Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Persistent Myths

It's probably this time of year, but there are certain myths a person hears again and again that are demonstrably false, but there's just no countering them.  It says something about the power of rumor over facts.

 If I get a raise, taxes will mean I'll take less home.

 Internal Revenue Service building in Washington D.C.  They aren't going to make you poor if you are rich.

Here's a really common one you hear this time of year, often in the form of a comment like this:  "I hope my new raise didn't bump me up in the next tax bracket, as the government will just be taking more of my money."

The gist of this one is a very persistent belief that once you go up a tax bracket, your entire income is taxed at that higher rate.  No, it isn't.  With our graduated tax system, only the income over each step in the bracket is taxed at that rate.  Income wise, it is always, always, always, better to make more income, no matter what tax bracket you jump up into.  It is never the case that the government will take more of your actual gross because your net increased.

People like this idea so much they just cannot be convinced otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that only the dollars in each income tax bracket are taxed at that rate.  Everyone, absolutely everyone, who pays taxes pays starting off at the lowest rate. Everybody.  And only the dollars that jump up into the next bracket are taxed at that next higher rate.

The First Amendment Protects All Speech

 The younger Sen. Lafallotte speaks in favor of the court packing plan, the fellow on the left looks like he wishes Lafollette would shut up.

Another one is that when a private journal of any kind, say a newspaper, radio, etc., chooses not to broadcast or publish something, it's interfering with "your right to free speech."  There's no absolute right to say anything you want. Rather, the government can't stop your from saying what you want.  Regular people don't have to put up with whatever you're saying, and if  they choose to shut you up, that's their right.

What the First Amendment actually states is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That's a pretty simple text. Congress can't pass a law abridging the freedom of speech.  By extension, the states can't either. But the newspaper isn't the government, and it can sure choose to ignore you.

I recently ran into this in the context of a private organization in which one vocal dissenter felt that that his failure to get his way from the organizations board violated his freedom of speech. Nope.  A private board is perfectly free to completely ignore you.

The Canadians have never fought a war.

 World War One Canadian Army recruiting poster. The thought that an Allied loss would cause Canada to disappear from the earth seems dubious, but lots of Canadians signed up.

Here's a really weird, but very common, one.  There's a sense in the United States that Canada has never been in a war.  A few years back a junior high middle school teacher actually lectured a class my son was in to that effect.

Well, guess again.  Canada fought in the War of 1812, and in its view, probably correctly, it beat the stuffing out of the US in it.  Canadian militia pretty much wiped up on American troops in the War of 1812, to be followed by the British landing in the US itself and beating the tar out of us, which relates to another myth below.

Canada also fought some Indian campaigns, just not as many as we did. And it also occasionally had to repel Irish rebels who somehow thought that launching an invasion from the US into Canada would achieve something.

And Canada fought in the Boer War. And Canadians bled in vast numbers in World War One and World War Two. And Canada fought in the Korean War as well.

What Canada did not do is fight in the Vietnam War.  Because the Canadian government at the time was sympathetic, for some reason, with American draft evaders in that period the myth seems to have been created that Canada is a pacifist nation.  It isn't.  Indeed, Canada has been fighting with us in Afghanistan.

"Surrender" is a French word.

 This intrepid French aviator is not amused that people accuse France of surrendering easily.

This rumor is even nastier than the idea that Canada is a pacifist nation.  It's common in the US to accuse the French of being cowardly.

This rumor seems to have come out of the French defeat at the start of World War Two, but it oddly hasn't attached to any of the other nations that Germany ran over at the start of the war.  And it shouldn't even apply to France.  The French were defeated on the battlefield in 1940 and the government did surrender, but it was being overrun and simply being realistic. Even at that, however, French troops kept fighting where engaged in order to allow the British to evacuate the continent, a valiant act.  A sizable number of French troops never surrendered and effectively disobeyed a legitimate order of their country to keep on fighting.  When the opportunity came in 1943, the French armed forces were pretty quick to get back into the war against the Germans even though it was technically an act of rebellion.

At any rate, accusing the French of cowardice ignores the fact that the French nation bled itself white in the Napoleonic Wars.  I don't admire Napoleon, but like him or hate him, the French troops of that period, which made up in some ways one of the first modern armies, sure weren't cowards.  They died in such numbers that nearly the entire army died in Napoleon's service.

And the French fought hard, if to defeat, in the Franco-Prussian War.  They fought extremely hard in World War One. After World War Two they put up a real fight in Indo China and Algeria, and they've fought with us in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. They fought with the British and Israelis in the Suez incident.  And they've been involved in third world fights, mostly in their former colonies, to an extent we can hardly appreciate. The French have conducted over 200 combat air jumps since World War Two. We've conducted less than twenty.

The United States has never lost a war.

 American naval heroes of the war of 1812. The naval war was about the only thing that went well for us, at least at first, although a war in the Atlantic was highly irritating to New England's merchants who thought about succeeding form the nation and who didn't support the war.  On the ground, we were pretty much a universal flop.

This may be a matter of perception, but  I'll occasionally hear that the Untied States has never lost a war.

