Written by Averett Jones Bonhoeffer was hanged by Adolf Hitler in 1945.)Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany…
‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.
’-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010.
Silver-haired Red Army general Leonid Ivashov, “Out of fifteen republics of the USSR, Ukraine had given us more headache than any other.”
Retired Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov spoke out vocally against hypothetical Russia’s war with Ukraine. As the chairman of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, the general who’s known for his pro-Soviet and patriotic views, had written and signed an open letter addressed to president Putin and citizens of Russia.
He sat down for an interview with a host of the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow to assess risks and consequences of a military invasion, blamed the escalation on President Putin, and demanded his resignation.
I’m posting highlights from the interview with the focus on the military aspects below.
“My open letter was an anti-war statement. It expressed collective opinion of the retired army officers and generals, members of All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, and after our discussion, as the chairman, I signed the letter.
“We at the Assembly have received a wealth of military experience and first class military higher education.
“We acknowledge that preparations for a war with Ukraine have been well under way including diplomatic negotiations, with groupings of troops massed on the border. In such conditions, one gun shot might provoke a conflict with ensuing dire consequences. If extensive military actions begin, tens of thousands of young men will die.
“I served as a military diplomat and sat behind the table with Nato and European top brass, and I can tell you that people who want a war the least are generals, while politicians can easily start it over for the sake of for example winning re-elections. Politicians don’t hold any responsibility and shift all the blame on to the military. And when there’s a victory, politicians own it.”
“In the 1990s, we observed Nato’s planned military exercises and reacted by conducting our own planned military exercises, manoeuvres, missile lunches, etc.
“All that didn’t pose any critical dangers. Our military and civil leadership should have been taking initiative into their own hands, and without any hysterical ultimatum like “give us answer tomorrow. Fulfil our demands right away.”
“As the head of International Military Cooperation Department, I persuaded Minister of Defence to prepare a collective plan of European Security. It was well received although Americans and the English blocked it.
“Nonetheless, we pressed on, step by step, to deescalate the level of tensions. Our European colleagues always responded well to our suggestions and we found solutions to problems together. War is, as they say, the last resort.
“We have discussed at the assembly why Putin is triggering the last resort and arrived at the only plausible conclusion: Russia is going through a systemic crises that the leadership cannot put a check on. In every sphere of economy – healthcare, culture, education, etc – everywhere is degradation and collapse.
“My personal impression is that Putin is tired of Russia. And he wants to be finished with it, because a large-scale war would result in the disappearance of Russia as an integral, big country.
“As a civilisation it was over for us after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. After this escapade, we’ll be finished as a country.
“It won’t be a blitzkrieg, a walk in the park. This will be a mass-scale war with tens of thousands of killed and maimed soldiers on both sides.
“Even if we conquer Kiev, we’ll have to dig in and build garrisons and fight partisan movements. We’ll have to use our entire nation’s energies and resources to keep some semblance of order in Ukraine. It is savagery. Absolute savagery.
“And what for? For the sake of decades of military confrontation? Of course, some parties in the West would feel joyful. Gas won’t flow from Russia, and it will never be a competitor again. It will be an awful geopolitical catastrophe. And that’s the reason why we took a stand against it.
“I repeat, there’s no critical situation. I can’t name a single European country that wants a war between Russia and Ukraine. And even Americans who wouldn’t find Ukraine on the map will protest and there will be a public resonance if just a dozen American soldiers die in this war. So I don’t see anyone who actively wants this war.
“To me the West has always been an opponent and a rival, but I was surprised how they reacted to our ultimatum. They didn’t escalate the situation, but offered a negotiating process.
“Instead, our ultimatum has united the entire Western world against us. And not only the West. India has just rejected to purchase 1700 Russian tanks, which will spell the end of our tank industry exports.
“There’s an easy way to stop it. Putin calls Zelensky and offers to meet in a neutral country and talk. The other option that can stop the war is public outcry.
“And I don’t mean those so-called experts on TV who talk about taking over Ukraine in ten days, or a few hours. I suggest that the senior leadership’s, bankers’ and business elite’s and talk shows hosts’ children take assault rifles in their own hands and join the front chain of the attack. Only then those people would play an active role in stopping this war not to get their children in body bags.
“Mass media shouldn’t be the instrument of war, the role they have performed since 2014 when instead of using kindness to resolve our differences with Ukraine, they engaged in aggression to widen that chasm between us and anger each other. That spilled blood will separate us forever into enemies’ camps.
“Once we cross into Ukrainian territory, they will receive all the weapons that they need, and thousands of volunteers will join the army to fight.
“76.6% per center of our members, which includes retired police officers and special forces, share this opinion. Bottom line, our goal is to stop this bloody tragedy from happening.
“Assault troops are still massed on the border with Ukraine and Putin after his return from Beijing didn’t order to pull them back. That means that hostilities can start at any moment.
“Resignation of Putin will give Russia a small chance to keep Russia’s statehood going. It’s what we’re counting on.
“You have to understand one thing. When Putin was propelled to this scale of of power, he knew nothing. It’s only with time that he learned and was exploited by all sorts of individuals.
“Any man with regional managerial experience that will take his place, the first thing he’ll do is hire professionals. PROFESSIONALS. Professionals with proper education and experience. Yes, in a way that will be a ‘technical’ president, but he will surround himself with people who have professional knowledge.
“At this time, much depends on Putin. There needs to be a clear-minded person in his circle who will give it to him straight – ‘as a commander in chief and a mastermind of this war, you will carry full responsibility and go on international trial like those war criminals in Nuremberg.’
“We have to stop this absolutely unnecessary war.”
Mischa your insight as “a person on the ground” is much appreciated. I am a Army officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and what you are bringing to light in your writing is what we have been positing since we were caught completely flat footed in 2014 and have since devoted much attention to the Ukrainian question. I most sincerely wish it weren’t so.
I can attest hand to heart, the West does not want a war with Russia but if our hands are forced by an invasion the response will be swift and devastating. Crippling economic sanctions and arming the Ukrainians will be step one. This will be done in an attempt to subvert a protracted armed conflict between nuclear/super powers. If that does not cause the cessation of Russian forces in Ukraine it will turn into full war along the entirety of Russia’s Western border and any other number of proxy fronts. This will be a war on the scale we have not seen since WWII. It will indeed be a global conflict. Lots of soldiers will die and be injured on both sides, but more devastating will be the loss of life and mass displacement of civilians. This may well be on the magnitude of tens of millions
Do take care of yourself. I do have concerns for your safety, and I assume you do too, even if you are able to joke about it.
In 1938/9, the only real barrier between the madman, and the world war and eventual destruction of Germany, were German General Staff generals. In 1938, the madman managed to sucker punch the most senior generals, and to bribe the rest, bribe into actions which eventually meant grinding Germany to rubble and rape of some 3M German women.
German generals, who in 1938 opposed the madman, were not that touchy-feely. They would execute, I guess with a professional pleasure, any war which made sense for Germany. They opposed the madman not because they disliked war, but because they could, better than most, predict the war outcome.
A still from “The Mongol,” 2007Sergey Bodrov Sn./STV production, 2007
It is wrong to think that Mongol-Tatars invaded Russia as a single state, because the state actually formed as a response to the invasion, to resist and overthrow it. It was Peter the Great who formally ended Russia’s tributes to the Khans.
Knyaz’ Yaroslav II of Vladimir was poisoned by Güyük Khan’s wife. At the age of 67, Knyaz’ Mikhail of Chernigov was executed in the capital of the Golden Horde (Mongol khaganate) for refusing to worship Mongol idols. Knyaz’ Mikhail of Tver had his heart ripped out in the same capital, the chronicle says. The Russian population was forced to pay substantial tributes, and Russian princes were only allowed to rule their duchies by the permission of the Khan of the Golden Horde. That’s how it was under the Mongol rule, or, as we call it in Russia, the Tatar-Mongol Igo (Yoke).
Prince Alexander Nevsky begging Batu Khan for mercy for Russia, End of the 19th century. Found in the collection of Russian State Library, MoscowGetty Images
It’s hard to believe that events such as these were instrumental in the formation of the Russian state. But it was opposition to these actions that united the Russian princes – unfortunately, not with friendship, but under the iron fist of the strongest of them. “Moscow owes its greatness to the Khans,” wrote the great Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin (1766-1826).
At the time of the Mongol invasion of Rus’, the Mongols were advanced both in the military and in the systems of governance. Only unity could help the Russians to overthrow Mongol rule. How did it begin in the first place?
1. What prompted the Mongol Invasion?
Genghis KhanPublic domain
It all started when Genghis Khan (1155-1227), the founder of the Mongol Empire, sent his son Jochi (1182-1227) to conquer the lands of what is now Siberia, Central Russia, and Eastern Europe. Giant armies of Mongol warriors (clearly over 100,000, an enormous number in the 13th century) easily defeated the weak and ill-numbered forces of the Russian princes, who were at war with each other before the invasion.
In 1237, the Mongols, led by Batu Khan, invaded Rus’. They took, ravaged and burned Ryazan’, Kolomna, Moscow, Vladimir, Tver – all the main Russian cities. The invasion continued until 1242 and was a terrible blow for the Russian lands – it took almost 100 years to fully recover from the damage the Mongol army did. Also, the lands and cities of the South – Kiev, Chernigov, Halych were burned to the ground. The North-Eastern lands, most notably Tver, Moscow, Vladimir, and Suzdal became the main cities after the invasion.
However, the Mongols didn’t want to conquer the land fully – they just wanted stable tributes. And they knew how to get what they wanted.
2. How did Mongol rule work?
Batu Khan as seen on a Middle Ages Chinese etchingPublic domain
In 1243, Yaroslav II of Vladimir (1191-1246) was the first Russian prince to receive permission to rule – he was summoned to Batu Khan, swore his allegiance to him and was named the “biggest knyaz’ of all Russians.”
The ceremony of swearing allegiance to Mongols was very similar to the French ceremony of homage, where the liege kneeled on one knee at the feet of his seated sovereign. But in the Horde’s capital Saray, Russian princes were sometimes forced to walk on their knees to the Khan’s throne and overall treated like inferiors. It was this same Yaroslav II, by the way, who received the first jarlik and later was poisoned.
Jarlik (a shout-out, an announcement in the ancient Mongol language) was how Mongols called diplomatic credentials – protective charters they wrote and handed over to the Russian princes and priests. The important part of the Mongols’ policy was that they protected the Russian Orthodox churches, never ravaged them, and kept the clergy safe. For protection, the church was obliged to preach allegiance to the Mongol Tatars to their parishioners.
