Wednesday, 25 November 2009

History: Admiral Anson, part 1

Admiral Lord Anson, 1697-1762

(This essay will be in 2 parts: Part 2 can be found as a separate entry on this blog)

Admiral Anson is best remembered as the man who sailed round the world in the early 1740s, but there is much more to his career than that. His real importance can be summed up in a comment made by Lord Lyttleton in 1759:- "We talk of nothing here but the French invasion: they are certainly making such preparations as have never been made to invade this island since the Spanish Armada, but I trust in God and Lord Anson". We shall see how this faith was justified.

The Ansons were said to be an old Staffordshire family, but the founder of the family's home at Shugborough, on the confluence of the Trent and Sow near Stafford, was William Anson, a rich and successful London lawyer who built a large brick house there in the 1690s. He was not a particularly significant figure compared withthe families who dominated mid-Staffordshire; the Bagots, Chetwynds, Pagets and Gowers; and his house was far less grand than their mansions like Tixall and Beaudesert, but his family were clearly moving up in the world, and he had useful political connexions through his wife. When William Anson died in 1720, Shugborough was inherited by his eldest son, Thomas; a cultivated man with a deep interest in music and classical architecture, but it was his second son George, born in 1697, who was the true founder of the family's fortunes.

An early historian of Staffordshire, William Pitt, informs us that "the bent of Mr Anson's genius was directed towards an active rather than a studious profession", and that after only "the rudiments of a classical education" he went to sea at the age of 14, as servant to Captain Chamberlain on board the "Ruby". Young George must have decided this was the life for him, because in 1716 he was commissioned as a Midshipman, learning the art of navigation, and then as Lieutenant, on the warship "Hampshire".

These were uncertain times. Ten years of the mighty conflict known as the War of the Spanish Succession had recently ended with a decisive triumph for Britain and her allies over France, but many nations were dissatisfied with the terms of the peace settlement negotiated at Utrecht in 1713. In Britain the Hanoverian George I had come to the throne in 1714, but many at home and abroad supported the excluded Jacobite line and their claimant, the exiled James Edward Stuart. In 1715-16 James had attempted a rising in Britain, which had failed through incompetent leadership; but the way was open for any country quarreling with Britain to stir up trouble by encouraging the Jacobites. Hence Asnon's ship was sent to the Baltic, where Admiral Norris's fleet hoped to deter any hostile action from the Swedes, who had a territorial dispute in Germany with King George, and also to keep an eye on the new and alarming power in the north: Russia under Peter the Great.

Another discontented country was Spain, which had lost its empire in the islands of the western Mediterranean, and now tried to regain it with an invasion of Sicily. In 1718 Anson served on a fleet under Admiral Byng that was dispatched to prevent this. The Spanish fleet was defeated at the battle of Cape Passaro, where Anson had his first taste of action. Sicily was saved, and next year a Spanish landing in western Scotland, intended to spark off another Jacobite rising, was easily crushed.

In 1724 Anson was promoted to Captain, with his own warship. Peace had returned, and Sir Robert Walpole, the leader of the pro-Hanoverian Whig party, was now Prime Minister and firmly in control. Captain Anson spent most of the next decade across the Atlantic, guarding against the pirate threat to the American colony of South Carolina, where Anson County still bears witness to his presence. He was given no long-term leave till 1735, and then two years later was sent on a similar mission to protect British trading interests in West Africa.

For almost twenty years, Walpole managed to presrve peace in Western Europe, but a downside of his policy was that, to save money and balance the books, he allowed the armed forces to decline significantly. In consequence when war did return, Britain was perilously ill-prepared. This was exposed in 1739, when allegations of Spanish mistreatment of British merchants in South America led to the magnificently-named "War of Jenkins' Ear" against Spain. It is certain that Walpole did not want this war, but was hustled into it by divisions in the cabinet and a skilful propaganda campaign on behalf of the London mercantile interests. He was an aging man now, and beginning to lose his grip on events.

