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.
August 5, 2015
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.
January 23, 2015
Published on 22 Jan 2015
For a decisive advantage on the Western Front, the military commanders of both sides are trying to use technological advances. And so this week, German Zeppelins are flying their first air raids on English towns. Winston Churchill is outlining his ideas for what would later become the tank. Meanwhile at the Western Front, the soldier Adolf Hitler is thinking about how this war is going to continue.
January 22, 2015
A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions — how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over — and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad — and they didn’t buy their commissions.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
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.”
February 9, 2014
Nigel Davies looks at the uncritical admiration of the form of democracy (while actively ignoring the actual practice) among Western media people:
It is interesting to look around the world at the moment and identify the failures of democracy, and to be amused by the Western media’s complete incomprehension of what is going on and why.
Time and time again you get headlines about how people should stand back and accept the ‘democratically elected government’, despite the fact that the democratic result was a fairly evil dictator keen on persecution, mass murder, civil war and ethnic cleansing.
This is because most ignorant Western journalists believe as an absolute truth that ‘democracy’ is a good thing, despite all the evidence that democracy is as bad, or even worse, than any other form of government. (Interestingly many non-western journalists treat democracy with considerable scepticism, which baffles Western journalists even more.)
Just to be clear Robespiere, Napoleon III, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were in some form ‘democratically elected’ leaders, and every Communist dictator, ever, has regularly received about 97% of the popular vote in their countries.
Which brings us to unofficial one party states, like South Africa, where there is a popular vote which means virtually nothing. People get a say, but there is no chance of removing the party which — very largely through its dreadful economic and social policies — has kept the vast majority of the voters ignorant and poor (while flooding them with propaganda suggesting that result is an outside conspiracy, and only the people’s party can save them …) Actually some of you might recognise this more directly as being Mugabe’s very blunt approach, but the principal is the same when adopted by more weasely worded one party statists (for whom too many Western journalists have a romanticised and highly inaccurate perspective).
Most African (and many Asian and Middle Eastern … and Eastern European) ‘nations’ that pretend to democracy, are effectively one party states where the ‘opposition’ is never really going to be allowed to get anywhere.
A current example he points to is Egypt:
I am not just talking about people like Hitler who managed to manipulate 25-30% of the vote to dominate a chaotic parliament long enough to change all the rules and entrench their power. (Though that appears to be the default result for 90-95% of all Republics throughout all history, so perhaps it is worthy of some reflection.) No, I am more interested in places where a genuine majority of the population vote repeatedly for a leader who every educated and thinking (not the same thing unfortunately) person knows will lead them to disaster.
Effectively what we are talking about here is popularistic appeals to the ignorant peasantry who make up the majority of the population.
Egypt recently elected the Muslim Brotherhood. This was done by the majority votes of the ignorant peasants in the rural areas, and against the wishes of practically anyone who could be classed as educated, literate, liberal, or with an understanding of rule of law, or role of commerce and legal rights in a modern society. Ie: the traditional appeal to the ignorant to grab control of the ‘means of production’ and ‘distribute it more fairly’ — which always leads to the same results of poverty and persecution whether you call it a Fascist state (Nazi Germany) Communist state (People’s Republic), Theocratic state (Muslim republic, Hindu republic, North Korea), or just a kleptocracy.
Naturally the Western journalists believe the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to develop its ‘democratic’ course.
The inevitable result of letting the Muslim Brotherhood rewrite the constitution and entrench their powers while introducing a Muslim republic with proper Sharia laws, would be a particularly nasty form of dictatorship. Like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, future votes would have been ‘controlled’ and eventually pointless. So the intervention of the military to throw them out and try and redo the democratic project was necessary, and possibly the only (very slim) hope of making it work. However, like Fiji, it may be only the start of many interventions to stop backsliding, until the military and people give up in disgust and settle down to exactly the sort of dictatorship which, more or less, kept things together and slowly moving forward under their previous dictators.
January 22, 2014
Published on 20 Dec 2012
……and snappeth the spear in sunder.
Short film detailing how this great film was made.
With contributions from Lady Ellen Baker, James Booth, Glynn Edwards and others.
Update: Zulu was primarily the story of the defence of Rorke’s Drift by B Company of the 24th Regiment under temporary command of Royal Engineer Lieutenant John Chard (who was senior to Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th). Less well-known is the larger battle of Isandlwana which happened earlier the same day, where Zulu forces defeated a much larger British force. This show investigates the site of the battle, discussing some of the reasons why the battle was quickly forgotten, as one of the worst British defeats of the Victorian era:
Published on 8 Sep 2013
We are all familiar with the famous story of a handful of British redcoats fending off thousands of Zulu warriors, made famous by the film starring Michael Caine, but this did well to mask another battle just a few miles away where 1,300 British were slaughtered by the natives in just two and a half hours. This fascinating programme looks at what went wrong for the British Empire builders on that fateful day.
December 19, 2013
December 11, 2013
In the Guardian Simon Jenkins discusses the way the media covered Nelson Mandela’s funeral:
Enough is enough. The publicity for the death and funeral of Nelson Mandela has become absurd. Mandela was an African political leader with qualities that were apt at a crucial juncture in his nation’s affairs. That was all and that was enough. Yet his reputation has fallen among thieves and cynics. Hijacked by politicians and celebrities from Barack Obama to Naomi Campbell and Sepp Blatter, he has had to be deified so as to dust others with his glory. In the process he has become dehumanised. We hear much of the banality of evil. Sometimes we should note the banality of goodness.
Part of this is due to the media’s crude mechanics. Millions of dollars have been lavished on preparing for Mandela’s death. Staff have been deployed, hotels booked, huts rented in Transkei villages. Hospitals could have been built for what must have been spent. All media have gone mad. Last week I caught a BBC presenter, groaning with tedium, asking a guest to compare Mandela with Jesus. The corporation has reportedly received more than a thousand complaints about excessive coverage. Is it now preparing for a resurrection?
More serious is the obligation that the cult of the media-event should owe to history. There is no argument that in the 1980s Mandela was “a necessary icon” not just for South Africans but for the world in general. In what was wrongly presented as the last great act of imperial retreat, white men were caricatured as bad and black men good. The arrival of a gentlemanly black leader, even a former terrorist, well cast for beatification was a godsend.
Mandela was crucial to De Klerk’s task. He was an African aristocrat, articulate of his people’s aspirations, a reconciler and forgiver of past evils. Mandela seemed to embody the crossing of the racial divide, thus enabling De Klerk’s near impossible task. White South Africans would swear he was the only black leader who made them feel safe — with nervous glances at Desmond Tutu and others.
South Africa in the early 90s was no postcolonial retreat. It was a bargain between one set of tribes and another. For all the cruelties of the armed struggle, it was astonishingly sparing of blood. This was no Pakistan, no Sri Lanka, no Congo. The rise of majority rule in South Africa was one of the noblest moments in African history. The resulting Nobel peace prize was rightly shared between Mandela and De Klerk, a sharing that has been ignored by almost all the past week’s obituaries. There were two good men in Cape Town in 1990.
December 8, 2013
Salil Tripathi met Nelson Mandela and finds the frequent comparisons between Gandhi and Mandela to do less than justice to both men:
The South African freedom struggle was different from India’s, and the paths Mandela and Gandhi took were also different. That did not prevent many from comparing him with Gandhi. But the two were different; both made political choices appropriate to their time and the context in which they lived.
Gandhi’s life and struggle were political, but securing political freedom was the means to another end, spiritual salvation and moral advancement of India. Mandela was guided by a strong ethical core, and he was deeply committed to political change. At India’s independence, Gandhi wanted the Congress Party to be dissolved, and its members to dedicate themselves to serve the poor. But the Congress had other ideas. Mandela would not have wanted to dissolve his organization; he wanted to bring about the transformation South Africa needed, but he also wanted to heal his beloved country.
This is not to suggest that Gandhi wasn’t political. He was shrewd and he devised strategies to seek the moral high ground against his opponents — and among the British he found a colonial power susceptible to such pressures, because Britain had a domestic constituency which found colonialism repugnant, contrary to its values.
Mandela’s point was that he didn’t have the luxury of fighting the British — he was dealing with the National Party, with its Afrikaans base, which believed in a fight to finish, seeking inspiration from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church which established a hierarchy of different races, which led to the establishment of apartheid. “One kaffir one bullet,” said the Boer (the Afrikaans word for farmer, which many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were); “One settler one bullet,” replied Umkhonto weSizwe, the militant arm of the ANC.
And yet Mandela’s lasting gift was his power of forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He showed exceptional humanity and magnanimity when he left his bitterness behind, on the hard, white limestone rocks of Robben Island that he was forced to break for years, the harsh reflected glare of those rocks causing permanent damage to his eyes. And yet, he came out, his fist raised, smiling, and he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, that unless he left his bitterness and hatred behind, “I would still be in prison.”
By refusing to seek revenge, by accepting the white South African as his brother, by agreeing to build a nation with people who wanted to see him dead, Mandela rose to a stature that is almost unparalleled.
Calling Mandela the Gandhi of our times does no favour to either. Gandhi probably anticipated the compromises he would have to make, which is why he shunned political office. Mandela estimated, correctly, that following the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance against the apartheid regime was going to be futile, since the apartheid regime did not play by any rules, except those it kept creating to deepen the divide between people.
H/T to Shikha Dalmia for the link.
December 6, 2013
Within moments of the announcement that the great man had passed away, left-wingers on twitter gleefully started posting quotes from Reagan-era conservatives about Mandela. At the time, most right-wingers’ opinions of Mandela — with one notable exception — ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. (This William H. Buckley column from 1990, which compares the recently-released Mandela to Lenin, was not atypical.)
Support for apartheid was never justifiable, but when that racist system was in its death throes, it was hardly unreasonable to worry about what might come next. Many political prisoners and “freedom fighters” have eventually come to power in their countries, only to become exactly what they once fought against — or worse. (One of the most infuriating examples is just over the South African border, where the once-promising Robert Mugabe has driven Zimbabwe into the abyss.)
The young Mandela was a revolutionary, and after spending his entire life as a second-class citizen, and 27 years behind bars, any bitterness on his part would have been understandable.
Instead, he chose an unprecedented path of reconciliation:
The real measure of one’s greatness comes when that person achieves power. And by that standard, Mandela was one of the greatest of them all. May he rest in peace.
Damian Penny, “Why Mandela was different”, DamianPenny.com, 2013-12-06