Gamal Abdel Nasser on the Muslim Brotherhood


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“In ‘53, we really wanted to compromise with the Muslim Brotherhood, if they were willing to be reasonable.

I met the head of the Muslim Brotherhood and he sat with me and made his requests. What did he request? The first thing he asked for was to make wearing a hijab mandatory in Egypt, and demand that every woman walking in the street wear a tarha (scarf). Every woman walking [someone in audience yells ‘Let him wear it!’, crowd erupts].

And I told him that if I make that a law, they will say that we have returned to the days of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who forbade women from walking during the day and only allowed walking at night, and my opinion is that every person in his own house decides for himself the rules.

And he replied, ‘No, as the leader, you are responsible.’ I told him, ‘Sir, you have a daughter in the Cairo school of medicine, and she’s not wearing a tarha. Why didn’t you make her wear a tarha?’

I continued, ‘If you… [crowd’s cheering interrupts] if you are unable to make one girl, who is your daughter, wear the tarha, how can you tell me to put a tarha on 10 million women myself?'”


Gamal Abdel Nasser, saying the now nearly unsayable in a 1966 speech in Cairo.

Read on:

Gamal Abdel Nasser

George Washington’s Stare


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George Washington

“Washington’s arrival in Philadelphia [for the Constitutional Convention in 1787] prompted a civic celebration the likes of which had not been seen since the end of the war. A cadre of his old officers rode out to greet him… Church bells pealed as the hero passed; the leading citizens vied for his favor…

On this festive note the convention commenced its sober business. Only two men were even contemplated for president of the convention: Franklin and Washington. Franklin deferred to Washington, perhaps partly from concern that his health would not stand the wear of daily sessions, but at least equally from knowledge that the project would have the greatest chance of success under the aegis of the eminent general. (Washington’s distance above mere mortals was already legendary. Several delegates were discussing this phenomenon when Franklin’s Pennsylvania colleague, Gouverneur Morris, a hearty good fellow, suggested it was all in their minds. Alexander Hamilton challenged Morris: ‘If you will, at the next reception evenings, gently slap him on the shoulder and say, “My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well!” a supper and wine shall be provided for you and a dozen of your friends.’ Morris accepted the challenge and did what Hamilton demanded. Washington immediately removed Morris’s hand from his shoulder, stepped away, and fixed Morris with an angry frown until the trespasser retreated in confusion. Hamilton paid up, yet at the dinner Morris declared, ‘I have won the bet, but paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.’)”


Pulled from H.W. Brands’s very good biography The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.

Go on:

Remembering a Departed Friend in a Single Image


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Saul Bellow

“I wonder if anyone believes that the grave is all there is. No one can give up on the pictures. The pictures must and will continue. If Ravelstein the atheist-materialist had implicitly told me that he would see me sooner or later, he meant that he did not accept the grave to be the end. Nobody can and nobody does accept this. We just talk tough.

This is the involuntary and normal, the secret, esoteric confidence of the man of flesh and blood. The flesh would shrink and go, the blood would dry, but no one believes in his mind of minds or heart of hearts that the pictures do stop…

But I would rather see Ravelstein again than to explain matters it doesn’t help to explain.

Ravelstein, dressing to go out, is talking to me, and I go back and forth with him while trying to hear what he is saying. The music is pouring from his hi-fi — the many planes of his bare, bald head go before me in the corridor between his living room and his monumental master bedroom. He stops before his pier-glass — no wall mirrors here — and puts in the heavy gold cufflinks, buttons up the Jermyn Street striped shirt — American Trustworthy laundry-and-cleaners deliver his shirts puffed out with tissue paper. He winds up his tie lifting the collar that crackles with starch. He makes a luxurious knot. The unsteady fingers, long, ill-coordinated, nervous to the point of decadence, make a double lap. Ravelstein likes a big tie-knot — after all, he is a large man. Then he sits down on the beautifully cured fleeces of his bed and puts on the Poulsen and Skone tan Wellington boots. He smokes, of course, he is always smoking, and tilts the head away from the smoke while he knots and pulls the knot into place. The cast and orchestra are pouring out the Italian Maiden in Algiers. This is dressing music, accessory or mood music, but Ravelstein takes a Nietzschean view, favorable to comedy and bandstands. Better Bizet and Carmen than Wagner and the Ring. He likes the volume of his powerful set turned up to the maximum. The ringing phone is left to the answering machine…

‘What do you think of this recording, Chick?’ he says. ‘They’re playing the original ancient seventeenth-century instruments.’

