The Day I met a Nazi

Details of the event have been amalgamated or changed to protect identities.

The author grew up on a diet of war films of good vs evil. Allies vs Axis in WWII. North vs South in the American Civil War. The Rebel Alliance and the Empire in Star Wars. And, for a time, Israel vs the Arabs. These things were, in the beginning, understood with a passion that a child has when told by their parents and other authority figures what is right and what is wrong.

Later as various nuances were introduced some of this was reinforced but mostly it was weakened. Morality, good and bad were relativised. There was slavery, but also Sherman’s march to the sea. There was the Blitz and the massacres of the allied prisoners by the German armed forces, but also the strategic bombing campaign of Germany. There was the Bataan Death March and there was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I learned about the Nakbah and ugly attitudes among Israeli Jews towards Muslims and Arabs. I learned about European colonialism and the Belgian Congo. I continued to study and be repulsed by fascism. I played and enjoyed Wolfenstein: The New Order but I had come to far more intellectually feel about how bad Nazism was, rather than believe that sentiment as profoundly as I should have. I had fully subscribed to the West as victimiser paradigm.

Then I met a Nazi.

They were from an Arab country. They were a colleague. They were erudite, well educated, cosmopolitan. They spoke more languages than I knew small phrases in. They gave encouraging words to others and had a warm smile. I looked up to them and thought about how assured, educated, competent and worthy they were.

Then someone mentioned getting along with Israel. Their warm, cosmopolitan mask cracked like an egg being rudely dashed on the rim of a frying pan. They expressed their indifference to the Holocaust. They said they identified with the position many Arabs had that the Holocaust was either fictional or a Good Thing.

First came the confusion, the shock, the denial. Then came feelings of nausea, feelings of flight or fight. It became hard to focus. But above it all, instead of the normal warm smile, there was the sneer of absolute certainty on their face. The focused hatred in their brown eyes. There was the utter lack of empathy and identification in their eyes. There was the clear desire to inflict pain, death and suffering on a grand scale – should circumstances ever allow them to carry out their wishes, and all without hesitation. Anything else was how they acted in polite company and clearly hoped that the parameters of how they needed to behave in polite company would change.

Before I saw this there had been something unreal about the Nazis. Something singular. They were a particular set of people from a particular time. Those that claimed their mantle openly were pathetic losers. Badly educated, with beer bellies, tattoos everywhere, no jobs, no future. No one, or indeed no one of such deep education, such wide traveling and cultural experience, no one of their professional quality would ever even think such things. Such at least, was how I thought. Watching or reading about the Nazis do horrible things was one thing. It was in the past. It was on screen as pixels. It had been real but it had been. And even where there were such prejudices, it would not be extended, surely, to people they knew and had displayed kindness and warmth to and had those same qualities returned.

Then this music began playing in my head and the feelings of nausea, flight or fight, heightened to anger. I heard myself breath and felt it more acutely. ‘Calm down’, said my brain. I did not remain calm but I did remain passive. I am sure though the look on my face was less one of disgust and more one of anguished betrayal.

The disgust and the coldness came later, but with it came reading. Lots and lots of reading. Reading about the complete expulsions of Jewish populations from Arab countries. Reading about Arab imperialism and the destruction of the remnants of the Roman world by the Arabs, and the Arab suppression of if not destruction of cultures. Reading about the not always progressive, often repressive and brutal Cordoba caliphate. Reading about the cruelties of Brahmin caste at the zenith of Hindu led civilisation in India. Reading about German barbarians crossing the Rhine and inflicting such a catastrophe that contemporaries often wrote as though they were in the midst of the apocalypse itself. Reading once again about the Nazis, their origins, their practices, but a lot more importantly their helpmates, their collaborators – particularly in eastern Europe and how many ‘colonised’ peoples cheered silently and sometimes not so silently for the Germans to win. Reading about the indifference to, if not celebration of the Holocaust in the Muslim world, indeed in most of Asia. Reading sneering Nazi dismissals of Roman law, Jewish and Christian morality (mostly one and the same to the Nazis), and hearing some echoes of the same in denunciations of western centric, enlightenment inspired thinking on the right but also on the left. Reading about people remembering every real or imagined injustice inflicted upon them and glorying in the injustices they inflicted upon others.

And with this madness mantra of reading came reconsidering previous actions, previous statements in a whole new light. Not just of this person but of many others. Appreciating just more fully how fully intended expressions of desire to conquer, to hurt, to be cruel to others were. Just how sincerely conservative desires to not care for the weak, the sick, the unfortunate were.

Several months later, I had to leave. They remained and were promoted. In the meantime, I have had difficulty sleeping. I am confident they, and the millions if not billions like them sleep well.

The Purpose of the Franklin Expedition

In the article dated 26 July Background to the Franklin Expedition the author stated that the purpose of the expedition led by Captain Sir John Franklin consisting of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was to navigate the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. This is only part of the reason the expedition took place.

Then as now governments were loath to spend any money. Then as now naval expeditions were expensive. By 1844 it was well established that even if the Northwest Passage were navigated it would be commercially useless given how few good months for sailing there were in the Arctic. Very likely any ships trying to use it would be icelocked and have to winter over for at least one winter, hardly a commercially viable proposition. While discovering it did have a certain romantic allure, it was by itself far from sufficient by 1844 to provide a reason for the government to give a budget to an expedition in the Arctic.

Far more compelling and commercially important reasons were offered by the chance to do geological surveys of the region, to map out ice floes and the location of icebergs, recording these phenomena was relevant to help ships in the North Atlantic keep a watch for and predict potential hazards. This also was not sufficient to prompt an expedition given the expense for any naval vessel at sea, much less two, still less a fully equipped expedition into the Arctic.

Of far greater relevance was geomagnetic readings that could be done in the Arctic. Very close to magnetic north the expedition could take tens if not hundreds of readings each day to gather data on how compasses behaved, how far compass readings deviated in calculating position compared to other methods such as astronomy, and how compass readings changed as ships passed near magnetic north. Recording this data could only be done in the Arctic and could only be useful if it were taken at multiple locations. It was known that compass readings were imprecise and could be affected by the increasing use of iron in ships as the age of iron hulled and steamships began. Gathering data would help navigators determine their positions more precisely and help naval and commercial vessels save both time and difficulty in navigating the high seas. The data yielded from further observations could also help in the design of superior magnetic instruments. Gathering data from the Arctic and Antarctic was of keen interest in the British scientific community.

There were also questions of national prestige and claims to sovereignty on the line. Between the Napoleonic Wars and the end of the 19th Century Russia and Britain were locked in tense competition over spheres of influence in Central Asia and, until the purchase of Alaska by the United States, over the Arctic. For both the Russians and the British claims to territory could mean claims to potentially lucrative fishing or mineral rights. From the south, the United States was also bringing increasing pressure to bear as America began to industrialise, and expand both westward and northward. While nowhere near the strength of the Royal Navy, the days when the Royal Navy could halt, and board American vessels at will had gone. And America too was interested in the North Atlantic and potential sovereignty over any part of Canada that was not explicitly claimed by Britain. In the scientific realm, from observatories in Paris and Berlin, French and German scientists were taking magnetic and celestial readings and coming very very close to accurately predicting geographic locations without undertaking expensive naval expeditions. However, the Antarctic expedition of 1839 – 1843 commanded by Sir James Ross and his second in command Francis Crozier – yes that Crozier – had succeeded in obtaining both more precise magnetic readings, but had actually found the geographic location of the South Pole. And the actual location of the South Pole was quite a few miles away from where the observatory in Berlin had calculated it to be. Expensive naval expeditions thus made Britain a world leader in science and navigation that helped reinforce Britain’s naval dominance and reaffirmed Britain’s status as the preeminent European power.

