Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pearl Harbor

On November 26th, 1941, a Japanese task force with 6 aircraft carriers left northern Japan. Eventually they ended up northwest of Hawaii.  On December 7th the Japanese Navy dragged America, reluctantly into World War II.

As dawn broke on a fair Sunday, the Japanese task force swung to port and headed into the 14-knot wind. The carrier's increased speed to around 24 knots and started to prepare to launch the first wave.
The first wave had one hundred and eighty-three planes were launched into the wind of the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. Tasked with attacking the most valuable targets, the first group was armed with 800 kilogram armor-piercing bombs, and type 91 torpedoes. The second group was assigned Ford Island and Wheeler Field, and armed mostly with 249 kilogram multi-purpose bombs. The third group was supposed to attack the aircraft. The second wave was divided into three groups and was directed toward Kan’ohe and Pearl Harbor proper.

After the attack 2,403 Americans were dead and 1,178 wounded, all of whom could be considered non-combatants, since Japan had not declared war. It is alleged that the attack was not supposed to take place until thirty minutes after the US had been informed of the end of peace negotiations. However, the length of the message made transcription difficult and the Japanese ambassador could not deliver it in time.

Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground. Damage was extensive and terrible. But, the attack fell short of the stated goals. The United States military, significantly the Navy, was wounded, but not crippled.  After being forced to concede most of the Asian theater the allies went on the offensive. It signaled the end of the era of the battleship, and launched the supremacy of the carrier.

Congress passed the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s. It was an effort to avoid being pulled into theth
rapidly expanding war in Europe. Even as the situation deteriorated, nations fell, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany, Congressional isolationists rebuffed Roosevelt’s argument that neutrality may give “passive aid” to the enemies of America’s friends. After December, 7 the argument was over.

It was truly a “a day that will live in infamy.” It was followed by a war that proved how small the world had become. And when it was over everything had changed. It would be wise to remember that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Threats, then and now

It was 1950. America was trying to find its way in the world. Much of the debate before World War II was between the isolationists and the interventionists. After the war it was widely accepted that isolationism would not work, probably wisely so. A hollow echo of Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” rang across the national consciousness, and nobody wanted to repeat those mistakes.

Almost naturally, after the war the world was divided into two distinct pieces, the communist east and the democratic west. The confrontation was predictable, being the two biggest players in the game, it was a given they would view each other as a threat.

However, on August 29th 1949 the whole situation changed. That was the day the Soviets tested their first atomic device. Before that American hegemony in atomic weapons was seen almost as a magic shield. And the business of preparing for war began in earnest.

In the nation’s capital a junior senator from Wisconsin was trying to make a name for himself and Edmund Walsh suggested an anticommunist crusade. On February 9th Joseph McCarthy claimed to have the names of 205 state department employees who were known members of the American Communist Party. The country exploded in apoplectic fury.
It was about this same time that the “domino theory” was born. It predicted, somewhat ridiculously, that the fall of a country to communist insurgents would lead to the irresistible collapse of all the neighboring countries.

In this climate it was obviously a very dangerous idea to be seen as being soft on communism.

France was stuck in a war in Indochina, and America became embroiled in combat on the Korean peninsula. Other wars of liberation were springing up in Bolivia, Cuba, and Malaysia. In most cases the insurgents were communists of convenience. It would have been difficult to get China and the Soviet Union to provide weapons and training spouting capitalist slogans and dogma.

In fact, Ho Chi Minh actually tried to petition President Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference, with a proposal for Vietnamese independence. He was turned away. The Soviets were much more accommodating. So, communism, and the ready supply of arms won out.

Billions of dollars and thousands of lives were lost trying to save the world from the Communist threat. And it wasn’t so much of a threat after all.

It is 2016, almost 2017. And America is still trying to find the right place. New enemies have appeared. Now they invoke religion instead of politics. And there is a lot of talk about the “existential threat” they pose.

