Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Wicked Revolution

Storming the Bastille

The French Revolution is one of the most important events in the last 1000 years and even now it stirs controversy because even though it was over two centuries ago people use it to argue present day concerns.1 A chief characteristics to these discussions about the Russian Revolution –opps I mean the French Revolution is that they are not really about the French Revolution but about modern concerns. In the back and often in the front of the writers mind is the Russian Revolution, which is the prism through which the French Revolution is seen. Since in this case the Russian Revolution is seen as a terrible evil tragedy then of course the French Revolution is seen as similar and of course equally futile, useless and wicked.2

This goes with a condemnation of revolution in general as wicked and catastrophic and simply not worth it. Revolutions are conceived as the result of wicked bad ideas that like viruses have infected the population with the disease of wanting change now. Of course they are like Edmund Burke, who hysterically condemned the French Revolution and engaged in the most contemptible twisting of history to ignore and down play the violence and revolutionary nature of the “Glorious” Revolution of 1688 that over threw James II and brought radical change to England and was accompanied by much violence. Burke further ignored that the “Glorious” Revolution was the end result of the effects of the English Civil War and Republican period, which had been characterized by much violence and social upheaval. Instead Burke created the illusion that the British constitution of his day was timeless and the result of slow incremental change and reflected the true nature of man and society. This vision is of course a self serving lie.3

Today a similar self-serving ideological attitude persists among many so-called American Conservatives. In this view virtually all Revolutions are bad except the American Revolution which was good and right. Of course like Burke’s view of the Glorious Revolution this requires the most studied and cultivated ignorance of the actual happenings of the Revolution and a disciplined ignorance of the radical nature of what happened. The violence and terror of what actually happened must be elided out. The fact that so many of the Revolutionary leaders were hypocrites and demagogues is omitted and/or denied, further such things as the mass expulsion through terror of a sizable portion of the American population, the Loyalists is ignored. Episodes of Ethnic cleansing are simply not discussed. Also not discussed is the fact that the rebels were never more than a minority in the American colonies.4

Thus after excluding from consideration in any even handed way the Revolutions which they benefited from these authors come to view the French Revolution. The result is a portrayal of the Revolution as unnecessary and inexplicable. The violence is viewed as “caused” by ideology and intellectual fanaticism and the roots of this ideological fanaticism said to be rooted in the hair-brained schemes of the intelligentsia.5

To quote:

In Citizens, indeed the French Revolution of 1789-94 becomes almost meaningless in the larger sense, and is reduced to a kind of theatre of the absurd; the social and economic misery of the masses, an essential driving force behind their involvement in the revolutionary events, is barely mentioned; and the lasting significance of the Revolution’s many political theories and doctrines for modern European and world history more or less disappears.6
That the Revolution had deep roots and was not the result of intellectual posturing and air-headed schemes is ignored or denied directly or by implication.

Of course in this what is really going on is that these authorties in this fashion are the intellectual heirs of Edmund Burke. Like him they tend to view the revolution as an inexplicable calamity that fell from on high.

Edmund Burke

Burke tended to view the revolution as the result of a vast intellectual conspiracy against the proper ordering of the human society. The idea that the revolution could have deep social causes or that the old regime in France was in serious crisis is something that Burke does not seem to entertain even for a moment.

Much is made about Burke’s predictions that the Revolution would degenerate into violence and later military despotism, what is generally ignored is Burke’s studied, deliberate obtuseness concerning the causes of the Revolution. In effect Burke takes refuge in explaining the Revolution as caused by a conspiracy of wicked, evil intellectuals out to destroy human society out sheer love of absurd air-headed notions of human betterment.7

In Burke’s view the Revolutionaries were aiming to annihilate civilized human society and replace it with barbarism and savagery. Burke had a Manichean view of the Revolution and could not explain it except as the result of conspiracy and wickedness. It takes only a little bit of research to indicate that Burke’s views about the origins of the French Revolution are quite simply stupefyingly simple minded. To quote:

Of course Burke could never bring himself to believe that the Revolution’s democratizing impulse was rooted in genuine popular discontent with the Old Regime in France. Rather he consistently interpreted the French Revolution as a dark, insidious plot foisted on the masses by a small cabal of philosophes and their political allies.

Regardless of which of these arguments one finds more compelling, it is abundantly clear from all Burke’s writings on the topic that he regarded the French Revolution as a kind of democratic revolution from above. As for the people themselves, he consistently deprived them of any intellectual or political agency in the revolutionary drama. They were mere dupes of the philosophes, whose absurd theories were backed by the sublimity of power terror and fear.8

The idea that the mass of the population might have any interests of their own worth considering in the revolutionary turmoil is not something that Burke seems even capable of considering.

But then Burke was an inveterate snob of the highest order for he said in Reflections on the Revolution in France:

The Chancellor of France, at the opening of the states, said, in a tone of oratorical flourish, that all occupations were honorable. If he meant only that no honest employment was disgraceful, he would not have gone beyond the truth. But in asserting that anything is honorable, we imply some distinction in its favor. The occupation of a hairdresser or of a working tallow-chandler cannot be a matter of honor to any person — to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression if such as they, either individually or collectively, are permitted to rule. In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.9

Thus in Burke’s mind the simple fact that these people having any sort of say in the running of the state is frankly evil and would cause a descent into barbarism.

In other words Burke turned against the Revolution not because of its excesses but because it was “democratic”. In Burke’s view democratization would inevitably lead to savagery and barbarism and the end of civilization.

What is fascinating is reading Burke’s further writings concerning the French Revolutions that he wrote after his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Read for example his A Letter From Mr. Burke to a Member of the National Assembly, and see a great mind go unhinged.10 For example:

They [the philosphes and their allies] call on the rising generation in France to take a sympathy in the adventures and fortunes, and they endeavour to engage their sensibility on the side of pedagogues who betray the most awful family trusts, and vitiate their female pupils. They teach the people that the debauchers of virgins, almost in the arms of their parents, may be safe inmates in their houses, and even fit guardians of the honour of those husbands who succeed legally to the office which the young literators had pre-occupied, without asking leave of law or conscience.

Through him [Rousseau] they teach men to love after the fashion of philosophers; that is, they teach to men, to Frenchmen, a love without gallantry; a love without anything of that fine flower of youthfulness and gentility, which places it, if not among the virtues, among the ornaments of life. Instead of this passion, naturally allied to grace and manners, they infuse into their youth an unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations blended with the coarsest sensuality. Such is the general morality of the passions to be found in their famous philosopher, in his famous work of philosophic gallantry the 'Nouvelle √Čloise'.

When the fence from the gallantry of preceptors is broken down, and your families are no longer protected by decent pride, and salutary domestic prejudice, there is but one step to a frightful corruption. The rulers in the National Assembly are in good hopes that the females of the first families in France may become an easy prey to dancing-masters, fiddlers, pattern-drawers, friseurs, and valets de chambre, and other active citizens of that description, who having the entry into your houses, and being half domesticated by their situation, may be blended with you by regular and irregular relations. By a law they have made these people their equals. By adopting the sentiments of Rousseau they have made them your rivals. In this manner these great legislators complete their plan of levelling, and establish their rights of men on a sure foundation.11


Thus does Burke writhe in disgust over the philosphes and their allies “penetrating” the nobility and debasing them through their wives and daughters. The sexual fantasies of Burke are amusing but as per usual it the same nonsense about “enemies” planning to destroy all virtue and wanting to sleep with “our” women. But then the Revolutionaries are out to destroy family:
However, I less consider the author than the system of the assembly in perverting morality through this means. This I confess makes me nearly despair of any attempt upon the minds of their followers, through reason, honour, or conscience. The great object of your tyrants is to destroy the gentlemen of France; and for that purpose they destroy, to the best of their power, all the effect of those relations which may render considerable men powerful or even safe. To destroy that order, they vitiate the whole community. That no means may exist of confederating against their tyranny, by the false sympathies of the 'Nouvelle √Čloise' they endeavour to subvert those principles of domestic trust and fidelity, which form the discipline of social life. They propagate principles by which every servant may think it, if not his duty, at least his privilege to betray his master. By these principles every considerable father of a family loses the sanctuary of his house. 'Debet sua cuique domus esse perfugium tutissimum', says the law, which your legislators have taken so much pains first to decry, then to repeal. They destroy all the tranquillity and security of domestic life; turning the asylum of the house into a gloomy prison, where the father of the family must drag out a miserable existence, endangered in proportion to the apparent means of his safety; where he is worse than solitary in a crowd of domestics, and more apprehensive from his servants and inmates, than from the hired, bloodthirsty mob without doors, who are ready to pull him to the lanterne.12

Thus in Burke’s mind democratization is an attack on the family and as such must be resisted. Although no doubt it gave Burke much pleasure to contemplate the wives and daughters of the Nobility having all their needs "filled in" by lower class trash.

