Remembering a brave soldier
Here is a story from World War Two. The place is the island of Crete; the date, May of 1941. The Wehrmacht was busily occupying Greece. The British expeditionary force in that country, overwhelmed, was being evacuated. Some of the Allied troops were moved to Crete, to fortify the rudimentary defenses of the place. They... Read More
The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election, by Garland S. Tucker III
The 1924 presidential election was, on the face of it, a snoozer. The major-party candidates were Calvin Coolidge (Republican) and John W. Davis (Democrat). Both were conservative — sensationally so by today's standards. As Garland Tucker notes in this enjoyable and informative book: "There were … very few philosophical differences between Davis and Coolidge." Both... Read More
Olympic Dreams, by Xu Guoqi
A favorite piece of expat lore among foreigners in early 20th-century China concerned the Chinese government official who called on some Western friends one hot day just as they were starting a game of tennis. They invited him to watch, so he took a seat in the shade, had a servant bring him some green... Read More
On The Corner the other day, by way of commemorating the centenary of the sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein, I posted Heinlein's contribution to the 1950s radio series "This I Believe." Eschewing any religious or metaphysical affirmations, Heinlein laid out his social credo: Heinlein went on to praise the charity and conscientiousness of his fellow... Read More
Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, by Robert C. Davis
Presented with the word "slavery," what comes to your mind? If you are an American, it is surely the race slavery that was a feature of life here for 250 years, that continued through the early decades of the Republic in some states, and that caused divisions that led to the Civil War, the bloodiest... Read More
La Belle France: A Short History, by Alistair Horne
As a true-born Englishman, I took Francophobia in with my mother's milk — or, at any rate, with my mother's reflex response, when anyone mentioned our neighbors across the Channel, that "they let us down in the War." This settled in my infant mind as a sort of Homeric epithet: the French who-let-us-down-in-the-War. My father... Read More
His name was an anagram of "The Death."
Some random reflections on Ted Heath, Prime Minister of the U.K. 1970-74, who died on Sunday. ————————— Ye banks an' braes o' bonny Central. Ted Heath's premiership represented the high tide of bureaucratic managerialism in Britain. Its most characteristic expression was the reorganization of the old British county system, so that ancient creations like Kircudbrightshire... Read More
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, by Bradley K. Martin
When the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung died in 1994 and his son Kim Jong-il took over leadership of the country, I thought, in common with most observers, that the communist regime was done for. Kim Sr., though he had originally been installed by Stalin as a tool of Soviet policy, had had a genuine... Read More
How did I hate Hero, the newest box-office-bustin' Chinese sword'n'skyhook movie? Let me count the ways. ————————— • I hated the endless swordfight scenes. To call them "swordfight scenes" is in fact a stretch, as they bear as much relation to actual swordfights as The Flintstones does to family life in the Upper Paleolithic. The... Read More
This month marks the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, perhaps the great civilizational catastrophe of the past half-millennium. (Principal contender: The collapse of Chinese Imperial civilization following the mid-19th-century encounter with the West.) For anyone raised in Britain, WW1 has a powerful emotional pull. I've written about this myself on this... Read More
As the 20th century recedes into some kind of perspective, I think we are beginning to understand that it was, from the point of view of creative achievement, pretty much a waste of time. I was not at all surprised to see that Charles Murray's recent book Human Accomplishment offers statistical confirmation of this melancholy... Read More
Anniversaries are, of course, of merely numerological significance. If God in His wisdom had given us six fingers on each hand instead of five, then we should have to wait 144 years to celebrate the centenary of a great man, and there would be 1,728 years in a millennium. As it is, we nod in... Read More
Two thousand one hundred and seventy years ago, in the reign of the emperor Wen of the Han dynasty, northern barbarians, possibly ancestors of the Huns who assaulted Europe six centuries later, broke through the Great Wall and raided the frontier provinces of China. They burned cities and massacred or enslaved the inhabitants. One Chinese... Read More
Chiang Kai Shek, by Jonathan Fenby
I think Chiang Kai Shek's career is well known, at least in outline. The last Chinese emperor abdicated in 1912. China fell into utter chaos until, in 1926, Chiang marched an army northward and achieved a semblance of national unification. From 1928 China was under Chiang's dictatorship, with Nanking as the capital. However, Japan seized... Read More
Soong May-ling, R.i.P..
I imagine the death of Madame* Chiang Kai-shek** barely registered with any non-Chinese person much under the age of sixty. The lady was 105 years old, and had not been in the news in any interesting way since 1988, when she made an unsuccessful attempt to interfere in Taiwan politics. She had not had any... Read More
You have to excuse me being a little behind the curve here. I don't always keep up as well as I should. You think it's easy, persuading publishers to give you money to write books? Let me tell you, it's not easy, it's darned hard work. Plus I have a family to care for, and... Read More
The British — what else?
Here on my desk I have a 1924 atlas of the world that belonged to my grandfather, an Englishman. Its actual title is: The British Empire Universities Up-to-date Atlas-guide to the British Commonwealth of Nations and Foreign Countries. The book is divided into three sections. First, of course, are the maps, 136 pages of them.... Read More
Across the pond, swan bashes frogs.
All this anti-French commentary these past few weeks has stirred warm feelings of nostalgia in my breast. This is my home territory; this is stuff I know. Frog-bashing is only an occasional and desultory pleasure for Americans, but growing up in England, I took in Francophobia with my mother's milk. "With my father's cigarette smoke"... Read More
[Note: Several readers pointed out that since Tennessee and West Virginia are not contiguous states, my opening sentence is wrong. Yeah, yeah, everybody's a critic …] Hank Williams died in either 1952 or 1953, in either Tennessee or West Virginia. The confusions arise from the fact that he was in the back seat of a... Read More
Attila T. Hun.
Knowing my fondness for what Hollywood calls "sword'n'sandal" epics, and also my penchant for pointing up the advantages of civilization by comparing it to the opposite thing, Santa left for me under the Christmas tree a DVD of the recent movieAttila, directed by Dick Lowry (no relation to our gracious editor). I finally got around... Read More
1916: The Easter Rising, by Tim Pat Coogan
The Easter Rising of 1916 is the central event in 20th-century Irish history. At noon on April 24 of that year, Easter Monday, a small group of violent separatists seized some key points in the city of Dublin and proclaimed a Republic independent of Britain. After a week of bitter fighting the insurrection was put... Read More
Plain speaking from Rumsfeld.
I am coming under considerable pressure from my reader base to lighten up. My last few columns have been too gloomy, they tell me. Don't I know that this is the land of hope and opportunity? As a new-minted citizen, I should shuck off the cynicism and pessimism of the Old World and lift my... Read More
New York's Irish famine memorial.
Finding myself in downtown Manhattan on Monday afternoon with an hour to kill, I thought I would take a look at the new Irish HungerMemorial, dedicated July 16 by New York State Governor George Pataki and various other dignitaries. The memorial is in Battery Park City, at the westernmost end of Vesey Street. I came... Read More
But let's remember who's watching.
In 1897, Britain celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee — the 60th anniversary of her accession. Britain was then at the height of her power, ruling over huge swathes of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the antipodes. The Jubilee celebrations were suitably grand. On June 22, chains of celebratory bonfires were lit all along the nation's... Read More
Changing hearts and minds.
The battle of the Lechfeld, which was fought on a rainy Friday in August of A.D. 955, does not figure in any of those books describing the most decisive or most significant battles in world history — books by historians like Edward Creasyor our own Vic Hanson. This is a shame, and a bit unfair,... Read More