Monday, November 18, 2013

Positive aspects of the First World War

Despite the undoubted tragedy of World War One, there were some more positive developments, such as leaving a legacy which sought to avoid future war. There were also glimpses that amidst the carnage and unnecessary slaughter, humanity can still retain a certain dignity and aspiration for higher ideals.

These are some of the positive aspects of the First World War

League of Nations

The First World War was a colossal failure of the pre-war 'balance of power' theory. Given the war, Woodrow Wilson envisaged that in the future conflicts could be settled through diplomacy and an international organisation devoted to global peace. The League of Nations came into being at the end of the war with the aim of preventing future war. Many consider it to be a failure because it didn't prevent the Second World War; it was also severely weakened by major countries, like the US, not joining. But, it was important from a symbolic point of view. It raised the ideal of international co-operation and was the forerunner of the United Nations.

Fourteen points of Woodrow Wilson

As well as the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson sought to promote a just peace, through his idealistic 14 points. This included the right of nations to self-determination and an end to Empire building. Wilson's idealism was severely curtailed by other allies, who were less forgiving and unwilling to give up their Empires. But, the ideal of self-determination has increasingly become an important idea throughout the Twentieth Century.

Greater acceptance of women

Before the war, the suffragette movement had largely failed to convince society that women should play an active role in society. The war gave an opportunity for women to take on previously men-only jobs. The war proved a significant factor in giving women the vote in 1919 and helped change social attitudes towards women forever.

Greater respect for workers

In the First World War, the industrial battle was as important as the actual fighting. Countries gave greater importance to the welfare of munitions workers, trade unions gained in acceptance. In the First World War ironically led to several gains for the poorest in society. When landlords pushed up rents, there was a popular backlash against the war profiteers. Lloyd George personally intervened and promised rents would be regulated by the government. The first rent control act was implemented in the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act of 1915. It was supposed to be temporary, but in 1920, the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920 was passed.

Fraternising with the enemy

From a political perspective, countries became implacable enemies. But, to the soldiers in the trenches, they often saw the human kinship with their fellow soldiers. The Christmas truce of the First World War is tragically poignant in showing how the two sides could fraternise and seek a personal friendship, despite their military orders to kill others. The Christmas truce wasn't just an isolated incident. This respect for the individual soldier on the other side could sometimes be seen on many fronts. In Gallipoli, the allied troops came to respect the courage and honour of their Turkey counterpart.
"there was no bitterness at all. There's many a German who helped our wounded people down the communication trenches, even carried them down. There was no hatred between the forces. Although we were shooting at one another."
- Private Harold Startin, Forgotten Voices of the Somme' - Joshua Levine.
"You didn't hate them as individuals, no, no, you felt sorry for them."
- Corporal Wilfred Woods Forgotten voices of the Somme - Joshua Levine. Many soldiers on both sides developed an attitude of 'live and let live' - periods where they would try and avoid killing the soldiers a few hundred yards in other trenches. The Generals and politicians on both sides hated this 'live and let attitude' and the bitterness of future battles often ended these periods of calm. But, it was a reminder that even supposed enemies, can at times find a shared humanity.

Friendship of the war

Despite the unimaginable hardships and tragedies of the war, some soldiers say it gave them something they never had in peacetime. Soldiers say the horror of the war, created unique friendships between soldiers and officers thrown together. Soldiers say how in the front line, class divisions broke down; they were all in together. The bond between fellow man was a unique experience.

Unexpected Courage

Soldiers on both sides showed frequently showed the qualities of courage and steadfast loyalty to their cause. But, courage wasn't just in fighting, but also standing up for one's principles. For example, British nurse Edith Cavell, executed for 'spying' after helping Allied soldiers to escape Belgium.

Conscientious objection to war

Conscientious objectors on both sides were executed for refusing to fight. They were courageous in standing up for their principles. For example, Bertrand Russell was jailed for his opposition to the First World War.

A greater awareness of the horrors of war

At the outbreak of war, there was widespread enthusiasm on all sides. Men rushed to join the armies in an outbreak of patriotic fever. Both sides felt that 'God was on their side' and they would be victorious by Christmas. However, the stalemate and ongoing horrors of war led to many men to question why they were fighting. War poets, such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Vera Brittain left a strong anti-war literature which has influenced later generations. The massed cemeteries of Flanders stand as stark reminders of the tragic consequences of war.

By the end of the war, many soldiers had been awakened to the futility and horrors of war. These days, people have perhaps become more critical of any rush to war. When the UK and US took part in the invasion of Iraq, during 2003, millions of people protested against their own countries involvement. It is much more difficult for politicians to play the patriotism card and expect everyone to join in the war.

German militarism was defeated

Given the widespread scale of death and destruction, it is possible to forget why the First World War was fought in the first place. Britain went to war, with some reluctance. Liberals in the cabinet, like Lloyd George initially opposed Britain joining a European war, but the invasion of Belgium changed his mind and he felt Britain needed to fight to protect Belgian independence. If Germany had defeated Belgium and France, modern Europe would have been dominated by a militaristic German who would have treated conquered nations as vassal states.


Book Cover

Forgotten Voices of the Somme at


Sunday, September 29, 2013

People who died for their faith

Many people have shown tremendous courage to stand up for their beliefs - even at the cost of their lives. These are some people who died for their faith or their belief.

Thomas A Beckett (1118-70) - Archbishop of Canterbury who infuriated King Henry II by placing the Church above the King. Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the indirect orders of the King.
Thomas More (1478 - 1535) Leading servant to King Henry VIII - Eventually beheaded for his refusal to accept Henry VIII's rejection of the Catholic Church and Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Joan of Arc -(1412 – 1431) Joan of Arc received Divine messages which helped the Dauphin of France to drive out the English from parts of France. She was arrested for her 'heterodox religious beliefs'. She was burnt at the stake for refusing to recant her experiences and communion with God.

The Oxford Martyrs - Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. They were burned at the Stake in Oxford 1555 for refusing to renounce their Protestant faith and accept the Roman Catholic faith of Queen Mary I.
Saint Peter (? - 65 AD), The leading apostle of Jesus Christ. Legend says he was crucified upside-down by the Romans. He asked to be crucified upside down so as not to copy the crucifixion of Jesus. Maximilian Kolbe (1894- 1941) A Polish Franciscan friar. He was arrested by the Nazi's for sheltering refugees, from the Nazi's. He was executed at Auschwitz concentration camp after volunteering to take the place of a man who feared death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (1906 - 1945) A German Lutheran Pastor who was a leading opponent of Hitler and the Nazis. He was eventually arrested and died in a concentration camp before the end of the war.
William Tyndale (1494–1536 ) was one of the first persons to print the Bible in English. Executed for blasphemy after years of avoiding capture.
Mansoor Al-Hallaj (858 – 922) A Sufi mystic who practised mysticism and preached a radical philosophy based on his spiritual experiences. Al-Hallaj claimed that in his mystical experiences he realised that 'I am the Truth'. He was sentenced to death for blasphemy, but during a prolonged execution, he retained his equanimity and faith.
Thich Quang Duc, (1897 - 1963) was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He burnt himself to death (self-immolation) at an intersection in Saigon on June 11, 1963. He was protesting about the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.

Other selected Christian Martyr's
  • St. Stephen as recorded in the Acts 6:8–8:3, the first Christian Martyr.
  • James the Great (Son of Zebedee) was beheaded in 44 A.D.
  • Philip the Apostle was crucified in 54 A.D.
  • Matthew the Evangelist killed with a halberd in 60 A.D.
  • James the Just, beaten to death with a club after being crucified and stoned.
  • Matthias was stoned and beheaded.
  • Saint Andrew, St. Peter's brother, was crucified.
  • Saint Mark was dragged in the streets until his death
  • Edith Stein (Carmelite nun, died at Auschwitz), 1942

