It’s been a decade since Robert Fulford popularized the term: “The Longest Undefended Neurosis in the World.” It’s about as accurate a description of Canada-US relations as has ever been offered. The eagerness which, even at this late date, we lap up any mention of Canada on US media is oddly pathetic. This is the sort of behaviour typically seen in small bankrupt countries. Any mention of Portugal outside of Portugal is almost immediately reported on the state broadcaster. There is a strange cloying quality about such reports. A desperate yelling: “Hey we used to be important!”
It’s a small country thing. When a big country thinks this way you get French-style arrogance: “Hey we still are important, it’s that you lot aren’t clever enough to realize that blindingly obvious fact.”
Today Rob Ford is probably the most famous Canadian in history, save William Shatner. Neither men’s careers has done much to change international perceptions of Canada. We’re boring and probably polite. From time to time we kill seals and moose, though not necessarily in that order. As a general rule we avoid doing evil things. Short of carpet bombing a small country, which is well beyond our military capabilities, nothing we do will change these perceptions. We could annex Buffalo, something within our military capabilities, but I suspect most Americans would probably be grateful. They might throw in Rochester as a parting gift.
Richard Anderson, “Talking With Americans About Canadians”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-04-10
April 12, 2014
March 19, 2014
Duncan Kelly reviews Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, by Jonathan Israel.
According to this hefty new study of the French Revolution by Jonathan Israel, a professor of history at Princeton, what such events really show is the motivating power of ideas in guiding and transforming events. In his terms, the French Revolution was a “revolution of ideas” before it became “a revolution of fact”; indeed, it was three revolutions all at once.
Ideas about political equality, anticlericalism and modern republicanism grounded in “reason” motivated Radical Enlightenment thinkers such as Condorcet and Thomas Paine, while they clashed with the “moderate Enlightenment constitutional monarchism” embodied by more pro-royalist factions (the Feuillants) and aristocratic supporters such as Lafayette. Both struggled against Robespierre’s “authoritarian populism”, which for Israel prefigures modern fascism.
The radical compound in this instance might have been uniquely French but its impact spread widely. The resounding Declaration of the Rights of Man, writes Israel, was a “manifesto entirely incompatible with all ancien régime notions of social, racial, and religious hierarchy”. Revolution lent support to Caribbean struggles for black emancipation such as that of Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti, memorably described in CLR James’s 1938 classic The Black Jacobins. James’s book, however, is an odd omission in Israel’s otherwise compendious bibliography.
Historians have often criticised Israel for flattening out all the differences between these radical ideas except those he wants to retain and, when applied to the French Revolution, his arguments can feel like the inverse of some 19th-century Marxist schema. Instead of subterranean economic determinations, it is Radical Enlightenment that provides the means by which everything from press freedom to de-Christianisation can be slotted into a matrix requiring little in the way of extra interpretation.
What you get from such a focus on subversive editors, disenchanted priests and materialist philosophers has much in common with a more conventional account: food shortages, public debt crises and social grievances from Paris to the Vendée, combined with a plethora of radical ideas about press freedom, absolute equality, political liberty and radical democracy. Yet the vaulting ambition to ascribe such a momentous transformation to one cause still feels hubristic. The obvious parallel in this year of all years would be the thought that there might be a single idea or singular complex of ideas behind the outbreak of the first world war. Can you imagine such a claim commanding general assent?
March 16, 2014
Everyone thinks America Alone is about Islam and demography, but in fact it has a whole section in it on cheese, called “The Pasteurization is Prologue”. Page 181:
I’ve never subscribed to that whole “cheese-eating surrender-monkey” sneer promoted by my National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg. As a neocon warmonger, I yield to no one in my contempt for the French, but, that said, cheese-wise I feel they have the edge.
When I’m at the lunch counter in America and I order a cheeseburger and the waitress says, “American, Swiss or Cheddar?” I can’t tell the difference. They all taste of nothing. The only difference is that the slice of alleged Swiss is full of holes, so you’re getting less nothing for your buck. Then again, the holes also taste of nothing, and they’re less fattening. But, either way, cheese is not the battleground on which to demonstrate the superiority of the American way.
