Saturday, May 31, 2014

Was China’s Mao History’s Worst Monster?

This article from the Los Angeles Times says he killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. These three were truly evil.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Britain: End of a World Power?

HMS Victory, photographed in 1885.
This was the flagship of the fleet that destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Look here in the blog’s archives for the article that accompanied this picture. Jack Le Moine’s Blog, April 9, 2007

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Can We Vote on the Future?

We don’t have the option of turning away from the future. No one gets to vote on whether technology is going to change our lives.

- Bill Gates, in “The Road Ahead”, 1995

More on Bill Gates.

Picture (cc) Attribution

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Akbar’s Final Years

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

Abul Fazl departed on his mission. He arrived at Burhanpur, the capital of Khandesh. He soon discovered the luke-warmness of Bahadur Khan, the ruler. He insisted that Bahadur Khan should join him and help the imperial cause. Bahadur Khan was disinclined to help Akbar to conquer the Deccan. He thought to back out by sending rich presents to Abul Fazl. Abul Fazl was too loyal to be bribed; he returned the presents and went alone toward Ahmadnagar.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Egypt Versus Greece on the God Pan

Previously in Herodotus

145. Among the Hellenes Heracles and Dionysos and Pan are accounted the latest-born of the gods; but with the Egyptians Pan is a very ancient god, and he is one of those which are called the eight gods, while Heracles is of the second rank, who are called the twelve gods, and Dionysos is of the third rank, namely of those who were born of the twelve gods. Now as to Heracles I have shown already how many years old he is according to the Egyptians themselves, reckoning down to the reign of Amasis, and Pan is said to have existed for yet more years than these, and Dionysos for the smallest number of years as compared with the others; and even for this last they reckon down to the reign of Amasis fifteen thousand years. This the Egyptians say that they know for a certainty, since they always kept a reckoning and wrote down the years as they came.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Time:  July 2, 1863
Place:  Little Round Top, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

This hill is where the southernmost end of the Union line is anchored.  Confederates attack from the south, hoping to capture the hill and roll up the Union line.  Four regiments defend the hill for the Union.  285 men of the 20th. Maine are at the end.  If this regiment falls, then the other three will be hit from flank and rear and fall, too.  - And then the rest of the Union line.

After repulsing repeated assaults, the survivors of the 20th. Maine have no ammunition.

The Colonel orders the men to fix bayonets.  Then the bugler sounds the charge.  The 20th. Maine crashes into the oncoming Confederates.  The Confederates fell back.  The Union line held.

This is a day for remembering the heroism and sacrifices made by our armed forces.  And the lives paid in reparation for the evils of slavery in that war.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Palace Burns

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

Akbar had ceased to be a Muslem; he still maintained appearances. He set apart Saturday evenings for controversies between the fathers and the mollahs. In the end the fathers convinced Akbar of the superiority of Christianity. They contrasted the sensualities of Mohammad with the pure morality of the Gospel; the wars of Mohammad and the caliphs with the preachings and sufferings of the Apostles. The Muslem historian curses the fathers; he states that Akbar became a Christian. The fathers, however, could never induce Akbar to be baptized. He gave them his favorite son Amurath, a boy of thirteen, to be educated in Christianity and the European sciences. He directed Abul Fazl to prepare a translation of the Gospel. He entered the chapel of the fathers, and prostrated himself before the image of the Saviour. He permitted the fathers to preach Christianity in any part of his empire; to perform their rites in public, in opposition to Muslem law. A Portuguese was buried at Fathpur with all the pomp of the Roman Catholic ritual; the cross was carried through the streets for the first time. But Akbar would not become a Christian; he waited, he said, for the divine illumination.

"He hated the Muslem religion. He overthrew the mosques and converted them into stables. He trusted and employed the Hindus more than the Muslems. Many of the Muslems rebelled against him; they stirred up his brother, the Governor of Kabul, to take up arms against him; but Akbar defeated the rebels and restored order.