Arguably, we lost the War of 1812.  We may pretend otherwise, but basically the Canadian militia wiped up with us in Canada, and the British pasted us everywhere else.  The war basically ended when the British defeated the French in Europe, and then dictated to us what the peace would be. We were allowed to enter into the peace or suffer the consequences. We did.

The US also lost Red Cloud's War. This may be a minor matter in the overall scheme of things, but still, we lost. Red Cloud's Sioux won.

We also lost the Vietnam War and there's no reason to pretend otherwise.  This isn't a simple story, in my view, and it is true that militarily we won. We were not defeated on the battlefield, but the American populace grew tired of the war and in 1975 when the North invaded for the second time in the 1970s, we threw the South under the bus.

If viewed as a campaign in the Cold War, however, which is how I feel the war is more properly viewed (and I'll blog on that in future) the result is a bit different.

You have a right to act like a member of the James Gang on your own property.


One I occasionally run into is the concept that a person has the right to shoot somebody on their land, if they're there without invitation.  No, there is no such right.  Never.

Postscript I.  Myths about religion in the Middle East

LeAnn   at Ramblings of a Teacher, has a series of related "mythconceptions" that she's posted about, and she justifiably asks why, on her blog, do these myths persist.  It's a good question.  Indeed, it's one I pondered without really having a good answer to, but this week I was given a partial one.  In this case, some teachers (not LeAnn) fail to do their homework, and then teach their charges myths or errors.

The reason that I can say that, and I am, is that my daughter was studying for a test on the Middle East last night, and she had with her the supposed answers to the questions she will be tested on. Some of those answers were flat out wrong.  I discussed this as part of the family conversation, but quite frankly, as its her grade, she's learned the wrong answers to the questions.

This teacher is a popular one, and the kids like the teacher.  But at least on this subject, the teacher is pretty badly misinformed.

For example, one of the questions was what three countries in the Middle East are theocracies. As we know, a theocracy is a state ruled by a religion.  There are darned few of them, actually, in history at any one point, and there aren't really any in the Middle East today. The official answer, however, was "Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Hmmmm.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy and always has been. It's a "Jewish state", but that doesn't make it a theocracy any more than Germany's status as a German state (like Israel, Germany has a "law of return) makes it a racial state of some sort.  Israel may have a law of return, extending citizenship by option to Jewish people who seek it, but it also grants full voting rights to its Moslem and Christian citizens, both of which it has and has always had.

Indeed, even its status as a "Jewish state" doesn't quite mean what people might suppose.  At its founding, the state of Israel had a fair number of influential secular Jewish people whom others might term as "culturally Jewish."  To be Jewish does not necessarily mean that a person is an observant person religiously, any more than to be Greek automatically makes a person a devout member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Anyhow, Israel certainly isn't a theocracy.

But that wasn't the only error.  More on that later.

Postscript, continued, Myths about religion in the Middle East

Well what about Saudi Arabia and Iran?  He was right there, wasn't he?
No, neither of those nations are "theocracies", although a person can make the case that Iran is a semi theocracy.

Starting with Iran, Iran calls itself an "Islamic Republic", but names do not necessarily mean all that much.  China, for example, calls itself a "People's Republic", whatever that is supposed to mean, and it isn't a liberal democracy by any means.  East Germany called itself the German Democratic Republic, with the only part of that name that was accurate being the German part.  To add to the problem, it isn't entirely clear what an Islamic Republic is even supposed to mean.

What it seems to mean is a government incorporating Sharia law, which Iran does.  And Sharia law does originate in the Koran.  Beyond that, Iran has a semi functional electoral system, which falls short of what we'd regard as a functioning democracy, but it does have some electoral process.

The country isn't actually run by mullahs, as some would assert, but its very clear that Shia mullahs have a huge, perhaps determinative, role in the governance of the country, together with the descendants of the 1970s Shia fundamentalist revolutionaries.  So what we have there is a heavily Shia influenced, less than fully democratic, quasi revolutionary state.  A person might compare it loosely with early post Mexican Revolution Mexico which had some sort of functioning deliberative body, but which only the PRI really mattered.  Or, a person might badly compare it with Imperial Germany, which had a democratically elected parliament, but the country was really governed and controlled by traditional forces outside of parliament.

Either way you look at it, it isn't truly a "theocracy", although perhaps it comes close.

Well, what about Saudi Arabia?  Not so much.

Saudi Arabia is truly one of the worlds sole surviving examples of a true monarchy.  It's a country basically owned by a single family.  Now, that family did rise to prominence in part through supporting a certain extreme Sunni group of Arabian mullahs, whose thinking is reflected in the state.  But the mullahs themselves never actually governed the country.  Indeed, as the branch of Sunni thought the Sauds espoused was so radical that it was questioned as heretical before their adoption of it and ascension to the crown (or rather creation of the crown), a person might argue that group is in debt to the Sauds.

