Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Movies vs History 3: The Quickening

Alternative title - Mel Gibson would stamp on an English baby until it was nothing more than paste

Gallipoli is one of the few modern war movies (that is, critical and with themes, not the old ones where everyone had a moustache and the germans would wander in speaking english with a german accent and start shooting puppies) that depicts WW1. Plus one of Australia's better movies, up there with those other movies they made... mad max and... err.... crocodile dundee.

Its about the young idealistic Archy (who joined to do his bit and for the adventure, the stereotype of the time) and the more morally amibigous Frank (who joins for money and to follow his mates, a more identifiable motivation these days) and hes the one played by Mel Gibson. In case you were wonderering who you are meant to hate. That anti-English bastard.

I'm not exactly sure, but it was the German's fault.

-Archy on what caused the war.

Anyway, the first third of the movie is the decision to join. This is actually really well done, it examines the multitude of reasons to join, the sense of nobility and duty (perhaps removed from the realities of war, the definitive notion of war as an awful thing came from this war after all) through Archy, with the more grimly realistic Frank and his more practical reasoning. There is a nice little scene of them discussing the terrible things the "hun" are doing, a nice little piece of propaganda just fitting into normal discussion undoubted.

So far, so good.

Then we get to them training and early stationing. You see the boredom of trench warfare, how you spent most of your time eating crappy rations and waiting. All historically accurate'ish so far, good good. Trench warfare was pretty horrible, but in countries that are ungodly hot and without much in the way of civilisation, especially so. Lots of dysentry, food poisoning and generally gross stuff. And trench foot, dude, dont ever google image search Trench Foot. (Do it, I dare you.)

Then we get to the titular battle, for the Australian forces anyway. You see the true horrors of war, the idea of certain death being something you just had to deal with. Truly shocking. But the problem is, it tries to encapsulate every problem with WW1 into one battle... The notion of lions being led by donkeys, as the phrasing goes. You see the chain of command being totally incompetent, the British commanding officer misunderstands whats going on and needlessly wastes the lives of his troops. You see the British officers sipping tea as the noble Australians die for a distraction of their attack, which ultimately fails anyway. What a needless waste of life and how horrible these noble Aussies die for the terrible British, eh? All over Constantinople, which isnt even a real sounding place.

Istanbul was Constantinople

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

Been a long time gone, Constantinople

Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople

Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople

So if you've a date in Constantinople

She'll be waiting in Istanbul

-Some classic WW1 poetry

Well, as a theme for the war, thats probably not far from the truth. Lots of people died needlessly, it was a time when strategy wasnt as far ahead as weaponry, leading to the needless stalemate and massive deathrate on both sides. But in this particular battle, this makes no sense.

The villain of the movie, the guy with the distinct English accent who cares not for the death of his Australian men... he was actually Australian. Apparently the director was going for "the sort of anglo-australian accent that were common at the time" and we werent meant to think he was English, despite being the only guy with this "anglo-australian accent" IN THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE. The Australians werent actually a diversion for English forces, they were a diversion for New Zealand forces. But obviously a bunch of Peter Jackson looking guys having tea on the beach while Aussies die didnt have the same impact.

Major Barton: What your telling me sir and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the infantry attack on Lone Pine, and our Light Horse attack on the Nek are diversions.

Col. Robinson: Oh not just diversions Major, vital important diversions. Tonight, 25,000 British troops will land here at Suvla Bay. Our attacks are to draw the Turks down on us so the British can get ashore. Sorry I didn't tell you this before, secrecy is vital.

Major Barton: But sir, the Nek is a fortress. Protected by at least five machine guns at point-blank range.

Col. Robinson: Yeah, we've considered that Barton. We're gonna hit their trenches with the heaviest barrage of the campaign just before your men go over the top.

Artillery Officer: By the time we've finished, there won't be a Turk within miles.

Col. Robinson: The Turks can keep us pinned down at ANZAC forever. This new British landing is our only hope. We must do what we can to make it succeed. Because of it does succeed, we'll have Constantinople with a week, and knock Turkey out of the war.

- This is nonsense.

The film shows a (fictional) general trying to call the attack off. This didnt happen, the attack petered out when big chunks of the line charged without orders messing up the whole tactics of the battle.

And what actually went wrong at the battle, was it really an English orchestrated blood bath of the Aussies?

Well, in the words of Australian historian Les Carlyon

"The scale of the tragedy of the Nek was mostly the work of two Australian incompetents, Hughes and Antill."

Well, yeah. Sadly "it was the australian officers who messed up" just doesnt have the same impact as "it was the EVIL ENGLISH officers who messed up, while drinking tea and laughing, they called you a fag as well dude."

And two companies of a British regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (I think), in fact suffered very heavy losses trying to support the Australian attack at the Nek once it was realized that the offensive was in trouble. What did they get for there troubles? Not even a movie name check.

Basically, Australia are revisionist wankers.

Cool movie though, AS FAST AS A LEOPARD!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Movies vs History 2: Electric Boogaloo

Alternative Title - Seriously Mel Gibson, what the fuck is your problem with the English?

The Patriot is a big move about the war of independence. Or as it is more accurately know, British Civil War 2.

Now I am going to give this one a little leeway, because it does rename the bulk of its characters so it can use the "based on" proviso. So even though Mel Gibson's protagonist is based on a serial rapist who loved to murder Indians for fun, its ok, because they changed the name a bit so now hes a noble hero. And the English commander they railed against displayed commiting atrocities worse than ever actually occured from either side, well thats ok, because his name is Tavington in the movie, who nobody would ever connect with Tarlington.

Im instead going to point out some of the weird ways the director decided to portray the whole period and the war, and why this is slightly crazy.

American Forces

The thing is, there wasnt any Americans at this time. Everyone was British, you know that story about Paul Revere shouting out "the British are coming!" as a warning... that story isnt true, he shouted "the regulars are coming", because everyone he would have been shouting "The British are coming" too were British, everyone still considered themselves British and the sort of revolutionary ideas that would lead to America after the conflict was over just didnt exist in a widespread fashion... so they would have been confused or possibly insulted.

The movie, none the less, shows America as a sort of independent culturally seperate nation that is completely at odds with these foreign invaders. Which given the timescale and population by immigration and everything, is absurd, both sides should be British speaking and acting (some of the colonials a little different perhaps) and only Mel Gibsons accent should stand out as incongrous and odd, as is his way.

Also the English soldiers either seem to be posh English officers or working class ruffian types right out of a Dickens novel. The British army was a bit more diverse than that, chaps.

Also it seems to ignore the whole irony of a nation fighting for its freedom and basic liberty that still intends to keep murdering its native populace and enslaving Africans, but that isnt that movie worthy, I guess.

Inaccuracy Rating - 2.3/5

The Evils of The English

The British are mass murdering people, burning down churches with people in them and shooting children for kicks.The noble Americans are forced to fight them off with roughshod rebel tactics.

Well, the thing is, thats not true. I mean, a lot of American propaganda at the time (yeah, they had propaganda back then, Hitler didnt invent that shit) might have read like that, but really no side was particurley more brutal than the other. There was a lot of killing surrendering men, but this isnt exactly geneva convention days, that thing was considered "not cricket" but wouldnt always mean you got sent home or even disciplined (in the British army) and a lot of the 'revolutionary' army fought semi-independently and in some cases their only previous combat experience was mass murdering Injuns, so you can imagine what they got up too.

So, the British Army could be dicks, but so were the guys they were fighting.

"(the men showed) a vindictive asperity not easily restrained." - Tarleton on his men not showing quarter to (possibly) surrendering soldiers.

Infact, the German director, often seems to mimic nazi atrocities (the burning of the church thing is pretty much an exact reference to the massacre of Oradour in German occupied France) and portray the British doing them. I dont know if nazis is just his go-to villain characterisation, or if he had some creepy agenda going there, but really... that is a little weird, dude.

Its like Hollywood is bending the truth to make a war about one set of elites replacing another set of elites in an orchestrated war into a good vs evil struggle so people identify with it more. Why would you do that Hollywood, why?
Inaccuracy Rating - 3.7/5

The Americans are Revolting!

