RealClearHistory Articles

10 WW I Battles That Killed Christianity

Brandon Christensen - March 14, 2018

World War I is responsible for destroying Christianity as a moral order. Christianity survives today, of course, and even thrives in parts of the world, but it does so in the West as a form of resistance or as a reprieve from the day-to-day grind of life in secular democracies. This was not always the case. What is now known as Europe was once referred to as “Christendom” due to the fact that Europeans by and large operated under a Christian moral order.

This is a tough sell, but look at the Middle East. Today, the Middle East is often referred to as the “Muslim World” and Middle Eastern states are commonly known as Muslim states. Prior to World War I, this was also the case with European countries. This understanding, of Europe as Christendom, became weaker as the 18th and 19th centuries progressed, but large swaths of the world still thought of Europe as Christendom and many foreign affairs conducted by European governments were viewed through the lens of Christianity up until the end of World War I. Christianity enjoyed a cultural prominence in European societies, even the secular ones, that controlled the moral order of European thought and action. Christianity was hegemonic in Europe.

There were intra-European wars, such as the 30 Years’ War, but when the time came to cease hostilities, diplomatic entreaties were made in the form of Christian brotherhood rather than as sovereign states in a world order. This all changed with World War I. The savage slaughter of souls on all fronts wrought the death knell of Christianity in the West.

Here are the 10 World War I battles that destroyed Christianity as a moral order:

Top 10 Speeches in History

Brandon Christensen - March 7, 2018

On March 12, 1933, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) initiated his first national “fireside chat,” a mode of communication that sought to reroute information through the traditional journalistic route in favor of more direct contact. Roosevelt wanted to connect with the people, instead of letting publishing outlets interpret his policies publicly.

FDR’s reign - which lasted far longer than any other president in American history due to his flaunting of the two-term gentlemen’s agreement in place since Washington - was as close to fascism as the American system will permit. The checks and balances built by the American Framers of the constitution, and the relatively large size of the bureaucracy, simply don’t allow for the excesses associated with actual fascist governance, but Roosevelt came awfully close, and his fireside chats played an important role in maintaining his power within the American system for such a long period of time.

With that being said, democratic governments often produce the best speakers. Democracies inspire orators, mostly because they must, as elections require voters, and voters flatter themselves, but there is also a darker aspect tempting democracy’s orators: demagoguery. Each generation of citizens of democratic polities must figure out for themselves, using history as a guide, who is a sage and who is a villian.

Below is my list of the “10 Most Famous Speeches of All Time,” and as you read through it take pains to draw the connection between grand speeches and democratic governance; between grand speeches and liberty.

Countries That Played Lesser Roles in WW I

Brandon Christensen - March 1, 2018

This year marks the centenary of the end of World War I, a war that was heralded by American President Woodrow Wilson as “the war to end all wars.” Of course that didn’t happen. Instead, three old dynasties collapsed (Hapsburg, Osman, and Romanov) and in their place sprung up a number of new states that were to be modeled after northwestern Europe’s nation-state.

These new nation-states sowed the seeds of the ethnic strife that has plagued Europe and the Middle East since 1918. You’d think the results of this war would give Wilson a bad name, but Princeton has an entire school dedicated to foreign affairs named after Wilson.

There are six countries that get most of the attention associated with World War I - the Ottoman Empire, the U.K. and its empire, Russia, Germany, France, and the United States - but several more deserve some recognition for the roles they played in the entirely avoidable carnage. Behold:

10. South Africa. In 1914, the Union of South Africa was an independent unitary state with close ties to the British Empire, and it declared war on Germany alongside the British and French. South Africa wanted the neighboring German colony of South-West Africa, and its forces set out to invade, occupy, and annex the territory from the Germans, but first it had to deal with a stubborn uprising of Dutch-speaking Boers that did not like the Union’s decision to side with the Allies. It took South Africa less than a year to put down the rebellion, and then it invaded German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia). The South African army also invaded the East African German colony of Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania), but that was only in southern Africa. South Africa’s forces also saw action in western Europe, Palestine, and Egypt, and lost more than 12,000 people to World War I.