Now, it is certainly the case that Saudi Arabia is unquestionably Sunni Moslem, and that it also applies Koranic principles to its law.  A person can criticize it, but it doesn't depart in this fashion hugely from other primitive monarchies, most of which have been associated with a religion their respective crowns adopted.  Queen Elizabeth I, for example, wasn't exactly tolerant of Catholics.  That didn't make Elizabethan England a theocracy, however.

And to be continued.

Postscript continued, Myths about religion in the Middle East

 Syrian Archbishop.  Syrian Catholics and Orthodox represent the second largest religion in the Middle East and the second oldest of the major religions in the Middle East.

Okay, well what else?

Another question asked the students to rank the three largest religions in the Middle East, with the provided answer, in order if number of followers, being Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Right?  Nope, that's wrong.

The second largest religion in the Middle East is Christianity. 

I guess I might give a person a bit of a pass on this one, as Middle Easter Christians are so ignored by the outside world, but they are the second oldest religion in the Middle East and they are spread throughout the Middle East.  There isn't a country in the Middle East that doesn't have some native Christians, save perhaps for the very small ones like Dubai or Kuwait.

That's right, some native Christians.

Christian populations in the Middle East range up to as many as 18,000,000 but may be as few as 16,000,000.  More than any other major faith, Christians have been targets of violence in the Middle East and they have accordingly opted for decades for emigration, if they could.  But they still outnumber adherents of Judaism by at least 10,000,000 people, if not more, and it probably is more.Some Middle Eastern countries have, or would have, extremely significant Christian populations but for their being the targets of increasing violence in recent years, making them a population that is essentially undergoing "ethnic cleansing" as we speak, with hardly anyone doing anything about it.  Populations of Catholics, Orthodox and Coptic Christians are under stress everywhere in the Middle East.

If immigrant populations in the form of temporary workers are included, some Middle Eastern countries, such as Dubai, would be regarded as having huge, mostly Catholic, populations.

Indeed, one of the myths of the Middle East, related to this story, is that Islam took the region by storm.  It didn't.  Islam didn't become the power in the region it became until Sulemon, but even at that the "Islamic" principalities he conquered often had Christian majorities.  It wasn't until tremendous force was brought upon these communities that conversions to Islam really began.  Islam wasn't even able to sweep the Arabian Peninsula without the help, ironically, of a tribe on the peninsula that was Catholic.  Christian populations hung on everywhere, in isolation, for a very long time, and in some ways what we're seeing now in regards to them has been a story that's been ongoing for over 1,000 years.

Postscript II  Hindus and vegetarianism

 Hindu wedding party. Chicken was probably on the reception menu.

Americans commonly believe that Indian is a vegetarian nation, because the largest religion in India is Hinduism.

Before we go on to that, we'll note that some Americans believe all Indians are Hindus.  Not hardly.  India is a "put together" nation of the former English colony variety, and not one single "nation".  It has a wide variety of ethnic identities and religions, including a Catholic population that dates back to the Apostolic age.  Islam and Buddhism are also present in India, and India still has a pretty large Communist Party, which of course is philosophically opposed to any religion.  But Hinduism is the largest religion in India.

Well, Hindus are all vegetarians, right?

Nope.  A minority of Indian Hindus are vegetarians. 

Hindus do have dietary restrictions, to be sure. The oldest one in Hinduism appears to be a ban on eating horses, cattle, or people, although this is debated.  It is thought that the ban might actually have applied to possessed horses and cattle, and any people.

Some Hindu sects are vegetarian, and these are well represented in India. But a majority of Indian Hindus are not members of those sects, and they do eat meat.  They do not eat cattle, but other meats.

This myth is interesting in that it at one time was a reason that Hindus were looked down upon, and now its a reason that some who come from outside Central Asia will point towards Hinduism, but it's simply wrong.

Postscript III:  The Roman Edition

I was reminded today of a couple of popular myths regarding the Romans.

I suppose it would be surprising if the Romans weren't subject to all sort of myths, after all, they were a major power forever.  Given that, some baloney is going to stick to them.  Let's take a look

A. The Romans Never Lost a Battle

There's apparently a popular myth that the Romans never lost a battle.  Oh yes they did.  You can't be a military power that long and not loose a few, that's for sure, and they lost their fair share.

What's more the like it is that the Romans had really deep military pockets, so they were able recover from their losses, but loose they did.

B.  Rome Fell because it was corrupt.  

This myth is extremely persistent, but completely in error.

Students receive this myth in some classrooms today, and its no surprise as it was a thesis advanced by Gibbons, who was the first really major modern historian (1700s) who addressed the topic of Roman history.  Gibbons, however, was not free from inserting his own beliefs and agendas into his writing, and while the world owes him a debt of thanks for tackling the topic, it is burdened by his outlook.  

Gibbons was English and living in an era when the ruling class of the United Kingdom was quite anti Catholic, as was Gibbons himself.  This is significant in that it seems to have colored Gibbons views of 5th Century Rome.  It doesn't seem to answer, however, why Gibbons went on in his work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, to cover the Byzantine Empire as well, which is typically forgotten about him.

