Published on 11 Jul 2015
Thirty-nine days after the disastrous Nika Riots ended with the slaughter of 30,000 civilians, Justinian directed the city to rebuild the Hagia Sophia. Together, they built an even greater cathedral — but Justinian was not satisfied. He was called a Roman emperor, but he did not rule Rome itself. He resolved to reconquer the west, starting with Carthage in Africa, which had been conquered by Vandal tribes and turned into the seat of their budding empire. When the cousin of the Vandal king overthrew him for being pro-Roman and a follower of Rome’s orthodox Christianity, Justinian had his excuse for war. He stirred up rebellion in the Vandal colonies, creating a distraction while he sent his general Belisarius to Carthage with a small army of men. Belisarius landed successfully and moved on Carthage, winning the support of the local people on his way. Gelimer teamed up with his brothers in two separate attempts to crush Belisarius and drive him out of Carthage, but after both of his brothers died, Gelimer lost his will to fight. He broke, and the Vandal resistance broke with him. Justinian awarded Belisarius a triumph, the greatest honor a Roman general could receive, but it would turn out to be the last formal triumph Rome would ever see.
August 18, 2015
August 5, 2015
Germany’s decision to embark on an ambitious naval programme has occupied a commanding position in the literature on the origins of the First World War. Viewed with hindsight, it might appear to foreshadow, or even perhaps to explain, the conflict that broke out in 1914. Wasn’t the decision to challenge British naval hegemony a needless provocation that permanently soured relations between the two states and deepened the polarization of the European system?
There are many criticisms one can make of German naval strategy, the most serious being that it was not embedded in a broader policy concept, beyond the quest for a free hand in world affairs. But the new naval programme was neither an outrageous nor an unwarranted move. The Germans had ample reason to believe that they would not be taken seriously unless they acquired a credible naval weapon. It should not be forgotten that the British were accustomed to using a rather masterful tone in their communications with the Germans. In March 1897, for example, a meeting took place between the assistant under-secretary at the British Foreign Office, Sir Francis Bertie, known as “the Bull” for his aggressive manner, and the chargé d’affaires and acting German ambassador in London, Baron Hermann von Eckardstein. In the course of their discussion, Eckardstein, a notorious Anglophile who dressed in the manner of Edward VII and loved to be seen about the London clubs, touched on the question of German interests in southern Africa. Bertie’s response came as a shock. Should the Germans lay so much as a finger on the Transvaal, Bertie declared, the British government would not stop at any step, “even the ultimate” (an unmistakable reference to war), to “repel any German intervention”. “Should it come to a war with Germany,” he went on, “the entire English nation would be behind it, and a blockade of Hamburg and Bremen and the annihilation of German commerce on the high seas would be child’s play for the English fleet.”
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
June 17, 2015
Published on 6 Jun 2015
BONUS! Learn about the Boer Wars and what happened in South Africa during World War I thanks to our friends at the Great War Channel!
THE GREAT WAR Special: http://bit.ly/1HQxP9x
Lord Chelmsford, the British officer who commanded during the Anglo-Zulu War, vastly underestimated the power and aggression of the Zulu people. He split his army into three separate columns and left one of them stationed at Isandlwana while he searched for Zulu armies on the field. Meanwhile 20,000 Zulus were already flanking his force, but because Lord Chelmsford had not even ordered them to fortify the camp, the Zulu force swept through the ranks and destroyed the British army at Isandlwana. A small group of survivors fled to the hospital at Rorke’s Drift where officer James Dalton organized a desperate defense. Cetshwayo’s half-brother, ignoring orders to halt his pursuit, stormed the hospital with his small force and lost disastrously. Despite this, the main Zulu army continued to hand defeats to the British army until finally the British government stepped in to reinforce them with artillery and extra soldiers. Finally, Great Britain succeeded in capturing both the Zulu capitol at Ulundi and King Cetshwayo himself. They divided Zulu territory into 12 small kingdoms that quickly fell into civil war. Out of desperation, they returned Cetshwayo to the throne, but too late: a rival attacked and killed him. His son Dinuzulu allied with the Boers in an attempt to regain power and independence, but the British seized this excuse to finally annex Zulu land for good in 1887.
