Published on 26 Sep 2016
Philippe Pétain already had a long military career when World War 1 broke out. And even during his peacetime service, his ideas were not always popular because they went against the old doctrines of the French Army. But during World War 1 he proofed his critiques wrong and became the Lion of Verdun who halted the German advance.
September 27, 2016
September 26, 2016
September 25, 2016
Published on 24 Sep 2016
Sitting in the Chair of Temporary Insanity, Indy talks about Galicia’s big role in war on Location, if Pilots were issued guns, and a story from a viewers great grandpa.
Some of us, in another forum, were discussing why UN peacekeeping seems to go so very wrong, so very often ~ not always, I hasten to add, just usually ~ and I quipped, with just a wee bit of hyperbole, that “Simple human decency says that a country like Canada should have dropped a light brigade into South Sudan and destroyed the South Sudanese Army in a short, brutal campaign of exemplary speed and violence … should have if we could have, but, of course, the Canadian Army is a fat, overstaffed, poorly managed corporal’s guard, that cannot deploy any brigade anywhere because we don’t have any nearly fully staffed brigades and even if we did they don’t have enough logistical “lift,” so they are useless once they have marched more than 15 km out of the camp gate … unless a country with a real army (you know, one with trucks and people a to drive them) decides to support and sustain us.“
Sadly no one, not even officers who have, fairly recently, commanded brigades in the regular army, challenged my assertion that the Canadian Army has been hollowed out until, now, it is a sort of military Potemkin village in which bits and pieces are deployed and redeployed to create the (entirely false) impression that we, Canadians, are getting a real army for the $20 billion or so that we spend, year after year after year, on out national defences.
The process began, in earnest, in about 1970, when, in response to quite draconian cuts imposed by Pierre Trudeau (but not, it has been suggested, as deep as he wished) the Canadian Forces began to try to “make do” with a “pint sized” brigade in Germany ~ when a full sized (6,500± soldiers) one was need by promising (and practising) to augment it with “fly-over” troops from Canada who were trained and equipped and could move, fairly quickly on to “pre-positioned” equipment … if it was properly maintained. It worked well enough, in a peacetime/training situation, except for the fact that we, eventually (early 1980s), understood that we could not sustain a brigade in Germany with “fly overs” when we needed the same troops to “fly over” to Norway to keep another promise, made to try to placate our allies about our deep defence cuts, and by the late 1980s the Norway task (promise) was quietly shelved (broken) about twenty years after it was started, and after a quite disastrous “test” (Exercise BRAVE LION) proved to civilian planners and military commanders alike that the Canadian Army (which was much larger than it is today) simply did not have the where-with-all (especially the logistical “tail”) needed to sustain “fly over” missions to Europe. But the damage was done … in twenty years, almost a generation, the Army, especially, had gotten used to “faking” its combat effectiveness with Potemkin village tactics.
Ted Campbell, “A Canadian Potemkin Village”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2016-09-15.
September 24, 2016
Published on 25 Aug 2016
Hiawatha wanted peace, but a more powerful chief named Tadodaho opposed him. So he joined forces with a man called the Peacemaker and a woman named Jigonsaseh, who dreamed of uniting the five Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations under one Great Law of Peace.
CORRECTION: Art for this series was incorrectly credited. This art was done by Lilienne Chan.
Long before Europeans arrived in North America, five nations formed a confederacy guided by a Constitution called the Great Law of Peace. Though they are often called Iroquois, their name for themselves is Haudenosaunee, People of the Long House. One of the founders of their confederacy was Hiawatha, an Onondaga chief who lived under the thumb of a brutal war chief named Tadodaho. Hiawatha attempted to convince all the other Onondaga that they should embrace peace, the way their neighbors the Mohawks recently had, but Tadodaho thwarted his efforts. Hiawatha left his home to travel to Mohawk territory and meet a man called the Peacemaker, who had brought peace to the Mohawk. He gave the Peacemaker a string of wampum beads to symbolize his desire for peace, and it soon became clear that they were kindred spirits. The Peacemaker wanted to bring the Five Nations, who had once been brothers, together in peace, and he joined forces with Hiawatha to make it happen. Their first goal: to recrut Jigonsaseh, a Seneca woman already famed for her efforts to establish small, local peace agreements between the warriors who frequented her long house. The Peacemaker described to her his plans for a government where women like her, as clan mothers, played an important role, and she embraced his message. Together they traveled to the Oneida to recruit their first ally. The Oneida debated the wisdom of accepting peace for a full year, but the Peacemaker’s passion convinced them and at last they joined. Hiawatha hoped that this alliance would impress Tadodaho enough to get him to join the peace as well, but when they returned to Onondaga territory, Tadodaho made it clear that he still had no interest in their peace. The Peacemaker encouraged Hiawatha to keep thinking about this problem, and meanwhile they traveled to recruit the Cayuga nation. As “little brothers” of the Onondaga, they had suffered greatly from Tadodaho’s demands, and an alliance with two other nations struck them as the perfect way to free themselves from him and create a new path for their people. Now only two tribes remained to recruit: the Seneca and the Onondaga.