King, RFK: Rebels Married by History

Richard Brownell - February 22, 2018

This year marks 50 years since the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy shocked the nation. Taking place just eight weeks apart in 1968, the sudden deaths of both men shattered the hopes and dreams of many who saw them as the nation’s best chance for peace and racial equality. The nation was plunged into a dark, chaotic time that would close out a decade that began with promise, but ended with pain.

Conventional history and our capacity to mythologize our heroes leads us to believe that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were arm-in-arm in a common struggle working toward a common goal. The truth is more complicated. King and Kennedy met only a dozen or so times, and they appeared in a photograph side by side only once, on June 22, 1963. The occasion was a White House meeting with King and other civil rights leaders brought together by vice president Lyndon Johnson.

This is one of 60 photographs now on display at the New-York Historical Society’s new exhibition, Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., in New York City. The exhibit stemmed from an idea by noted photographer, writer, and filmmaker Lawrence Schiller, who chronicled many memorable and tragic events of the 1960s and photographed both King and Kennedy on multiple occasions.

Schiller wanted to explore the intersecting lives of the two men, but admittedly knew little about their relationship. He approached writer David Margolick, long-time contributor at Vanity Fair and former legal affairs correspondent for the New York Times, where he covered the O.J. Simpson trial.

These States Failed at Seceding

Brandon Christensen - February 22, 2018

On February 20, 1863, the Cherokee Nation, officially a part of the Confederate States of America, unilaterally abolished slavery. The American Civil War would not be settled for another two years, but the Cherokee were essentially done fighting. The secession of the slaveholding states was all but over from the Cherokee point of view, and it was unsuccessful. Late last year I gave you a list of the 10 Most Successful Secessions with the promise of more on the topic, and this interesting tidbit of history gives me the chance to segue into an essay on 10 Unsuccessful Secessions that need more thought. Behold:

10. Kurdistan. Located in the Near East, Kurdistan is a region that includes the countries of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Armenia, though there are no actual, official borders for Kurdistan. Separatist activities have been active mostly in Turkey and Iraq, and Kurdish militias have been active in Syria since the uprising began against the Assad dictatorship in 2011. The longest secession has been the one in Turkey, where armed insurgents have been waging war against Ankara for decades. Kurds appealed for an independent state when the Ottoman Empire fell, but their aspirations went unrewarded by diplomats. During the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into numerous nation-states, Kurds participated in a number of short-lived rebellions, but it wasn’t until 1978 that Kurdistan declared independence from Turkey. Since the invasion of Iraq by the American military, Baghdad’s Kurdish region has mostly pushed for more autonomy, but there was a symbolic vote for independence from Iraq that caught many observers off guard. For more on Kurdistan, check out our sister site, RealClearWorld.

9. Quebec. The French-speaking province of English-speaking Canada, Quebec is a holdover of French North America (called “New France”) and was ceded to the British monarchy in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris as part of the settlement to the end of the Seven Years’ War. Later that same year, London issued a Royal Proclamation that, among other things, created the Province of Quebec out of the ashes of New France. In the following centuries since the 1763 proclamation, Quebec has had its fair share of disagreements with both London and, later, Ottawa. The shift from violent resistance to democratic decision making happened in the late 1970s. (This is interesting to contrast with Kurdistan, as the late 1970s marked a shift for Kurds from sporadic rebellion to violent resistance.) With the onset of putting Quebec’s secession to a vote, the tactics of secession have changed drastically, with notions of a “special status” for French-speaking Quebecers now being pursued, in addition to Quebec’s sovereignty being put up for a straightforward vote. For more on Quebec, check out economic historian (and Quebecer) Vincent Geloso.