He loses himself in sublime music, a music in which ideas are dissolved, reflecting these ideas in the form of feeling. He carries them down into the street with him. There’s an early snow on the tall shrubs, the same shrubs filled with a huge flock of parrots — the ones that escaped from cages and now build their long nest sacks in the back alleys. They are feeding on the red berries. Ravelstein looks at me, laughing with pleasure and astonishment, gesturing because he can’t be heard in all this bird-noise.

You don’t easily give up a creature like Ravelstein to death.”


The ending to Saul Bellow’s final novel Ravelstein.

This conclusion is remarkable, in my opinion — a richly sonorous, musical piece of writing that packs a deceitfully earnest and dignified solemnity. It was the last bit of prose Bellow published, released when he was in his mid-eighties (at the time of his death, he apparently had a memoir in the works with the unimprovable working title of “All Marbles Still Accounted For”).

Ravelstein is a Roman à clef; Ravelstein, the novel’s eponymous center of gravity, is a thinly veiled version of Bellow’s real-life bud Allan Bloom, a true bon vivant and intellectual extraordinaire whom Bellow had befriended while at the University of Chicago. In an interview with James Wood shortly before his death, Bellow elaborated: “The truth is that Allan was a very superior person, great-souled. When people proclaim the death of the novel, I sometimes think they are really saying that there are no significant people to write about.”

But Bloom certainly was one. He was quite a creature. It’s that word perhaps more than any other which inflects the ending with its somber spark. Too idiosyncratic to be a “character,” too real to be a “personality”: a creature — utterly unique and thus hard to give up. After spending 200 pages in Ravelstein’s company, after enjoying decadent stories and drink after drink in his company, it’s not easy for us to let him go, either. It’s a microcosm of giving up similar creatures in life.

Ron Rosenbaum, writing in Slate, had the following praise to heap on the book:

Ravelstein is not only my favorite Bellow novel, it’s the only one I really love. It’s a rapturous celebration of the life of the mind, as well as a meditation on the glory of sensual life and on the tenebrous permeable boundary we all eventually pass over, the one between life and death.

Martin Amis, similarly enraptured, gave it space in his own memoir Experience:

Ravelstein is a full-length novel. It is also, in my view, a masterpiece with no analogues. The world has never heard this prose before: prose of such tremulous and crystallized beauty. … [Ravelstein is] numinous. It constitutes an act of resuscitation, and in its pages Bloom lives.

Below, watch Bloom on Firing Line in 1987.

Read on:

Allan Bloom

“Live Forever”


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Donna Tartt

“The weekends at Francis’s house were the happiest times. The trees turned early that fall but the days stayed warm well into October, and in the country we spent most of our time outside…

It was always a tremendous occasion if Julian accepted an invitation to dinner in the country. Francis would order all kinds of food from the grocery store and leaf through cookbooks and worry for days about what to serve, what wine to serve with it, which dishes to use, what to have in the wings as a backup course should the soufflé fall. Tuxedos went to the cleaners; flowers came from the florists; Bunny put away his copy of The Bride of Fu Manchu and started carrying around a volume of Homer instead…

Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find something very wonderful in my memory of them: that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and a fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; its reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside. The whoosh of the flames was like a flock of birds, trapped and beating in a whirlwind near the ceiling. And I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the long mahogany banquet table, draped in linen, laden with china and candles and fruit and flowers, had simply vanished into thin air, like a magic casket in a fairy story.

There is a recurrent scene from those dinners that surfaces again and again, like an obsessive undercurrent in a dream. Julian, at the head of the long table, rises to his feet and lifts his wineglass. ‘Live forever,’ he says.

And the rest of us rise too, and clink our glasses across the table, like an army regiment crossing sabres: Henry and Bunny, Charles and Francis, Camilla and I. ‘Live forever,’ we chorus, throwing our glasses back in unison.

And always, always, that same toast. Live forever.”


A slice of high neo-romantic writing from the close of act one of Donna Tartt’s spellbinding debut novel The Secret History.

Reading Tartt, who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and whose prose percolates with an impeccably controlled energy, I’m again struck by the talent of writers from that state, which has long had the lowest literacy rate in the country. Especially when read on the heels of Mr. Foote, a Greenville, Mississippi native who grew up next to Walker Percy, her work will make you think there’s gotta be something in the water.