It was decided to fight this war entirely overseas, not in Europe, so Admiral Vernon was sent to attack Spanish bases in the Caribbean, and Anson was chosen for a particularly grandiose plan in the best traditions of Francis Drake: he was to sail round Cape Horn and plunder Spanish trade in the Pacific. The hub of Spanish power in the Far East was the Philippines, from which annual treasure ships sailed across to Panama, and thence back to Spain. All well and good, but then there were delays, the plan kept being changed, and instead of regular troops Anson was only given the services of 500 Chelsea Pensioners! Half of these, the ones who were still physically capable of running away, promptly deserted, and were very wise to do so, since of those who stayed with the expedition, not one returned alive.

Anson eventually set sail in September 1740, in his flagship the 60-gun "Centurion", with seven other ships and 1,500 men. He was already too late to reach the Horn in good weather. Furthermore, the Spaniards had learnt of his plans and sent out a fleet to intercept him, which fortunately was destroyed by storms. After noting the potential usefulness of the Faulkland Islands as a future British naval base, Anson rounded the Horn in appalling weather in March 1741. The crews were decimated by scurvy, and only three ships survived to rendezvous at the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile in June. (This was the island where the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk had been marooned from 1704 to 1709, thus inspiring Daniel Defoe to write "Robinson Crusoe") The island was currently uninhabited, but had good supplies of food and water, and the expedition spent the next three months there, recuperating. Anson won the lasting affection of his men by the way he shared their hardships and took his turn in the hard labour.

When they were sufficiently recovered, Anson was able to go on the attack. He captured a number of Spanish merchant ships and seized the treasure of the town of Patia. He then set out to cross the Pacific. They were becalmed, the expedition was reduced to just one ship,scurvy struck, with Anson himself laid low, until in late summer they reached the little island of Tinian, east of the Philippines and south of Japan. This formed part of the Spanish empire, but was almost uninhabited. Only 72 cewmen were still fit enough to anchor the "Centurion" and come ashore for supplies. This almost led to disaster, because while Anson and most of his men were on land their ship was blown away in a typhoon, and for three weeks they faced the prospect of being marooned, before eventually the skeleton crew were able to find their way back to the island. (Tinian is now part of the North Marianas islands group. It was from here that in August 1945 the American B29s took off to drop the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

What was left of Anson's force reached the Portugese base of Macao on the coast of China in November 1742, and then set off for the Philippines. They knew a Spanish treasure-ship would be sailing at this time of year, and for three weeks they lay in wait out of sight of land near Cape Espiritu Santo. Their patience was finally rewarded in June 1743 when they intercepted the galleon "Nuesta Senora de Cabadongo", out of Manila, bound for Acapulco. She was a much bigger ship than the "Centurion", but they took her after a sharp fight. An immense treasure in silver bullion and coin was captured, including 1.3 million "pieces of eight": all worth several million pounds in today's money.

The next stop was Canton in southern China. Anson was the first Royal Navy captain to land there, and initally the Chinese Emperor's viceroy and his mandarins received the new arrivals with suspicion; but there were British merchants on hand to translate for them, and when fire broke out in the city the sailors won the admiration and gratitude of everyone by the courage and efficiency with which they extinguished the blaze. Anson was presented with a dinner service decorated in Chinese style, which can still be seen at Shugborough. He sold the Spanish galleon to the Chinese and released all his prisoners (though 95 of them chose to stay and serve with him). The "Centurion" then set out for home.

It took three months to sail through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra (the site of Krakatoa) in what was then the Dutch East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean to Cape Town, another Dutch base. There they halted for another month, taking on supplies and engaging fresh crew, before setting out on the final lap of the voyage. They narrowly avoided being intercepted by a French fleet in the Channel, thanks to fog, and eventually landed at Spithead in June 1744. They had been away from home for three years and nine months.

The treasure was sent to London in a covoy of 32 wagons, guarded by 139 sailors. It was the greatest wealth ever brought back in a single ship. Anson became a national hero, lauded by the press. He was also now a very rich man, since by custom of the time a captain was allowed to keep 3/8 of any treasure he managed to seize. An account of the expedition, written by Richard Walter, chaplain on the "Centurion", was published in 1748, became an instant best-seller, and has remained in print ever since. The last surviving sailor of the expedition, George Gregory, died in 1804 at the age of 109. The figurehead of the "Centurion", a lion rampant, was eventually by order of King William IV installed in the "Anson Ward" of Greenwich hospital.

