Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Dinosaurs of the Deep Blue Sea

USS Ronald Reagan


I have long argued the aircraft carrier is an obsolete relic of a bygone era. In so doing, I have been subjected to mocking ridicule by many, and simply disbelieved by most. Only a mere handful of respondents to my carrier-disparaging public statements has concurred with my analysis of the issue.


Herein I present a formal defense of the proposition.


I submit that, in the context of a great power war, the aircraft carrier was effectively proven obsolete in 1945.


As a preface to my argument, I submit a brief history of the aircraft carrier, and the manner in which it abruptly burst upon the annals of military history in 1941.


That year saw first the British, then the Japanese, decisively prove what the aircraft carrier’s enthusiastic promoters had zealously preached for over a decade previous: that the age of the battleship was over; the aircraft carrier would be the new queen of the seas.


The battleship admirals were, unsurprisingly, dubious of the idea of naval aviation being useful for much more than reconnaissance for their big guns.


Imperial Japanese Navy Battleship Yamato

USS Missouri


Nevertheless, to the credit of the persuasiveness of the aircraft carrier proponents, the navies of Great Britain, Japan, and the United States had, by 1941, produced several relatively mature specimens of ships not all that dissimilar to the carriers of today.

The first airstrike delivered from an aircraft carrier occurred in July 1918 when the Royal Navy’s converted battlecruiser HMS Furious successfully launched seven Sopwith Camels, six of which managed to make it to the Imperial German Navy’s zeppelin base at Tønder, Denmark.

HMS Furious, 1918

HMS Furious Air Wing, 1918

The biplanes dropped their assortment of explosives on the airship hangars, destroying two of them.


None of the planes was able to effect a return landing on the carrier – half put down in Denmark; the other half ditched at sea.


Not a particularly auspicious debut, but it did more or less prove the point that carrier-launched airstrikes were something that could be done.


The early 1920s saw the first “purpose-built” aircraft carriers commissioned, by both the Japanese Imperial Navy (Hōshō, 1922) and the Royal Navy (HMS Hermes, 1924).


Japanese Aircraft Carrier Hōshō, 1922

HMS Hermes, 1924

The United States Navy commissioned the USS Saratoga in 1928, and, as seen below, its silhouette conforms fairly closely to all the carriers that would follow it.


USS Saratoga

The USS Saratoga carried a complement of 78 aircraft, 2800 crew, a maximum speed of 33 knots, and a range of 10,000 nautical miles cruising at a modest 10 knots.


The Japanese, in 1938, commissioned the modernized “fleet carrier” Akagi, which carried 90 aircraft, could do 31 knots, and had a range of 10,000 nautical miles at 16 knots.


Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft Carrier Akagi, 1938


The Royal Navy commissioned its own “fleet carrier” in 1938, the HMS Ark Royal, which carried 60 aircraft, did 31 knots, and had a range of 7500 nautical miles at 20 knots.


HMS Ark Royal, 1939


Though as yet unproven in battle, these were powerful warships waiting for an opportunity to “show their stuff”.


That opportunity was not long in coming, and in 1941 the age of the aircraft carrier in war commenced, and summarily consigned the battleship to obsolescence.


In May of 1941, the Germans sent their new battleship Bismarck on its maiden mission to raid British shipping in the Atlantic. It lasted all of eight days before being disabled by torpedo attacks from HMS Ark Royal, and was scuttled by its crew to prevent its capture by the Royal Navy.


Of course, the definitive debut of aircraft carrier power was the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The Japanese tactics were strongly influenced by the British attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, and employed shallow-running torpedoes to compensate for the limited depth of the harbor.


The first “blue water” carrier battle occurred in the Coral Sea between the Solomon Islands and Australia in the South Pacific in early May 1942. It was the first sea battle prosecuted entirely via the air wings of the respective carrier task forces.


One month later the famous Battle of Midway occurred, resulting in the devastating loss of four of the Japanese “fleet carriers” – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu.


These two major sea battles proved the battleship was no longer useful for much besides off-shore bombardment of land installations, and in that sense the age of the aircraft carrier was formally inaugurated.


