1989

First Things looks back on the year that Communism died, thirty years ago now:

It was like a graduation party. So says the historian Philipp Ther, who joined the protests in Prague’s Wenceslas Square during those momentous days of November 1989. “We had passed the test,” Ther writes. “The old authorities had no more to say; the world was our oyster. It seemed as if anything was possible.” In their memories of communism’s collapse, the revolutionaries of 1989 often describe the joy and relief, the instant brotherhood, the feeling of riding the wave of history.

Naturally, it didn’t last. In Berlin, where Ther travelled soon after, elation was followed by resentment, with West Germans muttering about the Easterners cramming the roads and emptying the supermarket shelves. Across Europe, meanwhile, the messiness of post-communist politics “engendered disenchantment and cynicism.”

Disillusionment is the usual sequel to political victory, but 1989 especially seems like a revolution with a hole in it. The evil of communism is beyond words—the mass graves it filled, the lies it spread through the world—and we ought to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its defeat. It is more difficult to say what actually did the defeating.

Read the whole thing.

Bauhaus

Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany. Wikipedia.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, an influential school of architecture and design that was located first in Weimar, then in Dessau, and finally in Bernau, a suburb of Berlin. It became a byword for the experimentation (or decadence) of the Weimar Republic, and was accordingly shuttered by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 – which meant that their faculty, some of them quite famous, spread throughout the world, preaching the Bauhaus message of form following function.

Sotheby’s Magazine has a short article on museums hosting centennial exhibitions this year, including at Munich, Rotterdam, Weimar, and Dessau. Click the link to see some interesting images.

I wrote a paper on the Bauhaus in college that I’m proud of, and the only time I was in Berlin I made sure to see the Bauhaus Archive (currently closed for renovation). I certainly enjoyed walking around the White City, a neighborhood of some 4000 Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired buildings in Tel Aviv, built by Jewish architects who migrated to British Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

“B is for Beria (and Bering Strait)”

Gail Heriot on Instapundit:

On this day in 1953, LAVRENTIY BERIA met his end. Stalin himself had died nine months earlier, and his chief henchmen were turning against each other. Beria, Stalin’s chief of the secret police (NKVD), was arrested on charges of treason and tried in secret.  And then shot.

It’s not easy to work up sympathy for such a bloodthirsty killer. But the rest of the story is truly bizarre. Less than a month later, the Soviet Encyclopedia sent a notice to subscribers enclosing new pages.  In translation, it said the following:

The State Scientific Publishing House of the large Soviet Encyclopedia recommends that pages 21, 22, 23, and 24 be removed from Volume 5 as well as the portrait [of Beria] between pages 22 and 23 to replace which the pages of the new text are enclosed.

The aforementioned pages should be cut out with scissors or blade, leaving inside a margin on which the new pages can be pasted.

The substitute pages were an article on the otherwise obscure Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholtz and pictures of the Bering Strait.

Subscribers dutifully cut Bering out of the encyclopedia.  Failing to do so would be dangerous.

Death in Australia

Something I just discovered: Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia from early 1966 until late 1967, disappeared while swimming near Melbourne on December 17, 1967. His body was never recovered, leading to a conspiracy theory that he was abducted by a Chinese submarine. John McEwan succeeded him as Prime Minister.

This is rather the opposite of another famous Australian death: the Tamam Shud case, for which there was a body, but no identity. An unidentified man was found dead on Somerton Beach near Adelaide on December 1, 1948. He carried nothing that revealed who he was, and even the tags on his clothing had been removed. An autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. The mystery deepened when on January 14, 1949, a suitcase likely belonging to the man was recovered from the Adelaide railway station, which contained a number of things, none of which could help establish who he was. Shortly after that, a tiny piece of rolled-up paper was found in a fob pocket in the man’s trousers. It had been cut out of a book and bore the words “Tamam Shud” – Persian for “ended” or “finished,” the final words of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Following a public appeal, the edition from which the paper had been excised was found – along with indentations from handwriting on the inside of the back cover reading:

WRGOABABD
MLIAOI
WTBIMPANETP
MLIABOAIAQC
ITTMTSAMSTGAB

What this means has never been satisfactorily explained, and the identify of the Somerton Man and the circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

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.

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.

1968

Yes, it’s by Pat Buchanan, and yes, it’s Vdare.com, but I found his personal reminiscence of serving as Nixon’s aide during the 1968 election campaign to be fascinating.

