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Arnold J. Toynbee, The Nature of History, and National Nut Day

The leading historian and scholar of his time, Arnold J. Toynbee is best known for his 12-volume A Study of History published from 1931 to 1961, which incredibly enough was not a doctoral dissertation but a work of historical philosophy that took thirty years to write about 4,000 years of human civilization. But he was also writing or editing a score of other works at the same time, hard to imagine though that is today. And he did it all without a word processor.

But A Study of History, popular briefly before it sank into the obscurity where it is today, is remarkable not for its duration but for its somewhat consistent insight. Toynbee held that:

…civilizations are born out of more primitive societies, not as the result of racial or environmental factors, but as a response to challenges, such as hard country, new ground, blows and pressures from other civilizations, and penalization.

This is unremarkable to most of us, but to the current crop of historical scholars, it’s heresy. It’s mostly the same thesis that Jared Diamond came up with in his prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, but that wasn’t popular with academics, either. For them, historical forces are sex, gender identity, national identity, race, and sexual preferences and none others are possible. They prefer to work with these narrow focuses because they are giving a voice to marginalized populations.

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Arnold J Toynbee

Which, as most of us know, is bilge.

Which brings us to the nature of what we call history. Toynbee died on 22 October 1975, a well-respected scholar. He published from 1915 to 1974, and several works were published posthumously. The Toynbee Prize for social sciences has been awarded to humanists as far apart as Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Yet Toynbee is best known for two things: his twelve-volume magnum opus, and a short meeting with Adolph Hitler in 1936, where he was persuaded that Hitler’s territorial ambitions were limited, and publicly said as much. After WWII this assertion was used against him again and again, even as he openly worried that nuclear weapons were too dangerous for anyone to use.

The historical record can be used for one of three things:

  1. To inform the future,
  2. To entertain,
  3. To criticise both the past and the present.

Informing the future is wrapped up in my favorite quote:

History is our only test for the consequences of ideas.

Looking at the past lets us know what a tyrant in the making sounds like, feels like, and what their supporters insist upon. Studying events of the past can tell us that “fascism” isn’t restricted to “right-wing” marchers-in-step. But contemporary observers–especially those in the mass media–lump American leaders in with the Nazis, and their audiences have no idea that the comparison is simply invidious…and these “experts” know they’re doing it only to boost ratings.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

Most consumers of historical products use them for entertainment. They like the stories, and those of us who write blogs like this should cater to that audience. My co-author and I and especially our dauntless editor of Why the Samurai Lost Japan try to bring a relatively complex and unfamiliar version of the familiar story of Japan before and during WWII to a general consumer audience, though in the nature of military history this isn’t consistently possible. Our readers will be challenged by new concepts, especially as relates to the inability of 19th and 20th century Japan to get the samurai to put their swords away. Yes, it was a social problem, and it was one for Japan itself to address. But they didn’t, and the result was a devastating war.

However, when some scholars look at Hiroshima and say “racist Americans did that,” saying that is neither helpful or supported by evidence. Nonetheless, it’s done all the time. This is the third purpose for the historical record: as a weapon to punish the past to change the appearance of the present. Most accounts of the Pacific War written before about 1980 are pretty straightforward, US triumphalist stories. Few of them discuss what was going on in Japan before Pearl Harbor. It is usually assumed that Japan launched itself against the Americans with the intention of securing their needed resources.

Post-1980, however, the stories are darker, and center either on race or commercial/capitalist competition over Asian markets. The American presence in the Philippines was regarded as a colonialist expansion; Guam was to be liberated by altruistic Japanese; the American submarine blockade was inhuman and arguably illegal; the firebombing and atomic bombings were racially-motivated war crimes because they were not done elsewhere. While all these conclusions are backed by selected parts of the record, they are not supported by the whole record nor by reason…and that’s the point.

