St. George Goes to War

One reason why the St. George legend has such staying power is that the dragon can stand in for any bad thing. As we celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War, here are a couple of examples of how he was employed in the propaganda of both sides:

Pinterest

This one, by an unknown artist, was published in London by Spottiswoode and Co. in 1915 for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.

Wikipedia

And this one, by Maximilian Lenz, was published in Vienna in 1917 for the sixth war bond campaign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In both cases one’s own army is cast as the good St. George, and the enemy as the evil dragon. I suppose it’s a good thing that British and Austro-Hungarian troops did not face each other directly all that much, otherwise St. George might not have known what side to take! (Last Saturday, Sasha Volokh asked, in seriousness, what happens when two powers dedicated to St. George fight against each other, e.g. Russia and Georgia in 2008. I said that I did not know, but I suppose it only really matters if people actually believe in the power of saints as heavenly intercessors and not just as mascots or symbols – and even then I suppose it’s no different from both sides believing in God and praying to him for victory.)

These posters raise a serious point though. I like St. George, obviously, but sometimes the legend does promote self-righteousness. We all like to believe that we’re in the right, and the other side is in the wrong, but we must keep in mind that this might not always be the case! But since there can be no compromise between good and evil, the Manichaeism on display here, I think, would tend to discourage people from seeking a negotiated settlement, and to encourage them to keep digging, even though they’re already in a hole.

Outlaw King

My friend Kevin Harty reviews David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King (2018) for Medievally Speaking. The king in question is Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), who ruled Scotland from 1306. Excerpt:

The medieval historical epic has been a cinematic staple for more than a century.  The reasons are obvious—such films present larger than life characters whose stories are the stuff of legend.  But the golden age of the medieval historical epic has long past. In Outlaw King, except for two very brief scenes, a wedding and a funeral, in which the costume and wardrobe department seems to have decided to blow the budget, gone is the pageantry, the epic sweep, the panoramic long shot—think how Charlton Heston as the eponymous hero in Anthony Mann’s 1961 El Cid goes riding off into the sunset in the film’s final, awe-inspiring scene, and compare that scene and ride with the domesticity more than evident in Robert’s final rush on horseback to embrace his wife, who has been uncaged and returned to him as part of a prisoner exchange. Robert is not here riding off into history and legend. He is simply going home to his wife and daughter. Outlaw King goes for the close-up—the personal rather than the epic. Instead of pageantry, we get gore. Instead of history, we get a gritty costume piece. The lulls in action are brief, and few, quickly giving way to more violence and gore. The camera wants us to see Robert’s scarred and bloody face, and Edward’s puking crawl through the mud as he feebly tries to reunite with troops who have abandoned him.

Read the whole thing.

Humorism

In the Middle Ages, the study of medicine consisted largely of mastering the theories of Galen, a Greek physician active in the second century AD. Among his insights, he imagined that, just as the physical world was made up of the four elements fire, water, earth, and air, so also were humans were made up of four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Each person had a unique combination of humors, which determined his personality; I like to point out that the adjectives sanguine,* melancholic, choleric, and phlegmatic derive from Galen’s theory of humorism (not that any of my students has ever heard of these words, alas). Illness was caused by your humors getting out of balance: unfortunately, a naturally melancholic person who had acquired an excess of blood did not get temporarily happy, he just got sick, and it was the doctor’s job to determine the person’s unique blend of humors, and to try to bring them back in proper balance. One way to do this was to prescribe a substance with the opposite qualities of the excess humor. Humors were either hot or cold, and either wet or dry, as illustrated by this table:

HOT COLD
DRY Yellow Bile Black Bile
WET Blood Phlegm

So if you had a disease that caused an excess of phlegm (cold and wet), you took something like pepper (hot and dry) to counter it. In the opposite direction, oil of earthworms was cold and wet, and so was useful against anything producing an excess of yellow bile, which was hot and dry. And so on.

