakkuk,

I would argue that there can be no honor without truth. As a corollary, perhaps the greatest disservice perpetrated against humanity by the zionist neocons is their industrial-scale perversion of these concepts. This group, using their almost absolute control of the financial, legal, academic and media institutions across the world have been purveying an alternative reality --I am not certain if such control has been part of a grand plan or not. Were I these people, I would be scared of the "waking" of the sheeple, as, one day, they inevitably, must.

"O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men...
So are they all, all honourable men--"
(from The Life and Death of Julies Caesar; Act 3, Scene 2. W. Shakespeare)

Ishmael Zechariah

Margaret Steinfels

VL: I am on a reread of Sleepwalkers. The clue to its meaning is the word, "How," in its subtitle: "How Europe Went to War in 1914." Some of the details about foreign ministers, foreign ministries, and accords (secret and otherwise) may seem daunting but worth the read. Clark's title, "Sleepwalkers," suggests a degree of somnolence among all the decision makers, but he puts a pointer on the Balkan Wars, Russian support thereof, and France coming along to secure the Russian alliance against Germany. Fascinating, well researched and written.

Far more informative than Margaret McMillan's and Max Boot's current books on the same subject.

DH: Yes, thank you. Food for thought!

David Habakkuk


A point in relation to Collingwood. When he wrote that 'all history is the history of thought' he was doubtless overstating his case. However, this is emphatically not an intellectual's fantasy.

His point was that a very great deal of human activity is 'rational', not necessarily in the economist's sense, but in the sense of being purposive. And unless one can reconstruct the purposes of the activity, one is liable to misconstrue the action. And to do this, one has to reconstruct the context in which the actor operates.

Actually, this was very much the principle on which a school of British anthropology -- associated in particular with Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard -- developed.

And this ought to be the principle on which intelligence operates. But we have been busily heading in the wrong direction. Both Colonel Lang and Philip Giraldi have told an abundance of horror stories about the unwillingness of the CIA and Foreign Service to allow their employees to undergo the kind of immersion in foreign cultures which would make it possible to grasp the contexts of what alien -- or even not so alien -- people say and do.

This becomes involved with the bizarre way in which so much of modern international relations is a story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. Most of those who attempt to manipulate the United States will have access to people who are completely fluent in English and have extensive experience of American life. The 'tail' as it were, understands the 'dog', far better than the 'dog' the 'tail'.

An extreme example is the availability to the Israelis of assistance from scumbags like Dr Luntz, who have a developed awareness of the most effective ways of lying to Americans. But the pattern is, I think, fairly general.

As to your grandfather. I wonder whether to have someone whose health was completely wrecked may not leave still deeper scars than to have relatives who were killed. But I do think that there is a gulf in attitudes between people for whom the carnage of past wars is a still live part of their family history, and people for whom it is not.


In reply to Vaclav Linek 04 August 2014 at 10:44 PM

Clark's book is superb. Another book that in my opinion also deserves to be described as "superb" is Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August". If you read reviews of it you'll see that it 'only' covers the war's causes and its first month. Please don't let that put you off, it's the best account of the causes and the run-up to the war you'll ever read. Her writing is also stylistically very pleasing.

A book that's got a fair amount of attention on this side of the Atlantic (I live in Denmark) is:

The First World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert

It's a good introductory text by somebody who really knows his topic. It has the great merit of covering all the fronts well, nearly all the fronts it covers the following fronts:

Western, Eastern, Italian, Palestine, Mesopotamian, Salonika, Gallipoli, East Africa, the naval front, and to a lesser extent the air war.

He mentions the Pacific front but doesn't cover it in any detail.

However while it's a fairly good one volume overview/beginner's guide it's also *very* anglo-centric you won't get too much information about how the Central Powers thought the war was progressing. I also found that he sometimes neglected to mention important military details such as the role of tanks at Paschendaele or how they were stymied by the mud in that battle. Come to that he doesn't talk about the German use of them at all. I'd recommend it if you're starting from little or no knowledge and can pick it up cheaply.

