The Reconquista of Spain

The Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain (711-1942) is one of the longest series of wars in history. Later centuries turned it into a conflict in which the Christian states of Spain fought to liberate their country from the Muslim invaders. As with most of history, the story is far more complicated.

In the 7th century, Muslim armies, spurred on by religious zeal and a new found unity, expanded their control in an almost straight line west and east across the globe. They followed in the wake of untold numbers of Muslim missionaries, spreading the word of the new religion.

By 711, Muslim armies crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, conquering two thirds of Spain. In 717 they crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into France. In 734, Prince Charles Martel ended their expansion northward at the Battle of Tours, and in 759 the Muslims were forced back into Spain.

The situation in Spain stabilized, and a number of Christian and Muslim states developed, at various times fighting each other or making temporary alliances. Religion took a backseat to politics, and Christians and Muslims fought side by side. Cultural and military blending made it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.

Today, foreign fighters are pouring into Syria and Iraq, but for several centuries, Spain was the place for young men to go. Knights from all over Christendom, usually second and later sons, with just enough funds for arms and weapons, gathered their followers and headed off to seek their fortunes. If they were lucky, they could fight for several years for different masters, building up a reputation and military experience, find a wife of either religion, and become a noble landholder in their own right. More often, they only found an unmarked grave on some unnamed battlefield. Muslim warriors did the same. Even Vikings and archers from the steppes of Asia joined in the never ending conflict.

The life of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043-1099), known as El Cid, the most famous knight of the Reconquista, exemplified this trend. He started his career fighting Christians for a Muslim king, and hopped back an forth as his fortunes waxed and waned. Finally, he ruled a principality, officially as a vassal of a Christian king but really independent, before dying in the siege of Valencia against Muslims.

Roland, the legendary paladin of Charlemagne, died in an ambush at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778). He was killed fighting rebellious Basques Christians, but later chroniclers changed the story to Muslims.

Edward the Black Prince (1330 -1376), the first Prince of Wales to die before becoming King of England, caught his fatal illness while campaigning in Spain, from which he suffered for years before dying.

The Crusades would put an end to the impasse, as the flood of Christian warriors greatly increased, while many Muslims left to go fight in the Holy Land. Although the Muslims eventually won the Crusades, they had enough other problems, from invading Mongol armies and inter struggles, and mostly gave up Spain as a lost cause.

In 1469 the marriage of two teenagers spelled the end of Muslim Spain. Queen Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon joined their two nations, and by 1492 captured the last Muslim stronghold of Granada. (As seen in the picture). They celebrated their victory by sending Christopher Columbus off to discover a new route to India, and by expelling from the country all of the Muslims and Jews who refused to convert.

So began the Spanish Empire, which for the next several centuries would dominant politics in Europe. It would explore and conquer the New World and even reach out to the Pacific. It was the time of Spanish armies, the dreaded Inquisition, and huge Treasure Fleets. Several centuries would go by before this empire died, exhausted by war, economic mismanagement, superstition, and religious repression.

Vast numbers of books in Latin, Greek, or Arabic captured during this reconquest would fuel the Renaissance in Europe.

I have visited the palace of Granada, admiring its beautiful artwork and pools of water invented as early air conditioning. Spain is a wonderful nation with a long history, and countless unknown heroes lie in perpetual slumber in her soil.



Social Gospel Movement

Today, like the main performer in a piano bar, I am doing a request. The request is the Social Gospel Movement in America, but I will be expanding this to the movement in general.

When I was taking business classes, the professors often quoted from Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, but in not a single class did any of them require us to READ it. I found this curious, because over and over again I was told that this was one of the most influential books in the founding of our nation, and the basis for our entire economic system.

Therefore, I committed the ultimate heresy; I purchased a copy, and read it cover to cover.

What I found inside was a blueprint for Progressivism, the Social Contract, and a progressive tiered tax system. The purpose behind nations and corporations generating wealth was to reinvest that wealth into the betterment of the lives of their citizens, especially those who had the least amount to give.

Smith’s other great work, and his personal favorite, was “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. It opens with:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.”

This second book was never mentioned even once while I was in school. Adam Smith was a humanitarian who felt it our moral, social, and religious duty to improve the lives of our fellow man. By quote mining, they had turned “help your fellow man” into “greed is good”.

So, what has this long introduction have to do with the Social Gospel Movement? The Social Gospel was an originally Protestant social religious movement started in the 19th century, extending into the middle of the 20th, with some elements today, though in no way the mainstream in the United States. It was started by middle class preachers who saw the working classes becoming increasingly alienated from both the theory and practice of 19th century Christianity.

The movement was originally post-millennialist, in that they believed that the Second Coming of Jesus would not occur until after mankind had rid itself of social problems by its own efforts. This was not an original idea. Apocalyptic religions usually believe that the end of the world will not come until things get decidedly better or worse; usually the latter, if for no other reason than that it is easier to accomplish. There were several Jewish cults in pre-1st century Judea who thought that the Messiah would not come until the world was better, and far more who thought only ruin and war would bring him.