The movie pretty much plays into what seems to be a common historic fallacy, that Americans revolted out of some sense of liberty and justice, that the common man rose up and said no to oppression. I mean, dont get me wrong, the foundations of America led to the constitution (a landmark document in quite a few respects when it came to enhancing the common liberty of man, on paper anyway) and many future good things (pizza mostly) but it wasnt really how the war happened.

"One of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle." -- James Otis, 1761

The war happened because the rich dudes in charge in (what would be) America realised they could get rid of the rich dudes in charge back in Britain and be the only rich dudes in charge. They thought up a few reasons for this, rabble roused with a load of pamphlets blowing really minor stuff out of proportion and used their resources to make this happen.

Afterwards, the liberty stuff happened and the good stuff, but its more a murky little war that made it happen. See, America is a superpower now, and like any superpower it needs a cool origin story. Batman has the parents thing and the vision of bats, what did America have, a dispute over the rate of taxes paid on tea. They had the aquaman origin story. So they dressed it up with some cool, triumphing over evil stuff and noble intentions, and there you go, America is Batman again.

But if you are making a historical epic, that is at all accurate, the colonials shouldnt be Batman.
Inaccuracy Rating - 4.2/5

America Wins in the End!

At the end of the movie, America wins. Or the colonies. I will just call it America, that is quicker if innaccurate. Anyway, thats it, liberty triumphs.

Ok, yeah, thats right, the colonies did make fighting the war so costly it wasnt considered worth the effort. That is a technical win, like France won the hundred year war after 120 years they made it too difficult to keep occupying most of France.

But well, the movie skips over the whole massive foreign help America got. No real victory, without, among others the Spanish contribution. It does show a number of Battles the English won as American victories (which is just retarded, but whatever) but it ends on lots of shots of American stuff and you feel all independent'y and good, so thats ok.

Historical Inaccuracy - 2.1/5


Basically, if you want to watch a big budget movie about the war of revolution (you notice how the revolutionary aspect of the American backstory sort of got reworked to war of independence after the Cold War, dont deny your partially imaginary origins America! Embrace them!) I would reccomend this one.

Its made up, often inaccurate and it has Mel Gibson in it, totally ignores the massive complexities and dual nature of the whole conflict (the notions of liberty some where fighting for, versus the more realistic economic factors and so on)... but its the only one I have really seen, so my hands are tied.

"Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few." - John Adams, 1763

Also all those inaccuracy ratings are totally random. So if you were reading anything into them, I probably wouldnt.

If anyone knows a GOOD movie about this period in history, sort of examining the moral ambiguities more and the propaganda super hero element less, I would love to know, thanks.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Movies vs History

Alternative title - Why does Mel Gibson hate the English?

I thought, based on the response to the tombstone bit a little while back, I would try to introduce a short, light sort of regular bit about the historical accuracy of movies. More for interest than anything, in most cases these will be movies I actually liked but sort of enjoy the complete diversion they take from fact.

I will start with the king of just plain making stuff up movies, Braveheart. A few random examples, I think we all know the battles and dates are going to be iffy.


Fact from Braveheart - Edward the first, or Longshanks, is the sneering over the top villain of history. He kills homosexuals, makes dickish remarks and generally rocks all over the movie. This is why he is my favourite character.

"Not the archers. My scouts tell me their archers are miles away and no threat to us. Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing." - Edward I, in the movie

Historical Accuracy - Actually, yeah, he kind of was. The specifics are all made up, but he was a bit of a mean chap. He crusaded his way through his prince years (that is the years of being heir to the throne, not the years in which he was a fan of the musical artist formally known as Prince) and among his many interesting contributions to history was forcing jewish people to wear yellow badges to mark them out and expelling them entirely (while confiscating their stuff.) Two ideas another famous dick from history happened to copy. Plus his solution to "coin clipping" a common problem of the day (since coins were made of quite valuable metals back then, literally shaving bits off to make bullion) was to arrest all the heads of major jewish families, because why investigate stuff... if money is involved, it was probably the jews.

He did love fighting, took a certain joy in being the dude who conquered most of Wales and big chunks of Scotland and emalgamating them into what would become the United Kingdom.

When he died he requested his son "boil [his] body, extract the bones and carry them with the army until the Scots had been subdued." Sadly Edward II neglected to do such an awesome thing, instead just burying him, but with the glorious epitath "Hammer of the Scots".


Fact from Braveheart - Edward the second is a raging soft gay lad. He doesnt care about ruling Scotland because he is too busy being gay with dudes, so had no interest in sleeping with his hot wife.

Historical Accuracy - Yeah, probably. His father was certainly strongly concerned about his tendency towards certain "favourite" friends, history has pretty much surmised he was probably a bit gay.

He did father 4 children with his wife, though. So clearly he hit that sometimes. Plus he had at least one illegitimate child.

He was certainly a lot weaker than his feather. Robert the Bruce would make dickish remarks about his lack of military skill and the dude spent most of his time losing the bits of Scotland his dad had conquered in the first place. He didnt care for warring upon the Scottish, which is pretty gay in my book.


Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace was a good, honest scotsman. Until the EVIL English came and killed him and his woman and his puppy. He went away for an education and eventually came back and was forced to throw off the yolks of oppression for FREEEEDOOMMMMMMM!!!! Before being betrayed and executed, but he never lost his noble spirit.

Historical Accuracy - Well, he wasnt a commoner for a start. He was a minor noble. He was probably of Welsh stock, the name Wallace probably means "welsh" or "foreigner" apparently.

As for his noble war on the English... wellll maybe. You could make him out to be a guy who was involved in the war against an evil oppressor, but really it was more a war between which bunch of nobles would get to gouge the scottish people more.. local ones or ones from further south. We certainly dont have enough historical accounts to actually know Wallace's views, or enough details of the battles he took part in and what his actual importance was. A lot of what is assumed comes from poetry, which as a historical source is always at least 90% crap. Thats where the "avenged the killing of his bint" part of the movie comes from, a poem.

He is sort of the robin hood figure of Scotland (only was definitely actually real) so you would expect him to be massively built up, but the lack of evidence means you should take this as a bit of literary conceit. He was a guy who killed some English, hid from them for a while and eventually got handed back to them for execution. He could be a hero, a villain or more likely just a pretty hard dude among hard dudes in a time of conflict and politics.

If it wasnt for his dramatic evasion and capture, he wouldnt really be so well remembered. His final statement before execution as a traitor, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject", was pretty cool though.


Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace banged Edward II's missus, presumably impregnating her and giving the sly wink that maybe the next king of England would be a Wallace.

Historical Accuracy - Hahahaha. No.

He never met her. And at the time the film was set, she would be three years old.

I am not saying William Wallace didnt sleep with her, but you know, if he did... it adds a certain extra dimension to the movie.


Fact from Braveheart - Wallace didnt have a vaguely scottish accent. He sounded like a dude who had just heard about Scotland in myths or legends.

Historical Accuracy - There isnt anything that says this isnt the case. Power to you, Gibson.


Final conclusion - Well, the creators of the movie point out they didnt want exact historical accuracy, instead they deliberately based it on the poetry of Blind Harry, someone famous for helping to create the myth of William Wallace, but constantly made stuff up. He references things that categorically just didnt happen. Beyond that they made a lot of stuff up, because it made the movie more hollywood if the morality was cleaner cut, Wallace slept with someone hot (even if she was 3) and it had a more meaningful ending.

Still an awesome movie. But about as accurate as a Robin Hood flick. The decision to make England the traintrack-woman-tieing-up sort of villains sort of makes sense, though I can see why they got a little stick for making out Edward II to be a bit of a fairy. Little bit offensive that anyone thought to bang dudes has to mince around whenever he is one screen.

My favourite obtuse fact from the movie, the hilarious bit where Longshanks throws his sons gay lover out of a window...

"Gibson asserted that the reason the king killed his son’s lover was because the king was a “psycopath,”and he expressed bewilderment that some audience members would laugh at this murder" - From Wikipedia

..wasnt meant to be funny. Ah Hollywood, you will never understand us.

A spur of the moment murder of a campy guy is ALWAYS funny.

I will leave you with my second favourite quote from the movie (like all of them, from Longshanks.)

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."