June 16, 2015
Published on 30 May 2015
Europe had a presence in South Africa dating back to 1652, but the colonies and the native tribes really began to clash in the 1800s. The conquest of the Netherlands by Napoleon had left the Dutch colonists in a state of limbo, with the British claiming authority over them despite their homeland being ruled by the French. Many of these settlers, known as the Boers, moved inland to escape British oversight and pushed into land owned by the Zulus. Mpande, the new Zulu leader, attempted to keep the peace between the British and the Boers, but the treaties he negotiated on both sides only led to further conflict. Eventually, his son Cetshwayo peacefully took power over the Zulus around the same time that the Europeans discovered diamonds in South Africa. The government of Great Britain took an even greater interest in South Africa, stepping in to try to bribe or force the reluctant natives to work the diamond mines established by European mining firms. Secretary of State Lord Carnarvon, who was responsible for the unification of colonies in Canada, made it his mission to unify the South African colonies and appointed Henry Bartle Frere as his governor and representative. Bartle Frere removed the local Capetown government, who had been largely sympathetic to the native peoples and opposed his harsh unification policies, then issued harsh and intentionally impossible demands against the Zulu. Cetshwayo refused to accept these demands, and thus began the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
June 15, 2015
Published on 23 May 2015
Shaka sought vengeance for Dingiswayo on Zwide and the Ndwandwe. He expanded his control over the Mtethwa and other tribes, then launched his assault on the Ndwandwe. Shaka scored two crushing victories over the course of an eighteen month war, although Zwide escaped both times. Shaka invaded the main Ndwandwe village, capturing Zwide’s mother and burning her to death in place of her son. Shaka had won the war, but the people he pushed out created a ripple of instability across Africa: the Mfecane or the Crushing. Shaka himself became dangerously disturbed when his mother died and he began to take his grief out on his people. His brothers assassinated him to take the throne, leading to a new king: Dingane. Dingane began to treat with the Dutch colonists in South Africa, but what began as a friendly relationship became a betrayal when he turned on them. Dingane attacked their wagon train at the Battle of Bloody River, but the Dutch with their guns held him off. The Dutch then threw their support behind Dingane’s last surviving brother, Mpande, who successfully overthrew him and became the new Zulu king.
June 14, 2015
Published on 16 May 2015
With no written records from the Zulus themselves, historians and anthropologists have pieced together their history from a smattering of sources. We first learn of the Zulu as a minor tribe of the Bantu people, living in South Africa. Shaka Zulu, the man who would organize them into an empire, was born the illegitimate son of a Zulu king. He was sent away with his mother Nandi to grow up in her tribe, the Langeni, but he eventually caught the attention of Dingiswayo, the leader of another powerful tribe called the Mtethwa. Appointed as the leader of a squadron called an ibutho, Shaka developed new tactics including a short “iklwa” fighting spear and a simple but effective military maneuever called “the Bull Horn.” When his father died, Shaka – now a successful military leader – returned with Dingiswayo’s backing to assassinate the rightful heir and assume control of his native tribe. Just a year later, though, the neighboring Ndwandwe tribe murdered Dingiswayo and Shaka vowed revenge on their leader, Zwide. He then launched a bloody war that, combined with the strains created by European colonization, led to the Mefacane, or the Crushing.
June 13, 2015
Published on 6 Jun 2015
Check out the Extra Credits Series on the native history of South Africa right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZLGK…
The history of South Africa was already influenced by ethnic tension between the natives and the recently arrived colonists from Great Britain and the Netherlands. The Boers had actually fought to wars with the Empire for self determination. Still, in World War 1 they fought for the King. South Africa saw major action in German East Africa against Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. But their troops were tested in Europe as well. For example in Delville Woods too where they fiercely fought agains the attacking German Army.