But, in my judgment, these battles also illustrated the fact that the aircraft carrier, for all its advantages, was acutely vulnerable to airstrikes. Subsequent US success in the War in the Pacific was largely due to its extraordinary capability to produce carriers (and all other types of ships) in historically unprecedented numbers, and to keep them manned with well-trained air crews. After the Battle of Midway, the Japanese were never able to match the Americans in either respect.


That said, the vulnerability of the aircraft carrier to airstrikes never diminished, and even as the Japanese navy shriveled away to a faint shadow of its former self in late 1944, the susceptibility of all surface ships to attacks from the air became more and more apparent.


The Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 was a catastrophic defeat for the Imperial Navy, but it also witnessed the initial Japanese experiments with “precision-guided missiles” to attack ships. The guidance systems for these missiles consisted of human pilots who intentionally dove their bomb-laden obsolete aircraft into US ships.


The so-called kamikaze attacks reached their zenith in the spring 1945 Battle of Okinawa, where ~1500 pilots and aircraft were expended, and inflicted substantial damage on large numbers of US warships.

USS Bunker Hill after being struck by two kamikazes during the Battle of Okinawa

According to a 1999 US Air Force analysis, by the end of the war ~3000 kamikaze sorties resulted in the sinking of 34 US warships and damaged 368 others, with a “hit” ratio of almost 20%.


In my estimation, this is a rather extraordinary success rate when one considers the pronounced disadvantages they faced:


- Kamikaze planes were flown by woefully undertrained Japanese pilots (a great many of them only teenagers) flying what were, by then, even more woefully obsolete aircraft.


- The aircraft typically carried less than about 500 lbs. of munitions, often in the form of two 200 kg bombs which lacked the explosive punch necessary to do serious damage to a large warship – therefore multiple strikes on the same ship were required.


- The US Navy moved heaven and earth in a substantially inefficacious attempt to prevent the strikes, including massive numbers of aircraft flying combat air patrol out to maximum distances, and many scores of smaller warships deployed in vast arrays of screening ships.


The simple fact was that, despite the highly focused effort to interdict them, US defenses were frequently overwhelmed by large and determined “salvos” of this first generation of precision-guided anti-ship missiles.


Had the Japanese possessed more experienced pilots, and more capable aircraft, outfitted with larger payloads, the toll taken on US aircraft carriers would have been much more severe than it was.


Nevertheless, the kamikaze demonstrated incontrovertibly that warships in general, and aircraft carriers in particular, were – and would continue to be – extremely vulnerable to large salvos of precision-guided munitions.


That vulnerability not only persists to the present day, but is unquestionably more acute than ever before due the fact that anti-ship missile technology has advanced much further in the post-World War II era than has the capability of the targeted ships to defeat them.


The US Navy’s Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are larger than their predecessors and carry more advanced aircraft, but neither they nor the smaller warships that support them are significantly faster nor more maneuverable.


USS Nimitz

Even more astonishingly, the US Navy’s Order of Battle for the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 consisted of: 11 fleet carriers, 6 light carriers, 22 escort carriers, 8 fast battleships, 10 old battleships, 2 large cruisers, 12 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 4 anti-aircraft light cruisers, 132 destroyers, and 45 destroyer escorts! 

In addition, the Royal Navy provided 5 fleet carriers, 2 battleships, 7 cruisers, and 14 destroyers.


And these were just the combat ships.


Altogether, the fleet arrayed off the shores of Okinawa consisted of over 600 ships!


Nothing even remotely approximating this huge fleet had ever been seen, and quite likely never will be again.


The configuration of current US carrier strike groups consists of a single carrier, 1 guided-missile cruiser, and 3 – 4 destroyers and/or frigates.


USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group

So, in a potential battle today between a US carrier strike group and a peer or near-peer adversary, a mere half-dozen ships with an extremely limited number of defenses will face massed salvos of hundreds of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship missiles, and dozens of submarines with many hundreds of torpedoes – all of which deploy large modern warheads capable of inflicting a mortal blow against any of the ships in the group.


US naval power apologists may argue that the array of defenses on these ships is much more capable than in World War II. But it simply does not matter. It won’t be enough. Regardless of how one attempts to crunch the numbers, a putative engagement between a carrier strike group and the PLA Navy in the South China Sea would entail simultaneous massed attacks of precision-guided anti-ship missiles zooming in from all points of the compass.


