The Paras

Sometimes in a long struggle, the players have a felt need to believe that it all means something: that the buddies they lost died for something important, that they made a difference…  Sometimes it’s even true.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  A lot of wars are over nothing of long-term value or importance, and of course sometimes your side loses, which decreases the chance that your sacrifices have some kind of cosmic payoff. Sometimes this means the goals of the war somehow become more important as the cost increases, because they need to  – sunk costs fallacy on steroids.

For example, if Meade had crushed the Army of Northern Virginia  when it was pinned against the Potomac after Gettysburg, we’d all be better off, but the Civil War would occupy considerably less territory inside people’s heads today.

Or consider Vietnam: I’ve known people that were sure we were ” wearing down” the Soviet Union in Vietnam, even though we outspent them there by at least 20-1 – not even considering casualties !

In the Algerian War, the French ended up doing a lot of stuff that no true Scotsman* would even consider: lots of torture, lots of  shooting civilians. As they got rougher, the imaginary future they were fighting for became ever more golden, ever more unrealistic – it was one in which the Algerians  were fully integrated French citizens, something that had never made sense and was completely impossible after guys like Massu had used “all means necessary” to win the Battle of Algiers.  The Paras at this point didn’t have much sympathy for the pieds noirs, who weren’t crazy enough to share that vision. But then those French officers had been through a lot – defeated by Germany, embarrassingly saved by the Anglo-Americans, losing in  Vietnam: pre-adapted for nuttiness.


  • except the Campbells, of course.


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38 Responses to The Paras

  1. Thersites says:

    “For example, if Meade had crushed the Army of Northern Virginia when it was pinned against the Potomac after Gettysburg, we’d all be better off, but the Civil War would occupy considerably less territory inside people’s heads today.“

    Rhett Butler certainly would have missed an iconic kiss and memorable slapping if the war hadn’t dragged on long enough for him to belatedly enlist.

  2. James Thompson says:

    Dying young is rarely worth it.

  3. wagering says:

    Of course, the prevailing view is still that wars are fought over resources 😐
    A bit hard to explain events like the Isonzo battles of WW1, though.

    A nation’s esteem or “honor” also does not tend to increase after a defeat.

  4. Coagulopath says:

    If WW1 had been shorter or less grim a lot of children’s authors would have written different books.

    The works of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, AA Milne, and Hugh Lofting were all inflected by their wartime experiences (in different ways).

    • shadow on the wall says:

      WWI was such big downer because all the death and suffering was seen as over nothing.
      10 million deaths, and all that “we won” was some shitty armistice?

      If the Allies went all the way in, razed Berlin to the ground, hanged Kaiser, the Prussian aristocracy and officers, and again divided Germany into hundreds of garden gnome sized principalities, you can bet that “The Great War” will be seen as right and glorious enterprise.

      • wagering says:

        Before WW2, Germany had a much better reputation.
        The crimes you suggest would not have been viewed as justified.

        The Kaiser (who wasn’t much of an asset for Germany) did abdicate, so why shoot him?
        The Versailles treaty also limited the army to 100,000 men, abolished conscription and outlawed the general staff. The failure to intervene when the Rhineland was re-occupied occurred about two decades later.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          As near as I can tell, the peace terms imposed on Germany were at just the wrong level of punitiveness: just enough to humiliate them and piss them off, but not enough to prevent them from rising again in fairly short order. Going to either extreme would probably have been better in the long run.

          • Stephen M St Onge says:

            Yes, humiliating without really punishing was the wrong way to go, especially since Germany started the War, quite deliberately (well, the European part; they really didn’t want to fight ‘England’, as they called the British Empire).

            And the won the post-war propaganda battle. Which is why in WWII, no terms were accepted except unconditional surrender with occupation. That wasn’t happening again, if FDR and Churchill had anything to do say about it.

        • Christopher B says:

          Just a swag but I wonder if the Brits were already looking for somebody to balance against the French on the Continent by 1918, or if both Britain and France were already looking for a buffer against a more energetic Russia (depending on the outcome of the Revolution).

        • saintonge235 says:

          The Armistice was a huge mistake. Germany had to be made to SURRENDER, unconditionally, and live occupied. And its pre-war documents published, showing that yes, indeed, Germany started the Great War, and quite deliberately.

          Failure to do those things led to Hitler and WWII.

      • 17 percent of Frenchmen born between 1880 and 1899 died in WWI, hanging the Kaiser wouldn’t have brought them back. France did get Alsace-Lorraine back. Still, if you had asked the average Alsace-Lorrainer, “hey, we give your son a 17% chance of death to make this France again,” what do you think he’d say? It would have been far less costly for France to simply subsidize the emigration of Alsace-Lorrainers into France proper. It’s not like France had much cause to whine about the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, since it was taken as a result of a war they started.