More fiction:

America’s Second Original Sin


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Civil War

“This country has two great sins on its very soul. One is slavery, which we’ll never get out of our history and our conscience… the marrow of our bones. The other one is emancipation.

They told four million people, ‘You are free. Hit the road.’ Two-thirds of them couldn’t read or write. Very few of them had any trade except farming, and they went back into a sharecropper system that closely resembled peonage. I’m not saying emancipation is a sin, for God’s sake… but it should have been an emancipation that brought those people into society without all these handicaps on their head. And now, my black friends, they are tremendously protective about slavery. They don’t want to hear the word. The opposite of the Jews, who are very proud of coming out of Egypt. And it was this short-circuiting, this instant emancipation… it had a very bad effect on them.

I don’t know whether it’s a lesson or not, but I think it needs to be looked at as if you were in that time and place. A lot of things change when you move back to being a part of it…

Go back to the time. Muzzle-loading weapons sound awful primitive. They didn’t seem primitive to them. They were a new kind of infantry rifle that was deadly at 200 yards. That was a tremendous step forward. And the tactics were based on the old musket, which was accurate at about 60 feet. They mostly lined up shoulder to shoulder and moved against a position, and got blown down because they were using tactics with these very modern weapons. They were using the old-style tactics with very modern weapons. A few of the men realized that, Bedford Forrest for instance. He would never make a frontal attack on anything with this new weapon in their hands. But too many of them, including Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, followed the old tactics against these modern weapons. That’s why the casualties — there were 1,095,000 casualties in the Civil War. If today you had that same ratio, you’d have something like 10 million casualties, to give you some idea of what happened.

It was far worse in the South than it was in the North. One out of four southerners of conscriptable age was a casualty in that war. In the year after the war, the state of Mississippi spent one-fifth of its income on artificial arms and legs for the veterans. Very few people today realize how devastating that war was, especially to the South, but to the North too. A lot of fine men went into graves in that thing. There’s no telling how many Miltons or John Keatses got buried.”



From Shelby Foote’s June 1999 interview with the Academy of Achievement. You’ll find similar and extended reflections in his three-part opus The Civil War and in William C. Carter’s catalog of Conversations with Shelby Foote.

Later in their conversation, the historian is asked to entertain the counterfactual and assess whether the Civil War — with its million-plus casualties — can be rightfully called “inevitable.”

Interviewer: Now that we have 130 years of hindsight, did the Civil War have to be fought?

Foote: There’s a lot of argument about that.

The fact that it was fought seems to me to prove it had to be fought, but even at the time, Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, called it “an irrepressible conflict.” And indeed, the differences were so sharp, especially by the extremists on both sides: the Abolitionists in the North and the Fire-eaters in the South… there was scarcely any way to settle it except fighting. Just as two men can get so angry at each other, the only way to settle a thing is to step out in the alley and have a fistfight. People don’t do that much any more. They’re more apt to take some blind-side swing at somebody instead of a real fight. But I think there probably wasn’t any other way to settle it. Now if we were the superior creatures we claim to be as Americans, we would not have fought that war, but we’re not that superior by a long shot.

These remarks are basically longer forms of a point made several times in Ken Burns’s documentary Civil War: A Film. In it, Foote reiterates the above theme (and can’t help again nodding to his penchant for throwing fists):

Right now I’m thinking a good deal about emancipation. One of our sins was slavery. Another was emancipation. It’s a paradox. In theory, emancipation was one of the glories of our democracy — and it was. But the way it was done led to tragedy. Turning four million people loose with no jobs or trades or learning. And then, in 1877, for a few electoral votes, just abandoning them entirely. A huge amount of pain and trouble resulted. Everybody in America is still paying for it…

People want to know why the South is so interested in the Civil War. I had maybe, it’s a rough guess, about fifty fistfights in my life. Out of those fifty fistfights, the ones that I had the most vivid memory of were the ones I lost. I think that’s one reason why the South remembers the war more than the North does.

The top photograph, taken in 1862, shows the staff of Brigadier General Andrew Porter. Lying next to the dog in the bottom right of the shot is George Custer, who would later on go to fight and die along with his men in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Below it: figures whose names and dates are unknown. If you have a clue, send it my way.

