Monthly Archives: August 2016

1939, when East and West became friends and partners

Forward Marx

The large mustache, Soviet Socialist it seems is very much like his neighbor, the small mustache, National Socialist.

In August, 1939, just about 77 years ago to the day, Germany and the Soviet union signed a non-aggression pact — The Molotov von Ribbentrop agreement. The open text suggested peace, but there was a secret rider that was made widely available. The large mustache soviet socialist and the small mustache national socialist had divided up the land between them. “In case there was war,” Russia would get Lithuania, Finland, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia (Northern Romania). Germany would get Denmark, Western Poland, and Greece.

Commemoration of the Soviet -German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Commemoration of the Soviet – German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Up till then, we in the US assumed that these nations were bitter enemies and that their enmity would protect us. It turned out they were friends, or at least that they had the common goal of conquest and domination. Both were socialists in the sense that they did not respect the property rights of their neighbors. In the cartoon at right, Uncle Sam is standing on the battlements, looking stupid, holding his useless umbrella (The League of Nations? US foreign policy?). The title, “Watchman, What of the Night.” Is from Isaiah. In August, 1939 night was most definitely coming along with a combined storm of aggression from Germany and the USSR.

I’m posting this as a reminder that East and West are more similar than is generally believed. That left and right too are often useless distinctions. That folks will generally seek their own advantage over philosophical purity, and over the advantage of the US. Internationalism, thus, is not a panacea for peace. Generally speaking, I suspect that Flavius’s dictum still applies: “if you wish for peace, prepare for war.” Also, I had these great cartoons, courtesy of my friend, Jim Wald.

Robert Buxbaum, August 25, 2016. People often forget/ ignore that the USSR started its part of WWII by invading Finland and Poland. Finland resisted invasion a lot better than Poland. So well that, when Germany broke the agreement and Russia became our friend, Finland became our enemy– sort-of. They were still fighting Russia. And, in the East, Russia remained an ally of Japan for another year, even briefly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This made sending aid to Russia problematic, though Roosevelt did it. I’ve written about WWII in terms of mustaches because, to me, it makes as much sense as anything, and more sense than east vs west.

More French engineering, the Blitzkrieg motorcycle.

There’s something fascinating that I find in French engineering. I wrote a previous essay about French cars, bridges, and the Eiffel tower. Here’s a picture or two more. Things I wanted to include but didn’t. First here’s a Blitzkrieg Vespa motorcycle; the French built some 800 of these from 1947 to 1962 and used them in Vietnam and Algeria. What’s remarkable is how bizarrely light and unprotected it is. It’s a design aesthetic that follows no one, and that American engineers would not follow.

French Blitzkrieg Vespa used in Vietnam

French Blitzkrieg Vespa used in Vietnam; cannon range is 4.5 miles.

The key engineering insight that allows this vehicle to make sense is that recoil-less rifles are really recoil-less if you design them right. Thus, one can (in theory) mount them on something really light, like a Vespa. Another key (French) insight is that a larger vehicle may make the soldier more vulnerable rather than less by slowing him down and by requiring more gasoline and commissariat services.

Americans do understand the idea of light and mobile, but an American engineers idea of this is a jeep or an armored truck; not a Vespa. From my US engineering perspective, the French went way overboard here. The French copy no one, and no one copies the French, as they say. Still, these things must have worked reasonably well or they would not have made 800 of them over 15 years. A Vespa is certainly cheaper than a Jeep, and easier to transport to the battle zone….

Robert Buxbaum, February 18, 2016. The Italians have a somewhat similar design aesthetic to the French: they like light and cheap, but also like maneuverable and favor new technology. See my blog about a favorite Fiat engine.