Please note there has been a change of speaker for the January lecture. The subject matter is still the Red Army.
Click on the above image to play a 30-minute video on the recent history of Catalonia, explaining how and why Catalans have increasingly embraced the goal of independence from Spain.
The 1707 Window of Opportunity
For the last several years as the case for Scottish independence has lodged itself at or near the top of the political agenda in Scotland with support for secession hovering steadily between 45% and 51% since 2014, there has been increased interest in how the union between England and Scotland came about in the first place. Why did it happen in 1707 and not earlier? Was it inevitable? Was it a popular event? Or was it all down to the “parcel of rogues in a nation” in the words of Robert Burns? The following article attempts to place the Treaty of Union in its historical context, a context of war, royal succession, religious anxieties, political self-interest and economic imperialism. It also suggests that the contingencies of war and a very particular alignment of political-dynastic conditions coincided to create an opportunity which had not occurred before and was unlikely afterwards to have been as conducive to union as it was in 1707.
Over the period 1704-06 during the War of the Spanish Succession, the fortunes of the allied armies in their war against Louis XIV of France soared. The Duke of Marlborough won an overwhelming victory at Blenheim…
Why Did Germany Lose the Great War?
There is a consensus that the First World War was largely a stalemate for most of its duration. There were no turning-point battles like Gettysburg or Stalingrad. Yet when the end came, it was swift and complete. Although the German High Command claimed it was undefeated on the battlefield and had been stabbed in the back by treacherous politicians, they were fully aware that total collapse was just weeks if not days away when an armistice was agreed.
Despite the absence of a definitive battle, many historians see the 1918 German Spring Offensive as a major precipitant of defeat…
“I will not get into a pissing competition with that skunk.” Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) on Senator Joe McCarthy
“We have always found the Irish to be a bit odd. They refuse to be English.” Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
“Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows. It is possible that equality is to be contrasted, not with liberty, but only with a particular interpretation of it.” Richard Tawney (1880-1962)
“When the rich rob the poor, you can be certain it is business.” Mark Twain (1835-1910)
The Japanese Occupation of China 1937-45: The Divided Opposition and Its Consequences
During the eight years of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), China suffered continual crushing and humiliating defeats at the hands of Japan and was subject to a devastating, brutal occupation of much of the nation. Japanese behaviour in the conflict was the principal factor which distinguished the occupation from other wars of recent memory. Not since medieval times had such barbarity and brutality been witnessed. Most significantly, it was the deliberate targeting of the civilian population for murder, rape and terror which made this episode so different and so shocking. The Nazis would repeat this in Eastern Europe and Russia, but the Japanese preceded them by several years.
Japanese attitudes towards China governed Japanese behaviour towards the Chinese. Belief in their own racial and cultural superiority and the influence of the Bushido code of conduct allowed the invaders to justify their treatment of Chinese people…
What was the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft and how successful was propaganda in creating a racially exclusive society?
The term Volksgemeinschaft translates, as near as is possible, to “people’s ethnic community”. National Socialism envisaged this as a racially exclusive organic society of unequals which nevertheless was somehow going to be classless and harmonious, or at least class position was to be regarded as irrelevant. “Equality of blood” or “equality of race” rather than economic equality was both an ideal and a putative key to creating social harmony, and was instrumental in the issuing of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws outlawing marriage or relations between Jews and non-Jews.
National Socialism’s apparently sociopathic tendencies were a modern pseudo-scientific variant of the religious certainties of earlier ages…
“Bloody Victory” or Bloody Stupidity? The Somme, Haig and Revisionism
In 2009, William Philpott published a revisionist account of the Somme entitled Bloody Victory, arguing that what was widely regarded as a disastrous undertaking, in fact laid the groundwork for ultimate victory in 1918. It was the fulcrum of the Great War, a tragic but ultimately worthwhile venture. Subsequently the historian, Gary Sheffield, has been one of the loudest and most consistent voices not only upholding this reassessment, but also vigorously defending and attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of the British Commander-in-Chief, Douglas Haig. This revisionism forms a part of a determined effort by numerous commentators, particularly on the political right, to argue that Britain’s participation in the First World War was tragic but noble and necessary. It was, they assert, fought to defend freedom and democracy, and to criticise it as futile is to sully the memory of the millions who sacrificed life and limb…
Masculinity, Public Schools and British Imperial Rule
What was this masculinity that was so highly regarded in middle and later nineteenth-century Britain, those characteristics described approvingly by Rudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Rider Haggard, and mercilessly lampooned in the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser? It can be observed in a famous work of literature – Tom Brown’s Schooldays, written by Thomas Hughes in 1857 and based on his own experiences at Rugby Public School, one of the nine “ancient” elite schools of the time where so many colonial administrators were educated. Team spirit and Muscular Christianity (mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body ) were the underlying principles informing the ethos of their education which was as much geared to character-building as gaining knowledge. This was manifested in the central importance of team sport, regarded as a small-scale version of what boys would face later in life.
Chiang Kai-Shek and the USA – puppet and puppeteer, but which was which?
Forty years ago, Chiang Kai-Shek died after a half-century on the international stage. For the last 26 years of his life, Chiang ruled over a domain which had shrunk from the most populous country in the world to the offshore island of Taiwan. Sustained in power by the United States, this apparent client-dependency relationship was not at all straightforward. Almost every strategy and policy considered or enacted by either party was influenced by the perceived effect upon, or reaction of, the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC). Furthermore, in the case of the USA the repercussions upon her relationship with the Soviet Union, and upon Sino-Soviet relations, played a part in decision-making. Although both the United States and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Republic of China (ROC) embodied solidly and stridently anti-communist doctrines throughout the period 1949-1975, they often did so for very different reasons. Among the most fundamental of these was the very question of whether one China or two should exist on the world stage. For the USA this was a political and geostrategic issue, but for Chiang and the Kuomintang it was an existential one, defining their very raison d’être. They had absolutely no desire for genuine de jure independence from mainland China, thus creating the peculiar situation of being a state which was not a nation, yet was not only a member of the United Nations, but also had a permanent seat on the Security Council until 1971.
150 years ago, Leopold II was crowned King of the Belgians and embarked upon one of the most barbaric imperial projects undertaken by any European state.
How did the king of a small nation with no colonial possessions whatsoever come to control the single largest colony in Africa in the later 19th century? In a remarkable series of diplomatic, political and business coups, Leopold II skilfully achieved his aim of imperial grandeur while outwitting and outmanoeuvring some of the most astute statesmen of his age. However, behind a high-minded façade of liberal aspirations was concealed exceptional brutality, exploitation and an indifference to the fate of millions of Africans.
Fifty years ago the first US ground troops arrived in South Vietnam. Why did Lyndon Johnson decide to escalate the conflict?
Lyndon Johnson could have been remembered as one of the most outstanding of American presidents. His Great Society programs to tackle poverty and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act were socially progressive measures carried out during a period of economic expansion and increased prosperity. Instead his time in office is mostly associated with deepening American involvement in the war in Vietnam which ultimately proved futile. Its legacy was 58,220 American soldiers dead, a huge drain on the nation’s finances, social polarisation and the tarnishing of the reputation of the United States.
1) What information guide was issued in Britain for the first time in 1931 and included the recommendation to drivers of horse-drawn vehicles that they should “rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made”; and to motorists that they should “sound their horn when overtaking”. 2) What historical first did Valentina Tereshkova achieve in 1963? 3) Who was elected to the Westminster Parliament in 1981 but never took his seat because he was in jail at the time? 4) In 1981 the British embassy in Tehran moved its main entrance from the front of the building to a smaller side-street entrance. Why? 5) The Hamidiye Cavalry set up in 1891 by the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II was made up entirely of men from which ethnic group? 6) Born in Germany and the United States in 1919; died in Germany and the United States in 1933 – what two constitutional phenomena are being described? 7) What novel did Charlotte Brontë publish under the pseudonym, Currer Bell? 8) What contest debuted in 1891 in London at the Royal Agricultural Hall with 2000 competitors? 9) What siege lasted from February 23rd until March 6th 1836 and ended with the deaths of all the defenders? 10) Who was President of France when she became the first major Western power to recognise the People’s Republic of China? 11) Where did the largest tank battle in history take place in July and August 1943? 12) What was the Asiento which existed between 1543 and 1834? It led to the War of Jenkins Ear (1739-48) fought by Britain against Spain in order that the former could continue to benefit from what the Asiento allowed British traders to do.
1) The Highway Code 2) The first woman in space 3) Bobby Sands. Elected as the Anti-H Block/Armagh Political Prisoner candidate, he died in prison a month later. 4) The Iranians had changed the name of the street where the front entrance was located from Winston Churchill Boulevard to Bobby Sands Street, and the embassy did not want to have the name Bobby Sands appear on its letterhead. 5) Kurds 6) The Weimar Republic and Prohibition (18th Amendment) 7) Jane Eyre 8) Crufts dog show 9) The Alamo in Texas 10) Charles de Gaulle (1964) 11) Kursk, Russia 12) Permission from the Spanish government to other countries to sell slaves to Spain’s colonies.