Let Us Now Discuss Gone With The Wind

There are two ways this can go: desperate attempt to defend this oh-so 1930’s take on historical drama, or dump all over it as the irritation it is. I will do the second thing. I do not like Gone With The Wind and never have. I don’t know why anyone does. I shall give a set of reasons why, and then I will lament its erasure anyway, because it’s really not hard to do that if you aren’t a millenarian bookburner.

Why I Detest Gone With The Wind:

  1. Scarlett O’Hara.

The big problem I have with this film is the protagonist.  You see, the protagonist has to be someone we identify with, someone whose values and motivations are roughly on a par with ours. This way, when the protagonist encounters conflict in the story, we have sympathy for her. Sympathy is a Greek Word that means “feels with”. We feel what the protagonist feels, and thus we are involved in the conflict of the story. We want the protagonist to win and the antagonist to lose, or if there is no antagonist, to overcome the conflict.

But if the protagonist is someone whose motivations we either don’t understand or don’t respect, we can’t identify with that person. This doesn’t mean the protagonist has to be perfect and without flaw, but there has to be some desire or motivation that we share with that person. These can be, but are not limited too: love, success, discovery, etc.

As to values, the protagonist needs to be someone who has a set of ethics roughly in line with the audience’s. Otherwise, we don’t like the protagonist and won’t sympathize with them.

Finally, the protagonist needs to be someone who we could sit in a room with for five minutes without desiring to slap the living hell out of them. She needs to be a more-or-less likable person, or even if their motivations are clear and their ethics impeccable, we won’t want to see or hear them, much less root for them.

So, a quick protagonist checklist – the Protagonist needs:

a) a clear and reasonable motivation

b) a clear and acceptable set of ethics

c) not to be irritating.

And for me, Scarlett O’Hara fails on all three counts. Her motivations are murky and/or ridiculous, her ethics are at best questionable, and she has absolutely no personal charm that would balance that. She’s a spoiled little rich girl who spends the bloodiest time in our nation’s history angry that she can’t marry the handsomest man she knows, and she deals with everyone around her with a mix of high-handed contempt and vicious infighting. She’s Goneril in a green gown.

Far from sympathizing with her, I revel in her misfortunes and desire that she suffer more of them. The first time I saw the movie, even as kid, I kept watching because I dearly wanted to see her suffer. I wanted someone, anyone, to teach her that she wasn’t the center of the known universe. The only other time I’ve had this experience with a movie was when I first saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when I wanted someone to do the same to Charlie. Just kidding. I meant Veruca Salt. But considering Veruca is supposed to be a villain, the fact that she and Scarlett remind me of one another is not a good thing.

2. Ashley Wilkes Useless Wanker

Neither can I stand the to-the-manor-born fopwagon Scarlett spends three hours obsessing over. It may sound odd an American like myself to use the insult “wanker”. It’s a word we generally associate with English people, especially working class ones. And that’s kind of the point I want to make about Useless Wanker, which is that some things don’t sound right in the wrong accent. 

So will someone explain to me why Useless Wanker is the only character in the movie who speaks in an English accent, even though he’s supposed to be from Georgia, just like Scarlett? This makes no sense, and is never addressed. They don’t even come up with a stupid cover explanation, like Useless went to finishing school in London, or is mom is English. They don’t give us anything.

Feed me no swill that Leslie Howard was English and couldn’t do a Southern accent. Vivien Leigh was English, and she trotted out her stage-southern “fiddle-dee-dee’s” just fine. I don’t know if anyone in antebellum Georgia ever talked like Scarlett O’Hara, but at least she tried. She helped us to suspend disbelief. Howard was just being lazy. Which is why I supposed he’s playing Useless.