It doesn’t require more than middle-school math to realize the inevitable result: the strike group’s defenses would be utterly overwhelmed. In all likelihood, every single ship would be sunk in a matter of minutes. It would be a catastrophic defeat – one which would shock the entire world and forever alter the course of military history.


The plain truth of the matter, in my estimation, is that, faced with the wide array of 21st century anti-ship missiles possessed today by Russia, China, Iran, and likely even North Korea, conventional surface fleets are effectively obsolete, and this will be proven beyond dispute in the first few hours of the next great power war.


A follower on Twitter brought to my attention this instructive simulation of an unintended but rapidly escalated US/China engagement in the South China Sea. While I'm actually inclined to believe the Chinese will perform better and the US worse in such a scenario, the simulation still strongly supports my arguments made above.


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Friday, July 22, 2022

Flying Coffins

F-16 Flying Falcon


I grew up just south of Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. Going back to the start of the Cold War, Hill AFB has always been among the more important USAF installations on US soil. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was home to squadrons of F-4 Phantoms, followed by F-16 Fighting Falcons, and now is an important base for the F-35 Lightnings.


F-35 "Elephant Walk" - Hill Air Force Base, Utah



One of the great thrills of my life was attending the annual air shows at Hill AFB, where the USAF Thunderbirds demonstration team performed regularly – always flying the incomparable F-16.


The F-16 is, in my personal estimation, the single most impressive and elegant warplane in US history.


It is also one of the most capable and versatile warplanes ever built.


If I could choose but one warplane in which to fly before I die, it would unquestionably be the F-16.


A-10 Warthog


Although not nearly as aesthetically attractive as the F-16, the A-10 Warthog is nevertheless an impressive aircraft in its own right, and has also been one of my favorite US warplanes – particularly when firing its legendary 30 mm autocannon.


Over the decades of their operational history, both the F-16 and the A-10 have proven exceptionally effective against sandal-shod AK-47-wielding soldiers and traffic jams of passenger vehicles seeking to flee a hot war zone.


Highway of Death


Both are also now being retired en masse from the US armed forces.


Even so, with their extensive history of “overwhelming dominance” in mind, we are now hearing apparently serious talk of sending some of our otherwise destined-for-retirement F-16s and A-10s to Ukraine – ostensibly to become the latest “game-changer” able to “turn the tide” against a seemingly inexorable Russian victory.


Indeed, since the news first broke earlier this week, in the form of comments by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall at the Aspen Security Forum, thousands of “Slava Ukraini!”-chanting supporters of Ukraine have erupted with shouts of “Hallelujah!” on Twitter and elsewhere – convinced that THIS is – finally! – the wunderwaffe they’ve been waiting for.


So … let me be perfectly clear:


The notion that the US (and/or its NATO allies) can ship F-16s and A-10s to Ukraine in order to save the Ukrainians from an otherwise absolutely certain defeat is an unqualified delusion; a ridiculous fantasy of the highest order.


To be even more precise, it’s batshit crazy silly talk.


Indeed, the only possible interpretation of Kendall’s broaching of the subject at this juncture is that there is now a profound recognition, at the highest levels of the Pentagon, that the inevitable outcome of this war is set in stone. But, because political considerations preclude them being able to acknowledge this reality, they must somehow stall for time, during which they can better prepare the American people to receive the bad news that the Mother of All Proxy Armies – which the US spent eight long years and countless billions building – has been comprehensively wrecked in a matter of months by the supposedly inept armed forces of the Russian Federation.


As expected and predicted by a great many intelligent and insightful military analysts, the 120+ M-777 tow-behind howitzers (of which 80+ have now been destroyed) and a dozen M-142 HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems (of which at least 4 have already been “eliminated” from the battlefield) have produced negligible results. Each, in its turn, generated a hopeful sense of euphoria among those rooting for the team in blue and yellow. Each produced a few early successes which were celebrated far beyond their actual military significance by western commentators. And, once Russian countermeasures were formulated and executed, each has proven to be nothing more than what sober military analysts always knew them to be: run-of-the-mill artillery systems which are at best equivalent to their Russian counterparts, and arguably inferior in several key respects.