Another way to counter an excess humor was to employ some way of removing it from your body. Getting bled by leeches (or simply by being cut by a barber) was a common way to get shed superfluous blood, while purgatives (either emetics or laxatives) took care of the others.

I suppose there may have been a placebo effect with such treatments but it’s easy to see how visiting a doctor in the Middle Ages was useless at best, and positively harmful at worst.

I don’t wish to condescend to the Middle Ages too much; I am a medievalist, after all, and part of my job is to rehabilitate them from the popular notion that it was a dark, ignorant, superstitious, and backward time. Some of their theories are models of subtlety, and they make complete internal sense. The main problem is that the theories were treated as ends in themselves – and did not actually have any relation to reality. Or rather, they “worked” enough that they just kept on going.** Only with the Scientific Revolution, which featured such things as the accurate collection of data and experimentation to test one’s hypotheses, were Galen’s (and Ptolemy’s, and Aristotle’s) theories seriously challenged. And even then humorism was not completely demolished until the nineteenth century.

Beware elaborate and plausible-sounding theories that aren’t really true!

* I recently read an interesting use of “sanguine” on Mitch Berg’s Shot in the Dark blog, about the Korean War defector No Kum-Sok:

Parts of the story were less sanguine; while his father was already dead and his mother had fled to the south before the war, No’s uncle and all members of his family apparently disappeared. And No’s commander and five other pilots were executed.

But this use of “sanguine” is somewhat ironic. “Sanguine” generally refers to something happy or jovial. But the disappearance of No’s family and the executions of his comrades were also “bloody” in the other, more usual sense. I would have picked a different word here.

** Theodore Dalrymple once wrote that:

The Galenical theory was an article of uncritical faith for university-trained physicians. Training consisted of indoctrination, memorization, and regurgitation. No deviation was permissible, and even refinement or elaboration was hazardous. Outright challenge was professionally dangerous. The theory therefore took many centuries to overthrow; mastery of it, and the treatments it entailed, distinguished real physicians from mere empiricks and quacks.

A New St. George

I was pleased to discover another St. George just now in the office of my colleague Judith Irvine:

As you can see from the Amharic script, this one is Ethiopian, and is part of a long parchment strip that includes other images. St. George’s cape is wacky, and he seems to be disproportionately drawn, but I like how this image doesn’t just have the hand of God coming out of the sky, but the face of God himself! St. George keeps his eyes on God, and his spears still hit the dragon right in the mouth (“Use the Force, Luke”). It’s interesting how he’s using throwing spears, and not a lance, as he’s usually depicted.

Addendum: Another discovery:

Wikipedia

The ribbon of Saint George is a widely recognized symbol of remembrance of the Soviet people who fought in the Great Patriotic War, WWII. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, and the current Russian Federation.

The stripes signify the fire and fog of war. While the symbol is primarily related to WWII, it has recently become more associated with Russian nationalism. The symbol was promoted by the post-soviet Russian state as a way to unify people and remember and respect those that fought.

It was also promoted in 2005 as a response to the liberal Orange Revolution in Ukraine. That year, Russian state media along with youth organizations launched the campaign ahead of World War II memorial celebrations. The ribbon was associated with units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during the conflict, due to the usage of the color scheme in the Great Patriotic War victory medal awarded to all personnel, civilian or military, who aided the war effort.

In Russia, the ribbon of Saint George is also used by civilians as a patriotic symbol and as a symbol of public support to the Russian government, particularly since 2014. In Ukraine and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the symbol has become widely associated with Russian nationalist and separatist sentiment.

The Poppy Lady

John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” may have inspired the Poppy Appeal, but it was an American, specifically a Georgian, who popularized it. According to Wikipedia:

In 1918, Moina Michael, who had taken leave from her professorship at the University of Georgia to be a volunteer worker for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization, was inspired by the poem and published a poem of her own called “We Shall Keep the Faith“. In tribute to McCrae’s poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who fought and helped in the war. At a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending. She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance. At a conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. At this conference, Frenchwoman Anna E. Guérin was inspired to introduce the artificial poppies commonly used today. In 1921 she sent her poppy sellers to London, where the symbol was adopted by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, a founder of the Royal British Legion. It was also adopted by veterans’ groups in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. James Fox notes that all of the countries who adopted the remembrance poppy were the “victors” of World War I.

