Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Tomorrow is the official 60th anniversary of the establishment of the "People's Republic of China", the Marxist/Maoist/socialist-communist/whatever-the-hell-it-is-now edition of the great Middle Kingdom

mighty cultural and economic power of Asia and birthplace of my not-so-mighty little daughter, Missy Shaomei, whose power is almost entirely composed of thermonuclear adorability.

Having watched some of the last Summer Olympics, I'm sure the anniversary party will be quite a show...

But even in a digital age, there are times when I think that China is still perhaps the original riddle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma. Massive and complex, at times peculiarly weak, sometimes, and to some, frighteningly's worth considering the changes that the past 60 years have visited on it and its people.

While just floating around the Internets thinking about this, I came across this story over at China Bystander:
"...just after when Deng Xioaping turned his back on Mao’s revolution and launched the country on its present course of economic development. In the lobby of the Dong Fang Hotel in Guangzhou, just over the road from what we still then called the Canton Trade Fair, an elderly party cadre stood in tears. With his blue Mao suit and cap and weather beaten, careworn nut brown face he was the embodiment of the first 30 tumultuous years of the revolution. The cause of his tears, he said, was the installation of a one-armed bandit, the return of the pernicious evil of gambling, and the betrayal of all he had sacrificed his life for."
The next 60 years will have to be hard put to equal the past 60 for change. But we can be sure of this; change there will be, and throughout the change, China will be a force to be reckoned with across the world. Cliche, yes, I know. But it's hard to avoid that one. The Middle Kingdom is, well, in the midst of everything; its people in both numbers and human presence, it's political and economic power, it's position astride Asia. One can imagine many different futures for our own country, but it's hard to think of one in which China will not be a large part of it...Any thoughts?

While you're thinking, here's a link to some wonderful photographs of the preparations and parts of the celebration for the anniversary party.Did I tell you it'd be a helluva show?

La Chatte

Strange little post. Here goes.

I was fiddling around on "I Can Has Cheezburger" when I came across the panda snapshot that went with the post below. Then I ran into this one:and loved it so much I had to build a post around it.

The conceit of "woman as cat" is too stereotypical to discuss. And, although I know that fur color in cats is gender related I have no idea what gender is associated with white; indeed, being, in essence, no color at all but all colors together white may transcend the "color = gender" cat rules.


Is this cat be anything but female?

In fact, she reminds me of nothing so much as

this woman right here.

And that isn't to say that Barbara was catty, or cat-like. But the look on the cat's face is perfectly Stanwyckesque. You can imagine that after Fred MacMurray went home for the night she sat on the couch looking just exactly like this. Just exactly.

I like to call her: "La Repose du Chatte de Mort".

Which reminds me: I need to talk about women in general.

Extinction: Beat It Through Self-Hypnosis

Saw something the other day about pandas.

Seems that a Brit wildlife type made the suggestion that pandas are a sort of evolutionary cul-de-sac and that we should let 'em go.

Mind you - the critters were doing fairly OK until - imagine - humans came along and turned their bamboo forests into farms and timber tracts...

Now personally I'm fairly immune to the fabled panda "charm";...they always seem faintly silly to me.

But going in and fucking up their home and then blaming them for not doing their evolutionary best?

Seems pretty hypocritical to me.

This particular panda does seem like the poster panda for the shallow end of the panda gene pool.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Late Night Thoughts

The rains are returning slowly; a little gusty spit this afternoon, with a drizzly day set for tomorrow. The shortening daylight seems determined to make the point nastily, slapping us on the back of the head to remind us that "standard time" will be here soon, as well, and the dreary part of the year wherein we wake and return home in darkness.

Poor little Peep; he was so angry tonight. Pestered his sister until reprimanded, then burst into tears and stomped away to his room. I tried to cuddle him in but he was full of spiky, angular resistance. Returning to the kitchen I heard a gust of new sobs; Mojo went in and emerged to inform me that he had, for some reason, yanked back on his foreskin so hard that he had really hurt himself. He spent the rest of the night with an icepack on his junk slowly regaining his sosiego. The new "Clone Wars" TV special coming this Friday helped with that.

It's hard being six-and-a-half, y'know?

We did have a wonderful time a couple of weeks back at the Timbers Kids Club game;playing soccer and the Peeper got to drill with the players and play munchkin soccer...when he forgets to be serious and spoiled he can really be a terrific kid.

Here's a couple more of the pics:Little girl was her usual happy, chatty, engaging self until bedtime. Informed that it was time to shut down the "Go Diego" computer game she ignored me, confident in her ability to charm the Daddy into abrogating his warning that continued gaming risked losing story time. So she played on, and erupted in the predictable tantrum when informed that she had lost her story time and would, instead, go right to bed.

"I WANT A STORY!!!" shrieked through the little house. From our bedroom where she was jammied, from the living room, where it substituted for the traditional "Nighty-night" with her mother and brother, from her bedroom, where I tried to cuddle her - looking back, gee, it seems like I spent a lot of time trying to clutch recalcitrant children to my breast, doesn't it? - and sing a lullaby...

Finally I laid her down on her Big Girl Bed, still rigid and shrilling.

"It's time for night-night, lovie." I said gently. "I WANT A STORY!!!" came the only reply from the teary little face.

"No, sweetie," I said, brushing her hair off her face, "It's too late for that. And it's time to stop screaming about it or you may lose your story tomorrow night, too."

Huge eyes. The shrieking stopped. In a little voice, Missy restated her demand: "I want a story..." but the hesitance was audible.

