A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Saturday, 30 July 2011

"Kolberg" (1945) - contd

Yes - they're still out there, and still singing

Well, I watched it – twice, in fact. Interesting. The film is obviously very dated, but it is well made and the story is underpinned by a good number of events and people which are recorded historical fact. I had not realised, for example, that celebrities of the calibre of Gneisenau and Von Schill were present at the defence of Kolberg.

The conflict between the old mayor and the old (and incompetent) fortress commander is well handled – there’s a lot of humour in their arguments. I had a slight personal difficulty empathising completely with the plucky mayor, since he looks like the fat groundsman at our local bowling club, a man with whom I have had a deadly feud for some months, but that is not entirely relevant to this post.

Gneisenau is scary – spends much of his time staring wide-eyed into space and shouting. Apart from the shouting, in general, the propaganda elements of the film were no more extreme than you find in its contemporary US and British equivalents. Since I have caused offence in this area before, I emphasise with some haste that I am not at all a fan of Nazi Germany, but many of the film’s comments on war and expressions of patriotism are humanist rather than nationalist, and would translate well to other countries, other wars, other times. The townspeople of Kolberg appear to have had an instinct for standing in geometrical formations, and a tendency to hang around in the town square and sing Wagnerian songs, or else chant complicated unison messages to the commandant (in the style of “A Life of Brian”), any of which would have frightened away a would-be assailant.

General Loison, who is something of a hero of mine from his (later) service with VI Corps in the Peninsula, is the commander of the besieging force, and he is a very bad man indeed. He continues the bombardment after a ceasefire has been decreed, for one thing.

At a trivial, nerdy level, I am a little disappointed that the uniforms were not better researched, and that the batteries of very small cannon come into action with the barrels at high elevation, like WW1 howitzers – still, there was a war on. I was also delighted to learn that Kolberg was in old Prussian Pommerania, and that Von Schill (who has a disappointingly squeaky voice for a hero) sets sail in the end for Stralsund (along the coast in Swedish Pommerania), where, sadly, he was killed in 1809 (out of scope for the film, but hinted at), after which point he and his head had separate and extremely gruesome histories.


Overall, I recommend the film. The introduction contains a lot of interesting stuff, and is very heavily anti-Nazi, but political cant in the main feature is otherwise pretty sparse. The appeal to the German nation to fight for their homeland is mostly fundamental stuff about pride in their history and heritage, protection of their honour and their families. The Party does not feature – apart from picking up the tab for the movie, of course. The treatment of brave little Maria, the farmer’s daughter, who sails away to Konigsberg to take a letter to the King (requesting replacement of the old goat of a commander) is very dated and very patronising, and potentially will cause more offence than any subliminal plugs for the National Socialists.

At one point, Gneisenau declares to the king that “the storm bursts”, which is, I guess, a German play on words referring to the Volksturm – the German home guard. The introductory feature shows Goebbels screaming this exact phrase in 1943 or so. I had assumed that Goebbels was quoting Gneisenau, though there is also the more intriguing possibility that in some way Gneisenau was quoting Goebbels. I wonder how that could have happened?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

"Kolberg" (1945)


Last night I watched a bit of a DVD I've obtained from the US - "Kolberg", dating from 1945, about the Napoleonic Wars in Germany. I am astounded that I have never heard of this film before. It was a pet project of Goebbels - intended to fire up the German people late in WW2 so they would rush to join the Volksturm. Decidedly strange in places - some of the dialogue is lifted from Goebbels' own speeches - Gneisenau is portrayed as a rather unhinged zealot, who constantly berates the stammering (and very short) King of Prussia about the need to mobilise the citizens to defend the Reich. The main plot surrounds the brave defence of Kolberg against the French by the Prussian people's army - to be honest, I haven't got very far into the main film yet, and I'm not even sure which campaign is depicted.

Thus far, I have mostly watched the introductory feature, describing the circumstances in which it was made - all sorts of sub-plots about Goebbels objecting to individual performances etc. At a time when Berlin and the other chief cities were being bombed into ruin and the German regular army was very short of men and everything else, he was granted vast numbers of soldiers, many hundreds of horses and anything else he needed to make a propaganda film. No expense spared. The initial version depicted what the director considered realistic battle scenes - Goebbels apparently was very upset, accused the director of presenting warfare in an insufficiently glorious light, and they had to cut a huge amount of the film. Of course, the war ended before they ever got to show it to anyone. The version I have is (I think) restored to the director's original.