8. Darfur. Darfur is a region in eastern Sudan that has, unlike South Sudan, been unsuccessful in its secession. The attempt to leave began violently in 2003 when two separate groups joined together in order to leave Arab-governed Sudan. The origin of the war is contested, with water access, Arab racism toward blacks, colonial boundaries, and conflicts between semi-nomadic herders and sedentary agriculturalists all making a good case. This secession has been particularly nasty, with chemical weapons, militias, and ethnic cleansing all making appearances in the decades-long war. Estimates on the number of deaths vary widely, from 10,000 people to hundreds of thousands. RealClearWorld again has some of the best coverage on this very unsuccessful secession.

10 Major Cities Sacked by the Mongols

Brandon Christensen - February 15, 2018

There was an excellent piece featured on our front page last week about the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 by Mongols, and it was so good that it prompted your correspondent to write a piece about all of the famous cities the Mongols had sacked during their expansionary phase in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Mongol Empire needs no introduction from me, as it spread from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea at its height, becoming the largest land-based empire in all of history. Mongol cavalry, feared and despised throughout the world, overran empires, republics, and kingdoms in China, Persia, Western India (present-day Pakistan), Eastern Europe, and the Levant. Below are the most splendorous cities the Mongols sacked:

10. Kaifeng, 1232-33. Kaifeng was the capital city of the Jurchen Jin dynasty of northern China. At the time of the Mongol siege of Kaifeng, China was roughly divided between three empires, the Xi Xia, the Jurchen Jin, and the Song. The Jurchen Jin were the predecessors of the Manchus in northern China and they had been at war with the Mongols for about 20 years before Kaifeng actually became a target of Mongol ambitions. One of the first major cities to be attacked by Mongol armies, Kaifeng was also one of the longest-lasting sieges, as its garrisons used firebombs, gunpowder, and the resources of the entire Jurchen Jin empire to fend off the assault. Looting was widespread, but Mongol armies spared the plague-ridden, non-aristocratic residents of the city.

9. Hangzhou (Lin’an), 1276. Lin’an, or Hangzhou, was the capital city of the Song dynasty, which ruled over the much wealthier, much more powerful southern part of China. The long campaign to conquer all of China went through Song lands, and the Mongols had an incredibly tough time making their way to Hangzhou. The capital city of the wealthiest polity in China, Lin’an was also one of the largest in the world and housed merchants (and their religious sites) from all over Asia. Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism all competed for the hearts and minds (and money) of Hangzhou’s citizens. The siege of Hangzhou is less famous than many of the Mongols’ other sieges, despite the splendor of Hangzhou, because the royal family, headed by a child and run by a widowed empress -  gave up rather quickly. Song loyalists continued to wage guerrilla war against the Mongols from frontier bases and from neighboring Vietnam (called Đại Việt at the time) for another 20 years.

Weapons That Forged the U.K.'s Empire

Brandon Christensen - February 8, 2018

The British Empire’s military should be best known for quick wars that had remarkably light casualties (on both sides). Part of this has to do with the fact that the U.K. was very good at avoiding conflict with major European continental powers, and even better at picking its fights (and its allies) in other parts of the world. Most of it had to do with the fact that London’s military capabilities were so superior to the rest of the world’s that nobody wanted to fight with the Empire. Technology at the time could be easily pirated, so while the U.K. was also a leader in technological progress, it was the kingdom’s unmatched industrial capacity that really gave London an insurmountable advantage over the rest of the world.

Weapons aren’t everything, of course. British constitutionalism gave the Crown’s subjects enough personal freedom to allow ideas to flourish on the island, which in turn gave London a smorgasbord of organizations and bureaucracies with the ability to out-strategize, outcompete, and outlast formidable enemies throughout the world. Geography is also a factor, as Great Britain is an island that’s just far enough away from the European mainland to make it difficult for invasions to be launched (this doesn’t totally prevent it, of course).

