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Slander, libel, free speech and duels

A point of contention between libertarians concerns slander and libel. Those who insist on natural rights, say that these cannot be considered crime as they do not invade anyone's property. Indeed, other people's opinion of X is not X's property. On the other hand, consequentialists argue that slander and libel create actual and sometimes measurable damage to an individual or a corporation. However, we have no way to know if the person originating the slander and libel did actually harm X, no one knows what would have happened if he hadn't done it... maybe X, instead of staying home making phone calls to his lawyers would have stepped out and be hit by a car. Read more »

Gut feelings

It occurred to me the other day that we reason with our gut much more often than we let on. I think it is regrettable that intuitionism is taken as seriously as it is - intuitions ought only provide a useful check for a line of reasoning rather than a trump card - and I favour critical rationalism but I have recognised a form of reasoning which can often be "ret-conned" as critical rationalism but when examined takes the form of post-rationalising a gut feeling. Example: in my professional work as an architect I often have to deal with suggestions that I "just know" are a bad idea and find myself constructing a line of reasoning to show that it is indeed a bad idea. If it's the case that, upon reflection, there isn't a good reason for my initial instinct, I'm happy to defer to reason but the point is that for every properly set out chain of reasoning leading to a conclusion a lot of the time there's probably an initial gut feeling which inspired the argument in the first place.

Psychology: Sound Science or Conformist Weapon?

Psychology is a rather young field. It most certainly is not a medical science. Indeed, up until around the beginning of the 20th century, it was nothing more than vague notions and questionable philosophical biases. It is questionable as to wether or not psychology is still more or less the same today. Afterall, it has not been much more than one single century that it has been seriously persued as a science (which is nothing compared to fields such as physics and math, which go back multiple centuries and even millenia) and many of these persuits in themselves are most definitely blunders. The actual medical study of the brain is an entirely separate field from psychology. Psychology is the study of the mind, which is an intangible thing. Psychology is, at best, a highly underdeveloped social science. At worst, it is simply the personal delusions and means of empowerment for men in ivory towers.

It must be pointed out that psychology as a field has an inherent paradox, weakness or loophole within it. Essentially, "the mind" is no less of a philosophical thing to be studying then "the soul" or "the will". If another man tells you that he knows why you acted in a certain way better than you yourself did (I.E. that he knows your will better than you do), there is a 99.99% chance that the man is completely full of it. The mind is not something that was can realistically penetrate with 100% accuracy. We cannot completely deterministically predict the nature and behavior of people's minds with mathematical formulas or testing. Humans are not telepaths, capable of reading eachother's minds, and as such, neither are psychologists. The idea that we can reduce the mind to statistics and actually learn something meaningful from this is nonsense.

The mind is incapable of being measured. Even in seemingly non-tangible or "invisible" areas of science, things can be measured and scientifically observed. Gravity can be measured. Inertia can be measured. Speed can be measured. Time can be measured. Yet the mind cannot be measured. This is what gives psychology such a flimsy basis to begin with. The mind is completely immeasurable by the methods of the natural sciences. As such, the claim that a bunch of men can measure the mind is questionable at best. It is simply impossible to truly "study" the mind in any real scientific sense. It is practically immune to observation. In short, psychology is trapped from the start in that it is impossible to apply any pre-existing scientific methodology to the mind. The mind is intangible to the point where you cannot apply direct observation and traditional scientific methodology to it. Read more »

On private universities

Along with roads and defense, education often comes as a necessary output of the State. Even Hayek claims that, since we need to be educated to value education, it has to be compulsory. I will not go into the details of the implication of State controlled education, nor will I discuss the question of compulsory education. I want to focus on a slightly different question, the cost of universities. There are various statist arguments around State funded universities, based on different angles

- Universities produce positive externalities, a country needs to be smart (although knowledgeable would be more appropriate) to develop, thus we need to finance education.
- Paying universities increases inequalities since rich people get to have education while poor people don't, thus creating an endless separation.
- (Combination of both) It's unfair that smart but poor students have to pay, providing them with free education is necessary.

All of the goals stated in these arguments can actually be fulfilled with greater efficiency by the free market. There are four ways by which university education is funded. Direct payment, grants, work, loans.

