Tag Archives: history


This post is dedicated to my Mother-in-law, perhaps the most patriotic Finn out there.  Therefore the post will be in Finnish first (thanks Google Translate!) followed by English.

Tänään on Suomen itsenäisyyspäivä. Takaisin vuonna 1917, kun Venäjän keisarikunta oli hajoamassa ja ensimmäinen maailmansota oli syvällä kolmas vuosi, suomalaiset julistautui itsenäisiksi ja nopeasti vaipui sisällissotaan. Jotenkin he onnistuivat luomaan järjestystä, luoda demokratia ja säilyttää itsenäisyytensä.

From kanssa wikipedia artikkeli:

Se on perinteistä paljon suomalaisia perheitä esiin kaksi kynttilää kussakin ikkunassa kotimaan illalla. Tämä tapa päivämäärät 1920, mutta jo sitä ennen, kynttilöitä oli sijoitettu ikkunoiden syntymäpäivänä runoilija Johan Ludvig Runeberg kuin hiljaisen protestin koettu Venäjän sorron. Suosittu legenda kertoo, että kaksi kynttilää käytettiin merkkinä tiedottaa nuoria miehiä matkalla Ruotsiin ja Saksaan tulee jääkärien käsivarret jäntevät kantaa, että talo oli valmis tarjoamaan suojaa ja pitää ne piilossa venäläiset

Hei Paula,

Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää!  Klikkaa kuvaa alla nähdä elokuvan.

Today is Finland’s independence day.  Back in 1917 while the Russian Empire was falling apart and the First World War was deep in its third year, the Finns declared their independence and quickly sank into civil war. Somehow they managed to establish order, create a democracy and maintain their independence.

From with wikipedia article:

It is traditional for many Finnish families to light two candles in each window of their home in the evening. This custom dates to the 1920s, but even earlier, candles had been placed in windows on the birthday of poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg as a silent protest against perceived Russian oppression. A popular legend has it that two candles were used as a sign to inform young men on their way to Sweden and Germany to become jägers that the house was ready to offer shelter and keep them hidden from the Russians


Ave! Caesar!

Ave! Caesar! Now take those hobnails off and put them on the conveyor belt.

In recent weeks these security measures have been stepped up as barbarian threats have become more pronounced. Accordingly, at many checkpoints along the Rhine, Rhone, Danube, Jordan, Nile, Niger, Tigris, Euphrates, and Potomac [check that last one -JC] we are requiring travelers to lift their togas or in some cases to allow one of my shorter legionaries to look up their togas – a procedure I have named the Veni Vidi. [I can’t think of a third “V” word just now -JC]

(h/t Phronesisaical)

Finnish Fridays

I recently finished Mannerheim: President, Soldier, Spy by Jonathan Clements a recent biography of the father or modern Finland.

Mannerheim is one of those people they just don’t seem to make anymore.  A man who not only found himself in a number of key events during the early 20th century but was able to shape many of those events.

The book focuses primarily on Mannerheim’s life up to the establishment of the Finnish state around 1920.  It spends a little bit of time on the last 20 years of his life, but that time is probably the most well known and the easiest to find information on.

And what a life it was.  Concerned his military career was going nowhere he volunteered for service in the Far East for the Russo-Japanese war.  While the war didn’t go well for the Russians it proved very fortuitous for Mannerheim.  After the war he was sent on an extended spying mission throughout China to assess the threat it posed to Russia.  He then cooled his heels for a couple of years and served in the Russian army during the First World War and when the Bolsheviks took over made a hair raising escape to Finland where he oversaw Finlands secession from the Russian Empire and  resistance to it’s own red revolution.

Then, at the age of 70 (!) he became Finland’s Commander in Chief as the Soviet Union invaded Finland and he spent the next five years fighting alternately Soviets and then the Germans.

Clements description of the Winter War has a different tone than the rest of the book, and it’s clear there’s a bit of hero worship here.  Still, the Winter War was one of those historical events that generates amazingly impressive stories of determination and heroism.  In the homeland of sisu, those crazy Finns kicked it up to 11.  Indulge me for a moment with some quotes.

Upon hearing that the Soviets had invaded Finland, one Finn said:

We are so few, and they are so many…Where will we find the room to bury them all?

