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Monday, August 8, 2022

August 9th is the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae

If you want a quick and dirty understanding of the battle of Thermopylae (wiki), the movie The 300 (or the comic version on which the movie was based) will do in a pinch, and the History Channel videos posted below do a pretty good job.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,
mors et fugacem persequitur virum.
nec parcit imbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.

~ Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-27 B.C.) (Carmina, III, ii, 13)

(To die for the fatherland is a sweet and admirable thing.*
Death is at the heels even of the runaway, nor spares the haunches and back of the coward and malingerer.)

Go tell the Spartans, thou, that passeth by, that here, according to their laws, we lie.

~ Simonides of Ceos (556-458 B.C.) (epitaph for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae)

Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques-Louis David, 1814.
Today is the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Thermopylae is a pass in east central Greece between the cliffs of Mount Oeta and the Malic Gulf, and in ancient times, it was a principal entrance into southern Greece from the north.

It was there that the Greeks confronted the third Persian expedition of the Persian Wars - an army of as many as a half-million men under Xerxes. When they found that their position had been turned, however, the Greeks retreated precipitously - all except for a 300-strong Spartan contingent under their king, Leonidas, and 700 Theban allies. (The latter are often overlooked in references to the battle.)

The pass of Thermopylae today - the road to 
the far right is built on land reclaimed from the sea
Leonidas and his men fought a delaying action in the narrowest part of the pass until they were overcome by the Persians and slaughtered to a man. In book VII of his The Persian Wars, the Greek historian Herodotus (484? - 425? B.C.) wrote,
"...they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth; until the barbarians, who had in part pulled down the wall and attacked them in front, also had gone round and now encircled them on every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant left beneath showers of missile weapons."
Thermopylae has ever since been celebrated in song and story as one of the legendary battles of western history, although George William Curtis (1824-1892) places it in a larger context:
"Every great crisis of human history is a pass of Thermopylae, and there is always a Leonidas and his three hundred to die in it, if they cannot conquer."
Here's a rather well-done documentary.

* N.B. Two contrary views:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) ("Dulce et Decorum Est")

I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I'd stayed home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."
What do they mean, anyway?

~ Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) (Spoon River Anthology, "Knowlt Hoheimer")

This whole discussion reminds me of the Patton quote, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

On July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia, the first declaration of World War 1

The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. 

~Sir Edward Grey (remark, 3 August 1914, on the eve of Britain's declaration of war) 

The War was decided in the first twenty days of fighting, and all that happened afterwards consisted of battles which, however formidable and devastating, were but desperate and vain appeals against the decision of Fate. 

~Sir Winston Churchill (Preface to Spears, Liaison 1914) 

When every autumn people said it could not last through the winter, and when every spring there was still no end in sight, only the hope that out of it all some good would accrue to mankind kept men and nations fighting. When at last it was over, the war had many diverse results and one dominant one transcending all others: disillusion. 

~Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August, "Afterward") 

Although many consider the opening act of World War I to be the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo - its anniversary was just a month ago (28 June) - the first actual declaration of war took place on 28 July, 1914, when Austria-Hungary initiated hostilities against Serbia, after the latter rejected a draconian Austrian ultimatum intended to give Austria a free hand in bringing Franz Ferdinand's killers to account. As a result, Russia - self-appointed protector of the "South Slavs" - mobilized against Austria, which panicked the Germans (fearful of a two-front war against both France and her Russian ally) and so it went... 

28 July Austria declares war on Serbia
1 August Germany declares war on Russia
3 August Germany declares war on France
4 August Germany invades Belgium (to attack France)
England declares war on Germany in support of Belgium
6 August Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Serbia declares war on Germany
11 August France declares war on Austria-Hungary
12 August England declares war on Austria-Hungary*

After Germany's long-intended encirclement of Paris (under the Schlieffen plan) was thwarted by the French and British in the Battle of the Marne, the struggle on the Western Front devolved into a four-year stalemate in which the principal protagonists faced off across a line of trenches that ran from the North Sea to the Swiss border. Despite the unprecedented bloodbath that ensued, virtually no additional ground was gained by either side before the end of the conflict in November 1918.

Despite the "war-guilt" clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, which held Germany largely responsible for the hostilities and imposed extraordinary penalties and reparations, the causes of the war have been debated endlessly for most of the last century. I concluded some years ago after a good deal of reading on the subject that although there was certainly enough blame to go around, it was primarily Austria-Hungary that caused the catastrophe because of her reckless determination to settle long-standing scores with Serbia. Nothing I've learned subsequently has much changed that position. Be that as it may... One could argue - and I do - that World War I was the greatest misfortune that ever befell Western civilization. It destroyed the West's belief in inevitable human progress. It brought down the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian, and Ottoman empires, bankrupted France and England, and put the British Empire on the skids. It was the proximate cause of the triumph of Communism in Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union, drove the United States into two decades of international isolation, and instilled in Germany a thirst for revenge that led directly to the rise of the Nazis and World War II.

Moreover, in the Middle East, Britain's and France's cack-handed and self-serving division of the remains of the Ottoman Empire was largely responsible for all the turmoil we suffer there today. On hearing the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany's much-maligned Kaiser Wilhelm II noted from exile that,

"The war to end war has resulted in a peace to end peace."

