Pedantry - Moved to http://pedantry.fistfulofeuros.net

Saturday, March 22, 2003
 
Good stuff in today's Guardian

First, Richard Dawkins editorial:

Bin Laden's victory
The population of the US is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the US leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to elect a leader of the highest quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party caucuses, the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of non-stop electioneering bustle, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George Bush.

I've got my issues with Dawkins, but not on this matter. Go man, go!

And did anybody know that Slovenia was holding a referendum on joining NATO tomorrow?

Slovenia split in run-up to Nato referendum
President Janez Drnovsek pledged this week that Slovenia would have no part in the war in Iraq, assuaging popular anxiety that joining Nato would mean having to follow US orders.

Before the war started, he also admitted that "unilateral" US action in Iraq without a UN mandate would complicate his campaign to take the country into Nato 13 years after Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia.

Slovenia is also holding its referendum on EU membership at the same time. The EU part is near certain to pass - it's polling around 80% yes - but what if Slovenia decides to join the EU and blows off NATO? That would be yet another blow to America and the UK, and a win for France and Germany.
 

 
Out of Friesia
(Read Part 1, 2.)

I feel that at this point I should provide some background information about Mennonites, and how they came to be in Russia. If I had Grandpa's library on hand, this would be a piece of cake. He had dozens of books on Mennonite history and culture. However, his books are in Canada, in his last house, and I am seven time zones east of them.

I am therefore warning you: I'm working mostly from memory and this is not a complete history. It's probably not fully accurate, it's not very serious, and it should be treated in the same category of historiography as that capsule history of America in the middle of Bowling for Columbine.

It all starts in the Reformation.

Menno Simons was born in 1492 in Friesia and was a religious radical. He went beyond the teachings of other Protestants to claim that baptism and communion did not bestow God's grace on people. He was the major - although not the only - figure in a movement called the "Anabaptists", so named because they rejected baptism as the road to salvation. His followers were primarily in the Low Countries - Friesia, Holland and Limburg especially - and in Switzerland and southern Germany.

They had a number of doctrines that were unique at the time. They rejected the legitimacy of the state and of monarchies. They rejected police and courts, and renounced violence altogether, refusing to go to war or to support executions. They felt that Christians should resolve their disputes in a Christian way, through the community and the church.

They were sort of medieval libertarian-socialists, living in their own communities apart from the rest of the world, handling their affairs internally and using shunning and banning as their only punishments. They did not view themselves as Protestants or Catholics, but as a sort of "third way." This - for obvious reasons - did not endear them to local government during the devastating religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and Anabaptists spent most of that time trying not to get killed.

To escape this violence, many of the Swiss and Swabian Anabaptists went to America as did so many other German refugees, settling first in the area now known as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This group included the Anabaptist Brethren, who later became Quakers and other groups; the Amish, who are relatively well known in the US; and the Mennonites who now live across much of Pennsylvania and the midwest.

There, they became involved in various peace movements, the anti-slavery campaigns, and the organisations their biological and ideological descendants founded over the years continue to play a role in American political life. I don't doubt many Anabaptist organisations participated in the recent anti-war marches.

The other group - the Low Country Mennonites - have a somewhat different history. Mennonites, for all their rejection of Calvinist doctrine, were known as an industrious bunch. In the mid-16th century, the various big-wigs of what is now northern Poland encouraged them to move to into the swampy and unproductive land of the Vistula River delta, where it was hoped they would be good little Hollanders and drain the swamps to produce useable farmland. They were only permitted in Catholic Poland under restricted conditions. They could not leave their reserves and convert the local population, although quite a few Poles wandered in over the years, leaving much sperm and a few common Mennonite last names like "Sawatzky."


The Vistula Delta


They were also free of regular taxation and military service, and were for the most part left to their own devices. It is in Poland that the Dutch Mennonite language developed - a sort of creole of Friesian, Limburgish Lower Saxon, north Holland dialects and the German used in church and in interactions with outsiders. Like all good libertarians, freedom from the clutches of the state - in order to sustain their own rather illiberal ways - became a major part of the Mennonite lifestyle.

This arrangement with the Polish nobility lasted until the mid-18th century. The first partition of Poland in 1772 made the Vistula delta Prussian territory. Mennonite doctrine - pacifism, piety, segregation and tax-free living - were not very compatible with the Prussian way of doing things. Things weren't looking good for the Dutch Mennonites.

It is with the accession of Catherine the Great to the Russian throne that things start to change. Catherine II - a German princess who married into the Romanovs and is generally believed to have been complicit in the removal of her unpopular and possibly insane husband - expanded Russia's borders and pressed for the modernisation of the state. To this end, she invited many thousands of Germans to settle Russia's immense and largely empty territory, bringing with them industry, culture and hopefully a tax base. Catherine the Great is credited with many things, but one thing that is often forgotten is that she was the first to try to modernise a country by providing internationals with tax vacations.


Catherine the Great


There is, in fact, an English translation of her offer to foreigners on the web over here.

July 22, 1763

We, Catherine the second, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russians at Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Czarina of Kasan, Czarina of Astrachan, Czarina of Siberia, Lady of Pleskow and Grand Duchess of Smolensko, Duchess of Esthonia and Livland, Carelial, Twer, Yugoria, Permia, Viatka and Bulgaria and others; Lady and Grand Duchess of Novgorod in the Netherland of Chernigov, Resan, Rostov, Yaroslav, Beloosrial, Udoria, Obdoria, Condinia, and Ruler of the entire North region and Lady of the Yurish, of the Cartalinian and Grusinian czars and the Cabardinian land, of the Cherkessian and Gorsian princes and the lady of the manor and sovereign of many others. As We are sufficiently aware of the vast extent of the lands within Our Empire, We perceive, among other things, that a considerable number of regions are still uncultivated which could easily and advantageously be made available for productive use of population and settlement. Most of the lands hold hidden in their depth an inexhaustible wealth of all kinds of precious ores and metals, and because they are well provided with forests, rivers and lakes, and located close to the sea for purpose of trade, they are also most convenient for the development and growth of many kinds of manufacturing, plants, and various installations. This induced Us to issue the manifesto which was published last Dec. 4, 1762, for the benefit of all Our loyal subjects. However, inasmuch as We made only a summary announcement of Our pleasure to the foreigners who would like to settle in Our Empire, we now issue for a better understanding of Our intention the following decree which We hereby solemnly establish and order to be carried out to the full.

We permit all foreigners to come into Our Empire, in order to settle in all the gouvernements, just as each one may desire. [...]

We grant to all foreigners coming into Our Empire the free and unrestricted practice of their religion according to the precepts and usage of their Church. To those, however, who intend to settle not in cities but in colonies and villages on uninhabited lands we grant the freedom to build churches and belltowers, and to maintain the necessary number of priests and church servants, but not the construction of monasteries. On the other hand, everyone is hereby warned not to persuade or induce any of the Christian co-religionists living in Russia to accept or even assent to his faith or join his religious community, under pain of incurring the severest punishment of Our law. This prohibition does not apply to the various nationalities on the borders of Our Empire who are attached to the Mahometan faith. We permit and allow everyone to win them over and make them subject to the Christian religion in a decent way.

