a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Issue #19 (November 11, 2009)

Facing "Angel" on El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador

Photo by Lindsay Olson

Carillon, Rotary Hill, Naperville, Illinois, November 8, 2009

Photo by Joe Carducci

War in Repetition: a Book Review
by Chris Collins

Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (Greenwood Press), 1982; by Martin van Creveld

"In war, the moral is to the physical as three is to one." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

There's a striking impression one takes from reading Armageddon by Max Hastings, a history of the end of World War II in Europe. By autumn of 1944 the momentum of the Normandy breakout, after reaching the German border, had curdled into awful yard-by-yard slogs like Hürtgen Forest. The U.S. Army by this point, in distinct contrast to its enemy, simply could not get its men to follow orders and advance.

Why was this the case? Martin van Creveld has a possible answer. His book Fighting Power coldly contrasts the German Army and the U.S. Army in the war to underscore the superior performance of the former organization in virtually all engagements. At the time of the Normandy invasion, the eastern front was tottering and about to break, splitting the Germans between the two fronts, yet they often managed to hold Anglo-American forces back while at a constant and often severe manpower disadvantage.

Van Creveld eliminates cultural factors as causes, deducing from tests administered by the U.S. Army that individual Americans are fine soldier material. What he turns his eye to instead is the nation's prevailing business doctrine of Taylorism. Taylorism might be boiled down into the aphorism "don't send a man to do a machine's job." Its objective is to attain maximum efficiency within a business and thereby profit by extirpating the main impediment to efficiency, human nature. Administrative uniformity, control, and predictable performance is the sine qua non of this discipline; in decayed form it resembles the intimately familiar feature of American life called bureaucracy.

Applied to an army, it created a stiff process-bound edifice which, while facilitating a complex logistical setpiece like the D-Day invasion, effectively denied itself access to some of the better human attributes, such as improvisatory problem solving skill and personal initiative. A marketplace in the aggregate may be a predictable beast. An enemy guided by a strategic mind is not necessarily so. When the unpredictable happens, those better human attributes are called for.

What of composition and morale? German units were oriented around towns and provinces, and while this arrangement shared by the British Army of WWI sometimes led to the destruction of a town's young men in a day, it also created an esprit de corps largely absent in the U.S. Army with its clerical superstructure and insensate allocation of personnel.

The U.S. Army was oriented to maintain units at paper strength through replacements. "American divisions," Van Creveld writes, "preserved the teeth to tail ratio by acting like some huge meat-grinding machines that processed men on their way from the replacement system in the rear to becoming casualties at the front." War memoirs from the time often describe green and disoriented soldiers funneled into a company only to be killed before anybody could learn their name. The supposedly efficient shuffling of soldiers to-and-fro like so many memoranda, Van Creveld says, "produced a system that possessed a strong inherent tendency to turn men into nervous wrecks."

The German Army, on the other hand, did not not replace casualties, instead preserving organizations in their reduced numbers and bolstering their lines with fresh units. The fresh units in turn were initiated into combat as one, suffered and fought as one, and, even while being ground down, were not altered in their core composition. It's to these factors, not to any Nazi ideological fever, that Van Creveld ascribes the superlative performance of the Wehrmacht all the way through to the end of the war. Had its numbers not been depleted by the war in the east, driving it out of Africa, Italy and western Europe would have been an even bloodier affair.

(To further illuminate his critique, one might note the astonishing valor of the U.S. Marines in the Pacific campaign, where their stalwart performances in assaults on island fortresses like Tarawa and Iwo Jima rate high in the annals of military braveness.)

Still, one has to ask, could the U.S. really have produced a vast and fearsome war machine like the Wehrmacht? Perhaps, as Max Hastings observed, not without ceasing to be the United States. And, as Martin Van Creveld allows, no civilians suffered such depredations at the hands of the U.S. Army as they did at those of the armies of Germany and Russia.


Van Creveld, an Israeli military historian, in 2004 produced a superb essay on the paradoxes of modern warfare, "Why Iraq Will End As Vietnam Did", written around IDF general Moshe Dayan's journey to report on the Vietnam War. It's still an important read.