With these caveats in mind, here are 10 weapons that helped forge and secure the empire where the sun never set:

10. Woolwich Guns (mid-late 19th century). The “Woolwich” gun was more of an engineering design than a specific type of weapon. The name stems from the Woolwich Arsenal that built most of the Royal Empire’s heavy weaponry. The design of these artillery units was actually borrowed from a French one. Given that the United Kingdom was a seafaring empire that essentially replaced and enlarged the Dutch one, British artillery was used mostly aboard the Royal Navy’s warships, but was also used for coastal defense. Interestingly, Woolrich guns were used against the British and their Indian allies by Afghan guerillas in the late 19th century.

10 Offbeat Holidays Celebrated in U.S., Canada

& Brandon Christensen - February 1, 2018

Today is Groundhog Day, that time of the year made famous by that excellent Bill Murray film, when a rodent either pops up out of the ground or doesn’t, and brings the world good luck or misery for the coming year. At least I think that’s how it goes. Let’s walk through 10 fffbeat American holidays and see if we can learn something new.

10. Groundhog Day. So Groundhog Day is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that first appears, in writing, in 1840. Apparently, German-speaking peoples (“Pennsylvania Dutch” is, confusingly, a term for Germanic peoples who settled the New World) had a tradition of weather-predicting by a rodent (usually badger or fox) or large mammal (bear) and this was continued in the New World by German settlers using the groundhog. The world’s most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, who lives in, yes, Punxsutawney, Penn. and has a three-day festival feting him every year. Here is how the tradition officially goes: if a groundhog emerges from his burrow to see his shadow, due to it being a clear day, spring will arrive early. If he doesn’t see his shadow, winter lasts for another six weeks.

9. St Patrick’s Day. Ah, yes, March 17th. The one time of the year that it’s acceptable to start drinking at 9 a.m. (I still look back fondly on my first visit to Chico, California - an infamous college town - to visit friends for St. Patrick’s Day.) St. Patrick’s Day is amazing, and not just because of the cheap green beer and shamrock milkshakes. St. Patrick’s Day is an official (as of the 17th century)  religious holiday celebrated by Christians around the world to mark the ascendance of Christianity to Ireland. The reason there is so much booze involved with this holiday is because Lent’s restrictions on eating and drinking were lifted for the day. Thanks, Saint Patrick!

8. Boxing Day. Let’s go to Canada. Relax, folks, Canada is basically the 51st state, so it’s not like I’m cutting any major corners here. Boxing Day is celebrated in Canada, Mother England,  and other settler colonies like Australia and New Zealand on December 26, the day after Christmas. It’s basically like a second Christmas, and it’s so popular in the British Commonwealth that there’s now an unofficial “Boxing Week” that’s dedicated to shopping for gifts. It’s like Black Friday, but all week long. Another legend has it that Boxing Day is in remembrance of the “Christmas Boxes” masters gave their servants to take home on Dec. 26. After waiting on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants had a day off with their family on the 26th. Boxing Day is also celebrated by other Protestant countries and some Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ones as well, but it’s powered mainly by commerce in the Commonwealth.

No, Pats Aren't Most Dominant Dynasty in History

Brandon Christensen - January 25, 2018

The Super Bowl is just around the corner, and every American without connections to Boston finds him- or herself faced with the odious task of rooting for a team from Philadelphia. It’s a bleak scenario, to be sure, but hope is just around the corner. Dynasties, by definition, don’t last forever. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, here are the 10 greatest dynasties in all of sporting history:

10. Chicago Bulls (1990-1998). Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Bill Cartwright, the list goes on and on. The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were basketball. They won six championships in two sets of three-peats. They ousted Isaiah Thomas’ Pistons in the early ‘90s, then kept their thumb on Ewing’s Knicks, Reggie’s Pacers, and the poor ol’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the east, while beating Magic’s Lakers, Clyde the Glyde and his Blazers, Barkley’s Suns, and the Stockton-to-Malone show in the Finals. That’s a heckuva resume, and they’re ranked tenth.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (1972-1979). How about Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain? Oh, and their Hall of Fame quarterback, what was his name? Kerry Madshaw? Jerry Badsaw? Have any of you ever seen a Lynn Swann highlight reel? I’m a Bruin so I loathe giving props to Trojans, but that man could catch damn near anything. Now, to be fair to wide receivers today, the only good defense in the 70s other than Pittsburgh’s was Minnesota’s, and the Purple People Eaters, being in a different conference than Swann & Co., only got one good shot at the Steelers: the 1974 Super Bowl (they lost). Steel City’s finest have enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade or so, but none of her recent teams have matched the dominance of those 1970s Steelers.  