(The second part of this essay, describing Anson's pivotal role in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, is available, also under the heading of History: Admiral Anson)

Stories: "In the Gardens"

"In the Gardens"

I left the crowds milling around near the entrance, picnicking on the lawns or lying by the flowerbeds in the warm sun, and wandered off into the glades. After a while I came upon a long avenue of great chestnuts in bloom, all scarlet and white, and at the end stood the Crimson Pagoda. I walked towards it and saw it was very tall. But it was not what I had come to see.

There were fewer people in this part of the gardens, and they were mostly middle-aged or elderly. Some were walking about with a purposeful air, but most were sitting silent and alone on benches under the trees. I approached one greyheaded man, and when he showed no sign of acknowledging my presence, coughed discreetly to attract his attention.

"Excuse me", I ventured apologetically, "Could you tell me the way to the Queen's House, please?"

He glanced up. There was an annoyed expression on his aquiline face. "Over there through the trees", he said, making a vague gesture with his left hand, and then closed his eyes to indicate the interview was over. Somewhat daunted by this abrupt reception, I walked quickly away.

There was a path that seemed to run in the direction indicated, but it proved to be very serpentine and confusing. No-one had bothered to putup signposts in this part of the gardens. After a while I became convinced that the path was doubling back on itself, so I abandoned it and tried to cut across country. The grass was long and damp. Bluebells carpeted the shady places and there were snowy islands of cow-parsley. Huge clumps of holly and rhododendron loomed up to block a straight path. After I had wandered for some time I caught sight of the Crimson Pagoda, and realised I must have walked in a circle.

I felt hot and tired as well as irritated by my mistake, but I did not intend to be defeated so easily. A glance at my watch told me that it was only ten minutes past three, and I did not need to leave the gardens for quite some time yet.

I tried asking the way again, this time from an old lady with a stick, but her reply was not very helpful. Now my travels took me into untended thickets of willow, where I soon became hopelessly disorientated; then I found my way barred by dense hawthorn all strewn with may-flowers. There was still no sign of the Queen's House. I wished I had taken the trouble to map of the gardens before setting out. Soon the familiar outline of the Crimson pagoda came into view again.

I lost track of how many times I wandered around in these meaningless circles, and after a while I was no longer certain I could even find my way back to the entrance. My feet were burning and I badly needed a rest. There was a secluded wooden bench beneath a gigantic copper beech. The leaves cast dappled shadows and the air was very still. I saw down, stretched out my legs, turned my face skywards and closed my eyes. The Queen's House would just have to wait .......

I snapped awake suddenly and looked at my watch. It still said ten past three and had plainly stopped, but this caused me no great alarm. Even if I was completely lost, I would be rescued eventually. The park-keeper must surely come round and usher everyone out before locking up for the night. Meanwhile the day was still warm, and it was very pleasant just to sit and let the scents of spring waft over me. When I had rested I could resume my search, if I wished. What was so special about seeing the Queen's House anyway? No doubt it was worth a visit, but it would be empty: everyone knew it was many years since the Queen had lived there .....
The sun hung motionless in the sky and the warm afternoon lasted for ever .....

An unwelcome noise disturbed my reverie. It was a young fellow asking his way to the Queen's House. His face, his tone of voice, his whole manner irritated me. "Over there through the trees", I said, waving my arm at random. "You can't miss it" I was glad to be rid of him.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Holocaust snapshot: one day in Josefow

The Holocaust; a snapshot: One Day in Josefow

At dawn on July 12th 1942, the 500 men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 from Hamburg stood by for special duty in the village of Josefow, south of Lublin in German-occupied Poland. Their unit formed part of the Order Police (ORPO), a non-elite body who usually performed ordinary constabulary work but who during the war were often sent on duties outside the Reich. Their task this day would be to round up the 1800-odd Jews who lived in Josefow, select 300 adult males for forced labour and kill all the rest; men, women and children alike.

