Friday, 17 May 2019

Memories: the 1966 World Cup

I watched the 1966 World Cup final, and England's famous victory over West Germany, at the home of a friend. His father insisted on watching the match on ITV, so I never heard the famous commentary, "They think it's all over... it is now!" which greeted Geoff Hurst's final goal. But I was left with several memories of the tournament besides this. 
   The best match, I have always felt, was Hungary vs. Brazil, in one of the pools. In the first half the Hungarians scored two goals, each quickly followed by an Brazilian equaliser. Pele wasn't playing because of injury, and a certain Florian Albert dominated midfield. In those days no substitutes, no even in the event of serious injury; so when one of the Hungarians (I can't remember his name) broke his collarbone, he continued playing with his arm in a sling. The final score was 4-2 to Hungary.
  In the quarter-finals, England were up against Argentina, whilst simultaneously Portugal played North Korea. One of the stars of the tournament was Eusebio, an incredibly brilliant striker, whereas the North Koreans were complete unknowns who had not been expected to get this far. So the expectation was that if we could win what promised to be a tough match with Argentina, we would meet Portugal in the semifinal. 
  On television I watched, as Rattin, the Argentinian captain, committed foul after foul and disputed evey decision. There were no coloured cards for offences in those days, and eventually the ref said to him something like, "I've had more than enough form you: on your bike!" and sent Rattin off. But Rattin refused to leave the pitch, and the match was held up for some time. During this impasse, scores from the other match were flashed up on the bottom of the screen. They read, "Portugal 0, North Korea 1", then "Portugal 0, North Korea 2", and "Portugal 0, North Korea 3"; which was quickly repeated in block capitals in case viewers didn't believe it. In the end, England managed to beat a ten-man Argentina, whereas in the other match the North Koreans couldn't cope with Eusebio and resorted to hacking him down and conceding two penalities, so the final score was 5-3 to Portugal. 
   But what this showed was that the Portugese defence was pretty rubbish, and that provided we could keep Eusebio quiet, we should be able to beat them in the semi-final; which was in fact what happened. But what I will always retain as a TV memory is Rattin arguing with the ref whilst across the bottom of the screen was the message, "REPEAT: PORTUGAL 0, NORTH KOREA 3"

Friday, 3 May 2019

1938: the Munich Conference

After Hitler's successful Anschluss with Austria in March 1938, it was in retrospect obvious that his next target would be Czechoslovakia; a far stronger state which was, furthermore, allied with France and the Soviet Union. It was necessary for Hitler's expansionist plans that Czechoslovakia should be destroyed: he had described it as "an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the heart of Germany", and at the Hossbach meeting the previous autumn he had discussed various scenarios in which he could crush the Czechs without provoking a general European war. Soon afterwards he had directed his generals to give priority to "Plan Green": a pre-emptive strike against Czechoslovakia.
   Hitler's excuse for an attack would be the matter of the Sudetenland: the western fringe of Czechoslovakia.The frontier between Czechoslovakia and Germany was a natural geographical one, marked by a ring of mountains to provide a strong defensive position, rather than an ethnic one. The Sudetenland was inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans; though these people had previously been citizens of the Austrian Empire, not of the prewar German Reich. Hitler now instructed Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten Germans, to keep making demands which the government in Prague could not accept. However, Hitler had no specific plans at this stage, and on May 20th he told his generals that it was not his intention to attack Czechoslovakia in the immediate future.
   This patient approach, however, was to change abruptly. On May 20th, in response to rumours of an imminent German attack, the Czechs ordered partial mobilisation of their forces, and Britain and France warned Hitler of the dangers of war. Hitler was forced to deny that he had any aggressive intentions (which was in fact true at this stage) and felt humiliated. A week later he held another meeting with his generals, where he told them, "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future". A new order was issued for "Plan Green", with a covering note that it go ahead before October 1st.

The Czechs were allied with France and Russia, though not with Britain; though if the French were dragged into war, Britain would certainly support them. But would the Czechs put up any resistance unless they were certain of help from their allies? and did the French really want to fight? and did the western powers really want the Russians to be involved? Hitler was well aware of these imponderables; he was not seeking a general European war, and he saw his political role as engineering a situation whereby he could destroy Czechoslovakia without other countries becoming involved. The early summer of 1938 accordingly featured psychological warfare, where German propaganda trumpeted the alleged sufferings of the Sudeten Germans, together with vague threats of military intervention on their behalf.