And later:

In one infamous incident, a lone Finn was seen calmly standing in the path of a lumbering tank, carefully sighting a pistol in between the viewing-slits on the front of the tank.

According to the footnote:

Lieutenant Virkki is the only man in history to have defeated a tank with a pistol…

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why you never mess with the Finns.

Mannerheim’s story is really an incredible one that would really be at home in a Bernard Cornwell novel.  Check it out and you won’t  be disappointed.


The Machiavellian Renaissance

I’m not sure why or how but occasionally I feel like I’m tapping into the great hive mind.  Just as I’m thinking of writing a post about Machiavelli, I see a story on Cracked that mentions him.  Then, the next day Boing Boing writes that he’s everywhere (although they only provide one link to back up that statement).

But…that link is golden.  It is to Don MacDonald’s comic (uh…graphic novel) rendition of Machiavelli’s life.  Absolutely brilliant.  The guy clearly has a good handle on the source material, going beyond the Prince and delving into the history of Florence in the early 16th century and using Machiavelli’s letters and contemporary sources to flesh out his story.  Very nicely done and we can only hope that when he’s finished, MacDonald will bundle the whole thing up and offer it as an eBook or in hard copy.

Oh, and I found this link buried in the BB comments section about a recent book by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff trying to link the Blair government with the wisdom of Nicky.  Just for the record, that is the same idea I presented to my undergraduate adviser way back in 1992 (although, admittedly, not about Tony Blair).  Perhaps it was too ambitious a project for one such as me but I have to admit I’m a little peeved that I knew there was a book in the idea but my adviser smothered the idea in its crib.  Well…nertz to you, dude!

But, this post isn’t about me (Yeah, who are you trying to kid.), it’s about Machiavelli.  So, here’s a recommended website of Machiavelli miscellanea you might enjoy.

Kvick Tänkare

Even though it was a long, long time ago, I still remember the day I was sworn into the Army and shipped out to my basic training.  Lots of trepidation and anxiety that I can only imagine is only a fraction of what Russian conscripts go through when they’re called up.  With rampant hazing of new soldiers I’m pretty sure I’d do whatever I could do get out of military duty there.

Still…at least they get jugglers.

Have you seen this ad by the Citizens Against Government Waste (uh, apparently except when the government wastes on them)?  It takes us into a dystopian future of the Chinese dominated world.  We peer into a Chinese university campus where the professor explains how great powers fall.  And there, surrounded by pictures of Mao (indicating the Communist Party is still doing pretty good in 2030) we hear what caused the mighty U.S.A. to fall:

  1. government stimulus spending
  2. big changes in its health care systems
  3. public intervention in major industries

The message is clear.  We need to be more like those danged Chinese who are cleaning our clock by being so darned economically adaptive (and let’s face it, their willingness to imprison and execute those who question if their country isn’t the bestest, greatest country every bestowed upon mankind is pretty great too).  We could continue to be masters of the world if only we followed their lead and, for example, embraced their free market principles of:

  1. government stimulus spending
  2. big changes in its health care systems
  3. public intervention in major industries

While the commercial is slick and well done it’s misunderstanding of history is staggering.  Rome fell because it turned its back on its principles?  It lasted (depending on how you count it) for about 800 years and probably ‘abandoned its principles’ 500 years before it fell.

The Swedish city of Malmö has a sniper who’s been targeting immigrants lately.  The Swedish press is referencing an earlier shooter from the 1990s known as the ‘Laser Man‘.  It also appears that even though they haven’t identified any suspects authorities are assuming this is a lone gunman.

Perhaps they should review the Beltway Sniper case to see how relying too much on unexamined assumptions can hinder investigations.


Hannibal: Rome and Carthage playtest

I got and finally had some time to play Hannibal – Rome and Carthage, the game I’ve written about a couple of time before.  Now, I’m ready to pass judgement.

While I really enjoyed it, I think the true pleasure of this game comes from having a familiarity with the subject matter.  Without it, it might be a casual wargame of some limited potential but it really comes alive (and is worth your time) if you’re familiar with the course of the Second Punic War.

