Sunday, February 26, 2006 03/06/06-the Threat from Great Britain

In today's excerpt, the strange case of the perceived threat from Great Britain (and a clue as to America's unpreparedness for the German build-up for World War II) :

"As early as 1904, American army and navy staff officers had begun work on a series of color-coded war plans, BLACK in the event of war with Germany, RED for Great Britain, ORANGE for Japan, and so on through an artist's palette of growing files.

...In the years after World War I and Germany's enforced disarmament, military and naval planners considered only Japan and Great Britain as potential major enemies. Were these two powers, linked formally in an alliance from 1902 to 1921, to wage a two-ocean war against the United States, the planners decided America would necessarily fight first in the Atlantic, leaving the far-off Japanese for later."

Ed Cray, General of the Army, Cooper Square, 1990, p.188 03/03/06-Fear

In today's excerpt, fear:

"Nothing in life is more remarkable than the unnecessary anxiety which we endure, and generally create ourselves" Benjamin Disraeli, (1804-81), British Prime Minister

"Grief has limits, whereas apprehension has none. For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen." Pliny, the Younger, (62-113CE), lawyer, author and philosopher of ancient Rome

"Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear." Bertrand Russell, (1872-1970), mathematician, logician and philosopher

"The psychological condition of fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now. You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap. And if you are identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of Now, that anxiety gap will be your constant companion."

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, New World, 1997, p.35

Saturday, February 25, 2006 03/02/06-Rome and the Black Death

In today's excerpt, Rome in the 14th century:

"A million people had dwelled in Rome during the height of the Empire, but now the city's population was less than that of Florence. The Black Death of 1348 had reduced numbers to 20,000, from which, over the next fifty years, they rose only slightly. Rome had shrunk into a tiny area inside its ancient walls, retreating from the seven hills to huddle among a few streets on the bank of the Tiber across from St. Peter's, whose walls were in danger of collapse. Foxes and beggars roamed the filthy streets. Livestock grazed in the Forum. The Temple of Jupiter was a dunghill...

There was no trade or industry apart from the pilgrims who arrived from all over Europe, clutching copies of Mirabilia urbis romae (The Wonders of Rome), which told them which relics to see during their stay. This guidebook directed them to such holy sights as the finger bone of St. Thomas in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, the arm of St. Anne and the head of the Samaritan woman converted by Christ...

The guidebook did not direct the attention of the pilgrims to the Roman remains that surrounded them. To such pious Christians these ancient ruins were so much heathen idolatry."

Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome, Penguin, 2000, p. 22-3 03/01/06-bombing iraq in 1919

In today's excerpt, a foreshadowing of contemporary (and underreported) bombing in Iraq:

"Just after the Great War (World War I), Britain designed a new system of imperial policing known as 'air control' and applied it in Iraq, lately wrested from the Turkish Empire. In this scheme, the Royal Air Force patrolled the country from a network of bases, bombarding villages and tribes as needed to put down unrest and subversive activities. It was in Iraq that the British first practiced, if never perfected, the technology of bombardment, there that they first attempted to fully theorize the value of airpower as an independent arm of the military. "

Priya Satia, The American Historical Review, 'The Defense of Inhumanity, AirControl and the British Idea of Arabia, February 2006, Volume III, Number 1, p. 16 02/28/06-Aristotle and T.S. Eliot

In today's excerpt, T.S. Eliot comments on Aristotle. Eliot, one of the towering poets and literary critics of the 20th century, is discussing the nature of Aristotle's genius in his article 'The Perfect Critic'. The importance of the statement here is his assertion that great analysis is not the outcome of some repeatable process or method, but instead comes from intelligence alone:

"Aristotle is a person who has suffered from the adherence of persons who must be regarded less as his disciples than as his sectaries. One must be firmly distrustful of accepting Aristotle in a canonical spirit; this is to lose the whole living force of him. He was primarily a man of not only remarkable but universal intelligence... his short and broken treatise he provides an eternal example--not of laws, or even of method, for there is no method except to be very intelligent, but of intelligence itself swiftly operating the analysis of sensation to the point of principle and definition."

T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, University, 1920, pp. 10-1 02/27/06-the Mediterranean

In today's excerpt, the ancient mediterranean sea:

"Small compared to the great oceans of the world, the Mediterranean contains a greater range of peoples, cultures, and meteorolgical differences than any other comparable area.

...the western Mediterranean, the area from Gibraltar to Malta to Sicily, is separated from the the eastern by a submerged ridge on which the Maltese islands stand. This now hidden land once joined Europe to North Africa, and on either side of it--long after the ocean Tethys had receded--there probably lay two great lakes. some unknown point in time (but one which has persisted in man's memory), the land bridge which connected Africa with Spain at the Strait of Gibraltar was broken through and the ocean roared in, flooding first the western lake, then overrunning the land between Sicily and North Africa (marooning small islands like Levanzo, Malta, and Gozo), and finally uniting the western lake with the eastern to form what is now the Mediterranean Sea. This event, so momentous to the human race, is remembered in the Greek legend of Deucalion and possibly in the story of Noah in the Bible: 'All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.' "

Ernle Bradford, Mediterranean, Penguin Press, 1971, pp. 28-9

Monday, February 20, 2006 02/24/06-Common sense

In today's excerpt, Ulysses Grant, one of the greatest generals and leaders in military history, is remembered for his common sense:

