February 05, 2002



Den Beste, evidently feeling cocky, in the same day takes on aviation expert Perry de H on comparative strengths of WW2 planes, and yours truly on something I kind of feel is my home turf, 19th century warfare.

Re the Mustang vs Spitfire debate, it's only fair to point out, as my little contribution, that the captain of the Clueless is wrong about the Mustang being a better plane than the Spit because it was faster. The P-51D Mustang had a top speed of 437 mph at 25,000 ft. The contemporaneous Spit XIV had a top speed of 448 mph at 26,000 ft, according to standard sources. Advantage, Perry.

Re the defense of Alistair Cooke and the importance of the Civil War (q.v.), I'll respond point by point:

1) Railroads. Unlike Steven, I don't believe Cooke is thinking of the "tactical" use of railroads (ie, during sieges) when he praises the Americans. Knowing his generation, I believe it's a fuzzier, more Tuchmanesque conception of railroads being able to move troops fast, Guns of August style. That, however, is a European invention, first used to win a war by the French in 1859, and perfected by the Germans thereafter. (The Americans relied much more heavily in their war on riverine movement). Where the American war did have revolutionary innovations was the use of railroads in logistical sustainment... no armies that large had ever been sustained that far from their depots for so long. (That was also why Sherman ripped up Georgia's railroads, not to stop troop movements.) I just don't think Cooke knows any of that... logistics is a sadly underappreciated facet of war in the best of times.

2) Steamships. Again, if all Cooke is talking about is the use of "gunboats on the Mississippi" that's not revolutionary. What was revolutionary was the first major fleet action fought predominantly by steam-powered deep water ships of the line. That, as mentioned, was 1853 at Sinope, when the Russians knocked the Turkish fleet out of the Crimean War. Every major battleship and frigate built in the decade before Sumter was already steam-powered. Take a look at this inventory of the British and French fleets at the time. (In the Monitor and Merrimack, the Americans did have the first solely steam powered ships, however.)

3) Entrenchments. In 1864-65, the siege of Petersburg, which den Beste sees as previously unparalleled, saw the Union beseige a 10-mile long line of entrenchments for 10 months. But in 1854-55, the siege of Sevastopol, the Allies beseiged a 12-mile-plus long line of entrenchments for nearly 12 months. I'm a big fan of the Petersburg campaign (I recommend Trudeau's The Last Citadel for a good treatment of the subject) but in terms of just its sheer scope and length, the Crimean campaign is still considered, by McNeill, Griffith, and many other serious students of the era to be the more obvious progenitor of the trench battles of 1916. (As McNeill said in his seminal The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society Since A.D. 1000, "Only the machine gun was missing.")

Was the Civil War the first major war of the industrial age? Yes. Was it revolutionary? In many respects, yes. But not for most of the reasons Cooke outlines.

Posted by BruceR at 03:07 AM



Samizdata makes the strong, if obvious, case, that vegetarianism was an evolutionary dead end for hominids, and therefore should be frowned on today. Quoth David Carr:

Robust Man was a vegetarian. We know this because of the extraordinarily prominent sagittal crest found on its skull. This crest could only have evolved in order to provide an anchor for enormous jaw muscles of the kind required for rumination.

But Carr misses the obvious much more important ramification of this line of research. I'm speaking of course, of that other species with a sagittal crest of whose origins we know little. This connection with vegetarianism provides an important clue to their odd overcompensatory behaviour, too don't you think? One can only assume the ancestors of the Klingons evolved on a planet made entirely of tofu...

(In a nice piece of blog serendipity, Den Beste, meanwhile, is arguing in a different vein that evolution itself has been superseded by culture, a conclusion that leaves the Samiz line of argument true but irrelevant).

Posted by BruceR at 01:11 AM