I'll watch it properly at the weekend - I think it is going to be of academic interest rather than true entertainment, but I'll certainly give it a go. Being a geeky person, I note that we seem to have Prussians in shakos fighting French in bicorns - hence my uncertainty about the period depicted - but it's a fantastically ambitious production - full colour, the works - and the restoration looks pretty good.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tomar Militia Battalion


This evening I have mostly been fixing flags to my recent new units. A healthy dose of the commonplace after the giddy excitement of last week's Pommeranians. Here's a humble unit of Portuguese militia - I had enough odd NapoleoN and Kennington figures to make up a battalion. The more observant may notice that the Kennington boys are out of step with the NapoleoN figures, but this is the militia, after all. These chaps will come in useful for all sorts of duties, but one of their jobs is general labouring for the Allied siege train - heaving things about, digging holes, all that.

Once again, my clever but over-enthusiastic camera has brightened the colours - they are not really as psychedelic as this.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Pommerania - The Army of 1808 (2) - complete

Off-line project No 514a is finished. The forces of my mythical Duchy of Stralsund-Rügen (otherwise known to history as Swedish Pommerania, just to the right of Mecklenburg on the Napoleonic map), duly signed up to the Confederation of the Rhine, are painted and ready for action. To their considerable disappointment, they are destined for counter-insurgency and LOC duty in Spain.

In the unlikely event that you wish to read a little more about the (mooted) history of the Duchy, there are some earlier posts here and here and here.


Here's a general view of the troops lined up on the big parade ground at Korkmatz, ready for inspection by old Herzog Friedrich. From left to right, the infantry units are the Grenadier battalion Zum alten Greif, fusilier battalions Putbus and Graf von Grimmen, and the Franzburg jaegers. In front you see the combined sharpshooter companies, looking suitably sharp, and the foot artillery company Stadt Stralsund.

On the right is General Graf Leberknödel (the Duke's son-in-law) at the head of the two regiments of Jaeger zu Pferd - Herzogin Katarin and Herr Friedrich.




As befits a project with an Old School feel, figures are by Scruby and Garrison, with various odd bods drafted into command roles. My particular thanks to Rob Young for providing out-of-catalogue Garrison figures in some haste (they are back in the catalogue now!) to help out when some of my intended Scruby figures failed the flash quotient test. Thanks also for the people who egged me on to do this in the first place.

I am confident that there are tales of glory ahead for these fellows. As for myself, I'm just waiting for the phone to ring - it will be Osprey wanting me to do a Men at War title on Napoleon's German Allies: Stralsund-Rügen.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

More Guerrilleros

Another parcel from David the Painter came yesterday - a fair amount of finishing touches and basing to do, but I have a few quiet days coming up so I can enjoy getting on with that.



First off the assembly line, here's some more of the excellent Qualiticast guerrilla infantry - yes, they include women and slingers - faintly reminiscent of my days with my Iceni/Trinovantes army (long departed).


And here's something you don't see very much - the first of my irregular Spanish cavalry units. These are cobbled from the leftovers of the garrocheros in the Falcata boxes after I had cherry-picked the best for my Lanceros de Castilla, which will be in the next shipment for painting. A pile of spare weapons from Musket Miniatures, a lot of hacking and filing and much Superglue, and here they are. Pleased with them, in fact - they turned out better than I expected.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hooptedoodle #31a - The Newspaper Boat


I remember it clearly. A couple of years ago, driving north past Newcastle upon Tyne in pouring rain, listening, transfixed, to my car radio. Live, a House of Commons committee was grilling some of the former deities of the UK banking industry, and had reduced them to stuttering, cringeing foolishness. Very satisfying - I cherish the recollection, and I'm not altogether sure why - the economic disaster had arrived and was clear for all to see, there was no prospect of good news for some time to come. Whatever the shortcomings of our system of democracy, however disenchanted I may be with politics in general, there was something deeply gratifying about the elected representatives of ordinary people really sticking it to the bad guys. Something not unlike a war crimes trial, I guess.

It is unworthy to seek the downfall of the rich and mighty - it smacks of envy and schadenfreude and a number of other things that I claim to despise, but I had a very strong urge to pull over, get out of the car, and punch the air and shout "Yes!" - right there in the rain.

Here it is again. The public humiliation and ridicule of the Murdoch family and their unpleasant associates promises to be the subject of more roadside air-punching. I look forward to it with some relish, but in the meantime I am interested to observe the polarisation of the newspaper reporting of the saga. The non-Murdoch parts of the press are showing more than a little glee over events, but they must surely be aware that the hole in the far end of the boat will threaten them all eventually. The BBC still mentions "the media" as though it were speaking of someone else.

Let me (as always) attempt to draw a (debatable) parallel from my personal experience. I worked for many years in the UK insurance industry. I worked for a mutual company, which is mostly an extinct species now, but at that time was alive and well. One day the unthinkable happened - one of our mutual competitors was suddenly, and very publicly, in big trouble. Solvency doubts, dreadful mismanagement, cavalier disregard of customers' interests, alleged falsification of regulatory returns - very big trouble indeed. My boss of the day, a man of academic grandure but great silliness, was absolutely thrilled that a competitor should be removed from the list of people we had to worry about, and could not - for the life of him - understand that the entire industry was now tainted. Public confidence was damaged - no-one smelled good; this was, in fact, the beginning of a downturn for insurance which eventually wrecked a number of other firms, including the one we were working for.

I believe we are seeing something very similar. Surely the shockwave in the newspaper industry will be far-reaching. Something fundamental has changed - the game as we knew it is, I think, bust. There is no real room for anyone to feel smug or safe, it will affect them all sooner or later. The long term effect on individual rights, privacy and the public taste for tittle-tattle remains to be seen.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Andreas Hofer


Rather belatedly, I've organised a family holiday - this year we are going to Vorarlberg, in Austria. Since this is, as near as not worth bothering, the Tirol (I'm sure I will be killed on the spot if I suggest such a thing when I get there), I thought I would do a bit of planning for holiday reading material of an appropriately regional, Napoleonic nature. I know little or nothing of Andreas Hofer, for example, so am on the lookout for a good book in English about the troubles in the Tirol in 1809 - if anyone has any recommendations I would be very appreciative. I don't expect to spend a lot of time visiting battlefields, but a day or so in Innsbruck looks a good bet, and the Berg Isel must be worth a visit. Ideally, I am looking for a book which will not require excess baggage charges on the plane (so my Elting & Esposito atlas is out). All recommendations would be most welcome.

The subject of Napoleonic holidays has always tickled at the back of my mind - I have a fantasy of taking a leisurely motor tour down the Danube, Ingolstadt via Ratisbon down to Wagram - that sort of thing. The odd battlefield, the odd glass of beer, lots of reading. Such a holiday might well be grounds for divorce, so I have not suggested it seriously to Mme Foy.

The picture at the top is Andreas Hofer ohne Hut, which is a lot less well known than Andreas Hofer mit Hut (below). I've also managed to download a very large illustration of Hofer suitable for putting on a T shirt - I'll maybe give that a miss. Of course, I could be the only visitor to the area who is not wearing such a shirt - how embarrassing would that be?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hooptedoodle #31 - The News of the Bloody World

Thank you - now piss off

I don't buy a daily newspaper. I listen to the daily news programme on BBC Radio 4 before I get up each morning, and anything I need more detail on I can get from the Internet. I do not buy a newspaper because I am too stingy, and because I live some distance from the nearest newsagent, but also for the following set of personal requirements.

(1) I need to be told what is going on in the world. I do not want lies, or wild rumours, or politically biased misrepresentations.

(2) I can use a little contextual or reference material to help me form opinions or judgements, but I'd like it factual, please.

(3) I have no wish at all to be told how I should react to the news, or what I should be thinking about it, especially if there is an attempt to involve me in some phoney community-spirit collectiveness - "our boys" - all that.

With a very few exceptions, newspapers do not seem to be able to handle my requirements, so I reject them. In the days when I really did need to be very well informed, I used to read the Economist regularly, and I still buy it when I need more insight - mainly because I think it is outstandingly good, but also because it is a weekly publication, which gets you away from all the daily yes-he-did-no-he-didn't nonsense which passes for up-to-the-minute reporting. I guess a good Sunday paper might achieve the same objective, if you can find one, but I am put off by the excess and the waste of trees.

I make occasional reference to the sayings of my grandmother - she was not actually a village witch or anything, she was a very intelligent and well-read lady, but she also had a wonderful collection of North-of-England pithy sayings and proverbs - mostly rather disapproving in tone, to be sure. She used to say, "Fools may dance, but bigger fools look on", which does not preclude the possibility that the bigger fools may actually have paid to commission the dancers in the first place. She also used to say, "Them as canna do nowt will tell tales about them as can". I find that interesting - where is the real world, then?