In fact the entire revolution, from shoes, hats to gestures, and language was thought by Burke to be a monstrous perversion.13

Burke further accuses the Revolutionaries of destroying marriage, by for example allowing Civil marriage outside of a Religious service. Further Burke regarded as wicked that the Revolutionaries got rid of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. Burke condemns this as well denouncing unwed mothers as prostitutes, who along with their immoral offspring must be treated as pariahs. Of course the upper class gentlemen, Nobility who coerce, trick etc., lower class women into affairs must continue to be able to conduct and walk away from such recreations with no consequences and no social disapproval worth mentioning only the women and their offspring need be treated as scum. Further with great wickedness, the revolutionaries, according to Burke, not only allowed divorce, which was horrible enough, but gave women equal access to it! The result according to Burke was that marriage had decayed in France to a debased form of concubinage and the family had been horribly undermined; and the plans of the Philosophes and their allies to destroy marriage and the family were thus proceeding according to plan.14

Burke’s hysteria, which is merely what it is, tells us much more about his sexual hang-ups and obsessions than it does about the French revolutionaries. It is also part of Burke’s Manichean and stultified view of the revolution. It is of interest that he simply did not condemn its excesses he condemned the whole thing tout-court, without qualification and without reason. His subsequent accuracy about where the Revolution would lead seems to result more from a comparison, largely unacknowledged, with the course of the English Revolution than from any real understanding.

Finally Burke’s defence of tradition had a very irrational element. To quote:

In The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Terry Eagleton assesses one of Burke’s important legacies, placing him beside another eighteenth-century thinker so loved by the right—Adam Smith. Ideology of the Aesthetic is premised on the view that “Aesthetics is born as a discourse of the body”; that the aesthetic gives form to the “primitive materialism” of human passions and organises “the whole of our sensate life together… a society’s somatic, sensational life” (13). Reading Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, Eagleton discerns that society appears as “an immense machine, whose regular and harmonious movements produce a thousand agreeable effects”, like “any production of human art”. In Smith’s work, the “whole of social life is aestheticized” and people inhabit “a social order so spontaneously cohesive that its members no longer need to think about it.” In Burke, Eagleton discovers that the aesthetics of “manners” can be understood in terms of Gramscian hegemony: “in the aesthetics of social conduct, or ‘culture’ as it would later be called, the law is always with us, as the very unconscious structure of our life”, and as a result conformity to a dominant ideological order is deeply felt as pleasurable and beautiful (37, 42). When this conservative aesthetic enters the realm of politics, Eagleton contends, the “right turn, from Burke” onwards follows a dark trajectory: “forget about theoretical analysis… view society as a self-grounding organism, all of whose parts miraculously interpenetrate without conflict and require no rational justification. Think with the blood and the body. Remember that tradition is always wiser and richer than one’s own poor, pitiable ego. It is this line of descent, in one of its tributaries, which will lead to the Third Reich” (368–9).15

So in many respects modern day condemners of the French Revolution are simply modern day Burkeians who are often not discussing the French Revolution as discussing the Russian Revolution, further they often by omission / commission do not discuss the origins of the Revolution but talk about ideas being the source of Revolutionary excess and apparently of the Revolution itself.

Of course the literature concerning the causes of the Revolution is vast and indicates contrary to Burke both it’s deep roots and the fact that it had widespread support in France which was at times overwhelming.16 Burke because of his Manichean conception of the Revolution and his utter refusal to see in it anything positive was predisposed to cultivate a no-nothing attitude about the causes of the Revolution and to believe conspiratorial nonsense about its purposes and aims.

Also of course modern condemnation of the French Revolution requires that like Burke they elide, downplay and / or distort the previous revolutions which the condemners benefited from. In the case of Burke it is the English Revolution and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The first was ignored as much as possible the second was viewed with rose coloured glasses by Burke.

Modern condemnation of the French Revolution by so-called Conservatives requires a celebration of the American Revolution, among American Conservatives at least although this celebration also exists among non American Conservatives, which of course was a good thing because they benefited or think they benefited from it. It also leads to a disturbingly, facile view of the causes and course of the French Revolution as the result of “bad” ideas and intellectuals run amuck.

In this implied Manichaeism the wicked French Revolution resulted from people behaving badly and thinking “wrong” thoughts; that the Revolution had deep causes is of course unthinkable. Thus like Burke they must turn their way from the deep causes and talk about ideas and of course pontificate that the violence of the Revolution was inevitable because that is the way of all Revolutions, except those we benefited from personally, and the wicked principles of the Revolutionaries who imposed them from on high.17

This is of course so air-headed that a single puff of wind should blow it away. Unfortunately the heirs to Burke seem to think it is profound when it is simply false.

In future postings I will discuss some of the deep causes of the French Revolution that are often ignored and yes some of the repellent atrocities that accompanied it.

As for Burke I will have more to say about him in the future, especially concerning his views of democracy.

French Revolutionary Poster

1. See Furet, Francais, Interpreting the French Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, Schema, Simon, Citizens, Vintage Books, Toronto, 1989.

2. IBID. There are many other examples of this genre of writing.

3. Burke, Edmund, Reflections of the Revolution in France, published in Reflections on the Revolution in France & The Rights of Man, Paine, Thomas, Dolphin Books, Garden City NY, 1961, pp. 15-266. The literature about both the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution and its effects is huge although it tends to downplay the violence of the Glorious Revolution especially. See Wedgewood, C.V., The King’s Peace, Fontana Books, London, 1955, & The King’s War, Fontana Books, London, 1958, Brewer, John, The Sinews of Power, Unwin Hyman, London, 1989, pp. 134-161, Lockyer, Roger, Tudor and Stuart England, 2nd Edition, Longman, 1985, pp. 350-397, Stoye, John, Europe Unfolding, Fontana Books, 1969, pp. 383-396, Royle, Trevor, Civil War, Abacus, London, 2004. It is commonly forgotten that the Glorious Revolution had its Vendee in Ireland where the war was fought with truly grotesque barbarism.

4. For a clearheaded but jaundice view of the American Revolution see Bicheno, Hugh Rebels and Redcoats, HarperCollins Pub., London, 2003. One of the Ethnic cleansings carried out was the destruction of the towns of members of the Iroquois Confederacy in 1779. The author argues that what helped to lose the war for the British was the restraint in war fighting by the British when faced by the unscrupulousness of the rebels.

5. Footnote 1.

6. Evans, Richard J., In Defence of History, 2nd Edition, Granta Books, London, 2000, p. 245.

7. See O’Neill, Daniel, The Burke – Wollstonecraft Debate, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park PENN, 2007, pp. 152-156.