"Tomorrow night, dear, and that discussion is over, unless you want to lose even more story times."


We kissed goodnight.

That girl is scary smart, and a great tactician. Knows the use of all her weapons, and when to hide the armory and sue for peace.

What the hell am I going to do when she's 17 and I'm 66?

Interesting discussion over at the Milpub about this:Now let me say a couple of things:

1. 2,000 wild monkeys would raise the moral and intellectual tone of several of the infantry battalions I knew at Ft. Bragg, and, yes, I'm looking at you, 2/325 Infantry. Fucking White Falcons; like the Special Olympics except with more brain damage and fewer medals...

2. It says something about my opinion of the Bush Presidency that I actually didn't see this as a mockery of the man; I laughed because of the ridiculous monkey scheme (when he gets to the part where he dubs it "Operation Primate Speargun" I fell over laughing and still do - it's a perfect summary of the serious silliness of military "code names") and the naive idiocy of the guy who often seemed like a poster child for naive idiocy - "Heckuva job, Brownie", "Is our children learning?", that sort of thing. But the man seems like such an insignificant figure now, that the idea of mocking him as a political statement? Never really "got" that. Weird, neh?

3. But my old comrade Publius DID, and it pissed him off. He had some acid remarks about laughing at the criminal bastard, and he posted a link to Andrew Sullivan's piece over at the Atlantic. So I went and read the thing.

4. And so now I'm thinking, yeah, I knew that ol' Andy was a pretty sad little wad of fuck, a homosexual Republican in an era where homo-hating is as Republican as apple pie, still trying to pretend that his cheerleading for the Mess-o-potamia was anything but the pathetic excitement of a leather queen drooling over a Tom of Finland piece of war porn, but this..? This...I can't really describe the mess that is Sullivan's moral and intellectual train wreck. Somehow Dubya, the smirking chimp of a frat boy who spent eight years lying, posing and evading his way around the Oval Office with Dick Cheney's hand up his ass to make his mouth move...somehow this niddering of a nothing of a shell of a "man" is supposed to come clean, supposed to fall on his sword for the torture, supposed to take one for the team?

What fucking world does Sullivan live in?

And I realized that this, this pathetic tottering gelding of an idea, staggering along with its organs of generation ripped away, leaking blood from the orchidectomy and the lobotomy that had caused it to elide the eight years of war loving, crony capitalist pandering stupidity that the Fool on the Hill had presided over, this was the current state of the "moderate Republicans".

Christ. No wonder their Party is such a mess. It's Limbaugh or THIS..?

Thinking of options for the coming weekend; birthday Sunday, anniversary (seventh - copper and wool for you traditionalists, brass for the chic modern types) Tuesday. The "weekend spa/resort getaway is covered...but what about something personal..?

Hard to shop for the woman who is - and has - everything.

Here's an odd little item from the Daily Mirror by way of Alterdestiny:

Seems that in 1909, the African-American residents of what is today Coos Bay decided that they would rather their children be uneducated than sit beside a dirty little Chinky Chinaman. China boy. Little Chinese boy.


Mind you, the condition of a black Oregonian in 1909 must have been pretty wretched. What earthly loathing could have made the presence of poor little Gao Wai so unacceptable? This was a segregated school, mind you - the white people figured that the darkies and the yellas and the other gomers would be just fine as long as the nice white people didn't have to see them.

The human condition - never truly free of horrors like pestilence, war, famine, sickness and death - never seems to be awful enough to make people forget that there's someone that should hate more than other people hate them.

Sometimes I despair for my species.

Anyway, I think I still have a post in me somewhere in Praise of Women. But it's late, and I have an early morning. So; goodnight.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Portland Boys, We are here...

My friend Brent and I went to the last Portland Timbers home game weekend before last.

I was lucky - had an early day off - and got a leisurely afternoon to laze in the rare, warm September sunshine. Ate at the little Nicholas Restaurant along SE Grand, savoring the pokey, hole-in-the-wall Lebanosity of the joint and the delicious hummus and shwarma and hot, crisp flatbread.

I was also privileged to be sitting next to a little family group; adult children, (I think) stepfather and their mother, whose maturely ruddy, vigorous beauty - all whipcord grace and strong head coiffed in iron-gray hair - was as delicious as the kibbi. I thoroughly enjoyed both the taste of the food, and the presence of this magnificent woman, until it was time to drive across the bridges and stroll down to the Civic.

The stands were barely filling when I sat with my cold beer and camera. Only a handful of the Timbers Army regulars had found their way to Section 107.The Army is a civic treasure, a boiling pot of all things loud, urban and Portland. But it was a rare moment to enjoy seeing the Army in an intimate camera, ones and twos, and be able to savor the character of the individuals that make the group so vital.
I loved this woman:

She was enjoying a vigorous conversation with her companion, visibly relishing her temptingly curvy figure encased in her tight Timbers green which revealed every convex inch of her, her friend, her drink, her anticipation of the coming match. She, too, was lovely, and I had to capture her in pixels.

Half an hour before kickoff and the stands started to fill. Loud chattering groups filed in with their hats, scarves and banners. Families with racing kids shouting with excitement. Over to my right little strings of kid soccer teams snaked down to the field to prepare for their half time munchkin soccer game.

