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September 20, 2019

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Short Rounds

Hidden History of the Department of Homeland Security

The new Department of Homeland Security is making its headquarters in a complex of redbrick Georgian buildings at the intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues, in northwest Washington. The complex originally belonged to the Mount Vernon Seminary, a finishing school for proper young women, that had been founded in 1875, and become a two year college in 1917.

In 1941, just a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor, the students went home for their Christmas break. The Navy, seeking room in which to place the rapidly expanding Office of Naval Intelligence, promptly requisitioned the 38-acre site, compensating the school at about a fifth of what the property was worth on the real estate market. The Mount Vernon Seminary was forced to take up temporary quarters in a building owned by Garfinckel's Department Store. After the war the Navy retained the original campus, but the college was able to relocate to acquired some 25 acres nearby and re-established itself. During the 1970s the school expanded into a full four year institution, but, plagued by financial difficulties, in 1996 it became a division of George Washington University.

 

Failure Rate of World War I Generals

When war comes, many officers who had attained high rank in peacetime are often found wanting. This was particularly true in 1914. The first all-out Great Power war in more than a generation, the opening stages of the fighting saw literally dozens of generals fall by the wayside. In fact, General Joseph Joffre, the French Chief-of-the-General Staff fired some 75 generals in the first month of the war, undoubtedly a world’s record.

Senior Commanders Sacked Within 90 Days of Entering Combat
Army Corps Division
Austria-Hungary 6 -   0.0% 17 - 52.3% 59 - 62.7%
Britain 1 -   0.0% 4 -   0.0% 14 -   0.0%
France 5 - 40.0% 37 - 51.4% 100 - 65.0%
Germany 1 - 12.5% 43 - 23.3% 99 - 33.3%
Italy 4 - 25.0% 15 - 20.0% 40 - 52.0%
United States 2 - 0.0% 7 - 28.0% 29 - 17.2%
Key: The cardinal number in each column gives the number of commands of the indicated level that each army had at the start of hostilities. The percentage that follows gives the proportion of commanders of that level who were sacked within 90 days of the onset of the war. “Sacked” is defined as being removed from command by reason other than promotion, death, or injury. In addition to the raw figures above, having sacked 65% of his 100 division commanders, Joffre subsequently also relieved 33.85 of the 65 replacement generals within 90 days, and 27.3% of the 22 "third-generation" replacements as well.

The table suggests that the British Army, performed much better than any of the others. This was a consequence of the mauling the British took during the Boer War (1899-1902), which had left them with somewhat better senior commanders. But even the British began sacking generals in 1915, when the war of movement congealed into trench warfare.

Before the end of the war, all of the armies except the American would go through at least one chief of the general staff; Germany sacked three (one within the 90 days of 1914), Britain one, France two, and Austria-Hungary two. By 1918 only 15.5% of the 83 Austro-Hungarian generals commanding divisions or higher formations in 1914 held commands of comparable or greater responsibility, as did only 20% of the 20 1914 British generals, only 3.5% of the 143 French generals, and only 16% of the Italians.

The first four powers listed entered the war in August of 1914, while Italy did so in May of 1915. Figures for the U.S. are somewhat different, being based on the first 90 days after each unit entered combat; since the average American division served only 77 days in combat (and one was in action only 18 days), the U.S. figures are only roughly comparable to those for the other powers.

 

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