Category Archives: History

Ike’s speech and the military-industrial complex

This is the chart for 2013 proposed discretionary spending. I found it on a third-party politician’s Twitter feed with some idle thought about how society could advance if we didn’t spend so much on the military. It shows defense spending at a whopping 57%.

Notice that Health, Housing & Community are only 5 and 6%. It sounds like General Jack D. Ripper (of Doctor Strangelove) was running the government.

The trouble is, it’s obviously deceptive. The chart lists discretionary spending, which is not the entire budget.

Here is actual federal spending for 2015 (different years, but the numbers are close enough). It puts defense spending at only 16%.

Use of the first chart is actually more deceptive than you’d think. These are federal budget numbers. The states and cities have their own budgets and taxes. That’s where most of the education spending is at, which distorts comparisons to the defense budget. The state healthcare budgets are massive as well.

That brings me to President Eisenhower’s 1961 speech on the military-industrial complex: Does this mean he was making a mountain out of a molehill? No, and here’s where it gets interesting:

For historical numbers, you need to compare to GDP for comparisons to mean anything. You can get the historical tables here. In particular, look at: Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function: 1940–2021. (Note: This is an .XLS file.) National defense was a mere 1.7% of GDP in 1940.

It went to 5.5% of GDP in 1941 (when Woody Guthrie wrote the song, “C for Conscription“ before changing his tune), then 17.4, 36.1, 37.0 to 36.6% in 1945. It dropped back down to around 5% after the war, but then rose to 12.9% of GDP in 1952.

Defense spending was still at 9.1% in 1961, but dropping, when President Eisenhower left office. That’s the context of his famous speech on the military-industrial complex on this day in 1961. He wasn’t worried about a military take-over. It was about the focus of our money, resources and power becoming an end in and of itself. You could run into the same issues when another part of the government gets too much attention.

The numbers went down again as the Vietnam War came to its end. They were as low as 4.5% in 1979, then rising and peaking at 6.0 during the Reagan years, and then finally subsiding as the Cold War ended. Defense spending never saw those numbers again. Not even the War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, brought them back. They didn’t rise above 4% until 2008. They were at 3.3% in 2015.

Along those lines, people fretted about bringing back the draft during the war in Iraq. But that was plainly fearmongering. We had a larger military during the Reagan years, and that was without a draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if that politician pushing the above discretionary spending chart had been among those trying to scare people about a draft.

The Battle of the Bulge

It’s been 72 years since Operation Watch on the Rhine began, the surprise attack through the forests of the Ardennes, starting what we know as the Battle of the Bulge. Hitler had hoped that a victory here could force the Allies (minus Stalin) to the peace table. The Allies were caught completely by surprise.

Rand Simberg reposts an excerpt of his alternative newspaper story “on how today’s media would have reported it.” The full piece at his link is worth a read.

I can’t say that my own work (and one character in particular) wasn’t inspired by his stories.

“We Pledge Allegiance”

I’ve been watching the various preview videos for season two of The Man in the High Castle. There are a number of them.

If you’ve been on safari for the last few years, this is based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Both the book and the TV series take place in an alternative 1960s America where the Allies lost WWII. And lost it badly. The U.S. was partitioned between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Here’s one of the videos via YouTube, which I believe is the opening scene of this second season:

The show is produced by Amazon and available online. The first episode of season 1 is available free. The trailer to this second season is here. From there you should see links to other clips.

In any event, this scene is interesting in another way: It shows the students of this school reciting a Nazified version of the Pledge of Allegiance. One might think they would be using a Hitler salute rather than the conventional hand over the heart. They don’t until the very end. In reality, what we think of nowadays as a Hitler salute was also called the “Bellamy salute,” after Francis Bellamy. That’s the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.*

Bellamy salute, 1941

Bellamy salute, 1941

This was, in fact, how most people used to do the pledge. It only changed in 1942, for obvious reasons. Now, people find it funny that Nazis did it without realizing how common this salute had been for decades.

My guess is that the show’s producers either didn’t know this history, or decided it would be better to use the form that most people know about. There are reasons to give the audience what’s more familiar. That would make it feel more real even if it’s less.

* Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the writer of 1888’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887.

Hitler finds out… the real story

You’ve all seen the “Hitler finds out” Downfall parodies.