Worse, some observers believe that the inventors of suicide bombing were rational actors when it came to the end of the war. Many commentators claim that Japan was about to surrender before August 1945…but have no evidence for this other than stories of starvation and resource exhaustion. This doesn’t deter some critics of American actions to end the war that included the atomic bombs…but didn’t stop there.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan will be available at your favorite booksellers by Christmas. Look for it.


For those of you who read this far (bless you all), this is National Color Day for reasons beyond understanding, and National Nut Day because Liberation Foods, probably the one in the UK and not California, said it was. Liberation Foods touts its “fair trade” nuts–primarily small-scale growers worldwide who also own Liberation.

Nuts are an energy and nutrient source for humans, and essential to animals in temperate climates. Many are used in cooking, eaten raw, sprouted, roasted, and pressed for oil. Nut fats are mostly unsaturated. Many nuts are sources of vitamins E and B2, protein, folate fiber and essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and selenium.

Studies (those again) have shown that those who consume nuts on a regular basis are less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease (CHD), which means those with allergies to nuts may be in trouble.

https://nutritiouslife.com/recipes/nut-seed-bread/
A selection of nuts…and other seeds.

Now, everyone knows that nuts of all descriptions are seeds, right? Plant these things under the right conditions, and they propagate the plants that they came from. We consume these things–them what can–and end the propagation cycle. But, in fact, it took some time to domesticate most of these into seeds that we can digest. Acorns, on their own, are not fit for human consumption–they need processing. Coconuts are very large nuts. Most of the plants we consume were genetic mistakes that humans exploited and cultivated into food. The pecan, domesticated in the American south in the early 19th century, thrived on the depleted cotton ground that abounded there. Before the Civil War, it had become as important a cash crop as tobacco. Today, pralines are a southern tourist trap staple.

There’s also Chocolate Covered Nut Day (25 February), Grab Some Nuts Day (3 September), and  Macadamia Nut Day (4 September) if you really want to go nuts about nuts.

Keep your cards and letters coming in, folks.

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Essays on the American Civil War Now Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC, is pleased to announce the availability of a new edition of Essays on the American Civil War by John D. Beatty in paperback and PDF at The Book Patch, while the first edition in Kindle will still be available for a limited time.  From the Introduction:

The American Civil War (even the way it is written: always capital “C,” capital “W”) sits isolated in a pristine crystal dome of American history, separate from all other events.  There are certain ways to write about it that make it acceptable to Civil War scholars and their audiences, and these rules must be observed else the offending material will be relegated to the isle of broken essays.

As the “Forlorn Hope” essay explains, American treatment of the 1861-65 conflict is always an exception to every rule of writing history, and American writers at all levels treat it as their private preserve.  Parallels with any other conflict are impossible for many Civil War buffs and not a few scholars, as are ties with any other non-American conflict.  Suggestions that the economic and political issues not related to slavery were eerily similar to those surfacing during the Tudor and Stuart periods in England—and may actually be connected—were dismissed with derision, ridicule, and often, suggestions of racism on those heretics with such insolent ideas.

How casualties were created should be a no-brainer, but as “The Butcher’s Bill” explains, for 19th century warfare that just ain’t so.  The mechanics of cavalry, too, should be obvious, but as “Cavalry in Blue and Gray” shows, it’s a lot harder when there was no real need for it in its wartime form before the war.

The distinct and contrarian position in some of these essays is unacceptable to “mainstream” Civil War scholarship: Civil War battlefield presentation isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, as “Of Parks and Excuses” explains; the Southern Confederacy, always a “Forlorn Hope,” could not have gotten what she wanted by military means.  Grant and Lee’s legacy to history is both more and less than many want to think, as “Bigger than History” explains.

Finally, “The Turning Point” and “The Unknown Gettysburg” are, again, my attempts at jousting with the immortal dragon that is Gettysburg. That one fight in Pennsylvania has so much emotional baggage attached to it that…well, it’s a tempting target.

Essays on the American Civil War retails at $4.99 in paperback, $1.99 in PDF exclusively at The Book Patch.

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Operation WATCHTOWER and National Lighthouse Day

Yeah, I know…running late.  Sue me.