All of these reasons taken together were enough to persuade the government to fund the largest, best equipped Royal Navy expedition through the Arctic to date. Navigating the Northwest passage was the headline event, providing the expedition with the glamour and glory of discovery, of putting things clearly on the map and symbolically opening the world. As will be covered in a subsequent article, it is no accident that John Franklin commanded the expedition. Not only was Franklin an Arctic veteran but he had begun his naval career recording magnetic and celestial data near Australia. After his second Arctic expedition, Franklin had, in addition to a successful deployment to Greece as Captain of HMS Rainbow, thrown himself into the latest studies and developments in magnetic science and kept abreast of all the changes. When Franklin was Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) he had consistently taken magnetic readings to help further the efforts of British science to more effectively understand Geomagnetism.

The Franklin Expedition was therefore a serious navigational and scientific endeavour. As has been mentioned, it was the best provisioned and equipped. Preparation for the Expedition took into account all the bitter experiences of previous expeditions and it would be equipped and prepared to minimise any risks to the men who comprised it and to help ensure that the ships would be able to return.

AMC’s The Terror: Episode 2 Analysis

We pick up with our intrepid Royal Navy heroes 8 months after we last left them. They have spent another winter in the Arctic, but Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) is sending out search parties in all directions, looking to see if there is an ice melt or a direction in which they might be able to blast their way through. Everyone is in high spirits except Crozier (Jared Harris) whose wears a look of perpetual worry on his face. That draws the ire of Franklin and Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), who try to cheer up the men and make them all give a cheer as they set off looking for a path out. The zoom out shot before the cut to credits strongly suggests there is not one. The shot of the ships in the ice, all white in all directions almost makes it seem as though the expedition is trapped in another dimension, on another world and hammers home how hostile their environment is.

The episode focuses on a sledge party going southeast from the ships led by Lieutenant Graham Gore to look for southern leads and plant a message at a cairn built in the 1830s by Sir James Ross during his Uncle’s 1829-1834 expedition at a place called Victory Point. We get introduced to the surgeon Goodsir’s (Paul Ready) earnest interest in the Inuit and also an Arctic technique of overland travel. A lifeboat has a ladder affixed to the bottom, is loaded with the needed supplies and equipment and then 6-8 men pull the boat. Even with the men in high spirits it is clear it is an extremely physically demanding task. But we also get to see how Lieutenant Gore never loses his cheer and does his best to keep everyone’s spirits up. We also see Goodsir is not really up to heavy lifting but makes an earnest effort. He also tells Lieutenant Gore that he and others should not refer to him as “Doctor Goodsir” but as “Mr. Goodsir” as he is an anatomist and surgeon, not a Doctor. When they reach what they know as King William Land, they see the ice shows no sign of melting and has backed up against the island, like a crashing wave frozen in time. Nonetheless the party is in high spirits seeing land again.

Back on Erebus and Terror Sir John tries to warm up Crozier by visiting him and telling him he hopes to see more of him and missed not having his company during the long cold winter. Crozier tries to reassure Franklin that Franklin never lost his friendship but that he does not leave his ship, as he fears disaster should he leave. Seeing this as a dodge, Franklin admits that he made a mistake the previous year and should have listened to Crozier and headed south instead of southwest. Crozier says “I will always come to you, I serve at your command” with an earnest expression but Franklin sees this is not a firm commital to come visit him and he leaves disheartened but not before telling Crozier his toilet is draughty.

Elsewhere on Terror Lieutenant John Irving (Ronan Raftery) goes below decks to find two seamen – Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) and Gibson together and suspiciously frazzled. He bats away their excuses and tells Hickey to get some tar and reseal the Captain’s toilet. Gibson worries Irving will report them for being homosexual, but Hickey confidently and smilingly assures Gibson that Irving’s devout Christianity and his strict observance mean he is too horrified by the idea of imagining what he did not see to go report them.

Meanwhile back on King William Island, Gore’s group leave their sled boat then locate the cairn. Gore adds a few extra details to the message in the cairn, signs and dates it then puts it into the Cairn. Gore also tells Goodsir that he thinks of Goodsir – given his knowledge and skills as a Doctor. The music however is strange, dissonant and Goodsir is uneasy. He keeps looking off into the distance. Gore asks him if he sees anything. Goodsir says he does not but cannot seem to shake the feeling that something is out there. Gore divides the group in two. Gore and a Marine will go find another Cairn, the other group will go set up camp. Goodsir calls after Lieutenant Gore, indicating he possibly sees something in the distance.

Back on Erebus Franklin confides in Fitzjames that he knows he is not reaching Crozier and wishes Crozier would spend more time with them. Fitzjames tries to comfort Franklin saying the problem is not Franklin but Crozier and that Crozier was “no one’s choice for this expedition.” Franklin bitterly points out he was not either. Fitzjames says that is not important, what is important is how people act in their situation regardless of how the situation came about. Franklin agrees but is unsure. When he and Fitzjames greet the return of Lieutenant Hodgson’s party there is nothing but bad news. There are no leads and some of the tinned food is rotten. Franklin is clearly worried but does not show it to Hodgson instead looking worried that the rowdiness in a football match the men are playing could become the rowdiness of a mutiny.

We then see, from Franklin’s perspective, why Crozier is cold and distant to him. Back in England Franklin urged his niece Sophia Cracroft (Sian Brooke), using some subtle yet obvious classist language and allusions to Crozier being Irish, as reasons why she is right to reject Crozier’s marriage proposals. Franklin then sees Crozier heard every word and skulks off in disgust. Franklin looks crestfallen as he realises Crozier thinks Franklin holds him in low personal regard.

Goodsir and the others return to their boat to find it has been completely overturned, not just on its side, but completely overturned. Some speculate it is a bear, but given how heavy the boat is they think it is either a pack of bears or possibly something else. Something is stalking them. They set up camp, then huge chunks of ice begin to fall in a hail storm. Gore and the Marine return just as the hail starts and they confirm they are being shadowed by a bear. The Marine says firing his musket scared it off only very temporarily. They arm themselves with weapons when the hail dies down and try to take up position on the crest of the ice backed up against the shore of King William Island. As they move up, the Marine is spooked by a movement and fires. As the figure drops they can tell it is a human and the Marine yells for Goodsir to help. Everyone bolts forward. It is a middle aged Eskimo man – the same one Seaman Young saw last episode as he was dying – and a younger woman is beside him clearly hysterical as he moans in pain. Unsure what to do Goodsir bolts back to Lieutenant Gore only too late as something looking like a bear charges out from behind a satridge of ice and mauls, blood spurts from his mouth. Goodsir’s scream of terror is blocked out by the noise of the lightning and thunder.

Later as Hickey cleans and seals Crozier’s toilet with tar Crozier comes in and thanks Hickey for doing such an unwelcome job. He notes that, like him, Hickey is Irish but unlike Crozier has no accent. Hickey says he has lived so long in England, it comes naturally and he doesn’t want to be discriminated against for being Irish so he has lost the accent. Crozier smiles wryly and offers him a drink that Crozier drinks far more enthusiastically than Hickey. When Irving comes in to report on a sledge party returning, Hickey gives Irving a ‘don’t you dare or else’ look and Irving seems a little intimidated by Hickey. When Crozier goes out with Irving Hickey pushes his drink away in disgust – showing that his gratitude for the drink was entirely affected. Something is wrong with Hickey.