[In short, you can't convert Orthodox or other Christians, but if you manage to win over a few Muslims, more power to you.]

None of the foreigners who have come to settle in Russia shall be required to pay the slightest taxes to Our treasury, nor be forced to render regular or extraordinary services, nor to billet troops. [...]

All foreigners who settle in Russia either to engage in agriculture and some trade, or to undertake to build factories and plants will be offered a helping hand and the necessary loans required for the construction of factories useful for the future, especially of such as have not yet been built in Russia. [...]

[Not only are they tax-free and free of conscription, the government will loan them money to set up businesses.]

We leave to the discretion of the established colonies and village the internal constitution and jurisdiction, in such a way that the persons placed in authority by Us will not interfere with the internal affairs and institutions. In other respects the colonists will be liable to Our civil laws. However, in the event that the people would wish to have a special guardian or even an officer with a detachment of disciplined soldiers for the sake of security and defence, this wish would also be granted.

[The foreign settlers could make their own laws and run their own governments, so long as they didn't interfere in the rest of the empire.]

For the Dutch - now Prussian - Mennonites, this was a dream come true, and over the course of the following century, most of them took her up on her offer, especially after she explicitly exempted them from military service, then and forever. Only a handful remained in Prussia, ending up living in Germany after 1870. There were still a number of Mennonites in the Vistula delta in 1945 when they were expelled after the Oder-Neisse line became the East German border.

In Russia, they thrived in their fertile, tax-free enclaves in Ukraine. They - along with the other Russian Germans - built much of Russia's heavy industry. However, any deal that good could never last, and it didn't. Alexander III - starting in the 1860's - began requiring all schools in Russia to use Russian and began raising taxes on foreigners. For a lot of Mennonites, this interference was the writing on the wall and a search for some new tax-haven began. At this point, yet another remote political event offered the Russian Mennonites a new land to settle.

Our story now shifts 8000km to the east, where we have to briefly talk about Louis Riel. Riel was - until fairly recently - regarded much as Americans regard Benedict Arnold: a traitor against his state, an insurrectionist, and a madman. In recent years, he has been rehabilitated, and made into something of an honorary "Father of Confederation" - the Canadian equivalent of the founding fathers, except we recognise that our country was founded by a bunch of politicians. Except for Louis Riel, a budding Ché Guevara born a century too soon.

In 1869, Riel started a rebellion in the Red River valley - the part of Canada now known as southern Manitoba. At the time, the area wasn't part of Canada, it was the territory of the Hudson Bay Company which enjoyed a semi-exclusive right to exploit and administer most of what is now Canada. The residents - mostly the descendants of French traders and aboriginal women known as Métis - did not appreciate a situation in which they were ruled by a board of directors living London. Louis Riel hoped to remedy this situation by taking control of the valley and negotiating self-rule of some form within the British Empire. He briefly established his independent state of Assiniboia in western Canada. The Canadian army put it down.


Canada in 1870, after the Riel Rebellion


Letting chartered corporations run physical territory was, by then, unfashionable in Great Britain and civil governments for colonies were all the rage. The lands of the Hudson Bay Company were turned over to Canada, giving it, with the exception of Newfoundland which only joined in 1949, its current borders.

But this only solved half the problem. French-Canadian nationalism existed even back then, and between Ontario and the Rockies, the French language and the Catholic church dominated the country. That was unacceptable. The French had rebelled once and inevitably would do so again. In 1885 Riel did just that, in a short lived rebellion in Saskatchewan. The US was expanding west, and looking lustfully at the undefended expanses of western Canada, and the Métis might decide they were better off under Washington than Ottawa.

This problem had arisen before in Canada. In the 1750's the British government had employed ethnic cleansing in Nova Scotia, incidentally founding Louisiana because that was where they sent the refugees. But the Peace of Paris at the end of the French and Indian war ensured the rights of French-Canadians, and ethnic cleansing was now also unfashionable. The only real option was to out-populate them. Fill the land with people loyal to the Queen (Victoria, that is) and turn the French and Métis into a minority in their own land.

The problem was that there was no readily available population to do so. Britain was industrialising. Standards of living were, in fits and spurts, rising. Transporting convicts was becoming passé as the Victorians reformed their prisons, and what transportation and emigration was taking place was mostly bound for Australia. For the British public, having to choose between the warm beaches of New South Wales and the frozen wastelands of Canada was a pretty easy choice.

So, who could they find who was foolish enough, stupid enough, or hard up enough to move to western Canada?

If Jeopardy had been played in Victorian London among the British diplomatic corps, and had Alex Trebek offered the answer "foolish, stupid and hard up" in the category of "International Affairs", the winning question would have been "What is Russia?" The "prison of nations" was teeming with inconvenient masses unloved by the central state.

Through a complex political deal between Russia and the United Kingdom, Russia's unwanted were encouraged to move to Canada, and thousands of Ukrainians, Germans, Poles, Finns, Doukhbours and some Russians themselves took them up on the offer. This emigration included many Mennonites, including my mother's grandfather, who came to Canada in 1876 when he was in his early 20's and is recognised as one of the founders of the small city of Steinbach, Manitoba.

Canada let the Mennonites have a deal not unlike the one they enjoyed in Russia. Two specific areas in Manitoba - in the middle of the pre-existing French communities of the Red River valley - were set aside for Mennonites and divided into quarter square mile sections, one per family. One was on the east side of the Red River, the other one the west. This geographic split resulted in a dialect difference in Mennonite Plautdietsch between the Mennonites who lived on one side and the ones who lived on the other. My mother refers to her dialect (from the east side) as ditzieda - "this-side-ish" - and calls the other dialect jonzieda - "that-side-ish." Unsurprisingly, the people from the west side of the river also call their dialect ditzieda and the other jonzieda.

After the Russian revolution, many of the Mennonites who had chosen to stay in Russia followed suit, coming to the prairies as refugees sponsored by the relatively wealthy Mennonites of Canada. That is where Grandpa re-enters this story, now a seven year old boy, with a family that no longer owns much of anything and wants to get out of the Soviet Union while there's still time.

(Next part by Sunday morning.)

Addendum: I should add that Mennonite migration didn't stop in Canada. In the late 1920's, Manitoba began forcing English-language public education on all its diverse ethnic communities. For many Mennonites, public education was the thin end of the wedge that would destroy their community and values. For them, it was Russia all over again.

So, they found new lands where their isolation could again be preserved, in Chihuahua, Mexico and the Chaco desert in Paraguay. Later, in the 50's and 60's, Mennonite colonisation expanded into Belize and Bolivia.

This unusually international scope to Mennonite demographics was brought home for me in a Mi Pueblo grocery store in Mountain View, California. There is a Russian Mennonite specialty cheese made in Manitoba called New Bothwell Cheddar. It really is an extraordinary cheese, but it's unavailable outside of western Canada.

At Mi Pueblo, I came across queso menonita chihuahua and bought some out of simple curiosity. It tasted a whole lot like New Bothwell.
 

Friday, March 21, 2003
 
'We're Good People': A Play In One Act
(once again via Electrolite)

Go. Read. It's worth it.

