John Lewis Gaddis on the failure of the Spanish Armada

Stephen Davies, seeking to explain Europe’s technological and economic breakthrough into modernity, and John Lewis Gaddis reflecting on the emergence of the USA as the world’s current superpower, both identify the defeat of the Spanish Armada as a key moment. Davies says that the failure of Catholic Spain to subdue Protestant England meant that Europe, unlike all the other great civilisations of the world, remained disunited and hence internally competitive.

And Gaddis argues, in his book On Grand Strategy, argues, at the beginning of his chapter entitled “New Worlds” (pp. 151-152) that the defeat of the Armada “made possible the creation of the United States” as we now know it:

It’s not counterfactual to claim that the real events of 1588 in the English Channel echoed loudly and long enough “to shake a hemisphere.” The previous century had seen the Portuguese and the Spanish, neither hitherto seismically significant, exploiting a new understanding of ships, sails, winds, and currents to explore and conquer immensities of strange new things.’ “NON SUFFICIT ORBIS,” Philip II’s motto for his Iberian kingdoms and the empire they’d acquired, was eloquently apt: Eurasia, the old world into which all earlier empires had fit, had indeed not been enough. As the Armada left Lisbon that summer, few from whom it faded from sight would have anticipated anything other than enduring Catholic monarchies throughout what had become known as America.

For how could God not be on the side of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon that had, in the single year 1492, expelled their Muslim neighbors, ejected their Jews, and almost as an aside expanded the size of the earth? Or, in the year that followed, gained title to the new territories, together with Portugal, by papal edict? Or, as Spain, required only three years to conquer Mexico and not many more to control Peru, thereby ensuring apparently endless supplies of gold and silver? Or, using these riches, imposed administrative and even architectural uniformity on two unfamiliar continents? Or mapped out, for their diverse inhabitants, a single path to salvation? Accomplishments on this scale require more than self-confidence: they presume knowledge of, and correspondence with, God’s will.

Two hundred and thirty-five years after the Armada sailed, however, a staunchly Protestant statesman, in the swampy new capital of a secular state, was drafting an equally presumptuous proclamation for his republican sovereign: “that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” When Secretary of State John Quincy Adams made the Monroe Doctrine a motto for the “United States of America” in 1823, that country lacked the means of securing the “new world” against its “old” masters. It had the self-confidence, though, of Spain in its prime, and that, Adams saw, would suffice.

“The failure of the Spanish Armada,” Geoffrey Parker has argued, “laid the American continent open to invasion and colonization by northern Europeans, and thus made possible the creation of the United States.” If that’s right, then the future pivoted on a single evening – August 7, 1588 – owing to a favorable wind, a clever lord admiral, and a few fiery ships. Had he succeeded, Philip would have required Elizabeth to end all English voyages to America.’ But from the moment his captains cut their anchor cables, Spain began a slow decline, and a new world order its gradual ascendancy.

This book (which I have just ordered from Amazon) presumably being one of the places where Geoffrey Parker (a new name to me) makes this argument.

James Stewart impresses Robbie Robinson

And when I say James Stewart I mean this James Stewart, that American fellow who used to act in movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, and Mr Smith Goes To Washington, and The Philadelphia Story. Many screen heroes are nothing much to bother with off screen, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s called acting. But Stewart was a hero both on screen and off. He didn’t just star in movies, concerning such things as WW2. He fought in WW2, as a bomber commander in the US Air Force.

I’ve been reading Big Week, James Holland’s book about “the biggest air battle of World War Two”. I haven’t yet got to the actual big week in question, which happened in February 1944. But I can’t help thinking that Captain James Stewart is going to be up to his neck in it, bombing Germany and fighting off German fighters, because he has already had several mentions. Here is one of them, concerning an encounter that happened late in 1943, described on pages 226-227.