"It is uncertain what really was the religion of Akbar. Some said that he was a Hindu; others that he was a Christian. Some said that he belonged to a fourth sect, which was not connected with either of the three others. He acknowledged one God who was best content with a variety of sects and worshippings. Early in the morning, and again at noon, evening, and midnight, he worshipped the sun. He belonged to a new sect, of which the followers regarded him as their prophet." Akbar was no fanatic. He was not carried away by religious craze. His religion was the outcome of his policy; it was political rather than superstitious; it began with him and ended with him. Probably the lack of fanaticism caused its failure. Abul Fazl speaks of the numbers who joined it; the list which he has preserved only contains the names of eighteen courtiers, including himself, his father, and his brother. Only one Hindu is on the list; namely, Bir Bar, the Brahman.

Akbar tried hard to improve the morals of his subjects, Hindus as well as Muslems. He placed restrictions upon prostitution; he severely punished seducers. He permitted the use of wine; he punished intoxication. He prohibited the slaughter of cows. He forbade the marriage of boys before they were sixteen, and of girls before they were fourteen. He permitted the marriage of Hindu widows. He tried to stop sati among the Hindus, and polygamy among the Muslems.

There was much practical simplicity in Akbar's character. It showed itself in a variety of ways. It was not peculiar to Akbar; it was an instinct which shows itself in Moguls generally. His emirs cheated him by bringing borrowed horses to muster; he stopped them by branding every horse with the name of the emir to which it belonged as well as with the imperial mark. He appointed writers to record everything he said or did. He sent writers into every city and province to report to him everything that was going on. He hung up a bell at the palace; any man who had a grievance might ring the bell and obtain a hearing.

Akbar was very inquisitive. He sent an expedition to discover the sources of the Ganges. He made a strange experiment to discover what language was first spoken by mankind. This experiment is typical of the man. The Muslems declared that the first language was Arabic; the Jews said it was Hebrew; the Brahmans said it was Sanskrit. Akbar ordered twelve infants to be brought up by dumb nurses; not a word was to be spoken in their presence until they were twelve years of age. When the time arrived the children were brought before Akbar. Proficients in the learned tongues were present to catch the first words, to decide upon the language to which it belonged. The children could not say a word; they spoke only by signs. The experiment was an utter failure.

The character of Akbar had its dark side. He was sometimes harsh and cruel. His persecution of Muslems was unpardonable. He had another way of getting rid of his enemies which is revolting to civilization. He kept a prisoner in his pay. He carried a box with three compartments--one for betel; another for digestive pills; a third for poisoned pills. No one dared to refuse to eat what was offered him by the Padishah; the offer was esteemed an honor. How many were poisoned by Akbar is unknown. The practice was in full force during the reigns of his successors.

Akbar required his emirs to prostrate themselves before him. This rule gave great offence to Muslems; prostration is worship; no strict Muslem will perform worship except when offering his prayers to God. Abul Fazl says that Akbar ordered it to be discontinued. The point is doubtful. It was certainly performed by members of the "divine faith." It was also performed during the reign of his son and successor.

The Mogul government was pure despotism. Every governor and viceroy was supreme within his province; the Padishah was supreme throughout his empire. There was nothing to check provincial rulers but fear of the Padishah; there was nothing to check the Padishah but fear of rebellion. All previous Muslem sovereigns had been checked by the Ulama and the authority of the Koran. Akbar had broken up the Ulama and set aside the Koran; he governed the empire according to his will; his will was law. The old Mogul khans had held diets; no trace of a diet is to be found in the history of Mogul India prior to the reign of Aurungzeb. There may have been a semblance of a diet on the accession of a new padishah; all the emirs, rajas, and princes of the empire paid their homage, presented gifts, and received titles and honors. But there was no council or parliament of any sort or kind. The Padishah was one and supreme.

Akbar dwelt many years at Lahore. There he seems to have reached the height of human felicity. A proverb became current, "As happy as Akbar." He established his authority in Kabul and Bengal. He added Cashmere to his dominions. His empire was as large as that of Asoka.

During the reign of Burhan, Akbar sent ambassadors to the sultans of the Deccan to invite them to accept him as their suzerain. In return he would uphold them on their thrones; he would prevent all internecine wars. One and all refused to pay allegiance to the Mogul. Akbar was wroth at the refusal. He sent his son Amurath to command in Guzerat; he ordered Amurath to seize the first opportunity for interfering in the affairs of Ahmadnagar.