It is a myth that there was a rapid rise in the numbers of Christians in the 1st century. The extra biblical references to it would not fill a single sheet of paper, and come from later and medieval copies of texts without the original source materials. However, after a full century had passed and no end of the world was in sight, the 2nd century Christians turned their eyes from the skies to the earth below, and developed social welfare programs, which can be seen as an origin of the Social Gospel movement. One Roman author described Christianity as fit only for “women and slaves”, not realizing the significance of his words. These were two social groups with the least power, and the most to gain from a new way of thinking. They were also a significant proportion of the population. Christianity slowly became the religion of those who ran the day to day Empire and the middle class, until Helena and her son Constantine made it the official religion in the 4th century.

There were many in the Christian faith, both laity and priests, who felt it their duty to ease the suffering of their fellow man. The Franciscan order of priests was founded for this very reason. However, the emphasis of the Church became accumulation of power, wealth, and murdering other Christians who did not agree with them. Personal salvation by avoiding Hell took precedence over doing good deeds.

The Protestant Reformation and the rise of Humanism among the educated classes led to a new resurgence of concern for social ills. Infighting among sects, religious and political wars, along with the rise of Saint Paulian based Puritanicalism eventually subsided this upswing in social conscience. The needy were the way they were because of God’s Will and their own failures, and no right thinking Christian should interfere with that. You only helped them because you hoped they would reform their ways and think more like you did.

Most historians today completely miss the point of why various revolutionaries went after the churches in their countries. It was not an attack on the faith so much, but on the fact that the priestly class had become a privileged one, mostly discounting the needs of the poor. The French Revolution was a perfect example of this.

At the end of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th, the lower classes came to the full realization that they were being screwed. They did all the heavy work, the fighting and dying in wars, and the only thanks they got were short miserable lives. The American and French Revolutions were examples of what people could do to free themselves. The injustices of industrialization gave rise to the new political movements of Socialism and Communism, both based on putting the workers first. Karl Marx’s Das Kapital was first published in 1867. Revolutions broke out all over Europe in 1848, resulting in massive crack downs by authorities, but also a realization that the majority of the population would not stand for this forever. The increase in the voting franchise meant that politicians had to take notice of the needs of the poor. The German Empire, founded on the hard work of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, became a socialized paradise compared to its European and American rivals.

Into this environment stepped the Social Gospel Movement. Already, great strides had been made by Christians acting together. The abolition of slavery and the Temperance Movement were led by Christians, often working against the words of their holy texts in order to promote the social good. Christians became heavily involved in the development of worker’s rights, labor unions, opposition to child labor, environmental issues, better education, and eradication of vice. They saw clearly the causes of poverty and disease, and worked to clean up slums and provide health care to the poor. Many stood in opposition to war and empire building.

One good example of this was the Young Men’s Christian Association founded by George Williams in London in 1844. The YWCA and Boys and Girls Clubs would come much later. Christian principles would lead to a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

The Social Gospel and the Progressive movement often shared members and goals, and got help from figures like President Theodore Roosevelt. A growing press allowed people to learn of conditions far away. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain filled their books with the evils of modern society. “The Gilded Age” was the name of a book and a slur term invented by Twain, meaning that the apparent successes of Victorian society masked the depth of human misery that had built it.

Richard T. Ely (1854-1943) was a figure who straddled both the Social Gospel and Progressive Movement. He was an economist who helped found a number of organizations devoted to the applications of Christian principles to solve social problems. He lobbied for more government intervention in the areas of labor unions, workplace safety, child labor, and compulsory public education. Although he was strongly opposed to socialism, he adopted most of its ideas.

Ely wrote, “We have among us a class of mammon worshippers, whose one test of conservatism, or radicalism, is the attitude one takes with respect to accumulated wealth. Whatever tends to preserve the wealth of the wealthy is called conservatism, and whatever favors anything else, no matter what, they call socialism.”

Nevertheless, Ely was typical of his time, being both highly nationalistic and just as racist, wanting government support for the “Nordic” races over the “inferior” peoples. He was a strong supporter of American intervention in WWI, something opposed by the majority of those in the social movement. He founded the American Economic Association, which today is headquartered in Nashville, TN. His feast day in the Episcopalian Church (USA) is October 6.

The Social Gospel Movement suffered in the post WWI disillusionment, but saw major successes in the policies of the New Deal and the Eisenhower Administration reforms. However, in the 1950’s such ideas were being labeled as “commie” by the main stream media, government, and Christian churches, and membership fell off. It did remain a guiding principle in the Civil Rights Movement and Liberation Theology.