Captain James Stewart had been ordered to London to face the press on Thursday, 2 December. He had been promised this would happen only once. The questions were ridiculous and he found the exercise painful and embarrassing, but then he returned to Tibenham to get on with being a squadron commander.

On Sunday, 5 December, a sergeant came to Robbie Robinson’s hut and told him and his crew-mates to prepare – briefing at 9 a.m. and ready to fly. It was to be a ‘shakedown’ flight – a training flight to see whether they were ready for combat operations. Out by Bullet Serenade, they were just getting ready to move off when a Jeep pulled up and Captain Jimmy Stewart stepped out. ‘Fellas,’ he told them, ‘I’ll be riding with you.’

“Bullet Serenade”being the airplane they’d all be flying in.

On board, Stewart went to the flight deck, but once the were airborne he came back down, speaking to each of the crew, then went back to the cockpit. Over the intercom, Robinson listened to him asking questions of every man. ‘What are you doing now, Sergeant Robinson?’ he asked. ‘What do you see out of the waist window?’ Robinson told him. More questions followed. ‘Can you see the super-charger gate position? Are the exhausts smoking? What colour is the engine exhaust? How much fuel do we have on board? Are you checking it? Are the fuel gauges off and drained?’ He then called them up in turn to the cockpit. Robinson, like the rest of the crew, had gone through incredibly thorough training. Although a waist gunner, he was a fully qualified flight engineer and even had sixty hours’ piloting in his logbook. The idea was to ensure there was always back-up if anything happened to the main operating crew members. ‘Robinson,’ Stewart asked once he had reached the flight deck, ‘can you fly as first engineer?’ He also wanted to know whether he could man all gun turrets and arm the bombs. It was quite a grilling, but Robinson was impressed. ‘Stewart really knew this airplane,’ he noted. ‘He wanted us to know it too.’

By all accounts I’ve encountered, Robinson wasn’t the only one who was impressed by this star of stage and screen. And war.

Ferrari sighting

While out-and-about on other business further in the middle of London even than my home is, I photoed this little Thing On Wheels:

This was in Bedford Street (as you can just about make out), which is just off the Strand. So far so ordinary. Some brand of “smart” car, presumably.

But when I got home, I looked more closely at this photo, and could just about make out … this:

I didn’t see this logo at the time. I merely noticed it in the original photo, of which the above is a crop-and-expand.

Unless I was mistaken, the Ferrari logo!. The Ferrari horse. Was this bod taking the piss? Had he stuck this Ferrari horse logo on his little red Dinky Toy for some sort of laugh?

This is the twenty first century, and questions like this can be quickly answered.

Apparently this was indeed a Ferrari Smart Car. (He’s not happy about this either.) Different Smart Car, Ferrari logo in the exact same spot. The cars must have come with this logo attached, and must accordingly be “real” Ferraris. Not real Ferraris, you understand. Real Ferraris can drive under articulated lorry trailers at 200 mph. What I saw and photoed was just a Dinky Toy car perpetrated by the Ferrari company in what must have been a quite prolonged fit of insanity, which I presume still continues. Talk about pissing all over your own brand.

Like I say, I like real Ferraris, which I suppose we must now call Ferrari Dumb Cars, driven by the spoilt children of the nouveau riche. The bloke in my photo looks more like an Extinction Rebel or some such thing. i.e. the sort of person who’d be totally opposed to real Ferraris. Which he may well be.

In the course of my googling, I discovered an entire internet subculture of photo-manipulators eager to take the piss out of this abominable little contraption.

The miscalculations of the Tiggers

Way back in the Spring of last year, when the Brexit battle was still raging away in Parliament and when Theresa May was still the Prime Minister, Patrick Crozier and I did a podcast o this subject. A point that Patrick made very strongly was how the Remainers, presented with the opportunity of BRINO (Brexit in name only), instead were busily engaged in snatching defeat from the jaws of only somewhat modified victory. Since then, the Remainers carried right on doing this.