The game was "Cheap Plastic Crap Hat" night, and you can see the faithful scored their cheap plastic crap. Notice the inverted cap near the center of the picture - this was actually a tumbler and held two of the pathetically small cups the Civic sells for a ridiculously inflated price. Shrewd.I also love this little girl; I call her the "Littlest Soldier" in the Timbers Army. She is often far afield from her mom and dad, and sings, leaps, chants and cheers along with the grownups - the love of the game, and of the true supporter commitment has clearly been with her for much of her short life.She's utterly, disarmingly adorable. So here she is again.Brent, his friend John and John's two sons arrived just before kickoff, and we settled in to watch some serious soccer. Portland had been in a nasty skid, and had dropped the previous game to this Cleveland team, the arse-end of the league. We needed a win tonight to go into the playoffs.The game was fast, lots of one-touch soccer, and the Timbers were pushing up looking for a goal. This meant that they were open to counterattack, and the Clevelanders provided just that - it was a good match.

Then in the later stages of the first half - Goal! Timbers 1-0!The Army roared, the crowd cheered, Timber Joey sawed his slab off The Log, and all was right with the world.

Joey does a great job; he's a good cheerleader and "mascot", and of the most bearable sort, since it seems to be the rule that all professional and most amateur teams need one of these things. But what made the evening particularly memorable for me was the presence of THE symbol of the Timbers, Timber Jim.

It was great to seem him there to celebrate the team's first league title since 2004. And, rather touchingly, he led the Army in "You Are My Sunshine". I understand that the story behind this is that after Jim's daughter was killed in an auto accident he led the song as a tribute to his little granddaughter, Hannah, who loved it. It's special to him, and the Army, and I've never been to a game where he was there, and the Army sang "Sunshine".

But now I have.

The Timbers won, 2-1, amid a haze of smoke and the singing of the Army. We shouted and roared and cursed right along. Soccer is a cruel game - perhaps more like life than the fantasies that other pro sports try and sell you. It is anticipation denied, hope crushed, the agonizing intercession of the post or the crossbar denying you. It is almost unendurable tension in hopes of a moment of transcendent release. And when it's right, and good, and joyful, it is among the happiest of places and times.After the final long whistle the fans stood and bayed for the players, and the players unrolled a banner thanking the fans and came down to the Shed End for the traditional singalong. The players donned the silly Cheap Plastic Crap Hats, and sang and celebrated with the crowd.Perhaps the most endearing moment was when the players were presented with their 25-or-so individual portraits done in the style of Portland's Matt Groening. Here's my confounding favorite Takayuki Suzuki with his "Simpsons" avatar:Finally the team trooped away to the showers, and the singing ended, and the stands emptied, and night and darkness and silence fell over the field.

Until the next time.

"Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill."

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I'm not a great big fan of Bill Maher. But sometimes it's not the messenger, it's the message.

And this clip from "Real Time" pretty much sums up how I feel about this country, this Administration and this moment in history right now. It's time to stop kidding ourselves; 30% of our "fellow Americans" are totally gonzo, batshit, rubber-room-dwelling crazy and to listen to their foam-flecked ranting is to make public policy based of the insane hallucinations of a piss-smelling wino who's cooked his brain with too much sterno.

We're supposed to be a democracy. Why not take the opportunity to start acting like one?

Otherwise we should have just gone ahead and elected "that old guy and Carrie's mom", forchrissakes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The stuff you find on Facebook...

...includes this guy.I'm not sure which is more intriguing; the little story of his peregrination told in the guy's video, or the fact that the Chinese government was OK with this guy wandering all over their fairly secretive country...

(h/t to India, who, aside from being a very hip urban mama caught this on YouTube)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Boy Who Cried "Terror!"

I'm tired of telling the same story today. So I'm going to tell a different one.

There once was a nation bored with politics and governing itself responsibly. So it chose to pander to its baser instincts and went out and found the most incompetent sheepdog it could find. While the sheepdog amused itself with crony capitalism and faith-based sheep-shearing, a wolf crept up and killed some of the sheep. The nation cried out in fear and anguish; "Wolf! Wolf! A Wolf is chasing the sheep!"The villagers came running up the hill to help the nation drive the wolf away. They stood beside it, and held its coat and mopped it's brow while the nation went in among the woods where the wolves lived and burnt down part of the forest, killing some wolves and putting the others to flight.But then the nation's leaders saw some foxes that had nipped their ankles years before. With a crafty smile, the leaders spun tales, lied and frightened the nation into thinking the foxes were wolves.

"Wolves! More wolves! We must attack the wolves before they attack us!" The villagers were a litle more skeptical, but they gathered around all the same. Several helped the nation attack the foxes, killing many, and in the process setting alight several nearby farm fields.But when they arrived at the sheepfold after the killing was done, they found no wolves, only the bloody corpses of foxes, some dead sheep and a goat or two that had been killed in the fracas. The nation sneered at the sight of their angry faces.

"Don't cry 'wolf', nation," said the villagers, "when there's no wolf!" They went grumbling back down the hill.

But the nation continued to sing out; "Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!" He shouted this when hawks flew by. He shouted it when a herd of cattle ambled past the base of the hill.To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers startle and run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away.

Every time there proved to be no wolf - or the wolf turned out to be a sick coyote, or a tame wolf, or some dogs, or a hot babe dressed up in a wolf peltto entertain the male readers of this story, or any number of things that were not really dangerous threats to the nation or the other nations - they grew more angry. The began to repeat with increasing vehemence; "Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don't cry 'wolf' when there is NO wolf!"

But the nation and it's leaders just grinned, scratched their asses and watched the others go grumbling down the hill once more.Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, "Wolf! Wolf!"

