No fries with that

“It was necessary for somebody, somewhere, to pay a heavy price to break down the mass of the Wehrmacht. Who can imagine the democracies, in any circumstances, bearing a loss akin to that of the 900,000 citizens of Leningrad who starved to death to sustain its defence? Even if Britain had been invaded, the inhabitants of its cities would have chosen surrender rather than eat each other.”  – Max Hastings, Armageddon

Liquor and the gun

“The Red Army often displayed courage and determination far beyond anything that ever could have been asked of American or British troops. Yet its achievements on the battlefield seem all the more remarkable given its manic indiscipline. Even the relentless efforts of firing squads proved unable to deter excesses that often became suicidal. Huge injections of alcohol alone rendered service in the eastern war endurable to many of those who took part. Yet institutionalized alcoholism could be deadly to men in possession of weapons. Lieutenant Vasily Kudryashov’s orderly started a drunken fight following an argument about—of all things—which tank possessed the thickest armour. A pilot shot him dead.” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

Mistah Supa-Bad

“Stalin dominated Russia’s war more absolutely than Hitler controlled Germany’s. The Nazi empire was fatally weakened by the rivalry, self-indulgence, strategic folly and administrative incompetence of its leaders. In the Soviet Union, there was only one fount of power, from whom there was no escape or appeal. [General] Ismay, Churchill’s personal Chief of Staff, recoiled from the cringing subservience of Russia’s generals when he first visited the Kremlin in 1941. ‘It was nauseating,’ he wrote, ‘to see brave men reduced to such abject servility.’ The Soviet Union’s defeats in 1941-42 were chiefly attributable to Stalin’s own blunders. In the years that followed, however, in striking contrast to Hitler, the master of Russia learned lessons. Without surrendering any fraction of his power over the state, he delegated the conduct of battles to able commanders, and reaped the rewards. He displayed an intellect and mastery of detail which impressed even foreign visitors who were repelled by his insane cruelty. He showed himself the most successful warlord of the Second World War, contriving means and pursuing ends with a single-mindedness unimaginable in the democracies. Terror was a more fundamental instrument of Russia’s warmaking than of Germany’s. Even Stalin’s most celebrated marshals were never free from its spectre.” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

Luck of the draw

“Most criminal defense attorneys suspect that most of their clients are guilty most of the time. Having an innocent client has been described as a defense attorney’s worst nightmare because their obligation goes beyond getting the client a fair hearing. If the client is innocent, it is the defense attorney’s obligation to obtain a dismissal or an acquittal.”– John J. Lentini, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

Brothers in arms

“A critical divide persisted between the Eastern and Western Fronts in the Second World War: most American and British soldiers did not share the bitter hatred for their enemy which prevailed among the Russians. GIs or Tommies were subject to flashes of passion and rage when they were frightened, or when their unit was suffering heavy losses. But, once the adrenalin rush of battle slowed even a little, it was striking how little ill-will Allied soldiers, and especially Americans, sustained towards the Germans. ‘Hate them?’ said nineteen-year-old Private Tony Carullo. “No, no, we respected them. Even if you captured them, they’d look you in the face and ask, ‘What are you people doing here?’ It was the French we didn’t care for.’ ” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

Salting the earth

“Because battles are fought by men who wear uniforms and carry weapons, it is easy to forget that, in the Second World War, the vast majority of those who served in every army did not think of themselves as soldiers. They were civilians, who strove even upon the battlefield to secrete a part of themselves from their military superiors and soldierly functions, from all the horrors around them. Even as they saluted, fired weapons or sheltered from bombardment, in their innermost selves most cherished the conviction that these horrors did not represent reality, that real life remained the small town or great city from which they had come; their loved ones; the civilian jobs they prayed desperately to survive to return to.” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

The fog of war

“For soldiers who took part, the north-west Europe campaign seldom looked like a clash of mighty armies, after the fashion of Waterloo or Gettysburg. Rather, it was an interminable series of local collisions involving a few hundred men and a score or two of armoured vehicles, amid some village or hillside or patch of woodland between Switzerland and the North Sea. Only the generals grasped the big picture—or not, as the case might be.”  – Max Hastings, Armageddon

Keeping their heads down

“It is the nature of every soldier in every war to focus overwhelmingly upon his own prospects of life and death, rather than to think much about distant battlefields. The men of the Red Army cared little for the doings of their allies, save that they were thankful for American trucks and canned meat. Among many other commodities, the United States supplied to the Soviet Union 500,000 vehicles, 35,000 radio sets, 380,000 field telephones and a million miles of signal wire. Few Russians were ever allowed to know that they marched to Berlin in boots manufactured by the U.S. under Lend-Lease, or that much of the Soviet Union’s aircraft production was made possible by American aluminum supplies.” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