Patience is not a virtue mankind has in abundance, and the need to “do good” sometimes outweighs the hard learned lessons of history. It would be wise to consider alternatives that did not involve combat arms. Yes, the need to help is a sign of compassion, and caring, and should never be ignored. However, without understanding the nature of the problem it is easy to do more harm than good. There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”     

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 3

Continued from Parts 1 and 2 ... 

Before I had a chance to answer, Sir Percy turned to the right and began to walk as if leading the way in this world that didn't seem to suit him. I followed, walking along beside him. I noticed he kept to my left, always walking between me and the street.

“What do I like to do?” I said, remembering his question. “What do I like to do?” It wasn't that it was a particularly hard question. I just felt at a loss describing anything in my every day life to this man who was seemingly a visitor from the past.

“Do you go to the opera?”

“Well, I've only gone to the opera once that I can remember.”

“Ah. Which one did you see?”

Phantom of the … Well, technically, I don't think it's an opera at all, although it comes very close.” There was more music than dialogue in the play. Didn't that make it a kind of opera?

“Phantom … I don't think I'm familiar with that one,”said Sir Percy.

I then began wondering if the book, Phantom of the Opera, which was a lot older than the musical, might be more familiar to him and wondering what year the book was published. What was this? Was I really accepting the idea that Sir Percy was a visitor from a past time? Maybe Grandpa and I were both perfectly sane, and it was Sir Percy who had delusions. Possibly, he had done so much reading of history that he now believed himself to belong to the Victorian era. I thought about the delusional “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace.

“Sir Percy, are you Sir Percy every day or are there days when you are, say, … Teddy Roosevelt?”

He looked at me, his brow furrowed. “You ask very strange questions, and I don't know who this Teddy gentleman is.”

It was a very strange question. It would only seem un-strange – perhaps – if you had the sort of madness I was trying to uncover.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'm just trying to make sense of this strange situation and you popping in from wherever you pop in from.”

As we walked along, I sometimes saw Sir Percy taking in the atmosphere. We were wandering through a charming downtown area. We passed stone sidewalk planters overflowing with vinca, a woman walking her Yorkshire terrier and a well-dressed businessman walking along with his newspaper and coffee.

Passersby were taking note of Sir Percy too, with wide curious eyes and smiles. I was glad of this, because it made me feel more sure of my sanity. No one outright gawked, but they certainly looked at him a bit longer than they might at someone in more commonplace dress. They'd smile and turn to their companions, making small talk, likely chatting curiously about what new play must be underway at the local theater.

A male cyclist in fitted cycling shorts glided towards us when Sir Percy took me by the crook of the arm and quickly spun me around to face a potted hibiscus. “Good heavens!” said Sir Percy. “What sort of gentleman … Why he's practically naked! I'm terribly sorry you had to see that, Miss Rose.” I noted that he didn't call me Laurie and that he knew my last name, likely learned from my grandfather on his previous poppings-in.

I bit my lip to try and keep from laughing. Dare I tell him that this scandalous sight was not so uncommon and that I was accustomed to it by now? Ah well. I was practically nose to nose with a bright fuschia opened hibiscus bloom, and it very well might be a prettier sight than the cyclist in Spandex. After a time, we wandered once more down the sidewalk.

I was actually very curious what he thought of the modern bicycle and how different it was from the penny farthing with its giant front wheel, but I was afraid to broach the subject relating to its scandalous rider and didn't want to be accused of bringing up an unladylike subject.

“Ah, where were we?” asked Sir Percy. “I know, yes, what you like to do for leisure?”

“Well, sometimes, my friends and I like to go to the movies.”


“Well, you're familiar with photography?”


“Well, it's a little like photography, what we'd call still photography, only the camera captures action, not just still images, and the action is then projected onto a screen.” This was only true in part. How could I even begin to explain animation, particularly computer generated imagery and the computers used to create such effects or any special effects really?


We would approach a movie theater before long, and I began to worry that Sir Percy would suggest we go there. I wasn't sure Sir Percy was ready for the movies. There might be F-bombs or actual bombs exploding or actors or actresses in states of dress and undress more scandalous than women in trousers and men in cycling shorts. Of course, I could take him to a G-rated animated film in 3D. He might not be morally shocked, but it could certainly wow the waistcoat off of him.

