Not all it’s cracked up to be

“There are few more durable illusions in American life than the omnipotent presidency. For fear of appearing weak, incumbents rarely draw attention to the minimal powers accorded them by the Constitution and established practices of American government. Their critics in Congress and the public avoid mentioning this inconvenient fact because letting the executive off the hook never serves their purposes. Yet anyone who has worked in the White House knows that the office has remarkably little real power, not only when it comes to dealing with Congress and the judiciary but also in running the vast, unwieldy contraption that is the executive branch. A President relies on the loyalty of his appointees in the agencies to overcome the inertia and ingrained predilections of civil servants and the uniform military.” – Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror

Day of locusts

“Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars, and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative pictures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts, and mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man’s voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law.” – Sayyid Qutb (quoted by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in The Age of Sacred Terror)

It’s not in the budget

“Generals are a happily blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar, except when they are drinking bourbon. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, pointing their fingers decisively up terrain corridors and blocking defiles and obstacles with the side of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ ” – Anonymous, “How Many Logisticians Do You Want?” (quoted by John M. Collins in U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, 1960-1980)

A failure to grasp the situation

“On June 4 [1967], one Lieutenant Hamid, a newly graduated Egyptian second lieutenant, assigned to a transportation company near Suez, was ordered to take a convoy of antitank ammunition to Kuntilla, near the Egypt-Israel frontier. He left that afternoon, bivouacked with his convoy east of Nakhl that night, and early the following morning reported to the commander at Kuntilla. The older officer looked at him in surprise. ‘We don’t need any ammunition. There isn’t going to be a war. Take it back.’ The lieutenant saluted, turned his trucks around, and started back toward the [Suez] Canal. A half hour later his convoy was being strafed by Israeli aircraft.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

Can’t have cake and eat it, too

“The Egyptians and their Arab allies make much of the fact that the [1956] war was begun with a surprise Israeli attack, which they therefore characterize as ‘aggression,’ or ‘unprovoked aggression.’ However, this places them in the position of basing their case upon two inconsistent arguments. Either they were not at war with Israel—in which case their blockade of the Suez Canal, and even more of the Strait of Tiran, was an illegal violation of international law, and a clear casus belli—or they were at war with Israel (thus justifying their positions on the closure of the waterways), in which case the Israeli attack was merely a normal incident in such hostilities. Whatever one may think of the collusion between Israel, Britain, and France, there is no justification for accusing Israel of aggression. Egypt wanted the rights of belligerency without the consequences.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

It’s complicated

“It is simplistic and misleading to suggest that the Zionist Jews used the pretext of religion and ancient historical tradition to eject the legal occupants of Palestine from their homes by force and terror, and then illegally expropriated their land. It is equally simplistic to suggest that the sole Israeli answer to such accusations is that they made better use of the land than did the Arab former occupants. These interpretations ignore the facts that the original Zionists came legally to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that they legally bought the farmlands which they caused to bloom so spectacularly, and that until the late 1930’s their immigration into Palestine was a legal way for them to escape from the anti-Semitic environments of their former homes to a land where they were at first welcomed, and later at least tolerated, by governmental authorities as well as by a majority of their new neighbors. These arguments conveniently forget also that the war [for Israeli independence] was precipitated by Arabs who had as their avowed aim the extermination or expulsion of these peaceful Zionist settlers from their lawful property, and forget also that, during this war started by the Arabs, those who lost their property to Israelis fled the country voluntarily, while those that remained were allowed to keep the houses and land they owned and occupied before the war. Unfortunately, however, these answers to accusations of critics of Israel (and the Zionism on which it is founded) are also simplistic. Because, in fact, a majority of Israelis do believe that the possession of much of modern Israel by their ancestors thousands of years ago is a major and valid basis for them to reclaim their ancient homeland from the modern occupants, and that their appropriation of the property of the displaced Arabs is not only legitimized by right of conquest, but excused by the Nazi Holocaust, and further that their right to the land is affirmed by their ability to get more out of it. These answers also overlook the fact that the Arabs who fled their homes did so as civilians endeavoring to escape from the dangers and horrors of open warfare.” – Trevor N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974 (emphasis in original)

And to every other living being

“From the time man first raised fist to man, the lot of prisoners of war has been hard. The ancient peoples sometimes crucified captives; they invariably enslaved them, for life. From the time of Peter of Dreux, who burned out the eyes of prisoners, with hot irons, to the captives of Stalingrad and the hell camp of Cabanatuan, it has often been better for men to die fighting than to be taken by the enemy. No nation, no culture has an unblemished record in what is merely a part of the long story of man’s inhumanity to man.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

The Project

Twenty-seven months ago, around the time of the centenary of the the start of the First World War, I began a reading project, setting myself to read about the twentieth century’s wars, the political and economic and ideological struggles, and the people caught up in them. I knew a fair amount about the subject already, picked up in bits and pieces over the years, but I wanted to get a bigger picture – learn the contexts, draw connections, see the flow, see how one thing made the way for another thing, see if I could gain a better understanding of the world I live in – we live in – and how it got from where it was to where it is.

Today I finished: eighty-three books, innumerable articles, and various films later. I learned various things, made various connections, saw the flows, the causes and effects (in so far as those are discernable). The two major lessons I learned were, 1) The First World War (also known as the Great War) was a catastrophe for Eurpean civilization, a cataclysm from which the pre-war European world had no hope of recovery, and from which the aftershocks are still felt. If you seek to understand the world, you could do well by understanding how it was before the Great War, how quckly and how much was destroyed during that war, and all that arose from the wreckage of that collapse. And 2) if people are given the choice between believing a comforting lie and believing a discomforting truth, they will pick the lie, every time. They will hold onto their belief in that lie until they are crushed – their men slaughtered, their women raped, their children enslaved, their cities burned and razed.

Let’s get this straight

“A criminal citing any reason or religious text for his or her crime does not make that atrocious act less criminal, nor does it make those who take the classical sources and tradition seriously somehow implicitly connected to what is being done.” – Dr. Hatem Bazian, “ISIS’s compounded ignorance is criminal but not a theology”

How tall towers can be brought down

“Bending and buckling (deformation) of steel beams and columns occurs when the steel temperature exceeds approximately 538 degrees C (1000 degrees F). At elevated temperatures, steel exhibits a progressive loss of strength. When there is a greater fire exposure, the load required to cause deformation is reduced. Deformation is not the result of melting. A deformed element is not one that has melted during the fire, and therefore the occurrence of such deformation does not indicate that the material was heated above its melting temperature.” – Technical Committee on Fire Investigations, Sec. 6.2.9.1, NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (2011 Edition)