What Crozier and the others aboard Erebus and Terror see is Gore’s sledge party running back to the ships in a panic with the Inuit woman helping pull. They carry him to Erebus’ sick bay where Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie) refuses to operate on the Eskimo man out of disgust and a lack of sympathy. Goodsir begs Franklin and Fitzjames to be allowed to operate. The younger woman (Nive Nielsen) tries to resist this, but Crozier speaks Inuit to her and reassures her that Goodsir is trying to help. Sourly Franklin agrees for Goodsir to try and storms off in a foul mood, the first we have seen the unflappable John Franklin angry. His disgust for the Inuit is evident and probably not helped as Gore was well regarded by both him and Fitzjames. Two things become clear – the man is too far gone to be saved as the bullet is too firmly in the man to be extracted safely and the younger woman is his daughter. She begs him not to die and says “Tuunbaq will not listen to me.” The officers present who can speak Inuit are confused. She breaks down sobbing and tries to lift him up to carry him out saying ‘He must die on the ice.’ But he passes away and it is over. Franklin reappears and tersely informs Crozier he is not leaving Erebus until all of Gore’s sledge party is debriefed.

Franklin and Fitzjames continue to be in a foul mood and the tone of their questions to Goodsir is hostile. The scene is lit with twilight, providing a foreboding atmosphere. Uncharacteristically it is Crozier who is gentler in this scene. Goodsir informs them that they never found Gore’s body but that he is certain Gore died given the amount of blood they did find. He also notes the creature’s prints are larger than those of a Polar Bear. Goodsir also says that he and Gore’s team believe that the creature has stalked them back to the ships, and notes that the Inuit man had had his tongue removed in a surgical procedure. All three officers are disturbed by this.

When Crozier walks back to Terror he looks around and pauses, as if he is being watched and about to be attacked, there is a sense that something is out there. The Inuit woman has been taken to Terror where Crozier, Ice Master Blanky, and Dr. McDonald question her, all three officers speak Inuit. Since their expedition killed her father the woman is unhelpful and hostile but not physically hostile. She tells them to leave and Crozier says they want to but cannot as the ice is stopping them. She warns them that if they do not leave, they will “disappear.” She then reaches into her mouth and simulates pulling something out then having that thing dissipate. She glares at Crozier. The episode ends.

Background to the Franklin Expedition

To a large extent, the information here presented on the Franklin Expedition is provided by two sources. One is Ice Ghosts by Paul Watson. The other is Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found by Gillian Hutchison.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy mostly found itself without enemies and to a large extent without a mission. However, the British Empire’s trade and influence was expanding and burgeoning, due in large part to the dominance of the Royal Navy over the seas. The industrial revolution was just beginning, an event that would see human living conditions, or at least the goods available to them, expand and boom as never before. However, to make all this profitable, as far as possible voyages by sea needed to be cheap and success guaranteed. For hundreds of years sailors and other travellers had guided themselves by magnetic north. It was well known, indeed had been well known among the educated classes since Ancient Greece that the world was round.

The distances at the top of the world were far shorter than they were towards the middle. Before the Suez canal, ships from Europe to Asia and from Asia to Europe had to pass either through the Pacific around Tierra del fuego or around the Cape of Good Hope. This involved voyages that were long in distance and in time. Furthermore it was becoming increasingly known that natural phenomena in the polar regions could help people calculate and predict the weather and time more accurately, contributing to efficiencies in commerce. It was hoped that the Royal Navy would be able to find a passage from Asia to Europe in Canada’s northwest arctic that could possibly cut months off of shipping journeys. This was the northwest passage that over the next 50 years many Royal Navy expeditions would attempt to map and navigate.

The first in 1818 under John Ross was a disappointment that nearly ended John Ross’ naval career. Though he was able to map part of the arctic he mistook a polar optical illusion to be a mountain range and turned back. It was subsequently found to be ice and water, something that the admiralty never forgave John Ross for, believing he had given into timidity.

In 1819 an expedition under William Parry was more successful in mapping more of the arctic. Due to the extremely cold temperatures sailing in the arctic could often only be done briefly in summer. Parry’s expedition had to winter over in the arctic where he devised various methods to keep his men entertained in the long sunless, bone freezing arctic winter. Parry and others later credited their survival at least in part to their use of canned food.

Concurrently, John Franklin led an overland expedition to map the north Canadian coast. Due to bad luck and poor preparation 11 out of 20 members of the expedition died. There were dark whispers of cannibalism. What is certain is that Franklin and his men had to resort at various points to eating their shoe leather and lichen.

In 1825 Franklin tried another overland expedition to map the northern Canadian arctic coast. He had learned from his first expedition and was far better prepared this time around. His expedition succeeded in mapping much of the north Canadian coast.

In 1829 an embittered John Ross, accompanied by his nephew James Ross, led a privately financed polar expedition mostly comprised of Royal Navy sailors. They sailed in a small steamship, the Victory. It was during this expedition that King William Land (later discovered to be an island) was mapped and James Ross set up a Cairn on the island to be used by future arctic expeditions. During this same expedition James Ross also finally mapped the magnetic North Pole. However Victory became trapped in the ice in 1831 and in 1832 a decision was taken to abandon ship and the expedition marched east, where they were only saved in 1834. This 5 year survival was made possible only by the use of supplies abandoned in the wreck of HMS Fury. HMS Fury had been on William Parry’s second expedition to the arctic in 1825, but had to be abandoned after being trapped and damaged in the ice. The five years that John Ross and his crew survived later played a role in the fate of the Franklin expedition.

In 1844 the Admiralty decided to make a definitive try to navigate the Northwest passage. The lessons from previous expeditions were taken into account and it was determined that this expedition should be the best equipped and best provisioned expedition yet launched. For the first time the sailors were to be issued with clothing and equipment made especially for the arctic, including snow goggles. The expedition was also to be provisioned with 2000 books, exercise books, sports equipment, and drama costumes to allow the men to keep themselves entertained during long periods trapped in the ice.

Crucially this expedition was to be the most hi-tech yet, and the best provisioned. The expedition would be provided with three years worth of preserved and tinned food. The bomb ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, both ships used by James Ross in another expedition in the antarctic, where Francis Crozier had commanded HMS Terror. Both ships were retrofitted with steam engines to boost speed by an extra four knots to allow them navigate faster in tighter situations in the ice. Their hulls were reinforced with iron to make them more durable and less likely to be crushed by the ice. The ships were also outfitted with central heating systems, that recycled heat used by the ships’ mess cooking to heat the ship and help prevent sickness and death due to cold.

Captain Sir John Franklin was put in command of the expedition, with Captain Francis Crozier as his second in command. Both were polar region veterans explorers. Commander James Fitzjames, an up and comer in the Royal Navy, was made second in command on Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus.

On 19 May 1845, the expedition, fully loaded with provisions and 134 crew in total set sail from Greenhithe, England and headed north.

AMC’s The Terror: Episode 1 Analysis

AMC’s Season 1 of The Terror is a dramatisation of the ill-fated 1845 Royal Navy Expedition, consisting of 129 men aboard HMS Erebus and HMS Terror commanded by Captain Sir John Franklin (played by Ciaran Hinds) to find the northwest passage through the Canadian arctic. Based on the book of the same name by Dan Simmons, the show mixes history, speculation, and horror to produce a compelling drama.