On the night of Jan. 31, 1968, as tens of thousands of Viet Cong guerrillas attacked the major cities of South Vietnam, in violation of a Lunar New Year truce, Richard Nixon was flying secretly to Boston. At 29, and Nixon’s longest-serving aide, I was with him. Advance man Nick Ruwe met us at Logan Airport and drove us to a motel in Nashua, New Hampshire, where Nixon had been preregistered as “Benjamin Chapman.” The next day, only hours before the deadline, Nixon filed in Concord to enter the state’s Republican primary, just six weeks away.

On Feb. 2, The New York Times story “Nixon Announces for Presidency” was dwarfed by a giant headline: Street Clashes Go On in Vietnam; Foe Still Holds Parts of Cities; Johnson Pledges Never to Yield.” Dominating the page was the photograph of a captured Viet Cong, hands tied, being executed on a Saigon street by South Vietnam’s national police chief, firing a bullet into his head from inches away. Eddie Adams’s photo would win the Pulitzer Prize.

America’s most divisive year since the Civil War had begun.

Read the whole thing.

Catholics and Evangelicals

My friend Andrew Reeves makes his popular-press debut:

In 1960, Billy Graham visited Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the city where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and rose again. As far back as the late third and early fourth centuries, Christians had held that a hill where the Roman Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117–138) had constructed a temple to Venus was the site of Christ’s crucifixion and death, and a nearby tomb, the site of his burial and resurrection. Shortly after Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was erected on that site. Although this church would endure several periods of damage and reconstruction, for the entirety of its history Christians throughout the world have regarded it as the site of Christ’s tomb.

Billy Graham did not visit the Holy Sepulcher. In the 19th century, the celebrated British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon carried out his own investigation of the areas in the environs of Jerusalem, believing that the Holy Sepulcher’s claim to be the site of the Easter event was incorrect. Through his investigation, he found what he believed was a hill that seemed closer to the New Testament’s description of Calvary and an adjacent tomb. This hill and tomb, generally known as Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb, have served as a site of pilgrimage for evangelicals who wish to avoid the Holy Sepulcher’s associations with Catholic Christianity. When the Reverend Billy Graham, the most prominent Baptist in recent history — and indeed the face of American evangelical Christianity through the 20th century — made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he went not to the Holy Sepulcher, but to Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

Read the whole thing (at Arc).

For St. Patrick’s Day

Although the article was first posted some time ago. From Irish Central:

The Black and Tans, who arrived in Ireland for the first time on March 25, 1920, were not so bad after all, it seems. According to a 2011 book by Canadian historian David Leeson, “The Black and Tans; British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence 1920-21,” published by Oxford University Press, we have been misled by the Irish history books for almost a century.

This will come as disturbing news to millions of Irish and Irish Americans who were raised on stories of the Black and Tans’ atrocities in Ireland during the War of Independence. This includes Vice President Joe Biden, by his own account.

The Black and Tans were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary in maintaining control over the IRA during the Irish War of Independence. They were generally thought of as the scum of the British system – looking for British ex-soldiers turned psychopaths, turning them into an evil, murderous militia and releasing them from jails into Ireland.

Not so, says author David Leeson. And a review of the book by Eunan O’Halpin in The Irish Times says it will open many eyes.

Among the major surprises, I found reading O’Halpin’s review was that many of the Black and Tans were actually Irish-born and that regular British soldiers were far more likely to commit atrocities.He writes: “Leeson’s careful analysis of Black and Tan recruitment disposes of the widely altered charge that these temporary policemen were the sweepings of the British penal system. Rather, they were a miscellany of British and Irish ex-servicemen, almost none of whom had criminal records.

“He also suggests that pre-First World War soldiers were more likely than younger Black and Tans to commit disciplinary and criminal offenses in Ireland, challenging the assumption that the chronic ill discipline of these temporary policemen was specifically a manifestation of the brutalizing effects of the First World War on impressionable youths.”

More at the link. See also Eunan O’Halpin’s review. Something tells me that, like any revisionist view of Oliver Cromwell, this won’t have much influence in Ireland.

UPDATE: Was disappointed to see that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not wearing their throwback “St. Pats” sweaters tonight, for a Saturday St. Patrick’s Day home game against traditional Original Six rival Montreal. Between 1919 and 1927 the club was known as the “Toronto St. Patricks” and their colour was green. Here is a rendition of one of their uniforms, from the fascinating NHL Uniform Database:

The club was originally known as the Toronto Arenas when it was founded in 1917. This is their centennial season and they wore Toronto Arenas sweaters on December 19 against the Carolina Hurricanes. (I suspect there are limits on the number of throwback sweaters a team is allowed to wear each year.)