Today, the Social Gospel Movement can still be seen in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalian Church, the Church of England, and in the reforms of Pope Francis in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is opposed by the majority of Evangelical Movements, and by Conservative groups and politicians. Most of the literature I found to research this article was actually from these detractors. They labeled the Social Gospel as “bankrupt”, “fallacious”, “dangerous”, “heresy”, “lunacy” and without a shred of biblical support. The Four Gospels sayings of Jesus probably could put them straight, but in their defense they don’t actually use them very often, except as reasons not to intervene. As they wrote in their articles, mankind is evil and sinful from birth, and only God can fix the problems. A single author put it “The problem is, this is a fallen, broken world full of imperfect people who cannot redeem themselves by their own efforts. Claiborne (another author) wants to bring to earth what is reserved only for heaven. Yet, no matter what people do, this broken world will remain broken.” He then went on to quote “the poor will always be with us”, so why bother.

“Temporal changes are not the objective of churches”.

I read this again and again. One helps the needy to get them to join your group. The Meek shall never inherit the earth because they will not be allowed to. Modern US Christianity has formed an alliance with Capitalism and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

The Social Gospel is not unique to Christianity. Every religion has those members who deem it a necessity to help one’s fellow man. Zakat (“that which purifies”) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam in which one gives to the poor and needy. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood gain their strength from the good they do for their communities. Dana (“generosity”) is one of the Ten Niyamas of Hinduism. Buddhism is an entire religion devoted to bettering the lives of others. Europe has been moving in this direction for decades, although with less of the religious motivation.

All is not lost here. Organizations like St. Jude’s Hospital come readily to mind. The various Masonic charities, such as the Shriner Hospitals and the Scottish and Yorkish Rite Charities work quietly every day to improve the lives of needy children. Every single medical worker, school teacher, and social worker, whether for religious reasons or not, live the ideals of the Social Gospel.

Perhaps the Social Gospel today can be seen, not so much as a movement, but as influencing the millions of acts of kindness Americans perform every day. It has moved from out in the open into the hearts of our people. The Social Gospel today may not be able to cure every ill, mend every broken heart, or end all injustice, but, by God, they certainly are going to try.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:35-40

Iran Almost Prevented 9/11

As many of you know, I do an intense study of history, and not just the most common periods and events. More people should do this, instead of just parroting what the news tells them to think about events.

Today I have a small incident you might be interested in.

In 1998, the Islamic Republic of Iran was supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

On August 8, a group of Iranian diplomats and one reporter, Mahmond Saremi, were captured by the Taliban as they overran a Northern Alliance stronghold which had an Iranian consulate. The group were executed, but other consulate personnel were released.

Iran put 70,000 troops on the border, and were fully engaged in planning an invasion of Afghanistan. They would overthrow the Taliban and put the Northern Alliance leaders in charge.

Heavy pressure from many other countries and UN mediation defused the crisis.

Now, just think how different your life would be today if the invasion had occurred. The Iranians would have been fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who would have had to use all of their resources to fight back. No 9/11; planning for which started after this crisis. No War on Terror. No invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. No Islamic State. And none of the events these things caused.

When the US invaded Afghanistan, they made the same deal with the Northern Alliance and just invaded from the Pakistan side of the country. The Americans even worked with Iranian intelligence, using the information they had gathered. (The rhetoric of today was not present, especially since the people of Iran had held a candlelight vigil in Tehran after they found out about the twin towers. They knew first hand what WMD attacks were like).

August 8 is still named Reporter Day in Iran, after Mahmond Saremi.

Just something for you to think about as you go through your workday.

Oliver Cromwell and the Dictatorship of the Godly

There is much talk these days regarding the passing of religious based laws in the United States, and even, in extreme cases, how the bible should become the only law of the nation. For those of you who know me, whenever issues arise in the our times, I review history to see how people in the past handled similar issues, and how they succeeded or failed. Today you are in for a real treat.

We have to return to England in the mid 17th century. It has been 100 years since the printing press allowed men to distribute their ideas to an increasingly literate public. The bible was printed in multiple languages, and non-Catholic sects, called Protestants, had sprung up.  Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others defined their own versions of Christianity. The Catholic Counter -Reformation (1545–1563) failed to stamp them out, and the Inquisitions were more busy than ever killing fellow Christians. Henry VIII of England formed his own church to divorce his first wife, and his daughter Elizabeth I made it stronger. When James VI of Scotland moved to London to become James I of England in 1603, he gave the world the King James Bible in 1611.

His son, Charles I, had a rough time as king. Never thought to inherit, he was ill equipped to take the throne at the age of 24. Charles I had a terrible stutter that grew worse as he grew more nervous.  He was married to the beautiful Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII of France, and a Catholic. Unusual in the annuls of history, Charles I was deeply in love with his wife, and extended toleration to Catholics.

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was tearing Europe apart in religious and political struggle, and would ultimately cause the deaths of almost half of everyone in central Europe. Charles did his best to stay out of this useless war, participating only from 1625-1630.