On the opposing side, the initiative was taken by the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Now in his seventies, he had not taken part in the First World War, but he was well aware of the immense suffering involved (his cousin and closest friend had been killed in action), and he foresaw that any future war would be even worse. He accordingly set himself the task of preserving peace. His policy of "appeasement" was based upon the acknowledgement that some German demands were justified, and ultimately that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be persuaded to refrain from war if a sensible deal could be negotiated.
   Accordingly, representatives of Chamberlain's government, far from urging the Czechs to stand firm and assuring them of British support, now instructed them to make concessions on the Sudetenland, and warned them that if they insisted on fighting over the issue, they would be on their own. The Czechs in their turn never did threaten to fight whatever the cost. The result was that on September 4th the Czech government finally conceded autonomy for the Sudetenland.

But of course this did not end the crisis, because Hitler was never interested in the Sudeten German issue except as a way of putting further pressure on the Czechs and their allies. Accordingly on September 12th he delivered a violent speech in which he made further demands and directly threatened war. 
   As the danger of war loomed, Chamberlain decided to take personal control of the situation, and accordingly on September 15th he flew to meet Hitler at the Fuhrer's mountain retreatof Berchtesgaden. We are so used to such meetings nowadays that we need to remind ourselves that it was the first time Chamberlain had ever boarded a plane,and the first time that face-to-face negotiations of this kind had ever been held. His message was to be that Britain had no objection in principle to the Sudentenland changing hands, provided it could be achieved without violence.  
   Hitler was delighted to receive him, and spoke warmly about his respect for Britain, but stressed the urgent need for the Sudeten "problem" to be solved speedily. Chamberlain returned to London, and the Czechs, under pressure from Britain and France, agreed to the secession of the Sudetenland. 
   With this agreement in his pocket, Chamberlain flew to a second meeting with Hitler on September 22nd, this time at Bad Godesberg. But to his astonishment and dismay, he was informed, "I am very sorry, but that is no longer of any use". What had happened in the interim was that Hitler had persuaded the Poles and Hungarians to make their own demands of the Czechs, and he told Chamberlain that he would be supporting them.  He now demanded that the Czechs must evacuate the Sudetenland by October 1st. 
  War now seemed imminent. Although Chamberlain was reluctant to stand firm, and his close adviror Sir Horace Wilson promised Hitler, "I will still try to make those Czechs sensible", the cabinet was divided. On September 25th decided that Britain could not recommend this new development to the Czechs, and promised to support France in the event of war. Meanwhile precautions against air raids began, gas masks were distributed and the fleet mobilised. It was at this stage that Chamberlain made his famous speech about "Quarrels in a faraway country about which we know nothing".
   Hitler's initial response was to become even more belligerent, but he quickly became aware of problems of his own. The German generals, it transpired, were alarmed at the prospect of a war on two fronts, and the German people decidedly unenthusiastic. Accordingly, when Mussolini suggested an international conference to solve the crisis, Hitler grundingly accepted. This became public in a dramatic scene in the House of Commons on September 28th: Chamberlain was speaking when a note was passed to him to say that Hitler had agreed to a conference. M.P.s met the announcement with wild cheering.

The famous Munich Conference took place on September 29th. In attendance were Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and the French Prime Minister Daladier. The Czechs were not invited, and neither were the Russians, allied to the Czechs. The final agreement decreed that German troops would occupy the Sudetenland in stages, between October 1st and 10th. There would be plebiscites in disputed areas (which never took place) and the question of Polish and Hungarian demands on Czechoslovakia was left open. Britain and France gave an international guarantee to what was left of the Czech state. 
   Chamberlain returned home to a hero's welcome,as the man who had preserved peace in Europe. There was some violent criticism, notably from Churchill, but also a telegram from President Roosevelt that simply said, "Good man!" Chamberlain was accorded the rare privilege of an appearance with the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, before cheering crowds.
   In fact, the only change achieved was that Hitler now occupied the Sudetenland in stages, instead of all at once. Soon afterwards, the Poles took Teschen from what was left of the Czech state.
   A more sensible leader than Hitler (Bismarck, for instance) would have paused for thought after this bloodless triumph. But Hitler was by no means satisfied with the Much agreement: he was heard to say, "That fellow Chamberlain with his umbrella has ruined my entry into Prague!" He now directed his energies towards destroying the rump of Czechoslovakia, and preparing theGerman public for the coming of war. 
   We now know, of course, that six months later Hitler would use divisions between Czech and Slovaks to seize Prague and set up a Reich Protectorate of Bohemia, together with a collaborationaist government in Slovakia, which was now shorn of territories grabbed by Hungary. Deprived of their defensive frontier and much of their manufacturing industry by the Munich agreement, the Czechs could put up no resistance.
   However, this blatant aggression shook British confidence in Hitler's intentions, and when in the summer of 1939 Hitler put pressure on Poland over the city of Danzig, Britain and France gave clear commitments to Poland, and much to Hitler's surprise,  declared war on Germany in September. After the feeble performance at Munich, Hitler was not planning for this.

