The Secret Histories

I was reading Strategikon (of Maurice, not Kekaumenos), a handbook of military strategy probably authored by the Emperor Maurice. it occurred to me that the practical military knowledge it contained was effectively secret knowledge, not usually available to enemies of Byzantium. Sometimes because those enemies were illiterate, more often because various social and geographic barriers made sneaking out a copy of Strategikon pretty unlikely. So, secret knowledge, the wisdom of the Occident.

In principle, the United States ought to have whole secret libraries. I don’t mean nuclear data from hydrogen bomb tests – I mean the distilled essence of the greatest minds that have served the Republic. Nathanael Greene’s musing on how he beat Cornwallis by taking advantage of multiple definitions of victory. Sherman’s definitive analysis of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Nimitz’s inside history of the Pacific war: he said he never wrote one, because it would hurt people (people like Halsey), but then he would say that, wouldn’t he. Can’t have people digging around for the secret history, available only to the War College’s star pupils…

Only they seem to have been misplaced somehow. Probably they’re all boxed up in that warehouse, next to the Ark of the Covenant.

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117 Responses to The Secret Histories

  1. This is an astute observation, and one of particular relevance in a time when information and its exchange have become astonishingly open to the uninitiated (for instance, access to KGB files, and the FOI Act).

    In terms of a viable and credible ‘secret history’ I would suggest that a scholar would have to ‘triangulate’ between available sources, both oral and written, before coming to his own conclusion. A relevant example of this is the recent ‘Near-nuclear launch from Okinawa’ controversy. Who do you believe? What sound conclusions can you draw (about revision of command-and-control for the firing codes, for instance)?

    Of course the contemporary curse is that of being overwhelmed, both with too much valid (if inconsequential) data and bullshit. Everybody has an agenda, like it or not.

    (Observations from a 1950s SAC Air Force brat)

  2. j says:

    Emperor Maurice’s technical handbook contains nothing that the enemy did not know. The Greeks main enemy was the Persian Empire, and in their hundred years war they must have become familiar with each others armies in the field and through deserters and spies. The Persians were certainly a most literate people, although nothing is left of their works – the Muhammad’s followers burned it all.

    Ultimately, the Greeks were forced to fight an asymmetric war against the Turks. The Greeks were sophisticated and wealthy, the Turks were illiterate and they and their ponies were used to hunger and fatigue, they could raze cities and kill (by hand) millions and sleep well at night. Maurice’s secrets did not work on them.

  3. gcochran9 says:

    Arabs, Avars, Bulgars ,Catalans, Lombards, Moors, Normans, Ostrogoths,Pechenegs, Persians,Slavs,Turks,Vandals,Vikings

    • Difference Maker says:

      Catalans?
      While true, the empire was already in a pathetically weak state, in terminal decline, though not yet confined to city states, I doubt that Maurician institutions survived

    • j says:

      You forgot the Varangian Rus (Scandinavians) that fought many wars against the Greeks and also served them as mercenaries. No one doubts the staying power of the Greeks, the Eastern Empire lasted a thousand years more than the Western one. In fact they did have some secret weapons in addition to the organization of their military.

  4. Francisco says:

    For an interesting take on the evolution of the Late Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empires, read Peter Turchin’s theory of Clyodinamics.
    http://peterturchin.com/

    A good article about this topic can be found here.
    http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5j8740dz#page-9

  5. Sovremennyy says:

    “In principle, the United States ought to have whole secret libraries… the distilled essence of the greatest minds that have served the Republic.”

    Why? US military history is short and for the most part uninteresting: beat downs of grossly outmatched opponents (even in the Revolution, the US was one of the least important of Britain’s enemies), as well as all-too-common defeats by grossly outmatched opponents.

    How did Nimitz win the Pacific War? By fighting an opponent that was weak as hell.

    How did Westmoreland lose in Vietnam? The US still doesn’t quite know.

    • gcochran9 says:

      WWII was the greatest of all wars. There’s a lot to learn from it.

      Nimitz beat the Japs when they were stronger.

      There was something to learn from the Civil War, but Europe refused to. Armed mobs, they said.

      • dearieme says:

        “There was something to learn from the Civil War, but Europe refused to.” What was the something?

        • gcochran9 says:

          That the defense has a big advantage in a railroad war, so much so that you could end up with trench warfare. You can supply a bigger army with a railroad, but then the army is bound to the railroad – can’t get much in front of it. A few miles of shell-torn battlefield advance [ WWI] makes things even worse, logistically. While the defender is retreating onto his intact railnet. He has plenty of supplies and can move troops more rapid on those rails than the attacker can move across the torn-up, unrailed battlefield.

          This was just emerging in the American Civil War – wasn’t fully developed, wasn’t true everywhere. Didn’t happen along the Mississippi & Tennessee rivers because they were better than any railroad.. Came pretty true in the siege warfare around Richmond and Petersburg. The defense had the tactical advantage in the Civil War, far more so in WWI: but it also had the strategic advantage in a railroad war.

          Jan Bloch saw some of this , and wrote a good book, The Future of War, which was of course generally ignored. By generals.

          • dearieme says:

            On the contrary, the European armies did practice what they called “field fortifications”. What they hadn’t realised was that they’d end up with continuous lines of fortifications from the Alps to the Channel.

            One reason that the British Army could survive intact a two hundred mile retreat in 1914 in the face of a much bigger army was that it was expert in entrenching whenever it had to stop and fight.

            • Greying Wanderer says:

              “What they hadn’t realised was that they’d end up with continuous lines of fortifications from the Alps to the Channel.”

              I think that’s partly the point though – the interplay between maximum army size and the ability to supply them.

              middle ages – single small army supplied by a single crappy road

              napoleonic – army size outpaced the supply network so it had to be split into corps and supplied along different roads with the trick of it being to get them all concentrated in the same space and time for a battle

              railroad – maximum army size that can be supplied explodes but restricted to where the railheads are

              so WWI, Lawrence could be fighting a medieval type war, somebody out in Iraq/Caucasus maybe could be fighting a Napoleonic type war and trench lines in western Europe.

