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In Memoriam


  1. RAB says:

    Just been in my local park walking the dog. We play frisbee up at the top end next to the memorial stone for the airmen who died there in a Wellington bomber crash in 1941. It is only a ten acre park, so the pilot did an amazing job to get it down in there.

    It is a crisp sunny afternoon and two of my fellow dogwalking friends came by with a wreath, so we laid it next to the headstone and had our own little Rememberance Day ceremony.

    You can just about read the story on the noticeboard here. Scroll all the way to the bottom till you come to the pics of them being installed, then enlarge the third one down of seven.

  2. formertory says:

    The Menin Gate service at 2000hr each day should be on everyone’s list of things to do. It’s an unfeeling person who can get out of there without a manly sniffle or three and judicious use of a handkerchief.

  3. Paul Marks says:

    One thing that I sometimes think about…….

    Would civilization have gone down the toilet anyway – even if the First World War had been avoided?

    We live in a period just before collapse (ultra prosperious, by historical standards, but it is a bubble and it is soon to go) so it is easy to think “if only it had not been for the World Wars, our civilization might have gone on – from strength to strength….”, but is that really true?

    After all the central ideological assumptions (that government is responsible for the education, old age, income support, health care…. of most people) were already accepted in most major nations (bar the United States – which had only accepted the education bit, and even that only at the local level) before World War One.

    Also although the financial system was not the absurd credit bubble it is now (every trace of long term sustainablity has been spent – in order to provide the temporary prosperity we have presently) it was not sound.

    After all even in the days of the gold “standard” (it is the word “standard” that is the clue that a con game was being played) a “loan” was often not a transfer of money between real savers and borrowers – but was considered the creation of “new money”, by such corrupt practices as banks “crediting to the accounts” of borrowers (without removing money from the accounts of savers). A classic credit money bubble.

    This is why there were booms-and-busts before World War One (as well as after it).

    So were we just doomed by the central ideas of our age – with the millions of deaths in both World Wars being all sound and fury, but (in the end) just being “signifying nothing”? I would say NO.

    Without the First World War I find it impossible to believe that a bunch of Marxist nonentities (led by a loopy aristocrat, rather like “Tony” Benn, calling himself “Lenin”) would have taken control of the largest country on Earth.

    And the globel struggle against Marxism “sucked the air out” of proper discussion of the real defects in Western civilization.

    As Ludwig Von Mises put it “I set out to be a reformer, but……” a man who clearly (in, for example, his “Theory of Money and Credit” 1912) understood there were basic problems – had to spend his life not reforming anything, but desperatly the defending the status que (the very status que he has wanted to change) against Marxiod space monsters – who were responsible for the calculated murder of tens of millions of people and the enslavement of vastly more people.

    Without the struggle against Marxism sucking up all their efforts – people might have been able to turn their attention to the basic problems.

    Also one must not forget the stuggle against National Socialism.

    Again without the First World War I find it impossible to be believe that the ancient monarchies of Germany (Bavaria and so on) could have been replaced by the dictatorship of a nobody.

    I doubt Mr Hitler would even have been accepted as a lance corporal in the Bavarian army has it not been for the war (he might well have been sent back to Austria at some point – as a draft dodger, and also a man with no visible means of support) – let alone become absolute dictator of the whole German speaking world, able to send millions of people to the gas chambers and so on.

    And then there is something close to Nick’s heart.

    War does not stimulate techology – not overall.

    It twists technology (for example into making new ways of killing vast numbers of human beings) , but it does not make things better – not overall.

    On the contrary wars (especially the World Wars) take vast amounts of wealth (real wealth – not paper wealth) and turns it into ashes – and vast numbers of human beings are turned into ashes also.

    Think of the people (the composers, the economists, the natural scientists) who were killed in the World Wars, then think about the unknown people who would have become….. who were killed in the World Wars.

    A vast destruction of resources and of people.

    Then think what could have been achieved without these wars – even if the basic problems of the West had NOT been solved.

    We might very well have financial system problems and Welfare State problems.

    But we would also have towns on Mars.

    And be building the first interstellar space ships.

    And such things as “cancer” might now be unknown.

    And people be working on the regeneration of nerve cells – including brain cells.

    Not fantasy.

    Just a logical guess at where a higher standard of civilization (a civilization that had not been hit by the utter waste of two World Wars) might have brought us by now.

  4. RAB says:

    That looks like a Post to me Paul.

  5. NickM says:


    There is no way Paul that should remain a comment.

    As to war and tech… It certainly twists development in odd ways. It’s fair to say aviation probably was a net gainer in a sense. Though not necessarily in the ways people might imagine. Frankly it wasn’t aviation tech per-se as that boosted civil aviation after WWI and WWII as much as loads of pilots and loads of runways and suchlike. As to other stuff… I suspect a net overall loss in terms of lost opportunities and of course the loss of very many clever people. The acceleration of US science, technology and the arts past Europe after WWI is surely at least partially due to the massive slaughter in the trenches that the USA largely avoided.

    But the biggest influence of wars (especially WWII) on science was the invention of government funded “Big Science”. Apollo or the Human Genome Project or CERN or all those tokamaks eternally promising fusion “20 years from now” are unthinkable without the exemplar of Manhattan or many other such projects but especially Manhattan.

  6. dfwmtx says:

    Admittedly I don’t have much in the way of the history of computer science in my brain, but I have a hard time seeing the development of computers happening so quickly without WW2/Colosuss/and the Bletchly Park folks, and then the following Cold War.