So in retrospect, all Chamberlain achieved was to delay the outbreak of war by twelve months. Was this a correct and justifiable course of action? My next blog post on the subject will be and examination and evaluation of Chamberlain's policy.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Lion on the Cheesegrater

Reading James Davidson's splendid book, "Courtesans and Fishcakes: the consuming passions of classical Athens", I discover that the Athenian brothels offered a service called, "The lion on the cheesegrater". What on earth might this have been? Nobody seems to know. Imagination boggles!

Friday, 5 April 2019

Conjugations

My father used to enjoy conjugating certain ideas in the manner of the Latin verbs we had to learn at school (Amo - amas - amat: I love, you (singular) love, he loves, etc). This one sounds particularly apposite to the current disputes about Brexit:-

I am firm
You are obstinate
He (or she!) is a pig-headed idiot
We stick to our principles
You are doctrinaire
They are utterly blind to the true state of affairs

Here's one about going on holiday:-

I am a traveller
You are a tourist
He goes on coach trips
We have discovered a marvellous Greek island
You have pushed the prices up alarmingly
They have ruined the place completely

This one, about racist feelings, is best done back to front:-

They are Nazis
You are bigots
We only want to stay with the sort of society we're used to
He is a racist
You are prejudiced
I have plenty of black friends, but ....

No doubt readers can think of other examples 

Postscript: Matthew Parris produced a new one the other day in the "Times", concerning freedom of speech:-

I am fearlessly outspoken
You had better watch what you say
He should be no-platformed

he didn't suggest a plural. 

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Annunciation

March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary. This event is mentionaed only in St. Luke's Gospel, but since Christ was born at the winter solstice (though this date is not to be found in any Gospel), it was logical that he should be conceived at the spring equinox.
   The subject was always a great favourite with artists, especially in the Italian renaissance. The setting is almost always the same. Mary is wearing her traditional colours of red dress and blue cloak, and she is sitting in a cloister or loggia. Often she is shown reading a book, open at the prophecy of the birth of the Saviour. Gabriel usually enters from the left of the picture. Sometimes he carries a white lily, symbolising Mary's purity. Often there is a white dove, or a single narrow shaft of light.
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This version by Lorenzo Lotto is not typical of the genre, but I love it because of the cat, which has seen the archangel and is suitably 
terrified!
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Until 1753 England used the Julian calendar, which had become increasingly inaccurate, and March 25th was the start of the New Year; but then Lord Chesterfield pushed through Parliament his reform to bring the country in line with the continental Gregorian calendar. The start of the year was changed to January 1st, and eleven days were added to the year to catch up with correct dating. However, the financial year did not change, and continued to start at March 25th plus eleven days.
   A glance at a newspaper horoscope will show that the astrological year still begins with the sign of Aries, the Ram, starting at the spring equinox in March.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Do Animals Have Rights?

             
Preamble
Animals do not have any legal rights. They cannot be prosecuted in a court of law, or be called to give evidence, they cannot sue or be sued, and it is very doubtful whether they can inherit money or property. So what is usually meant when we talk about "animal rights?

It has been pointed out that pain, and the fear of suffering future pain, are important tools in aiding survival. For instance, because we know that burning is painful, we are therefore afraid of being burnt, and we know to treat fire with caution. Without pain and fear, we wouldn’t survive long!
Psychological pains, like shame, jealousy and loneliness, stem from our being animals who live in herds. Herds always have hierarchies, and we want to find our place in them. At the same time, virtues such as generosity and courage, which involve placing the wellbeing of others above our personal benefit, also stem from the herd-instinct.

