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Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Battle of Hwangsanbeol and the Sacrificial Heroics of Korean Unification


The 7th century was a "foundational" time in the political history of the Korean people. At its start the Korean peninsula was divided into several states, but at its end it was more or less united, certainly more united than it is now.

The key driver of this unification was the rise of the state of Silla and the key event was the Battle of Hwangsanbeol which took place today (July 9th) in 660 AD.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Discovery of Prince Edward Island and the Backwater of Canadian History

"Then 480 years later we plan to legalize weed, gay marriage, and sex with animals..."

The chief characteristic of Canadian history is how underwhelming and indeed twee it is. Although it has its occasional moments, there are few of the Earth-shaking events and titanic figures of the kind that define other countries' histories. This should not be surprising as the country derives its name from a casual Indian word for "village" (kanata) and has chosen to symbolize itself with a flag based on a dead leaf.

Canada is the work of steady, low-profile individuals making calm, rational decisions to exploit hitherto unexploited resources, and keeping conflict to a minimum, not hard to do in a land that is still considered "big and empty." It is a country where the spirit of history has traipsed with light, moccasined feet and gently dipped its paddle, rather than marched with heavy steel-capped boots to the sound of drums.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Indian Mutiny as a Loss and Revival of Imperial Spirit

Miss Wheeler defending herself at the Massacre of Cawnpore.
You can look far and wide for the causes of the Indian Mutiny, which started today in 1857 at the garrison town of Meerut, around 40 miles North East of Delhi.

The most famous cause usually given is the use of pig and cow grease as waterproofing on paper gunpowder cartridges (measured amounts of gunpowder) that the Indian Sepoy troops were then required to open with their teeth, offending their delicate Muslim or Hindu sensibilities. Many other causes are also mentioned, including economic, social, and military ones – such as changes to the terms of military service that required Indian troops to serve overseas. A review of all of these could get quite boring.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Odd Odyssey of the Dead Duce

The trials and tribulations of Mussolini's body


When Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on the 30th of April, the direct cause was the military collapse of Germany and the victory of the Red Army, but the event that emotionally triggered it was the death two days previously of Hitler’s main ally, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Hitler simply did not want to live in a world without Mussolini.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Copenhagen, the Fulcrum of Napoleon's Downfall


216 years ago today (2nd of April), the First Battle of Copenhagen was fought as part of the great struggle against Revolutionary France, a war that filled the period 1792-1815. The follow-up battle was fought six and a half years later. Both battles involved large British forces pitted against Danish defenders on sea and land. The first involved Lord Nelson, the second the future Duke of Wellington. 

The fact that two big battles between the same contestants occurred at the same point within a historically short span of time is not insignificant. It underlines the fact that Copenhagen was of vital importance to Britain's wider strategy.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

An Oriental Stalingrad and the Chinese Invention of Kamikaze


The Japanese are usually accredited with the development of kamikaze tactics in modern warfare. This is thanks to the dramatic attacks they staged on the Americans in WWII. The rituals that the kamikaze pilots used to prepare themselves for certain death also contributed to the impression that such attacks were part of an ancient and unbroken tradition. They were not. 

The kamikaze attacks launched by the Japanese were acts of desperation, when the war was going against them and their home islands were under direct attack for the first time since the attempted Mongol invasions in the late 13th century. At that time a great typhoon—a "god wind" (kamikaze)—had saved Japan, hence the name of the 20th century suicide attackers.

But rather than the Japanese, who merely branded the technique, it is the Chinese who should get the main credit for its innovation; especially since it appears that the Chinese also "schooled" the Japanese in kamikaze tactics by using them against the Japanese, after they had pushed deep into China.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Stabbed in the Front: Operation Michael, the Ultimate Pyrrhic Victory

Stormtroopers
99 years ago today the most important event of the 20th century took place, the launch of the last great German offensive in World War One. WWII was merely a post-script to what happened on that day. 

By early 1918, the Germans were in a tight spot. Although Russia had been knocked out of the War by the Bolshevik Revolution and the agreement of Brest-Litovsk, which had ceded enormous territories, the Germans and their Allies were suffering the effects of the prolonged British naval blockade and deep discontent on the home front, with war weariness and strikes breaking out. Also, they were facing the prospect of millions of fresh American troops arriving in the months ahead.