American Elephants


Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, R.I.P. by The Elephant's Child

James Bond and his ilk were not entirely derived from fantasy.  There were examples of the type in real life, and one of those was Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor who died at the age of 96 this last week. As a young man, after being expelled from Kings College, Canterbury for holding hands with a greengrocer’s daughter, he walked through pre-war Hungary and Romania. It was his war record that made him the stuff of legend.

In 1940, when he was twenty-five, he was commissioned into the Brigade of Guards, and then because of his knowledge of Greek, he transferred into SOS, the Special Operations Service.  He took part in the British fighting and withdrawal from Greece and Crete, but then set about organizing the resistance in Crete to the German occupation. He turned out to be a natural commando, and could pose as a Cretan as he spoke the language.

His unforgettable exploit was the kidnapping of the Nazi commanding officer in Crete, General Kreipe. Leigh Fermor and Stanley Moss, another young Guards officer, disguised themselves as German corporals, stopped the General’s car, dealt with the driver, stowed the General under the back seat with several members of the resistance on top.  They drove through some 20 roadblocks and frog-marched the General across the island to a waiting British submarine.

Stanley Moss wrote up the whole episode in Ill Met by Moonlight after the war based  on his own wartime diary. It’s one of the classics of war. Leigh Fermor is the one in the center of the three seated men, and Stanley Moss is just to the right.

Paul Rahe, who was a friend, has a memoir with more pictures  and a clip from the movie by the same name at Ricochet.  Ill Met By Moonlight is a great read, particularly if you are a history buff. Parachuting into Nazi occupied Crete is the stuff of today’s thrillers, as it was really lived in 1944.



O the Shame! the Shame! by The Elephant's Child
July 25, 2010, 3:22 pm
Filed under: History | Tags: , ,

Much ado is made over Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. A highly coveted and ostensibly prestigious award;  we are supposed to be deeply impressed by the winners. But should we really be? Just how much is a Nobel Peace Prize worth?

Consider this…

A Lady Named Irena Sendler
By John Coleman

Recently a 98-year-old lady named Irena Sendler died.

During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive.

Being German, she KNEW what the Nazi’s plans were for the Jews. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of her tool box she carried, and she also carried in the back of her truck a Burlap sack, (for larger children).

She also had a dog in the back of the truck that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog, but the barking covered the children/infants noises.

During her time and course of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 children/infants.

She was caught, and the Nazi’s broke both her legs and arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the children she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her backyard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it, and reunited the families. Most, of course, had been gassed.

Those children she helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted out.

Last year, Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She LOST.

Al Gore won for doing a slide show on Global Warming.

I’d say they aren’t worth spit.

ADDENDUM: This is a post from January, 2009.  We thought it was an important story then, and still believe that it is. Now comes news that Vandals have desecrated the grave of this Polish woman who saved around 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto and certain death during World War II.  The words “Jews Out” were sprayed on her grave.

Irena Sendler, a Catholic, organized the smuggling of children out of the Ghetto to Catholic institutions and convents, in boxes, suitcases and trolleys under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel has recognized Irena Sendler as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a special honour awarded to those who did the most to help Jews escape the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Sendler died in May 2008  at the age of 98.

That anti-Semitism should once again be on the rise in Europe, especially in Warsaw with that city’s troubled history, should shame the Polish nation, and all of Europe.



Perceptions of Power and Weakness. by The Elephant's Child
June 8, 2010, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Europe, Foreign Policy, History, Military | Tags: , ,

The anniversary of D-Day is just past, but it always gets me thinking about World War II, and how it came about.  About power and weakness, diplomacy, and the interests of nations.  Michael Lind wrote some time ago, in a book about Vietnam, that:

Power in world politics is perceived power, and perceived power is a vector that results from perceived military capability and perceived political will.

1933 was an interesting year.  The world was mired in the Great Depression.  Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor.  The U.S. Congress voted independence for the Philippines.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States, Hermann Goering was named the Prussian Prime Minister, Goebbels was named Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda.  Japan withdrew from the League of Nations.  Hitler was granted dictatorial powers.  The first Concentration Camp opened in Germany.

The U.S. Army numbered only 137,000, 16th in the world —  smaller than Czechoslovakia, Poland, Turkey, Spain, or Romania.  92 percent of the German electorate voted for the Nazi Party.  The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition. And that was just 1933.

There were 5 million French under arms with a good air force.  The French were prepared to fight  World War I.  They had good planes that never got off the ground. The French had good and heroic soldiers and very bad generals.  England and France had agreed by treaty to protect Poland, but they had no ability to do so — the distances were too great.

The great Maginot Line that was to protect France was never finished.  It never went into Belgium or Holland.  The forests of the Ardennes were perceived as too difficult for an army to pass through. Heinz-Guderian, father of the blitzkrieg, moved rapidly through the Ardennes.  The Italians attacked France from the South, and were decimated by the French.  But the French, in the first month of the war with Germany lost 94,000 KIA, and 2 million were taken as POW.  France fell in 1940.  Spectacular incompetence.