September 23, 2016
Published on 22 Sep 2016
This week 100 years ago Manfred von Richthofen is credited with his first aerial victory on the Western Front. He shoots down a British airplane with his Albatross D.II. At the same time the Isonzo Front is in full swing again where Luigi Cadorna is leading another offensive.
September 21, 2016
Published on 10 Sep 2016
Special thanks to Mike Duncan for writing this episode! Check out his History of Rome podcast: http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/
Before Tiberius and Gracchus got famous, their father led such a break-out political career that it must have seemed impossible to live up to his legacy. Yet, his success set the stage for their falls…
Tiberius Gracchus the Elder has been overshadowed by his sons, but in his lifetime he had the most successful political career imaginable. Born just as the Second Punic War came to a close, he arrived on the political stage just in time to befriend the Scipio family during the Seleucid War. He secured a route of safe passage for their soldiers which led them to catch and defeat King Antiochus. The Scipios planted themselves in the east, dealing with the spoils of war and enriching themselves in the process. Upon their return to Rome, they were charged with corruption for accepting bribes, but Tiberius Gracchus the Elder had just been elected tribune of the plebs, and he voted their trial entirely. Scipio Africanus rewarded him by giving him the hand of Cornelia, his daughter and an amazing woman in her own right. Tiberius Gracchus went on the be elected aedile, and threw such lavish public games that the Senate passed a law restricting future games. It worked for him, though: he won his next election and became a praetor assigned to nearer Spain, where he launched a fierce and successful military campaign buffered by a land redistribution effort. In that way, he solved the underlying problems of poverty among the Celtiberians and secured peace for 25 years. For his success, he received a triumph and was elected consul, two of the highest honors in Roman politics. But here he played a dangerous game. Already allied with the Scipiones, he served as consul alongside their family’s biggest rival: a Claudius. He won the game and formed a relationship that would later provide his sons with important allies. Next he went to Sardinia to protect against rebellious tribes, and again he succeeded. The Gracchi name was now honored in both Spain and Sardinia, a legacy his sons would rely upon. This won him a second triumph and a role as censor, after which he joined a traveling embassy of senators to assess Rome’s client kingdoms. Tiberius Gracchus used this opportunity to forge friendships with foreign kings, like the King of Pergamum who would one day form a key part of Tiberius’s efforts to redistribute land. Finally, he won a second consulship, but here he made the mistake of screwing over a man whose son would one day lead the assault that killed Tiberius in the forum. At the end of his days, Tiberius Gracchus the Elder wasn’t just a prominent senator, but one of the most powerful men in Rome. It was the duty of a son to surpass the fame of his father, which must have seemed impossible… but Tiberius and Gracchus, building on the legacy he left, did exactly that.
P.S. If you’ve read this far, we think it’s only fair we tell you that Mike Duncan is aware the proper Latin name for the Scipio family is “Scipiones” but he allowed us to shorten it to “Scipios” to make it easier for non-Latin speakers to understand. Cheers!
September 20, 2016
Published on 19 Sep 2016
Cinemas were already pretty popular when World War 1 broke out in 1914. After initial hesitation all warring nations started to embrace the new mass medium for their propaganda. Since it was technically difficult deliver the authentic material the audiences wanted, the films were mostly staged. Film scripts opened the opportunity to transport any message about the war to a mass audience.
September 18, 2016
Published on 17 Sep 2016
Sitting in the Chair of Temporary Insanity, Indy talks about officers tricking their own men, the relationships between them and how criminals were treated in the first world war.