So, 7 August marks a number of auspicious events, among them being the creation of the Order of the Purple Heart in 1782 (making 7 August Purple Heart Day), the US War Department in 1789,  the patenting of the revolving door in 1888, the beginning of the Battle of the French Frontiers in 1914, and the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.  But today, we talk about Guadalcanal, and lighthouses.

The exgenesis of what would become the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII is shrouded less in mystery than in myth.  Yes, the big island at the far eastern end of the Solomons Islands chain had a central plain large enough to support an airstrip, but that’s not why the Japanese went there: that’s why the Americans went there.  The Japanese were more interested in Tulagi, the smaller island to the north of Guadalcanal that had a longer, deeper beach that could support a seaplane base: the strip they started on Guadalcanal that so alarmed the Australians was to be for fighters to protect the seaplane base.  Japan wanted a seaplane base from which they could control the waters on the northern side of the Coral Sea and around New Zealand and New Caledonia, further isolating Australia; the Americans wanted to prevent both from happening, to build an airfield from which they could control those same waters, and as a starting point in the isolation of not only Rabaul but the Marshall Islands.

So was born Operation WATCHTOWER (colloquially, as Operation “Shoestring” for the meager support it got in the early months), the naval/ground/air operation in the eastern Solomons Islands that ran from the Marine landings on 7 August 1942  to 9 February 1943 when the Americans declared the island secure. Guadalcanal, in Navy/Marine parlance, was Task One for the South Pacific, and in many respects it was the most important single operation for both the Americans and their allies and for Japan.  Control  of the Eastern Solomons by either side meant control of the waters around eastern Australia, the springboard for the southern Pacific offensive. against Japan.  But too, it was the first test of Japanese resilience in the face of an Allied counter-offensive, of their ability to control events far from Japanese waters, and without strategic initiative.  As the end of the Guadalcanal offensive showed, Japan’s ability to outlast the Allies was wanting.  It was the first major chink in Japan’s island cordon.

The Guadalcanal campaign is well-covered by several authors, but for my money the best is The Guadalcanal Campaign by Richard Frank.  His dynamic, nearly day-by-day account of the three-month long campaign best covers both American and Japanese problems, but the one Japanese issue that Frank does not cover is the increasing desperation not of the senior commanders or even the common soldiers, but of the ever-increasing weariness of the overworked aircrews and their mechanics, which is best described in Okumiya Masatake’s Zero!. 

As some of you know, my co-author. Lee Rochwerger, and I have been working on a…retooling…of our What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War (Merriam Press 2009) book.  The new version, Why the Samurai Lost, will be bigger and better, with maps and tables that the first version lacked, and more information on the infighting between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Expect to see Why the Samurai Lost at the end of 2018.  Of which, more later.

On 7 August 1789 the US Congress approved an act for the support of “Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys and Publik Piers” that marked the beginning of what would become the Lighthouse Service, which would be eventually be rolled into the Coast Guard. Two hundred years later, Congress passed a commemorative bill designating 7 August as National Lighthouse Day.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Coast Guard determined that the older the lighthouse, the more costly it would be to knock down because of their stout construction. As of the 1980s, all of these innocuous structures that dot the coastlines of every major body of water in the US  have been automated, many shut down and abandoned. The Lighthouse Preservation Society is dedicated to keeping at least some of these landmarks as monuments, museums, or other repurposed function. For those of you who live on or near the Great Lakes or one of the three major coastlines of the US, have a look at those old brick piles with the big light domes and remember: it’s likely at least one of you had some friend or relative that counted on that light to keep from being wrecked on some rock or shoal.

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Ruminations on History and Warfare Available in Paperback and PDF

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the publication of Ruminations on History and Warfare: Musings of a Soldier/Scholar by John D. Beatty, a combination of Ruminations on War and On Future War previously only available as Kindle Editions.  From the Author’s Introduction:

After reading, studying and thinking about history in general and military history in particular for going on half a century, I have come to believe that I have something to say about it…in general terms, anyway.  These essays were initially produced in an academic environment, but they are being repurposed to express some of my thoughts and feelings on several subjects about the past and the future of war and warfare. If you’re looking for homework-solving pithiness, forget it: I took out the footnotes.