  7. RAB says:

    dfwmtx, neither have I, I’m a complete clutz at computers, but I do know my history. Yes Britain constructed the world’s first usable computer to decode Nazi communications at Bletchley Park. We were miles ahead of the game, but just like everything else there, it was considered so secret that it was never capitalised upon. Dismantled in fact.

    Like a million other things Britain invented, we let someone else develop and cash in on. It’s like we are the Vikings, discovering and colonising North America first, but not doing it in enough numbers or with enough vigour to make a difference. And they kept quiet about it too. So Columbus hundreds of years later gets all the credit because he came in numbers and shouted about it.

    It’s bloody frustrating being British a lot of the time!

    Paul please put that comment up as a post soonest. It is a comment magnet my friend.

  8. NickM says:

    I dunno. You have to recall that it was in the mid ’30s that Turing published his epic paper, “On computable numbers with an application to the Einscheidungsproblem”. Tesla had conceived of something like the internet. All it would have taken is a Gates or a Jobs or someone (who as Ford had done with the automobile) to make it happen. Now think what the great entrepreneurs of that period were actually doing… And think of the enormous public demand for the new technologies in things like entertainment at the time. From gramophones to picture palaces. Now imagine all that without war. Or compare to the progress of Britain in the C19th after Waterloo. No truly ruinous wars and look at the material progress and the desire for it.

    In the ’70s (shortly before Jobs and Wozniak started work in a garage) the CEO of DEC went on record saying, “He saw no reason why anyone would ever want a computer in their home”. That’s the Station X, WWII, Cold War mentality gave you. Or the head of IBM in the early ’50s who reckoned the USA had a need for “maybe five” computers. I recall first hearing as a kid you could have one at home for an affordable price and… I’m just old enough to recall being wowed because before that computers belonged to Bond villains and were tended by legions of fit birds (in the bespectacled, hair-up, sexy librarian schtick in lab-coats with clip-boards) and that is pure statism. It too what put this netbook on my lap for this to really fly.

  9. Andrew Duffin says:

    Some of what Paul says is fine. But I take issue with this: “…impossible to believe that a bunch of Marxist nonentities … would have taken control of the largest country on Earth.”

    I think they would. They may have been Marxist nonentities but they were ruthless, well-organised, and utterly determined, whereas the Tsar was an over-reached nonentity himself, with little popular support, propped up by a system that was the merest pussycat compared with what the Bolsheviks were able and willing to impose in its place.

    Old Russia was ready to fall once hard enough hands appeared, ready to grab the power. The war provided an opportunity, but others would have occurred.

  10. NickM says:

    Interesting and an infinitely debatable point Andrew but whilst the Bolsheviks were the best organised and most ruthless it didn’t have to end that way. The great tragedy was that in 1900 Russia had the highest rate of GDP growth in the world. If the Tsar hadn’t been such a twat and it could have held together and tansitioned to some sort of constitutional monarchy then…

  11. Sam Duncan says:

    The Station X mentality also failed to give us public key encryption, devised (as far as we’re allowed to know) by Clifford Cocks* at GCHQ in (probably) 1973, and not known to the world until Diffie and Hellman invented it again in 1976.


  12. Paul Marks says:

    “Lenin” was indeed ruthless – but he was also an open class show off (even his own followers had trouble not laughing at his accent and so on) who was at least half barmy (and it showed).

    Trotsky (contary to “Stalin’s” later propaganda – Trotsky was very much the number two after Lenin) was a dandy (obsessed with clothing and so on) and a Jew – clue Russians do not tend to like Jews.

    And “Stalin” was a Georgian (not a Russian – his accent gave him away) who did not even dare going on the bank robberies he organized (yes – he had a yellow streak).

    The Russian secret police was not that scared of the Bolsheviks – indeed it had a lot of them in its employ as paid informers against other groups (which is why the Bolsheviks were desperate to destroy the files of the old Russian Special Branch).

    But the Russian security police were abolished after the Feburary-March Revolution (by the liberal government of Prince Lvov – before the socialist government of Kerensky took over) . And the Germans gave vast support to the Bolsheviks – who they correctly estimated were total cunts, who did not care what happened to Russia (or to the Russian people) as long as they took power.

    Russia had the highest industrial growth rate in the world before the First World War – and was already the fouth greatest industiral power on Earth (after the United States, Germany and Britain – in that order). But Andrew is quite right – the government was in the hands of fools (Nicky was indeed a nonenity – he was not intelligent, and he was also a weak man, who borne the impression of whoever had last sat on him).

    But that does not mean the Bolsheviks would have taken over. More likely (had it not been for the war) a government dominated by such parites as the Octobrists would have eventually taken real power – with Nicky (or his son) reduced to a figurehead, sorry “constitutional monarch”.

    By the way people – I have not got a clue how to turn a comment into a post.

    But I have written up a post.

  13. Paul Marks says:

    I repeat – I would be happy to put up my comment as a post (perhaps with “What Might Have Been” as the title), but I am too ignorant to do so.

  14. dfwmtx says:

    You know, other than the AK-47 and Tetris, I can’t really think of what technical/technological things the Soviet Union and its Communist government gave the world. I’m not sure I’d count Sputnik; the Germans and Americans were headed that way before the Russians got there.

  15. Bill Sticker says:

    Ah, the Menin Gate. I visited it in 2003 to find that two of my great uncles, and one of my wife’s had their names inscribed upon it. Very humbling.

    The Belgians salute to the unburied fallen is likewise very moving.

  16. NickM says:

    The Defense Research Agency also invented the LCD display but…

    Part of the reason for the post-war cloak and dagger antics over Enigma and Lorenz was that we gave captured machines to our newly independent colonies. Obviously we didn’t want them to know we could read their stuff…

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