8. Alabama Crimson Tide (1958-1979 & 2007-current). Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Alabama squads won six national titles and 13 conference championships. Under current coach Nick Saban, the Tide have rolled even harder. They just won their fifth national title under Saban last month, and they’ve competed for the championship every year since 2007. Under Saban, Alabama had its first Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram, and welcomed Derrick Henry to the Heisman ranks in 2015. The Tide routinely send more players to the NFL than any other school (by quite a large margin, too), and won the SEC conference titles five times. 

10 Battles That Shaped Russia

Brandon Christensen - January 18, 2018

Mother Russia. The largest country in world, by area, is filled with allure, amazing biodiversity, rich history, and beautiful vodka-drinking women. It is also home to about 145 million people that comprise over 150 different ethnic groups, and at least 50 newspapers publish their voice in a language other than Russian. From 1283 to the present-day, Russia has slowly, steadily expanded its initial territory centered at Moscow east, west, north, and south. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville saw in Russia an alternative to the American democratic model that he observed firsthand in the conclusion of Volume 1 of his magnificent, two-volume book Democracy in America. Tocqueville observed of the Russians and the Americans:

“The American struggles against the natural obstacles which oppose him; the adversaries of the Russian are men; the former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its weapons and its arts: the conquests of the one are therefore gained by the ploughshare; those of the other by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends, and gives free scope to the unguided exertions and common-sense of the citizens; the Russian centres all the authority of society in a single arm: the principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter servitude.”

 Indeed. All throughout the Cold War, de Tocqueville’s short paragraph comparing Russia with America was used as an introduction to essays comparing the two countries. The fact that it is again being used as an introduction to another essay on Russia serves as a harbinger of just how far these two countries have grown apart over the last decade and a half.

And yet, who among us would deny this insight, even in the first month of the year 2018? Who would describe Russia as a bastion of liberty today, save for those nationalists in the motherland who claim Moscow is only protecting ethnic Russians from oppressive regimes abroad?

10 Cool World War II Aircraft That No Longer Exist

Brandon Christensen - January 11, 2018

Aircraft first appeared in warfare during ancient times. Historians generally give the Chinese credit for first using the air for military purposes, and there are records of Han dynasty military strategists using hot air balloons (“Kongming lanterns”) for reconnaissance as early as the second century AD.

In the late 18th century, French generals began using balloons to scout enemy lines on the battlefields of Europe, and during the American Civil War balloons were used by both the Blue and the Gray.

But it wasn’t until World War I that aircraft became a serious option for strategists to use in their quests to crush the other side (the Italians were the first to use airplanes to attack enemies, during Italy’s 1911 war with the Ottoman Empire over Libya). Throughout the course of World War I, planes were utilized for reconnaissance, bombing, and, most popularly, dogfighting. Pilots who shot down more than five enemy aircraft became known as “aces,” and men like Manfred von Richthofen (Germany’s “Red Baron”), the U.K.’s Mick Mannock and James McCudden, France’s René Fonck, and America’s Fast Eddie Rickenbacker gained celebrity status by fighting other pilots on the Western Front.

10 Cities That Were Once Capitals

& Brandon Christensen - January 4, 2018

Cities are amazing, and as the world continues to urbanize (quite rapidly), they’re going to come under continued scrutiny by historians (as well as social and physical scientists). Cities are places where humans gather to live, work, innovate, eat, consume, travel, indulge in leisure, and learn. Cities are also reflections of the geography around them. Thus some cities are better for farming, others for living, and yet others for trading or governing. The art of governing is trickier than you might think. Throughout history, many cities have served as seats of government power, and many more have fallen out of favor as the center of political life.