              • dearieme says:

                Greg said that the lesson that wasn’t learnt from the US civil war was that “the defense has a big advantage in a railroad war, so much so that you could end up with trench warfare.” But Bismarck’s wars were railroad wars. As far as I can see the allegation of ignoring the lessons of the US civil war is just one of those tall tales of history.

                WKPD:
                In 2001, Strachan wrote that it is a cliché that the armies marched in 1914 expecting a short war, because many professional soldiers anticipated a long war. …. Moltke (the Elder) was proved right in his 1890 prognostication to the Reichstag, that European alliances made a repeat of the successes of 1866 and 1871 impossible … Having mobilised and motivated the nation, states would fight until they had exhausted their means to continue.

                … the prospect of a swift advance by frontal assault was remote, making battles indecisive. Major-General Ernst Köpke, the Generalquartiermeister of the German army in 1895, wrote that an invasion of France past Nancy would turn into siege warfare and the certainty of no quick and decisive victory.

                So [me again] siege war was expected, but its scale, Alps-Channel, wasn’t, or at least wasn’t by everyone relevant. I suspect that the error comes from realising that the Germans strategy lay somewhere on the spectrum from long shot to doomed, and therefore, people surmise, the Germans must have ignored the evidence. People don’t seem to grasp that the outcomes of WWI and WWII teach that although the Germans were the best soldiers in the world, their superiority lay at the tactical and fighting level. As strategists they were god-awful. Their problem wasn’t ignorance, it was intellectual incoherence. In short, they proved to be bloody fools.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            “US military history is short and for the most part uninteresting: beat downs of grossly outmatched opponents (even in the Revolution, the US was one of the least important of Britain’s enemies), as well as all-too-common defeats by grossly outmatched opponents.”

            May the Good Lord continue to keep our enemies this stupid.

          • Sovremennyy says:

            The European belief that the Americans were hopeless incompetents was pretty well confirmed by Prussia’s swift offensive victories in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars. The Prussian system of universal conscription and pre-arranged mobilisation plans was far superior to what the American powers were doing and would have smashed either of them.

            Taking WWI as the point of comparison ignores a full half century of wars between advanced and well-prepared powers working exactly how the European strategists of the 1860s predicted, and a full half century of population growth and technological advance, and even then the American Civil War doesn’t look very much like WWI.

            • syonredux says:

              “The European belief that the Americans were hopeless incompetents was pretty well confirmed by Prussia’s swift offensive victories in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars.”

              Dunno. Don’t those victories simply confirm Prussian military superiority over the Austrian-led German Federation and the French……

              “The Prussian system of universal conscription and pre-arranged mobilisation plans was far superior to what the American powers were doing and would have smashed either of them.”

              A cross-Atlantic invasion in the 1860s-’70s? That would have been a rather ambitious venture…..

              • Sovremennyy says:

                “Dunno. Don’t those victories simply confirm Prussian military superiority over the Austrian-led German Federation and the French……”

                Yes, and when the things that made them superior (e.g. universal conscription, pre-planned mobilisation) are things that also made them superior to the American powers, it also confirms Prussian military superiority over the American powers.

                In fact it’s worse than that because the French and the Austro-Hungarians, unlike the Americans, did have at least partial conscription and some mobilisation planning, their systems just weren’t as complete or as efficient.

                Our host argues that the American Civil War had a lot of lessons for WWI but the fact is that any of the WWI powers, except perhaps Britain, would have smashed either American power because they had adopted the Prussian military system.

                “A cross-Atlantic invasion in the 1860s-’70s? That would have been a rather ambitious venture…..”

                If their places were swapped. Of course you can argue that the Americans didn’t need these things because they were insulated from danger by the sea. Sure, that’s why they could get away with being inferior, but it doesn’t mean they had anything to teach Europe.

              • Toddy Cat says:

                “it also confirms Prussian military superiority over the American powers.”

                With all due respect, this is a pretty daft comment, akin to arguing about what would happen if Superman and Batman got into a fight. Is the argument that, had the US of 1865 and the Prussia of 1865 gotten into a war, Prussia would have won? If so, this is absurd. The US had far greater manpower, a far larger industrial base, and an actual navy. The US would certainly have prevailed over Prussia, as indeed they did. Is the argument that,had Robert E. Lee’s army magically transformed into Von Moltke’s it would have won the Battle of the Wilderness? Where was this going to happen? Valhalla? A Gabrial Garcia Marquez novel? And of course, had the US been next door to Prussia, both the US and Prussia would have been very different…

                This type of argument is somewhat akin to arguing about who was a better baseball player, Ty Cobb or some modern star, ignoring the fact that, had Ty Cobb lived today, he would have been a very different ballplayer. Armies and military systems do not exist in a void, or in some Platonic Milspace, but in the context of their places and times. Wehrmacht/Prussia worshipers tend to forget this – as did indeed the German High Command.

                That’s a long-winded way of saying that anyone who doesn’t think that the American Civil War, the largest single military conflict that the world had seen up until that time, had any lessons to teach military professionals, is so blinded by contempt for America that they are not seeing straight. Hell, even the Chaco War and the Algerian War had lessons to teach, let alone a huge conflict like the Civil War.

                And, oh, yeah, William Tecumseh Sherman or Robert E. Lee would have ripped Von Moltke a new one. Just sayin…

              • syonredux says:

                ““A cross-Atlantic invasion in the 1860s-’70s? That would have been a rather ambitious venture…..”

                If their places were swapped. Of course you can argue that the Americans didn’t need these things because they were insulated from danger by the sea. Sure, that’s why they could get away with being inferior, but it doesn’t mean they had anything to teach Europe.”

                So, for your notions to work, we need to have the USA in Western Europe, not in North America…..Afraid that that’s getting into Alien Space Bats territory….

                “Yes, and when the things that made them superior (e.g. universal conscription, pre-planned mobilisation) are things that also made them superior to the American powers, it also confirms Prussian military superiority over the American powers.

