American Elephants


D-Day Through German Eyes by The Elephant's Child

In one of the posts on D-Day on and around June 6th, I came across a review of a new book, or rather 2 books on the German side of D-Day. The books are D-Day Through German Eyes and D-Day Through German Eyes—Book 2, by Holger Eckhertz. The author’s grandfather was a journalist for German news magazines during World War II. In the spring of 1944, prior to D-Day, he toured sections of the so-called Atlantic Wall, including the Normandy beaches, and interviewed soldiers from units in the area. About ten years later, he determined to track down the soldiers he had interviewed or at least someone from their units and interview them again about their experience during the invasion.

The books are apparently available only as E-books, and are in interview format, that is questions and answers—small vignettes of individual soldier’s experiences. The review isn’t long, and includes some surprising bits of information. The Germans did not expect an invasion at the Normandy beaches, the Allies had control of the air right from the beginning. The German troops were third rate troops, generally soldiers that because of a medical or psychiatric condition were no longer regular infantry, but there were also troops who had defected from the Soviets. They were surprised at the physical size of the American and Canadian troops, presumably because of better diet.

Do read the whole thing. It’s surprising and interesting.  It seems that the Germans were working on a thermobaric weapon — I had to look up the unfamiliar term.  A thermobaric weapon is a type of explosive that utilizes oxygen from the surrounding air to generate an intense, high-temperature explosion, and in practice the blast wave of such a weapon produces a typically significantly longer duration than a conventional condensed explosive. The fuel-air bomb is one of the most well-known types of thermobaric weapons. Fortunately, a stray Allied Bomb inadvertently destroyed to development works.



A Word for Our Fellow Members of NATO: by The Elephant's Child

You have heard President Trump saying that the nations of NATO need to step up and meet their commitments. There are 28 member nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization who have agreed, as a condition of their membership, to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.  That goal was set to include only a small percentage of GDP, and to avoid putting too big a burden on smaller countries.

Only five: The United States 3.61%, Greece 2.38%, Britain 2.21%, Estonia 2.16%, and Poland 2% actually meet that obligation. The other 23 countries do not. They range from France 1.78% down to the bottom five: Canada 0.99%, Slovenia o.94%, Spain o.91%, Belgium 0.85%, and Luxembourg 0.44%. The numbers come from 2016 figures supplied by NATO.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told the assembled Defense Ministers:

I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States, and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms. America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.

President Trump’s complaint about NATO would seem to be on solid ground, and Secretary Mattis is direct and simple.  With all the absurd claims and accusations going around, it’s nice to clear that particular one up.



June 6, 1944, D-Day. Piper Bill Millin Pipes The Invasion Forces Ashore by The Elephant's Child

Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s personal piper, is pictured here ready to jump from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water of Sword beach on June 6, D–Day, 1944.  Lord Lovat is thigh-deep in the water just to the left of Bill Millin’s arm.  As the Telegraph obituary says: “As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie.  He continued to pipe even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.”

Millin said “I was so relieved of getting off that boat after all night being violently sick.  When I finished, Lovat asked for another tune.  Well, when I looked round — the noise and people lying about shouting and the smoke, the crump of mortars, I said to myself  “Well, you must be joking surely.” He said “What was that?” and he said “Would you mind giving us a tune?” “Well, what tune would you like, Sir?” “How about The Road to the Isles?” “Now, would you want me to walk up and down, Sir?” “Yes, That would be nice.  Yes, walk up and down.”

And that’s what Bill Millin did, walked up and down the invasion beach at water’s edge, blasting out a series of tunes.  Bodies of the fallen were drifting to and fro in the surf.  Soldiers were trying to dig in and, when they heard the pipes, many of them waved and cheered — though one came up to Millin and called him “a mad bastard.”

For many soldiers, the piper provided a unique boost to morale.  “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes” said One, Tom Duncan, many years later.  “It is hard to describe the impact it had.  It gave us a great lift and increased our determination.  As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

After the Great War the War Office had banned pipers from leading soldiers into battle after losses had become too great. “Ah, but that’s the English War Office,” Lovat told Millin.  You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.”  Millin was the only piper on D-Day.

Millin died on August 17, aged 88.  He piped the invasion forces on to the shores of France, unarmed apart from the ceremonial dagger in his stocking.  The mayor of Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach , has offered a site for a life-size statue of Millin opposite the place where he landed on D-Day.  The statue is due to be unveiled next year. His pipes are in the Scottish War Museum.

Bill Millin’s personal account of D-Day is found here, and the Telegraph’s obituary is here. Millin has been justly famous in all accounts of the D-Day invasion, especially his courageous march across Pegasus Bridge at the crossing of the Orne.  This may have been the last time that a Scottish piper led Scottish troops into battle.



