"May you live in interesting times."
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
Well behaved women
rarely make history.
- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
After you've heard two eyewitness accounts of an auto accident it makes you wonder about history.
It’s a great historical
joke that when the Spanish met the Aztecs, it was a blind date made in
serve-you-right heaven. At the time, they were the two most unpleasant cultures in the entire world, and richly deserved each other. Still, the story of how stout Cortes blustered, bullied and bludgeoned his way to collapsing an entire empire with a handful of contagious hoodlums is astonishing.
- AA Gill, reviewing "The Last Aztec", "The Guardian"
The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.
"Now that their long war was over, they could get on with the proper concern of all civilised nations, which is to prepare for the next one."
Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait is a case of bad men doing wrong things for wicked reasons. This
is the full-sized or standard purebred evil and is easily recognized even
by moral neophytes. Other malignities--drugs in America, famine in Africa
and everything in the Middle East--are more complex. When combating those
evils people sometimes have trouble deciding whom to shoot.
- P.J. O' Rourke, "Give War a Chance"
"The Second World War
is the greatest story ever. It's about the triumph of good over evil. It
takes place all over the world. It has the ultimate baddy, who dies at
the end in a squalid bunker. What's more, we won and it's always nice to
read about a war we won."
- Guy Walters, on the popularity of WW2 books in Britain
There is an invariable rule in men's battles, it states: An ugly, macho guy can never beat an intelligent, popular, slender and handsome hero. Your fate was sealed when you showed up with your ugly face.
"An Iranian moderate
is an Iranian who has run out of ammunition."
- Henry Kissinger
"Lincoln would be just
like me. He wouldn't know what the hell to do."
- Senator George Norris, when asked how Lincoln would have handled the Great Depression
Civil War Enthusiasts
Burn Atlanta To Ground.
- Headline seen on "The Onion"
Sometimes I think war is God's way of teaching us geography.
- David Frum
In general, life is better than it has ever been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word : "Dentistry".
- Bryan Ward-Perkins, "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization"
When I heard about
the French Revolution, my reaction was that I was against it.
- Jeffrey Hart
Starting the Crusades
with Christians coming to the Holy Land is about the same as them making
a series that has WWII starting with the invasion at Normandy.
- Quote seen on History Channel forum
The first humans to
come to Canada were the Indians. There is some mystery as to where the
Indians came from. Some experts say that they came from the same place
as the Eskimo. This doesn't help much because nobody knows where the Eskimo
came from either. (Except the Eskimo, and they aren't talking.)
- Eric Nicol, "Canada Explained"
Meanwhile, the poor
Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between
different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything
else in the history of creation.
- Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Sometimes I wonder
if I’m patriotic enough. Yes, I want to kill people, but on both sides.
- Jack Handy
Great Britain's influence
on the histories, cultures and imaginations of peoples around the world
is colossal — far greater than might be expected from the purview of its
narrow island home, its relatively small population and its damp climate.
- from Microsoft's "Expedia"
"Britain has had the
same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create
a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against
the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians
against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians.
Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it's worked so
- Sir Humphrey,"Yes Minister"
"No we can't have alphabetical
seating in the abbey, we'd have Iraq and Iran next to each other, plus
Israel and Jordan all sitting in the same pew. We'd be in danger of starting
World War III. I know Ireland begins with an I but no. Ireland doesn't
make it any better, Ireland doesn't make anything any better."
- Bernard in "Yes, Prime Minister"
"Of course we do what
we can, but there's many calls on the public purse you know, inner cities,
schools, hospitals, kidney machines."
"Tanks? Rockets? H-Bombs?"
"Well we can't really defend ourselves against the Russians with a performance of 'Henry V'."
- Jim Hacker, in "Yes, Prime Minister"
"East Yemen, isn't
that a democracy?"
"Its full name is the Peoples' Democratic Republic of East Yemen."
"Ah I see, so it's a communist dictatorship."
- Sir Humphrey and Sir Richard, "Yes, Prime Minister"
British Prime Minister
William Ewart Gladstone spent his declining years trying to guess the answer
to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the
Irish secretly changed the Question.
- W. C. Sellar, "1066 and All That"
"We need a war every
10 years, so we can stay match fit in case the Germans try again."
- Al Murray, English Pub landlord
In the aftermath of
Falklands victory, the reporters celebrated excessively in the pub in Port
Stanley, the Upland Goose. One of them, a Scotsman with a grievance against
Max Hastings, later the editor of this paper, for his brilliant, scene-stealing
reports in the Evening Standard, allegedly threatened him with a bayonet.
A brave Yorkshire journalist wrestled the Scot to the ground, shouting:
"This is neither the time nor the place to kill Max Hastings." Quite right:
Max's role in the triumph had been as significant as that of the Servicemen.