The episode opens after the end, in 1850, with Captain James Ross and Dr John Rae asking an Inuit tribal leader about the fate of the expedition. The Inuit leader says he saw a group of survivors, who were dying. The leader was Captain Francis Crozier (played by Jared Harris), second in command of the expedition. They were being shadowed by a thing called the Tuungaq – called Tuunbaq in the show. Crozier told the Inuit leader “Tell those of us who come after us not to stay. The ships are gone. There’s no way through. No passage. Tell them we are gone. Dead, and gone.” So we know it is not going to have a happy ending.

The scene cuts four years earlier in early September 1846 with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror making steady progress through the arctic. Sir John Franklin projects a constant air of optimism that God, providence, and western technology and know-how will see them through the arctic safely. Franklin’s optimism inspires everyone under his command, except his second in command Captain Francis Crozier who finds Franklin’s optimism to be based on neither sound knowledge of sailing in the arctic or an objective assessment of reality. Franklin listens to Crozier’s stark warnings but chooses not to act on them.

Even in an episode where the expedition is shown in open waters things go wrong. A sailor collapses vomiting blood at dinner and Franklin the sailor taken aboard his ship Erebus to be treated by the ship’s doctors. When the doctor of Terror argues the sailor is in no position to be moved Franklin breezily suggests the cold air will freshen the young man up.

Initially this seems like him ignoring advice and giving into blind optimism. But Ciaran Hinds performance and some of Franklin’s words suggest more than simple optimism behind Franklin’s actions. When Commander Fitzjames (played by Tobias Menzies), the second in command of Erebus suggests that Franklin loves his men more than God loves them, Franklin says “for all our sakes let’s hope your wrong.” Though he puts on a very brave face it is clear Franklin is aware of the danger they are in. But his optimism infuses both the officers and men with a sense of wonder and drive. Indeed, Franklin when talks of their mission, evokes the wonders of exploration and discovery and inspires such loyalty that the dying young sailor confesses to Terror’s doctor without any bedside manner, Dr. Stanley (played by Alistair Petrie), that he hid his symptoms and tried to tough it out because “I didn’t want to disappoint Sir John.”

In sharp contrast to Dr. Stanley’s lack of bedside manner, indeed he goes so far as to tell the sailor bluntly and without sympathy he is going to die, is Terror’s surgeon Goodsir (played by Paul Ready). Goodsir reassures the sailor that he will be at peace soon and as he is a good lad he will doubtless go to heaven and know no more sorrow or pain. However as the young man dies he hallucinates a nearly naked middle aged Inuit man staring at him piteously, alternately with a strange mask on, or the Inuit’s face is exposed. The sailor dies screaming “he wants us to run!” Goodsir is clearly shaken by the young man’s utter terror and goes to Dr. Stanley who is irritated that Goodsir is disturbing his reading.

The social relations, good or bad, are an integral part of the series and many are introduced in this episode. The show makes a point of showing the dinner of the seamen and officers in contrast. The sailors eat in an open area – seated on wooden benches and with crude utensils – and talk about what rank the Terror’s dog is given where he can sleep and walk without having to ask permission. The officers eat in cramped but more ornate conditions. They are surrounded by polished wood panelling, are served their personally cooked meals on china and silverware, and drink brandy. In contrast to the discussion on rank, class, and limits. Fitzjames regails with a tale of his heroism that some officers could not care for, and others enjoy.

In this scene Crozier marks out how uncomfortable he is in trying to bond with people when he cuts off Fitzjames story by testily asking if he would like to tell them another one he is fond of. Fitzjames is clearly angered and offput and the other officers are surprised at such a blunt display of bad manners. Crozier is respected, but definitely not liked.

We are also introduced to Cornelius Hickey. He acts and smiles differently to the others. He is also not particularly well liked, as on the burial party he is asked to carry out the final labour alone.

By the end of episode Crozier’s predictions that sailing directly west of King William Land, while the most direct route is the most dangerous. John Franklin is serene and calm, eating dinner with Fitzjames as his men frantically plant blasting charges to break apart the ice, and the ice creates a creaking noise as it freezes in around Erebus. When it stops and all goes quiet Franklin wakes up with a look of horror on his face. He scans the solid ice, gulps, then turns, smiles and puts on a brave face “your demeanour should be all cheer gentlemen. It’s going to be tight but that is what we signed up for. An adventure for Queen and Country. An adventure of a lifetime. That’s what you tell the men.” He then casts one look to Terror where even at a considerable distance he can sense Crozier’s disapproval.

The Twin Crises of the Third Century

In 235 AD with the assassination of Emperor Alexander Severus by his own troops, following difficult and – it might be assumed- inept campaigning against the Persians, the Roman Empire entered a protracted crisis that, save for brief interludes, it would not emerge from until 284 AD with the proclamation of Diocletian as Emperor. Even then, the broad political stability and especially the economic prosperity that had characterised the Roman period between approximately 30 BC and 235 AD would never return. Indeed, it is arguable that western Europeans did not fully recover Roman standards of living until the late 17th Century, perhaps even beyond then.

These events, which are often forgotten or not even taught to westerners today, are unknown on the other side of the planet in East Asia where a crisis of similar magnitude was unfolding at approximately the same time. Equally, as the dramatic events in Europe are unknown and would excite almost no interest in Asians, so too are the following events unknown to and unlikely to excite the imagination of Europeans.

In 189 AD the Chinese Emperor Liu Ling of the Han dynasty – so named for the river in the area from which the Liu family came – died. He left two prospective heirs to the throne, two boys well below the age of 18. The Emperor was officially revered but by the time Emperor Ling died as Mark Edward Lewis notes with a quote from a contemporary observer “orders from the provincial and commandery governments arrive like thunderbolts. Imperial orders are put on the mantle.” The Han dynasty’s fiscal base had been eroded by powerful clan family networks refusing fiscal burdens. These were clan family networks the throne under weak leadership had dared not challenge. On the other side, courtiers had used the weakness of a succession of child emperors to accrue considerable power and had eroded the proper flow of the funds that did reach the Imperial Treasury. The most infamous group of courtiers were the maligned eunuchs.

In an attempt both to stamp out corruption and grab more power for themselves officials aligned with the powerful clan families attempted to murder the Eunuchs, and brought in military units to assert their power. In desperation, the Eunuchs murdered the ring leader of the clan families – He Jin – and kidnapped Emperor Ling’s two sons. They were slaughtered to a man, but in the chaos the frontier General Dong Zhuo found the two royal children and put the younger one on the throne. He began to act as a tyrannical regent. In response a coalition of notables assembled and through their strength defeated Dong Zhuo in eastern China. In response Dong Zhuo burned down the capital city of Luoyang and relocated with the Emperor to the former capital of Chang’an to the west. Bickering among themselves over who had cost them potentially unquestioned victories the leaders of the coalition split among themselves. While not acknowledged at the time, this effectively ended the Han Dynasty and ushered in a 90 year period of civil war.

The extraordinary, almost concurrent crises of the two great world civilisations is remarkable, and while distant, it is arguable that there are commonalities between our current era and the events which preceded the twin Crises of the Third Century.