September 17, 2016
Published on 3 Sep 2016
The Senate stole credit for all Gaius’s proposals, and stole his popular support. Once he failed to win re-election for tribune, the Senate repealed his reforms. Gaius organized a protest, but the Senate brought it down with armed force and killed Gaius. Not a century later, the Republic would fall.
Gaius made a series of proposals to ease the strains on the poor people in Rome, such as new Roman colonies to ease overcrowding or renting public land to the people. The Senate, led by a man named Livius Drusus, decried him for pandering, only to implement those ideas themselves, take all the credit, and make sure that Gaius got to have no involvement with the administration of these popular public programs. Public support drained from Gaius, and he struggled to find a comeback. When he ran for a third term as tribune, he lost. With Gaius no longer a threat, the Senate started repealing all of the forms he’d fought for. Gaius organized a mob to protest these repeals, but one of his supporters got in a fight with a Senatorial supporter and killed him. The Senate seized this opportunity to declare martial law the next day. In response, Gaius planned a peaceful occupation of the Aventine Hill. The Senate sent representatives to negotiate with him, but they demanded Gaius and his closest supporters give themselves up, and his supporters refused. With no resolution in sight, the Senatorial faction had archers begin to fire into the crowd. Gaius and his supporters fled, but he did not escape: Gaus was caught and captured, his head taken for a bounty and his body thrown into to the Tiber River. The Senate congratulation itself for defeating him by building a temple to Concord, but an anonymous citizen graffiti tagged it as “The Work of Mad Discord.” A deep rift had been opened, and the Republic never managed to close it. The reforms proposed by the Gracchi were right and necessary, but extreme factions, fearmongering, a rhetoric of violence, and abuse of the letter of the law all deteriorated the democracy that held Rome together. Less than a century after Gaius falls, so does the Roman Republic.
At Samizdata, Patrick Crozier gets all contrarian about the tank in a post he titles “Haig’s greatest mistake”:
On 15 September 1916 tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette, one of the many engagements which took place during the Battle of the Somme.
The battle marked the beginning of a sorry chapter in British military history because the truth – a truth that to this day few seem prepared to acknowledge – is that the First World War tank was useless.
The list of its failings is lengthy. It was slow, it was unreliable, it had no suspension and it was horrible to operate. The temperature inside was typically over 100°F and as exhaust gases built up so crew effectiveness collapsed. It was also highly vulnerable. Field artillery could take it out easily. Even rifle ammunition could be effective against it. While normal bullets might not be able to penetrate the armour they could knock off small pieces of metal from the inside – known as spall – which then whizzed round the interior wounding all and sundry.
That the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill from his days as head of the Admiralty should have alerted senior commanders to the possibility that it was yet another of his crackpot schemes. But they persisted. For his part, Haig being a technophile put a huge amount of faith in the new invention. His diary is littered with references to the tank and he seems to have made great efforts to secure ever more of them. In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end when it would have been far better spent on guns, shells and fuzes.
Not that such efforts were ever likely to satisfy the snake-oil salesmen who made up the ranks of the tank enthusiasts. In the face of tank failure after tank failure they simply claimed that their beloved weapon just wasn’t being used properly.
September 16, 2016
Published on 15 Sep 2016
For years the British had developed the idea of the “landship” or tank and now it was finally ready for the first deployment during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. And even though technical problems plagued the new invention, the British leadership was confident that this new weapon would break the stalemate at the Western Front for good. In the meantime Germany was focusing all offensive efforts on the Romanian front to mercilessly crush the new enemy.
September 15, 2016
Toward the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the governor of Georgia was a white trash dingbat named Lester Maddox – who is still with us, in one crude form or another – and when the curtain finally falls on George Wallace, he will probably go down in history as the Greatest Thief of them all. Wallace was the first Southern politician to understand that there are just as many mean, stupid bigots above the Mason-Dixon Line as there are below it, and when he made the shrewd decision to “go national”‘ in 1968, he created an Alabama-based industry that has since made very rich men of himself and a handful of cronies. For more than a decade, George Wallace has bamboozled the national press and terrified the ranking fixers in both major parties. In 1968, he took enough Democratic votes from Hubert Humphrey to elect Richard Nixon, and if he had bothered to understand the delegate selection process in 1972, he could have prevented McGovern’s nomination and muscled himself into the number two spot on a Humphrey-Wallace ticket.
