The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia ended the Wars of the Reformation, laid the foundations for today’s system of nation-states, and drew the key borders of modern Europe. Below is a 100% accurate rendition of the final negotiations.
Today, Russia celebrated Victory Day: the anniversary of Germany’s 1945 surrender in World War II. That milestone offers a lesson about the war in Ukraine, but not the one claimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. For the past fifteen years, Western nations have ignored one of World War II’s most obvious warnings … possibly until now.
Putin at today’s Victory Day parade in Moscow
Britain and France Appease Hitler
In 1938, Adolf Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia. He’d been supporting a separatist movement in a border area called the Sudetenland, by German-speaking Czechoslovak citizens. And he claimed he had to invade to protect those German-speakers. Continue reading “Putin and Appeasement’s Bad Track Record”
Modern democracy gives us the best governments the world has ever seen. Or maybe Winston Churchill put it better when he said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” But democracy hasn’t taken root everywhere. And its success has robbed all other governments of legitimacy — everywhere. That includes monarchy: once the world’s most stable form of government. So a country that can’t adopt democracy has no legitimate option. The result: brutal strongmen, like Vladimir Putin, as well as authoritarian hierarchies, like the Chinese Communist Party.
Revolutionary France had a Black general.
His name was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and he was born a slave in Haiti — then a French colony — the son of a French nobleman and his African slave. Dumas’ father had little money and actually pawned the boy in 1776, when he was fourteen, but then bought him back. Father and son moved to France, where Dumas gained his freedom and a gentleman’s education. He enlisted as a private in the army at age twenty-four and soared to the rank of general by thirty-one. That was thanks to courage, brains, and charisma — and thanks to the French Revolution, which created unheard-of opportunities for humble-born men. Dumas repeatedly distinguished himself in combat, and France’s Austrian enemies called him the Schwarzer Teufel: the black devil.
Today, Ukrainian President Zelensky called on the U.N. to remove Russia’s permanent seat on the Security Council. That would end Russia’s power to veto Security Council action — including authorization of international military force. The British ambassador tweeted that the United Nations can’t do that. But she’s wrong.
Removing Russia’s permanent seat seems unlikely at the moment. But the member-nations have a mechanism if they want it. And crisis often breeds fast change, like today’s aggressive sanctions against Russia — unimaginable two months ago.
The world risks a new cold war thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — of the Crimean Peninsula. The conflict calls for short history of the two nations and of Crimea.
[Originally posted in 2014. I’m reposting because this article has so much to say about today’s news from Russia and Ukraine.]
Vladimir Putin may have created a new superpower — and it’s not Russia. In the weeks since Putin invaded Ukraine, the European Union has changed. A recent New York Times opinion piece suggests the invasion has both united and militarized the EU (transforming it into a far more effective partner for the U.S). Europe could become an aggressive advocate for democracy, with power to rival China’s, as well as America’s. If so, how would this third superpower operate, given the EU’s decentralized structure? Europe’s own history offers an answer. The EU starts to look like the Holy Roman Empire.
Recent events have reminded me of America’s unusual advantage on the world stage. We have a highly professional and uncorrupt military: a blessing enjoyed by few nations today or at any time in history.
The Russian kleptocracy goes to war
Today, the Russian army is bogged down in Ukraine — apparently due to its corruption and low competence. Putin’s Russia is a kleptocracy: a state ruled by theft. In other words, the Russian government regularly diverts public resources into private pockets, particularly Putin’s pockets and those of other Russian oligarchs, as well as their supporters’ pockets. Military experts think that corruption has played a central roll in stalling the invasion. Those diversions of vital resources create inefficiencies. That’s why a forty-mile-long convoy, bound for Kyiv, sits idle and vulnerable, stretched out across the northern part of Ukraine. The soldiers lack fuel, replacement parts for “lemon” equipment, and even food. (Reports say they’re robbing supermarkets and begging Ukrainian civilians for food.) Continue reading “Thank you, American armed forces”
Ancient Greek and Roman scholars achieved some amazing things. They foreshadowed many of the inventions and discoveries that shape our world.
- Anaximander of Miletus / Evolution & Life’s Aquatic Origins: Anaximander was one of the first philosophers and the author of the earliest known philosophical text. He lived in the Greek city of Miletus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) during the early 500’s B.C.E.: the age of Buddha, Confucius, and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. Based on observations, he concluded that life sprang from the seas or from warm water covering the Earth. He also thought that the first animals were fish and that humans and other land animals descend from those fish. In other words, he reached some of the same conclusions as Darwin and his successors. Anaximander, however, did not develop a theory of evolution. Fish fossils seem to have influenced him, but his main inspiration came from the fact that young fish aren’t dependent on their parents: they swim free the moment they hatch. So the very first fish could survive without parents. Young humans and land animals, on the other hand, do depend on parents, so the very first land creatures couldn’t have survived without parents. The parents of those first land animals, then, must have been … fish. Anaximander got it wrong, but his method was sound, and he started down the right path. Continue reading “Four Modern Breakthroughs that Ancient Science Just Missed”
The legend of Lady Godiva is based on real events, according to a startling new discovery — but the facts were distorted right from the start, during the heroine’s lifetime. Several months ago, a student found a medieval manuscript in a cellar beneath Queens’ College, Cambridge. It included a 14th Century copy of the 11th Century text below. Queens’ is my alma mater, so I was one of the first non-academics to receive this translation from the Latin. It will blow your mind. (And after all these years, it’s about time we heard the other side of the story: the legend of Lady Godiva from her husband’s point of view.)
I, Dunstan, priest, wrote this from the mouth of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, on the seventeenth day of July in the fifteenth year of the reign of our most gracious King Edward [1057 AD].
My wife’s Latin inscriptions call her Godiva, but in English her name is Godgifu, God’s gift. I will not offer the obvious play on words about whether the Lord actually meant her as a gift, and if so to whom. But I have my doubts. Certainly she was beautiful in her youth, but that fair quality brought me little joy. More often than not, when I knocked on her chamber door in the wee hours, she said her blood had come or she was fatigued. Yet those ailments interfered not at all when a handsomer, younger man knocked on Godgifu’s door. Of course, they all kept that from me, my loyal people. But I had my informants, for not all in an earl’s household fear his wrath. My truest spy was my housekeeper, Tydfil, who fears little and has more wisdom than any woman I know, or any man. Tydfil told me of all Godgifu’s lovers. Did you never wonder why so many handsome young men of Mercia found themselves fighting in distant Ireland or Scotia, rented as mercenaries to warring lords? But Godgifu had her revenge. Now I am old, and I can hear the rustling wings of the Angel of the Lord. So I need a son to follow me. Yet doubt plagues me. That warlike young man who waits so eager to take my place: is he my own getting or the son of some handsomer man? They say only a wise man knows his own child, and though sometimes even Tydfil praises my wit, I cannot tell my wife’s truths from her lies. Continue reading “Leofric and Lady Godiva”