HIMARS vs. Tornado


As far as providing F-16s and A-10s to Ukraine is concerned, I am strongly persuaded that it is nothing but empty propaganda. I don’t believe there is any serious actionable intent behind the words. But even if there is, there are several realities that render the entire proposition futile:


- Ukrainian pilots are not trained on these platforms, and they cannot possibly be adequately trained in any less than at least a year. It is utterly ludicrous to believe otherwise.


- Even if US/NATO pilots and ground crew were provided to field, say, two squadrons of F-16s and another two squadrons of A-10s, they would prove to be, against Russian air defenses and fighter aircraft, the obsolescent air frames they are already known to be.


The A-10s, in particular, would not survive more than a handful of sorties – at most – in Ukrainian airspace. And, if Russia were to aggressively deploy its best-in-class air defense systems into the battle zone, two squadrons of actively flying F-16s would be destroyed in less than a month – if not sooner.


In short, it would be an absolute slaughter. Neither the F-16 nor the A-10 can hope to achieve any meaningful military result against the Russians in Ukraine. And anyone who believes otherwise is either profoundly ignorant of the cold, hard facts, or else irredeemably blinded by the myth of American military supremacy as cultivated over the course of post-Cold War battles against adversaries who lacked the capacity to “shoot back”.


Furthermore, even though the Russians would not at all fear the introduction of these aircraft into the war, they would justifiably regard it as an escalation that would warrant significant counter-escalation on their part. They would, almost without question, immediately target and destroy all US reconnaissance platforms in the region used to feed intelligence to the US-provided aircraft. Surveillance drones, lumbering AWACS platforms, and quite likely even military satellites would be eliminated from the battle space.


This, of course, would risk even greater escalation, along with the non-trivial possibility of nuclear weapons use by the US when it is faced with the bitter humiliation of a major battlefield defeat which the entire world would plainly see.


F-16s and A-10s are not a strategy for victory in Ukraine.


There is no “Hail Mary” play to be called. The only reasonable option at this juncture is for the US to admit the defeat of its Mother of All Proxy Armies gambit, pack up its ball once and for all, and go home. 


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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Grand Inquisitor

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In my estimation, this chapter from Dostoyevsky's epic novel The Brothers Karamazov is not only a specimen of exquisite literature, it is inspired; almost scripture, as it were.

I read it at least once annually. Each time, before I read it, I read the relevant passages of scripture from the King James Version of the Holy Bible (links below).

It can be somewhat dense reading in places  Dostoyevsky is, after all, exceedingly Russian. 

But stick with it. Give it a chance. It has something very important to say. It was first published in 1879, but it was written for our day.

Matthew 4:1-11

John 6:1-69

Download PDF version of The Grand Inquisitor

The Grand Inquisitor

an excerpt from

 The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoyevsky



            "EVEN this must have a preface—that is, a literary preface," laughed Ivan, "and I am a poor hand at making one. You see, my action takes place in the sixteenth century, and at that time, as you probably learnt at school, it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly powers on earth. Not to speak of Dante, in France, clerks, as well as the monks in the monasteries, used to give regular performances in which the Madonna, the saints, the angels, Christ, and God Himself were brought on the stage. In those days it was done in all simplicity. In Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris an edifying and gratuitous spectacle was provided for the people in the Hotel de Ville of Paris in the reign of Louis XI in honour of the birth of the dauphin. It was called Le bon jugement de la tres sainte et gracieuse Vierge Marie, and she appears herself on the stage and pronounces her bon jugement. Similar plays, chiefly from the Old Testament, were occasionally performed in Moscow too, up to the times of Peter the Great. But besides plays there were all sorts of legends and ballads scattered about the world, in which the saints and angels and all the powers of Heaven took part when required. In our monasteries the monks busied themselves in translating, copying, and even composing such poems—and even under the Tatars. There is, for instance, one such poem (of course, from the Greek), The Wanderings of Our Lady through Hell, with descriptions as bold as Dante's. Our Lady visits hell, and the Archangel Michael leads her through the torments. She sees the sinners and their punishment. There she sees among others one noteworthy set of sinners in a burning lake; some of them sink to the bottom of the lake so that they can't swim out, and 'these God forgets'—an expression of extraordinary depth and force. And so Our Lady, shocked and weeping, falls before the throne of God and begs for mercy for all in hell—for all she has seen there, indiscriminately. Her conversation with God is immensely interesting. She beseeches Him, she will not desist, and when God points to the hands and feet of her Son, nailed to the Cross, and asks, 'How can I forgive His tormentors?' she bids all the saints, all the martyrs, all the angels and archangels to fall down with her and pray for mercy on all without distinction. It ends by her winning from God a respite of suffering every year from Good Friday till Trinity Day, and the sinners at once raise a cry of thankfulness from hell, chanting, 'Thou art just, O Lord, in this judgment.' Well, my poem would have been of that kind if it had appeared at that time. He comes on the scene in my poem, but He says nothing, only appears and passes on. Fifteen centuries have passed since He promised to come in His glory, fifteen centuries since His prophet wrote, 'Behold, I come quickly'; 'Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father,' as He Himself predicted on earth. But humanity awaits him with the same faith and with the same love. Oh, with greater faith, for it is fifteen centuries since man has ceased to see signs from heaven.


