Sunday, September 22, 2013

Report: Koh-Koh-Mah 2013

Ukrainian Dragoons? How strange to find them in Indiana.
Dear Reader,

Today I had the singular fortune to be able to attend the 2013 annual gathering at Koh-Koh-Mah. This reenactment is held to show off a Seven Years' War type military encampment and tactical display. In addition to the regular mix of French, British, civilian, and Native American impressions, Koh-Koh-Mah 2013 saw two units from the European Seven Years' War: Brunswicker Regiment Riedesel from Germany, and a mixed unit representing Russian Seven Years' War forces from Ukraine.

I'll write more in the next few weeks, but in short, Koh-Koh-Mah was a wonderful reenactment, and well worth the trip for any Kabinettskriege enthusiast. It was an added plus that the British, Brunswickers and their allies one the Saturday morning battle! Score one up for the good guys. Here are some of the pictures and a video I recorded at Koh-Koh-Mah.

Members of the 42nd, 77th, and 78th Highland regiments march past.

Highlanders and Rangers

Here is a link to a video I recorded on my iphone from the morning battle on Saturday. You can see one of my classmates as the poor fellow, "dead," in the stream.

In addition to the battle, the Russian dragoon's provided an example of Russian cavalry training during the pre-Seven Years' War period.
Here, the cavalryman attempts to deflect, "bayonet" thrusts at the horse.

And yet more deflecting. The horse, a veteran of the Great Northern War, appears to be asleep. 
In training, the trooper eschews the standard tricorne hat for a more versatile ushanka.

However, I would be lying if I said that the high point of the day for me wasn't the Brunswickers. After all, I am writing a masters thesis on these guys. 
Getting ready for battle: gloves are important. 
Der Feldwebel, "Zuckerhosen" und seiner Soldaten.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: The Seven Years' War in Europe

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to take a look at the most recent monograph on the Seven Years' War: Franz A. J. Szabo's The Seven Years' War in Europe. This book covers the European theatre of the pivotal conflict in the Kabinettskriege era.

Sadly, for the reader, Szabo does not begin his story in the Kabinettskriege era. Instead, he takes us to 1945, and the last days in the Fuhrer bunker, where Adolf Hitler sat and stared at a portrait of King Frederick II of Prussia. Throughout the book, Szabo attempts to lay the crimes of German militarism, and Nazi Germany, squarely on the shoulders of Frederick II. Szabo pulls no punches in his attacks on Frederick, and assaults range from his abilities as a monarch, and his skill as a general all the way down to his proficiency as a flute composer and poet. Even his dental hygiene is addressed. The fact of the matter is, Frederick was an eighteenth century monarch, with plans to expand his realm. In this way, he was more like Louis XIV than Hitler. Laying the crimes of Nazi Germany at Frederick's feet show that Szabo has failed to understand the context of eighteenth century society and warfare. Frederick II of Prussia was not a nice man, historian Christopher Duffy best describes him as "spiky." This does not mean he was a Nazi forerunner.

However, despite these crippling biases, Szabo creates a readable narrative of the events of the Seven Years' War. He clearly favors the Austrians, and this book might be seen as an attempt at apologetics from the Austrian standpoint.  His narrative is primarily political and economic, he falls in trouble when discussing social and military affairs. An excellent example of this is his discussion of the Battle of Sandershausen in 1758, where he misunderstands other secondary sources, and fails to give an accurate depiction of the battle.

The book clearly outlines the causes of war, moves on to the war itself, and ends with the conclusion of peace in 1763. According to Szabo, the allies failure to dismantle Prussia was a tragedy for European civilization, and led Germany in an inexorable path to 1945. However, he fails to clearly show how the legend of Frederick the Great was used in order to cause the rise of twentieth century Germany, as that would show that a variety of factors, not merely Frederick, caused the rise of Nazi Germany.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dulce et decorum est pro patri mori?

Some beautiful Prussians from Minden Miniatures

Dear Reader,

As a student of military (and German) history, I am often faced with the horrors of war. Even in the relatively tame 18th century, many innocents suffered in war. Frederick II of Prussia often regreted on his bombardment of Dresden during the Seven Years' War. From ancient times, through the Kabinettskriege period, all the way to the horrors of the twentieth century, warfare has been part of human interaction. The title of the post, a quote from Horace ("It is a good and seemly thing to die for one's country") was famously reproduced by poet Wilfred Owen, protesting the horrors of the First World War. 

Having established the horrors of war, it seems odd it would be so romanticized. We remember the Seven Years' War, (and most other wars) with historical miniatures, video games, and reenactment. Homer famously said, "Men grow tired of sleep, love, singing, and dancing sooner than war." Something about conflict seems to make for a good game. Those who play at such games, (myself included) should be careful to remember that actual war is not as enjoyable as rolling dice on a green, miniature coated map. Most of the soldiers who died in the eighteenth century expired in horrible pain, with no comfort save the religious icons they wore on their person. Therefore, as a caution to wargamers, I would say, "Dulce bellum inexpertis." Essentially, "War is sweet to those who have never experienced it."

Soldiers know this better than most. They don't want to go to war any more than you or I would, especially if they have been unfortunate enough to see combat before.  The perfect example of this is my grandfather, George Haden. George signed up for the marines the day he graduate from high school, during the Second World War. Scarred by his wartime experiences as a marine in the Pacific, he would wake up at nights, still thinking he was in the midst of hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. However, though he suffered psychologically for the rest of his life, he never regretted his decision to enlist. There are times when soldiers are required.

Whether it is the Seven Years' War, or the Syrian Civil War, warfare is a fundamental part of human existence. I will not say, "for good or ill," because it is just ill. Because of this, it needs to be understood.

Thank you for journeying with me, as I try to better understand this terrible part of human society.

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