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top 10 French Artists

Jaz de Bouffan - 1876

A list of the greatest French artists and painters:

artist Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)  - Impressionist painter. The term impressionism stemmed from Monet's influential work 'Impression, Sunrise' (Impression, Soleil Levant). Monet's paintings frequently depicted nature in impressionist style.
artist Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) - Post-impressionist painter. Began his career in the impressionist mould but developed new innovative styles, providing a bridge between Nineteenth Century art and the cubist / modern art of Twentieth Century.
artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) Post-impressionist painter, who contributed to the growth of avant-garde painting. Gauguin had a temperamental relationship with Van Gogh
artist August Renoir  (1841–1919) Impressionist painter. Renoir played a key role in the development of impressionist painter. He was attracted to depicting human beauty and scenes of human society.
artist Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) Impressionist and post-impressionist painter. A very influential figure for both impressionists and the new generation of post-impressionist painters.
artist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Considered a forerunner of impressionism. He preferred the term 'realist' Degas was interested in depicting movement in art.
artist Édouard Manet (1832–1883) Manet contributed to the schools of 'Realism' and 'Impressionism' - playing a key role in the transformation of impressionism and modern art.
artist Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878) Traditional landscape painter who was also seen as an important precursor to impressionism.
artist Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) Romantic painter, inspired by the Venetian Renaissance painters and Rubens.
artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) Painter and sculptor associated with Dadaism.

Lived in France

artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) - Post-impressionist painter noted for boldness and vivid paintings.  Born in the Netherlands, he lived many years in France.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Explorers from the golden ages of exploration

The USS Vincennes, one of the ships of the Ex. Ex., visiting Antarctica in 1840. (credit: US Navy)

The Elizabethan age of exploration - 15th, 16th Century

This period from the 15th to 17th Century was perhaps the most important era of exploration. It laid the seeds of globalisation as Europe discovered the Americas, the Indian continent and made the first circumnavigation of the world. This age of discovery came about for a few reasons
  • The fall of Constantinople made trade with Asia across land very difficult. There was an incentive for Europeans to find direct sea routes to the India continent. This was first achieved by the Portuguese Vasco de Gama in 1498, when he arrived in Calicut, India.
  • A wealth of Europe. European countries, like Spain, Portugal, Holland and England became increasingly wealthy and good afford to fund exploration. In addition, these explorations became quite profitable due to trade and/or plundering of raw materials. The Spanish monarchy funded Christopher Colombus in 1492 to travel to America.
  • Christian missionary movement. Part of the motive for exploration was to share the principles of Christianity and convert 'heathen pagans'
  • Empire rivalry. One of the biggest motivations was to extend the political, military and political power of the European nations by claiming parts of the 'new world.' For example, one of England's most famous explorers Sir Walter Raleigh was executed after fighting the Spanish.
  • Improvements in technology which enabled longer sea journeys.

The dark side of the age of exploration.

The age of exploration could also be called the age of exploitation. European voyages paved the way for the conquest of American countries. The age of exploration was also tied up with the growth in the slave trade. Notable explorers like Sir Francis Drake were closely tied up with the slave trade. (Drake was also considered a pirate by the Spanish). Many native inhabitants suffered from the coming of Europeans, due to the transfer of infectious diseases, slavery or loss of freedom.

On the positive side, the age of exploration helped widen horizons (proving the world wasn't flat) and beginning the evolutionary movement towards a global world.

The Heroic Age of exploration - Polar regions

In the late Nineteenth Century / early Twentieth Century, there was the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Many voyages were undertaken with only limited equipment, but this enabled a great improvement in knowledge about the Antarctic continent. The most famous explorations of this period were led by
  • Ernest Shackleton.British Antarctic Expedition 1907 (Nimrod Expedition)
  • Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole in 1911.
  • Robert F Scott's - Antarctic expedition of 1910-11 - which led to death of all five members, close to the South Pole
  • Ernest Shackleton - Endurance 1914-17 - First transcontinental crossing attempt

Other great periods of exploration

  • Space Exploration 1950s and 1960s
  • Marco Polo's journeys to Asia in the 13th Century
  • African explorations of the Nineteenth Century. Led by David Livingstone's attempt to find the source of the Nile, the late Nineteenth Century saw a 'dash for Africa'

Is professional cycling clean or is doping still prevalent?