A book I'd recommend over Gilbert's is:

1914-1918: The History of the First World War by David Stevenson. It was published a few years ago and can be difficult to get new. If you don't mind second hand you can pick it up very cheaply. Like Gilbert's book it's a one volume work. He writes very well and covers the political, economic and military aspects of the War.

There's good coverage of the major campaigns AND life on the home fronts for both the Allies and the Central Powers. Good description of the war's origins and some very good writing about the aftermath.

If you're new or relatively new to the topic it's a superb comprehensive history of the war and even if you're not new to the topic I suspect that some of the perspectives will be new to to you.

I hope this helps.


David Habakkuk


Thanks. I am not as pessimistic as you about the short term. But I do think that in the longer term, if we go along as we have been doing, there is liable to be a catastrophe.

David Habakkuk


At the moment, I simply do not know whether the damage which has been reported is or is not consistent with shrapnel coming from a Buk, or whatever an R-60 sends out on explosion.

I was struck by a suggestion, I think made by TTG, that it seems likely that the explosion from a Buk would do more immediate catastrophic damage than was actually done. But again, I simply don't know -- yet -- whether this is right.

It had seemed to me that the vertical trail of puffs of smoke might indicate that a Buk had been fired from the location -- which would, however, still be compatible with a 'false flag' operation.

What I now suspect is that both Russian and U.S. investigators started off thinking a Buk might well have been fired, but have not found the evidence which they would expect to have found.

It seems to me overwhelmingly likely that the Russians are right that the radar of a Buk was operational on 17 July. A question now is whether the hypothesis that it was working in conjunction with an Su-25, which has been put forward by 'the Saker', makes technical sense.

At an intermediate stage, there was an article in RIA Novosti suggesting that MH17 might have been shot down as part of an exercise by Ukrainian forces where some imbecile pushed the trigger. It seemed to me at the time that this could well be disinformation. It now however seems to me possible that it was the result of an attempt to make sense of evidence which did not seem to make sense.

Babak Makkinejad

"tilt toward the Pacific" is something the purport of which I never understood; does that mean the willingness to go to war with China by the United States and her allies?

David Habakkuk

Peter Brownlee,

My problem is that, as I said, I have simply not even tried to dip into recent writing on the origins of the First World War.

That said, Grey is a figure who has long interested me, in particular since I read his memoirs. They are, quite patently, a reasoned defence of what he had done, by a decent and intelligent man. Ironically, perhaps, Grey had been a notorious under-achiever at university. But that points to a problem and a puzzle.

With David Cameron, we have a 'toff' who also has a first in PPE from Oxford. But the remarks from which I quoted reveal an extraordinary combination of sheer ignorance and moral frivolity.

What has become of us?

David Habakkuk


Many thanks for the compliment.

I share your sense of despair at what Obama has said. It is as though words were freewheeling, had ceased to have any contact with anything. I do not know whether an engine whirring manically because it is out of gear is an apt comparison, or whether I am simply revealing my mechanical ignorance.

What happened in the 1990s in most of the former Soviet Union was something akin to the 'withering away of the state' of which Lenin dreamed -- and it is a very terrible thing.

It was also, frankly, not in our interest. It is naive to think that we can have a state of criminalised anarchy throughout a large part of Eurasia, without its impacting on us in highly destructive ways.

That was the situation that Putin inherited, and what he has said and done since needs to be assessed with that background in mind.

Much more can be said about this, but a man who can talk about 'decades of genuine progress', in the light of the immense suffering that so many people in the former Soviet Union went through in the Nineties, has to be either a complete fool or frankly vicious.

Or both.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinehad, Ursa Maior, Vaclav Linek,

Back in 1989/90, it was quite clear 1. that whatever happened, Russia was going to be for the forseeable future, a relatively weak state, and 2. that, in an age-old argument, this was a period where the 'westernisers' in Russia were in control.

When the Russians retreated -- largely peacefully -- from Eastern Europe, it was patently obvious that they were no more likely to attempt to reconquer it than the British were to attempt to reconquer India after they left in 1947.

I tried then to persuade people that we were moving into a new world, in which the dangers and opportunties would alike be new.

