Another carnival of the animals posting

Starting with a new recording of Carnival of the Animals. Saint-Saëns at his harmonious and melodious best. It’s the Kanneh-Mason clan, with additions. Sheku, as of now the most celebrated of this much celebrated classical family, has his big cello moment with the Swan.

Relatedly, “i” reports that the way animals communicate is evolving so that it remains audible above the din made by humans.

This Is Why I’m Broke tells of a squirrel proof bird feeder, with explanatory video.

And then there’s this: Canada battles Norway for tallest moose statue.

More seriously, it is being said the Brexit has enabled Boris Johnson to unveil a ban on live animal exports.

Most significantly of all, when it comes to the ever changing relationship between animals and humans, Singapore becomes the first country to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. See also this earlier posting here, about steps in that same direction in Israel.

LATER: No official ephemera this Friday at David Thompsons, but via the a comment on the latest posting there, here’s a competitive canine in action. The enjoyment is palpable. I love how the dogs in the audience join in with their encouraging barks.

OOPS: There are some David Thompson ephemera today, starting with a couple of cats.

Starlings over Denmark

This is a link to yet another of those huge-flock-of-starlings videos, where a bewildering number of starlings do lots and lots of coordinated – but not militarised, if you get my drift – swirling.

The only slightly unusual thing about this video is how very numerous this particular assemblage of starlings was, and, especially, how very black they manage, or the guy processing the video manages, to turn large chunks of the evening sky. Worth just over a minute of your time to watch.

Peter Caddick-Adams: If D-Day had been postponed it would have been a catastrophe

I have been reading the recently published book by Peter Caddick-Adams about D-Day, entiled Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day, the follow-up to Snow and Steel, which was about the Battle of the Bulge. James Holland, quoted on the cover of Sand and Steel, calls it “Magisterial”, which is his way of saying that it is a huge book, with a huge amount of judiciously presented detail. The book is, I’m afraid, too “magisterial” for me now to be ploughing through it from start to finish. What I am now doing is feeling my way into it by looking up, in the index of Sand and Steel, people involved in D-Day whom I already know a little about, and then seeing what Caddick-Adams has to say about them.

I already know, for instance, a bit about Captain James Stagg, the one who supplied Eisenhower with that famous weather forecast, of a break in the bad weather on June 6th 1944, which enabled Ike to say: Go.

Caddick-Adams disapproves of how a little too much honour for this has been heaped only upon Stagg. Stagg was not himself a professional weather forecaster. He did summarise and pass on to Ike what the real forecasters, half a dozen of them, were telling him. That is honour enough for Stagg, but the real hero was the elaborate system that gathered together all the relevant information. Also, the German forecasters told pretty much the same weather story to their superiors, contrary to what Stagg-fans like me had been assuming.

Caddick-Adams is very good about somewhat misleading tales of this sort. His passion for detail, and for tracking down absolutely everyone and anyone who could tell him those details, is all mixed up with him wanting to know what really happened, as opposed to the stories that some people have been in the habit of telling one another, in movies for instance. This great generation of warriors, you can hear Caddick-Adams insisting, deserves nothing less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That being why his books are typically so long. The whole truth of something like D-Day can’t be told in a hundred and fifty pages. Sand and Steel is one thousand and twenty five pages long.

Of a lot more interest, to me, than who exactly we should be praising for that most famous and famously accurate of weather forecasts, is what Caddick-Adams says about what might have happened if the weather on June 6th not been so favourable, and if Ike had consequently been forced to say: No. Not yet. Or for that matter if, given the forecasts he did get, Ike had simply said no anyway.

To know this, you have to know what range of dates the Allies considered suitable for the D-Day landings, weather permitting, and why. The relevant passage from Sand and Steel goes thus (pp, 346-347):

Given the specific moon and tidal requirements for the landing, Hogben recalled …

… Hogben being one of Stagg’s weather forecasters …

… they had just six possible days to invade in June: 5th-7th and 19th-21st. ‘We worked out the odds on the weather on any one of those four days conforming to our needs as being 13-1 against. So meteorologically, D-Day was bound to be a gamble against the odds.’ Admiral Alan G. Kirk, commanding the Western Task Force, recorded the factors that needed to come together for the invasion: ‘The night before D-Day had to be reasonably light so that convoys could keep station with ships darkened: he wrote. ‘Airborne operations also required this, necessitating a night with a full moon, or nearly so.’ Next, Kirk identified that ‘H-Hour needed one hour of daylight before the initial landings to enable bombarding ships to neutralise German batteries and drench the landing beaches’, but it needed to be ‘sufficiently before high water for the demolition parties to remove beach obstacles while still dry’.

