Burke, politician, essayist & long-lasting influence

Edmund Burke was born in Dublin in 1729. Educated in this city, it was not long before he quit ‘the bogs of Ireland’ and moved to London, where he got the job of being private secretary to Lord Rockingham in 1765, when Burke was 36. So far so slow, but the Irishman never wasted a moment of his long apprenticeship with Rockingham, which lasted until the latter’s death in 1872. (more…)

What was the Cheka?

Felix Dzerzhinsky /

Felix Dzerzhinsky /

This colourful European word in initials stood for ‘The Extraordinary Commission for combatting Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Speculation’ and we will not attempt to put that in Russian. It was the fearsome Soviet secret police.

It was founded in December 1917, because Lenin (q.v.) was opposed by the middle classes, peasant/serfs and even some socialist parties in his attempts to set up a one-party state. Faced otherwise with famine and civil war, Lenin saw the Cheka as essential for the survival of the Soviet regime he was so anxious to establish. (more…)

By | 2014-01-03T11:37:39+00:00 January 3rd, 2014|British History, Russian history, Today, World History|2 Comments

The Canadian Pacific Railway



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. (more…)

A message from Dean Swift

There will be fewer posts during the next few weeks as we are assembling and compiling etc. a book. It is a selection taken from the six hundred or so posts we have published in the last three years. Please have patience. And here is a Gollum-like trick question for our bloggers:-

Who says this? ‘Je ne suis pas ce que je suis(more…)

By | 2013-12-01T08:43:40+00:00 December 1st, 2013|Today|5 Comments

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

By | 2014-04-01T13:32:30+00:00 November 4th, 2013|A History of North America, Today, US History|0 Comments

The Treaty of Trianon (1920) and its effect on Hungary

This treaty is another good example of the collateral damage to be expected when states join in wars with the express intention of gaining territory, though the war in question has nothing or little to do with them. In the First or Great War of the 20th century, Hungary, because of its alliances with Austria, fought against the Western allies. Romania, sensing a chance to do well out of it, declared for the allies.

The Treaty of Versailles decreed that Hungary, among the states which fought for the loser, Germany, should share the blame and pay the price. After the four terrible years spent mostly advancing and retreating over the trenches were over, Hungary became a Republic, but a Communist revolt established a Communist administration in 1919. This failed, and a monarchical regime (in name only) was introduced with a new constitution, under the leadership of Admiral Horthy. (more…)

‘Stadhouder’: what was a ‘stadholder’?

The names in Dutch and English are similar; this was the office of the chief executive of the Dutch Republic when Holland was a republic and not, as it is now, a Monarchy. Once, the Stadholder had been the King’s representative (and military commander) in any one of the many districts.

When the northern part of the Netherlands, also called the Low Countries because most of the land was below sea level, broke formally (and finally violently) with the Spanish king in 1581 the provincial assemblies or stads decided that they would appoint their own Stadholder. (more…)

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. (more…)

The House of Bourbon (and Borbón)

The French (and later the Spanish) royal house descends from a Capet – Louis IX (The Saintly). As such it was absolutist and conformist in ideology, and dedicated to the extension of France in other territories and maintaining her influence.

The last king of the Valois dynasty was Henry III; Henry of Navarre (‘Paris is worth a Mass’) became Henry IV of France and established the Bourbon dynasty. His son was Louis XIII and his grandson was the Sun King himself, Louis Quartorze (Louis XIV). (more…)

By | 2014-04-01T13:33:53+00:00 October 10th, 2013|French History, Spanish History, Today|0 Comments
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