No signs from heaven come to-day

To add to what the heart doth say.


            There was nothing left but faith in what the heart doth say. It is true there were many miracles in those days. There were saints who performed miraculous cures; some holy people, according to their biographies, were visited by the Queen of Heaven herself. But the devil did not slumber, and doubts were already arising among men of the truth of these miracles. And just then there appeared in the north of Germany a terrible new heresy. 'A huge star like to a torch' (that is, to a church) 'fell on the sources of the waters and they became bitter.' These heretics began blasphemously denying miracles. But those who remained faithful were all the more ardent in their faith. The tears of humanity rose up to Him as before, awaited His coming, loved Him, hoped for Him, yearned to suffer and die for Him as before. And so many ages mankind had prayed with faith and fervour, 'O Lord our God, hasten Thy coming'; so many ages called upon Him, that in His infinite mercy He deigned to come down to His servants. Before that day He had come down, He had visited some holy men, martyrs, and hermits, as is written in their lives. Among us, Tyutchev, with absolute faith in the truth of his words, bore witness that


Bearing the Cross, in slavish dress,

Weary and worn, the Heavenly King

Our mother, Russia, came to bless,

And through our land went wandering.

And that certainly was so, I assure you.


            "And behold, He deigned to appear for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and 'in the splendid auto da fe the wicked heretics were burnt.' Oh, of course, this was not the coming in which He will appear, according to His promise, at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be sudden 'as lightning flashing from east to west.' No, He visited His children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the 'hot pavements' of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville.


            "He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him. That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognised Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and power shines from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, 'O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!' and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. 'It is He—it is He!' repeat. 'It must be He, it can be no one but Him!' He stops at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. 'He will raise your child,' the crowd shouts to the weeping mother. The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. 'If it is Thou, raise my child!' she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, 'Maiden, arise!' and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.


            "There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal's robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church -- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the 'holy guard.' He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on.' The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison—in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, 'breathless' night of Seville. The air is 'fragrant with laurel and lemon.' In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.


            "'Is it Thou? Thou?' but receiving no answer, he adds at once. 'Don't answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost thou know what will be tomorrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but tomorrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have today kissed Thy feet, tomorrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,' he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner."


            "I don't quite understand, Ivan. What does it mean?" Alyosha, who had been listening in silence, said with a smile. "Is it simply a wild fantasy, or a mistake on the part of the old man—some impossible quid pro quo?"


            "Take it as the last," said Ivan, laughing, "if you are so corrupted by modern realism and can't stand anything fantastic. If you like it to be a case of mistaken identity, let it be so. It is true," he went on, laughing, "the old man was ninety, and he might well be crazy over his set idea. He might have been struck by the appearance of the Prisoner. It might, in fact, be simply his ravings, the delusion of an old man of ninety, over-excited by the auto da fe of a hundred heretics the day before. But does it matter to us after all whether it was a mistake of identity or a wild fantasy? All that matters is that the old man should speak out, that he should speak openly of what he has thought in silence for ninety years."


            "And the Prisoner too is silent? Does He look at him and not say a word?"