Descartes thought animals were mere machines; what we might nowadays called programmed robots; but this is plainly incorrect. We all know that the animals that are close to us, like cats, dogs, horses etc, certainly feel physical pain in a similar way to us, and seem to feel some psychological pains as well. But these creatures are mammals; genetically similar to us. Does the same apply to reptiles and fishes? And what about invertebrates, such as snails? They presumably feel physical pain, but what about fear? E.g. humans endure psychological pain if they know they could be tortured or executed, or will suffer an unpleasant disease. Can animals anticipate suffering in this way? We know that in the end we shall all die. Do animals know this?
To take an even more extreme example: Plants are certainly sensitive to light and in some cases to touch. But they have no brains and no central nervous systems, so we can be certain that they cannot experience fear, but what about pain?

Similarly, we know that domesticated and farmed mammals can communicate to some extent. But does this communication merit being called a “language”?  Is it capable of transmitting abstract ideas that can be understood by a listener? We have no way of knowing.


If animals can be considered to have "rights", these cannot be the same rights as we have as humans. Since the first Cruelty to Animals law was passed at the start of the 19th century, they have had some legal protection (though the laws only apply to vertebrates). It is much debated how far this applies to hunting and shooting, and to the extermination of “vermin”. Should we always try to draw a clear distinction between hunting for “fun” and hunting for food (including some,though not all, fishing)?
Is it wrong to kill rats, which eat stored grain and spread disease? What about the Masai who kill lions which eat their cattle? Or from the opposite extreme, can it be wrong to kill mosquitoes in order to eradicate malaria?

Animals for farming
It has been argued that ever since farming began in the Neolithic period, there has been a “social contract” between man and his animals: not so much with the individual beasts as with the species. The animals and their offspring would be looked after, fed and sheltered in winter and protected against diseases and wild beasts; and in return they would provide milk, wool etc. In the end the animals could be killed for meat, but they would have led a more comfortable life than in the wild, and the species would survive. One downside of farming is that, after generations of domestication, if farm animals and pets were suddenly released into the wild without any support from humans, the great majority would soon die.
(If veganism became general, farm animals would quickly become extinct, bar a few who might be kept as pets. Are vegans happy about this prospect?)   

Medical experiments, etc
We can all accept that it is surely wrong to inflict unnecessary pain on animals. The key word here is obviously the adjective! If we concede this, how do we decide what is “necessary”?
I think we would all agree that there is a big difference between testing cosmetics and testing potentially lifesaving drugs or medical techniques (e.g. transplant surgery). It is obviously necessary to test whether these work (for which must be tested on mammals resembling us), and whether they have unpleasant side-effects. It is surely not envisaged to test them on humans! (Except possibly in very mild cases, and only on volunteers. Or perhaps not even then: in a dictatorship, is "volunteering" a meaningful and acceptable concept?)

Ultimately, it must be conceded that animals are less important than humans. Or are some animals more important than some humans? That seems to me to be an extremely slippery slope. I would not feel safe living in a society in which someone else could decide that my life was less important than that of an animal!