 
Shock and Awe

From - I can't believe this - from the Washington Times (via Atrios):

Will Bush be impeached? Will he be called a war criminal? These are not hyperbolic questions. Mr. Bush has permitted a small cadre of neoconservatives to isolate him from world opinion, putting him at odds with the United Nations and America's allies.

[...]

Secretary of State Colin Powell denies that the Bush administration created the phony documents. "It came from other sources," Mr. Powell told Congress, but he could not identify the source.

As George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." The administration's use of forged evidence opens Mr. Bush to unflattering comparisons that his enemies will not hesitate to make. They will point out that it was Adolf Hitler's strategy to fabricate evidence in order to justify his invasion of a helpless country. He used S.S. troops dressed in Polish uniforms to fake an attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz on Aug. 31, 1939. Following the faked attack, Hitler announced: "This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory." As German troops poured into Poland, Hitler declared: "The Polish state has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms." The German High Command called the German invasion of Poland a "counterattack."


Well, I'll be damned. I would never in a million years have believed that the Moonie Times could publish something like this. Have they been hacked? Has hell frozen over? Tabarnac!

Also, in less shocking news, take a look at this post at Electrolite and notice the difference between leadership and jackassery.
 

 
Resistance was stiffer than expected in Umm Qasr

U.S. Marines poured over the Kuwaiti border just after dawn heading for Umm Qasr, but were almost immediately pinned down in a two-hour firefight with Iraqi soldiers armed with machineguns and anti-tank rockets.

The Marines called in tanks and artillery fire to clear their path.

Asked if the resistance was stiffer than expected, [operation commander Marine Captain Rick Crevier] said: "Yes, a lot more. We had some dug in troops and we were starting to receive some mortar fire."

He added one Marine was slightly injured by broken glass.

He had no information about Iraqi casualties, but the bodies of two men in civilian clothes were seen lying in the streets as a U.S. armored convoy moved to the port area.

A third man sat in the road bleeding heavily. Nearby, two cars were ablaze.

So much for quick and easy and so much for expecting very little resistance. I'd been wondering why so many of the wonks were pressing this "it may not be over overnight" stuff after so much of "we're so strong they'll just fold up without a fight."

US, Britain Race Into Iraq, See War Over Soon

But at Umm Qasr, [British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon] said Iraq was putting up "stern resistance." "The Iraqis are not simply giving up in the way that some commentators have suggested that they would. And our forces are fighting," he told British television.

No word on Basra. It looks like the Americans haven't made it that far yet. If Umm Qasr put up stiff resistance, I wonder what the bigger centres will look like.

Update: 16:40 CET

Iraqis halt U.S. advance

NEAR NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Resistance from Iraqi troops have halted U.S. forces advancing through southern Iraq near Nassiriya, a main crossing point over the Euphrates river.

And here I figured the Iraqis would just fold up in the south and try to defend the heartland around Baghdad. If this is what's getting through on the wires, I have to wonder what isn't getting through. Is it possible that the invasion is in serious trouble this soon?

There's nothing to do but speculate.

Update: 18:50 CET

France 2 is reporting massive bombing and speculating that the US has moved to this more aggressive strategy in response to difficulties prosecuting the ground war.
 

 
I haven't really blogged over the war since it started. Frankly, I haven't much intention to. There are other places you can go, where people spend far more of their time on it, and hash out whetever you want to hash out.

I considered posting a response to this from Rick Bruner's blog found via The 6th International. I got about half-way through when I realised how angry I sounded and stopped. It does little good now.

I'm actually somewhat disappointed in Mrs Tilton for finding this article so compelling. Except for an entirely excusable dalliance with evolutionary psychology - one I certainly would be hard put to condemn considering my own history as a former supporter of it - she usually has her head on fairly straight.

There isn't a single pro-war argument in the posting. The only pro-war case being made is in one sentence: I may be naive, but I do believe Saddam is a serious threat to the stability of that region, to the U.S., to the world and, not least, to his own citizens, who seem most neglected by all those who oppose war. It is naive to think that that makes war a better idea than continuing with containment and inspections or pressing for the expansion of the international presence in Iraq.

Frankly, lines like France can suck my weener are just begging for a fisking. The rest is a mixture of.. well, crap. Positions ostensibly taken by the war's oppenents, many of whom have simply said nothing more complicated than that peace seems to be working and peace is way better than war. Hoary clichés about European attitudes versus American ones. Really.

Bush could have taken the win without firing a shot. It's unlikely that Iraq has meaningful weapons of mass destruction and the new and more intrusive inspections regime made it even less likely to develop them. Keeping those troops there would still have given him the presence in the middle east he so clearly wants. It would also have established the international community in Iraq in such a way that a real alternative to Saddam Hussein - a domestic alternative - would have become much easier to support. Imagine if UN disarmament inspectors had been accompanied by human rights inspectors, and UN staff to distribute food and aid? That was exactly what France and Russia were proposing a month ago, but the US poo-pooed it. This could have been a big win for internationalism. The threat of force could have become a doorway to massive UN involvement in the country without war. It would have paved the way for international institutions to move directly into states to monitor human rights and armament. It would have set a precedent that the international community can actually support local people's aspirations instead merely furthering their own agendas.

However, it would have meant less glory for one George W Bush. I don't think there is any plausible argument the Bush is motivated by humanitarian concern for the people of Iraq. The only even vaguely plausible reason for going to war is the claim that American occupation is better than Saddam. That may be true, although it is by no means certain. America can be a harsh master, as many Latin American countries have found out over the last two centuries, and contemporary American leadership deals with problems by first reaching for their guns. However, letting whoever happens to be in the White House decide alone when war is justified is a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein could ever be. The gains to the Iraqi public do not outweigh the damage done by allowing American government to make decisions unilaterally about war without immediate provocation, or even credible pretexts.

Going to war when so many other options are available is inexcusable. And claiming that this hasn't been "unilateral" is nonsense. The decisions were made unilaterally, in America. To suggest that any other state in the "coalition of lip-service" had any say in this is to be blind, deaf and stupid.

Now what remains to be seen is who pays for the occupation. I expect America to go to Japan and the UK for money, and probably to hit the UN up for it too. In the Gulf War, the other states involved made large contributions to defray the costs, and US contributions to UN operations are fixed at 22% of the total. The people who made this mess need to pay for it, not the rest of the world.

But it won't work that way. I expect in the end, the UN will run the humanitarian operations, and the US will contribute a minority share. I expect France, Germany and Canada will end up paying plenty to rebuild a nation destroyed at least as much by American leaders as Saddam Hussein. Why will they do that? Because unlike America's leaders and so many of its hawks and counter to Mr Bruner's belief, those other nations' leaders and publics generally have a heart.

On to other topics...

I was at the protest in Leuven last night and I will be at the national protest in Brussels tomorrow. Are any other bloggers in Belgium planning on going? We could - I suppose - go as a group and represent ourselves as "expats for peace" or something.

One of the speakers at the Leuven rally last night - a very emotional Flemish poet reading a recent work on the war - was openly calling for a boycott of US and Israeli products. I doubt any real boycott is possible. The world economy is too interlinked, and too many companies have no real citizenship, for a boycott to do much good. But, not going chez McDo or buying Nikes does have the potential to underline the politcal case. I gather the boycott of American goods in the middle east is beginning to damage American firms.

