'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Saturday, June 27, 2015

History, Outrage, and Truth....who gets to decide?

Watching the debate on the Confederate flag in the wake of the shooting death of 9 people by a deranged lunatic has been an educational moment for me this week.

In the midst of a heated and perhaps needed debate, it doesn't seem to take long in America for the liberal left to "jump the shark" on things in the most ludicrous way possible.

Apple Removes Civil War Games From App Store Over Confederate Flag Usage

I mean, really?

Fortunately, there are still enough common sense Americans to recognize stupidity when they see it and react accordingly.

Civil War Game Pulled From Apple Store Now Doing Great On Steam

So, I decided to really think about his for a while.  It is true, that many white supremacist groups use the Confederate flag as a symbol...and that it probably does offend some African-Americans to see it flying from statehouses in the old Confederacy.  Therefore, for those governors or state legislatures who want to remove the flag from government buildings, I say fine.  If that's what the voters of the state want, then so be it, democracy in action.  

BUT, as always, if liberals want to go there, what about symbols that conservatives find offensive?

Yup, ol' Che, the darling of the idiotic modern left, was, in fact a brutal thug who killed thousands of Cubans and helped enslave millions more...the current Administration's efforts to rehabilitate this brutal regime notwithstanding, there are lots of reasons why this thug's mug should not be on T-shirts.

And how about this?

Why do protesters at immigration rallies often fly the Mexican flag?  Aren't they desperate to become Americans?  How about this young lady?

She is an "undocumented immigrant" that's liberal speak for illegal alien, but hey, words can mean whatever you want nowadays if you're a liberal.  So she graduates from a California university ('nuff said) and decides to carry not her adopted country's flag, but the country that supposedly her family was fleeing because of poverty, injustice or whatever.  

NOW, perhaps some folks at that ceremony thought that was offensive...think anyone on the left cares?  What about conservative America's right to be offended...or is that right reserved only for someone who has the POLITICALLY CORRECT kind of offense?

Imagine if a student at Alabama, or Mississippi State, or LSU carried a Confederate flag across the stage at their college graduation?  Think the progressive liberal media might have had a SMALL FREAKIN' meltdown over that?

Yea, me too...it seems that lefty progressives think that only THEY get to decide what's offensive.  Not content with just getting the Confederate flag removed from public display and relegated to museums, now some of these purveyors of outrage want to get rid of museums and monuments too...very similar to how ISIS wants to destroy monuments it decides are heretical in the Middle East.

This seems not only extreme, but insane.  Well, those words often do describe the Progressive Loony Left (PLL) as I tend to call them.

SO, on their pogrom to CLEANSE American history (didn't Orwell write about this in 1984), what's next?  Do they want to get rid of Mount Vernon and Monticello?  After all Washington and Jefferson did own slaves....burn the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution because both of them "allowed" slavery?  

It seems to me that this is the ultimate end product of where our education system has taken us...we don't talk about American history and all its warts and glories...we don't discuss how to make things better...we just divide ourselves into groups that get outraged at each other and  then allow SOME groups to assume some sort of morally superior mantel that permits them to dictate right and wrong, just and unjust, acceptable and hateful.

WELL, I for one don't accept that.   

I consider no liberal to be my moral superior just because of their FEELINGS or OUTRAGE and I don't consider that just because I am male, white, Catholic, heterosexual, or a veteran to mean that I am to blame for what outrages you...and yes, I do read Civil War books--a lot of them...and yes, some of them have Confederate flags on them...and yes, some of them even talk about Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.  Get. Over. It...your outrage is your problem.  Go read Dreams From My Father or Hard Choices...I'm sure they're in the bargain bin at your local Sam's Club.

As always, I hope cooler heads prevail before we destroy our history in the name of calming those PLL that make a living at outrage.  The peaceful and Christian outpouring of folks in Charleston sure does stand in contrast to the lunacy of Ferguson and Baltimore, so I do have hope that ordinary folks, black and white, can come together and pray for each other and try to understand better what unites us instead of what divides us.