Read on:

Shelby Foote

“Sonogram” by Paul Muldoon


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Ireland - Inch Beach

Only a few weeks ago, the sonogram of Jean’s womb
resembled nothing so much
as a satellite map of Ireland:

now the image
is so well-defined we can make out not only a hand
but a thumb;

on the road to Spiddal, a woman hitching a ride;
a gladiator in his net, passing judgement on the crowd.


“Sonogram” by Paul Muldoon, which you’ll find in his T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection The Annals of Chile. Muldoon would go to earn even greater honors, picking up a Pulitzer for poetry eight years later for Moy Sand and Gravel.

Speaking to The Paris Review in 2004, Muldoon reflected on how wild metaphors can form the basis of some of the best poetry (as showcased in “Sonogram” and its effortless, playful smirk, its images for the female then male drives to be freed):

Well, I think many poems begin with an instant. I was driving home from New York with my four-year-old son and in the Lincoln Tunnel, out of nowhere, he said, Those lights are like tadpoles, and then this morning he came up with the bright idea that we’re like horses. I think that the impulse to find the likeness between unlike things is very basic to us, and it is out of that, of course, which the simile or metaphor springs. So a poem moves towards some sort of clarification, and the creation of a space in which sense, however fleetingly, may be made.

Muldoon then moved into a short reflection on children, which again ties nicely into the above work:

One of the things you discover about children of course is that they come, not exactly fully formed, but quite formed, in terms of their personalities. And I can imagine myself around three or four being a right little smartass, in the way that my children come up with the most extraordinary things, but I’m programmed to accept them. That was probably more difficult for my parents to deal with… One is never going to get it right, no matter what one does. Of course that’s one of the things one understands as a parent, that one’s children are going to have to find something against which they can react. Most of these reasons are emblematic rather than real. So I think the invention of a life is not such a far-fetched notion, I think it happens all the time.

I took the above picture on Inch Beach in Ireland, not too far from Muldoon’s place of birth.

More short poems that spin on brilliant metaphors:

Paul Muldoon

The Writer’s Drug of Choice


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Ernest Hemingway

Interviewer: John, you’ve been an editor for a very long time, and I imagine that you’ve worked with writers who have used various drugs to stimulate their writing.

John Bennet, New Yorker editor: Mostly caffeine and tobacco, and drugs of that nature. And simple hysteria.

I think it’s pretty hard to really write a complicated piece of writing if you’re hallucinating. That’s not to say that many of these writers haven’t done that in the past. But when they’re actually producing, they rely on caffeine, which is of course a drug.

Most writers I know write better than they’re able to write. That’s to say if it’s a good writer, he or she can write a great piece. But they do it by dent of great personal sacrifice. They tend to adrenalize themselves, whether it’s with caffeine or with just simple hysteria or panic, into this highly agitated state, whereby they are able to produce writing of the quality that they want to produce — that otherwise they feel they can’t produce.

And in general I must say it’s a rather destructive process to watch, when you work with writers who essentially have nervous breakdowns every time they have to write a piece. Which means it’s really a damnable profession, writing, because most people who are writers tend to be miserable — at least when they’re writing.


Bennet, exchanging words with Sasha Weiss, story editor for the New York Times Magazine, in his joint interview with Oliver Sacks for The New Yorker Out Loud (Bennet’s remarks start at around 19:30 in the audio above).

You’ll find Sacks’s longer takes on this stuff in his highly acclaimed new memoir On the Move, which I plan to pick up in the coming weeks.

Read on:

Debauchery and Its Discontents


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Edmond du Goncourt“I have drunk my fill, I have had my mistress. I am in that condition in which the monstrosities one has committed seem like children’s games. I am left with a craving which, in drunkenness outlasts love and copulation, a craving which shows all over a man’s face, in his mouth and in his flaring nostrils. How utterly futile debauchery seems once it has been accomplished, and what ashes of disgust it leaves in the soul! The pity of it is that the soul outlives the body, or in other words that impression judges sensation and that one thinks about and finds fault with the pleasure one has taken.

And these are the thoughts which occur to me.

The facts: nothing matters but the facts: worship of the facts leads to everything, to happiness first of all and then to wealth… Bonald’s maxim needs to be reversed: man is mind betrayed, not served, by his organs.