But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn't come.

At sunset, everyone wondered why the nation hadn't returned to its position of pride and honor and wealth within the village. They went looking for the nation and found it weeping."There really was a wolf here! My honor had scattered, my wealth is spent, I am in tatters, unable to control my worst impulses and falling to hubris, stupidity and shortsightedness! I cried out, "Wolf!" Why didn't you come?"

An old Frenchman tried to comfort the nation as they walked back to the village.

"We'll help you look for your lost honor in the morning," he said, putting his arm around the youth, "But you'd be well advised to remember: nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Decisive Battles: First Marne, 1914

First Marne Date: 5-12 September, 1914Forces Engaged: Allied: Primarily the French 6th Army, 7 reserve divisions, approximately 90,000-140,000 troops of all arms under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury and the British Expeditionary Force* (BEF), 6 infantry and 1 cavalry division - roughly 80,000 all ranks - under Field Marshal Sir John French. Later the French Fifth Army (Lanzarac; later d'Esperey) and the Ninth Army (Foch) joined in the attack on the German 2nd Army; the Fifth included 11 divisions (240,000 all arms) and the Ninth, 12 (about 250,000). Total engaged approximately 650,000 troops under the overall command of General Joseph Joffre.

Central Powers: Two Imperial German field armies: 1st, under von Kluck; 15 divisions (approximately 250,000 all arms) and 2nd, under von Bülow; 12 divisions (approximately 200,000 all arms), a total of roughly 450-500,000, nominally commanded by His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm II Hohenzollern but effectively under the command of Chief of the Imperial General Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger.

*Note - The 1914 BEF was a truly unique organization in British military history, and perhaps in military history as a whole. Tiny, insular, professional...nearly all the units contained were long-service regular troops, from the ordinary "county" units like the Manchester Regiment to the prestigious Brigade of Guards. Even the private soldiers often had years of experience. The British Army has probably never seen the like, before or since. But that's for later in the story.

The Campaign: To recount the opening moves of World War I you could write a book; in fact, several people have. But to really get a grasp of why the German, French and British forces met on the plain of the Marne in September 1914 you really have to go back about forty-five years.

Western Europe was among perhaps the bloodiest regions on Earth going back to Roman times. In particular the French, call them Gauls, Franks, the inhabitants of the polity centered around the Seine valley rode out across most of western, central and southern Europe between the fall of Rome and the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Before you snark the modern French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys you might pause to consider that for something like 13 centuries they were the Huns of Europe, killing, looting, raping and pillaging from the Pyrenees to the Elbe, from the Strait of Messina to the Baltic.

Among the peoples the French bitchslapped along the way were the residents of what were then called "The Germanies", the hodge-podge of feudal states, episcopal satrapies, electorships, free cities, robber barons, peasant uprisings and pushbutton motels that occupied central Europe. Pounded flat by French troops whether marching at the behest of Bourbons or Bonaparte, the German peoples had little love for their old enemies at the moment the winter of 1812 broke the hammer of the Grand Army and provoked the typically-blockheaded Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia to take arms against a sea of Frenchmen and by opposing, carve out a kingdom in eastern Germany.

The Prussians proceeded to benefit from two bits of luck: first, that the coalition that defeated Napoleon regarded them as fairly harmless, and in so doing did nothing to prevent Prussian hegemony in northern Germany; and second, that early in August, 1814 Karl von Bismarck and his young wife Wilhelmine had nothing better to do than fool around. The product of that evening was the man who unified Germany and, although he was violently opposed to the idea, in many ways helped to set her moving towards the meeting on the Marne in the first week in September, 1914.

Prussia was busy with its neighbors in the first half of the 19th Century, and France had internal troubles and the ass-whipping of 1814-1815 to keep it occupied, but by the third quarter of the period both sides were eyeing each other nastily. France, restlessly ruled by the nephew of the original Napoleon, was itching for a fight with the ambitious upcomer Prussia, whose defeat of the old order in the form of Austria in 1866 set the stage for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.This little fracas, too, has birthed entire volumes. But the Cliff's Notes version is that the Prussian state and army showed that modern war needed more than red pants and audace. Rapid mobilization, efficient railways, modern artillery and professional command and control quickly overcame the French Army. Republic superseded Empire but the defeat and humiliation - especially the punitive Treaty of Frankfurt - animated France with a hatred and enmity towards the newly formed "Germany" that the Prussian conquest of Paris in 1815 had never engendered.

Give him credit: Bismarck is said to have disliked the Treaty, fought against the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, and warned that making a permanent enemy of France was bad juju for Germany. However, his fear of social liberalization overcame his common sense and his influence on the young Crown Prince Wilhelm couldn't have been worse. As a result when his protege finally put on the Imperial Crown as Wilhelm II in 1888 it took him less than three years to force the Iron Chancellor out and replace him with a series of functionaries he intended to ignore. Bismark, dying in 1898, is famously quoted as predicting a German disaster as shattering as Jena within twenty years.

The diplomatic and political history of Franco-German relations between 1888 and 1914 are far beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice to say that Bismarck's tutelage of the now-Kaiser as an army-mad autocrat, coupled with the man's own innate limitations and his navy fixation did a lot to drive the Western powers towards the war. The web of mutual and secret military treaties didn't help, either. But we all know most of that. One event that isn't as well understood should be introduced: the "Entente cordiale" of 1904.