Below are 10 cities that used to be capitals of important political units (whether monarchies, republics, or otherwise). As always, feel free to add your own in the ‘comments’ section. Behold:

1. Monterey (Alta California): Nestled on the south side of California’s Monterey Bay, about 120 miles south of San Francisco, is the small, affluent college town of Monterey. It’s a gorgeous little town, worthy of the tourists it attracts in droves, and it also used to be the capital city of Alta California, a vast territory of New Spain (and then Mexico) that covered most of what is now the American Southwest. Fun fact: Argentina once flew its flag over Monterey. An Argentine pirate sacked the city in 1818 and, after a week, continued up the coast to find more booty. Before he and his crew continued on their merry way, though, the Argentine made sure to hoist Argentina’s flag up Monterey’s fort flagpole (he burned the fort before he left).


10 Best History Books of Last 10 Years

Brandon Christensen - December 28, 2017

This time of year produces a ton of "Best of..." or "Top ____ of the Year" lists, and they're usually pretty good. However, I always come away from such reads wishing they would have been deeper, or covered more ground, or had a bit more history to them. So, I thought I'd come up with a list of the best 10 history books over the last 10 years.

This list isn't about my favorites, or about the public's favorites, but is rather, simply, about the best of the best. Ten great books published over the last 10 years. Here we go:

 1.  A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (2008), by William J Bernstein. Published in 2008, this book just barely makes the cut-off in terms of time, but despite its age, is well worth the effort. Bernstein, a financial theorist by day, hones in on the one thing that truly makes human beings stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom’s crowd: trade. More so than language, culture, symbols, or even the capacity for using tools, the ability to exchange goods or services for something you want (or want more of) has not only defined humanity but also shaped the world we live in today. A Splendid Exchange is not an economics book or even an overly annotated scholarly effort. It’s a breezy, fact-filled book filled with delicious maps, interesting anecdotes, and a quiet optimism in the human spirit. To give just one example of why this book is one of the decade’s best, Bernstein is in the middle of telling the story of how Europeans circumnavigated the globe in search of spices routes, when he seamlessly ceases the intra-European rivalry narrative to explain why Portugal’s fiercest rival in the Indian Ocean trade was not the Netherlands or Venice but a now little-known Muslim Sultanate called Aceh (located in present-day Indonesia). Aceh was so well-connected to established trans-Eurasian trade routes that the kingdom effectively knocked Portugal out of the East Indies spice trade. And Aceh’s biggest trading partner? Not neighbors China or India. Not fellow Muslims or the Ottomans. The European city-state of Venice! Chapter Nine (“The Coming of Corporations”) is alone worth the price of the book, as it is easily the clearest, most concise explanation for how corporations came into being that I have ever read.

2. The Arabs: A History (2009), by Eugene Rogan. In 2012, I was assigned this book for a political science course at UCLA. I had already taken a number of Middle Eastern history courses with James Gelvin and was a little baffled as to why I was being assigned an unknown history book for a political science course. It quickly became apparent to me that Rogan’s book was a little different from the books I had been assigned to read for history courses. The Arabs: A History is long on modern (1500-present) political history and short on cultural intimacies or philosophical insights. Rogan, who teaches at Oxford, starts off with the Ottoman conquest of Egypt instead of, say, the founding of Islam, and proceeds to explain how and why Arabs have, since that conquest (although the Ottomans were Muslims, they were not Arabs, they were Turks), ended up on the ass end of so many international affairs. The Arabs: A History’s best virtue is being able to explain the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the most objective of terms, all while still being able to pinpoint which parties are largely responsible for that debacle. Chapter 13 (“The Power of Islam”) is alone makes the book worth reading, as Rogan spells out in rigorous, plain logic the history behind the rise of Islamism (as opposed to Islam).