The poem:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Teaching World War I

Georgia Medievalists’ Group member John Terry has published an essay in the Washington Post:

Why teaching World War I is crucial in 2018

We are living in the world the Great War made.

On Sunday, we marked the centennial of the end of World War I. Many history teachers in 2018, however, may be tempted to bow to student preferences and rush through the “Great War,” devoting more time to World War II. This would be a mistake. While the Second World War looms much larger in our national imagination, our modern political landscape is more a product of the First World War than the Second. It’s also far less well understood, as President Trump’s failure to understand why he should have braved rain to pay respects to America’s World War I dead vividly demonstrated.

Read the whole thing.

Also: See this great collection of photos at the Atlantic: The Fading Battlefields of World War I.

The Centennial of the Armistice

Lapel poppy as sold by the Royal Canadian Legion.

For the past four years we have been observing the centennials of the various events that comprised the Great War, including the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) and the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917). Today we mark the end of it: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending hostilities on the Western Front, which had thus far killed over three million people and wounded over eight million, all started by some damned fool thing in the Balkans. And, as everyone knows, the settlement that ended the war simply set the stage for the next one: the Treaty of Versailles was not as fair as Wilson had promised in his Fourteen Points, nor as punitive as it needed to be to ensure that Germany did not rise again. So just as the Great Famine of 1315-22 weakened the immune systems of a whole generation of Europeans, and made the Black Death of 1346-51 more virulent than it otherwise would have been, so also did the First World War lead directly to the Second, which then overshadowed it in cultural memory.

Garden of Remembrance, St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, City of London, November 11, 2010.

This is especially true in the United States, which only joined the First World War in 1917, and only as a result of a potential threat as revealed by the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States also joined the Second World War “late,” i.e. over two years after Germany invaded Poland, but it did so as the result of a direct attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Americans played a significant role in defeating Nazi Germany; they played an even bigger role in the defeat of Imperial Japan, including through the use of the atomic bomb, which they had developed at great expense. So it’s only natural that, to an American, the Second World War means more than the First.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, 2018.

It’s somewhat different in Britain and the Commonwealth. Once the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, all the Empire, even the Dominions, immediately followed, and fought, and bled quite profusely, for the sake of Britain’s allies on the continent. For well-known reasons, the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate where the advantage was always to the defense, and it soon became obvious that this was going to be a war of attrition – the first side to run out of men and materiel was going to be the one to lose, and this is more or less what ended up happening. Four years of mass industrial slaughter on the Western Front was deeply traumatizing, and gave birth to rituals of remembrance that Americans generally don’t share: the sanctification of November 11 (at first designated Armistice Day, and now as Remembrance Day), the wearing of a lapel poppy* in the run-up to this, the ceremonial placement of wreaths of poppies at war memorials on the day itself, and the two-minute silence at 11:00 AM. (November 11 may be Veterans’ Day in the United States, but memorializing the war dead is the function of Memorial Day in May, which derives from the Civil War. The VFW occasionally sells poppies, but the practice is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Canada or the United Kingdom.) Of course, as with the United States, the UK and its Commonwealth also remember the Second World War, and probably to a greater extent, given Churchill’s refusal to make a deal with Hitler, his inspirational speeches, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, and an unconditional surrender forced on a monstrously evil regime.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia.