Their commander, major Trapp, was visibly distressed at the orders he was to carry out, and according to some accounts was reduced to tears, but managed to overcome his scruples. He detailed his men to surround the village, load onto lorries those Jews unfit for work, drive them into the forest and shoot them. Many of his battalion were also upset. A few refused to take any part in the action, and, contrary to popular beliefs about discipline in Nazi Germany, were sent to other duties and suffered no punishment. The rest were issued with whips and despatched to their first task, which was to round up all the Jews from their homes and assemble them in the village square. This took a long time, because of the men's inexperience, and some children and old people were shot on the spot, or even in their beds, rather than being assembled. Once the young men selected for labour had been segregated, the rest were taken into the forest, made to lie face-down and shot in the back of the head.

When it came to the actual killing, some of the policemen drew the line at murdering children, and some cried off after firing a few shots. Others became so agitated that they could not shoot straight, and succeeded in only maiming their victims. Firing at close range caused the men's uniforms to be spattered with blood and brains. Liberal quantities of vodka were provided for the firing-squads, and many soon made themselves very drunk. A few must have been surprised to hear themselves roundly denounced in German: the victim in question being a former colonel from the army of the pre-war Austrian Empire; but neither his words nor his campaign medals saved the old soldier or his non-Jewish wife. But despite all the problems, Major Trapp's operation was successfully concluded by nightfall, by which time some 1500 Jews lay dead. The bodies were left where they lay, for the local Polish mayor to arrange disposal. A handful of Jews from the village survived by chance.

Battalion 101 went on to take part in similar actions over the next few weeks, such as at Lomazy on August 19th, where many of their victims were not even Polish Jews, but Jewish deportees from Germany. By then some of the men had acquired a taste for the work, or perhaps alcohol and the experience of the previous surrender to savagery had overcome all qualms,because here the victims were treated with gratuitous cruelty, being beaten and humiliated before being shot. Much of the dirtiest work was done by the "Hiwis" (the nickname for volunteer militia recruited from the Ukraine and other occupied territories), who were to alarm even the Germans by their savagery towards Jews.In spring 1943 the battalion took part in "Operation Harvest Festival" against the Jews of the Lublin resgion. Altogether it has been estimated that the men of the battalion shot around 3,800 Jews and help deport 45,000 others to the camps.

In the 1960s, the story of Battalion 101 was subjected to detailed investigation, with evidence taken from its surviving members. The most remarkable fact to emerge about the men was their extreme ordinariness. They had mostly been of early middle age,in their thirties and forties, and because of this had been drafted into the police rather than into the front-line army. They were drawn from the working class or lower middle class. They were old enough to remember Germany before Nazism, and might therefore have been less susceptible to its propaganda. Almost all were married, and most had children. Only a quarter were members of the Nazi Party, and before 1933 many would perhaps have supported the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre or Communists, since their home city of Hamburg was notoriously a place where Nazi support was amongst the lowest in Germany: it was a cosmopolitan city, much influenced by Britain, and traditionally regarded Berlin as somewhat provincial. In other words, these men were hardly the sort of people likely to have committed mass murder of helpless victims. Yet they did, and so did thousands of other ordinary men, both in Germany and the occupied territories. But why did they do it? That question remains unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable.

There is a strange and grotesque coda to the Josefow story. After the war, Major Trapp, who was reduced to tears by the order to shoot Jewish children, and who allowed his men to drop out from such an unpleasant duty, did pay the supreme penalty for his crimes. He was extradited to Poland, where he was convicted of having ordered the shooting of 75 Polish civilians in September 1942, and executed in December 1948. At his trial, the massacre of the Josefow Jews was not mentioned at all!

(Much of the detail here had been taken from "Ordinary Men" by Christopher Browning)


Monday, 23 November 2009

Quiz: sport

Quiz: Sport

In what sports or indoor games might you attempt, use, play or otherwise come across the following?

1. A Yurchenko
2. A chinaman
3. A short corner
4. A Yarborough
5. A Ruy Lopez
6. A tight end
7. A pelaton
8. A parry riposte
9. A toe-loop
10. A garryowen

The answers to this and to the earlier quiz will be given if wanted.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Politics/Philosophy: Engels explains Marx

Friedrich Engels summarises Marxism in one paragraph!

In his preface to the 1883 German edition of the "Communist Manifesto", Engels summarises Marxist thought in a sigle paragraph:-
(The text is taken from the Penguin Classics edition: the numbers inserted are mine, and refer to notes at the end)

"The basic thought running through the Manifesto - that economic production and the structure of society of every epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of the epoch (1); that consequently (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been the history of class struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social development (2); that this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie) (3), without at the same time freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles (4) - this basic thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx (5)"


(1) A philosophical & psychological concept. Human consciousness is not innate and unchanging, but is determined by the social and economic environment in which we live. Hegel, a generation before Marx, had recognised that people in the middle ages thought differently from modern people (e.g. they might be more concerned with the salvation of their souls than with making money). Mill and other liberal and utilitarian philosophers saw man as essentially a self-seeking competitive individualist, but Marx denied this was innate: it was merely that possessive individualism was the attitude best suited to success in capitalist society. People had thought differently in the past, and in the future, if social and economic conditions changed, people would think differently again. It does appear that Marx thought the working classes had a different consciousness; motivated by class solidarity and co-operation rather than individual competition. In any case, possessive individualism was ultimately a false consciousness, since the vast majority of people were doomed to fail in such a competition.

(2) A theory of history. Society is divided into classes whose interests are irreconcilable. Thus, in the middle ages, when society was divided into lords and peasants, it was in the interests of the former that the peasants should do the maximum of work for the minimum of reward, whereas the interests of the peasants was precisely the opposite. At any given stage, there is a ruling class, which holds political power and uses it to further its own class interests, and an oppressed class. History is the story of struggle between the classes. All important events since the end of the middle ages have been caused by the rise of a new class, the urban bourgeoisie, which eventually managed to wrest political power from the old landed nobility: the most spectacular case being the French Revolution. Now the bourgeoisie (the capitalists) hold power and run society in their interests, against those of the new oppressed class, the urban workers (proletariat), who do all the hard work for inadequate reward. Marx always saw history as progress: he always portrayed capitalist society as a vast improvement on mediaeval feudal society, but he denied that it was the final stage of human development; the coming stage, communist society, would be much better.

(3) The coming revolution. The proletariat will overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels were confident this would take place in the near future, though they never gave much detail of the actual process of the revolution, or even whether it would necessarily be violent. The intense competition for profits would compel capitalists to reduce their wage-bills in order to save money, thus not only driving the workers to despair, but also resulting in people being unable to afford to buy the products that capitalism produced. There would thus be increasingly deep ecomonic slumps and business bankruptcies until eventually the whole capitalist system would collapse; brought down not so much by its brutality as by its inefficiency. In 1848 when the "Communist Manifesto" was written, revolution seemed imminent. By 1883, when Engels wrote this preface, Marx was dead and Engels had noticed a number of significant social and political changes which he described in a later book, "Socialism, Utopian and Scientific". General prosperity had increased, and the state was starting to provide social security systems for the masses. nevertheless, engels never wavered in his belief that revolution would come.

(4) A prediction of future society. After the revolution there will be "communist society", with only be one class (the proletariat), and consequently no more class conflict or exploitation. This will last for ever, and human history as we know it will stop - though Marxists would argue that true human history coild now start: mankind will at last be the master of his own destiny, instead of being pushed around by blind social and economic forces. The coercive state will "wither away". (It should be stressed that no Marxist governments ever pretended they had achieved Communism; they merely argued they were well on their way towards it) Human nature will change: possessive individualism will disappear and be replaced by something more co-operative. (Interestingly enough, Mill had argued that communism was bound to fail because he regarded possessive individualism as innate in human nature. At present, the advantage seems to lie with Mill)

(5) Engels adds the following footnote:- "This proposition ..... is destined to do for history what Darwin's theory has done for biology". Just as Darwinism enables us to understand life on earth, so Marxism enables us to make sense of what happened in history: to perceive a theme in what would otherwise appear as a meaningless collection of random events. It also enables us to predict what will happen in the future, and perhaps 'help it on a bit': not something that Darwin would ever have claimed for his theories, though many of his followers did!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Literature: "The Great Gatsby": a footnote

"The Great Gatsby": a footnote

Halfway through F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", that classic 1920s novel of the immensely rich at play in their summer palaces on Long Island - the first darkly sinister note is introduced with the appearance of the mysterious Meyer Wolfshiem. This character is modelled on a real person: Arnold Rothstein.
Rothstein was already well-known in New York before the First World War as the "king of the gamblers"; a man-about-town with contacts throughout smart society. He then made a fortune from a racket involving war bonds, and was believed to have fixed the 1919 Baseball World Series (both these being referred to in "Gatsby"). But his real importance as the "Moses of the underworld" and original godfather of organised crime was still to come.
When Prohibition was imposed, Rothstein at once saw its money-making possibilities; but not for him the sordid peddling of rotgut homebrew: he thought on an altogether grander scale. In 1920 Rothstein's agents in Britain bought 20,000 cases of Scotch whisky and shipped them across the Atlantic. The documentation said the destination was the West Indies, but in fact the ship anchored off Long Island, where the cargo was transferred to a fleet of fast speedboats and run ashore on a lonely beach at dead of night. There a team from the Dockers' Union offloaded the booze into trucks, which drove through the country roads into New York. Rothstein had paid off the cops all the way along the route. Rothstein made eleven such runs before he was shot and killed in 1928.
Rothstein's operation would expect little trouble from the authorities: the main danger was from other criminals who might try to ambush and seize his supplies (the word "hijacking" was coined at the time for this very operation). So for protection Rothstein turned to the street gangs: to Owen Madden of the Gophers, to Benny Siegel and Meyer Lansky of the Broadway Mob, to rising young stars of the Mafia like Lucky Luciano, to psychopathic killers like Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. They provided Rothstein with muscle; he showed them how to make serious money and also taught them some much-needed social graces. This was the sort of operation for which a real-life Jay Gatsby would have worked.
Had Gatsby been a real person, his parties would surely have included the family of George Herbert Walker, a bucaneering businessman from the Midwest who had his own summer palace on Long Island. In 1921 Walker's young daughter met and married another rich young holidaymaker, but from a very different background: Prescott Bush. They became the parents of President George Herbert Walker Bush, and grandparents of George Walker Bush.
Walker was too old to be a model for Gatsby, and Prescott Bush would certainly have refused to have anything to do with bootlegging: he was a young man of high moral principles who later rose to be a Senator. Someone more likely to have been involved was a Catholic from Boston, of humble origins but rising to great wealth: Joseph Kennedy. Was he involved in operations of this kind? Almost certainly nothing can now be proved, but there have been occasional allegations. In the movie "Mobsters" (by far the most historically accurate film about the gangsters), the Rothstein character exclaims "Next year I lose my Scotch distilleries to Joseph stinking Kennedy!", and Richard Nixon is said to have complained of his victorious rival Jack Kennedy in 1960, "His goddam bootlegger father bought him the presidency!"
Rothstein was in reality quite unlike the ugly, uncouth Wolshiem of "Gatsby". Also, Wolfshiem is portrayed as a fairly small-time crook; but Fitzgerald could hardly have known about the vast scale of Rothstein's activities.
By far the best book on the subject is "Tough Jews" by Rich Cohen.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Quiz: Pseudonyms

The following are the real names of people better known by their pseudonyms (e.g. Vladimir Ulyanov = Lenin). What are the pseudonyms of these people? They include political figures, authors, singers and film stars.

1. Eric Blair
2. Josef Djugashvili
3. Issur Demsky
4. Jan Ludvig Hoch
5. Arthur Flegenheimer
6. Francois-Marie Arouet
7. Edson Arantes do Nascimento
8. Charles Dodgson
9. Lev Bronstein
10. Harry Webb
11. William Henry Pratt
12. Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
13. Marion Robert Morrison
14. Margaret Hookham
15. Josef Ratzinger
16. Domenikas Theotokopoulos
17. Garik Weinstein
18. Bernie Schwarz
19 & 20 (always go together) Robert Leroy Parker & Harry Longabaugh