Top 10 History Films of 2017

Brandon Christensen - December 19, 2017

Behold, my list of best history films of 2017:


1. Detroit. Based on the 1967 12th Street Riot, which was part of the larger “long hot summer of 1967,” where race riots plagued the United States due to bad governance, Detroit has just enough violence, just enough mayhem, and just enough historical relevance to take the top spot here. A must see.

2. Dunkirk. This one is obvious. I loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, and I expected a lot from this film. It delivered. The best part of the movie, I thought, was its subject: the Dunkirk evacuation between May 26- June 4 in 1940. The Allied troops - British, French, and Belgian - had been outmaneuvered and outgunned by the German military, and had nowhere to go except to the sea. Luckily, good old-fashioned British ingenuity saved the day for the Allies.

10 Things You Didn't Know About 30 Years' War

Brandon Christensen - December 12, 2017

Huh? The 30 Years’ War? This is a pretty random war to highlight, I admit, but it’s one that deserves a bit more scrutiny, if only to add some color to your week and small talk at your next cocktail party. Fought between numerous polities from 1618-1648, the 30 Years’ War is infamous for its high rate of civilian casualties and the devastation it wrought on the area that is now known as Germany.

Here are 10 facts about the 30 Years’ War you probably didn’t know:

1. Let’s get the big one out of the way: The 30 Years’ War was not a religious war. Most history textbooks, if they mention the 30 Years’ War at all, lump it in the category of one of the many “religious wars” to plague Europe in the early modern era. Conservatives, at least in the Anglo-American sphere, are okay with this narrative because it can play to a distinct and almost subtle anti-Catholic narrative. And Leftists like it because of their continued confusion between “secular government” and “secular society.” But make no mistake: the 30 Years’ War was all about power and money.

2. Take France for example. A Catholic state, Louis XIII and his foreign minister, Cardinal Richelieu, found themselves sandwiched between two major Catholic rivals - Spain and Austria - which also happened to be governed by the Hapsburg family (a hated rival of the French state). Paris ended up allying itself with the so-called Protestant factions in order to even its own playing field, even as it slaughtered thousands of French Protestants (Huguenots) in the name of Catholicism.

Top 10 Battles in African History

Brandon Christensen - December 5, 2017

Africa is often depicted in the Western and Eastern press as a continent that is isolated, exotic, mysterious, and tragic. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Africa has a long and storied tradition when it comes to globalization. Africa has played a part in all of the world’s major trade routes, in all of the modern world’s major exchanges (from agricultural crops to forms of art), and in all of the modern world’s major wars.

Below are 10 battles that prove it.

1. Battle of Zama - 202 BC: Let’s start off with an old school battle, Carthage vs. Rome during the Second Punic War. The Battle of Zama was fought on North African soil after Hannibal’s successful victories in Europe prompted Rome’s strategists to adopt a new strategy: take the fight to Carthage itself. The Romans were outnumbered and the Carthaginians were led by Hannibal himself, yet the Romans managed to win the war and force Carthage to beg for peace. The battle is widely credited for ending the Second Punic War.

2. Battle of Adwa - March 1, 1896: This is the famous battle where a modern European military, representing Italy, lost to an African kingdom, Ethiopia. The myth surrounding this battle suggests Africans beat Italians with spears and swords and courage, but the historical reality is much more interesting. Italy had just been formed, so was very new to whole imperial game being played by European countries at the time, and the Ethiopians were well armed by Russia, who shared an Orthodox faith with the monarch of Ethiopia.

Top 10 Successful Secessions

Brandon Christensen - November 28, 2017

Catalonia. Brexit. Kurdistan. Tibet. Scotland. Luhansk and Donetsk. Quebec. These places have significant minorities that want to leave the country they are currently in and set up their own. They want to secede.

The reasons for secession are varied, as are the methods of seceding. There are arguments for and against secession, and you can find secessionist sentiments in all of the major and minor political ideologies out there.