I really, really do hope so...otherwise it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get to da chopper....the progressive liberal assault on our history continues...

Last weekend, my +1 and I went with her mom to a commemorative ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial to read the names of Vietnam vets who have died in the last year.  

My father-in-law was an old Navy man who died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War on a destroyer in the South China Sea and offshore South Vietnam.

This event, of course, reminded me that this year is the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of American ground combat in Vietnam.  One would think that this would be an opportunity to reflect on the service and sacrifice of the many Americans that served during the Vietnam era. 

BUT, you would be wrong...the Progressive Loony Left (PLL for short) would have none of that.
The Pentagon’s Pathetic Vietnam Whitewash
Yup, that's the headline for the Daily Beast...written by Sally Kohn, self-described progressive activist and writer that wouldn't know an American hero if one walked up and probie slapped her...(oh, is that being micro-aggressive?). Here's my favorite quote:
The website, for instance, barely mentions the mistakes and atrocities on the battlefield for which America’s military was responsible. Nor does it say much about the extraordinary protest marches and heated political debates that embroiled our nation during the fighting.
Just wow...now, of course, being a guilty white PLL she tries to make a weak statement SUPPORTING the troops cuz, of course you can't question the patriotism of the PLL:
The soldiers who served in the Vietnam War, who gave their lives in service of our country and those still alive today, deserve to be honored and commemorated. And those among us who witnessed that tumultuous period in foreign policy and domestic protest can use the occasion of this anniversary to reckon with, or even try and reconcile, the past. 
So what she is basically saying is thanks for your service you poor misguided lying baby killers...here's a thought MS. Kohn, why don't you just take a big cup of STFU.  

Or as Kermit the Frog would say:

Ok, needed a wee bit of humor, because, WAIT, she isn't event the WORST PLL idiot...(oh, name calling...whatever...)

Not content to merely smear the veterans, the draft-dodging, pot smoking hippies from that era, who now sadly infest far too much of the hallowed halls of what passes for modern American academia, want to be ACKNOWLEDGED along with the 58,000 Americans who actually DIED serving their country.
While other American social movements have been celebrated with monuments, medals, memorials and movies, the anti-war movement is usually the subject of official forgetting. And yet it changed the lives of millions of Americans and altered the course of American history....Hundreds of campuses were barricaded and shut down by student strikes. Millions of Americans were viscerally affected for the rest of their lives. Not one top official ever acknowledged moral guilt for the lies that propelled so many to their graves. They continued instead as incumbents in the national security establishment.

Wow, sorry hippies...hell I'm surprised you even remember the '60s with all the dope and free love...maybe Woodstock was the height of your lives...unlike those men that served honorably at Da Nang, Quang Tri and Khe Sanh. 

Did the anti-war protesters change history, oh yea, they ensured that the U.S. abandoned our South Vietnamese allies to Communist domination and slavery, ensured the images of millions of "boat people" trying to escape death or concentration camps...yup, they should be real proud.

But, hey, if you want to go there...let's remember that LBJ (Democrat) inherited the mess from JFK (Democrat) and completely bungled the war by trying to fight just enough of a war to negotiate a peace...hmmm..so a Democratic President fought a half-assed war to NOT lose instead of winning.  Where have I heard this before?

Oh, and did he lie about the war...probably....was there plenty of blame up and down the chain of command, including the military...OH, yes...LTG H.R. McMaster hammers the military for their role in bungling Vietnam and rightly so.

So, how about the PLL hippies just shut up and thank a vet, and stop trying to pawn off your moral equivalence to men who answered the country's call.

I love movie quotes, and of course Jack Nicholson as Col Nathan Jessup has one of the best, even if he is the "villain" in the movie:
And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.

BUT, of course PLL are too educated, important and, of course, self-righteous to actually put on a uniform and defend our country...but that's okay...2,709,918 Americans helped do your share, and 58,202 of them paid the ultimate price.
This picture pretty much says it all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Another cookbook novel from Nora Roberts...but still a good recipe.