- Charles Moore, "The Spectator"
*Boffin:* A Puffin,
a bird with a mournful cry, got crossed with a Baffin, a mercifully obsolete
Fleet Air Arm aircraft. Their offspring was a Boffin, a bird of astonishingly
queer appearance, bursting with weird and sometimes inopportune ideas,
but possessed of staggering inventiveness, analytical powers and persistence.
Its ideas, like its eggs, were conical and unbreakable. You push the unwanted
ones away, and they just roll back.
- George Philip Chamberlain, on the nickname for WW2 British scientists
"The empire is in grave
"You're probably too young to know, but the empire is always in some kind of peril."
- Allan Quartermain, in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
"I think deep down,
this planet yearns for the days of the British Empire again. They long
once more to be treated that badly, that politely. We did far worse things
than you can possibly dream of, but we did it with that certainly gentlemanly
swagger... Dreadfully sorry, but we seem to have crushed your entire continent’s
infrastructure. Allow me to make it up to you by offering you a job 4,000
miles away. No, no, I insist."
- John Oliver
By 1914, the royal
families of Europe were inbred to the point of pantomine. You feel about
them as you do about koalas. Nothing so stupid has any right to exist on
the planet. On the other hand, they are rather cute, and in grave danger
of extinction due to their specialised needs.
- Nancy Banks Smith, "The Guardian"
The development of
'Balance Of Power' reminds me if the use of paratroops in WW2. After much
trial and error, the strategists eventually learned that the real value
of paratroops lay in their powers to motivate regular troops to fight to
rescue the paras. Its difficult to inspire soldiers to risk their lives
to win a patch of ground, but when they know that their comrades are just
ahead, surrounded by the enemy, counting on the regular troops to save
them, the regular troops will fight with unparalled determination. Paratroops,
then, allow the commander to set a clear and tough goal for his troops
to reach. Using paratroops is like putting yourself in a deep hole to see
if you can dig yourself out of it.
- Chris Crawford, "Balance Of Power"
K is for KENGHIS KHAN. He was a very nice person. History has no record of him. There is a moral in that, somewhere.
Boundary, n : In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of another.
Alliance, n : In international politics, the union of two theives who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.
Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
- Stanley Kubrick
"It's like Vietnam and the Nazis rolled into one."
- from "Beer Money"
Everyone once in a while, declare peace, it confuses the hell out of your enemies
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.
Ban the bomb. Save the world for conventional warfare.
I'm not a trained killer. I lead trained killers.
I'm not a mercenary - killings more of a hobby with me.
"Hello, my name's Adolf, and I enjoy painting and visiting foreign countries, preferably with 10 armoured divisions at my back"
Normally the patterns
of history are reassuring. To hear of Tsarist Russia pressing for warm-water
ports or 18th century England fighting hegemony on the continent or Ming
China clashing with Japan over the fate of Korea is to feel a continuity,
a comprehensibility, in human affairs. But in "The Jewish War" (a History
of the Jewish Revolt in AD 60) the shock of recognition is just a shock.
Here, sixty generations ago, is nearly the same cast of characters engaged
in exactly the same onsessive, vicious and fatal behaviour for the same
terrifying reasons on the same cursed, reeking, ugly chunk of land.
- PJ O'Rourke, "Give War A Chance"
The historical record
shows that the chronology of "ownership" of what is now Israel is as follows:
The Jews got it (via UN Mandate) from the British in 1948, who took
it in 1917 from the Ottomans, who took it in 1517 from the Egypt-based
Mamluks, who in 1250 took it from the Ayyubi dynasty (descendants of Saladin,
a Kurd ), who in 1187 took it from the Crusaders, who in 1099 took it from
the Seljuk Turks, who ruled it in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate of
Baghdad, which in 750 took it from the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus, which
in 661 inherited it from the Arabs of Arabia, who in 638 took it from the
Byzantines, who in 395 inherited it from the Romans, who in 63 BC took
it from the last Jewish kingdom, which in 140 BC took it from the Hellenistic
Greeks, who under Alexander the Great in 333 BC took it from the Persian
empire, which in 639 BC took it from the Babylonian empire, which under
Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC took it from the Jews (the Kingdom of Judah),
who — as Israelites — took it in the 12th and 13th centuries BC from the
Canaanites, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before they
were dispossessed by the Israelites. There is no evidence that today's
Arab Palestinians are descended from the Canaanites who were completely
wiped out in ancient times.
- Tony Allwright
Hitler: "I don’t
want war! All I want is Peace! Peace! Peace!
(Sings) A little piece of Poland, a little piece of France,
A little piece of Portugal, and Austria perchance.
A little slice of Turkey and all that that entails.
And then a piece of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales."
- W.C.Sellar and R.J.Yeatman, "1066 and All That"
"The monster has escaped
"The tyrant has landed at Cannes!"
"Bonaparte meets the troops."
"Napoleon approaches Paris."
"His Imperial Majesty has entered the capital."