McGovern could not have survived a second-ballot shortfall in Miami that year, and anybody who thinks the Happy Warrior would not have made that trade with Wallace is a fool. Hubert Humphrey would have traded anything, with anybody, to get the Democratic nomination for himself in 1972 …… and he’ll be ready to trade again, this year, if he sees the slightest chance.
And he does. He saw it on the morning after the New Hampshire primary, when five percent of the vote came in as “uncommitted.” That rotten, truthless old freak was on national TV at the crack of dawn, cackling like a hen full of amyls at the “wonderful news” from New Hampshire. After almost four years of relatively statesmanlike restraint and infrequent TV appearances that showed his gray hair and haggard jowls – four long and frantic years that saw the fall of Richard Nixon, the end of the war in Vietnam and a neo-collapse of the U.S. economy – after all that time and all those sober denials that he would never run for president, all it took to jerk Hubert out of his closet was the news from New Hampshire that five percent of the Democratic voters, less than 4,000 people, in that strange little state had cast their ballots for “uncommitted” delegates.
To Humphrey, who was not even entered in the New Hampshire primary, this meant five percent for him. Never mind that a completely unknown ex-governor of Georgia had won in New Hampshire with more than 30% of the vote; or that liberal Congressman Morris Udall had finished a solid but disappointing second with 24%; or that liberal Senator Birch Bayh ran third with 16%……. None of that mattered to Hubert, because he was privy to various rumors and force-fed press reports that many of the “uncommitted” delegates in New Hampshire were secret Humphrey supporters. There was no way to be sure, of course – but no reason to doubt it, either; at least not in the mushy mind of the Happy Warrior.
His first TV appearance of the ’76 campaign was a nasty shock to me. I had been up all night, tapping the glass and nursing my bets along (I had bet the quinella, taking Carter and Reagan against Udall and Ford) and when the sun came up on Wednesday I was slumped in front of a TV set in an ancient New England farmhouse on a hilltop near a hamlet called Contoocook. I had won early on Carter, but I had to wait for Hughes Rudd and the Morning News to learn that Ford had finally overtaken Reagan. The margin at dawn was less than one percent, but it was enough to blow my quinella and put Reagan back on Cheap Street, where he’s been ever since …… and I was brooding on this unexpected loss, sipping my coffee and tapping the glass once again, when all of a sudden I was smacked right straight in the eyes with the wild-eyed babbling spectacle of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. His hair was bright orange, his cheeks were rouged, his forehead was caked with Mantan, and his mouth was moving so fast that the words poured out in a high-pitched chattering whine …… “O my goodness, my gracious …… isn’t it wonderful? Yes, yes indeed……. O yes, it just goes to show…. I just can’t say enough…….”
No! I thought. This can’t be true! Not now! Not so soon! Here was this monster, this shameful electrified corpse – and raving and flapping his hands at the camera like he’d just been elected president. He looked like three iguanas in a feeding frenzy. I stood up and backed off from the TV set, but the view was no different from the other side of the room. I was seeing The Real Thing, and it stunned me……. Because I knew, in my heart, that he was real: that even with a five percent shadow vote in the year’s first primary, where his name was not on the ballot, and despite Jimmy Carter’s surprising victory and four other nationally known candidates finishing higher than “uncommitted,” that Hubert Humphrey had somehow emerged from the chaos of New Hampshire with yet another new life, and another serious shot at the presidency of the United States.
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous — hanging with Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and a bottle of Wild Turkey”, Rolling Stone, 1976-06-03.
September 14, 2016
Published on 27 Aug 2016
Gaius Gracchus took up the mantle of his dead brother, overcoming resistance from the Senate and the elites to win the election for tribune. Although he had a hot temper, he shared his brother’s charisma and talent, so he built a powerful base of popularity by creating programs for the poor, the army, and the middle class.