There are moments when, faced with our lack of success, I wonder whether we are failures, proud but impotent. One thing reassures me as to our value: the boredom that afflicts us. It is the hall-mark of quality in modern men. Chateaubriand died of it, long before his death. Byron was stillborn with it. The essence of bourgeois talent is to be gay. Voltaire spent his life taking an interest in something: himself.

There are moments of discouragement when glory seems as insignificant as the office of mayor of a little market-town.

Debauchery is perhaps an act of despair in the face of infinity.”


Leafed from the Pages from the Goncourt Journals, in an entry from July 30th, 1861.

While I’m a fan of the Goncourt brothers’ journals — with their lush descriptions of Parisian haut monde, their cameos from Zola, Flaubert, and Daudet — I’m never quite hooked enough to read more than a year’s long log in one sitting. Though usually sharp, their musings often stoop to ground level gossip. Two speakers capable of bold and intricate philosophizing about the everyday turn into whisperers about the Parisian upperclass.

The Goncourt brothers were a bit of a case: they wrote all their books together and never spent more than a day apart in their entire adult lives. Despite this apparent eccentricity, they seem to’ve met everyone, maintained many friendships, and been generally free of insecurities about their sibling issues. Their voices are entirely self-confident, even self-flagellating at times, and clear. It’s just that I don’t care about what went down at the spring 1889 revival of Henriette Marechal at the Théâtre-Français.

(By the way: I Googled “Chateaubriand bored” and found his truly heart-lifting remark, offered to friends while on the way to a popular theater production in Paris, “I am boring myself so as to relieve my boredom.” This reflects Schopenhaur: that boredom is the reflexive condition of mankind, that existence is a process of oscillating between discomfort and boredom. Flaubert wasn’t much better. He’s on the record as saying, at the ripened age of twenty-five, “I was born bored; it is my leprosy, which eats away at me. I tire of life, of people, of myself, of everything.”)

More from the great journals:

How Christopher Hitchens Became an American Citizen (Or, a Case Study in the Need for Immigration Reform)


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“The American bureaucracy very swiftly overcompensates for any bright-eyed immigrant delusions. Nihil humanum a me alienum puto, said the Roman poet Terence: ‘Nothing human is alien to me.’ The slogan of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service could have been the reverse: To us, no aliens are human. When folded — along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, the only department of state I had ever hoped to command — into the vast inner space of the Department of Homeland Security, the resulting super-ministry was more like the Circumlocution Office than a reformed bureaucracy. My Canadian friend David Frum, who was actually working in the White House and had had a hand in writing the famous ‘axis of evil’ speech, had his personal paperwork lost when he applied to become an American. Ian McEwan was put under close arrest and hit with an indelible ‘entry denied’ stamp while trying to cross from Vancouver to Seattle for a big public reading: it would have been of little use to him to plead that the First Lady had recently asked him to dinner…

Innumerable times I was told, or assured without asking, that I would hear back from officialdom ‘within ninety days.’ I wasn’t in any special hurry, but it grated when ninety days came and went. Letters came from offices in Vermont and required themselves to be returned to offices in states very far away from the Canadian border. Eventually I received a summons to an interview in Virginia. There would be an exam, I was told, on American law and history. To make this easier, a series of sample questions was enclosed, together with the answers. I realized in scanning them that it wouldn’t do to try and be clever, let alone funny. For example, to the question: ‘Against whom did we fight in the revolution of 1776?’ it would be right, if incorrect, to say ‘The British’ and wrong, if correct, to say ‘The usurping Hanoverian monarchy.’ Some of the pre-supplied Qs and As appeared to me to be paltry… Q: ‘What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?’ A: ‘It freed the slaves.’ No it didn’t: that had to wait until the Thirteenth Amendment, the first United States document to mention the actual word ‘slavery’ (and not ratified by the State of Mississippi until 1995).

