A quip from Matt LeBlanc [a star of Friends]

Why do you have to break up with her? Be a man. Just stop calling.

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Two West Point* Speeches and American Foreign Policy

The USA is the self-selected ‘policeman’ of the world. This has led to it being involved in conflicts every year since 2000. Consequently a significant part of the annual budget is devoted to military spending. Symbolic of this are two speeches to graduates of the US Military Academy in 2019 and 2020. They were given, respectively, by Vice-President Pence and President Trump. They made foreign policy statements about the anticipated roles of elite soldiers who were beginning their careers as leaders in the army. However Pence and Trump have divergent visions of future military action.

Vice-President Pence was unequivocal about the interventionist role of the US army. He said,

It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.

Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.**

The interventions Pence expects are frightening. There’s no current conflict on the Korean peninsula. He appears to commit the USA to combat in the Ukraine, “Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force.” (my emphasis) This is bellicose Cold War pre-1991 rhetoric.

This contrasts with President Trump’s speech made a year later in the same venue.

Each of you begins your career in the Army at a crucial moment in American history. We are restoring the fundamental principles, that the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations, but defend and defend strongly our nation from foreign enemies. We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of US troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of. We are not the policemen of the world.*** (my emphasis)

Trump’s shift in emphasis for US foreign policy is a version of his America First policy. His disdain for America’s role as global policeman is vivid, “It is not the duty of US troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of.

Trump’s tone heralds a new form of isolationism. Choosing to announce it to West Point‘s elite military graduates, who will be the leaders of the army for decades to come, is symbolic. Every significant defence decision is predicated on the prospective role of the USA in a global context. Trump says he can only conceive of conflicts defending the USA’s direct interests. These two speeches are of seminal importance. Pence reiterates the post-1945 settlement, whilst Trump pivots in a radical and ground breaking way to new international relationships. Diplomatic certainties are evaporating and Trump’s speech to West Point graduates is significant. America’s allies should pay very close attention to these two speeches.


* It’s actually called the United States Military Academy

** For the full text of Pence’s speech see https://eu.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/25/mike-pence-west-point-read-vice-president-full-speech-military-graduation-ceremony/1236826001/

*** For the full text of Trump’s speech see https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/donald-trump-west-point-commencement-speech-transcript


For US military engagements 2000-20 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_military_operations#2000%E2%80%932009

For US defence spending see https://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0053_defense-comparison#:~:text=Defense%20spending%20accounts%20for%2015%20percent%20of%20all,only%20about%20one-third%20of%20the%20annual%20federal%20budget.

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“I forgot my surf board”… “Me too. What a shame.”

Good surf boarding weather

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Book Review: Leif G W Persson ~ The Dying Detective (Translator: Neil Smith) (2016)

Fans of BBC’s New Tricks* enjoy the idea that decades of experience can resolve unsolved crimes. Intuition, which can’t be taught, and informed common sense triumph over derided ‘modern’ methods. The Swedish author of this brilliant novel takes the genre to a new level.

Lars Martin Johansson is retired after a stellar career. He’d been Chief of the National Crime Police and head of the Swedish Security Service. Unfortunately his weakness was rich food and alcohol and he hated exercise. The novel begins with an inevitable near fatal stroke. Once in hospital his life is in the hands of doctors and nurses who, ‘Know whats good for him’. This involves him losing independence. Humorous and wise this is one of the stories. The other is him solving a crime, as it were, from his hospital bed.

A bungled investigation meant that a child killing paedophile escaped justice. Worse: the statute of limitations meant that even if he was caught he couldn’t be prosecuted. Needless to relate the killer is identified and escapes (official) justice. Then the two stories come together in a superb denouement. Warmly recommended

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Tricks

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A good reason to go to a good tailor

Joe went to his doctor complaining about terrible headaches. His doctor said, “It’s curable but it requires castration. Your testicles are pressing on your spine, which is causing your headaches.” Joe was shocked and depressed but felt had no choice but to go ahead.