It didn't work. People wanted to believe in 'reversibility'. They had got too comfortable with the old Soviet Union. And they still want to believe it might come back, even now.

In the process, Western elites have very effectively liquidated the rather large 'fifth column' they had in Russia a generation ago.

As an old-style 'perfidious Albionian', this seems to me to have been simply stupid.


One great irony is that, at least among "serious"
academics in economics and other social sciences, the only definition of "rational" that is accepted is that there is some purpose behind it. Most people who rant about what "social science" says about the universe and how it should be are sophomoric thinkers who don't know what the "science" part of social science is. The tragedy is that they are what the rest of society expects social science to be about, to rant about morality of this or that mode of politics, and not engage in hard headed analysis based on logic and evidence.

David Habakkuk


'One great irony is that, at least among "serious"
academics in economics and other social sciences, the only definition of "rational" that is accepted is that there is some purpose behind it.'

This takes me into areas where I get out of my depth.

But the link of 'rationality' to purposive action is certainly very much in keeping with the tradition which goes, through Collingwood, into areas of British anthropology (exmples chosen from limited knowledge, Evans-Pritchard, Wendy James, Paul Dresch.)

An important point, however, is that for action to be 'rational' in this sense, it has, in some manner, to be appropriately calculated to the purposes envisaged.

A difficulty lies precisely in the ambiguity about purposes which is implicit in this whole tradition.

So if one of one's basic conception of human purposes is to keep a kind of social order 'on the road', then beliefs which may be 'irrational', in the sense of indefensible in terms of canons of Western science which are, patently 'rational', may have a 'rationality' of their own.

An example is the analysis by Evans-Pritchard of the witchcraft beliefs of the Azande.

Implicit in this is a nightmare possibility which is lurking in a manner which is often hysterical, but not necessarily 'irrational' manner, in a tradition of conservative thought: that what is 'rational' in terms of scientific enquiry may be subversive of what is 'rational' in terms of the need to maintain functioning societies.

David Habakkuk


I think the Stevenson book was republished in 2012. I read an earlier volume of his, published in 1988, which I thought was extremely judicious. But, as I say, I have not been able to do more than dip the edge of a toe into how debates have evolved over the past fifteen years.



My Dad worked for Boeing. I was shocked when I read that they were not sending representatives to the crash investigation. They’re the real experts on the 777. As a major stakeholder they know everything the US government knows; maybe more. Either the corporate need to distance itself from the crash overrides their responsibility to help to find the truth and tell the families why their loved ones died and prevent it from occurring again or the US government told them to stay away. This and the muddled information released so far adds to my feeling of unease that the shoot down was a purposeful act in the rush to war with Russia instead of a terrible accident caused by Ukraine allowing commercial flights to fly over a combat zone.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

A hundred years ago, my paternal grandfather, who was Welsh, was on holiday in Southampton. He saw the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch embark for France (I thought it was the 2nd Battalion, but have checked, and they were stationed in India at the time.)

I wish I could remember the precise phrase my father used, recalling his father's recollections. It had something to do with 'worried' and 'grim', but the meaning was clear: professional soldiers who were not part of the euphoria of the time, and had no illusions about what they were getting into.

As you note, few of what the Kaiser described as an 'army of mercenaries' made it through the battles of the early part of the war.

The Canadians, as you of course know, had a formidable reputation as assault troops.

An interesting development on the internet has been the posting of very detailed records of the Canadian units who fought in the war. It was bizarre to come across the recruitment record of a great-uncle of mine, who had gone out to work as a rancher in Canada, and enlisted early in the war in '2CMR' -- the Second Canadian Mounted Rifles.

Susequently, he was commissioned into a regiment from his native Cornwall, and made it through until 1917.