Direct payment is of course the easiest. The student's parents will save money in order to pay for the children education. Although this system makes them, it is doubtful it will convince leftist. They'll argue that the poors still can't afford it, come up with the paternalistic argument that parents don't know what's good for their children or argue that relying on ones parents is an unacceptable tyranny.

Grants work fine... basically you're given money by a generous entity. Arguing for grants is like arguing for private charity, it's doomed to fail - as an argument - because no one can actually know the amount that would be spent in charity, men are greedy, etc.

Working is another possibility, but it's not always easy to work and study at the same time. It puts students who cannot rely on direct payment at a disadvantage and there comes the same argument again.

Of all the payments method, the loan is probably the healthiest. It highlights education as an investment. Why should you pay for your education?
a) Because you want to be educated, for your own pleasure
b) To be more successful in your life, make more money

In the first case, education is pure consumption, at that point few people will argue for the need of "free" education. The second case sheds an interesting light on education as investment. The cost of studying becomes a market price signal to know if it's a good idea to study or not.

One problem remains, lending represents a low risk to the bank, since loans are aggregated and collateral can be required. However, it represents a huge risk to the student. If you don't plan on defaulting, you know you'll have to pay a fixed cash flow in the future, but depending on your future, the disutility could be very different. If your studies succeed and you make tons of money, repaying the loan is nothing, if you don't, you face a lot of nights eating spaghettis.

How do we remove this risk? By replacing debt with equity. A student could issue shares of his future work and sell them to ventures capitalists, or rather students capitalists planning to cash in on his future income. However, this is impractical and the much more logical solution is to integrate this task with the university itself.

A university could offer students the choice of paying the whole cost upfront or agree to a future cash flow indexed on this income. For example, you could give up 10% of your income for the next 10 years in exchange for free education. You face absolutely no risk in doing so. Now the university faces the risk that you will choose not to become a doctor but to start living a simple life raising goats. Venture capitalists protect from such thing by having a say in the direction the business is going, the university would only rely on the student's incentive to do something with his life. Maybe he can contractually agree to seek work or pay a fee etc.

What would be the consequences if universities adopted this mean of payment

- The best students would get lower rates since they are likely to make more money, thus the system becomes meritocratic
- Anyone could afford the studies, at no risk to him
- The rates would reflect market demand for specific job and thus create incentive to adapt the supply. If there are too much university educated persons, the universities forecasts that wages will go down and raise their rates. If the universities expects a higher demand for biologists, the rates for biologist fall and more students will opt for biology.

Having a plain upfront price doesn't reflect the market at all and leaves the forecast to the students, while private competing university might be better at it....

- The university has a very good incentive to provide excellent education. Instead of suffering from bad results indirectly, through reputation, they suffer direct financial damage if their education is not good enough.

This is how the free market could provide efficient, meritocratic, market driven universities.

Retrospective Predictions

I haven't had a chance to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "The Black Swan: The Impact of The Highly Improbable" yet, but I thought that Niall Ferguson's piece in the Telegraph last week, on it and how it relates to the coverage of the Virgina Tech massacre, was pretty eye-opening. The key insight is that there is a human cognitive bias which prevents us from appreciating improbable events - we tend to conflate improbable with impossible - and we are also naturally predisposed towards creating narratives or "retrospective predictions" for such events. It's easy (or rather facile) to see *now* the sequence of events leading to Cho's rampage and it's an easy trap to fall into to (incorrectly) assume that this sequence should have been obvious before the massacre.

By chance a similar discussion about a "family annihilation" has been taking place here in Ireland: Adrian Dunne killed his two young daughters and his wife (the official line is that she wasn't herself involved with the planning and implementation of these killings) before hanging himself. Most of the debate centres around what could and should have been done by the authorities to prevent this tragedy: Dunne had visited a funeral home shortly before and had ordered four coffins and given detailed instructions for the funeral in the event that an "accident" took place. The popular, and in my view incorrect, assumption seems to be that this event was utterly predictable given the (now) compelling narrative leading up to it.

Online discussion ennui

I used to blog at Internet Commentator but have let that pretty much lapse. The principal reason for neglecting it was the overwhelming sense of ennui which had begun to descend (almost) every time I considered any kind of internet commentary, whether by blogging, or even just commenting on websites. This ennui stems from a growing awareness - thanks to discussions here and posts at blogs such as Overcoming Bias - of both my own capacity for bias and - from all sorts of online discussions - of how tenacious and irrationally held many entrenched beliefs are.

The key implication of the former insight is that it's worth checking for over-confidence in the correctness of your opinions and your assessment of the opinions and motivations of your opponents. It's not so much that I'm embarrassed by my blog postings between 2003 and 2006 but I have had cause to revise my opinions on some issues. I don't think that I was overly uncharitable to those with whom I disagreed and if anything my cynicism towards political "activists" has even deepened, but I do think I could have tried harder, say in the case of Iraq, to find the best possible argument against my position as opposed to taking on the median argument or a biased interpretation of a better argument.

An implication of the latter insight is that most online discussions are futile and a wasteful use of precious time and energy. It's so easy to get sucked into a discussion, let it occupy a lot of your thinking and achieve nothing at the end of it save the pointless satisfaction of besting your opponent for the benefit of some hypothetical (and probably non-existent) "neutral" observer. It's not that I seek to restrict online discussions to an echo chamber populated by those with whom I already agree, far from it. It's just that I don't have any interested in getting sucked into debates with those who have entrenched opinions on the matter. Such entrenchment is mercifully rare here so I do hope to get involved.


Here are some things I might blog about:

  1. My unmarked power supply collection. I would describe them in detail and speculate about what device they were for. I have other collections I might want to talk about, such as my obsolete data cable collection and my old mouse and keyboard collection.
  2. Where did I put my cell phone/wallet/keys/power supply for this device? I don't have material every day for this but the topic comes up pretty regularly.
  3. Should I throw this item of clothing out, or can I still wear it for a while longer? With photographs. It has its built-in audience consisting of my grandmother, who will now be able to comment on what I wear no matter what country she's in. Also, is it time to throw out this power supply?
  4. Should I get up? I face this pressing question several times a day. Maybe it is finally time to share my thoughts on it with the world.

A Word from the Opposition

Joe Miller is a professor of philosophy. Or maybe a Democratic political consultant now---I didn't get an updated blurb. He maintains a blog at Bellum et Mores.

So here’s my dilemma: how do I, a non-classical liberal, a philosopher with very little in the way of economics background, an academic-turned (of all things)-Democratic political consultant go about writing a tribute to Milton Friedman? On an anarcho-capitalist blog with a readership far more knowledgeable about Dr. Friedman’s writings than I, no less. The answer: I don’t. Instead, I’m going to lament the extent to which Milton Friedman has made my own life far more difficult.

You see, back in the 1960s, we liberals were completely ascendant. Conservatives had, by and large, been banished to the John Bircher and white sheet wearing types. The New Deal had given way to the Great Society; egalitarianism and civil rights were breaking out everywhere; hell, even when the Republicans managed to win the Presidency, they did so by electing a wage-and-price-control Keynesian liberal. Yes, Conservatives were banished for good. Read more »

Two Hundred Years Later: The State of Liberalism After Mill

Joe Miller is a professor of philosophy at University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He maintains a blog at Bellum et Mores.

At the John Stuart Mill Bicentennial Conference in London last month, Peter Singer, in his keynote address, made a few comparisons between his own work and Mill. Such a talk may smack of hubris (it’s not, really, as one of the conference organizers specifically requested the topic), but the comparison may well be apt. We’ll know more in another 200 years. Regardless, it’s safe to say that Singer’s influence on contemporary moral and political philosophy is probably at least as great as was Mill’s influence on his own contemporaries.

Now I am far from playing in the same league as Mill—or Singer’s either, for that matter. But I’m going to go out on a limb and offer my own small connections to Mill: after spending more years than I like to admit writing a dissertation on Mill’s moral and political philosophy, in one of those great cosmic coincidences, I received my Ph.D. on 20 May 2001, Mill’s 195th birthday. Oh, and my first name is also John. That’s all I’ve got. But enough about me. This is Mill’s big day. Well, I guess it’s not so much his big day, what with him being dead and all. Still, we’re here to read about Mill.