The operation was successful. As he walked away he decided to make a new life. Although he didn’t normally wear a suit when he saw an expensive tailors he thought, ‘That’s what I need for my new life: a suit.’

He went in and said to the salesman, “I’d like a new suit.” The elderly tailor glanced at him and said, “Ah, size 44 long.”

Joe laughed, “That’s right, how did you know?”
“Been in the business 60 years!”

Joe tried on the suit; it fit perfectly. As Joe admired himself, the salesman asked, “How about a new shirt?”
Joe said, “Sure.”
He eyed Joe and said, “Let’s see, 34 sleeves and 16-1/2 neck.”

Joe was thrilled, he tried on the shirt, and it fit perfectly. Joe walked comfortably around the shop, and the salesman, who could see a lot of commission coming his way, said “How about some new underwear? Size 36. Am I right?”

Joe laughed, “Ah ha! Got you, I’m size 34 brief.”

The salesman said, “Oh no! You can’t wear size 34. Size 34 would press your testicles up against the base of your spine and give you one hell of a headache.”

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George Orwell on Socialists in 1937

The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting…most middle-class Socialists, while theoretically pining for a class-less society, cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige.


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First things first! What would you do?

“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” Bob Dylan

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CD Review: Various Artists ~ We Out Here (2017)

My son despairs of my musical taste which is roughly ‘I know what I like and like what I know’.* Now and then he buys a cd to widen my tastes. Mostly he fails. On this occasion he triumphed.

Like a fool I read a few reviews which told me what I would be listening to. Afro-jazz and post-Coltrane were mentioned. The point was supremely missed. These nine bands are exuberant and joyous in their brilliance. I’d have loved to have gone to a pre-Covid gig but would an elderly gentleman fit in?

Young brilliant musicians cutting loose defies a soulless critique. They’ve emerged from the desolate wastelands of south London suburbia (though Bowie came from the same area, as did the Alabama 3). I’ve got standout tracks but why do you need to know them?** Plunge in and, “Relax.”

*My playlists are dominated by Coltrane, Davis, Gordon, Kirk, Mingus and Monk

** This feels slippery so KOKOROKO’s Abusey Junction and Ezra Collective’s Pure Shade hit the spot for me.

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A Jewish Mother’s critique of the Pope

Very nice. But he could occasionally open his mouth and say something nice about Israel. It wouldn’t kill him.

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Hitler, Chamberlain and Clausewitz

Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement failed in 1939 and was replaced with something worse. He decided Britain was a lion. Chamberlain threatened Hitler with war if Germany attacked Poland. The German High Command knew Britain couldn’t defend Poland and Hitler believed the ultimatum was empty rhetoric. However, he took precautions. In a diplomatic coup on 23rd August, 1939 Germany signed a treaty with the Soviet Union. Hitler was astonished when Chamberlain ratcheted up his position by making further commitments to Poland two days later. Britain declared war on the 3rd September, 1939.

Britain’s policy of appeasement*conceded Hitler’s grievances over the treaty of Versailles. Appeasement led to a series of capitulations ending in March, 1939. Germany’s triumphant diplomatic ‘conquest’ of Austria and Czechoslovakia demonstrated that Hitler’s demands would always increase. Chamberlain’s response to Czechoslovakia being subsumed into Germany was to sign a treaty of mutual defence with Poland. This was meaningless militarily.

The geography of Chamberlain’s Polish commitment


Nazi Germany’s domestic policy was violently anti-communist**. So the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty, 23rd August, 1939 was a bolt from the blue. At a stroke, the military situation in central Europe was transformed.

The impossibility of Poland resisting the twin attacks from east and west

Poland was impossible to defend from two powerful countries intent on expansion. Chamberlain should have acknowledged this stunning piece of Realpolitik and changed his policy. But he’d been humiliated and quixotically strengthened Britain’s commitment to Poland.