A typical Mongol jarlik dating back to 1397Лапоть (CC0 1.0)
The tributes were controlled and collected at first by the baskaks, the Mongol taxmen, who lived in Russian cities with their suite and security guards. To collect the tributes, the Mongols performed a census of the population of the subdued duchies. The tributes went to the Mongol Empire, and after 1266, when the Tatar-Mongol state of Golden Horde divided itself from the Mongols, tributes went to the Golden Horde’s capital Saray. Later, after multiple local revolts and following the Russian princes’ pleas, the tribute collection was handed over to the princes themselves. Otherwise, the Russians were left to live their life.
3. How did the Russians USE the Mongols to their benefit?
“The Baskaks”Sergey Ivanov
There was never any constant military presence of the Mongols, but if the Russians revolted against their rule, they could send armies. However, the cunning and politically sophisticated Mongol khans manipulated Russians, incited hatred and wars among them to better control the weak, divided states. Soon, the princes learned this tactic and started applying it against the Mongols.
For a century, there were innumerable military campaigns between Mongols and Russians. In 1328, Tver duchy revolted against the Mongols, killing the Uzbek Khan’s cousin. Tver was burned and destroyed by the Horde, and Moscow and Suzdal princes helped the Mongols. Why? How could they?
In a war between the duchies, the Moscow princes understood that somebody has to take the lead against the Mongols by subduing others to his rule. After Tver’s demise, Ivan I “Kalita” of Moscow became the first prince to collect the tributes from the Russian lands instead of the baskaks – that’s what he got for helping the Mongols to murder his compatriots – and at the same time, his enemies. However, this helped bring the famous “40-year peace” when Mongols didn’t attack the lands of Moscow (but ravaged other duchies). Meanwhile, Moscow used the defeats of other princes for their own means.
The sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan in February 1238. Mongol Invasion of Russia. A miniature from the sixteenth-century chroniclePublic domain
Russians also quickly learned from the Mongols to use written contracts, sign acts, enact laws; Russians used the system of yams – road stations, employed first by Genghis Khan for multiple purposes: shelter for travelers, places to hold spare horses for army messengers, and so on. This system was installed in the Russian lands by the Mongols for their purposes but eventually started being used by Russians for their own good – to connect their lands.
4. How did the Mongol rule end?
The Tver uprising of 1328 as seen in a Russian chronicle of the 16th centuryPublic domain
What Moscow princes learned from the ruthless Mongols was that you either kill your enemy or disable him so he can’t take revenge. Simultaneously with the strengthening of Moscow princes, the Golden Horde fell into a political crisis. In 1378, Dmitry of Moscow, known as Donskoy (1350-1389) for the first time in a long while, crushed one of the Horde’s armies.
In 1380, Dmitry Donskoy, who had earlier stopped paying tributes to the Horde, defeated the 60,000-110,000-strong army of Khan Mamay in the Battle of Kulikovo, a great moment of high spirits for all the Russian lands. However, in 1382, Moscow was burned by Tokhtamysh, a Khan of another part of the dismantled Horde.
For the next hundred years or so, Russian lands on and off paid tributes to different Khans of the Horde, but in 1472, Ivan the Great of Moscow (1440-1505) refused again to pay tributes to the Tatar Mongols. This time, the Great Duchy of Moscow was really great. Ivan and his father Vasily II the Blind had collected lands and princes and subdued them to Moscow.
Ahmed bin Küchük, Khan of the Golden Horde, tried to wage war against Ivan, but after the famous standoff at the Ugra river in 1480, he returned home. This battle marked the end of the Mongol rule and control – but not the tributes. Russia continued sending money and valuable goods to different parts of the Horde just to make peace with militant Tatars. This was called “pominki” (appr. ‘memorables’) in Russian.
Dmitry Donskoy, an image from a Russian chroniclePublic domain
Russia paid pominki to different former Horde dynasties until 1685. Formally, the tributes were banned by Peter the Great only in 1700, according to the Treaty of Constantinople between the Russian Tsardom and the Ottoman Empire. The Khan of Crimea, one of the last of the Khans at the time, and the Ottoman Empire’s vassal, was also the last to whom Russia paid. The treaty said:
“…Because the State of Moscow is autonomous and free – the tribute that annually was given to the Crimean Khans until now, henceforward shall not be given from His Holy Greatness of the Tsar of Moscow, nor from his descendants…”
It is very symbolic that Peter, the last great tsar of Moscow and the future first Emperor of Russia, signed this treaty in 1700, the first year that began in Russia not from the 1st of September, like in ancient Russia, but from January 1st – just like in Europe.
The Grand Mosque of Paris was built between 1922 and 1926 to symbolize the eternal friendship between France and Islam. It was also meant to express gratitude to the half-million Muslims of the French Empire’s North African colonies who had fought against the Germans in World War I. A hundred thousand Muslims died for France; without their sacrifice, it is said, the victory of Verdun would not have happened. The Mosque was particularly meant to honor the fallen Muslim tirailleurs (sharpshooters) from Algeria.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit. Image is in the public domain via
After the war many Algerians relocated to France, working in factories and on construction jobs mostly, sending money home to their families. Known as Kabyles—Berbers from Kabylia, the treacherous Atlas Mountains and impoverished villages of Algeria that Albert Camus wrote about — the Kabyles became the dominant Muslim population in Paris. Many lived in slum housing in Belleville in northeastern Paris, forming bonds with their other immigrant neighbors and coworkers: Chinese and Vietnamese, Tunisians, Moroccans, Jews from North Africa, Russia, eastern Europe.
When the Nazis invaded in 1940 and began rounding up Jews for deportation, many Kabyles joined the French Resistance. (It is also true that like Christians, many Arabs in North Africa and Paris collaborated with the anti-Semitic Vichy and German authorities.)
Benghabrit saves Jews from the Gestapo
The successes of the Kabyle Resistance were intimately connected with the clandestine antifascist operations in daily progress in the cellars of the Grand Mosque where the Kabyles worshipped. Thanks to the heroism of the Mosque’s rector, Si Kaddour Benghabrit (1868–1954), the Kabyles were free to bring their Jewish friends and coworkers to the Mosque for safe haven.
The first prayer offered at the Paris Mosque in 1926, in the presence of the president of France, was given by this rector who was also the Mosque’s founder. Benghabrit, born in Algeria, a cultured diplomat in Paris and North Africa who wrote books, enjoyed Parisian salon culture, and loved music became the most important Muslim in Paris and the most influential Arab in Europe. Benghabrit has now become a figure of historical interest and some acclaim because of his actions during the Holocaust.
When the Nazis and the Vichy government began arresting and deporting the Jews of Paris, Benghabrit committed himself and his congregation to making the Grand Mosque a sanctuary for endangered Jews. He devised a threefold rescue operation: first, he offered European and Algerian Jews shelter in the same apartments inhabited by Muslim families; second, he gave them fake identity certificates, to prove they were Muslims, not Jews; finally, he initiated the use of the cellars and tunnels beneath the Mosque as escape routes.
The Jews-in-hiding crawled and dug their way through the sewers and tunnels (souterrains) under the Mosque to the banks of the Seine where empty wine barges and boats operated by Kabyles were waiting to smuggle them out of Occupied Paris. Benghabrit was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo a number of times as rumors of the Mosque’s resistance inevitably got out. A higher German command, however, ordered him released each time: The Germans could not risk Algerian riots in North Africa or Paris if the Reich was to hold North Africa against the allies. It was important that the Muslims on both fronts stayed submissive.
Salim Halali, a Berber Jew from Algeria, popular singer of North African songs and friend of Benghabrit, sought and found safety in the Mosque. The rector not only made him a Certificate of Conversion to show—falsely—that Salim’s grandfather had converted to Islam; he also had an unmarked tombstone in the Muslim cemetery in Bobigny inscribed with the family name of Halali’s grandfather.
After the Nazis checked it out, they left Halali alone. He lived out the war in the Mosque, passing as a Muslim when the Nazis, responding to rumors of a Mosque underground, barged in regularly on a search-and- deport mission. (Benghabrit had a warning bell hidden in the floor under his desk that alerted everyone of another Nazi raid in progress.) After the Liberation, Halali went on to become the most popular “oriental” singer in Europe. He and Benghabrit remained good friends.
Albert Assouline, a North African Jew who with a Muslim friend escaped from a POW camp in Germany, surfaced in Paris without identity papers. The Mosque welcomed him and his friend. While hiding out in the basement, Assouline saw many other Jews in hiding: the children lived in the upstairs apartments with Muslim families, the adults in the basement. Because North African Jews and Muslims looked alike, had similar surnames, were circumcised, and spoke Arabic, the Jews, with their fake Muslim identity certificates, were able to pass as Muslim when the Gestapo came searching for evidence of a Jewish sanctuary movement. After the war, Assouline gave testimony that he witnessed 1,600 Jews passing through the basements and sub-basements of the Mosque and descending into the dark labyrinthine tunnels, eventually making it out onto the boats waiting at the Halles aux Vins on the Seine to carry them to safety in the Maghreb and Spain. In addition to Jewish refugees, the Kabyle boatmen also carried messages between the French Resistance in Paris and the Free French Army in Algeria.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: Place du Puits de l’Ermite. Image is taken from the book The Streets of Paris
Some sources dispute Assouline’s estimate, claiming that at most five hundred Jews were given a home and then safe passage by Benghabrit and the Mosque. One Israeli scholar dismisses the story as exaggerated from start to finish. There is not much data available to provide the actual numbers of Jews rescued by the Mosque. But what there is—old newspapers, scholarly research,* and personal testimonies from Jews who after the war told of hiding for its duration in the Mosque’s basements—supports the details of this hidden history.
Benghabrit was given the Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur after the war. But Eva Wiesel has noted in The New York Times that getting Yad Vashem in Israel to grant the honorific of “Righteous Among Nations” to a Muslim, even the Oskar Schindler–like Benghabrit, is and will remain very difficult. This heroic unsung leader of the Paris Mosque Resistance died in 1954 in the early stages of the war of Algerian independence.
He is buried in the Mosque, facing in the direction of Mecca, as are all Muslims.
SUSAN CAHILL has published several travel books on France, Italy, and Ireland, including Hidden Gardens of Paris and The Streets of Paris. She is the editor of the bestselling Women and Fiction series and author of the novel Earth Angels. She spends a few months in Paris every year.
The current crisis between Russia and Ukraine is a reckoning that has been 30 years in the making. It is about much more than Ukraine and its possible NATO membership. It is about the future of the European order crafted after the Soviet Union’s collapse. During the 1990s, the United States and its allies designed a Euro-Atlantic security architecture in which Russia had no clear commitment or stake, and since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia has been challenging that system. Putin has routinely complained that the global order ignores Russia’s security concerns, and he has demanded that the West recognize Moscow’s right to a sphere of privileged interests in the post-Soviet space. He has staged incursions into neighboring states, such as Georgia, that have moved out of Russia’s orbit in order to prevent them from fully reorienting.