- Headlines in French newspaper Le Moniteur in 1814 (as recounted by David Frum)
"I don't think we poisoned
him. That's not the way we do things. We stifle people, we blow them up,
but we don't poison them."
- Briton Alistair Horne, on the mysterious death of Napoleon
"Memmius would only
be useless to him for a short time, but that he would remain useless to
himself and the Republic forever."
- Rome's Scipio, on having to serve with an inept colleague
Parliament rarely wear togas and brandish placards written in classical
Greek. They did this week. The reason was a decision by education bureaucrats
to drop a national history exam for 18-year-olds. If the protest naught
avails, ancient history will no longer be taught in English schools, for
the first time since the original Dark Ages. The decision to axe the A-level
was taken hurriedly and in secret, without consulting the schools that
teach ancient history or the universities that like it. And it comes at
a time when the decline in classics in schools has reversed. A recent book
on Latin grammar, “Amo, Amas, Amat”, became a surprise best-seller. The
number of state schools offering basic Latin has risen from 200 in 2003
to 459 today. Though some of the Thucydides-loving demonstrators were from
elite private schools, others were from grungy further-education colleges.
As they waited for Boris Johnson, the Tory education spokesman, to address
them (in Latin), the pupil-protesters chanted "Long live Athens! Down with
Sparta". Fine sentiments. But remember what happened to Athens.
- from "The Economist" (May'07)
If we're worried about
our exam students not always being up to scratch, just consider this genuine
case from across the water: A student sitting the equivalent of our Leaving
Cert had a problem with a question about the Spanish Armada, the fleet
that King Philip II of Spain sent to attack England in 1588. In beautifully
flowing prose, he recounted how the "ill-fated Spanish Armada", which had
orders from the "mad fascist dictator Franco to destroy his hated English
foe", sailed towards England to accomplish its deadly mission. Franco was
confident of victory, he wrote, but half way across the English Channel
the Armada was "attacked by wave upon wave of Spitfires, Hurricanes, and
heavy bombers." Despite losing many planes to sustained anti-aircraft fire
from the Armada, the RAF managed to sink most of the Spanish ships. The
remaining ones turned tail and limped back to Spain. This was a great victory
for the RAF, the student wrote, and General Franco never fully recovered
from it. If marks had been awarded for sheer creativity this fellow would
have cleaned up.
- a letter to "The Irish Independent" on a creative English history student
WASHINGTON, DC: A team
of leading historians and psychiatrists issued a report Wednesday claiming
that the United States was likely the victim of abuse by its founding fathers
and motherland when it was a young colony. "In its adulthood, the U.S.
displays all the classic tendencies of a nation that was repeatedly mistreated
in its infancy—difficulty forming lasting foreign relationships, viewing
everyone as a potential enemy, and employing a pattern of assault and intimidation
to assert its power," said Dr. Howard Drexel, the report's lead author.
"The U.S. is characteristic of an abused nation in that, even decades after
noisily pushing away from Britain, it still maintained close contact with
the motherland, took care of it, even giving it financial aid — all the
while fearing disapproval even though the parent country is now old, decrepit,
and powerless," said Yale University psychology professor John Bauffman,
a prominent contributor to the fourth edition of the Democratic Symptoms
Of Maltreatment handbook, or DSM-IV. "On the other hand, Canada, which
was raised in the very same continent by the same mother country, only
exercised small-scale resistance, remaining loyal well into its maturity.
Though some see Canada as cold and remote, it has, unlike the U.S., managed
to lead a peaceful, reasonably healthy existence."
- from "The Onion"
Crown Prince Rupprecht,
the heir to the throne of Bavaria who commanded the army group facing the
British at the Somme, was the senior direct lineal heir of James Stuart,
the Old Pretender of 1715. Had there been any Jacobites left in Britain
in 1916, they would have had to regard this south German prince as their
- David Frum, "National Review"
In 1940 British civilians
were told that in the event of an invasion they should lay soup-plates
upside-down in the streets, so that the Germans would mistake them for
- Noel Malcolm, reviewing Geert Mak's "In Europe", "The Telegraph"
Long ago (so I have
forgotten the precise details) I read one of those books by a British soldier
who escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp in the second world war.
He had managed to pinch a German uniform and was making his way across
the Fatherland disguised as an Oberleutnant or something. Suddenly he was
confronted by a company of the victorious, advancing British troops. How
could he instantly convey to them that he was English, and so avoid being
shot? He had a brainwave. He shouted out the filthiest English swear-words
he could think of. The soldiers lowered their rifles: few Germans would
know those words, and the accent was right.