The moment soon arrived. Burhan died in 1594. A war ensued between rival claimants for the throne. The minister invited Amurath to interfere. Amurath advanced to Ahmadnagar. Meantime the minister and queen came to terms; they united to resist the Moguls. The Queen dowager, known as Chand Bibi, arrayed herself in armor; she veiled her face and led the troops in person. The Moguls were driven back. At last a compromise was effected. Berar was ceded to the Padishah; Amurath retired from Ahmadnagar.

About this time a strange event took place at Lahore. On Easter Sunday, 1597, the Padishah was celebrating the Nau-roz, or feast of the new year, in honor of the sun. Tented pavilions were set up in a large plain. An image of the sun, fashioned of gold and jewels, was placed upon a throne. Suddenly a thunderbolt fell from the skies. The throne was overturned. The royal pavilion was set on fire; the flames spread throughout the camp; the whole was burned to the ground. The fire reached the city and burned down the palace. Nearly everything was consumed. The imperial treasures were melted down, and molten gold and silver ran through the streets of Lahore.

This portentous disaster made a deep impression on Akbar. He went away to Cashmere; he took one of the Christian fathers with him. He began to question the propriety of his new religion; he could not bring himself to retract, certainly not to become an open Christian. When the summer was over he returned to Lahore.

In 1598 Akbar left Lahore and set out for Agra. He was displeased with the conduct of the war in the Deccan. His son Amurath was a drunkard. The commander-in-chief, known as the Khan Khanan, who accompaniedAmurath, was intriguing and treacherous; he had probably been bribed bythe Deccanis. Abul Fazl was still the trusted servant and friend; he had been raised to the rank of commander of two thousand five hundred. Akbar had already recalled the Khan Khanan. He now sent Abul Fazl into the Deccan to bring away Amurath, or to send him away, as should seem most expedient.

Continued on May 28, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

McDonalds Hamburgers’ Humble Start to Business Supercorporation

Here’s a question: how old was Ray Kroc in 1954? The story reminds me of the one about Benjamin Franklin. As he walked out of the Constitutional Convention he sighed, “oh, to be 79 once again!”

This is a chapter from the book, “Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time”.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why We Need a Brigade of Zolas

At this weak, pale, tabescent moment in the history of American literature, we need a battalion, a brigade of Zolas to head out into this wild, bizarre unpredictable, hog-stomping country of ours and reclaim its literary property.

- Tom Wolfe in “Stalking the Billion-footed beast: A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel”, in Harpers, 1989.

More on Tom Wolfe and more on Emile Zola.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Breaking the Muslem Ulama

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

By this time Akbar held the Ulama in small esteem. He was growing sceptical of their religion. He had listened to the history of the caliphate; he yearned toward Ali and his family; he became in heart a Shiah. Already he may have doubted Mohammad and the Koran. Still he was outwardly a Muslem. His object now was to overthrow the Ulama altogether; to become himself the supreme spiritual head, the pope or caliph of Islam. Abul Fazl was laboring to invest him with the same authority. He mooted the question one Thursday evening. He raised a storm of opposition; for this he was prepared. He had started the idea; he exerted all his tact and skill to carry it out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Many Generations from Egypt’s Beginning to Herodotus?

Previously in Herodotus

140. Then when the Ethiopian had gone away out of Egypt, the blind man came back from the fen-country and began to rule again, having lived there during fifty years upon an island which he had made by heaping up ashes and earth: for whenever any of the Egyptians visited him bringing food, according as it had been appointed to them severally to do without the knowledge of the Ethiopian, he bade them bring also some ashes for their gift. This island none was able to find before Amyrtaios; that is, for more than seven hundred years the kings who arose before Amyrtaios were not able to find it. Now the name of this island is Elbo, and its size is ten furlongs each way.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Akbar’s Vizier Abul Fazl

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

Akbar, like his father and grandfather, professed to be a Muslem. His mother was a Persian; he was a Persian in his thoughts and ways. He was imbued with the old Mogul instinct of toleration. He was lax and indifferent, without the semblance of zeal. He consulted soothsayers who divined with burned rams' bones. He celebrated the Persian festival of the Nau-roz, or new year, which had no connection with Islam. He reverenced the seven heavenly bodies by wearing a dress of different color every day in the week. He joined in the Brahmanical worship and sacrifices of his Rajput queens. Still he was outwardly a Muslem. He had no sons; he vowed that if a son was born to him he would walk to the tomb of a Muslem saint at Ajmir; it was more than two hundred miles from Fathipur. In 1570 his eldest son Seli was born; Akbar walked to Ajmir; he offered up his prayers at the tomb.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Moghul Empire in Trouble