Monday, 28 July 2008

Gleiwitz Incident

So, when you are invading a country (ie, Iraq) you need a good reason (ie, WMDs) or people get pissed off at you (ie, France) and might respond negatively (ie, throw baguettes.) If you dont have a good reason, maybe you can just make one up (ie, that whole example I just gave) so you can do it for the real reasons you want to do it (ie, spreading freedom and love to godless arabs.)

This isnt just a modern phenomenon, there are famous examples of this, my favourite of which is the Gleiwitz incident.

See, before Germany invaded Poland they were worried this might make them look like total dicks and bring down the furious wrath of the English and others upon them. So they decided to make it look like they had cause. Diplomatically they call this "he totally started it miss, he took my ball".

This was part of what was called Operation Himmler, points for guessing who was behind that one, basically they put out a lot of fake propaganda and torched some German homes in a disputed area with Poland (the Polish corridor) to make it look like they were being oppressed.

But the master stroke of the whole plan was at Gleiwitz, a german radio station, a number of German operatives seized it.. impersonating Poles, broadcast a message to supposed Pole insurgents and a general call to arms against Germany (the actual message is lost, we just have the leader of the op's summary of it, which was basically them saying "fuck germany" a lot in Polish) and ... to make it all that more convincing... they arrested a German dissident, who was known to roll with the poles, killed him (lethal injection) and shot up his body, so he could be one of villains killed during the attack.

"I shall give a propaganda reason for starting the war; whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth." - Hitler, referring to Operation Himmler

Then Germany pretended to be all up in arms about this, outraged. They allowed very limited media access to the contrived scene and then pretended to be the victim. You know, like when you catch your girlfriend out lying and suddently she remembers you said she looked a bit fat in her jeans 2 months ago and suddenly you are sleeping on the couch.... err... anyway, I always liked this little bit of history because it shows that bizzare subterfuge takes place all the time. And Germans are crazy, yo.

Admittedly, nobody really bought this on the (soon to be) allied side and the war with Britain/France still happened when Germany invaded Poland and Germany didnt really change the international image of the war significantly, but still, points for trying guys. If the Germans had won WW2, we would probably be learning about how the Polish incited the whole war in schools RIGHT NOW. Well, those of us still in schools, and if it was time for school and we had a history lesson. Y'know.

"On or about August 10, 1939, the chief of the SD, Heydrich, personally ordered me to simulate an attack on the radio station near Gleiwitz near the Polish border and to make it appear the attacking force consisted of Poles. Heydrich said: "Practical proof is needed for for these attacks on the Poles for the foreign press as well as for German propaganda." - Alfred Naujocks, statement made at Nuremburg Trial

Other nice details, the murdered fake dissident was only captured the day before by Gestapo, they had a number of other potential candidates for the spot prepared at Dachau with usual German efficiency. The candidates for murdering were referred to by the code word "Konserve" which is German for canned goods. Nazis are a bit cold.

The plan was also largely undermined by the fact the German "defensive" response against Poland was so clearly well planned and of such a massive scale it must have taken months to get ready.

Anyway, I will leave you with the words of Adolph...

In my talks with Polish statesmen I discussed the ideas which you recognize from my last speech to the Reichstag. No one could say that this was in any way an inadmissible procedure on undue pressure. I then naturally formulated at last the German proposals, and I must once more repeat that there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposal, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused. Not only were they answered first with mobilization, but with increased terror and pressure against our German compatriots and with a slow strangling of the Free City of Danzig - economically, politically, and in recent weeks by military and transport means.

Poland has directed its attacks against the Free City of Danzig. Moreover, Poland was not prepared to settle the Corridor question in a reasonable way which would be equitable to both parties, and she did not think of keeping her obligations to minorities.

I must here state something definitely; German has kept these obligations; the minorities who live in Germany are not persecuted.

- Reichstag Address, September 1st 1939.

Germans, efficient, masters of subterfuge and media manipulation and total liars. Got to love them.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Tombstone - Fact or Fiction?

There are many great western movies, but the greatest is Tombstone. Oh I know John Wayne movies beautifully illustrate the idea of the old west values against modernism, that Leones pulp flicks are better montages of violence and glorified conflict and there are numerous classics you might think are better... but you'd be wrong, because nobody in that movie is wearing a fake moustache, beating on a guy for hitting a horse or have Doc Holliday played by Val Kilmer quipping wittily before shooting guys.

So, there you go.

There is only one problem with this movie. No, wait two problems. Firstly the movie sort of implies its vaguely historical, starting with a "setting the scene historically" with black and white footage and everything and ending on "and heres what happened after the events of the movie" text. When the movie is absurdly, absurdly fictional.

The second thing is that romance with the actress, talk about gay. Live on room service, blegh. BLEGHHHH. Why must you gay up my mass-murder-with-quips movies, hollywood?

Anyway, I know you are desperate to know how the movie differs from reality, so i'm going to tell you.

Earp as a noble hero and man's man

Wyatt in the movie is a man of honour, he was a respected lawman (everyone is trying to get him to be sherrif) and though he is now out of the game, he eventually cant ignore the ill deeds of "the cowboys" and has to back his brothers, bringing justice back to Tombstone. By shooting loads and loads of people, incidentally I believe he brings hell with him.

He also gets by purely on his intimidating presence and general character as a fearless, son of a bitch.

In reality, Wyatt was a bit wet at times. After his first drink of whiskey, he abstained for 20 years, because it made him ill. Not exactly manly stuff. Though he was a fan of gambling and boxing. Its unclear if he ever travelled with Hell, but it cant be ruled out.

He did serve as a lawman, but he was repeatedly accused of theft, racketeering and horse theft among other things. His guilt in these matters isnt clear, but the repeated charges are a bit suspect.

Earp's biography made a lot of claims about arrests he made, famous people he met and places he was. A lot of which just cant be true according to things like facts. It also paves over the petty crimes he was accused of, doesnt mention his fine for running and being present in a whore house (with his brother Virgil, also in the movie.)

There was also a fine for slapping a prostitute noted for being especially masculine in Dodge. Which just sounds hilarious to me. Anyway, he also made repeated claims to kill people in gun fights he probably didnt, along with lots of other suspect stuff.

The movie seems to just take Wyatt's bio as its source of information, which would be fine only it seems to be a whole bunch of lies. He probably had a chapter on where he invented the rifle, shot a guy with it and then improved it all in one duel. And he no doubt can jump buildings in a single bound and once shot a guy just using his mind. Or maybe just his MOUSTACHE.

The fall out with the cowboys

In the movie, the cowboys are a bunch of evil evil people. They go around shooting up people on their wedding days, then the priests, then presumably the children and small puppies. They are bad. The Earps fall against them due to them being honourable men who cant stand for this sort of evil, damn it man, this town needs some law and order!

From now on I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me you hear! Hell's coming with me!
- Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone

Then Curly Bill, the leader of the cowboys shoots dead the sherrif of the town all hopped up on drugs, which the Earps sort out and are later disgusted to see him get off with the crime. Eventually Virgil institutes a minor offence of carrying weapons, which some of the cowboys disobey, leading to the showdown at the O.K Coral.

Well, actually the Earps initially fell out over some stolen mules. Yeah, they left that out of the movie because a bunch of mule thiefs probably doesnt have the same emotional impact. Then the cowboys committed a bunch of robberies and stuff, which Virgil as lawman had to sort out, there was a long drawn out dispute which ended with the O.K Corral showdown.

Now the movie got the O.K Corral part pretty much right, Doc and Wyatt were deputised, the fight happened in pretty much that fashion (including Ike being allowed to pass as he was unarmed.) Of course the movie glosses over the accusations they shot an unarmed man and their two trials for that, but there you go.

Love Conquers All!

Wyatt in the movie falls in love with the "free spirit" Josie Marcus, which was ok because his wife was a filthy, filthy junkie who was unwilling to live on room service. Yeah, thats pretty much the justification given in the movie for leaving her.

In reality, its unclear wether his wife (who was a former prostitute) was ever a laudanum addict, just that after Wyatt left her to fend her herself she did end up killing herself with the stuff.

Not stellar hero stuff, really, the old "wife killed yourself after you left her" aspect, so sort of ignored in the movie.

The duel between Ringo and Doc

The movie ends with the two perfect shots, dead inside, monsters... Doc and Johnny Ringo, ending it in a duel.