[Charcoal Drawing: "Down the Net" by Kerr Eby (1944), from the U.S. Naval Historical Center]

On a slightly less serious note, internet columnist Gary Brecher ("The War Nerd") contemplates the American Civil War and its art: "I May Not Know Much About Art, But I've Got a Gun"

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci...


I guessed/predicted in Rock and the Pop Narcotic that regarding Black Flag there was never enough sales for the real publishing industry to ever write a check to get to the bottom of the band's story.  Back in the late 1980s when I wrote R&TPN only Faber & Faber was even issuing original music titles, and indeed they were the only publisher to take a look at my manuscript.  But the 80s/90s roll-out of Tower Books, Barnes & Noble, and Borders did spur a short golden age of the music section in book stores.  That's over now.  But Omnibus in the UK, which once had the only book on Black Sabbath in print, now issues the first comprehensive book about Black Flag, first in the UK, soon here.  Spray Paint the Walls is very well reported and assembled by Brit music writer Stevie Chick, author of the better of the recent Sonic Youth books.  Neither Greg Ginn nor Henry Rollins sat for interviews but their voices are included from earlier interviews, and more importantly Chuck Dukowski spoke to Chick - a first I believe.  The story, laid out from the band's earliest practices in 1976 to its end ten years later, makes a far more dramatic book than the usual shelf-fillers with their stretch to make the empty stories of various chart-toppers sound exciting and crucial and against the odds.  I read a rough draft; I'm sure most of the minor Anglocentric miscomprehensions of timelines, causalities and geography are still in it but the book is powerful because it does the story justice.  And those miscomprehensions are shared by most American music writers as well so what the hell...

Excerpt:  Black Flag Polliwog Park episode from Stevie Chick's book.

[Robert Arce's BF doc production still: Keith Morris at Polliwog Park, Manhattan Beach, California, 2009]

SST addendum

It's nice that interested younger folk bother to struggle to make sense of the SST Records' corpus.  I left the label when catalog numerology reached into the eighties; it got past three hundred.  This SST thread immediately runs through the favorites and then gets into much less familiar territory.

This blog is another good example of musical archeology and features a running digging up of SST-related arcana.  And here's another that regularly circles back to SST.


It's a small issue and I don't want to be Christgau about it, but in Monday's NYT review of some formerly East Bloc underground rock bands at Le Poisson Rouge, Larry Rohter writes "But for the young people who helped bring down Communist regimes... pop music was a profoundly subversive force, inspiration and vital tool of protest for challenging and undermining a totalitarian state stricter than any parent."  There's trivializing in all directions in this sentence, even after my editing it down.  Rohter is a foreign correspondent so maybe its an Arts editor who knows elite critocracy's preference for "pop" texts over "rock" messes, but the context in the East was different in ways Larry tries to dramatize but his own construction is so tired he falls asleep and forgets about it by the end of his sentence.  There was a real thing once upon a time called Rock and while it sold big and was broadcast in the West, it was not connected at all to East European state-enforced "Pop" in all its bullying civic utility, nor was it connected to Pop in the West which was in general fundamentally popular.  The musicians Rohter talks to in his piece say interesting things about how it all happened for them, but the shape of what they were doing back then is misrepresented, if that matters.


Here's the BBC "Krautrock" doc; not that good but of interest mostly for its contemporary interviews with members of some of the key bands.  But as Steve warned me, the filmmakers seem to consider the crowning achievement of the Germans to be two David Bowie albums.


Hmong Qeej-mania:





Pedro Bell on Monday's Sun-Times' front page.


Christopher Nolan's brother's escape plan; check Alex Garcia's beautiful shot of Harry Weese's three-sided window-barred MCC.


Chinese capital and labor applied to Indian infrastructure cuts time by 80% and Indian labor 100% where possible.


Submission means never having to say you're an infidel, no matter what kind of pagan you are.


The WSJ doesn't use its editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz very well.  She should host a television program something like the one Tina Brown did on CNBC several years ago - a cultural review from New York.  Instead she's rarely one the half-hour Journal Editorial Board program on Fox News Channel that Paul Gigot insists on head-manning.


