I love history. To me it is endlessly fascinating, the never ending chronicle of the triumphs and tragedies of mankind, filled with adventure, courage, cowardice, wisdom, folly and all those elements that make great novels. I therefore find it distressing that so many people think history is dull and are indifferent or even hostile to it. Distressing but understandable. Too many historians seem to write with the unstated desire to make their subject matter as dull and dreary as they can manage. A useful corrective to this are good historical novels, which can often awake in readers a love of history. One of the great practioners of the craft was Rafael Sabatini.
Writing at the end of the Nineteenth and the first half of the Twentieth, Sabatini wrote with color and verve and his historical novels, the best known of which is Captain Blood, were historically accurate as well as being vastly entertaining. Children can often come to love history if it is demonstrated to them that it does not have to be dull, and a great historical novel can help accomplish this. Continue reading
I’ve been ending day lately with an hour or two of reading Jose Maria Gironella’s, The Cypresses Believe in God, a massive novel set on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Given the novel’s sheer size, and that it starts out spending so much time just giving a sense of early 30s Spain as a place and time, as the civil war itself begins to approach one feels with the characters a certain creeping unreality, as the descent of politics and then society as a whole into factional violence seems to become first imaginable, then possible, and finally inevitable.
Having fallen asleep, as it were, in 1935 Catalonia, it was with an odd sense of unreality that I clicked on a link this morning and found a New York Times columnist declaring it impossible to work with his political opponents peacefully and darkly predicting “there will be blood”.
Generally speaking, I think we would say that moral behavior consists of choosing to do right in one’s actions. However, there are a number of instances in which we tend to think of ourselves as behaving virtuously despite not having actually undertaken any action. These are means by which we tell ourselves that we have demonstrated we are “good people” without the burden of actually doing good things.
There are several different ways we do this which I’d like to address under the description of “proxy morality”, by which I mean instances in which someone assigns virtue to himself through no more action than identifying himself with some good which is performed by someone else. The first of these, one which I think people of all ideological persuasions fall into at times, is that of taking sides in history.
It is by now an old saw that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I think there is a good deal of truth in this. Further, it can be of some moral benefit for us to look to history for people and actions to admire. The moment in which we find ourselves suddenly faced with some difficult moral decision is typically not the moment at which are most un-biased or deliberative, and so having clear examples to follow, if they are well chosen, can be a significant benefit.
Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye. David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre. Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:
Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization. Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years. The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration. The Romans were also great engineers and builders. They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today. But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology. As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.
Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology. Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.” Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.” The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.
Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery. Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day. With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.
In the Mass Readings last Sunday, for the reading from the Old Testament we had Nathan the Prophet denouncing King David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite after Bathsheba became pregnant with his child. It is a familiar tale for us, and the familiarity conceals from us just how remarkable it is and how important for us it is, not just in a religious sense but also in our secular lives.
A forgotten masterpiece from Hollywood, King David (1951), helps remind us of the importance of the two great sins of David and their aftermath. David is well-portrayed by Gregory Peck. No longer the shepherd boy, he is now an increasingly world-weary King. God who was close to him in his youth now seems distant. Rita Hayworth gives a solid performance as Bathsheba, David’s partner in sin. The best performance of the film is by Raymond Massey as Nathan. Each word he utters is with complete conviction as he reveals the word of God to those too deafened by sin to hear it. In the video clip above we see this when David attempts to argue that the soldier who died when he touched the Ark of the Covenant may have died of natural causes. “All causes are of God”, Nathan responds without hesitation. He warns David that he has been neglecting his duties and that the people are discontent.
James Tabor, a professor of religious studies, in his 2006 book “The Jesus Dynasty,” takes surprisingly seriously the old Jewish idea that Jesus was known as the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Pantera—as well attested a tradition as any [emphasis mine — RD], occurring in Jewish texts of the second century, in which a Jesus ben Pantera makes several appearances, and the name is merely descriptive, not derogatory.