- Bevis Hillier, "The Spectator"
Chris Bellamy starts
this mammoth history with a reference to one of the least obvious environmental
effects of the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union: 20 years
after the siege of Stalingrad, escaping rabid wolves and foxes reached
the English Channel... Given that the Red Army was destroyed between one
and one and a half times over, it required reinforcement and "force generation"
on a massive scale. The decision to recruit women, something the Nazis
scrupled at, was crucial, with between one and two million on active service
in 1944. For example, there was the all-female 46th Guards Night Bomber
Regiment - known by the Germans as the "night witches" because they cut
their engines and glided in to attack their targets, thereby outfoxing
air defences, with "a whooshing sound, like a witch's broomstick in the
night". In token recognition of their femininity, women under arms received
100 grams more soap than the men.
- Christopher Silvester, reviewing "Absolute War", "The Telegraph"
The "Pig War" was a
confrontation in 1859 between American and British authorities, resulting
from a dispute over the boundary between the United States and British
North America. It is so called because the war was triggered by a pig and
the only casualty was said pig.
- Wikipedia entry
There was a letter
in 'The Times' on August 16 urging the immediate withdrawal of British
troops from Afghanistan. That may not seem too surprising given the scale
of the challenge but this was a letter which appeared on August 16, 1880,
when the worry in Whitehall was not the resurgence of the Taliban nor instability
in Pakistan but the threat of invasion by Russia. Back in 1880, Britain
had 55,000 troops committed in Afghanistan. Today, the figure is only around
7,000 but even that is proving a burden too far.
- Nicholas Leonard, "The Independent" (Aug'07)
When the story of A
Christmas Carol came to Charles Dickens, “he wept over it, laughed, and
then wept again,” writes Les Standiford, author of the winsome new book
The Man Who Invented Christmas. With “a strange mastery it seized him,”
a friend said of the yarn. Dickens wrote the book in six weeks in 1843
and believed in it so deeply that he undertook all the financial risk himself
of publishing it.
And so Tiny Tim, Scrooge, and “Bah! Humbug!” became an irreducible part of our Christmas. Dickens didn’t “invent” the holiday, as Standiford’s overreaching title says, but he revitalized it as the family-centric occasion for fellowship and generosity that we know today.
Christmas originally replaced the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and people engaged in the same kind of revelry as in pagan days (after dutifully attending church, of course). Upstanding Christian leaders recoiled from the riotousness. In England, the Rev. Henry Bourne of Newcastle called Christmas “a pretense for Drunkenness, and Rioting, and Wantonness.” In America, the Puritan Cotton Mather thundered, “Christ’s Nativity is spent in Reveling, Dicing, Carding, Masking and in all Licentious Liberty.”
Under Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s, as Standiford recounts, the Puritan Parliament decreed that the day be devoted to fasting and repentance. In America, the colony of Massachusetts outlawed the holiday. Long before retailers eschewed the phrase “Merry Christmas” and the American Civil Liberties Union launched its lawsuits, Christians waged their own “War on Christmas.”
The bans were lifted, but Christmas ran on fumes. It might be noted in public, but not in people’s homes, and it was nothing like our contemporary extravaganza. “There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of ‘Yuletide greetings,’ no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year,” Standiford writes. Dickens gave the holiday a kick-start in his iconic tale, suffused with his characteristic ameliorative social concerns
- Rich Lowry, "National Review"
# HISTORY IN POPULAR CULTURE
"He's got a knife!"
"Of course he's got a knife. You've got a knife. I've got a knife. We've all got knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians!"
- Prince John and Eleanor of Aquitaine, "The Lion In Winter"
"The midwife of history
- Emperor Franz Josef, "The Fall of Eagles"
"God preserve us from
middle class intellectuals."
- Alexander Helphand, "The Fall of Eagles"
"You can decide to
invade Russia at dinner, pick Waterloo for battle on a whim. It's the details,
the small stuff. Its easy to gamble a million lives. Whats hard is to see
how that can hurt one single person. And if you cant keep that straight,
hell, you'll lose your humanity."
- General Dwight D Eisenhower, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day"
"I also ache at that
thought your majesty... But if they do not offer the sacrifice in blood
now, we will all pay dearly with added gallons later. So if some most die
it is in a worthy cause."
- Eisenhower, on the cost of invasion, to King George VI, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day"
"You realise Group
Captain that this might be the most important weather forecast in history?"
- Eisenhower, as storms threaten the invasion, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day"
"One minute I'm exactly
what Churchill described me the most powerful man in history. Now the Order's
given, hell; I'm just audience front row center to the shoe. But a Corporal
on Juno, a Private on Utah there the ones who will affect the outcome not
me. It's up to them now."
- Eisenhower, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day"
"Of course Overlord
did not fail. How could it? With some many fine young men and women from
all corners of the earth all determined to do their best to free a world
gone half mad."
- Eisenhower, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day"
If Henry VIII hadn't
existed, Hollywood would have gad to invent him. The rotund monarch has
been a consistent source of inspiration for film-makers — almost as much,
in fact, as his iron-willed daughter Elizabeth. And little wonder, because
he was an extraordinarily pivotal figure in English, European and ultimately
world history. No Henry, after all, and in all likelihood no English reformation.