You might argue that not everyone ostensibly Southern in the film has an ostensibly Southern accent. Gable doesn’t, even though Rhett Butler hails from South Carolina. You would argue fairly. However, Gable’s lack of an accent offends less than Howard’s, for a couple of reasons:

a) Gable was already an established star. American audiences knew what he sounded like. If he’d tried some rinky-dinky accent, it might have distracted audiences rather than helping them.

b) Rhett Butler is an outsider. Sounding different from the people at Tara or Twelve Oaks helps to establish this character’s first noteworthy trait.

c) Gable still sounds like someone from the United States of America. Suspend disbelief is easier on his behalf.

d) Clark Gable was cool. He’s the best thing in this movie. He gets a pass.

On the other hand, Leslie Howard was mostly known for playing – guess what? – stiff-necked Englishmen. So he actually needed that effort not to sound like himself, to resemble someone belonging in antebellum Georgia. Instead, every word out of the mouth of this belle idee of the Southern Gentleman announces to everyone with ears that he’s a foreigner, and again, this is never explained.

Since we’re on the subject of accents, I should point out the silly brogue that Thomas Mitchell throws on to play Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father, an immigrant from Ireland. It’s not a dreadful accent, although I do find myself expecting him to fulminate that the Yankees are after his Lucky Charms. I am instead confused that none of his Hibernian nature seems to have rubbed off on any of his three daughters. Not one of them say anything like what their father says. Not completely implausible, given growing up somewhere vastly different from Ireland with rather strong pressures to conform, but still weird, and it adds to the difficulty I have with Scarlett. 

She seems completely unrelated to her father, despite the emotional bond the film takes pains to establish between them. Despite her name, Katie Scarlett O’Hara is about as Irish as everyone pretends they are on St. Patrick’s Day. This is another opportunity to give the protagonist depth that the film chooses not to make, despite the labor involved it making Gerald O’Hara the most Oirishest paddy what ever drank whiskey from a pot o’gold.

3. Fetishization of the Confederacy

I’m just gonna display my biases. I’m a Yankee. I had two ancestors who fought in the Union Army. I’m not a big fan of the Confederacy or the people who engage in apologetics in its name. I have never understood why anyone would want to honor it.

The Confederate States of America lasted a little bit longer than a presidential term. Every state in it has been part of the USA way longer than the CSA. The states on the Eastern seaboard were British Colonies longer than they were part of the CSA. The CSA was a failure in every respect.

Not only did the Confederate government lose the war, but it violated its own principles even as it fought for them. Far from being a libertarian haven, the CSA was a borderline fascist state by the time the war ended. Let’s go through the checklist:

  • Conscription – check
  • Assumption of dictatorial powers – check
  • Roving bands of terror squads seizing goods and executing those who resisted – check

In fairness, a lot of this stuff happened in the North, too. There was also conscription, and a pretty corrupt system of hiring substitutes to go with it. And Lincoln and the War Department certainly assumed dictatorial powers during the war. But the north didn’t go to war as a protest against the loss of liberty. The North went to war to put down a rebellion.

The only way you can possibly look back at this egregiance fondly is if you have grievances from that time that you cannot let go of. Which is exactly the problem that people who want to tear down Confederate monuments and to erase this movie have. But more on that later.

4. That Music

Look, it’s not a bad piece of music. It’s memorable, or hummable, or whatever. It used to be the CBS Million Dollar Movie Theme, when they had that sort of thing.

I even get the reason it’s repeated so many times. One of the themes of the movie is Scarlett’s profound and mystical connection to the plantation she grew up on – Tara. And the theme is called “Tara’s Theme” So, the idea must be that every time something significant is happening in the movie, Tara is all around her, swelling its heaving slave-flecked bosom in emotional catharsis.

Unfortunately, since none of these scenes ever indicate anything but plot points, and never actual moments of catharsis in the character, it just sounds like they’re turning on the music as a kind of punctuation, like the scene wipes in Star Wars.

Consequently, the theme is overused, overused, overused and I become numb to anything good about it. This isn’t necessarily the music’s fault, but I still come to hate it. It’s hardly great music, anyway. It’s a pretty simple melody, actually, and really only evokes one emotion, that of nostalgia, and considering what the film is nostalgic for, I’d just as soon not. I’d rather listen to someone torture a cat with a nail file, or someone playing harmonica with their rear end. I would rather listen to ABBA, than ever hear that theme music ever again.