So, my +1 and I were taking a road trip up to New Jersey to visit old Navy friends for the weekend and needed an Audiobook for the road trip.

Since I could not quite convince her to start Shelby Foote's The Civil War in it's awesome 20+ CD and 30+ hour gloriousness, we went for the safe 2nd place....Nora Roberts.  Yes, I have read many of here single title novels, and confess to actually watching the series of Lifetime movies  based on them...interesting how these novels translate so easily into TV movies huh?  Coincidence?  I think not.  :)

This novel had your pretty basic Nora Roberts plot:
Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions …
The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed.
Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well. And an attempted murder is only the beginning …

So, here's the thing....my wife ALWAYS figures out whodunit first when we listen to mystery novels.  However, I actually figured out the plot twist within the first 50 pages.  Yup, little ol' me.

But, the thing is, we both really liked this book.  Nora can take a pretty basic plot and make a masterful story using her ability to create lovable and sympathetic characters, her unparalleled ability to write dialog (Griff in particular really cracked me up) and her sneaky ability to throw just enough plot stirring to make you almost doubt your detective ability.  As usual, her secondary characters and sub-plots really keep the story moving and offer some great opportunities to shout at the CD player..."Oh yea, go get 'em Shelby"...not that we actually did that around Exit 8 of the NJ Turnpike...just sayin'.

No wonder Nora is a gazzillionare with enough books to her credit to fill her own bookstore.  

We didn't quite finish the book on the road trip, but eagerly dug out our old CD player to finish it at home.  Not every Audiobook does that for us.

So, another summer page turner in the bag...well done.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wrapping up...probably not the end of the History wars....

Well, this section is pretty anti-climatic after slogging through the SJW swamp.  Chronology is always tough when studying American history and there doesn't seem to be a really wrong way to chop it up into bite sized pieces.

Section III: The Concept Outline
Historical Periods

I think the AP history does a pretty good job, I think the weighting as far as the exam goes is pretty decent to. 

There, see nothing controversial here.

So, to sum up, let's turn not to your favorite Grouchy Historian for the last word...I know, crazy huh?

Let's instead turn to the protest from 55 actual SCHOLARS on the subject...since of course, liberal progressive Ivy League  graduates would never be impressed with little ol' me.

The new framework is organized around such abstractions as “identity,” “peopling,” “work, exchange, and technology,” and “human geography” while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning, and development of America’s ideals and political institutions, notably the Constitution. Elections, wars, diplomacy, inventions, discoveries—all these formerly central subjects tend to dissolve into the vagaries of identity-group conflict. The new framework scrubs away all traces of what used to be the chief glory of historical writing—vivid and compelling narrative—and reduces history to an bloodless interplay of abstract and impersonal forces.

The new framework makes a shift from “identity” to “identities.” Indeed, the new framework is so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be. This does them, and us, an immense disservice.

We believe that the study of history should expose our young students to vigorous debates about the nature of American exceptionalism, American identity, and America’s role in the world. Such debates are the warp and woof of historical understanding. We do not seek to reduce the education of our young to the inculcation of fairy tales, or of a simple, whitewashed, heroic, even hagiographical nationalist narrative. Instead, we support a course that fosters informed and reflective civic awareness, while providing a vivid sense of the grandeur and drama of its subject. 

So, there you have it...my opinion on the new AP History.  Good...maybe...Biased..YOU BETCHA...Academically rigorous...who knows...what I would use to teach my homeschoolers...um NO.

Or as we say in the South here "Bless your heart, you liberal SJWs"

Or as I personally like to say "And the horse you rode in on"

Friday, June 12, 2015

AP History- The Social Justice Warriors STRIKE!

So, all was well with the newly approved AP History...then the Social Justice Warriors (SJW) messed things up.

SO, micro aggression warning...if you have an autographed copy of Howard Zinn's (closet Communist) Peoples History of the United States, take if off the shelf now and hug it close cuz I have the historical whupass grenade and I am pulling the pin.

