Ian W. Walker, Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa (The Crowood Press: Ramsbury, UK, 2003)
Even during the war, nobody wanted to tell the truth about the Italian army. The fascist government and their pet generals did not want to admit that they had entered the war on a whim and sent soldiers with too little training and equipment into battle. German soldiers often disliked the Italians for good old ethnocentric reasons, and found that it was very convenient to blame them for everything which went wrong. And as they suffered defeat after defeat in 1940, 1941, and 1942, the British leaned on their own stereotypes to depict the one Axis power they could beat as frivolous and cowardly. The Italian army did not always fight its unjust wars enthusiastically, and did not keep fighting for two years after the war had been lost, but it is rarely praised for this. Ian W. Walker’s Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts is a good summary of the reassessment by an amateur historian who can read English and Italian. It has basic sketch maps and handy line drawings of key Italian equipment such as the M11, M13, and M14 series of medium tanks. Rather than a traditional review, this week I will post three things I learned from this book.
In another place, some people got very upset that I would not engage in a discussion whether some populations have a hereditary difference in intelligence from other populations, and that I thought a famous professor who enthusiastically endorsed this idea had trusted some untrustworthy people. Doesn’t that make me a bad scientist who refuses to look at the data? Haven’t I talked about how I miss the rational argument culture of the early Net? Isn’t engaging with people a better way to convince them (and to convince onlookers) than implying that I think their ideas are silly? Am I just like those posturers on corporate social media who try to ban all dissent, or the lobby groups who try to ban research whose conclusions might harm their cause?
Where now the blog and livejournal? Where the alert that was blowing? Where are the drafts file and imagebank, and the wild words flowing? Where is the strife about small wars, and the cathodes glowing? Where is debate and discovery, and the archives growing? They have passed like bits on a floppy, like tape in a dashboard The sites have gone down one by one, by their owners abandoned. Who shall turn the dry sheaves into green grass waving, Or behold a sunken ship to the Sun returning?
So, 2021 is crawling out the door under a hail of bullets, arrows, javelins, beer bottles, and hurlbats. A lot happened.
I worked the 2021 election where Canadians told their representatives to go back to work and not ask for absolute power, and I got a part-time job with a large Canadian retailer after three years of unemployment.
I got vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.
I finished the manuscript of my second book and am about to sent a draft around to contacts with the right interests.
A wheel of fortune in the Museo Civico, Verona. To minds before the 20th century, the wheel of fortune was not a toy but a thing as terrible as tetanus. Photo by Sean Manning, 2018. It is easier to banish a habit of thought than a piece of knowledge.H. Beam Piper, Uller Uprising (1952) One... Continue reading: Science as a Way Off the Wheel
I am having trouble writing my usual Remembrance Day post. In 2021, Canada finally lost its first war since the Chilcotin War in 1864 (the Chilcotin still belongs to the Tsilhqot’in, and that road was not driven through it). So far, our government has shamelessly betrayed the people in Afghanistan who helped it. Canadians are... Continue reading: Remembrance Day 2021
if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business. [When I announced my plans to build a huge new real estate development to the press], not all of them liked the idea of the world’s tallest building. But the point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.
As my gentle readers have probably noticed, I like factual, cautious things. So its frustrating to read or hear things which spend more time rebutting some hurting wrong opinion than presenting facts. I never heard this opinion, and I am reading this book or listening to this talk because I want to see what the author thinks about the topic. They only have so much time to reach me, so why do they waste most of it telling me not to think something I don’t think?
A scholarship to do a two-year Master’s degree on the Roman army in the east between the University of Manitoba and Dr. Conor Whately at the University of Winnipeg has just been announced on the Canadian Classical Bulletin. The two-year MA student (2022-2024) will be responsible for putting together detailed prosopographies of the people of... Continue reading: MA Scholarship on the Roman Army (Manitoba)
The wars I mean are those fought between two widely separated races accustomed to a different physical environment. Then it may naturally happen that each race or nation has developed an armament and a style of fighting suitable to the nature of the country in which it dwells, and is practically unable to alter its national arms and tactics. …
The best examples which history offers of this are the great struggles in ancient or mediaeval times between East and West. Here as a rule the opposing armies differ entirely in character. The Western nation is apt to rely on solid masses of heavy-armed warriors, the Eastern on cavalry and archers skirmishing in open order. This contrast is nowhere better seen than in the Persian War, but something like the same difference meets us again in later history, in the wars of Rome with Parthia, or in the Crusades, though in them, while the Orientals still trust to light horse and archers, the men of the West rely no longer solely or mainly on infantry, but on heavy-armed horsemen, supported by infantry armed with missiles.
News of the first strikes against Afghanistan indicate that a tested Western response to Islamic aggression is now well under way. It is not a crusade. The crusades were an episode localised in time and place, in the religious contest between Christianity and Islam. This war belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far older conflict between settled, creative productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals. –
In the latest issue of Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval (link if you read Spanish) I wrote about how many people telling the story of Xerxes’ Ionian War want one side to be a lavishly equipped professional army and the other to be a gang of ragged freedom-fighters, but they can’t decide which side should be the Greeks and which side should be the Persians. If the Persians are the mighty imperial army with the latest equipment and training, they are not the peoples overcome by European firepower and drill in recent times. If the ancient Greeks are the quarreling aristocrats and aggressive amateurs which they tell us they were, they are not Mr. Kipling’s army in skirts. People want to identify with the underdog, but they also want to believe that superhuman forces make their side’s victory inevitable. Its hard to reconcile those two wishes.
There is also a simile where Greeks battling Persians are like crusaders battling the Turks. The people who make this analogy know as little of one as the other, but it sounds impressive. And this kind of rhetoric also has some contradictions which you can see if you read the words of an obscure lieutenant of cavalry.
The Oakeshott Institute in Minnesota, a centre for studying the medieval sword and sharing that knowledge with the public, has been robbed by its payment processor Paypal. Paypal froze its account and then confiscated the money in it for unclear reasons. Paypal has a history of freezing or confiscating accounts (it is a safe way... Continue reading: The Oakeshott Institute has been Robbed
Reading Sir John Smythe and Harold Lamb and Martin van Creveld, I was struck by the fact that sometime in the 19th or 20th century, armies began to fetishize youth. A friend joined the Canadian Army Reserve at 17 and was carrying a rifle in Kandahar a year or two later, and when Martin van Creveld wants to show how Prussian supply officers were inadequate in 1848, he accuses them of being aged from 55 to 69 (Supplying War p. 78). My colleague Jolene McLeod has listed the modern authors who insist that Plutarch cannot be correct that Eumenes’ Silver Shields were all 60 years and older when they marched up to Antigonus’ phalanx and stabbed it to pieces in a few moments of blood and horror (Life of Eumenes 16.4). An American speaker calling for a reform of the relationship between their regular army and National Guard wanted the former to be “young” and focus on warfighting, while the older National Guard soldiers could focus on rebuilding and garrison duty. (It might have been this TED talk by Thomas Barnett but I don’t have energy to re-watch it).