- A Global History by John E Willis
B: Memoir by Conor Cruise O'Brien
C: A History of Ireland by Edmund Curtis
D: On the Edge - The US since 1945 by Peter Carroll
E: Tank by Patrick Wright
# 1688 - A GLOBAL HISTORY
As the earth turns,
the light of the sun moves from the gray and pale blue of the Pacific onto
the forests and fields of the coasts of Japan and Luzon. In the seething
energy and hard-won order of the streets of Edo, the great capital city
of Japan's hereditary military dictators, the heavy wooden gates of residential
quarters are swung open.
As the light reaches the great red walls and yellow tile roofs of the imperial palace of Beijing, a singular procession heads south through the enormous gates. The banners and guardsmen are present in full array. The emperor himself is walking. He is on his way to the open Altar of Heaven, where he will face the cold winter sky and implore High Heaven to take years from his life and bestow them instead on his dying grandmother.
In the Americas, a few Europeans have been dreaming new dreams, other than those of wealth and endless leisure, in the New World. They see in a frontier of European settlement and power an opportunity for a new beginning for humankind.
Quite a few people in different parts of the world in 1688 had a new sense of the ability of rational people to look in the eye the intricacies and ironies of human nature, to give elegant accounts of the orbits of sun, moon, stars and even the terrifying irregularities of comets.
The portrait of one
day in one year is a somewhat artificial construct. A focus even on one
year is an arbitrary exercise, far easier for us than for the people who
were alive in 1688. Many of these people would not have referred to the
year as '1688'. For the Muslims, it was 1099, then 1100. For the Chinese,
it was the 26th, then the 27th year of the Kangxi reign.
Now news of major events reaches around the globe in seconds or minutes, and we have access to almost any part of the world via global computer and telecommunications networks. In 1688 communication among the continents depended entirely on people and letters carried on sailing ships, which sailed only at certain seasons when the winds were favorable. Communication from one side of the earth to the other - say, a letter from a Dutchman in the East India Company's trading post in Japan to a cousin in the Hudson River valley - was almost certain to take more than a year.
The world os the illiterate farmer of any culture was largely limited to his village and a nearby market town. Thus we find many worlds of human experience within the one geographical world of 1688.
In 1688 the attentions
of politically aware Europeans was focused on a splendid French court at
the center of a powerful and aggressive state; on London, capital of a
realm growing in power and wealth if only it could stop tearing itself
apart over religion and the family quarrels of the monarchs; and on Amsterdam,
commercial capital of Europe, at the center of a confederation of cities
and provinces so intricately checked and balanced that it seemed incapable
of decisive action.
Surveying the politics of Europe more widely, one would think of the polycentric Holy Roman Empire; anarchically elective Poland; cautious, legalistic Spain; and many others.
Observers from many other parts of the world - India, China, Russia, the Ottoman Empire - would have found these differences less striking than the singular fact that the European political world had no imperial center, no Beijing, no Agra, no Istanbul.
The intense struggle for survival of each unit in this multistate system pushed all of the more adaptable of them toward new strategies for mobilization of allegiance, wealth and manpower. This made the Europe of 1688 a cauldron of forms of political life new in Europe, such as centralizing bureaucracies, or new in the world, such as representative assemblies with real powers.
"Come to prayer, come
to prayer. God is Great. There is no God but Allah."
At first predawn light the call was heard from the minaret of the mosque, summoning the Muslim faithful to the first of five daily prayers. It was heard first in the Spice Islands and on Mindanao, then moved west with the light across Java, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula to the Indian subcontinent, while far to the north another sequences began in Beijing. Thence it flowed to Xi'an, to Turfan, and through the oases of the Silk Road to join the southern stream in Persia. In Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Isantabul, the chants from the many mosques came from all sides.
Everywhere the faithful turned towards Mecca in prayer.
Comparisons of sums of money in the 17th century and today are full of difficulties. According to one useful estimate, one pound in the 1680s would have bought goods worth nearly 100 dollars today.
# MEMOIR - CONOR CRUISE O'BRIEN
If you have the misfortune
to need to insult somebody, take care that you do so in a matter that insults
only himself. Do not use any insult that applies also to people of the
same town, or religion, or language, as the individual you need to insult.
If you make that mistake you are unintentionally multiplying the number
of your personal enemies, and you are liable to suffer.
- Guicciardini, advice given to Machiavelli
Ghosts are troublesome
things. There is only one way to appease a ghost. You must do the thing
it asks you. The ghosts of a nation ask very big things and they must be
appeased whatever the cost.
- Padraig Pearse, 1915.