With Tiberius dead, it fell to his brother Gaius to take up his mantle. Both brothers were talented and charismatic, but Gaius had a much more fiery temper that made the Senate wary. During his political post, as a quaestor assigned to Sardinia, they tried to bind him to his post to prevent him from running in another election. Gaius broke tradition and defied the Senate’s orders, but when they put him on trial, he brought the citizens over to his side and walked away freely. As they had feared, he ran for tribune: the same office his brother had held. Despite heavy opposition from his enemies, he won. Support for him both in and outside Rome had grown so large that people flooded the city just to vote for him. In his first act, he passed a law which applied retroactively to punish Popilius Laena, the man who had banished Tiberius’s supporters after his death. Popilius fled rather than face the law. Over the remainder of his term, Gaius proved extremely active and efficient: he passed new laws and implemented programs to help the poor, the soldiers, and the middle class through measures like the grain dole. At the end of his term, he planned to step down from politics for a while, but there weren’t enough people who won the election for tribune that year so he was reinstated by default. Now he had what his brother had died for: a second term as tribune.
… the historical novel as we know it emerged at the end of the 18th century. The great historians of that age – Hume, Robertson, Gibbon and others – had moved far towards what may be called a scientific study of the past. They tried to base their narratives on established fact, and to connect them through a natural relationship of cause and effect. It was a mighty achievement. At the same time, it turned History from a story book of personal encounters and the occasional miracle to something more abstract. More and more, it did away with the kind of story that you find in Herodotus and Livy and Froissart. As we move into the 19th century, it couldn’t satisfy a growing taste for the quaint and the romantic.
The vacuum was filled by a school of historical novelists with Sir Walter Scott at its head. Though no longer much read, he was a very good novelist. The Bride of Lammermoor is one of his best, but has been overshadowed by the Donizetti opera. I’ve never met anyone else who has read The Heart of Midlothian. But Ivanhoe remains popular, and is still better than any of its adaptations. Whether still read or not, he established all the essential rules of historical fiction. The facts, so far as we can know them, are not to be set aside. They are, however, to be elaborated and folded into a coherent fictional narrative. Take Ivanhoe. King Richard was detained abroad. His brother, John, was a bad regent, and may not have wanted Richard back. There were rich Jews in England, and, rather than fleecing them, as the morality of his age allowed, John tried to flay them. But Ivanhoe and Isaac of York, and the narrative thread that leads to the re-emergence of King Richard at its climax – these are fiction.
I try to respect these conventions in my six Aelric novels. Aelric of England never existed. He didn’t turn up in Rome in 609AD, to uncover and foil a plot that I’d rather not discuss in detail. He didn’t move to Constantinople in 610, and become one of the key players in the revolution that overthrew the tyrant Phocas. He wasn’t the Emperor’s Legate in Alexandria a few years later. He didn’t purify the Empire’s silver coinage, or conceive the land reforms and cuts in taxes and government spending that stabilised the Byzantine Empire for about 400 years. He didn’t lead a pitifully small army into battle against the biggest Persian invasion of the West since Xerxes. He had nothing to do, in extreme old age, with Greek Fire. Priscus existed, and may have been a beastly as I describe him. I find it reasonable that the Emperor Heraclius was not very competent without others to advise him. But the stories are fabrications. They aren’t history. They are entertainment.
Even so, they are underpinned by historical fact. The background is as nearly right as I can make it. I’ve read everything I could find about the age in English and French and Latin and Greek. I’ve read dozens of specialist works, and hundreds of scholarly articles. My Blood of Alexandria is a good introduction to the political and religious state of Egypt on the eve of the Arab invasions. My Curse of Babylon is a good introduction to the Empire as a whole in the early years of the 7th century. The only conscious inaccuracy in all six novels comes in Terror of Constantinople, where I appoint a new Patriarch of Constantinople several months after the actual event. I did this for dramatic effect – among much else, it let me parody Tony Blair’s Diana Funeral reading – but I’ve felt rather bad about it ever since. This aside, any university student who uses me for background to the period that I cover will not be defrauded.
There’s nothing special about this. If you want to know about Rome between Augustus and Nero, the best place to start is the two Claudius novels by Robert Graves. Mary Renault is often as good as Grote or Bury on Classical Greece – sometimes better in her descriptions of the moral climate. Gore Vidal’s Julian is first class historical fiction, and also sound biography. Anyone who gets no further than C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien will know the Royal Navy in the age of the French Wars. Mika Waltari is less reliable on the 18th Dynasty in The Egyptian. In mitigation, we know very little about the events and family relationships of the age between Amenhotep III and Horemheb. He wrote a memorable novel despite its boggy underpinning of fact.
Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake, 7th March 2014”, 2014-03-07.