If England had not followed the rise of Protestantism, it might not have
ended up in such stark opposition to France and Spain. If it had not, the
English might not have developed the state-of-the-art armies and, most
particularly, navies that made possible the rise of the British empire.
And America might have ended up with French or Spanish as its first language.
The historical what ifs are endless, for such was Henry's extraordinary
- Paul Whitington, as "The Other Boleyn Girl" hits cinemas, "The Irish Independent"
as a piece of anti-English propaganda, Braveheart offers an even greater
insult to Scotland by making a total pig's ear of its heritage. "Historians
from England will say I am a liar," intones the voiceover, "but history
is written by those who have hanged heroes." Well, that's me told: but,
regardless of whether you read English or Scottish historians on the matter,
Braveheart still serves up a great big steaming haggis of lies... We begin
in 1280 when, a voiceover informs us, the Scottish king has died with no
sons. In fact, King Alexander III of Scotland didn't die until 1286, and
in 1280 both of his sons were still alive. Meanwhile, outside a grubby
West Highland hut, young Wallace is wandering around in the mud. The real
Wallace came from Renfrewshire and was the privileged son of a noble landowner.
This isn't going at all well, and we're only three minutes in... Wallace
falls for a local girl from a neighbouring hut. She has the perfect teeth
so typical of Scottish peasants in the 13th century. He is surprised to
find out that she can't read. The audience is not so surprised, because
she is supposed to be a 13th century peasant and lives in a hut...
- Alex von Tunzelmann, assessing the history of Braveheart, "The Guardian"
In many ways the American
Revolution was a continuation of a long argument over how Britons should
be ruled, the second round, if you like, of the seventeenth century civil
war in England. Yes, the troops sent across the Atlantic by (German) George
III were sent packing — but it was by folks called Washington, Gates and
Pickens. It hurt at the time, but when we British consider our history,
a defeat only counts when it's to people with names like Schmidt, Watanabe
or Depardieu. In the Revolutionary War, you see, we Brits essentially lost
to ourselves, and that's not so bad. We just won't mention that Lafayette
fellow. So in "The Patriot", you watch two opposing armies, both of which
march under the red, white and blue — the English of the Philadelphia regime
against the English of the London government. In the end, the better Englishmen
won. The away team, my team, left the pitch at Yorktown and went off to
establish a second, wider, empire — a remarkable achievement, Mel, for
such a feeble race. The victors, meanwhile, went on to build a country
that has inspired the world. So, this year, as I always do, I'll celebrate
the fourth of July. Drink in hand, I'll toast the men who made this possible,
the founding fathers who wrote, in that Declaration of Independence, some
of the finest words that have ever been written in the English language.
Yes, that's right, the English language. My language.
- Briton Andrew Stuttaford reviews "The Patriot" for "National Review"
With their own record
of killing 12 million American Indians and supporting slavery for four
decades after the British abolished it, Americans wish to project their
historical guilt on to someone else.
- Andrew Roberts, after watching Mel Gibson's risible "The Patriot"
"The English love an
insult. It's their only test of a man's sincerity."
- Benjamin Franklin, with some advice for "John Adams"
"One never really knows
how much one has been touched by a place until one has left it."
- Thomas Jefferson, in Paris, "John Adams"
"Do you realise you
are going to kill yourself?"
"The only man I've any right to kill."
"...I believe you want to die! Why won't you try to save yourself?"
- Dick Dudgeon, about to sacrifice himself for Judith Anderson, "The Devil's Disciple"
"I think you might
have the decency to treat me as a prisoner of war, and shoot me like a
man instead of hanging me like a dog."
"Have you any idea of the average marksmanship of the army of His Majesty King George the Third? If we make you up a firing party, what will happen? Half of them will miss you: the rest will make a mess of the business and leave you to the provo-marshal's pistol. Whereas we can hang you in a perfectly workmanlike and agreeableway. Let me persuade you to hanged, Mr. Anderson?"
"Thank you, General. That view of the case did not occur to me before. To oblige you, I withdraw my objection to the rope. Hang me, by all means."
- Dick Dudgeon and General John Burgoyne, "The Devil's Disciple"
"Who arrested this
"I did, sir. I found him in the minister's house, sitting at tea with the lady with his coat off, quite at home. If he isn't married to her, he ought to be."
"Did he answer to the minister's name?"
"Yes sir, but not to a minister's nature."
- Major Swindon questions the Sergeant about Dudgeon's arrest, "The Devil's Disciple"
"It takes all sorts
to make a world -- saints as well as soldiers."
- Anthony Anderson, "The Devil's Disciple"
"The Japanese couldn't
have been all bad during World War II. Look at all the movies Hollywood
was able to make on account of them. The Indians weren't the only bad guys.
Thanks to the Japanese and Geronimo, John Wayne became a millionaire."