*The United States only joined the Allies on 6 April 1917, provoked beyond endurance by Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare campaign and the German "Zimmermann telegram" (wiki) - intercepted by British intelligence - which promised Mexico the return of her "lost territories" in the southwest United States in return for an alliance with a victorious Germany.

(Text above is adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. Leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list.)

If you're interested in further information on the subject there are hundreds of books and films - the best books I know of (and unlike Ed, who's recommendations are above, I'm no expert) are Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August (which won a Pulitzer back when they meant something) and John Keegan's The First World War

Here's the The BBC’s Horrible Histories explanation of how the Brits got involved:


Here's a 6 minute overview of World War I:


The Atlantic has a series of photoessays entitled World War I in Photos on various WWI topics.

Previous posts: 

June 28 marks the centennial of the start of World War One: a few quotes/videos/links

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

It's the anniversary of the 20th of July plot, the unsuccessful bomb attempt to kill Hitler in 1944

Unhappy German nation, how do you like the Messianic role allotted to you, not by God, nor by destiny, but by a handful of perverted and bloody-minded men? 


A few days before the attempt: Stauffenberg standing 
to attention, left, as Hitler visits the Wolf's Lair. To 
the right is Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, later 
executed as a war criminal
In Germany, they came first for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak up. 

Pastor Martin Niem√∂ller (attributed, in the Congressional Record of 14 June 1968) 

The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist that doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when it be obeyed. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Blithedale Romance, Ch. 2) 
Es lebe unser heiliges Deutschland!
(Long live our sacred Germany!)
~ Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (wiki) (last words before a firing squad, 21 July 1944) 

Stauffenberg's bomb failed to kill Hitler after a general moved 
the briefcase containing the device; as a result the Nazi leader 
was shielded by a heavy oak table
Today is the anniversary of the denouement of the nearly-forgotten "20th of July" plot (wiki) in 1944, when a courageous, but incredibly quixotic, group of old-fashioned German patriots under the leadership of Army officer Count Claus von Stauffenberg (wiki) (1907-1944)* sought to achieve a compromise end to World War II in Europe by assassinating Adolf Hitler in his headquarters at Rastenburg, East Prussia, preparatory to opening peace negotiations with the western allies (i.e., excluding Russia). The conspiracy involved a number of high-ranking officers, including Generals Ludwig Beck and Friedrich Obert, but collapsed when a bomb placed by Stauffenberg himself failed to kill Hitler, and plans to seize Berlin fell through.  

Within a day Stauffenberg and the other ringleaders had been executed, but thousands of known opponents of the regime were killed also, and Field Marshals Erwin Rommel, Erwin von Witzleben, and G√ľnther von Kluge were implicated and forced to commit suicide**. Ironically, within a year, the Third Reich had collapsed and Hitler was dead. English writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) once wrote,
"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die."
* N.B. Stauffenberg, a devout Roman Catholic, was born to a Bavarian noble family, entered a traditional cavalry regiment in 1926, and became an officer in the German Army in 1930. Despite growing misgivings about Nazi policies, he fought loyally in Poland, France, Russia, and Tunisia until he was seriously wounded in the latter, losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand. Subsequently, he served in several staff positions. Throughout his career, Stauffenberg seems to have been drawn to various anti-Nazi movements, and his war experiences, especially in Russia, intensified his feelings of unease with the regime. The 2008 motion picture Valkyrie presents a somewhat fictionalized version of the 20 July plot. 

** Stauffenberg got off easy. Eight of those executed were hanged with piano wire from meat-hooks and their executions filmed and shown to senior members of the Nazi Party and the armed forces.

British Pathe has a newsreel which includes footage of the aftermath of the bomb:


And an additional newsreel, apparently from shortly after the end of the war:


Related posts:


The Herd Reich? Brit farmer turned Nazi super cows into sausage because they were too aggressive.

January 27, 1945 - the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz



Further reading:

The definitive source: Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich.

Parts of the text above are adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Today in Not The Bee (previously known as Not The Onion) - FAA rules for Musk/SpaceX

Marginal Revolution:.

Before Space X can launch its Starship in support of NASA, the Department of Defense, and the greater goal of bringing humanity to the stars, the FAA has required that SpaceX must (among other requirements):

Prepar[e] a historical context report (i.e., historical narrative) of the historic events and activities of the Mexican War (1846–1848) and the Civil War (1861–1865) that took place in the geographic area associated with and including the Area of Potential Effects (APE).

[P]rovide $5,000 annually to enhance the existing TPWD Tackle Loaner Program. This funding may be used to purchase fishing equipment (rods, reels, and tackle boxes with hooks, sinkers, and bobbers) for use at existing, heavily visited sites and/or allow the program to expand to new locations.

Participate in wildlife photography introduction and instruction opportunities on-site.

[M]ake an annual contribution of $5,000 to the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Adopt an Ocelot Program within 3 months of the issuance of the BO and by March 1 of each year thereafter for the duration of the BO. Funds donated to the program are intended to pay for…Special events to raise awareness about the ocelot.

It’s hard to take our civilization seriously on some days.