However, it also had to be ‘sufficiently after low water in order to permit the landing on certain British beaches where sand bars prevented an assault until two or three hours later’. Ideally, the day would be fixed to ensure ‘a second high water in daylight to permit maximum unloading’. In conclusion, wrote Kirk, ‘the only dates on which all these factors were available were 21-23 May; 5-7 and 19-21 June, or 3-5 July’, though Stagg later observed that if they waited for the perfect set ‘it would take 140 years’.

So, if June 6th had not been the right day to be D-Day, what day would have been?

Here is what Hogben said about that (p. 351):

In speculating what would have happened if the poor weather had persisted on 6 June, leading to postponement until the nineteenth, the New Zealander Hogben stated, ‘As it happened, on 17 June, all six of us produced a forecast for the nineteenth for almost perfect conditions – the invasion would definitely have gone ahead, and would have been an utter catastrophe. Complete failure – for on 19 June the biggest storm of the twentieth century lashed the Channel and I doubt many landing craft would have even made it to the beaches. They would all have been swamped with the high winds. It does not bear thinking about.’

Says Caddick-Adams:

Recent statistical analysis supports this. The storm was a ‘once in forty years’ event, a tempest of slightly less ferocity having lashed the Calvados coast in February 1905, emphasising how lucky Eisenhower was to have opted to go on 6 June. …

Under a photo from his own (presumably vast) collection, of a huge wave crashing over the sea wall at Arromanches-Les-Bains, Caddick-Adams hammers home the same point (also p. 351):

The Overlord meteorologists were aware that violent storms often blew in from the Atlantic to batter the Normandy coast. Much documented was the hurricane of February 1905, which threw huge columns of water at the future invasion beaches and sites for the two artificial harbours. In June 1944, the Allied weathermen spotted a lull in the bad weather, but the tempest that began on 19 June replicated the violence of 1905. Postponing the invasion from 6 June to the nineteenth would thus have been disastrous for D-Day and the landings would have failed.

The point being, although the Allied forecasters got their forecast for June 6th right, they got the forecast for June 19th totally wrong, and unanimously so. They would definitely have said: Go. Ike would surely have concurred. And, it would have been a disaster.

The USSR conquering a whole lot more of Europe than it did. No President Eisenhower. Maybe the atom bomb being ready before the end of the war in Europe? The alternative history ramifications are endless.

Maybe D-Day buffs have long known about this June 19th aspect of the D-Day story, but it was all completely new to me.

Trumpism and the future of the world (and why I hope Trump wins)

Tucker Carlson is one of my favourite political orators just now. Go here, to see and hear him in typically fluent form. Carlson asks and answers the question: Why do Trump’s meetings attract Trump supporters in such vast numbers?

To put it another way: If – if – Trump wins re-election, how will that have happened?

Trump loves America, and all the actually existing Americans who also love American. (If he doesn’t love America, he does a hugely impressive job of pretending to.) Millions of Americans understandably agree with Trump’s American nationalism.

But there is more at stake than merely the future of America. There’s a whole world out here to be considering.

Since the late eighteenth century, the world has been progressing in a spectacular way, despite all the bad stuff we all know about. Around 1780, there was this kink in all the graphs measuring human creature comforts, and things started getting rapidly better, and this fine trend in human affairs has continued ever since, with many interruptions in such places as Russia and China, but nevertheless unmistakeably. Everyday life, for everyone, even and especially for the very poorest people in the world, continues to get better and better. But will that continue? Might this excellent trend even go into reverse?

The best book I have recently read that grapples with those sorts of questions is The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Davies argues that what kicked off this spectacular explosion was that, when and where it happened, in Europe in the late 1700s, Europe was not politically unified. That meant that when the materials that went into the explosion began to be assembled – progressive technology and all the thinking that went into it, basically – there was nobody in Europe willing and able to stop this. On the contrary, because the various rulers of Europe were all quarrelling with one another, they all had a powerful incentive to stay ahead of one another in this race. In the world’s other civilisations, that didn’t happen, and technological stagnation ruled.

