Posts Tagged ‘February 21’

Brilliant Plans, 1916

Posted in General, On This Day on February 21st, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

February 21st

The Romans consider March the appropriate beginning of the year; it was the first month when the weather was suitable for a war.  In 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn couldn’t wait a week.  The Chief of Staff of the German Army had a strategy with all the subtlety you’d expect from a Prussian.  With a larger population than France, Germany could win a war of attrition.  So von Falkenhayn would force France into a battle that would be–as the Germans termed it–a meat grinder.  The German attack, beginning this day in 1916, was against the French fortifications near the city of Verdun.

Von Falkenhayn should have been aware that the French had allies.  Perhaps he dismissed the Russians as an ill-supplied horde led by imbeciles.  But the British had proved tenacious, and Vicks armaments were nearly as good as Krupps.  Indeed, the British would mount an offensive to relieve Verdun, and that effort was the Somme.  It turned out that the British were a well-supplied horde led by imbeciles.  (The junior officers, however, proved fine poets–even if the acclaim was usually posthumous.)

But Von Falkenhayn also overlooked the calibre of his ally.  The Austrians were an adequately-supplied, polyglot mob more likely to defect than fight; and their commanders were more conspicuous for their charm than ability.  (The last decade of the Hapsburg Empire was described by a British diplomat as “situation critical but not serious.”)  True, the Austrians were only facing the Russians but what if….

And that IF actually happened.  In June, four Russian armies attacked the Austrian lines in the Ukraine and Southern Poland.  The campaign, named for its commander Alexei Brusilov, lasted until September when the Russians finally ran out of supplies; but in that time, the Austrians lost 15,000 square miles, 1.5 million men– including 400,000 prisoners, and any claim to having an army.  The Brusilov Offensive was actually the greatest victory of the War; if it had happened on the Western Front, the War would have ended.  But the incompetent Tsarist government and the disintegrating Russian society couldn’t support this unparalleled victory.  Russia no longer could afford to win a battle, let alone fight it.

However, Russia’s victory was France’s salvation.  To keep Austria-Hungary from collapsing, 15 German divisions were rushed from France to the Eastern Front.  So the French held on to Verdun, losing 160,000 men but not their will to fight (at least until 1940).  Having lost 140,000 men themselves, the Germans abandoned the campaign.  Von Falkenhayn could claim his attrition strategy had succeeded, but Kaiser and the German General Staff didn’t seem to agree.

The general was replaced.  He eventually would be reassigned as the military advisor to the Ottoman Empire.  There, no one expected him to win.


A Fool and His Money

Posted in General, On This Day on February 21st, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

February 21

Marx and EngelsThey were an incongruous pair.  One was handsome, debonair and affable.  The other was homely, abrasive and overbearing; some regarded him as a genius but most thought him obnoxious.  I could be describing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  However, I was thinking of Freddie Engels and Charlie Marx.

On this day in 1848, the boys published “The Communist Manifesto“.  The pamphlet was not the immediate hit that they had hoped.  It did not incite proletariat uprisings and Verdi did not option the script for an opera.  Marx and Engels had to keep their day jobs.  Engels’ was owning factories and Marx’s was borrowing money from Engels.

Yes, Engels suffered from an embarrassment of riches, and Marx knew how to make the guilt pay off. The textile heir became communism’s first victim and possibly its only willing one. Engel’s fortune subsidized Marx’s ventures into the stock market.

No matter what he told Frau Marx, Karl wasn’t spending all his time at the British Museum. The founder of communism liked to hang around the London Stock Exchange. He was not trying to emancipate the clerks; nor was he simply the disinterested observer of bourgeois financial machinations. In reality, Marx loved to play the market. Unfortunately, he had a dismal investment record; it was bad enough to justify the invention of communism. Yet, Marx never lost a penny in his fiscal fiascoes. Engels did.

In the Marxist system of finance, Engels incurred all expenses and losses, while Marx got any profits. This arrangement, a prototype of today’s mutual funds, can be expressed as, “From leeched, according to his debility; to leech, according to his greed.”