Some of these essays are an attempt to make some sense of the most fashionable trends, fads and fancies of American historians and soothsayers in the early 21st century.

Seers of the future are an especially special breed of thinkers, and they already know it.  What makes them annoying, however, is their irritating propensity for mistaking wit for brilliance.  Case in point is the famous Albert Einstein quote:

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

There’s several versions of this quotation that first appeared in Liberal Judaism in 1949, and it may indeed have not even been original then, or even original to Einstein.  But what those who depend on this quotation as a cudgel for disarmament forget that even Einstein missed the ironic point: After humankind blows itself into the Stone Age, they will still be fighting.

Finally, there’s the constant refrain: War is not the answer. But that, of course, depends on what the question is.

Ruminations on History and Warfare is available from The Book Patch, paper $3.99, PDF $1.99.

 

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Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories Now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce the availability of the famous short story collection from John D. Beatty, Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories at The Book Patch. According to the author:

Mostly this collection is about the unsung, the innumerable heroes that don’t get into the history books, that struggle on many levels, are hurt and killed by the enemy and the elements, by bad luck and stupidity-the ultimate yet necessary stupidity that is war.

Priced at $7.99 for the 212-page 6 X 9 perfect bound, $3.99 for PDF, Sergeant’s Business is perfect for those who love a front-to-back engaging read.

 

 

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Pierre Boullet, Evgeny Dragunov, Joseph Walker and Louis Riel Day

Some days, this blog writes itself (don’t I wish).  This 20 February has a breathtaking array of events to choose from: the enthronement of Edward VI in 1547; the beginning of the US Post Office in 1792; the death of WIllie Lincoln in 1862; the orbiting of John Glenn in 1962; the election of Margaret Thatcher to lead the Conservatives in Britain in 1975.  But today, we’re going to note the birthdays of three rather notable people, and an ambiguous Canadian.

Boullet’s ninth book, Monkey Planet, was turned into a different story on film–Planet of the Apes, which became a cult/franchise all in itself.

Pierre François Marie Louis Boulle was born on 20 February 1912 in Avignon, France, and trained as an electrical engineer.  He was working in Malaya when WWII started, and joined the French Army in Indochina.  When Germany occupied France he joined the Free French in Singapore. Working as a secret agent, Boullet was captured by the Vichy in the Mekong Delta region and put in a forced labor camp for the rest of the war. After his return to France in 1949, he began to write.  Drawing on his own war experiences and those of some of his fellow prisoners, Boullet’s third book was the semi-fictional novel known in English as The Bridge Over the River Kwai, an international best-seller made into a film by Sir David Lean in 1957, which also won awards and popular acclaim (and the shortest Academy Award acceptance speech in history–Merci).  Boullet’s ninth book, Monkey Planet, was turned into a different story on film–Planet of the Apes, which became a cult/franchise all in itself. In all Boullet wrote 24 books, seven short story collections, and five nonfiction books (including one on his experiences in labor camps in the Mekong: My Own River Kwai).  Boullet died 30 January 1994, at age 81, in Paris.

In 1959, Dragunov’s legendary semi-automatic sniper rifle, the SVD, was adopted for Soviet service.

Evgeny (or Yevgeny) Fyodorovich Dragunov was born 20 February 1920 at Izhevsk, Russia, into a family of gunsmiths.  By the time of the Great Fatherland War in 1941 (what the Russians call their part of WWII) Dragunov was a senior armorer in the Red Army, known for adapting non-Soviet weapons to Soviet needs and ammunition. After the war, he went back to gunsmithing in the civilian world,  building an Olympic gold-winning rifle for the biathlon in 1950. In 1959, Dragunov’s legendary semi-automatic sniper rifle, the SVD, was adopted for Soviet service. In 1973 his design for the update of the venerable AK-74, which was not adopted for that weapon, but the trigger mechanism inspired the one in the PP-71 submachine gun.  Dragunov died 4 August 1991 at age 71 in Izhevsk.