Stalin didn't need genetics as a science so it became a socialist false-science led by the charlatan Lysenko.  But Stalin needed math to recalibrate trajectories of his bombers so mathematicians became a privileged elite.


States love walls.

South Korea might just as soon not unite Korea; their second thoughts became conscious when they saw Germany unite, although they had third thoughts as soon as China allowed some website to make the case that North Korea's territory belonged to the Manchu Empire as Sinkiang/East Turkestan once did.  There's a steady display of high-brow exasperation with some grad-school fantasy of Western triumphalism only they can see.  This yields labored recuperation of the Pax Sovietica by the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Fred Halliday, and others - there's a ton offered at Arts & Letters Daily on this anniversary week.  These double-domes could just slap the bumper-sticker "Another World Is Possible" across their foreheads and they'd offer as much insight in a fraction of the time.


Rami Khouri on the still standing Arab Wall.


The EU military chiefs now report to Europe's top diplomat, so do not piss Europe off whatever you do.


Towards a Grand Unified Theory of Serial Killers.


We need a Grand Unified Theory of Socialisms too so that these smart people can stop spinning their wheels as they try to split the molecular bonds between the real National Socialism of Hitler's Germany, the half-hearted version in Mussolini's Italy, the fake International Socialisms of the U.S.S.R., Mao's PRC, and Trotsky's brain, and the long-theorized existence of International Socialism.  A piece by Patricia Cohen in the NYT anticipates the English translation of a book by Emmanuel Faye that seeks to read Martin Heidegger out of the field of Philosophy, Heidegger:  The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy.  Fayeism will have to throw many more People's History notables onto the pyre in order to purify the priory.  A simple scan of the legitimacy granted Eugenics by polite progressive company in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reminds one of the scale of the problem politics was going to have with scientism.  A new round of which is probably around the corner.


Ancient Humors - an historical survey.

The year was 1989 and the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini had just issued a fatwa calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie over his portrayal of the prophet Muhammad in his prize-winning best-selling novel, The Satanic Verses.

The Joke:

- Did you hear Salman Rushdie has a new book out?
- He does?
- Yes, it's called, "Buddha - You Fat Fuck"

Next week, another great joke unearthed from beneath the sands of time.


"Detroit's Abandoned Industrial Landscape Has Become a Playground for Pranksters."


WSJ 2:
"Colleges simply want to avoid approaching the dreaded 60-40 female-male ratio.  At that point, men start to take advantage of their scarcity and make social life miserable for the women by becoming 'players' on the dating scene."


Nice use of Youtube to illustrate baseball sign-stealing


My uncle, Donald Hartlaub, died a couple weeks ago.  He was the honest mechanic everyone was always looking for.  He moved to a DX in Aurora, Ill. when Standard pressed him to use his reputation to move more tires than he could honestly advise his customers to buy.  One of ten kids, the first five born in Cincinnati and the second in Chicago, he enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor.  One of the precious few lies he ever told was claiming he could swim so as to be able to fly scout missions over the Pacific.  They flew two-man canvas-bodied bi-planes catapulted sideways off of ships.  The planes on return landed in the water and were picked up by a crane and returned to the catapult.  Don was a pilot and the navigators vied to go with him as they figured a pilot who couldn't swim was likely to be very good at staying in the air.  He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the rank of Lieutenant Senior Grade, successfully completing 49 missions.  The photograph below is of the officer crew of the USS Denver CL-58; Don is fifth from the left.


(thanks this week to Steve Beeho, Roger Trilling, Mike Galinsky, Jake Austen, Matt Carducci...)

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to the Krautrock doc. I'm digging it!
    SST's most recent crop yields pretty good results. Talk about Kraut, the Jambang drumming is motorik in many ways. The Mojack CD features some of Greg's wooliest playing since early Gone, IMO. Row (Pig State Recon) and I disagreed a bit on the Gone Epic Trilogy, but I still say that if you listen through Greg's filter of Gone as an electronic band, you'll really git it.