After the Festina scandal of 1998, the scope of drug taking within the sport of procycling was exposed. But, the opportunity to clean up the sport was not taken. The next year 1999, Festina rider Richard Virenque (who had finally admitted to taking a cocktail of drugs) was still able to make the startline. There was no lengthy ban. The incentive to cheat was still there. Like many other drug cheats he was welcomed back by supporters and riders alike

In 1999, the one rider who everybody admitted was clean in the Festina team was talented Christopher Bassons. However, when Bassons publically stated doping was still a problem in the sport. He got bullied by race leader Lance Armstrong - live during a stage. A tearful Basson was ignored by the peleton for breaking the Omerta. He later quit the Tour de France and retired.

In that Tour, Lance Armstrong failed a dope test for Cortiscoids. But, producing a back dated prescription (contrary to the rules) he was  allowed to win and claim victory. Despite a year after the Festina scandal no-one wanted to hear about drug stories. The Lance recovery from cancer to win the Tour was seen as a miraculously good sports story. Armstrong went onto win seven consecutive tour de France wuns. Despite growing evidence if doping, Armstrong was the boss and he was able to avoid any scrutiny as journalists needed access to the man who sold more papers than any doping story.

Fast forward to 2012, and the USADA report into Lance Armstrong produced 100+ pages detailing the extent and depth of doping within the US postal team. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles and there was widespread anger about the extent and nature of cheating within the sport.
It wasn't just Lance Armstrong who was doping, numerous other winners and riders were implicated - either failing dope tests or admitting to having doped in their career.

In 2010, Team Sky was set up hoping to win the Tour de France with a clean rider.

In 2011, Bradley Wiggins won after dominating in the two time trials. In 2012, Chris Froome won the Tour de France. His dominating performances in the mountains were subject to intense scrutiny. With the press repeatedly questionning the validity of his performances.

In response Froome calmly replied he was clean. Team Sky also offered to offer their power data to WADA - the world's anti doping agency.

David Walsh, the journalist who sought to expose Lance Armstrong's doping was allowed to follow Team Sky around for 2013. Despite being initially sceptical and criticial of Team Sky's decision to hire former Rabobank doctor (Gert Leinders), Walsh came to the conclusion that Froome's performances were credible and that there were big differences between Team Sky and US Postal

  • Test for EPO which has caught riders
  • Biological passport which looks for evidence of blood manipulation
  • Changed atmosphere in the peleton. The days of bullying riders who speak against doping is hard to imagine. Riders, such as Kittel, have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to doping.
  • No evidence from former employees of Team Sky (unlike US postal where there was a steady drop of former mechanics, riders coming out to say doping was endemic in the team)
  • Greater transparency in allowing access to team and data.
  • Froome was tested 19 times during the tour.
  • According to Ross Tucker of the sports science institute at the University of Cape Town,  the power-to-weight ratio of today's top riders is lower than in the EPO era.
    "In the late 1990s and early 2000s if you were going to be competitive and win the Tour de France you would have to be able to cycle between 6.4 and 6.7 watts per kilogram at the end of a day's stage.
    "What we are seeing now, in the last three or four years, is that the speed of the front of the peloton [of] men like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, is about 10% down compared to that generation and now the power output at the front is about 6W/kg." (Are drug free cyclists slower?)
Some remain sceptical, frequently over the years and there has been good reason to be sceptical after a series of cyclists have later proved to have doped. However, there is good reason to feel the sport is cleaner than before.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who Deserves to be in the Top 100 Greatest Britons?

The BBC did a great job in setting up a poll to discover the top 100 Greatest Britons. Apart from Oliver Cromwell, The top 10 are all worthy figures.

However, from a personal perspective, I felt there were some in the top 100 who were there because of fame, rather than any useful contribution. Therefore, I've decided to remove some modern figures, who I don't believe will stand the test of time, and replace them with people who are much more deserving of making a worthwhile contribution to the nation. (Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, John Keats and John Wycliffe)

If you'd like to nominate someone for inclusion or exclusion, leave a comment

Removed From BBC Top 100
  • John Peel
  • John Lydon
  • Robbie Williams
  • Boy George
Put in Top 100
  • William Wordsworth (poet)
  • John Wycliffe 
  • Emily Bronte (poet, author)
  • John Keats
1. Winston Churchill (28.1%)
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (24.6%)
3. Princess Diana (13.9%)
4. Charles Darwin (6.9%)
5. William Shakespeare (6.8%)
6. Sir Isaac Newton (5.2%)
7. Queen Elizabeth I (4.4%)
8. John Lennon (4.2%)
9. Horatio Nelson (3%)
10. Oliver Cromwell (2.8%)