In the X-15, Walker was the first to fly above the Kármán line, and thus technically became the first American to enter outer space (as long as that 100 kilometer/62 mile altitude is accepted) on 19 July 1963.

Joseph Albert Walker was born on 20 February 1921 in Washington, Pennsylvania. Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1942 before joining the Army Air Forces.  He flew P-38 Lightnings and the reconnaissance version, the F-5, in the Pacific during WWII, joining the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as a physicist.  It wasn’t long before Walker was back in the cockpit, the first to fly the Bell X-1 and a number of other rocket fuel tanks with controls. When NACA became NASA, Walker was the first test pilot, and the first NASA pilot to fly the X-15. In the X-15, Walker was the first to fly above the Kármán line, and thus technically became the first American to enter outer space (as long as that 100 kilometer/62 mile altitude is accepted) on 19 July 1963. Walker was killed on 8 June 1966, flying an F-104 chase plane that collided with one of the only two XB-70 Valkyrie bombers ever built over Barstow, California.

Riel’s father was a Metis-of French and Native Canadian heritage; his mother a French colonist.  Riel took up the priesthood early in life but lost interest when his father died before young Louis finished his schooling.

The third Monday in February, for some inexplicable reason, is Louis Riel Day in Manitoba. Louis Davis Riel is traditionally viewed as the founder of Manitoba, and his ambiguous legacy is shrouded in legend. Riel was born near modern Winnipeg in what was then the Red River Colony of Rupert’s Land –the Hudson Bay drainage of Canada–in 1844.  Riel’s father was a Metis-of French and Native Canadian heritage; his mother a French colonist.  Riel took up the priesthood early in life but lost interest when his father died before young Louis finished his schooling. He drifted around Canada and the United States as far south as Chicago before returning to the Red River Colony in 1868.  Timing is everything: in October of that year he led a group of Metis that disrupted an English survey party.  Emerging as a leader not only of the French-speaking Metis (descendants of an admixture of Native Canadian and  European immigrants) but of Francophones in general, Riel led the first “rebellion” from 1868, not only disrupting the survey but claiming that the dissolution of the seigneurial land-holding system they had known for centuries would not be tolerated. After seizing Fort Garry, then losing it again, the rebellion’s leaders were arrested, tried and punished–except for Riel, who managed to escape to the US. After several years in exile, Riel returned, served briefly as a Member of Parliament, formed the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan with himself as president, and led yet another rebellion in 1885. He was captured after the second rising collapsed, tried and sentenced to hang for treason, and was hanged  16 November 1885.

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The Devil’s Own Day Now Available in Popular E-book Formats

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce that The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty is now available in Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Kobo. Get your copy today!

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Ruminations On War

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce the publication of another in the series of essay collections from John D Beatty.  “Ruminations On War” contains five essays on topics as wide ranging as air power, militias, disease, the origins of warfare, and early military theorists.

Speculation on issues like the beginning of war is usually beyond the pale of “military philosophy” and well into anthropology, but sometimes the thoughtful scholar has to want to know how humanity got from hunter-gatherer to suicide bomber.  Though these essays were written in an academic environment, I had given some thought as to how warfare in general came about for some time.  We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect.  The “Which Came First” essay is an initial foray into the possibilities of early hominid warfare, a rumination based on what we know, what we guess at, and the laws of physics and, very generally, on Jack London’s Law of Meat that he spent a whole chapter on in White Fang.

We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect. 

That the early Bronze-Age civilizations of North America were devastated not just by Old World technology but also by Old World diseases is not new, but the effects of contagious disease in combination with their already slow population growth was a fatal combination for their continued existence.  “Deadly Emigres” is an exposition into the dynamics of a one-two punch that the Indians got when the waves of invaders reached their shores.