Christopher Hitchens

Having previously been made to go to a whole separate appointment in deepest Maryland just to be fingerprinted, I sat up on the night before my Virginia one, and decided to read slowly through the Constitution… One had to admire the unambivalent way in which these were written. ‘Respecting an establishment of religion,’ said the very first amendment, drawing on Jefferson’s and Madison’s Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom, ‘Congress shall make no law.’ Little wiggle room there; no crevice through which a later horse-and-cart could ever be driven. Alas for advocates of ‘gun control,’ the Second Amendment seems to enshrine a ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’  irrespective of whether they are militia members or not. (The clause structure is admittedly a little reminiscent of the ablative absolute.) And the Eighth Amendment, forbidding ‘cruel and unusual punishments,’ is of scant comfort to those like me who might like that definition stretched to include the death penalty. If the Founders had wanted to forbid capital punishment (as, say, the state constitution of Michigan explicitly does), they would have done so in plain words…

For a writer to become an American is to subscribe of his own free will to a set of ideas and principles and to the documents that embody them in written form, all the while delightedly appreciating that the documents can and often must be revised, so that the words therefore constitute, so to say, a work in progress.

This was all rather well set out in the passport that I immediately went to acquire… Human history affords no precedent or parallel for this attainment. On the day that I swore my great oath, dozens of Afghans and Iranians and Iraqis did the same. A few days later, I noticed that I had sloppily gummed a postage stamp onto an envelope with the flag appearing upside down. I am the most frugal of men, but I reopened the letter, tore up and threw away the envelope, invested in a whole new stamp and sent Old Glory on its way with dignity unimpaired. A small gesture, but my own.”


From the closing of the chapter “Changing Places” in the memoir Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens.

Below: Hitchens takes his oath of citizenship with the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, on April 13, 2005. You can read more about the event and its lead up in Hitch’s piece in the Atlantic in the following month “On Becoming American”.

Then read on:

Hitchens Citizenship

The Nazis’ Astonishing Conquest of France


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Hitler in Paris

“[T]he French based their operational plan [for repelling a Nazi invasion] on four assumptions…

These assumptions were, first, that the Maginot Line was indeed impregnable; second, that the Ardennes Forest north of it was impassable; third, that the Germans were therefore left with no option but a wheel through the Low Countries [Belgium and Holland], a replay of the Schlieffen Plan of 1914; and fourth, that to meet and defeat this, the French would advance into Belgium and Holland and come to their aid as soon as the war started. The Anglo-French were sure, correctly, that the minute the first German stepped over the frontier, the Dutch and Belgians would hastily abandon their neutrality and start yelling for help.

Materially, though they were unaware of it, the Allies were more than ready for the Germans. Figures vary so widely — wildly even — that one can choose any set to make any argument desired. In 1940, the French high command was speaking of 7,000 German tanks, deliberately overestimating them to cover themselves in the event of a disaster. What this did for French morale can readily be imagined. Figures now available give a comparison something like this:

German Men: 2,000,000
Divisions: 136
Tanks: 2,439
Aircraft: 3,200

Allied Men: 4,000,000
Divisions: 135
Tanks: 2,689
Aircraft: 2,400

Nazi Germany Invasion of France

The original [Nazi] plan called for a drive north of Liège [Blue ‘X’ on the map above]; Hitler now changed it to straddle Liège, that is, he moved the axis of the attack farther south. Finally, he was convinced by von Rundstedt’s chief of staff, General Erich von Manstein, that the plan ought to be reversed. Instead of making the main effort in the north, the Germans would go through the Ardennes; instead of Schlieffen, there would be ‘Sichelschnitt,’ a ‘sickle cut’ that would slice through the French line at its weak point and envelop the northern armies as they rushed to the defense of the Belgians and Dutch. Manstein was an infantryman and was uncertain about the Ardennes; he approached General Heinz Guderian, the recognized German tank authority, who said it could be done. Hitler jumped at it immediately, and the plan was turned around. The assumptions on which the French had planned their campaign were now totally invalidated. […]

In the early dawn of May 10 the Germans struck.

There were the usual Luftwaffe attacks at Allied airfields and communications centers, and by full day the Germans were rolling forward all along the Dutch and Belgian frontiers. The whole plan depended upon making the Allies think it was 1914 all over again. Therefore, the initial weight of the attack was taken by General von Bock’s Army Group B advancing into Holland. Strong infantry and armor attacks were carried out, along with heavy aerial bombardment, and paratroop and airborne landings on key airfields at The Hague and Rotterdam, and bridges across the major rivers. The Dutch hastened to their advanced positions, some of which they managed to hold for two or three days, others of which they were levered off almost immediately.

The whole campaign of Holland took a mere four days.

Nazis in Paris

The mass of French armor was in Belgium and Holland and busy with its own battle. The French tried; they threw an armored division, newly organized under General de Gaulle, at the southern German flank. This attack later became one of the pillars of de Gaulle’s reputation — he at least had fought — yet it achieved nothing more than the destruction of his division. The few gains the French tanks made could not be held against the Germans sweeping by, and they hardly noticed that there was anything special about this attack.

As the Germans went on toward Cambrai, toward the sea, the new British Prime Minister, Churchill, came over to see what on earth was going on. He visited [French Commander-in-chief Maurice] Gamelin and looked at the maps. Surely, he said, if the head of the German column was far to the west, and the tail was far to the east, they must be thin somewhere. Why did the French not attack with their reserves? In his terrible French he asked Gamelin where the French reserves were. Gamelin replied with an infuriating Gallic shrug: there were no reserves. Churchill went home appalled.

Hitler was determined to rub it in. The armistice talks were held at Rethondes, in the railway carriage where the Germans had surrendered to [former Head Allied] Marshal [Ferdinand] Foch in 1918. The Germans occupied northern France and a strip along the Atlantic coast down to the Spanish frontier. They retained the French prisoners of war, more than a million of them, and used them in effect as hostages for the good behavior of the new French government, set up at the small health resort of Vichy. They wanted the French fleet demobilized in French ports, but under German control. The French agreed to essentially everything; there was little else they could do but accept the humiliation of defeat. After their delegation signed the surrender terms, Hitler danced his little victory jig outside the railway carriage and ordered that it be hauled off to Germany. He left the statue of Foch, but the plaque commemorating Germany’s surrender twenty-two years ago was blown up.

Parisian during Nazi invasion

On the morning of the 25th, the sun rose over a silent France. The cease-fire had come into effect during the hours of darkness. The refugees could now go home or continue their flight unharassed by the dive-bombers. Long silent columns of prisoners shuffled east. The French generals and politicians began composing their excuses, the Germans paraded through Paris, visited the tourist sites, and began counting their booty. It had indeed been one of the great campaigns of all time, better than 1870, probably unequaled since Napoleon’s veterans had swarmed over Prussia in 1806; Jena and Auerstadt were at last avenged, and there would be no more victories over Germany while the thousand-year Reich endured.

The casualties reflected the inequality of the campaign. The Germans had suffered about 27,000 killed, 18,000 missing, and just over 100,000 wounded. The Dutch and Belgian armies were utterly destroyed; the British lost about 68,000 men and all their heavy equipment: tanks, trucks, guns — everything. The French lost track of their figures in the collapse at the end, but the best estimates gave them about 125,000 killed and missing, about 200,000 wounded. The Germans claimed that they had taken one and a half million prisoners, which they probably had. Except for defenseless England, the war appeared all but over.”


Selections from the eighth chapter (“The Fall of France”) in James L. Stokesbury’s A Short History of World War II. Though I’m not if it’s considered AAA historiography by experts in the field, Stokesbury’s book is a highly informative, tight read, divided into episodes that make for good twenty minute immersions in specific topics. I recommend it.

The above photo, often called “The Weeping Frenchman,” was taken several months after the invasion and published in the March 3rd, 1941 edition of Life Magazine. It depicts Monsieur Jerôme Barzetti, a resident of Marseilles who wept as the flags of his country’s last regiments were exiled to Africa. You can read more about it here.

Below: soldiers from the Wehrmacht march down a Parisian boulevard.

Politics Is a Strong and Slow Boring of Hard Boards


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Portrait of German political economist and social scientist Max Weber (1864 - 1920), a founder of the discipline of sociology, who called himself 'The Enemy of the Squires' and championed the cause of social and economic reform in Wilhelmine Germany, circa 1910. His most famous work is 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism' (1905) in which he explored the cultural and religious roots of Western capitalism. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth — that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.”


Max Weber, writing in the final paragraph of his truly edifying political-philosophical essay, “Politics as a Vocation”. You’ll find it in his Essays in Sociology. (Buy the book, but the whole thing’s here.)

Though Weber wrote his essay in German, adapted as it was from a 1919 lecture he gave to the Free Students Union in Bavaria, I can’t help but love the double entendre of “boring” in the opening sentence. Whenever there’s a showmen performing rhetorical tricks — like a magician proudly parading his assistant or waving a colored hankerchief — reach for your pocket, and see who’s pulling out your wallet.

Thanks to my friend M.S. for reminding me of this one.

There’s more:


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