The day before Chamberlain declared war, he moved an army into France and a month later “…. 152,031 soldiers, 21,424 vehicles and all the necessary weapons and stores had arrived in France. Hitler invaded Poland with 1,500,000 men. The Soviet Union deployed 700,000 soldiers in their attack from the east. Poland disappeared. Meanwhile Chamberlain fretted. Britain did nothing and the Phoney War began lasting until Hitler conquered western Europe in spring 1940.

Hitler saw Britain’s commitment to Poland amounted to nothing and assumed they wanted a painless exit. A separate peace was Germany’s preferred option and they knew there was support for this within Chamberlain’s Conservative party***. Germany’s Foreign Secretary, von Ribbentrop, felt there wasn’t an appetite for war amongst Conservatives because he knew many of them personally.

Neither Hitler or Ribbentrop bargained for Leo Amery and other patriotic Conservative MPs. They were outraged by Chamberlain’s inability to lead or resign. In a coup de theatre, Amery denounced the entire conduct of the government during the eight Phoney War months****. Until that speech, Hitler’s calculations were sure footed but he then lost control of the narrative. War would have to continue until Britain was defeated, which could only be done through invasion. For obvious reasons, the all conquering Wehrmacht was neutralised by the English Channel. An amphibious attack, code named Sea Lion, was an aspiration rather than a realistic option. Britain remained undefeated in 1940 with a dynamic leader, Winston Churchill.

Every German general studied Clausewitz’s Vom Krieg. He said the principal difficulty of success in war was, what he called, The Fog of War. Once war began, certainty ended. Therefore regardless of brilliant planning, logistical superiority and other advantages, the unexpected could still cause defeat. Bismarck, Germany’s greatest strategist, applied Clausewitz’s insights in three triumphant limited wars. The German High Command was fully aware of Clausewitzian theory and the Bismarckian application and ignored the lessons. They fed Hitler’s hubris.

Hitler’s reaction to Chamberlain’s ultimatum was rational. He ignored it. Chamberlain’s commitment to Poland was ludicrous and unachievable. A separate peace was the obvious solution in Spring 1940 and Hitler couldn’t believe its rejection. From that point onwards, Germany’s military momentum replaced calculated decision making. Hitler was successful until he and his generals ignored the Fog of War.


* This policy failed in the 9th century when danegeld was paid to buy off Viking invaders

** The first concentration camp, Dachau, was for them and other political opponents.

*** Specifically Lord Halifax

**** “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go. Leo Amery, 7th May 1940


For an analysis of the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty see my https://oedeboyz.com/2016/04/15/the-ribbentrop-molotov-pact-1939-bismarcks-final-triumph/

For a quick summary of Chamberlain’s pre-war policy see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Chamberlain

For the Anglo-Polish treaty of March 1939 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Polish_military_alliance#:~:text=The%20military%20alliance%20between%20the%20United%20Kingdom%20and,from%20Germany%2C%20as%20specified%20in%20a%20secret%20protocol.

For British preparedness in September see https://ww2-weapons.com/british-and-empire-armies-1939/#:~:text=In%201930%20compulsory%20military%20service%20had%20been%20suspended,by%20May%20there%20were%2019%2C423%20troops%20under%20arms.

For the Phoney War see https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/world-war-two-in-western-europe/the-phoney-war/

For Realpolitik see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realpolitik

For a separate peace see https://www.historynet.com/britain-made-peace-hitler.htm

For an utterly compelling and brilliant speech by Leo Amery see http://www.ukpol.co.uk/leo-amery-1940-speech-in-the-house-of-commons/

For Clausewitz see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fog_of_war#:~:text=The%20fog%20of%20war%20%28German%3A%20Nebel%20des%20Krieges%29,adversary%20intent%20during%20an%20engagement%2C%20operation%2C%20or%20campaign.

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