One of the Great Speeches by The Elephant's Child



Remember the Men of D-Day, June 6, 1944 by The Elephant's Child
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Major Werner Pluskat in his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach had heard nothing from his superiors. He was cold, tired and exasperated. He felt isolated. He couldn’t understand why there had been no reports from either regimental or division headquarters. …Once more he swung the artillery glasses over to the left, picked up the dark mass of the Cherbourg peninsula and began another slow sweep of the horizon. The same low banks of mist came into view, the same patches of shimmering moonlight, the same restless white flecked sea.Behind him in the bunker his dog Harras, was stretched out asleep. Nearby,  Captain Ludz Wilkening and Lieutenant Fritz Theen were talking quietly. Pluskat joined them. “Still nothing out there,” he told them.” I’m about to give it up. But he walked back to the aperture and stood looking out as the first streaks of light began to lighten the sky. He decided to make another routine sweep.Wearily, he swung the glasses over to the left again. Slowly he tracked across the horizon. He reached the dead center of the bay. The glasses stopped moving. Pluskat tensed, stared hard.Through the scattering thinning mist the horizon was filling with ships — ships of every size and description, ships that casually maneuvered back and forth as though they had been there for hours. There appeared to be thousands of them. Pluskat stared in frozen disbelief, speechless, moved as he had never been before in his life. At that moment the world of the good soldier Pluskat began falling apart. He says that in those first few moments he knew, calmly and surely, that “this was the end for Germany.”      Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day



History Is What Happened In The Past by The Elephant's Child

I have been distressed at the attempts to rename buildings, tear down statues and monuments, and in general to make any history that doesn’t meet today’s more refined sensitivities — just disappear.  One of the greatest problems for historians is that people have often destroyed the evidence that tells us of their times, and they have to guess at what really happened. We live in an age of political correctness, the party line of the day, and the politically correct are trying to expunge any evidence of those in the past who did not agree with today’s notions. Of course, for most it is simply a campus fad that sweeps from one college to another. Protesting is the in thing, and if they can’t find anything else to protest, perhaps the donor of a building once owned a slave so the building should be torn down.

Today we mostly universally agree that slavery is and was a very bad thing, But before somewhere around the mid 18th century, slavery was the norm. Many college students are astonished to find out that slavery existed in other places besides the United States. Because we ended the slave trade, had a great Civil War and freed the slaves and are such an open society the world is familiar with America and slavery. Because of that history present day virtue seekers are anxious to destroy all traces of the Confederacy. New Orleans is currently engaged in a great battle to tear down statues and monuments.

They are wrong. Millions of Americans today have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.  Two of my great great uncles lost their lives fighting for the Union with Grant, and two lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy, one in the battle around Richmond and the other at Snicker’s Gap. The Southerners were brothers, the Union soldiers were members of families who had established a station of the underground railroad in their meeting house. To be interested in the stars and bars or the Confederate battle flag does not insinuate a fondness for slavery, only an interest in history.

Max Boot, writing at Commentary, approves of the actions of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in tearing down statues honoring Confederate war heroes. He finds the idea of honoring the losing side of the war disgraceful, and believes that Army bases in the Southern states named after Confederate generals should be renamed.

Historian John Steele Gordon, also writing at Commentary, deeply disagrees. “The Past is a Foreign Country” is his headline, and he says “Subjective and fleeting standards are no way to judge.” I’m with Mr. Gordon. If I am deeply interested in both sides of the Civil War and its effects on the nation, it does not indicate approval or disapproval. The past is what happened. So much of the artifacts of the war were simply destroyed, or thrown away, that what we can know about the war is diminished.

Here is a page from the Smithsonian’s Civil War history that shows the uniform of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee’s Zouaves). Bet that would surprise you. Both sides had volunteer units that adopted Zouave uniforms based on an elite battalion of the French Army in Algiers in the colonial war of the 1830s. Follow the arrows on that page to see some of the other artifacts that the Smithsonian thought important to save.

John Steele Gordon ends his piece with these lines:

The country did a magnificent job of binding up those wounds, as the deeply touching pictures taken at the 50th-anniversary reunion at Gettysburg in 1913 testify. Now some people on their high horses want to pick open those wounds, for no better reason than so they can virtue signal their own moral superiority to those who lived in a different world and a different time.

