A lost search for silver linings

In The Australian today:

“History, it is often claimed, is written by the victors. Yet from Thucydides on it is the defeated who have most readily sought its solace. “As their overwhelming experience is that everything occurred other than as planned,” explained the great German intellectual Reinhart Koselleck, himself a veteran of Paulus’s army at Stalingrad, “it is the losers who feel the most desperate need to understand how that could have happened.”

About Henry Ergas

Henry Ergas AO is a columnist for The Australian. From 2009 to 2015 he was Senior Economic Adviser to Deloitte Australia and from 2009 to 2017 was Professor of Infrastructure Economics at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility. He joined SMART and Deloitte after working as a consultant economist at NECG, CRA International and Concept Economics. Prior to that, he was an economist at the OECD in Paris from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. At the OECD, he headed the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Structural Adjustment (1984-1987), which concentrated on improving the efficiency of government policies in a wide range of areas, and was subsequently Counsellor for Structural Policy in the Economics Department. He has taught at a range of universities, undertaken a number of government inquiries and served as a Lay Member of the New Zealand High Court. In 2016, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia.
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18 Responses to A lost search for silver linings

  1. it is the losers who feel the most desperate need to understand how that could have happened

    And rightly so. It’s difficult to learn anything when everything goes your way. It was Monash, one of the artisans of the Great War tactical set-piece engagement, who said that a successful battle generates no stories of heroism but would merely be a paraphrasing of the operations orders. The losers (or winners with difficulties), on the other hand, need to absorb the lessons of their loss (or struggle to prevail) lest the same thing happen again next time, and in exactly the same fashion.

    This is why Amiens, 8 August 1918, was not a re-run of 1 July 1916. It was a re-run of all the most successful bits of Cambrai, without the unpleasant after-taste of the German counter-attack.

  2. JamesK

    Good political commentary.

    Henry writes well

  3. Tom

    Thanks, Henry. Commonsense is available to the few who will listen.

  4. Popular Front

    Amiens, 8 August 1918

    Described by German Army Chief of Staff General Ludendorff as ‘the Black Day of the German Army’, the thrust led by the AIF under the great Sir John Monash combining all five AIF Divisions into a Corps for the very first time in the Great War. It should have been done much earlier, who knows what we could have achieved?

  5. james

    So according to the television:

    The ALP was awesomeness but Just got disunity n stuff.

    The big businesses and da evil Murdoch tricked the voters into voting out an awesome party of economic geniuses who could not tell everyone how awesomeness they were because of disunity.

    Rudd is awesome for doing so well, but bad because of disunity.

    Most importantly the ALP has never been wrong about anything.

  6. struth

    To me, this election is only D-day. The job of cleaning up europe still ahead. For us, the fight will now be a bloated overbearing bureaucracy, the cleaning out of the left’s march through our institutions(especially education), and the noisy radical minorities will be out to stuff up as much as they can. We, even as victors, need to analyse history. Who was surprised to see a radical lefty trying to upset Abbott’s victory speech getting in on the photos? History should tell us that we really have only won a battle, and the war is still here and must be fought.

  7. It should have been done much earlier, who knows what we could have achieved?

    Not much without the profusion of artillery, ammunition, etc. that they had by then. If they’d had as much in August/September 1917 as they did in August 1918, Plumer wouldn’t have needed weeks to prepare follow-up phases and might have finished the Battle of Passchendaele in the dry spell before the final rains came and turned it into the horror it’s infamous for.

  8. Ed Snack

    PF, in fact Australia struggled to maintain 5 divisions in the field as it didn’t have the population to maintain the divisions at a reasonable strength. That’s the major reason why, in October 1918 the Australians were basically withdrawn from the front line as they were worn out. They’d done tremendous work, Amiens wasn’t even their best moment, the seizing of the Mt St Quentin position at the end of September tops it IMHO.

    Putting all the divions together was something the Canadians insisted upon, but not sure that they in the end achieved any more for it. By allowing their divisions to be used separately when needed, the Australians were available for some very vital tasks, recapturing Villiers Bretonneux for example.

    Just as a note the other option was chosen by NZ which only fielded one division rather than the two it could have initially put up, but that division was kept at essentially full strength until the end of the war, often it was the single largest Commonwealth formation, and it was in action right through until November 11 1918. Being able to regularly reinforce its battalions meant that it didn’t get warn out in the same way.

    BTW, pity that the story is behind a wall, be useful if one could just read it without having to register.

  9. cuckoo

    It’s odd. Listening to Radio National this morning, I was struck by how civil, even-handed and downright cordial the coverage generally was. Fran Kelly sounded like a girl who’s been asked to her first dance. I thought the same about last night’s ABC tv bulletins.

    This morning at work, deep in the Victorian Public Service, surrounded by rusted-on Howard/Abbott-haters, nobody is even talking about the election, there are no long faces. I suspect that (a) they’re as happy as I am to see the back of Krudd, and (b) at least they had time to psychologically prepare for the result. Of course, it’s only a honeymoon, and won’t last long, but it’s not what I expected.

    On the other hand, at my train station this morning, deep in the safe seat of Kooyong, the buildings had been extensively vandalized overnight by ‘taggers’ (every one of them an ex-Scotch or Xavier lout for sure), who thought to add ‘F**k Abbott!’ to their handiwork. The fact that they could spell his name correctly supports my point about the private school background.

  10. ken n

    When Japan surrendered at the end of WW2 the emperor said in his speech on radio
    “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

  11. As a St George supporter, I’d like to say how marvellous it is that we have avoided the wooden spoon, in spite of the prophets of doom, and that we have beaten a New Zealand team in our final game, in spite of injuries to star players (and prophets of doom). To Parramatta, it would be un-St. George of me to say, eat your heart out.

    I still believe in the Red V on the Hill and I am proud that so many of our players are uninjured and ready for next season – with the added advantage that they won’t be playing any more this year.

    (Oh, I nearly forgot to congratulate the 14 teams who finished above us on the table. Just lucky drongos, I suppose.)

  12. incoherent rambler

    There seems to a certain sense of is much hand-wringing among the mainstream political media

  13. caveman

    Should be getting a change of meaning to the word disunity from the Macquarie any day now.

  14. DrBeauGan

    Yes cuckoo, but do they spell F**k correctly?

  15. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Nothing like a good divorce to get history being written from two different perspectives.

  16. manalive

    But there is a deeper reason for the ALP’s inability to confront the magnitude of its problems: its conviction that it is the carrier of Australia’s future. Not only does that divine mission wash off all sin and excuse all mendacity; but as the party of the “light on the hill” its forward march may stall but can never be stopped …

    Sounds like Popper’s ‘historicism’ or historical determinism that Poor Old Rafe goes on about.
    The Left in my student days would cling to the Marxist slogan that they were ‘on the side of history’ — I came to believe it.
    The collapse of USSR and Eastern Bloc communism is an empirical fact which many still can’t fully accept.
    Nowadays they cling the Malthusian ‘historical logic’ of apocalyptic human-inducted global warming and ‘sustainability’, regressive rather than progressive ideology.

  17. manalive

    regressive …. retrogressive.

  18. Viva

    To me, this election is only D-day. The job of cleaning up europe still ahead.

    A good analogy – except this time amongst the allies, there are only a few bleeding bodies on the beachhead.

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