                In fact it’s worse than that because the French and the Austro-Hungarians, unlike the Americans, did have at least partial conscription and some mobilisation planning, their systems just weren’t as complete or as efficient.

                Our host argues that the American Civil War had a lot of lessons for WWI but the fact is that any of the WWI powers, except perhaps Britain, would have smashed either American power because they had adopted the Prussian military system.”

                Dunno. The French Intervention in Mexico didn’t go so well for the French……

              • Anonymous says:

                “With all due respect, this is a pretty daft comment, akin to arguing about what would happen if Superman and Batman got into a fight.”

                It’s not at all about the two directly fighting one another. Give the USA (or CSA) Prussia’s system and they would outperform. Given Prussia the USA (or CSA) system and Prussia probably would not have existed by 1870.

                “Armies and military systems do not exist in a void”

                Certainly. The US and CSA didn’t need a good military system because their neighbours were weak as hell, while Prussia’s neighbours were the strongest military powers in the world. But the question is whether the US and CSA had anything to teach Prussia, not whether they are somehow morally blameworthy for having weaker militaries than some other country. They had good reasons for not being at the forefront of military developments; nonetheless, they weren’t at the forefront of military developments.

                “…anyone who doesn’t think that the American Civil War, the largest single military conflict that the world had seen up until that time, had any lessons to teach military professionals, is so blinded by contempt…”

                The fact that a conflict is big doesn’t make it conceptually important. Apart from the fact that the Napoleonic Wars already included larger armies, more geographically dispersed fighting, more political and social implications of fighting, fighting over a longer period, and were just bigger in any possible dimension than the American Civil War, size simply doesn’t correlate with conceptual importance. The Taiping Rebellion was the biggest war in well recorded history in 1865. Did the Taiping have something to teach the Prussians? The Taiping were eventually defeated by quite a small army organised by a British general along European lines. The Europeans had something to teach the Taiping, not vice.versa.

              • syonredux says:

                ” The Taiping Rebellion was the biggest war in well recorded history in 1865. Did the Taiping have something to teach the Prussians? The Taiping were eventually defeated by quite a small army organised by a British general along European lines. The Europeans had something to teach the Taiping, not vice.versa.”

                Except that military historians (cf, for example, Basil Henry Liddell Hart) have often commented, in extremely favorable terms, on what Sherman accomplished in 1864….

            • syonredux says:

              “The European belief that the Americans were hopeless incompetents was pretty well confirmed by Prussia’s swift offensive victories in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars. ”

              Dunno. Most of the military historians that I have read are pretty impressed by what Sherman did in 1864…..

              And one should bear in mind the contrast between the Union Army in 1861-’62 vs what it had become by 1864…..

    • syonredux says:

      “How did Westmoreland lose in Vietnam? The US still doesn’t quite know.”

      Not invading North Vietnam seems like a good place to start….Of course, there were political reasons for not doing that….

      “How did Nimitz win the Pacific War? By fighting an opponent that was weak as hell.”

      Dunno. Japan was pretty strong between Pearl Harbor and Midway….

  6. ursiform says:

    In modern times we have mass publishing, and authors can make money off their writing.

    What often happens at War College is that officers with no clue write unclassified papers that demonstrate they don’t know what has actually be done, and learned, on classified programs.

  7. bob sykes says:

    If you had seen “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” you would know the book is in the Library of Congress.

  8. albatross says:

    I can think of a couple examples of “secret histories” that have been leaked or declassified–the Pentagon Papers (about Vietnam), and I think there was also some report about the CIA-instigated coup in Iran in the 50s that was declassified. There are probably others. It would be interesting to look at those and see if there are any particularly deep insights, but I doubt there are. More likely, they’re just histories written with knowledge of some details that were classified.

  9. Peter Gerdes says:

    This perspective assumes a kind of hero worship where a single ‘great mind’ can somehow offer insights that a wide selection of good minds working collaboratively over years can’t match.

    Yes, armies need a single general and great generals make a huge difference. But what makes a general great, being able to boldly and intelligently choose from all the proffered options and evaluate the conflicting recommendations from experts, isn’t the same quality which makes them best able to analyze the strategy after the fact. Even if it was there is no reason to believe that they would be more effective than a community of war scholars analyzing the same information over time.

    I mean just look at the way math and the sciences progress. Yes, there are great men like Einstein and Newton but which gives you more insight into physics or calculus? Reading their original work or looking at how a community of scholars digested that information. Indeed, I would go so far as to say even if England had kept Newton’s work a secret their knowledge of physics and math would have quickly been surpassed by the work of a multitude of scholars working collectively.

    If this is true in subjects that study the immutable truths of mathematics and the universe it is surely much more true in a field where insights are highly technologically dependent and quickly become stale.

    • gcochran9 says:

      In science, a few top guys make most of the contributions. Which implies that it can barely exist in populations with lower average IQs – which is the case.

      If England had kept Newton’s work secret while working hard at keeping up with everything developed on the Continent, they might have been ahead for some time. . But the overall development of science would have suffered, and since science is a positive -sum game, that would have been a mistake.

      However, military science is not a positive-sum game. In war, what matters is not being good, but being better.

      • whyteablog says:

        I’ve thought about this in relation to Asian v White IQ. They should have roughly three times as many geniuses as we do.

        But they don’t outperform Whites by anything close to three times in the biggest intellectual endeavors that I happen to know of off the top of my head: they don’t bash us that badly for Nobel prizes or for patents per capita, and most of the people responsible for big recent discoveries/inventions GMOs, the transistor, the sequencing of the human genome, the creation of Mycoplasma laboratorium, the discovery of the CRISPR mechanism etc were of European descent.

        Why aren’t they kicking our asses?

        • JayMan says:

          Not as creative, not as trusting, not as willing to openly share data, or perhaps any or all combination of the three.

          The East Asian nation that does best (more or less) is Japan, with South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore not too far behind. Is it a matter of moolah in the research department? Who knows?