Here are 10 of the most successful secessions of the past 250 years or so:

1. The 13 American colonies leaving the United Kingdom: Was the American Revolution an act of secession or an act of patriots defeating a foreign imperial power? Contemporary thinkers and policymakers at the time (1775-1783) very much viewed the American Revolution as an act of secession rather than a country fighting its way out of foreign bondage. Everybody from Adam Smith to Edmund Burke to King George III to the rebels in British North America believed that the war between the two sides was a civil war between two different factions of the same polity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

10 World War II Battles Not Involving U.S.

Brandon Christensen - November 21, 2017

How long did World War II last? For the United States, it started in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. For Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, it started in 1939 when they all declared war on each other over a treaty the latter two had with Poland. For the Soviet Union, it started in 1941 when Germany launched a sneak attack on the Bolshevik republic.

For Japan and China, though, the timeline for participation in World War II is muddled. The two countries started fighting each other in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, long before hostilities between the UK and France began with Germany. This war, which is known as the Second Sino-Japanese War, bled into World War II as the Japanese Empire began expanding into the colonial empires of France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and, of course, the United States.

The battles between Japan and the United States are, for various reasons, usually more well-known than the battles between Japan and other regional players. Here are 10 battles fought in World War II’s Pacific Theatre not involving America:

ONE. Battle of Taiyuan - Sept. 1, 1937-Nov. 9, 1937: This was a major battle fought between Japan and mostly Chinese nationalist forces (remember: China was in the midst of a civil war between communists and nationalists before Japan decided to crash the party). The Japanese Army routed the undertrained Chinese forces and the battle helped lay the groundwork for Japan’s invasion and eventual conquest of all of northern China.

10 Longest-Ruling Monarchs

Brandon Christensen - November 14, 2017

On November 17, 1558, Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England and Ireland at the age of 25 and went on to become one of the world’s most famous monarchs. She reigned until she was 69 years old, marking 44 years of rule under her guidance.

 In that time, her domain defeated the mighty Spanish Armada, kept England out of any serious wars on the continent, raised the profile and status of England as a regional (and burgeoning global) power, and kept persecution of Catholics in England to a relative minimum. During her reign, a flowering of literature - including the plays of William Shakespeare - enhanced the now-immense cultural impact of England on the world.

 But Elizabeth I’s reign wasn’t anywhere near the longest in history. Britain’s current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who will celebrate 70 years of marriage this week, has reigned for 65 years. And she’s still not among the Top 10 longest-tenured rulers in history.

 The list below is not comprehensive, and of course the tenure of monarchs grows more and more suspect the further you move away from the present, but it’s an instructive list that can hopefully help us to glean something useful from the past.

America's Complicated Relationship With the 'Hot Dog' Dog

Greg Bailey - October 2, 2017

The name Dachshund is German for badger dog which both shows its heritage and the reason the breed was developed to go after badgers in their holes and face down one of the fiercest wild animals. The dogs came to North America as part of the wave of Germans in the mid 1800’s.

The early history of "hot dogs" is lost in time, but early on the Frankfurters were called Dachshund sausages. The exact origin of the term "hot dogs" is unknown, but the most common story is that it started on college campuses where the joke was that the pushcarts selling the sausage were made out of real dogs. Somehow the name "hot dog" stuck. At the turn of the last century, German-Americans had a strong influence in America. German was the first language for many and German beer, the first kindergartens, the cultural institutions and the popular Dachshunds swept the continent.

That changed almost overnight as America dropped its neutrality and declared war on Germany in 1917. Everything German was the enemy. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage just as generations later during the second Iraq war French fries disappeared and were replaced by freedom fries. German Shepherds became Alsatians and Dachshunds became liberty hounds. But the association with the German enemy and the evil Kaiser Wilhelm II who had two Dachshunds could not be cured with a new name.

Across the country there were reports of Dachshund owners taking their dogs for a walk being verbally or physically attacked. Dachshunds were stomped to death by angry crowds.