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

Another officer, named Khan Zeman, played a similar game in Behar. He was warned that Akbar was on the move; he escaped punishment by making over the spoil before Akbar came up. This satisfied Akbar; he returned part of the spoil and went back to Agra. Henceforth Khan Zeman was a rebel at heart. Some Usbeg chiefs revolted in Oudh; they were joined by Khan Zeman. Akbar was called away to the Punjab by an Afghan invasion; on his return the rebels were in possession of Oudh and Allahabad. Akbar marched against them in the middle of the rains. He outstripped his army; he reached the Ganges with only his bodyguard. The rebels were encamped on the opposite bank; they had no fear; they expected Akbar to wait until his army came up. That night Akbar swam the river with his bodyguard. At daybreak he attacked the enemy. The rebels heard the thunder of the imperial kettle-drums; they could not believe their ears. They fled in all directions. Khan Zeman was slain in the pursuit. The other leaders were taken prisoners; they were trampled to death by elephants. Thus for a while the rebellion was stamped out.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

More Discoveries on the Beginning of Civilization

Diver investigating the drowned city. Credit: Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archeology (HWTMA)

Look here in the blog’s archives for the article that accompanied this picture. Jack Le Moine’s Blog, August 10, 2007

Thursday, May 15, 2014

War on Poverty is 50 Years Old

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

- Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Message, January 8, 1964

More on President Johnson.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Importance of Religion in the Development of Civilization

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Wheeler lived in India during Victoria’s Reign and wrote a number of histories of India. Akbar was one of the greatest rulers of India. His grandfather conquered India and started the Mogul Empire. Akbar established it. What’s the difference? Wheeler explains. And now, James Talboys Wheeler.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

The reign of Akbar bears a strange resemblance to that of Asoka. Indeed, the likeness between Akbar and Asoka is one of the most remarkable phenomena in history. They were separated from each other by an interval of eighteen centuries; the main features of their respective lives were practically the same. Asoka was putting down revolt in the Punjab when his father died; so was Akbar. Asoka was occupied for years in conquering and consolidating his empire; so was Akbar. Asoka conquered India to the north of the Nerbudda; so did Akbar. Asoka was tolerant of other religions; so was Akbar. Asoka went against the priests; so did Akbar. Asoka taught a religion of his own; so did Akbar. Asoka abstained from flesh meat; so did Akbar. In the end Asoka took refuge in Buddha, the law, and the assembly. In the end Akbar recited the formula of Islam: "There is but one God, and Mohammad is his prophet."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ethiopian Pharoahs

Previously in Herodotus

135. Now at Naucratis, as it happens, the courtesans are rather apt to win credit; for this woman first, about whom the story to which I refer is told, became so famous that all the Hellenes without exception come to know the name of Rhodopis, and then after her one whose name was Archidiche became a subject of song over all Hellas, though she was less talked of than the other. As for Charaxos, when after redeeming Rhodopis he returned back to Mytilene, Sappho in an ode violently abused him. Of Rhodopis then I shall say no more.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Calais Falls

Featuring Charles Knight

Previously on England Looses Her Last French Territory

Time: 1558
Place: Calais, France

The importance of Calais was thus described by Micheli, the Venetian ambassador, only one year before it finally passed from the English power:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Battle of St. Quentin

Featuring Charles Knight

Previously on England Looses Her Last French Territory

Time: 1558
Place: Calais, France

The Duke of Savoy, though young, was an experienced soldier, and he determined to commence the campaign by investing St. Quentin, a frontier town of Picardy. The defence of this fortress was undertaken by Coligny, the Admiral of France, afterward so famous for his mournful death. Montmorency, the Constable, had the command of the French army. The garrison was almost reduced to extremity--when Montmorency, on August 10th, arrived with his whole force, and halted on the bank of the Somme. On the opposite bank lay the Spanish, the English, the Flemish, and the German host. The arrival of the French was a surprise, and the Duke of Savoy had to take up a new position. He determined on battle. The issue was the most unfortunate for France since the fatal day of Agincourt. The French slain amounted, according to some accounts, to six thousand; and the prisoners were equally numerous. Among them was the veteran Montmorency.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hitler Conquers France

Time: 1940
Place:  The Ardennes Forest, France

Here's a nice animated map from the BBC of the French Campaign in World War II.