So what, then, is the legacy of John Stuart Mill? That’s really hard to say. He’s claimed by nearly everyone—or at least by nearly everyone in the liberal camp. Isaiah Berlin offers remarkably sympathetic readings of Mill, while hugely influential liberals such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin incorporate (or import wholesale) portions of On Liberty into their own work. Joel Feinberg, in fact, has made the Harm Principle the centerpiece of his magnum opus, the four-volume set on the moral limits of criminal law (Harm to Others, Offense to Others, Harm to Self, and Harmless Wrongdoing).

It is not only contemporary liberals who claim Mill; indeed many interpreters see him more as the spiritual father of libertarianism. Hayek (at least the Hayek of the ‘40s and ‘50s) wrote somewhat approvingly of Mill. More recently, Nick Capaldi argues that Mill is best understood as a libertarian. Aeon Skoble offers a similar reading here. Or, if you’re not up for reading long academic papers, see here for a more concise summary of Mill’s claims to libertarian credentials. Read more »

<i>The Subjection of Women</i>: J.S. Mill on Equality of Women

Jimi Wilson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion, and a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a concentration in journalism, both earned at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in South Asian Religions at the University of Florida at Gainesville, and writes part time for The News-Journal in Raeford, NC.

I wish John Stuart Mill the happiest of birthdays. His contributions toward the furthering of philosophical discourse and human wellbeing are incalculable. (Okay, not entirely incalculable—there is felicitous calculus—but it’s a pretty big project.)

While Mill’s works have, over time, been subject to criticism for the occasional fallacy; the errant empirical misstep; and the just plain wrong-headed, muffin-esque tendencies—observable among the works of the other brilliant thinkers from Aristotle to Newton to Einstein—modern readers will surely note the freshness of many of his ideas and the crispness of his prose. Indeed the very soundness of much of his philosophy, coupled with a genuine humanness in his response to the world around him, lends his work an immediacy and poignancy, uncommon to philosophers of his day, that modern readers can not only appreciate, but from which we can learn from and apply to ethics today. And while many of his proposals seem self-evident to modern readers, this is precisely because so many of his suggestions were successfully applied.

Of course we have Mill to thank for the formalization of the pleasure and harm principles, as well his improvements on the fuzzy and politically impractical Benthamite conception of utilitarianism—created in a historical and sociological vacuum, as it were. Less celebrated are Mill’s writings in favor of women’s emancipation—works which were no doubt largely influenced and/or co-written by his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill.

This essay isn’t meant to make a philosophical argument—as Joe Miller does here—so much as it is meant to give credit where I believe it is due. Read more »

Secure the Borders for the Birthday Boy

Richard Clancy is a double major in Philosophy and Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He just returned from an internship with Sen. Richard Burr during the spring semester.

In light of his bicentennial birthday, let us afford to Mr. Mill the opportunity to express his views regarding the debate over border security and illegal immigration. Unfortunately, Mill has very little to say on the subject of immigration, legal or not. During his time, the fluctuations in the English population (those not due to natural birth and death) were mainly from the practice of emigration and colonization- England is a dreary place and people wanted to leave. He did, however, make clear his position on national character and national security.

For Mill, the bounded nation-state was essential for a free, liberal society to flourish. Underlying this was an assumption of the necessity of a shared political culture. In his Considerations on Representative Government he said:

Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the working of representative government cannot exist.

While we accept legal immigrants of many different nationalities, we do expect that they assimilate themselves into their new culture and identify with their new nation. (It is our own fault that we have not declared English as our official language.) And in all but a few dual-citizenship situations, we even demand that immigrants renounce their foreign citizenship to be recognized as a citizen of this country. If a country doesn’t have the right to decide with whom it shares its people, then it has no rights at all. Illegal immigration not only denies the right of our country to decide with whom we share our people, our culture, our way of life, and our freedoms, it is a direct threat to them.