Anyhow, the popular myth is that Rome had become debauched and was reveling in vice which is why the robust Germans busted in and shut the whole thing down.  In actuality, Rome had been pretty debauched since day one and was actually living at the height of its virtue at the time it fell.  The Romans did a fairly good job of actually cleaning up its early history, in terms of what it told about itself, but in reality the town had been founded by bands of roving, fleeing ,thieves and had at first been a pretty much all male criminal enclave.  It became a real town when it acquired a female population, but it did that by taking its female population by force, not a very admirable thing to do.  In its imperial period Rome did all sorts of nasty icky things, but that didn't cause it to fall.

With Constantine the  Great, who ruled from Byzantium, the empire became Christian, but retained a large pagan population.  But its character really began to change. By the mid 400s when Rome fell its official religion was Christianity and it was at an all time high in moral behavior.

Rome really fell because of a series of odd events, which is often how such things occur.  For one thing, Rome had overextended itself, which it knew.  It had withdrawn from its most northerly advances some time prior and was working on trying to consolidate its holdings.  Its grip on Britain was slipping.  Administering the Empire from Rome had proven too difficult and the administration of the Empire had been split in two.  It had suffered from internal armed strife since the time of Caesar which continually drug it down.  And, most significantly here, Germanic peoples from Eastern Europe were being driven west by invading Slavs, which caused them to push by necessity on Rome's northern and eastern borders. They were coming in no matter what, and there was little Rome could do stop that.  Having said that, the Romans botched it specifically by ineptly handling Germans crossing the Rhine, giving unnecessary rise to invasion, and the end of the Western Empire.

C.  The Vomitorium isn't what you've heard.

As a minor one, a Vomitorium wasn't where people went to throw up, in their debauchery.  It's a big exit.  That's because it derives from   a word meaning to spew forth, as to pour out, as in to pour out a lot of people.  Think stadium exist.

Postscript IV, the Spanish Civil War Edition

That Spain fought a tooth and nail civil war in the 1930s, leading up to World War Two, is of course well known, but the version of it remembered by most people, and even by quite a few historians, is mostly bunk.

The common popular view of the war is that nasty Spanish fascist in the Spanish army launched a war against the republican democracy loving legitimate government and squashed democracy in the name of fascism.

That didn't happen.

In reality, Spain's pre civil war government was extremely weak and unstable and was very obviously rocketing towards falling into Communism.  That instability wasn't novel for the time, there were a lot of European governments that were having trouble sustaining democracy, in part because their experiment with democracy was quite young and quite a few political parties had no real concept of being more loyal to the country and the system than themselves.  The more unstable of them tended to teeter between Communism and Fascism in the 1930s, with Italy and Germany of course falling into Fascism.  Other countries rocked back and forth, like France, but survived with democracies in tact.  Others fell into other forms of totalitarianism.  Poland fell into a socialist dictatorship, Austria into a right wing dictatorship, Hungary had a Communist uprising, and so on.  In Spain, it was pretty clear that it was reaching the end of its democratic days and was going to fall into some sort of left wing radical government.

The Army did revolt against the government, that's quite true, but contrary to myth it wasn't all Francisco Franco.  Franco wasn't even the most senior of the rebels, and he wasn't in Spain, but in Morocco, when the revolt broke out.  He did rise to leadership of it, however.

But, contrary to the common myth, he wasn't a Fascist and the war wasn't one between Fascism and democracy.  It was one between the hard right/military and Communism.

Spain had a fascist party, the Falange, but Franco never joined it.  It contributed members to his various governments over the years, but at no point did it ever dominate it.  Spain also had a monarchist party, the Carlist, that Franco was quite sympathetic with, but he never joined that either.  He was basically a military dictator of the Spanish type, but he used parties that were fellow travelers with him. Those groups had nowhere else they could go, as Franco was the only game in town.

As for the Spanish Republicans, there were no doubt some democrats in that movement early on, and some officers in the Spanish army went with the Republicans. But the Republicans were radical to start with and very quickly became more radical.  And when it appeared that they would win, the Communist took the opportunity to begin to eliminate other radicals within the movement, acting as it turned out prematurely.  That was to Communist type, as the Communist always wiped out competition once they'd won, and in Spain's case, they just acted too soon.

So why all the romance about the Republican cause and the common view of the war, when in real terms the Spanish Civil War belongs more to the revolutions of the 20s and 30s and is uniquely Spanish in nature?  Well, the answer is World War Two.

Because the Italians first, and the Germans, backed the Nationalist (with the USSR backing the Republicans), and because the Republicans lost, it's been easy and inevitable to recast the war as "a dress rehearsal for World War Two."  It wasn't in any way.  But it's been commonly viewed through the thick lens of the Second World War which has allowed people to grossly simplify the war and completely misunderstand it.  It's also let foreign volunteers to the Republican side off the hook, as they've been re-imagined as armed democrats, rather than Communist dupes, as they really tended to be.

Postscript V, the D-Day Edition.

We just passed the 70th anniversary of Operation Overload, the Allied landings in Normandy during World War Two, popularly known as D-Day.