May 15, 2015
Published on 14 May 2015
The 2nd Battle of Ypres is still going but no side can gain a decisive advantage. The main reason on the British side is a lack of artillery ammunition. Even the delivered shells are not working correctly. But even the German supply lines are stretched thin. At the same time German South-West Africa falls to South African troops under Louis Botha.
February 21, 2015
Mark Steyn has read some history:
Before the civil war, Beirut was known as “the Paris of the east”. Then things got worse. As worse and worser as they got, however, it was not in-your-face genocidal, with regular global broadcasts of mass beheadings and live immolations. In that sense, the salient difference between Lebanon then and ISIS now is the mainstreaming of depravity. Which is why the analogies don’t apply. We are moving into a world of horrors beyond analogy.
A lot of things have gotten worse. If Beirut is no longer the Paris of the east, Paris is looking a lot like the Beirut of the west — with regular, violent, murderous sectarian attacks accepted as a feature of daily life. In such a world, we could all “stand to read” a little more history. But in Nigeria, when you’re in the middle of history class, Boko Haram kick the door down, seize you and your fellow schoolgirls and sell you into sex slavery. Boko Haram “could stand to read” a little history, but their very name comes from a corruption of the word “book” — as in “books are forbidden”, reading is forbidden, learning is forbidden, history is forbidden.
Well, Nigeria… Wild and crazy country, right? Oh, I don’t know. A half-century ago, it lived under English Common Law, more or less. In 1960 Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, second Governor-General of an independent Nigeria, was the first Nigerian to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Counsel. It wasn’t Surrey, but it wasn’t savagery.
Like Lebanon, Nigeria got worse, and it’s getting worser. That’s true of a lot of places. In the Middle East, once functioning states — whether dictatorial or reasonably benign — are imploding. In Yemen, the US has just abandoned its third embassy in the region. According to the President of Tunisia, one third of the population of Libya has fled to Tunisia. That’s two million people. According to the UN, just shy of four million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. In Iraq, Christians and other minorities are forming militias because they don’t have anywhere to flee (Syria? Saudia Arabia?) and their menfolk are facing extermination and their women gang-rapes and slavery.
These people “could stand to read” a little history, too. But they don’t have time to read history because they’re too busy living it: the disintegration of post-World War Two Libya; the erasure of the Anglo-French Arabian carve-up; the extinction of some of the oldest Christian communities on earth; the metastasizing of a new, very 21st-century evil combining some of the oldest barbarisms with a cutting-edge social-media search-engine optimization strategy.
February 12, 2015
Last month, Matt Ridley ran down the benefits to farmers, consumers, ecologists and the environment itself that the European Union has been resisting mightily all these years:
Scientifically, the argument over GM crops is as good as over. With nearly half a billion acres growing GM crops worldwide, the facts are in. Biotech crops are on average safer, cheaper and better for the environment than conventional crops. Their benefits accrue disproportionately to farmers in poor countries. The best evidence comes in the form of a “meta-analysis” — a study of studies — carried out by two scientists at Göttingen University, in Germany.
The strength of such an analysis is that it avoids cherry-picking and anecdotal evidence. It found that GM crops have reduced the quantity of pesticide used by farmers by an average of 37 per cent and increased crop yields by 22 per cent. The greatest gains in yield and profit were in the developing world.
If Europe had adopted these crops 15 years ago: rape farmers would be spraying far less pyrethroid or neo-nicotinoid insecticides to control flea beetles, so there would be far less risk to bees; potato farmers would not need to be spraying fungicides up to 15 times a year to control blight; and wheat farmers would not be facing stagnant yields and increasing pesticide resistance among aphids, meaning farmland bird numbers would be up.
Oh, and all that nonsense about GM crops giving control of seeds to big American companies? The patent on the first GM crops has just expired, so you can grow them from your own seed if you prefer and, anyway, conventionally bred varieties are also controlled for a period by those who produce them.