As Guido Fawkes explained gleefully in a posting a few days ago about the most visible and organised of the Remainers. These “Tiggers”, as Guido calls them, continued to trash any possibility of BRINO. And then they all got ejected from Parliament, leaving the field clear for actual Brexit, or something a lot like it, to proceed.

This posting of Guido’s is worth a read and a ponder, unless you were yourself a Remainer and can’t bear to think about it all. Thus is history made by the winners. And also bungled by the losers.

I found the picture there, on the right, by scrolling down here. A lot.

Round town in Germany

Here:

The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is maybe the only town in the world built using materials of extraterrestrial origin.

Maybe, maybe. What I like about the Bavarian city of Nördlingen is that it’s round:

Note Nördlingen’s very thin and very sensible Green Belt, a circular park with lots of trees, by the look of it. Unlike London’s Green Belt, which is absurdly thick and ridiculous, and, to an appalling degree, treeless.

“Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams …”

I have been reading James Holland’s book about the Dam Busters, which contains some illuminating pages concerning the history of the dams that got busted. These pages (pp. 242-247 of my paperback edition) are interesting in their own right, and they also explain why busting the dams was more than just a materially very damaging blow to the German war effort; it was also deeply demoralising for the German people:

There was another very good reason why the dams were a good target, however, one that was touched upon by Barnes Wallis during his second meeting with Gibson on 29 March. ‘The Germans,’ he said of the Möhne, ‘are very proud of this dam.’ In fact, they were proud of all their dams, although of the Möhne and Eder in particular; they were among the best-known structures in the Reich. Dams, of course, were as old as the hills. It was a German, Georg Steinfurth, who discovered the world’s oldest in 1885 – the Kafara Dam south of Cairo. In Spain, the Roman dam at Cornalvo had been standing for the best part of two millennia. However, although these were ancient structures, they had not been built on the kind of scale that the Germans began building them in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Although Germany was a new nation, just seventy years old, there was nonetheless a tradition among the German people over the previous 200 years of transforming their landscape, or conquering nature. Germany by the beginning of the war was a quite different place from how it had been just a couple of hundred years earlier, especially its lowlands. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was a wild place, full of low-lying marsh and fenland. Travellers likened it to Amazonia and the New World. Wild animals like boar and wolves roamed, while the Rhine, Germany’s greatest river, snaked its way north through hundreds of separate channels, which were divided by endless little islands, sandbars and gravel banks. Along long stretches of its banks were damp forests, not lush farmland and industry. And because this river was so wild, because its flow of water so unpredictable and its depth so varied, it was for large parts completely impassable.

Yet as Prussia’s strength grew, so did its prosperity, and with it the increased need for mobility. What a difference it would make if this wild part of north-west Germany could be tamed. One German engineer, Iohann Tulla, believed he could, and so began one of the most extraordinary engineering feats the world had ever known. Quite simply, Tulla straightened the Upper Rhine. Not only was it an extraordinary achievement, it was also one of the world’s biggest engineering feats. By carving out new channels and damming up the twists and turns, the flow of water improved. The Rhine took on a completely different appearance, and was now shorter by some fifty miles. Moreover, the water now flowed deep enough and fast enough to allow large-scale navigation. The Rhine, by the early part of the nineteenth century, had become one of Germany’s most important arteries.

Now that the Rhine was properly navigable, the population along it rose rapidly. Further to the east, in the Ruhr area, coal seams were developed and through the nineteenth century the area grew with industrial plants springing up all around it. More and more water was needed: for the rising population to drink, and for the rapidly increasing industrial processes. Canals were built, and so too were railways, providing a network that enabled all this industry to be spread around the country.

Suddenly, there was no longer enough water consistently feeding into these rapidly growing areas. The natural cycle of water flow running into the Möhne, Wupper, Ruhr and Eder followed an irregular pattern – heavier in winter, less so in summer, but one that had become more extreme through deforestation and cultivation in their upper reaches.