        Had they done as you said to Germany, they would have had to continually be on guard for German reunification. Assuming they would have done so, at least they aren’t threatened by Germany anymore, right? But this ignores that they could have achieved this simply by not being revanchist in the first place. Tell the rest of Europe “we have no revanchist claims, no desire to ally with any country with revanchist claims, we’ll fight if attacked but otherwise we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.” Were this to happen, Hitler would likely never have taken power, even if he or someone like him did, he’d have to consider that:

        It would be much harder to rally public opinion against France if it made such a declaration. Though the German people didn’t much care about overruning Czechoslovakia in 1939, they would have had significantly more pacifistic attitudes if confronted with a non-threatening country which could actually fight back.
        France is less of a threat, so aggressive energies should be turned toward other potentially aggressive powers.

        In theory, preemptive war can be justified. In 90% of actual historical examples you’ll find it isn’t, and of the remaining 10% most are clear only in hindsight. It reminds me of a quote from some British officer at the beginning of the war, where he said quite lucidly that the war was pointless, that a generation of men would be slaughtered, and then went ahead leading men into battle for the rest of the war. The interpretation was supposed to be that he was an honorable soldier faithfully serving King and country. My interpretation was that Europeans would have been far better off had its men lacked such honor. But being an honorable soldier was high-status while running away from battle was low-status, so logical arguments didn’t go very far. It’s like education subsidies today. You can present evidence that people aren’t using the stuff they are taught, and don’t even remember it, but you just get increasingly incredible explanations about its supposed value. Because it’s high status and we want to show our respect for high-status people, and want our country and group to be high-status relative to other groups.

        • JMcG says:

          I wonder if the full story of the French mutinies of 1917 will ever come out. There’s a heck of a story waiting to be told there. Amazing, considering the detail with which the rest of the war has been covered.

        • Stephen M St Onge says:

          More German horseshit. Germany intended to permanently cripple France in WWI.

  5. Halvorson says:

    The great Norm Macdonald’s father protested the Glencoe massacre by refusing to ever buy Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

    • Space Ghost says:

      I consider myself an expert on Norm Macdonald’s oeuvre and I’ve never heard him tell this one. Do you have a link or reference?

  6. Steven Wilson says:

    McClellan has the best chance of crushing Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia after Antietam. He had nearly as many troops in reserve as Lee did as effective on the day after the battle. McClellan was incapable of crushing a cream puff let alone as tough a nut as Lee. But of course that was 1862 and there were still a lot of Confederate troops in other theaters that might have prolonged the war. It may have the best solution that the war went on until 65 and the South was thoroughly beaten. The solution that was missing from WWI.

    • Young says:

      The Germans were thoroughly beaten in WWI. Blackjack Pershing wanted the war to continue for just a little longer because the German army, and its leadership, was in collapse and, according to Martin Gilbert, Pershing thought it important for it to be recognized that the German army had actually lost. The Armistice left room for the Germans to claim that their army had not been fully beaten and that Germany had been stabbed in the back.

      The reparations at Versailles were probably too extreme–Churchill thought so–but the concept of war reparations was hardly novel to Germans; they had demanded them from France at the end of the Franco-Prussian War and from the Soviet Union at the Treaty of Brest Litovsk when Russia collapsed before the end of the war. Sauce–Goose–Gander. They wouldn’t have accepted them if they hadn’t known they were finished.

    • Stephen M St Onge says:

      “McClellan was incapable of crushing a cream puff let alone as tough a nut as Lee.”

      Yes, Little Mac was a moral coward. Notice the way he spent a day not attacking the Army of Northern Virginia, hoping Lee would run away. The world’s clearest case of moral cowardice.

      His only battlefield successes were those achieved by subordinates, when he wasn’t around.

  7. NobodyExpectThe.... says:

    The Paras did do something that had important long term consecuenses, out of all that algerian madness.

    They put De Gaulle (and his polical heirs) in charge of France for quite some time. They did regret doing it almost immedeatly though.

  8. Dale says:

    It is interesting to compare Bethman-Hollweg (German Chancellor in 1914) goals in the west and the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the EU. Belorus is the only major loss to the Germans in the East, and the Western goals only went to the Channel and the Pyrennes. So losing two wars did not keep the Germans from achieving the dominance they sought.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If the French got upset at German domination, what could they possibly do? Other than nuke the hell out of them, of course.

      • Young says:

        Germany doesn’t have much of a military at the moment. If they acted quickly, the French could probably take them down without the use of nukes. Oddly, even Israel probably has a better submarine force than Germany just now despite their subs being made in Germany.

    • Stephen M St Onge says:

      “Belorus is the only major loss to the Germans in the East.”

      I’d hardly call East Prussia and Western Poland ‘not major.’

  9. Stephen says:

    No true Scotsman … well, not just excluding Campbells. Consider the sack of Aberdeen in 1644 by the Highland army of Montrose and of Alastair Mac Colla MacDonald, where (by Aberdonian accounts) the Highlanders killed every townsman they could get their hands on, and every woman who wept for the dead.

    Complicating factors: the Highland army was Royalist, as (until the massacre) much of Aberdeenshire had been. Also, the Royalists lost that war.

    Moral not entirely obvious.

  10. Stephen M St Onge says:

    “except the Campbells, of course.” LOL, litterally.

  11. adreadline says:

    Any thoughts on the Barrington Declaration?

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