          Clannishness – The Series: Zigzag Lightning in the Brain

          • Garr says:

            Japan and Britain lead the world in sci-fi/fantasy, too. I guess people with the freakgene look for islands to live on.

          • Anonymous says:

            Maybe it’s because the smartest ones are steered into business rather than science and tech?

            • Garr says:

              No. Blacks can speculate about weird stuff even if they can barely write; Chinese kids in the same classes can’t. Sample size: about 2000 Blacks and 500 Chinese in the past 10 years of adjuncting at 5th rate “colleges”. Or maybe 5000 Blacks and 1500 Chinese. A lot of both, anyway. Given an average of 6 classes per semester plus winter intersessions and up to 4 summer classes.

          • whyteablog says:

            Not as creative, not as trusting, not as willing to openly share data, or perhaps any or all combination of the three.

            Those all sound realistic enough- can you think of ways to test them empirically?

            Off the top of my head, I have a few other ideas: ‘Merica has a big fancy university system and China’s a dump. Perhaps the Japanese, S. Koreans, Taiwanese, and folks from Singapore really are overrepresented, but Asians don’t crush us simply because most of them live in China.

            • Greying Wanderer says:

              “Those all sound realistic enough- can you think of ways to test them empirically?”

              Check the ancient DNA samples being tested for historical research reasons for genes that have been selected against over time.

              • whyteablog says:

                You think that the creative and collaborative East Asians might’ve been weeded out? (Via gene-culture coevolution perhaps?)

              • whyteablog says:

                Or perhaps that creative and collaborative Europeans had a lot of kids?

              • Bob says:

                The criminologist Cesare Lombroso, and the contemporary psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who specializes in the study of genius, have shown that the geniuses have tended to be celibate and childless. They also often have to be looked after and cared for by other people, and are less adept at navigating ordinary and social life. This has led some to hypothesize that genius may be a group selected trait.

          • kennt says:

            “Not as creative, not as trusting, not as willing to openly share data,”

            You have to be extremely insular or ignorant of human cultural history to claim that Asians lack creativity – Chinese civilisation was the world’s most prolific in terms of arts and letters prior to the modern era, and the only countries with soft power in the modern era outside of the Anglosphere are Asian – they produce the best quality pop culture.

        • Melchizedek says:

          Subtract the contributions of Ashkenazim, and the performance of the remainder of Whites aren’t lookin’ so hot relative to the Asians.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Untrue. Drastically wrong. Who has made a greater contribution to human knowledge – James Clerk Maxwell [ one guy !] , or East Asia over the past five hundred years?

          • Not the first time a person with a name like Melchizedek says this kind of thing.

            It’s not quite as bad as when Africans talk about Yaqub, but it’s pretty close.

            • Melchizedek says:

              Haha. Riiiight. Yea, all those Hebrew conspiracy theorists who believe in a paranoid fantasy equivalent to Nation of Islam mythology. Lol. You’re a trip.

              Do you have a substantive response furnished with facts, even perhaps an incipient argument, or are you content to evidence yourself a complete jackass?

              Hardly controversial to acknowledge outsized Jewish achievement. If you were to subtract the contributions of Jews, you necessarily diminish the scientific and literary contribution of Europeans in the last century or so. And by definition you diminish the output gap between whites and Asians.

              • Maciano says:

                Sure, just read Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment. Ashkenazi Jews didn’t start contributing much before 1800s, but the West already rose since the 1500s. Between 1870-1940s Ashkenazi Jewish accomplishment was tremendous, though.

                Not much shtetls here in the concentrations of Western accomplishment. The Low Countries and London used to have bigger communities of Sephardi Jews, btw.

                Jews, esp Ashkenazim, outscore all other European groups for Nobels per capita, but English, Germanics, Scandinavians, and French win tons of Nobels per capita, too. Way more than any East Asian group.
                https://i.redditmedia.com/6nd35XzfGe5rG-JFUuaXsJHU6yHcnT2OMReWt3pimko.jpg?w=1024&s=a7286a750becd8937a427a881580a7f9

                Japan seems promising; they’re on a winning streak since 2000s, before not so much. Just looking at sheer population numbers & avg IQ East Asia should look a lot hotter than it has shown itself to be. There’s probably something besides IQ that matters as well.

            • Melchizedek says:

              Sorry, I reread my initial post. I should clarify I meant “not so hot” merely quite literally, as in simply not as disproportionate as it would first appear.

              I didn’t intend it in any diminishing sense.
              It’s obvious the creative contributions and output of Europeans is still much greater relative to Asians even without Jews.

              • Your comment wouldn’t make sense, replying to the “Why aren’t they kicking our asses?”
                comment it replied to, if it hadn’t been meant in the sense of claiming Ashkenazi credit for a significant share of the disproportionate European contribution to innovations like “the transistor, the sequencing of the human genome, the creation of Mycoplasma laboratorium, the discovery of the CRISPR”, compared to Asians.

                It happens to be the case that Shockley, Venter, Smith, Hutchison, Doudna and Charpentier were all 100% gentile. But it wouldn’t occur to me to think “The Gentiles!” when explaining Needham’s Paradox of European contribution.

                Jewish per capita contribution is exceptional among Europeans, but “The Jews!” is an offputtingly nutty insertion to urge when examining the “Why aren’t they [Asians] kicking our asses?” question, for the reasons Maciano has delineated. The urge is Yaqubist in style, I encourage moderation of it.

        • melendwyr says:

          1) Genius is more than IQ.
          2) Social structure also determines how genius manifests. Look at Renaissance Italy. Even presuming that the brightest and most artistic people moved to congregate in the same places, they still had a shockingly high number of geniuses in their wider society, especially given their absolute numbers.
          3) Are you sure you know what you mean by ‘genius’?

      • ursiform says:

        And Newton wanted to be sure to get credit for everything. And never share credit.

        Imagine the flame wars Newton could have had with Hooke and Leibniz if there had been an internet back then!

      • ursiform says:

        Perhaps there is a tale in adaptive optics research? The top people only managed to keep a few years ahead of the broader community, despite secrecy.