This agreement, principally intended to prevent yet another Anglo-French war in the lees of the war scare of that year (France and Britain had nearly been pulled into war by treaty obligations, France to her ally Russia, the Brits to theirs, Japan), was pretty much just a deal to settle colonial differences.

But the French, who now felt that they had another backer against the Germans, proceeded to act as if they did. And the German leadership - particularly the Kaiser - felt angered and betrayed by the English "treachery".

It was about this time that Wilhelm asked his Chief of Imperial General Staff, Alfred von Schlieffen, to devise a plan to defeat the Entente, working from the assumption that a war would come with France attacking first from the west and the slower-mobilizing Russians later from the East. Wilhelm, and Schlieffen, wanted a military solution that would overwhelm and defeat the French quickly, allowing the German state to use it's interior lines and excellent rail system to shift forces east to defeat the Russians in turn.

Schlieffen presented this in the form of a memo to the Imperial circle in December, 1905. The initial outline of the "Schlieffen Plan" called for a scythe-sweep of the Imperial right through the low countries with a force of 37 divisions - almost 1,000,000 troops - while a token force of some 400,000 held the German left at the frontier around Metz. 10 divisions would hold off the Russians for the 30-40 days the plan considered essential for the converging right wing to encircle the French Army, which was assumed would lunge into the Ardennes, Alsace-Lorraine and the Vosges, bring it to a decisive engagement and destroy it; a recapitulation on a massive scale of the 1870 victory at Sedan.Perhaps no single operational concept devised between then and now had received so much scrutiny and been analyzed, critiqued and discussed as the Schlieffen Plan. Complicating the controversy is the documentary evidence; apparently the "Plan" was not devised as such by Schlieffen himself - that is, developed as a fully detailed war plan that included orders of battle, routes, timetables, and logistical support - but rather existed as a conceptual memo in 1905 that was slightly expanded by a codicil in 1906. The actual Plan, as effected in 1914, was substantially modified by Schlieffen's successor von Moltke. These modifications included weakening the swinging flank to hold ground on the left, as well as altering the passage through the Low Countries; the modifications of 1908-09 have been bitterly contested ever since.On the one hand is the...let's call them the "originalist" faction. Their motto would be Schlieffen's dying words: "Keep the right wing strong". According to the originalist interpretation, the failure of 1914 was the result of weakening the right wing hammer to prevent territorial losses in Alsace, of not transiting neutral Holland as Schlieffen had planned (causing bottlenecks in Belgium due to a lack of road and rail space and the loss of the Dutch rail net), and the transfer of three corps to the East.

In the other camp are the "skeptic" faction. This group, which includes some pretty well-respected military historians such as Liddell Hart and van Creveld, believes that the failure in the West had everything to do with the hard realities of time, space, men and material and that the Schlieffen plan, in whatever form you took it, was not capable of overcoming them. Van Creveld says:
"The prime factors would have been the inability of the railheads to keep up with the advance, the lack of fodder, and sheer exhaustion. In this sense, but no other, it is true to say that the Schlieffen Plan was logistically impracticable."
John Keegan's analysis of the plan criticizes it for its failure to perform a simple calculation; not enough roads were available in Belgium and northern France to permit the German forces to arrive on schedule and in sufficient force - they could do one or the other, not both. He also points out the Schlieffen Plan as a leading example of the mental dysfunction between military war planning and the political goals and perils military planning is supposed to solve; the Plan works only as a military solution to a war with France, while ignores that violating Belgian neutrality was the very thing most likely to bring in the British against Germany and make the war with France into a larger, less solvable conflict.

Whatever the latter-day opinions of the Schlieffen Plan - and I admit to being a skeptic - in its revised form it would carry the German troops over their start lines on 4 August. The German right caprioled through Belgium, although the Belgian Army made a surprisingly good showing, while the French obligingly rammed their Plan XVII wiener into the warp drive around the Verdun-Toul fortress line.

The Germans didn't realize it, but their plan had begun to unravel, prey to "friction" that attacks all warlike enterprise, within hours of crossing the frontiers. For one thing, the French Army was tactically crude, trapped in the silly cult of "elan" and relying on some sort of mystical Frenchiness to overrun entrenchments, machineguns and rapid-firing light artillery. The offensive in the southeast got stuck, and Rupprecht, commander of the German Sixth and Seventh Armies, forgot his role in his furor Bavaricus, demanded, and got, permission to counterattack and did, successfully driving back the French First and Second Armies. The Ardennes portion of Plan XVII met the same checks, and since by this time the German attacks in Belgium were becoming dangerously successful Joffre could not continue to prevent the movement of the Fifth Army westwards towards Paris.

Both plans were coming apart.

The final moves to set up the Miracle of the Marne were:

1. In late August and early September Von Kluck and von Bulow turned south and east. The Schlieffen Plan had always called for bypassing Paris to the west (memories of the siege of 1871 had made the Germans unwilling to repeat it) but for some reason (poor intelligence? Overconfidence?) the commanders of the German right concluded that they had enveloped all the dangerous French and British forces and could roll them up without looping around Paris. This was wrong, and by 3 September someone had figured this out.2. On 4 September 1914 Général Galliéni, Commander of the Army of Paris, informed Général Joffre that Von Kluck's 1st Army has isolated itself from Von Bülow’s 2nd Army, its flanks "hanging in air"; his air observers had seen the open country between them. Joffre send word to Galliéni's Sixth Army to attack the right flank of the German 1st Army - on 5 September. French, the commander of the BEF, was nearly all to pieces but the intervention of Joffre and Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, managed to get him to agree to attack alongside the French Fifth Army into the hinge between the German 1st and 2nd Armies. The attack was set for 6 September.3. But at midday on 5 September the Sixth Army cav scouts contacted cavalry patrols from Gronau’s IV Reserve Corps near the Ourcq River. Gronau’s two divisions attacked and pushed Sixth Army's advance elements back on themselves. The Battle of the Marne had begun.