The whole problem with two centuries worth of historical Jesus scholarship is summed up in those seven words: “As well attested a tradition as any.” Because obviously if you don’t mind a little supernaturalism with your history, a story about Jesus being a Roman soldier’s bastard that dates from the second century — and late in the second century, at that — is dramatically less “well attested” than the well-known tradition (perhaps you’ve heard of it) that Jesus was born of a virgin married to Joseph the carpenter, which dates from the 70s or 80s A.D. at the latest, when the Gospels of Luke and Matthew were composed. Bracket the question of miracles, and there’s really no comparison: Giving the Roman soldier story equal weight with the accounts in Matthew and Luke is like saying that a tale about Abraham Lincoln that first surfaced in the 1970s has just as much credibility as a story that dates to the 1890s (and is associated with eyewitnesses to Lincoln’s life).
The American Civil War was the bloodiest in our history, a total war of attrition waged on our own territory, which an at times none to congenial peace. It is, thus, all the more inspiring to read about the reunion which was held at Gettysburg in 1913, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. An open invitation was made to all those who had served in either army, north or south, and been honorably discharged, and more than 50,000 men came to the three day event.
Personnel from the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and Engineer Corps arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1912 to plan military and civilian support for the encampment. The engineers surveyed the field adjacent to the fields of “Pickett’s Charge” where they laid out the arrangement for “The Great Camp”, divided into areas for Union veterans and for Confederate veterans. Soldiers installed utility systems, erected hundreds of tents to house the veterans, built picnic tables, benches, and boardwalks throughout the camp. By the first of June the sprawling Great Camp occupied 280 acres, included 47 1/2 miles of avenues and company streets, was lit by 500 electric arc lights, and 32 bubbling ice water fountains were installed. Over 2,000 army cooks and bakers manned 173 field kitchens, ready to provide three hot meals per day for veterans and camp personnel alike….
The first veterans arrived on June 25 and within days the Great Camp swelled to overflowing. Every veteran was provided a cot and bedding in a tent that would hold eight men. Meals were served from a kitchen at the end of each company street and varied from fried chicken suppers to roast pork sandwiches with ice cream for desert. By the end of the reunion, the army kitchens had supplied over 688,000 meals to reunion participants. Invariably the days were hot and the thermometer topped 102 degrees on July 2. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders. Remarkably, only nine veterans passed away during the week-long encampment. Despite the heat and often dusty conditions, nothing could keep the aged men in camp and hundreds wandered the battlefield. Many visited battle sites where they or their comrades had been fifty years before. Confederate veterans especially were pleased to find old cannon mounted on metal carriages to mark the locations where their batteries had been during that fateful battle. Invariably, the presence of khaki-clad US Army personnel caused a lot of excitement. The soldiers were there to guard camp supplies, give demonstrations, and provide services to the veterans who delighted themselves discussing the modern weapons of war. Many an aged veteran was eager to explain how much things had changed in fifty years to any soldier who was handy and army personnel were constantly entertained by the old soldiers at every turn. [source]
One of the major events of the reunion was a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Confederate veterans assembled to walk the three-quarters-of-a-mile across open fields towards Union lines, retracing the charge which on which fifty years before 12,500 men had set out and suffered 50% casualties. As union veterans watched the men in gray approaching them across the field again, many eyes were far from dry. And as the Confederate veterans approached the wall, their old adversaries broke ranks and came forward to meet them, not with lead and steel this time, but with the embraces of friendship.
Hattip to Allahpundit at Hot Air. One in five British adults were unable to identify a picture of Winston Churchill in a recent survey.
As part of the survey, carried out to mark this week’s 70th anniversary of Churchill’s prime ministerial tenure, more than 1,136 people were asked to identify three prominent 20th century PMs including Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
One in five (19%) adults failed to name Churchill, with the figure rising to 32% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 44% of those aged 16 to 24.