      • Jim says:

        But did Newton’s work have that much practical payoff in his lifetime? The people who ruled England during his lifetime probably didn’t think that it was worth keeping a secret. In fact they probably knew little about it and cared less.

        • I’m not sure about Newton, but there is evidence that scientific work on air pressure eventually contributed to Newcomen’s steam engine. This isn’t the usual story you read in history-of-science-and-technology books, where Scientific and Industrial Revolutions are treated as independent, but Dennis Wooton’s recent book on the scientific revolution makes the case for a connection. The link between Huygens and Boyle, and Newcomen, was a guy named Denis Papin. He was French, but Protestant, so he had to spend his career outside France.

          Early scientific work on air pressure wasn’t any kind of secret. So maybe a lesson is that your country can get ahead even without keeping stuff secret, when other countries are driving their creative minorities into exile.

          Here’s a brief account from my blog: https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/steam-engine-time/

          • gcochran9 says:

            When people talk about the “Great Divergence”, they don’t seem to place much emphasis on the fact that at the very top, Western Europe was enormously more intellectually sophisticated than China. Europeans were using Jupiter’s moons as a clock in 1800 and directly measuring the gravitational force of a 12-inch lead ball. European physics & mathematics were far advanced over China’s at that point. Indeed, you could argue that Hellenistic science and mathematics were far advanced over those of China in 1800.

            • Jim says:

              I’ve read that when Jesuit missionaries in China showed the Chinese Western globes of the world the Chinese were utterly astonished.

              • dearieme says:

                There’s a wonderful story of Japanese medical students coming across Dutch medical textbooks. The diagrams proved that European medicine was far more accurate than the Chinese medicine that they were studying. None of them could read the text though, Dutch traders having been expelled from Japan. So they treated Dutch as a code, and cracked it.

              • gcochran9 says:

                I don’ believe that the Dutch were ever expelled. But few had access to them.

              • Douglas Knight says:

                “Coming across” makes it sound like a pre-Edo book, the translators now cu toff. But the Edo period allowed the import of medical books and formally translated them. Probably the translators didn’t know a lot of specialized terms and the students had to figure those out, but that’s not very different from anyone else reading an anatomy book.

              • melendwyr says:

                China invented perspective drawing long before the West… and then forgot about it. They didn’t even realize they’d ever come up with it until Jesuits went poking through the Imperial Archives and found the records.

                Ancient China was the most impressive and innovative society on Earth. Then I suspect they made major progress in their attempts to domesticate themselves. I don’t think they’ll ever recover; I think we’ll join them.

              • syonredux says:

                Melendwyr:
                “Ancient China was the most impressive and innovative society on Earth.”

                Not when compared to either Classical Greece or to the modern (post 1500) West….

            • Bob says:

              Hellenistic math and science were far advanced over those of China in 1800 because much of them, especially astronomy, were essentially modern mathematical science. Ptolemy’s models, like Maxwell’s equations, simply give a mathematical description of behavior, rather than try to explain or provide a theory about what is really going on. In this way, modern mathematical science is largely a resurrection of Hellenistic science and some aspects of Classical science, and the replacement of Aristotelian science.

              This complicates somewhat the issue of the relationship between the scientific revolution and technical developments though, since obviously Hellenistic science did not spark an industrial revolution in its own time, and since you had guys like John Harrison, a clockmaker not versed in math and astronomy, beating out prominent scientists using moon observations and lunar distances to win the Longitude Prize. Newton himself had a low opinion of craftsmen like Harrison trying to win the prize, and believed that only astronomical methods by scientists like himself would solve the problem.

              • not my name says:

                since obviously Hellenistic science did not spark an industrial revolution in its own time,

                Wasn’t Fourier working on heat transfer in canon? If so, then maybe that particular period in the advance of weaponry can be argued to be the catalyst for all of modern communications.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        How much did pre-WWI European powers share their knowledge? I get the impression that during peacetime they invited their potential foes to send spectators to their war games fairly often.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ve thought about how the cold war would have been different had America acted like it had a high chance of becoming hot. Lots of people tell me that everyone thought it was going to go hot(I was born in 1980, so I don’t really remember it) yet looking back, the actions speak louder than words. No fallout shelters, for instance. The liberals mocked those who built them, claiming everyone would die anyway, but that’s nonsense. Many millions would have survived, and millions would be saved by shelters. There’s other aspects, such as there being no attempt to increase America’s population.

    • melendwyr says:

      My impression was that people feared making too many effective responses to the possibility of a Hot War, because that might make the Soviets worried that we’d be willing to start a fight in the hopes that enough of our society might survive. Sort of like how we kept building nukes long after we had more than enough. Wasn’t that the point of MAD?

  11. hronrade says:

    I’ve never understood why Byzantine history isn’t more popular. It’s so fascinating.

    • MawBTS says:

      Yes. The Roman Empire never fell, it just changed continents.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Yes although it’s becoming more popular now due to strategy games so that’s good.

      • j says:

        Pity we have no good histories of the hundred years Byzantine-Sassanid war. Not that any conclusion could be extracted from them – wars never repeat themselves (except in the minds of old generals that are always fighting the last war) and the weapons have evolved. We too keep evolving very fast.

        • Garr says:

          “Wars never repeat themselves” — but Hoplite-tactics would be easily adaptable for street-combat — say, Hassidim defending their turf from BLM-mobs, jabbing steel bars over plywood.

          • j says:

            You must be joking. But BLM mobs are no joke – in 2016 there were a thousand casualties in Chicago alone.

            • Garr says:

              Not really joking — it seems to me that Boro Parkers ought to be practicing shield-wall street-combat techniques, and maybe they are, in some of the larger shul basements after Maariv. Enemy snipers would be a problem, so you’d need your own counter-snipers on rooftops. I only focus on Hassidim because they have the social cohesion necessary for effective application of hoplite-tactics to street-combat situations. Sicilian group-spirit is gone in NYC, and of course the Park Slopers aren’t going to defend themselves. Possibly the Mexican/Central-American Pentecostals, though … actually, it’s occurred to me before (just remembering now) that the Mexican/Central-American Pentecostals are the only people who might be willing to fight the expanding Muslim population for control of Brooklyn in the long run.