“Of course, on some days,” I said, “we just go to the mall.”

“The mall?”

“Right. It's stores. It's not like these little side by side shops here. It's a giant building filled with stores, giant stores, and you can buy anything there.”


“Right, clothes and shoes and food, well, prepared, cooked food ...” How could I even explain some of the other items in stores at the mall like cell phones, DVDs, Xbox games … “Games …”

“Like parlor games?”

“Yes?” My affirmatory statement came out more like a question. The Xbox was played in the living room or den and that was sort of a parlor, wasn't it?

“And other amusements, and, you just have to see it to believe it.”

“Well, Miss Rose, let's go to the mall.” I suppose a lot of ladies long to hear a gentleman say this, but I kept on thinking that this was one social experiment that was going to be quite an adventure.

To be continued …

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 ...

I slowly turned around to face the gentleman behind me. He was still there, and he smiled. This was both terrifying and calming at the same time, terrifying because the act made him seem less like Ebenezer Scrooge's “undigested bit of beef” and calming because he at least seemed friendly. “You startled me,” I said and gave him what I hoped was a smile. “Are you … an actor?”

“An actor? No, indeed! My father would never approve of me being an actor.” He had removed his hat, a bowler, and was looking down at it, almost as if embarrassed.

“I'm sorry. I just thought, by your unusual clothes, that you might be an actor.” There was a historical home nearby that was a sort of small local museum. It sometimes held events with actors in period clothing.

 “Unusual clothes? But my dress is not as unusual as yours. I could ask you if you were an actress … with your boyish dress.”

 “Boyish? Am I boyish?” I was wearing khaki pants and a knit top in dusty rose.

 “You're wearing trousers. It hardly seems decent. I can see your legs.”

 “Well, it shouldn't be surprising that I have legs, is it?” I was still looking over myself.

 “I suppose you're a progressive type. Come to think of it, I have a cousin who wears trousers when she goes riding. She says it's much easier than riding side saddle.”

 “I imagine she's right,” I said. Well, if he wasn't an actor, my mysterious gentleman was certainly good at acting like he had stepped out from a past time. Uncle Stephen could be a prankster. “I know. My Uncle Stephen hired you … didn't he?”

“I'm a gentleman. I'm not hired by anybody to do anything,” he said.

 “Oh, you're good. You're really good.”

 “I try to be, although I don't know how you, a stranger, can be a judge of my moral uprightness.”

 “Perhaps we should go downstairs.” I don't know why I suggested it, except that it seemed awkward to be on this floor all alone with this Dickensian Ghost of Christmases Past. Downstairs had its own problems though, and I was about to bring my grandfather face to face with one of his own fantasies, or was he my own fantasy? This was headache-inducing. Could he even go downstairs? Would he just float down?

 Suddenly, I reached out for his forearm and gave it a pinch.


 “I'm sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to see if you were solid.”

 “I'm quite reliable.”

 “No, I mean … I was trying to see if you were tangible, but it's really yourself you are supposed to pinch to see if you're dreaming.”

“Well, let's go downstairs. I always keep a flask of smelling salts about my person. You shall be better presently.” I turned, this time to head to the stairs. Weren't smelling salts to help prevent Victorian women from fainting? Maybe he didn't know what else to offer for my particular ailment.

 We went downstairs, and I was almost surprised that my nameless gentleman's footsteps made noise behind me and creaked the steps. Grandpa stood up as we came down, his blue eyes bright and wide. “How delightful! Sir Percy!” said Grandpa.

 “Wait,” I said to Grandpa. “You've met him? You know him?” I leaned in closer and half-whispered. “You can see him?”

 “Of course, dear.”

 I turned to Sir Percy. “You've been here before?”

 “I pop in now and then.”

 “How … exactly do you pop in?”

 “That ...” A downward glance. “Is difficult to explain.”

 “I have some customers,” said Grandpa. “Perhaps you should take Sir Percy out for a walk.”

