23 October 2012

Tim Judah Out-Nonsenses Himself



The most enjoyable side benefit of the debt crisis impacting the EU has to be the opportunity to observe the distress it is causing its cocky and authoritarian supporters. Take Tim Judah, for example, a reporter from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, but who is better known for his Balkan-themed works of dilettante, bubblegum history, which have won him a wholly undeserved reputation for balance and sobriety on the account that his fare was about 2% less toxic than the poison served up by his still more successful colleagues, the likes of Christine Amanpour and Ed Vulliamy. Judah's beloved EU is in trouble, and it shows. Distressed as he must be, he has penned what is probably his most embarrassing piece to date.

In the piece, spurred by the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, Judah admonishes "those who are against it [the EU]". Like a teacher who who implores children to not engage in food fights, but to think of 'poor starving children in Africa' instead, Judah implores Union Europeans to think why the poor "ex-Yugoslavs" appreciate the EU so much, and to support this institution on their behalf, or for the same reason these simpler "ex-Yugoslav" people do. Yepp, it's condescending as hell and the problems with it hardly stop there. Let us address them in order.

First there is the presumptuous title: "Ex-Yugoslavs Know Why EU Deserves a Nobel Prize". Having made a career of writing myths about Yugoslavs and misnarrating their quarrels Judah now thinks he may speak in their name. As an actual "ex-Yugoslav" I can say I do not see that the EU deserves any peace prizes. I can, however, say I believe the EU and the Nobel Prize deserve each other, both being completely worthless. Most of all I think it is not the place of a British hack to try to speak on my behalf.

Judah begins the body of his text by drawing a parallel between anti-EU dissent and nationalism that "ripped apart the former Yugoslavia":
"The bile that has poured from so- called euro-skeptics since the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the European Union is not surprising. To a journalist who has covered the Balkans for more than two decades, it is also reminiscent of the nationalism that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia. Back then, though, no one spoke of Yugo-skeptics."
Here Judah implicitly draws a parallel between the European Union and Yugoslavia. Naturally, this means having to gloss over the crucial role in ripping apart Yugoslavia that was played by the EU itself. Judah attempts to draw a moral alignment between the former Yugoslavia and the EU, when the EU's actual alignment when it counted was with the "Yugo-skeptics".

He follows up with a desperate howl of a man who has found himself on a losing side of an argument and wants to shut down discussion before this is made apparent to all. Apparently unable to counter their points Judah laments that the critics of the EU in member states are not finding themselves demonized and dismissed out of hand:
"Today, if Serbs, Croats or Albanians used the language of anti-Europeans further west, they would be labeled extreme nationalists and a threat to stability, without so much as a blink of an eyelid."
Consider this is a statement given in a piece attempting to shame the Union Europeans into being more like the allegedly Union-appreciating "ex-Yugoslavs". Judah would actually find it preferable if conditions in Union Europe were such that anti-EU dissent was met with high-pitched accusations of "extreme nationalism" and "threatening stability". He would like it better if the opponents of the EU were not afforded the benign label of 'Euro-skeptics' and the associated access to polite media, but were vilified without a second thought, just as would any "ex-Yugoslav" nationalists not to the West's liking.

02 October 2012

How Stalin Purposefully Lengthened WWII


One thing I left out of the review of The Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact below and the book mentions is that it is very likely that in late 1944 the USSR was passing information obtained by espionage against the Western Allies to Japan. Stalin likely decided to do this for fears that Japan may capitulate to the Western Allies before he was ready to attack it himself, which would deprive him of the opportunity to get the Soviet Union into a needless war that would cost it 35,000 casualties.

It is not known how good a use Japan made of the information received from the Soviets, and if Moscow in acting this way indeed prolonged the war in Asia and the Pacific as Stalin had intended. What is certain, however, is that Stalin was successful in purposefully prolonging the war in Europe. He did so when he stopped the fantastically successful Vistula-Oder Offensive when it was apparent it could have reached Berlin in February 1945 virtually unopposed.

Having launched the Vistula-Oder Offensive on January 12th the Red Army made fantastic progress and covered hundreds of kilometers in just a few weeks. By February 1st it had secured multiple bridgeheads on the Oder river which placed it 700 kilometers to the west of its initial positions on the Vistula and a mere 60 kilometers away from Berlin (the Western Allies were still 500km away on the Siegfried Line). Due to how speedy its advance had been and how many German forces it had swept away in the course of its advance the Red Army now gazed at the approaches to Berlin that were only very lightly defended. Accordingly, the Soviets begun the second phase of the winter campaign on the Berlin strategic axis. They were to drive forth again, after only a few days of respite and punch through to reach and take the city as quickly as possible.

It was not to be. As David Glantz, the preeminent American historian of Soviet military operations in WWII explains (1, 2), on February 8th, or thereabout, Stalin suddenly halted the renewed advance in its early stage. The Soviet dictator directed the Red Army forces involved to concentrate on Pomerania and Silesia instead, and transferred others to Hungary from where the Soviets would advance on Vienna. By the time the drive on Berlin was resumed two months later, just a day after Vienna had been taken, the Germans had had time to regroup and a much harder fight awaited the Soviets to reach and take the German capital. In the various offensives that the Soviets launched after the February advance on Berlin had been aborted no fewer than 290,000 Soviet troops were killed and 960,000 were wounded. Many of these losses could have been avoided, but for Stalin's decision to pass over the opportunity to take the Hitler's lightly-defended capital and go for well-defended secondary targets instead.