I have to say that this SJW infestation of history is sadly not new, and has been fostered by the Fifth Column of progressive historians for a long, long time:

As a leading conservative culture warrior, Bennett held a traditionalist vision of the humanities. He believed the Western canon—which he defined in the terms of Matthew Arnold as “the best that has been said, thought, written, and otherwise expressed about the human experience”—should be the philosophical bedrock of the nation’s higher education. “Because our society is the product and we the inheritors of Western civilization,” Bennett matter-of-factly contended, “American students need an understanding of its origins and development, from its roots in antiquity to the present.”

Most academic humanists, in contrast, took a more critical stance towards the Western canon. They believed it too Eurocentric and male-dominated to properly reflect modern American society and thus revised it by adding books authored by women and minorities. Toni Morrison was to sit alongside Shakespeare. As literary theorist Jane Tompkins told a reporter from the New York Times in 1988, the struggle to revise the canon was a battle “among contending factions for the right to be represented in the picture America draws of itself.”
Many college students agreed with the canon revisionists. In 1986, Bill King, president of the Stanford University Black Student Union, formally complained to the Stanford academic senate that the university’s required Western Civilization reading list was racist. “The Western culture program as it is presently structured around a core list and an outdated philosophy of the West being Greece, Europe, and Euro-America is wrong, and worse,” he contended, “it hurts people mentally and emotionally in ways that are not even recognized.” Stanford students opposed to the Western Civilization curriculum marched and chanted, “Hey ho, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go,” and the academic senate approved mild changes to the core reading list that they hoped would satisfy the understandable demands of their increasingly diverse student body.

{My bolding for emphasis on the liberal mindset..I mean really? Hey Ho, Hey ho? I wonder what pot-smoking draft dodging professor they learned that from, eh?}

This thinking, of course, drives me up the wall. It's like the modern version of "every kid gets a trophy." In the SJW mindset, EVERY protected class of people contributed equally to American history and the making of America.

Even great historians are beginning to realize this SJW rewriting of American history is dumbing down the academic realm itself.

But a new generation of historians is no longer interested in how the United States came to be. That kind of narrative history of the nation, they say, is not only inherently triumphalist but has a teleological bias built into it. Those who write narrative histories necessarily have to choose and assign significance to events in terms of a known outcome, and that, the moral critics believe, is bound to glorify the nation. So instead of writing full-scale narrative histories, the new generation of historians has devoted itself to isolating and recovering stories of the dispossessed: the women kept in dependence; the American Indians shorn of their lands; the black slaves brought in chains from Africa. Consequently, much of their history is fragmentary and essentially anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present. It has no real interest in the pastness of the past.

These historians see themselves as moral critics obligated to denounce the values of the past in order to somehow reform our present.

Yup, for SJWs everything is about politics and the ever present "hooey changey" crap.

OH, and it gets even worse. Not content to dumb down and rewrite American history to make sure everyone is included, the new class of SJW is even making sure that only the politically acceptable topics are discussed.

In fact, some American universities seem to be reconsidering whether exposing students to a wide range of perspectives is necessary or beneficial. They want students to feel safe; not just physically, but psychologically and intellectually as well. Over the past year, many mainstream universities have been experimenting with the use of trigger warnings. If an idea might upset some students, then professors are encouraged to provide a trigger warning so students can choose to close themselves off.

OYYY. So here are the so-called "learning objectives" put forth by the progressive liberals writing the new AP History.
Section II: Thematic Learning Objectives.

The content learning objectives for the AP U.S. History course and exam are organized under seven themes, which are topics of historical inquiry to explore throughout the AP U.S. History course.
Work, exchange, and technology
Politics and power
America in the world
Environment and geography — physical and human
Ideas, beliefs, and culture

Peopling?---is that even word.

Here's the truth...and it's not pleasant...so for anyone who might be offended, clutch that Zinn tight now.

1. American history has the good, bad, and ugly. As an honest historian, I am not afraid to discuss and debate any of them...even slavery...that huge bugaboo of many SJW historians.