 “Oh no,” I said. “We are not ready for 'out.' We are only ready for 'in,' and the in-er the better.” Like maybe in a mental hospital. Was it possible for two people to have the exact same hallucination simultaneously? And supposing that Sir Percy wasn't a product of either my or Grandpa's imagination, “in” was full of antique things and an antique man; whereas “out” encompassed cars and motorcycles and people using cell phones and iPods and, well, just a different culture than any Dickens had ever known.

“I'm sorry,” said Percy, feeling around in his coat pocket. “I did promise to administer the smelling salts. You'll feel better.” Then, turning to Grandpa, “It's good for hysterics.” I allowed Sir Percy to hold his flask of smelling salts to my nose, since it never seemed to do Victorian ladies in novels any harm. Catching a bit of the ammonia scent, I decided this was an experience I'd rather avoid in the future.

“Better?” asked Sir Percy.

 “Yes.” I decided I shouldn't act ambiguous or I might get another whiff of smelling salts.

 “Shall we go out?”

 I nodded, though I don't know why. Stepping out the front door, I almost expected Sir Percy to evaporate in this atmosphere that didn't seem to suit him. He didn't. The street was lined with old Victorian homes, but the street itself was busy with modern cars. Sir Percy paused on the sidewalk and stared. “What are these bullet-like contraptions on wheels? They're very fast. That can't be safe.”

“Well, even horses aren't perfectly safe when they're spooked by a snake.” At least, this is what old westerns and Little House on the Prairie had taught me. “But they're fairly safe when the driver knows what he is doing. It's the same with cars.”

 “Horseless carriages?”

 “That's exactly what their inventor, Henry Ford, called them.”

 “What do they run on? Steam?”

 “Gasoline … refined petroleum. Well, you see, there's an engine, and there's uh, these pistons, and, uh, a carburetor ...” I was listing random parts, but I didn't trust myself to accurately describe what they actually did. “I'm … I'm not very mechanical.”

“Astonishing,” he said, and, by that, I understood that he meant the horseless carriages, not the fact that I didn't have much of a mechanical inclination. After a pause he said, “Where shall we go? What do you like to do when you go out, other than ride about in those unsafe contraptions?”

 To be continued ...

 © 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 1

I love my grandfather, the dear man as old as Methuselah. I'm not entirely sure just how old he is, but he's quite ancient. The family teases that he must be preserved in formaldehyde. Perhaps, in all his scientific tinkering, he had discovered the secret of longevity, longevity if not a completely sound body. He still works in his old antique clock shop. His son, my uncle, who is past retirement age himself, works there too, as does my cousin. Like his old clocks, Grandpa might need some winding up, but he keeps going. Grandpa's always been a bit eccentric, full of wild theories and ideas and wild inventions that never quite get off the ground, but the latest reports were wilder than usual.

It was a shame, but it certainly seemed that Alzheimer's had finally struck. Lately, the stories Grandpa told me over the phone were peculiar to say the least, like stories of having tea with Queen Elizabeth. It would have been strange enough if he had claimed he had visited Buckingham Palace, met with the queen for a spot of tea and petted all the Corgis, but he didn't even mean Queen Elizabeth II. He meant the first. He also claimed to have gone swimming with Winston Churchill and that Churchill liked to skinnydip and looked just like a manatee in the waves. As far as everyone knew, the old man hadn't left the country – the U.S., that is – never mind left the decade … or the century. The only thing that seemed to have taken off anywhere was his senses.

I decided I needed to go see him, to persuade him to wind down and take a rest. The clock shop was always a wonderful and confusing overload of my senses. There were mantel clocks of ornately carved wood, grandiose clocks with miniature brass sculptures of mounted warriors, bronze Rococo clocks with ostentatious confusion of sculpted swirls, Bavarian cuckoo clocks with delightful figures that popped out of miniature doors, and in between all the tick tocking, there were cacophonous bursts of chimes and bells and cuckoos.

“Laurie!” Grandpa stood up from his chair, looking like an old bent tree. As I approached, he took my hands in his two gnarled and knobby ones. “Dear Laurie, you've come to see me. I've made a wonderful discovery!”