Dams were the solution, although, as the Germans were discovering, by upsetting one of nature’s rhythms, they were being forced to alter another. Constructing large dams had begun in Alsace as a means of building up a mass of water from the inconsistent flow of rivers running down from the Vosges Mountains. These dams, comparatively small, were so effective they paved the way for the golden decade of dam building in Germany. In the 1890s, dams were the solution to the booming industrial region of Rhineland- Westphalia.

The first large dam was the Eschbach, which provided drinking water for the growing population of Remsheid. This had been designed by the greatest of German dam builders, Otto Intze, and his stamp would be all over many of those that followed: by his death in 1904, he had built no fewer than twelve.

A regular flow of water may have been needed in the rapidly growing area of Rhineland-Westphalia, but it was even more essential a little further north in the Ruhr Valley. The annual flow of water into the Ruhr was heavy, but deforestation in the Sauerland, the mountainous region east of the Ruhr, had intensified the extremes of seasonal variation. These were also exacerbated enormously by the huge amounts of water being pumped from the lower reaches. Water was needed for drinking, not just by the populations of towns on the Ruhr, but by those on the now polluted Wupper, Emscher and Lipper. Water was also needed by the mining, metallurgical and chemical industries, for cooling, cleaning and processing. The Krupps Works in Essen, alone, were responsible for using vast amounts of water both for their manufacturing processes and for their hordes of thirsty workers.

By the turn of the century, the Ruhr Valley was in crisis. In high summer, water levels were so low, it was possible to walk across the river without getting barely wet at all. Dams were clearly the only solution. Intze built two across a couple of small tributaries, but it was not enough. After long arguments about whose responsibility it was to resolve the crisis – after all, building dams was not cheap – the Ruhr Valley Reservoirs Associaton, or Ruhrtalsperrenverein – was formed in 1899. This collection of interested parties collectively funded the programme of dam building that now hurriedly got under way. Seven were built by 1906 – all by Intze – but then came a move to build substantially larger dams. The first was the Lister, which, by 1912, when it opened, had a capacity of 22 million cubic metres.

Its supremacy lasted just a year, for in 1913 a new, even bigger dam, designed by Intze’s star pupil, Ernst Link, was opened. It held a staggering 130 million cubic metres of water – more than the combined capacity of all of the dams built previously in the Ruhr and Wupper region. This vast edifice was the Möhne Dam.

But the Möhne was also about to be eclipsed. Forty-five miles to the south-east, an even taller, though not wider, dam was being built across the River Eder, one that would have the capacity to hold a mind-boggling 200 million cubic metres of water, ten times the amount of the Lister, which when it had been inaugurated had been the largest of its kind. The Eder Dam, when it was completed in that fateful month of August 1914, was the largest dam in Europe. Its waters stretched for seventeen miles, covering a lush, fertile valley where villages and many farmsteads had once stood. Its construction was considered such a profoundly incredible achievement, the Kaiser and his wife had been due to attend its inauguration. That had been planned for 15 August 1914. War had scuppered that plan, but during its construction, the Kaiser had visited the rapidly growing dam wall, as had his daughter, Princess Victoria.

It was no wonder these structures attracted so much attention. They personified the German conquest of nature and were symbols of German identity. Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams, as familiar as the Empire State Building became to Americans. They symbolized the emergence of a great and unified power. The Book of Famous Engineers was a popular book aimed as much at a youth market of aspiring young Germans as anyone, and contained a whole chapter on dam builders. Men like Otto Intze were household names in Germany, held as champions of a bright new dawn and an age of technological wonder. On no fewer than three occasions he gave private lectures to the Kaiser, who was, like most of his subjects, fascinated by technological innovations and developments.

Another popular, post-First World War tome was In the Wonderland of Technology: Masterpieces and New Achievements That Our Youth Should Know. And most of them did: radios, Zeppelins, Mercedes-Benz motor cars and the Eder and Möhne dams were all written about, feats from Germany’s proud era of technology.