All the same, the First World War does loom larger in the Commonwealth than in the United States. And it deserves to be remembered, in both places. As pointless as all the killing was, the Great War turned out to be the Great Divide, and represented the real end of the nineteenth century and the birth of the twentieth. When the dust settled, four empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – had fallen, and many smaller nations won their independence. Communists took over Russia, and the stage was set for what Henry Luce called the American Century. Women were granted the right to vote in both Britain and the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Great War shattered European self-confidence, and caused the mainstreaming of skepticism, pessimism, and “uncertainty” (one of the reasons, unfortunately, why Britain and France did not stand up to Hitler until it was too late).

Diamond War Memorial, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So I was pleased to learn that a World War I memorial is being planned for Washington DC. From a BBC article about it published last year:

“The Great War” was overtaken in the national consciousness by the Great Depression and World War II, says Edwin Fountain, vice-chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission. The commission has been authorised by Congress to build the new memorial in Washington, DC, as well as increase awareness of the war.

“The Centennial is the last best opportunity to teach Americans that World War I was in fact the most consequential event of the 20th Century,” he says. “It had effects that we live and struggle with today, overseas and at home.”

“The debate about the role of America in the world, the balance between national security and civil liberties, the place of women, African Americans and immigrants in our society – all those issues were vigorously discussed during WWI.

“You cannot contribute to those discussions today without understanding our historical roots.”

Gable end mural, Northland St. (arbitrarily renamed “Thiepval St.”), Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the same time, how the war was fought, and not just its aftermath, deserves closer attention too. If anyone knows anything about the Great War, it is an image largely created by Remarque’s great autobiographical novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Historian Dan Snow recently countered several myths about it, including that most soldiers died, that it was the bloodiest conflict in history to that point, that the upper classes got off lightly, and that soldiers lived in the trenches for years on end (in truth, they were cycled out regularly).

Mural, Glenwood St., Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Still, it was no picnic, as a recent article in the Economist reminds us:

The first world war was not just a grand tragedy. For the 67 million who fought, it was a sordid hellscape. Few of the ten million killed in combat died from a “bullet, straight to the heart”, as pro forma telegrams to relatives put it. Many more bled to death in no-man’s land, their wails lingering for days like “moist fingers being dragged down an enormous windowpane”, as a British lieutenant wrote of the Battle of the Somme. Traumatised survivors sometimes slept in open sewers, and begged for their mothers as superiors ordered them over the top.

They guarded what slivers of humanity and dignity they could. At Compiègne today visitors can view silver rings from the trenches bearing initials (LV, MJ, SH or G) or four-leaf clovers; pipes with marks worn where teeth once clenched; a tube of insect-bite cream; letter-openers fashioned from shell casings, the names of yearned-for correspondents etched into their blades (“Marguerite”, “Mlle Rose-Marie”). A certain stoic humour also played its part. “I was hit. I looked round and saw that my leg had shot out and hit the fellow behind me (who got rather annoyed about [it])” wrote Charlemagne’s great-grandfather in his diary in 1915, just outside Ypres.

The article goes on to note that (emphasis added):

The first world war happened because a generation of Victorian leaders took for granted the stable order that had prevailed in most of Europe for decades. They should have read their history books. Yet the war was also a tale of forces beyond the power of any leader, however well-read; of nations and continents not as trains on history’s railway lines, run by drivers and switchmen, but as rafts tossed about on history’s ocean, dipping at most an occasional oar into the waves. Fate was the real grand homme of the “Great War”. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would not have happened had his driver not taken a wrong turning in Sarajevo. The German army’s initial advance was halted at Nieuwpoort by a Belgian lock-keeper who flooded the surrounding marshlands. Political twists in Berlin, not crushing defeat on the battlefield, pushed Germany to sue for peace in 1918.

I am chary of drawing “lessons” from history, but it seems in this case that history really does provide us with an instructive example.

Memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae, Guelph, Ontario, 2015.