            "That's inevitable in any case," Ivan laughed again. "The old man has told Him He hasn't the right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. 'All has been given by Thee to the Pope,' they say, 'and all, therefore, is still in the Pope's hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time, at least.' That's how they speak and write too -- the Jesuits, at any rate. I have read it myself in the works of their theologians. 'Hast Thou the right to reveal to us one of the mysteries of that world from which Thou hast come?' my old man asks Him, and answers the question for Him. 'No, Thou hast not; that Thou mayest not add to what has been said of old, and mayest not take from men the freedom which Thou didst exalt when Thou wast on earth. Whatsoever Thou revealest anew will encroach on men's freedom of faith; for it will be manifest as a miracle, and the freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee than anything in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often say then, "I will make you free"? But now Thou hast seen these "free" men,' the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. 'Yes, we've paid dearly for it,' he goes on, looking sternly at Him, 'but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it's over for good? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?'"


            "I don't understand again." Alyosha broke in. "Is he ironical, is he jesting?"


            "Not a bit of it! He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy. 'For now' (he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course) 'for the first time it has become possible to think of the happiness of men. Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? Thou wast warned,' he says to Him. 'Thou hast had no lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder us?'"


            "And what's the meaning of 'no lack of admonitions and warnings'?" asked Alyosha.


            "Why, that's the chief part of what the old man must say.


            "'The wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,' the old man goes on, the great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told in the books that he "tempted" Thee. Is that so? And could anything truer be said than what he revealed to Thee in three questions and what Thou didst reject, and what in the books is called "the temptation"? And yet if there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations. The statement of those three questions was itself the miracle. If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had gathered together all the wise men of the earth—rulers, chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets—and had set them the task to invent three questions, such as would not only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of humanity—dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth united could have invented anything in depth and force equal to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? From those questions alone, from the miracle of their statement, we can see that we have here to do not with the fleeting human intelligence, but with the absolute and eternal. For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature. At the time it could not be so clear, since the future was unknown; but now that fifteen hundred years have passed, we see that everything in those three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them or taken from them.


            "Judge Thyself who was right—Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: "Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread—for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread." But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, "Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!" Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" that's what they'll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, "Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven't given it!" And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.


            "'This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing "bread," Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, "Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!" And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone—the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience—Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men's freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems.


            "'So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise and dread spirit set Thee on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Thee, "If Thou wouldst know whether Thou art the Son of God then cast Thyself down, for it is written: the angels shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and Thou shalt know then whether Thou art the Son of God and shalt prove then how great is Thy faith in Thy Father." But Thou didst refuse and wouldst not cast Thyself down. Oh, of course, Thou didst proudly and well, like God; but the weak, unruly race of men, are they gods? Oh, Thou didst know then that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation? Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonising spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel, heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, "Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He." Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him! Can he, can he do what Thou didst? By showing him so much respect, Thou didst, as it were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask far too much from him—Thou who hast loved him more than Thyself! Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him. That would have been more like love, for his burden would have been lighter. He is weak and vile. What though he is everywhere now rebelling against our power, and proud of his rebellion? It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy. They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dear. Mankind as a whole has always striven to organise a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union. The great conquerors, Timours and Ghenghis-Khans, whirled like hurricanes over the face of the earth striving to subdue its people, and they too were but the unconscious expression of the same craving for universal unity. Hadst Thou taken the world and Caesar's purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, "Mystery." But then, and only then, the reign of peace and happiness will come for men. Thou art proud of Thine elect, but Thou hast only the elect, while we give rest to all. And besides, how many of those elect, those mighty ones who could become elect, have grown weary waiting for Thee, and have transferred and will transfer the powers of their spirit and the warmth of their heart to the other camp, and end by raising their free banner against Thee. Thou didst Thyself lift up that banner. But with us all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: "Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!"