Stalin attempted to move into the Karelian Peninsula (Finland).  The Finns fought back fiercely.  Hitler observed and determined that Russia was a paper tiger.  Stalin had eliminated his generals in the Great Terror.  Stalin did not use tanks and infantry together. Of 13,000,000  Germans invading, 10,000,000 were lost fighting Russia. Russia put women to work in factories, in every way — even as beasts of burden, and ruthlessly as slave labor.  Perceived military capability.

The isolationist United States, with its tiny army, by 1943  had 7 million under arms.  We had built 296,000 planes and 100,000 ships.  By 1943 Henry J. Kaiser was turning out a Liberty ship every 3 hours.

Victor Davis Hanson remarked yesterday:

When the U.S. loudly proclaimed a reset diplomacy, and by appointments, rhetoric, and policy began to criticize Israel while reaching out to Syria and Iran, the proverbial floodgates were opened. Now everyone from the Europeans to Hamas and Turkey will outdo each other in trashing Israel, as most grasp that is no longer any downside to seizing upon a new P.R.-inspired incident; they may even perceive empathy in Washington for anti-Israel acts.

And when a liberal member of the White House press corps calls for the deportation of Jews from Israel to Poland and Germany and the Turkish ambassador (a newly found advocate of human rights) goes to the pages of the Washington Post to demand an apology from Israel (no doubt buoyed by 15 months of appeasing outreach from the administration), one gets the impression that the flotilla incident is the beginning, not the end, of such provocations. Note that Israel’s status as a long-time ally, its constitutional government and freedom of expression, and its cultural and scientific contributions count for nothing. The Gaza flotilla was the harbinger of far, far more to come.

I am very troubled by the foreign policy of the Obama administration.  We have insulted our friends, and attempted to woo our enemies — who are little interested in relationships.  The reset diplomacy with Russia has resulted in elimination of our missile defense in Eastern Europe, and increased Russian sales of arms to Iran.  We have appeased and apologized our way around the world.  We have exposed our military secrets to our enemies for no real purpose at all.  Our financial problems and our environmental disaster are headline news all over the world.  We appear weak, indecisive and incompetent.  The world remains a dangerous place, and perceptions matter.



Berlin After the War, A Newly Unearthed Archive of Photos. by The Elephant's Child
May 10, 2010, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Europe, History, Military | Tags: , ,

Der Spiegel is featuring today a gallery of 19 photos from a recently unearthed archive, showing the devastation and the small signs of resilience of Berlin in the weeks after the surrender of the city at the end of World War II.  There are hundreds of newly discovered photographs in the archive of a Berlin publishing house that will become a book titled Berlin After the War to be published to mark the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany, on May 9, 1945.

Forgotten for decades, a trove of post-war photographs from 1945 has recently been unearthed. The snapshots illustrate the devastation of the German capital and capture the desperation of the city in the weeks after the end of World War II. They also show glimpses of Berlin’s resilience.

The soldier with the Iron Cross on his chest lies in the middle of the street.  His steel helmet has rolled away.  The Red Army Soldiers are turning him onto his back and cleaning their weapons.  They take no notice of the photographer kneeling to take the picture. He’s already taken dozens of shots today — this time he’s just chosen a corpse for the foreground.

It’s a scene from the final days of the World War II, taken somewhere in the center of Berlin.  For decades this picture , along with thousands of others lay in the archives of a Berlin publishing house.  Unnoticed.  It is only now that the collection has come to light.

The pictures capture a moment in the city that had reached the end of 12 years of dictatorship and a devastating war: Signs of those final battles, of death, destruction and hopelessness — but also of  life growing once again among the ruins.  They are photos that portray a grotesque normalcy, in contrast to the better-known images of heroic liberation and optimistic reconstruction.  They provide documentation of the city”s downfall in the blink of an eye between an end and a beginning.  A Berlin that was just beginning to free itself from its lethargy.

The sampling of the photos is fascinating.  And the book will fill a gap in the history of the War.   For history buffs, I highly recommend Antony Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin 1945.  And from John Keegan’s The Second World War:

On the 26th of April, 464,000 Soviet troops, supported by 12,700 guns, 21,000 rocket-launchers and 1500 tanks, ringed the inner city ready to launch the final assault of the siege. The circumstances of the inhabitants were now frightful.  …Food was running short, so too was water, while the relentless bombardment had interrupted electrical and gas supplies and sewerage; behind the fighting troops, moreover, ranged those of the second echelon, many released prisoners of war with a  bitter personal grievance against Germans of any age or sex, who vented their hatred by rape, loot and murder. …

The cost to the Red Army of its victory in the siege of Berlin had also been terrible.  Between 16 April and 8 May, Zhukov, Konev and Rokossovsky’s fronts had lost 304,887 men killed, wounded and missing, 10 per cent of their strength and the heaviest casualty list suffered by the Red Army in any battle of the war.  …

Peace brought  no rest to the human flotsam of the war, which swirled in hordes between and behind the victorious armies.  Ten million Wehrmacht prisoners, 8 million German refugees, 3 million Balkan fugitives, 2 million Russian prisoners of war, slave and forced labourers by the million — and also the raw material of the ‘displaced person’ tragedy which was to haunt Europe for a decade after the war — washed about the battlefield. … in the Europe to which their soldiers had brought victory, the vanquished and their victims scratched for food and shelter in the ruins the war had wrought.




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