We can observe in many contexts that people bent on seceding from an established political entity are always outraged when someone else tries to secede from the political entity they are bent on establishing . We can see this today in various parts of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. It was strongly manifest in Ireland on the eve of the First World War. Nationalists held that they had a right to secede from the United Kingdom but that unionists did not have the right to secede from the entity the nationalists themselves sought to create : Home Rule Ireland.
In the heydey of the Second British Empire, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Irish had been among the ruling peoples of the Empire. The Irish Parliamentary Party made and unmade governments of the Empire.
In theory pacifism is universal: opposed to all war efforts everywhere. In practice each pacifist damages one particular war effort, and so benefits another one.
There is for all of us a twilight zone of time, stretching back for a generation or two before we were born, which never quite belongs to the rest of history. Our elders have talked their memories into our memories until we come to possess some sense of a continuity - national, religious, racial or social - exceeding and traversing our own individual being.
The UN can function, and often does, as a convenient scapegoat, and its availability as a scapegoat when one is required is a principal reason for its long survival.
What had happened to me (at the UN) fell, I think, under the head of what is known as expendability. This is quite a rational doctrine. It asserts that what is sacred are the principles and purposes of an organisation; the men who serve it are expendable.
During this period, in the more modish universities, a loose but effective alliance emerged between 'Black Studies' people and 'Women's studies' people. 'Studies' was something of a misnomer in both cases. What was going on, under that label, was propaganda and indoctrination.
I had noted that prudent people, both in politics and journalism, are apt to say to someone that some course if 'courageous', which means: 'You are making a fool of yourself. This is going to cost you.'
The Catholic Church and Fianna Fail were the two most powerful institutions in Ireland, and were warily respectful of one another. The relationship recalled what Gorki described as Tolstoy's to God: 'With God he maintains very suspicious relations. They are like two bears in one den.'
To outsiders, it looked
like a case of the Church dictating to the state. It was actually a case
of a politician asking for a public intervention by the Church, for political
reasons, and spectacularly bungling the whoel business.
- Describing the Mother and Child issue of the 1950s
# A HISTORY OF IRELAND
"Ireland is like a
ship on fire, it must either be extinguished or cut adrift."
- Lord Camden, after the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798
"The Treaty of 1922 and the attainment of true self-government, with the willing assent of Great Britain, gives meaning and justification to the long-continued struggle which fills so many of these pages, and permits us to treat dispassionately a story around which great and enduring passion has been woven."
"Nature has placed the two islands of Britain and Ireland in such close neighbourhood that it was inevitable that their destinies should be interwoven."
"Ireland's abundance of all that the natural man desires has tempted many invaders, but no country has reisted invasion more successfully, for it is a difficult country to hold thogh easy to over-run, as the Normans found."
"Modern scholars agree that Ireland was first peopled by neolithic men, users of flint, and then by dark, small people from the Mediterranean, users of bronze, who are perhaps the Firbolg of our traditions. Later, Scotland and Northern Ireland were peopled by a race called the Picts. Then about 350 BC came Celts from the centre of Europe, a tall race, red-blond of hair, speaking a language close to Latin. Britain and Ireland were the last conquests of the Celts, and Ireland is today the only Celtic nation state left in the world."
"The Celts were destined to become the political masters of Ireland, and by the year 800 AD, though they were and upper-class minority, they had completely imposed their empire, language and law upon the whole island. Monarchy became a feature of their government, though on the Continent the Celts were republican. To the Romans they were known as the Scots, to themselves they were the Gaels, and they called their country Eriu, a name familiar to us as Erin, and to the Latin world as Hibernia."
"The High king of Tara was only a sort of president over the several kings of Erin. He could call ut the national host to repulse or invade foreign enemies, and it was his perogative to settle the disputes of under-kings and preside over the great periodic Aontach or all-Ireland gatherings at Tara. It was an office easily won, easily lost."
"The Roman empire in Britain could not fail to cast its influence upon Ireland. Not a single Roman legionary ever set foot on the soil of Ireland but much Roman influence was bound to radiate upon her. The full light of civilization and the Faith were, however, not to fall upon Ireland till the Empire itself was destroyed. As it decayed from AD 350, the Scots of Ireland and the Picts of Caledonia began to assail Britain from the north and west, the Roman legions were finally withdrawn in 407, and then the savage and pagan Angles and Saxons assailed her from the east. In the 5th century was founded a new Britain. The Anglo-Saxons finally Teutonized most of what is now England and the south-east corner of Scotland, while the Celtic Britons held out in Cornwall, Wales, and Strathclyde and colonized Brittany."