            "'Receiving bread from us, they will see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from them, to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see that we do not change the stones to bread, but in truth they will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for the bread itself! For they will remember only too well that in old days, without our help, even the bread they made turned to stones in their hands, while since they have come back to us, the very stones have turned to bread in their hands. Too, too well will they know the value of complete submission! And until men know that, they will be unhappy. Who is most to blame for their not knowing it?-speak! Who scattered the flock and sent it astray on unknown paths? But the flock will come together again and will submit once more, and then it will be once for all. Then we shall give them the quiet humble happiness of weak creatures such as they are by nature. Oh, we shall persuade them at last not to be proud, for Thou didst lift them up and thereby taught them to be proud. We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions. They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child's game, with children's songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient—and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: "Judge us if Thou canst and darest." Know that I fear Thee not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting "to make up the number." But I awakened and would not serve madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.'"


            Ivan stopped. He was carried away as he talked, and spoke with excitement; when he had finished, he suddenly smiled.


            Alyosha had listened in silence; towards the end he was greatly moved and seemed several times on the point of interrupting, but restrained himself. Now his words came with a rush.


            "But... that's absurd!" he cried, flushing. "Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him—as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That's not the idea of it in the Orthodox Church.... That's Rome, and not even the whole of Rome, it's false-those are the worst of the Catholics the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!... And there could not be such a fantastic creature as your Inquisitor. What are these sins of mankind they take on themselves? Who are these keepers of the mystery who have taken some curse upon themselves for the happiness of mankind? When have they been seen? We know the Jesuits, they are spoken ill of, but surely they are not what you describe? They are not that at all, not at all.... They are simply the Romish army for the earthly sovereignty of the world in the future, with the Pontiff of Rome for Emperor... that's their ideal, but there's no sort of mystery or lofty melancholy about it.... It's simple lust of power, of filthy earthly gain, of domination-something like a universal serfdom with them as masters-that's all they stand for. They don't even believe in God perhaps. Your suffering Inquisitor is a mere fantasy."


            "Stay, stay," laughed Ivan. "how hot you are! A fantasy you say, let it be so! Of course it's a fantasy. But allow me to say: do you really think that the Roman Catholic movement of the last centuries is actually nothing but the lust of power, of filthy earthly gain? Is that Father Paissy's teaching?"


            "No, no, on the contrary, Father Paissy did once say something rather the same as you... but of course it's not the same, not a bit the same," Alyosha hastily corrected himself.


            "A precious admission, in spite of your 'not a bit the same.' I ask you why your Jesuits and Inquisitors have united simply for vile material gain? Why can there not be among them one martyr oppressed by great sorrow and loving humanity? You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain-if there's only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God's creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined—the clever people. Surely that could have happened?"


            "Joined whom, what clever people?" cried Alyosha, completely carried away. "They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets.... Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that's all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that's his secret!"


            "What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It's perfectly true, it's true that that's the whole secret, but isn't that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, 'incomplete, empirical creatures created in jest.' And so, convinced of this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefore accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy. And note, the deception is in the name of Him in Whose ideal the old man had so fervently believed all his life long. Is not that tragic? And if only one such stood at the head of the whole army 'filled with the lust of power only for the sake of filthy gain'—would not one such be enough to make a tragedy? More than that, one such standing at the head is enough to create the actual leading idea of the Roman Church with all its armies and Jesuits, its highest idea. I tell you frankly that I firmly believe that there has always been such a man among those who stood at the head of the movement. Who knows, there may have been some such even among the Roman Popes. Who knows, perhaps the spirit of that accursed old man who loves mankind so obstinately in his own way, is to be found even now in a whole multitude of such old men, existing not by chance but by agreement, as a secret league formed long ago for the guarding of the mystery, to guard it from the weak and the unhappy, so as to make them happy. No doubt it is so, and so it must be indeed. I fancy that even among the Masons there's something of the same mystery at the bottom, and that that's why the Catholics so detest the Masons as their rivals breaking up the unity of the idea, while it is so essential that there should be one flock and one shepherd.... But from the way I defend my idea I might be an author impatient of your criticism. Enough of it."


            "You are perhaps a Mason yourself!" broke suddenly from Alyosha. "You don't believe in God," he added, speaking this time very sorrowfully. He fancied besides that his brother was looking at him ironically. "How does your poem end?" he asked, suddenly looking down. "Or was it the end?"


            "I meant to end it like this. When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: 'Go, and come no more... come not at all, never, never!' And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away."


            "And the old man?"


            "The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea."

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