This major World War Two event has justifiably received a lot of attention over the years.  In the US, however, so much of the focus has been on the American effort, with that focus sharply on just one beach, Omaha  Beach, that there's a common misconception that the US had the predominant role in the landings. Actual figures, however, are a bit surprising.

2/3s of the troops who landed in Operation Overlord were troops of the British Commonwealth, i.e., British or Canadian.

2/3s of the air assets used on D-Day were British.

3/4s of the naval assets were British.

Amongst the senior level overall command, more officers at the very senior level were British than American.

The US was clearly in the ascendancy amongst the western Allies by June 1944, but it wasn't until later that summer that over 50% of the ground troops committed in France were Americans.  At the time of the landings, there were still more British forces in the mix of ground troops, and as these figures show, their role in other combat resources was also still predominant. 

The landings on the British and Canadian beaches went very well, in part due to good luck as to the choice of their locations, and in part due to the extensive use by the British and Canadians of special armor, which the US had largely rejected.  For that matter, American landings at Utah Beach went very well as well, with it really being Omaha Beach that was stoutly contested for a variety of reasons.  All the Allied forces committed to Operation Overlord performed brilliantly and this posts isn't made to suggest otherwise.  However, the English Commonwealth forces deserve their just attention for June 6 in which they had more men engaged in the operation than the US did.

Postscript VI.  The Horsey World War One Edition

 U.S. Remounts, World War One.

It's commonly stated that the First World War demonstrated what any competent observer should have been able to know by simple deduction, that being that the age of the horse in war, or more particularly cavalry in war, was over.  This appears again and again in everything from films to serious academic histories.

It's also complete bunk.

In reality, cavalry served effectively on every front during the war and the Army that acted to keep its cavalry fully separate to the extent it could, rather than folding cavalry elements into infantry divisions, had the most effective cavalry, that being the British.  There are numerous examples of cavalry deployments from every front in the war in every year of the war, with some being very effective deployments indeed. Generally, properly deployed, cavalry proved to be not only still viable, but extremely effective.  And it was also shown that not only did the machinegun not render cavalry obsolete, but cavalry was less impeded by machineguns than infantry, and it was more effective at deploying light machineguns defensively than infantry was.

This doesn't even touch, of course, on the heavy reliance on horses by the artillery and transportation corps.

An excellent book on this topic can be found in Horses In No Man's Land, which addresses very effectively the British cavalry.  Less has been written on the cavalry of other armies, although a good book on the general topic was published by the U.S. Army shortly after World War One.  Nonetheless, even with what is readily at hand, its pretty plain that the role of the horse wasn't diminished in World War One.  Indeed, the Germans lost the war in 1918 as they lacked cavalry by that point in the war.

Postscript VII.  The World War One Trenches Edition

We all know that the miserable wretches in the Allied trenches stayed in them, in the Great War, until they were killed or injured, or driven mad.

Except they didn't.

Don't get me wrong.  World War One was truly horrible.  In comparison to the wars of the last half century, World War One was so awful its nearly unimaginable.

But the armies did not commit troops to the trenches until they were killed or injured. They rotated them out.

The British, for example, rotated troops out every four weeks. At any one time, a large number of troops were off the lines, and for that matter, even those at the lines were not necessarily in the foremost trench, but often in a reserve trench.

Again, this is not to say that the whole thing wasn't bad, it was. But the common idea that the soldiers were in the trenches for months on end with no relief is wrong.

For that matter, as an aside, the idea that cavalrymen were idled, in the British Army, in the rear for the whole war, except when actually deployed mounted, is wrong. They rotated them up to the front as infantry. 

Postscript VIII.  The World War One Parachute Edition

It's well know that World War aviators didn't wear parachutes, but less known why.  Its sometimes stated that parachutes of the era couldn't fit in the small cockpits of the planes then in use.

Yes, they could.  World War One aviators didn't wear parachutes as their superiors forbid it on the thesis that it would encourage pilots to bail out at the first sign of trouble.  That was an absurd idea, but that's what the idea was.

Postscript IX.  The World War Two Horsey Edition.

Following on item VI above, its also commonly believed that the retention of horse cavalry in any army, or horses in general, during World War Two was just romantic naivete.

Actually, it wasn't.  Every single army in World War Two had some mounted forces they used in combat. Every single one.  There are no exceptions whatsoever.  The simple reason was that there were certain roles that still could be preformed in no other way.

One of the major combatants, the Germans, attempted to eliminate independent cavalry formations while retaining organic formations in infantry units and found the need so pressing that it ended up rebuilding its independent cavalry formations and incorporating irregular ones.  The United States and the United Kingdom both ended up creating "provisional" mounted formations in Italy, as they couldn't fill the reconnaissance role there in any other fashion.  One army, the Red Army, had huge numbers of cavalrymen throughout the war.

The last mounted combat by the United States, prior to Afghanistan, actually took place in the context, with a mounted charge of sorts being done in late 1944 or early 1945 by a mounted unit of the 10th Mountain Division. The last German charge was in the closing weeks of 1945, when a German cavalry unit charged across an American armored unit, in part of their (successful) effort to flea the advancing Red Army. When the last Soviet charge was I do not know, but the USSR kept mounted cavalry until 1953.