But Davies’s book is not only about the past. In it, he also ruminates upon the future. The big question for him is: What is modernity? Because if we know what it is, we may know better how to keep it in being.

He identifies several processes that might bring modernity to a halt and turn the last two hundred and more years of technological progress into a mere passing phase, like an earlier progressive episode that had happened in China. That episode was ended by a combination of military disaster and a subsequent Chinese ruling class decision to end it. Technological progress was quite consciously and deliberately stopped in its tracks.

One threat to modernity might, Davies speculates, be nationalism, and its associated fixed sum economic fallacies. By reversing international economic cooperation, such nationalism might throw progress into reverse, in the same kind of way that it did when the Great Depression got started, only more so. Trade war, and then perhaps even consequent actual war. That kind of thing. For Davies, good libertarian globalist that he is, Trump and all he stands for looms like a menace to everything good in the world and in its future.

But another threat to progress that Davies mentions seems to me at least as plausible, which is that globalisation will intensify, and create a global ruling class that will then, in the manner of the rulers of Imperial China, all agree that progress, because it is unsettling for the world and in particular for them, is bad and must be stopped. This ruling class might, in contrast, continue to pay lip service to the idea of progress, but will end up stopping it by mistake, in their efforts merely to improve and domesticate it.

I regard the second of these scenarios as a far greater threat to the world than the first. After all, does not Davies himself tell us that it was European “nationalism” that allowed all of this progress to get started in such a big way, back in the 1780s? If the world were now to unify, might that not prevent progress from happening, just as it prevented it everywhere else in the world outside of Europe (with the exception of Japan (which instead became a sort of honorary European country)), at the time when Europe itself was bursting forth into modernity? Ask questions like that, and Trump ceases to be a menace and becomes instead a protector and provoker of continuing global economic dynamism. He is now keeping the world un-unified, by refusing to let America become an outpost of a globalism dominated by quite different impulses centred around places like China and Russia, impulses that could switch off modernity far more thoroughly than continuing national rivalry ever could.

Trump, it seems to me, is a force for continuing global economic dynamism.

Meanwhile I sure hope Trump wins his election. I have no idea what the result of this election will be. I wish I could tell you this beforehand, but I cannot. I can only tell you what I hope, which is that Trump wins it by a stonking majority, so stonking that all those idiot left wing rioters are reduced to a state of spified shock and immobilised immiseration, sitting in their parental homes gibbering with incomprehension, and not a few of them obliging us all by committing suicide, and so stonking that the more civilised Democrats, the sort who prefer indoor corruption to outdoor looting, all decide that they must become Trumpists themselves.

If Trump wins like this, he will also speed up Britain’s escape from Lockdown, because a stonking Trump victory will, among other things, be a victory for anti-Lockdownism.

Like I said, not a prediction, merely a hope.

Bingeing on Haydn symphonies

Every so often, a combination of my ever more gargantuan classical CD collection, of my own shifting tastes in classical music, and of my particular life circumstances result in me experiencing musical binges, of various sorts over the years, during which I binge-listen to a particular category of music.

Sometimes a binge will focus on a single piece of music. At other times, as recently, it consists of constantly listening to a particular category of music.

When Lockdown began, at that now vanished time when I and millions of others were genuinely scared that our lives might be about to end prematurely, I found myself listening to, of all things, Haydn symphonies, again and again and again and again. I possess many CDs of Haydn symphonies. Here are about two thirds of them:

That’s a lot of Haydn symphonies, and there are about half as many again still on the shelves, which I also listened to. Plus I even bought another great box of them, because I already had one of the CDs in question and really liked it when I listened to it again.

Haydn is in many ways the “ideal type” of the Classical Music Composer. If you really like his orchestral music, then it can be said with confidence that you really like classical music. What makes me say this is that his music seems to me to posses an absolutely satisfaction with the musical means that were available for its making, and no feeling whatsoever that “art” means in some way feeling obliged to transcend these means, in the manner of someone breaking out of a prison or of dreaming of such a breakout. Put it like this. If Mozart or Beethoven had lived at a different and later time, when musical technology had expanded, you get the strong feeling that their music would have sounded very different and a lot more dramatic. With Haydn, I feel as if it would probably have sounded much as it sounds now.