Following the pattern, researchers projected the rough date when the leaders would no longer be recognised, with Churchill’s demise predicted in 80 years’ time…
The survey, which involved people naming black and white headshot photos of the prime ministers, saw Churchill mistaken for Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy, Michael Gambon, Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, John Betjeman and Roy Hattersley, the Royal Mint said…
Kevin Clancy, head of Historical Services at the Royal Mint, added: “It’s shocking that one of our greatest statesmen runs the risk of potentially being forgotten.
Venerable Pius XII always believed that it was part of his duties as Pope to be accessible to virtually everyone who wished to see him. His audiences would normally be crowded as a result. In the autumn of 1941 he held an audience which was no different. Italians, pilgrims of all nations, German soldiers (German soldiers flocked to see the Pope until the Nazis forbade such visits, fearing the influence the words of the Pope, in direct contradiction to the doctrines of National Socialism, might have on the Landsers.), humanity from across the globe, all eager to see, and perhaps have a word with, the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
The Lost Colony is the first English attempt of setting up a settlement in the new world, ie, present day America.
The following is the article on the residents of Devon, England, laying claim that they were the original colonists of this Lost Colony:
Andy Powell, mayor of Bideford, north Devon, wants to use DNA testing to prove residents from the port town settled in the US three decades before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed there.
Mr Powell is trying to raise money for the research, which he hopes will prove his town’s “pivotal” role in the history of modern America.
He hopes advances in the science will enable scientists to link people from Bideford with descendants of a lost colonist.
His attempts centre on the story of the “lost colony”, where in 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh organised a colonial expedition of settlers including John White, a governor.
One of the continuing trends of agrument, in the insular intellectual cage match which is the political Catholic blogsphere, is whether classical liberalism (of the sort seen in the Scottish Enlightenment and among the founders of the US) is an individualist ideology which is unacceptable from a Catholic point of view.
Something which it strikes me as reasonable to consider in this regard is that classical liberalism, with it’s definition of individual rights, was in many ways a reaction to new trends in Monarchy. The 1600s and 1700s had seen the restraints which tradition, the Church and simple lack of communication and resources had traditionally placed monarchies fade away. Through much of Europe, monarchies became more centralized and absolute, less traditional. In Britain, this (combined with economic and religious tensions) let to the English Civil War, and by the early 1700s English monarchy had been successfully limited and existed essentially at the sufference of Parliament and the liberties of the unwritten English constitution. On the continent, however, the drive towards absolutism continued.
Fr. Augustus Tolton, a man born into slavery who became the first American diocesan priest of African descent, is now being considered for canonization. Cardinal Francis George announced on Monday that the nineteenth century priest’s cause for sainthood has been introduced in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“Many Catholics might not ever have heard of Fr. Augustus Tolton; but black Catholics most probably have,” the Archbishop of Chicago wrote.
Born in Missouri on April 1, 1854, John Augustine Tolton fled slavery with his mother and two siblings in 1862 by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.
“John, boy, you’re free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Tolton’s mother told him after the crossing, according to the website of St. Elizabeth’s Church in Chicago.
The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. Fr. McGirr would later baptize him and instruct him for his first Holy Communion. Tolton was serving as an altar boy by the next summer.
The priest asked Tolton if he would like to become a priest, saying it would take twelve years of hard study.
The excited boy then said they should go to church and pray for his success.
It has long been known that a huge number of German women suffered from a tidal wave of rape and sexual abuse at the hands of Russian soldiers in the closing days of World War II. Some estimates have put the number of women raped at over two million. As described in recent works such as Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin 1945 and Merridale’s Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945, this abuse was in some ways instituted (whether intentionally or not) by Soviet propaganda which emphasized to Russian soldiers that they must avenge the rape of Mother Russia, and inflict a humiliation on the German homeland which would assure it would never again attack them.