The Sources: As a 20th Century industrial military campaign the primary sources, including army records and state papers are exhaustively supplemented by diaries, memoirs, professional papers and staff rides as well as entire libraries of historical analysis are extant. There is no shortage of literature on the First Battle of the Marne. I should add that the Wikipedia entry discussing the Schleiffen Plan is surprisingly complete and incisive, and well worth reading on the subject if you haven't the time to chase down Liddell Hart, van Crevelt and David Fromkin.

The Engagement: Probably the simplest way to break down the Marne is day-by-day starting with the German attacks of September 5. And for the first time I cannot give more than an outline of the actual course of the fighting; too many soldiers spread over too vast an area make the detailed discussion of tactics, even grand tactics, nearly impossible.

5 SEP 1914

The day opened with a concerned von Moltke, dithering anxiously about his mobile HQ in Luxembourg, worrying about intel reports of French troops massing to Kluck's right in and around the environs of Paris. Added to this case of war nerves was his uncertainty about the whereabouts of Kluck's 1st Army. He knew it was out west somewhere...but where? Bulow's people had lost contact with the 1st Army left, and as far as Moltke knew it was just swanning around somewhere between 2nd Army and Paris. Early in September he ordered Kluck to close on von Bulow and "refuse" his right, becoming the Imperial Army's right flank and rear guard.This would'a been kinda hard for von Kluck, who at the time was out front of 2nd Army, crossing the Oise and Ourcq heading towards the Marne. By the morning of the 5th Moltke had had enough. He ordered both Kluck and von Bulow to halt and change their front from south to west, dig in and prepare a deliberate defense. What he didn't do was detail the disturbing news of French maneuver elements moving east out of Paris that had caused him so much anxiety. So, without any explanation of the order Kluck looked it over and basically wiped his ass with it. He dropped off Gronau's corps to cover his right flank and rear and kept pushing south, arriving at the St. Gond marshes near Chateau-Thierry on the evening of the 5th. Von Moltke? Fuck von Moltke...there was a war to win, and Kluck was just the boy to do it.

Meanwhile, Manoury's French Sixth Army was pushing northeast and east from Paris. His cavalry screen, pretty thin, tired and chopped up, met Gronau's recon elements on the nasty rough plateau around Brie (like the cheese). The French horsemen were unable to keep Gronau's own uhlans and dragoons from reporting that behind the French cavalry were infantry, and in force. Gronau sent a rocket off to Kluck screaming for support, backed off and dug in along the plateau. Sixth Army's lead elements deployed and began probing attacks to suss out the German positions.

Kluck, having finally received a staffer from Moltke and getting it through his head that not all was well on his right flank and rear, started moving his army back northwest. By morning of 6 September nearly all of 1st Army was on the roads heading west and northwest.

The Schlieffen Plan was officially done.6 SEP 1914

All the armies were moving during the day: the French Sixth attacking east and northeast into increasingly vicious German defenses; the German 1st piling into its new positions along the Ourcq; the French Fifth and the BEF pushing north into the gap opened between the German 1st and 2nd Armies, and even further east the French Ninth and Fourth Armies began to hold and even push back against the German right-center; their calvary is, again, outside the scope of our work.

The day can be summarized very simply for the BEF: marching. The BEF commander, French - confusing name, that - had been so demoralized by the losses at Mons and Le Cateau that he had withdrawn the British completely out of contact. The irony is that the casualties the BEF suffered in August 1914 would have made a British commander of 1916 or 1917 grin with pleasure. As mentioned above, the Old Contemptables of 1914 were a very different article - almost unlike any army before or since. Nearly entirely of long-service professionals, with even the private soldiers often having many years in service, the BEF had probably seen more war than any other army in Europe, but all of it the wrong kind. Colonial "wars" had made British officers insular and regimentalized. The British had learned nearly nothing from the American Civil, Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars; their logistics, command and control were crude, almost primitive, and their technical and tactical proficiency below even the bayonet-obsessed French. They had one great skill: marksmanship, and their rifle fire had shot entire German units flat at Mons and elsewhere. But French and the officers of his generation had little stomach for this new industrial warfare. The butchery of September, 1914, would begin the apprenticeship of an entirely new generation of British commanders whose callousness would become a byword and a hissing.

On the French left, Maunoury's Sixth Army flailed all day against the dug-in German positions on the plateau of Brie. Kluck, who really was a decisive and intelligent commander, had thoroughly recognized the danger from his right and had done a Patton-in-the-Bulge, wheeling his entire Army to his right, leaving a thin screen of cavalry and infantry outposts before the BEF and piled two of his army corps, IInd and IVth, into the Sixth Army as it filed up from Paris. Maunoury was no better than any of the other French generals at what we'd call today "C3I"; command, control, communication and intelligence. Mind you, with no radio and only rudimentary telephone, he couldn't do much more than issue general orders and hope for the best.But the result was a straggling struggle of a battle that was, in fact, really a sequence of battles, as individual French regiments, brigades and divisions attempted to storm into 1st Army's defenses, already hardening with wire, entrenchments and mutually supporting machineguns. Sixth Army managed to push Kluck's people back about 6 miles on a broad front north of Meaux, but with more landser arriving every hour, the going was slower and slower as night fell.