So let’s do like HBO Max and erase it, so I can be happy. Down the memory hole with this trash! Right?

No.

Gone With The Wind is not a film to my tastes. The story it tells doesn’t interest me, and it’s full of the 1930’s being nostalgic for the 1850’s in a way that frankly offends me. But the solution I have for that is the one that occurred to many readers a good way through my rant:

I don’t watch the damn thing.

It’s that simple. I watch other things, which are too my tastes, instead. Gone With The Wind is not a requirement in anyone’s life. No one will be shocked that you haven’t watched a movie that no one under the age of 85 will remember seeing in a theater. You don’t need to have anything to do with it.

And by all means, correct the narrative that Gone With The Wind offers. Give us Twelve Years a Slave instead. Raising a voice to describe the horrors of our history is necessary and good.

But erasing voices is not. Healthy cultures do not destroy art. Yes, Gone With The Wind is art. Have you seen it? Whatever my problems with it’s characters and framework, it’s an epic piece of visual storytelling. Even I, who can’t stand the film, think the Burning of Atlanta is gloriously shot.

And that’s the last time there’s been a film that even touched on The Burning of Atlanta. Think about that. 150 years ago half of our country underwent invasion by the other half, and we can’t abide to look at how this was done. (Is this one of the reasons I wrote The Sword? You think?) We’d rather smash anything that reminds us of it.

And to no purpose. Erasing every last statue or rememberance of Robert E. Lee won’t change his place in the course of history. Commanding his name be slashed from the books like an Egyptian Pharoah won’t change that we are in the world he had a hand in making. His ghost remains with us.

You don’t like the fact that a sizable portion of your fellow citizens find Lee honorable, and Scarlett O’Hara an iron woman? You will not change their minds by attempting to crimethought it away. Quite the opposite in fact: The Blu-Ray Edition of Gone With The Wind is now the #1 Move on Amazon.com. That’s right, people are panic-buying an 80-year-old film because they think their cultural history is being destroyed by people who despise them.

Gone With The Wind deserves to be replaced by a better film. It doesn’t deserved to be removed from film history, or attached with a lecture telling us what we should think about it. The only way its unpleasant influence can be undone is by outdoing it. Make an epic about the Civil War that’s more entertaining, more satisfying, that stares our history in its face and balances the loss of the past with the joy of progress. Add to the art, lest we find ourselves repeating its subject.

The Only Argument That Matters is Performance

This may sounds like the typical lament of social media, but I got into an argument yesterday that bored me. It was about history, and it involved an alternative history theory I’ve communicated in a number of ways. And I don’t mind the fact that people disputed it. Good points were made.

What bothers me was the ones who missed the point, and made unjustified claims to argue irrelevant points. Yes, Allzu Menslich, but do I need to expend the energy on refuting it? What am I losing be engaging in it? Will my refutation change anyone’s mind. To ask is to answer.

What changes people’s minds is their perceptions of reality, not argument. Argument, however carefully constructed, is just words, and they won’t get through someone’s fundamental worldview. Natural skepticism of being led down the primrose path via sophistry comes to bear whenever worldview is challenged. That’s simply how human brains work.

What changes people’s minds is what they can see happening in front of their faces. Doing changes minds, talking doesn’t. The Generals of the Prussian Army resisted hard against the introduction of breech-loading steel cannon. Then the Franco-Prussian War happened.

What I’m getting at is a general distrust of gabbing as opposed to an embrace of action. That doesn’t mean I’m planning on shutting up, just that I’m done trying to persuade people. You won’t see the Truth until you see it.

The Surprising Cause of the Second World War

Per historian A.J.P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War, which was something of a classic when it came out, but has since passed on, due to its somewhat nuanced take.