“Obligations of Freedom” is an experiment in the legal and historical grounds for militia service.  Though it didn’t start out that way, it is a sturdy rejoinder against the argument that the US National Guard is what Amendment II of the Constitution meant by “militia,” when the record is clear that it is anything but.

Academic history is very certain that the four classical philosophers discussed in “Four Philosophers Revisited” were the ur-scribes of modern strategic thought.  The truth is that three of them at least were less concerned with philosophy than they likely were in seeing their name in print—and repeated what others wrote in the doing.  But one, the first—Sun Tzu—we can’t even be certain how he was compensated, or if he wasn’t a pen name for some scholar who put a lot of other writers together.  Writing during the Iron Age in China, whoever wrote the original text attributed to Sun Tzu really had little to say that others didn’t say afterwards who never heard of him, making him perhaps the first to re-state what was obvious to military professionals since the beginnings of organized warfare.

Traditionally, “a marriage made in Hell” was the unity of the machine gun and barbed wire on the Western Front in France and Flanders.  “A Divorce from the Marriage Made in Hell” is an exposition on the earliest philosophies that poses a question: are separate air forces the answer?  That, of course, depends on what the question is.

“Ruminations On War” is available on Amazon Kindle, and is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  See other books from JDB Communications, LLC on John D. Beatty’s Author Page.

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Verdun: Operation Judgement

Erich von Falkenhayn’s offensive of 1916 was aimed directly at the traditional invasion route between the Rhine and Paris.  The area had been used often enough that the area called the Heights of the Meuse were heavily fortified by the French over the years to have culminated in a series of forts that, if nothing else, put the entire Meuse-Rhine plain under observation for artillery.

The German plan was simple: take the forts, make the French commit their strategic reserves protecting the route to Paris, build up behind the bulge, press on to Paris in the summer months until France gave up and march home in triumph before fall.  The strategic motivations, however, were far more complex.  German agriculture was suffering under the loss of so much of its manpower, and was sorely affected by the British blockade–far more than Germany could withstand.  Though Germany had suffered less than had Britain and France in the battlefields, combined the Allies had far more manpower than did the Central Powers.  Germany, the most powerful of the Powers, was in the second year of a war she had anticipated would last two months.  Knocking France out of the war was the key to Germany’s survival.

On 21 February, the Germans unleashed their Fifth Army on the French Second Army manning the nineteen fortresses of the Verdun complex.  The first French fort to fall, three days later, was Douaumont, the largest and highest of the outer ring forts, by a small German raiding party.   Even though it had been unoccupied for months, the French were scandalized, and in Gallic rage they threw more and more men into the face of the German offensive.

While most scholars feel that this was the German intention all along, German military theory and doctrine never, ever had attritional battle in mind.  Prussia/Brandenburg, the font of Imperial German military tradition, never had the numbers nor the temperament for a drawn-out brawl, and always preferred maneuver–preferably to encirclement–to merely adding up casualties.  Tannenberg, the August 1914 double-envelopment of the Russian Second Army in East Prussia, was far more to Prussian/German liking than was the long slog of Verdun.  It is likely that post-Verdun German commentators merely claimed that attrition was the German plan all along, when in truth the French defense, orchestrated by Robert Nivelle, was more persistent and successful than they had imagined was possible.

Verdun would rage on unabated for ten months, consuming the lives of some three hundred thousand men out of the million committed, and occupying the full attention of over a hundred divisions. It would have been impossible for the rest of the world not to notice, and it would have been impossible for the Americans not to look on in horror, and in contemplation.  American military men may have been forbidden by President Woodrow Wilson to prepare contingency plans, but that did not prevent preparedness plans from being put into action with some urgency.  The Plattsburg Movement, a civilian-driven (if military favored) program of camps that trained young collegians in various places in the country, had finally come to fruition in the National Defense Act of 1916, that created the Army Reserves.  Approval of NDA 1916 and the increase in American preparedness had been spurred, in part, by the specter of the 2,300 French and Germans casualties About a regiment) every day on the Verdun front alone.