In both our time and back then civic duties have become civic options. At the beginning of the Han there was universal military service based on small and medium sized farmers giving themselves over for military service, often for two years. However, as farmers became increasingly squeezed by encroaching largeholders and landlords the state, in an effort to not burden the people it depended on for most of its taxes – small and medium holding farmers – ended universal military service. From the beginning of the first century to the its end in 190 AD the Han armies would be made up of mercenaries, criminals, the unwanted, and barbarians. It was this army, under Dong Zhuo, that ended the Han. In the Roman world while there was an increase in the size of the military, it increasingly became an employment of the marginal, and even barbarians – even if the loyalty of ‘barbarian’ soldiers remained solid even when fighting their own kin. Nonetheless it was a duty that rulers of both empires did not want – for a variety of reasons – to bother their people with.

In our own era armies are becoming smaller but very much the preserve of the marginal and even in the case of the United States of non-citizens filling the ranks. In the case of the Han, criminals, the unwanted, and assorted professionals and barbarians filled the ranks. In the case of the Romans while, given that the armies of Emperor Majorian in 457 AD must have come considerably from the Italian peninsula, the military profession was not as marginal, there were consistent complaints about the number of non-Italians and even outright ‘barbarians’ in the ranks. It should be noted though that in the case of the Romans, more so than the Han, the ‘barbarians’ served Rome loyally unless – as in the 410s after the murder of Stilicho – they were badly mistreated. In our own era the military profession is unwanted and forgotten, as it was in both empires but especially under the Han. Even in China where the military forms an integral pillar of the ruling clique’s power structure, the military’s numbers are eroded and in a population of 1.4 billion China struggles to man a barely 2 million man military.

In both empires the tax base of the empire had been eroded. In both cases land taxes were often pitifully assessed or not assessed at all on those of the powerful. The Romans could have endured this but as small and medium farmers were squeezed out, it started a fiscal death spiral for the Han. As the Imperial court received less revenue it delegated more power to influential clan family networks, that in turn gave them increased power to accumulate more land or refuse paying taxes in return for providing loyalty to the court. The result was that the Han were obeyed less and less. For the Romans the need of the Severan Emperors to increase the size of the Army and increase the meager salaries soldiers received led them to reducing silver content in their coins. The crucial mistake they made was issuing lower valued silver coins, but then not accepting these same coins as sufficient specie to pay taxes with, resulting in money progressively losing its value and leading to ever increasing inflation.

Broadly speaking though, in both empires, the same thing happened. The lower and middle classes were squeezed to the benefit of the rich, who then refused to pay taxes. In our time tax evasion by the wealthy has become a persistent and increasing problem.

Both empires and our own period are characterised largely by a sense of enduring complacency. As Bryan Ward Perkins notes in his book The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation the Romans thought their world would go on forever. Indeed in a lecture delivered in India he specifically states that he entitled his book in part ‘the End of Civilisation’ as opposed to ‘the End of a Civilisation’ because the process of societal collapse that followed Rome’s fall shows us what would happen, only on an inconceivably more vast and horrific scale, if our civilisation were to end. Despite all our many problems, a collapse would be so much worse than the status quo and we need to have a certain care for our civilisation.

Equally despite the dislocation of the Guangwu interregnum as Wicky Tse argues in The Collapse of China’s Later Han Dynasty the Chinese of the time thought of what is sometimes called the Eastern Han (because of the move of the capital east from Chang’an to Luoyang) or Later Han as being the same Han dynasty since 202 BC. The Han had unified and held onto China. The prosperity, wealth and culture of China were great indeed, arguably exceeded only by Rome. The empire had brought the troublesome Xiongnu barbarians to heel, and had even brought what had been considered the barely Chinese south into its domain. Its writ extended to the Korean peninsula. That it, in its wealth, splendour, and peace for most, could end was a nightmarish and inconceivable prospect. And yet the Han Empire ended more readily than the Roman Empire which had an agonising, drawn out death. And even then, under Justinian in the East in the 6th century, it refused to die for several decades after the end. The Han simply splintered, imperial authority was smashed to pieces. Cao Cao – the greatest, most able, and most competent of all the warlords who emerged – invoked imperial authority in vain. The only thing that mattered were the numbers of swords, spears, bows, and the capabilities of the men who wielded them and the men who commanded them. In the Han, power had become completely privatised. State structures and power had been privatised. Thus the regime did not merely fall, the entire state – having no real institutions of any kind of independence – collapsed. Though it may be embarrassing to certain sensibilities the end of the Han shares as much in common with the end of Rome as it does with state collapse in Liberia and Somalia in the early 1990s.

In our own time public functions are increasingly privatised. Even world development goals are no longer expected to be met by governments, but by the private sector. Governing itself is being completely privatised and people are expected to look to local grandees, not governments for help. A new kind of feudalism could be said to emerge.

In the end, we have bear in mind that our world, which is already undergoing wrenching and often unpleasant changes, could go through a new crisis. Things do not always turn out for the better as the people of Rome and China found out in the 3rd century AD. That things turned out, ultimately, for the better, as a result of WWII, was not foreordained. Our forebears had to fight harder than we can imagine to stem the tide of darkness, and then make sure the aftermath brought peace instead of still greater strife. If the time comes that we ourselves are so challenged, we should remember the fate that befell the Han and Roman Empires, and vow not to let ourselves suffer the same fate. For the sake of those to come after us, for the sake of ourselves, should we be so challenged, we must not falter.

The Nazi Peacetime Economy: Shortages, Monomania and Plunder

Far Right ideologies, to and including fascism, are not only resurgent, they have gained open endorsement and respectability from some quarters, and tolerance in others. An example of endorsement is U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on the August 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ march in Charlottesville, Virigina that “You also had some very fine people on both sides ” at a march where torch carrying fascists yelled “Blood and Soil!”

There has been tolerance for fascism in respectable liberal and conservative quarters when it comes to Eastern Europe. The celebration and veneration of fascists is ignored, downplayed, or dismissed in countries such as Latvia and the Ukraine because those countries are anti-Russian. This permissive attitude has even involved, more or less, turning a blind eye to attempts by those countries to prosecute WWII veterans for killing fascists in Lithuania and Ukraine. It is also no accident that the authorities in both these countries have chosen to hound two Jewish veterans.

It can therefore, unfortunately, be said that the Third Reich and its supporters are enjoying a resurgence. A fact all too alarmingly underlined by the electoral rise of the Far Right in Germany and Austria.

It is therefore, for anti-fascists, all the more necessary to reaffirm not just the crimes of the Third Reich but also how even the supposed achievements of the Third Reich in the area of the economy are largely the construction of inordinate propaganda. This is illuminated very clearly by Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy about the economic history of the Third Reich and by Richard J Evans in The Third Reich in Power the second in his trilogy on the Third Reich.

Tooze starts out with a controversial, if verifiable, assertion in his book that the German economy in the early 20th century was not nearly as strong as it is often supposed. He points out that, according to the available statistical evidence, on a per capita basis Germany was not only poorer than the United Kingdom. It was poorer than France – often derided for being an ostensibly languid economy in the early 20th century. This was mostly due to the weakness of the German agricultural sector which was characterized by inefficiency and grinding poverty and also contributed to the extent of German dependence on food imports. This sense of weakness and vulnerability was something that German policy elites of all stripes felt acutely. The Nazis therefore sought to eliminate this vulnerability through the conquest of ‘the means of existence.’ Land for food and raw materials for industry were the goal of German expansionism. To make that reality, however, would require extensive rearmament due to the limits imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty and advancing military technology. Rearmament required industrial might and to make industrial might a reality, inputs were needed, inputs that needed to be imported from abroad. Germany needed foreign currency reserves and substantial exports to make these imports for rearmament possible.