- Pat Morita, interviewed in the U.S. military's "Stars and Stripes" (1967)
In the twelfth century
the Basque fishermen of Biarritz used to hunt whales with deadly efficiency.
When the whales sensibly moved away, the Basques chased them further and
further, with the consequence that the fishermen of Biarritz discovered
America before Columbus did. This is a matter for local pride but on a
larger view it is not quite so stunning, since with the possible exception
of the Swiss everybody discovered America before Columbus did.
- Clive James, in "Flying Visits: Postcards from the Observer"
"We're waiting to see
which way the ball bounces..."
- The Killinaskully gang explain Ireland's neutrality in WW2
"Peace in our time!"
- The Killinaskully gang, with an ironic toast in 1944 Ireland
"Well, I'm no stranger
to the land of scoff. Perhaps you'd like to explain why it is that every
major battle in history has been won by the side with the shortest hair
"Oh, surely not sir. "
"Think about it, why did the US Cavalry beat the Indian nation? Short back and sides verses girlie Hippy locks."
"The Cavaliers and the Roundheads? One-nil to the Pudding basins."
"Vietnam, crew cuts both sides, no score draw."
- Rimmer discusses his view of history with Kryten, "Red Dwarf"
The Time Traveller's
Guide to Medieval England is, as its title implies, an attempt to write
a guidebook to that foreign country which is the 14th century. They did
things differently there, of course, and Mortimer has set out to show us
exactly how and why. The result is a book that, like his biography of Henry
IV, fascinates and frustrates in equal measure. By far the best sections
are those in which Mortimer stays truest to his conceit, and writes as
though his ideal readers really are time-travellers, peeping out through
the doors of their Tardis at a world which unsettlingly mixes the familiar
and the bizarre. He has a novelist's eye for detail, and his portrait of
an England in which sheep are the size of dogs, 30-year-old women are regarded
as so much "winter forage", and green vegetables widely held to be poisonous
has something of the hallucinatory quality of science-fiction.
It is a world, as Mortimer writes, of "irregular measures of time, roast beaver and puffin, medicinal baths of boiled puppies, and traitors' corpses cut into quarters". Yet it is not all fantastical stuff. Mortimer is always concerned with the practicalities of life on the open road - often to a robustly earthy degree. Most striking of all is his obsession with what Chaucer called "toords" and Mortimer coyly refers to as "stools": if you have ever wanted a detailed survey of the lavatory facilities available in medieval England, from cushioned garderobe seats to village middens, then this is undoubtedly the book for you.
- Tom Holland, "The Telegraph"
David Starkey's history
programmes have a way of flattering my intelligence even while assuming
I know absolutely nothing. Without ever being condescending, he manages
to offer up a quick, understated precis of the War of the Roses just in
case my complete ignorance is hampering my ability to follow along. This
generosity is, I think, his especial gift as a presenter, since I've always
assumed that in real life I am not the sort of fool he would suffer gladly.
His latest series, Henry VIII: Mind of A Tyrant (Channel 4), aims to show
how a skinny, sensitive, chivalrous teenager who wrote poetry and corresponded
with Erasmus became the corpulent, bloodthirsty, wife-dispatching despot
we all know and love today. But before he can become a tyrant, Henry must
first become king.
Henry's accession was the product of many things, but destiny wasn't one of them. He wasn't the eldest son of the king; his brother Arthur was. The king himself wasn't even supposed to be the king, until the imprisonment and presumed death of the young princes in the tower - that's the two sons of King Edward IV - by the man who subsequently became Richard III resulted in sufficient support for an invasion by the exiled Henry Tudor, who came to England with a French army, killed Richard and became Henry VII. You see how lightly I wear this knowledge. I'll have forgotten it all by tomorrow.
- Tim Dowling, "The Guardian"
The role of the English
Speaker of the House has always been controversial. The first, Sir THomas
Hungerford, was appointed in 1377 thanks to Prince John of Gaunt and was
seen as nothing more than a royal puppet. Under his Speakership, the hugely
despised poll tax was introduced leading to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
During the War of the Roses when the rival houses of Lancaster and York
clashed for the throne, five Speakers were beheaded, murdered or killed
in battle, and it is believed to be that this period is reflected in the
continuing tradition of MPs physically dragging the Speaker to the Chair
after he is elected. Speakers fared no better during the reign of Henry
VIII, who managed to behead three of them: Sir Thomas More, Sir Richard
Empson and Edmond Dudley. Removing a Speaker from office is almost unprecedented.
The only one so far to be forcibly stripped of his role was Sir John Trevor
in 1695. When he was found guilty of accepting a bribe, the House voted
to expel him.