2. Whether the SJW like to admit it or not (and they don't I assure you), white males made most of American history. Yup, I said it. Now, we can debate whether that was "FAIR" or not or why women, blacks, Hispanics, blah, blah were not included in the making of America, but the facts are not in dispute. There we no one-legged Puerto Rican lesbians at Lexington Commons, Gettysburg, or Omaha Beach....FACT. Is Seneca Falls as important as the Constitutional Convention? Is Harriet Tubman as important as U.S. Grant?

Well, I think you know where I stand on those questions. BUT I am not afraid to debate them...politely...with no name calling. That's what teaching history should be about...figuring out things in CONTEXT and trying to draw some useful conclusions about why things are they way they are.

After all, America in 2015 didn't just happen...our institutions, culture, politics and even the iWatch came about because of thousands of decisions, big and small, good and bad, and they all can be examined.

But don't try to tell this Grouchy Historian that D-Day is as important as the Stonewall Riots..because well, I will have to get my whupass grenade again.

So, needless to say, I am not a fan of the AP learning objectives...historical trophies for every protected group do not impress me.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Into the depths of AP History we go...Section I: Historical Thinking Skills

Ok, now that we have examined the opening arguments from both sides, it's time to do an independent Grouchy Historian audit of this new AP History plan.

S0 the plan itself is well laid out and there are lots of resources on the website.  I did not evaluate all of them, but may do so later.

The AP program itself is broken into three parts, which will all be examined in turn.

The first section, outlined below is actually very well done.  The process and methodology of examining history is well laid out in a logical fashion and seems to encourage critical thinking and evaluation.

One interesting note is that when discussing historical evidence, the program seems to skip over even a rudimentary discussion of the difference, strengths and weaknesses of primary versus secondary sources.  

Perhaps it is further discussed in the teacher materials, but this seems to me to be a pretty basic topic for students to understand.  Certainly in my college courses, which of course the AP classes are supposed to be modeled on, these two basic types of sources were discussed in some detail.

I also liked the proficiency boxes listed in this section that outlined learning outcomes for students.  These were straightforward, challenging, but left a fair amount of interpretation for the instructor.

I particularly liked the section of interpretation and synthesis.  My personal basic steps of historical analysis-regurgitation, interpretation, and synthesis are very difficult to master and exposing students to them early will be extremely helpful.

I especially thought the synthesis objectives were very well done:

Proficient students should be able to ...
  • Combine disparate, sometimes contradictory evidence from primary sources and secondary works in order to create a persuasive understanding of the past.
  • Apply insights about the past to other historical contexts or circumstances, including the present. 

If a student can master this skill, they will do very well at whatever degree they choose to pursue in college.

One of the life long skills I learned as a history major was the ability to ingest a large amount of often contradictory and incomplete information, sift and sort it in a logical manner, then synthesize it into a defensible conclusion.  This skill has served me well for my military, business, and academic pursuits and I am heartened to see it incorporated into the AP History course.

So, in conclusion, the process and methodology are pretty solid from my analysis.  

HOWEVER, as always, the ever present "Thematic Objectives" will rear their ugly heads and mess everything up with the inevitable introduction of the "SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR!"

More on that next.....

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fired up and ready to go--the History Wars come around again.

The teaching, reading, general consumption of history are, of course, subjects near and dear to my heart.  As someone who has studied history for <ahem> nearly 40 years, I have a pretty well defined sense of well written and researched history...certainly more than most of the moron commentators out there.  

And, as you can tell, I also have a well developed sense of humility.

SO, I read with great interest that the seemingly never-ending brewhaha on the most recent revision of the so-called "Advanced Placement" (AP) History course is heating up once more...with more passion and intensity.

Not with a whimper, mind you, but with a huge freakin' cannon shot.