As Tooze demonstrates, Hitler was dealt a weak economic hand when he was handed power on 30 January 1933. This was the result of three factors: the world economic crisis started by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the deflationary economic policy of Chancellor Heinrich Bruning, and the aggressive foreign policy of Bruning and his successors. Germany was heavily indebted to the outside world and ran considerable trade deficits under the Weimar Republic. To service these debts Germany could either export or stay on Gold to be able to turn over an acceptable asset to its foreign creditors. In a Depression, exports were out of the question, so to stay on the Gold Standard Bruning launched several rounds of deflationary price and wage cuts. Still capital flight continued in 1930. In 1931 with the Depression gathering pace the French government offered to extend Germany gold loans to help it meet its debt servicing costs. In effect the French were offering the Germans the money with which to pay war reparations to the French. It was nearly free money. Bruning responded by “slamming shut the door to Franco-German cooperation” and a few months later with his second deflationary decree loudly demanding an end to reparations. This provoked a run on the German banks and increasing capital flight. The banking crisis of 1931 drained the Reichsbank currency reserves to such an extent that Bruning had to enact an import quota system, thereby ending any kind of free trade, to stop further hemorrhage of foreign currency. In 1932 the Germans defaulted on war reparations payments and provoked a further run on their banking system, draining the Reichsbank’s reserves further. By the time Hitler came to power imports had been very substantially forced downward from their 1928 levels. Given Germany’s import dependence, this gives a good idea of how squeezed overall welfare was. It was only to get worse.

Hitler and the German political elites wanted to rearm. But to rearm they needed to import substantial raw materials. To import raw materials they needed to export to earn foreign currency, and to be able to export they needed access to foreign markets. They could only get access to foreign markets if they serviced Germany’s debts to its major trading partners. But servicing Germany’s debts meant foreign currency and Gold that could import more inputs necessary for rearmament was instead spent on debt service, on debts the Germans had no intention of honouring in the long term. German elites thought an aggressive export drive would result in other countries putting up tariffs and quotas – so they faced a dilemma. It was one they could have gotten out of had they chosen to be reconciliatory and dropped their revisionist foreign policy, but the latter was never an option for the German political Right.

Instead they opted to squeeze imports even further while promoting exports as much as they could and servicing debts only to the extent that Germany did not completely lose access to overseas markets.

Bruning’s policies had alienated Germany’s major trading partners, and while Germany had gone off Gold the others -except France, had gone off Gold and devalued. The Reichsmark therefore remained overvalued compared to other currencies. A situation that only worsened throughout the period. Devaluation would have increased both debt servicing costs and the costs to import raw materials for rearmament. Hitler’s economic Tsar of 1933-1938, Hjalmar Schacht, used various export bounties to support exports. This was a kind of stealth devaluation done at the expense of the Treasury. Generous Reichsmark bounties were also offered to companies that used their foreign held assets as collateral to assist with importing raw materials for rearmament. It also served the autarchy drive as it was designed to make companies focus more on the domestic German market. However, brash statements about not intending to service debts in the long term – often made by the ostensibly respectable Schacht himself – meant that furious creditor countries refused to overlook export subsidies and often imposed either increasing tariffs or ever stricter quotas on German exports. German persecution of Jews and other minority groups also provoked an ever increasing outcry against buying German goods. Rather than scale back the anti-Semitism, the Germans – of course – blamed the Jews for the economic difficulties Germany was facing that the Germans had themselves created through their own policy choices. Part of the reason for the Nazis tormenting German Jews during their peacetime six years in power was so that they could get their hands on Jewish assets, as it was assumed Jews had substantial assets. In fact this was not the case as most Jews were either poor or modestly middle class, and so were hounded for money and assets they did not have. Theft of assets and financial fraud to service the trade elements needed for the rearmament drive characterized German policy in the 1933-1939 period.

Financial fraud was by no means confined to German treatment of foreign creditors and sleights of hand to promote exports. Rearmament itself was paid for by financial fraud. Unlike in Fascist Italy where taxes were raised and put into sinking funds to service debt issued to pay for Fascist Italy’s military campaigns and rearmament, taxes were not substantially raised in Germany. Despite Tooze saying that taxes rose and the Reich government was reluctant to squeeze Germans even further, Germany’s income tax remained lower than the UK’s. Partly this can be offset against the relative poverty of Germany but even so, there was clearly some room to raise revenue. Instead, to put much of the expenditure on rearmament off budget, Schacht had some of the largest German industrial firms set up a shell company. The Metallurgical Research Corporation (Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft in German) with a capital of 1 million reichsmarks. This ‘research corporation’ then issued on the back of this capital, debt instruments called ‘mefo bills’ which were accepted by the Reichsbank and often bought by the Reichsbank. These mefo bills often were commercial paper with very low or even no interest rate payments on them. Essentially German private savings were confiscated instead of taxed to pay for rearmament. It is true that many of the entities buying Mefo bills benefited far more from armaments contracts than they lost through purchasing Mefo bills, nonetheless, the Mefo bills were an astounding form of confiscation and financial fraud.

The ever increasing demands of rearmament badly affected other areas of the economy. While industry as a whole boomed due to rearmament orders, textiles, which made up a significant portion of total industrial employment, was squeezed as it was mostly cut off from cotton imports and had to make due with synthetic materials and domestic wool. Often these were also directed to military output too, meaning that certain kinds of clothing were hard to come by in the Third Reich, even during peacetime. Agriculture provides an excellent point of reference for the economic costs of rearmament, particularly as self-sufficiency in agriculture was a long term Nazi policy goal, and also of military necessity to avoid a repeat of the hunger and sometimes starvation that afflicted Germany in World War I.

The priorities of needing to squeeze imports while rearming and still feeding the German people could only be met if more resources were scrounged up from within Germany itself. It was to this end, promoting the use of German made resources to minimize the dependence on trade, that huge synthetic fuel and rubber plants were financed by the Reich and which went to the company capable of producing them – IG Farben. German agricultural policy was undercut by repeated bad harvests due to bad weather and the rearmament drive’s priority meaning resources that could have been used to promote further efficiency in German agriculture were simply not available. Although overall food production in Germany increased respectably between 1933-1938 it was more than offset by rising demand both from a growing and more employed population which wanted to convert its wages into better food on its table. This meant that some foodstuffs simply were not available for long periods in the shops as demand outstripped supply. By the end of the period there were classes for housewives on how to make ‘Hungarian fish Goulash’ because beef was often in short supply, and because the regime refused to spend limited foreign currency on importing fruit, households often had to make due with dried fruit throughout much of the year as fresh fruit simply was not available. Worse for Agriculture Minister Darre, the lure of higher wages drew a lot of farm labour from the countryside to the cities, and because almost all metallurgical production went to the rearmament drive, Darre’s requests for more agricultural machinery to replace lost workers was outright refused. In the end, often to make up labour deficits, Polish migrant labour was employed to pick the harvests and the German farmers – often women – who were not employed in the factories and left behind on the fields were more than happy to wield the whip to make sure the harvests were collected.