One might expect, from his Utilitarian viewpoint, that Mill would be little concerned with borders when it came to how one should act towards his fellow man. In fact his mentor, Jeremy Bentham, espoused a view of universalism. But Mill criticized Bentham’s universalism claiming that it was superseded by national character. He says:

That which alone causes any material interests to exist, which alone enables any body of human beings to exist as a society, is national character: that it is, which causes one nation to succeed in what it attempts, another to fail; one nation to understand and aspire to elevated things, another to grovel in mean ones; which makes the greatness of one nation lasting, and dooms another to early and rapid decay… A philosophy of laws and institutions, not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an absurdity. (“Bentham”)

J.S. Mill and the Case for Liberal Intervention<sup>1</sup>

Joe Miller is a professor of philosophy at University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He maintains a blog at Bellum et Mores.

Inspired by Rick’s application of Mill to contemporary controversies, I’d like to examine a somewhat neglected, though these days quite relevant, aspect of Mill’s writings, namely, his case for colonialism. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not at all interested in defending Mill’s account of colonialism. And I realize the oddity of defending the idea of armed humanitarian intervention in this particular forum, particularly when much of my discussion is going to focus on intervention in failed states. What I am going to argue is that Mill’s arguments for colonialism can be usefully resuscitated as a guide for liberal intervention in states that have utterly failed, not in the anarcho-capitalism-private-institutions-have-replaced-the-state David Friedman kind of way, but rather in the people-are-butchering-each-other-in-the-streets Hobbesian kind of way.

As a number of posts have already mentioned, Mill’s Harm Principle famously prohibits the state from interfering with self-regarding actions. Less well known is that in 1859 (the year which saw the publication of On Liberty), Mill also wrote a short essay entitled “A Few Words on Non-Intervention.” There Mill applies the Harm Principle to international relations, arguing that the citizens of a nation cannot be forced to be free, and that liberty can flourish only where people “are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation.” Mill argues that only those who are capable of seizing liberty for themselves are ready for free institutions; history has shown that those who are given freedom by outsiders rarely keep that freedom for long. Thus, for Mill, intervention in the internal affairs of despotic nations is almost always prohibited.

But, as with OL, what Mill gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. Mill’s claims about non-intervention are not meant to apply to those he terms “barbarians.” (Mill, 1859a: 408-9). Tellingly, Mill makes a similar move in On Liberty, claiming there that the harm principle “is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties.” For Mill, nations have sovereignty by virtue of the fact that nations are collections of individuals. Since individual liberty is to be protected, for better or for worse, state sovereignty should likewise be protected. But Mill holds that some individuals, because of their particular circumstances, are not properly governed by the harm principle. Given this commitment, it is hardly surprising that Mill would also deny sovereignty to a state composed of individuals to whom the harm principle does not apply. Barbarians, for Mill, “have no rights as a nation, except a right to such treatment as may, at the earliest possible period,” fit them for becoming one (A Few Words).

Mill’s own account of who counts as a barbarian is plagued by a number of racist assumptions that were not uncommon in Mill’s social circles. For Mill, northern Europeans (along with their colonies and former colonies) were the pinnacle of civilization with societies becoming steadily more barbaric as one moved south and east. I’ve no desire whatsoever to defend Mill’s racism. What I propose is that we consider anew Mill’s distinction between ‘barbarian’ and ‘civilized’ nations. Although we are right to be wary of the colonialist implications of Mill’s choice of terms, the distinction that those terms represent is one that does have some plausibility. Mill’s error lies in his conflating ‘civilized’ with Europeans and ‘barbarians’ with pretty much everyone else. But Mill’s misuse of his labels is not in itself reason for rejecting the labels. Read more »

How Many Did Stalin Really Murder?

R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus at the Univerisity of Hawaii, estimates the true number of deaths attributable to Joseph Stalin. He is the author of Death by Government, and his website provides the evidence in detail for what he writes here. For more information on the death toll from communism, see "The Red Plague". He blogs regularly at Democratic Peace.

May Day is coming up, which used to be a day of celebration in the Soviet Union with an impressive show of weapons and infinitely long parade of soldiers. Perhaps, then, it would be appropriate to pay special attention on this day to the human cost of communism in this symbolic home of Marxism, and worldwide. This blog is on Stalin and the Soviet Union.