- Metro briefing after Michael Martin stands down as Speaker (May'09)
I'm not sure what a
modern schoolboy would offer as the meaning of the word 'Cavalier' - probably
just a make of car. But not so long ago, every schoolboy knew that a Cavalier
was Wrong but Wromantic. Cavaliers fought for Charles I in the Civil War;
they had long hair and fine clothes; they drank, sang and womanised; they
were everything the Puritans disapproved of, being, as it were, the upper-class
representatives of Merry England. In fact there is not much wrong with
that definition. Like many phrases in political debate, 'Cavalier' began
as a term of abuse, and never acquired a really technical meaning; an element
of caricature is built into the concept. Like all good caricatures, this
one does contain some essential truth.
- Noel Malcolm reviewing Lucy Worsley's "Cavalier", "The Telegraph"
We are obsessed with
the minutiae of modern politics, speculating endlessly on who said what
at Granita, and relishing the replay of the fall of the Iron Lady in Margaret
on BBC2. And yet when it comes to history, producers tend to emphasise
romance, seemingly concerned that audiences have little interest in the
political struggles and in-fighting of the past. In 2008, The Other Boleyn
Girl was indeed gorgeous. But Henry VIII’s dilemmas seemed to be reduced
to a decision between blonde (Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn) and brunette
(Natalie Portman as Anne). Thomas Cromwell was relevant only to the extent
that he administered Henry’s love life; the religious schisms that rocked
the country and consequences of the severing of relations with Europe were
forgotten. Whence this belief that the modern audience shies from politics?
It was not ever thus. Perhaps the most successful historical film was the
1966 A Man for All Seasons, in which Paul Scofield as Thomas More played
the ultimate man of conscience, refusing to yield to Henry VIII’s demand
that he facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his desire
to be head of the Church of England...
Many more historical films are set to come to our screens — including a Mary Queen of Scots with Scarlett Johansson. Apparently concerned that audiences eschew political detail, producers show the lives of kings as close to that of modern actors or pop stars, with a pristine parade of handsome houses, beautiful dresses and tasteful conversations. We could easily forget that our ancestors were as dirty, violent, prone to bad taste and obsessed with politics as we are. Every day, we give thought both to our personal lives and the wider political world in which we live, and we discuss the actions of our government on a regular basis. And yet we seem wary of accepting that our historical predecessors behaved similarly. The corset is clearly an alluring thing. One glimpse of it and we forget what lies beneath.
- Kate Williams, "The Spectator"
It’s been a bit of
a mystery why the civil war doesn’t loom larger in the national consciousness.
In all sorts of ways it marks the transition from a distant Them to an empathetic Us. Before the
civil war, history is a story from another species. After, it’s our story. Perhaps we don’t care for it because, as Sellar and Yeatman put it in 1066 and All That, the royalists were wrong but romantic, and the parliamentarians right but repulsive. There are no easy heroes. But why on television do we get so many Tudors, with all their postmedieval posturing and arch posing and simply absurd clothes? How did men’s fashion ever arrive at doublet and hose worn with velvet Crocs and a floppy Ascot hat by way of a macho look? The Commonwealth and the civil war are about the things that directly concern us today. Its poetry and pamphlets, songs and records all speak a language that is ours. Its characters are as real and recognisable as any bus queue. And they had cracking kit. I have a feeling the civil war attracts the wrong sort of historian: serious men with a socialist bent and utopian vision, not at all the historical interior decorators and camp romantics who fawn over Henry and Elizabeth. The serious and complex business of the civil war is the first moment when the rabble of Britain step into the light of our story, not as faceless bowmen or victims or mobs, but as protagonists and heroes. It is the end of Britain’s
story being an aristocrats’ monopoly.
- AA Gill, reviewing English civil war drama "The Devil's Whore", "The Times"
The Edwardians do make
exceedingly good television: Galsworthy’s Forsytes, Jules Verne, HG Wells,
the Bloomsberries, the invention of expressionism, abstraction, modernist
design and great hats. And the Edwardians had sex: unlike the Victorians,
they didn’t have to die of shame afterwards. For their brief, elegant,
indulged moment, they enjoyed the overripeness of all that Victorian probity
and hard work and the beginning of a new century, with its liberty, its
new art, new science, new psychology and new ways of being. The first 10
years of the 20th century were the most intellectually and artistically
pyrotechnic of any decade in history.
But we don’t care about any of that. The reason we like the Edwardians on television is because they’re doomed. Their existence is just a prelude to Passchendaele. They had that long, last, languid summer, then they all got machine-gunned or died of flu. We like the Edwardians because they don’t know what’s coming but we do, and they’re going to get their just deserts. We may also like the Edwardians because they’re a distant mirror. We, too, are at the beginning of a new century, enjoying a spurt of scientific and cultural dynamism. Charles is not unlike a thin, pointless Edward VII; Blair, not a million miles from Ramsay MacDonald. And we are having our long, hot summer before catastrophe.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
[From Blackadder -
Why did World War One Start]
Baldrick: No, the thing is: The way I see it, these days there's a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: How did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?