Charles I was a  firm believer in the then Christian idea of the divine right of kings to rule. This god given right did not include any funds from heaven, so Charles and his Parliament clashed often over money issues.  When Parliament offered him the Petition of Right (a guarantee of some civil liberties) in 1628 in exchange for subsides, he reluctantly agreed. Charles later threw several members of Parliament in prison and dissolved the body for a decade.

Money troubles and a failed war to impose the Common Book of Prayer on Scotland forced the king to recall another Parliament. It must be mentioned here that few people had the right to vote for members of Parliament, which was composed almost entirely by wealthy land owners, lawyers, and merchants. The Long Parliament, as it became known, was even more angry with the king’s policies, forcing his favorite (the Earl of Strafford) to be executed and passing laws to restrict Charles’ authority.

The king had had enough, and in January 1642 he entered Parliament with 400 soldiers to arrest their leaders. They had gotten advanced notice, and as the king said, “the birds had flown.”

Rioting forced the king to evacuate the city of London, a mistake which would ultimately cost him the war. London was the center of commerce, the location of armories and weapons production, and had far and away the largest population.

Unlike the American Civil War, the First English Civil War (1642-1646) was a true “brothers’ war”, with families all over the country dividing over king or parliament. Fathers, uncles, brothers, and sons killed each other over which side would hold power. Originally, both sides claimed to be fighting for the king, as parliament said their quarrel was with “the king’s evil counselors.”  That would change with the increased national suffering.

The war was fought by small armies of amateurs. Parliament had their “trained bands”, which were barely trained local militias. Most of the veterans of the European wars fought for the king. The King enlisted his nephew Prince Rupert from Europe to help. Puritans from America came to fight for Parliament. Leaders gained rank by having the funds to raise troops, usually men from their own lands. Armies were composed of infantry (musket and pike), cavalry, and artillery. Because of the number of people who owned horses, cavalry made up almost 50% of the forces. Artillerymen were so rare that both sides preferred capturing them and forcing them to change sides rather than kill them.

The country roughly divided South and East for Parliament, West and North for the king. The Parliamentarians were exclusively Protestant, while the tolerant king received Catholic support, along with his own Protestants. Scotland, while nominally on the side of Parliament, stayed out of most of the war, enjoying a time of self rule, while fighting the king’s local supporters. Ireland dissolved into anarchy as lots of factions fought each other. The navy almost entirely supported Parliament, who controlled their main bases and held the purse to pay them. Local leaders made neutrality pacts with each other, overlooking political differences and using their forces to keep out each side.

On October 23, 1642, 30,000 men fought the first battle of the war on a frozen field. At the Battle of Edgehill both sides lost equal amounts. Royalist cavalry smashed both flanks, and could have won the war in a day by turning against the center, but rode off to find glory slaughtering stragglers while Parliament’s cavalry hit the king’s infantry and caused many of them to flee. It was indecisive, but the king held the advantage. If he had marched on London right away, it would have been over. But he hesitated.

We have yet to introduce Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was a gentleman from Norfolk (my favorite part of England). He was a member of Parliament, and returned home to raise a troop of cavalry. Although his only training was with the trained bands, he was made a colonel.  Cromwell was one of those natural military geniuses who arise every now and then. He was a religious fanatic, a member of the Puritan Independents, who called themselves “the Godly”. Cromwell was also a hypocrite who desired political power. He thought that it was God’s will to fight the king, ignoring all of the parts of the bible that told him not to. He had a very large family, and Cromwell had one advantage many soldiers in history have lacked; his wife took care of the family business while he was away, and her letters contained nothing to distract him. There were no troubles at home filling his mind during battle.

The war dragged on, neither side being able to win a decisive victory. It became obvious to Parliament that they would have to modernize to win. On April 3, 1645 they passed the Self-Denying Ordnance, forcing members of parliament to give up all civil and military (army and navy) positions, or else give up being an MP. Cromwell and his handpicked cronies exempted, of course. The ordnance also created the New Model Army, joining all local forces into  a national army, one loyal to parliament and it’s military leaders and not the counties that raised them.

This New Model Army proved a success, Scottish Presbyterian armies invaded, and the king was defeated, surrendering himself to the Scots on May 5, 1646.

Cromwell and the Earl of Essex were now national heroes. The Scots held the king for nine months, finally selling him to parliament for 100,000 British pounds, with promises of more to come.

The leaders of Parliament decided to make a deal with the king, paying off the Scots, disbanding the New Model Army, and establish England under a new Presbyterian covenant. Cromwell would have none of this. The New Model Army was composed mostly of Puritans, who had been unpaid for months. They had not fought the war to go home unpaid and be ruled by a “foreign” religion. It was the largest political force in the country. Cromwell used the army to threaten Parliament and gain more political leverage.

Religious Protestant minorities, such as the Levellers, the Diggers, and the Fifth Monarchists sprang up all over the country, and often within the army. Many wanted to return to the Christian way of life described in the New Testament. Often they were killed and all were suppressed.

The new government banned all major religious holidays, with a special hatred for Christmas and Easter,  the latter they called “The Devil’s Holiday.”. In 1647 Parliament passed a law stating  “Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding.” The next time a Christian rails against a “war on Christmas”, remind them that Fundamentalist Puritans were the first to do so.

Charles I had been negotiating secretly with everyone at this time. The Scots knew that Parliament was going against their private deal, declared for the king, and invaded England. Royalists and even former Parliamentarians rose up. The Second English Civil War (February 1648 – August 28, 1649) was a much shorter conflict, but it sealed the king’s fate. Religious fanatics including Cromwell decided to try the king for his life. Many Parliamentarians, including the Earl of Essex (who had resigned in 1646), were disgusted by the way the nation was going, and bowed out of politics. The trial was a sham from the start, and the prosecutors failed in their endeavor to prove the king guilty of anything. In the end, they declared him guilty and executed him on January 30, 1649. Charles I was later made a saint of the Anglican Church.

The country was officially declared a republic on May 19, 1649. In reality, it was a military dictatorship. Parliament was now the Rump Parliament, after  Colonel Pride (on Cromwell’s and Thomas Fairfax’s orders), used soldiers to purge the body of 231 members on December 6, 1648. Real political power was held by Oliver Cromwell and his personal Council of State. Fairfax himself resigned in 1650.

Charles II was declared king February 5, 1649 by his followers and the Third English Civil War (1649-1651) started. Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland (1649-1650) was a brutal massacre of biblical proportions. He moved in more English colonists and set up a military governor. Three hundred and fifty  years later, Cromwell is still a hated man in Ireland.

Cromwell invaded Scotland next and defeated them, but saw the Scots as only misguided Christians. There were no massacres. Scotland was now ruled by a military governor.

Cromwell had been away for almost two years, and Parliament had used the opportunity to try to regain power. The power struggle lasted for two years, until April 20, 1653, when Cromwell, like the king, marched into Parliament at the head of armed soldiers and dissolved it.

A new Parliament, called the Barebone’s Parliament, was composed only from men based on their religious credentials. Cromwell was not a member, holding a vague sort of political position, maintained by force of arms. The Barebones met on July 4, 1653 and dissolved itself on December 12, 1653 after accomplishing nothing. After Parliament was dissolved, General Lambert put forth the Instrument of Government which just declared Cromwell “Lord Protector for life” with the later title, “His Highness, the Lord Protector.” The veil of lies had been removed, and Cromwell was now king in everything but name.

Cromwell divided the country into 15 military districts and the Rule of the Major Generals began. Military force alone was the law, and the generals were ordered to maintain control as they saw fit. With only limited resources, this rule by indirect military control lasted about one year.

This new England was not a happy place. Puritans were in charge, and all forms of fun (except drinking) were banned. Catholics and main stream Protestants were oppressed. Symbols of idolatry were destroyed in churches. Religious texts found unworthy went up in flames. Sermons were long, boring litanies telling the congregations that life was one of suffering, to enjoy the rewards hereafter. The economy collapsed, and Cromwell held power by the fact of military power and a frighteningly efficient secret police. Cromwell was always afraid of not being on God’s side. His solution to economic disaster was  to burn witches and steal the lands and wealth of former royalists and political enemies. People lived in fear, making certain to appear godly enough in public, and could not even speak their minds at home for fear of spies. Big Brother of 1984 fame would have been proud.

Oliver Cromwell was one of those who believed in the “Good Ole Days”, clinging to some vision of a perfect past, which seemed to be around one hundred years earlier. His policies led to the First Anglo-Dutch war (1652-1654) and the Anglo-Spanish War (1654-1660). Even his own advisors did not see the sense of fighting against a much weakened Spanish Empire, nowhere near the power of the Armada days. But to argue with the dictator could cost your life, so nobody did.

Cromwell did allow the Jews to return to England. He wanted them to help revitalize the failing economy, and to steal them away from Holland. Cromwell was determined that they would be forced to become Christian eventually. He held a council to discuss the matter, but when it was obvious that he would not get his way, he simply dissolved the body and declared it resolved himself.

Cromwell was offered the crown in 1657, but turned it down to be reinstalled Lord Protector. He was seated on King Edward’s chair, wearing a purple ermine-lined robe, with a scepter and a sword of justice, but no crown. No one was fooled by his attempt at humility.

Cromwell was allowed to pick his own successor, and chose his oldest surviving son, Richard, as any king would do. Richard had never held any major position, did not fight in the wars, and was completely unprepared for high office. The few months of grooming he had did not help. Oliver Cromwell died on September 3, 1658. Richard only ruled for 254 days, as various elements in the army conspired against him.

In the end, it looked like civil war would erupt yet again, with Parliamentarians killing each other for power. But the country was exhausted after years of conflict and dictatorship. General Monke conspired with the royalists, and on his 30th birthday (May 29, 1660), Charles II entered London to massive enthusiastic crowds. The Restoration had begun.

It would take years to sort out all of the disasters caused by the last 18 years. Who owned what was a major problem. All of the entertainments were restored, along with the church. Puritans and their ideas were discarded, and most moved to North America.

Oliver Cromwell was dug up from his grave, tried for treason, and executed (even though he was dead), with his head placed on a spike outside Westminster Hall where Charles I had been executed, and his body hung in chains. The body parts had a varied history after that.

One hundred and twenty years later, another congress won a civil war against the crown. This congress too, was financially broke, and tried to order their armies to disperse unpaid. The army turned to its leader, and offered him the crown. Although it is never mentioned in official histories, I am certain that George Washington remembered what had happened in England under the military/religious rule of Oliver Cromwell, in making his decision not to inflict the same suffering on America.

I can only hope that the rest of us follow Washington’s example.

The Cultural Revolution – 50 Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago this day, on May 16, 1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was started in the People’s Republic of China by Chairman Mao Zedong. It was a social/political movement, launched for the stated purpose of purging capitalist and traditionalist elements from the Communist Party, in reality an attempt by Mao to reestablish his power base. The movement developed a momentum of its own, and would plunge China into chaos for the next decade.

As I have written about before, the Cultural Revolution had a profound effect on my life, but not for the reasons one might immediately presume. The events of that decade are varied and detailed, and  I only have the ability to give you the barest of facts. I encourage you to investigate more on your own.

After the communists won the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949. The Chinese people had endured what they called “The Century of Humiliation”, as various foreign powers invaded their country again and again, killing their people, stealing their resources, and occupying large sections of the land. China was now one nation again (except for Taiwan) and they were determined that never again would foreigners treat them in that manner.

They knew that the only way they could advance was to become a power on a worldwide scale, and the Chinese leaders felt that they had to modernize quickly. A series of Five Year Plans were launched, along with several social/political campaigns, such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956) and the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), all of which were instigated to modernize the nation. Poor planning and worse execution caused most of these campaigns to fall well short of expectations.

Mao Zedong had lost a lot of prestige in these failed campaigns, and there were elements within the Party who wanted to replace the founder of their nation.

On May 16, 1966, Mao gave a speech that became known as the “May 16 Notification”. In it, he stated that there were enemies of the Party hiding within the Party, undermining all of its efforts. It was the classic witch-hunt and deflection, blaming their ills on internal enemies. (The same tactic is being used in the US 2016 Presidential Campaign.)

Mass rallies were held, and the campaign to “Destroy the Four Olds and Cultivate the Four News” (customs, culture, habits, and ideas in both cases) began. Street and location names were changed to revolutionary ones, and this was just the beginning. Revolutionary plays and posters were everywhere. Students started revolutionary organizations known as Red Guards; spontaneously at first, but later with Mao’s direct support. The Quotations of Mao Zedong, later called the Little Red Book, were published by the army and Lin Bao, Mao’s presumed successor. Citizens were expected to own the book, and be able to quote from it on command. Overnight it became one of the most published books in human history.

Old grudges were turned into counter revolutionary enemies, and the movement developed an anti-intellectual streak. Enemies were publicly humiliated, forced to wear placards and cone shaped dunce hats. Many were murdered or killed themselves later from shame. Millions were forced from the cities to the rural regions in the “Down to the Countryside Movement” to purge themselves of “selfish city ways”.

China became a real world fulfillment of George Orwell’s “1984”, with a Two Minute Hate that no one seemed to be able, or willing to stop.

The movement began to feed on itself, as the revolutionaries ran out of foes and had only each other to go after. Red Guard units fought each other in real battles, claiming that their opponents were not pure enough in their “Mao Thought.” The country was collapsing under its own zeal.

In 1967 – 1968, the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the Chinese Communist Party and the de facto military for the country, had had enough of the Red Guards, and brutally suppressed their units, often with violence followed by mass executions of the captured Guards. This was the start of real political power for the military that would last for decades. The following year Mao called an official end to the Cultural Revolution, but its effects continued.

In 1971 Lin Bao was implemented in a presumed military coup, which may or may not have been true. He tried to flee the country for the Soviet Union, but his plane crashed in Mongolia and he died. With the death of Lin, Mao became very depressed and his health had started to fail him. He reached out to old political friends that he had made foes, but the infrastructure of the Party had been seriously damaged, and many were worried that Mao would again change his mind and purge them. Mao began to rely heavily on Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, Wang Hongwen, and Mao’s own fourth wife, Jiang Quig. This “Gang of Four” as they came to be called perpetuated the Cultural Revolution for their own ends, eliminating enemies and amassing power.

Premier Zhou Enlai died on January 8, 1976 and Mao himself died September 9, 1976. The new Premier Hua Guofeng  and up and coming leader Deng Xiaoping had the group arrested on October 6, 1976. The Cultural Revolution was finally ended.

In 1981, the Gang of Four were put on trial for crimes against the state, and given long sentences. Jiang committed suicide in 1991, Wang died in 1992, and Yao and Zhang were released in the late 1990s, and died later.