Now, mind you, this is a topic that creates a great divide between what I would term traditional historians and the sort of progressive, annoying Foucaultian "professors" and "teachers" of history that seem to dominate the development and teaching of modern curriculum.  (Yes, you will be able to tell where I come down on this debate)

This is going to be a long debate, so I will try and use small words and lots of Wikipedia links for everyone who has suffered through a modern public and college education (anytime after 1999) to try and sort through some of the spin and debate from my own unique and grouchy perspective.

As for me, I am what would be academically called a mash-up of traditionally Whig history with a small dose of Annales  thrown in for flavor.  A very small dose, mind you..and I like to consider the Annales interpretation more as an integrative view of history that combines geography (DUH, can't study military history without geography), some social and political science, and some occasional anthropology or other "ologies" to give context to historical events.

JUST in case you were wondering where I stand on this debate I definitely represent the "get off my lawn and history" view of revisionist, progressive, identity and gender driven drivel.  But I will try and be <cough> kind to those particular knuckleheads as I step through the good, bad, and ugly of the new AP history.  

However, I think that to be FAIR, and I want to be FAIR, no microaggression here, it would be useful to look at both the structure and ASSUMPTIONS of the new AP History before rendering my verdict.

So, let's begin with the basic arguments and viewpoints from the diverging camps...and believe me, they do diverge.

College Board's Reckless Spin on U.S. History

"By obscuring this nation’s founding principles and promise, the College Board’s U.S. history guidelines will erode the next generation’s disposition to preserve what is best in the American political tradition. It will also weaken students’ ability to improve our laws and political institutions in light of America’s constitutional commitment to limited government, individual liberty, and equality under law.

The framework focuses on social history, which embraces the experience of ordinary people and minorities, while relegating the traditional topics of narrative history—constitutional principles and the unending debate about their reach and application, as well as diplomacy, military strategy, and statesmanship—to bit parts in the story of America.

In addition, the framework emphasizes European conquest of native peoples, economic exploitation, and environmental abuse. It subordinates the formation of American national self-awareness and sovereignty to global forces and multicultural perspectives. It stresses the distinct group identities that have developed within the United States but gives little space to American citizenship. It showcases the rise of early 20th century progressivism, the mid-20th century New Deal, and 1960s liberalism as bold responses to real world challenges but presents post-World War II conservatism as grounded in fear and belligerency. And it dwells on America’s sins, real and imagined, while soft-pedaling America’s remarkable achievements in lifting people from poverty, assimilating immigrants from all over the world, and securing liberty at home and abroad."
AND in this corner... 
The bizarre war against AP U.S. history courses
"Many parts of the country that have relaxed their objections to teaching evolution have now pivoted to try to ban or sabotage teaching about climate change. Sex ed — at least the kind that actually educates kids about sex, rather than its absence — has come under similar attacks.

Now, more recently, states have started trying to ban the teaching of U.S. history.

Yes, U.S. history. Specifically, the bits of our history that might be uncomfortable, unflattering or even shameful — or, as some politicians call it, “unpatriotic.” More important, setting politically motivated ceilings on what students are allowed to learn will ultimately make them less informed citizens, likely dooming them to support passing equally dumb public policies as adults. Those who don’t know history, after all, are condemned to repeat it."
So there you have it, the beginning of our debate.  Now to be fair, I will say, because I'm me, that the liberal writer (gee can you guess which one that is) starts off with a weak argument, because-of course-modern liberals can't talk about ANYTHING without mentioning sex and climate change.  

It's a tad annoying, but unavoidable, I suppose.  And, because liberals are almost always academic snobs about their awesome Ivy League degrees, I would like to point out that our liberal "editorial writer" is not a history major...AND more importantly not a history major from one of the top rated liberal arts schools in the country....ahem...nope, no collegiate chest thumping here...ooops, is that a micro-aggression?  Grrr, more on that later.

Nonetheless, our liberal "editorial writer" which I guess is somehow supposed to be better than a "journalist"-- doesn't actually raise any substantive points--just a general "How can you peasants know anything more about history than a bunch of clearly much better educated college professors?"