The first thing that Taylor argues, rather effectively, is that no one was more surprised than Hitler to find himself at war with Britain and France in September 1939. Unlike in 1914, when Germany directly attacked France as a strategic corollary to fighting Russia, German in 1939 dismembered Poland with Soviet assistance only to have Britain and France declare war on it. Taylor makes the strong point that Hitler, while certainly being a wicked man, was not a lunatic or a fool until the hubris of success in 1940 caught up with him. Rather, Hitler aimed for diplomatic, not military success, playing his opponents off each other with patience and skill. Every move he made in the late 1930’s, from the Rhineland to the Anchluss to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, was accomplished without a shot being fired in anger, and with the acquiescence or even active support of significant sections of the local populations (Discovering the role that Poland, Hungary, and the Slovaks played in the Czech collapse alone makes this book worth it).

So what changed? Hitler pushed his success too far in Czechoslovakia, souring the goodwill of the British people. For it was Britain that was the key player in the crises of the 30’s. France refused to act without Britain, and so in every crisis the British line became the dominant one. Until the Czech crisis, Britain was chiefly concerned with preventing war, on the grounds that war would be the primary evil, and France was chiefly concerned with restraining Germany in order to maintain her own security.

After the Czech crisis, this polarity reversed. Britain gave Poland a guaruntee in order to prevent Hitler from doing to Poland what he did to Czechoslovakia. But there’s a strong argument that Hitler never intended that; that he was serious about only undoing the last Versailles stricture regarding Danzig and East Prussia, and that he expected the same old game: make diplomatic noise and let the Allies bring him a deal. That’s how the Rhineland, the Anschluss, and the Czech crisis worked.

It never occurred to Hitler that Britain had reached its limit, and feeling betrayed by the seizure of Prague, had no desire to accomodate him any further. At the same time, the desire to avoid war had not left them. Instead, they tried to restrain Hitler while keeping Stalin at arm’s length and threaten a war without really wanting to fight one.

As Taylor has it:

The British were overwhelmed by the difficulties of their position — devising policy for a World Power [The Soviet Union], which wanted to turn its back on Europe and yet had to take the lead in European affairs. They distributed guarantees in eastern Europe, and aspired to build up true military alliances. Yet what they wanted in Europe was peace and peaceful revision at the expense of the states which they had guaranteed. They distrusted both Hitler and Stalin; yet strove for peace with the one and for alliance with the other. It is not surprising that they failed in both aims.

The Origins of the Second World War, pg. 221

It is important to note that once war came and the restraints were taken off of Hitler, he embarked on Total Conquest without a qualm, and devoured states that had never been involved with the crises of the 30’s, such as Norway and Greece. Neither Taylor nor myself intends this as apologetics for the Third Reich, which was manifestly wicked and deservedly crushed. But it’s always worth pointing out the gap between grand strategy and diplomatic policy. The British were playing against themselves and their interests throughout the 1930’s, and so found themselves forced to declare the war they had never wanted.

518lhygdvil._sx325_bo1204203200_

Click here for Amazon link.

HBO’s Chernobyl is Misery Porn, and Therefore Largely Inaccurate

entrance_to_zone_of_alienation_around_chernobyl
Entrance to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Slawojar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

In retrospect, both of the statements in this headline invite a “duh” response. HBO’s current stock-in-trade is prestige TV series, and it’s been apparent since the second season of True Detective that prestige television is an exercise in miserabilism. Nothing good can happen and everyone of value has to die or lose what they love unless they’ve tacked up enough suffering points (looking at you, Sansa Stark) to trade in for a happy ending. It has become its own set of tropes.
And of course, when real life gets shoved into a TV script, the exercise of creating a narrative for audiences to follow will simplify a lot of the messiness of actual truth. That’s completely understandable and not worth commenting on. But when a show deliberately ramps up the misery, and evades truth to do so, that deserves notice.

There is no good evidence that Chernobyl radiation killed a baby nor that it caused any increase in birth defects.

“We’ve now had a chance to observe all the children that have been born close to Chernobyl,” reported UCLA physician Robert Gale in 1987, and “none of them, at birth, at least, has had any detectable abnormalities.”

Indeed, the only public health impact beyond the deaths of the first responders was 20,000 documented cases of thyroid cancer in those aged under 18 at the time of the accident.