The period of the Cultural Revolution is often seen as a time when China went only backwards, but this is not true. During this time China emerged on the world stage as a major player. They helped their Vietnamese allies to win the Vietnam War, Nixon came to China, their first nuclear and hydrogen bombs were detonated, its space program started, and on October 25, 1971 China took its place as one of the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. China started economic and social programs worldwide, which continue to this day.

When Deng Xiaoping became Chairman in 1978, he only chose members for the Politburo who had been personally harmed in the Cultural Revolution. In what is now called the “political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989”, as students massed in Tienanmen Square, each of these Politburo members once again heard the ghosts of the Red Guards. As my prediction of the time (in school and the military) came true, on June 4, 1989 soldiers attacked and killed hundreds of protesters. The Cultural Revolution  had claimed its last victims.

So what has all of this to do with me? At the time the Cultural Revolution started, I was only 1 1/2 years old. I do not remember television in the United States showing much, but in Europe the news was full of China. It did not end until after I was 12 years old. I wondered what all of these grown ups were so angry about, shouting and waving their little books. It caused me to want to understand more of who they were, and what they were doing. It began a life long love of China and all things Chinese. I even bought a first edition English language edition of the Little Red Book, which has its place among my many other books of historical import.

The Cultural Revolution was a period of pain, fear, death, and growth. The China that emerged from the turmoil would go on to become a world power, looking forward to  a brighter future, but always wary not to repeat the past.












Shin and his Tricycle

Tetsutani Shinichi, called Shin by his family (pictured here with sister Michiko), was a little boy with a dream. He lived with his father, mother, grandmother, big sister Michiko, and new baby sister Yoko. Their home was also a local drugstore. Shin’s dream was the same as many three year old’s; a shiny red tricycle.

Shin spent his days playing with his best friend, Kimi, the little girl who lived next door. They loved to play house and look at picture books, especially the one with the tricycle they both wanted.

But in wartime Japan, luxury items were scarce, and toys were almost impossible to find.Shin cried and pleaded with his parents, and tried to understand why his dream could not be fulfilled.

But, on one bright sunny day in April, a miracle happened. Shin’s uncle came to visit before he put out to sea. Wrapped in paper was a very early birthday gift; a red tricycle his uncle had discovered in a closet in his home. Shin was overjoyed, and said, “Look, Papa, my dream did come true!”

Shin and Kimi treated the tricycle like a third friend, and they took turns pedaling it while the other one rode behind. They loved to ride around the streets of their quiet town.

One morning after breakfast, Shin and Kimi were riding the tricycle around the yard. A group of soldiers were repairing the road in front of Shin’s house. They laughed and waved to the children, who laughed and waved back.

On that bright sunny morning, there was suddenly a loud explosion, followed by a blinding flash of light. In an instant, everything changed.

It was August 6, 1945, and the Little Boy atomic bomb had just exploded over Hiroshima.

Upon entry into WWII, the United States had launched into a massive arms development program, including nuclear weapons. There is a myth that there was a nuclear arms race during the war, but the Axis powers lacked the resources. Germany essentially gave up trying to develop the bomb in 1942, and the Soviet Union did not start nuclear weapons research until after Stalin discovered through his spies that the Western Powers were frantically working on one.

Many reasons have been given for why the atomic bombs were used on Japan. Some are speculation, some are conjecture, and some are subjective.

One of the most common was that Japan would not surrender. However, Japan had been trying to negotiate a peace settlement through the agency of the the Soviet Union since February 1945. Japanese historians say that it was more the decision of the Soviet Union to declare war on them than the atomic blasts that led to the need to surrender.

Another was massive Allied casualties if Japan were to be invaded. This is conjecture, and can never be proved or disproved. The allies had overwhelming military superiority, and huge stockpiles of chemical weapons were readied to be used against Japanese human wave attacks. (Biological weapons were considered as well if they were needed). Japan had been planning for invasion, and had mobilized its last resources to resist.

Another was hatred of the Japanese people. Americans wanted revenge for Pearl Harbor. (The 68 civilians killed at Pearl Harbor were almost all killed by US shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire raining down on residential areas). Americans held a lot of erroneous ideas about the Japanese and their culture, and many saw them as an inferior race. A 1944 national survey determined that 1 in 8 Americans wanted all “Japanese men, women, and children exterminated.” My father, who actually fought the Japanese, did not hold this opinion. He saw them as a noble people, and brave warriors.

One of the major reasons was the extreme cost. The United States and its allies had spent $2 billion on the project (an unheard of amount at that time), and President Truman was determined to see if it worked. He was opposed in this by Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur, the head of the Joint Chiefs, Albert Einstein, and the majority of those in the United States government who knew of the project. Most said to not use it, or at least drop it over an unoccupied area of Japan and allow the Japanese government to see its effects. Truman would hear none of that. It was a city or nothing.

Hiroshima had purposely not been bombed by conventional means to allow a greater assessment of the damage. This lack of attacks had been noted by those in the city, and various ideas had been been put forward, but none suspected the truth.

When the bomb exploded, a wall of fire and a massive shock wave spread out in all directions. The bomb had drifted during its descent, and detonated over a hospital, vaporizing everyone inside. Shin’s home was 1500 meters from the hydrocenter of the blast. The house fell down on everyone and they were badly burned.

Grandmother was the first to pull Shin from the rubble. He was badly bleeding and swollen. Kimi was already dead, crushed or killed by the blast. Their father Nobuo tried to rescue the girls, but Michiko and Yoko perished in the flames of their home. All of the soldiers in the road were dead.

With well over 90% of the city’s medical personnel dead (only one doctor survived in the Red Cross Hospital), the civilians were on their own, and most rushed down to the river to soothe the horrible burns, Shin’s family included. Shin begged for water, but his father saw that most of those who drank it died, and gave him none. (The water was highly contaminated with radiation, and those who drank it usually vomited violently before they died).

Shin was incoherent, and was asking over and over about his tricycle. His parents showed him that he was still holding one of the plastic handlebar grips in his hand. Shin smiled. That night he died, 10 days before his fourth birthday.

All of the children in Shin’s family were dead, and only the saddened adults survived. Overcome by grief, they decided to bury the children in their own yard, and not in some mass grave. The charred bones of Michiko and Yoko were buried together. Kimi’s mother brought her body and said, “They were such good friends. We should bury them together, Nabuo.” Shin and Kimi were laid to rest, hand in hand. Their cherished tricycle was buried with them as well.

In a twist of irony, the United States Army Air Force declared the atomic bombing of Hiroshima a failure, as only 1.7% of the fissionable material reacted. They had estimated far greater destruction.

On August 9th the Soviet Union declared war, and on the same day Nagaski received the second and last atomic bombing in human history. The Japanese government had had enough, and on August 15th, for the first time in their lives, the Japanese people heard their God-Emperor Hirohito on the radio, reading the capitulation announcement. The Empire of Japan had lost its first conflict in its ancient history.

Of the bombing, President Truman said, “I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb … It is an awful responsibility which has come to us … We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”

Unfortunately, in 1949 God decided to even the playing field, and the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. A new era of fear and mutual assured destruction started. But by then Allies had become enemies, and the United States had joined forces with the former major Axis powers in a new game of world domination. That war lasted until 1989, but it still echoes today.

In 1985, Shin’s parents decided that it was time to give their children a proper burial. When they dug up the skeletons of Kimi and Shin, they were still hand in hand. The adults were astonished to discover the tricycle, since they had forgotten they had buried it.

The tricycle was donated to the Hiroshima Peace Museum, where it can still be viewed today (see picture).

“Shin’s Tricycle” is a children’s book written by another survivor of that day, with help from Shin’s father. As the author writes, “His battered tricycle serves as a reminder of all of the young victims of that tragic day – and as a symbol of the joyful and innocent time that childhood should be.”


War of 1812

June 2012

This week is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, when Napoleon led his Grand Armee into Russia.

Frustrated in his war with Britain, economic disaster, and failure of the Continental Blockade, Napoleon decided that he needed another great victory to bring Europe under his heel. Picking a fight with Russia, he got what he wanted, and his troops poured across the Neman River.

The Grand Armee was composed of 685,000 from almost every part of the First Empire and her satellites and allies. It was the largest army the modern world had ever seen, and all Europe was certain of a crushing Russian defeat. But the Russians burned their crops and towns, falling back the entire time, sucking the invaders deeper and deeper into Russia. The Grand Armee grew smaller and smaller as it was forced to leave garrisons and guard supply columns. Men and horses starved while Russian partisans picked them off one by one. Russian mud and rain slowed them down.

Finally, Marshal Kutusov was forced to fight the French at Borodino on September 7. A hard fought day, 74,000 casualties total for both sides, and the Russian army retired in good order. The French entered a Moscow stripped of supplies. A month later, the French were in full retreat. Mother Russia and Father Snow now killed even more of the invaders, and the Russians Cossacks destroyed whole columns of troops.

As he had done in Egypt, Napoleon abandoned his men to their fate and returned to Paris. The Grand Armee that entered Poland was only a tiny fraction of the one from months before.

Once again, the Russians did what no one in Europe thought they would do; they continued to pursue the French in a bid to destroy the First Empire. What followed was the War of Liberation, as much of Germany revolted against the French.

Napoleon responded with a new army, composed of the “Marie Louises”, young French conscripts barely out of school, nicknamed after their young empress. Napoleon fought great campaigns, and won many victories, but it was never enough to stem the tide, and in April 1814 he was defeated.

General Montgomery once said the the first rule of warfare was to never march on Moscow. As they would do so often, the Russian people, with their courage and willingness to sacrifice everything for their homeland, won a great victory.