8. IBID, p. 154, 156.

9. Burke, Reflections…, p. 61-62.

10. See Burke, Edmund, A Letter From Mr. Burke to a Member of the National Assembly, From Atkinson, Philip, Library of Mainly Eighteen Century Authors, Here.

11. IBID.

12. IBID.

13. O’Neill, p. 211.

14. IBID. 211-212.

15. Musgrove, Brian Michael, Recovering Public Memory: Politics, Aesthetics and Contempt, M/C Journal, Vol. 121, No. 6, 2008, Here.

16. For discussions of the roots and course of the Revolution see Hobsbawn, E. J., The Age of Revolution, 189-1848, New York, Mentor Books, 1962, Durant, Will & Ariel, The Age of Napoleon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1975, Rude, George, Revolutionary Europe, Fontana Books, London, 1974, Bernier, Olivier, Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood, Anchor Books, New York, 1989, Cobban, Alfred, Aspects of the French Revolution, Paladin, London, 1968, Blanning, T. C. W., The French Revolutionary Wars 1787-1802, Arnold, London, 1996.

17. The two items in Footnote 1 have this point of view especially Furet.

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Oscars – YAWN!!

The Oscar Award

The Oscars will soon once again darken our television screen with c. four hours of mega boredom. It will be only a few hours but it will seem like an eternity spent watching white paint dry on a wall.

The Oscars are a big cultural phenomena but as an award show picking my nose and eating the dried up snot found there is easily much less boring and vastly more intellectually stimulating.

Watching those deathly dull musical numbers and another host bore for an Everest of eternity is indeed a circle in Dante's hell. Only the possibility of another host proving that they can blow it and be stunningly unentertaining gives this bore fest even a moment of interest. Jackass in chief David Letterman's performance as Oscar host has a severely spastic retarded moron was mildly diverting at times. It was nice to see Mr. cream my jeans to overflowing while I gaze upon myself in the mirror prove that he was indeed the biggest douche bag in the universe.

As for a mark artistic excellence. Well Oscar and artistic excellence should provoke uncontrolled, rolling on the floor, tears streaming down your face laughter. Not that Oscar fucks it up all the time. It does get things right from time to time, but lets face it so much of the time Oscar losses it big time!

Let’s see Do you remember How Green was my Valley? Well Oscar thought it was a better film than Citizen Kane!!?? Seriously! How about the fact that Cary Grant never won an Oscar. Or how about the fact that Orson Welles not only never won an Academy Award for Best Director but was only nominated once! Even a film as budget deprived has The Chimes at Midnight, (Orson Welles) is easily vastly superior to virtually anything that Hollywood has given a best picture Oscar to. One could of course add the Oscar deprivation of Directors like Kubrick and Hitchcock to the mix. One could of course mention Kurosawa in this list also.

But then this is an institution that boosted such saccharine crap has Forest Gump, (more accurately it should be called Forest Gunk), and gave Mel Gibson an Academy Award for best Director. No doubt Mel is a much better director than Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Kubrick and Welles. Yeah right!! Can one mention the Academy Awards boosting of On Golden Pond, (better called Geriatric Bowel Movement), or Rocky and similar schlock fests. Or how about deciding that You Light Up My Life deserved the best song award!

Also please can someone explain to me how Jack Nicholson got an Academy Award for acting in Goodwill Hunting. All he does is what he has been doing for a generation be Jack Nicholson doing Jack Nicholson!

Often Oscar tries to make up for its slighting of real film art by giving honorary Oscars to those slighted, (See Cary Grant, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Welles). Which basically amounts to a "So Sorry! We Fucked up!". Sorry it doesn't make up for it.

So not only are the Oscars boring to the nth degree, it is also very far from rewarding artistic excellence.

Pierre Cloutier

Avatar:
Some Thoughts

Warning the following contains lots of Spoilers!!!


Scene from the movie Avatar

Over the Christmas holidays I went and saw the movie Avatar and I must say I greatly enjoyed it. I, however, cannot say that I was impressed by the level of critical commentary on the film much of which showed a truly embarrassing level of knowledge concerning Science Fiction and an inability to see beyond the typical pop culture tropes and perceive the roots of the film.

Before I go into what I consider to be the roots of the film I will give a synopsis of the plot of the movie

In the story Humans are in the process of mining a mineral called Unobtainium on a planet called Pandora, filled with a very poisonous, for humans, atmosphere, gigantic trees, dense forest and very lethal animal and plant life. The world Pandora is a moon that orbits a huge gas giant of a planet that orbits a star many light years from earth. The native inhabitants of Pandora are called the Na’Vi and are about twice the height of humans.

A company has mining rights on Pandora for Unobtainium and views the natives as simple obstacles in the way of getting this precious metal.

This story is takes place about a century from now and concerns Jake a crippled marine sent to Pandora as part of mission to manipulate the natives to get the metal.

In order to further the manipulation of the natives the company as set up a school, tried to give medical aid etc., but the natives seeing their world getting dug up are now very angry and things are on the verge of serious bloodshed.

The Na’Vi worship a sort of mother goddess called Eywa, who they connect to through tendrils in their hair. The thing is Eywa is a sort of planetary spirit or linked mind consisting of all the trees and life on Pandora. In other words Eywa is for real.

When Jake arrives he learns that the Scientists in order to interact with the Na’Vi have created Avatars, living alien bodies that they connect too and through so that they can interact with the Na’Vi. Jake interacts with the Na’Vi at their home tree an immense tree that is hundreds of meters high. Now the Scientists generally are sympathetic to the Na’Vi, but the company and its military helpers want to find ways to remove the Na’Vi to get at the minerals.

Well Jake is recruited to spy on the Scientists and the Na’Vi to find out about them and report to the company.

Our hero, however, falls in love with a Na’Vi girl, Neytiri, and is won over to the Na’Vi. The turning point comes when Jake tries to convince the Na’Vi to move their settlement away from the home tree which is over an immense unobtainium deposit. Jake fails and the company and its military allies using their immensely superior firepower drive the Na’Vi out and destroy the home tree.

The company arrests Jake and the Scientists. They escape with the assistance of a pissed off military officer who is just sick of the whole thing. They decide to help the Na’Vi resist the company.

Too make a long story short The climatic battle takes place in an area where human technological instruments are useless due to unusual fields of force and the planet itself or at least its interconnected web of life, Eywa directly intervenes and the company and its military allies are defeated.

The remaining humans are forced to leave with only a few exceptions. Jake abandons his human body to be forever in his Avatar. Presumably everyone lives happily ever after.

Now that is the basic plot of the movie a few people have pointed out the alleged similarity with the movies Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas. Those comments only go to show how deeply ignorant so many people are about Science Fiction.

For example the idea of human beings occupying some another body and being linked to it via electronic neural circuitry is actually fairly common in Science Fiction. For example the Ben Bova novel The Winds of Altair1 has a researcher using an electronic implant to control and perceive through the body of an alien life form. Further the novel is about an attempt to colonize and terraform a planet Altair VI for human colonization By then the Earth is a dying planet much like the earth referred to in the movie Avatar. The problem is that this colonization would involve the annihilation of all the native life on Altair VI including a sentient species, which is an immense six legged cat like creature. It does have certain similarities with Avatar.


Cover of The Winds of Altair

The most obvious similarities are with two Science Fiction works from the 1970’s. The first is Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest.2 In the novel Humans are in the process of colonizing the world of the Hilf, a native humanoid creature, about ½ the height of humans and greenish in colouration. Human’s are interested in colonization and in harvesting the worlds massive abundance of trees, for virtually the entire world is covered in an immense forest of dense trees and vegetation.

Earth is apparently badly damaged world and wood is very prized and in high demand so the forests of the Hilf world are, well very valuable for greedy humans. The Hilf are mere obstacles in the way they are brushed aside and killed almost casually and sometimes used as slave labour.

The Hilf live in villages mainly by hunting and gathering although they do practice certain features of primitive agriculture. They have no idea or concept concerning murder. It is the destruction of their forest that infuriates the Hilf. For the Hilf view the forest as alive and are seeing it in their view killed. A Hilf male named Selver is captured and put to use. He eventually learns enough of the Human language to converse. Further he learns that the humans are divided many of whom want to stop the casual, brutal exploitation of the Hilf and their world. Well Selver uses his knowledge gained to unite the Hilf and engages in a massacre of a human settlement. The humans retaliate and meantime the humans engage in mutual recriminations and in fighting. Several humans help the Hilf. In the end the Humans agree to confine themselves to several small areas of the world and to stop destroying the forest.

Cover of The Word for World is Forest

The second work is Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld.3 This is probably the novel that contains the most similarities to Avatar. In it a company is trying to exploit a vast forest covered world; that has trees more than a kilometre tall, divided into many levels; depending on how much sunlight gets through. On this world the usual division between plant and animal life has broken down and many animals have plant features and vice versa. The forest trees are linked together in a vast system like the interlocking neurons of a brain. It functions so that life continues to flourish on Midworld.

Now this world is deadly and lethal. Several centuries before our story a human colony ship, that was off course, crashed on Midworld. The forest mind; called they who keep, has modified the humans extensively making them smaller, giving them long fingers and toes, along with wood coloured skin. Each human has on this world a companion, the green furred three eyed furcots, who are at least partially plants. The furcots are sentient and have learned human speech.

In to this beautiful but dangerous world comes the company seeking wealth in the form of the unique biology of the world. The company finds it in an unusual bur on trees that creates an extract that massively prolongs life.

In the story a shuttle crashes on the world and a hunter named Born and his furcot Ruumahum save the two humans, and after many other adventures, repeatedly saving the two company employees from danger and death over and over again, Born and Ruumahum return them to their research station. There Born learns about their extraction of the extract and he is furious. The reason is simple. After death a human and his furcot are buried inside a tree and the forest mind incorporates them into itself giving the dead human a sort of immortality. The company is not simply planning to plunder and destroy the forest it is engaged in grave robbing.

Born, Ruumahum and another hunter and his furcot proceed to use the plants and animals of Midworld to destroy the station.

Cover of Midworld

In the movie Avatar the item that takes the place of the extract is unobtainium which is a slangy term used by geologists and metallurgists for a metal that would do certain things and therefore solve certain problems which does not exist.

To me it is obvious that at least the last three stories mentioned had an influence on the movie Avatar. Another obvious influence is the idea of Gaia. The notion that all life on earth is in some ways a super-organism that functions in some way to keep the Earth in an optimal state for life.

Also of course is the ecological fairy tale of the need to live in balance with nature; or nature, somehow strikes back. There are also the rather sad tales of indigenous peoples all over the world brushed aside in order to advance “progress”.

Whatever the movie’s deficiencies in terms of plot and acting, for example the final battle is a bit too much like the battle on Endor in Return of the Jedi, despite Cameron’s efforts to make it believable, it is actually about things that happen on earth and a cautionary speculative tale.

1. Bova, Ben, The Winds of Altair, Tor Books, New York, 1988, (Original pub. 1972).

2. Le Guin, Ursula K., The Word for World is Forest, in Again Dangerous Visions, Edited by Ellison, Harlan, Signet Books, New York, 1972, pp. 35-126. Note: I am relying on the version published by Ellison it is my understanding that the later published version, (1976), is longer and has certain differences from this version.

3. Foster, Alan Dean, Midworld, Del Rey, New York, 1975.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dianaohroea

Flowers for Diana, Kensington Palace 1997

On August 31, 1997 died in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales and the resulting wave of mass mourning was one of the most remarkable mass phenomena’s of the Twentieth century. It was also one of the most stomach turning displays of cheap sentimentality ever. It became a wonderful excuse for people to indulge in a display of emotional excess. It served as an excuse to narcissistically put on a display of “sincerity” that cost little and in the end meant little.

The desire to wallow in a show of mourning was evident; complete with tears and theatre performances of “heart felt loss”. It was like the widow who carefully plans what to wear for the funeral and carefully calculates every tear, every sigh and every wail and melodramatically has fits etc., all designed to impress everyone with the depth of her feeling about her loss.

The object of this display of cheap, self indulgent, narcissistic sentimentality was of course not around to enjoy or be appalled by so much emotional kitsch. However let us briefly review the life of Diana Spencer former Princess of Wales.

Diana aside from being born into a very blue blooded English aristocratic family had done little of any note, or in fact worth mentioning until she was selected by the royals (mainly Prince Phillip) to be wife of Charles Prince of Wales. Charles apparently was very reluctant to marry her given her age (He was 33 and she 19) and the fact they were very different people.

The marriage proved to be a disaster. Diana however because she was very pretty, had great fashion sense and was very good at media manipulation was almost at once a media superstar. The media and much of the public could not get enough of her. Certainly Diana seemed to be a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the rather staid royal family.

Soon it became rather clear that there were serious problems with the marriage. Within a few years began the tired soap opera of the “fairy Princess” versus her “wicked” in-laws. The media with embarrassingly few exceptions, aside from wasting its time with microscopically absurd coverage of Diana’s every move, portrayed Diana as a poor victim of the wicked royals.

Diana fed the process by strategic leaks and manipulation to an all too willing media that pandered to her self image as a poor victim. It was pure soap opera and like a soap opera about as close to reality.

Diana never got that the royals, whose benchmark was set by the Queen, had responsibilities as well as rights. Diana believed in her right to personal fulfilment and happiness in a situation in which no such rights existed. The Queen expected everyone in the “family firm” to accept that their duties as members of the royal family trumped everything else. Personal happiness / fulfilment were just not as important as fulfilling one’s duties and responsibilities. I do not think Diana ever got that. The fact that the Queen who very clearly in the public performance of her duties fulfilled this ideal of public service and was therefore even less willing to indulge Diana’s whining, hysterics and crass self indulgence should not be a surprise.

In all fairness it should be mentioned that Diana was married to a much older man who was rather staid and very conservative in many of his ways. The fact that he was apparently still in love with someone else did not help matters.

Diana soon proved to an absolute natural at charming the press and getting people to ohhh and ahhh over her. The press started it’s rather absurd infatuation with her which continued until Diana died.

It is pointless to go over the relentlessly reported details of the collapse of Charles and Diana’s marriage except to note the very expert way Diana manipulated the press into seeing things as Diana versus the heartless royals. Diana was especially good at making he husband look like the villain in the piece. I can remember an episode of the Donahue T.V. show where he was interviewing some royal watchers that when ever they said anything even slightly negative about Diana the audience would loudly murmur its distress.

When the marriage finally fell apart and Diana’s antics finally provoked the Queen into ordering Charles and Diana to get a divorce the media continued it’s infatuation with “St.” Diana of Spencer. Diana also continued her relentless campaign to both embarrass the royals and to cater to her seemingly endless need for personal self indulgence and attention.

A then friend of mine claimed with all seriousness that the Queen was “clicking her heels with joy” that Diana was dead and that Royals had been out to “destroy” Diana. Of course there was and still is no evidence to back up this rather silly notion. However the story of the “Fairy Princess” requires a “Wicked Step Mother” or mother in law in this case, to keep the fantasy going.

This nauseating spectacle of turning the Royals into villains reached its height with Diana’s brother's self serving and nauseating eulogy at the funeral, which seemed to consist of spitting in derision at them. That Lord Spencer was in no position to throw stones was largely ignored.

So eventually we get to the crash in the Paris tunnel. With the driver apparently, if not drunk, nearly so. The hordes of bloodsucking paparazzi chasing the car. The mangled corpses and the Paparazzi disgracing themselves by interfering with the Paramedics.

Then came the mourning, a wave of what amounted to public hysteria, in Britain and much of the rest of the world. It was amazing how so many who the day before would have dismissed Diana as an air head now went through paroxysms of grief; it was also cheap and easy entertainment for people bored with their lives.

So many had brought the idea that Diana was a victim and therefore her death was just the culmination of her victimhood. It is distressing to note that because of Diana’s death and the over the top campy mourning that took place afterwards the death of Mother Theresa, which took place at about the same time, was entirely eclipsed.

At her death Diana changed from:

… the ‘simpering Bambi narcissist’ became not only the loveliest woman of the century but also the Queen of Hearts, the Nabob of Sob.1

Members of Parliament seriously suggested that Heathrow be renamed Diana Airport among other over the top responses. We of course got endless displays of histrionic playing for the audience grief.

Of course those people who thought that the whole thing was too much where hooted down by the hordes of Diana gawkers. The B.B.C., for example got an enormous number of phone calls from people complaining that coverage was excessive. Those who said they thought the whole thing was over the top where treated like lepers or someone who had just loudly farted at a wedding.

The Queen was roundly attacked for not being emotionally extravagant enough; for not putting on a show of hysteria and fake “sincere” emotionalism. The nonsense about the Royal ensign not being flown at half mast was stomach turning. The fact is the Royal ensign is NEVER flown at half mast even when the monarch as died seemed to pass people by.

Such stomach turning examples of dishonest or frankly mawkish statements about Diana’s death as a man who said that he cried far more a Diana’s funeral than at his own father’s; tell us far more about the cult of celebrity and emotional immaturity than they do about anything else.

Basically Diana’s funeral was an episode of mass hysteria, a good excuse for people to come together for a good cry and to feel sorry for themselves. In other words an example of self-indulgence, that I hope 12 and ½ years later people are embarrassed about it. What people where mourning was the passing of their fantasy and the waking up to real life.

The whole absurd mythology about was Diana murdered, which led to an expensive and useless investigation of her death was a further example of the desire of so many even after Diana’s death to engage in fantasy. Of course the investigation found no evidence of a murder, which was apparent right from the beginning.2

Indulging in sentimental tosh can be quite pleasant and that was what the Diana funeral hysteria was mainly about. Of course saying so at the time was considered both heresy and bad taste. Periodically people want an excuse to have a good self-indulgent cry.

Far from being signs of “greatness” or emotional maturity, the periodic swellings of emotion in England over the past couple of centuries were the anguished pleas of a lonely and atomized populace, desperate for company.3

In other words it was not about Diana it was about us.

As for my own opinion about Diana. I personally at the time thought she was an upper class twit, who although she did some good work, was self centred and shallow. Further I saw her as a manipulative bitch. The celibrityitis around her appalled me, and I was sick to death about hearing of her.

However although I still see in her a far too shallow twit and manipulative bitch I do see that she was less the airhead I thought she was. After her death I found out that she used to take Prince William and Harry to hospitals to see and meet with chronically ill patients with diseases like Aids, Cancer and so forth all without the media being around; in order for her very privileged sons to get a dose of reality. So it appears that her concern for these people was not just for the photo ops she would get.

I did watch the funeral, (what can I say the hype got to me), and I must admit that I was genuinely moved when I saw the close up of the card on the coffin which said simply MUMMY. But then someone would have to have a heart of iron not to have been moved by that. It was a very forceful reminder that two young men had lost their mother. Beneath all the sentimental, self indulgent hogwash was that painful truth; two boys who had just lost their mother.

1. Wheen, Francis, How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the World, Public Affairs, New York, 2004, p. 193.

2. See Coroner’s Inquests into the Deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr. Dodi Al Fayed, Here.

3. Wheen, p. 199.

Aside from my own, not entirely reliable memory, I used pp. 192-204 of Wheen’s book.

Pierre Cloutier

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Great Victory that never was
Lutzen, 1632

Gustavus Adolphus (left) Wallenstein (right)

In a previous posting I reviewed a book1 on the Thirty Years War. In the review I stated that I felt that the reputation of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus was seriously overrated.

In fact this inflation of reputation is such that a sort of massaging of the actual historical record is required. An excellent example of that is the battle of Lutzen, November 16, 1632, during which Gustavus Adolphus got himself killed.

Now the mythologizing about Gustavus Adolphus is to a large extent from him being celebrated by military men and his use in Military colleges and other educational institutions as a an example of military genius. For example “Gustavus Adolphus was the one great captain of this century”2. What is interesting is that the very account of Gustavus Adolphus’ own military operations in the book do not support this assessment at all.3

In the nineteenth century celebrations of Gustavus Adolphus would break all barriers and approach incredible heights of hagiography and hero worship. An excellent example is Gustavus Adolphus, by Theodore Ayrault Dodge.4

This massaging is especially necessary when describing the battle of Lutzen and in fact what happens is in effect outright falsification. However before we go into the falsification let us review what actually happened before and during the battle.

Gustavus Adolphus had after his crushing victory at Breitenfeld, September 17, 1631, gone on to undue most of the successes achieved by the Imperial armies since 1618. In fact Gustavus Adolphus seemed to have become arbitrator of central Europe and on the verge of achieving final victory over the Emperor and giving the Protestant cause hegemony in central Europe.5

Of course those dreams were mere delusions and fantasies. Gustavus Adolphus managed to alienate many of his allies, and he, himself showed a singular lack of diplomatic ability. This was not helped by the fact that the Imperialists led again by Wallenstein staged a remarkable military recovery.6

The campaign that resulted is embarrassing to those who promote the idea that Gustavus Adolphus was a “Great Captain”. In a campaign of maneuver and entrenchments Wallenstein out thought Gustavus Adolphus.

Basically Wallenstein maneuvered Gustavus Adolphus into the city of Nuremburg and so stymied him that Gustavus Adolphus, his army wasting away from disease etc., in exasperation attacked Wallenstein’s entrenched army at Alte Veste, September 3 & 4, 1632. Gustavus was defeated losing at least 2,400 casualties, (probably more than 3,000). Wallenstein lost less than 1,000. Further c. 29,000 men had died in the Swedish camp and after the battle 11,000 men deserted his army. Shortly afterwards Gustavus Adolphus retired from Nuremberg intending to winter in Swabia, in southern Germany. Wallenstein instead of going into winter quarters invaded Saxony and by threatening to cut Gustavus Adolphus’ communications with Sweden forced the Swedish King to come north.7

So far in the contest between Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus, Wallenstein was winning.

The Saxons had sent most of their army into Silesia and so were almost entirely defenceless when Wallenstein invaded. He very quickly occupied large areas of the duchy.8

Gustavus Adolphus with his communications threatened had no choice but to go north, he also had to prevent his most important ally Saxony from making peace or going over to the Imperials. Further Gustavus Adolphus’ prestige had been seriously undermined by the campaign so far.

In this situation Gustavus decided he had to seek and win a battle to restore his prestige and shore up his faltering system of alliances.

Wallenstein had other ideas. Winter had set in and he was dispersing his army for winter quarters. Wallenstein just did not think Gustavus Adolphus would try for battle at this time of cold and when food was hard to find. Further Wallenstein had detached c. 5,000 men under Pappenheim, (at Pappenheim’s request) to reinforce Imperial garrisons in Westphalia and Wallenstein sent 2,500 men to watch the city of Torgau. Gustavus was almost desperate for a battle and Wallenstein, very ill, did not think anyone would want to fight a battle under the conditions prevailing.

Wallenstein when he found out that Gustavus Adolphus was marching on him gathered together what troops he could. Even so he only had c. 12,350 against Gustavus Adolphus’ c. 19,200. Wallenstein not surprisingly sent urgent requests to Pappenheim to return as soon as possible.9

It is entirely in order to praise Gustavus Adolphus for surprising Wallenstein at this stage and forcing a battle with him having a numerical advantage. For once Gustavus Adolphus had outsmarted Wallenstein. Gustavus Adolphus however proceeded to lose most of the advantage gained.

First Gustavus Adolphus was delayed for one day by a small cavalry detachment and second of all Wallenstein guessed what Gustavus Adolphus would do and planned accordingly.

Map of Battle of Lutzen
Swedes White, Imperials Black

Wallenstein took up position next to the village of Lutzen. He stationed troops in the village and posted musketeers in the road just out side his front lines. He organized his camp followers to suggest his army was larger than it was. Wallenstein guessed that Gustavus Adolphus would try to outflank him and so organized his army that Gustavus Adolphus would gain nothing from his manoeuvre except having to make another frontal attack. Of course Wallenstein sent another urgent message to Pappenheim and expected him to arrive just before or during the battle.10

The battle started at c. 10:00am in the morning when Gustavus Adolphus mounted an all out attack. This frontal attack made little progress has Gustavus Adolphus’ troops were unable to take Lutzen or the hill in front of it, (Windmill hill) where Wallenstein had posted artillery. Gustavus Adolphus’ troops were able to make progress on the other flank, but by then smoke from fire and gunpowder was making it difficult to see what was going on. About 1:00pm Pappenheim returned with 2,300 cavalry and drove the Swedes back on the flank that they had been pushing back. Pappenheim was killed in the attack. The battle now degenerated into mishmash of small units attacking and defending and both Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein largely lost control of the battle.

In the confusion Gustavus Adolphus was wounded twice by bullets the second wound killing him. His body was not retrieved until later. Moral in the Swedish army was adversely affected by Gustavus Adolphus’ death. It appears that at least some of the Swedish commanders suggested retreat but Bernard, a German in Swedish service, managed to get the Swedes to agree to more attacks. These attacks finally took Windmill hill and captured some of Wallenstein’s artillery.

Fighting subsided and finally ended around 5:00pm. About an hour later Pappenheim’s 3,000 infantry arrived. Wallenstein had suffered 3,000 casualties. The Swedes had suffered c. 6,000 casualties.

Wallenstein, ill and shaken by his severe casualties and unsure that Gustavus Adolphus was actually dead decided to retreat; abandoning his artillery. Interestingly the Swedes where on the point of retreat when they found out the Imperial army had withdrawn.11

So basically the battle was tactically indecisive although because of the Imperial retreat the Swedes were able to claim victory and certainly the imperial evacuation of Sweden’s ally Saxony after the battle would seem to indicate a strategic Swedish victory. However this “victory” had cost the life of Sweden’s King, created a dangerous situation in Germany for Sweden and put Gustavus Adolphus’ 8 year old daughter Christina on the throne.12

It was only Wallenstein’s retreat that allowed the Swedes to claim victory and that was likely the worst military decision Wallenstein ever made. Otherwise Wallenstein had managed to recoup quite successfully from being caught with his pants down and despite being outnumbered through out the battle, (this includes the reinforcements that arrived during it) had fought the battle to a draw and inflicted significantly greater casualties on his enemies. Gustavus Adolphus’ generalship just before and during the battle are not impressive. Gustavus Adolphus seems to have tried simply to use his large superiority of numbers to crush his enemy in an unimaginative frontal assault. Wallenstein was overall better that Gustavus Adolphus just before and during the battle. It was after the battle that Wallenstein lost it so to speak.13

Now calling this mess of a battle “a great Swedish victory”14 seems at best to be an exaggeration and most likely simply false.

Now my account of the battle is largely from Wilson’s book on the Thirty Years War,15 and it appears to be overall accurate. What do other accounts say?

Now accounts that describe the battle has a less than a stunning Swedish victory do exist and are not new.16 So this is hardly revisionism. It appears that the sources of this error are the result of a whole series of mistakes and revisions that work to inflate the Swedish kings reputation.

For example various accounts state that the Imperials either out numbered the Swedes or had equal numbers to them at the beginning of the battle. Even some of the accounts that dispute the idea of a “great Swedish victory” accept this. To give a few examples. Fuller gives Wallenstein 25, 000 men excluding Pappenheim who he says had 8,000 with him. He gives Gustavus Adolphus 18,000 men.17

The Dupuys give Wallenstein 20,000 men excluding Pappenheim’s 8,000. Gustavus Adolphus is given 18,000 men.18

Dodge says:

It is only certain that Gustavus’ army was much weaker than Wallenstein’s. It may have numbered eighteen thousand men, while the Imperialists can scarcely have had less than twenty-five thousand; and this number was to be reinforced by fully eight thousand more, whenever Pappenheim should come up.19

Parker states that both sides had about the same number of men; 19,000. It is unclear if Parker is including the forces of Pappenheim that arrived during and just after the battle. If it does the statement is true if it is meant to just indicate forces that each side had at the beginning of the battle it is incorrect.20

Wedgwood gives Swedish forces as c. 16,000 strong and gives Wallenstein including Pappenheim 26,000 men. Assuming that Wedgwood thought Pappenheim had c. 8,000 men this would give Wallenstein 18,000 men to Gustavus Adolphus’ 16,000.21

Thus Gustavus Adolphus’ actual out numbering Wallenstein by more than 50% at the beginning of the battle is turned into being slightly outnumbered or significantly outnumbered by Wallenstein. Even historians who do not buy the “great Swedish victory” myth accept part of the myth of at least equal odds at the beginning of the battle.

Further is the idea that all of Pappenheim’s 8,000 men during the battle arrived at once is stated in some accounts.22 This is false 2,300 arrived during the battle and 3,000 just after it ended. I further note that the forces Pappenheim brought to join Wallenstein did not number 8,000 but 5,300. Altogether with Pappenheim’s reinforcements Wallenstein had 17,650 men brought to the battlefield. As against Gustavus Adolphus’ 19,200 men.23

Now the matter of casualties Fuller gives the number as the Imperials losing 3-4,000 dead and the Swedes 1,500.24 Dodge gives Imperial casualties as between 10-12,000 and Swedish as comparable.25 Dupuy & Dupuy, give Imperial casualties has c. 12,000 and Swedish has c. 10,000.26 Parker gives the Imperial dead has 6,000 but gives no other casualties.27

The above figures have one thing in common they greatly inflate the actual casualties of the battle. As indicated above it appears that Swedish casualties were about double Imperial (6,000 against 3,000). Given the size of the armies involved these are certainly severe losses. But the figures giving more Imperial losses than Swedish are simply wrong and part of the effort to inflate the battle as “a great Swedish victory”. In fact rather than inflicting more losses than they suffered the Swedes in fact suffered double the losses of their enemy. But of course in order for it to be “a great Swedish victory” casualties must be large and the "loser" must lose more than the "winner".

Finally accounts of the battle must be amended Fuller for example says:
The King’s body was recovered, Wallenstein’s guns were retaken, then lost and captured again, but after this the Swedes carried all before them and the Imperial army broke up and scattered as night crept over the field.28
Well the part about recovering the King’s body and taking the guns is correct but the rest did not occur in this Universe but in an alternate one. Dodge however manages to be really over the top:

One more effort was made for the manes of the dead hero, and the charge was given with the vigor of loving despair. The decimated ranks of the Northlanders closed up shoulder to shoulder, the first and second lines were merged into one, and forward they went in the foggy dusk, with a will which even they had never shown before. Nothing could resist their tremendous onset. On right, centre, left, everywhere and without a gap, the Swedes carried all before them. The imperial army was torn into shreds and swept far back of the causeway, where so many brave men had that day bitten the dust. At this moment some ammunition chests in rear of the imperial line exploded, which multiplied the confusion in the enemy's ranks. Darkness had descended on the field; but the Swedes remained there to mourn their beloved king, while the imperial forces sought refuge from the fearful slaughter and retired out of range.29

No the Swedes did NOT sweep all before them. The Imperial army was NOT torn into shreds. Dodge is describing a battle that never happened. Dodge’s purple prose about the spirit of the dead hero Gustavus Adolphus and his men avenging his death is charming to read but not history but hagiography. Dodge then writes:
Lutzen has been called a drawn battle. It was unequivocally a Swedish victory.30
Well if you say so (sic). Dodge than goes on to give bogus imperial casualties, (12,000) and refer to Imperial units fleeing the battlefield. All of it quite mythical. Has I said before the Imperial army suffered about ½ the casualties of the Swedish army and withdrew it did NOT flee. But then Dodge’s hero Gustavus Adolphus must have a great victory in death even when he did not. Dodge is not finished however:
The Swedes had destroyed the last army of the emperor. At the opening of the year Ferdinand had been at the end of his resources, when Wallenstein came to his aid; and the great Czech had now been utterly defeated.31
This is a collection of falsehoods. The Swedes had NOT destroyed the “last” army of the Emperor. That army was still largely intact. Further the Emperor did have other armies although Dodge does not seem aware of them. Wallenstein was NOT utterly defeated in any sense. It is arguable that Wallenstein was not defeated at all. In fact in the coming year Wallenstein although gravely ill and probably not having much time to live would reach the height of his power, before a combination of his own arrogance and double dealing would lead to him being assassinated with the Emperor’s approval in early 1634.32

Dodge was engaged in what can only be described as telling a big lie that due to constant repetition is believed by so many. In this case the lie is the alleged great victory. Well there never was a great victory at Lutzen. Instead we have a bloody inconclusive battle that ended in a sort of victory for the side losing more men because the other side withdrew from the battlefield.

Gustavus Adolphus is credited with originating many of the features of modern armies, with creating a military machine of unique sophistication vastly superior to the armies of his enemies.33 An unbiased look at his campaigns and battles reveals that this is very overdrawn. His armies were not vastly superior to his enemies. The battle of Lutzen clearly indicates that Swedish superiority was not huge and that whatever elements Gustavus Adolphus’ army had that were superior could be countered. Further it does appear that Gustavus Adolphus although a very competent general was not greatly, if at all, superior to Wallenstein as a general.34

Dodge among many others contends that Gustavus Adolphus would have imposed peace and only his unfortunate death prevented it.35 This is pure fantasizing. This is the idea of the “Great Man” as Saviour and Messiah. It speaks of hero worship and yes again of hagiography. It does not belong in sober historical writing.

Of course a lot of this reflects the stunning long term success of the Swedish and their allies propaganda system that boosted the Swedish king and his accomplishments.36

Wedgwood in her book wrote a sober assessment of Gustavus Adolphus37 that should be required reading for all those who genuflect to the ghost of Gustavus Adolphus. In it Wedgwood writes of the relief of so many of Sweden’s allies in Germany and elsewhere that the Swedish king was dead. That his inability to make or implement practical or even reasonable diplomacy would no longer screw things up; that this bull in the china shop was gone. Wedgwood concludes:
…he [Gustavus Adolphus] could break the Habsburg Empire, but he could build nothing, and he left German politics, as he left her fields, a heap of shards.38
In the end peace was finally made in 1648 at Westphalia with much of the Empire in ruins and everyone exhausted.

In order to properly rate Gustavus Adolphus the battle of Lutzen must be properly evaluated and in this case what actually happened was not what so many since have thought happened. Thus did the real battle of Lutzen disappear down a memory hole to be replaced by a mythical “great victory” that never happened.

Europe in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia

1. Wilson, Peter H., The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS, 2009.

2. Dupuy, R. Ernest, & Dupuy, Trevor N., The Encyclopedia of Military History, Revised Edition, Harper & Row, Pub., New York, 1977, p. 522.

3. IBID, pp. 537-539, 573-574, 577.

4. Dodge, Theodore Ayrault, Gustavus Adolphus, Houghton Mifflin and Co., New York, 1895. See especially pp. 398-411.

5. Wilson, pp. 476-487, Fuller, J. F.C., A Military History of the Western World, v. II, Da Capo Press Inc., New York, 1955, pp. 64-66.

6. Wilson, pp. 485-487, IBID, Fuller, Wedgwood, C.V., The Thirty Years War, Penguin Books, London, 193, pp. 268-278.

7. Wedgwood, pp. 283-286, Wilson, pp. 501-506.

8. IBID.

9. Wilson, pp. 507-508, Fuller, pp. 68-69.

10. Wilson, pp. 506-508.

11. Wilson, pp. 507-511, Fuller, pp. 69-71, Wedgwood, pp. 287-291.

12. Wilson, pp. 512-519, Wedgwood, pp. 296-302.

13. Wilson, pp. 510-511.

14. Dupuy, Trevor N., The Military Life of Gustavus Adolphus, Scholastic Library Pub., New York, 1969, p. 147.

15. Wilson, pp. 507-511.

16. Wedgwood, pp. 289-291, Parker, Geoffrey, The Thirty Years War, Second Edition, Routledge, New York, 1997, pp. 117-118, also same author, Europe in Crisis, Fontana Books, London, 1979, p. 228. It is interesting to report that although Parker 1997, although reporting the battle has indecisive in the text has a map, (after p. 202 map 3 of the war) which lists the battle has a Swedish victory. Polisensky, J. V., The Thirty Years, New English Library, London, 1970, p. 212.

17. Fuller, pp. 69-70.

18. Dupuy & Dupuy, pp. 538-539.

19. Dodge, p. 384.

20. Parker, 1997, p. 117.

21, Wedgwood, pp. 287-288.

22. Dupuy & Dupuy, p. 539, Fuller p. 71.

23. Wilson, pp. 507-511.

24. Fuller, p. 71. Fuller’s account of the battle is very brief pp. 68-71.

25. Dodge, p. 396-397.

26. Dupuy & Dupuy, p. 539.

27. Parker, 1997, p. 118.

28. Fuller, p. 71.

29. Dodge, p. 396.

30. IBID.

31. IBID. p. 397.

32. Parker, 1997, pp. 123-125.

33. Dupuy & Dupuy, pp. 522-524.

34. See Wilson, pp. 492-511.

35. Dodge, p. 397.

36, Parker, 1997, Plates 9-15, pp. 99-100, 112, Wilson, pp. 475-476, 511.

37. Wedgwood, pp. 291-295.

38. IBID, p. 295.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shakespeare and Henry V

Henry V (Left), Shakespeare (Right)

Henry V, 1413-1422 C.E., is considered one of the greatest of English Kings. He was born in either 1386 0r 1387. The reason for this disparity is probably because of his status as the son of Henry of Bolingbroke who was not in line to the throne.1

Henry of Bolingbroke eventually got on King Richard II’s bad side was exiled in 1398 upon which Richard II took charge of Henry’s son Henry. Now the future Henry V apparently got along very well with Richard.2

The next year Henry of Bolingbroke invaded England while Richard II and young Henry were in Ireland and overthrew Richard II. Henry of Bolingbroke became Henry IV. Richard was confined to Pontefract castle and was almost certainly murdered at Henry IV’s urgings early in the following year.3

Because Henry, now Prince of Wales, liked Richard II, Richard’s murder apparently caused bad blood between father and son.

Now Henry IV’s claim to the throne was weaker than several others more specifically the Earl of March and so Henry IV’s reign was characterized by violence and rebellion and by a general atmosphere of repression and disorder.

Henry IV sought to expiate his sin of regicide by going on a Crusade but never actually did so. Henry, as Prince of Wales, showed considerable skill as a military commander dealing with the various rebellions against his father.