Well, let's find out....by going straight to the source...the new AP history curriculum and teaching plan.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How Europe Blundered Into War- BBC Style.

As the 100th Anniversary Commemoration of World War I continues, and I KNOW the media has been giving it the coverage it deserves, right after Kim Kardashian's scandal update, and the latest on Michelle Obama's dance moves, I saw this little item on Amazon and decided to give it a go.

After all, no one does period dramas better than the BBC and I thought this might prove a good audio-visual accompaniment to the excellent books I have been reading about the beginning of the war, particularly the chain of events following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

The series did not disappoint.  The BBC does period drama very well, and after I got over the fact that Emperor Palpatine (from the Star Wars movies, of course) played Sir Edward Grey, all was good.  The acting was outstanding, the history was pretty good (more on that below) and the drama was fantastic.  You really got a sense of how personalities, intrigue, and plain old misfortune began the 20th century with a horrific bloodletting that would set the course for the next 100 years.

A couple of things really stood out.  First, the pace of events depicted by the movie seems very, very slow by today's standards.  To a generation brought up on instantaneous communications and a 24 hour news cycle, the slow and steady pace of diplomacy, politics, and decision-making seems almost other worldly.  It does give a bit of an appreciation for what  modern statesmen (if there are any left, certainly not in this Administration) have to go through in a crisis where their every thought and action are under a microscope--present Administration excepted.

Second, the roles of individuals in history is clearly undisputed from this DVD.  The insecurities of the Kaiser, the desire for revenge of the French, the inaction of the Austrians all played a part in causing a war that no one wanted.  History is often messy, even in hindsight, and the cause of World War I is certainly influenced by chance, mistakes, and sheer misunderstanding.

I also had a couple of nits on the history.  Being a BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation movie, I think the show casts a disproportionate amount of blame on the Germans.  While Germany was certainly a major contributor to war, first and foremost, I would have to blame Serbia, which was essentially a state sponsor of terrorism against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The Serbian Secret Service, military and good chunk of the government either aided, abetted, or carefully ignored acts of violence against the Austrians, including the assassination of the Archduke.  

Second, I would blame the ineptness of the Austrians.  If they had marched on Belgrade within 30 days ans schwacked the Serbians, I don't think Europe, even the Russians, would have been able to say much...after all, they were all monarchies, and regicide was about the biggest sin a country or individual could commit. 

Finally, there are the Germans...I find their culpability more of an enabler instead of a direct cause.  By backing the Austrians to the hilt...the so-called "blank check" historians like to pin on Germany, the Kaiser had an expectation that the Austrians would get it together and act quickly, before the Russians stirred.  This did not happen due to Austrian ossification of decision making and once the great powers started down the road to mobilization of the massive conscript armies, war was inevitable.

This total inflexibility of all of the major power's war plans was pretty stunning.  This was a major part Max Hastings' book and has been studied Ad nauseam by military historians---particularly the German Schlieffen Plan that called for a rapid mobilization, crushing of France, and then turning to the east to stop the Russian leviathan.  

In hindsight, of course, it's easy to ask "What the hell were the Germans thinking?" in assuming they could move 1,000,000 men, thousands of guns, horses, wagons, etc over the French countryside in 8 weeks, but they darn near did.  

The important factor in making a Balkans fracas into a world war was, of course, the decision to invade Belgium as part of the plan, thus assuring British entry into the war.  This was the biggest factor this drama did a fantastic job of showing---the British were deeply divided about getting involved in a Continental war and may not have declared war if the Germans had not violated Belgian neutrality.  

The anguish each of the participants felt as they desperately tried to stave off war comes through as well and shows that, except for the Germans, most of the countries tried up to the first shots to avoid war.  The only reason the Kaiser and his General Staff were seemingly eager to go to war was they felt their strategic window was closing--they feared that by 1917 the Russians might be an unstoppable juggernaut.   

All in all, this was a great mini-series and pretty darn good history...if you don't like to read history, then at least watch this, it will make you stop and think about how the Great War started...and how it might have been stopped.