Today is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II as Germany bombarded Westerplatte with canon fire. Eventually Germany made peace with their neighbors by recognizing the role they played in the devastation of Europe. Since then Europe has experienced only one conflict since the end of World War II.
But Russia remains another matter.
Russia continues to be belligerent in their interpretation of the war. Denying much culpability in their conflict with Poland and even insinuating of Polish-German designs on the Soviet Union.
In the days leading up to anniversary, Russian media has aired a string of accusations against Poland, claiming that Warsaw intended to collaborate with Hitler in an invasion of the Soviet Union, and that Jozef Beck, Poland’s foreign minister in 1939, was a German agent. Moscow broadcasters have also claimed that there was a “German hand” in the 1940 Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish PoWs, an atrocity generally held to have been the exclusive work of Stalin’s secret police.
In fairness, the de facto ruler of Russia, Vladimir Putin, did offer a conciliatory tone relating to Russia’s aggression towards Poland:
“Our duty is to remove the burden of distrust and prejudice left from the past in Polish-Russian relations,” wrote Mr Putin, who went on to describe the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as “immoral”, and also thanked Poland “from the bottom of my heart” for the 600,000 Poles who fought on the Eastern Front under Red Army command.
The US is a nation of immigrants, and as such, many of us grew up with stories of how our ancestors came here. In what I hope can be a friendly, Friday-afternoon atmosphere, the purpose of this thread is to allow people to tell stories about how and when their ancestors came to the US.
I can trace back three stories, some sketchier than others:
My paternal grandmother’s family all Irish stock from County Cork, who’d left during the Great Famine in the 1840s and settled in Iowa. Several men out of the next generation served the Union in the Civil War, and two generations after that, twin brothers Clare and Clarence, both priests, served as chaplains for US soldiers in the Great War. One of their sisters served as a nurse in the war as well.
Here, at 8:39, in my opinion, is one of the more profound observations on film about the Catholic Church and History. The evil that men do make many a blood stained page of History, but the Church survives throughout History as Caesars, Emperors, Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Commissars, Fuhrers, Caudillos, Duces, General Secretaries, would be fake messiahs, etc, pass away.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983) is one of the better films dealing with the Catholic Church. Gregory Peck is brilliant as Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, who during World War 2, hid 4000 escaped Allied POWs and Jews from the Nazi occupiers of Rome. Christopher Plummer gives the performance of his career as Obersturmbanfuhrer (Colonel) Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo in Rome. John Gielgud gives a stunningly good performance as Pius XII. At one point when he confronts a Nazi delegation he merely stares at them with steely disdain until they get the hint and leave. I imagine the actual Pius XII used a similar look of disdain when, on March 11, 1940, his response to a complaint by the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop that the Church was siding with the Allies, was to read to Von Ribbentrop a long list of atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland, which had been compiled by the Church. This is a superb film that should be seen by every Catholic.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have a deep love for History. I am glad that many Catholic bloggers share my passion. Pat McNamara has a fine blog, named, fittingly enough, McNamara’s Blog, here, dealing with Church history. I have found his posts to be insightful, concise and gracefully written, and he is definitely worth a visit. I love this quote from one of my favorite writers, that old Whig Thomas Babington Macaulay, that graces the side of his blog: (I am giving the full quote): Continue reading
Valkyrie, The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by its Last Member is a fascinating book, though not primarily for reading about the Valkyrie plot itself. Other books have been written specifically about the plot, and I would imagine that from some of them you could find far more details about the plot itself. This book, a narrative of Philipp von Boeselager’s wartime experiences as he told them to Florence Fehrenbach (herself the granddaughter of another of the Valkyrie conspirators) a year before his von Boeselager’s death in 2008, is in many ways too close and personal a story to give the reader the most detailed possible understanding of the plot as a whole. So long as the reader understands this, Valkyrie is a fascinating window on the experiences of an honorable young man caught up in the Third Reich.
The son of an old Catholic family of minor nobility with a tradition of military service, Philipp credits his resistance to Nazi ideology in part to his school headmaster, Fr. Rodewyck, who had served as a German officer in the Great War before going into the Jesuits, and whom von Boeselager credits with having taught his young charges a German patriotism which was rooted in Christianity.
