Sunday, February 03, 2008

Weekend history post

When The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was released in 1943, Winston Churchill tried to have the film banned. The movie is about the friendship of a British officer, Clive Candy and a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff who improbably becomes his best friend over the decades. But it is also a story about how both derive different lessons from the times they live through, a period which spans the Boer War to the war against Hitler. Clive still believes in "fair play", no matter what, and Theo has learned to believe only in survival. The following two excerpts from the film show how similar the debate was to that of today's. Both Clive and Theo were fighting for England's survival; Clive for his cherished idea of England and Theo for anything he could save of it at all.

Theo on Nazism and how people like Clive are out of date.

"The film begins with a British Home Guard exercise during the Second World War. The leader of the defenders, Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) is "captured" in a Turkish bath by soldiers of the 1st Battalion, the Loamshire Regiment, who have decided to strike earlier than the scheduled start time, as they believe this is how the Germans would fight, in contravention of all rules of war. This leads to Candy's vigorous protestations that "War starts at midnight!" He scuffles with the young lieutenant in charge of the soldiers and both fall into a bathing pool, and this segues directly into the film proper, which begins with Candy's days as a young and impetuous officer." At the end of the movie Clive Candy reflects on his humiliation at the hands of a younger generation of British officers who won by playing dirty. Then he looks down at the emergency water supply that is the bombed out site of his home and thinks, "now here is the lake and I still haven't changed."


Blogger UK Houston said...

"When The Life and Death of Colonel was released in 1943 ..."

Doesn't anyone proofread any more? It seems so many of my favorite blogs have become impossible to read from pure carelessness.

You meant, of course, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp."

2/03/2008 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Fixed. Thanks.

2/03/2008 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Sheesh, UK houston...
Why the drama when a simple helpful note would have been sufficient?

2/03/2008 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

To paraprase Bobby Lee: If war were not terrible, we'd become entirely too fond of it.

The customary laws of warfare codify the most humane of the Western tradition of warfare. Even so they leave in play enough hell to make war an activity to be avoided.

The customary laws of warfare are based on the principle of reciprocity. An enemy who does not observe and enforce the customary laws of warfare is not protected by those customary laws. Failing to enforce this reciprocal nature deprives the customary laws of their teeth, and acts to make future violations (aka atrocities) a certainty.

The cheater's gambit only works when one party can be relied upon to be faithful to the rules regardless of reciprocity. Allowing the cheaters gambit to work repeatedly is thus foolish in both the short and long terms.

2/03/2008 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Thus the popularity of Lawfare amongst those who seek to hobble the counterinsurgent and empower the insurgent, rodney.

2/04/2008 04:36:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

I've misplaced the link but a recent survey (FWIW) suggests that fully 25% of British residents think Churchill is a mythical figure made up by the government as war time propaganda.

If this survey is even remotely accurate, and perhaps it is when viewed in conjunction with the supposed percentage of Americans who say the US Govt did 911, then doesn't that make democracy a farce? How can there be social rule sets for anything, much less war, when a not insignificant percentage of the population is both staggeringly ignorant and delusional?

2/04/2008 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Rodney said...

cannoneer no.4,

One can be both a legal combatant and an insurgent or guerrilla. Thus it is the illegal combatants / barbarians who are trying to leverage lawfare as part of their assymetrical conflict.

2/04/2008 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Col Blimp’s attitude as portrayed in the film was not entire inaccurate.

In the early days of WWII in North Africa, similar chivalry prevailed. Along one section of the desert front the British commander and his German counterpoint would exchange their views on how that day’s parry and thrust had gone. They had even established an agreement that no evening actions would take place; combat would end promptly at 5 PM, so that a decent meal could be prepared and everyone could get a good night’s rest.

One evening the British commander discovered that his men had captured some German trucks after 5. Realizing what would happen next, he contacted his superiors and suggested that his unit reconnoiter south and that another outfit take his place in the line while they did so. And the next evening, after 5, the Germans captured two lorries from the replacement unit.

In the same time period, in the North Atlantic, a Focke Wulf 200 Kondor was shadowing a British convoy, circling endlessly to the right as the bomber reported the position to U-boats and looked for an opportunity to dash in and drop some bombs itself. Finally one of the British warships sent a blinker message to the Focke Wulf “We're getting dizzy watching you. Could you circle left for a while?” The Germans blinkered back “Certainly, anything to oblige.” and started circling left.

2/04/2008 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Marine 83 said...

Under the Geneva Convention I don't believe one can be both a "lawfull combatant and an insurgent or a guerrilla". Mutually exclusive.

2/04/2008 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Rodney said...

Marine 83,

See Article 4.A(2):

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil[sic] the following conditions:
(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.


2/04/2008 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Fidel said...

During the India-Pakistan War in the 1970's over the birthing of Bangladesh (quodam East Pakistan), officers of the opposing armies found the time to play cricket; Indira Gandhi put a stop to it saying that her soldiers were supposed to be fighting a war. Very few would like to wage war or even desire to have one. But there are times when it is necessary to avoid a greater evil. Civilized warfare rests on that body of thought that even war has its own rules.

2/04/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

This is the problem with the lawfare currently being practised by most in the US establishment.

They want a 100 percent chance that no civilians will be hurt in a less than 100 percent world.

The result was seen in places like Fallujah, where just maybe the houses containing ratbags should have been destroyed by shelling or bombing. Instead they were neutralised by direct attack by troops.

2/05/2008 01:19:00 AM  
Blogger Marine 83 said...

Rodney. You make my point. Our oppenents in Iraq and Afganisatn both fail to meat the riquirments which would make them legal combatants. Sub paragraph A, B, C, and D for that matter are being ignored by all of our enemies.

2/05/2008 04:02:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

Marine 83:

Lawfare is all about getting the law abiding nations to accept ridiculous interpretations of conventions like the Geneva Protocols. The Congress's amd Suprene Court decisions on Guantanamo are a case in point.

2/05/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Rodney said...

Marine 83,

You took issue with my statement that "One can be both a legal combatant and an insurgent or guerrilla." and replied with "Under the Geneva Convention I don't believe one can be both a "lawfull[sic] combatant and an insurgent or a guerrilla". Mutually exclusive."

I answered by posting the relevant text from Geneva III which spells out what one must do to be both a lawful combatant and an irregular one. One can indeed be both.

Which brings us back to my conclusion that "Thus it is the illegal combatants / barbarians who are trying to leverage lawfare as part of their assymetrical conflict." and your "Our oppenents[sic] in Iraq and Afganisatn[sic] both fail to meat[sic] the riquirments[sic] which would make them legal combatants."

It's not that they cannot abide by the customary laws of warfare, it's that they choose not to. Rather than perpetuate the benefits of the cheaters gambit for the cheaters, we need to treat them as the barbarians and illegal combatants they are.

See Kipling's Grave of the Hundred Head for how that is best accomplished. Here is the pentultimate stanza:

Then a silence came to the river,
A hush fell over the shore,
And Bohs that were brave departed,
And Sniders squibbed no more;
For he Burmans said
That a kullah’s head
Must be paid for with heads five score.

2/05/2008 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Rodney said...


Part of the issue is the ever expanding self appointed purview of the courts. The courts have no Constitutional business second guessing the Executive in matters of foreign policy and even less when it comes to the Executive's prosecution of a war.

2/05/2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

I think we are all on the same side of the argument.

If you want to see into the future of lawfare look no further than this Jeruslem Post article The triumph of legal defeatism.

2/05/2008 01:22:00 PM  

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