Category Archives: A History of North America

Union general William T Sherman

This successful but invariably severe soldier with a Native American middle name – Tecumseh – was born in 1820, went into the Army in his teens, and rose so fast he was commanding a division at Shiloh in the American Civil War. The latter was a real blood-letting affair fought among family and friends between 1861 and 1865. The most important issue is thought to be the rights and wrongs of slavery, but many significant leaders in the North of the US rightly believed that most Southern States were determined on secession before and during the conflagration. This, in a new and blooming, hugely land-rich nation would have meant disaster. Continue reading

The Canadian Pacific Railway

/ focusedonlight.com

/ focusedonlight.com

The name of the longest railway in the world may confuse. It is transcontinental, not a railroad running along the western or Pacific coast of Canada. Work began in 1880, under a Conservative government led by Sir John Macdonald. In order to persuade capitalists to invest in it, Macdonald offered potential investors millions of acres of fertile arable land running alongside the proposed tracks. He also offered subsidies and tax exemption. Continue reading

The Treaty of Washington

This very interesting piece of legislation took place in 1871, some six years after the end of the American Civil War (1861-65). It was attended by the Canadian Prime Minister J.A. Macdonald as well as delegates from the United States and Great Britain. Perhaps Macdonald was there to keep an eye on the proceedings, because the United States wanted compensation from Britain because she had sold arms to the Confederate side during the Civil War. Continue reading

The Pentagon Papers

More than forty documents detailing United States involvement in the East, with the emphasis on Indochina, starting during the Second World War and finishing around May, 1968. Students who would like to know how and why the US was (and is) so concerned about countries a long way away should study them; if they can. Continue reading

The Japanese Peace Constitution (1947)

After the horrific end of World War II in the East, the Japanese decided to replace the draconian Meiji Constitution agreed to in 1889. But the new draft was itself not new; it was based on the draft imposed on the Japanese cabinet by the United States in 1946.

The document gave sovereignty to the people rather than the Emperor, who was now to be seen only as a symbol of state, similar therefore to the European monarchies, which are ‘constitutional’ rather than ‘absolute’. In January of 1946 the Emperor Hirohito had announced that he was no longer divine. Emperor’s divinity had not before been questioned by the Japanese people. Continue reading

The United Nations Organisation (based in New York)

The most expensive organisation on this planet started life in October 1945. Its predecessor the League of Nations had proved to be useless, and the founder nations were determined, whatever the cost, to maintain peace after the horrors of two world wars, and encourage international cooperation. Headquarters it was decided would be most appropriately based in New York City, since the United States had at last managed to become World Cop No I. No other country had the resources or the money to become sheriff, Japan had lost two major cities to the atomic bomb, and most of her capital to the fire bombs. Britain was nearing bankruptcy. Germany was actually bankrupt, and smarting after two near-total defeats in just over thirty years. France had prospered during her Nazi occupation and people from the east coast of England, if they could afford it, went shopping there by channel ferry. Italy showed signs of approaching Communism, and Russia had lost a heavy percentage of her uniformed male population. It had to be the United States, which had entered the Second World War with extreme reluctance nearly three years late. Continue reading

That Special Relationship

This is a favourite (or favorite term) used mainly by British social commentators and diplomats to describe what they like to see as special Anglo-American relations. The term reflects language ties as well as cultural ones; shared values and interests. There is no truth in it: it is nothing but a very large dose of wishful thinking on the part of wistful British statesmen. There is an astonishing lack of realism in this romantic idea of a ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Britain.

At the end of the nineteenth century and up to the beginning of the Great War in 1914, Americans regarded Great Britain’s astonishing Empire (more than a sixth of the world’s land surface) with jealousy. Many US presidents wondered openly how they could wrest it away from the Limeys, and perhaps form their own, even bigger Empire. A wonderful opportunity arose when Europe caught fire following the killing of the Austrian arch-duke and his wife in Sarajevo. War broke out in Europe in 1914, but the enormous might and weight of the States did not enter it until 1917, after three years of slaughter, when it was calculated that Britain, France and indeed Germany were so exhausted physically and economically that they could do no more. This was the moment when Uncle Sam got there, and her commanders reversed the maps to their advantage. It was indeed a ‘special relationship’. The pathetic Brits breathed a sigh of relief; they lost on average one man (or boy fresh from the classroom) from every family in the most savage and futile war that has ever been fought. ‘The Yanks are Here!’ they sang, having little or no idea of the harshness of all international relations. Continue reading

Charles de Gaulle

Charles André Joseph-Marie de Gaulle was born in 1890. His family was privileged and conservative, as can be denoted by the de in his name; also devoutly Roman Catholic. He was naturally educated at a Jesuit school and went straight to the French military academy at St-Cyr. As a junior officer he fought with distinction and valour in the Great War.

Probably because of his superior attitude, never popular with senior officers, he was still a colonel in 1940 when he was already fifty years old. He wrote a number of important treatises on military and historical subjects, and was a great admirer of the tank as a promising method of waging war. Continue reading

The witch trials at Salem, Massachusetts, 1692

Witch-hunting, of one type or another, has always been a popular spectator sport. Gypsies, Jews, witches, Catholics, Recusant Catholics, Protestants, homosexuals – everybody has been through it during the centuries. What happened to ‘village scolds’ (women who talked too much) in rural Britain for at least eight centuries was less harmful than burning of course, but being ducked repeatedly in a pond full of refuse and the odd dead animal if the poor scold was unlucky, cannot have been good for either morale or health. What occurred in rural Massachusetts was so awful Arthur Miller wrote an exceedingly successful stage play about it, called The Crucible – not a play for the faint-hearted. Continue reading