Monday, 4 March 2019

The last man to discover an alien life-form

Magro looked across the greensward. It always reminded him of home, and it was hard to remember that this wasn't Earth, that the plants beneath his feet weren't grass, and that the trees in the distance were wholly foreign.  Amongst the trees stood one of the enigmatic buildings with which the expedition had become familiar: a cylinder of silvery metal, somewhat higher than a man, capped with a dome, without any visible windows or doors. None of the humanoid beings who inhabited this planet was currently in sight.
   As well as feeling nostalgic, Magro felt depressed. They had been on this planet for almost a hundred of its days, and yet they had discovered nothing useful at all; about how its climate might change with the seasons, about its ecology and geology, about its wildlife (if any), and least of all about its inhabitants. After endless tests, the air was finally recognised as breathable and the crew had been able to remove their helmets. But the water from the streams and the fruit on the trees were still out of bounds: they contained no obvious poisons, but there were chemicals which it was feared might cause stomach disorders. Then there were the inhabitants ......
   The crew had met them soon after landing, but were yet to make any meaningful contact with them. Someone had christened them the "Noids", for they looked distinctly humanoid. They were about the same height as humans, and they were entirely hairless. It was impossible to distinguish betweeen men and women, and there were never any children on view. They all dressed alike, in a simple shift reaching to the feet, so they gave the impression of gliding as they moved. They had ever been heard talking to each other.
   Infuriatingly, they showed no interest in making contact with their visitors. They ignored the spaceship entirely, and when they encountered the crew they bowed slightly and then moved on. They appeared to walk around randomly, in ones and twos, never in groups. They were never heard to utter a sound, and were never seen eating or drinking. Whatever did these strange people do? Magro wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time.
   Azarin, one of the crew, came running towards him. "I've just discovered something!" he called, gabbling in his excitement. "I saw one of the Noids entering a cylinder!"
   "Go on!"
   "Yes! He walked up to it, and suddenly a door opened and in he went! And I looked, but I couldn't see any sign of a door at all! So I sat outside for ages, waiting for him to emerge, but he never did. What do you think's going on?"
   "How can I say? For all we know, it could just be a lavatory! They aren't very big, those cylinders: no room for more than two or three people inside."
   "No. Unless, of course, they contain steps going down underground".
   At this point Telemar, the commander of the mission, who must have been listening to the conversation after approaching unobserved, intervened to say, "Has it occurred to you that all this has been set up for our benefit? A scenario very close to life on earth has been specially created here; only they haven't got it quite right.
   "Consider: the air is breatheable, but contains too many rare gases. The water has trace elements that make it unsafe to drink. These plants under our feet look like grass, but they aren't. The fruit on the trees could be eaten, but the chances are that you'd be spending a long time on the toilet afterwards. Then again: there aren't any animals or birds. There aren't even any insects! I haven't seen an insect. Have you? And as for the Noids... have you never suspected that they might be robots? They aren't the slightest bit interested in our spaceship. Can you imagine chimpanzees, or even cattle, completely ignoring a strange new object that suddenly appeared in their territory?
   "So: whoever might be in charge of this planet: how are they doing this? and even more importatly, why?
   "We could try forcing some truth out of them!" Azarin said.
   "How?"
   "Well, we could kidnap one of the Noids. We wouldn't hurt him: just take his clothes off, perhaps, and see what he'd got underneath. Anyway: make him communicate. Or we could blast our way into one of the cylinders. Or perhaps ignore the Noids entirely, set up the heavy digging equipment, and see if there's anything useful to be had here".
   Telemar shook his head. "No; for a variety of reasons. Firstly, because, as you well know, we're strictly forbidden to use violence towards indigenous inhabitants unless we're in serious danger. Which at the moment, we're not; though we might be if we followed your suggestions. Whoever set up this ridiculous planet for us must be extremely intelligent; extremely powerful. Who knows what might follow if we started to get aggressive? Intergalactic war maybe?"
   "Well,have you any bright ideas?" Magro asked.
   "None at all. And in any case, we'll be leaving this planet soon enough."
   "Leaving? whatever for? are we running out of food, or what?"
   "Yes, but there's more to it than that. You don't understand the politics of it. Voyages like this are fantastically expensive. It was made clear that this was our last shot, and if we didn't discover something really profitable, that would be it. Even the food for the trip was cut back, to save money, so we can't stay here much longer even if we wanted to. And what's happened? We've discovered a planet that makes no sense, inhabited by creatures (if they are really creatures!) which make even less sense. So we'll go home having achieved precisely nothing. And that will be that. Goodbye to any further explorations". 
 Magro looked across the grass that wasn't grass, through the trees that weren't trees. The spaceship stood there, shining and silent and redundant.


Saturday, 16 February 2019

Anschluss

Hitler was born in 1889 as a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Habsburg family. It was a vast multi-racial conglomeration which included, as well as the dominant Germans and Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Italians, Slovenes and Croats, as well as substantial numbers of Jews. He formulated his ideas whilst living in occasional poverty in Vienna, where he came to regard the Germans as the superior race and to despise the lesser breeds.
   After defeat in the First World War, the Empire disintegrated, and the Treaty of St. Germain, imposed by the Allies in 1919, left as "Austria" merely a largely rural German-speaking rump around the oversized capital, Vienna. The new country was bankrupt and barely able to feed itself, and was forbidden to unite with Germany, which is what most of the inhabitants would have wanted. Hitler, of course, had long since decamped to Germany, though it is said that he never lost his provincial accent.
   Throughout the 1920s there were periodic economic crises, and the unemployment rate never dropped below 10%, though at least the country avoided the extreme political violence that bedevilled Hungary. But then from 1929 the Wall Street Crash brought catastrophe and political turmoil to central Europe. Early in 1933 Chancellor Dollfuss shut down the Parliament, crushed the Socialist movement and assumed dictatorial powers.

   Dollfuss did not enjoy his victory for long, because in July 1934 he was murdered by a group of Austrian Nazis. Any thoughts of a German-backed coup, however, quickly had to be abandoned when Mussolini moved troops up to the Brenner Pass, the Autro-Italian frontier, in a clear sign to Hitler to keep his hands off. As a result, Austria remained independent and Dollfuss was succeeded in power by Schuschnigg.   
   Britain and France deduced from this that Mussolini could be a useful counterweight to Hitler's disruptive ambitions; and indeed for the next few years Hitler behaved cautiously over Austria and tried to conciliate the Italians. The furthest he went was to sign an informal agreement with Schuschnigg that Austria would follow Germany's lead in foreign policy.  But from 1936 Mussolini's aggression against Abyssinia and his intervention in the Spanish civil war increasingly alienated him from the western powers and drove him into the German camp; and Hitler was able to contemplate more openly expansionist moves.
   An Anschluss (union) with Austria obviously fitted in with Hitler's ideas, and after meeting Lord Halifax in November 1937 he came away with the impression that Britain would be unlikely to intervene to prevent it. But at the so-called "Hossbach conference" at about the same time, he made little mention of Austria, devoting the meeting to reasons for destroying Czechoslovakia. (See my earlier blog post for this)

The Anschluss crisis, when it came, was very sudden, and the German action was clearly improvised, with no indication of prior military planning. It came about as follows:- 
   On February 12th 1938, Hitler summoned Schuschnigg to a meeting at Berchtesgaden and bullied him into promising to release all Nazis from Austrian gaols and to appoint the pro-Nazi lawyer Seyss-Inquart Minister of the Interior. The Austrian leader acceeded to all these demands, but then on March 9th suddenly made a desperate bid for freedom by announcing that in three days' time he would call a referendum on the future of his country. 
   Why Schuschnigg took this step  is not at all clear. It is most unlikely that a referendum could be organised at such short notice, and he had consulted Mussolini, who rather feebly told him that it was "a mistake". But Hitler, taken completely by surprise, was furious. There was actually no military plan for the invasion of Austria, so he ordered one to be created immediately, to be codenamed "Operation Otto". It was, he stressed, to take place without any violence if at all possible. At the same time, hewas worried about Mussolini's reaction, because the 1919 peace treaties had given to Italy the Tyrol region, where there were many ethnic Germans. Therefore on March 10th he despatched an envoy to Rome, stressing his friendship, calling the invasion "a matter of national self-defence", and carrying the assurance that the Brenner Pass, north of the Tyrol, was the permanent border with Italy.
   Goring now took charge, demanding the resignation of Schuschnigg and his replacement by Seyss-Inquart, who would then request that German troops should enter the country. But in fact the invasion began on the evening of March 11th, before a reply from Seyss-Inquart had been received, and Schuschnigg,who had already cancelled his referendum, told the Austrians in a radio broadcast not to resist.
   What line Mussolini would take was stilll not known; but later that same evening a telephone call from Prince Philip of Hesse in Rome assured Hitler that "The Duce accepted the whole thing in a very friendly manner". Hitler was quite hysterically relieved. "Please tell Mussolini I will never forget him for this .... If he should ever need any help or be in any danger, he can be convinced that I shall stick to him, whatever may happen, even if the whole world were against him". This is one of the very few promises that Hitler kept; but for Mussolini it was the first fatal step that led he and his country to disaster.

But what would happen in Austria itself? Operation Otto proved to be something of a shambles, which much German military equipment breaking down on the way to Vienna; but there was no resistance. On the contrary, the German army was greeted with cheering crowds. 
   On March 12th Hitler himself entered Austria, and visited his home town of Linz, which he had not seen since he was a teenager. Addressing an excited crown from the balcony of the town hall, he suddenly announced that he would be incorporating Austria into the German Reich. Seyss-Inquart, who was expecting to be the Chancellor of a pro-Nazi state, was ordered to issue a law legislating his country out of existence. He did so on March 13th. On April 10th a referendum was held in Austria and Germany, where over 99% of the people voted for the new arrangements. Although this near-unanimity clear;y indicates a fraudulent vote, there is no reason to believe that a majority did not approve of the Anschluss. All this demonstrates how difficult it was for any outside state to make any response beyong protests.