It’s a disgrace. Historians, especially, should understand the profound truth expressed by L. P. Hartley in the opening line of his masterful novel The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”



An Outburst of Democrat Derangement by The Elephant's Child

Someone named Kathy Griffin, reportedly a comedienne, posted a video of herself holding what purported to be a severed, bloody head of Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, there was a backlash, at which she promptly apologized abjectly admitting that she was wrong and went too far, and made a huge mistake. Well, yes she did. What interests me is the mindset that would have allowed her to engage in something like this in the first place. In a general atmosphere where the way to get attention seems to be coming up with a  more outrageous way to insult the President of the United States. And that in itself is quite remarkable.

It’s clear that the left loathes Donald Trump. Just why seems to be that he has removed the Democratic Party from its position of power all over the country, and the Left just cannot stand that. It is not just that they lost the election, they have lost lots of elections, as have the Republicans, but this time they have lost all the way down to the lowest proverbial dogcatcher. Their anger is completely emotional, and utterly furious. Why?

It wasn’t always so, but I believe that today’s Democratic party is based entirely on emotion. They hate Donald Trump, Republicans, global warming deniers, Citizens United, guns (especially dangerous assault weapons), the military and its wars, and conversely love— refugees, the poor, illegal immigrants, empathy, and being in power. You can tell that this is the case by their language: They call Trump “Hitler,” a “Nazi”,’Tyrant,” they are sure he is so authoritarian that he soon will be rounding them up and putting the in camps. Little of their emotive excess even approaches reality, but they are positive that he is a danger to their world, and they want him stopped, before it is too late.  That’s why they care so deeply about social justice and so little for the actual kind in courts of law.  And why they care far more about their empathy for refugees than they care about vetting the potential terrorists among them. They don’t care about the actual poor or the actual refugees. They care about feeling good about themselves.

For the Never Trumpers, it’s a class issue. You can take the man out of Queens, but you can’t take Queens out of the man. They are offended by his way of talking. They are offended by his orange hair and orange tan. They are offended by his great big wall— opposing illegal immigration is fine, but building a huge wall is going too far. They are offended by the way he talks, his tweets and by his calling people names.   They are much more comfortable with polite arguments about the founders and how conservative conservatives should be, but doing battle to get a better budget or dispose of repugnant regulations is generally beyond their powers. Their battles are about ideas.

Kathy Griffin’s use of a severed head, a favorite terrorist act of ISIS, aside from being a particularly vulgar act, shows not just her own act of violence against Trump, but an astounding lack of understanding of one of the many major and very real threats to Americans and anyone who is not a Muslim. How is it possible to fail to understand, in today’s world, that severed heads and burning people alive, drowning them in cages are acts of terror designed to frighten the world into submission.  Did she not grasp the meaning of Manchester or the attack today killing around 80 people in Kabul in Afghanistan?

It is a very dangerous world, and the despised Donald Trump is taking it on as if it is a serious matter. James Mattis at the Pentagon, John Kelly at NHS, and H.L. McMaster are serious and knowledgeable people, some of the best America has to offer. Nikki Haley is sensational at the UN. Silly EPA regulations are being undone, illegal immigration is down sharply just because there is someone seriously paying attention.  The despicable Bashar Assad had the airport from which the planes that sprayed chemical weapons on helpless civilians promptly destroyed, sending a pointed message. This impolite man carefully labeled the Iranian regime “evil” in front of 50 Muslim heads of state. He’s working to restore the military budget to assure that the military can do what is necessary when it is necessary. He ‘s submitted a budget that lowers taxes and makes some dramatic cuts.  He made a pretty good trip to the Middle East and Europe. Not bad.

Presidents, all of them, are only ordinary human beings, fallible, egotistic, impatient, facing dreadful challenges. We elect them for four years to try to manage this messy world. They are not and should never be love objects. They wanted the job, and upon being given the opportunity, their task is to live up to it. Do a good job, and we will honor your and your name will go down in history.

We gave Obama 8 years, and he not only made a mess of it, but apparently enjoyed it so much that he cannot bring himself to retire. He’s reportedly going to run a shadow government in exile from his new Washington D.C. walled mansion, working to sabotage his successor, I guess in the illusion that will improve his legacy.

ADDENDUM: Ms. Griffin has now been fired from CNN, and reportedly from any other engagements she may have had. It’s nice to know that there are some limits to Democrat derangement excess. Melania Trump had to try to explain to her son who panicked, what that was about.

ADDENDUM II: Friday. Kathy Griffin held a press conference to tell the world that the widespread backlash she has faced over the photo is part of a sexist campaign to destroy her career. “It’s a bunch of white guys trying to silence me,” she said. “This wouldn’t be happening to a guy. This is a woman thing.”  She also said “What’s  happening to me has never happened in the history of this great country. Which is that a sitting president of the United States and his grown children and the First Lady are personally, I feel, personally trying to ruin my life forever.”




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