Archive for January, 2019

Review: The Meaning of Treason, by Rebecca West

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

This extraordinary book, published in 1949, tells the stories of the trials of a number of British subjects who betrayed their country during the Second World War. The bulk of the book is a long chapter on the trial of William Joyce, the Irish-American who spent the war years in Berlin, broadcasting Nazi propaganda as “Lord Haw Haw”.

West is a very good writer, so her account of Joyce and the others is more than just the story of a trial. She grapples with the question of why someone would betray their homeland, their families — though in some cases, especially in the final chapter on what she calls “the children”, she questions the trial itself and the sentence imposed.

The traitors, Joyce first and foremost, come across as human beings. They each have an individual history, often a sad one, and their decisions to sign up to support the Third Reich did not come from nowhere. But that doesn’t justify anything any of them did. They all should have — and probably did — know better.

Found guilty of treason by an English court, William Joyce was hanged on 3 January 1946 at Wandsworth Prison.

Ann Coulter wants Jared Kushner to be deported

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter is furious at Donald Trump for, in her view, caving in to the Democrats and putting an end (for now) to the US federal government shutdown.

Coulter has long criticised Trump for not being sufficiently right-wing, for being “soft” on immigration, and so on. And now it looks like he’s not going to build the Wall any time soon — a wall that Coulter has craved for so long.

In her latest attack on the President, she adds an element that should cause at least a small measure of alarm among American Jews.

Read the full blog here: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ann-coulter-wants-jared-kushner-to-be-deported/

Israeli elections 2019: Battle of the insiders

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

“I was a minister in Netanyahu’s government and know it’s impossible to create change from there.”

Those are the words of Avi Gabbay, the embattled leader of Israel’s rapidly-fading Labor Party.

But they could equally be the words of Yair Lapid, the leader of the main party of the political center Yesh Atid, or Tzipi Livni, of Hatnua, or Moshe Ya’alon, who’s heading a new centrist political party. They could be spoken by some on the political margins today (but with lingering ambitions) like former prime minister Ehud Barak

Read the rest of this blog on the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/battle-of-the-insiders/

Review: Soviet Opposition to Stalin – A case study in World War II, by George Fischer

Friday, January 18th, 2019

This short book was an early history of Vlasov movement, which during the second world war aimed to create a Russian army of “liberation” that would fight side by side with the Germans against the Red Army.

There are better books on the subject now available (in particular Alexander Dallin’s German Rule in Russia) but what makes Fischer’s book extraordinary is its unflinching willingness to think the unthinkable.

Looking back at all the mistakes the Germans made (in particular by not embracing Vlasov much earlier than they did), he concludes that the only way really to bring an end to the totalitarian regime in the USSR is by launching a land invasion accompanied by the “mass atomic bombing of major population centers”.

He concluded that “the Stalin regime is apt to disintegrate only if so hard a blow is struck that its hold over the country is relaxed for a significant period”, acknowledging that this “would perforce be a World War III”.

But he saw no alternative, writing that “only when the opponent’s military forces pierce the Soviet heartland as deeply, or as surprisingly, as did the Nazi blitz in 1941 can the shock be expected to be genuinely effective. … organized opposition in the future will also developed only … after Soviet reverses in general war.”

In other words, he advocated an American-led Barbarossa II.

Fortunately, his advice was not heeded.

Review: German Rule in Russia, 1941-1945 by Alexander Dallin

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Alexander Dallin, the son of the well-known Menshevik David Dallin, published this book in 1957. More than sixty years on, it is probably still the definitive text on the subject. The book is a master class on how to write history. It meets rigorous academic standards but remains readable — in fact, it makes for compelling reading. Dallin is in complete command of his material in German, Russian and other languages. And the topic is a vast one, ranging from German policies towards to the Soviet collective farms to the last-minute attempt, in early 1945, to launch a pro-Nazi Russian army under the command of General Vlasov. At times the book reads like a series of “what-ifs,” as the Germans bungle their way through the occupation of much of the Soviet Union. What started out in June 1941 as a brilliant military operation, in which the Germans captured vast swathes of Soviet territory, turned into a disaster for the Third Reich as they failed to exploit hostility toward the Stalin regime or the nationalism of non-Russian peoples. Supremely confident in their military victory, the Germans couldn’t have cared less what happened to the people in their way, or those who fell under their rule. Fortunately for the Soviet peoples and the world, they were arrogant and stupid at the same time, never seizing opportunities that presented themselves, thus dooming their occupation to last three years rather than the promised thousand year Reich.

The politicians all agree — and they are all wrong

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Israel’s political leaders seem to agree on very little these days. But one thing does unite nearly all of them, which sounds good until you realize that they are all wrong.

I’m referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran nuclear deal — which was signed three and half years ago. Nearly all of Israel’s political parties agree that this deal is bad for Israel, will not stop the Iran nuclear arms programme, and should be scrapped.

In general, they are all grateful to US President Donald Trump for the steps he has taken to bring an end to the deal. Even politicians who don’t particularly like Trump think he’s done Israel (and the world) a service by trying to bring an end to the JCPOA.

Read the rest of this blog on The Times of Israel.

Review: Soviet Partisan 1941-44, by Nik Cornish

Monday, January 7th, 2019

In some parts of Europe, the stunning victories enjoyed by Hitler’s armed forces resulted in docile, subservient populations that were keen to avoid any further trouble. Whole countries remained safe havens for German troops, who faced little serious opposition, and certainly no armed opposition. Though the civilian populations in these countries may have hated the Nazi occupiers, they sometimes seemed content to wait for someone to liberate them. But this was not the case in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union, where thousands of armed partisans did their very best to wreck havoc and terrorize the occupiers. Many Soviet citizens collaborated, hundreds of thousands of them even serving eventually in the German armed forces. But many more fought against the Germans — eventually defeating the Third Reich and bringing it crashing down in Berlin.

In this short book, Nik Cornish gives a good overview of the Soviet partisan movement. I learned much — for example, I was not aware that partisans were often deployed by aircraft, and that the Soviets could even manage to fly partisan commanders to Moscow for a conference with Stalin. Nor did I know that the partisan movement was formally dissolved in 1944 — presumably when there were no longer any occupied territories for them to operate in as the war was now being fought in Germany itself. The book is full of illustrations of partisan equipment and weapons which will be of interest to specialists.

Why Labor is dying — an international perspective

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

The Labor Party looks set to receive fewer seats in the Knesset than at any other time in its history. There is even the possibility, albeit a slim one, that it will disappear entirely by not reaching the 3.25% threshold.

Considering that a generation ago, this was a party which had completely dominated political life in Israel since independence — and before — this is an extraordinary development. …

Read the rest of this blog on The Times of Israel.

Review: No Tomorrow, by Luke Jennings

Friday, January 4th, 2019

Codename Villanelle was one of the most fun books I read in 2017. I was disappointed by the hit BBC series “Killing Eve” which was based on it, and was reluctant to give this book a go as it’s the second book in the series. While not as much fun as the first book, and not nearly as good as the “Red Sparrow” trilogy by Jason Matthews, this held my interest. No more, no less. Villanelle is a good character, and deserves a better story. Book three on the way?