It may even work here. Next to the location of last night's demonstration is a McDonald's. Somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand people were out in front of it, right at dinner time, and it was nearly empty. The kebap shop next door, however, was packed. I have noticed a disproportionate Kurdish presence among local kebap operators, so eating there could be viewed as an act of solidarity with the people of Iraq.
 

Thursday, March 20, 2003
 
It's started. There's not much else to say.
 

Wednesday, March 19, 2003
 
Tout est chaos, à côté...

Some disturbing bits from the news today. First, this is going to have serious repercussions if it turns out America did it.
Wiretapping Found at French, German EU Offices

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Telephone tapping systems have been found at offices used by France and Germany in the building where European Union (news - web sites) leaders are due to hold a summit from Thursday, an EU spokesman said on Wednesday.


I live in Belgium, and I will be very unhappy if I start getting treated with suspicion over this.

Second, I want to point out this article in today's Le Figaro.

Le plan de défense de Saddam Hussein

Tirant la leçon de la guerre du Golfe en 1991, les autorités irakiennes ont adopté un plan de défense décentralisé. En province, chacun des quatorze gouvernorat, encore sous le contrôle de Bagdad, bénéficie désormais d'une plus large autonomie.

Contrairement au précédent conflit, sur le terrain, les fidèles de Saddam n'auront pas à attendre les ordres du diwan, la présidence; une tâche impossible à partir du moment où les transmissions militaires vont être coupées aux premières frappes américaines.

[...]

D'ores et déjà, plusieurs divisions des Fedayins de Saddam encerclent Saddam City pour mâter une révolte, et aux abords des principaux axes routiers, non loin de la capitale, des blindés sont cachés dans le sable. Selon un expert occidental des questions de sécurité, «les milices seront déployées en civil parmi la population. Des tanks pourraient être cachés. Les Irakiens pourraient au dernier moment miner les rues de Bagdad, et utiliser des voitures piégées. Ils peuvent se servir des hôpitaux, des mosquées et des écoles comme caches d'armes, et la population chiite des quartiers rebelles comme bouclier humain. Ils pourraient recourir aussi aux milliers de prisonniers qu'ils ont libérés en octobre comme agitateurs».

[...]

L'issue de la bataille fait peu de doutes, mais l'Irak garde une certaine capacité de résistance, voire de nuisance. «Les cibles sont désormais dispersées et dissimulées et non plus comme en 91 concentrées et à découvert», ajoute l'expert occidental.

«Les Américains se battront contre des fantômes, prédit le général Taoufic al-Yassiri, qui a participé en 1991 à une tentative de soulèvement contre Saddam. Ils auront beaucoup de mal à repérer leur ennemi. Ceux qui pensent que Saddam sera vaincu rapidement ont tort.»

[...]

Grâce aux câbles en fibre optique que l'Irak a acquis ces dernières années en contrebande via la compagnie chinoise ZTE, des centres de commandements souterrains pourraient permettre de pallier la destruction des PC au sol.

«Le second PC après Bagdad est à Tikrit, à 20 mètres sous terre», dit l'ancien agent irakien qui l'a visité. Là encore, à partir de fibre optique, les écoutes sont impossibles. Un recours éventuel à la bombe E - une bombe électromagnétique jamais utilisée par les États-Unis qui détruit les transistors de toute installation radio, téléphone y compris les satellites, et les systèmes d'allumage des véhicules - ne parviendrait pas non plus à empêcher les transmissions souterraines par fibre optique.

Les troupes autour de Saddam disposent de téléphone mobile de type Thouraya, difficilement détectable s'ils sont reliés au satellite Arabsat. Les Irakiens s'approvisionnaient dans un magasin d'Amman (Jordanie) que l'ambassade américaine a fait fermer. Elles peuvent compter aussi sur des «Radioli», des camions de fabrication française livrés au cours de la décennie 90, à partir du Maroc via la Syrie, que les autorités irakiennes ont équipé de matériels de réception et d'émissions de communications, en fait un réseau mobile de relais de transmissions.

Saddam peut sans doute miser sur quelque 30 000 combattants loyaux. La plupart ont trop de sang sur les mains pour prétendre à un rachat.

[...]

Selon l'ancien officier, les Américains auront du mal à le capturer. «Pour se cacher, il utilisera des villas parmi la population, des bunkers comme celui qui est sous l'hôtel Rashid, là où sont les journalistes internationaux, et les souterrains. A partir du siège de la police secrète dans le quartier d'al-Mansour part un réseau de galeries de plusieurs kilomètres, qui passe sous les QG de la direction nationale du parti Baas, de la Garde républicaine, et qui aboutit dans l'enceinte du palais présidentiel. Ces tunnels ont été construits dans les années 80. Les architectes irakiens à l'origine du projet ont été éliminés pour ne pas révéler leur existence. Ils sont haut d'environ deux mètres. On peut y circuler à pied ou à vélo. Il y a une ligne de téléphone souterraine, et des salles de réunions secrètes qui ont servi pendant la guerre Iran-Irak.»

Des réserves d'armes seraient dissimulées dans ces souterrains.

Naji Sabri, ministre des Affaires étrangères, confie que si Saddam tient deux mois face à l'armada américaine, quel que soit l'épilogue, sa résistance sera interprétée comme une victoire par le monde arabe. «Son objectif est d'infliger le maximum de pertes aux Américains, conclut l'ancien officier. Il ne reculera devant rien pour laisser son nom dans l'histoire comme celui qui leur a résisté. Il se moque des pertes dans son propre camp. Il y aura des surprises.»


It would be pretty foolish to put my money on Iraq in this war, but if Le Figaro is accurately portraying Saddam Hussein's strategy, he appears to be aiming for the longest and brutalest conflict he can, forcing the US to kill civilians in quite possibly record numbers, and maybe even - since this article claims his bunker is under the main international hotel - western journalists. Although I don't see any chance of survival for the Iraqi regime, the possibility that we're about to see a blood bath instead of a walk-over remains quite real.

This article made me think of something else I read a while back, and it took me a minute to find it.


War games rigged?

The most elaborate war game the U.S. military has ever held was rigged so that it appeared to validate the modern, joint-service war-fighting concepts it was supposed to be testing, according to the retired Marine lieutenant general who commanded the game's Opposing Force.

That general, Paul Van Riper, said he worries the United States will send troops into combat using doctrine and weapons systems based on false conclusions from the recently concluded Millennium Challenge 02. He was so frustrated with the rigged exercise that he said he quit midway through the game.

[...]

Set in a classified scenario in 2007, the experiment's main purpose was to test a handful of key war-fighting concepts that Joint Forces Command had developed over the last several years.

Gen. William "Buck" Kernan, head of Joint Forces Command, told Pentagon reporters July 18 that Millennium Challenge was nothing less than "the key to military transformation."

Central to the success of the war game, Kernan said, was that the U.S. force (or Blue Force) would be fighting a determined and relatively unconstrained Opposing Force (otherwise known as the OPFOR or Red Force).

[...]

