In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator. Continue reading
Readers become confused by the essential differences between dominions and colonies and protectorates. The British Empire, when it existed, embraced all three. ‘Dominions’ was the name used for countries in the Empire that had a certain degree of self-government, but owed allegiance to the British Crown. The first country to be called a Dominion was Canada (1867), followed by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and, at last, the Irish Free State in 1921. Their new independence was officially recognised at the Imperial Conference in 1926. Actual power to pass legislation independently of the Government was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster.
In 1931 this Statute gave freedom to the Dominions. Following the Great War these Dominions had been accepted as national states in their own right, though they were still part of the Empire. They joined the ill-fated League of Nations (q.v.) but it was seen (by them) as if their ‘freedom’ was still limited. Continue reading
Dreyfus was born into a Jewish family in France in 1859. The fact of his Jewishness was to prove a main factor in his future. He chose the army as a career, and became an officer. In 1894 he was accused of passing military information to Germany, a traditional enemy of France for centuries. The accusers claimed they found writings in Dreyfus’ own hand revealing important military secrets. A court martial found Dreyfus guilty; he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the jail on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. This notorious internment camp was used by the French to get rid of her worst criminals, and was almost impossible to escape because the island was (and is) circled by maneating sharks.
Later a new army chief was apppointed, one Colonel Picquart, who discovered in 1896 that the court martial had been a farce, and that the real spy had been Major Esterhazy, who moved in illustrious circles. Picquart was promptly sent to serve in Tunisia and in effect instructed to keep his discoveries to himself. Thus began the ‘Dreyfus Case’ – one of the most intriguing in the history of France. Continue reading
Some writers have incorrectly translated this French phrase as Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, and attributed it (among others) to Prime Minister Walpole. But this doctrine means much more: it maintains that free trade is preferable to ‘protected’ trade, and that the state should not, without reason, interfere in economic affairs. It is a great pity that it is merely an eighteenth century doctrine, hardly thought of today. Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1776, that constitutional date for the United States; Smith wrote that tariffs prevented or slowed down world trade, and therefore good living standards in all countries. Free trade, he insisted, provided competition and thus made certain cheaper goods of high quality. This equation would benefit both consumers and manufacturers, the latter becoming more efficient. Workers would be trained to do fewer jobs, to better effect. This could only happen, Smith claimed, in a free market. Continue reading
Though it has been put into the shadow by the Franco-Prussian War, this was one of the most important conflicts in the 19th century, because it overturned the balance of power, at least in Central Europe. The gains achieved by Prussia made her richer and better-populated than all the other Germanic states combined. It became obvious to interested observers that an eventual unification of Germany, under the leadership of Prussia, was a certain bet for the future. Continue reading
1947/48 saw the biggest break-up in the disgraceful dismemberment of the British Empire, whose most important ‘colony’ was India. Lord Mountbatten (q.v.) was sent to supervise the partition of India. At this time Kashmir was mostly populated with Muslims, though ruled by Hindus – lunacy on a grand scale. In October there was a Muslim-orchestrated uprising in the west, naturally supported across the border by Pakistan. Kashmir howled for help from India, and got some; but Indian troops would only act in exchange for Kashmir becoming part of the Indian Union. Continue reading
Ypres is a place in Belgium, known mainly by Great War enthusiasts who are taken on guided tours. In October and November of the first year of the war a major German offensive to outflank the British Expeditionary Force had to be stopped – and it was – but the battle area was left still dominated on three sides by German armies, commanding the heights. This was the first Battle of Ypres.
The second took place in April and May 1915, and was notable for the first use of poison gas by the Kaiser’s armies. This gas was chlorine-based, and gas masks on the heads of allied soldiers were also seen for the first time. They did not work as efficiently as the boffins had predicted. Thousands of troops had to be invalided back into France and Britain, suffering from the gas, which left them crippled in mind and body. In terms of strategy, this second battle at Ypres forced the British to shorten their line of defence in what was called ‘The Ypres Salient’. Continue reading
These three names (and the persons themselves) are connected by the historical fact that each was imprisoned as penalty for their nationalism, and each became President of their country. In the case of Kenyatta, he alone of the three did something not tried by the other two: he acted in a Hollywood film made in Africa – Sanders of the river (1935)– as a young black tribal chief and troublemaker. Nelson Mandela as a character has appeared in another Hollywood film, played by a black actor, a movie about South African rugby starring a white American, Matt Damon. As far as I know Makarios only appears in newsreels of his period.
Kenyatta was born in 1891 in Kenya, then a British colony. He was well educated by Scottish missionaries who could not, however, persuade him against politics. He joined the Young Kikuyu Association in 1922, and edited a news-sheet with the difficult name of Mwigwithania, representing progressive black opinion in the 30s. He visited London a few times, trying to make lobbies, but went to the USSR more often. Continue reading
Mitterand was a life-long Socialist who served in the brief French military resistance to German might between 1939 and 1940, and is then said to have co-operated with the rather spare French resistance after the Vichy Nazi-dominated occupation government was set up. Resistance to the Nazis was ‘spare’ because the majority of French people had had quite enough of fighting Germans during four or five generations, and were only too pleased to denounce a suspected neighbour to a Vichy official, or, no worse as it happened, the Gestapo. He was born in 1916, in the middle of the Great War, and was elected a Deputy in 1946 at the age of thirty; almost immediately he became a Minister in the post-War Cabinet. From then on he would always hold posts in the Government of the Fourth Republic. Continue reading
It is a fair bet that many readers have noticed a reference to ‘Clausewitz’ in the history books they are reading, or even in novels; it is a name they know, though they are not sure why. Nor are they one hundred percent sure who he was or what it was he did to receive so many mentions in literature, especially war literature. Well, Clausewitz was a specialist in wars, in which he personally fought certainly, but principally he was a theorist in how wars should be fought.
He was born in 1780, a Prussian, and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) in 1793 and 1794, as a drummer boy presumably, given that he was only thirteen. He got captured in 1806 while fighting properly at Jena and Auerstadt. His enemies’ commander was no less than Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1812 he had enough experience and rank to assist Scharnhorst in the reform of the Prussian army, but, following the example of other Prussian officers, he refused to accede to current politics and fight for Napoleon against Russia. He was therefore not present in the Emperor’s Moscow Campaign. Continue reading