This is especially true of his earlier symphonies, which I found myself preferring, during my binge. My habit was to assemble all the performances of Haydn symphonies by one conductor and ensemble, and then listen to them in chronological order. And I found that the later symphonies, to my ear, had a bombast and an assertiveness about them that I found, by comparison with the earlier ones, unappealing. Basically, the symphonies he wrote for his aristocratic bosses in Vienna and nearby places struck me as wonderful, utter perfection. But, the later symphonies that he wrote for bigger and less grand audiences, less old money and more new money, in places like Paris and London, London especially, felt to me like Haydn forcing himself to express feelings that his audiences felt more strongly than he did.

It may very well be that actually, Haydn felt horribly imprisoned when he wrote his earlier symphonies, and liberated when writing his later ones. But what I was hearing was a case of one kind of atmosphere, which I found perfectly (and I do mean perfectly) appealing, compared to another that was less congenial. Raucous brass instruments, and above all the percussion, started to interrupt the serene perfection of the earlier symphonies. Bang bang bang, wah wah wah. The later symphonies sounded to me, by comparison, to be bourgeois, in a bad way. Nouveau riche, rather than old riche. New money waving itself in the air, rather than old money simply taking its ease, without fuss or the need to assert itself too stridently. It was as if Haydn had moved from a world where he was in perfect command of his art, to one where he was stressing and straining after something that came less naturally to him.

The irony being that the official programmes of many of Haydn’s earlier symphonies are concerned with exactly such stressfulness and strain. There is even a famous group of earlier symphonies collectively know as the “sturm und drang” – storm and stress – symphonies. But these felt to me like serenely detached descriptions of such emotions, rather than any sort of effort to be engulfed by such feelings on behalf on an emotionally incontinent audience of upwardly mobile poseurs.

I suspect that finding myself being treated as a gentleman of leisure by Haydn, rather than as some sort of new man, a stresser and strainer after such things as “improvement” and “solutions” and “radical progress”, was exactly what I was finding so congenial. Lockdown demanded nothing of me. Literally, it demanded nothing. And, as the owner and operator of a CD player, I could pause the music at will with one touch of a button, which made me even more of an aristocrat than Haydn’s bosses were. How they would have loved to be able to push a button and pause their musicians in mid bar, while they, having been delayed by other business, sat themselves down and made themselves comfortable at the beginning of a musical performance, or while they needed to deal with a discreet interruption from an underling about something that needed a quick answer. And how the likes of Beethoven and Wagner, Wagner especially, would have been outraged by my pause button! My music, Wagner would have shouted, takes precedence over your little life! Shut up and listen, in darkness, and have your emotions aroused and sculpted by me, the Great Composer. I am not hear to amuse you with my art, you are hear to worship me and my Art.

Haydn, especially in his earlier Viennese, pre-bourgeois form, made no such demands upon me. And during the early, serious bit of Lockdown, he was, for me, the perfect musical companion.

If you have read this far, thank you. I hope you’ve already worked out that I am not asking you to agree with me about Haydn. Rather I ask you to think of whether you have had similar bursts of aesthetic enthusiasm, and to reflect on them, as I have on this recent one of mine.

The main thing about such episodes, I would say, is that they can’t be forced. You can’t decide to have one of these binges. They just happen.

Covid-19 is all over bar the “Casedemic”!

I got to this ten minute video lecture by Ivor Cummins via a Facebook posting by David Ramsay Steele. Steele had earlier written a piece which I half noticed a few days ago, as a result of someone mentioning it on my Twitter feed and me happening to be paying attention to Twitter at that moment. I have just now got back to that piece by Steele.

Steele argues that respiratory epidemics like Covid-19 cannot be stopped, and probably not even slowed much in their spread. The point is to get herd immunity (which Cummins calls, rather poetically, “community immunity”), and meanwhile to protect the vulnerable as best we can. (I seem to recall this being argued right at the beginning of all this, in Britain.)

Steele also links to and agrees with this blog posting by J.B.Handley.

Me going into further details is pointless. Follow the above links if you are interested.

I believe that the way to find out the truth about anything is to have a huge argument about it. Roughly speaking, the truth consists of a “model” which most closely describes reality. Eventually, the most accurate model wins. Not all “models” are wrong. But most models are wrong.

If I had to place a bet on which Covid-19 model will win, that is to say: be acknowledged more widely than any other model as the truth of things, then I would now bet on this Cummins/Handley/Steele model.