This isnt actually how Johnny Ringo died. A wife of Wyatt Earp claim long, long after the event that Wyatt and Doc did kill Ringo, but in a much less dramatic way, with the fatal shot coming from a distance from Wyatt with a rifle. But that isnt really accepted, no one really knows how he died.

Johnny may be the monster of the movie...

Doc - "A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never steal enough, or kill enough, or cause enough pain to fill it up. And so he walks the earth, forever seeking retribution..."
Wyatt - "For what?"
Doc - "...Being born"

- Tombstone

..But in actuality he was just your run of the mill mean tempered gunslinger type. He is remembered now as a monster because he ran into the self styled heroes The Earps, and is often cast as the villain. Though he apparently did once shoot a guy for getting him a beer instead of a whiskey, but thats just cool.


So the movie portrays the Earps as heroes, the cowboys as moustache twirling villains and makes general events a bit more dramatic. Not really a major sin, they add a murder here and take away a gross act of indecency here, who really minds?

They got the most important thing right, Doc Holliday was one hardcore, pasty killing machine.

That cousin story might be true as well, you know, which is just hot.

Thats right, my analysis is "ahhh it doesnt really matter, Doc Holliday was awesome though, eh" but YOU'VE READ IT NOW, YOU CANT ESCAPE MY NON COMMITAL CONCLUSION! RUE MY INDECISIVE SUMMARIES!

Real quotes and stuff

"There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us boys, I don't think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet, when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced to Doc's account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty." - Virgil Earp, Arizona Daily Star 30/5/1882

"I coughed that out with my lungs, years ago."
- Holliday's purported answer to a question on if his crimes ever affected his conscience.

"Doc was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long lean ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption, and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a gun that I ever knew."
- Wyatt on Doc Holliday, article in 1896

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Duke of Wellington - The Wonder Years

Since 1789 France had been involved in a revolution, what we now refer to as "The French Revolution" which shows a shocking lack of naming fun in my book when we could be calling it "dawn of the decimals" or "rise of the frogs" but there you go.

Of course, quite a few good things came out of the revolution, scientific reasoning applied to society actually helped. The Napoleonic code is a great legal/political system.

Wellesley was sent to Portugal, Britains oldest alley and at the forefront of the action. He reminded his superiors of the importance of Portugal, its terrain making it eminently defendable against aggression and its location tactically awesome for naval combat. Unaware presumably that one day Portugal would spawn Christiano Ronaldo and that in anything it deserved this fate... It was when the war took the offensive that nosey started to shine the most however, in an invasion of the French held Porto. From there he linked up with the Spanish army and met Marshal Victor in combat, giving him a damn good thrashing at the battle of Talavera. You will be familiar with that one because that is where Sharpe took a golden eagle from the french, which may be from a tv show but just as valid historically in my book, because Sharpe is awesome. The elites back home were definitely pleased with that (the victory, not the Sharpe thing) and enobled him Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington.

In modern armies the best you can hope for is a medal or maybe an OBE one day, in those days they were dashing out viscounties and lordships to any man who could take 30,00 men through a French line against the odds, hold an infantry division as its approached by a column and send the old cavalry in a pincer movement and send the enemy running. Now you just bribe the labour party with supposed loans.

Later the war took a turn for the worse, France pitched an invasion of Portugal and the general consensus was "fuck it, they are going to win". But "fuck it they are going to win" isnt in Wellingtons vocabulary, the individual words are obviously since its quite hard to get through a conversation with saying "to" or "it" but as a sentence, meaningless. He was pulling out secret earthworks to make defensive lines, attacking the French on the hop and eventually sent them scurrying back into Spain leaving only a force in Almeda, which was promptly put under siege.

I love the phrase "put under siege" by the way. Its also my preferred euphemism for sex.

n 1812, Wellington finally captured Ciudad Rodrigo, catching the French on the bounce heading back to winter quarters. This was followed by the storming of Badajoz where he apparently broke his composure, the only time he was ever known to do so, nearly weeping at the sight of all the dead.

I know, crying is a bit girly, but when you've liberated spain from Napoleon you will be fit to judge the man. Anyway, war continues, the mans slaughtering french all over the place... he gets bumped up to Earl and then even Marquiss, my favourite title personally, and he is rocking.

Battle of Salamanca, the French made a little mistake in their positioning, he set up his entire strategy on taking advantage of this and giving them a damn good routing. A record victory over a 50k strong force. Salamanca he broke the spanish lines, and got made Field Marshal for it, thats military terms for "big daddy" of a war. It was witnessing his own men break ranks to attack baggage carts for loot that led to his much quoted remarks..

"We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers"

A remark said in an emotional private letter, but given the recruitment of the time not entirely untrue. He was a man who cared for the soldiers, but he knew that unleashed they could be monsters.

He waged war through Spain. His tactical genius came to the front, the only man who could match (and better) Napoleon in that regard. He knew the importance of keeping Spain onside while waging war there, which allowed him to gain the aid and scouting of partisans and bring on side anti-french sentimented parties who had nothing to say for the English. He kept a tight reign on the men, flogging and hangings for those who thought being the army was free reign to rape and murder everytime they took a city. Much like english tourists today in Spain.

The war went well, the Peninisular War was a victory and Napoleon having failed abdicated, defeated. Wellington returned home, where he was given the title we know him by now, Duke. Hailed as the conquering hero.

But Napoleon, much like the villain in any decent cartoon, always has a secret tunnel or escape hatch. He came back from Elba, retook France and began the final stage of what would be known as the Napoleonic wars, culimating in a battle in a place called Waterloo.

Now Waterloo is one of the most examined battles in history, the French were outnumbered but always dangerous and to be fair, on a sheer numbers sheet, you could call it more a German victory than an English one... especially given the importance of the Prussians in waylaying a large chunk of the force meant for the main battle on the flank. But It was Wellingtons final hour, he dictated a beautiful final battle against one of the greatest military leaders their ever was and gave old boney a damn good thrashing and his final defeat.

I leave you with this famous poem from the time, which I think describes the battle better than any boring blow by blow tactical account...

My my, at waterloo napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - finally facing my waterloo

My my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you

And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - finally facing my waterloo

Man, those classic poems are so much more beautiful than the trash they come up with these days. Lets see Carol Anne Duffy come up with something like that.

Nosey went onto politics after his military days, and to be a right wing PM of some success. His politics are a little stodgy by modern standards and he wasnt entirely suited to politics but he served well enough.

A great man, an awesome Brit and one hard mofo.

FUN WELLINGTON FACT - The title "Iron Duke" actually came from his policy of having iron shutters at his house during his politics day, to prevent window breaking from upstart proles, not from his military days.

FUN WELLINGTON IMAGINARY FACT - He was made almost entirely of Jelly. Making his military victories all the more impressive.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Duke of Wellington - The Early Years

The Iron Duke, old nosey, or as the spanish named him "The Eagle". One of the undeniable greatest generals of all time and not a terrible Prime Minister, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley.

The Duke was born in Ireland. To one of the english aristocratic families who owned all the land over there back then, there is a famous quote he supposedly used when questioned on "being irish" which went;

If a gentleman happens to be born in a stable, it does not follow that he should be called a horse.

Actually the earliest source of that quote is attributed to someone else speaking about him, so if it took place at all he was probably quoting someone else. Its still a pretty awesome quote though and I had to work it in somewhere. Horse. Heh.

Anyway, Nosey was an average student and a middle son and not supposed to have any great destiny. His mother referred to him as listless and a worry, but when he attended the French Royal Academy his academic skills finally come to the front. And he picked up horse riding and French, something that would come to be of use later when he spent his time riding around killing the French.

6 foot 20,
weighed a fucking ton

- Totally a real poem about the Duke

He signed up to the army, as Ensign, the lowest commissioned rank for a gentlemen and was bumped up to Lieutenant by the end of the year. He was stationed in his native Ireland, mostly training, attending balls and giving advice and so forth. Nothing terribly exciting.

He did fall in love with Kitty Pakenham, eventually decided to make the appropriate approach to engagement. Which meant attaining the families permission, because back then in the good old days women were pretty much commodities. Her brother denied his request, thinking he had little prospects.

In a fit of rage he burnt all his violins. No really, he burnt all his violins. He was an aspiring musician apparently, so that wasnt as random and emo as it seemed, and decided to dedicate his life to military glory. I like to picture him, sitting by his bonfire of classical musical instruments, glass of wine in his hand, cold daggers in his heart and steely look in his eyes... damning the world. If they ever make a modern biopic of Nosey that scene better be in there.

He bought his way up the ranks a bit, which was how it was done back then. If you wanted to see action you paid for it most of the time. He got his first call to action, Flanders, an unsuccessful campaign to invade France. Thats right, sometimes they dont just surrender and get started buffing your shoes ten minutes in.

It wasnt exactly steeped in glory, he got a bit ill and didnt distinguish himself greatly, though he rose in the ranks a little to command a brigade. He learnt a few valuable lessons, the importance of maintaining a steady rate of fire and holding the line, how naval support can change a battle and so on. It was the start of his own personal style and what ended up making him a great general, his keen understanding of defensive lines. That and realising the men are "the very scum of the earth" and keeping them flogged and hung to keep them in line. Old school militarism, try that these days and they would be on the phone to the union in a shot.

"At least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson."
- On the Netherlands campaign

He was given a chance to go into politics more seriously, which he turned down to set sail to Calcutta. It was in India he started to show his promise better, he worked carefully on logistic preparation for his battles. Showed a keen understanding of terrain, an idea a lot of officers of the time didnt fully grasp/use and his most important feature, he understood the importance of discipline in the troops.

He went on to Seringapatam, other parts of Asia, generally killing and conquering his way as he went. In a dignified English sort of way, obviously. As governor of Seringapatam he was forced to hunt down and kill a mercenary king called Dhundia, but like a gentlemen, made provisions for his orphaned children.

Oh yes, he will kill you, but your kids will learn to read and eat well. That is how he rolls.

Anyway, he went on to be a major commander in the Maratha war. Basically being instrumental in bringing the country to its knees, but taking his heaviest losses to date... over 1,500 in one battle. While the battle was a victory, this had a profound effect on the man.

"I should not like to see again such loss as I sustained on the 23rd September, even if attended by such gain"
- On the Battle of Assaye

Wellesley went back to England. A general, fairly rich and made a knight of Bath. His violin burning emo days behind him, the Pakenhams were soon on the... messenger or whatever they used before phones... pointing out if he still wanted to marry Kitty, that would be fine now. Probably dusting his jacket when he came round and constantly offering to get him stuff, man was going places. And he did, marry her that is as well as go places.

After some minor military expeditions and further forays into politics, the Peninsular war came. The French revolution had come under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest military leaders of all time despite being short, and dude had plans.

I know, its hard to believe France was actually the bad asses of the world once. But really, it happened.

And only one man stood in Boney's way.

Well, actually quite a few people stood in his way, you know, but it would be Wellington who was key to defeating France and Napoleon, garnering Spanish and Portuguese support and dragging his "Scum of the Earth" English soldiers to victory.

And obviously, it would be around this time he commissioned one of the more forgotten heros of the Napoleonics. The working class hero who took nothing from no one and pulled himself up for the ranks. Richard Sharpe.


Friday, 27 June 2008

Heart of Oak

More on our "obscure old fashioned songs I like" section, Heart of Oak. Its an 18th century "marching to battle" sort of song, which is still sung today apparently. But only in the navy, presumably, since singing hearty war shanties tends to give away your position to islamic extremists.

It was originally an opera, apparently, so a lot of words had to be filled in by soldiers themselves to get this version. Apparently I have completely misjudged soldiers as none of the verses feature "raping hot chicks in places you just conquered" or "this one time i totally shot this dude and it was awesome" and are quite in keeping with the general theme.

Come cheer up, my lads! 'tis to glory we steer,

To add something more to this wonderful year;

To honour we call you, not press you like slaves,

For who are so free as the sons of the waves?


Heart of oak are our ships, heart of oak are our men;

We always are ready, steady, boys, steady!

We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again.

We ne'er see our foes but we wish them to stay,

They never see us but they wish us away;

If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,

For if they won't fight us, we cannot do more.


They swear they'll invade us, these terrible foes,

They frighten our women, our children, and beaus;

But should their flat bottoms in darkness get o'er,

Still Britons they'll find to receive them on shore.


We'll still make them fear, and we'll still make them flee,

And drub 'em on shore, as we've drubb'd 'em at sea;

Then cheer up, my lads! with one heart let us sing:

Our soldiers, our sailors, our statesmen and Queen.


Think about it man, who is as free as the sons of the waves? No one, my friend, no one.

Apparently Canada has its own version, adopted from the British. I dont know how that works exactly, since I am pretty sure they are not sons of the waves at all. Maybe they substitute "snow" or "mooses" or something.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Benito Mussolini - The Early Years

Benito Mussolini. An often forgotten man, despite inventing the whole 20th century dictatorship fad and rocking Italy with his insane, often made up, crazy nationalist policies. Sadly, he will always be remembered as the "Pinky" to Hitler's "Brain".

Mussolini was a modest working class lad, with an activist father (who was also a blacksmith, the manliest profession) and a catholic mother. He was sent to a Catholic school run by monks, where he acted out a lot... his trangressions included throwing rocks at people leaving the church after mass, stabbing a fellow student and throwing an inkpot at a teacher. As well as the usual fighting and rough housing, basically he would fit into the modern British school system perfectly.

FUN FASCISM FACT - Mussolini's economic policy was "corporatism" his "third way". A bold new idea where the corporations, workers and government sit around a table and settle everything. Interesting, mostly in the sense that it was madness, it was never really used properly. Businesses with any sway did what they wanted, the rest did what the Fascists wanted. But people couldnt complain, because they got to go to the meetings.

He did change schools to a non-catholic one and did better, qualifying as a school master. I think that just means a teacher, only you get to cane people and pretend you are a Dr Who villain.

FUN FASCISM FACT - One of Mussolini's ten principals of Fascism included "Mussolini is always right", Italians didnt feel the need to hide behind complex party rhetoric like the Germans, just do what I say bitch.

He went to Switzerland for a while, was a general vagrant for a while (you notice evil dictators are always vagrants for a while first, possible solution to future holocausts... kill all vagrants) and eventually get deported back to Italy and forced into military service.

He followed his fathers footsteps into political extremism and even wrote a novel. Unlike Hitler's crazy ranting about boxing and living space, this isnt well read, mostly because it was totally dull. Just politics and general musing about Italy, like a real book on politics, only worse. He was the editor of a socialist newspaper (like an Italian socialist worker or the Guardian) so was being a general lefty. Which was the thing back then. Communism actually seemed a valid move back then, not just something students in berets like to moan on about despite being rich little middle class brats. And seriously, berets? Grow up, Chris from my college politics class.

Fun Fascism Fact - Mussolini was the only person to sucessfully crush the Mafia in Sicily or at least mildly disrupt it. Admittedly, his method was essentially arrest everyone who was male and able to walk on the Island.

Then WW1 came. Mussolini was called up, had an unblemished but not terribly exciting tour. He was possibly kept from advancing much due to his pinko leanings. He was sick a bunch and eventually caught 40 shards from a mortar bomb. Which sounds pretty terrible, but back in WW1 all the other guys in the hospital would have been "in the hospital, for 40 shards? I got shot by an entire German batallion and you dont hear me complaining and lying around" because, well, it was pretty horrible.

When he came back from the war, he had an exciting new concept. Socialism had failed, he thought, what we need is a new philisophy. One that shows the strength of socialism and its direct rule, but with a new approach to economics and property.

He came up with something he called Fascismo.

FUN FASCISM FACT - One of the minor parties wrapped up into the Fascists wake was the futurists. Dont remember them? They were the guys who wanted to build aluminium trains and ban pasta. Not every revolutionary party is a winner.

It was the polar opposite to socialism in many ways, it was formed from war vets and the idea of nationalism. It appealed to the establishment, it wasnt a "subersive pinko" party planning the downfall of the state and secret communist take over from Russia, it was all about Italy. They said so, a lot.

But it still held socialist economic ideas, minimum wage, supporting the unions. And more crazy socialist ideas, like votes for women.