On the right, the French Fifth Army shouldered past von Bulow's right, taking high ground near Esterney and kicking open the weak scrim between the 2nd Army and Kluck's covering force.

7 SEP 1914

The 7th of September was a day of vicious hammering all along the lines of contact, what we would call the FEBA/FLOT: "Forward Edge of the Battle Area/Forward Line of Own Troops" - where the two sides exchange pleasantries. On the French left/German right, von Kluck threw another corps at Sixth Army; both sides exchanged ground, often for horrific losses, but the German advantages in heavy artillery, better command and control and more sensibly modern tactics began to tell. Here's a day in one small portion of the fight for the little village of Etrépilly that tells the story better than I can generalize it.

The German defenders (said to be a battalion or battalions from the IVth Corps that had arrived in the Etrépilly/Etavigny area the day before) had showed the German genius for rapid entrenchment that would become better known over the next year. They had dug in themselves and their machineguns, sited in light field artillery with heavier guns in defilade. The position was hasty and crude compared to the horrific trenches that would soon appear, but it was strong enough. For the next three days the French 63rd and 56th Divisions proceeded to smash themselves against it.Here's the story of as told in the Michelin guide to the battlefield published in 1921:
"The 350th Infantry did once make their way into the village on the morning of the 7th...but violent counter-attacks forced them back. They returned to the charge at night...(and) were greeted by the fire of a machinegun section, upon which two companies flung themselves with fixed bayonets. Two fieldpieces were taken." The French held on until 10pm, when German attacks drove them out again. "The 2nd (Zouave) Regiment, coming from Barcy, reached the village and carried it at the point of the bayonet. (NB: "Zouaves" were originally native troops from Algeria, first part of the "troupes de marine" in 1831. By 1914 zouave regiments, distinctive in their colorful "Algerian" bag-caps, short jackets, sashes and pantaloons, were mostly French colonials - the "pieds noirs", Frenchmen domiciled in North Africa.) "Their rush carried them as far as the cemetery; met there by a terrific fire from the machineguns that tried to keep the position along the walls of the cemetery, but in spite of their efforts, they had to abandon the plateau around, evacuate the village, and return to their trenches near Barcy. Lieutenant-Colonel Dubujadoux, the regiment's commander, was killed near the entrance under the west wall of the cemetery. Three quarters of the officers and half the effective force fell during this heroic charge."

Many of these young men still hold the ground they died for: they are buried in the little village cemetery once so fiercely fought over in the early autumn of 1914.Kluck must have sensed his chance to smash the Sixth Army; his troops pounded on it all day and into the evening.

The BEF did little against Kluck's weak blocking force.

On the right, d'Esperey's Fifth Army hammered forward against Bulow's right, crossing the river Grand Morin and further widening the gap between 1st and 2nd Armies. Von Bulow responded with energy, attacking on his left to try and break the hinge between d'Esperey and Foch's Ninth Army to his right. The attack was successful, but not decisive, and Bulow's gains on his left were offset by his setbacks on his right.

The night of 7th/8th September included one of the famous episodes of the First World War. Sensing that Sixth Army was exhausted, decimated and nearing collapse, General Gallieni rounded up the taxicabs of Paris and used them to shuttle 11,000 troops of the 7th Division from their railhead to the battle area.The episode has all the features of a good war story, so it has been made into a legend that today bears little resemblance to the historical fact. The facts are that the "Taxis of the Marne" didn't save France, and that the 7th Division was a tiny stone in the wall that Maunoury's Sixth held between Kluck and the French flank and Paris. But it was, and is, a great story and as such will live forever long after the warriors for the working day are forgotten.

8-9 SEP 1914

The Allied attacks continued: Sixth Army and the BEF closing in on both flanks of Kluck's 1st Army, Fifth Army bending back Bulow's right as 2nd Army continued to hammer Foch's Ninth Army.

The critical issue came late in the day on the 9th: Kluck turned his IXth Corps loose in a fierce attack on Manoury's left. The "hanging" flank was forced back and almost - but didn't quite - break. Kluck lost his chance to escape the envelopment through attack. Carefully, professionally as he did everything, his troops withdrew to the north and east, eventually recrossing the Ourcq on the night of the 9th/10th.To the east, von Bulow's 2nd and von Hausen's 3rd Armies put in a ferocious attack against Foch's men. The fighting was horrifying, nearly wrecking Ninth Army, but Foch and his troops - as Foch would do again - pulled one out of his ass. The French positions around Pleurs held, Foch committed one of his battered divisions, the 42nd, to counterattack. The Saxons of 3rd Army were not expecting attack; they believed that Ninth Army was on the ropes. Foch's gamble worked, and the French center held long enough for the danger to Kluck and Bulow to become unretrievable.

Allied troop spent a nervous night under arms between September 9th and 10th but when the sun rose the next day the German armies were moving off to the north. The German invasion plan of 1914 was over, and the next phase of the Great War had begun.

In fact, Moltke had collapsed; after a visit to his army commanders headquarters on September 11 he is said to have undergone a "nervous breakdown". His staff took over organizing the retirement to the positions 40 miles north, in the high ground beyond the Aisne River where they would remain for another four years.

The Miracle of the Marne was over; the Race to the Sea had begun, and the Great War, which was to have been "over by Christmas", had another four Christmases to run and millions more young men, old women, horses, dogs and every other living thing imaginable to kill before it would end; 16 million of them.