African farmers have been mostly denied genetically modified crops by the machinations of the churches and the greens, aided by the European Union’s demand that imports not be transgenically improved. Otherwise, African farmers would now be better able to combat drought, pests, vitamin deficiency and toxic contamination, while not having to buy so many sprays and risk their lives applying them.
I made this point recently to a charity that works with farmers in Africa and does not oppose GM crops but has so far not dared say so. Put your head above the parapet, I urged. We cannot do that, they replied, because we have to work with other, bigger green charities and they would punish us mercilessly if we broke ranks. Is the bullying really that bad? Yes, they replied.
Yet the Green Blob realises that it has made a mistake here. Not a financial mistake — it made a fortune out of donations during the heyday of stoking alarm about GM crops in the late 1990s — but the realisation that all it has achieved is to prolong the use of sprays and delay the retreat of hunger.
January 28, 2015
Published on 26 Jan 2015
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, also known as the Lion of Africa, was commander of the German colonial troops in German East Africa during World War 1. His guerilla tactics used againd several world powers of the time are considered to be one of the most successful military missions of the whole war. In Germany, he was celebrated as a hero until recently. But recent historical research show a picture much more controversial than the one of a glorious hero.
December 4, 2014
Paul Richard Huard has another in his series of blog posts on the weapons of the 20th century:
During the early morning of Oct. 25, 1893, a column of 700 soldiers from the British South African Police camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River.
While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force of up to 6,000 men — some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.
Among its weapons, the column possessed several Maxim machine guns. Once a bugler sounded the alert, the Maxims spun into action — and the results were horrific.
The Maxim gunners mowed down more than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman. As for the British column, it suffered four casualties.
The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare.
In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears. That is how Earth-shattering a weapon the Maxim gun was.
“The round numbers are suspicious,” C.J. Chivers wrote in The Gun, his history of automatic weapons. “But the larger point is unmistakable. A few hundred men with a few Maxims had subdued a king and his army, and destroyed the enemy’s ranks. Hiram Maxim’s business was secure.”
November 30, 2014
Tim Worstall explains that the fuss and bother in European newspapers about the “market failure” in the chocolate supply is actually a governmental failure (a market sufficiently bothered by legislation and regulation):
The last few days have seen us regaled with a series of stories about how the world is going to run out of chocolate. That would be, I think we can all agree, almost as bad as running out of bacon. So it’s worth thinking through the reasons as to why we might be running out. After all, cocoa, from which chocolate is made, is a plant, it’s obviously renewable in that it grows each season. So how can we be running out of something we farm? The answer is, in part at least, that there’s some bad public policy at the root of this. As there usually is when something that shouldn’t happen does.
Here’s the basic story in a nutshell:
A recent chocolate shortage has seen cocoa farmers unable to keep up with the public’s insatiable appetite for the treat–and the world’s largest chocolate producers, drought, Ebola and a fungal disease may all be to blame.
Much of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa so the disruption by the Ebola outbreak is one obvious part of it. But the shortage is not something immediate, it’s something that has been coming for some years. Ebola is right now, not a medium term influence. Drought similarly, that’s a short term thing, and this is a medium term problem. It’s also true that as the world gets richer more people can afford and thus desire that delicious chocolate.
Ahhh…the government is paying the farmers £1 a kg or so and the market is indicating that supply and demand will balance at £1.88 a kg. So, what we’ve actually got here is some price fixing. And the price to the producers is fixed well below the market clearing price (although the government most certainly gets that market price). So, we’ve a wedge in between the prices that consumers are willing to pay for a certain volume and the price that the farmers get for production. So, therefore, instead of it being the price that balances supply and demand we end up with an imbalance of the supply and demand as a result of the price fixing.
