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Friday, 8 December 2017

Pearl Harbor: How Japan Saved the World for "Democracy"


The "dastardly attack."

December 7th is the anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Once again we have the opportunity to either look back in anger or, now that the embers of history have grown cold, to rake through them and ask what was the real significance of that fateful day.

It is often said that history is written by the winners. Although every nation committed horrendous atrocities in World War II, Japan is still cast as a pure villain. But, considering that many historians now believe the Japanese were unwitting dupes in one of the most complicated games of propaganda, espionage, and diplomacy ever played out across the world stage, isn't it time to revise the Hollywood version of history and admit the existence of gray areas, especially as the Americans would have been unable to play their full part in the defeat of Fascism without the cooperation of Japan?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Napoleon's Decentered and Disastrous Invasion of Russia


This October 19th marks the 205th anniversary of the start of Napoleon's fateful retreat from Moscow. The march lasted nearly two months and cost tens of thousands of lives, with the remnants of Napoleon's army re-crossing the Russian border on December 12th.

Much is made of the destruction of the "Grand Army of 500,000" by the cold weather and the Cossacks, but this is yet another cliche of World history that doesn't accord entirely with all the facts. 

The first point to make is that the actual force that started the retreat from Moscow was only around 95,000 men, not the half million that is given as the force invading Russia. This force was then joined by an additional 36,000 men on its march home. These were the remnants of 82,000 men detached previously to guard the Northern flank of the advance. From this "retreating force" of 131,000 men, around 10,000 finally exited Russia on the 12th of December.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Italy's Pocket War and Its Dwarf Imperialsm

Italians fighting Turks at Tripoli
Italy was the site of one of the greatest empires -- the Roman -- but, to its shame, it was also the site of one of the more laughable empires, namely the Neo-Italian Empire that emerged following the unification of the country in the 19th century. 

Just as Italian unification owed more to the power machinations of the great states of Europe than the efforts of the Italians themselves, so too did the rise of the Neo-Italian Empire. This is demonstrated by what was the main chapter in this story, the Turkish Italian War of 1911-12, which started today 106 years ago.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Battle of Minden: the Great British Art of Bumbling Through


1759 was the Annus Mirablis ("Miracle Year") of the British Empire, with impressive military victories in all theatres of war—India, North America, Europe, and the open seas—against the power of France. The events of that year decided the course of the Seven Years War, as well as the history of the next 300 years, ensuring that the World would be dominated by Anglophone powers.

On August 1st, one of the key battles of that year took place in Northern Germany. An Anglo-German army (British, Hanoverians, Hessians, and a few Prussians) defeated a Franco-Saxon army, with the key part being played by six British regiments. Because of their remarkable exploits on that day, these regiments (or their successors) are still known as the "The Minden Regiments."

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Top Five Most Memorable Roman Emperors in Film


Sword and sandal epics have long been a staple of the movie business. Rome, with its air of decadence and brutality, is a subject of endless fascination for filmmakers, playing fast and loose with historical truth. Among the most fascinating figures in any Roman epic is the emperor, usually but not always depicted as an incarnation of supreme power and total licence, often with endearing personal quirks. Here is a list of five of the most memorable of the emperors from cinematic history and the actors who portrayed them—in reverse order.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Battle of Hwangsanbeol and the Sacrificial Heroics of Korean Unification


The 7th century was a "foundational" time in the political history of the Korean people. At its start the Korean peninsula was divided into several states, but at its end it was more or less united, certainly more united than it is now.

The key driver of this unification was the rise of the state of Silla and the key event was the Battle of Hwangsanbeol which took place today (July 9th) in 660 AD.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Discovery of Prince Edward Island and the Backwater of Canadian History

"Then 480 years later we plan to legalize weed, gay marriage, and sex with animals..."

The chief characteristic of Canadian history is how underwhelming and indeed twee it is. Although it has its occasional moments, there are few of the Earth-shaking events and titanic figures of the kind that define other countries' histories. This should not be surprising as the country derives its name from a casual Indian word for "village" (kanata) and has chosen to symbolize itself with a flag based on a dead leaf.

Canada is the work of steady, low-profile individuals making calm, rational decisions to exploit hitherto unexploited resources, and keeping conflict to a minimum, not hard to do in a land that is still considered "big and empty." It is a country where the spirit of history has traipsed with light, moccasined feet and gently dipped its paddle, rather than marched with heavy steel-capped boots to the sound of drums.