The original mitrailleuse

(The German Emperor William is declared…in the great palace of the Kings of France)

ADDED:Nous sommes dans un pot de chambre, et nous y serons emmerdes.” Gen. Ducrot, Sedan, France, Aug. 31, 1870.

As we come to the close of the year I’d like to again thank Meister Bloom for the opportunity to write here, and recognize the wealth of talent and intelligence gathered on this most excellent blog.

I hope that reader either knows, or has taken the time to learn, what a mitrailleuse is:


One of the earliest successful “machine guns”, this excellent and ingenious weapon was developed by the French in the 1860s, just in time to be deployed in the so-called “Franco-Prussian” War of 1870-1; the result of which, for the French, was one of the greatest military defeats in history (eerily repeated in 1940, but let’s take it one war at a time).

I’ve been rereading Michael Howard’s superb The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871 and was struck by this passage:

The Emperor [Napoleon III]…also had the mitrailleuse. With this he had been experimenting since 1860, and production had begun under conditions of great secrecy in 1866. In appearance it resembled the fasces of the Roman Lictors: a bundle of twenty-five barrels, each detonated in turn by turning a handle. It had a range of nearly 2,000 yards and a rate of fire of nearly 150 rounds per minute…but such secrecy surrounded its manufacture that training in its use was almost out of the question, and no useful discussion was possible about how it should be employed.


In which Shep Smith inadvertently (re)discovers the real meaning of a shining city on a hill

Here’s Shep Smith, yesterday, on torture:

Is there gonna come a time when we can just look and go, ‘we did bad things. We shouldn’t have done those bad things. We better make sure these bad things don’t happen again, because, as Ronald Reagan said, we’re a shining city on a hill. We’re America, we don’t torture.

Good ol’ Shep has just transgressed against the civil religion. In Reagan’s conception of the shining city on a hill phrase, it might be said that America is great, therefore America can torture. We’re an exceptional nation, favored by God, so we can do what we want, including conducting extraordinary renditions, operating black sites, rectally feeding detainees, lying to Congress, and so on, in the name of preserving our exceptionality.

This use of the phrase — a shining city as implying the right to meddle in the affairs of other nations because of our supposed moral superiority — is totally unmoored from any conception of the phrase prior to John F. Kennedy. In fact, in the original document by John Winthrop, it’s not even a very important one, and if anything is an exhortation that the new nation beware, for it would be judged by both God and the world for its failings. And that’s what Shep seems to be implying here.

Richard Gamble wrote an excellent book on this forgotten history, so I sent this clip to him. He replied:

Smith did capture the older, weightier sense of humility and moral character — that the American people have a responsibility to be an example of right conduct in the world, a nation of integrity and self-respect where the means do matter and not just the ends. That older ideal is a far cry from the “arrogance of power.”

More from Christopher Lasch, in The True And Only Heaven:

When the Jews referred to themselves as the chosen people, they meant that they had agreed to submit to a uniquely demanding set of ethical standards, not that they were destined to rule the world or to enjoy special favors from heaven. The seventeenth-century Puritan settlers of New England, much indebted to the Old Testament for their conception of a collective identity, understood their mission in the same way. From this point of view, history mattered because it was under divine judgment, not because it led inevitably to the promised land. Whether the chosen people wold prove themselves worthy of the blessings arbitrarily bestowed on them was an open question, not a foregone conclusion; and the prophetic tradition, central to Judaism, to Augustinian Catholicism, and to early Protestantism, served to recall them, again and again, to a painful awareness of their own shortcomings. Prophecy made history much more the record of moral failure than a promise of ultimate triumph.

Here’s Tom Woods’ review of Gamble’s book.

‘Une bouffée de mitraille’

Isegoria explains:

As a young Brigadier General, Napoleon once dispersed a mob of Royalists with “a whiff of grapeshot” — although it’s not quite clear how to translate that very Anglo-Saxon phrase back into French. Une bouffée de mitraille?