However you look at it, it is still it

“The problems of comparative artistic value still remain after we have given attention to the Freudian psychological factor just as they do after we have given attention to the Marxist economic factor and to the racial and geographical factors.” – Edmund Wilson, “The Historical Interpretation of Literature”

Lingua non-franca

“Like all complex institutions, markets rest on supporting structures of rules, impartially devised and enforced. That requires politics, preferably democratic politics. And no rules, however well formulated and enforced, can prevent large differences in initial endowments of ability, resources, and information from producing extreme and permanent inequality. That requires redistribution. Public or collective goods—infrastructure, literacy, basic science, clean air—cannot be privately owned and so will not be privately produced. That requires public investment. A viable society requires civic virtue, above all an irreducible minimum of selflessness. Laissez-faire ideology cannot generate, or even comprehend, selflessness.” – George Scialabba, “The Squandering of America”

The world as given (or taken away)

“The economic turbulence caused by Indochina war expenditures and a sharp rise in oil prices, along with racial and cultural polarization, nourished a conservative backlash. Nixon did not attack the welfare state directly, but he did withdraw the United States from the Bretton Woods agreement. Carter initiated the fateful estrangement of the Democratic Party from its New Deal heritage, which culminated in the Wall Street-dominated Democratic Leadership Council. Ronald Reagan was not elected to dismantle the New Deal and may not even have understood that this was what the rest of his administration was up to. But his large and regressive tax cuts, as well as a cascade of deregulation and non-enforcement, massively increased military spending, and the heavy-handed use of the IMF and World Bank (with an assist from the CIA when necessary) to force a ‘favorable investment climate’ (i.e., low wages and unrestricted capital flows) on the developing world—all these policies began to change America from a middle-class society and mixed economy with countervailing power centers to a sharply unequal, business-dominated society. The Clinton administration increased taxes on the rich and restored a modicum of integrity to the regulatory apparatus. But it also joined the rhetorical assault on ‘big government’ and sponsored considerable deregulation, both on Wall Street and by means of ‘free trade’ agreements, which sought to reduce the leverage of organized labor and democratic governments over American investors. Under the Bush/Cheney administration and the Gingrich/DeLay congress, America degenerated into a thoroughly corrupt plutocracy.” – George Scialabba, “The Squandering of America”

A beautiful dream

“Though challenged periodically by labor unions, Populist farmers, and Progressive reformers, business elites dominated American politics from the beginnings of industrialization in the second half of the nineteenth century. But when the economy collapsed in the 1930s, business could no longer stave off substantial regulation; and the collective effort called forth by World War II gave rise to a modicum of social solidarity. The resulting institutions of managed capitalism included labor legislation, unemployment insurance, tuition assistance through the GI Bill, mortgage assistance for first-time home-buyers, Social Security, Medicaid, a fiscal policy aimed at full employment, a structure of mainly reasonable industrial and financial regulations (along with a serious commitment to enforce them), and a decently progressive income tax; internationally, a fixed-rate currency exchange system, limits on financial capital flows, and, in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, instruments of stabilization and reconstruction for national economies in trouble. Together, these policies produced a high level of widely shared economic well-being and security. For a brief, bright interval, capitalism worked properly.” – George Scialabba, “The Squandering of America”

When the nation has the DTs

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” – John F. Kennedy, Yale University Commencement Speech, June 11, 1962

For instance, right there

“While it is never a good idea to violate the National Fire Codes, code violations, in and of themselves, are frequently nothing more than code violations. It would be difficult to conduct a thorough inspection of any residence and not detect at least one violation of a fire code.” – John J. Lentini, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

Liberation

“Our column continued forward, and my company shifted to the lead position on tanks. I rode behind the lead tank in the artillery jeep. The little country towns changed into small industrial towns, and we began to notice a scattering of red, white and blue Czechoslovakian flags in the towns in place of the usual white flags of surrender. Civilians waved at us guardedly from behind closed windows. The scattering of Czech flags should have warned us, but we were totally unprepared for the mad celebration which greeted us in the next town. We had suddenly crossed from the Sudetenland into Czechoslovakia proper. The houses were a riot of color with red, white and blue Czechoslovakian flags. Civilians lined the streets ten deep, cheering and waving their flags as if their lives depended upon it. Our column was forced to slow down, and the happy civilians pushed into the street and showered us with flowers and cakes and cookies. One old woman thrust a baked chicken into our jeep. Another old woman stood beside the road waving both hands in the sir, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. Little children were wild with joy . . . some of them had never known anything but six years of Nazi occupation. The young men wore red, white and blue arm bands and carried German weapons, a part of the underground movement that was even now struggling against superior German forces in the capital city of Prague. Everyone was screaming the Czech words, “Nazdar! Nazdar!” and we wondered what they meant. I looked up and down the column at the soldiers in the company. Brilliant smiles wreathed their faces, and they waved cheerfully at the shouting crowds as if they had just won an election campaign and this was a personal triumph. Hardened, stubble-faced veterans had unashamed tears in their eyes. The unleashed joy of these oppressed people knew no bounds, and it was too much for us. Suddenly, I began to realize what no one had thus far been able in the war to put into words—what we were fighting for. And I found a lump in my throat which I could not swallow.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