"By AD 800 Ireland had become a unity of civilization and law, and no languages save the Gaelic of the ruling classes and the Latin of the Church were spoken. The Gaels had subjected or absorded the former peoples and created a race-consciousness which has never been lost. It was the 'Golden Age' of Ireland. She was the first nation north of the Alps to produce a whole body of literature in her own speech, to be followed in this by Anglo-Saxons, Norsemen and Welshmen. The structural unity of Ireland had now remained intact for four centuries in language, law, religion and culture. The national unity was visible in the High King. Unfortunately the political weakness of Ireland was to be now put to a cruel test by the Scandinavian onslaught."
"About the year 800 the Scandinavians, moved by an uncontrollable impulse, took to the sea. Of the two Scandinavian races which took to the Atlantic, the Norwegians sailed boldy out westward to Iceland, where they founded a republic in 870, and south-west to the Scottish isles. The Danes, on the other hand, kept nearer in and attacked England and Normandy. The differences between these two races were slight, but the Irish, who had a strong sense of color, called the Norseman a 'Finn-gall' or 'fair foreigner' and the Dane a 'Dubh-gall' or 'dark foreigner'. The land of the vikings they called 'Lochlann', and they hated and dreaded them as ruthless and pagan invaders."
"Brian Boru's reign is of unique importance, both as ending and beginning a period. He brought the viking terror to and end, gave Munster a predominace which might have led to a real monarchy in Ireland, restored the Church, and gave Ireland a new impetus of art, literature, and culture not unworthy of her former Golden Age. By such great men was the national consciousness created. He settled the political stucture of Ireland as it leasted till the Normans came. To him is attributed the general adoption of the patronymics of O and Mac (grandson and son), which have us the famous surnames of O'Brien, O'Connor, MacCarthy, and so on. These surnames had in fact already begun, but it may well be that Brian hastened their general acceptance."
"In this period of 1014 to 1166 Ireland had one more chance of a native civilization and political unity, but unfortunately her political weakness was to prove fatal. While unity was evolving in the Church, Turloch More O'Connor was attempting the unity of the Irish State. He was Ireland's greatest king since Brian, and like him, strove to make one province supreme in order that the others be subject to it, but again success to be permanent needed a line of successors equal to himself in ability. All that could be done to make the fluctuating monarchy of the High-kingship real he did, as the annals say, 'High King of Erin without opposition'. It is tragic that such a man was not in charge of the national destiny when the Normans arrived."
"The dominant genius of the 'Franks' was fuedal, military and romantic, which found its best expression on the borders. It was something the Gaels could understand, and such men before long were to become almost as Irish as the Irish. It was no great step for them to delight in the music, language and ancient epics of Ireland. Nationalism was scarcely known to these men, who had come over a century as Frenchmen and not yet become English. Adaptability was their genius, and proud as they were of their own blood, speech and traditions, they were ready to treat as equals any race they could respect and freely to inter-marry with it."
"Ireland was now after the Great War a country with over 4 millions of people, of great agricultural prosperity (for Ireland always profits by great wars, being a food-producing country) and a numerous manhood which during the War had not been drained off as in the last 60 years of emigration."
"Many therefore, both in England and Ireland, began to ask, what does Ireland want more? The answer was that Ireland is an ancient nation deprived of her national legislature standing at the level of that Parliament which had taken it away and demanding to have it restored."
# ON THE EDGE - THE US SINCE 1945
By the middle of the 1950s, the United States stood as the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth. Although its inhabitants constituted just 6% of the world's population in 1955, they made two-thirds of the world's manufactured goods.
Television quickly became part of family life, seen by promoters as a modern 'hearth' to encourage family togetherness - and by critics as an omnipresent salesman's foot in the door.
In supporting Spain, Italy, Germany, and Japan against China and the Soviet Union, Truman had ironically reversed the Grand Alliance of World War 2.
Ronald Reagan mobilized a new coalition of social conservatives, free-market advocates, and foreign policy hawks in response to economic stagnation at home and declining influence abroad.
"In some sense, which
no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists
have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose."
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of research team into atomic bomb
"There is some risk
involved in action, there always is. But there is far more risk in failure
- President Harry Truman, 1948.
"Why must you say to
me, 'Stay in your place'? I want to rise, and push everything up with me
as I go."
- Esperanza, "Salt Of The Earth", 1953.
"We hail the decision,
because it dramatically distinguishes our way of life in a democracy. Here
in the United States great social wrongs can be and are righted without
bloodshed and without revolutionary means."
- The Council of Negro Education hails the Supreme Court 'Brown' ruling in 1954.
"The new generation
takes few risks. It goes through high school obedient; graduates, looks
for a job, saves and plans. Endures. And once a week, on Saturday night,
its great moment of release, it explodes."
- Nik Cohn commentates on the 'Saturday Night Fever' of the recession hit 1970s.
Nations have long been defined by their creeds, languages, and literatures, but in modern times they've come to be known by their tanks too. The tank has entered the character of nations, as a pact between nationalism and military technology.