FUN FASCISM FACT - Mussolini really did leave the light on in his office to give the impression he was "at work all night" for the good of Italy. Im not sure who this reflects the most poorly on, him or the people of Italy.

They made constant references to Rome and former Italian glory. It was a party of revolution to the working classes and tradition to the bourgeois, at a rought time it promised people a new economic model (it wasnt clear WHAT that was exactly, but they had a lot of promises.) They sold people on the idea of fascism, that it was bold, new... exciting.

Mussolini established his "blackshirt" army, war vets and eager youths, who went out on to the streets and had them "breaking up" and generally breaking communists, anarchists and the like. They were providing law and order, some thought, and popularity of the party grew. Hitler would garner his early support in the exact same way, the rough hand keeping the cities safe.

In 1921 the party had grew to the extent in could establish itself as a "National Fascist Party" in Rome and Mussolini himself was elected to the chamber of deputies.

FUN FASCISM FACT - Under Fascism Italy won 2 world cups and had a heavyweight boxing world champion... back when the title meant something. Im not saying Fascism gives you sporting success, but come on, I know who I am voting for next election if we dont at least make it to a semi final next run out.

Several failed attempts to form government, from the various coalitions of left wing parties and right wing parties, happened. Eventually the Church's unofficial party decided to step down entirely. This left a big gap in the right wing side, the government was essentially going to be left wing... the King stepped in and decided to offer power to the fascists. Better the slightly weird right wingers than those damn dirty socialists.

Good call, guys.

Fascism was afoot!

FINAL FUN FASCISM FACT - You could make a reasonable argument that by abandoning their part in the political process, the Catholic Church led directly to the rise of Fascism, and therefore Hitler's similar acheivement. So really, when you get down to it, the holocaust. Its best not to argue this in Church though, because everyone is all "quiten down, we are trying to listen to the sermon" and you get thrown out before the free wine.

Papal Arms

The official arms of Pope Benedict XVI. I was just surfing random coats of arms, as you do, I just liked this one. Every Pope gets a coat of arms and gets to pick his own. Its one of the perks, along with free hats and 5 free murders.

The scallop shell represents a story about Saint Augustine that goes;

A boy was using a shell to pour seawater into a little hole. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I am emptying the sea into this hole." Thus did Augustine understand that man would never penetrate to the depths of the mystery of God.

Im not sure I would get that from that reply, i'd probably just think "stupid kid" but I am not Saint Augustine. The shell also means Baptism and Pilgrim as well, apparently. I am not totally down on my Catholic image recognition, but I now know its shell = pilgrim, cross = jesus dying and monkey slipping on a banana = hilarity.

The black dude is a "moor's head" a symbol of where he is from. Nobody knows why its a symbol of Freising in Germany, it just is. Random black guys just sum that town up, apparently. That is how they roll, in a Moorish fashion.

The bear sadly does not represent a time he once totally killed a bear using just his hat... but an equally cool story;

A legend states that while traveling to Rome, Saint Corbinian's pack horse was killed by a bear. He commanded the bear to carry the load. Once he arrived, he released it from his service, and it returned to Bavaria. The implication is that "Christianity tamed and domesticated the ferocity of paganism and thus laid the foundations for a great civilization in the Duchy of Bavaria." At the same time, Corbinian's bear, as God's beast of burden, symbolizes the weight of office that Benedict now carries.

I like the superpower of commandeering random bears into your service. I bet the dude was knee deep in bear butlers and bear waiters. And you havent really lived till you've made a bear cook you dinner.

I assume the whole colour scheme represents a general lack of style and taste typical to Germans.

This is my coat of arms review in full.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Agincourt Addendum

15th century carol about the battle. Back when folk music was cool and not just for beardos and middle aged virgins.

Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria!

Owre Kynge went forth to Normandy
With grace and myght of chyvalry
Ther God for hym wrought mervelusly;
Wherefore Englonde may call and cry

Deo gratias:
Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria.

He sette sege, forsothe to say,
To Harflu towne with ryal aray;
That toune he wan and made afray
That Fraunce shal rewe tyl domesday.


Then went hym forth, owre king comely,
In Agincourt feld he faught manly;
Throw grace of God most marvelsuly,
He had both feld and victory.


Ther lordys, erles and barone
Were slayne and taken and that full soon,
Ans summe were broght into Lundone
With joye and blisse and gret renone.


Almighty God he keep owre kynge,
His peple, and alle his well-wyllynge,
And give them grace wythoute endyng;
Then may we call and savely syng:

Final Chorus

Im pretty sure you sing it to the tune of "Mighty Mouse".

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Most tragically Inept Wars (Battle Edition)

Agincourt. Probably the most famous battle in English history, not because of its significance (which it was) or its political/historical ramifications (lots of those, actually) but because we killed a lot of the French and lost very few of our own troops. Its what a military historian would refer to as a "right proper roasting of the frenchies" then he'd laugh and spill his pipe.

This was technically part of the Hundred Years war, which was less a war and more England and France fighting each other over bits of France for a very long time before the English went home and France declared victory. France often declares victory when people stop invading them, that is probably the origin of the French word victory and our usage of it for actually winning battles is inaccurate.

Henry V was in charge of the English at the time, literally in charge and present at the battle, this was back when being King meant being around at the battles and giving rousing speeches to your men. Admittedly, giving rousing speeches to the nobles you have appointed to be in charge of your men, but that marching up and down the lines and shouting freedom stuff from Braveheart wouldnt actually work in real battles because thousands of people cant hear all that, especially when you are riding up and down the lines, even if you are at the front you are only catching parts of the speech. You will know Henry V, he is the second most famous Henry despite having the best Shakespeare plan.

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Some French noble was in charge of the French since Charles VI of france was a bit poorly at the time. He was Charles d'Albret. I dont know anything about him apart from him he had trouble reigning in the nobles he was supposed to be commanding and blamed them for his loss. So I will make him up a backstory, he was an avid stamp collector and ... lets say he had a girlfriend, called Jean. They got married in a stamp themed wedding, she dressed as the penny black. I will edit wikipedia to make that true later.

Now, Henry was invading France for various reasons. Mostly he wanted bits of France, that he considered his, this was a good enough reason to invade places back then. The French werent having this, because they used to actually put up a bit of a fight when they were invaded back then. And they were doing quite well. Henry was trying to get back to (English) Calais and the French were about to do them in.

Essentially the English had been marching 3 weeks, were battle weary on top of that, the weather was piss poor and they were generally not happy. They got caught out by a larger French force designed to finish them off. There was a little negotiation and the French initially refused to fight, basically hoping to make their massive force even bigger with expected reinforcements so as to make it more of a whitewash. Henry, being no fool, pushed the issue and knew his best chance was to fight his way through to Calais and hope for the best. But he still had to fight defensively, his force being largely bowmen, so he took a calculated risk and moved his defensive line forward to push the French into attacking.

The English were pretty sure they were done for. Accounts we have consist of lots of talk of people talking about imminent death and trying to cleanse their souls for the judgement day they were about to face. According to French accounts, Henry gave a speech to his nobles reassuring them they would be most likely captured not killed by the French (since the ransoming of nobles was a common practice back then and a way to fund further battles) but reminded the common soldiers no one would be capturing them so to be sure to fight for their lives.

So it started. The battleground was a narrow strip of land between two woods (that of Agincourt and Tramecourt.) There is a whole field of history dedicated to working out how battles are fought, its very complex and involved gauging common battle strategies, logical strategies and then assimilating them with all accounts of a battle to garner how it was most likely waged. Basically, guessing and stuff.

But we can imagine, having 900 or so soldiers and 5,000 bowmen, Henry set up some sort of defensive line of soldiers and held his bowmen behind/around them. And would lay his forces from one side of the field to the other, so he couldnt be flanked. And helpfully forcing an attacking force into narrowing his force to actually strike at you.

France had knights, cavalry, general soldiers and crossbow men. How big their force was isnt entirely clearly, conventional wisdom is around 36,000. But there is some lack of clarity on who went home when and how many reinforcements they actually received. But few (sane) historians put them at anything less than 3 times the size of the English force, most at 6 times the size.

