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Russian Troops Ukraine

Periodic World Craziness Update # 29

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Crimea referendum: Voters ‘back Russia union’:  Yep, That had to be a fair election.  It’s not like the Russians don’t have armed troops all over the place there.  I stand by my prediction that the US and EU will meekly submit to whatever Russia wants and go no farther than sanctions despite the Western Guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty from the 90′s.  Ukraine will probably continue to dominate the news this month as well.

NATO general warns of further Russian aggression:  So, what led NATO’s commander to just now acknowledge the danger that the Crimea will not be enough for Putin?  I would be very curious to see one of his daily intel updates.

Turkish PM defiant after Syrian plane shot down:  We should not forget that the Syrian civil war has not ended.  It is not in the news but the fighting continues and as far as i can tell the government forces are winning.

NATO’s Military Decline:  This is an opinion piece but it brings up a very valid point about some of the main reasons behind the tepid Western response to Russian actions in the Crimea.  The West is largely incapable of mounting an effective military response to Russian aggression if one were required.  Shades of 1938 anyone?

Russian military holds exercises in breakaway Moldova region: Personally, I don’t think Russia will go after Trans-Dnistria next.  I see Russia agitating for the amalgamation of the majority ethnic Russia eastern Ukraine and then seeking Anschluss with Belorussian before they look farther afield.  I also assume the endgame is a reconstitution of Greater Russia along the lines of the pre-Bolshevik borders.

Armed pro-govt militias roil Venezuela protests:  How long until the demonstrators in Venezuela resort to shooting back?  Venezuela is just as volatile, if not more so, than Ukraine was in November when the demonstrations started.  Civil war could start here too as the people begin to feel they have no other choice to better there lot.

Road_RunnerRussian Buildup Stokes Worries & Fighting Words: Schäuble Says Putin’s Crimea Plans Reminiscent of Hitler:  I think the Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine is ominous to say the least.  I also find it ironic that the only political figure in the West willing to call a duck a duck and point out the historical parallels in recent events is the German Finance Minister.  It is also amazing the speed with which other German politicians are running away from his remarks.  I almost expect to see a Roadrunner like rooster tail of dust behind Merkel.

Korea’s Trade Fire; Island Residents in Shelters:  Just when we needed more tension in the world, North Korea starts getting froggy again.  I guess Kim Jong Un is feeling neglected because he has not been in the news lately.

Putin Defies Obama in Syria as Arms Fuel Assad Resurgence:  I just wonder why the writer of this news story thinks Putin should listen to Obama in the first place.  Does anybody on the world stage listen to Obama?  Certainly not North Korea, Iran, Assad, or the Muslim Brotherhood.  At best Obama is treated with fake respect and then ignored.  Russia has interests in keeping Assad in power if for nothing else then to ensure they keep their naval base.

Russia cannot afford ‘collapsing state’ in its backyard: In a display of unparalleled cluelessness the German FM announces what is obviously untrue.  Russia has no problem with a collapsing state in their backyard because Russia is busy encouraging the collapse.  It is the states of the EU that cannot afford Ukraine to collapse and the loss of the strategic buffer that state represents.  European statesmen seem to not realize that Russia is an enemy, or at least is choosing to act as one and really, what is the difference?

Japan to intercept any North Korea missile deemed a threat:  Let us not forget that all is not calm in Asia either.  The North Koreans are still pursuing their own agenda that is at odds with the interests of every nation in the region except China.

Pro-Russians seize eastern Ukraine government buildings:  Stage two of the russian dismantling of Ukraine begins.  I would guess that if Putin can keep his agitators busy he will let the unrest in eastern ukraine simmer until early June sometime after the snap elections. That is of course,  unless he wants to use the agitation as a pretext for military action.  I would guess that is not the case though and the next major Russian move will not come until autumn when he can use Russian control of western European energy supplies as a lever to discourage western intervention.

U.S. accuses Russian agents of stirring eastern Ukraine unrest:  I wonder if Putin is losing control of the agitators in Ukraine.  It would appear that now is a poor time to increase the agitation given that outside nuclear weapons Russia’s biggest strategic threat is cutting off the flow of natural gas to western europe and that is a card that has much less sting at this time of year.  I would guess that Putin just wanted to keep the pot at a low boil until the early fall and the ethnic Russians in Ukraine are forcing his hand.  It just gets more interesting all the time.

Kiev gives pro-Russian protesters 48 hours to end their occupation:  The plot thickens.  I am still convinced that events are moving out of Purin’s control as current events in Eastern Ukraine are sure to alarm the West when alarming the Western powers if the last thing Putin wants right now.  I expect Putin to stand by as Kiev puts down te protest for now but to use the quelling of incipient rebellion later on as rhetorical ammunition to argue in favor of Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine.  A Sudeten Strategy if you will.

Kiev Government to Deploy Troops in Ukraine’s East‘Russia is waging war against Ukraine’:  It would appear that Ukraine is stealing a march on the separatists and Russia and attempting to seize the initiative as they should have done a month ago.  The question now is a two-parter; will the West support Ukraine to the hilt and will Russia escalate.  If the West supports Ukraine’s efforts to quash the separatists and affirms the sovereignty of Ukraine with concrete measures Russia has no choice but to de-escalate.  If however, the West does not support Ukraine then Russia has nothing to lose by tossing around threats and escalating the war of words and perhaps adding in undeniable military measures inside the territory of a sovereign neighboring state.  I think we are entering a new phase of the Black Sea Crisis.