              • j says:

                There is no ethnic social cohesion nor institutions that could mobilize it. It’s up to the police.

              • Garr says:

                Yeah, I guess. But it’s fun to imagine, especially when you’re familiar with the intersections where crucial street-battles might take place.

      • hronrade says:

        It’s so true. I’m obsessed with Byzantium to the point that I’ve become Orthodox Christian and tbh, it has its roots in playing Medieval:Total War in high school.

  12. MawBTS says:

    Can we tell the country’s greatest minds from people who just got lucky? Or who were at the right place at the right time?

    For science, maybe. But when you’re talking war, some supposedly great generals built their reputations on just a handful of battles or encounters. It’s like trying to detect poker skill from 5-6 hands.

    Moshe Dayan sure looked like a military genius after the Six Day War. Then the Yom Kippur War started, he did dumb stuff (like squandering Israel’s air superiority in raids against Egyptian SAM batteries), and soon he retired in disgrace.

    • ursiform says:

      Richard Nixon told Golda Meir that he would trade any three American generals for Israeli General Moshe Dayan. “OK,” she said, “I’ll take General Motors, General Electric and General Dynamics.”

      All four “generals” have had their better and their lesser periods.

    • syonredux says:

      The Israelis tend to be overrated. People forget that their victories were all won fighting against Arabs. They’ve never had to go up against a first class military.

      • James says:

        Saad el-Shazly and the Egyptian Army he trained gave the Israelis a run for their money when his forces breached the Suez Canal and pushed the Israelis back beyond the Bar-Lev line. He thwarted the Israeli counter-attack and only lost the war because Sadat made a terrible strategic blunder by ordering his army to advance without air cover for political purposes.

      • Their recent defeats are also against Arabs…

  13. Xennady says:

    Lucio Russo mentioned in his book The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn that some Greek states and Carthage had discovered various technologies related to open-water navigation- but they treated them as state secrets and they were subsequently lost after the Romans smushed them.

    Supposedly, Carthage even managed to cross the Atlantic and found a colony somewhere in the Americas.

    It seems to me that keeping such knowledge buried as a secret history- or perhaps I should call it a secret technology- was a terribly bad no good idea. If it had been more widely distributed perhaps the Greeks or Carthaginians would have been able to progress even more- and perhaps been advanced enough to defeat the Romans via technology when they needed to, later on.

    Or not. But Russo wrote a fascinating book, in my opinion.

  14. dearieme says:

    “Supposedly, Carthage even managed to cross the Atlantic and found a colony somewhere in the Americas.” Oh go on. The Canaries, sure. Madeira: perhaps. The Azores: a long, long shot.

    But the Americas? The evidence is what?

    • engleberg says:

      According to The Sunbird</> the Carthaginians had a colony in South Africa. Blond temple priestesses diving into cenotes, a great Sunbird battle ax, a great mass hunt like the Romans did it, sabertooth vs homeric heroes, blond chicks with more Pimm’s Cups in them than suitable for perfect propriety, gold to airy thinness beat with immortal poetry on it writ, cursed ancient tombs like a shroom dream, I think there’s some of that girly characterization stuff but Wilbur Smith doesn’t let it get in the way of the story.

    • Xennady says:

      Actual evidence for this is essentially nonexistent- and it seems to me that the complete lack of any sign of human habitation of various Atlantic islands- aside from the Canaries- discovered early in the European age of exploration argues against it.

      I hasten to add that Russo mentioned this only in discussing the possibility of ancient seafarers having knowledge of more advanced technology, later lost- and his mention was limited only to repeating a rumor reported by an ancient writer.

      Unfortunately, I loaned the book out and haven’t gotten it back- so I can only rely on my hazy memory.

      In any case, it still strikes me as a fascinating possibility, because obviously if the Greeks or Carthaginians did in fact discover the Americas and manage to sail back and forth then they potentially missed a great opportunity. But I would argue that this is a likely consequence of a civilization that keeps such knowledge limited to a special few- i.e., keeps secret histories- because if things go south then the knowledge can be lost- and per Russo it was, so thoroughly that we don’t even realize how much.

      That’s the important lesson from his book, I think.

      • dearieme says:

        You could get blown to America by accident from the Canaries or points south. Getting back would be the tricky bit: Columbus managed it because the Portuguese explorers had determined the seasonal wind patterns in the Atlantic, and because he was using sailing ships not galleys with sails.

        And then: to what end? Like the Vikings, they’d have found themselves without a large enough technological advantage over the natives. Unlike the Vikings, they might have gained from bringing in Old World diseases from a high population density city (Carthage), but it’s still hard to believe they’d succeed in anything but getting themselves killed (and possibly eaten.)

        • Xennady says:

          We simply don’t know enough to judge whether or not the Carthaginians were able to cross the Atlantic or not. I recall seeing claiming that Roman-era shipwrecks had been found on this side of the pond- but as you note they easily could have been blown here unwillingly. However, I certainly
          find it suggestive to read accounts of “a great island, many days to the west, with mountains and navigable rivers.” We know what that might describe, but presumably Diodorus did not.

          About any presumptive technological advantage, I’d presume horses and iron weaponry would be enough, given sufficient numbers. But I also recall historian Hugh Thomas writing in his history of the conquest of Mexico that absent disease events would have likely turned out similarly to history of the British in India.That is, cultural impact, but not demographic replacement.

          That particular scenario for a hypothetical Carthaginian trans-Atlantic colony is not ruled out, in my opinion. Perhaps they merely traded, as in England, where they may have left a few place names as evidence of their presence- as suggested by Dr. Caitlin Green.

          http://www.caitlingreen.org/

          But forgive my off topic rambling.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Russo wrote a whole book on the topic, Forgotten America (2013) that hasn’t been translated. It seems to be based largely on the coordinates in Ptolemy’s Geography.