Friday, January 25, 2013

30 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien

Merton College. Tolkien was professor of English Language and Lit at Merton from 1945-59

  1. The Tolkien name was derived from German. Tolkien (who was fascinated with languages said the  surname came from the German word tollkühn, meaning "foolhardy"
  2. Tolkien was born in Orange Free State, South Africa, but moved to England aged three.
  3. When he was a baby, the young Tolkien was kidnapped for a day, by a house boy, who was captivated by the baby.
  4. Tolkien became a Catholic in 1900, this caused a family rift with his Baptist relatives.
  5. Tolkien remained a Catholic throughout his life. C.S.Lewis credits Tolkien with his decision to become a Christian in the 1930s.
  6. From his early teens, Tolkien invented several languages. Quenya became an important aspect of his middle earth Legendarium. In a letter published in Observer, 1981, Tolkien wrote: The stories were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me name comes first and the story follows.'
  7. Aged 16, he met his future wife Edith. But, his guardian Father Francis Morgan prohibited Tolkien seeing her until Tolkien came of age, aged 21. 
  8. As a young student at Exeter College, Oxford University, he spent his first few years often getting into debt trying to keep up with richer students, who had more disposable income. Tolkien admits he had a great love of beer and talking into the early hours of the morning.
  9. Initially, Tolkien studied the classics but switched to English Literature when he found he could study Middle English.
  10. Tolkien served as an officer in the Battle of the Somme.

  11. Tolkien said his character of Sam Gamgee was based on the ordinary soldiers who he commanded and who faced so much hardship without rancour. 
  12. The first work that Tolkien wrote was The Silmarillion; this wasn't published until after his death and was revised at different periods throughout his life.
  13. In 1918, he got a job working on the Oxford English Dictionary, which had begun in 1879. 
  14. Tolkien was saved from further fighting through developing trench fever. Though he later recalled that most of his friends died in the First World War.
  15. Tolkien was a great lecturer. When giving lectures on Beowulf, he would often startle students by exclaiming in Anglo-Saxon and speaking in the manner of an old bar.
  16. W.H.Auden later said, he thought the voice of Tolkien giving lectures, was the voice of Gandalf!
  17. The Hobbit was written initially for his own children.
  18. The first famous lines to the hobbit were written down on a blank, empty exam paper he was once marking. 'In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit"
  19. When agents from Nazi Germany wished to translate the Hobbit into German, they sent a letter asking to prove he was 'Aryan'. Tolkien gave a scathing reply, saying amongst other things that he wished he had Jewish ancestors.   
  20. Tolkien had a dislike for cars and spent most of his adult life relying on bicycles and trains. He had a particular love of the Oxfordshire countryside and was dismayed when it was covered with new roads.
  21. When an American company published an authorised copy of 'Lord of the Rings' It became a best-seller. But, because Tolkien maintained a long correspondence with many fans, he helped to encourage people to boycott the pirated copy. This boycott proved successful and eventually, the company made a donation to Tolkien and dropped the edition. 
  22. Tolkien left a significant body of work unpublished, which his son Christopher Tolkien later published. This included The Silmarillion, The History of Middle Earth and Unfinished Tales.
  23. Initially, Tolkien only wanted The Lord of the Rings to be published alongside the Silmarillion, almost going to another publisher.
  24. When Tolkien's son joined the army, he listed his father's occupation as 'Wizard!'
  25. In one sense Tolkien was a typical conservative. He was highly critical of the Stalinist and Hitler regime's. But, he also had a strong libertarian streak and once said: 'My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy.'
  26. Tolkien credited the works of William Morris as being a great inspiration. 
  27. In 1999 customers voted Lord of the Rings as the most popular book of the Millenium
  28. Tolkien was voted 94th on the list of Greatest Britons
  29. One of his favourite sayings was: Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!
  30. He was buried at Wolvercote cemetery with his wife Edith. The description reads:
 Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889-1971 
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973

Read More: J.R.R.Tolkien Biography