This is how it always goes, of course, whenever anyone tries to fix a price. If that price is fixed above the market clearing one then producers make more than anyone wants to consume (think the EU and agriculture, leading to butter mountains and wine lakes). If the price is fixed below the market clearing one then producers don’t make as much as people want to consume. This is why it’s near impossible to get an apartment anywhere where there is rent control. And if prices are fixed at the market clearing price then why bother in the first place? Quite apart from the fact that we’ve got to use the market itself to calculate the market clearing price.
November 22, 2014
In The Diplomat, James R. Holmes says that we can learn a lot about fighting infectious diseases like ebola by reading what Thucidides wrote about the plague that struck Athens during the opening stages of the Peloponnesian War:
Two panelists from our new partner institution, a pair of Africa hands, offered some striking reflections on the fight against Ebola.
Their presentations put in me in the mind of … classical Greece. Why? Mainly because of Thucydides. Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War isn’t just a (partly) eyewitness account of a bloodletting from antiquity; it’s the Good Book of politics and strategy. Undergraduates at Georgia used to look skeptical when I told them they could learn ninety percent of what they needed to know about bareknuckles competition from Thucydides. The remainder? Technology, tactics, and other ephemera. Thucydides remains a go-to source on the human factor in diplomacy and warfare.
But I digress. Ancient Greece suffered its own Ebola outbreak, a mysterious plague that struck Athens oversea during the early stages of the conflict. And the malady struck, perchance, at precisely the worst moment for Athens, after “first citizen” Pericles had arranged for the entire populace of Attica, the Athenian hinterland, to withdraw within the city walls. The idea was to hold the fearsome Spartan infantry at bay with fixed fortifications while the Athenian navy raided around the perimeter of the Spartan alliance.
That’s where the parallel between then and now becomes poignant. Thucydides notes, for example, that doctors died “most thickly” from the plague. The Brown presenters noted that, likewise, public-health workers in Africa — doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers — are among the few to deliberately make close contact with the stricken. Relief teams, consequently, take extravagant precautions to quarantine the disease within makeshift facilities while shielding themselves from contagion. Sometimes these measures fail.
Now as in ancient Greece, furthermore, the prospect of disease and death deters some would-be healers altogether from succoring the afflicted. Selflessness has limits. Some understandably remain aloof — today as in Athens of yesteryear.
Teams assigned to bury the slain also find themselves in dire peril. Perversely, the dead from Ebola are more contagious than living hosts. That makes disposing of bodies in sanitary fashion a top priority. As the plague ravaged Athens, similarly, corpses piled up in the streets. No one would perform funeral rites — even in this deeply religious society. Classicist Victor Davis Hanson ascribes some of Athens’ barbarous practices late in the war — such as cutting off the hands of captured enemy seamen to keep them from returning to war — in part to the plague’s debasing impact on morals, ethics, and religion.
November 19, 2014
Tim Worstall unexpectedly finds himself on the same side of an economic and political question as a Green Party politician from Zambia:
This strikes me as being one of the very few good ideas that has been put forward at any recent election in any country that I’m aware of. A Zambian politician has decided that, given that the world seems to be moving toward legal medical marijuana at least, if not full legalisation, then that country should make use of its comparative and absolute advantage in growing the stuff and thus supply it to the rest of the world. […]
It’s slightly disconcerting to find myself agreeing with a politician, let alone one from the Green Party, but as I say this strikes me as an excellent policy.
Let’s start from the beginning: all of us liberals (whether economic or social liberals) agree that allowing people to legally toke is a thoroughly good idea. The drug itself is almost entirely harmless (obviously less so than tobacco for example, and those stories about it bringing on schizophrenia and the like are more to do with people becoming schizophrenic self-medicating than anything else) and being banged up in a jail cell, convicted of a felony, for having possession of a joint or two is going to do far more harm to your life chances than actually smoking them.
If we’re going to agree to that (and I agree people not liberals of any flavour may not) then similarly clearly we would like the best dope we can get at the lowest possible price. Given that this is true of every other product we consume it’s going to be true of this one too. And that means that if other places around the world can produce it better, or more cheaply, or some combination of the two, than we can then we should be trading with them.