Exercise officials denied him the opportunity to use his own tactics and ideas against Blue, and on several occasions directed the Opposing Force not to use certain weapons systems against Blue. It even ordered him to reveal the location of Red units, he said.

"We were directed to move air defenses so that the Army and Marine units could successfully land," he said. "We were simply directed to turn [the air-defense systems] off or move them. So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be."

[...]

Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders, negating Blue's high-tech eavesdropping capabilities, Oakley said. Then, when the Blue fleet sailed into the Persian Gulf early in the experiment, Van Riper's forces surrounded the ships with small boats and planes sailing and flying in apparently innocuous circles.

When the Blue commander issued an ultimatum to Red to surrender or face destruction, Van Riper took the initiative, issuing attack orders via the morning call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of his country's mosques. His force's small boats and aircraft sped into action.

"By that time there wasn't enough time left to intercept them," Oakley said. As a result of Van Riper's cunning, much of the Blue navy ended up at the bottom of the ocean. The Joint Forces Command officials had to stop the exercise and "refloat" the fleet in order to continue, Oakley said.

[...]

[A]s the war game developed, Van Riper said it became apparent to him that Joint Forces Command officials had little interest in putting their new concepts to the test.

"I could see the way the briefings were going that these concepts were going to be validated," he said.

Navy Capt. John Carman, Joint Forces Command spokesman, said the experiment had properly validated all the major concepts. The command already was drafting recommendations based on the experiment's results in such areas as doctrine, training and procurement that would be forwarded to Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said.

This is exactly what Van Riper feared would happen. "My main concern was we'd see future forces trying to use these things when they've never been properly grounded in any sort of an experiment," he said.


The US has the upper hand in weapons, so I suppose they could always resort to indescriminate bombing, but I think politically that would represent a US defeat. Someone who wants to make this hard on America may well be able to. This is something the war hawks just don't get: Saddam Hussein is not stupid, and now he has nothing to lose. Even if he has no effective weapons of mass destruction - and I suspect he doesn't - he has more than enough options if he really has 30,000 loyal troops and a chance to dig in. That is much of diplomacy seeks to avoid: the situation where one side has nothing left to lose. There is very little more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose.

Van Riper's description of America's untested tactics is all too plausible to me, as is the urban guerilla war proposed by Le Figaro, where every home, every car, and every street corner may well be packed to the brim with explosives and arms. A casualty averse America might well decide to simply wipe Baghdad off the face of the earth rather than get dirty fighting in it. Baghdad has 5 million people, over a fifth of the population of Iraq. Killing them all off will not endear America to anyone, including the ostensibly liberated.



Tuesday, March 18, 2003
 
How to Be Happy

Anybody who's come here from Brad Delong's blog looking for my review of Richard Layard's lecture, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's almost 11pm and I have to work in the morning. My opinion of it is a little too complicated to just do a quick fisking, and frankly Layard doesn't deserve to be fisked.

I like to see social scientists thinking outside the box, and I agree for the most part with Layard's ultimate policy conclusions. But, I want to underline my problems with his methods and assuptions, and maybe outline a different way to go, one that is more heavily anthropological and less reliant on a quasi-econometric understanding of human emotion.

Tomorrow, I hope.


 
Unconfirmed report from Xinhua: Saddam has offered to resign

Saddam offered conditional step-down before Bush issued ultimatum: report

Xinhuanet 2003-03-18 14:03:56
(This is about 7am CET or 1am EST)
ABU DHABI, March 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Monday offered a conditional step-down hours before US President George W. Bush gave him a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Iraq to avoid war, an Arabic website reported.

So far, the report, carried on the Arabic website "WWW.US.MOHEET.COM", has not been confirmed by Iraq or other sources.

The proposal by Saddam was rejected by the United States, said the report, which listed the following "five conditions" set by Saddam:

1. Saddam is prepared to give up power and formally resign from all posts, while his second son Qusay Saddam Hussein will rule Iraq. Saddam will stay in Iraq "for the moment."

2. Before giving up power, Saddam will give a nationally televised speech, in which he will urge Iraqi officials to cooperate fully with the UN weapon inspectors and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1441, paving the way for the lift of UN sanctions eventually.

3. New Iraqi leader Qusay will adopt a comprehensive governmental reform plan, introduce an opening-up policy and form a government of national unity through a popular vote.

4. Qusay will promise to establish new-style peaceful relations with neighboring countries, and will be devoted to solving all the remaining issues through dialogue with the United States.

5. Saddam and his family will leave Iraq once the tensions in Iraqi-US relations are reduced.

The report, quoting anonymous western diplomatic sources, said that in his proposal, Saddam said he would announce resignation immediately if the United States agreed to the above conditions, drop the war plan against Iraq and withdraw massive troops from the Gulf. This is the only way to solve the current Iraqi crisis, said Saddam.

Nevertheless, the United States rejected Saddam's proposal, said the report.

President Bush said that by putting forward his proposal, Saddam was aimed at a continued rule of Iraq through his son, but what the United States needs is not to bargain with Saddam, but to completely overthrow the Iraqi regime and to fundamentally change the nature of the Iraqi government, according to the report.

US President Bush on Monday issued an ultimatum to Saddam, saying that Saddam and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours or face a US-led war.

"Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing," Bush said in a prime-time nationally-televised speech.

No mention yet in the international press. Xinhua has good Arab world coverage, but even they are quoting an unconfirmed website report. If true, it means that, once again, Bush is a man who can't take yes for an answer. For anyone who can read Arabic, the website is at us.moheet.com, and not as the Xinhua article reports. It looks like a regular news site to me.



Monday, March 17, 2003
 
Some good news on a Monday

It seems likely that a US invasion of Iraq will start in the next few days, possibly the next few hours. However, there is still some good news today, coming to us via Eschaton:

Brewery Magnate Joseph Coors, Who Helped Create Heritage Foundation, Dies at Age 85

"Without Joe Coors, the Heritage Foundation wouldn't exist - and the conservative movement it nurtures would be immeasurably poorer," the foundation's president, Edwin Feulner, said in a written statement.

Goodbye and good riddance. Now if only Richard Mellon Scaife and Rupert Murdoch would drop dead...


Sunday, March 16, 2003
 
Das Alter Buch
(Read Part 1)

Among the other documents included in Grandpa's magnum opus is a photocopy of the Alter Buch, or genealogy, started by my great-great grandfather, Peter Kornelius Martens. It is hand-written on unlined paper in German, using the old Fraktur script, also sometimes called "Gothic." Although I feel reasonably at ease reading German, the Alter Buch is completely illegible to me because I have virtually no knowledge of the old script - I can read it with great difficulty in print, but in hand-written cursive it's hopeless. For me, it would have been easier to read in hand-written Russian. The old German script was abolished by the Nazis in 1941 because Hitler believed it to have Jewish roots. Although after 1945 it was no longer illegal to use, it never recovered its pre-WWII popularity and nowadays it is rarely used and virtually never taught in school. It persisted among "diaspora" Germans in Canada for another decade or so after the war, but is by now forgotten most everywhere. Fortunately, Grandpa also transcribed the German into the modern script and translated it to English.