The phrase likely sounds so Anglo-Saxon because it was coined by Scottish essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution: A History.

Mitraille is the French word for grapeshot, and it is also the root of the French word for machine gun, mitrailleuse, because the original French proto-machine gun was a multi-barrel affair meant to deliver a volley of rifle rounds, as a new and improved form of grapeshot, and the term stuck, even as true machine guns arrived on the scene.

More on that unusual phrase here. And more from Carlyle here:

`It is false,` says Napoleon, `that we fired first with blank charge; it had been a waste of life to do that.` Most false: the firing was with sharp and sharpest shot: to all men it was plain that here was no sport; the rabbets and plinths of Saint-Roch Church show splintered by it, to this hour.–Singular: in old Broglie`s time, six years ago, this Whiff of Grapeshot was promised; but it could not be given then, could not have profited then. Now, however, the time is come for it, and the man; and behold, you have it; and the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into space by it, and become a thing that was!– …

On the whole, therefore, has it not been fulfilled what was prophesied, ex- postfacto indeed, by the Archquack Cagliostro, or another? He, as he looked in rapt vision and amazement into these things, thus spake: (Diamond Necklace, p. 35.) `Ha! What is this? Angels, Uriel, Anachiel, and the other Five; Pentagon of Rejuvenescence; Power that destroyed Original Sin; Earth, Heaven, and thou Outer Limbo, which men name Hell! Does the EMPIRE Of IMPOSTURE waver? Burst there, in starry sheen updarting, Light-rays from out its dark foundations; as it rocks and heaves, not in travail-throes, but in death-throes? Yea, Light-rays, piercing, clear, that salute the Heavens,–lo, they kindle it; their starry clearness becomes as red Hellfire!

`IMPOSTURE is burnt up: one Red-sea of Fire, wild-billowing enwraps the World; with its fire-tongue, licks at the very Stars. Thrones are hurled into it, and Dubois mitres, and Prebendal Stalls that drop fatness, and– ha! what see I?–all the Gigs of Creation; all, all! Wo is me! Never since Pharaoh`s Chariots, in the Red-sea of water, was there wreck of Wheel-vehicles like this in the Sea of Fire. Desolate, as ashes, as gases, shall they wander in the wind. Higher, higher yet flames the Fire-Sea; crackling with new dislocated timber; hissing with leather and prunella. The metal Images are molten; the marble Images become mortar-lime; the stone Mountains sulkily explode. RESPECTABILITY, with all her collected Gigs inflamed for funeral pyre, wailing, leaves the earth: not to return save under new Avatar. Imposture, how it burns, through generations: how it is burnt up; for a time. The World is black ashes; which, ah, when will they grow green? The Images all run into amorphous Corinthian brass; all Dwellings of men destroyed; the very mountains peeled and riven, the valleys black and dead: it is an empty World! Wo to them that shall be born then!–A King, a Queen (ah me!) were hurled in; did rustle once; flew aloft, crackling, like paper-scroll. Iscariot Egalite was hurled in; thou grim De Launay, with thy grim Bastille; whole kindreds and peoples; five millions of mutually destroying Men. For it is the End of the Dominion of IMPOSTURE (which is Darkness and opaque Firedamp); and the burning up, with unquenchable fire, of all the Gigs that are in the Earth.` This Prophecy, we say, has it not been fulfilled, is it not fulfilling?

The other famous usage is attributed to the Duke of Wellington: “Pour la canaille: Faut la mitraille.” For the mob, use grapeshot.

Robert Caruso and the grey tribe: The tweets his future employers, editors, and clients should know about

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It was with great interest that I watched one of the security state’s more aggressive propagandists get dragged into the #GamerGate maelstrom last month. I don’t have strong feelings about the movement, but anything that gives Gawker a taste of its own medicine is probably not all bad. This is the first point of contact in the national security realm in what Pax Dickinson calls the grey tribe’s rebellion against the blue tribe.