And if you are familiar with that war, boy are you in for a treat.  I was blown away at how the designer could use such an apparently simple set of game mechanics to realistically capture the flow and feel of that war.

The game graphics are beautiful if decidedly low tech.  Everything about the game is designed to replicate the feel of the time, from the parchment notes to the sound of stones sliding against each other while you’re moving tiles that represent your armies.

It finds a nice balance between strategy and fate with both random events (Yeah, that huge fleet you’ve been building up?  Storms can be a bitch in the 2nd century BC.) and through event cards that you can use for varying effect (encourage a revolt at Syracuse to get them to switch to your side; play up the unpredictability of the Guals by making half of them get drunk right before a crucial battle, let Hannibal slip through the Roman fingers by escaping by sea, etc.).

The game flows back and forth with mind spinning speed and, just like the real war, you can be convinced all you’ve got left to do is mop up some rag tag Romans one moment and the next turn you’re scrambling to regroup before you’re the one that’s crushed.  But how you can develop your long term strategy will determine how well you can withstand cruel twists of fate.

The AI is very robust and I was quite happy playing at the introductory level for quite a while.  The ‘normal’ level gives me a good run for my money and I’ve yet to beat expert.  What I particularly like about the AI is that it just doesn’t increase the size of the Roman armies or make harder to damage.  The Romans actually strategize better.

And the real gem is that at the ‘advanced’ level of play, you not only have to deal with Roman armies, but you also have to contend with the Carthagenian senate.  At all levels of play the Senate decides what the main theater of the war will be and that’s the ONLY theater that you can move reinforcements in to.  Things looking ripe for a raid into Sardina?  Too bad. The Senate thinks you should be paying attention to Spain so quit screwing around.  This isn’t Rome after all. We’ve got civilian control of the military.  Now do what you’re told or you’ll find yourself cruicified.

At the introductory and normal level of play the Senate will do whatever Hannibal wants.  It still means you can only move forces to one theater at a time so you still have to plan several moves in advance while trying to hold off Roman advances if you want to make your plans comes together.  At the advanced level, however, the Senate feels free to do what it wants and Hannibal can only offer advice.  There are ways to exert more influence on the Senate (through event cards) but that usually comes at the price of giving up additional army units.  So you have to decide how important it is to try to get the Senate to go your way and how much you can try to ignore them and just get the job done in spite of them.

The game turns each represent one year and if neither Rome or Carthage hasn’t been captured (or Hannibal killed) the game ends at the end of the 20th turn and some system determines how you fared (it explains the system in the rules, I just haven’t read it since I generally don’t like to look too closely under the hood while I’m first playing a game).

I defy you to play this game and not have at least one or two moments where you go ‘Ah…now I get why the Romans did this or Hannibal didn’t do that.’

Back to the future

As you might have guessed if you checked out my flickr site, the TwShiloh team traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia to take in a little local history.  My findings:

  1. While I’m a true blue yankee, my mother is a daughter of the South and has bequeathed two articles of her heritage to me:  the inexplicable habit of peppering my speech with ‘y’all’ and the ability to make the best cheese grits…ever.  Now that I’ve gone south of the Mason-Dixon line and tried what they’ve got I feel pretty confident in making that claim.
  2. Late September is the time to go for a visit.  The weather is nice (a bit hot, actually, this year), the schools have just started back so you aren’t bombarded with vacationers or student groups.
  3. There’s a very interesting dynamic going on in the Williamsburg area.  There, in what they term the ‘Historic Triangle‘ is a fascinating mix of federal sites (Jamestown and Yorktown), state facilities (Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center)  and a privately owned location (Colonial Williamsburg) that cover almost two centuries of history in a very small area. Given the potential for collaboration and these tough financial times you’d think these groups would welcome the opportunity to coordinate their efforts.  It doesn’t seem to work out that way…

The National Park Service seems to regard the state facilities with a bit of contempt.  As one ranger told me, ‘Oh, they’re fine if you like that sort of thing.  It’s an interpretation of history.’  And, to be fair, it’s clear the state wasn’t being totally historically accurate (I detected plastic sheeting under the reed mats that made up the huts in the Powatan village).  And while the National Park Rangers gave amazing tours (especially a Ranger ‘Linda’ at Yorktown who gave a most excellent account of the battle) the state employed historical ‘interpreters’ were quite knowledgeable and very approachable.