The fate of agriculture was the fate of almost every sector of the German economy in the face of the Nazi war machine demands. Whereas before Germany had imported wheat from France, the British Empire, the United States and Argentina, to squeeze imports and as an agreed presaging of the conquest of lebensraum im dem osten the Germans purchased as many raw materials as they could from impoverished European countries and squeezed imports for everything else that was not necessary for the rearmament drive. As rearmament consumed more and more of the economy, despite the economic boom in Germany military expenditure consumed more and more of the economy every single year, even German metallurgical production was stretched thin. It could not satisfy civilian and military needs. This was part of the reason why Goering’s ‘Four Year Plan’ was introduced, to set up an administrative system to implement steel rationing. In large part also because of the rearmament drive housing construction was substantially below Weimar levels in the peacetime years of the Third Reich and such construction as there was relied more on private finance, and tenants were expected to pick up the tab, in contrast to more generous support and rights tenants had under Weimar.

Finally, while most people suffered under increasing shortages and restrictions, the paladins of the Nazi regime lived lives of ever increasing luxury and impunity. The Nazi German Labour Front, was infamously corrupt due to Nazi Party officials siphoning off the Labour Front dues for their own use, in particular its head Robert Ley. Goering’s extravagance was well known. Even relatively ‘honest’ members of the regime such as Goebbels enjoyed huge, often untaxed incomes. In Goebbels case it was a figure of 200,000 Reichsmarks. Almost always this was paid for at either taxpayer expense or by compelled private donations. Hitler exempted himself from taxes and charged a royalty fee on each use of his image, amassing himself a considerable fortune that he used to pamper himself and to shower members of the regime with gifts to bind them ever more to himself. Meanwhile in Munich at Easter in 1938, due to high demand, there were no eggs to be had in the shops and many consumers had to do without.

As Germany ran pell mell towards a war that was entirely of its own choosing in 1939, rather than any kind of ‘happy volksgemeinschaft’ even if we ignore the horrible plight of the persecuted, the Third Reich was a country characterized less by plenty and more by shortages. It had a wartime economy with military expenditure equalling 21% of the economy. To put that in perspective when Mikhail Gorbachev announced in 1988 that the Soviet Union was spending 16% of GDP on military expenditure, the Soviet High Command was stunned – they had no idea they had been consuming that much of the economy and agreed – albeit too late – to cut back on military size and expenditure. By contrast in 1939 policymakers in Germany wanted to push military expenditure even higher, even without a war. Even worse, German rearmament plans had no relation to any kind of reality. The Navy wanted six full on battleships, and the fuel demands of these alone would have required a substantial increase in German fuel production that was far beyond the capacity of Germany to undertake in 1939. The Air Force wanted a fleet of 20,000 planes. It was not just that such a figure required obscene quantities of metal and fuel but that, even at the height of armament production, German air fleet strength never exceeded 7,000 aircraft. Even the Soviet Air Force at its wartime height only managed to field 17,000 aircraft. A fleet of 20,000 aircraft was therefore utter fantasy. And while the Germans felt pressured due to military buildup in France, the United Kingdom and above all the United States, these buildups had begun precisely because of German rearmament and German non-cooperation on defense policy. German hostile intentions had provoked the very thing that made them feel pressured. And once again rather than blame themselves they blamed the Jews.

The Third Reich, even before the outbreak of war, was therefore a highly constrained society in every way, characterized not just by increasing regimentation, but increasing shortages. It was, even for those not persecuted by the regime, a grim place to live.

Alan Krueger: A Labour Economist Remembered

Alan Krueger 1960-2019 Credit: Bloomberg News

On 16 March 2019, the Princeton University labour economic Alan Krueger apparently committed suicide.

It is worth remembering that Krueger died before he reached the age of 60 and before he had reached the age of 40, in 1992, he had co-written an economic research paper with David Card on the effects of minimum wage increases.

Krueger and Card examined the effects of two neighboring U.S. states – Pennsylvania and New Jersey – to study the effects of minimum wage rises on employment. New Jersey had raised its minimum wage and Pennsylvania had not. Prior to this 1992 paper standard economic theory held that raising the minimum wage, all things considered, would lead lower levels of employment. If you raise the price for something, there will be less demand for it. Since wages are the price of labor, raising wages was thought to reduce overall relative levels of employment.

Krueger and Card proved that assumption wrong in their paper. They demonstrated that New Jersey experienced a relative increase in employment over Pennsylvania. Therefore minimum wage increases were not a policy harmful to employment.

Krueger’s paper has been cited ever since it was released, and it has been used by the American Left since 1992 whenever the argument over not only the minimum wage but wages in general has come up. Krueger’s paper has influenced the ‘Fight for 15’ – i.e. raising the US Federal minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, minimum wage hike campaigns in every major U.S. state and affirmed that the purchasing power of labor is an integral part of driving the economy.

Krueger served in both the Clinton and Obama Administrations. He was an accomplished man and a dedicated public servant. His loss is a blow.

The Portuguese Overseas War: A model for future conflict?

From 1961 to 1974 Portugal fought a war to retain its African colonies. Could the Portuguese experience point the way forward in counterinsurgency practice?

As John P. Cann – upon whose works most of this article is based – reminds his reader in many of his books, Portugal was the first European power to arrive in Africa. It was also the last to leave. When Holden Roberto’s armed columns stormed across the Congo/Angola border on 4 February 1961, a thirteen year war started for Portugal. At the time, Portugal was the poorest country in Western Europe. It also had a small population. Portugal’s authoritarian leader, Prime Minister Antonio Oliveira Salazar, resolved to fight for Portugal’s overseas colonies. As part of the doctrine of lusotropicalism Salazar’s government repeatedly affirmed that the colonies were not colonies at all but overseas territories of Portugal. Given the wider decolonisation taking place in Africa, ‘the winds of change’ as UK Prime Minister Harold McMillan called them, and U.S. pressure on its allies – Portugal included – to wrap up and grant independence to its colonies, Portugal was very much swimming against the tide. It would also mostly have to fight the war alone.

To make matters worse, Portugal faced insurrections in Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. The territory that Portugal would have to try to hold onto was almost as large as western and central Europe combined.

Yet mostly Portugal succeeded, with very scarce resources, in building up forces in its colonies and then successfully containing and in some cases rolling back the insurgencies. While this came at a very significant cost to Portugal – between 5.2-6.0% of GDP was devoted to defense spending between 1961-1974 in any given year – Portugal still was using far fewer overall resources to successfully hold more territory than the Americans were able to concurrently in Vietnam or even the far more competent French had managed to do.

In brief, Portugal was able to accomplish this due to years of careful planning and study of both the countries the Army (as it was primarily the Portuguese Army) would have to operate in and the counterinsurgency campaigns of Britain and France. The Portuguese learned and adopted aspects of British and French counterinsurgency practice but ultimately opted to conduct things in a way that is particular enough that Cann believes it is its own school of counterinsurgency. Taken from Cann’s 1997 thesis, the main points of this Portuguese Way of War are as follows

  1. The Portuguese recognised only two phases of what they called ‘subversive war’ – the pre-insurrectional and insurrectional phases. In the pre-insurrectional phase the emphasis was on preventive policing and non-violent action in the insurrectional phase the military became the leading arm of the government. Its aim was to “[reclaim] the population and destroying the insurgent infrastructure. Portuguese doctrine calls for action on the military, psychological, social and political fronts.”
  2. There is an emphasis on minimal violence and ‘calming’ the population during the insurrectional phase. Heavy use of violence will, even if targeted as precisely as possible, frighten the local population and drive them away towards the insurgents to flee government forces because of the sheer destructive firepower government forces are bringing to bear. Thus firepower – for reasons of cost and for strategic reasons – is de-emphasised. The Portuguese soldier, by his presence, is also meant to be a calming influence, and he was supposed to voluntarily help the population with their everyday problems.
  3. While calming the population, the insurgent is to be denied access to it. Peaceful, organised and assisted population relocation is thus part of the doctrine and constant patrolling at distance from villages and small settlements by the local garrison to keep the insurgents at a distance at all times from the population. That way they cannot insert themselves, harm, or rouse up the population.
  4. There are to be no large scale ‘sweep’ operations designed to find insurgent forces. This is both because of how expensive and hard to conceal such operations are and because it drains resources away from the primary mission of keeping insurgents separate from the population and in providing support to local garrisons.
  5. Where there are different insurgent groups or factions within them everything is to be done by the nation’s intelligence services to heighten and exacerbate those differences so that the insurgents fight each other instead of the government. If insurgents are successfully being kept at distance from the population they are also destroying themselves separate from the population out of sight, and out of mind, helping keep the situation ‘calm.’