The United Nations in 2017 concluded that only 25%, 5,000, can be attributed to Chernobyl radiation (paragraphs A-C). In earlier studies, the UN estimated there could be up to 16,000 cases attributable to Chernobyl radiation.

Since thyroid cancer has a mortality rate of just one percent, that means the expected deaths from thyroid cancers caused by Chernobyl will be 50 to 160 over an 80-year lifespan.

It’s worse than that. Did you know that 80% of the Chernobyl first-responders who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome survived? That seems like a really high number, so the link goes to the official report where the numbers are from. You can see for yourself.

Better yet, read this interview with the Soviet general in charge of the containment operation for his take on the show. He’s kind of okay with it, but finds a lot of it baffling, particularly the image of teenage conscripts shooting pets in suburban areas.

Tarakanov: There’s this episode [in the HBO series], it’s is an ugly one. They show this boy, a conscript arriving at the military compound. What comes next is just ridiculous. They give him a uniform and moments later they are teaching him how to shoot animals. I mean, that’s just silly. Nothing even close to that ever happened. This is one serious mistake.

RTD: Are you saying they never executed animals, like they show in the episode?

Tarakanov: No, they did, but never in the residential area. In the residential parts, there were no cows, no dogs – not a single one. The shooting did take place, but it was in the forests, where wild animals still roamed, including deer, as well as cattle that wandered off after the evacuation. But to show this young boy, recently drafted, being given all this equipment straight away [is just absurd].

The way it actually happened was pretty simple. The government issued a decree announcing general mobilization. They were supposed to call in 20,000 reservists, as they were called, from, say, Moscow and elsewhere… Those were all men of conscription age, between 30 and 40, mostly.

To ask the question of why this change was made is to answer it. The emotional impact of seeing a young boy being ordered to shoot animals next to what was a family home is much greater than a 30-year-old man shooting a deer in the forest. We need that emotional impact. We need that gut-punch. That’s why people watch something like Chernobyl, and that’s why HBO makes it.

It’s a high-brow soap-opera, aspiring to be Aeschylus. In the process, actual humans are turned into props, puppets, and beasts. There’s a segment of society that feels its worldview pandered to thereby.

John C. Wright on The Grand Christian Conspiracy

Which is always assumed, but somehow never demonstrated.

Paul got wealth and prestige and money by spreading the doctrine of Jesus, and the Jewish and Roman authorities anointed him with honors. Peter likewise was exulted and died a wealthy man, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and John retired to a small island in the Mediterranean in his leisure years. Thomas traveled to India, sightseeing, and was well received by the natives. Bartholomew made a fortune in the tanning business. So the Church was a moneymaking juggernaut in Nero’s time, and many Christians in Rome went into business lighting the public streets. Others when into the entertainment industry. Perpetua and Felicitas  are still remembered for their animal act.

“lighting the public streets” That’s just funny, that is.

Watching Wright disembowel rhetorical commonplaces is always a pleasure.

Quick Review: The Favourite

the-favourite-image-credit_-yorgos-lanthimos-rachel-weisz-olivia-colman-e1532374834538One of these days, I’m going to write one of these that’s not about the Stuart dynasty in some way.

Queen Anne reigned briefly at the beginning of the 18th century, and spent most of her reign at war with France over who got to sit on the throne of Spain (that Hapsburg penchant for cousin marriage caught up with them). She is not well-remembered. Fat, sad, gouty, and childless, she seemed largely at the mercy of court favorites, especially the Churchills (yes, Sir Winston’s ancestors, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife). Her 17(!) pregnancies resulted in 4 live babies, none of whom made it past the age of 11. When she died, the very Glorious Revolution that put her sister and then her on the throne decreed that a Hanoverian clod named George should occupy it instead of the surviving members of her family. In short, in an unlucky dynasty, she was perhaps the unluckiest, almost certainly the saddest. Even her grandfather’s grandmother Mary, in her proud, defiant exile, never approached that level of melancholy.