Two years after the worst of the fighting at Verdun had been concluded, the Americans were fighting to throw the Germans out of some of the 1916 gains at the Meuse-Argonne.  This battle was the largest American campaign between Appomattox in 1865 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943.  Wiley-Blackwell’s A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, edited by Ed Lengel, contains an essay by John D. Beatty entitled “We Can Kill Them But We Cannot Stop Them: An Evaluation of the Meuse-Argonne,” which looks at American performance there, and the influences of American preparedness before 1917.  Available in hardback and E-book from fine booksellers everywhere.

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Argument and the Death of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force

By late February 1944, the Bomber War over Europe had reached a crossroads.  Despite the large raids and the horrendous casualties (one in three Allied bomber crewmen became casualties in 1943), the Germans were still able to damage each attack.  Even though neither the Americans nor the British had been turned back an attack because of enemy action (weather often, but never because of German attacks) morale was less than good; for some units, the crews were merely going through the motions.

But the Luftwaffe, too, was suffering.  They had withdrawn their units from France almost entirely, and pulled back the fighters from Russia, Italy and other fronts to concentrate the interceptors in Germany.  Though the Allied bombers had not yet done a great deal of damage to industry, cities like Cologne and Hamburg had been devastated by heavy and methodical raids that were almost like laboratory experiments.

The Allied planners, starting with “Hap” Arnold and Jimmy Doolittle, had been storing up their strength since the disasters of Munster, Regensburg and Schweinfurt in the late summer and fall of 1943, they had been looking for a long period of clear weather over the North Sea and Germany to unleash the collective strength of four Air Forces (Eighth and Ninth US Air Forces and Bomber Command in England, Fifteenth US Air Force in Italy) against the German aircraft industry, using the bombers as bait for the German fighters.  Although the German fighters were not the menace to the bombers that antiaircraft artillery was, and the bombers were not as good at shooting down interceptors as prewar planners had hoped, the Allies had long range fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, and by January 1944 the had enough drop tanks for both so that deep penetration escorts were possible for sustained periods.  All the planners needed was good weather.

And so it was the weather forecasters that became the unsung heroes of the air war in Europe.  Using data from as far away as Archangel, the Black Sea, northern Canada and the Northern Cape of Norway, by mid January the weathermen (and a few women) were looking for a hole in the perpetual overcast.  By mid-February (sources vary, but operational orders went out to the ammunition dumps as early as 15 February), using some intercepted Russian and German data, they predicted clear weather over both the North Sea and Germany at the end of the month for as much as four days.  Operation Argument was on for 20 February.

The clear weather lasted five days.  The Americans and British launched over 3,000 sorties, lost over three hundred bombers and over thirty fighters.  The Germans over three hundred aircraft and about a hundred pilots.  But these are the raw numbers, and they don’t tell everything.

American losses represented about 7% for each mission, contrasted with 33% just five months earlier.   The Allies lost replaceable aircrews at infantry scales while training programs were pushing out pilots and crewmen with three hundred hours or more in the air as fast as the airplanes were rolling out of the factories.

The German losses were about 5% of the fighter force, but of those nearly half were Experten–aces.  Between them, these aces alone had destroyed over three thousand enemy aircraft between 1937 and 1944, from Ethiopia and Spain to Russia and Norway. But the Germans were losing their most experienced flyers, leaving behind frightened children of seventeen and eighteen who barely knew how to find their home fields, and tired old men in their mid-twenties who could fly and navigate, but were not as good at killing and at most had fifty hours of flying before they went out to meet the enemy.

The Luftwaffe was never the same after Argument, though by most measures the Allies barely won the campaign.  The Bomber War dragged on for another year and some, but German fighter strength never fully recovered.   Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is the story of two pilots–one American and one German–who fought the Bomber War before the Big Week in February 1944.  Available in paperback, PDF and e-book at fine booksellers everywhere.