Putin has now taken this approach one step further. He is threatening a far more comprehensive invasion of Ukraine than the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in the Donbas that Russia carried out in 2014, an invasion that would undermine the current order and potentially reassert Russia’s preeminence in what he insists is its “rightful” place on the European continent and in world affairs. He sees this as a good time to act. In his view, the United States is weak, divided, and less able to pursue a coherent foreign policy. His decades in office have made him more cynical about the United States’ staying power. Putin is now dealing with his fifth U.S. president, and he has come to see Washington as an unreliable interlocutor. The new German government is still finding its political feet, Europe on the whole is focused on its domestic challenges, and the tight energy market gives Russia more leverage over the continent. The Kremlin believes that it can bank on Beijing’s support, just as China supported Russia after the West tried to isolate it in 2014.
Putin may still decide not to invade. But whether he does or not, the Russian president’s behavior is being driven by an interlocking set of foreign policy principles that suggest Moscow will be disruptive in the years to come. Call it “the Putin doctrine.” The core element of this doctrine is getting the West to treat Russia as if it were the Soviet Union, a power to be respected and feared, with special rights in its neighborhood and a voice in every serious international matter. The doctrine holds that only a few states should have this kind of authority, along with complete sovereignty, and that others must bow to their wishes. It entails defending incumbent authoritarian regimes and undermining democracies. And the doctrine is tied together by Putin’s overarching aim: reversing the consequences of the Soviet collapse, splitting the transatlantic alliance, and renegotiating the geographic settlement that ended the Cold War.
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BLAST FROM THE PAST
Russia, according to Putin, has an absolute right to a seat at the table on all major international decisions. The West should recognize that Russia belongs to the global board of directors. After what Putin portrays as the humiliation of the 1990s, when a greatly weakened Russia was forced to accede to an agenda set by the United States and its European allies, he has largely achieved this goal. Even though Moscow was ejected from the G-8 after its annexation of Crimea, its veto on the United Nations Security Council and role as an energy, nuclear, and geographic superpower ensure that the rest of the world must take its views into account. Russia successfully rebuilt its military after the 2008 war with Georgia, and it is now the preeminent regional military power, with the capability to project power globally. Moscow’s ability to threaten its neighbors enables it to force the West to the negotiating table, as has been so evident in the past few weeks.
As far as Putin is concerned, the use of force is perfectly appropriate if Russia believes that its security is threatened: Russia’s interests are as legitimate as those of the West, and Putin asserts that the United States and Europe have been disregarding them. For the most part, the United States and Europe have rejected the Kremlin’s narrative of grievance, which centers most notably on the breakup of the Soviet Union and especially the separation of Ukraine from Russia. When Putin described the Soviet collapse as a “great geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century,” he was lamenting the fact that 25 million Russians found themselves outside of Russia, and he particularly criticized the fact that 12 million Russians found themselves in the new Ukrainian state. As he wrote in a 5,000-word treatise published last summer and titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” in 1991, “people found themselves abroad overnight, taken away, this time indeed, from their historical motherland.” His essay has recently been distributed to Russian troops.
In an essay last year, Putin wrote that Ukraine was being turned into “a springboard against Russia.”
This narrative of loss to the West is tied in to a particular obsession of Putin’s: the idea that NATO, not content to merely admit or aid post-Soviet states, might threaten Russia itself. The Kremlin insists that this preoccupation is based on real concerns. Russia, after all, has been repeatedly invaded from the West. In the twentieth century, it was invaded by anti-Bolshevik allied forces, including some from the United States, during its civil war from 1917 to 1922. Germany invaded twice, leading to the loss of 26 million Soviet citizens in World War II. Putin has explicitly linked this history to Russia’s current concerns about NATO infrastructure nearing Russia’s borders and Moscow’s resulting demands for security guarantees.
Today, however, Russia is a nuclear superpower brandishing new, hypersonic missiles. No country—least of all its smaller, weaker neighbors—has any intention of invading Russia. Indeed, the country’s neighbors to its west have a different narrative and stress their vulnerability over the centuries to invasion from Russia. The United States would also never attack, although Putin has accused it of seeking to “cut a juicy piece of our pie.” Nevertheless, the historical self-perception of Russia’s vulnerability resonates with the country’s population. Government-controlled media are filled with claims that Ukraine could be a launching pad for NATO aggression. Indeed, in his essay last year, Putin wrote that Ukraine was being turned into “a springboard against Russia.”
Putin also believes that Russia has an absolute right to a sphere of privileged interests in the post-Soviet space. This means its former Soviet neighbors should not join any alliances that are deemed hostile to Moscow, particularly NATO or the European Union. Putin has made this demand clear in the two treaties proposed by the Kremlin on December 17, which require that Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries—as well as Sweden and Finland—commit to permanent neutrality and eschew seeking NATO membership. NATO would also have to retreat to its 1997 military posture, before its first enlargement, by removing all troops and equipment in central and eastern Europe. (This would reduce NATO’s military presence to what it was when the Soviet Union disintegrated.) Russia would also have veto power over the foreign policy choices of its non-NATO neighbors. This would ensure that pro-Russian governments are in power in countries bordering Russia—including, foremost, Ukraine.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
So far, no Western government has been prepared to accept these extraordinary demands. The United States and Europe widely embrace the premise that nations are free to determine both their domestic systems and their foreign policy affiliations. From 1945 to 1989, the Soviet Union denied self-determination to central and eastern Europe and exercised control over both the domestic and foreign policies of Warsaw Pact members through local communist parties, the secret police, and the Red Army. When a country strayed too far from the Soviet model—Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968—its leaders were ousted by force. The Warsaw Pact was an alliance that had a unique track record: it invaded only its own members.
The modern Kremlin’s interpretation of sovereignty has notable parallels to that of the Soviet Union. It holds, to paraphrase George Orwell, that some states are more sovereign than others. Putin has said that only a few great powers—Russia, China, India, and the United States—enjoy absolute sovereignty, free to choose which alliances they join or reject. Smaller countries such as Ukraine or Georgia are not fully sovereign and must respect Russia’s strictures, just as Central America and South America, according to Putin, must heed their large northern neighbor. Russia also does not seek allies in the Western sense of the word but instead looks for mutually beneficial instrumental and transactional partnerships with countries, such as China, that do not restrict Russia’s freedom to act or pass judgment on its internal politics.
Such authoritarian partnerships are an element of the Putin doctrine. The president presents Russia as a supporter of the status quo, an advocate of conservative values, and an international player that respects established leaders, especially autocrats. As recent events in Belarus and Kazakhstan have shown, Russia is the go-to power to support embattled authoritarian rulers. It has defended autocrats both in its neighborhood and far beyond—including in Cuba, Libya, Syria, and Venezuela. The West, according to the Kremlin, instead supports chaos and regime change, as happened during the 2003 Iraq war and the Arab Spring in 2011.
The Warsaw Pact was an alliance that had a unique track record: it invaded only its own members.
But in its own “sphere of privileged interests,” Russia can act as a revisionist power when it considers its interests threatened or when it wants to advance its interests, as the annexation of Crimea and the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine demonstrated. Russia’s drive to be acknowledged as a leader and backer of strongmen regimes has been increasingly successful in recent years as Kremlin-backed mercenary groups have acted on behalf of Russia in many parts of the world, as is the case in Ukraine.
Moscow’s revisionist interference also isn’t limited to what it considers its privileged domain. Putin believes Russia’s interests are best served by a fractured transatlantic alliance. Accordingly, he has supported anti-American and Euroskeptic groups in Europe; backed populist movements of the left and right on both sides of the Atlantic; engaged in election interference; and generally worked to exacerbate discord within Western societies. One of his major goals is to get the United States to withdraw from Europe. U.S. President Donald Trump was contemptuous of the NATO alliance and dismissive of some of the United States’ key European allies—notably then German Chancellor Angela Merkel—and spoke openly of pulling the United States out of the organization. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has assiduously sought to repair the alliance, and indeed Putin’s manufactured crisis over Ukraine has reinforced alliance unity. But there is enough doubt within Europe about the durability of U.S. commitment after 2024 that Russia has found some success reinforcing skepticism, particularly through social media.
Weakening the transatlantic alliance could pave the way for Putin to realize his ultimate aim: jettisoning the post–Cold War, liberal, rules-based international order promoted by Europe, Japan, and the United States in favor of one more amenable to Russia. For Moscow, this new system might resemble the nineteenth-century concert of powers. It could also turn into a new incarnation of the Yalta system, where Russia, the United States, and now China divide the world into tripolar spheres of influence. Moscow’s growing rapprochement with Beijing has indeed reinforced Russia’s call for a post-West order. Both Russia and China demand a new system in which they exercise more influence in a multipolar world.
The nineteenth- and twentieth-century systems both recognized certain rules of the game. After all, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union mostly respected each other’s spheres of influence. The two most dangerous crises of that era—Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s 1958 Berlin ultimatum and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—were defused before military conflict broke out. But if the present is any indication, it looks as if Putin’s post-West “order” would be a disordered Hobbesian world with few rules of the game. In pursuit of his new system, Putin’s modus operandi is to keep the West off balance, guessing about his true intentions, and then surprising it when he acts.
THE RUSSIAN RESET
Given Putin’s ultimate goal, and given his belief that now is the time to force the West to respond to his ultimatums, can Russia be deterred from launching another military incursion into Ukraine? No one knows what Putin will ultimately decide. But his conviction that the West has ignored what he deems Russia’s legitimate interests for three decades continues to drive his actions. He is determined to reassert Russia’s right to limit the sovereign choices of its neighbors and its former Warsaw Pact allies and to force the West to accept these limits—be that by diplomacy or military force.
That doesn’t mean the West is powerless. The United States should continue to pursue diplomacy with Russia and seek to craft a modus vivendi that is acceptable to both sides without compromising the sovereignty of its allies and partners. At the same time, it should keep coordinating with the Europeans to respond and impose costs on Russia. But it is clear that even if Europe avoids war, there is no going back to the situation as it was before Russia began massing its troops in March 2021. The ultimate result of this crisis could be the third reorganization of Euro-Atlantic security since the late 1940s. The first came with the consolidation of the Yalta system into two rival blocs in Europe after World War II. The second emerged from 1989 to 1991, with the collapse of the communist bloc and then the Soviet Union itself, followed by the West’s subsequent drive to create a Europe “whole and free.” Putin now directly challenges that order with his moves against Ukraine.
As the United States and its allies await Russia’s next move and try to deter an invasion with diplomacy and the threat of heavy sanctions, they need to understand Putin’s motives and what they portend. The current crisis is ultimately about Russia redrawing the post–Cold War map and seeking to reassert its influence over half of Europe, based on the claim that it is guaranteeing its own security. It may be possible to avert a military conflict this time. But as long as Putin remains in power, so will his doctrine.