"Common sense--time and again observers used this term to describe Grant's approach to generalship. There was no attempt to ape Napoleon or Wellington; no elaborate references to the exploits of legend; the general was just 'a plain businessman of the republic' getting things done. 'Dash is handsome, genius glorious,' one officer remarked; 'but modest, old-fashioned, everyday sense is the trump, after all.' Newspaper correspondent William Shanks agreed: 'His wisdom is that which results from a combination of common sense trained to logical reflection with practical observation. He deals with all questions in a plain, business-like manner, and in a systematic style, which enables him to dispatch a great deal of business in a very short time.' "

Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, p. 459 02/23/06-China falls behind

In today's excerpt--why China lost its technological lead--a lesson in the consequences of stifling innovation:

"Medieval China led the world in technology. The long list of its major technological firsts includes cast iron, the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, and many others mentioned earlier. It also led the world in political power, navigation, and control of the seas. In the early 15th century it sent treasure fleets, each consisting of hundreds of ships up to 400 feet long and with total crews of up to 28,000, across the Indian Ocean as far as the east coast of Africa, decades before Columbus's three puny ships crossed the narrow Atlantic Ocean. Why didn't Chinese ships colonize Europe? Why did China lose its technological lead to the formerly so backward Europe?

...(the answer is) a power struggle between two factions in the Chinese court. The former faction had been identified with the fleets. Hence when the latter faction gained the upper hand in a power struggle, it stopped sending fleets. The episode is reminiscent of the legislation that strangled development of public lighting in London in the 1880s, the isolationism of the United States between the First and Second World Wars, and any number of backward steps in any number of countries. But in China there was a difference, because the entire region was politically unified. One decision stopped fleets over the whole of China (and) became irreversible.

Now contrast those events in China with what happened when fleets of exploration began to sail from politically fragmented Europe. Christopher Columbus, an Italian by birth, switched his allegiance to the duke of Anjou in France, then to the king of Portugal. When the latter refused his request for ships in which to explore westward, Columbus turned to the duke of Medina-Celi, who did likewise, and finally to the king and queen of Spain, who denied Columbus's first request but eventually granted his renewed appeal. Had Europe been united under any of the first three rulers, its colonization of the Americas might have been stillborn. In fact, precisely because Europe was fragmented, Columbus succeeded on his fifth try..."

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Norton, 1997, pp. 412-3 02/22/06-The Crusades

In today's excerpt, the Crusades:

"Under the leadership of a French Knight, Godfrey of Bouillon, a great Army set off along the Danube in 1096, first to Constantinople and then on through Asia Minor towards Palestine. These knights and their followers had crosses of red material stitched to their shoulders and were called 'crusaders'. When, after long years of battles and unimaginable hardships, they finally reached the walls of Jerusalem, they beseiged the town. It was valiantly defended by Arab soldiers, but eventually they took it.

Once inside Jerusalem, however, they behaved neither like knights nor like Christians. They massacred all the Muslims and committed hideous atrocities. Because it was small and weak, far from Europe and in the midst of Muslim kingdoms, the new Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was forever under attack from Arab warriors. This meant that priests were forever urging knights to go on new crusades. Not all of these were successful.

However, one good thing came of the Crusades. In the distant Orient the Christians discovered Arab culture--their buildings, their sense of beauty and their learning. And within a hundred years of the First Crusade, the books of Aristotle were translated from Arabic into Latin and eagerly read and studied in Italy, France, Germany and England. All that the Arabs had learnt and experienced in the course of their conquests around the world was now brought back to Europe by the crusaders. In a number of ways it was the example of those they looked on as their enemies that transformed the barbaric warriors of Europe.

E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World, Yale, 1936, pp. 142-3 02/21/06-George Marshall and the Wright Brothers

In today's excerpt, George Marshall and a chance encounter with Orville Wright. Marshall, at this point 28 years old and a first lieutenant, but ultimately the architect of victory in World War II as Chief of Staff of the US Army, Eisenhower's boss, and Roosevelt's right hand man, and architect of the Marshall Plan--the rebuilding of Europe after the war that led to a generation of peace--stops by in 1908 to see the Wright Brother's miracle of flight. It is interesting to note how soon after its invention in 1903 the Wright Brothers are marketing the airplane to the military--a foreshadowing of the increasingly rapid adoption of new technology that has led to America's current unprecedented technological military superiority:

"...Marshall stopped by Fort Myer (Virginia) on July 30, 1908, to join a crowd of some 7,000 'present to see the miracle,' Orville Wright's attempt to win an Army contract for Wright Flyers. The diplomats, cabinets officers, and army officers cheered the fragile Flyer aloft, then marveled as a confident Wright and his passenger steadily chugged in great circles over the fort. Marshall watched from amid the carriages and motorcars scattered about the parade grounds while the two men in the wood and canvas aeroplane effortlessly traveled the required twenty miles at an average speed of 40 miles per hour.

That evening, Marshall visited his friend from (the Army School at) Leavenworth, Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois, who had spent the morning as Wright's passenger on the flight. Marshall and the vindicated Foulois, Morrison men both (Morrison was an instructor at Leavenworth who advocated embracing new methods of warfare against the Army's stubborn adherence to past practices), talked; Marshall ever after would support an army air service, and the airplane as a weapon of war."

Ed Cray, General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman, Cooper Square Press, 1990, p. 38