“You're always making wonderful discoveries, Grandpa,” I said. “Perhaps you should do something different for a change.”

“What's that, dear?”

“Take a nap.” This wasn't exactly the subtle approach to suggesting rest that I had intended to make.

“Take a nap when I've made a wonderful discovery?”

“Well, even great minds need to rest sometimes. That's how they go on being great minds.” Perhaps I had redeemed myself just a little.

“Come, sit.”

Grandpa had a sort of personal nook in a corner of his shop, with a couple of stuffed chairs facing the door, books on antiques and an electric hot water pot. I sat down in a chair with sculpted wooden arms.

“Oh, just wait 'til I tell you,” said Grandpa. “It's quite wonderful. So, there I was …” Grandpa remained standing and spun slowly in a kind of confused dither. “Ah. Look at this.” He pulled an old herringbone tweed golf cap from a nearby hat rack and sat down.

“It's a hat,” I said.

“Yes, it's a hat.”

On closer inspection, I said, “It's a hat with a hole in it.” There was a small hole through the center of the hat.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you know how that hole got there?”

“I have no idea.”

“Annie Oakley used my hat for target practice.” Grandpa laughed in a kind of whistling laugh. “Isn't it wonderful? She's a marvelous woman. A marvel, that's what she is.”

I nodded my head and resisted the urge to correct him. I tried a different strategy instead. “So, I suppose, after Annie Oakley used your hat for target practice, you rode off on a unicorn and had fairy cakes with the leprechauns at the end of the rainbow?”

Grandpa laughed again. “Laurie, don't be ridiculous. You've always been so imaginative. Unicorns and leprechauns …”

Apparently, there were some parameters to my grandfather's madness.

The phone rang just then. In keeping with the rest of the atmosphere, the phone that rang was an antique reproduction rotary phone with a bell-shaped mouthpiece. Grandpa picked it up. “Ah, Hello Stephen. What? Speak up.” Covering the mouthpiece, he said to me, “It's your Uncle Stephen.”

I didn't want to sit and twiddle my thumbs while these two talked, so I decided to get up and wander up to the upper level, ascending the creaky wooden stairs to my left. The upper level had no clocks, but, instead, interesting examples of antique clockwork, automata, elaborate mechanical toys. I was fascinated with a rather large piece in one corner with twirling, waltzing couples. The figures were nearly two feet tall. It was dizzying after a while standing still and watching them twirl in circles. I turned my back to them and was face to face with a full-length mirror. Watching the twirling reflections in the mirror was no less dizzying.

I thought I heard a noise and turned. As I did, my heart nearly leaped into my throat. There, standing between me and the twirling figures, was a man, at least what seemed like a man. He could have been a mannequin in antique Victorian dress, only mannequins don't just move themselves and plant themselves in new spots. Partly because I was startled, and partly because I was doubting my senses, I felt no obligation to be polite and turned my back to him once more. Strange, but there was no reflection in the mirror of a man behind me. I turned again to face behind me, and there stood my Victorian gentleman. Like one of the twirling waltzing figures, I turned to the mirror again. There was no reflection of any Victorian gentleman in the mirror.

“They say madness runs in families ...” I muttered aloud.

To be continued …

© Susan Joy Clark 2016

Friday, July 8, 2016

Lessons learned, and ignored.