Alles ist kaput!

“I entered the town with my CP group, Already at least fifty German soldiers were assembled before the second house, their hands raised high above their heads and dazed, startled expressions of incredulity on their faces. Others poured from every building as eager GIs sought them out with curses and shouts of derision. Some hurried alone down the street toward the assemblage, terror written on their faces. We moved on. I looked back and saw my support platoon move into the town and join in the mop-up operations. The fifth house was a mass of flame. Two cows stood nearby, chewing their cuds and staring without expression at the scene of destruction. A grey-haired German farmer stood with his arm around his aged wife and stared at the burning house, tears streaming down both their faces. ‘Alles ist kaput! Alles ist kaput!’ they sobbed hysterically as we passed. I was not impressed; instead, I was suddenly angry at them and surprised at my own anger. What right had they to stand there sobbing and blaming us for this terror? What right did they and their kind have to any emotions at all? ‘Thank Adolf!’ I shouted. ‘Thank Hitler!’ I pointed to the burning house and said, ‘Der Führer!’ and laughed.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

The weight of command

“Someone awakened me at three-thirty the next morning. It was cold in the room, and I shivered as I climbed from my sleeping bag. My mind was dulled with sleep, and I wanted to climb back into the warm sleeping bag and sleep on and on. I wanted to scream to hell with the war and go back to sleep. The sudden jolt of awakening was like emerging from a wonderful, peaceful world into a world of forbidding reality. There would be men hurt today, perhaps killed—men from my own company. It could be me. That seemed remote and impossible, but it did not remove my fear for the others. There were many responsibilities. Had I given the platoon leaders all the information they would need? How was my attack plan? Was there some important detail I had forgotten? Would Heimbach be defended? Would our attack be discovered as we crossed the flat, open field toward the town? Oh, God, if we could but rush from the house into the attack without thinking again. It was the waiting and the thinking and the wondering that got you.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

The cost of all costs

“Message after message came over the platoon phone. Lieutenant Wilson was badly wounded. He could not walk and must have a litter. Ammunition was running lower and lower. The M Company machine-gunners with the 1st Platoon were out of ammunition except enough to keep one gun firing a few minutes longer. The 60mm mortars found their ammunition supply so low that they fired only when the enemy was actually assaulting. Germans were being killed as close as ten yards to forward foxholes. Hand grenades were practically all gone. There was no solace from battalion. Each call for litter-bearers or additional ammunition was met with the maddening words: ‘We’re doing all we can.’ I told them we could not hold out much longer unless we got additional ammunition. Captain Montgomery said we must hold. ‘Our orders are to hold at all costs,’ he said. I wondered if he could possibly realize the meaning of those words. We must hold until every last man was killed or captured. Company I’s last stand! And what is to be gained? Nothing but time. Time born of the bodies of dead men. Time.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander (emphasis in original)

You have to be there to know

“OK,” [Private First Class Henry] Croteau interrupted. “I’ve got something to say. Tell them it’s too damned serious over here to be talking about hot dogs and baked beans and things we’re missing. Tell them it’s hell, and tell them there’s men getting killed and wounded every minute, and they’re miserable and they’re suffering. Tell them it’s a matter more serious than they’ll ever be able to understand.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

It looked like a bad day to die

“I awoke the next morning at ten o’clock and stepped outside the pillbox. The sun was shining down with a light so intense that I blinked involuntarily and rubbed my eyes. The effect, after the days of rain and overcast skies, was exhilarating. All seemed right with the world and I wondered why we must be huddling in pillboxes and foxholes shooting at other men a few hundred yards away.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

And so it re-began

“It appears that the historical function of neoconservatism was to supply an intellectual rationale for the worst impulses of traditional conservatism. The attack on the welfare state rationalized—in effect if not intention—greed and class privilege. With the same qualification, the attack on affirmative action rationalized racial hostility. The attack on multilateralism and international law has, less ambiguously, rationalized national chauvinism and aggressive tribalism.” – George Scialabba, “The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal”