The next issue of the Conservative History Journal has been set up in page-proofs and is being proof-read today. Which means it will be out within a week. The joyful news of its actual appearance will be heralded on this blog and bells shall be rung across the country.
The editorial includes a number of plans for the future of the Journal and this blog. Once the Journal is in existence I shall put the Editorial up here as well (together with the table of contents to whet everyone's appetite) for readers to start a discussion about those plans.
In the meantime: rejoice, rejoice.
There are a few anniversaries this week that need to be remembered, apart from Remembrance Day (known as Veterans’ Day in the United States). Keeping with the American theme, let us recall that November 10 saw the US Marine Corps’ 233rd birthday. What can one say but Semper Fi?
Now to a darker anniversary: the night of November 9 – 10, 1938 is known as Kristallnacht. It all started on November 7, when the 19 year old Hershel Freible Grynszpan walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot the diplomat Ernst vom Rahm, whether because he was the one immediately available or, as some theories hold, because he really intended to shoot him. Grynszpan’s own story was that he was protesting the treatment of Jews in Germany, particularly that of his own family.
As all terrorist acts, this, too had the opposite of the intended effect, as the Nazis used vom Rath’s death to unleash an überpogrom against the Jews. During Kristallnacht 92 Jews were murdered, between 25,000 and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, around 200 synagogues were destroyed as were many thousands of Jewish businesses.
Eventually, this led to one of the great horrors of the twentieth century: the Holocaust.
But it would be good to finish on a happier note. Most of the last century was overshadowed by two terrible wars with very little peace between them and, even more so, two monstrous political ideologies: Nazism and Communism.
So, let us recall that November 9, 1989 saw the beginning of the end for the second one of these – the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Little needs to be added to that except two pictures: that of the young soldier, Conrad Schumann, leaping to freedom on August 15, 1961, as the Wall was being built and the end of that structure. Let us not forget that it was brought down by the people who, despite being so told by many a left-wing thinker and writer in the West, did not think the German Democratic Republic was a place they wanted to live in.
It is ninety years since that fateful hour when the guns fell silent and the hopes of peace, never realized, were born. The last British veteran of the Great War died just a few days ago and, it would seem, that we have lost all direct link with that conflict.
The 1914 - 1918 war changed the world in a way we have not yet fully managed to deal with. The years before 1939, the Second World War, the subsequent battle with Communism, were all the outcome of that earlier conflict. The wars in the Middle East and the Gulf are also the outcomes of it and of the collapse of the empires that had divided the world. We shall live with that for a long time before we can go to another era, no longer the post 1918 one.
For today we must remember the soldiers who died in that conflict and in the many conflicts since and think of those who are fighting in other wars.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
All American presidential elections are historic and some turn out to be far more important than anyone had expected. While I find the hype around the newly elected 44th President somewhat ridiculous (he is not the Messiah but another politician with very dubious connections and next to no experience) it is undoubtedly of historic importance. Barack Obama is not black but of mixed race and is not the descendant of slaves though, possibly, through his East African Arab ancestry of slave-traders. But it is, undoubtedly, of great historic importance that the people of the United States elected a President whose father was black. I am, therefore, very pleased to have this analysis of the event from Mark Coalter, a frequent contributor to the Conservative History Journal, who is based in New York at the moment.
The people of America have spoken and they have elected a relative newcomer as their 44th President. A politician who four years ago was sitting in the Illinois legislature, basking in the adulation of election to the US Senate and for being one of the few highlights of the 2004 Democratic Convention, is now the leader of the ‘free world.’ On Tuesday, Barack Obama, with his mantra of Yes We Can!, won a comfortable victory over his Republican opponent. With increased majorities in the House and Senate he has been presented with a tremendous opportunity to facilitate the ‘change we can believe in’, a chance to deliver something durable, which could alter the economic and political landscape, as we know it. Alternatively we may just get another four (or maybe eight) years of much the same, albeit under the auspices of someone more telegenic and aloof than some of his predecessors.
Obama’s election is undoubtedly of historical significance. He is the first African-American to become President (if one discounts the unsubstantiated rumours concerning Warren Harding), although this probably played only a small part in his margin of victory. It is clear that his natural abilities and message of change made him presidential in the eyes of a majority of voters. In the short term, what is perhaps more important for Obama’s presidency, is that unlike Clinton and Bush 43, there are no questions of illegitimacy. Republicans wonder(ed) if Clinton would have won had it not been for Perot’s somewhat eccentric but decisive intervention in a number of traditionally Republican states, such as Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, and Montana. If Bush had convincingly carried Florida and the popular vote in 2000, instead of the prolonged legal debacle that followed, then would Democrats have been so bitter?