I used the word "campaign" instead of "battle" on purpose.  One of the problems with historians of World War II is stretching the word "battle" and compressing the word "campaign" to unthinking lengths.  Those two words represent concepts which are important to understanding military history.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Edison and the Movies of the 19th. Century

Look here in the blog’s archives for the article that accompanied this picture. Jack Le Moine’s Blog, December 17, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dreams and Dreamers

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with success uncommon in common hours.

- Henry David Thoreau, “Conclusion”, Walden, 1854

More on Thoreau.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Phillip II Attacks France

Featuring Charles Knight

Across the Channel from the white cliffs of Dover, Calais remained the last English remnant from the Hundred Years War. The town and the surrounding territory was English for two centuries from 1347 to the year this story culminates, 1558.

It starts with the the man who was to become England’s worst enemy, the King of Spain, Phillip II, only now he’s the Queen of England’s husband - well, let’s turn to Charles Knight from his book “The Popular History of England”, Volume 3.

And now, Charles Knight.

Time: 1558
Place: Calais, France

In March, 1557, Philip returned to England. He came, not out of affection for his wife or of regard for his turbulent insular subjects, but to stir up the old English hatred of France and to drag the nation into a war for his personal advantage. The fiery Pope, Paul IV, panted for the freedom of Italy as it existed in the fifteenth century; he wanted to accomplish his wishes by an alliance with France; he would place French princes on the thrones of Milan and Naples. The Spaniards he pronounced as the spawn of Jews and Moors, the dregs of the earth.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Who Was the Hooker Said to Have Built a Pyramid?

Previously in Herodotus

131. Some however tell about this cow and the colossal statues the following tale, namely that Mykerinos was enamoured of his own daughter and afterwards ravished her; and upon this they say that the girl strangled herself for grief, and he buried her in this cow; and her mother cut off the hands of the maids who had betrayed the daughter to her father; wherefore now the images of them have suffered that which the maids suffered in their life. In thus saying they speak idly, as it seems to me, especially in what they say about the hands of the statues; for as to this, even we ourselves saw that their hands had dropped off from lapse of time, and they were to be seen still lying at their feet even down to my time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The First of the Dynasty Enters Berlin

Featuring Thomas Carlyle

Previously on The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg

Time: 1414
Place: Berlin, Germany

Burggraf Friedrich, on his first coming to Brandenburg, found but a cool reception as Statthalter. He came as the representative of law and rule; and there had been many helping themselves by a ruleless life, of late. Industry was at a low ebb, violence was rife; plunder, disorder, everywhere; too much the habit for baronial gentlemen to "live by the saddle," as they termed it, that is, by highway robbery in modern phrase.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brandenburg Sold

Featuring Thomas Carlyle

Previously on The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg

Time: April 30, 1415
Place:  Berlin, Germany

How Jobst's pawn-ticket was settled I never clearly heard; but can guess it was by Burggraf Friedrich's advancing the money, in the pinch above indicated, or paying it afterward to Jobst's heirs whoever they were. Thus much is certain: Burggraf Friedrich, these three years and more (ever since July 8, 1411) holds Sigismund's deed of acknowledgment "for one hundred thousand gulden lent at various times"; and has likewise got the Electorate of Brandenburg in pledge for that sum; and does himself administer the said Electorate till he be paid. This is the important news; but this is not all.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why France Lost the Seven Years War

This was the war that was twenty years before the American Revolution. France fought on two major fronts: the colonial front and the continental (European) front. England won by concentrating her efforts on the colonial front.

“Front” here is taken loosely. On the continent there were major areas of operations such as Flanders, Germany, and Italy. In the colonies, there were major areas of operations as widely separated as India, the East and West Indies, and of course, North America. Winston Churchill called this war the first real world war.

This essay goes over the reasons in more depth.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Before the Sahara Became a Desert

Look here in the blog’s archives for the article that accompanies this picture. History Moments, January 30, 2010.

Top Picture: Landsat satellite picture of the Sahara Desert
Bottom Picture: Rock layer underneath, revealing black channels cut by the meandering of an ancient river. Taken by Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour on April 16, 1994.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Solve the Problems of the Human Race

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan “press-on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

- Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States

More on Coolidge.