Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Comfort Of The Familiar

IT IS often said that military commanders re-fight the last war, sending their cannon fodder over the top without pausing to consider if the current enemy bears comparison with the previously vanquished. The assertion is not entirely true, of course, and perhaps less so for generals than the broader population. Between the Great War and the next, for example, Italian theorist Giulio Douhet formulated his doctrine of aerial bombardment and saw it adopted well nigh universally. Same with Kurt Student, whose parachute-borne assault on Crete bore not the slightest resemblance to any action seen two-plus decades earlier on the Western Front. But set aside the quibbles and, as a broader guide to our species’ psychological circuitry, the maxim holds true. In moments of peril and uncertainty, the comfort of the familiar will always be the most seductive option.

You can see the appeal of that oh-so-easy mindset in your morning paper, especially if you are one of Fairfax’s surviving readers. Indeed, with brothel creeper Craig Thomson now the soiled banner to which the hapless Gillard must rally her troops, her ink-stained quislings’ blind compulsion to find solace in what they know best is proving irresistible. Consider Laura Tingle, who is re-kindling the rage of her girlhood and ranting on Twitter about an elected representative’s right to remain in office until the electorate turfs him out. Almost four decades on from November 11, 1975, with Saint Gough in an old folks’ home and intimate exposure to hubby Alan Ramsey’s domestic drool having done its immense harm, a menopausal Tingle is back on the ramparts, so blind with partisan fury she notices no difference between a government denied Supply and one whose survival hangs on a former union chieftain who supplied his sordid needs with members dues. It’s not much of a government, as even Tingle must notice in her more lucid moments, but dammit, it is her government, and so long as Fairfax gives Tingle permission to render herself and her employer a laughingstock, that will be where her perceptions begin and end.

In the Age, something even more remarkable, courtesy of associate editor Shaun Carney. Read the selection below and wonder if Carney, too, has been sleeping with Ramsey:
… if the government is going to go down, it might at least go down swinging. The dismissive taunting of Monday's protesters by minister Anthony Albanese in Parliament - the self-titled ''convoy of no confidence'' he re-labelled as a ''convoy of no consequence'' - was remarkable because of its aggressive, assertive nature. … the government should have juiced up its approach long ago. Until Albanese launched into the rag-tag bunch of truckies on Monday, Labor seemed to want everyone to believe that its only detractors were inside the Coalition party room. The only saving grace of the Thomson affair is that it gives government MPs a single point from which to dig in and defend themselves.
So, an MP mocks citizens who peacefully protest government policy and Carney raises his little fist and calls for more of the same, apparently oblivious to his many readers – well, former readers – who share the Canberra protesters’ reservations. How could he do it, transcribe the dialogue of current events with such a tin ear? Again, blame the urge to dilute consistency with the dribble of party loyalty. Carney spent his formative years reporting on the mobs who denounced John Howard. Their cause was his, but now that Howard is gone and Carney’s team in power, his perception of the foe remains unchanged. It was Labor’s opponents then, and it is Labor’s opponents’ now. If Ruddock had denounced so-called advocates for asylum seekers in the terms Albanese directed at truck drivers, Carney would have been the first to see a divisive ugliness eating at the soul of Australian democracy. Now, at long last, his government’s critics are getting what they deserve, and three cheers for Albanese, Honourable Member for Arrogance, who puts the boot in.

Georges Santayana was a little off the mark when he observed that those who neglect history will be sentenced to repeat it. For the likes of Carney and Tingle, a subjective eye to history frames their perceptions. As for being sentenced to repeat it, that is no punishment but a badge of honour.


  1. Who can believe anything that lot write any more? Two weeks ago Abbott was castigated because he was aggressive, now Albanese is encouraged to continue doing so. As to La Tingle, id dearly love to know how she reconciles the use of sex workers paid by the union dues of honest, low paid workers such as nurses with her normal stance on feminist and 'justice' issues. Hypocrites.

  2. The acquitted Andrew Lovett should be so lucky.

  3. The carney's comment about albansleazey laying into the "rag-tag bunch of truckies" is truly, staggeringly dissonant.

    Wouldn't truckies of all people, constitute a natural voting demographic for labore?

