Tag Archives: history

Greece vs. Rome

So I posted earlier about how we like to listen to Pepys while we are in the car. But this Christmas, driving back to Toronto, we listened to Boris Johnson versus Mary Beard in a debate about which ancient society was better – Greece or Rome. It was informative, fun, funny and I like both debaters immensely. It certainly goes without saying that those who compare Boris Johnson to Donald Trump are mistaken. I cannot imagine Trump – or, for that matter, Justin Trudeau – being in Boris’ intellectual league.

Remembrance Day

A day late but always important to mark this date. Please see my other website and enjoy this song, “The D-Day Dodgers.” It is sung to the tune of “Lili Marlene” and refers to the dismissive attitude so many had toward the Allied Forces in Italy. With the “glamour” and headlines of June 6, 1944, they were overlooked, though their sacrifices were every bit as extraordinary, their battles as harsh, their courage as strong. (My uncle, in his letters, refers several times to his friend George Yente/s – or Lente/s – who was sending him letters from the front in Italy.)

How Canada has Changed

Today marks the 40th anniverary of the hostage taking at the American Embassy in Tehran. It got me to thinking about the day the hostages were released: I was in high school, and I think I was in some sort of choir practice because I seem to remember it was after regular school hours and an announcement came over the PA that the American hostages were on their way home. We cheered! The whole group of us kids cheered, as did our teachers.

I wonder what the reaction would be now, in a typical Canadian high school, to the same news. I don’t think there would be the same feeling of solidarity with the United States. It’s very sad, but anti-Americanism (which existed then but was nothing like what it is now) has absolutely permeated every aspect of Canadian life (note especially media and education). The narcissism of small differences takes centre stage.

It’s certainly true that back then Canada had helped save a group of American hostages, through the courage of Ken Taylor. So perhaps that is why we kids felt connected – but I think it was more. Regarding the U.S. with contempt has become our default position – always assuming that somehow they “deserve” it when bad things befall them, always assuming that we are superior and safe from the same threats. I had hoped that his attitude had reached peak stupidity after 9-11, but I suspect it is currently worse. One could argue that Donald Trump hasn’t helped, but I think the contempt runs deeper. It is bread and butter to us.

Oh, I know there are exceptions (I am one of them), but they are just that.  It makes me tremendously sad that this sophomoric world view has become so deeply entrenched.

Pepys’s Plate

One of the things Significant Other and I like to listen to when we drive somewhere is the Diary of Samuel Pepys, read by Kenneth Branagh. It’s captivating, edifying, vivid, funny and sad. Pepys wrote a lot about his meals – mostly mutton, it seems, and tankards of liquor – and so I found this discovery of one of his silver plates quite fascinating. Coincidentally, Jeff Jacoby wrote a column just last week about anti-Semitism, and opened it by quoting Pepys’s observations on his 1663 visit to a London synagogue.

Michaelmas

It is the feast of St. Michael, and in honour, I give you Raphael’s 1504 St. Michael, also known as “Little St. Michael” (to distinguish it from another St. Michael painted by Raphael years later). I love this. Slay those demons, friends!

raphaelsm

Remembering the Miracle of 1989

And it truly was one. I was living in Paris at the time, and was still young and foolish enough to think there was something redeemable about communism. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall I travelled through Eastern Europe and began to see how terribly misguided I had been. I also began to see how lucky we all were that the revolution had unfolded peacefully.

Some think that the momentous change that began in 1989 was inevitable. They would do well to remember that in June of the same year, China’s elderly rulers had deployed tanks to crush (literally) the peaceful freedom movement in Tiananmen Square. And there were plenty of communist leaders urging a “Chinese solution” for the demonstrations of 1989. In fact, at the Soviet command post just south of Berlin (which had served as command center for the German Army during World War II, and which had been seized from Hitler decades earlier), Red Army marshals were awaiting orders to march in and save the empire by whatever means necessary.

No one can know what would have happened if more conservative forces within the Kremlin had prevailed. Most likely, there would have been widespread disorder and violence across much of the region, which would have put the West under substantial pressure to intervene. Open war would have been a distinct possibility. After all, large empires throughout history have generally gone out with a bang. If anything, the Soviet experience was an exception.

Read the rest of this analysis from Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister.