Churchill: A Great Paradox

Last week marked the day in which Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1940. As with many historical events, the press and public look back and ponder the ‘what ifs’, we see montages of his greatest moments and we idolise the man who led a nation in its darkest hour, Britain’s saviour one could say.

When considering Churchill’s legacy, we think of the Second World War, his grand speeches in parliament, his defiance in the face of overwhelming adversity and how it emboldened the people of the United Kingdom to fight fascism. What is often overlooked however is his immense role in the ghastly actions of Imperial-Age Britain.

Many do not include the British Empire in the club of murderous, tyrannical empires of the past. We are not the Mongols, or the Romans, we are not the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. We modernised more than half the world and established democracies that still remain to this day, albeit independent from our rule. These are all wonderful aspects of the British Empire, aren’t they? It is for that reason we can soundly proclaim we were the ‘good guys’, right?

Unsurprisingly, it is not that simple. For every road paved, for every child literate and for every clean water well there are hundreds of dead, incarcerated and oppressed people’s. The blood shed by the British Empire throughout its centuries-long history is unfathomable, yet we are blind to these realities – A selective view of history instilled in our minds from the moment we enter the education system.

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Winston Churchill is a product of this time in our history. A man who firmly believed the British Empire was the moral authority around the globe. A civilised nation whose god given right it was to spread British values, democracy and culture. He was an imperialist, plain and simple. In recent years, many have argued that by modern definitions he was a white supremacist as throughout his career there are examples of his contempt for supposedly ‘lesser’ cultures.

Speaking of the indigenous peoples of America and Australia, Churchill claimed:

“I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

As well as a contempt for indigenous populations, Churchill had spoken in an almost Nazi-esque fashion, claiming: “The Aryan stock is bound to triumph.”

A statement more at home in Mein Kampf than a biography of Britain’s most celebrated leader.

Let us examine a selection of his darkest actions.

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In 1919 during Britain’s third occupation of Afghanistan, Churchill advocated the use of chemical weapons against the insurrectionist tribes of the region. These surely are not the actions of a moral and just individual, are they? Even more sordid when considering the devastating affects gas had upon British troops during the First World War.

“We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells…burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.”

As a young officer, Churchill witnessed – and perhaps acquired his taste for – great brutality against indigenous populations in South Africa during the Boer War, where concentration camps were pioneered. He even claimed this method ‘reduced suffering‘.

Over 28,000 white Boers died as well as anywhere up to 14,000 black South African peoples.

These methods were also used in Kenya during the 1950’s, where over 100,000 black civilians – which Churchill labelled ‘blackamoors’ – were interred in concentration camps. Britain’s actions at this time were particularly brutal, and focused firmly on maintaining the control of the minority white population in the country.

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One of the worst atrocities carried out by the United Kingdom, and often erased from our history books, is the Bengal famine of 1943. At the height of the Second World War, Britain’s resources were stretched beyond breaking point. Food supplies throughout the Commonwealth and in Britain were dangerously low, and one may be forgiven for assuming that the defence of mainland Britain was a priority.

When famine struck however, Churchill it seems disregarded the gravity of the situation, and is even claimed to have placed the blame at the feet of the Indian population, saying they ‘breed like rabbits’ – A callous remark met with an equally callous response. Wheat shipments from Australia were bypassed to the European theatre of war and this led to increased suffering in the Bengal region.

Churchill’s actions, or there lack of, appear to have aggravated the situation further, and it is believed that over three million people died. His disregard for the people of India is evident during his time in politics and is likely due to his contemptuous view of the people. The Viceroy of India claimed:

“Churchill’s attitude towards India and the famine is negligent, hostile and contemptuous”

A topic still hotly debated to this day is British involvement in Iran. Western meddling in the Middle-East is often acknowledged as one of the main factors of numerous problems. Churchill had long meddled in the affairs of the Iranian people and viewed the mineral wealth of the nation as a massive prize for the British Empire, so much so that he helped orchestrate the complete seizure of the nations oil supply.

Speaking of the seizure of oil, he claimed it was “a prize from fairyland beyond our wildest dreams”

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His meddling did not relent, and during his post-war term as Prime Minister he enabled the Shah to overthrow the popular nationalist government under Mohammad Mosaddegh, thus setting off a cataclysm of events that would shock the Middle-East for decades. The Shah committed atrocities against the Iranian people for over two decades, supported by Britain and United States, until the Islamic Revolution of 1979 ushered in a dark new era of regional politics.

There are numerous other examples of Churchill’s callous actions throughout his political career, but there simply is not enough room in this article to delve further, a few other examples are:

  •  The partitioning of the Near East, an issue that still plagues global politics to this day.
  • State endorsed violence in Ireland through the ‘Black & Tans’.
  • Violent suppression of civilian protesters in Greece in 1944.
  •  The appalling treatment of workers in the UK. (See the Tonypandy Riots)

What can be said in an albeit futile defence of the man is that his views on race are not unique for the time. As a man born in Edwardian Britain it is likely these beliefs were held by a great deal more people in the UK. This does not exempt him from criticism however, and upon reflection we today find these views offensive and his actions deplorable.

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He was a product of his time, and it must be said his views, although not too dissimilar, do not quite compare to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini or others who believed in racial or societal hierarchies at the time. The great paradox of Winston Churchill is that he did champion the defence of western capitalism & democracy and he did rouse the people of the UK and other European nations to resist fascism. Whilst doing this however he stands as a living embodiment of what many today would view as the antithesis of modern democratic values; equality and tolerance.

A monumental figure in British and world history, but perhaps not for the supposedly noble reasons we believe. His legacy is one of blood and torment, with a gloss finish of glory.

 

 

Amritsar Massacre: The Bloody Legacy of British Rule

Britain’s legacy in India is one of bloodshed, division and contempt. Some would say that Britain paved the way to developing a region bogged in centuries of stagnation and creating earth’s largest democracy. However this is far from the reality of our time in the region.

Today marks the 98th anniversary of the Amritsar Massacre, one of many acts of brutality carried out by the British in their long rule.

As the dust settled on a nation disheveled by war Britain, looked to solidify its holdings across the globe, and as the saying went, India was ‘the jewel in the empire’s crown’. One cannot begin to imagine that after the horrors of the First World War, Britain would seek to wreak more havoc and bloodshed in their own colonies, but desperate times often result in desperate measures.

Paranoia was rife throughout Britain’s colonies at this time. Sensing weakness, some were taking advantage of Britain’s delicate state in the wake of WW1. Although having played a crucial role in the British war effort, India still had disruption in several areas at the time. Dissidents in the Bengal and Pubjab regions had been causing civil unrest for some time already, and the response was to introduce harsher policing methods in the regions.

Several mutinies in the colonial military forces had placed the ruling powers on edge, and little chances were taken in their attempts to hold these regions.

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In the days preceding the massacre the Amritsar area had been placed under martial law. This information was not proliferated effectively throughout the region however and as such, hundreds of unarmed civilians made their way to celebrate the Baisakhi cultural festival. Due to the delicate state of affairs in the region, many in the regional government believed that this was the early budding of a potential uprising – This was far from the case however.

Hundreds of pilgrims gathered in the walled garden of Jallianwala Bagh, and it is there they were met with such brutality that this event heavily damaged the image of colonial rule across the globe and in mainland Britain itself. Under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer, British Indian forces opened fire on gathered crowds in an area described by Winston Churchill as no larger than Trafalgar Square.

Dyer had already gained a reputation for brutality in India. ‘Crawling orders’, in which innocent civilians were forced to the ground to crawl – under penalty of a beating –  were commonplace. A tactic used to instill fear and obedience among the populace.

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Colonel Dyer arrived with a force of 90 men, armed with rifle and blade. For ten minutes gunfire ripped through the crowds of helpless people, and with limited escape routes, the injuries inflicted were catastrophic. Dyer had ordered the main entrances to the garden blocked, stating that his intention was not to simply disperse the crowd, but to ‘punish’ them for their ‘disobedience’, as if they were children misbehaving.

The dense sections of the crowd were targeted and with nowhere to go many fell to the ground and hoped to avoid the gunfire, however this was not to be the case as the colonial forces began firing on the helpless individuals hugging the ground.

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Winston Churchill, a man whose legacy in India would see millions dead, appears to have been outraged at the time. Speaking in the House of Commons in July of 1919, he states:

“With hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides.”

When the firing stopped – only due to a lack of ammunition – hundreds lay dead. In the spring heat of the Punjab bodies lay festering, the smell of cordite and flesh ripe in the air. A truly horrific spectacle.

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Official British statistics put the number of dead at 379 and over 1200 wounded. However these figures are highly questionable given the number of pilgrims in attendance that day. It is likely the case that to stem the negative press surrounding this event, the number of dead was reduced – A public relations effort to maintain image and deflect from the ghastly actions of an oppressive regime.

More reasonable numbers, released by the Indian National Congress put the casualties in the region of 1500, with 1000 of those having died. Other contemporary reports place the dead in far higher numbers, but these cannot be confirmed.

Reflecting on this period in history you struggle to envisage how any government could act in such a way, and Dyer’s actions are totally reprehensible. However at the time, there was a significant amount of support for this brutality. The House of Commons reacted to this by voting to relieve Dyer of his duties but this was met with derision from the landed gentry in India and Britain.

Maintaining a stranglehold over India was of paramount importance to the ruling class. There was money to be lost in an unstable India, and this was unacceptable by their standards. More conservative parts of British society viewed Dyer’s actions as merely maintaining the rule of British law, which they viewed as a necessary tool for progress across the globe.

A feeble response to the massacre was the creation of the Hunter Commission, which would travel to Punjab and investigate the events. Hundreds of locals were interviewed, along with military and civil personnel. It was an act of posture however, saving face in light of a disaster of Britain’s image.

The commission found that although Dyer had acted in a callous and brutal manner, due to political reasons he could not be tried in a military of civilian court. He was relieved of duty and forced into early retirement. A luxurious reprieve for a man responsible for the murder of hundreds.

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There had been many atrocities committed before Amritsar, and there would be many more to come. Millions would die in famines orchestrated by Winston Churchill’s wartime government twenty years later. In the aftermath of yet another crippling global conflict, Britain would wage yet more brutal offenses against the people of India to maintain control.

That control would soon cease to be however, and acts such as the Amritsar Massacre would act only to solidify dissent among a large portion of the populace who sought self-determination. As the largest democracy on earth and one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India’s role in the world in the coming decades will far eclipse the United Kingdom, a testament to the people and the nation, as today it represents the very antithesis of everything Britain stood for during its colonial era.

 

Lothian and King Lot: Fact or Fiction?

Much like the rest of Scotland, the Lothian region is steeped in history and renowned for its beauty, Lothian is also home to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Not many people can claim the focal point of their home town is a castle, perched atop an extinct volcano, of which the lava flow leads down to a royal palace.

Locals of Edinburgh itself, or of towns across Lothian will often know of stories from their individual areas, or the origin of town names for example, but many be unaware of the mythology that surrounds Lothian. A story that involves a mixture of sources and differing claims ranging from the legend of King Arthur, to Norse mythology and the life of Saint Kentigern.

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The legend of King Arthur still captivates to this day.

An aspect of Lothian’s history not shrouded in myth is its changing face over the centuries. At times it has seen the influence of Roman, Pictish, British, Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon cultures. These small clues into the past have been found through archaeological studies – Roman roads are common place in the area – and through simply looking at place names. Dalry or Currie for example, are names of Gaelic origin, whereas Tranent is firmly Briton in origin.

In the Post-Roman age, Lothian was inhabited largely by Britons, with the language known as  ‘Cumbric’ – which is of welsh origin. The Lothian region itself was known as ‘Hen Ogledd’ or ‘Old North’ in the Celtic-Briton culture.

Later on in the millennium, Lothian saw the influence of the Angles, as it was amalgamated into the Kingdom of Bernicia, which later formed the Kingdom of Northumbria and whose king, Aella is renowned for the killing of Ragnar Lothbrok.

This period in Lothian’s history is often overlooked, however it played a crucial role in the cultural development of both lowland Scotland, and Northern England. With the varying mixture of culture and language found throughout the region, Lothian was the perfect melting pot for Angle, British and Gaelic speaking peoples, and its time as part of this kingdom grew the region into a prosperous one.

Denmark_Angles01_fullIt is peculiar, as home to the capital, one would associate the Lothian region as always having been ‘Scottish’, but it was not, and in fact it is not acknowledged as being so, or even part of the Kingdom of Scotland until around 973AD, when King Edgar granted the region to the Scots. A near century later, the Normans arrived in Lothian as part of an invasion by William the Conqueror.

Although the history of Lothian is wonderfully vibrant, the mythology surrounding the origin of its name is fascinating. It is said the region owes its name to King Lot, who, depending on sources, was a friend and ally, brother-in-law, or even an enemy of the legendary King Arthur.

Both Latin and Welsh histories of the time point toward there being a King Leudonus, and parts of the biographical story of Saint Kentigern even claim this figure is the Saint’s grandfather. It is not until the twelfth century however, in which the name ‘Lot’ appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’, which claimed we was in fact King Arthur’s brother-in-law.

The story so has it that Lot was one of three brothers, each ruling over individual kingdoms. Leudonus ruled Lothian, while his brothers Urien and Angusel ruled over Moray and ‘Scotland’ – whatever geographical region this encompasses is unknown. It likely points toward areas on the  west coast of Scotland. The Strathclyde region was home to a petty kingdom at the time.

Leudonus appears to have been an influential figure in this mythical image of Britain, and he is said to have supported King Uther Pendragon – King Arthur’s father – in a war against the Saxon king ‘Octa’ in southern England.

We see the romantic tales of Chretien de Troyes that speak of love triangles between Lot, his wife Morgause, and King Arthur.

Another story ark, included in Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory takes aspects of earlier tales that include an insurrection against King Arthur himself after the legendary king murders Lot’s son, Mordred, to prevent a prophecy of betrayal from being fulfilled. In the ensuing conflict, Lot is killed in battle by King  Pellinore, yet another mythical figure.

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King Lot battles King Pellinore

Malory also took up aspects of the Prose Lancelot, or Lancelot-Grail. These tales point toward redemption for the mythical King Lot, in which a battle against King Arthur goes array and results in a truce. This unsteady truce leads to an alliance that would see the Saxon menace repulsed from making inroads north into middle-England.

Despite their fantastic ability to capture the imagination of the reader, sadly these tales bear no hard evidence either for the existence of King Arthur, or King Lot. One may like to imagine that the mythical figure existed; it would add an entirely new level of allure to the Lothian region and to our understanding of ancient British history. A Knight of the Round Table, Holy Grail hunter, or a man brave enough to oppose the legendary King Arthur – either way, what’s not to like?

Other myths surrounding the origin of King Lot come from the Norse Sagas. It is believed that this name may stem from the Norse names of Ljot or Hlot, which do come up in the Sagas, but are focused mainly around tales involving the Norse colony in Orkney. These stories merely stand to further the tales found in later works, as a larger pool of mythical information was available to the writer.

The issue with this supposed period of history are obviously the fantastical aspects of it, along with the simple fact that there are very few reliable sources dating to the time in question. The legend of King Arthur, and the idea of a resurgent kingdom of Celtic-Britons still plays on the imagination of many, and has its appeals. The Western Roman Empire was falling – or had fell according to later tales – leaving the beleaguered peoples of Britain to fend for themselves and face a ferocious, foreign enemy, whose gods bore no resemblance to their own Christian god. One would assume a leader arose?

Britain was far more fragmented then than one can care to imagine – despite how insane it may feel in 2017 – and the reality of a united kingdom encompassing all of England and Wales, with allies in Scotland, is highly unlikely. The peoples of the south of Britain could not have been any more different to those in the northern reaches.

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British Kingdoms Circa 540AD

The reality is that Lothian likely takes its name from one of two possibilities, both of which have been debated fiercely over  time. The Welsh name of ‘Lleuddiniawn’ – meaning ‘country of the Fort of Lugus’ is one possibility – this has a firm claim as Lugus was a Celtic god. The other is that it stems from the term Lutna, literally translating into ‘muddy stream’ .

All in all a bit of an anti-climax, but it is still a captivating series of stories, and they are still admired today, with films and numerous literary works having been published on the tales of King Arthur, his noble band, and the tumultuous time in which he supposedly lived.

Dreams of the Past: A United Celtic Kingdom

Throughout the late 13th to early 14th century, the British Isles were the scene of bloody conflict. The Scottish wars of Independence, initiated with the rebellion of William Wallace and Andrew Moray – and completed by Robert Bruce – were arduous, brutal conflicts that tore at the very fabric of medieval Britain.

Scotland had long been prized by the English, who dominated both mainland Britain and Ireland. Although an independent Kingdom, Scotland was easily controlled as the smaller, weaker kingdom, often engulfed by petty rebellion, famine & poverty. King Edward I had maintained a firm grasp on the Scots through the puppet king John Balliol, who attempted to rebel but found himself in the Tower of London for his petulance.

King Edward I is the archetypal authoritarian ruler of the Medieval period. Unrelenting, intelligent and cruel to those who oppose him. He viewed the Scots, Irish and Welsh with an enormous contempt, believing them lesser. He crushed the rebellion of William Wallace, had him hung, drawn and quartered. A frightening taste of his vengeance were you to challenge his rule. His death however, marked a downward spiral in Britain that would see war and famine rule supreme. His son Edward II was not of the same cloth – Often portrayed as a gentile, perhaps weak man, incapable of the strength or cruelty his father possessed.

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With Scotland’s sovereignty firmly secured after Bannockburn in 1314, it would be safe to assume that Bruce would solidify his rule in Scotland and prepare for any future attacks from England. A Medieval defense strategy, utilising Scotland’s natural barriers; Its mountain ranges, glens, rivers and turbulent coastline. However that was not the case. In a very much unacknowledged period of British history, Scotland was on the front foot and could even claim to have been the dominant player in the game.

Edward Bruce, under the orders of his brother, King Robert, launched an offensive in Ireland to unite the two regions under the crowns of both Robert and Edward. The former would retain control of Scotland, and the latter would adopt the mantel of High King of Ireland. This bold strategy would have the potential to completely change the dynamic of Medieval politics in the British Isles, and forge a kingdom formidable enough to match England, and other nations in mainland Europe.

The reasoning behind this is quite clear; Open up a second front against the English, stretch their capabilities and capitalise on the weakness of King Edward II, who appeared to be completely blind to the military and political reality of the situation he found himself in post-Bannockburn.

Support for this action in Ireland was welcomed by some in the North. Historically the Bruce family had ties to the Ulster region through their mother Marjorie, the Countess of Carrick. With both Celtic and Norman heritage, the Bruce’s had ample opportunity to create a lasting, cross-cultural dynasty. However, as with the cultural self-determination of the Scots, the Irish had long been wary of foreign interference – regardless of shared heritage between the Scots and Irish

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In May 1315, after being declared the rightful heir to his brother’s kingship, Edward Bruce landed in Ireland with a force believed to be around 5,000 men. At this time, Ireland was divided into a series of smaller, petty kingdoms, many of whom initially opposed Edward. However in June of 1315, King Donall O’Neil of Tyrone swore fealty to Edward, along with a dozen other northern kings, proclaiming Edward as King of Ireland.

Irish accounts of the time state: “they consented to him being proclaimed King of Ireland and all the Gaels.”

With this act, Edward had secured a significant foothold in Ireland, ruling much of middle and eastern Ulster. This plunged the English nobility into a frenzy. English control of Ireland had been secure for a number of years, and was highly profitable to the kingdom. With such a disastrous defeat a mere 12 months before at Bannockburn, and now the establishing of a united kingdom in Northern Ireland, many in England were losing what little faith they had left in the monarchy.

After seizing Carrickfergus, Bruce marched south, taking Dundalk. In a quintessential Medieval fashion, Bruce laid waste to the town, raising virtually all of the buildings and massacring indiscriminately both the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish people’s there. Although an act of shocking barbarism, it is clear the Bruce did so to intimidate the opposing Irish dominions that he would later encounter. Instilling fear into the enemy of the present – and those he would meet further on, would prove to be an effective move on his part.

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In July, Bruce would face his greatest test thus far of his budding kingship. At Sliabh Breagh, near Ardee, he was faced with two opposing forces. Led by Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster and his ally, Felim mac Aedh Ua Conchobair, King of Connacht, Bruce faced a formidable challenge to his advance. The second opposing force, led by Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick, looked to surround Bruce and hamper his supplies and potential retreat.

Rather than face off against a numerically superior force, Bruce decided to withdraw, sacking the town of Coleraine during his retreat, and isolated De Burgh’s forces after burning the bridge passing over the river Bann. In a second act of genius, he parlayed with rivals to Felim, King of Connacht, who then invaded his kingdom, forcing him to withdraw and suppress the rebellion at home.

After crossing the river Bann, fresh with supplies and troops, Bruce defeated De Burgh near Connor in September.

English dominion in Ireland was on the ropes. Could the Bruce’s be defeated? Was this the beginning of the end or the Plantagenet dynasty and the heralding of a new dominant name in the form of the Bruce’s?

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Prophetical tales of Robert Bruce being King Arthur reborn began to circulate around the English kingdom, and Edward II went so far as to execute those who were proliferating these prophecies.

The idea of this is particularly interesting. Dating back centuries, the tale of King Arthur points toward a resurgence of the subjugated Celtic people’s in the British Isles. The deposition of the largely Saxon & Norman based culture now prevalent on the island, and the ascension of Celtic culture would completely alter history as we know it.

From an English perspective, this was absolutely unacceptable. Were Ireland to fall entirely into the hands of The Bruce’s, then by rights, Wales would likely follow suit on accounts of their Brythonic heritage. Additionally, England had claim to Irish holdings through Papal Decree. If the Papacy decided to abandon this in favour of Edward, the outcome was bleak.

This exact scenario almost came to fruition in 1317. After two years of tentative but successful campaigning in Ireland, supporters of Edward Bruce requested that Pope John XXII delegitimise the English claim to Ireland in support of Edward. Fortunately for King Edward II, this request was ignored.

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This proved to be the perfect opportunity through which Edward II could re-establish his rule. He called upon the Anglo-Irish Council – an institutional method of regional control – to begin preparations for a joint effort against the Scots-Irish alliance. Reinforcements were dispatched to Ireland in light of recent losses, which saw a joint force against Edward Bruce beaten back and the sacking of Kells.

After wintering in Loughswedy, Edward Bruce began preparations to move further toward his ultimate goal. However support was beginning to dwindle. The denial of Pope John XXII dented his pride and legitimacy. Furthermore, Edward’s supply methods were beginning to tire among the Irish population. A continual supply chain from Scotland was not viable at the time, and so they resorted to pillage and plundering the regions through which they traveled. With their logistics strained, Edward failed to completely control the regions he had conquered thus far, and his lack of popularity grew further.

History is often cruel, and we see that events are shaped by the circumstances under which they arise. This occasion is no different. From 1315-17 Europe suffered through what became known as the Great Pan-European Famine, and Ireland shared in this turmoil. With a lack of food, no army can survive, disease will spread and the numbers will dwindle over time. Edward, it seems, fell victim to the tumultuous nature of a primitive era, and he was finally defeated and killed at the Battle of Faughart in 1318.

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Not much is known of the Battle of Faughart, other than that Bruce was the architect of his own defeat. After making a series of safe plays previously, he may have been over-confident in his ability to outwit the Anglo-Irish forces he faced. His Irish allies are said to have refused to engage with the enemy outside Dundalk, and as such he placed them at the rear, in a strategically ineffective stance, choosing his Scottish troops to lead the vanguard.

In addition to this, he decided not to wait for reinforcements from home. Scottish chronicler John Barbour, as well as the Annals of Clonmacnoise both correlate their claims when stating

[He was] “anxious to obtain the victory for himself, he did not wait for Sir John Stewart’s brother.”

Contrary to these accounts, English chronicles of the time point toward Edward’s confidence in battle, and, a level of naivety and incompetence.

“The Scots were in three columns at such a distance from each other that the first was done with before the second came up, and then the second before the third, with which Edward was marching could render any aid. Thus the third column was routed just as the two preceding ones had been. Edward fell at the same time and was beheaded after death; his body being divided into four quarters, which were sent to the four chief quarters of Ireland.”

With a final hammer blow, this sounded the end of Robert Bruce’s master plan for a united Celtic kingdom. Scotland’s security was assured to a degree, however the risk of their powerful English neighbours seeking revenge was ever present. Scotland did have successes on mainland Britain in the years following however. In 1322, the Battle of Byland in Yorkshire lays claim to Scotland’s most significant victory over England since Bannockburn, albeit on a smaller scale. In the centuries to come, peace was never assured, and both Scotland and England regularly made plays throughout the border regions of both respective kingdoms.

One must ponder the impact upon British and European history this would have had, were it successful. The combined area, population, wealth and might of Scotland and Ireland may have proven a buffer against English aggression during the period. Had victory been achieved, the Welsh may have also taken up arms against English dominion and joined this kingdom. With defeat, often comes blame, and it would likely be placed solely at the feet of King Edward II. His deposition would have been inevitable, and civil war likely.

A weakened England would be unable to compete with the French on mainland Europe, and the British Isles may have seen a dominant military, political and cultural force in the form of the Scots-Irish Kingdom, rather than Anglo-Norman, thus massively changing history as we know it.

 

Singapore: A Nail in the Empire’s Coffin.

On the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Singapore, one can reflect on the monumental impact this event had upon the British Empire. During the height of World War Two, to lose such a strategic position in the Far East was, to put it bluntly, a failure of cataclysmic proportions.

Britain had retained its dominance in the Far East for the best part of a century , and as with the tradition of colonialism, had done so through brute force, with millions dying in China & India during decades of British control. In fact, as Japanese Imperial forces besieged the island fortress, millions were dying in India as a direct result of British policy.

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This event marks the beginning of the end for both British and European dominance in the region . Once firmly under the thumb of European capitalist powers, the grip of these nations was slipping in the face of unparalleled Japanese expansion, and ultimately led to the complete disintegration of colonial rule in the decades following.

The political impact of this at the time, and the years following World War Two cannot be ignored, and the story of Singapore’s fall is a bloody, brutal one, resulting in countless deaths that continued to rise in the months & years following. Japan solidified its position as a power to be reckoned with, their tactics during the invasion of Malaya and the attack on Singapore were both dynamic and ferocious in equal measure, it was this fanaticism and ferocity that led the Allied Powers to take drastic measures in combating the Japanese, later leading to the use of atomic weaponry.

During their push toward the Gibraltar of the East, Japanese divisions were instructed not to take prisoners, as it would slow down the advance upon their target, and place pressure on the logistical aspects of the invading forces. Hundreds of wounded were murdered, and countless civilians who were believed to have helped the allies were also murdered. From reports at the time, it was claimed that Australian prisoners and civilians were doused in petrol and set ablaze – These claims paint harrowing similarities to their occupation of Manchuria and the rape of Nanking.

Japan’s relentless advance was met with complete disbelief by the British command, who viewed them with the same contempt we so commonly see toward non-whites and colonial insurrections at the time. Britain did not see Japan as a threat to their empire or holdings, one that stretched across the globe and upon which the sun never sets. This arrogance, in response to the actions of supposed smaller nations, or powers deemed inferior, had led to disastrous defeats in the past for Britain.

The Boer War, several invasions of Afghanistan and the First World War seemed not to pester the minds of British imperialists and military commanders. British imperial power was absolute, who could possibly challenge the Royal Navy? Take Singapore? Simply preposterous. Singapore’s governor, Sir Shenton Thomas, reflected the mood and culture within the British command when he is alleged to have said: “Well, I suppose you’ll shove the little men off.”.

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It was this complacency, lack of planning and incompetency that led to the fall of Singapore. The fine-tuned, highly disciplined Japanese military was rampaging throughout South-East Asia and the Pacific, and was soon to land upon the shores of Singapore Island and obliterate all before it. Initial intelligence had Britain believe any invasion of Singapore would come by sea, despite army forces encroaching upon the Malaya colony, and as such, defences were altered to cater for such an attack.

These beliefs seemed to have been proven correct, as in late 1941, the Imperial Navy launched an offensive in the area. British vessels such as HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were destroyed by torpedo bombing during a naval skirmish. This surprised Naval Command, dealt a killer blow to the illusion of British naval superiority,  and eliminated Britain’s naval defence of the Island and greater area.

Casting our gaze toward the land defence of the Malayan colony, one would assume the advantage lay with the Empire forces, dug deep in their island fortress with efficient supply lines. General Percival, commander of Army Forces in Malaya, had 90,000 men at his disposal, compared with the 65,000 men the Japanese could field.

However, as with the Russian advance on Germany in the late days of the war, battle experience played a key role. Many of the men under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita had seen combat in Manchuria, a bloody campaign carried out with a Wehrmacht level of efficiency and precision – Many of the British forces had never fired a shot in anger. A series of bloody battles erupted on the Malayan Peninsula and the British, Indian & Australian forces – unable to hold at bay the ferocious Japanese infantry – sounded a full retreat. They were pursued relentlessly and on February 8th 1942, 23,000 men crossed the Straits of Johor.

Defending forces were bloodied, exhausted and spread too thin, and could not match the speed and ferocity of the invading force. In a cruel twist of fate, Britain’s previous intelligence came back to haunt the defending divisions. Singapore’s formidable artillery batteries were all but rendered useless, as they pointed toward the sea and were of little use. Britain had placed all its chips on an invasion force arriving from the completely opposite direction – The gamble failed.

Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war. Japanese forces ran amok throughout the island, in scenes reminiscent of their invasion of Manchuria several years previously, killing indiscriminately and with no concern for the gentrified illusion of war that British troops had become so accustomed to. Alexandria hospital was attacked, with little attention paid toward Red Cross symbols, nor mercy granted to the wounded & sick. Patients and staff were murdered and dozens were held outside overnight, bound tightly together with little water or food.

Fighting on the streets of Singapore was fierce, but allied forces could not withstand the tide of Japanese troops. Over 100,000 men were captured, thousands of whom were to meet their fate on the hallowed Burma Railway.

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The surrender of colonial forces is a monumental moment in British Military history, and in the months & years following, commanders came under intense scrutiny for their incompetence, as well as their fleeing of the island, condemning their men to cruelty and death. On the eve of the invasion, Winston Churchill is claimed to have said:

“Commanders and their senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British Army is at stake.”

Despite this defeat, British arrogance and disbelief still remained, with Gordon Bennett, Lieutenant General and Officer in Command of Australian forces stating:

“The whole operation seems incredible; 550 miles in 55 days – forced back by a small Japanese army of only two divisions, riding stolen bicycles and without artillery support.”

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The humiliation of defeat and the solidification of Japanese power in South East Asia is often the focal point of the Malayan theatre. However the fall of Singapore leaves an often unacknowledged legacy.

Although victory against Japan would be eventually be achieved, the defeat leads to a series of events that would ultimately destroy European control in Asia. Japan, hardened and uplifted by their victory, would continue to march ever further toward the ultimate goal, the jewel in the Empire’s crown – India, placing further pressure on Britain in a brutal conflict in the jungles of Burma. It greatly damaged the seemingly invincible position of the British in the East, and, in the years and decades following the war, dozens of colonies – specifically Vietnam – would rebel against British, French & Dutch rule, thus plunging the world’s newest superpower into an unwinnable conflict.

 

 

The Legend of Saint Andrew

Today is Saint Andrew’s Day, a celebration of the patron saint of Scotland. St Andrew himself is said to have been born in Galilee in the early 1st century AD, and it is claimed in the New Testament that he was the brother of Simon Peter.

Saint Andrew is not only revered in Scotland, but also celebrated in many other European nations, such as Georgia – in which he is believed to have been the first preacher of Christianity – Malta, Cyprus, Romania, Spain and also Ukraine.  With such a wide range of people’s who celebrate St Andrew, one might ask where does Scotland’s link with this man come from?

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Obviously given the time period he lived in, many stories involving St Andrew are now largely shrouded in myth. However the link with Scotland is arguably the most interesting of all – I’m obviously going to say that, of course. Multiple legends claim that relics of Saint Andrew were brought to – you guessed it, Saint Andrews, Scotland – from Constantinople, the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire.

Manuscripts that can be found in the Bibliotheque Nationale and the British Library claim that these relics were brought to the Pictish King Oengus I, who proceeded to build a monastery on the site we now know as Saint Andrews. This was only the beginning of Saint Andrews ties to Scotland however, as Oengus II finally solidified the preachers place as patron saint after good fortune in battle.

Legend states that Oengus led an army of Picts and Scots against the Angles of Northumbria, led by Aethelstan, in East Lothian just outside of Edinburgh. The village of Athelstaneford still remains to this day.

It is claimed that on the eve of battle, King Oengus, outnumbered by the Angle host, prayed to St Andrew, and stated that he would acknowledge him as the patron saint of Scotland if they were to be victorious. The King’s prayers appeared to have been answered when a cloud formation appeared in the shape of the cross upon which Andrew was crucified. We know this today as the Saltire, it has remained as Scotland’s national symbol since the 14th century and takes pride of place in the Union Jack.

Emboldened by his vision, King Oengus II led his army to victory over the Angle invaders, and this set of a chain of events that would ultimately lead to the nation as we know it.

Although King Oengus granted St Andrew the status of patron saint, this was not fully acknowledged until the Declaration of Arbroath, several centuries later.

As mentioned before, the celebration of St Andrew is not only acknowledged in Scotland, as the first preacher of the Christian faith in Georgia, Andrew is renowned in Eastern Europe as one of the many who brought the faith to the Pagan people’s who inhabited the region. This also helped spread the faith north & eastward into modern day Ukraine and Russia.

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His death is particularly iconic, as he shared the same fate as Jesus Christ, crucifixion, albeit in a slightly different fashion. in 60AD Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross, his remains were moved to Constantinople over three hundred years later by Emperor Constantine.

Fidel Castro: A One Man Superpower

Fidel Castro’s death at on 25th of November has been met with mixed emotions from both sides of the political spectrum. Social media has been rife with condemnation of a man acknowledged as a dictator, a murderer and a revolutionary, but also with comments regarding his cavalier attitudes toward American imperialism & aggression. Some are hailing him, others are deriding him.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke reverently of him, whilst acknowledging his ‘flaws’ – Which include murder and torture. It is clear that the left today still hold Castro in high regard – Much to my amazement, as he epitomises all that the left does not stand for; Totalitarianism, violence and control of speech, thought & expressionism.

Without going too deeply into my own political or personal beliefs on this matter, it would be wise to cast our gaze upon both sides of the debate – and believe me, there are many talking points.

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Castro has long been hailed as the poster boy of socialism.The man that rose to prominence during the height of the Cold War for his defiance against American capitalism, his near complete destruction of the mafia elements at work in Cuba, his alliances with the Soviet Union, his promotion of revolutionary tactics in Latin America and finally his outspoken stance on African Apartheid regimes.

There is no denying that he leaves an enormous legacy in 20th century politics. The United States’ efforts to undermine and control Central & South American still continue to this day, with Venezuela being a prime example. During the height of the Cold War, in such a tumultuous political atmosphere, Castro threw an almighty spanner into the works, and as such, was hailed for his efforts to oppose such blatant warmongering and interference. This is a position on which I agree with him.

Whilst western nations such as the United States and, my home country, the United Kingdom stood by idly as the apartheid regimes of Southern Africa ripped themselves to pieces, Castro made his voice heard loud and clear. There is no denying his support for these oppressed people’s made a lasting impact. But whilst he supposedly championed for the rights of others globally, he was imprisoning, torturing and murdering political opponents and civil rights activists.

Hundreds were arrested, tortured and killed during Castro’s early years – An issue he later claimed to regret. Hundreds fled and to this day, crackdowns on protests and dissidents still continues.

In fact, during 2015 Human Rights Day, over 100 ‘dissidents’ were arrested after clashes with police erupted on the streets of Havana. A clear sign that the regime still maintains a firm grip upon the people and the spreading of information.

More Here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/10/cuba-dissidents-arrested-protests-international-human-rights-day?CMP=share_btn_fb

Amnesty International has a dedicated page for Cuba, in which it claims:

“Despite increasingly open diplomatic relations, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported.”

Further information can be found on the Amnesty International website:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/cuba/report-cuba/

Thousands left Cuba in during Castro’s time as Cuban premier. That one would risk life and limb to leave a supposed socialist utopia, free from american capitalist meddling, shows that all was not well – Many of those who escaped, and their families were celebrating on the streets of Florida upon hearing the news.

More Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/us/miami-cubans-fidel-castro.html?_r=0

One could argue that the 50-year long embargo – imposed upon Cuba by the west – led to the extreme measures taken by the Castro regime, along with the numerous attempts on his life. This was a nation under siege, and Castro reacted in the only way possible, through force, both internally, and by encouraging the same dissidence throughout Latin America.

It is unwise to castigate Castro for his reaction to internal opposition as morally corrupt or extreme, when compared to the actions of supposed western ‘democratic’ nations of the time, which were water cannoning black protesters, imprisoning homosexuals and implementing crippling economic sanctions upon large portions of their own populace.

Cuba’s great victories, despite its struggles, come in the form of social care. Cuba’s healthcare system is exemplary when considering the pressure it has been put under by lack of funding and supplies. In fact, Cuban life expectancy is comparable to other western nations, despite such obvious hindrances to its infrastructure.

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Cuban medical excellency is to such an extent, that the National Health Service sent a delegation of over 100 medical experts to observe the work of Cuba’s healthcare service, which focuses heavily on local, community-based engagement on a budget paling in comparison to our own.

In the early years of the revolution, the Literacy Campaign sought to bring Cubans up to 20th century education levels. Today, Cuban youth and adult literacy levels stand at 100% – a truly remarkable achievement. Additionally, when compared to other Latin American nations with more favourable ties to the United States, it speaks volumes. Mexico’s youth literacy rate sits at 98.5%, and adult literacy sits at 93.5%.

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Since 2008, Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, has manned the helm of the Cuban government, and with this, we have seen better inroads toward a more internationally welcomed Cuba. The death of Fidel has led to calls for the trade embargo against the nation to be lifted, with Francoise Hollande the most recent outspoken individual.

This could lead to a greater period of prosperity for Cuba and its people, however the question must be asked; Can the regime deal with an increasingly open, transparent and outspoken world? Social media has proven to us in the early stages of the 21st century, that secretive, controlling regimes often buckle under the pressure of free-flowing information and news. Furthermore, with Donald Trump the incumbent POTUS, there could be further strains with Latin America in the near future.

Ultimately, Fidel Castro will be remembered as both a hero and a villain to many. His championing of the anti-imperialist cause will remain in the hearts of many around the world, but for those that were affected by, or fled the regime, he will likely be remembered as a murderer and tyrannical dictator. Thousands died globally due to the tit for tat meddling of both the United States and Cuban governments, and let us not forget that Fidel Castro’s insatiable need to oppose the US brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Fidel Castro was a giant of 20th century history and politics, and his legacy is one that will be remembered for many good and bad reasons. His once great rival, John F Kennedy, speaking of Castro, said:

“They promised individual liberty and free elections. They promised an end to harsh police-state tactics. They promised a better life for a people long oppressed by both economic and political tyranny. But in the two years since that revolution swept Fidel Castro into power, those promises have all been broken.”

These comments stand the test of time, as often men and causes that seek to liberate the people tend to become no different from those from whom they stole the mantel.