I wonder how The Press (a strangely anachronistic term these days) evolved from being the man who stuck bulletins up in the town square to being the multi-billion, multinational monster of today - an industry which devotes untold resources to spreading salacious gossip about the people whom it has created as celebrities, which engineers and sponsors its own stories, which sets public opinions and tastes and - so they claim - wins elections and dictates national policies. The papers will claim that they are merely feeding public demand, but they themselves have mostly created that demand. I do not spend a lot of time worrying about this - it just seems to be one of the inescapable ills of modern life - but occasionally things happen which make me wonder why there is no backlash.

I was not a particular fan, but I never understood why, when the late Princess Diana was literally hounded to death by press photographers, the public outpouring of emotion did not include a greater revulsion against the newspapers. On a more trivial level, there seemed to be a strange disconnect during the last football (soccer) World Cup when the purportedly patriotic English press did their very best to destabilise the English team with lurid revelations about their private lives, while (presumably) preparing outraged reports in anticipation of the team's inevitable failure. This sex-scandal stuff, by the way - who is it that actually wants to know this stuff? - it isn't me - is it him/her? - is it you? I just shrug and get on with it - one more incomprehensible element of life among so many.

Waving the Watergate banner when necessary, the great cause of investigative journalism is used to justify all sorts of unlikely revelations about all sorts of rubbish. The people have a right to know, the papers have a right to do (and spend) almost anything they can think of in support of this. Well, maybe - but you would hope that at some point the same people might tell the papers this is out of order, and that they should try to come to terms with some sadly outmoded concepts such as public decency.

What has struck me in the last few weeks is that there really does seem to be some unspecified public view on what is acceptable. Out of the blue, we have widespread outrage because the phone-tapping, memo leaking, information stealing world of hypocrisy which feeds public appetites for unconstructive gossip and sleeze has overstepped some unstated limit. The private telephones of dead soldiers and murdered children, apparently, are out of bounds. They have gone too far this time - it seems that there was a limit, after all. There may be some hope out there.

We have to be aware, of course, that this is all being reported by - well, the press, in fact - but something may have changed. Maybe the backlash is coming. Don't hold your breath, but that really would be something.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

CCN - Street Fighting needs a Tweak


Experimenting with my (beta-test) solitaire variant of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, I was looking at an action which involved a dispute over a larger (multi-hex) town, and I found that the standard game doesn't cope with this very well.

The rules were written to cover the situation where a single-hex village or farm is attacked from open country, and it correctly gives a heavy weighting toward the defenders. Infantry defending a "town" hex suffer no disadvantage, while the infantry attackers themselves suffer a pretty severe 2-dice penalty. My problem is that, if you have a larger built-up area, consisting of a number of adjacent "town" hexes, then this is too harshly in favour of defenders, if you abide by the standard rules, and the action quickly resolves into a stalemate, since there will be a tendency not to risk an attack.

This is not a unique problem for CCN - I cannot recall using a ruleset which handled this comfortably. As ever, I have not thought everything through fully, but my first-cut effort at a tweak is that a village-hex-to-village-hex melee should involve a 2-dice reduction for the attackers (as published), and a 1-dice reduction for the defenders (if they get to fight back). I reason that guys who take the initiative and expose themselves by attacking will still gain some advantage from the cover they have available.

I'll do some more work on it, but I do think it needs a change.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Action at Vado del Caballero


Early birds - the first of St Paul's Italians arrive on the French right

Today’s post is about an actual wargame, not a dandelion extractor, nor the architectural integrity of Liverpool waterfront. I thought it was probably overdue.

My dear friend Chester visited yesterday. Chester and I have been fighting miniatures battles off and on for fully 30 years, but he has no previous experience of using the Commands & Colors rules, so a suitable Napoleonic episode was set up, and battle was duly joined.

To get us started, I reproduce here our context notes and OOBs, slightly edited to remove private jokes and similar.

Action at Vado del Caballero, Castilla Vieja, Feb 1812

As a result of an administrative error, a French supply convoy has been ordered along the wrong road, and is headed for an Allied controlled area. In fact the situation is worse than this for the French, since Wellington has ordered Maj.Gen Karl, Baron von Alten to probe this very region with the Light Division and a brigade of light cavalry.

Gen de Divn Darmagnac of the French Armée du Centre has been despatched from the Madrid region with a rather motley force, mostly Italians and afrancesado Spaniards, to get there quickly and secure the area around the key river crossing at Vado del Caballero.

