Friday, July 16, 2010

A few thoughts on Dreadnought

I've been reading Robert Massie's Dreadnought lately. Wonderful book, and if you've ever looked back at that era and thought to yourself, "Who the hell did those people think they were?" Massie will explain it to you. Here's a brief excerpt (p. 700 in the hardcover edition, sitting in front of me courtesy of my university library):

...After lunch at Kronberg, (British Foreign Office Undersecretary Sir Charles -- ed.) Hardinge's conversation with the Kaiser turned to naval limitation. Because, up to that point, the Kaiser had been so amiable, Hardinge forgot himself and said, "But you must build slower." Instantly, William drew himself up, and announced that no one could use the term 'must' to a German Emperor. If England insisted on German limitation, he said, "then we shall fight. It is a question of national honor and dignity."
 Which is to say, of course, a question of the Hohenzollern popinjay's ego (I can just imagine what would have happened had a French prisoner of war said, "Hey, Corporal!" to William, as Christopher Duffy records happened to Frederick the Great). The book is replete with examples of matters of personal pique suddenly becoming matters of the national interest and/or national honor. The Fashoda affair is a pretty good example.

...As an aside, my limited research in the subject suggests Dugout Doug had more than a bit of that, which makes me realize just how big a bullet the Republic may have dodged there. American Caesar, you betcha (and that one's gonna have to go on the reading list).

In any case, anyone who invokes the "national honor" ought to get the same degree of stink-eye as one who invokes "collective responsibility" (or any other appeal to group-identity in the pursuit of one's life, liberty, and property via Oppenheimer's political means). Both type seek to reify (confer independent existence upon) collectives: perniciously so, in my view, because it always ends up coming at the expense of the individual. "Citizen! It's your lucky day! You too can contribute blood and treasure to restore the national honor!"
I decided it would be timely to mention this, after getting involved in a discussion going on at Perfidy, Intellectual Detox, and Aretae.


  1. I'm currently around 250 pages into Massie's "Castles of Steel" . . . and enjoying it.

    As for Dougout Doug (aka "Supreme Commander"), from what I've read he had a tad less ego and a whole lot more intelligence than Montgomery . . . and, yes, I agree that the US did dodge a bullet.

    -- Jeff

  2. Hello, Jeff,

    I confess I am poorly read on Montgomery. I need to read Castles of Steel, and I hope to get to it over the winter.