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Carl Sagan’s famous quote underscores one of the most profound and fundamental facts of astronomy: the planets, stars and galaxies that appear so unimaginably far away from us are in fact connected to each living being on this pale blue dot by a vast and rich cosmic order.
A few minutes after the Big Bang, the explosion that created our universe, tiny particles called protons and neutrons joined together to form the first atomic nuclei, and soon the first atoms, mostly hydrogen and helium, but also small amounts of other stuff like deuterium (a heavier version of hydrogen) and lithium. It took perhaps hundreds of millions of years for these elements to fuse together in the cores of the first stars, which formed heavier elements such as the familiar carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
Each subsequent generation of stars forged heavier elements than its predecessors, populating the universe with the hundred or so elements that we know occur naturally. Low-mass stars like our sun end their lives by gradually distributing their heavy elements into the surrounding interstellar medium (i.e. the space between the stars) by winds, forming beautiful objects called planetary nebulae. More massive stars end their lives by violent, brilliant explosions called supernovae which not only produce heavy metals like iron and copper, but also expel these elements to much larger distances. These explosions leave behind dense stellar corpses, either neutron stars, or the more popularly known, black holes.
As the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) discoveries of the past decade have revealed, neutron stars and/or black holes can sometimes collide together to send ripples through space-time and in the process create some of the most precious metals known to humanity — gold, silver, platinum and so on. Therefore, when stars die, they disperse the heavy elements they form throughout their lives out to very far away. Today, we know that elements heavier than hydrogen and helium exist in significant amounts not just in the interstellar medium of all galaxies, but indeed beyond galaxies as well. These elements actually allow hydrogen gas to cool more easily, thus speeding up nuclear fusion in stellar cores, allowing stars to form more easily, which in turn forms more of these elements. And the whole cycle repeats.
Life on earth is believed to have emerged at least 3.5 billion years ago, but nobody knows whether it started from simple organic compounds already existing on earth or whether it was carried here from another place by meteoroids or space dust. What is clear though, is that the elements that make up the complex organic molecules present in all life on our planet (and that are found throughout our solar system) must have come from somewhere out in space. This is the grand cosmic connection: the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in our DNA were all forged in the belly of a star eons ago.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
The precious metals that humans have mined for thousands of years and that have laid the foundation for the earliest civilizations were produced in the devastating deaths of massive stars or perhaps the cataclysmic collisions of stellar carcasses ages ago. Humans, and all other life forms on earth, are intrinsically connected to distant reaches of space and time, despite being essentially stranded on a small rock orbiting an ordinary solitary star in some forgotten corner of the galaxy.
Our entire planet, everything we ever built, and even our physical bodies, bear the imprints of cosmic events so immense in scale and awesome in significance that they are almost impossible to fathom, even for people who spend their entire lives studying them. It is easy to think of yourself as insignificant or irrelevant in the vast ocean of space and time, but we are literally made of starstuff. We are the children of the cosmos, and in a way, we all come from outer space. And much like Carl Sagan declared decades ago, we are the cosmos knowing itself.
The mere action of you reading this article and pondering our origins in the cosmos is an example of the universe learning about itself. There is nothing insignificant about that.
Farhanul Hasan is a fourth year PhD student in the astronomy department at New Mexico State University, working on galaxy evolution and galaxy ecosystems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note from Kilroy–contrary to the title of the book quoted, I have fond memories of my teachers, who worked for little and were themselves enslaved by the edicts of the state board of education–in my case the State of Missouri–which selected the textbooks used in all schools in the state which, as the following points out, were permeated by myths and mis-information typical of the age)
Hero-making, Christopher Columbus
excerpted from the book
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen
Touchstone Books, 1995, paper
p18 James Baldwin What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.
p18 W E B Du Bois [American] history … paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.
p20 Teachers have held up Helen Keller, the blind and deaf girl who overcame her physical handicaps, as an inspiration to generations of schoolchildren. Every fifth-grader knows the scene in which Anne Sullivan spells water into young Helen’s hand at the pump. At least a dozen movies and filmstrips have been made on Keller’s life. Each yields its version of the same cliché. A McGraw-Hill educational film concludes: “The gift of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan to the world is to constantly remind us of the wonder of the world around us and how much we owe those who taught us what it means, for there is no person that is unworthy or incapable of being helped, and the greatest service any person can make us is to help another reach true potential.”
To draw such a bland maxim from the life of Helen Keller, historians and filmmakers have disregarded her actual biography and left out the lessons she specifically asked us to learn from it. Keller, who struggled so valiantly to learn to speak, has been made mute by history. The result
… Keller, who was born in 1880, graduated from Radcliffe in 1904 and died in 1968. To ignore the sixty-four years of her adult life or to encapsulate them with the single word humanitarian is to lie by omission.
The truth is that Helen Keller was a radical socialist. She joined the Socialist party of Massachusetts in 1909. She had become a social radical even before she graduated from Radcliffe, and not, she emphasized, because of any teachings available there. After the Russian Revolution, she sang the praises of the new communist nation: “In the East a new star is risen! With pain and anguish the old order has given birth to the new, and behold in the East a man-child is born! Onward, comrades, all together! Onward to the campfires of Russia! Onward to the coming dawn!” ~ Keller hung a red flag over the desk in her study. Gradually she moved to the left of the Socialist party and became a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the syndicalist union persecuted by Woodrow Wilson.
p22 At the time Keller became a socialist, she was one of the most famous women on the planet. She soon became the most notorious. Her conversion to socialism caused a new storm of publicity-this time outraged. Newspapers that had extolled her courage and intelligence now emphasized her handicap. Columnists charged that she had no independent sensory input and was in thrall to those who fed her information. Typical was the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle> who wrote that Keller’s “mistakes spring out of the manifest limitations of her development.”
Keller recalled having met this editor: “At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.” She went on, “Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.” 8
Keller, who devoted much of her later life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, never wavered in her belief that our society needed radical change. Having herself fought so hard to speak, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union to fight for the free speech of others. She sent $100 to the NAACP with a letter of support that appeared in its magazine The Crisis-a radical act for a white person from Alabama in the 1920s. She supported Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate, in each of his campaigns for the presidency. She composed essays on the women’s movement, on politics, on economics. Near the end of her life, she wrote to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, leader of the American Communist party, who was then languishing in jail, a victim of the McCarthy era: “Loving birthday greetings, dear Elizabeth Flynn! May the sense of serving mankind bring strength and peace into your brave heart!”
One may not agree with Helen Keller’s positions. Her praise of the USSR now seems naive, embarrassing, to some even treasonous. But she was a radical-a fact few Americans know, because our schooling and our mass media left it out.
p23 Under [President Woodrow] Wilson, the United States intervened in Latin America more often than at any other time in our history. We landed troops in Mexico in 1914, Haiti in 1915, the Dominican Republic in 1916, Mexico again in 1916 (and nine more times before the end of Wilson’s presidency), Cuba in 1917, and Panama in 1918. Throughout his administration Wilson maintained forces in Nicaragua, using them to determine Nicaragua’s president and to force passage of a treaty preferential to the United States.
In 1917 Woodrow Wilson took on a major power when he started sending secret monetary aid to the “White” side of the Russian civil war. In the summer of 1918 he authorized a naval blockade of the Soviet Union and sent expeditionary forces to Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok to help overthrow the Russian Revolution. With the blessing of Britain and France, and in a joint command with Japanese soldiers, American forces penetrated westward from Vladivostok to Lake Baikal, supporting Czech and White Russian forces that had declared an anticommunist government headquartered at Omsk. After briefly maintaining front lines as far west as the Volga, the White Russian forces disintegrated by the end of 1919, and our troops finally left Vladivostok on April 1, 1920.~’
Few Americans who were not alive at the time know anything about our “unknown war with Russia,” to quote the title of Robert Maddox’s book on this fiasco. Not one of the twelve American history textbooks in my sample even mentions it. Russian history textbooks, on the other hand, give the episode considerable coverage. According to Maddox: “The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society. And there were longer-range implications. Bolshevik leaders had clear proof . . . that the Western powers meant to destroy the Soviet government if given the chance.”
This aggression fueled the suspicions that motivated the Soviets during the Cold War, and until its breakup the Soviet Union continued to claim damages for the invasion.
Wilson’s invasions of Latin America are better known than his Russian adventure. Textbooks do cover some of them, and it is fascinating to watch textbook authors attempt to justify these episodes. Any accurate portrayal of the invasions could not possibly show Wilson or the United States in a favorable light. With hindsight we know that Wilson’s interventions in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua set the stage for the dictators Batista, Trujillo, the Duvaliers, and the Somozas, whose legacies still reverberate. Even in the 1910s, most of the invasions were unpopular in this country and provoked a torrent of j criticism abroad.
p25 After U.S. marines invaded [Haiti] country in 1915, they forced the Haitian legislature to select our preferred candidate as president. When Haiti refused to declare war on Germany after the United States did, we dissolved the Haitian legislature. Then the United States supervised a pseudo-referendum to approve a new Haitian constitution, less democratic than the constitution it replaced; the referendum passed by a hilarious 98,225 to 768. As Piero Gleijesus has noted, “It is not that Wilson failed in his earnest efforts to bring democracy to these little countries. He never tried. He intervened to impose hegemony, not democracy.” The United States also attacked Haiti’s proud tradition of individual ownership of small tracts of land, which dated back to the Haitian Revolution, in favor of the establishment of large plantations. American troops forced peasants in shackles to work on road construction crews. In 1919 Haitian citizens rose up and resisted U.S. occupation troops in a guerrilla war that cost more than 3,000 lives, most of them Haitian. Students who read Triumph of the American Nation learn this about Wilson’s intervention in Haiti: “Neither the treaty nor the continued presence of American troops restored order completely. During the next four or five years, nearly 2,000 Haitians were killed in riots and other outbreaks of violence.” This passive construction veils the circumstances about which George Barnett, a U.S. marine general, complained to his commander in Haiti: “Practically indiscriminate killing of natives has gone on for some time.” Barnett termed this violent episode “the most startling thing of its kind that has ever taken place in the Marine Corps.”
During the first two decades of this century, the United States effectively made colonies of Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and several other countries. Wilson’s reaction to the Russian Revolution solidified the alignment of the United States with Europe’s colonial powers. His was the first administration to be obsessed with the specter of communism, abroad and at home. Wilson was blunt about it. In Billings, Montana, stumping the West to seek support for the League of Nations, he warned, “There are apostles of Lenin in our own midst. I can not imagine what it means to be an apostle of Lenin. It means to be an apostle of the night, of chaos, of disorder.” Even after the White Russian alternative collapsed, Wilson refused to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union. He participated in barring Russia from the peace negotiations after World War I and helped oust Bela Kun, the communist leader who had risen to power in Hungary. Wilson’s sentiment for self-determination and democracy never had a chance against his three bedrock “ism”s: colonialism, racism, and anticommunism. A young Ho Chi Minh appealed to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles for self-determination for Vietnam, but Ho had all three strikes against him. Wilson refused to listen, and France retained control of Indochina. It seems that Wilson regarded self-determination as all right for, say, Belgium, but not for the likes of Latin America or Southeast Asia.
At home, Wilson’s racial policies disgraced the office he held. His Republican predecessors had routinely appointed blacks to important offices, including those of port collector for New Orleans and the District of Columbia and register of the treasury. Presidents sometimes appointed African Americans as postmasters, particularly in southern towns with large black populations. African Americans took part in the Republican Party’s national conventions and enjoyed some access to the White House. Woodrow Wilson, for whom many African Americans voted in 1912, changed all that. A southerner, Wilson n had been president of Princeton, the only major northern university that refused to admit blacks. He was an outspoken white supremacist-his wife was even worse-and told “darky” stories in cabinet meetings. His administration submitted a legislative program intended to curtail the civil rights of African Americans, but Congress would not pass it. Unfazed, Wilson used his power as chief executive to segregate the federal government. He appointed southern whites to offices traditionally reserved for blacks. Wilson personally vetoed a clause on racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The one occasion on which Wilson met with African American leaders in the White House ended in a fiasco as the president virtually threw the visitors out of his office. Wilson’s legacy was extensive: he effectively closed the Democratic Party to African Americans for another two decades, and parts of the federal government remained segregated into the 1950s and beyond. In 1916 the Colored Advisory Committee of the Republican National Committee issued a statement on Wilson that, though partisan, was accurate: “No sooner had the Democratic Administration come into power than Mr. Wilson and his advisors entered upon a policy to eliminate all colored citizens from representation in the Federal Government.”
p28 Omitting or absolving Wilson’s racism goes beyond concealing a character blemish. It is overtly racist. No black person could ever consider Woodrow Wilson a hero. Textbooks that present him as a hero are written from a white perspective. The cover-up denies all students the chance to learn something important about the interrelationship between the leader and the led. White Americans engaged in a new burst of racial violence during and immediately after Wilson’s presidency. The tone set by the administration was one cause. Another was the release of America’s first epic motion picture.
The filmmaker David W. Griffith quoted Wilson’s two-volume history of the United States, now notorious for its racist view of Reconstruction, in his infamous masterpiece The Clansman, a paean to the Ku Klux Klan for its role in putting down “black-dominated” Republican state governments during Reconstruction. Griffith based the movie on a book by Wilson’s former classmate, Thomas Dixon, whose obsession with race was “unrivaled until Mein Kampf” At a private White House showing, Wilson saw the movie, now retitled Birth of a Nation, and returned Griffith’s compliment: “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so true.” Griffith would go on to use this quotation in successfully defending his film against NAACP charges that it was racially inflammatory.
This landmark of American cinema was not only the best technical production of its time but also probably the most racist major movie of all time. Dixon intended “to revolutionize northern sentiment by a presentation of history that would transform every man in my audience into a good Democrat! . . . And make no mistake about it-we are doing just that. Dixon did not overstate by much. Spurred by Birth of a Nation, William Simmons of Georgia reestablished the Ku Klux Klan. The racism seeping down from the White House encouraged this Klan, distinguishing it from its Reconstruction predecessor, which President Grant had succeeded in virtually eliminating in one state (South Carolina) and discouraging nationally for a time. The new KKK quickly became a national phenomenon. It grew to dominate the Democratic Party in many southern states, as well as in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon. During Wilson’s second term, a wave of antiblack race riots swept the country. Whites Iynched blacks as far north as Duluth.
p29 Wilson displayed little regard for the rights of anyone whose opinions differed from his own. But textbooks take pains to insulate him from wrongdoing. “Congress,” not Wilson, is credited with having passed the Espionage Act of June 1917 and the Sedition Act of the following year, probably the most serious attacks on the civil liberties of Americans since the short-lived Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. In fact, Wilson tried to strengthen the Espionage Act with a provision giving broad censorship powers directly to the president. Moreover, with Wilson’s approval, his postmaster general used his new censorship powers to suppress all mail that was socialist, anti-British, pro-Irish, or that in any other way might, in his view, have threatened the war effort. Robert Goldstein served ten years in prison for producing The Spirit of ’76, a film about the Revolutionary War that depicted the British, who were now our allies, unfavorably. Textbook authors suggest that wartime pressures excuse Wilson’s suppression of civil liberties, but in 1920, when World War I was long over, Wilson vetoed a bill that would have abolished the Espionage and Sedition acts. Textbook authors blame the anticommunist and anti-labor union witch hunts of Wilson’s second term on his illness and on an attorney general run amok. No evidence supports this view. Indeed, Attorney General Palmer asked Wilson in his last days as president to pardon Eugene V. Debs, who was serving time for a speech attributing World War I to economic interests and denouncing the Espionage Act as undemocratic. The president replied, “Never!” and Debs languished in prison until Warren Harding pardoned him. The American Way adopts perhaps the most innovative approach to absolving Wilson of wrongdoing: Way simply moves the “red scare” to the 1920s, after Wilson had left office!
Because heroification prevents textbooks from showing Wilson’s shortcomings, textbooks are hard pressed to explain the results of the 1920 election. James Cox, the Democratic candidate who was Wilson’s would-be successor, was crushed by the nonentity Warren G. Harding, who never even campaigned. In the biggest landslide in the history of American presidential politics, Harding got almost 64 percent of the major-party votes. The people were “tired,” textbooks suggest, and just wanted a “return to normalcy.” The possibility that the electorate knew what it was doing in rejecting Wilson never occurs to our authors. It occurred to Helen Keller, however. She called Wilson “the greatest individual disappointment the world has ever known!”
p38 Bartolome de las Casas What we committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind and this trade [in Indian slaves] as one of the most unjust, evil, and cruel among them.
p60 Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.
Columbus’s initial impression of the Arawaks, who inhabited most of the islands in the Caribbean, was quite favorable. He wrote in his journal on October 13, 1492: “At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, and very handsome. Their hair was not curly but loose and coarse like horse-hair. All have foreheads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen. Their eyes are large and very beautiful. They are not black, but the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries.” (This reference to the Canaries was ominous, for Spain was then in the process of exterminating the aboriginal people of those islands.) Columbus went on to describe the Arawaks’ canoes, “some large enough to contain 40 or 45 men.” Finally, he got down to business: “I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed great cups full of gold.” At dawn the next day, Columbus sailed to the other side of the island, probably one of the Bahamas, and saw two or three villages. He ended his description of them with these menacing words: “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I pleased.”
On his first voyage, Columbus kidnapped some ten to twenty-five Indians and took them back with him to Spain. Only seven or eight of the Indians arrived alive, but along with the parrots, gold trinkets, and other exotica, they caused quite a stir in Seville. Ferdinand and Isabella provided Columbus with seventeen ships, 1,200 to 1,500 men, cannons, crossbows, guns, cavalry, and attack dogs for a second voyage.
One way to visualize what happened next is with the help of the famous science fiction story War of the Worlds. H. G. Wells intended his tale of earthlings’ encounter with technologically advanced aliens as an allegory. His frightened British commoners (New Jerseyites in Orson Welles’s radio adaptation) were analogous to the “primitive” peoples of the Canaries or America, and his terrifying aliens represented the technologically advanced Europeans. As we identify with the helpless earthlings, Wells wanted us also to sympathize with the natives on Haiti in 1493, or on Australia in 1788, or in the upper Amazon jungle in the 1990s.
When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton-whatever the Indians had that they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence of the brutality the Spaniards were capable of.
After a while, the Indians had had enough. At first their resistance was mostly passive. They refused to plant food for the Spanish to take. They abandoned towns near the Spanish settlements. Finally, the Arawaks fought back. Their sticks and stones were no more effective against the armed and clothed Spanish, however, than the earthlings’ rifles against the aliens’ death rays in War of the Worlds.
The attempts at resistance gave Columbus an excuse to make war. On March 24, 1495, he set out to conquer the Arawaks. Bartolome de Las Casas described the force Columbus assembled to put down the rebellion. “Since the Admiral perceived that daily the people of the land were taking up arms, ridiculous weapons in reality . . . he hastened to proceed to the country and disperse and subdue, by force of arms, the people of the entire island . . . For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians, in addition to the horses: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart.” Naturally, the Spanish won. According to Kirkpatrick Sale, who quotes Ferdinand Columbus’s biography of his father: “The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and ‘with God’s aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed.’ “
Having as yet found no fields of gold, Columbus had to return some kind of dividend to Spain. In 1495 the Spanish on Haiti initiated a great slave raid. They rounded up 1,500 Arawaks, then selected the 500 best specimens (of whom 200 would die en route to Spain). Another 500 were chosen as slaves for the Spaniards staying on the island. The rest were released. A Spanish eyewitness described the event: “Among them were many women who had infants at the breast. They, in order the better to escape us, since they were afraid we would turn to catch them again, left their infants anywhere on the ground and started to flee like desperate people; and some fled so far that they were removed from our settlement of Isabela seven or eight days beyond mountains and across huge rivers; wherefore from now on scarcely any will be had.” Columbus was excited. “In the name of the Holy Trinity, we can send from here all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold,” he wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1496. “In Castile, Portugal, Aragon,.. . and the Canary Islands they need many slaves, and I do not think they get enough from Guinea.” He viewed the Indian death rate optimistically: “Although they die now, they will not always die. The Negroes and Canary Islanders died at first.”
In the words of Hans Koning, “There now began a reign of terror in Hispaniola.” Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food. Columbus, upset because he could not locate the gold he was certain was on the island, set up a tribute system. Ferdinand Columbus described how it worked: “[The Indians] all promised to pay tribute to the Catholic Sovereigns every three months, as follows: In the Cibao, where the gold mines were, every person of 14 years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk’s bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear about his neck as proof that he had made his payment. Any Indian found without such a token was to be punished.” With a fresh token, an Indian was safe for three months, much of which time would be devoted to collecting more gold. Columbus’s son neglected to mention how the Spanish punished those whose tokens had expired: they cut off their hands.
All of these gruesome facts are available in primary source material- letters by Columbus and by other members of his expeditions-and in the work of Las Casas, the first great historian of the Americas, who relied on primary materials and helped preserve them. I have quoted a few primary sources in this chapter. Most textbooks make no use of primary sources. A few incorporate brief extracts that have been carefully selected or edited to reveal nothing unseemly about the Great Navigator.
The tribute system eventually broke down because what it demanded was impossible. To replace it, Columbus installed the encomienda system, in which he granted or “commended” entire Indian villages to individual colonists or groups of colonists. Since it was not called slavery, this forced-labor system escaped the moral censure that slavery received. Following Columbus’s example, Spain made the encomienda system official policy on Haiti in 1502; other conquistadors subsequently introduced it to Mexico, Peru, and Florida.
The tribute and encomienda systems caused incredible depopulation. On Haiti the colonists made the Indians mine gold for them, raise Spanish food, and even carry them everywhere they went. The Indians couldn’t stand it. Pedro de Cordoba wrote in a letter to King Ferdinand in 1517, “As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth . . . Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery.”
Beyond acts of individual cruelty, the Spanish disrupted the Indian ecosystem and culture. Forcing Indians to work in mines rather than in their gardens led to widespread malnutrition. The intrusion of rabbits and livestock caused further ecological disaster. Diseases new to the Indians played a role, although smallpox, usually the big killer, did not appear on the island until after 1516. Some of the Indians tried fleeing to Cuba, but the Spanish soon followed them there. Estimates of Haiti’s pre-Columbian population range as high as 8,000,000 people. When Christopher Columbus returned to Spain, he left his brother Bartholomew in charge of the island. Bartholomew took a census of Indian adults in 1496 and came up with 1,100,000. The Spanish did not count children under fourteen and could not count Arawaks who had escaped into the mountains. Kirkpatrick Sale estimates that a more accurate total would probably be in the neighborhood of 3,000,000. “By 1516,” according to Benjamin Keen, “thanks to the sinister Indian slave trade and labor policies initiated by Columbus, only some 12,000 remained.” Las Casas tells us that fewer than 200 Indians were alive in 1542. By 1555, they were all gone.
Thus nasty details like cutting off hands have somewhat greater historical importance than nice touches like “Tierra!” Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history. Yet only one of the twelve textbooks, The American Pageant, mentions the extermination. None mentions Columbus’s role in it.
Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves-about five thousand-than any other individual. To her credit, Queen Isabella opposed outright enslavement and returned some Indians to the Caribbean. But other nations rushed to emulate Columbus. In 1501 the Portuguese began to depopulate Labrador, transporting the now extinct Beothuk Indians to Europe and Cape Verde as slaves. After the British established beachheads on the Atlantic coast of North America, they encouraged coastal Indian tribes to capture and sell members of more distant tribes. Charleston, South Carolina, became a major port for exporting Indian slaves. The Pilgrims and Puritans sold the survivors of the Pequot War into slavery in Bermuda in 1637. The French shipped virtually the entire Natchez nation in chains to the West Indies in 1731
A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual. As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spaniards enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
The slave trade destroyed whole Indian nations. Enslaved Indians died. To replace the dying Haitians, the Spanish imported tens of thousands more Indians from the Bahamas, which “are now deserted,” in the words of the Spanish historian Peter Martyr, reporting in 1516. Packed in below deck, with hatchways closed to prevent their escape, so many slaves died on the trip that “a ship without a compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.” Puerto Rico and Cuba were next.
Because the Indians died, Indian slavery then led to the massive slave trade the other way across the Atlantic, from Africa. This trade also began on Haiti, initiated by Columbus’s son in 1505. Predictably, Haiti then became the site of the first large-scale slave revolt, when blacks and Indians banded together in 1519. The uprising lasted more than a decade and was finally brought to an end by the Spanish in the 1530s.
Of the twelve textbooks, only six mention that the Spanish enslaved or exploited the Indians anywhere in the Americas. Of these only four verge on mentioning that Columbus was involved. The United States- A History of the Republic places the following passage about the fate of the Indians under the heading “The Fate of Columbus”: “Some Spaniards who had come to the Americas had begun to enslave and kill the original Americans. Authorities in Spain held Columbus responsible for the atrocities.” Note that A History takes pains to isolate Columbus from the enslavement charge-others were misbehaving. Life and Liberty implies that Columbus might have participated: “Slavery began in the New World almost as soon as Columbus got off the boat.” Only The American Adventure clearly associates Columbus with slavery. American History levels a vague charge: “Columbus was a great sailor and a brave and determined man. But he was not good at politics or business.” That’s it. The other books simply adore him.
As Kirkpatrick Sale poetically sums up, Columbus’s “second voyage marks the first extended encounter of European and Indian societies, the clash of cultures that was to echo down through five centuries.” The seeds of that five-century battle were sown in Haiti between 1493 and 1500. These are not mere details that our textbooks omit. They are facts crucial to understanding American and European history. Capt. John Smith, for example, used Columbus as a role model in proposing a get-tough policy for the Virginia Indians in 1624: “The manner how to suppress them is so often related and approved, I omit it here: And you have twenty examples of the Spaniards how they got the West Indies, and forced the treacherous and rebellious infidels to do all manner of drudgery work and slavery for them, themselves living like soldiers upon the fruits of their labors.” 70 The methods unleashed by Columbus are, in fact, the larger part of his legacy. After all, they worked. The island was so well pacified that Spanish convicts, given a second chance on Haiti, could “go anywhere, take any woman or girl, take anything, and have the Indians carry him on their backs as if they were mules.” In 1499, when Columbus finally found gold on Haiti in significant amounts, Spain became the envy of Europe. After 1500 Portugal, France, Holland, and Britain joined in conquering the Americas. These nations were at least as brutal as Spain. The British, for example, unlike the Spanish, did not colonize by making use of Indian labor but simply forced the Indians out of the way. Many Indians fled British colonies to ,, Spanish territories (Florida, Mexico) in search of more humane treatment.
Columbus’s voyages caused almost as much change in Europe as in the Americas. This is the other half of the vast process historians now call the Columbian exchange. Crops, animals, ideas, and diseases began to cross the oceans regularly. Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of Columbus’s findings was on European Christianity. In 1492 all of Europe was in the grip of the Catholic Church. As Larousse puts it, before America, “Europe was virtually incapable of self-criticism.” After America, Europe’s religious uniformity was ruptured. For how were these new peoples to be explained? They were not mentioned in the Bible. The Indians simply did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe. Moreover, unlike the Muslims, who might be written off as “damned infidels,” Indians had not rejected Christianity, they had just never encountered it. Were they doomed to hell? Even the animals of America posed a religious challenge. According to the Bible, at the dawn of creation all animals lived in the Garden of Eden. Later, two of each species entered Noah’s ark and ended up on Mt. Ararat. Since Eden and Mt. Ararat were both in the Middle East, where could these new American species have come from? Such questions shook orthodox Catholicism and contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517.
Politically, nations like the Arawaks-without monarchs, without much hierarchy-stunned Europeans. In 1516 Thomas More’s Utopia, based on an account of the Incan empire in Peru, challenged European social organization by suggesting a radically different and superior alternative. Other social philosophers seized upon the Indians as living examples of Europe’s primordial past, which is what John Locke meant by the phrase “In the beginning, all the world was America.” Depending upon their political persuasion, some Europeans glorified Indian nations as examples of simpler, better societies, from which European civilization had devolved, while others maligned the Indian societies as primitive and underdeveloped. In either case, from Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau down to Marx and Engels, European philosophers’ concepts of the good society were transformed by ideas from America.
America fascinated the masses as well as the elite. In The Tempest, Shakespeare noted this universal curiosity: “They will not give a doit to relieve a lambe beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” Europe’s fascination with the Americas was directly responsible, in fact, for a rise in European self-consciousness. From the beginning America was perceived as an “opposite” to Europe in ways that even Africa never had been. In a sense, there was no “Europe” before 1492. People were simply Tuscan, French, and the like. Now Europeans began to see similarities among themselves, at least as contrasted with Native Americans. For that matter, there were no “white” people in Europe before 1492. With the transatlantic slave trade, first Indian, then African, Europeans increasingly saw “white” as a race and race as an important human characteristic.
Columbus’s own writings reflect this increasing racism. When Columbus was selling Queen Isabella on the wonders of the Americas, the Indians were “well built” and “of quick intelligence.” “They have very good customs,” he wrote, “and the king maintains a very marvelous state, of a style so orderly that it is a pleasure to see it, and they have good memories and they wish to see everything and ask what it is and for what it is used.” Later, when Columbus was justifying his wars and his enslavement of the Indians, they became “cruel” and “stupid,” “a people warlike and numerous, whose customs and religion are very different from ours.”
It is always useful to think badly about people one has exploited or plans to exploit. Modifying one’s opinions to bring them into line with one’s actions or planned actions is the most common outcome of the process known as “cognitive dissonance,” according to the social psychologist Leon Festinger. No one likes to think of himself or herself as a bad person. To treat badly another person whom we consider a reasonable human being creates a tension between act and attitude that demands resolution. We cannot erase what we have done, and to alter our future behavior may not be in our interest. To change our attitude is easier.
Columbus gives us the first recorded example of cognitive dissonance in the Americas, for although the Indians may have changed from hospitable to angry, they could hardly have evolved from intelligent to stupid so quickly. The change had to be in Columbus.
Launch And Landing Sites Of The First V-2 On London
I was in the Hague for my last post, and before leaving I wanted to visit a site in a suburb of the Hague that has a very direct and tragic connection with London.
London had been under fire from V-1 flying bombs starting in June 1944 until October 1944 when the launch sites were captured as the allied forces progressed through France and Belgium.
In September 1944 a new weapon was first used against London. This was the V-2 rocket which had a much more flexible launch method than the V-1 and also longer range so launching against London was possible from the areas still held by German forces.
Although Allied forces were pressing up from the Belgium border, through Eindhoven and Nijmegen, the coastal west of the Netherlands was still under German control and the area around the Hague offered the ideal location to launch against London. The Hague had the rail connections to bring in the rockets and their fuel, and the suburbs of the Hague offered a large wooded area, crisscrossed by small roads which provided the perfect cover for mobile launches.
The V-2 was a highly sophisticated weapon. The supporting infrastructure allowed the rocket to be launched from a mobile launcher with fueling carried out on site along with final setting of the gyros that would guide the rocket to its destination. The speed of the rocket meant that it was almost impossible to destroy whilst in flight. The trajectory for the rocket was a parabola from the launch site up to the edge of space before descending at up to three times the speed of sound to the weapon’s target.
The following photo shows a V-2 rocket on a launch platform. Most photos of the V-2 show the black and white painted rocket, these were the test versions and the painted colour scheme ensured that any rotation of the rocket could be identified during flight. In use, the rockets did not have a colour scheme.
Wassenaar is a suburb of the Hague, located to the north east of the city. It is a wooded area with small roads crossing the area, concealed under trees which also line the roads. Wassenaar was one of the main launch sites for V-2s and the first rockets against London were launched from Wassenaar’s roads.
Before leaving the Hague, I wanted to find the location of the first V-2 launch against London, so headed out on the short drive to Wassenaar.
The following map shows the city of the Hague. Follow the orange road (the N44) that runs from the Hague to the north east and you will find Wassenaar.
The following map extract shows Wassenaar in detail. The first launches against London took place on the evening of the 8th September 1944. There were two simultaneous launches at two different road junctions. These were ideal locations as road junctions offered a larger space for the rocket launcher and supporting vehicles as the rocket was fueled onsite. The map also shows the wooded nature of the site and that these were side roads – good concealment for the time needed to prepare and launch.
At around 6:35 pm on the evening of the 8th September 1944, the residents of Wassenaar heard a loud roaring noise and saw two objects rising above the trees, slowly at first before quickly gathering speed, then rushing skyward.
One was from the junction of three roads shown as point 1 in the above map. This is the junction of Lijsterlaan, Konijnenlaan and Koekoekslaan. This is the view of the junction as I walked up to the site:
Looking down one of the roads leading of from the junction shows the narrowness of the roads and the tree cover. It has not changed that much since the rockets were being launched here and shows how good the area was for concealment.
The original V-1 had to be launched from a fixed launching ramp. As well as the technological development of the rocket, other innovations with the V-2 were mobility where the complete system comprising a mobile launcher, fuel tankers (including liquid oxygen), launch and control system could drive up to a new location and launch within about two hours.
The following illustration shows a V-2 rocket in launch position on its mobile transport and launch platform:
The following photo shows a V-2 just after the initial launch. Two of these being launched almost simultaneously from the wooded side roads of Wassenaar must have been a frightening sight for the local residents.
This part of Wassenaar is occupied by large houses and grounds. Reports from immediately after the launch tell of the road surface been scorched and melted, with trees being burnt for a few feet above ground level where flame from the rockets engines must have bounced of the road and been deflected onto the adjacent trees.
On the next day, the 9th September, the RAF started bombing Wassenaar. A cat and mouse game ensued with rockets, fuel and launch equipment being stored across the area and mobile launches taking place on a regular basis, and the RAF trying to locate and bomb any V-2 related infrastructure that could be found.
Another view of the road junction.
If you look at the patch of grass on the right, there is a white painted stone. Look to the upper right of the white stone, and just to the left of the tree is a small, wooden pillar.
The pillar records the junction as being the site of the first launch of a V-2 rocket on the 8th September 1944:
Soon after returning from the Netherlands, and on the 8th September 2018, I visited the site where the V-2 launched from Wassenaar landed – in Staveley Road, Chiswick where another pillar can be found recording that the first V-2 fell here. It had taken the rocket around 5 minutes to get from Wassenaar to Chiswick.
The view looking along the street from in front of the memorial pillar:
The memorial pillar is in front of a small electrical substation:
To the right of the pillar, mounted on the fence is an information panel which was unveiled by the Battlefields Trust and the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society, on the same day that the pillar in Wassenaar was also unveiled.
The V-2 on Chiswick resulted in three deaths. Three year old Rosemary Clarke who lived at number 1 Staveley Road, Ada Harrison aged 68 of 3 Staveley Road and Sapper Bernard Browning, who was on leave, and on his way to Chiswick Station.
Destruction was considerable. The V-2 blew a crater 30 ft wide and 8 ft deep at the point of impact. The following panoramic photo from the Imperial War Museum archive shows the damage that a V-2 could inflict.
There was a second V-2 rocket launched at the same time, a very short distance from the location described above. This V-2 was launched from the point marked 2 in the map, at the junction of Lijsterlaan and Schouwweg. This V-2 would land minutes later at Parndon Wood, near Epping. Due to the rural nature of this location there were no casualties.
The following photo shows the junction from where this second V-2 was launched:
From the 8th September onward, there was a continuous series of V-2 launches from Wassenaar and the Hague. The area was also used for storage of rockets and fuel, launching equipment and the German forces and command structure that would launch the rockets were also housed in the surroundings of Wassenaar and the Hague.
Allied planes flew many missions over the area trying to locate and destroy V-2 infrastructure. On the 3rd March 1945 a large force of bombers mounted an attack on the forested regions of the Hague, but due to navigation errors many of the bombs fell on the Bezuidenhout suburb resulting in a large loss of life in the Dutch population.
The Dutch population also suffered when rockets misfired, and also the disruption and treatment they suffered from living in and around a place that was used to store, transport, prepare and launch such an intensive rocket programme.
One of the locations where V-2 rockets were checked and prepared was the tram depot in Scheveningen, the coastal suburb of the Hague.
This is the view of the tram depot today:
There are historical posters around the streets commemorating the 200th anniversary of Scheveingen as a seaside resort. One of these posters shows the state of the tram depot in 1945:
The text states that after the liberation, it took some time for trams from the Hofplein line to return to Scheveningen-Kurhaus station and that the tram connection was finally reestablished in 1953.
On the 27th March 1945 the last V-2 was launched against London. It fell on Orpington in Kent resulting in the deaths of 23 people. Whilst the west of the Netherlands was still occupied, rail connection with the rest of Germany had been cut and the German rocket forces had already been withdrawn from the Hague in order to avoid capture of the personnel and their equipment.
From the first V-2 on the 8th of September to the last on the 27th March, a total of 3172 V-2 rockets were launched. Of these around 1358 fell on the greater London area.
London did not suffer as badly as Antwerp, An important port for the Allied forces allowing supplies to be delivered into Belgium rather than the French ports further south, around 1610 V-2 rockets were launched against Antwerp.
Other rockets landed in France, Maastricht in Holland and even in Remagen, Germany where the use of rockets were an attempt to try and disrupt US forces by targeting the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine. This was the first time that rockets had been used to attack a very specific target. Eleven rockets were fired at the bridge, however none hit their target, but American soldiers and German civilians were killed.
The V-2 campaign against London killed more than 6,000 people.
The rockets were constructed by slave labour and many tens of thousands died due to the appalling conditions in which they were held and laboured.
The impact of the V-1 and V-2 weapons was considerable on those forced to build them, the areas where they were launched and their targets.
Two pillars in two countries, roughly 205 miles apart provide a reminder of the devastation that these weapons would cause.
13 thoughts on “Launch And Landing Sites Of The First V-2 On London”
Mike Kaythis is really fascinating research. Very interesting diversion – and fascinating to see the old photos of The Netherlands.Reply ↓
Paul in GlasgowExcellent research and a fascinating story. Thanks.Reply ↓
Vic FlinthamMany thanks for this. I wonder how many people realise that for the Dutch resistance Scheveningen was a shibboleth to identify German infiltrators? Also, I have understood that Sheringham in Norfolk is derived from Scheveningen named by Dutch fen drainers.Reply ↓
Caroline Greenwellfascinating I’m going with my daughter and granddaughter to Duinrell holiday park next month – will put a different perspective on the place thinking of V2 rockets.Reply ↓
Dennis R. HallExcellent document. Professional. Even better, yes even better. Prompts our minds never to forget the poor souls whose very dear lives were sacrificed. The simple heart would cry out but in vain if only the gyros had been set by mistake or by intention to the damned lair where the hideous being who was the cause of all such misery lay.Reply ↓
Edward RutherfoordVery interesting post. If you search “chiswick V2” on Alamy.com you will see a number of detailed photographs of the Staveley Road explosion. My mother lived in Staveley Road a few doors away and often told of the event. How they had to remove body parts from their garden. And how it was initially reported as a gas explosion (part propaganda and partly because it was the first V2 on London and nobody was sure what had happened).Reply ↓
David CooperThank you for this reminder on how cruel and devastating war can beReply ↓
MickFascinating stuff, especially for someone born in London, interested in WWII history, living in the Netherlands, working close to Wassenaar on occation, with a daughter working in Antwerp. You got all the angles covered there 🙂Reply ↓
Kevin KitsonThanks so much for this very interesting item, helping to keep alive just what it meant to have lived through those times. I will now be researching the Chiswick link.Reply ↓
ColinIn 1944 my (future) father, at age 15, was blown up by a V1. Scarred his left cheek and shattered one of his legs. He was in hospital for weeks and then had to wear calipers for about a year. When they came off his first question was if he could play football. “No” said the doctor, “your leg is too weak. You need physical therapy”. Well that apparently got my future grandmother going because she was worried about the cost. “So what kind of therapy?” she asked. “Ballroom dancing would be perfect” replied the doctor. So ballroom dancing it was. Happy ending…young ladies do take a shine to young men that can dance which is how may parents met when doing their National Service in the RAF in 1948.Oh, and one story from the hospital period. My dad was in a ward with injured servicemen. Every Friday a local publican sent them a crate of ale (the ward sister was like Sgt Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes…”I see nothing. Nothing!”) One period there was a German POW in the ward. He’d been doing farm work, fallen off a truck and broke an arm so that was in a cast. (The men used to get him to demonstrate the goose-step; that did annoy the ward sister). The first time the ale arrived after the POW had, the sergeant offered the German a bottle. “But sarge” came a voice, “he’s the enemy”. “In here my lad he’s a wounded soldier. One of us. He gets to drink too.”Reply ↓
Kathryn WolstencroftVery, very interesting, My Paternal forebears came from the East End/Isle of Dogs and gravitated to Chiswick and then to Brentford. I recall my Aunt telling me about the war when I was about 8/9/10 years old. Seemingly The Great West Road was hit. One Saturday morning she said she’d just freshen up the contents of a box which held my Grandmother’s Wedding China. I couldn’t think how this ‘sugar’ had got so stuck in this cup! Alas it wasn’t what I’d assumed ….something called shrapnel !Reply ↓
Denis SharpThe other one of the pair you have written about fell near Epping Essex at the same time as the Chiswick one, some say a split second before making the Epping V2 the first to fall on the UK. The water filled crater still exists today deep in a secluded prohibited nature reserve at Parndon, now in the new town of Harlow . I have photos and a partial copy of newspaper clipping you can have if you are still interested.Reply ↓
Craig BeyersI just finished the book “V2” by Robert Harris (ISBN 978-0-525-65671-5, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2020). This fiction book broadly describes the Scheveningen area as the V2 launch sites and a UK Army facility in Mechelen that computed the trajectory of V2 launches to identify the launch site. Using this article and Google maps, I was able to locate the two intersections. I appreciate the photos, maps, and descriptions. Thanks. ↓
Dr. Sara Blakeslee Chase was a little known sex radical who was trained in homeopathic medicine and touted the benefits of voluntary motherhood, or small families. After her lectures she often sold contraceptive syringes. Vaginal syringes were commonly used by Victorian-era women, who filled them with substances ranging from acids to water, and douched with them after sex to reduce the chance of pregnancy. They could also be used to try to end pregnancies, with some doctors even recommending them for this purpose. They were still available even after the Comstock law’s passage because they were cheap, easy to find, and not explicitly contraception—druggists and doctors recommended them for hygiene and health.
In the spring of 1878, Anthony Comstock received word that a young woman who had attended one of Sara’s lectures in a church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had used a vaginal syringe that she bought from Sara, and then ulcerated her uterus. A doctor took care of her and she recovered. Anthony’s accounts of what happened are convoluted. The most important man in the lives of 19th-century women, he did not understand the difference between contraception and abortion and frequently conflated them in his arrest logbook accounts.