In terms of transportation, the Germans in fact were more dependant upon transport draft horses in World War Two than in World War One, which is also true for artillery horses.  Germany, the USSR, China, Japan, France, and Italy (at least) all still used horse drawn artillery to varying extents during the war.

Postscript X:  The "It's all about oil" edition.

There's a persistent belief in the US that every conflict in the Middle East is about petroleum oil, and that's because every single nation in the Middle East is swimming in petroleum oil and vastly wealthy.  If non Middle Eastern nations are tied up in the affairs, including the wars, of the Middle East, that's because they want the war.    Some even tie past actions of various nations from many decades past to a desire to control oil, such as everything the UK did during World War One in the Middle East was due to its insatiable desire for oil.

Sorry, this just doesn't match the facts.

Oh, some thing in the Middle East definitely are about oil, no doubt.  And the Western importing nations have always been more careful to pay attention to the oil exporting nations than those that didn't have a commodity to export.  But then, paying attention to a nation that produces a necessary export commodity is something all nations have done at all times.

But a lot in the Middle East happens that has nothing at all to do with oil  And a lot of the Middle East is completely devoid of oil.

That last fact alone comes as a shock to a lot of people, but it's quite true.  Indeed, twice this past week I've seen events in Syria tied to oil. Well, Syria produces only a small amount of oil, about 28,000 bbls/day.  In contrast, the US produces over 3,000,000 bbls/day, Saudi Arabia over 9,000,000 bbls/day and Russia over 10,000,000 bbls/day.  They aren't fighting over Syria's small production, and the various outside forces that back one side or another don't have oil in the forefront of their minds either.  Shoot, Russia (and Iran) have tended to back the Syrian government, and they're both awash in oil.

And Syria isn't alone.  Jordon, a nation we hear about frequently in the region, isn't really an oil producer either.  Neither is Egypt.  Indeed, much of the Middle East is pretty devoid of appreciable oil production.

And frankly, oil doesn't matter like it once did.  It mattered more before the substantial Russian production, the greatest in the world, came on line and before new technology made the United States the third largest producer in the world.  The US now produces so much oil that, combined with other fuel sources, it's now a net energy exporter and it appears that the US will reenter the petroleum exporting countries.  Beyond that, we seem to be entering a period of flat demand, due to technological rather than economic, reasons such that oil will never resume the place in the global economy it once had.

Where oil demand should really matter is with developing nations, and not all that long ago there was serious concern that China was acting to tie up future supplies. But China itself is the world's fourth largest oil producer and it appears to be on the cusp of technological changes that will reduce its need for fossil fuels.

All of this is not to say that oil isn't important, and that people don't fight on it. But the common simple response of "it's all about the oil" is simply wrong, almost always.  Indeed, some of the places we have been involved in that have oil, if we were thinking of our own economy, we'd have been better off not getting involved with.

Postscript XI  The Vietnam War Edition

All wars result in myths, but in terms of recent, that is post World War Two wars, the Vietnam War has more than its fair share.

I've written here about the Vietnam War before, including my view that its more properly viewed as a campaign in the Cold War.  And I've written about it even on this thread before.  Nonetheless, and with some trepidation, I'm writing about it here again today, even though I may be upsetting a few folks by doing so.

Starting right of with the most likely to offend item, a persistent story about the Vietnam War is that of veterans returning from Asia and being spat upon at the airport. The story is extremely common, and its even repeated by veterans in documentaries.  It's also largely a myth.

I can't say its a complete myth.  B. G. Burkett, in his book Stolen Valor, reports that he could find about three or so incidents of it occurring, if I recall correctly.  But in doing so, he reports the story as a myth.  The reason for that is that such incidents were exceedingly rare.  It happened at least a few times, but only a very few times.  It was not the norm.

While on myths, although this one could apply to any American war for over a century, most US troops who served in Vietnam were not combat troops.

 
Infantrymen in the field.  Most US troops were not combat infantryman in the war, although obviously quite a few were.

The movies have left us with a persistent idea that all American troops in Vietnam were infantrymen and their experience there was something like that depicted in Platoon.  Granted, we did send a lot of combat troops to Vietnam, but most of them were not.  In some odd way, what's portrayed in a film like Good Morning Vietnam is more accurate for most U.S. servicemen who served there than Platoon.  Now, all of Vietnam was dangerous, but it isn't the case that most US troops were in the bush all the time looking for the VC.  In the later stages of the war the US effort came to be very heavily dominated by service troops as the Vietnamization program increasingly relied upon the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to do the fighting.

Another myth of the war which is widely accepted is that getting into it was an American idea and we somehow were uniquely there. That's flatly incorrect.

Most people know that the French fought in Indochina before we did.  A few are aware that the French withdrawal came amazingly close to our own first presence, but few seem to appreciate the extent to which it was an allied effort.  Numerous other nations contributed combat forces to the war, including Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea.  A variety of nations sent medical support forces, including Spain and, in a naval contribution, Canada..  Support for operations came from neighboring Thailand.  it was more international than people suppose.  Late during the war there were more South Korean troops fighting in Vietnam than there were American troops..