The Outcome: Grand Tactical Entente victory. The German invasion needed a decisive outcome within 30-60 days or the prospect of a war of attrition made the entire project unsound. Before the Marne - as we've discussed - the chances of a decisive German strategic victory were problematic; afterwards, impossible. Attrition, given no change in the balance of forces, could have resulted in a negotiated peace of exhaustion. As we know, that didn't happen. German shortsightedness, combined with British guile and the ties between the British and the United States, brought the U.S. into the war on the Allied side.Game over, thanks for playing, Your Serene Highness...

The Impact: The "Miracle of the Marne" is really a cautionary tale to all those, and those of us, who believe that military strategy is the pinnacle of the military art and that military plans can be crafted to achieve a perfect geopolitical result.

Both Plans - Schlieffen and XVII - were perfectly designed to produce the same result; a decisive battle in northeastern France. The problem was that both sides thought that their version was the perfect solution to beat the other, and one of them would have had to be wrong. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Moltke hadn't diddled with the original Schlieffen Plan; it would have been like one of those samurai movies where the duelists both attack at the same time with their "ultimate" strike. They stand, and stand, and suddenly one drops dead. Or both.

Whatever. It didn't happen, for all the reasons we've talked about.

The irony is that the world, taken all together, might have been better off HAD the Schlieffen Plan worked as advertised. Counterfactuals are troubling at best, but bear with me here.

Let's assume that Schlieffen actually DOES the hard nutwork and devises a plan capable of delivering 40-some divisions behind the Allied left some time within four to six weeks after the initial engagements. Moltke doesn't weaken the right, doesn't let Rupprecht attack on the left, the Russians don't mobilize as quickly as they did, and the Germans achieve a Sedan-like envelopment and decisive victory.Wilhelm had no further territorial ambitions in France. So it is probable that the result would have been a negotiated diktat, possibly snatching some French colonial possessions. But...the likelihood is that the French would have nurtured revanche well into the 20th Century. But whether this would have led to a different sort of WW2? Or a 20th Century of uneasy peace?

Hard to say.

But without the devastation of WW1, much of the rest of the past century, from Hitler to Stalin, communism and Nazism, death camps and gulags...all might have been much different. Better? Perhaps, perhaps not. But clearly very, very different.

In a sense, the Marne was the worst possible direction for history to take, short of Prinzip missing Franz Ferdinand altogether. It ensured years of dismal war, and wrecked or warped the societies, economies and polities it involved. Yes, Paris was saved, and France, from another humiliating defeat. But at what price?

The other caution here is that we always know less than we think we know. The political leaders and especially the general officers didn't really understand the war they were fighting at all. Despite seeing the effects of industrial war in 1861-1865, 1866 and 1870, they refused to believe that the combination of mass production, rifling, high explosive and repeating machinery could overcome "elan" and the glory of war.There's something really pathetic about the 1914 regiments marching out with their colors, their tawdry finery of helmet gilt and brass buttons covered with makeshift cloth covers or dulled with emery paper, the horses and bands and the flags waving those hapless souls off to Hell.


Decision on the Marne "saves" France, and ensures another four years of grinding war, with all the consequences. What else?

Another significant impact of the Marne, I think, is the collapse and relief of von Moltke. Not one of history's Great Captains but a reasonably humane officer, Moltke is replaced by Falkenhayn.

If that seems insignificant then you need to read about Verdun. Verdun was the "grave of France"; the horrible conditions, and the frightful dying, that the French poilu suffered there in 1916 were the direct antecedent of the Chemin de Dames mutinies of 1917. Verdun, if it was anyone's battle, was Falkenhayn's. He was sure that he could bleed the French Army out and cause France to sue for peace. It might have worked, too, had the U.S. not come in on the side of the Allies. But if you want to point a finger at someone for the horrors of WWI, Falkenhayn has to be right up there with Neville and Haig.

The What-Ifs: No "decisive battle" - certainly none in the 20th Century - has as many intriguing possibles as the Marne.

What if the Schlieffen Plan HAD worked? What if Moltke hadn't altered it? What if the German right hadn't come unraveled? What if Moltke had had the emotional stability of a Ludendorff and the tactical sense of a Hindenburg?

What if Joffre hadn't listened to Gallieni? What if French had been further gone than he was? What is Joffre hadn't replaced Lanzarac? What if Foch's army had broken? What if Bulow and Kluck had worked together better?

Touchline Tattles: I cannot think of a single odd, amusing or offbeat story to tell about the Marne.

It was a decisive battle, it had a part in changing the course of history, but it was, as Bill Sherman said, all hell and you cannot refine it.

The only stories I can think of are sad ones; young men marching off to war with eighty years of silly romantic stories in their heads, young women hoping and dreaming about them, and both of them pitched into the abyss their "leaders" dug for them. The soldiers of the Marne fought like mad Greek heroes, but there's nothing heroic here; just mud, blood, fear and death, and four long years of it and at the end, the foreboding that their children will do it all again in twenty years.

If there's any lightness here, it is only mockery.

For the dead, all wars are lost. It's hard for us to remember that, sometimes. Even when the dying comes for a cause, even when the cause is WORTH the dying for.

And the Marne wasn't really one of those; the result of a huge, pride-swollen, diplomatic stupidity, it was just another handful of days in one of history's most awful because it was one of its most pointless wars.

No, all I can find here is the silence of the dead.