(And if you haven’t, search YouTube. For more on these parodies, there is a wiki that has a page specifically for the bunker scene.)

You could get the basic idea what was really going on even if you didn’t understand the words. Hitler was waiting on a Wehrmacht counter-attack to save Berlin, and this is where his generals tell him that it simply didn’t happen. Hitler finally knows, as they all do, that this is the end. He blames everyone but himself.

But it’s important to know the actual words. Here is the scene with the real English translation:

These parodies usually begin about half a minute later. This one begins at a scene immediately before it, when the secretaries are asking about the situation. This gives you a little bit of context as to why one of them cries in the next scene.

It was General Wilhelm Burgdorf that you see defending the honor of the troops. Hitler might only have been blaming the generals there — I don’t know — but it was nice to see somebody finally speaking up about something.

The others you see called out to remain for the dressing-down are Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, General Alfred Jodl and General Hans Krebs. Keitel and Jodl were executed in 1946. Krebs and Burgdorf didn’t survive the bunker. Both committed suicide.

And if you want the full movie, see Downfall. It’s a must-see for WWII history buffs.

By the way: If you’re giving a briefing, particularly for someone higher ranking than you, the chart needs to be right-side-up for the guy getting briefed.

A postcard from 1942

Found via IowaHawk’s Dave Burge:

Mother Europe 1942

“The very first anti-Brexit campaign.” But I think it’s also worth looking at for the history.

IowaHawk found it via Tim Blair, who got it from James Morrow: “Note neutral Sweden and Switzerland standing around in confusion while the British chick is suckered into the American-Jewish trap.”

The rest of Europe is shown to be happily marching in the same direction. Nazi Germany is portrayed as but one of the nations.

Note the Marshal Philippe Pétain postage stamp. He was the leader of Vichy’s collaborationist puppet government.

War aims, 1944

I’d been looking for something worthy of a D-Day post that readers hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, not only is this not related, it misses the spirit of the occasion. It was only by coincidence that it was printed on June 6, 1944.

Hence, I’ve waited a day:

“Headquarters? One of our men here thinks he'll fight better if you'd inform him what our war aims are!”

“Headquarters? One of our men here thinks he’ll fight better if you’d inform him what our war aims are!”

Dave Breger was drafted into the Army in 1941, starting off as a truck mechanic. He drew cartoons in his spare time, having worked in newspapers before, and got a contract with The Saturday Evening Post. The Army saw that, and put him to work on their magazine Yank. His cartoons there went under the title, “G.I. Joe,” and that’s where that name comes from.

The cartoon goes against the popular notion that our war aims were obvious in World War II. Today, defeating the Nazis seems like it was a pretty cut-and-dry goal. The cartoon is almost what you’d expect from today’s war, or during the Vietnam War.

The Nazi propagandist character in my first book, One Thousand Years, explains this when she says, “four out of ten Americans admitted in a poll that they didn’t have a clear idea what the war was really about.” That was from a real poll of the day. But even so, it’s striking to see this in a cartoon.

Submarine HMS P311

There’s a tradition in the U.S. Navy that a lost submarine is considered “still on patrol.” I don’t know if it’s common to other navies, too.

Now there’s news that Royal Navy submarine HMS P311 has been found off the coast of Sardina.* She was last seen in 1942; all 71 men lost. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

As fate would have it, the boat was hit by a mine. Chillingly, the crew was very likely alive until they ran out of air. I would prefer to think they died trying to MacGyver a way out. It’s worse to contemplate anything else.

Wikipedia’s only image has the boat crowded out by another sub. You can barely see it. (The one you think you see is actually the HMS Sibyl.) The newspaper story had to use the HMS Trespasser, the P311’s twin. It’s a shame that any WWII warship wouldn’t have a dozen pictures in the public domain.

This was one of only ten WWII Royal Navy submarines not to have a name. It would have been Tutankhamen.

Rest in peace.

* Coincidentally, the only time I’ve been to Sardinia, I got there by submarine.

Dunkirk movie in the works

There are pictures out from the production of the movie Dunkirk.

The most interesting part is the news that the movie is being made. This is the first I’d heard.

Christopher Nolan is the writer and producer, which suggests a big budget. The film will be released in 2017.