The Fraktur script

Many Mennonites are obsessed with genealogy. It's not about nobility - there is no status associated with discovering that you are descended from some worthy somewhere. I'm not quite sure where it comes from, but it is not a new thing. On the very first page of his record of the family, my ancestor has written Alter Buch! with a clearly visible exclamation mark. I can't understand the enthusiasm for family history that his punctuation indicates. Mennonites lived in very isolated communities centred on family and church, but the Martenses were among the most worldly and experienced of the Russian Mennonites, so this is a poor explanation. Alas, there is no way to ask him.

From the Alter Buch
1894 November 28sten ist unser Sohn Kornelius geboren. Uhr 10 Nachts. Gestorben 10 Jan. 1920.

November 28, 1894 our son Kornelius was born at 10 o'clock at night. Died Jan. 10, 1920.

The Mennonites in Russia, like many other German Russians, adopted the Slavic tradition of patronymic names. Each child's middle name was the name of the child's father. For the Russian-bilingual Germans, they would add the -ovich or -ovna suffixes to their middle names when they spoke Russian, and thus could fit in easily in Russian culture. The Martens line, however, had another interesting tradition. My great-grandfather's name was Kornelius Peter Martens, and his father was Peter Kornelius Martens, his grandfather Kornelius Peter Martens, and so on. It is unclear to me how far back this tradition went, but for a number of generations, one boy in the family had been named "Peter Kornelius" or "Kornelius Peter", alternating each generation. This tradition is clearly documented in my ancestor's Alter Buch, but it predates his record.

My great-grandfather was the last Martens so named. He chose to call his son Teodor Kornelius, retaining the patronymic tradition, but refusing to give his new-born son the name "Peter." Grandpa's name was later anglicised at the hands of British immigration and the Alberta school system to "Theodor Cornelius." He was known for most of his life as "Ted."

The period immediately following WWI was the end of an era in many ways, and the end of a naming tradition in a minor German family is the least of the things that disappeared. I don't know why my great-grandfather chose to put those names to an end. I like to imagine that he was a radical and a firebrand, sick of the oppression of the old Russia that pervaded every part of life and refusing to perpetuate it. But his death in 1920 from typhus means I will never know. It was not always the oldest boy who was so named, so he may simply have intended to father more boys in his life.

Still, small as it is in the greater scheme of things, it is the change with the most immediate effect on me. Had the name persisted, I would be "Peter Kornelius Martens." Who wants to have "Kornelius" as a name, even a middle one?

In this post, I'm going to print some of Grandpa's discussion of our extended family and their lives in Russia, starting with his own father.


M. V. Lomonsov Moscow State University


Moscow University circa 1904 (from Davidson Films)


My father had been a student at the university in Moscow. He had gone to the Kommerz Schule (business school) at Barvenkovo before going to the University of Moscow [now the Moscow State University] for five or six years. No doubt his studies were in anticipation of taking part in the family manufacturing business. The family had had a share in a farm implement factory that was four stories high and employed about 120 men. [The Martenses were kulaks and factory owners, that is to say, they were members of the hated bourgeoisie.]

Uncle David told me told me he had had a real heart-to-heart talk with his younger brother Kornelius because Father was quite infected with the revolutionary ideas that were rife at the university. There they dealt in ideals, but when Father came home for a vacation, he experienced the reality of it. Father was wearing a new pair of shiny boots. He was stopped in the middle of the street by a "comrade" and ordered to exchange his boots for the guy's worn out dirty ones. That was communism in action. We say in Plautdietsch: Waut dient es, es uck mient, onn waut mient es geit die nuscht aun. What is yours is mine, and what is mine is none of your business. That cured Father of his communism.

[Great-grandpa the budding Bolshevik. I don't know how many times I heard this story over the years. It must have been just about any time my father or I said something political. From what I have gathered over the years, great-grandfather was politically quite liberal and hated the injustice of the Russian state. He wrote about it from the university in his letters to my great-grandmother. Grandpa would of course consider revolutionary thinking something to be stomped out. His own political conservatism was quite deep-rooted. It never seemed to occur to Grandpa that crushing poverty might have had more to do with this incident of footwear theft than communism. The Martenses were quite well to do at a time when millions of Russians were going hungry and cold. The one time I suggested this, it led to an extended political argument over Stalin, gulags, state atheism and the evils of materialism.]

According to Uncle David, Father must also have been a bit absent minded. He was waiting for his train at a railway station. There was much theft in Russia, so to protect his coat he put it on a bench and sat down on it. When someone tugged on his coat, he obligingly raised himself only to discover that his coat was gone. On the other hand, Father must have been a man who could be trusted with weighty matters. When the Makhnovtsii were on our side of the river and the White Army on the other side, it was Father who was asked to go across the frozen Dniepr with a white flag - a bedsheet tied to a pole - to mediate between the two sides. [The White Army were primarily royalists fighting to restore the monarchy.] Mother told me that Father could entertain a crowd all by himself.

[I was repeatedly told when I was younger that everyone who had known my great-grandfather and my father said they were very much alike in temperament. They were entertaining conversationalists, well educated and had a lot of leftist sympathies.]

Father must have been interested in history too, or at least current events. Russia had been ruled by the House of Romanov for two centuries. [Grandpa is in error. It was three centuries, from 1613 to 1917.] In 1918 that came to an end with the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family by the revolutionaries. Father collected material about the revolution, but then hid it with the rest of the valuables in Mother's foster parents' house.


Fronts in the Russian Civil War (Full map with legend)


When Mother's parents, Abram and Katharina Neustädter, were murdered in 1907, the first Mennonites in Russia to lose their lives that way, the children were taken in by their mother's sister Helene Heinrichs. After her first husband had died, she decided to have a house built in Einlage and eventually married the architect, Peter Solomon Peters, who had studied architecture in Germany. [Grandpa refers to them as Grandmother and Grandfather for the rest of the text.] They built a rather imposing structure with a dome at the right front corner that originally had a cross on it. When things got real rough, they hid their valuables up in that dome, including Father's manuscript. They closed the opening and plastered it over as though there was nothing there.

Later, the building was expropriated and changed into a priyut - an orphanage. It was always within view of where we lived, just a door or two south on the other side of the street. One day, Mother saw one of the boys going down the street with a vase she knew had been hidden up in the dome. Boys being boys, they must have snooped around and discovered the hiding place. The family was afraid of the consequences, but nothing happened in spite of the manuscript.

The building we ended up living in was the southern end of a duplex which used to be occupied by the coachman and the gardener. As I recall, our part had three rooms. The first of those rooms served as a dining room and also as a bedroom for mother and me. Aunt Mika, Mother's youngest sister Maria, must have slept there too. There was also a bedroom for my Grandparents and a kitchen with a big brick oven. The entrance was from the east facing the Dniepr.

The other half of the house was occupied too, but I don't recall by whom. They did not have children , so I had no one to play with. Mother told me a Russian lady doctor had lived there for a while, but I have no recollection of them. Farther back in the yard was a barn which was parallel to the house. The left end must have had a living quarters, because a Miss Reimer lived there with her daughter. As I think back, I wonder whether she was one of the unfortunate girls who was violated during the Revolution?

