Sunday, 21 November 2010

Some turning points in British History

Moving backwards...

4 February 1975. Most people expected Edward Heath to win the Conservative Party leadership contest. If he had, not only Britain but the world would be different because privatisation and monetarism would remain entirely theoretical at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

30 August 1918. After the dismissal of Police Captain Theil for union activities, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers demanded a pay increase and increased War Bonuses as well as recognition of the Union. They gave a deadline of midnight on 29 August for a settlement. No settlement was forthcoming and on 30 August they struck. On 31 August, the government gave in to all demands apart from recognition. But suppose that strike had become the start of a general strike... and a revolution?

10 February 1763. The treaty of Paris gave Canada to Britain while returning Saint Domingue, Martinique and Guadeloupe to France. Suppose it had been the other way around. American revolutionaries acknowledged that had France still been a power in North America, there would have been no American Revolution. Suppose Canada had remained French and the thirteen colonies British?

24 March 1603. Under the terms of Henry VIII's will, if his children had no issue, then next in line should be the descendants of his sister, Mary Tudor. If this had been followed, Queen Elizabeth I's successor would have been Lady Anne Stanley and she would have been followed by the Strange dynasty. The Barons of Strange did not share the Stuarts' belief in the Divine Right of KIngs... and perhaps there might have been no English Civil War.

663-4 AD The Synod of Whitby decided that Britain would follow the Roman rather than the Celtic form of Christianity. Toynbee has suggested that this was the end of a nascent "Far Western Christian" civilisation. Imagine if it had been the other way and Britain sent missionaries to pagan Scandinavia, and perhaps after the Islamic conquest to Iberia and beyond, to North Africa?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

3 September 1752 - What's Wrong With This Picture?

There was talk about changing the calendar on that date from the Julian to the newfangled Gregorian Calendar used in Catholic countries. If that had happened, today would be 14 September, not 3 September but it is deeper than that. Imagine living in a society where the government can simply tear 11 days out of a life. It does not bear thinking about.

We might as well live under the Khmer Rouge or Marat and his chums in revolutionary France. Of course, since then we have revised the Julian calendar but without this madness of moving us eleven days into the future.

Monday, 13 September 2010

13 September 1847 - The Battle of Chapultepec

On this day, the Mexican defenders of Chapultepec were crushed by American forces under Winfield Scott. The outcome was not in doubt with Chapultepect Castle being defended by around 100 men, some of them as young as 13. It was the battle at which "the child soldiers" died defending the Castle against overwhelming odds, and it was also at this site where 30 catholic soldiers of the Saint Patrick's Batallion were hanged for having previously deserted the US Army to join the Mexicans. The existence of the St Patrick's Batallion was denied by the army for many years.

American casualties in the battle were light, some 135 with the highest ranked being Major Robert E Lee and Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. nevertheless, the battle did change history, the examples of six child soldiers who refused to retreat and fought to the death, the last wrapping himself in the Mexican flag and throwing himself from the ramparts, along with the fate of the St Patrick's Batallion, shifted the world's sympathy away from the United States toward Mexico.

This was a battle Mexico could never have won but perhaps, had it been conducted differently, Mexico's fate could have been far worse.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

12 September 1988 - Eve of Destruction

In 1988 it was widely reported that the Category 3 Hurricane Gilbert would make landfall in Jamaica. Jamaica was battered by the storm and a million dollars (US not Jamaican) worth of damage was left in Gilbert's wake, but it could have been so much worse. Suppose the eye had actually made landfall on September 12.

No doubt there would have been deaths and orders of magnitude more damage, leaving the Jamaican economy shattered. Of course, that would have changed the course of the hurricane and, with open sea along its path, perhaps Gilbert would have grown bigger and stronger, becoming category five before reaching Mexico. We were fortunate that day.

Of course, even though Gilbert missed Jamaica on that September day, it could still have been a major disaster. The eye passed between Cuba and Hispaniola, damaging the US Army base at Guantanamo Bay before passing through the Windward Passage then destroying the coral reeves at Mouchoir Bank in the Turks and Caicos Islands. It seems that any deviation from Gilbert's actual path could have led to much greater destruction.