Colonial Williamsburg seemed to suffer from the lack of fulfilled potential the most.  It’s still very beautiful but I seemed to detect a slow decent into theme park-ism which, in all fairness, might just be a bit of  curmudgeon coming out of me.  I did, however, speak with a couple of the locals who indicated that the site has begun hiring actors in place of expert craftspersons.  I suspect there’s a natural tension  between a profit making enterprise and doing history.

That being said, we went to an evening performance titled ‘Cry Witch’ that was very good.  It was a trial, based on an actual witch trial (with some liberties taken in regards to its conclusion) and it had the most interesting aspect where some of the audience played the role of counselors and could question the witnesses while the ‘governor’ used the examinations to provide instruction on the legal system of 17th century Virginia.  It was quite fun and, dear reader, you would have been quite proud of my performance.

And overall, I was reminded with disappointment that there’s a similar nexus of American history that has gone essentially overlooked.  I’m speaking of Washington Crossing, the battlefields of Princeton and Trenton, and Valley Forge (not to mention Philadelphia).  Virginia has been able to leverage their historic sites to complement each other (even if they don’t actively cooperate).  Here, the sites are left on their own, particularly in the case of Washington Crossing, to wither and fade into obscurity.

Kvick Tänkare

Who knew the Germans were still paying reparations from WWI (uh, probably the Germans.)?  Their last payment is due on the 3rd of October.

A study came out claiming that atheists and agnostics are pretty knowledgeable about religion.  More so, in fact, than all religious groups.  That kind of makes sense since agnostics/atheists need to understand a wide variety of religions before they can reject them. Winner quote about the story is from the NY Times:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

CNN had a short (10 question) quiz from the poll so you can check out you knowledge (for the record, I got 9 out of 10).

A while ago I wrote about a demo of an upcoming game called Hannibal.  Well, it’s out now.  I’ll be picking up a (virtual) copy soon.  It has a cool, old-school board game look to it and the demo was a lot of fun.  Check it out and crush those pesky Romans!

Last winter the Finns created a massive snow pile from plowing the streets of Helsinki.  Well, the thing has just about melted…just in time for snow to start falling again.  It was ginormous when it was created (see picture below).

Weekend miscellany

I’m listening to the Teaching Company’s course Bach and the High Baroque now and it rocks.  I’m totally sold on Baroque music and haven’t been able to get enough of it.  Conversely, I’m thinking that music from the Romantic era sucks…bunch of pretentious poseurs (Beethoven is the exception that proves the rule, btw).

So, here’s your weekend music

Since I recently wrote about Soviet/Finnish conflict, EnglishRussia comes through again with some photos of a Soviet bomber that crashed in 1939 on the way to the front.

Some really cool people have created a trading card game (think Magic:  The Gathering) based on the principles of biodiversity and ecology.  It’s called Phylo and it’s free.   There’s a forum where the game system continues to be hashed out (the game is still in beta).

Nine Years

So, nine years ago tomorrow the fates threw us a curveball.  Where are we now?

Well, I think we are safer from large scale attacks than we were nine years ago.  So, good for us.

On the other hand.  I’m convinced we are in worse shape in many other areas.  What’s particularly maddening is that, in at least some cases, our problems are both our own doing and were reasonably foreseeable at the time.  Specifically…