The large lakes behind the dams became huge tourist attractions. Tens of thousands of visitors travelled to the Möhne, Eder and other dams every year. Hikers walked around the shores, anglers fished, sailors sailed, or rowed on pleasure dinghies, or took steamer trips. Others just stood at the foot of the vast walls of granite and masonry and marvelled at the wonder of such enormous constructions – constructions that looked so solid, so thick. So impregnable.

It is possible that there may be objections to me reproducing such a long excerpt from this book. If there are any objections, either from the author or the publisher, this posting will immediately be removed.

Brown Norwegian cheese (again)

In 1966, I had a three month holiday in Scandinavia, on a bike. This did not work very well in Norway, which is rather bumpy, but what did work well in Norway was the brown Norwegian cheese. I don’t have the ostehøvel that I used on that trip to slice the brown Norwegian cheese, because I gave it away to someone, but back home, I bought another one immediately …:

… and have been using it ever since, for slicing regular British cheese.

I had less luck finding any brown Norwegian cheese back home. Even since then, I have kept an eye open for this brown Norwegian cheese, in Brit shops, but I never found any.

Then I had a brainwave. Why not type “brown Norwegian cheese” into the www, and see what came up? Maybe the www could tell me which shop to try. And yes, you are right, I should have thought of this a lot sooner. See the contents list below, which will include: Getting old.

Anyway, the www did its stuff, and I was instructed to visit Waitrose in Oxford Street, which is in the basement of John Lewis. And I duly purchased a couple of … these:

“A Norwagian speciality. Mixed creamy whey cheese made with goat’s milk and cow’s cream.”

When you get inside this (and start slicing and eating), it looks like this:

Yum. £4 per cube. Worth every penny.

LATER: Sorry about the spotty plate. It really is time I got some plain white ones, on which dirt is more easily spotted.

Niall Ferguson on networks versus hierarchies

I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.

The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.

Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)

Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):

Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.

I will now finish reading this chapter.

Private Kissinger

Here is one of many fascinating little details from Snow & Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams (pp. 662-663), which is about the Battle of the Bulge:

[T]he town of Krefeld, a port lying on the west bank of the Rhine and north-west of Dusseldorf, had fallen to the US 84th (Railsplitters) Division, part of Simpson’s Ninth Army. Order needed to be restored to the town’s 200,000 inhabitants quickly, so the only GI in Divisional Intelligence who spoke German (the rest knew French) was promoted to become Administrator of Krefeld, in charge of everything from gas, water, power and transportation to garbage and hunting war criminals. The fact that he was a mere private mattered not; within eight days he had rebuilt Krefeld’s civilian government: the name of this multi-talented individual was Henry A. Kissinger.

That this book contains so many small pleasures like this one is all part of why it contains so many pages.

A selection of 2019 newspaper headlines

I find that newspaper headlines, photoed in such places as shops from which I purchase other goods but not newspapers, can make pleasingly evocative souvenirs, as time goes by. Things that loomed large once upon a time, but which are now forgotten, can instead be remembered. Ah yes, that! Whatever happened to that ruckus? Good lord, him. Good grief, her.

So, here is a gallery of such photos, celebrating the amazing diversity of dramas that London’s various newspapers splashed all over themselves during 2019:

January 17, February 14, March 14, March 29, April 21;
May 28, June 28, July 29, August 9, August 21;
August 21, August 27, August 27, September 13, October 2;
October 2, October 2, November 12, December 6, December 13.

Just kidding. Variety, not.

Most pundits seem to agree that this argument has now been won and lost, following the recent General Election result (also noted in the final photo above). I’ll believe that when I see it. I now expect that there will be plenty of Leaving still to be done, after January the whenever it now is. Much depends, I think, on whether any substantial number of Remainers decide to become Rejoiners; or whether, to use a favourite phrase of such persons when they were winning this argument, the Remainers, aside from an insignificant rump, will now “move on”.