Despite a semester overseas in England and mandatory schooling in the subject, it is to my great regret that I neglected to pay much attention to European history in college. What I did study a decade ago I’ve barely retained — something I’ve been compensating for in years since, by way of a 45 minute subway commute that provides just enough time to get a few chapters in.
The British historian Michael Burleigh is one whose work I’ve discovered recently and have benefited greatly from reading. Earlier this year I finished Earthly Powers (“The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War”) and am now working through the sequel: Sacred Causes (“The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror”). Both volumes are fascinating studies of European history, through the prism of church-state relations and the myriad attempts of each to assume the role of the other. Continue reading
The 4th of July is the primary patriotic holiday of our country, and yet the event it commemorates (the publication of the Declaration of Independence) was just the first step on our road to nationhood. Although the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Articles of Confederation were not adopted until November of 1777 and were not ratified until March of 1781 — the year that the Revolutionary War was finally won, with the surrender of General Cornwallis in Yorktown. Yet the Articles turned out to be a fairly unworkable practical form of government, and Shay’s Rebellion of 1786-1787 demonstrated that to many of the new country’s citizens, armed revolt was still a standard form of political expression.
The ratification of the US Constitution in March of 1789 represented a significant step, creating a stronger central government with more clearly defined powers, and a model for federal constitutions to this day. Yet, whether the words on paper could be translated into a lasting and stable government remained yet to be seen.
To my mind, one of the major milestones was reached in 1794, when President Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
With all the discussion of whether British behavior in the Colonies justified the Revolutionary War, I can’t help being reminded of an exchange in one of my favorite books, 84, Charing Cross Road:
August 15, 1959
i write to say i have got work.
i won it. i won a $5,000 Grant-in-Aid off CBS, it’s supposed to support me for a year while I write American History dramatizations. I am starting with a script about New York under seven years of British Occupation and i MARVEL at how i rise above it to address you in friendly and forgiving fashion, your behavior over here from 1776 to 1783 was simply FILTHY.
My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.
A good friend and long time reader sent along a link to this information several months ago, and I’ve been incredibly remiss in not doing the research to put up this post sooner. However, as I did the research over the last few weeks, I found it very much worth the time. I hope you will too.
It was through a friend in the Catholic blogsphere that I was introduced to the pleasures of studying, collecting and shooting military rifles. The most common and available military rifles are the bolt action rifles carried by the major powers (other than the US, which fielded the semi-automatic M1 Garand) during World War II, in most cases little modified from the versions carried thirty years before in the Great War. This was the last great age of battle rifles with wooden stocks and large cartridges, before the high tech “ugly guns” of the modern world took over.
There are, however, significantly more rare rifles to be found of an earlier vintage, the early cartridge rifles used form the 1860s through 1900, and of these one of the rarest is the M1868 Pontificio, the only modern rifle ever manufactured specifically for the Vatican.
The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day. These were young men, in peak physical condition. Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches. He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.” No way would he be able to keep up when they invaded France.
On June 6th we commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy — conveying our thanks to those who fought and died for the liberation of Europe, and the world, from the Nazis.
Many stories and reflections will be shared today. Here are just a few.
On one occasion we were near some farm houses and some large shells began to fall, so several of us near a stone barn dashed into it to get out of the way of shrapnel. Just inside was a mother hen covering her little chicks. When we hurried in she became frightened and fluffing her feathers rose up to protect her young. I looked at her and silently said, “No, mother hen, we are not trying to hurt you and your little family, we are trying to hurt each other.”
Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue. As I look back through hectic days just gone by to that hellish beach I agree with Ernie Pyle, that it was a pure miracle we even took the beach at all.” Yes, there were a lot of miracles on the beach that day. God was on the beach D-Day; I know He was because I was talking with Him..
At 6:30AM on June 6th, 1944 — 65 years ago today — American, British and Canadian soldiers assaulted the beaches of Nazi-occupied France in the first day of the return of the land war to Western Europe in World War II. In some sectors of the 50-mile-long section of coastline chosen for the landings, defense was minimal and soldiers slogged stolidly through the surf and onto land. In others, especially the American Omaha Beach, the first waves came under a withering barrage of machine gun and mortar fire which nearly completely wiped out the first waves.
The bravery of young men in such conditions, and the fears and sadness of their loved ones back home, constitute the sort of heroism, sacrifice and tragedy which have moved human hearts from the most ancient epics until the present day.
In one of the British landing craft, an officer played for his men a phonograph recording of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. And so it seems a fitting tribute to the bravery of all the men from throughout the English-speaking world who huddled in their boats in the terrifying minutes before battle sixty-five years ago to post this, one of the greatest martial speeches in English literature, in the rendition from Kenneth Branagh’s outstanding production.
Sometimes one image serves to sum up an event in the world’s memory. For the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, that image is probable the one of the “tank man” — a lone protester who was photographed on June 5th, 1989 when he briefly stood, unarmed, before a tank column and stopped it.
There is not agreement as to who the “tank man” was, and most reports suggest he was arrested by the secret police and executed within the next two weeks.
In those heady days, it seemed possible that within a few years communist dictatorship would be nothing more than a memory, but twenty years later the communist oligarchs in China have learned to accomodate freedom and enterprise enough to remain in power. And the tank man’s dream remains unrealized.
It may seem like overkill to write a multi-part book review, but historian Thomas F. Madden’s new Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World explores a thesis I’ve been interested in for some time, which has significant implications for our country’s foreign policy and the wider question of what our country is and what its place in the world ought to be.
The US has been often accused, of late, of being an empire. Madden effectively accepts that this is the case, but argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Among his first projects is to lay out three different types of empire: empires of conquest, empires of commerce, and empires of trust.
An empire of conquest is one spread by military power, in which the conquering power rules over and extracts tribute from the conquered. Classic examples would include the empires of the Assyrians, Persians, Mongols, Turks, Alexander’s Hellenistic empire, Napoleon’s empire and to an extent the Third Reich, Imperial Japan and Soviet Union. Empires of conquest are spread by war, and conquered territory is ruled either by local puppet rulers or by a transplanted military elite from the conquering power.
An empire of commerce is interested only in securing enough of a political foothold in its dominions to carry on trade, and is less concerned over political control or tribute. Examples would include the British and Dutch empires; in the ancient world the Pheonicians and Athenians; and later, medieval Venice. Empires of conquest are typified by a network of far-flung colonies directly controlled by the home country, at locations which are strategic for exploiting natural resources or trading with regional powers. They are less focused on conquering large swathes of territority than with controlling enough of a foothold (and enforcing enough stability in the surrounding area) to carry on their commerce.
The book, however, is primarily concerned with a third type of empire, the empire of trust, of which Madden gives only two examples: Rome and the United States. The term “empire of trust” itself requires some unpacking.
One hears rather often that George W. Bush has ended his presidency with record low approval ratings. Some articles I’ve read have said (apparently incorrectly) that they are the lowest ever.
The above was sent to me yesterday, and it provides an interesting comparison. Two presidents left office with approvals as low as Bush’s: Truman, who faced a struggling post-war economy and a increasingly difficult situation in the Korean War; and Nixon, who was in the middle of being impeached when he resigned.
History has been far kinder to Truman, overall, than Nixon. Indeed, I suspect that few people know that Truman ended his presidency as unpopular as Nixon and Bush. Certainly, I hadn’t realized it. It remains to be seen whether, in 50 years time, Bush will be seen as more like the former or the latter.
This is a thesis that could use far more development than I can give it at the moment, but I hope I can lay it out clearly enough that to generate some interesting discussion and perhaps revisit it later.
It’s frequently complained that the US is in danger of becoming a global empire. Traditionally one elaborates on this by quoting Washington’s farewell address if one is of the right, and by citing the evils of colonialism if one is of the left.
I’d like to suggest that the imperial horse has pretty much left the stable a long time ago. The US has been a global empire since World War II, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the sole global power. Although, like the later Roman Republic, the US has not actually taken direct political control over countries beyond its traditional borders (nor does it collect tribute from abroad) it has a sphere of influence covering much of the known world and is repeatedly involved in exerting pressure or deploying force to ensure regional conflicts do not spin out of control.
This in itself is perhaps not a terribly unusual thesis.