The Anschluss was marked by savage outbreaks of antisemitic violence. Vienna had a larger Jewish community than any German city, and according to Hitler himself it was in Vienna that he first conceived his hatred of Jews. Jews were strongly represented in the legal and medical professions and in the arts, but there were also large numbers of poor Jews who had come from the provinces of the old Empire. Now, even before the arrival of the Wehrmacht, Nazi thugs smashed up Jewish shops and apartments, stole cars, and took delight in forcing well-dressed Jewish men and women to scrub the pavements on the hands and knees and clean the public lavatories. Crowds of onlookers jeered, and the police made no attempt to intervene. These outrages were far worse than anything that had yet happened in Germany, and were soon followed by laws removing all Jews from the professions and from government service. At the same time, officials of the Gestapo and the Security Police arrived to arrest all potential opponents. These outrages were noted by the internationa press, but seemingly had little or no impact on how foreign governments were prepared to treat Hitler.

In retropect it was now surely obvious that Hitler's next move would be against Czechoslovakia.  

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Quiz: Royal Consorts

Here are ten Queens of England. Which Kings were their husbands?

1.  Anne of Denmark
2.  Ann Neville
3.  Beringaria of Navarre
4.  Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
5.  Caroline of Ansbach
6.  Catherine of Braganza
7.  Eleanor of Aquitaine
8.  Margaret of Anjou
9.  Matilda of Flanders
10. Philippa of Hainault

Two of these Queens were childless. Who were they?
Apart from these two, two others were not among the ancestors of our present Queen. Who were they?

It's noticeable that only one of the Queens is British! What claims does our monarchy have to be called British in any genetic sense?

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Philosophy: Virtue and Morality

There is a question, “Is there more to virtue than just doing good deeds? And if so, what is it?” In the tabloid press, “morality” never means anything other than sex, but of course there is much more to the question than that!
The debate begins as follows: actions may be good in themselves (e.g. giving help to the poor), but they may be performed for purely selfish reasons; such as avoiding tax, improving our “image”, or even increasing our chances of going to heaven. Do these dubious motives invalidate the moral character of the deeds themselves? Or does an action remain good in itself, whatever the character and motives of the doer? (E.g. Al Capone was always very generous in giving aid to the poor of Chicago, especially during the Depression. To a mediaeval thinker, this would be counted in his favour when before Divine judgement)
    Can an action be well-intentioned but bad in its consequences? E.g. giving money to a beggar, who may spend it on drugs or booze; or to a charity which may be fraudulent. We are often warned against irresponsible donations!
   (Jesus specifically told us to give our wealth to the poor, and denounced the rich. In mediaeval Catholic theology, performing good deeds would definitely improve your chances of going to heaven. In the morality play “Everyman” the central character is setting out on a journey (i.e. he’s dying), but “Good deeds” will accompany him, whereas “property” is revealed to be his greatest enemy. But early Protestant theologians specifically denied that good deeds could bring you any closer to salvation).

As against this, the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato, Aristotle and their successors, were less concerned with good deeds than with the creation of moral character: the virtuous man

“Virtue” = a combination of courage, justice, temperance and intelligence. A virtuous man could be relied upon to be truthful and honest, to act wisely and justly, to avoid corruption and self-indulgence, and to have the courage to behave properly under pressure. This would be more important than good deeds (in any case, we would expect a      virtuous man to perform good deeds). Such a man could be called magnanimous: “great-souled”
It would appear that the magnanimous man is in a position of power and authority. It would be difficult for a slave to behave like this.

The ancient concept of “virtue” was rediscovered in the Renaissance and revived by radical Jacobins in the French Revolution, where it appeared by mean a combination of patriotism and frugal living. In Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Brutus shows “virtue” when he kills his friend and benefactor for the good of the state. By comparison, Dante saw Brutus as the arch-traitor, almost as wicked as Judas Iscariot.  

David’s paintings illustrate “virtue” as understood by the French revolutionaries, by portraying two episodes from the legendary early history of Rome.


In the first, the consul Brutus (ancestor of Caesar’s killer) receives the bodies of his sons, who have been executed for plotting to betray the Republic. The women weep, but Brutus deliberately shows no reaction at all.