From our back steps we could see the longest single-span bridge in the world. It crossed the Dniepr just to the north of town and was a wide, double-decker bridge. The top deck had two railway tracks running side by side and the lower deck was for vehicle traffic. When the Germans occupied the Ukraine in WWI, the retreating Russians blew out the middle section of the bridge to prevent the German army from crossing. This forced them to go north to Ekaterinoslav before they could get over. To prevent a trainload of wounded from falling into the hands of the Germans, the Russians set this train in motion and let it advance on the damaged bridge. Our family stood on the back steps and watched the sparks fly as car after car went over the edge and into the water below. Even the last one disappeared into the river without leaving a trace. The only living thing that survived was a cow. We became the fortunate owners.

Aunt Njuta tells me there were several trains full of screaming wounded sent to their doom by their own people over that bridge. They counted 80 cars in one of the trains. The section that was bombed out was about 45 feet in length. After the war was over, they strung rope across the gap and put boards across for people to cross. Aunt Njuta had crossed that way only once, and it was enough to cure her curiosity. They never crossed the bridge again until it was repaired.

During the revolution, two men were taken to the bridge for execution. One of them took the option of jumping off the bridge. He must have been a good swimmer because he managed to escape even though they continued to shoot at him.

I remember one time we went to Aleksandrovsk. [Aleksandrovsk was the pre-Soviet name of the city now called Zaporizhzhya.] The bridge seemed very wide to me. It was 140 feet above the level of the water. I know we went to the open market bazaar. Grandmother tasted some of the butter with her finger, and the butter was in a large ball nearly a foot in diameter. That is the way it was done.

I remember one other incident. Late one night there was a knock at the door. The door was locked and well barred with a 2x4. The people on the steps asked for Grandfather. He was in bed and refused to come to the door. The women talked to the men outside but refused to let them in. Eventually the strangers went away. Why did they not open the door? Because people were taken away under similar circumstances and never heard from again.

Of course, I went to visit my [paternal] grandmother Elisabeth Martens too. The family factory had been expropriated as had their home. Years before this, Grandfather [Grandfather Peter Kornelius Martens] had come home and announced that he had bought a present for Grandmother. It was the Andesen house, the oldest residence in Einlage. Because the property had been registered in Grandmother's name, it was not taken away. That is the house I remember her living in.

After Grandfather's death the family had to leave their home next to the factory and hide out in other buildings for their protection at night. The business owned two better homes that were formerly occupied by the foreman and the carpenters and they hoped to move into one of them.

It was rather unexpected when Grandmother was notified to appear in court in Zaporozhe. [Now Grandpa is using the Soviet era name of Zaporizhzhya/Zaporozhe/Aleksandrovsk.] The trusted coachman had initiated court action claiming he had lived in the house over an extended period of time, thus giving him ownership. Under the conditions that prevailed at the time, the outcome was not surprising. The house was given to the plaintiff causing the family to move into the old house that Grandfather had bought as a present in happier days.

During the early 30's, the same man wrote to the family and requested that they send food packages because they were starving. After the way he had treated them, they did not respond. With the depresssion in Canada and the difficulty of getting started, they barely had enough to keep themselves alive.

By 1927, preparations for building the Dnieprostroy were well under way and Einlage was to be relocated to higher ground. Before Mother and I left for Canada, Grandfather [Peter Solomon Peters again] had already started building a new house in the new Einlage. Later, after we left for Canada, Grandfather was offered a job helping to build the Moscow Subway because he was an experienced architect. He declined because he wanted to live among his own people.

Update: Added a section that I meant to include before, but forget due to my disorganised notes. Without a scanner, I'm doing this all by hand, so I miss stuff, or go back and find out that Grandpa made a mistake and have to correct it.


 
Nestor Makhno and me

I'm still reading Hobsbawm, and just finished the chapter on the Cold War. I find Hobsbawm is best read by doing a whole chapter in one sitting, then allowing it some time to sink in before embarking on the next chapter. Usually, it's just enough to time to read another book. Today, it was Dark Light by Ken MacLeod.

First, a very brief book review. For those of you who liked Cosmonaut Keep, you've probably already bought a copy of Dark Light and formed your own opinions. For those of you who haven't read Cosmonaut Keep, you'll need to buy it before making any sense of the sequel. For those of you who do not like any of MacLeod's novels and never have, don't bother, you won't like this book either. If, however, like me, you read but didn't like Cosmonaut Keep, but liked MacLeod's Fall Revolution books, I advise you to run right out and buy a copy of Dark Light. It's a lot better. There's a lot more sense to it and a much more coherent narrative, as well as a good bit of Marxist and semi-Marxist theory along with a nice rousing proletarian revolution. Good stuff. Though, the verb tenses switching back and forth - randomly from chapter to chapter - from the past tense to the present was a little weird.

MacLeod has a good quote attributed to him: History is the trade secret of science fiction. It's an appropriate quote for a socialist, and he demonstrates it in Dark Light.

What sparked this post, however, is a minor bit nearly at the end of the book:

"Bad news. What about the Party branch?"
Endecott's sandy eyebrows twitch, very slightly.
"They're solid. Most of them."
"What party?" Annie asks suspiciously
"Uh, later," says Matt. He has an absurd flash-forward of her taking Endecott to task for Kronstadt, Makhno and the Barcelona Phone Company.

What do Kronstadt, Makhno and the Barcelona Phone Company have to do with each other? Well, this is perhaps an obscure bit of history. Kronstadt is well known enough as the moment the Bolsheviks took action against leftist anarchists who had taken over Kronstadt island near St-Petersburg. The Barcelona Telephone Company refers to a violent incident in the Spanish Civil War when communists took action against an institution controlled by the anarchists. And Makhno... well, Nestor Makhno was an anarchist with a small army who took over a big chunk of the Ukraine during the Civil War. Later, he was exiled to Paris and still has his fans among the anti- and not-particularly-Marxist varieties of socialist radicals. All, in effect, refer to incidents when more orthodox communists took action against socialist anarchists.

The thing is, for some people, Makhno was a terrorist. I'm one of those people, and one of the reasons is that they terrorised my grandfather's parents, and my granfather used to tell the story regularly. Not that Grandpa could ever have entertained this thought, but getting rid of Makhno was one of the better things the Bolsheviks did. I have little sympathy for that kind of anarchist.

My paternal grandfather died shortly before this last Christmas, and I had to make a quick trip to Canada less than 3 months ago to go to his funeral. His death wasn't terribly tragic, at least for me. He was 84 years old and had been in poor health for some time. For me he hadn't so much died as just faded away over the course of several years. At some point, he ceased to be the Grandpa who spoiled me silly as a child, and became the clan patriarch whose philosophy, religion and outlook on life were utterly incompatible with mine. As I moved further from the family's homelands in Manitoba and took more control of my life as an adult, we saw less and less of each other, and when we did meet, Grandpa was less and less communicative as his health deteriorated.

However, I found myself crying for the first time in years on the flight back. What brought it on was the strangest thought: when I was a child, my father was Mr. Martens. That was what his students called him. My father died when I was 16 and after that, Grandpa was "Mr Martens" and hardly anyone outside the family ever seemed to call him anything else. Grandpa had only one son: my father, and I have only one brother and he's younger than me. That means that from now on I'm "Mr. Martens"

That was the thought that brought me to tears in the middle seat of a packed-full 747 somewhere over Greenland.