Edmund: Do you mean "How did the war start?"
George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire- building.
Edmund: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front.
George: Oh, no, sir, absolutely not. (aside, to Baldrick) Mad as a bicycle!
Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
Edmund: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
Baldrick: Nah, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.
Edmund: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort *not* to have a war.
George: By God this is interesting; I always loved history -- The Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives, all that.
Edmund: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Baldrick: But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
Edmund: Yes, that's right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
George: What was that, sir?
Edmund: It was bollocks.
# THE LIFE & DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
"War starts at midnight!"
- General Clive Candy, surprised during an exercise
"Last night, Murdoch,
I saw a girl — a nurse straight from England... I've never seen a more
"She must have been a very common type of girl, sir — the young lady in Berlin, I mean."
"She was a most uncommon— what the devil d'you mean, Murdoch?"
"There was that girl in the film, sir. You remember, you went nine times. And there was that girl in the group out of the Bystander! We lost it in the big Push. And there's—"
- General Candy and Sergeant Murdoch, on lost loves
"The Germans have accepted
the terms of the Armistice. Hostilities cease at ten o'clock... Murdoch!
do you know what this means?"
"I do, sir. Peace. We can go home. Everybody can go home!"
"For me, Murdoch, it means more than that. It means that Right is Might after all. The Germans have shelled hospitals, bombed open towns, sunk neutral ships, used poison-gas - and we won! Clean fighting, honest soldiering have won!"
- Candy and Murdoch, as Armistice Day brings Allied victory
"How odd they are!
How queer! For years and years they are writing and dreaming wonderful
and poetry and then suddenly they start a war, shoot innocent hostages, sink undefended ships, bomb and destroy whole streets in London, killing little children - and then, dressed in the same
butcher's uniform, they sit down and listen to Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert. There's something horrible about that, don't you think so Clive?"
- Barbara Wynne
"Why did you leave
"My outlook of life is against the Nazis."
"Most refugees left Germany early in 1933, when Hitler came to power..."
"I had nothing to fear from Hitler. At least I thought so. It took me eight months to find out I was wrong."
"Rather a long time. Don't you think so?"
"Please, I mean no offence — but you in England took five years."
- A judge questions Theo
"Does my knowledge
count for nothing, eh? Experience? Skill? You tell me!"
"It is a different knowledge they need now, Clive. The enemy is different, so you have to be different, too."
"Are you mad? I know what war is!"
"I don't agree. I read your broadcast up to the point where you describe the collapse of France. You commented on Nazi methods--foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots--by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods."
"So I would!"
"Clive! If you let yourself be defeated by them, just because you are too fair to hit back the same way they hit at you, there won't be any methods *but* Nazi methods! If you preach the Rules of the Game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they will laugh at you! They'll think you're weak, decadent! I thought so myself in 1919!"
"I heard all that in the last war! They fought foul then - and who won it?"
"I don't think you won it. We lost it -but you lost something, too. You forgot to learn the moral. Because victory was yours, you failed to learn your lesson twenty years ago and now you have to pay the school fees again. Some of you will learn quicker than the others, some of you will never learn it - because you've been educated to be a gentleman and a sportsman, in peace and in war. But Clive! Dear old Clive - this is not a gentleman's war. This time you're fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain — Nazism. And if you lose, there won't be a return match next year... perhaps not even for a hundred years."
- General Candy and Theo
"Our men must win or
die. Pompey's men have... other options."
- Julius Caesar, unfazed by being outnumbered, "Rome"
"When confronted by
a hungry wolf, it is unwise to goad the beast, as Cato would have us do.
But it is equally unwise to imagine the snarling animal a friend and offer
your hand, as Pompey does."
"Perhaps you would have us climb a tree!"
- Cicero and Pompey, "Rome"
"Please go on, make
your threats. I don't like to submit to mere implication."
- Cicero to Mark Anthony, "Rome"
"A ferocious little
c**t — with a pen."
- Mark Anthony about Octavian, "Rome"
"You've been avoiding
"I thought it best — to avoid any awkwardness."
"...I think if you did actually love me as you said you wouldn't mind *any* amount of awkwardness."
- Octavia and Agrippa, "Rome"
"If a marriage was
to happen between our two houses no one could doubt that all is well."
"I don't care if all Italy burns... I'll not marry him."
- Attia and Mark Anthony, with a tongue in cheek dig at Octavian, "Rome"
"You'll not turn to
drink will you?"
"You stoic types often do, when disappointed in life."
- Mark Anthony and Vorenus, "Rome"
"I would go with you
to Hades — to Britain even."
- Agrippa to Octavia, "Rome"
"It's a damn good place
to die, at any rate. It could have been a ditch in Gaul."
- Mark Anthony, in Alexandria, "Rome"
"Is he a good man?"
- Cleopatra and Vorenus, discussing Pullo, "Rome"
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