David Habakkuk

John had interesting things to say about his service in 1/42 Foot. He said that on one occasion he heard the phantom piper of the regiment playing "The Campbells are Coming" out in no man's land. The next day was a bad one. At Ypres his English company commander who he said looked like Leslie Howard walked down the trench in his tranchcoat shaking hands and when the barrage shifted forward the man climbed up out of the ditch with his whistle in his mouth and revolver in hand and walked forward without looking back to see if they followed him, John said that after half an hour he could not find anyone in his section or company and found refuge in a shell crater until nightfall when he crawled back to the line of departure. They never saw the captain again. pl


My vote is 'both'

As the global financial collapse unfolded in 2008-2009, I recall the delight that many Anglosphere commentators expressed over the prospect that the oil price collapse would devastate Russia economically, causing the Russian people to rise against Putin and all his works, and put FreeMarketReformers back in charge in Russia.

And once it became clear in the spring of 2009 that oil prices were rapidly recovering and that Russia's vast financial reserves were more than sufficient to absorb the blow, these same Anglosphere commentators expressed frustration that Russians had been insufficiently impoverished to overthrow Putin and put FreeMarketreformers back in charge.

It is as if the Angosphere Foreign Policy Elite and Punditocracy (AFPE&P)had no idea what Russians suffered in the '90s at the hands of FreeMarketReformers, suffering so severe that deaths were exceeding births by almost a million a year.

And President Obama recently revealed his utter cluelessness about Russia's present realities:

“I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything,” Obama said in the interview.

“Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking,”

None of these things is true. Russia has a comprehensive industrial economy that has been rapidly modernizing and is a major agricultural exporter. Russia also has about 300,000 immigrants a year, people who come to Russia seeking opportunity. Russian males have a life expectancy of 65, and its improving. And Russia's population has been growing since 2009, when one includes immigration. Further, in 2013, births in Russia exceeded deaths, a vast improvement over 1999 when deaths exceeded births by almost a million.

It is almost shocking that the US government is so clueless about Russian realities.

So yes, they are both complete fools and frankly vicious. Which makes me as a father of teens tremble for the future.


Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

I agree entirely with your view. In order to make sense of the "purpose" behind actions taken by various political actors, it is necessary to take seriously their worldview and value system. It is not necessary that one should "respect" them or believe them for oneself, but recognize that these do actuate the choices that they do make. I suppose this might sound like a sort of backhanded compliment, but this is something that the old British were really good at--and lay behind successful management of the empire. So, in a different way, were old American political operators, at least when it came to domestic politics, as they had to manage multitudes of groups who had diverse worldviews who didn't take kindly to moral lecturing by politicians.

Nowadays, though, this seems a worldview that many in "western" societies are running low on. Too many people start their argument by asserting their beliefs, why they believe them, and, implicitly, even if not made explicit, why they are right and others should be "persuaded" to believe them (since the "others" are "obviously" irrational.) Condemning the other, who are "obviously wrong," I suppose, makes people feel better, all the more so if one's own worldview can be justified by the Scripture or "science." (not the science based on logical deduction and empiricism, but something that is vaguely "right" because it "just is.") But that certainly rules out actually dealing with the other side responsibly to accomplish something.

I still feel that the brand of "rationality" that too many people in the West subscribe to is a brand of smug pseudoreligious fanaticism that is itself "irrational." It may be itself "rational," given the context, as much as beliefs in witchcraft might be, but it is not what its believers think it is. When such beliefs clash with other, comparable beliefs, nothing good can come out of such encounters.


I second what VietVet said, I am totally surprised that Boeing would not send a representative to the crash site and be part of the investigative team. This omission smells to high heaven.

Boeing advice would be needed for, among other things, the determination of the point or points of impact of the warhead, the failure modes of the various parts of the structure and the sequence in which they failed.

This information is needed to correlate the debris field with the point of impact of the missile and to determine the ultimate critical issue of the direction from which the missile was travelling when it detonated.

I am already suspicious that this was a Ukranian false flag operation because I believe that initial indications are that the missile may have come from behind the aircraft from Ukrranian territory. Shrapnel evidence suggests that the cockpit and nose took the brunt of the blast. Since the operating principle of the proximity fuze is to detonate at the point of closest approach to the target - identified when the range, as measured by the fuze radar, just starts to open, then the explosion near the front of the plane is consistent with an approach from the rear. If the missile approached from the front - rebel held territory, I would have expected the blast to be towards the rear of the aircraft.