To a very large extent the above was implemented but not always consistently. For example, in the initial response to Holden Roberto’s attack and the atrocities committed by his columns the Portuguese did engage in what their doctrine discourages – that is a French like ratissage or ‘raking over’ where extreme violence is applied to scatter, destroy and terrorise both insurgents and the population. Portuguese soldiers committed various crimes against the local population – albeit at a much lower rate than insurgent groups did. The Portuguese also sometimes engaged in large scale sweeps, most infamously in Mozambique in Operation Gordion Knot in 1970 to root out large formations of insurgents.

Nonetheless, the Portuguese were able to – at very low relative cost – largely make the war into a stalemate that they were slowly but surely winning.

That the Carnation Revolution ended this though is no accident. The cost to Portugal was significant and capital spent in the colonies, was not spent in the Metropole. While Portugal underwent an economic boom during the war, it was in spite of, not because of the war. Much capital was spent on military expenditures instead of further efficiency and investment drives in Portuguese companies, resulting in a number of missed economic opportunities.

While Portuguese military success should be studied more and admired, it is highly questionable as to whether any of the endeavour was ultimately worth it.

Ruin redux: Argentina’s Economy under Mauricio Macri

President Macri promised ‘change’ instead he repeated mistakes made before

President Mauricio Macri has not been a good President.

In 2018, after receiving laudatory press coverage since his election, Argentina went into an economic tail spin. Argentina, which had paid back its debt to the IMF under President Nestor Kirchner in 2006, was forced to seek a stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of first $50 billion, then $57 billion. It was widely acknowledged to be the largest financial rescue programme in Argentine history. The scale of the disaster was such that the IMF revised its growth projections for Argentina from 0.4% in June 2018 to -2.8% in December 2018. And even that prediction may be optimistic.

How did Argentina get to this place? Once again how can one of the best developed, best educated, most resource rich countries in Latin America be in such high crisis?

The answer does not lie with the administrations of Nestor Kirchner or Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. In 2015, the last year of Cristina Kirchner’s administration, Argentina – despite a default forced on it by a New York based US federal judge – grew by 2.7%. Real incomes were up over 50% from where they had been in 2002 at the beginning of the post-Menem era. Renewable energy production, particularly under Cristina Kirchner, had shot up. It was true that, since 2011, Argentina’s economy had gone nowhere in particular. It was in a muddle, and that muddle in large part was due to the Kirchner administration.

Nonetheless, Cristina Kirchner handed her successor a stronger hand than Nestor Kirchner had had in 2003 when he donned the Presidential sash. Thanks to persistent efforts to bring workers into the formal economy, championed by the Kirchners, total government tax revenue had increased from 19.3% of GDP in 2001 to 32.1% in 2015. Education spending had been substantially increased since 2003, revitalising Argentina’s education system. Substantial resources, 3.6% of GDP, were being diverted to politically popular, but incentive distorting and economically wasteful energy subsidies. The way forward seemed to be clear. Redivert energy subsidies into investment expenditure and improve tax collections to close the general government deficit. Only once has such a programme even been close to properly attempted, under the Economy Minister Adalbert Krieger Vasena from 1966-1969. It is also precisely what Macri did not do.

In fact, Macri proceeded to squander every advantage and make every macroeconomic trend worse. He did so by enacting policies that were applauded but anyone with a decent knowledge of Argentine history could have known immediately would go badly wrong.

Macri claimed to want to restore Argentina’s competitiveness.
Macri began with a 40% devaluation of the Peso – albeit a necessary measure to boost competitiveness – that made imports more expensive even as he eliminated import duties on everything from computers to champagne. The resulting rise in the import bill was supposed to be offset by Macri’s cutting or elimination of taxes on agricultural exports. Certainly agricultural interests were pleased by the move. However exports failed to offset the rising import bills in 2016 and 2017 and Argentina’s trade account moved from being in balance to deficit. This also meant that Macri had failed to bring Argentina’s trade into balance.

Macri also claimed to want to balance the government budget but increase investment expenditures. The temporary increase in exports that was achieved came at significant cost to the Treasury. Macri either outright eliminated or cut taxes on agricultural exports. He also slashed business taxes. This drained the Treasury of substantial revenues. Macri tried to make up the difference by slashing investment expenditures, slashing government wages, firing civil servants, slashing energy subsidies, and slashing pensions. As could be expected, the deficit did not greatly decline. Worse, to finance the deficit Macri decided to borrow abroad instead of domestically, despite there being no need to do so. As a result, the ratio of foreign debt relative to GDP went from being 35% of GDP in January to 60% of GDP in April 2018. This is astonishing given that it took seven years for the last Argentine military dictatorship to run up the foreign debt from 20% of GDP to 45% of GDP and much of that was from bailouts from 1980 – 1983. Far from being ‘gradualism’ this was right wing economic policy that had been tried and implemented since 1955 in one form or another. Each time it had failed. The only notable achievement of Macri on the budget has been, since a limited reintroduction of export taxes and further budget cuts, that the 2018 deficit was lower than called for under the standby agreement. But even then this was not due to Macri’s policies, but policies introduced by the IMF.

One of Macri’s main objectives was to tackle inflation. Due to the enforced default in 2014 and the subsequent devaluation, along with continuing capital flight, inflation in Argentina reached 40.5% in 2014. While inflation fell to 27.0% in 2015, it remained high given the low level of economic growth. Macri’s policies only exacerbated inflation. Macri’s devaluation raised the prices of imports, even as he lowered trade barriers. By cutting energy subsidies for both households and businesses, he pushed inflation up still higher. Finally the fall in the peso this year, combined with tighter austerity pushed inflation higher than even its nadir under Cristina Kirchner in 2014 to 47.6%. This is even worse when you consider Cristina Kirchner was reviled by foreign investors and the governments of many wealthy countries, whereas Macri was feted by both.

Other factors, such as poverty and joblessness have also increased. The only things that have kept things from becoming worse are the Peron era labour laws. While an increase in joblessness from 7.2% to 9.0% might normally be damning enough, what is striking about Macri is how he has failed on the three macroeconomic indicators his administration said it cared about.

It is worth concluding by highlighting how Macri’s economic policies do not differ substantially from those of the Economy Minister of the last Military Dictatorship, Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz. Like Martinez de Hoz, Macri slashed or eliminated export taxes, increased foreign borrowing, and favoured agroexporting and finance over ensuring Argentina’s export basket remained diverse. Like Martinez de Hoz, Macri was hailed for pursuing these policies in the name of increasing Argentina’s trade with the world, reducing inflation and reducing the public deficit. Like Martinez de Hoz, Macri has failed on his own terms.