There is just one detail of this argument I will pick out. Trump and Trumpists have been saying that if the Chinese government had told everyone faster then the worldwide spread of Covid-19 could, perhaps or even definitely, have been confined to China. This is, says Steele, “hogwash”. I mention this merely because I have been a Trumpist about this, but will now have to find some other way to denounce the Chinese government for its handling of matters Covidic. Shouldn’t be hard.

LATER: Following.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Plague column

When you live in times which are described with unfamiliar words, you learn about unfamiliar things:

That’s the Plague Column in Vienna, built with great and greatly prolonged effort to commemorate a plague that struck in 1679. It was finally inaugurated in 1694.

Those of us who are using the word “plague” to describe what’s happening now are being blackly humorous. There’s the definite suggestion of irony quotes. What sort of plague is it that seems to kill less than one percent of those who get it? They weren’t being ironic about plague back then.

Rodney Stark defends God’s Battalions

Recently I quoted a chunk from Emmanuel Todd’s Lineages of Modernity, in the course of which chunk Todd praised the historian Rodney Stark. I looked up Stark on Amazon and encountered a familiar book cover. I realised that I already possessed Stark’s book defending the Crusades, entitled God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades.

Here is the Introduction of that book, entitled “Greedy barbarians in armor?”:

ON NOVEMBER 27, 1095, Pope Urban II mounted a platform set up in a meadow outside the French city of Clermont, surrounded in all directions by an immense crowd. A vigorous man of fifty-three, Urban was blessed with an unusually powerful and expressive voice that made it possible for him to be heard at a great distance. On this memorable occasion, addressing a multitude that included poor peasants as well as nobility and clergy, the pope gave a speech that changed history.

Urban had arranged the gathering in response to a letter from Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium, who had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople. In his letter, the emperor detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts. Should Constantinople fall to the Turks, not only would thousands more Christians be murdered, tortured, and raped, but also “the most holy relics of the Saviour,” gathered over the centuries, would be lost. “Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring this city all the faithful soldiers of Christ … [I]n your coming you will find your reward in heaven, and if you do not come, God will condemn you.”

There were many reasons that Europeans might have ignored any plea for help from Byzantium. For one thing, their cultural heritage as well as their Christianity was Roman, while the Byzantines were Greeks, whose lifestyle seemed decadent to Europeans and whose “Orthodox” Christianity held Latin Catholicism in contempt – often persecuting its priests and practitioners. Nevertheless, when Pope Urban II read this letter he was determined that it be answered by worthy deeds, and he arranged for a church council at Clermont, which he followed with his famous speech.

Speaking in French, the pope began by graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks (he called them Persians): “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either pour on the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground … What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

At this point Pope Urban raised a second issue to which he and his illustrious predecessor Gregory VII had devoted years of effort – the chronic warfare of medieval times. The popes had been attempting to achieve a “truce of God” among the feudal nobility, many of whom seemed inclined to make war, even on their friends, just for the sake of a good fight. After all, it was what they had trained to do every day since early childhood. Here was their chance! “Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext … If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions … Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!”

Now, shouts of “Dieu li volt!” (God wills it!) began to spread through the crowd, and men began to cut up cloaks and other pieces of cloth to make crosses and sew them against their chests. Everyone agreed that the next year they would set out for the Holy Land. And they did.

That is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade began. But in recent times a far more cynical and sinister explanation of the Crusades has gained popularity. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists, frequent mention was made of the Crusades as a basis for Islamic fury. It was argued that Muslim bitterness over their mistreatment by the Christian West can be dated back to the First Crusade. Far from being motivated by piety or by concern for the safety of pilgrims and the holy places in Jerusalem, the Crusades were but the first extremely bloody chapter in a long history of brutal European colonialism.

More specifically, it is charged that the crusaders marched east not out of idealism, but in pursuit of lands and loot; that the Crusades were promoted by power-mad popes seeking to greatly expand Christianity through conversion of the Muslim masses; and that the knights of Europe were barbarians who brutalized everyone in their path, leaving “the enlightened Muslim culture … in ruins.” As Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., has suggested, “the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”

Two months after the attack of September 11, 2001, on New York City, former president Bill Clinton informed an audience at Georgetown University that “[tjhose of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” vis-à-vis the Crusades as a crime against Islam, and then summarized a medieval account about all the blood that was shed when Godfrey of Bouillon and his forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099.

