Category Archives: African History

Winter of discontent followed by glorious summer?

We are now well launched into the year two thousand and eleven – eleven years after a change of century. As the infamous 20th gradually diminishes in our memory, with its two World Wars, the tentacles of Socialism and the mostly blind grasp of Capitalism dulling our minds, it is satisfying to know that according to U.N. statistics, 200,000 persons will be lifted out of extreme poverty during each day of 2011. What is classified as extreme poverty? Living on $1.25 or equivalent per day. Which is all very well for the rest of Europe and the world, but what about a country where more than a million and half people have no income whatsoever?

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The Battle of Arnhem 1944

General Browning, husband of novelist Daphne de Maurier / homeusers.brutele.b

Arnhem is the sixth largest city in the Netherlands. It was the scene of fierce and remorseless fighting between 17 and 26 September, 1944, following the successful invasion of Normandy in June, by allied troops, ships and airforces.

The idea for a parachute/glider-mounted attack in the Dutch Netherlands is said to have been General Montgomery’s, though it was backed by General Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied forces, and Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister. The idea was a very good one, strategically speaking, but it failed to take heed of local advice about cleverly hidden German tank regiments between Nijmegen and Arnhem. In fact the allies decided to take no notice whatever of clear and accurate intelligence. Clearly, in the minds of the planners lay the idea that if Arnhem should prove successful, it would raise the morale of the inading allies tremendously – as indeed it would have – had the Arnhem plan worked.

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Anticlericalism

Anti-clericalism is not the same as anti-Christian movements. Most Roman emperors tried to stamp out Christianity from the death of Christ under Tiberius until Constantine the Great decided to adopt Christianity as an official religion within the Empire, thus ceasing the practice of pitting Christians against lions and other wild animals, such as hyenas, in the ring.

The name anti-clericalism applies in modern times to any policy bent on destroying the moral and political power of the Christian Church, and subordinating its non-spiritual functions within the State. Though there have been many instances of anti-clericalism at the expense of the Orthodox Church (Russia and Turkey), and even now in Moslem countries (see recent massacres of Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan), the term is usually restricted to aggressive hostility towards the Roman Catholic Church, its Pope, bishops, priests, monks and nuns. Continue reading

The Ancien Régime: what was it and did it work?

Countless times as you read books and learned pamphlets on history, you will meet the French words Ancien Régime. It is an easy bet that many of us only half know what these two simple words signify. The translation is easy: in English – traditional method of government by royalty; in Spanish – el antiguo regimen.

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Alexander the Great

AlexanderAll records of Alexander by his own contemporaries have disappeared. We have to depend, all of us, including historians, historical novelists, and teachers, on histories compiled three or four centuries later from the material that was not then lost. In them references appear, sometimes not. Arrian’s chief source was King Ptolemy, who, though a little older, was a companion of Alexander’s, and was there, close to him, from boyhood. Arrian’s work only begins at Alexander’s accession after the semi-mysterious death of his father King Phillip. Historian Curtius’ early chapters have all vanished. Diodorus, who covers the correct time and tells us a lot about Phillip as well, says little of Alexander. For these first two decades (nearly two thirds of Alexander’s life) we have to depend on Plutarch. But Plutarch does not cite Ptolemy during most of his History of Alexander. He was also a bit of a novelist and sensationalist.
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The British Empire

What we mean by this expression was (formerly) an apparently haphazard collection of lands throughout the world linked by common allegiance to the British throne. In 1800, though Britain had lost her Thirteen Colonies in North America, she still retained Newfoundland, scarcely populated parts of Canada and many West Indian islands, plus other islands useful for trading purposes. Britain held Gibraltar from Spain following the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1788 she had created convict settlements in New South Wales, Australia, which greatly helped the condition of overcrowding in prisons at home.

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The orchestrated Suez Canal Affair (1956)

General Nasser, who started the whole affair

General Nasser, who started the whole affair

Suez is a ship canal joining the Mediterranean Sea (at Port Said) with the Red Sea (at the Gulf of Suez). It was built to provide a sea route from Europe to Asia that did not involve having to sail all the way round Africa. It was built by French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps between 1859 and 1869. It is unusual for a canal in that it has no locks, as the two sea levels are almost the same.

The British bought holding shares in the canal in 1875, and the entire Canal Zone was held as a British base from 1882 to 1955. Egypt nationalized the canal company in 1956, which started the Suez War and briefly closed the canal. It was closed again from 1967 to 1975 after the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars.

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Imperialism

Called by some ‘colonialism’ – a mistake – imperialism is a term frequently abused by being used pejoratively by politicians and journalists. For historians, the word can be applied to numerous epochs, in each of which there may be detected a shade of difference, always significant.

Persia, Macedonia, Ottoman Turkey, Spain, France, Soviet Russia and Britain have extended their respective domain over other societies at different times, giving way to imperial rule. Germany has attempted to rule over others, using force. Britain used commercial enterprise backed by a powerful navy. Spain used a powerful navy backed by the immense courage of the conquistadores. Persia used vast resources and her armies, while Alexander’s Macedonia used the outstanding personality and popularity of its leader to create an empire.

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