Even those who realize that are usually unaware that it was Australia, not the United States, that really pushed for intervention in the war early on. Australia urged the United States to intervene, with the promise to contribute, but when it appeared the United States would not, Australia indicated it might go it alone, which caused the US to take more interest.  Ironically its been a persistent myth in Australia that the US got Australia involved in the war, when in fact the early interest was stronger on the part of Australia.

There's also little appreciation that we were not defeated in the field, but rather the opposite occurred. This myth arose during the war when the American public became convinced that we were stuck in a quagmire.  In fact, the American effort in the war was amazingly successful in terms of field success, if not in terms of causing South Vietnamese political reform.  By 1968 the North Vietnamese regarded themselves as facing defeat and the Tet Offensive was launched in desperation.  It was a military failure.   The U.S. military appreciated that and Westmoreland urged for expanding the war to a defeated North  Vietnam.  Rather than do that, the decision was made to turn ground combat over to an increasingly effective South Vietnamese army. By late war the US effort was, as noted, nearly all support.  The South Vietnamese required American air support, however, and our refusal to supply it in the face of the North Vietnamese 1975 invasion doomed South Vietnam to defeat. 

11 comments:

LeAnn28 said...

As a middle school social studies teacher, I have heard many of my students say some of these including the idea that Canada has never fought a way (umm, excuse me?) and the US has never lost a war (again, huh?). Where do these myths come from?

Pat and Marcus said...

Those two historical myths seem to be particularly common, together with the idea that the French won't fight. None of them are correct.

I think the myth about Canada is due to two factors. The first is that Americans formed their idea about Canadian pacifism during the Vietnam War. Whether were were right or wrong about Vietnam, the fact that we took criticism from some (but not all) of our allies about the war seems to have permanently formed out concept about those countries and war, even though the fact that we tired of the war and quit the country has not formed our concept of ourselves. So all the fighting that Canada did before Vietnam, or after (and that it actually contributed a hospital ship to the U.S. effort during the war) seems to be ignored. That's our fault as Americans.

But part of the blame is Canadian too. We hear a lot of grousing in the US about history not being taught to youth (I'm sure you hear that all the time) but the complaint is legitimate in regards to Canada. Post World War Two, probably for reasons that have to do with Canada no longer seeing the UK as a country it needed to come to aid every time she called, Canada has done a very poor job of educating its own populace on its military history. According to those who seem to know, the average Canadian is quite ignorant on the country's own military past, and therefore can't really be in a position to correct Americans on it.

Pat and Marcus said...

On the US never having lost a war, I think national pride has something to do with that.

I was in junior high in 1976 just after the Republic of Vietnam had fallen, and I can remember being in a class where a young, male, student teacher noted that the Vietnam War was the first war we'd lost (not correct really, but perhaps close to correct). You could hear the class gasp and the suggestion was not accepted. But here were were in school when the evidence of the loss of the war was only a year old. I myself had traced the North Vietnamese advance in 1975 on a National Geographic map I had on my wall, but I didn't regard that as a lost war either.

Now, of course, we were all young, but that's telling. That view was a cultural view. We had not lost the war, except at home my father, when I asked him that night, held the opposite view.

Combined with that, a lot of Americans are pretty amazingly ignorant on their own country's history, which is something you must confront daily. Teachers can't do it all. Most Americans seem to know of the big wars, such as the Revolution, the Civil War, and both World Wars, but others fade into obscurity, to our huge detriment. And at some level in later education, and by that I mean the college level, I do feel that we're witnessing an educational failure. If we have an uneducated college graduate set, we're really fighting having education at all.

By way of an example of that I once worked with a colleague who, like me, was a lawyer. She was a few years younger than me, which would have meant she graduated law school somewhere around 1995. The film Legends of the Fall was just out, and she raved about it. I hadn't seen it but noted that the Canadian army in World War One provided part of the background. She simply noted that it involved "some war." She honestly didn't know that it was World War One and she didn't know anything about the Great War. I expressed amazement, and she replied "I don't like war." Well, no educated person does, but that's the reason we study wars. My point here is that anybody who graduates from a university ought to at least know of every American war.

LeAnn28 said...

Boy do I agree with you on so many levels. I do confront these issues on a daily basis and the idea that "history is boring" as a friend of mine recently told me when I was criticizing the casting in the recent musical "Sound of Music" on TV. According to this friend, the directors or whomever had to make some changes because if they didn't then it would be a boring story. Oy vey! History is interesting and exciting and we often have to cut out many parts of the story in movies and TV because it would be too long to hold the interest of the public. Another example of the ignorance of the general American public is from several years ago when my husband and I visited Ft. McHenry (famous from the War of 1812), but on this day they were having "Civil War Days." There was a large banner at the entrance declaring this and we were watching a re-enactment of a court martial help at the fort. Ft. McHenry was used as a prison during the Civil War. Anyway, an adult male walked up to the park ranger and asked "What war is this?" I had to hold myself back! First of all, had he not read the large banner at the entrance of the fort that day??? Secondly, by the appearance of the uniforms, could he not tell which war it was?