When his father died in 1413 Henry, Prince of Wales became Henry V King of England. Rather than consolidate the rather shaky Lancastrian hold on the English throne Henry let himself be dragged into the interminable Hundred Years War with France.

The contortions and convolutions need not detain us suffice to say that Henry won the battle of Agincourt, a spectacular, one sided, victory over a considerably larger French Army and in subsequent years Henry V was able to conquer Normandy and because of the vicious French civil war between the Burgundians and Armagnacs, climaxing in the murder of Jean, the fearless, Duke of Burgundy in 1419, was able to secure the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which made him the heir of the French king Charles VI and married him to Charles VI’s daughter Catherine of Valois.4

This was success on a truly spectacular level. When Henry V died in 1422, of dysentery, having contracted it besieging the city of Meaux in 1421-1422, it seemed that his death forclosed the alleged dazzling prospects ahead of him.

Shakespeare and other writers have waxed eloquent over Henry V, creating in him the myth of the perfect ruler, and creating the image of a sublime man and supremely capable and good man, cut down in his prime. However, Shakespeare had beneath the enthusiasm indications of a different view.

For example there is the famous St. Crispin speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V:
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
(Henry V, Act 4, Scene III)5
Certainly a rousing and heartfelt display of love of country and not surprisingly loved by English audiences to this day.

This play, along with Henry IV Parts I & II, by Shakespeare with its portrayal of an outstanding and seemingly ideal monarch has warmed the hearts of patriotic Englishmen for centuries and as coloured views of the English monarch by English Historians and Scholars.

Yet it is important to remember that Shakespeare was no Historian and that his Henry V was a literary creation not an historical character. Also underneath all of the patriotic bluster and huzzahs Shakespeare, being Shakespeare was not quite so blinded by patriotic fever. If Shakespeare’s 8 connected History plays6 are viewed together the story is darker. In the plays Henry IV becomes King by overthrowing and murdering the rightful King Richard II. This is a crime against the way the Universe should operate in Shakespeare's eyes. Henry IV is racked with remorse because of this crime and promises to go on Crusade. However he does not abdicate his ill gotten throne and so is punished by leprosy and eventually dies a loathsome and terrible death.

So apparently the father’s sin is punished and the son may reign in peace. Things are not quite so simple. Henry continues to deny the throne to the rightful heir The Earl of March and suppresses by brutal execution a conspiracy to place the Earl of March on the throne.

Shakespeare also gave Henry V a few choice lines indicating that this ideal King was far from ideal. His speech to the Governor of Harfleur is rather interesting in revealing a very unpleasant facet of Henry V’s character.

How yet resolves the governor of the town?
This is the latest parle we will admit
Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves;
Or like to men proud of destruction
Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,
If I begin the battery once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh'd soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
What is it then to me, if impious war,
Array'd in flames like to the prince of fiends,
Do, with his smirch'd complexion, all fell feats
Enlink'd to waste and desolation?
What is't to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
What rein can hold licentious wickedness
When down the hill he holds his fierce career?
We may as bootless spend our vain command
Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil
As send precepts to the leviathan
To come ashore. Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O'erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villany.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?
(Henry V, Act 3, Scene III)7


This speech is sometimes cut out entirely and almost always cut so to remove the less congenial bits. Directors and audiences do not seem to want Henry V out of his own mouth to show what a monster he can be. So it is, if it is used at all, carefully cut. But then why should such a speech be a surprise coming from the son of a usurper who is a usurper himself and as such a violator of the proper order of the Universe. Such is in my opinion what Shakespeare is getting at, here at least.

Henry V by occupying the throne has inherited his father’s guilt and like his father he fails to show true penitence by abdicating but instead retains the throne. Henry V’s reburial of Richard II, the prayers he has said for Richard II’s soul mean nothing in the face of the refusal to abdicate. Henry V in the play realizes that to some extent; he says:

Imploring pardon.
(Henry V, Act 4, Scene I)8
Henry V wins the battle and it appears divine favour. He marries Katherine of Valois, daughter of French King Charles VI, and is made heir to Charles VI. It appears that God as forgiven him and granted him his protection. Yet it is all a delusion. Divine punishment is coming and Henry V dies young from disease caught trying to crush continued French resistance.

Henry V is succeeded by an infant who grows up to be a weak King and touched by madness inherited from his grandfather Charles VI of France. France is progressively lost to the resurgent Charles VII son of Charles VI. England falls prey to factions. One around the ruling house of Lancaster, and the other the rival house of York.

England succumbs to corruption, weakness, civil war and murderous violence. Henry VI and his heir Edward are murdered extinguishing the line of Henry IV. The house of York similarly is victimized by murder and violence. Only when Henry VII establishes the house of Tudor is legitimacy finally restored and the cosmic, divine balance disrupted by Henry IV’s overthrow and murder of Richard II righted.

On the surface it appears that Shakespeare takes seriously Henry V’s claim to the French throne and certainly it is easy to find in this play and the others in Shakespeare’s series of History plays passages indicating contempt for the French and bravo declarations of English rights and honour. Yet again that may be what Shakespeare is saying in parts of the play yet at the heart is a problem with thinking that Shakespeare was just a hyper patriot, “My country is always right” sort of person. The reason is simple if Henry V’s claim to the English throne is entirely illegitimate than his claim to the French throne is equally bogus.

Thus Shakespeare makes the speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury9 in support of Henry V’s claim to the French throne a model of comic tediousness and absurdity. It is digressive, repetitious and convoluted nonsense. And why does the Archbishop support Henry’s claim? Well in the previous scene A group of English magnates including the Archbishop agree that in order to kill a Parliamentary bill that threatens to take away ½ of the Churches land to support Henry’s claim to the French Throne.10 Such is the less than honest reason given to support Henry V trying to conquer France in the play.

Thus despite all the surface depreciation of the French Shakespeare seems to recognize that they are right to reject Henry V’s claim and to violently resist it.

The stunning, indeed almost miraculous, victory at Agincourt is thus nothing but a fiendish divine trap to enmesh and entangle England so that divine punishment for the overthrow, and murder of a rightful King and his replacement with a usurper would be met out by the truly terrible and awful wrath of God.

It is forgotten that this celebration of patriotic sentiment the play Henry V contains within it the story of a illegitimate usurper trying to conquer a foreign country which he, with no legitimate basis, lays claim too. For all the surface patriotic posturing, which is what most audiences and frankly directors of the play hear, just underneath is a story of wicked usurpation, an unjust war of conquest and the inevitable righteous retribution that will inevitably come on the breakers of human and divine law.

1. Wikipedia, Henry V, Here.

2. Jones, Terry, et al, Who Murdered Chaucer?, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2006, pp. 110-112.

3. Seward, Desmond, Henry V as Warlord, Penguin Books, London, 1987, pp. 13-15. I suspect that Henry IV almost certainly never directly ordered Richard II’s murder but simply put out lots of hints that things would be so much better if Richard II was dead. Richard was probably suffocated and the usual cock and bull story put out that Richard died of natural causes.

4. IBID, pp. 51-158.

5. Shakespeare, William, Henry V, Here.

6. The Plays are in Chronological order, Richard II, Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, Henry V, Henry VI Part One, Henry VI Part Two, Henry VI Part Three, Richard III.

7. Shakespeare.

8. IBID.

9. IBID, Act 1, Scene 2.

10. IBID, Act 1, Scene 1.

I heavily used the following book. Sutherland, John & Watts, Cedric, Henry V, War Criminal & Other Shakespeare Puzzles, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000. The two essays in the book I relied on are Henry V, War Criminal?, pp. 108-116, Henry V’s claim to France: valid or invalid?, pp. 117-125.

Pierre Cloutier