  • National cohesion – The first big mistake of our post-9/11 response.  While there was a huge outpouring of support and a desire to ‘do something’ the administration couldn’t think of anything more significant than ‘go shopping’.  I think that was a huge mistake for a number of reasons not least that it allowed the country to deceive itself into thinking that this was someone else’s problem.  Oh, we could still muster outrage and panic alternately but we couldn’t even talk about the possibility that Americans might need to tighten their belts and pay a bit more in taxes to pay for the two wars we were engaging in.  Does anyone think that decades from now, people who grew up during this time will talk to their children about the experience of living in America during wartime?  Is there any collective memory of this time other than 9/11 (apart from Jersey Shore)?
  • Conceding the initiative – It seems like ever since 9/11 we’ve let the extremists define the conflict.  They said we were fighting a war against Islam and we sputtered and stuttered for years without coming up with a response.  Worse, our own nuts seemed to relish the imagery of a new crusade and began babbling about a ‘fourth world war’ (deciding the Cold War counted as a Third) or a clash of civilizations.  My father informed me we were engaged in a Holy War just the other day.  I find arguments about whose sky-daddy is more powerful just about as productive as wondering if the tooth fairy could take the Easter Bunny in a fair fight.  But have we attempted to put forward a counter narrative?  Hardly.  The best demonstration of this was when I was at the counterinsurgency symposium earlier this year.  A person bemoaned the lack of any strategic messaging on our part when a voice from the back piped up ‘Actually, I’m from the state department and we have a very robust strategic messaging effort.’  The fact that they needed to reaffirm their existence proved that statement to be a lie.
  • Hubris.  Remember the ideas that we’d transform the world into representative democracies?  And everyone would absolutely love our invading armies?  How the hell did they get so many people to believe that crap?
  • Overreach.  Two wars simultaneously?  No problem.  While cutting taxes and increasing other spending?  Hey, we aren’t amateurs.  Pissing over our allies?  C’mon.  Truuuust us.

And as I’ve said for at least four years now, if I’m UBL sitting in my cave now I think I’ve got to be feeling pretty good about things.  Sure, the U.S. is extracting itself from Iraq and has reached a point where if the whole place self destructs Americans will say (and believe) ‘Hey, we didn’t do THAT.  Everything was just fine when we left.’ but it’s still an open sore of resources and prestige.  Afghanistan continues to look promising but the real win is in America itself.  The country is teetering on bankruptcy, the two political parties look like nothing so much as Didius Julianus and Titus Sulpicianus trying to outbid each other for the favor of the praetorians (or maybe just the mob).

The famed tolerance of Americans is under pressure as reactionaries try to turn the country back to some non-existent time and attempt to deny some the right to worship, the right to citizenship and the right to a fair trail.

And really, let’s say we kill UBL and all of al-Qaeda tomorrow.  Is anything really going to change?  Is the threat level suddenly drop to green or blue or whatever color ‘no problem’ translates into?  Are we going to stop hearing the drumbeat of ‘get tough’ rhetoric that demands bombs drop or assassins get busy every time we are displeased by another nation (or individual)?  Are we going to (finally) hold people accountable if they torture others in the name of the United States?

Probably not.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  I recently read a post where the author said he felt like it was 1913 with the old order spiraling out of control.  Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t.  Maybe this is the beginning of our ‘crisis of the 3rd century‘.  Or maybe things will stabilize.  But one thing is for sure, it’ll never go back to the way it was and pretending we can make it so or ignore the changes that have occurred and serious challenges we face ain’t gonna make it any better.

Interesting that the day after I wrote the above, Sullivan has this post.

And this leviathan moves on, its budget never declining, its reach never lessening, its power now emboldened by the knowledge that this republic will never check it, never inspect it, never hold its miscreants responsible for anything, unless they are wretched scapegoats merely following orders from the unassailable above them.

And, most tragic of all, those who say they care about liberty above all – the tea-partiers who invoke the founders – seem only too willing to surrender every liberty for the prize of a security against a threat we cannot even measure, and to bow down before a new king (and probably warrior-queen) rather than elect a new president.

I think Sullivan flatters the non-Tea Party movement here.  There are plenty of non-tea party people who’d be more than happy to hand over liberty in exchange for some hazy level of protection against a highly unlikely event.  I don’t think this is intentional or some sort of insidious plan nor is this limited to the one side of the political spectrum.  Parents are more afraid of their kids being the victims of terrorist attacks than car accidents.  They’ve been whipped into a frenzy about on-line predators that is completely out of whack with the data.  What parent isn’t going to jump at the chance demand that the government ‘think about the children‘ and look the other way as we trample on the principles the nation was founded on.

But you won’t hear about that at any rally purporting to ‘restore honor’ to the nation.

You’d think after nine years people would get a grip and be able to put threats into perspective.  In the days and weeks immediately after 9/11, you could understand the confusion and many of the responses but we’re almost a decade later and still we keep hearing ‘Hannibal ante portas!’