Regardless of the causes, this epidemic of abuse held an especially dark place in the German post-war experience. Although the abuse itself was well known, it was almost never discussed in the first person. No German woman had written about her experiences of abuse at the hands of Russian soldiers under her own name until this year. (A few anonymous books have been written, most famously A Woman in Berlin, and a very small number of studies based on interviews with survivors have been conducted, though due to unwillingness to talk about that time in Germany’s history, by the time people became willing to discuss the topic many of the original victims were already dead.)
Der Spiegel features an extended article about Gabriele Köpp, the first German woman to write a memoir under her own name about these experiences. Köpp is now 80. In 1945, she was just 15.
Köpp has now written a book about those 14 days and about the rapes, titled “Warum war ich bloss ein Mädchen?” (“Why Did I Have to Be a Girl?”). The book is an unprecedented document, because it is the first work of its kind written voluntarily by a woman who was raped in the final months of World War II, and who, years later, described the experiences and made them into the central theme of a book….
Whether as a sign of intellectual curiosity or general aimlessness, I often find myself reading about random subjects late at night. The other night, I found myself reading about Finland in World War II.
It’s an interesting subject. Finland was invaded by the USSR in 1939, at pretty much the same time they occupied the Baltic states and split Poland with Germany.
In the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Finns successfully slowed the Soviet advance, and eventually the USSR agreed to a peace treaty. Finland was forced to cede the parts of her territory she had not yet won back from the Soviets, but 90% of the country’s territory remained intact. This itself was an amazing military feat for such a small country. It’s also interesting in that they essentially out-Russianed the Russians. Just as Napoleon’s and Hitler’s armies bogged down and froze while trying to invade Russia, the Soviets bogged down and froze while trying to attack Finland, which was even better versed in winter warfare than Russia.
For the benefit of Mr. Robertson. The Haitians revolted during the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon I. The Haitians were never ruled by Napoleon III (1852-1870), having their independence recognized in 1825 by France. Although Voodoo has been sadly ubiquitous in Haiti, there is no evidence of a pact between Satan and Haitian insurgents, although Robertson is not the only person to propound this myth, which is quite common in some evangelical circles. A good article debunking this myth is here and here. This of course is far from the first time that Pat Robertson has said something factually challenged and insulting, although considering the vastness of the tragedy, Robertson expounding his kook theory at this point as Haiti mourns countless dead and lies prostrate is truly beneath contempt. Certain Catholic religious orders enjoin silence for the good of the souls of their members. Mr. Robertson could benefit by following their example.
For those wishing to donate to Catholic Relief Services for Haiti, here is a link.
Over the last few months, I’ve been gradually working my way through a set of lectures on the history of the United States by professors Staloff and Masur of the City College of New York — emphasis on the gradually as several months and 22 lectures in I’m around at around 1800.
One of the things that has been striking me is the discussion on the ideas about how a republic ought to function current among the colonists and the Founders’ generation. In early America, it was generally only male property owners who could vote — sometimes with an additional limitation on how much property you had to own. This was not, however, out of a desire to exclude the poor and empower the rich. (Though one could certainly see it that way, and I’m sure that some people did.) Rather, it’s purpose was to assure that only “masters” had a voice in the running of the republic(s). I use the term “master” not in reference to slavery, but in an almost feudal sense. A master was a man who owned property in the sense of owning some means of support: an estate, a farm, a business, etc. But this wasn’t just a position of power, it was also one of responsibility. A master was expected to assure the well-being of all those who worked for him or lived in his household/estate. Sometimes, these were one and the same. A master craftsman might well have one or two apprentices living in his house, with his family. Journeyman laborers might live in the shop, or also in his house. Even if his workers lived under another roof, a master was not merely an employer, he was also a patron and head of household to all who depended on him.
Hattip to Big Hollywood. A film clip from Battleground (1949), a rousing tribute to the heroic stand of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne at Christmas 1944, which helped turn the tide of the Battle of the Bulge. We should always be mindful of the men and women in our military who are far from their families today, celebrating Christmas often in dangerous situations. May God bless them and keep them, and may we always remember the sacrifices they make for us.