This is basically an encounter battle – neither side is really aware that the other is there. The main objective for each force is to defeat the enemy and retain control of the area. The Allies have the additional support of a couple of small groups of guerrilleros – they should be used with discretion. The French have a good-quality battalion of dismounted dragoons – since this unit consists largely of men from the elite companies of the 19th and 22nd Dragoons, they count as grenadier infantry.

Forces engaged (including CCN categories and “block” strengths) are:

French Army – mostly detachments from the Armée du Centre – including the Toledo garrison

Genl de Divn Darmagnac
Genl de Bde Verbigier-St Paul – Italian brigade
2nd Italian Light Infantry          [Italian LT – 4 blocks]
1/3rd Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
2/3rd Italian Line Infantry         [Italian LI – 4]
1/5th Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
2/5th Italian Line Infantry        [Italian LI – 4]
Regt “Dragoni Napoleone”      [Italian HC – 3]
7/1st Regt Italian Ft Artillery     [Italian FA – 3]
Capt Genl Casapalacios – Spanish brigade
1/1st (Castilla) Lt Infantry        [Spanish LT – 4]
1/2nd (Toledo) Line Inf            [Spanish LI – 4]
2/2nd (Toledo) Line Inf            [Spanish LI – 4]
1/Regt Royal-Etranger              [Spanish LI – 4]
Bn de Marche, Drag Provisoirs  [French GR – 4]
Col Vial – Light cavalry
13th Chasseurs à Cheval           [French LC – 3]
22nd Chasseurs à Cheval          [French LC – 3]
26th Chasseurs à Cheval           [French LC – 3]
5/5th Artillerie à Cheval            [French HA – 3]

Allied Army

Maj.Gen Karl, Baron von Alten
                Lt.Col Barnard – 1st bde, Light Divn
                                1/43rd Ft (Monmouth)              [British LT – 3]
                                1/95th Rifles                             [British RL – 3]
                                3rd Bn Ptgse Cacadores             [Portuguese LT – 3]
                Maj.Gen Vandeleur – 2nd bde, Light Divn
                                1/52nd Ft (Oxfordshire)            [British LT – 3]
                                2/95th Rifles                             [British RL – 3]
                                1st Bn Ptgse Cacadores           [Portuguese LT – 3]
                                Troop ‘I’, Royal Hse Art         [British HA – 3]
                Maj.Gen Geo Anson – light cavalry
                                11th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                14th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                16th Lt Dgns                            [British LC – 3]
                                Troop ‘A’, Royal Hse Art        [British HA – 3]
                Unattached
                                1st Cruzados de las Espinas     [Spanish GU – 2]
                                2nd ditto                                 [Spanish GU – 2]
                                Avila Volunteer Artillery           [Spanish FA – 3]

Scenario – action commences at first light. Each side gets 5 Command Cards, French move first throughout, and victory requires 7 “banners”.

First move (French first) – place up to 4 units/leaders on the field, anywhere up to 5 hexes from your own baseline, but not within 2 hexes of the enemy.

Thereafter – units may only be brought onto the table as a result of activation by Command Card play. Leaders may not arrive already attached to a unit. Infantry may not arrive in square.

Special rules in addition to normal C&C N – the Rio Hediondo is fordable at all points, and has two formal bridges. Italian troops fight like Portuguese; Spanish line troops (incl the volunteer artillery) also fight like Portuguese, but suffer double retreats. There are special rules for guerrilleros – they may move 2 hexes and battle, they may pass freely through woods and built-up hexes; they fight like Portuguese line infantry, but a single retreat eliminates them. Guerrilla infantry may not form square.

The Action

Allied advanced guard looking for something to charge

General view of the French position around Turn 4, with the Italians at the far end


The terrain was fairly broken, with small, rocky hills and wooded areas. The Allies put light cavalry and a horse battery into the field early, to cover the arrival of the rest of the troops. Sadly (if predictably), these light dragoons were subsequently wasted in pointless skirmishes with their French light horse opponents.

Darmagnac (who was not physically on the field until the very end of the battle) had arranged for his Italian brigade to advance into the hilly area on his right flank, while the Spanish afrancesado Line troops approached rather more cautiously, along with Vial’s light cavalry, behind the river on his left.

The Spanish brigade missed a big opportunity very early in the day. The Regt Royal-Etranger, admittedly somewhat discouraged by artillery fire, allowed the British 43rd Light Infantry to enter the nameless village in the centre of the field, a position which, vitally, they held with ease for the rest of the day. In general, the Allied light infantry made good use of their double-move capability throughout the action.