Most of the American cheeses bearing European names are bland rubbery eunuch versions of the real thing. I wouldn’t mind if this were merely the market at work, but it’s not. It’s the result of Big Government, of the Brieatollahs at the United States Department of Agriculture:
In America, unpasteurized un-aged raw cheese that would be standard in any Continental fromagerie is banned. Americans, so zealous in defense of their liberties when it comes to guns, are happy to roll over for the nanny state when it comes to the cheese board… The French may be surrender monkeys on the battlefield, but they don’t throw their hands up and flee in terror just because the Brie’s a bit ripe. It’s the Americans who are the cheese-surrendering eating-monkeys — who insist, oh, no, the only way to deal with this sliver of Roquefort is to set up a rigorous ongoing Hans Blix-type inspections regime.
I’m not exaggerating about that. Nothing gets past their eyes, and everything gets pasteurized. That’s why American “cheesemakers” have to keep putting stuff into the “cheddar” — sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, chocolate chips — to give it some taste, because the cheese itself has none. And, if you try to bring in anything that does taste of something, the US Government’s Brie Team Six seizes it:
The US fate of the bright-orange, mild-tasting French cheese has been in jeopardy for months and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked all further imports.
Why? Because US regulators determined the cantaloupe-like rind of the cheese was covered with too many cheese mites, even though the tiny bugs give mimolette its unique flavor.
No formal ban has been put in place, but 1.5 tonnes (3,300 pounds) of cheese were blocked from being imported, and nothing is going through US customs.
“No formal ban has been put in place” — because that would involve legislators passing laws in a legislature and whatnot. So they just banned it anyway.
Mark Steyn, “Live Brie or Die!” SteynOnline.com, 2014-03-13
March 15, 2014
“We went into it to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans. The French went in to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition. The Germans went in to purge themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.”
March 10, 2014
At Samizdata, Patrick Crozier talks about the situation in Europe exactly a century back, and the headlines might almost be run today:
Over the last few days (this is 1914 we’re talking about just in case anyone was in any doubt) a large number of articles have appeared in the German press on the threat posed by Russia. And still they come:
There is, if anything, an increase to-day in the Press discussion of present and future and possible and probable Russo-German relations. The Berlin Bourse, which was troubled last week by the beginning of the campaign in the Cologne Gazette, was disturbed again to-day – chiefly by the spreading of the infection to the Radical and “pacific” Berliner Tageblatt. This journal published this morning an anonymous article by somebody who is described as distinguished and experienced in all branches of international politics, which, without indeed advocating war, advocates the adoption of a very firm policy towards Russia.
This is co-ordinated and there’s only one body that would be doing the co-ordination: the German government. They are preparing the population for war. The argument being used is precisely the argument being used in the corridors of power: the Russians are building up their forces and in a few years they will be too strong and it will be too late. In other words: it’s now or never.
It is not just the Russians the Germans are worried about. The Russians on their own would be fairly harmless (as indeed they proved to be) but they are in alliance with France. This leads to Germany’s worst nightmare: the prospect of a war on two fronts. This in turn leads to the development of the Schlieffen Plan with its aim to eliminate one of those fronts before the other one got going.
There is an alternative. Germany could return Alsace-Lorraine to France. At a stroke they would eliminate the one and only bone of contention in the Franco-German relationship and as a consequence break up the Franco-Russian alliance. But no.
There are good reasons why the German government isn’t so keen on such a move. By accepting self-determination in Alsace-Lorraine they would be accepting the principle of democracy. This is hardly the sort of thing that a monarchy can do. There would also be the element of losing face that weak regimes are very reluctant to do.
February 12, 2014
Douglas Carswell wishes more people knew about nineteenth-century economist Frédéric Bastiat:
I reckon that one of the greatest Frenchman of all time is a fellow called Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). Not heard of him? France, I reckon, would have remained a truly global nation if more people had.
A free market, Classical liberal thinker, Bastiat grasped how wealth is created — and how parasitical elites and vested interests will seek to live off the productivity of others.
Nations rise, he could see, when various naturally parasitical interests were reined in, making production more fruitful than parasitism. Nations sunk into mediocrity, or remained there, when the parasites got their way — and other people’s wealth.
Far from being just a creature of his time, Bastiat speaks to us today. His spoof petition of the candlestick makers (they lobbied politicians to block out unfair competition from sunlight) tell us a great deal about the behaviour today of energy renewable interests and central bankers.
As a free market thinker, Bastiat was up there on a par with Adam Smith or Richard Cobden. Yet unlike Smith and Cobden, for all his brilliance, Bastiat had little impact on the French body politic. French lassies faire gave way to dirigisme. In terms of French politics, it is almost as if Bastiat might never have existed. And a once global player, presided over by a succession of enarques and corporatist cliques, sunk slowly into Hollandesque mediocrity.
My fear is that free-market thinkers on this side of the Channel could turn out to be little more than British Bastiats. Already the land of Adam Smith is run by a big, bloated state bureaucracy. The country that produced Cobden trades with the world on the basis of quota, not free competition.
February 3, 2014
Jack Flanagan talks about the most recent technological
intrusions into innovations being introduced into traditional European winemaking:
It is a new age in winemaking. The old days of doing everything by hand is ending. And while large-scale harvesters and flood-lights might not be news, the vintners of tomorrow have a few tricks up their sleeves.
And yet as advanced technology, the sort-of thing that requires a Masters of Science to understand, becomes available at lower prices (well, hovering among the thousands), vineyards in France and areas outside are adopting them.
Perhaps least surprising, if you’ve noticed a trend lately, is the addition of drones. Right now, they have a simple task: flying over vineyards, checking for damage or anything suspicious.
In the future, however, they may be required to do more labour-intensive tasks such as vine maintenance, e.g. pruning and checking how ripe the grapes are. This, specifically, is the task of a little droid resembling a rover: it skates along the vineyard floor, analysing and remembering the details of the vines. If they’re getting too long, the robot prunes them back.
January 27, 2014
Montreuil reminded me strongly of something: ah yes, I remember what it was, Eastern Europe in the good old days. It had that same air of inspissated gloom and ontological pointlessness; the architecture would have gladdened the heart (so to speak) of Elena Ceausescu. The bus passed through a wasteland of 1970s modernism, egalitarian doctrine made not so much flesh as concrete. The buildings did not age, they dilapidated; it was architecture that induced immediate thoughts of suicide. (Le Corbusier is still revered in France and treated as a hero, though it should be obvious to anyone who reads any of his voluminous writings that he was a psychopathic architectural delinquent of totalitarian pretensions whose talents belonged more to the field of propaganda than to those of architecture, in which his abilities were all negative.) The bus stops were in places such as Saint-Just, the patron saint of revolutionary terror, and Nouvelle France: new in the same sense that the New Man, so beloved of Mussolini and Che Guevara, was going to be new. Montreuil is, in fact, firmly communist, and it shows, although honesty compels me to admit that I don’t know which came first: the communism or the ugliness of everything. Probably the relationship is what Marxists used to call a dialectical one.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Museum of the Living Dead”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-01-26
January 21, 2014
Boyd Tonkin discusses some of the real historical incidents that Alexandre Dumas drew upon for his fiction:
In September 1784, an unpleasant incident took place at M. Nicolet’s fashionable theatre in Paris. A young, aristocratic man-about-town, born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), had escorted to the play an elegant lady whose family also came from the West Indies. Dashing, handsome, the son of Count Davy de la Pailleterie might have seemed the ideal squire for the evening. Save, in many eyes, for one thing. He was black — notably dark-skinned, the mixed-race youth had a slave mother — and his companion white.
At Nicolet’s, a white West Indian officer, Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain, decided that it would be good fun to insult the count’s black son. First, he pretended to mistake the young man of colour for the lady’s lackey. Then, after an affray, Titon’s henchmen forced the victim to kneel in front of his assailant and ask for pardon. Soon the police arrived and took both men into custody. Statements were taken, but no further action followed. In 1786, the humiliated colonial boy forsook his life of leisure to embark on a military career. He enrolled in the Queen’s Dragoons under a surname not his father’s. Instead, he chose the identity of his slave-born mother: Marie-Cessette Dumas.
By the early 1850s, this Alexandre Dumas had become not only the famous novelist but, arguably, the most famous Frenchman in the world. At this point, garlanded with international fame and quickly spent riches, he wrote his memoirs. Dumas the novelist adored and hero-worshipped his father, who had died in 1806 but left indelible memories. The first 200 pages of My Memoirs deal with General Alex; in fact, Dumas abandons the narrative of his own life at the age of 31. But in his version of the contretemps at Nicolet’s, the strapping young Alex picks up Titon and chucks him into the orchestra pit. This is a feat of derring-do worthy of… well, worthy of a musketeer.
Dumas relished his life, and the privileges and pleasures that his mythic tales earned. He made and lost fortunes as quickly as he wrote bulky novels. He meddled in revolutionary politics first in France and then in rebellious Italy (where he founded a paper called The Independent). He ran through perhaps 40 mistresses and sired (at least) seven children with them. His published works comprise 300 volumes and 100,000 pages. After packing around five lives into one, he died after a stroke in 1870 — the same year as Charles Dickens, whose A Tale of Two Cities pays its own tribute to the style of the comrade with whom he dined in Paris. If living well is the best revenge, then Alexandre made the bigoted society which had tried to humble General Alex kneel to him.
H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.
Update, 4 February: A.A. Nofi reviews The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss.
Reiss [...] fits Dumas into his times and his social environment. So we get a look at the brutalities of slavery and racism under the Ancien Régime and later during the supposedly enlightened French Republic. We see the dying days of the Bourbon monarchy, the Revolution that finished it off, and the rise of Bonaparte’s empire, which brought things part way back to their start again. Reiss also gives us little portraits of many individuals; the general’s family, of course, but also soldiers and rulers such as Carnot, Kleber, the Neapolitan and French royals, Lafayette, and others, including Bonaparte, who would become Dumas’ nemesis. Finally, Reiss looks at how the count’s life shaped that of his son and influenced the latter’s novels, noting traces of the senior Dumas in some of the younger’s characters, notably Edmund Dantes of The Count of Monte Cristo.
The book has some flaws. Reiss betrays a certain over-fondness for Revolutionary France, failing to see its dark side. He neglects the corruption of French officials, both at home and in occupied territories, the widespread plundering of supposedly “liberated” peoples, the slaughter of dissidents, and the widespread atrocities committed by French troops, which often sparked resistance from the very people the Revolution claimed to be liberating. There are, however, flaws common in treatments of the era, and Reiss is commendably more critical of Napoleon, who also tends to get a favorable press.
The Black Count, which was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in biography, is an excellent work, well-crafted, with a flowing narrative that makes for an easy read.
January 18, 2014
Rather than the diaries of individual soldiers (as the original title of the video suggests), these are the formal day-to-day action records of battalions and regiments of the British army. A proportion of the diaries from the First World War have been digitized and are available on the internet:
Published on 15 Jan 2014
Diaries describing life during the First World War by British soldiers have been digitised and can be read online.
As part of the organisations centenary programme the National Archives is publishing the first batch of unit diaries from France and Flanders.
One soldier from the 4th Division, 1 Battalion Somerset Light Infantry in 1917 describes one occasion of gunfire: “The Germans quickly got their artillery into position, and a considerable amount of shelling was experienced. Our casualties in this engagement were slight.”
Another entry by Captain CJ Paterson, one of the First Battalion’s soldiers describes the horrendous reality of life in the trenches:
“As I say all should be nice and peaceful and pretty. What it actually is is beyond description.
“Trenches, bits of equipment, clothing (probably blood-stained), ammunition, tools, caps, etc., etc., everywhere.
“Poor fellows shot dead are lying in all directions. Some of ours.”
“Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war. I have had a belly full of it.”
Maria Miller, Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said: “The National Archives’ digitised First World War unit diaries will allow us to hear the voices of those that sacrificed their lives and is even more poignant now there are no living veterans who can speak directly about the events of the war. This new online vehicle gives a very public voice to some of these soldiers, through which we will be able to hear their thoughts and feelings.”
You can read the online war diaries on the National Archive website here: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war
Records for the Canadian Corps (which fought as part of the British army) are in the process of being digitized, according to the Library and Archives Canada website.
War diaries are a day-to-day description of unit activities for army units in active service, and contain information about unit location and the military operations in which it may be involved. The diaries rarely mention individuals by name, with the exception of some references to officers.
War diaries for the Army in the First World War (RG 9 IIID3) are being digitized and can be viewed online by using the Advanced Archives Search. Records not yet digitized are available on microfilm.
- Select Finding Aid Number in the pull down menu, and enter: 9-52
- Enter a keyword, for example, the unit name or battalion number: “102nd” or “Royal Canadian Dragoons”
December 5, 2013
In History Today, George Goodwin reviews A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War by Gordon Corrigan:
As Corrigan explains, the Hundred Years War extended over a longer period (1337-1453) than its name suggests, but then it was not a continuous war either. Instead its series of intermittent campaigns featuring major battles and sieges was interspersed with periods of lower tempo siege warfare and long stretches of peace. The war was initially sparked by Philip VI of France’s formal declaration that Edward III’s territories in France (most notably Aquitaine) had been confiscated because the young English king had refused to act as his vassal and to hand over Robert of Artois, Philip’s mortal enemy. The war escalated after the Declaration of Ghent in 1340, when Edward proclaimed himself king of France on the basis that, through his mother, he had a superior claim to the throne than Philip, as she was the daughter of Philip IV, while Philip VI was merely his nephew. France, however, had never allowed for kingship to descend through the female line.
Corrigan’s dramatic description of the Battle of Sluys in 1340 gets the book going. Though fought between opposing navies, Sluys was essentially a land battle that took place on a flotilla of French ships chained across the mouth of an estuary, with the victorious English army moving from vessel to vessel and pushing their French opponents overboard. Corrigan accounts for England’s victory being due to superior tactics and the far greater effectiveness of the longbow in comparison to the French crossbow. This was down to both to the nature of the weaponry and the superior skill of the Anglo-Welsh archers. They proved decisive time and time again at the great set-piece battles of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Verneuil.
November 11, 2013
In the Globe and Mail, J.L. Granatstein wants us to remember the greatest military achievement of the Canadian Corps in World War One (and it isn’t the battle of Vimy Ridge):
On Aug. 8, 1918, the Canadian Corps had secretly moved into position in front of the French city of Amiens. The German army had been on the offensive since March, and the Amiens sector was rather lightly defended. The Canadians, British and Australians struck this sector a surprise hammer blow in the early morning, a hurricane of artillery fire clearing the way for the tanks and infantry that blasted through the defences. Thousands of Germans surrendered, more were killed and within a few hours, the Canadian advance was almost 15 kilometres. This, wrote the German army’s great strategist, General Erich Ludendorff, was “the black day” of the German Army.
Lt.-Gen. Currie’s troops then moved north to the Arras area, where, at the end of the month, they struck toward and then through the Drocourt-Quéant Line, an immensely strong extension of the Hindenburg Line defended by crack troops. In heavy fighting at high cost, the Corps broke the line, forcing the Germans back behind the Canal du Nord, their last position protecting the key supply point of Cambrai.
The Germans now were in full retreat, moving eastward as fast as they could go. The Canadians took Valenciennes, smashing the enemy defences with a massive artillery barrage, and then moved into Belgium. By Nov. 11, they were in Mons, the same small town where the men of the British Expeditionary Force had first faced the invading Germans in August, 1914.
The Canadian Corps, more than a hundred thousand strong, had fought its last battles. As Lt.-Gen. Currie noted proudly, it had beaten 47 German divisions since Aug. 8, a quarter of the German forces in the West. The Corps had accomplished this because of its great fighting spirit, its fine leadership at all levels and its effective reinforcement and logistics systems. The cost in lives and in wounded was terrible — 45,000 casualties, 20 per cent of the total of Canadian losses in the entire war — but for once, the campaign had achieved measurable gains on the ground. More than that, the Canadian shock troops had battered the enemy, forced them eastward and obliged them to seek an armistice that was a de facto capitulation. It had scored its greatest victory, the greatest battlefield triumph ever by Canadian troops.
November 10, 2013
In the Telegraph, Willard Foxton explains why the growing interest in the centenary of the First World War is also giving a boost to the grave robbers:
Across the UK, there has been a rash of police finds of these First World War explosives, as the online trade in them has boomed. Dealers will often home defuse them, putting themselves and others at risk; some have been maimed doing so. [...]
As dangerous as these unexploded devices are, perhaps the ugliest corner of the trade is the sale of other relics — especially dead soldiers’ identification marks. In particular, there’s a premium on British soldier’s spoons, which would often have their owner’s names embossed on them. Helmets can fetch high prices, too — including those bent out of shape by bullets or shells, which gives you some idea of what happened to the poor guy wearing it. As Andy Brockman, a leading conflict archaeologist told me:
“There is a market in all kinds of battlefield memorabilia and in the worst cases this can lead to the sale of identification tags and the removal of personal possessions like spoons and toothbrushes from battlefield burials. These objects can carry identifying marks and their loss can prevent authorities like the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from identifying the soldier concerned, robbing them of the chance of a marked grave.
“When it comes to the illegal removal of equipment and personal possessions from the remains of the missing to feed the collectors market, I would agree with Andy Robertshaw of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum who says that it’s like killing them twice.”
October 30, 2013
Published on 3 Oct 2012
Dr Richard Holmes’ TV Documentary series from 1996 entitled War Walks. This episode concerns the legendary Battle of Agincourt. Unfortunately, Richard Holmes — my favourite military historian — died of Pneumonia only last year (2011).
October 24, 2013
Published on 6 Oct 2013
After painstaking research I found a lot of the exact positions that Malins filmed the Battle footage from. I hope to re-edit it soon and make it a bit smoother; also will be going back soon to film where the artillery bombarded Gommecourt.
H/T to Think Defence for the link.