France's best hope for quick decisive victory was an early Cavalry charge, breaking the line and then easy to kill the bowmen, who wouldnt be much of a match for mounted men. They didnt do this. By the time they had got a charge going, the bowmen were all in place and let rip. The horses not being armoured on the body didnt take kindly to arrows being shoved in them, lots of them just fled, ripping open the French lines and trampling people to death on their way to safety. Even horses dont like the French.

The French soldiers started to move in. The problem with being heavily armoured soldiers is you are wearing really heavy armour. You slog your way down the battlefield, you are getting pelted with arrows and when you reach the enemy line you are knee deep in mud, so closely packed in due to your bigger numbers you have difficulty actually weilding your weapons... and the bowmen, who dont wear armour and have handy weapons like hatchets, can generally cut you up before you can raise a sword.

Pretty much everything went wrong for the French. Knights drown in their armour due to the rain, there are even reports of guys being struck by lightning. If true, it would be pretty awesome to think even God was on Englands side in this one.

"One of the best anecdotes of the battle involves Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry V's youngest brother. According to the story, Henry, upon hearing that his brother had been wounded in the abdomen, took his household guard and cut a path through the French, standing over his brother and beating back waves of soldiers until Humphrey could be dragged to safety."

The only successful French manoeuver in the whole battle was the attack of the baggage train. Unprotected, they managed to slaughter the paige boys defending the kings personal possessions. Thats right, the only saving grace for the French was they killed a bunch of kids to steal the Kings underwear and engraved pipe. Taking a thousand strong force to do it. Score, guys, score.

The French really went wrong in a few ways. They had no unified command, the nobles each controlling their divisions individually and so without thought to an organised strategy. Reports suggest they ignored the bowmen to attack English nobles, thinking of ransom money and not the practicalities of winning a battle. And obviously, by being French.

The battle took most of the day, the French left the field in disgrace. The next day the casualties were counted up. Any surviving French on the field were killed (considered a merciful thing to do back then.)

The most common estimate puts the English losses at 450. At least 112 died in the battle, so that doesnt seem that inaccurate. Its nearly impossible to guess the French losses at anything but "thousands". Thousands, people, thousands. This is one of the biggest white washes in military history.

Lesson learnt from this battle? If you outnumber the English 6-1 and with heavier, better equipped forces... you better just surrender now, because that is nowhere near enough.

After this Henry V went on to be recognised as the regent of France and given a princess to marry to make it solid. Those were the days, my friend, you take a few thousand people on holiday, kill enough guys and people give you their country and a princess.

Henry V, bad ass, star and princess collector.

FUN HISTORICAL FACT - This is the battle cited by many as showing the superiority of the Long Bow. Odd, since the long bow is totally useless against armoured forces. The main advantage of the archers was their ability to join the melee so quickly and take advantage of the conditions and slow moving armoured forces.

FUN HISTORICAL FACT - Henry V was a total bad ass.

FUN HISTORICAL FACT - If it wasnt a freshly ploughed field and raining quite heavily, it would have went entirely the other way and quite quickly since the French could have used their armoured and mounted forces much easier. Further proof, God favours the English.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Vidkun Quisling

More about everyones favourite traitor Vidkun Quisling. I mean. sure, Americans all vote for Benedict Arnold in the polls but does anyone say "what an arnold?"... no my friend, they do not. And thats because he is no Quisling. And you can all say "Judas betrayed Jesus, he is totally a more awesome traitor" but Judas recanted my friends, do you want the number one traitor to be a guy who doesnt even have the reliability to keep up his treachery to the bitter end? That is a quitter, not a traitor.

Vidkun is Norweigan, which you will all know already because he has a funny name. All Norweigans have funny names. He was born of some upper crust Norweigan family, the Quisling name was like Windsor or Kennedy or some famous family from where you are from. They were posh basically, they were probably related to people who famously died in wars or invented books or stuff. I dont really know, whatever Norweigans invented. His father was a pastor, so thats a good start and his mother was an academically respected genealogist. Im not entirely sure what that is, but she probably bred super monsters of some kind.

He was a soldier and went on to work in Russia during the hard years of early communism, helping with Fridtjof Nansen and his efforts. Nansen is the guy who invented the Nansen passport, which was pretty important for letting refugees get through borders and stop being forced to march out of countries until they died. So a pretty good guy.

Quisling then went into politics and his heights in that field went up to serving as defence minister for the centre party. Its not really called that, its called something Norweigan but I cant remember everything, it was something norweigan and I dont have any books at work with me. It was basically a none ideological party that favoured decentralisation, which was ironic given Quislings future views.

In 1933 Hitler had seized power and Fascist Italy had been running along smoothly (or so they presented themselves to the world) since '26. Quisling found the tenous ideology of fascism, especially as expanded upon by Hitler in his book and party broadcasts.

Weirdly, this wasnt that odd at the time. Fascism was feared and a cause for concern to many and the more savvy saw imminent danger, but there was also a school of thought that perhaps it was a politically viable move forward. This was an europe that was just coming out of the idea of absolute Monarchy, it wasnt a massive leap for some.

Anyway, he decided, why not me? Im like Hitler, only not rocking the charlie chan look or having written a popular book or having any of his acheivements or force of personality, I will start my own party on his principals and people will elect me outright Fuhrer. Even if Hitler never managed that and had to circumvent his way in through parliament and then archchancellor'ness.

So he did! He started his own fascist party in may of 33, the Nasjonal Samling (National Unity) one of main tenets of which was his own appointment as Forer (thats Norweigan for leader/fuhrer, but with a funny line through the O, but I dont know how to write those so you will have to imagine that bit) along the lines of the fuhrer prinzip... which was Hitlers tenous explanation for his system of government, a sort of supposed military structure to civilian posts.

It wasnt a big success. In the later 33 election the "vote me to rule you with an iron fist, I AM AWESOME" party got 2%. Mostly farmers (a parallel to Hitler who was big with farmers, damn you evil farmers, why are you so evil?)and some support from the Church, the former due to Quisling having some links with farming communities due to previous political work with them.

Deciding that only having a few months to prepare for that election, it was time to build on that success and really throw pro-nazi and anti-semitism stuff into his party message, really give the people what they want.

Weirdly, people didnt want to hate jews or to side with a scary foreign power with a scary new government. Election results were worse this time. People lost interest and the party went on, but it became about 2 thousand hardcore members. Pretty much the guys really into hating jews and hanging pictures of Hitler on their wall.

Quisling didnt let this hold him back. As the war started, he visited Hitler and assured him repeatedly he could set up a pro fascism government and side with Germany in the war. Hitler wasnt even keen on the idea, possibly seeing that Quisling was about as dynamic and likely to succeed in his goals as a Sloth.

But Hitler's war plans did come to include Norway, with his usual shaky pretexts he invaded in April 9th 1940. Quisling seeing this as his chance had made arrangements (the extent of which arent clear, but apparently Hitler was willing to allow him to form government and have the pretense of power under fascist ideas.) The key being the capturing of King Haakon the Awesome so he could pass power to this new government and maintain a sense of stability to avoid outright rebellion and a messy time consuming war for the Germans.

Quisling though, in a brilliant move, couldnt keep his excitement down and broadcast to the nation that he was now forming a new government, under his control. He announced he was the new prime minister and ordered a stop to all resistance. One slight flaw in all that, he was not the new prime minister yet.

When Haakon skipped the country and refused to empower him, as did the government empowered before he left, this totally undermined any chance he had of that happening and made him a bit of a joke since he could now not become prime minister legitmately. The Germans sighed at him a lot and gave him dirty, superior looks. Saying "Its always the Norweigan that messes up our plans" in German when he is in the room.

Reluctantly and pissed at him, the Germans did eventually place him into power in 1942, though under the German commissioner in charge of Norway and without the neccesary endorsement from the King. To reinforce this total botch up and Quislings part in it... and just to piss him off I think... Terboven (the reichskommisar) placed him as head of Norweigan government with the imaginary title "Minister President" rather than PM. February 1st 1942.

His party had assumed most important government positions not being run directly by the Nazis. All other parties were banned.

He failed to get any serious or respected government figure to take part in the new government under his Unity party. Which was now somewhat ironically named.