      In Forgotten Revolution (1996?), he mainly talks about how we have inherited from the medievals the rejection of ancient claims about their navigation that are quite plausible when we consider technologies that we know that the ancients had (astrolabe, barnacle protection) that the medievals lacked. eg, open-ocean travel in the Indian Ocean.

      The passage Xennady mentions:

      Trips in the Atlantic, toward the West, are mentioned by Diodorus Sicu- lus, Plutarch and others.* Strabo even talks of attempts to circumnavigate the globe.**

      * Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, V, xix–xx; Plutarch, Vita Sertorii, viii. Diodorus talks of a great island, many days to the west, with mountains and navigable rivers. The Carthaginians, he reports, had founded a colony there and even considered moving there en masse if their city were in grave danger. Many testimonia about Atlantic trips are collected and discussed in [Valerio Manfredi, Le isole fortunate, Roma, L’Ermadi Bretschneider, 1993; revised and corrected edition, 1996.]

      ** Strabo, Geography, I, i §8.

  15. Greying Wanderer says:

    off-topic but mentioned on here before…

    hispanic longevity
    black longevity (after a mortality hurdle)
    and
    black twitter mocking white people over aging fast (to their eyes)
    alt-right twitter mocking black people over fried chicken

    what if as people moved north they needed a higher metabolism* – might that explain the longevity issue?

    (* and hence more iodine to fuel it)

    why the difference between black and hispanic if it’s climate based metabolism? why would black people be adapted to european diet? they wouldn’t. (hence maybe the chicken – is it very neutral as a food?)

    also meds – drugs tested on white or asian people might (and almost certainly will imo) work differently on black people (on average)

    so maybe the black longevity paradox is they need to survive the diet and the meds first and if they do then the natural low metabolism / greater longevity thing kicks in

    separate to that might populations evolved to have a higher metabolism (and thus need for iodine) have a general sluggish effect from iodine deficiency?

    ME?

    • Jim says:

      The ranking on mortality from most causes in the US from lowest to highest is Asian, Amerindian, Hispanic, White, Black. The main drivers of lower death rates are cardiovascular disease and cancer. Though generally Amerindians and Hispanics have lower death rates than whites for most diseases, alcohol related diseases are an exception. Also whites have lower death rates for diabetes.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        if there was a “live fast, die young” metabolism effect i wonder what organs would be most affected?

  16. Bob says:

    What do you think of Michael Woodley’s argument that genius is a group selected phenotype, which he claims was originally W.D. Hamilton’s idea? He discusses it at around 17:00 here:

  17. Greying Wanderer says:

    whyteablog
    “You think that the creative and collaborative East Asians might’ve been weeded out?”

    yeah, if “genius” traits had other negative consequences then seems like a possibility

    • Bob says:

      See Dean Keith Simonton’s work on geniuses. Geniuses have tended to be celibate and childless. Older researchers like Lombroso noted this as well.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        yeah – so a population might have a stock of geniuses who eventually run out

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          or rather a stock of gene genies that can run out

        • Bob says:

          Well we don’t know the mechanism. The fact that it doesn’t seem to be individually selected for has led some like Woodley to speculate that it may be a group selected phenotype.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            or it’s a combination of high IQ and one of a collection of traits which get selected against over time by civilization
            – OCD
            – ADD
            – aggression (maybe timid geniuses never tell anyone their idea or give up if it’s mocked/attacked)

            if correct then a variation on “group selection” might be particular niches which didn’t select against those traits as much as others – for example a niche that didn’t select against OCD as much as other niches so the group within the niche had/has more OCD than the average

            for example how many Chinese inventors came from a long line of calligraphers?

  18. Greying Wanderer says:

    Melchizedek
    “Subtract the contributions of Ashkenazim, and the performance of the remainder of Whites aren’t lookin’ so hot relative to the Asians.”

    which centuries are you including in that?

    (also did the recent disproportionate contribution coincide with adopting the western marriage model?)

  19. dave chamberlin says:

    Speaking of war in a historical context is definitely one of Cochran’s many scholarly strengths.
    That sombitch has read too much and forgotten too little. Looking at the big scope of human warfare, past present and near future is a delightful past time which many of us Westhunter readers enjoy.

    I pose a question. Assuming that the next war will be lost by the side that stubbornly and stupidly fights the last war, I wonder what terrible mistakes will be made. It has been so long since honest to God super powers or even their fully armed and trained underlings have clashed we dunno. The middle east dust ups don’t count. As Cochran once said the middle eastern militaries couldn’t beat the Audubon society.

    My personal opinion is navies are sitting ducks that will be blown out of the seas in the first week or two of any serious armed conflict between real powers. I don’t care how many billions the US navy spends on missile defense it will fail spectacularly if ever a competent adversary decides to fire a bunch of guided missiles at those multi billion dollar floating airports. Until someone with the knowledge of Cochran tells me otherwise I think missile defense systems are a joke. Missiles are very similar to bullets. Nobody in their right mind thinks we can make a bullet defense system that shoots all the incoming bullets out of the air but there is very little questioning that we can successfully defend ships with a larger version and call it missile defense technology.

    I confess my ignorance of the technologies required so I could be wrong. One thing I do know is Groucho Marx got it right when he said military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. The military experts have a long record of being horribly wrong before their ideas are tested in real battle, especially when their are numerous advances in technology between wars. Supposedly the missile defense technology worked to defend Tel Aviv from the oversized bottle rockets that were launched against it from pissed off Palestinians. It worked some of the time against incredibly backwards technology. Giving anywhere close to similar technology, and the incoming missiles succeed easily in sinking the most advanced navies or at the very least driving them far far away from where they are needed. Which is why the USA really really wants to keep it’s military bases all over the world.

    • Ever since beginning my own informal study of modern warfare strategy in 1961, perusing the sinister ironies of Herman Kahn, I have been fascinating by the spectacular degree to which ‘all bets are off’ regarding the ‘next war’, assuming World War III hasn’t already started without the guests in attendance formally being presented with their RSVPs (which is arguable).