I would hope that someone with more technical knowledge can disprove my speculation.

One thing I can be sure of, if there was any evidence supporting a shooot down by a fighter, it will vanish once the CIA and MI6 are through with it.

FB Ali


Thank you for this excellent essay. And all, for an excellent discussion. Coming late to it, I'd like to just make a couple of points.

On Ukraine, what happened to the discussions in Minsk last Thursday? In their phone conversation on Friday, Obama and Putin both spoke positively about the meeting. There does not seem to have been any outcome, nor have I come across any indication of a follow-up.

Peter Brownlee has quoted above a statement by Lichnowsky, the German ambassador in London in 1914: "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..."

Many years ago I read (probably in a book by the British military writer, BH Liddell Hart) about the critical significance of "mobilisation" in Europe in those days. Once the 'mobilisation order' was issued, because of conscription, the entire military age population of a country was "called up": men reported to their assigned units and formations, they were immediately kitted out and weapons issued. Meanwhile a huge mobilisation of the country's entire rail system started: rolling stock was marshalled into trains which reported to the hundreds of embarkation stations throughout the country where the troops and their weapons and equipment were loaded, upon which the trains moved, according to minutely preplanned movement tables, to the deployment areas of the formations on the frontier.

Once mobilisation was ordered it could not be suspended or cancelled without irretrievably screwing up the deployment of the army to the frontier(s). Whichever country could complete mobilisation first had an advantage over a tardy opponent, since its military would arrive at the latter's border while it was still ineffectively defended. A mobilisation order amounted, in effect, to a declaration of war (so it wasn't, as Lichnowsky thought, a matter of "merely because of the Russian mobilisation").

That was why European countries had large staffs in their war ministries working continuously on revising and updating the mobilisation plan. The book mentioned the case of one such official who had spent his entire career in such work; when asked what he had achieved during his service, he said: I shaved 15 minutes off the completion time for mobilisation!

Babak Makkinejad

Lenin's was also quite good - "Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism" - packed with data and insights.

That was when he was a journalist, like Mussolini - who was also a socialist.

Babak Makkinejad

I do see EU states marching to war to Russia - having been assured that the war would be quick and decisive.

If they wished otherwise, they would not be sanctioning Russia...

The Twisted Genius

David Habakkuk,

I thoroughly enjoyed your splendid post and follow on comments... as I always do. Oh how I wish the glorious concepts of truth and honor were more universally revered. I was blessed to be brought up in a family and community where truth and honor were more dear than the air we breathed. Perhaps that's why I find such comfort in this committee of correspondence.

I'm glad you mentioned Evans-Pritchard. He had a great influence on my study of anthropology, as he did on most students of anthropology in the 70s. IMHO his approach was foreshadowed by William Seabrook in his account of his explorations of West Africa. Seabrook was an odd bird, not an anthropologist, but an old fashioned explorer. I found a copy of this book while exploring the attic of our old house. I'm sure I was first drawn to it by the photo plates of bare breasted young native girls, but I also found Seabrook's writings fascinating. He was genuinely perplexed by the contradictions existing between his own western culture and the native African cultures he encountered. He came to the conclusion that westerners were in no position to judge these non-western cultures and could only attempt to understand them with humility and open minds.

Peter Brownlee


We need several more lifetimes to read what we want to, let alone need to.

I first read Grey's "25 Years" and Trevelyan's "Grey of Fallodon" years ago and remember being very impressed with Grey's room as Foreign Secretary as well as his decency and therefore candour. (The realpolitik/Strangelove crowd have a lot to answer for.)

He was largely known for playing Royal Tennis and seems not to have won the British amateur championships only in the years he was in office -- when he was runner-up!


Was it Lord Salisbury who said that British foreign policy was fundamentally to drift lazily downstream occasionally putting out a boat-hook to avoid collisions? (Which sounds OK to me.)

As to Cameron, Private Eye's Headmaster's Letter seems to have him about right. (And in Australia at the moment we have an even fruitier "conservative" clod yearning for a past that never was and given to ideological frolics that seem to fall rather flat.)

Perhaps we should all learn Royal Tennis?

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