From the earliest models to the most recent, all tanks represent a triangular reconciliation of three partly contradictory parameters: firepower, mobility and protection. A tank is inevitably a compromise because gains according to one parameter often entails losses in another, and every tank-producing nation has evolved its own triangle as its designers and engineers have struggled to come to terms with this intractable fact.
The Israeli Merkava Mark III tank is as safe as a monstrous killing machine can be: a tank for a small country of four million that, humanitarian considerations aside, must do everything it can to minimize losses among its armed forces.
"The political climate
was such that financial stringency served as the convenient consort of
isolationism and disarmament."
- Patrick Wright describing the Britain of the 1930s.
"The memory of one
unarmed young man standing in front of a column of tanks in Peking will
remain with the British people long after the present leadership in China
and what they stand for has been forgotten."
- Neil Kinnock, Labour Party Leader, 1989.
"Nintendo has done
great things for this generation. The kids who have done a lot of video
games have exactly the right kind of hand-eye co-ordination."
- Colonel Lenze, Chief of Staff of US Army Armor School.
"You've got an eye
for hideous military technology. What is a tank to you as you see one coming
up the street?"
"It is astonishing and utterly irresistible and I never had to fight one so I have no idea, but my God, they are magnificiently designed and a British invention, I believe."
- Patrick Wright interviews Kurt Vonnegut, "BBC Radio 3"
"The Death of God has
left us with a lot of appliances."
- Avital Ronnell, "Finitude's Score"
"The result of inexpressible
terror long and inexplicably endured is a plethora of very un-modern superstitions,
talismans, wonders, miracles, relics, legends and rumours."
- Paul Fussell, "The Great War in Modern Memory"
"To visit a training
ground in the evening when some dozens of these creatures are rolling home
to their stalls or hangars is, for all the world, like being at a Zoo during
the Pleistocene Age."
- Captain DG Browne, British Heavy Tank Section, 1916.
"Let us take the Tanks
seriously, for inside their steel walls are the bodies and souls of men
who are going out into battle with no light-heartedness, for it is a grim
and deadly business, but with the ideals of duty and endeavour which lead
them to stern and terrible adventures, to enormous fatigues of the body
and spirit, and to many ugly places where, unless they have luck, they
may be ditched forever."
- Philip Gibbs, First World War Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph.
"Fighting the Germans
is a joke compared to fighting the British."
- Lt. Colonel HJ Elles, Commander, British Heavy Tanks Section, 1916.
"They reminded me of
the heathen gods assembled to watched the entry of the new Christian era.
They felt it was better than their own epoch and left determined to destroy
- Colonel JFC Fuller, after a Tank demonstration to the British General Staff, 1918.
"He was the prophet,
we only followed him... You will find prophesied in his books everything
that the Germans did with tanks."
- Charles De Gaulle, 1943, describing JFC Fuller.
"This war is a struggle
not between armies, alone, but between nations."
- Andrew Bonar Law, British Chancellor, 1917.
beyond, all former wars, the Great War was the affair of the whole people,
not merely that of a ruling class and a professional Army. Nothing less
than the nation in arms, the brotherhood and sisterhood of service, was
force enough to beat the foe."
- George S Sutton, British National War Savings Committee
"We have heard Kings
say, 'The State - it is I', and the king perished. We have heard armies
say, 'The State - I am the State', and the army perished. We have heard
Labour say, 'The State - we are the State', and Labour perished. In this
country for many generations we have had a better way: we have said that
we are all the State and we elect our rulers. We make no great changes
till a majority is convinced that such a change is right. Then we make
it, and England has not perished, but grown strong and great."
- Sir Auckland Geddes, President of the Board of Trade, 1919.
"As an advertising
medium the Tank can claim to be the cheapest and most effective method
so far devised to popularise the savings and lending movement."
- British National War Savings Committee
"When they wanted men
they did not send tanks round Calton and Cowcaddens districts asking the
names and addresses of man-power to be put in the Tank. They sent them
through the post a King's command telling them that unless they presented
themselves at Sauchiehall Lane at a certain time, they would use all the
civil and military power of the State to see that the State's necessity
was complied with. Why should they regard wealth as more sacred than human
- Baillie Wheatley
"Under the stress of
great difficulty practically everything broke down, and all that was left
were the simple human feelings of loyalty, comradeship to one's fellows,
and of patriotism which would bear you through almost any strain."
- General Jan Smuts
"Throughout life I
have held that what is strong and not what is weak is best. Therefore,
I believe in the strong man, strong physically, mentally and culturally.
Also I believe that strong nations, like strong men, respect each other
and that mutual respect is the foundation of peace."
- JFC Fuller
"It always fills me
with a sense of pride to see my national flag flying peacefully in a foreign
- JFC Fuller
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