St Paul’s Italians made a concerted assault on the wooded hills on the right flank – at first this went very well, St Paul doing a fine job replacing fatigued units with fresh battalions, and, though the combat ebbed and flowed a bit in this area, it looked as though they must take this position, an impression which was heightened by the unaccountable rout of the 1st Cacadores and the most regrettable wreck of the 2nd Bn, 95th Rifles (who, inexplicably, refused to form square when charged by the Italian dragoons – a decision which was still being agonised over in the Indian restaurant after the battle).

Never underestimate a guerrillero in a wood

Eventually St Paul ran out of luck and men, and failed. One of the big surprises of the day was the performance of the Spanish guerrilleros. Two small, informal “battalions” of the Cruzados de las Espinas were present – my first experience of trying out my extension to the CCN rules to cope with these irregulars. These “GU”-class troops have some definite strengths – especially in speed of manoeuvre and their ability to move through broken terrain – but they are brittle – a single retreat will eliminate them. The 1st battalion were briefly exposed to long range cannon fire and, though they suffered no casualties, were shaken into a retreat, from which there could be no return. This was more than made up for by the outstanding valour of their colleagues in the 2nd battalion, who successfully held a wood, under the personal direction of General Vandeleur, and managed to break the final assault of the Italians (partly thanks, I am reminded, to some very, very lucky dice-rolls).

Oops! - George Anson goes on a surprise holiday in Verdun

That did it - the 1st Castilla fail conspicuously to take the village

The battle was very finely balanced throughout – eventually, both sides had 6 victory banners, but the day was won when the Spanish Castilla Light Infantry rather rashly stormed the 43rd in their village. The 43rd played a FIRST STRIKE Command Card, and duly wiped out the men from Castile with a single roll of 3 dice. Game over. One very silly moment came when the Allied commander left the cavalry commander, General Anson, isolated - he did, admittedly, have depressingly few cavalry to command by this point - and he was promptly taken by the French - a very easy victory flag for them (as if things aren't hard enough...).

Command & Colors Notes

Not a lot to say, really. A RALLY card and some fortunate associated dice rolls allowed a rather battered British RHA battery to return to full strength in a key position at a critical point in the battle, which rather led us to wonder where the guys had been. That was an influential moment, but these things are always welcome anyway for generating excuses.

We took all day – probably 5-and-a-bit hours to play the game, which is very slow for CCN. That is partly due to having to consult the rules a lot, but mainly because of the difficulty of bringing forces on to the table as the Command Cards allowed. The encounter scenario worked very well, however, and this kind of set up brings a lot of interesting challenges.

And I did learn (the hard way, again) that a square is a dashed good idea in the face of cavalry.

Really enjoyed it. Still very happy with CCN, and even more motivated to get to a proper test of my Solo variant while the table is still set up.


RESULT!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Von Clausewitz: On Twaddle


While re-reading Von Clausewitz' On War (I have a Penguin Classics edition of the 1908 translation by Col JJ Graham), I came across one of my favourite examples of the thankless art of avoiding ambiguity. This is from Clausewitz' own introduction.

"It is, perhaps, not impossible to write a systematic theory of War full of spirit and substance, but ours. hitherto, have been very much the reverse. To say nothing of their unscientific spirit, in their striving after coherence and completeness of system, they overflow with commonplaces, truisms, and twaddle of every kind. If we want a striking picture of them we have only to read Lichtenberg's extract from a code of regulations in case of fire.

If a house takes fire, we must seek, above all things, to protect the right side of the house standing on the left, and, on the other hand, the left side of the house on the right; for if we, for example, should protect the left side of the house on the left, then the right side of the house lies to the right of the left, and consequently as the fire lies to the right of this side, and of the right side (for we have assumed that the house is situated to the left of the fire), therefore the right side is situated nearer to the fire than the left, and the right side of the house might catch fire if it was not protected before it came to the left, which is protected. Consequently, something might be burnt that is not protected, and that sooner than something else would be burnt, even if it was not protected; consequently we must let alone the latter and protect the former. In order to impress the thing on one's mind, we have only to note if the house is situated to the right of the fire, then it is the left side, and if the house is to the left it is the right side."

I realise that the original may have lost a little in translation, but is it possible that the Bold Karl Von C actually had a sense of humour? [Actually, the regulation seems clear enough to me.]