Now, historians will quibble over how true that really was, and point out counter-narrative facts, like how Anne presided over Cabinet meetings far more regularly than her predecessors or successors. But this is the movies, and the movies will print the legend. So Queen Anne becomes a cipher controlled by other women.

And more than controlled. Because this is a 21st century film, we must treat 18th century gossip-rag rumor (the Gawker of its day) as Gospel truth, and believe that Her Majesty was giving away more than her trust to her favorite women. We will leave utterly unexplored the relationship between her and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, the father of those 17 pregnancies, nor give any credence to the widely-reported rumor that she loved him deeply and was heartbroken at the loss of him. That kind of film won’t give us a chance to see Emma Stone naked.

That being grumbled, did I like the damn thing? Yes. It aspires to a kind of Barry Lyndon feel, and it gets there. Rachel Weisz, as Sara Churchill, is at least as much fun as Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons. Actually, more so, because Sara Churchill has a depth to her that the Marquise de Merteuil does not have. Churchill doesn’t play the game just to be Queen of the Mountain, she actually cares about the politics. She favors the vigorous prosecution of the war with France, even at the risk of her husband, the great general Marlborough. She labors against France just as her descendant Sir Winston would labor against Germany, and for the same reason. Louis XIV was no Hitler, but he was the head of the strongest state in Europe with a habit of bullying smaller states and seeking to make himself the arbiter of Western Civilization. The War of the Spanish Succession was in this respect as epoch-defining as the Napoleonic wars were a century later. And the film focuses on this, brings it right front and center. The script gives Weisz a chance to elevate Sara Churchill from mere schemer to stateswoman.

By contrast, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) has no interest other than not going back to the scullery. Which, who could blame her, but the cynical disinterest in policy, the refusal to even countenance that her actions will have consequences, is not driven home until the last scene, when it becomes clear what she has bought herself. The ending is dour to the point of being anticlimactic.

But that’s what happens when you try to do history, which gives us very few third-act turnarounds. In real life, the Churchills were disgraced, the war party-Whigs sent packing, and peace with France was negotiated. The Churchills lost, and Anne died a few years later. That was how it was, and the film finds a poignant if irretrievably current way to express that. Peace to all of them, and to the shades of them we conjure up on film, just for good measure.

Mark Steyn on Winston Churchill

I have been sick and busy and sick these last few days, and am currently unable to even describe my current state as “like hot garbage” – barely warmed-over recyclables is more like it. So I’m going to link this one in.

I admit that I have yet to actually watch Darkest Hour, despite having had a SAG screener of it in my house for some time. Of late watching serious movies feels more like a chore than entertaintment, and at any rate I know that story well enough. Spoilers – we win the war. I’ve been working through The Crown with more interest – Queen Elizabeth comes through like a woman who’s absolute sense of dignity and decency seems increasingly at odds with the world around her. The episode that unveiled the nigh-treasonous behavior of Edward VIII post-abdication makes one thank heaven that the world shifted to put plain unpretentious George VI and his plain unpretentious daughter on the throne.

But I also admit that watching the trailers for Darkest Hour put a lump in my throat as almost nothing else can. When Steyn writes that Churchill was a real-life superhero, who stood down a monster and saved the world, it comes pretty close to being the truth:

In May 1940 Chamberlain remained the most popular politician in the country, and the citizenry, having watched the Nazi hordes consume a continent, was by no means eager to serve as the last line of resistance to what seemed an inevitable fate. The vox populi did not stiffen Churchill’s resolve; he stiffened theirs.

For a few lonely months the world desperately needed one man to tell Adolf Hitler that the free nations had not yet begun to fight, and in saying it, make it true. Churchill was that man, and the debt the world owes him can never quite be paid.

 But, at its heart, the story of one long-serving politician in the spring of 1940 is the definitive example of the Great Man theory of history. It was his very particular qualities – ones that did not necessarily serve him well in peacetime or in other wars – that changed the course of human events.

In any case, Read the Whole Thing.

World War I May Finally Start Getting It’s Due

Here’s a book with a great title: Mud, Blood, and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War. From the description:

Laced with dry humour, this will overturn everything you thought you knew about Britain and the First World War. Gordon Corrigan reveals how the British embraced technology, and developed the weapons and tactics to break through the enemy trenches.

