Anasazi Ruins, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Review of "The First World War an Agrarian Interpretation" by Avner Offer, 1991

The author of this book has a wandering mind with a lot to say. He gives the reader much to think about, even if the books sometimes lacks focus. In fact, it reads like several books in one. Still, I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of World War I or in the general economic issues of globalization and international trade. The main focus is on the international trade in bread grains between Great Britain and the wider "Atlantic Economies", primarily Canada, the United States, and Australia, but also Russia, Argentina and India. A second focus, carefully explored, is the impact on the war of the trade global and internal of grains and potatoes of Germany. A third focus is on how this globalization and the opportunities of the lower classes in Britain to better themselves by migration while remaining connected to the British economy defused social friction at home while maintaining the immigrant's social ties to Britain.

Wheat Farming in Ontario, Canada at the End of the 19th Century

The primary message of the book is that the globally integrated British economy - industry in the metropolis of Great Britain and grain growing in an overseas hinterland - enabled Britain to wage war against Germany with much greater strength than appeared possible from simply measuring the population and industrial output of that island nation.

The integration started when the Corn Laws freed British grain markets from protective tariffs in the 1840s. Afterward Britain came to depend on overseas sources of food, including grain, fats and meat. By 1900 the country was especially dependent on bread grain, of which 80% was imported. Towards the end of the British harvest season the amount of bread grain in Britain could be less than seven weeks. The cargo ships carrying grain to Britain were moving silos. This was an obvious target for an enemy with a navy. At the same time it was an economically efficient specialization of resources, which benefited both the metropolis where industry flourished and the grain producing countries that grew rich off agricultural exports. The cost to Britain was borne by the need to maintain a large navy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Review of "Hostages to Fortune" by Arthur Nicholson, 2005

This is a good book on an old topic, the sinking of a British battleship and battlecruiser off Malaya on the 10th of December 1941. There have been many books written on this one topic, and it is covered in detail in many general books on the war in the Pacific. This book continues the tradition of adding new information and drawing new conclusions, based on new research or adding new interpretation of old research and old documents.

The basic story continues to fascinate. In late 1941 the British decided to send two battleship-class ships to Singapore as a deterrent to the Japanese threat to British and Dutch colonies in the Far East. The two ships sent were the modern battleship Prince of Wales and the older battlecruiser Repulse. Together they operated as Force Z. Both ships were sunk in the first few days of the war, an outcome several senior politicians and military leaders in Britain were worried might happen. Although that they would be sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers operating from Indo-China was not foreseen, except by the two British Admirals commanding in the Mediterranean who had often experienced the dangers of air attacks on surface ships.

After the war British leaders, especially Churchill, avoided taking responsibility. Who was responsible is one of the ongoing questions. Another question is whether loss of the ships could have been avoided, even after the they arrived in Singapore.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Review of "Cairo to Damascus", by John Roy Carlson, 1951

In the late 1930s and early 1940s an Armenian refugee from Bulgaria, now a US citizen living in the United States, began the self-appointed task of exposing pro-Fascist organizations in the United States. Organizations like the German-American Bund that hoped for a German victory in that war. His work was done undercover, originally for Fortune magazine. He used the pseudonym John Roy Carlson. In 1943 his complete research was published in a book titled “Under Cover”.

In 1948 Carlson was concerned about continued anti-Semitism in the US, Britain and in the Arab world. So he traveled to the British Mandate in Palestine to cover the war between Jews and Muslims over the fate of that land. On the way to Palestine, he visited Britain and Egypt. In Britain anti-Semitic political groups were easy to contact. From them he got introductions to anti-Semitic leaders in Egypt. Of course, almost everyone he met in the Middle East who was not Jewish or Christian was a Jew hater.

After entering Palestine and witnessing the war from both the Arab and Jewish sides, he traveled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and then went back to a now independent Israel. The information he gather during his 1948 travels was published in “Cairo to Damascus”. I own an autographed, first edition copy, dedicated to my maternal grandmother who had important contacts in the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Review of "The Adelita", by Oakley Hall, 1975

This is the best single book about the Mexican Revolution and its consequences. It is a novel, but integrates seamlessly with the historic storyline. Periodic asides by the narrator provide background on Mexico and that county's tribulations between 1914 and 1970. These comments supply the reader with an understanding of the brutal history of Mexico during much of the 20th century.

The narrator in this novel is Michael MacBean Palacio, son of an American father and a Mexican mother, raised until 10 in the northwest Mexican hacienda of his mother's family, and, after the death of his mother, growing up in the mansion of his father's second wife in Pasadena, California. A child of privilege, graduate of Andover, graduate of Harvard, and leader of a band of guerrilla cavalry during the war to overthrow the Mexican dictator Huerta. He is also, the lover of Adelita, the woman of the title, the living symbol of the revolution, whose name is also that of the Mexican soldier's wife in a famous and very real ballad of the Mexican Revolution.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Arab Prosperity, is that Possible?

Tahrir Square Cairo early 2011

The path to prosperity worked for Japan when that country industrialized. It is working for many Asian nations today. Starting over 200 years ago it worked during the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the United States. It is a path closed to Islamic countries that insist on segregating men and women (and keeping women at home). This suggests that the promised move toward democracy in Arab countries will not solve the problem of general poverty, and will lead only to continued misery and resentment. (Except for those corrupt Arabs with their hands on oil money.) The resentment will be directed against the West, which gets blamed for everything wrong in the Arab world.

Historically, the path to prosperity starts with cheap stuff made to simple specifications using female labor recruited from the countryside. Reaching back in time, when water and steam powered textile looms were introduced, first in Britain and later in the United States, it was women from the countryside who did the hard work at the looms. In Massachusetts during the 19th century, recruiting women to work in the textile factories were easy and inexpensive. They lived in company sponsored boarding houses, 4 in each room, 2 in each bed. Textile factories in Britain had similar dormitory-like housing near the factories. Often, in both Britain and the United States, the women employed were less than 18 years old.

A Review of “The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions”, by Alan Zimm. 2011

A bad idea and terrible planning from beginning to end.

This book uses modern operations research techniques to analyze the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the levels of strategy, operations and tactics. In the process the reader learns the difference between deterministic and stochastic models of the results of hits by bombs, torpedoes and shells on warships. The author provides many useful tables showing facts like torpedo hit probabilities and ship damage possibilities under different attack scenarios. These tables are based on pre and post-war US and Japanese war college studies or on results of other naval battles during World War II. There are many good maps and many good photographs.

The conclusion of the author is that the Pearl Harbor attack was poorly planned and executed at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. At an operational level the plan worked, but only by chance. The Japanese carriers reached their launch point north of Oahu without being detected, and their first attack wave achieved surprise. But this operational success resulted from luck and poor American reconnaissance. Toward the end of the book the author points out that any reasonable American precautions such as dawn fighter patrols off Oahu, or a properly manned control room able to react to the radar contact with the incoming Japanese strike would have led to a massacre of the Japanese aircraft.