      It was appalling to recently learn that wishful 45-year-old thinkers in the Pentagon are once again talking hopefully (against hope) of a ‘winnable nuclear war’ with Russia, which has inexplicably been assigned the role of Evil Empire & Enemy, out of the blue (and in lieu of a credible adversary, now that the horridly dangerous Saddam Hussein and the insanely perilous Moammar Khaddafi have been whacked). As Dmitry Orlov points out, however, this is fond wool-spinning, as these spunky officer-bureaucrats generally harbor no desire to die in a nuclear conflagration.

      I am in complete agreement about the vulnerability of navies, particularly those ‘floating airports’ known to submariners as ‘targets’.

      There is a never-ending and worrisome debate about the chain of command and maintaining some degree of military authority over launches, once the show gets going. This issue came up, in spades, with the revelation that two Soviet officers had received awards for averting a thermonuclear exchange: submariner Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, known after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as ‘the man who saved the world’, and Soviet Air Defence Forces Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, in 1983 (soon after the KAL 747 which had strayed over eastern highly-secret USSR defense facilities was shot down).

      At that time the consensus in the West was that control of the launch codes was held tightly to the chest of aged alcoholic mummies in the Kremlin – and there was thus a temptation to launch a ‘decapitation strike’ which would leave field commanders bewildered and impotent, unable to fire. In actual fact it became clear during the famed 40th Anniversary Conference of the Cuban Missile Crisis, held in Havana, that some sub commanders did indeed have the authority to launch (presumably with the agreement of the Political Officer on board, who also held vital keys to the safe containing codes).

      The other purported event which gave rise to public discussion and debate of command & control was the Okinawa missile launch command, also during the Cuban Crisis of 1962, where a crazed American lieutenant colonel first issued, then rescinded, an order to launch missiles at targets in Asia, according to one John Bordne, whose highly-controversial revelation continues to be argued. The commanding officer in question was said to be quietly court-martialed and discharged from the military.

      A very interesting ‘hot-line’ communication from Premier Khrushchev to President Kennedy during the October crisis urged quick resolution of the confrontation, making the point that once anything began to percolate it would be out of the hands of politicians to halt (Khrushchev revealing himself to be much more of a ‘wise uncle’ during this time than the amphetamine-fueled cold warrior in the White House – and let’s not get into Curtis LeMay, who was all set for a full-out attack).

      There was also a gefuffle about the purported loss of so-called ‘suitcase bombs’ around the time of the collapse of the USSR, when the concern was that extremist Arab money could purchase mini-nukes from a crumbling military and then use them against the west. The famed Col. Lebed made headlines around this time, and inspired debate in the US Congress, with his colorful warnings (later it was pointed out that anyone ponying around one of these toroid-based do-hickeys would be lethally irradiated by the plutonium long before he got off the bus).

      The point is that even now, seventy plus years after the first application of nuclear power in warfare, evaluations of strategic possibilities, levels of response and command & control are still raging… even though overriding issues such as a likely ‘nuclear winter’ make such discussion rather Jesuitical.

      (Personal Note: Air Force brat in the 1950s, dad in SAC at Loring, Carswell, Bergstrom etc.)

  20. dearieme says:

    “My personal opinion is navies are sitting ducks that will be blown out of the seas in the first week or two of any serious armed conflict between real powers.” That’s certainly my guess. Submarines are hard to sink but surface ships are just targets. It’s not even clear to me how useful strike aircraft will be: will surface to air missiles make them too vulnerable? Should everyone use subs and drones? Do costs favour defences?

    • dearieme says:

      Of course, if people turn to nuclear weapons delivered by ballistic missiles then speculating about conventional navies would be pointless. Or even nuclear bombs delivered by truck and kept as “sleepers” in enemy cities.

      • dearieme says:

        Or shipping containers: would they be a good way to deliver nukes?

      • Oh you’ve thought of that as well! Great minds running in parallel grooves, la la la.

        I visualize a dowdy 1970s Chevy van with steel-reinforced tires to carry its eight tons of lead shielding sitting in a long-term parking garage in Brooklyn. Every fourteen years some fat Puerto Rican technician has to drop by, change the battery, run the engine and refresh the tritium in the device packed in the rear.

        Similarly there is a smart seventh-floor apartment in downtown Moscow with glamorous furnishings and a terrific view of the city. Off to one side is a grand piano but no one ever plays it because, well, the tuner hasn’t dropped by. It too contains a low-yield nuclear weapon.

        Each side discreetly advises the other of the existence of these ‘sleepers’ (excellent term you’ve chosen – reminds me of TELEFON, the fine Charles Bronson action picture). They huff and they puff but neither wants to blow the other’s house down. Mexican standoff.

  21. Greying Wanderer says:

    Maciano

    “Japan seems promising; they’re on a winning streak since 2000s, before not so much.”

    Yes, one thing i think people miss is if a population is catching up with technology they will be less inclined to be looking further ahead. Maybe you only see how innovative a group are when they’re fully caught up.

    #

    “Just looking at sheer population numbers & avg IQ East Asia should look a lot hotter than it has shown itself to be.”

    Numbers are another factor. There were only a few million literate people in England during their time of greatest innovation whereas there will be maybe 100x as many in East Asia (with a similar average IQ) over the coming century so even if they were 100x less creative (which seems pretty unlikely) then they should still be churning out a lot of innovation.

    #

    “There’s probably something besides IQ that matters as well.”

    This does seem likely so despite the above points it would still be interesting to find out what it is/was as it would probably turn out to be useful.

  22. coinherence says:

    It is one thing to have the information/experience/advice available. It is another to actually take effective advantage of it. The Byzantine defeat at Manzikert arguably followed from a refusal to “follow the manual”. Thousands of other examples could probably be cited. Dissing the manual is a huge factor in the competing-ego game of who is to be top dog. Then again, there are often valid reasons for ignoring the manual. Then there is the “theological” realm where interpreting the manual makes all the difference. Clarity and simplicity are typically ex post facto.

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