He helped establish and encouraged recruitment calls for a Norweigan SS unit. He loved the idea of nordic racial supremacy, you'd think his mother could have probably explained the flaws in those ideas but go figure. He was full of zeal, happily signing the execution of resistance members.

He was generally a total dick. He assisted and helped lay the logistic infrastructure for the deporting of Norweigan jews. Which was the big one that came up in trials later.

He even tried to be more insane and evil than was actually wanted. When stringent German regulations were sent down he would come up with more stringent ones on his own. Reasoning that they should be working harder for the new masters, he volunteered Norway for everything going. He tried to submit a plan that Norweigan citizens be used as cannon fodder and literal shields for tanks and machinery, something totally unworkable and dismissed by german forces, but still amazing someone could acheive.

In actuality, beyond wacky ideas, Quisling wasnt even a good puppet leader. In his early political days he realised he didnt have much character or force of personality and had started representing his views in writing more than anything. Since he wasnt in a position to make doctrine anymore, this was a bit of a pointless skill. And he had counted on an acceptance from the Germans that never came, they were angry at his early blunders and always kept him at arms length. His dreams of ruling came only in name. You could feel sorry for him, but you know, crazy fascist jerk.

Of course, the war didnt quite go so well for the master race. After Britain won the war, with some other guys or something, the tide turned in Norway. Despite being the most occupied German war territory the forces didnt put up much resistance and Quisling was arrested. Tried for treason and executed.

The Norweigan government had no death penalty statute, however one of their first acts when regaining legitmate power after the war was introduce it in preparation for the coming war trials. They put aside years of right to life beliefs because hey, some people just deserve to be shot.

And Vidkun Quisling was definitely one of them.

FUN QUISLING FACT - The use of Quisling as a phrase for traitor came about right as he came to power, coined by the times addressing an article "To Quislings everywhere" and getting a massive positive response to the phrasing. It is used in many european languages as well as English.

FUN QUISLING FACT - He called his house "Gimle" a reference to the place where the survivors of Ragnarok were to live. The sort of douche'y reference the nazis who were into pseudo scandivanian mythology would love. It is now renamed Villa Grande, because seriously, fuck that guy.

FUN QUISLING FACT - One of the anti quisling/nazi resistance movements used to wear a paper clip on their lapels to recognise each other, which is believed to be a Norweigan invention, as a mark of a true believer. That's unbelievably lame and those guys still totally kicked Quisling's ass.

FUN QUISLING FACT - Quisling believed in his own philisophy, he coined Universalism a mixture of various beliefs of christianity and his own views. Why do the crazy ones always want to start religions?

FUN QUISLING FACT - He was given a CBE by the British government for his early good works. After the nazi evil leader stuff it was quickly revoked. Where did it all go wrong Quisling?

Oh right, the nazi thing.

FUN FARMER FACT - All farmers are evil.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Christmas Tree

Did you know Norway gives a Xmas tree to Britain, every year since 1947. It stands by Nelson's column in Trafalgar square.

This isnt like the Hong Kong thing, a hold over from when we killed them for not taking our drugs, its a symbol of gratitude. For fighting the war that ultimately led to their liberation from the nazis, for allowing King Haakon (their monarch) to remain in Britain in exile until his triumphant return after the war.

King Haakon is a man who isnt as well known as he should be, not just due to his awesome name. It could clearly be the name of some sort of renegade jedi smuggler in Star Wars and you wouldnt think twice about it.

And he was the bad ass renegade jedi smuggler of his time. Well, the upper class well bred monarch kind of jedi smuggler. When the Germans invaded Norway, the Norweigans didnt lie down and take it, oh no, that isnt how Norway rolls. They fought off the initial Naval assault as long as they could, even bagging an enemy ship in the process. Giving time to rush away the Royal Family, The Cabinet and the bulk of Parliament out of the about to be occupied Oslo.

Now these guys were the ruling powers of Norway. On the run from a massive German invasion force. What did they do? They stopped a little outside the city to form an official meeting THE SAME DAY. Someone pointed out the Germans were pretty close, maybe leave the official government procedure for a few hours. This was generally accepted and thats just what they did. At Elverum, happy the Germans werent about the kill them all for ten minutes or so, they formed an orderly meeting.

They formed an orderly meeting. While fleeing a hostile invasion force targetting them personally! They decided to temporarily allow cabinet the full power of government to make decisions, since all of Parliament wasnt there and it might slow things down a bit to put decisions to Parlimentary debate, this was decided to be the best course. They were laying out a procedures of power policy as the third reich was hunting them down.

Now the Germans had a fairly simple Modus Operandi when it came to invading countries with an established workable set up. Establish a military presence, put down military resistance, meet with the Monarch or ruling government organisation (Norway was a monarchy so power to appoint government ultimately lied with the king if power lied with the government) and pretty much explain to him once he is in a room with a lot of scary chaps that he is going to appoint some Nazi sympathiser to rule over them, to give the Nazis a vague sense of legitimacy in their rule by having locals in charge. Just the crazy, evil locals.

So they set up the meeting with Haakon. "Yo, listen up Haak, you know whats doing down, bro. We are here, we are going to mess you guys up unless you completely surrender your freedom and give up your dignity by appointing some douche (in this case Quisling, a total douche that actually tried to set up a nazi fan boy party and was ignored by Hitler for being a dork, seriously) and you best recognise, dawg". Thats how I imagined the Nazis spoke, anyway, only in German obviously.

Haakon went to his government with this "proposal" of being told what to do by Quisling the dork but really the Nazis, so they could make their call. Did he quietly accept defeat? Make the best of a bad situation? No, he told them "Fuck Germany". Actually he said...

"For my part I cannot accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago"

.. but he is a king and thats as close as they get to telling someone to fuck off.

Touched by his majesty's balls' of steel, the government decided, why not? They phoned the Germans and actually refused their request. They phoned an invading army, that was about to crush them and was essentially giving them an illusion of a choice, where to stick it.

Trying to avoid capture so his title would not be misused Haakon headed off north. Eventually being picked up by the British, who gave him safe passage to Britain.

This pissed the Germans off further of course, they started demanding the government make the dude abdicate so they could get someone who WOULD do what he was told and break the spirit of the loyalists. The government, still jonesing off his complete bad ass attitude and jedi like spirit, just refused. They were getting good at it now. I like to imagine they were also laughing at the nazis and throwing paper airplanes around during the meetings at this point as a really uptight German guy kept demanding respect.

Eventually the German, showing why they were the bad guys in this war, threatened to intern the majority of the population of the country if they didnt demand his abdication. The government reluctantly accepted this one, because hey, you can push the Germans so far but they are crazy. So they sent him a letter, asking for his resignation.

He sent a reply, polite and pithy, pointing out that this was clearly a letter sent under duress so "no" he wouldnt. Just that, a polite no.

Of course the Nazis (Josef Terboven was the guy in charge at this point and was becoming a little stressed) had to declare the King had lost his right to rule, dissolved the democractic powers and lost any vague claim to legitimacy he had. The Norweigans continued to resist where they could, they wore badges to mark and honour their lost but not beaten king... and his spirit of rebellion.... They certainly had some of the most dedicated and well planned resistance movements. Basically, they figure if their king wasnt going to let the Germans get what they want, why the hell should they?

When Britain (and a couple of other countries I think?) defeated Germany ending the war, there was still a large number of German troops in Norway. It was a tense moment, would they fight their way out, try to establish a mini state, or just ransack the place? Of course not, they had put up with Norway dogging their every move for years, they didnt want to fight those crazy bastards again. It did take a few months to intern them, switch from the now illegal civilian nazi placed government and back into Norway as it was. The King finally came home 7th June 1945 to get started on that.

So they give us a xmas tree for looking after their king and helping liberate them from the Germans (note to other countries, we have a lot of space, if you also wanted to send us trees.)

But who gives them a tree, for being awesome?

Fun Fact I didnt fit in the post - Quisling constantly tried to volunteer Norweigan citizens as cannon fodder to save German troops from early volleys in combat. An idea so impractical and so insane the Germans constantly turned him down. Something too insane and evil for NAZIS. He was trying to LITERALLY sell his own people for brownie points.

Why Quisling now means "traitor" and not as would be more appropriate "complete asshat" is a hotly discussed eytmological topic.