This article was published by The National Interest magazine on the 18th of June 2016, an excellent piece of history analysis that relates to today's events in a way.
After suffering more than twenty million military and civilian deaths in World War II, Russia has little cause to thank Hitler.
But with Wednesday, June 22 marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it is time to recall one of history’s greatest ironies. Adolf Hitler was obsessed with turning Russia into a vast German colony and the Russian people into slaves. Instead, half of Germany was occupied by the Red Army, its people subjects of the Russian empire. When four million Nazi soldiers crossed the Soviet border in the early hours of June 22, 1941, they dreamed of seeing the spires of the Kremlin. Instead they unleashed a chain of consequences that still shape the world 
To claim that Russia was not a great power before Hitler would be silly. Abundant in territory, resources and population, Russia has been a heavyweight since at least the eighteenth century, a behemoth strong enough to destroy the army of Napoleon (who also thought Russia would be easy prey). Yet three-quarters of a century later, it is hard to appreciate just how different the global balance of power was back then.
In the late 1930s, the United States had an army smaller than Romania’s. Britain, whose destroyers today can’t sail in warm water, owned a quarter of the Earth’s surface, and was reckoned to have the world’s most powerful navy. France, now the butt of many “I surrender” jokes, was considered to have the most powerful land army in Western Europe. Germany, whose military today appears barely functional, had been terrifying its neighbors since 1870.
And then there was Russia, the enigmatic Communist colossus racked by Stalinist purges, the giant with feet of clay that could barely subdue tiny Finland in 1939–40. It wasn’t just Hitler and his generals who believed Russia would collapse like a house of cards; even British and American experts did not expect Moscow to survive Hitler’s blitzkrieg. Yet in May 1945, it was Britain that was broke, France devastated, and Germans who watched Russian tanks clank through the rubble of Berlin. Like a boxer bloodied but still triumphant, it was Russia that remained on its feet and became one of the world’s two superpowers for more than forty years.
What would Russia look like today if World War II had never happened? What if Hitler had remained a failed painter in Vienna, or had been blown up by an assassin’s bomb in a Munich beer hall?
Without Hitler starting the war, the Soviet Union would never have seized their European empire. Britain and France were so anti-Communist that they almost bombed Russia’s oil fields in 1940 after Stalin signed a pact with Hitler, and considered sending troops to support Finland. They would not have remained idle if the Soviet Union marched into Germany (which might actually have happened if the Soviets had defeated Poland in the Russo-Polish War of 1920).
A considerable chunk of the German armies in Operation Barbarossa came from Axis allies that foolishly joined Hitler’s “crusade against Bolshevism,” including Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland (the thought of Italian troops eating pasta in the snow near Stalingrad is still surreal). Conquering Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria allowed Red Army bayonets to install Communist regimes in those nations, as did liberating (yes, it was liberation from the horrors of Nazi rule) Poland and Czechoslovakia. In other words, no Hitler, no Warsaw Pact.
The borders of Russia today would also look different. Hitler and Stalin carved up Poland in 1939, and after the war the Soviet Union annexed most of the Polish territory it grabbed in 1939, with Poland being “compensated” with German territory. These lands would never have changed hands were it not for the war, while East Prussia would be part of Germany today instead of Russia.
True, Operation Barbarossa devastated the industry and natural resources of Russia and Ukraine, a shortfall only part made up by Lend-Lease and postwar Soviet looting of Germany. Stalin’s ruthless push for industrialization in the 1930s had grown the Soviet economy at a remarkable rate, and transformed the Soviet Union from a Tsarist peasant state into a major industrial power capable of producing enough weapons to defeat Hitler’s panzers. Even with the economic contradictions of Communism, it would have been interesting to see how the Soviet economy would have compared to others in the long run if not for the war.
However, there weren’t many others. Except for the United States, Hitler’s madness eliminated the USSR’s competition. The world of 1939 was multipolar, with multiple states competing for power. By 1945, there were just two superpowers: America and the Soviet Union. The other contenders were smashed, occupied or exhausted.
And that is the greatest legacy that Hitler left Russia. Putin’s Russia has but a shadow of the military power and global influence of the Soviet Union. But compare the military power and influence of today’s Britain, France and Germany to what those nations enjoyed in 1939, and Russia doesn’t seem in bad shape. Moscow could maintain an expeditionary force for months in Syria: NATO could barely muster enough resources to tackle a fifth-rate power like Gaddafi’s Libya in 2011.
Hitler left a power vacuum in Europe for Russia to fill. Whether this was worth twenty million dead is another matter – END –

Like the law of Physics that says liquids will seek the direction with least resistance and flow through, power vacuums always sees new power emerge in its place, and because history repeats itself, the breakdown of the EU will see Russia again make use of it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Lessons from a Revolution?

In the late 1700s France was one of the most powerful nations on earth, and the Bourbon Monarchy was one of the oldest royal families in Europe.  But, the nation was in the grip of  turmoil that ultimately consumed the existing structure, and destroyed the established government.

France owed monstrous war debts. The Seven Years War was violent, bloody, and expensive. Almost every power in the world took part. In fact, given the general state of the world at that time it could easily have been called a World War, had anybody thought of the term. It had rearranged things only slightly in the world at the time considering the enormous cost in lives and money. Either way, though, that war and the involvement in the Americas left France with crippling debt.

France was glued into an outdated way of governing. The ruling elite paid few, if any taxes. And since they were the "ruling elite" it was almost an act of treason to suggest changes. It was left to the common classes, the third estate to finance the government. And even in that it was rippled with inconsistencies, different territories paid taxes at divergent rates.

Clergy enjoyed a tax free existence and were seen to be living lavishly off the backs of the common people. The importance of the church allowed it to grow enormously profitable, owning almost 10 percent of the land. Rent and tithes made the church extremely wealthy, and glaring, gaudy ostentatious examples of this were on display almost everywhere.

According to P.M. Jones in his insightful The French Revolution 1787 - 1804 "However, there was also a principle at stake, for the three-tier division of ancien regime society into ‘estates’ turned ultimately on the question of exemptions. Direct taxation was demeaning and to be liable to it was an
unmistakable sign of baseness. Bringing the clergy and the nobility - not to mention sundry other groups - into the tax net might make perfect economic sense, but the social implications were enormous." Clearly, nobody was in a big hurry to change the status quo.

When weather conditions caused poor harvests food prices skyrocketed it was akin to storing the gasoline and matches next to the fireplace. Combustion was almost unavoidable. And when it ignited it burned across an entire continent.

Of course, it would be foolish to claim these were the only factors. The fervor of the American Revolution was intoxicating. An ancient system of societal division (the ancien regime) was chafing in times of mass communication, provided by Gutenburg was bound to unravel. But, these things would likely have been slowly incorporated into the fabric of  the nation.

Crushing debt, a government unable, or unwilling to make the changes needed, and a powerful, uncontrollable religious authority making obscene profits while the working class struggles to provide the most basic needs is obviously a recipe for disaster. Of course, that was then.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Reformation, Act 1.

This is a blog post that was difficult to place. Originally it was going to go in Life Explained; The End. It is an ominous, portentous story of the terrible power religious zealots can wield.

Here it would be wise to say I am not opposed to organized religion, at all. In fact, often I am a little envious of people who have something to help explain the awful things, something to hold onto when the world seems completely insane. So, practice, believe, and be filled with joy, I am happy for you.

When the Roman Empire collapsed Europe was plunged into an age of anarchy, a vacuum. In stepped the Catholic Church, with the written word of God, the Bible, and the power to read and interpret it they controlled the population. If you wanted an education you went to the church. Armies were raised, monies collected, and the Church was in charge.

People who objected to the Catholic interpretation were executed, sometimes in hideous fashion. And the Church had the word of God in defense of their actions.

At the time the church was selling "indulgences." It was like a "get out of jail free" card. If you had the money, you could get some of those troubling little indiscretions forgiven, bypass Purgatory, a nasty place and go right to the Golden Gates.

People are good at gaming the system and soon figured out, "hey, if I have enough samoleans I don't have to lead a pious life at all. I can raise hell, and still get to Heaven." And it was hard to dispute the logic, the church had the blueprint, the road map, the bible. And since it was in Latin they could tell you it said anything.

With the changes brought about by the creation of a middle class, merchants, producers of goods, and the wealth implicit with the changing times and burgeoning economy people began to question the absolute power of the Church.

It  was the invention of movable type that  gave them the power. And the man who kicked over the apple cart was a Church educated priest.

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenburg, and began the discussion, Then he did the unthinkable and translated the bible into the native language.

Soon people were reading the bible, and interpreting it in their own ways. And if the "devil can quote scripture" so could the Europeans, and they did. And it got ugly.

Next, the birth of a revolution.