    The arrogance and stupidity of these clowns is literally beyond belief.

  4. They really are delusional, aren't they? It's as if they somehow hold a faint hope that Labor can win, and that they are consequently still in some inconceivable fashion backing the right horse. Or it may be they're going through the motions because that's all they have left. They were probably hoping for promotion upwards ("It's a great day for the ABC!" they said as McKew toppled Howard) but that's fast evaporating now, and they must be hoping their loyalty will be remembered when/if the current mob of faceless men are once more in a position to pick media hacks for preselection.

    Regarding Giulio Douhet, the British had in fact begun - in very small measure, due to the limitations of the day's technology - strategic bombing of Germany in the First World War. They had begun with two bombers from Handley-Page (the O/100 and O/400) and the Vickers Vimy and Handley-Page V/1500 were to be the next exemplars of that strategy, but the Armistice intervened. In addition, they were working up for a carrier-launched strike on the High Seas Fleet by the war's end. The British strike on Taranto in the Second World War was the final expression of a scheme which should have found fruition in late November of 1918.

    Douglas Haig's diary in the immediate aftermath of the first tank assault in 1916 makes for interesting reading. He wanted a thousand of them at once (which he never got; British industry wasn't up to it), and he wanted flat-bottomed boats to put them ashore for a coastal raid - thus anticipating the amphibious assaults of World War Two. They got as far as practising wall-climbing before the situation along the Baltic coast changed and the whole project had to be canned.

  5. I find reading Bunyip's blog helps...

  6. It's Douhet, not Drouhet.

  7. DON: Thanks for correcting the typo.

    PERTURBED: Yes, you are quite right about those innovations, although any mention of the Vickers Vimy always brings a smile - the legacy of a schoolboy joke, which I retold to my aunt without ever quite understanding why the big boys had been laughing.

    Q: Who first flew the Atlantic?
    A: Sammy Davis Jr.
    Q: Huh?
    A: You know, Alcock and Brown

    Auntie did not laugh at all, not even a chuckle.

  8. Trenchard and his staff did the heavy lifting on Air Warfare. Douhet's essay is largely devoted to an epiphany of the air, without the drudgery of working out the technical details and its implementation. Likewise with Billy Mitchell. Unfortunately, having worked out many of the details, the RAF then decided to bypass the requisite practice needed to execute.

    Haig wasn't particularly interested in the Tank; he liked the idea of the protected, mobile MG devices which could be sent into battle, but he never figured out how to do it, much less effectively.


  9. The problem with Douhet and his theories was that in the end he was in the end wrong.

    His theory paraphrased
    - bombers will always get through
    - bombers will completely destroy targets
    - land forces are no longer required

    He came to the conclusions that since bombers would be so hard to stop, defenders would cease wasting their time trying and, with the patter of his typewriter, wished fighter aircraft out of existance. Same theory for land armies - if you could not stop the bomber and the bomber would always destroy their targets, then any land force was just something waiting to die.

    So they too were removed from the Douhet universe.

    Of course in the real world the airforces made better fighter planes, AA guns and invented radar which effectively changed his 'the bomber will always get through' into 'the bombers will always get through once, but might not come back and might not actually do much when they get their.'

    RAF in 1940 managed to stop I think one raid from reaching it's target, however like any hard core aircraft historian will argue, a loss rate of about 5% cannot be sustained (meaning you either throw more and more aircraft at the problem or stop bombing.)

    There was also the difference between the total destruction Douhet predicted and the reality. While not claiming many thousands of people were sensilessly and cruely killed as a direct result of airwarfare, to achieve the destruction he predicted required weapons and numbers he did not predict.

    Remember Douhet didn't invent the concept of bombing stuff from the air (that was Aeschylus and a local eagle back 450BC), he predicted a radical change in warfare itself.

    Also to be taken into discusion in light of the original comment of 'fighting the last war', the vast majority of the RAF defensive planning was based on the WW1 German raids and the best way to stop them. They effectively worked out that something cool like radar (or RDF to put it in the correct historical context) would really help if the Germans (or the French I guess...) ever tried it again.

    So in the end, they did, in fact, fight the last war. Tally Ho chaps :)

  10. mudcrab
    Have you read "The Air Campaign", by Col John Warden?