Over the years since his retirement, Grandpa had tried to compose a... well, I don't think memoire is the right word. It's more like a compendium of autobiographical correspondence and genealogical research combined with various reminisces and anecdotes. It fills four binders and one copy was made for each of the grandchildren.

Reading Hobsbawm talk about "the short twentieth century" reminds me that his generation - my grandfather's generation as much as Hobsbawm's - actually lived through pretty much all of it. That's a remarkable amount of change to live through.

People are your only real connection to the past, and to neglect my own people would be like claiming that I came out of nothing. So, along with my other reading, I've been moving slowly through this mass of text Grandpa left behind, with a half a mind to edit it down to something more manageable and adding some contextualising historical material, perhaps for my own future children to read, or to pass on to my less pedantically minded cousins.

This is the first bit, and it's the part that mentions Makhno. It's only lightly edited. I removed some material I thought was superfluous, edited spellings and sometimes syntax to more uniform and modern standards, changed the spellings of Russian place names to a the standard transcription, and moved several blocks around to provide better narrative flow. The text between square brackets are my own notes.


A photo taken from Khortitsa Island (from University of Toronto)


My earliest recollection is of a horse being sick. Mother thought I would have been about three years old when her sister Susan's husband Isaak Zacharias had come to visit, and their horse became sick. They lived at Osterwick on an estate known as Zachrisifeld in Russia. [These places are all in the contemporary Republic of Ukraine. My grandparents referred to the old country as Russia without exception, even though these events all take place after the establishment of the Soviet Union and during the Civil War that followed. They had little regard for changing borders or the new nations that replaced the old Romanov empire.]


Approximate area of Mennonite colonisation in Ukraine


My parents were married on September 23, 1918 at a time when things were a little more calm after the revolution. [I presume this is under the old Julian calendar. The Soviet Union adopted the Gregorian calendar by decree in 1918, but it took years before this had an impact on the whole of the country.] Four couples were married at that ceremony. One bride was a widow the next morning. Her groom already has typhus at the ceremony. Of the four couples, my parents lived together the longest, which was a year and almost four months.

Before I was born, my parents had to flee Einlage. [Einlage was a village about 5km north of present-day Zaporizhzhiya, Ukraine on the west bank of the Dniepr river. It's inhabitants at the time were primarily Mennonites, thus the German name.] The Makhnovtsii [followers of the anarchist - terrorist according to Grandpa - Nestor Makhno] had come into the house and turned the piano into kindling, so my parents went to Khortitsa to the Johann Epp estate. The Epps were relatives and their son John was my father's good friend. My birth was recorded as October 25, 1919. To the best of our knowledge, we believe that the old style [Julian] calendar was in use at that time. In the rest of the world it was November 7. I have always used the latter date. How foolish! I could have had Old Age pension a month sooner.


Location of the old village of Einlage, now underwater


In Einlage, Makhno, the anarchist who butchered so many of our Mennonite people had his machine gun sitting on Grandfather Martens' window. That was his headquarters. [Grandpa claimed that his grandfather's house was the biggest and nicest one in Einlage. The family was quite well-to-do in the old Empire and not mere peasants. They were kulaks, farmers with significant holdings and relatively large incomes.] None of the members of the family were molested, but others did not fare so well. A young man was picked up somewhere and beheaded on the threshold of the barn door. One of our family members tore off a piece of his shirt in hope that his family could identify him, but nothing ever came of it.

But Makhno's people brought lice, and lice carried typhus, and typhus brought death to many. Medicine was not available. By the time my parents left the Epp's hospitality to return to Einlage, father already had typhus. His family had sent the Kutscher - the coachman - to get them on January 6. Father passed away January 10, 1920 at the age of 25. His father died on January 16 and Uncle David's daughter died between the two. So there were three funerals in the family in one week.

The doctor had told my father that he was strong and should recover, but he did not. The strong ones became the victims of typhus. Weaklings like mother and I pulled through. Mother had typhus too when Father died, but she walked from Grandmother Martens' house to the Peters' house to get father's suit. She was so weak that she had to support herself by holding on to the pickets of the fences along the way. She also embroidered the pillow case for his coffin although her fingers were very sensitive and all but bleeding. If I recall correctly, she did not go to the cemetery. There were so many deaths that they did not have services in churches.

When father was to be buried, they took a brick along to mark the grave. The coachman came up with a wire hoop to which Aunt Njuta [Great-Grandfather's older sister] attached evergreens for a wreath. At the grave, they inserted the brick so only a short end protruded. The wreath was placed on the grave. When they returned for the next funeral - remember father's was only the first of three in the family - the wreath had been thrown away, and the brick was gone. There was no way of knowing which of the many graves was his. Now it makes no difference for all the graves are under the waters of the Dniepr. [The construction of massive hydroelectric dams along the Dniepr during the late 1920's completely submerged Einlage along with many other villages along the banks of the river.]



A photo of the Dnjeprostroy, the hydro-electric dam above Zaporizhzhya, just south of Einlage. (from Sasha's 2002 trip to Ukraine)


My parents never had a home of their own. They lived with Father's parents and after Father died, Mother and I moved back to Mother's foster parents, actually Mother's aunt and her second husband. Helene and Peter Solomon Peters were like grandparents to me. Mother says that her foster mother used to say, "De oama en de jietsja tole dobbelt." The poor and the stingy pay double. [Mennonites in Russia had their own language, a dialect of Lower Saxon that they call Plautdietsch. This language is largely restricted to the elderly in contemporary Canada, although it is still quite alive among Mennonite colonies in Mexico, Belize and Paraguay. My parents both spoke it, but virtually never used it except with their own parents and siblings, so my own knowledge of it is purely passive. It closely resembles the Limburgse taal spoken in the Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg. Think of it as a sort of Dutch spoken with a thick New York accent where people can't pronounce "r".]

After Makhno had robbed the people of almost everything they had, the Red Army took over and completed the job. People sold their remaining valuables if they could and bought what limited food was available. I am sure barley was not a staple with our people, but now it was a godsend. Inflation was completely out of control. Anyone who had any money today would buy thread or anything else that was tangible, because tomorrow the money might be worth only half as much. The farmers lost all their horses, cattle and other farm animals. Everyone's food supply had been eaten up or destroyed. There were few animals available for field work. What was seeded failed to produce because of the drought. The result was starvation throughout Russia in the winter of 1921-1922. To alleviate the plight of their brethren in the faith, the Mennonites of North America had organised the Mennonite Central Committee in 1920. The food that was shipped in from the States was prepared in what Mother called the "American Kitchen." People who were chosen for the programme got to eat in these feeding places. I understand that the ones who worked there were given a double portion. Mother got to cook in the Einlage branch. That is what kept us alive.


Please let me know if this is at all interesting material. I'm quite serious about seeking feedback on it, but if it's really boring my readers to death I won't do it here. If it's interesting, I'll put more of it up.

Update: On rereading, I restored a paragraph that I think I shouldn't have cut as well as some maps and photos.