We were fortunate.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

11 September 2001 - A Day of Infamy

This is going to be somewhat different. Instead of a despatch from another world, I'm going to look at this from our world. I could have chosen many other September 11ths (1857 and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, 1897 and the fall of the Kingdom of Kaffa, 1921 and the settling of the first Moshav in Palestine, 1926 and the attempted assassination of Mussolini, 1945 and the Liberation of Batu Lintang, 1973 and the Murder of Allende)... but with this Blog being only a few days old, nothing but 9/11 THE 9/11 makes sense.

So... what might have changed if 9/11 had not happened?

First of all, thousands of people would still have been alive, not only the immediate victims but those caught in the aftermath. Certainly 7/7 would never have happened in London, neither would the war in Afghanistan. But on the other hand, there would not have been a wave of sympathy for the victims that showed many in the world for their fundamental decency.

On the other hand, it seems obvious that neither Libya nor the IRA would have renounced terrorism except in revulsion at the events of 9/11. Colonel Gaddaffi saw immediately that Terrorism had become impossible as a tactic in warfare once this act of mass murder had been committed. He also ended Libya's chemical weapons program and invited inspectors in to see that it was dismantled.

For good or ill the murder of nearly 3000 people that day has changed the world utterly. It is only nine years ago, but we know already that it will be remembered for a long time to come, because an attack on New York City is an attack on the whole world.

Friday, 10 September 2010

10 September 490BC - The Beginning of Persian Hegemony

In retrospect, it seems that the Greeks were doomed from the start. The Battle of Marathon was a battle they could not win against huge numbers of Persian soldiers. It was a battle they had to win to retain their existence as a culture and they lost. After that, the empire began the process of dehellenization.

Even more important though, was the colonization first of Greece, and then of Illyria, Scythia and finally the whole of Europe save the lands of the Celts and those of the Finns. It was not until the coming of the Prophet (pbuh) that the empire was swept away.

Imagine how it might have been in the unlikely event of a Greek victory. The Persian army would have been humiliated and driven back in disgrace. Perhaps the whole of Europe may have become Hellenized, all worshipping the Gods of Olympus (or perhaps all Christian or Moslem after the coming of the Prophet.

Sometimes, when we have no hope at all, we must still stand firm in the face of our enemies. BUt alas, the Greeks had not learned that lesson at Marathon.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

9 September 9 AD - An End of Empire?

The Roman Empire lasted for nearly fifteen hundred years between 709 and 2206 AUC, but things could have been so very different. There are many points at which, had battles gone other ways, had different Emperors been chosen, the Empire could have fallen.

The setbacks at the hands of Arabs and Mongols are well known as is the final fall to the Turks, but few of us remember that the Empire could so easily have fallen as early as 762 AUC. At that time, Germania Magna had barely been in Roman hands for a generation while Britannia, Hibernia, Tulia and Scandia had not even been added to the Empire, let alone the later conquests of Samogitia, Scythia and Colchis.

The Government of Germania Magna was in the hands of Publius Quinctilius Varus, an able general, as it was to turn out, but one of the worst governors in the history of the Empire, having to put down revolts in Africa, in Syria, and after Germania Magna, in Judaea. Those other revolts never threatened the power of Rome, that in Germania Magna did.

The German leader, Arminius ambushed Varus' legions (and of course a civilian train travelling with Varus) in the Teutoberg Forest and on the 9 September 762, routed the Legions and put civilians to the sword. It is this very viciousness that was Arminius' undoing. The confusion gave Varus time to regroup and gave his troops the fire in their belly needed to avenge the deaths of their children and their women. Had Arminius carried on in pursuit of the shattered Legions, he had the strength of numbers to overcome what was, until Varus rallied the troops, a scared and disorganised rabble.

With Varus' legions dead, it seems likely that Germania Magna itself would fall, pushing the frontier back to the Rhine. Now obviously the Rhine is more easily defensible than the Elbe, Oder, or Vistula, the result of the Loss of Germany was, there would be no need to take Britannia or Scandia to supply the German cities via rivers that empty into the Mare Balticum. One problem the Empire often had was an inability to see threats before they arrived. How long would it be before Rome was beset by wave after wave of invasion, not only from Germans and Slavs, but also from Britannia and Scandia, realms then beneath notice.

Arminius' failure to finish off Varus' legions on September 9 not only cost him a German Empire, but might well have saved the Roman Empire from destruction long before it came in our world. And without the Empire, could civilisation have survived the coming of the Mongols? I doubt it. Varus saved us all.