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

Glossary of Modern Military Terms

Engage the Enemy means “to blow something up.”
Surgical Strike means “to blow up something small.”
Decapitate means “to blow up their leaders.”
Collateral Damage means “to accidentally blow up something of theirs.”
Friendly Fire means “to accidentally blow up something of ours.”
Target of Opportunity means “to blow something up on a whim”
Kinetic Targeting means “to blow up something that’s moving”
Ordnance is “something that that does the blowing up”
An Asset is “something that can be blown up”
Embedded Media means “a report that’s blown out of proportion”

 

Mantinea 5

The Battle of Mantinea

The Battle of Mantinea was part of the Great Peloponnesian War (430-404 B.C.). The war was fought in an effort to defeat and contain the growing power of Sparta in Greek Affairs. The war was ultimately a failure as Sparta won in the end and dictated terms to Athens and her allies in the process guaranteeing that Athens would not dominate the Greek world.
The prelude to the battle itself was a gathering of Argive Alliance troops who attacked Tegea, about 5 miles south of Mantinea. The Spartans rallied to Tegea’s defense and began to divert a stream to flood Mantinean territory.

The main source for the course of the battle is The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  He covers the battle in Book V: 55-82 of his history.  The actual account of the fighting is 65-74.

Mantinea 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed location of the Mantinea battlefield

Proposed location of the Mantinea battlefield

The battlefield itself cannot be pinpointed with any great accuracy today.  However, based on the description of the location of various forces during the battle given by Thucydides it must have taken place to the eastern side of the Ancient Acropolis of Mantinea and the hills around ¾ of a mile away.

Respective Orders of Battle

Respective Orders of Battle

 

The preliminary to the battle was the Spartan army appearing near Mantinea arrayed in battle order. This startled the Athenian commanders who rushed to get their army formed and for defense. Once the armies were arrayed for battle the usual ancient pre-battle speeches were given and then both sides advanced towards each other.

The Athenians and Allies advanced recklessly screaming and shouting at the run while the Spartans displayed their usual discipline in battle by advancing at a measured pace to the music of flutes.

The evidence for tactical maneuver is in section 71 of Thucydides. He first explains the tendency of Phalanxes to move to the right as they advance; he then explains how the Spartan commander ordered the Sciritaeans and Brasidians to extend the line on the march while some of the reserve moved up to fill in the gap created by their movement.

Mantinea 4This allowed the Spartan army to present a united front to the Athenians while the Spartan Right flanked the Athenian Left.
That was the theory however it did not work out in practice as envisaged. Instead the Sciritae and Brasidians milled around without moving and thus created a gap that the Spartans were able to hastily fill.

As the two armies met the Spartans were initially driven back and a part of the Athenian line went on to ravage the baggage train of the Spartan army.

However, the Spartans led by King Agis soon rallied, attacking and driving in the Athenian line starting an instant rout where many Athenian troops fled without even striking a blow.

The Athenian cavalry stopped a slaughter by fighting a rear-guard action allowing the majority of the foot-soldiers to flee the battlefield.  Casualties were also lessened because the Spartans declined to press their pursuit being content with possession of the battlefield itself.

Casualties

The casualty numbers come from Thucydides Book V: 74. The lopsided nature of the numbers is typical of Greek battles. Most of the Athenian dead were probably not killed in the initial clash but were wounded and then and later killed during the pursuit and mopping up by the Spartans and their allies. The Greeks did not generally practice ransom of prisoners in wartime.
Spartans - 300
Argive Alliance - 1,100

It should be noted that the vast majority of the casualties were probably dead (90%-95%) according to the analysis first proposed by Hanson in The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece in 1989. Greek Hoplite warfare was extremely deadly because of the nature of the weapons used and the methods used to fight it.

References

1.Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War Chapter 5: available at the Internet Classics Archive

 

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: No End Save Victory by David Kaiser

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War is one of

those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII.  Oddly, this period is mentioned in every history of the war but the actual events in the US are glossed over such that American entry into the war is painted as inevitable.  David Kaiser’s work puts that notion to rest as he details the methods and means whereby FDR led the country into war.

The review copy I received is 343 pages of text with 40 pages of notes and an index.  It is divided into 9 chronological chapters that cover the period from May, 1940 to December, 1941 and America’s entry into World War II.

The text is engaging and very well written.  What struck me most about the period was the amount of foresight by FDR in setting up and guiding the apparatus to get America ready for fighting a global war.  The strategic changes between planning for hemispheric defense and projecting American power into Europe and the pacific are dealt with extremely well.  He also makes clear the extent to which FDR had to overcome resistance from within the government and military to entry into the war while at the same time trying to hold back the more hawkish members of his Cabinet.

One of the episodes that he deals with is the development of what came to be known as the Victory Plan.  I found it refreshing that he puts to rest the myth of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer putting the Victory Plan together by himself.  He correctly identifies that the Victory Plan was a collaborative effort between the military, industry, and civilian planners.  This point is also not belabored.  Wedemeyer made his name post-war on the claims that he developed the Victory Plan almost single handedly and subsequent research has exposed that for the myth that it is.

Another thing covered very well in the book is the extent to which government had to both control and cajole industry and labor to get them behind the effort of switching from civilian to war production.  This is something that is presented as a matter of course in most histories and this book exposes that for the hard effort that it was.

Most of all, the role of FDR is highlighted as the guiding force behind American preparedness for war.  The period prior to America’s entry into World War II is very interesting because it was never a done deal that America would enter the war despite the feeling among most policy makers that war was inevitable.  All the preparation and planning would not have made a whit of difference if the American people had not committed themselves to war.  That commitment came in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but it was the planning done by FDR and the military in the months prior to Pearl Harbor that meant America was ready, or nearly ready when war did come.

I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in World War II, but especially to people who think they are familiar with America’s role in that war.  An outstanding book.