That the Crusades were a terrible crime in great need of atonement was a popular theme even before the Islamic terrorists crashed their hijacked airliners. In 1999, the New York Times had solemnly proposed that the Crusades were comparable to Hitler’s atrocities or to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That same year, to mark the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem, hundreds of devout Protestants took part in a “reconciliation walk” that began in Germany and ended in the Holy Land. Along the way the walkers wore T-shirts bearing the message “I apologize” in Arabic. Their official statement explained the need for a Christian apology:

Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed, and hatred … the Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people … On the anniversary of the First Crusade … we wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds … We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Also in 1999, Karen Armstrong, a former nun and a popular writer on religious themes, proposed that “crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitantly condemn the Crusades as unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban.” Armstrong went on to propose that, in fact, “holy war is a deeply Christian act,” since Christianity has “an inherent leaning toward violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus.” And a prominent former priest, James Carroll, agreed, charging that the Crusades left a “trail of violence [that] scars the earth and human memory even to this day.”

These are not new charges. Western condemnations of the Crusades were widespread during the “Enlightenment,” that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the “Dark Ages” in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church (see chapter 3). Hence, Voltaire (1694-1778) called the Crusades an “epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” According to David Hume (1711-1776), the Crusades were “the most signal and most durable monument to human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) characterized the Crusades as “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly … to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants’ throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” These attacks also reinforced the widespread “Protestant conviction that crusading was yet another expression of Catholic bigotry and cruelty?” Thus the English historian Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) claimed that the Crusades were all the pope’s doing and that this “war would be the sewer of Christendom” in that it attempted to deprive the Muslims of their lawful possession of Palestine.

However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority … [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” Mosheim’s views were echoed by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), who claimed that the crusaders really went in pursuit of “mines of treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense.”

During the twentieth century, this self-interest thesis was developed into an elaborate “materialist” account of why the Crusades took place.” The prolific Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984) wrote: “[O]ur verdict on the Crusades [is that it amounted to] colonial exploitation.” Or, as Karen Armstrong confided, these “were our first colonies.” A more extensive and sophisticated material explanation of why the knights went east was formulated by Hans Eberhard Mayer, who proposed that the Crusades alleviated a severe financial squeeze on Europe’s “knightly class.” According to Mayer and others who share his views, at this time there was a substantial and rapidly growing number of “surplus” sons, members of noble families who would not inherit and whom the heirs found it increasingly difficult to provide with even modest incomes. Hence, as Mayer put it, “the Crusade acted as a kind of safety valve for the knightly class … a class which looked upon the Crusade as a way of solving its material problems.” Indeed, a group of American economists recently proposed that the crusaders hoped to get rich from the flow of pilgrims (comparing the shrines in Jerusalem with modern amusement parks) and that the pope sent the crusaders east in pursuit of “new markets” for the church, presumably to be gained by converting people away from Islam.” It is thus no surprise that a leading college textbook on Western civilization informs students: “From the perspective of the pope and European monarchs, the crusades offered a way to rid Europe of contentious young nobles … [who] saw an opportunity to gain territory, riches, status, possibly a title, and even salvation.”

To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, this had nothing to do with hopes of converting Islam. Nor were the Crusades organized and led by surplus sons, but by the heads of great families who were fully aware that the costs of crusading would far exceed the very modest material rewards that could be expected; most went at immense personal cost, some of them knowingly bankrupting themselves to go. Moreover, the crusader kingdoms that they established in the Holy Land, and that stood for nearly two centuries, were not colonies sustained by local exactions; rather, they required immense subsidies from Europe.

In addition, it is utterly unreasonable to impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval warfare; both Christians and Muslims observed quite different rules of war. Unfortunately, even many of the most sympathetic and otherwise sensible historians of the Crusades are unable to accept that fact and are given to agonizing over the very idea that war can ever be “just,” revealing the pacifism that has become so widespread among academics. Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. These are principal themes of the chapters that follow.

Historians disagree about which events were Crusades and therefore about when they occurred. I exclude the “crusades” against heretics in Europe and accept the conventional definition: that the Crusades involved conflicts between Christendom and Islam for control of the Holy Land, campaigns that occurred between 1095 and 1291. However, unlike most conventional Crusade historians, I shall not begin with the pope’s appeal at Clermont, but with the rise of Islam and the onset of the Muslim invasions of Christendom. That’s when it all started-in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. It also is important to examine the Christian counterattacks that began in the eighth century and soon “liberated” many of the occupied areas, for these were previews of the military confrontations that eventually took place in the Holy Land. Nor shall I merely recount the crusader battles, for they are comprehensible only in light of the superior culture and technology that made it possible for European knights to march more than twenty-five hundred miles, to suffer great losses along the way, and then to rout far larger Muslim forces.

Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades. I am not one of them. What I have done is synthesize the work of these specialists into a more comprehensive perspective, written in prose that is accessible to the general reader. However, I have been careful to fully acknowledge the contributions of the many experts on whom I have depended, some in the text and the rest in the endnotes.

Anton Howes on the Agglomerationists

I tried picking out bits of the recently penned essay by Anton Howes entitled The Agglomerationists, but it contains nothing I am willing to omit. Almost every sentence is something I find myself wanting to think about, out loud, here. Obliged quickly to name a single summary of what this blog of mine is all about, or is trying to be, I might very well just say: that.

Just as a for-instance what Howes says fits with what Stephen Davies has been saying on similar matters like two adjacent pieces of a puzzle.

So, here is “The Agglomerationists”, all of it. I’ll surely be referring back to this and quoting bits of it for quite some while:

The other day, economic historian Tim Leunig tagged me into a comment on twitter with the line “intellectually I think the biggest change since settled agriculture was the idea that most people could live in cities and not produce food”. What’s interesting about that, I think, is the idea that this was not just an economic change, but an intellectual one. In fact, I’ve been increasingly noticing a sort of ideology, if one can call it that, which seemingly took hold in Britain in the late sixteenth century and then became increasingly influential. It was not the sort of ideology that manifested itself in elections, or even in factions, but it was certainly there. It had both vocal adherents and strenuous opponents, the adherents pushing particular policies and justifying them with reference to a common intellectual tradition. Indeed, I can think of many political and economic commentators who are its adherents today, whether or not they explicitly identify as such.

Today, the people who hold this ideology will occasionally refer to themselves as “urbanists”. They are in favour of large cities, large populations, and especially density. They believe strongly in what economists like to call “agglomeration effects” — that is, if you concentrate people more closely together, particularly in cities, then you are likely to see all sorts of benefits from their interactions. More ideas, more trade, more innovation, more growth.

Yet urbanism as a word doesn’t quite capture the full scope of the ideology. The group also heavily overlaps with natalists — people who think we should all have more babies, regardless of whether they happen to live in cities — and a whole host of other groups, from pro-immigration campaigners, to people setting up charter cities, to advocates of cheaper housing, to enthusiasts for mass transit infrastructure like buses, trams, or trains. The overall ideology is thus not just about cities per se — it seems a bit broader than that. Given the assumptions and aims that these groups hold in common, perhaps a more accurate label for their constellation of opinions and interests would be agglomerationism.

So much for today. What is the agglomerationist intellectual tradition? In the sixteenth century, one of the mantras that keeps cropping up is the idea that “the honour and strength of a prince consists in the multitude of the people” — a sentiment attributed to king Solomon. It’s a phrase that keeps cropping up in some shape or form throughout the centuries, and used to justify a whole host of agglomerationist policies. And most interestingly, it’s a phrase that begins cropping up when England was not at all urban, in the mid-sixteenth century — only about 3.5% of the English population lived in cities in 1550, far lower than the rates in the Netherlands, Italy, or Spain, each of which had urbanisation rates of over 10%. Even England’s largest city by far, London, was by European standards quite small. Both Paris and Naples were at least three times as populous (don’t even mention the vast sixteenth-century metropolises of China, or Constantinople).

Given their lack of population or density, English agglomerationists had a number of role models. One was the city of Nuremburg — through manufactures alone, it seemed, a great urban centre had emerged in a barren land. Another was France, which in the early seventeenth century seemed to draw in the riches to support itself through sheer exports. One English ambassador to France in 1609 noted that its “corn and grain alone robs all Spain of their silver and gold”, and warned that it was trying to create still new export industries like silk-making and tapestry weaving. (The English rapidly tried to do the same, though with less success.) France may not have been especially urban either, but Paris was already huge and on the rise, and the country’s massive overall population made it “the greatest united and entire force of any realm or dominion” in Christendom. Today, the population of France and Britain are about the same, but in 1600 France’s was about four times as large. Some 20 millions compared to a paltry 5. If Solomon was right, then England had a lot of catching up to do to even approach France in honour.

