War and brutality go hand in hand

Combat naturally leads to behaviours that would be deemed shocking in normal life

War and brutality go hand in handAntony Beevor is a prolific English military historian, most famous for the bestseller Stalingrad. First published in the late 1990s, the book’s narrative covers the period between the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943. That battle is often described as the Second…

The last children of Anglo-Saxon England

For the upper class of England, the Norman conquest was wipe out time

The last children of Anglo-Saxon EnglandHarold Godwineson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died on the battlefield at Hastings in October 1066. It wasn’t a pretty ending. Whether he was killed by an arrow through the eye (the traditional story), trampled underfoot, or hunted down and (literally) cut to pieces by invading Norman knights remains a matter of speculation. For…

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?

Finland was truly alone. That’s not the case with Ukraine today

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?Bordered by Russia to the east and Sweden to the northwest, Finland’s historical experience has been coloured by the existence of these more powerful neighbours. In fact, ‘dominated’ might be more apt. After being effectively part of Sweden for centuries, Finland was ceded to the Russian Empire in 1809. But when the chaos surrounding the…

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perils

Conventional wisdom holds he may win the leadership but not a general election

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perilsPierre Poilievre is making waves. Virtually all of the buzz in the federal Conservative leadership race revolves around him. He’s pulling in crowds, generating headlines and tossing out ideas that intrigue some and unnerve others. Excitement isn’t a word normally associated with Canadian conservatism. But, for better or worse, Poilievre stirs it up. And some…

From evil to relativism and back again

'Evil' is back in rhetorical style, at least on a selective basis. Actual evil, of course, never went away

From evil to relativism and back againEvil was a very real concept when I was a child. Orthodox Catholic opinion in the Ireland I grew up in believed evil was personified by the devil. And the devil wasn’t just a metaphor but a real live entity. My grandmother’s house in rural County Cork had a religiously-themed image hanging on one of…

The overwhelming imagery of the Crucifixion

The child that was me experienced the lead-up to Easter as foreboding rather than inspiring

The overwhelming imagery of the CrucifixionI was never big on Easter. As a Catholic schoolboy in 1950s Ireland, Easter played second fiddle to Christmas. In fact, the competition wasn’t even close. Christmas had several advantages. For one thing, school holidays were longer. Whereas Easter only delivered a week and a half, Christmas tacked on a further full week. The tone,…

Who was Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to death?

Pilate consciously misused his power to curry favour

Who was Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to death?As a Catholic schoolboy in 1950s Ireland, Easter was a mixed bag. Yes, we got a week and a half off school, which was never something to be sneezed at. And the days were visibly brightening, indicating the departure of winter. But that was about it. In contrast to Christmas, the lead up to Easter…

Thatcher didn’t blink in defence of the Falklands 40 years ago

The "Iron Lady" proved her metal

Thatcher didn’t blink in defence of the Falklands 40 years agoOn April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands – the archipelago of islands that constitute a British Overseas Territory in the remote South Atlantic. Although initially shaken by the event, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quickly regained her footing and dispatched a naval task force to rectify the situation. During the weeks it took for…

Attlee and Churchill: bound together in war and peace

Churchill said history would be good to him, as he'd write it himself. But ostentation wasn’t Attlee's style

Attlee and Churchill: bound together in war and peaceFor the longest time, Clement Attlee lived in Winston Churchill’s shadow. Where Churchill was flamboyant, charismatic and eloquent, Attlee was reticent, dull and rhetorically challenged. Churchill was larger than life and Attlee was the little man who seemed to blend into the woodwork. After becoming leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party in 1935, Attlee…

Maureen O’Hara, Ireland’s Queen of Technicolor

O’Hara made more than 50 films including the perennial Christmas favourite Miracle on 34th Street

Maureen O’Hara, Ireland’s Queen of TechnicolorWith St. Patrick’s Day upon us, an Irish theme seems appropriate. And a little frivolity wouldn’t go amiss in these troubled times. It’s fair to say that Ireland has generally punched above its weight on the silver screen. Back in the 1930s, Maureen O’Sullivan (from County Roscommon) played Jane in the popular Tarzan film series,…

Saint Patrick and the art of public relations

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult, but St. Patrick definitely won the war for popular historical memory

Saint Patrick and the art of public relationsGrowing up in Dublin in the 1950s, Saint Patrick’s Day wasn’t the big deal that it is now. Oh, the fact that it was a statutory holiday meant that you got a day off school or work, which was never something to be sneezed at. And in addition, if you’d promised to forsake some pleasure…

Understanding Putin’s long view of an expanded Russia

He expresses a vision that reaches back over 1,000 years, to a Russia that was an empire and proud of it

Understanding Putin’s long view of an expanded RussiaLet’s make a stipulation up front: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified. There’s no ambiguity on that score. Russia is the bad actor in this situation. Still, it’s always useful to understand the other guy. Understanding doesn’t imply approval and insight is never a bad thing to have. Putin is typically described…

Ukraine tragedy exposes some harsh global realities

The unintended consequences of our policy decisions

Ukraine tragedy exposes some harsh global realitiesThe tragedy unfolding in Ukraine brings several immediate thoughts to mind. In a dangerous world, being able to look after yourself is highly advantageous We talk a lot about how war has become obsolete, how a rules-based international order can substitute for a robust defence capability, and how attachment to the nation-state is increasingly passé.…

Fall of Singapore shattered assumptions of British superiority

The shock waves of the defeat extended beyond the physical events

Fall of Singapore shattered assumptions of British superiorityOn Feb. 15, 1942, Singapore – the so-called Gibraltar of the East – fell to a numerically smaller Japanese force. Four days later, the port of Darwin in northern Australia was bombed by over 260 Japanese aircraft. To put it mildly, Allied prospects in the Second World War’s Asia-Pacific Theatre weren’t looking too auspicious. The…
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