In the second, “The oath of the Horatii”, the three sons of Horatius are about to go forth to kill Rome’s enemies. Again, the women are weeping: they are the sisters of the three Horatii, and the men to be killed are their husbands! In both these cases, “virtue” and patriotism are portrayed as being more important even than family.

Aristotle’s concept of moderation is quite different from Christian humility: helpless without divine grace – a concept unknown in the classical Greek world. Aristotle saw moderation as having a realistic view of your abilities: pretending you’re worse than you are is just as foolish as vainglorious boasting. 

The British public schools, from the days of Thomas Arnold’s Rugby (and all the masters were of course educated in the classical writers!) saw their role as not so much teaching knowledge and skills as building character: creating the ideal of the Christian Gentleman: an up-to-date version of Aristotle’s “virtuous man”; and a fit type to go out and rule the empire, hopefully in a magnanimous fashion (which they did!)

Plato, Aristotle and the other ancient Greek writers never touch on the question of whether good deeds may be rewarded, and bad deeds punished, in the afterlife. Such a notion was unknown in Classical philosophy. Homer portrayed the dead as leading a gloomy life as ghosts in a dark underworld. Similarly in the Old Testament “Shaol” is seen as a miserable underground place, but with no sign of torture by demons. In both the Homeric and the Hebbrew cases, all the dead went there: the virtuous and the wicked, the heroes and the obscure all alike. It was only with the coming of Christianity that we find a stress on glory for the saved and eternal punishment for the damned..


Monday, 14 January 2019

Vaux-le-Vicomte



The spectacular Vaux-le-Vicomte, south of Paris, is the first of the great baroque manions. It was built between 1656 and 1659 by Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV's Superintendant of Finance. Absolutely no expense was spared. The very best experts were called in: the architect Le Vau, the decorator Le Brun and the garden designer Le Notre, together with their teams of craftsmen. The result was a palace of staggering richness, which was also a display of Fooquet's recklessness, for everywhere was found his emblem of the squirrel and his motto: "Quo non ascendum?": "How high shall I not rise?"   






Finally all was ready, and King Louis XIV was invited to the grand opening. A special play was commissioned from Moliere, there was a grand display of fireworks, and the King's meal was served on gold tableware. But Louis, in the words of Le Notre, "Had never seen anything so beautiful, and he did not like what he saw at all". Not only was the monarch hopelessly outclassed, but he no doubt wondered where Foquet could have got all that money.
   Less than three weeks later Foquet was arrested. Convicted of embezzlement, he was sentenced to imprisonment for life in the remote fortress of Pignerol, where he died in 1680. Louis then recruited Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre to work on his own great project, the palace of Versailles, which he clearly intended to outshine Vaux-le-Vicomte.
   So the unhappy Nicholas Fouquet never got to see his marvellous palace again, but fortunately we can.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Isle of Wight

Until I was six, I lived on the Isle of Wight, at Belcroft House, Newport. It was built by "a pupil of John Nash". In fact, it wasn't as grand as this sounds, since it had been divided into council flats. We had the ground floor. When we lived there, it had a large conservatory in front. My main memory is being taken up ontothe roof to watch the "Queen Mary" sail down the Solent. I managed to locate the house on a visit many years later.


This summer we returned to the island, staying at the Royal Hotel in Ventnor, close to the southern tip of the island. The hotel had a fine garden.


From the hotel it was only a short walk down the hill to the beach.


A mile or so away we found the Ventnor Botanical Garden; a sub-tropical paradise on the site of an old tuberculosis sanatorium.





The oldest building on the island is Carisbrooke castle. There was a motte here, and a tower (probably made of wood) as early as 1100. The present gatehouse and keep date from the early 14th century, when there were fears of a French invasion.
King Charles I was held a prisoner here after his defeat in the civil war, before being taken to London for trial and execution.



Queen Victoria and Prince Albert loved the island, and built Osborne for their family. It is a vast Italianate mansion with formal gardens, grounds sweeping down to the Solent, and a special house and farming allotments for their children. (I have written about the house on an earlier posting)




After Abert died, Queen Victoria kept his rooms completely untouched. She died at Osborne in 1901.

In the pre-reformed Parliament before 1832, the Isle of Wight was politically significant, since it elected no fewer than six M.P.s: two for Newport, two for Yarmouth, a Henrician fort at the western tip of the island, and two for Newtown, which today consists merely of a small town hall on a desolate marsh.