Meet Robert Caruso, a consultant, columnist seen at the Daily Beast, The HillHuffington PostThe Guardian, and elsewhere, former spokesman for the Afghan reconstruction, and is a frequent source for anti-Snowden perspectives for Business Insider’s Michael Kelley. He hasn’t written a word that doesn’t argue for more war. Since surfacing as a columnist he’s argued the best way to stop ISIS is to go after Iran and arm the Syrian opposition, obscured the administration’s denials of NSA spying in a quote at Buzzfeed, said we should arm the Kurds and put boots on the ground in Iraq, thinks the man who thought we could bomb Libya into liberal democracy is a “consummate realist,” and also at Buzzfeed, written a listicle on why the NSA is a-OK. There’s this one:

Once again, the United States finds itself embroiled in a debate over whether or not to “go to war.” It’s a choice the country shouldn’t have to make, and it wouldn’t with a bigger, more lethal clandestine service like France or Israel has. …

In remarks offered right here in Massachusetts, the CIA’s own deputy director once observed dryly, “People in the 1950s and early 1960s concluded that the United States was facing a ruthless and implacable enemy. Our only hope of survival was to match their dedication with our dedication and their ruthlessness with our ruthlessness.” That ruthlessness is sorely needed again.

More humorously, he was published in a Tufts publication, but misspelled the school in a column he wrote quoting a graduate.


Fear of a realist Rand Paul

My latest at TheDC is about the libertarian-realist convergence, why it scares the neocons, and how the Koch brothers are more anti-war than the Center for American Progress:

There’s something sublimely Machiavellian in the fact that the Kochs and those funded by them are more anti-war than the Center for American Progress. The right-wing billionaire might have a lot of pull, but the thing he’s pulling on is aliberal hegemony, though it’s comprised of neoconservatives and liberal hawks. The insurgencies we support usually talk about things like democracy and human rights; left-wing values, not right-wing ones — we take down autocrats and make the world safe for gay rights and democracy. And if you’re part of the permanent revolution, you better obey the party rules.

Read the whole thing here.

The ‘I fight so my child won’t have to’ lie

This piece by Jonathan Raab is heartbreaking and true:

It was a stock answer, and it came in many variations:

“I fight so my child won’t have to.”

It was a popular saying among soldiers during the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts, especially the ones you saw on TV. It’s a soundbite-friendly philosophy that communicates a sadness for having been at war but a hopefulness in what that war could accomplish. It lent meaning to the drudgery of day-to-day soldiering, and gave people at home (not exactly the homefront by any means, but home, even if upon returning to it it was almost unrecognizable) an insight into the motivations of those who would volunteer to serve, fight, and even die in the name of the United States. …

While we can spin such stories into narratives of honor and family values, they are also a portent of a terrible new truth. We now live in a culture where perpetual warfare with nebulous objectives against an abstract enemy is the norm. We have a whole generation of young people who understand that the nation is at war, has been at war, and will be at war for the foreseeable future, but don’t understand what that really means—or should mean—in the context of a civil, democratic society. This is war without sacrifice, war by choice, war without end. …

Another war is upon us, and in this coming conflict, the seeds are sown for future destabilization and war. Americans seem content to launch war after war against “moral outrage”, but don’t stop to consider that the monsters we fight may be so horrible precisely because we made them that way.

Looking back on all the times my brothers and sisters in uniform said “I fight so my child won’t have to,” or any of its variations, I can’t help but feel a pang of despair.

We thought it would be over, eventually. Our government—in its perpetual funding and arming of our future enemies—has other ideas.

I say ‘lie’ because that’s what this is. Servicemen and women who convince themselves that their children won’t have to fight a war that the government regards as perpetual and unbounded are lying to themselves. Empire never takes a holiday.

We all want our children to grow up in a country that is not in a state of permanent war. The way to do that is not to fight endless, undefined wars now, but to fight the ideologues, war profiteers, and entrenched interests that have a stake in prolonging and starting new ones.