* The poppy as a symbol of remembrance derives from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and who died of pneumonia in January, 1918. He was by no means the only English-language war poet: the First World War produced a remarkable amount of poetry from the viewpoint of its participants, a product of the war taking place after the advent of mass literacy but before other forms of entertainment relegated poetry to a niche interest (see Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for more on this). I was pleased to see the memorial to sixteen representative war poets in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey this summer, including the greats Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

Sadly, the poppy is “political” in some parts of the world, and not just because people believe that it justifies war. Among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the poppy represents “Britain’s War,” and thus represents British imperialism and British oppression. Nationalists, as noted, wear lilies in memory of the Easter Rising, and will generally refuse to wear poppies, even going so far as to taunt those who do.

November 9

This day is an important one in German history:

• On November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in favor of a provisional government, later termed the Weimar Republic. It was this regime that signed an armistice with the Allies, ending the First World War, before Germany was actually invaded by them. This allowed the promulgation of the Dolchstoßlegend by the German Right following the war: that we could have won the war, but we were “stabbed in the back” by Jews and Socialists, the “November criminals” who deserved a terrible fate.

• Thus did the Nazis attempt their Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on November 9 in 1923. They were going to take over the Bavarian government, and then march on Berlin and take over the country, as Mussolini had the previous year in Italy. This was a failure, but it did win them a great deal of publicity.

• That Kristallnacht took place on November 9, 1938 was a coincidence, but I’m sure that for some people it was a gratifying one. On that day, Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat stationed in Paris died of having been shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, who was protesting the treatment of his people by the Nazi regime. Goebbels took full advantage of the assassination to encourage the “spontaneous” uprising of Germans against Jews and Jewish interests – by the next morning, mobs had murdered some 100 Jews, smashed the storefronts of some 7500 Jewish businesses, and over burned over 1400 synagogues and prayer rooms. This exposed Nazi anti-Semitism for all the world to see, although by this point it was too late to do much about it.

• But in 1989, the date was redeemed, so to speak, when East German border guards, unsure of what they were supposed to do, opened the checkpoints between East and West Berlin, allowing the free movement of people across the border for the first time since 1945. Of all the events of 1989 representing the fall of Communism, fall of the Berlin Wall was probably the most significant.

But on account of Kristallnacht, the Germans do not celebrate German reunification on November 9, but on October 3, the day in 1990 when the West legally annexed the East.

UPDATE

Arms of the Archdiocese of Dublin, in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral.

Micheál Ó Comáin, a herald of arms at the Genealogical Office in Dublin, informs me that the Chief Herald is not taking sides in the fundamental divide between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. As reported earlier, the Church of Ireland arms of the Archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough, that is:

Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or, ensigned with a cross pattée argent, surmounted of a pall of the last, edged and fringed of the second charged with five crosses pattée fitchée sable

must now be differenced by a bordure Or, while the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin gets the arms without any difference at all. Would this be to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church is more legitimate than the Church of Ireland? Just because the pre-Reformation Church was “Catholic” does not mean that the current Roman Catholic Church is its actual successor – that case could be made just as easily for the Church of Ireland, which possesses most of the pre-Reformation church buildings, and which represents legal institutional continuity, even if most Irish people didn’t become members of it.

Wikipedia.

No, all that happened is that “a certificate in favour of Cardinal Archbishop Desmond O’Connell ratifying and exemplifying his personal arms impaling the undifferenced diocesan arms was issued during his incumbency [1998-2004]. The diocesan coat appearing on a such a document and duly recorded in the Register of Arms is tantamount to a Confirmation.” In other words, the Catholic Archbishop simply beat the Protestant Archbishop to the registration, forcing the Protestant to difference his archdiocesan arms when he got them confirmed in 2016.

Mat Pinson ’05

Pleased to have had a visit today from history major Mat Pinson ’05, who has worked at Candler School of Theology at Emory University since 2007, and since 2016 has acted as Candler’s Associate Dean of Advancement and Alumni Engagement.

Jonathan Good, Mat Pinson, Kenneth Wheeler.

We were thrilled to learn that Mat has just been appointed Assistant Vice President and Chief of Staff for Emory University’s Senior Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Engagement, Josh Newton. 

What you can do with a history degree!