Together his accounts indicate that the young woman used a syringe as a contraceptive, got pregnant anyway, and then went to an abortionist—not Sara—who botched the procedure. Sara maintained for decades that she did not perform abortions and was opposed to them, even calling them “foeticide.”https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.478.1_en.html#goog_519447238Nana Nkweti in Conversation with Novuyo Rosa Tshuma00:18/56:54
Infuriated by the story of the Williamsburg girl, Anthony went to Sara’s home. Calling himself “Mr. Farnsworth,” he bought a syringe for five dollars. He returned on another day, revealed himself as Anthony Comstock, and brought in a cop and a New York Tribune reporter who were waiting across the street. He locked Sara’s boarders and patients in their rooms, ransacked the house, and found six syringes.
She was arrested and held on $1,500 bail and charged with selling articles for a criminal purpose under the New York state, or “little” Comstock law. The grand jury decided to dismiss the case because the district attorney felt that it was not “for the public good.”
After her case was dismissed she sued Anthony for false arrest, seeking $10,000—or around $275,000 in today’s dollars. She charged that he had injured her reputation and profession as a physician, causing the loss of clients and inflicting financial damage.
Anthony’s arrest was only the beginning of Sara’s campaign against him. In the pages of her health and progressive journal, The Physiologist & Family Physician, she wrote anti-Comstock screeds. She called his mind “vile” and his judgment “perverted,” and said he did not grasp “the difference between obscenity and science.”The most important man in the lives of 19th-century women, he did not understand the difference between contraception and abortion and frequently conflated them in his arrest logbook accounts.
In the June/July 1878 issue, she ran a notice for a new item to be sold to Physiologist readers. It was called the “‘Comstock’ Syringe.” The ad stated that it was the same one Sara had sold Comstock himself. It was “especially adapted to purposes of cleanliness, and the cure and prevention of disease.” Sara concluded, “We trust that the sudden popularity brought to this valuable syringe by the benevolent agency of the enterprising Mr. Comstock, will prove to suffering womanhood the most beneficent act of his illustrious life.”
A later “Comstock syringe” ad mentioned her lawsuit as a selling point, to let purchasers know that to buy a douche named after Comstock was a form of political action. It said the syringe was used by married women for the “judicious and healthy regulation of the female functions” (ode for preventing pregnancy) and was “a Blessing to Womankind.”
Comstock was so furious to see a vaginal douche being advertised under his name that he got a different grand jury to indict her, without informing them that her case had previously been dismissed. The assistant district attorney secured a nolle prosequi, declining to prosecute, and admonished him for withholding information and not going through the proper channels.
Furious that he could not get Sara locked up, Anthony vowed to ban the syringe, raid the Physiologist offices, and put Sara and her managing editor, Samuel Preston, behind bars. The duo secured bail and a lawyer. After Samuel wrote an article calling Anthony “a loathsome moral leper” and a fraud, the journal was banned by the post office. The duo and their supporters succeeded in getting mailing privileges restored. In celebration, Sara and Samuel filled their entire back page with an ad for the Comstock syringe, with testimonials from doctors, editors, and customers. “Anthony Comstock has at least been of some service to humanity in calling public attention to such a blessing as your Syringe,” read one.
Though Sara and Samuel managed to put out only a few more issues of the Physiologist before they had to fold it due to lack of money, the Comstock syringe lived on. Two prominent Massachusetts free lovers, the married couple Angela and Ezra Heywood, were so taken by Sara’s story and writing that they advertised a Comstock syringe in their free love journal, The Word. The first ad said, “If Comstock’s mother had had a syringe and known how to use it, what a world of woe it would have saved us!”
Though they probably didn’t know it, Comstock’s mother, Polly Comstock, had died at age 37 after hemorrhaging following the birth of her sixth child (a different account claimed that it was her tenth). The Heywood’s ad was cheeky, implying that the world would have been better if Anthony had never been born. But if Polly Comstock really had had a syringe and chosen to use it, it might have saved her from death. Rather than become a champion of women’s reproductive rights when he came home from school at the age of ten to find his mother dead, he became emboldened in his quest to make all women more like his mother, a pure, saintly, Christian wife and mother whose mission was to be fruitful and multiply—the Victorian ideal.
Another Comstock syringe ad in The Word said, “Comstock tried to imprison Sarah [sic] Chase for selling a syringe; she had him arrested and held for trial, while the syringe goes ‘marching on’ to hunt down and slay Comstock himself! Woman’s natural right to prevent conception is unquestionable; to enable her to protect herself against invasive male use of her person the celebrated Comstock Syringe, designed to prevent disease, promote personal purity and health, is coming into general use.”
But soon the Heywoods realized that they might be crediting Anthony with too much by naming a vaginal douche after him. In an issue several months after their first ad ran, they proclaimed that the product would thereafter be named “The Vaginal Syringe,” so that “its intelligent, humane and worthy mission should no longer be libelled by forced association with the pious scamp who thinks Congress gives him legal right of way to and control over every American Woman’s Womb.”Comstock was so furious to see a vaginal douche being advertised under his name that he got a different grand jury to indict her.
In October 1882 Anthony arrested Ezra, who had previously served six months in Dedham Jail for obscenity, on four counts of sending obscene matter. One count was for publishing an edition of The Word that contained two Walt Whitman poems, “A Woman Waits for Me” and “To a Common Prostitute.” Two were for issues that contained Comstock syringe ads.
Angela Heywood, who had a looser, more discursive, and provocative writing style than her husband, argued in The Word that the charges were unjust. To her, syringes were symbolic. In an 1883 essay she wrote, “Not books merely but a Syringe is in the fight; the will of man to impose vs. the Right of Woman to prevent conception is the issue… Does not Nature give to woman and install her in the right of way to & from her own womb? Shall Heism continue to be imperatively absolute in coition? Should not Sheism have her way also? Shall we submit to the loathsome impertinence which makes Anthony Comstock inspector and supervisor of American women’s wombs? This womb-syringe question is to the North what the Negro question was to the South.” She and Ezra had met in New England abolitionist circles and she frequently described women as enslaved by marriage, sexism, and economic inequality.
She proposed a satirical alternative to the Comstock law: a man would “flow semen” only when a woman said he could. She suggested other rules. A man had to keep his penis tied up with what she called “‘continent’ twine,” which he would have to keep nearby to assure his virtue. If he were found without the twine, he would be “liable, on conviction by twelve women, to ten years imprisonment and $5000 fine.” She then proposed “that a feminine Comstock shall go about to examine men’s penises and drag them to jail” if they dared break the semen-twine law.
The trial began in April 1883, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ultimately, the judge threw out all charges except those related to the syringe. Ezra, representing himself, told the jury that women had a right to control conception. He said, “The man who would legislate to choke a woman’s vagina with semen, who would force a woman to retain his seed, bear children when her own reason and conscience oppose it, would way lay her, seize her by the throat and rape her person. I do not prescribe vaginal syringes; that is woman’s affair not mine; but her right to limit the number of children she will bear is unquestionable as her right to walk, eat, breathe or be still.” He called the charges “an effort to supervise maternal function by act of Congress.”
The judge told the jurymen that the government had to demonstrate that the syringe advertised in The Word was manufactured for the purpose of preventing conception. The men wanted to acquit from the beginning but also wanted lunch on the government’s tab. After eating their meal, they waited until three o’clock to give the verdict: not guilty of obscenity on the remaining charges. Ezra and Angela’s supporters burst into applause. In a speech before the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony said that the court had “turned into a free-love meeting.”
Ezra was acquitted, but a month later, he was arrested under Massachusetts law for mailing a reprint of several Word articles that included the “Syringe is in the fight” essay. Though Angela’s words had led to his indictment, Ezra was charged for mailing the reprint. Angela was pregnant with their fourth child, and Ezra thought it would send a strong sympathetic message if she were put on the stand. She, in turn, wanted to be charged for her writing when Ezra had repeatedly been charged for mailing the offending issues. She felt that he was being prosecuted because women were too sympathetic on the stand. Proudly, she wrote in The Word that the trial was one in which a woman had “persistently kept the words Penis and Womb traveling in the U.S. Mails.”Rather than become a champion of women’s reproductive rights, he became emboldened in his quest to make all women more like his mother.
The trial was postponed four times due to her pregnancy. The judge ruled that the prosecutors had to charge and prove a willful intent to corrupt the morals of youth, which he did not believe they did, and dismissed the charges.
In The Word, Angela began to use even franker language, writing in 1887 that “Cock is a fowl but not a foul word; upright, integral, insisting truth is the soul of it, sex-wise.” In 1889 she wrote, “Such graceful terms as hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, fucking, throbbing, kissing, and kin words, are telephone expressions, lighthouses of intercourse centrally immutable to the situation.”
But none of these strongly-worded pieces led to indictments. Instead, it was Angela’s “Syringe is in the fight” essay that landed Ezra in court for the third and final time. In the spring of 1890, more than 12 years after his first arrest, Ezra was indicted by a federal jury in Boston on three counts of obscenity published in The Word. One was for an April 1889 reprint of Angela’s syringe essay. Throughout the trial, Angela, who sat with one of the children on her lap, kept her gaze fixed on Ezra’s face. The jury found Ezra guilty on two charges, one involving the essay. He was sentenced to two years’ hard labor in Charlestown State Prison.
He was released in May 1892 and about a year later, died of an illness most likely contracted in prison. Angela was unable to keep printing The Word, and its last issue appeared the following April, after a 21-year run. She died in Brookline, Massachusetts, at the age of 94, having outlived her beloved husband by more than four decades.
As for Sara Chase, in June 1893, she was convicted of manslaughter in New York, in relation to a young woman patient named Margaret Manzoni. The woman had gotten a botched abortion from an abortionist and was transferred to Sara when it appeared she might die. Sara tried to save her but Manzoni died, and Sara was sentenced to nine years and eight months in the State Prison for Women in Auburn, New York. She was released in the fall of 1899, with time off for good behavior.
She was 62.
She kept giving sex lectures, and supported herself with needlework. After relocating to Pennsylvania, she mailed a syringe in response to a decoy letter sent by an associate of a deputy marshal. Comstock helped him track her to Elmora, New Jersey. In June 1900 she was arrested, and held in Newark on $2,500 bail, charged with being a fugitive from justice and sending improper medical advertisements. The case never went to trial.
Sara moved to Kansas City, Missouri, along with her daughter and son-in-law. She abandoned contraceptive sales, and died in Kansas City at age 73. While in prison she wrote a letter that was published in a prominent free love journal: “The need of reform is to be seen on every hand, yet all do not see it, and those who do are unable to resist the innate hatred of injustice and wrong that impels them to try to remedy the evils that lie in their way. They do not stop to count the cost. They only say, ‘This work must be done and I must help.’”