LeAnn28 said...

Another of the issues I find in teaching middle school history is what the kids have learned in elementary school. I would venture to say that almost no elementary school teacher has a focus in history and therefore tend to perpetuate many of the myths of history such as "Columbus 'discovered' America." As a history teacher, I try to stay up to date on recent discoveries related to history (Richard's skeleton being found, etc.), new theories (Columbus' birthplace, for example), etc. so I can be sure to be teaching my students accurate information rather than simply relying on what I learned in high school or college or even in my graduate studies. Yet, people say stuff to me all the time about how easy it must be to teach history since it doesn't change (!!!).

Pat H said...

I'm always amazed when people claim history is boring. It can't be. History is human drama, everything people find interesting about people, and themselves, is found in history. If people like any kid of stories at all, they have to like history.

When people say that, I tend to think there's one of several reasons why. Laziness is one. Some people are so lazy that they can't muster up enough interest in anything outside their immediate world, which related to another item I'll mention below. That's fairly rarely the reason, however.

A more common reason I think is that at some point they've had a bad teacher. Bad teachers can turn a person off a topic surprisingly quickly. Usually people, if they have a natural interest, will get back t the topic, but a bad early exposure can be pretty damaging, no matter what the topic. This problem isn't limited to history by any means.

On that, while much more common at the university level, some teachers tend to treat a topic (again, any topic) as their own personal possession. I can't recall ever having experienced that or having witnessed it at the high school or junior high level, but it sure can exist in the university level. People who have that view jealously guard the topic as if they own the information personally and can only let it out through a secret process.

That's a shame as I've generally found in my education (BS Geology, with a fair amount of history as I like it, followed by a JD, and with even one agriculture class after that) that nearly any topic is interesting if the teacher is enthusiastic about it and wants to impart the knowledge. Even classes like Calculus and Physics were interesting to me when taught in that fashion, and I'm not a natural at them by any means.

Another factor is that some people are amazingly boring lecturers. Speaking in public is something only a minority of people do well, and engaging people directly is tough. Some folks have a knack for making any topic boring. That's an attribute of their personality, however. Some of the folks in upper level education, and in certain professions even, actually cultivate that style for some reason. Again, it need not be the case for any reason.

Finally, some people are so self centered that they don't find anything other than themselves interesting. That is something particularly common in youth, particularly mid-teens. If it isn't their own drama, they aren't interested. Usually, however, people grow out of that.

Anyhow, people who feel "history is boring" must feel life is boring, and that they are boring. The only difference between history and right now, is that it becomes history when its written down tomorrow.

Pat H said...

On history not changing, what a naive view that is.

Of course, history doesn't really change, but we know does. That must not occur to people, but that is very much the case.

Indeed, that's part of the reason that I started this blog. I was staring off on a historical novel, and it occurred to me how little I know about the details of the period I was trying to set it in. And that's quite common and really makes up a weakness in that genera.

Beyond that, however, it really makes up a weakness in our understanding on any one era or event, even recent ones. I've often thought that it's really not possible to write the history of an event accurately until about 40 or 50 years have passed since it occurred. Histories written earlier than that simply fail to put things in greater context, or assume too much. And details that are routine to a writer immediately after an event are often shocking to a reader decades later. Familiar events, however, tend not to get into print, as they're too familiar.

An example of that, while perhaps a minor one, is the story of the use of horses, by all armies, in World War Two. People just don't know that it happened. But it did, and its significant. Rick Atkinson, in his trilogy about World War Two in Europe, has done an excellent example of bringing that out. Why was it omitted earlier? I think in part because to people who lived in that era, this wasn't news worth noting. To later historians who only relied upon secondary sources, it just wasn't know.

Finally, I think it isn't appreciated by some the extent to which contemporary events, including ones that happened centuries ago, can be clouded by contemporary propaganda. Almost always, the original sources remain to correct it, but the propaganda can in some (certainly not all) instances get written in, and it can take a long time to correct it. Taking a relatively recent example, the history of the Russian Revolution has required re-writing, as stuff written before the collapse of the Soviet Union just isn't sufficiently accurate. Stuff all the way back to the Roman Empire, however, could be looked at that way in some instances.

LeAnn28 said...

Would you be offended if I did a similar post regarding the mythconceptions of history? (yes I'm aware I made up a word...) Wanted to check before I do a similar post on my blog. Thanks. I quite enjoy your posts, though I don't comment on each one.

Pat and Marcus said...

LeAnn, please do post an item like that! I'll be looking forward to reading it.

LeAnn28 said...

Thanks! :-)

LeAnn28 said...

So, yesterday a student literally said, "Has the US ever lost a war?" He was incredulous when I said yes. LOL! But he did know that Vietnam wasn't a declared war, but rather a "conflict." So, he would probably agree with your post about Vietnam being a campaign in the Cold War. ;-)