Now, I’ve already come upon the notion that the popular imagery of the Great War – idiot generals guilelessly sending millions of men to die because they didn’t grasp what machine guns did – was sketchy. Norman Stone’s World War One: A Short History conveyed very clearly that the generals understood that the tactics of the 1880’s had been rendered obsolete, but that knowing what would not work was not the same as knowing what would work. Thus, the entire war can be seen as coming to terms with war in the age of mass machinery, and all the grand “blunders”, such as the Somme, Passchendale, Verdun, were experiments to see how the victory could be obtained. That’s small comfort to the millions who died, but the generals were trying their very best to find the way forward.

The Russian general Brusilov hit upon something in his 1916 Eastern Front campain, and the Germans were generally successful (until they weren’t), but it was the British Army that found the solution. They essentially invented what became known as blitzkrieg (concentrate forces in a narrow space, penetrate that space with armor, rush through the gap) in the summer of 1918. The Germans studied British tactics at the end of the First War to discover the tactics that would upend the world in the Second.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Army came away from it’s brief experience in WWI with an entirely different lesson: that of the primacy of artillery. Artillery has always been an American specialty, going all the way back to the war against Mexico, but after WWI the Americans became fairly obsessed with it. As a consequence, the Americans and more and better heavy guns than any of their opponents in the Second World war, and those guns were integrated into the tactical space better (via the innovation of allowing Forward Observers to call upon “all guns within range”). This gave the Americans an edge against both Germany and Japan – which was needed, as our infantry training vis-a-vis both armies was inferior, and our armor always a generation behind the Germans. (Source: Dirty Little Secrets of World War II)

 

Richard III was Attacked All At Once, Died Swiftly

No horse was going to save him.

Read the whole thing, as it’s very interesting, and jibes with what accounts of Bosworth I have read.

Of course, it bears pointing out that Richard fought like a mad boar at Bosworth, killing Henry Tudor’s standard bearer and very nearly getting to Henry himself before he was surrounded. Also, no contemporary source records the “My kingdom for a horse” line. Some traditions declare his last words to be “Treason!” but it’s entirely possible that he was given no chance to say anything at all.

 

Madness in Great Ones Must Not Unwatched Go.

“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming…”

I don’t know if it’s my subconscious ruminating on the debased state of American politics, or just the idle curiosity to re-watch a train wreck, but I found myself viewing, for the second time, the 1979 film Caligulia with Malcolm McDowell on Netflix. I only got an hour or so into it before I decided that it was just as bad as I remember it, and finally put my finger on the reason for its badness. It’s not the sets, or the script, or the acting. It’s not even the dull pornography. It’s that the film has no moral center. There is no one, not one person in this refuse worth caring about. Monsters and fools alone abound.

Well, it worked some kind of perverse inspiration in me, because I suddenly have the yen to write another book. I want to get elbow-deep into this boyish monster, and plumb the human depths of his tyranny. I’ve lined up the books I must read:

  • Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesers, because it’s been sitting in my bookshelf and I’ve never had the chance to really dig into it.
  • I, Claudius and Claudius the God. I’m familiar with the BBC series, of course, but I’ve got old copies of this, too. Been wanting to read them.
  • Camus’ Caligulia play. A friend of mine read this in college, and gave me the gist of the twist: Caligula, far from being insane, succumbs to the ennui of supreme power and seeks to “make the possible likely.” I like the premise of that, and it’s about time I read it.
  • The obligatory myth-debunking scholarly biography.
  • Possibly Allan Massie’s Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor.

I’m interested chiefly in the widely-reported notion that Caligulia believed himself a god. The Roman Empire was a time of great religious flux, as the old Republican pantheon gave way to thrilling cults from the East: Isis, Mithraism, Manichaeanism, Gnosticism, and Christianity. So I’d like to shift this most notorious emperor from Crazy to Self-Deifying.

This will naturally be a long project. Check this space for details.