By far, the consensus figure for those that Joseph Stalin murdered when he ruled the Soviet Union is 20,000,000. You probably have come across this many times. Just to see how numerous this total is, look up “Stalin” and “20 million” in Google, and you will get 183,000 links. Not all settle just on the 20,000,000. Some links will make this the upper and some the lower limit in a range. Yet, virtually no one who uses this estimate has gone to the source, for if they did and knew something about Soviet history, they would realize that the 20,000,000 is a gross under estimate of what is likely the Stalin's true human toll.

The figure comes from the book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan 1968). In his appendix on casualty figures, he reviews a number of estimates of those that were killed under Stalin, and calculates that the number of executions 1936 to 1938 was probably about 1,000,000; that from 1936 to 1950 about 12,000,000 died in the camps; and 3,500,000 died in the 1930-1936 collectivization. Overall, he concludes:

Thus we get a figure of 20 million dead, which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so, as the debit balance of the Stalin regime for twenty-three years.

In all the times I've seen Conquest’s 20,000,000 reported, not once do I recall seeing his qualification attached to it.

Considering that Stalin died in 1953, note what Conquest did not include -- camp deaths after 1950, and before 1936; executions 1939-53; the vast deportation of the people of captive nations into the camps, and their deaths 1939-1953; the massive deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities 1941-1944; and their deaths; and those the Soviet Red Army and secret police executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during 1944-1945 is omitted. Moreover, omitted is the deadly Ukrainian famine Stalin purposely imposed on the region and that killed 5 million in 1932-1934. So, Conquest’s estimates are spotty and incomplete. Read more »

A Forgotten Odyssey

Romuald Lipinski is a survivor of the USSR, originally deported from Poland in the summer of 1941. He provides a general overview of the mass deportations from Poland to the USSR. A portion of his memoirs can be found here.

Public knowledge about deportations of Polish citizens from the territory occupied by Soviet Russia in 1939 is next to nil. Somehow, the world wants to forget about it. And yet, if we consider the size of the mass of people deported, it is an event that deserves more attention. These deportations took place between February 1940 and June 1941. They were carried out right up until Germany invaded Russia. Through my private correspondence with a resident of Brest Litovsk, I learned that the Russians were in a process of transporting Poles to the train waiting for them at the railroad station when German troops were seen advancing towards the town. The Russians left their trucks and ran for their lives leaving everything and everybody behind them.

There have been several attempts to establish the number of Polish citizens in Soviet Russia as a result of hostilities between Poland and the Soviet Government. It is not an easy task. Nobody knows exactly how many died there as a result of malnutrition, disease, executions, and other reasons. According to Zbigniew S. Siemaszko[1], Polish citizens who found themselves in Soviet Russia during the period of September 1939 and June 1941 can be divided into the following into the following groups:

1. Military personnel - 184,000 (12 percent of the total)
2. Civilians, jailed by the Soviets - 250,000 (15 percent)
3. Civilians deported with families (specposielency - "special deportees") - 990,000 (60 percent)
4. Drafted into the Red Army after invasion in 1939 - 210,000 (13 percent)

Total 1,634,000.

It is well known that about 22,500 of Polish officers were murdered by the NKVD. Officers, including 41 generals, were imprisoned in several locations: Starobielsk, Oshtashkovo and Kozielsk, Griazoviec and Pavlishchev Bor. About 4,500 of them were found in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, in a mass graves, each killed with a single shot in the back of the head. The graves were discovered by Germans when they occupied that area. Soviet authorities denied that the executions were carried out by the NKVD, but an international commission established that they took place sometimes in spring of 1940, thus at a time when this area was under Soviet jurisdiction. During the Nuremberg Trials, the Katyn massacre was on the agenda, but at the insistence of the Soviet government, there was no judgment in this case “due to lack of evidence”. The fate of the remaining 18,000 officers was never determined, and to this day, remains a mystery. Some sources say that they were loaded on barges and sunk in the North Sea. The enlisted men were placed in various locations, mainly as miners and road builders. Read more »