August 28th, 2016

cass, can you not

Books! (War Edition)

A History of the First World War (B. H. Lidddell Hart, 2016/#65): Not the most modern of histories (it was initially written when it was just the "Great War"), but still feels interesting. IMHO, the mismatch between politics and technology — between variants of late "long 19th century" political systems and of early 20th century technology — might have been one of the systemic causes of the war: you can't play Napoleonic diplomacy games when the resulting wars are fought with trains and automated rifles. Also, Hart shares (and predates) Boyd's basic concept of conflict: the target is always your enemy's mind.

A History of the Second World War (B. H. Liddell Hart, 2016/#66): This book is a purely military history; it's somewhat unsettling to read about Nazi Germany in mostly neutral terms, but for the purposes of the author, it makes sense. Some take-away observations: Stupidity (mostly in the form of orders from above) had an incredible impact on events; I think armies shot themselves on the foot, metaphorically speaking, more often than they were shot on the chest. But once material and troop numbers became lopsided enough (read: you're fighting Russia and/or USA), you're pretty much doomed even if you don't make mistakes; the second half of the war is mostly a story of German and Japanese armies doing better than you'd have expected against the double threat of ridiculously overwhelming material odds and Hitler's increasingly unhinged orders. And let's give due praise to international markets: it's possible Germany and Japan would have initiated wars in any case (violent or traditionalist dictatorships are ideologically justified by their ability to wage war, which means they need to), but a lot of the drive for the war was their fear of being cut off from things like oil and wheat, which only makes sense if you believe that you'll be prevented from buying them even if you're prosperous enough. Global commodity markets makes seizing oil fields and so on sort of pointless.

The Hapsburg Monarchy, 1809-1918 (A. J. P. Taylor, 2016/#67): It's unsettling how much of 1914-1944 doesn't make one lick of sense without looking at the Hapsburg mess. It's scary how much of 1990-2016 doesn't, eiher.

The Ghosts of Napoleon (B. H. Liddell Hart, 2016/#68): A reread.

England in the Nineteenth Century (David Thomson,2016/#69): A very interesting, and neither uncritical nor unsympathetic, review of a fascinating (and of course hugely influential both then and later) time and place.

Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon (B. H. Liddell Hart, 2016/#70): I'm fairly sure that Hart's praise of Scipio is exaggerated — he describes him as a combination of saint and military and geopolitical genius (not his words) — but unless Hart is playing fast and loose with the factual details, he's clearly a vastly underrated general.