Obama has crossed the 50% threshold and while he did not win a landslide nobody can claim that the election was stolen, at least not at the ballot box. Conservatives can quite correctly object to the heavily slanted media coverage doled out to John McCain (if he even merited a mention) verses the fawning attention provided to Obama. The Democratic candidate’s dramatic u-turn on public financing for his campaign gave Obama a huge financial advantage over McCain allowing him to out-spend the GOP on all fronts. McCain’s principled decision not to feature Rev. Wright in any of his attack ads meant that the most legitimate of Obama’s past association did not become a mainstream campaign issue outside of conservative talk radio and Fox News. The mishandling of the Bill Ayres issue – ‘palling around with terrorists’ instead of focusing on what Ayres and Obama were working towards, i.e. funding programmes designed to promote radical political activity to Chicago high school students – further highlighted the McCain campaign’s inability to land a substantive blow on their opponent. And what of Obama’s connection to the Chicago Democratic machine, a movement that is far from a paragon of ethical activity or political virtue? The Democrat success in imitating and improving upon the much-maligned Karl Rove’s get out the vote operation, so crucial to Bush’s re-election in 2004, also proved key.
Obama has an undeniable mandate for change. How he chooses to use it will be another matter and time will tell in that regard. The economy will be his first major challenge while Iraq and Afghanistan will certainly test commitments made before supporters on the stump. Will Obama reach across the aisle when formulating policy or instead will he take the view that with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Republican input is unnecessary? The selection of the combative and (very) partisan Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff would suggest that he has chosen a party loyalist and enforcer as the presidential aide-de-camp as opposed to a conciliator. A sign of things to come?
Nevertheless, let’s see how Obama does. If he acts independently of his base and makes courageous and difficult decisions in the interests of the country as opposed to interest groups and his core supporters, then the new President will have the trappings of greatness. But, if Obama adopts a partisan and leftist agenda and becomes a captive of Congressional Democrats then disappointment will be more widespread than just within conservative circles.
There seems to be something irresistible about making priests, bishops, nuns, deacons and all sorts of clerics into detectives. It makes a certain amount of sense in that clerics have the right to go to many places others would be excluded from and enquire in a way that would be considered insolent in anybody else. Also, they are supposed to be able to understand human nature (this is a little dodgy, really) and to have divine guidance.
Detective stories are essentially conservative in their outlook and are particularly successful if a settled environment is described. What could be more settled than the environment in which most clerics inhabit, at least, in intention?
So popular clerical detectives are that there is even a website dedicated to the subject. Tory Historian is addicted to detective stories and is reasonably fond of the clerical variety. Too many of them have recently been on the leftish liberal side of the spectrum, which would not matter if all these clerics did not insist on pushing their politics into the face of the reader. Neither they nor their authors appear to understand the essential conservatism of the detective story genre.
A certain amount of liberalism creeps into one of the best series of clerical detection from the nineties, that of D. M. Greenwood’s tales of Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite. Better declare an interest here. Many years ago D. M. Greenwood was known as Miss Greenwood, a classics teacher of terrifying erudition and eccentricity.
While the slight left-leaning is a little unexpected, the clear and beautiful writing and the sharpness with which the shortcomings of the present-day Church of England are dissected are entirely in character with the woman who used a similar scalpel on Tacitus and his characters.
Subsequently Miss Greenwood went back to university to study theology, became what she calls an ecclesiastical civil servant and started writing detective stories. Presumably working for the church at a relatively low level makes it easy to imagine all sorts of nefarious dealings up to and including murder.
Deaconess Braithwaite, a scion of a distinguished Anglican family, a student of classics who turned to theology and who refuses to be priested because she feels the Anglican Church should not break away from all the other ones within Christianity (presumably she means Roman Catholic and the various Orthodox ones as many of the Nonconformist denominations have had women ministers for some time) is an engaging character. So are many of the others who appear in the various novels though, sadly, few more than once. The intrigues and shabbiness of the Church hierarchy are brilliantly described and there are sharp portraits of various people who are attracted to the institution for various reasons.
In addition, Theodora Braithwaite is writing a biography of an eminent (fictitious but so realistic) Victorian Tractarian, Thomas Henry Newcome, who is brought into sharp focus, together with his formidable wife in the book Tory Historian has just finished reading, “Heavenly Vices”.
In other words, this is an entirely admirable series and strongly recommended to all readers. There is just one problem: the plots are terrible. Even Philip Grosset, onlie begetter of the Clerical Detectives site, has to admit this, though he, too, lists Theodora Braithwaite as one of his favourite detectives.
“Heavenly Vices” just about works if one can accept the dubious notion that people will murder in order to preserve the Church of England from yet another highly unpalatable scandal.
However, Tory Historian finds it extremely unlikely that a woman like Deaconess Braithwaite would think in meters rather than feet and yards. Was it D. M. Greenwood herself or some officious editor who described the appearance of a cottage Theodora Braithwaite is approaching:
The Saplings was a solid red brick villa with mock Tudor beams. The front garden, no more than three metres from gate to front door, was laid out with miniature box hedges interspersed with fine gravel.Would Deaconess Braithwaite even know how long three metres were?
