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. (more…)
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. (more…)
The National Guard in France was founded in July, 1789 to replace the royal soldiers who had been forbidden entry to Paris. Other cities and towns followed suit rapidly, and soon most municipalities had their own troops, under the mandate of the local authority. At first, members tended to be of the richer class, freer and able to be more active than the agricultural or urban working classes, but revolutionary leaders soon realised that the Guard was playing a leading part on the side of the royalists (not the idea at all), so it was suppressed in 1795, only to be reorganised again in 1815, when it became an integral part of the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe (q.v.).
However, the Guard refused to defend the regime in 1848, a signal for the February Revolution to break out. It was broken up again during the Second Empire, but revived and transformed in 1870 in a useless attempt to defeat the Prussians, who were invading France at the time. Then in March, 1871 the Guard rebelled in support of the Paris Commune; many of its members were killed, but it was finally and permanently suppressed after the defeat of the Commune.
In the United States of America the National Guard holds great importance. It signifies the well-armed military reserve of each one of the States, and members are subject to federal or state call-up in an emergency. The Guard was created by Congress in 1915 to serve as an auxiliary to the regular army; its members were volunteers, and there has never been a lack of them, as it is a uniformed and salaried state militia. During any war the Guard is subject to federal (or the President’s) control and can be sent to any war zone, but for wholly political reasons it is rarely sent abroad. In the decades before conscription was suspended, many young people volunteered to enter the Guard’s ranks in order not to be conscripted for the Vietnam War. (more…)
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’. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
Napoleon Bonaparte gave his name to the civil code of 1804. Subsequent battles – Trafalgar, Waterloo etc. did not affect the Emperor’s Code, which has influenced existing legal codes in Belgium, Spain, Holland, Switzerland and Italy, as well as several states outside Europe.
Before the Revolution (q.v.) there were law systems differing from each other in France – according to geography, Roman law in the south, customary or traditional law in the north. Some effort had been made to codify and make more effective and logical the law during the ancien régime (q.v.) and even during the Revolution. The idea was to create a uniform system which could apply to all France. No efforts were successful, mostly because during the Great Terror all law was thrown to the winds. It needed the powerful personality of Napoleon himself to provide the driving force; he was personally present, and presiding, during more than fifty of more than a hundred sessions of the Council of State, called precisely to discuss the Penal Code. (more…)
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. (more…)
Not all governors-general, or ‘viceroys’ of India were touched with brilliance, like Lord Curzon. One of them, the last, gave the most important part of the British Empire away as if he were presenting the prize at a school’s Parent’s Day. Dalhousie must be awarded top marks for effort, however. He was born in 1812, just three years before Bonaparte was finally pushed off the map. He became Governor-General at the age of thirty-six – remarkably good going – and held the office until 1856. He is still the youngest ever to reach this position. He was able, innovative and interested; he worked so hard that he ruined his health. (more…)
The February Revolution (1917)
It is easy enough to say that the origin of the Revolution in Russia was mainly due to the unpopularity of the Tsar; but that would preclude other, deeper origins. The Great War had demoralized, decentralized and depopulated this huge country, a state always prepared to send more young men to be killed in battle even when mass slaughter was not required for reasons of strategy. Russian losses (dead, wounded or captured) during the great conflict had been more than half of those conscripted, perhaps fifteen million men. The war had to be paid for and the Russian government did this by the unintelligent method of printing more money, which in turn produced massive inflation. Prices of staple food supplies had quadrupled between 1914 and 1916. The serfs would not sell their grain, because there was nothing in the shops to buy with whatever cash they could obtain. Peasants therefore gave the grain to their animals, so animals got more grain than townspeople or the army. There were more strikes, because the average worker had noted his purchasing power in decline. (more…)