Most important of all the role models, however, was the Dutch Republic. Here was a nation that could not possibly feed itself using its own land, but which nonetheless was extremely populous and wealthy. It made itself, as one English admirer put it, “powerful and rich in all kinds, by merchandise, manufactory, and fullness of trade, having no commodities in their own country growing”. With low tariffs and a vast merchant fleet, Amsterdam had become the global entrepôt, sucking in commodities from all across the world and then re-exporting them to the rest of Europe. And through high-value manufactures, it paid for whatever imports of raw materials it needed to support its population. It wove and dyed English wool into expensive fine cloth, then sold it back at a profit to the very English. It built its ships from Baltic timber, then used those ships to dominate the Baltic trade. Despite having “not a timber tree growing in their country”, they somehow still were able to build and maintain the largest merchant and fishing fleet in Europe. Observers even marvelled at how a country that produced hardly any grain of its own could relieve food shortages in England, which was usually a major grain exporter.

To emulate the Dutch, English agglomerationists recommended introducing high-value trades, not worrying too much about growing grain or timber at home, and boosting the size of the English merchant marine — all the better, too, to support the navy in times of war. The eating of fish, for example, was in 1563 made compulsory on Wednesdays. A straightforward way to support the English fishery as the “nursery” of its sailors. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was also considered ancient and prudent policy to ban any search for coal deposits near London, so that there would continue to be a reliable trade in coal from Newcastle-upon-Tyne by sea — this colliery trade was supposed to be a reliable economic backstop for all merchant mariners, to shield them from price fluctuations in whatever other trades they might ply.

Among the other Dutch characteristics to emulate was also a subjugation of nature to suit the needs of human commerce — draining marshes, making rivers navigable, and digging canals. A way to transform the inaccessible inland towns into centres of manufacture that could be supplied with grain from somewhere else. The Dutch had somehow reclaimed their land from the sea itself, so why not apply the same expertise to England, particularly by importing skilled Dutch engineers? Indeed, the English since at least the mid-sixteenth century had pursued a proactive policy of attracting talent from abroad. In doing so, they adopted yet another foreign agglomerationist policy — the patent monopoly, as practised in Venice — which was generally used to give skilled foreigners a temporary monopoly on high-value industries that they would introduce to the country. Venice, like Nuremberg, was yet another noted case of a city that had grown large despite lacking its own barren surroundings. As the statesman Thomas Smith put it in the late 1540s, the Venetians “if they may hear of any cunning craftsman in any faculty, they will find the means to allure him to dwell in their city”.

Then, as now, agglomerationists were generally in favour of immigration. They supported the invitation of religious refugees from the Netherlands and France throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of whom introduced luxury manufactures like silk-weaving. In less obvious cases, too, when the refugees were not as skilled, nor as Protestant, they made their case. Take 1709, when residents of the County Palatinate of the Rhine fled the onslaught of the invading French, with some 13-14,000 refugees making their way to London. Some people suggested moving them on, perhaps to Ireland or to the colonies in America. But Daniel Defoe — later famous as the author of Robinson Crusoe — had a much more ambitious, agglomerationist plan. He proposed that a city be created from scratch in the New Forest, near Southampton — an eighteenth-century charter city.

As far as Defoe was concerned, the forest was unoccupied wasteland, hardly touched by human hands. Yet it was in England, and in an area that could make the Palatinate refugees productive British citizens. His idea was to mark out 4,000 acres somewhere near the village of Lyndhurst, which would then be split among twenty Palatinate farmers and their families, who would then pay no rent or taxes for the first twenty years. The farmers would then be given some startup capital with which to build the city, employing and housing the other refugees as their workers. Defoe’s plan was extremely detailed, reading a bit like a blow-by-blow account of someone playing a city simulation video game: select so many workers and get them to cut some timber, then so many workers to build some houses, and so on. Unfortunately, however, it never happened. The anti-agglomerationist arguments on this occasion won out and the refugees were dispersed.

Nonetheless, in defending the plan, Defore has left us with one of the pithiest and clearest summaries of his ideology: “The more people, the more trade; the more trade, the more money; the more money, the more strength; and the more strength, the greater a nation.” It might as well have come from the pen of any number of urbanists, natalists, or other agglomerationists today.