On the other hand, there is a wonderful conversation between the Kenyan priest Isaiah Ngaio, to whom Theodora is unfailingly though somewhat condescendingly (even though she would call it understandingly) gracious, and the spoilt, hysterical and self-obsessed son of the late Warden of Gracemount Theological College. Needless to say, the Warden’s death is not what it seems:
Isaiah is pushed into asking the detestable Crispin:
“Whom do you hate?”That passage with the undeniable truth at the heart of it ought to encourage more people to read about Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite.
“Myself, my father.”
“Count your blessings and act out of them.”
“What blessings would those be then?”
Isaiah looked down at this flimsy youth and thought of his own country: “You ate well last night. You can read and write. You can journey from one end of this country to the other without men with Kalashnikovs demanding your deference. You have no right to your discontent, no right to your hatred. Your only proper emotion is gratitude.”
“You don’t understand.”
“There is One who does. Seek His path and healing will surely follow.”
But Crispin had been raised by and among people who considered the development of self in all its florescent glory was the true end of man.
The next meeting of the Conservative History Group will take place on November 24. The speaker will be Andrew Roberts who will talk about his new book, "Masters and Commanders", which sounds extremely good. I have heard Roberts talk about it but have not got round to reading it. One more on the list.
The meeting will start at 6.30 and will take place in the Wilson Room in Portcullis House. Please remember that security might take longer than you expect.
In the post a new book by Professor Jeremy Black, an historian who wears the label "conservative" as a badge of honour (as, indeed, he should). This one is a slight departure for him but one that many historians make from time to time. One of them was Andrew Roberts, the dedicatee of the book.
Black's book is entitled "What If? - Counterfactualism and the problem of history". Tory Historian has no doubt that this is a suitably learned discourse and is looking forward to reading it. (The book is published by the Social Affairs Unit.)
The subject of counterfactualism is dear to Tory Historian's heart. Not the sort of fantasy and wishful thinking that some people indulge in but a real counterfactual history is very useful. It is, after all, the only way that historians can conduct anything resembling a control experiment.
One removes one factor from a historic event, a factor that might or might not have been there, and examines all the others anew. Would the same result have ensued if certain possibilities had been different? Quite often the answer is yes. There would have been no significant changes in historical development.
Every now and then, on the other hand, it is possible to see probable differences, thus defining more accurately the importance of particular historic strands.
Anniversaries Tory Historian did not mention in late October:
The greatest of all is on October 21, Battle of Trafalgar. A great battle, a great victory and a great tragedy with the death of the Admiral, Lord Nelson. And on the left readers can see a chart of how the battle lines were drawn up.
October 22 was a bleak day in 1962 as President Kennedy, comprehensively outwitted by Nikita Khrushchev, announced that there were Soviet missiles on Cuba, pointing at the United States. The most frightening period of the Cold War when the two protagonists faced each other without any intermediaries between them began.
October 23 is too often remembered as the beginning of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 but let us not forget that it was also the date of the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. This was the first major battle of the Civil War with Charles I and Prince Rupert leading the Royalists and the Earl of Essex the Parliamentarians. Who won? Well, that’s a difficult one. It was a draw though if Charles had moved faster he would have been the real winner as the road to London was open to him. That is what Prince Rupert advocated. Instead, Charles proceeded with caution (most unlike him in political terms) and Essex reached London first.
Moving right along there, October 24, 1537 marks the death of Henry VIII’s third Queen, Jane Seymour, the one who produced the coveted heir. Presumably, had she survived puerperal fever, she would have kept her head as the mother of the heir. Or maybe not.
October 25, 1854 saw the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and the less said about it the better. In any case, Tennyson said it all before and in much better metre. Well, actually, the day saw the battle itself, including the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, which was successful and is, therefore, rarely remembered by anyone except tedious people like Tory Historian. Incidentally, Captain Nolan, the man who seems to have been responsible for the messy lack of communication between various commanders, was not an upper class twit, but a career officer from a less than well-off army family. He had trained and served in the professional Continental armies and wrote books on the cavalry.
October 26, 1863 is a most important date as it marks the formation of the English Football Association, otherwise known simply as the FA. The first meeting was held in the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, in London.
October 27, 1914 was the day the poet Dylan Thomas was born.
October 28, 1831 was when Michael Faraday demonstrated the dynamo. This can be considered the beginning of electro-magnetism.
Sir Walter Raleigh, known variously as adventurer, courtier, historian, poet and pirate, was beheaded on October 29, 1618. The charming statue that used to stand in Whitehall until it became dwarfed by huge memorials to World War II generals, has now been moved to Greenwich.
Just two more dates and we shall complete this rather busy period. October 30, 1925 saw the transmission of the first television moving image by John Logie Baird. I don’t think we can blame him for what TV has become since that day. And finally, a very important date for modern history: on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The beginning of the Protestant reformation.