When an intellectual cozies up to dictators

Is it feasible to separate political views and private behaviour from artistic merit? George Bernard Shaw is a perfect case study

When an intellectual cozies up to dictatorsTo most Canadians, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) may be a quaint figure whose primary distinction is having a popular southern Ontario theatre festival named after him. However, he was a big wheel during the first half of the 20th century. A self-described “downstart,” Shaw was born into an impecunious Protestant Ascendancy family in Dublin, Ireland. Leaving…

The pope, the president and the resurrection of Poland

Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan shared a vision of an independent Poland. Together, they helped the country break free from the Soviet bloc

The pope, the president and the resurrection of PolandIn a recent column, I wrote about Poland’s 20th century tragedy, culminating in the “betrayal” to Josef Stalin at the February 1945 Yalta Conference. So it’s appropriate to finish the story by writing about Poland’s resurrection. While the Poles were the main players in this resurrection, they did have external help. Changing circumstances in the Soviet…

Heroes and villains: how history picks the winners

The Second World War movie Darkest Hour raises questions about perspective and reality

Heroes and villains: how history picks the winnersGary Oldman’s riveting portrayal of Winston Churchill leaves no doubt as to who is the hero of the new film Darkest Hour. But apart from the off-screen Adolf Hitler, does the movie really have a villain? Thanks to the way the narrative unfolds and the carefully-chosen camera shots, casual viewers might be tempted to ascribe…

Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright

For 199 years, this beloved Christmas carol has resonated. More than 26,000 versions have been recorded and it enticed soldiers to lay down their arms

Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is brightSilent Night, which is probably the most famous Christmas carol of all, will be 199 years old this Christmas Eve. It was first performed at the parish church in the Austrian village of Oberndorf during midnight mass on Dec. 24, 1818. And, fittingly, the performers included the two men who’d written it. The words had…

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgia

Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas is recognized as the best-selling single record ever

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgiaIt’s surely a personal quirk, but I must confess that the relatively modern Christmas songs, like All I Want for Christmas Is You and Fairytale of New York leave me cold. Yes, I know they’re critically acclaimed and immensely popular, not to mention enormous money-spinners. However, they don’t tickle my fancy at all. Perhaps it’s a…

The fake news controversy isn’t really new

News reporting has always been susceptible to allegations of spin and slant, cherry-picking and calculation

The fake news controversy isn’t really newIt’s been a defining characteristic of 2017. U.S. President Donald Trump claims that all negative stories are fake news. The media indignantly responds by casting themselves as pursuers of nothing but the truth. They are, in their view, shining light in the darkness. Then, as with CNN and ABC News last week, the media egregiously…

Poland’s 20th century tragedy

Stuck between Germany and the Soviet Union didn't stop thousands of Poles from contributing to the war effort in the 1940s

Poland’s 20th century tragedyCanadians who grouse about living next door to the American elephant should consider the situation of Poland, particularly in the mid-20th century. With Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union on one side and Adolf Hitler’s Germany on the other, Poles must have occasionally wondered just what they had done to merit this unfortunate geography. English journalist Max Hastings…

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistake

If Hitler had declared war on Japan in support of the U.S., he might have kept the U.S. out of the European war. And that would have changed history

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistakeAdolf Hitler began 1941 in a commanding position. He had 10 European conquests under his belt and just one active foe – beleaguered Britain and the members of the Commonwealth, like Canada. But by year-end, he’d added the Soviet Union and the United States to his slate of antagonists. And the declaration of war against…

Was Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe always a thug?

It’s hard to know for sure, but one can safely say that, once ensconced in power, thuggery came easily to him

Was Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe always a thug?Some years ago, I was having lunch with my favourite aunt when she brought up the topic of Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s evolving storyline was troubling her. The Catholic charity she was involved with had adopted Zimbabwe as one its projects and Mugabe had been seen as a good guy. You could even say he was…

Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons disconnected from reality

Although expensive and complicated, nuclear weapons are essentially an old technology that can’t be uninvented

Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons disconnected from realityThe 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). In bestowing the award, the Nobel committee cited ICAN’s advocacy of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The committee has a track record for aspirational awards of this nature. For instance, the 1926 prize…
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