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.

A twenty-first century moment

Central to understanding it is that I still don’t understand it.

Okay, so earlier this evening my phone rang. I picked it up, and said, to some suspiciously silent silence, “Hello”. No answer. “Hello”. No answer. Down goes the phone. Who was that? Oh well.

If this had been the twentieth century, this would have been a “crossed line”. But, I thought, this is not the twentieth century. This is the twenty-first century. Do we still have crossed lines? I rather think not. Oh well.

A bit later, the phone rings again, and it’s GodDaughter 2. I know this because I recognise her voice. (My phone has no idea who’s ringing.) I asked: Did you ring earlier? No.
Well, I said “Hello” and “Hello” to somebody, but heard nothing back. She said, in an “OMG” voice: Oh My God. I was just talking to my Dad, she said. And he said he heard you talking, she said. While we were talking, she said, on some twenty first century computer programme the name of which I (as in: not GD2 – as in: I) forget, but which I (ditto) surmise enables third parties to join in the conversation, so you can have a group chat. In among the talk between GD2 and GD2’s Dad, the phrase “ring Brian” was used, for some reason I didn’t catch and still don’t understand (see above). So, the programme promptly rang Brian, aka me. But I don’t have the programme on my twentieth century telephone, so I could hear nothing. But GD2’s Dad heard me saying “Hello” “Hello”.

Later, GD2’s Dad’s phone rang me again, and I answered, “Hello” “Hello” etc, and a strange young man’s voice came on saying what must have been “Who are you?”, while I was busy saying “Who are you?” GDs’s Dad’s phone had rung GD2’s Dad too, helpfully putting us in touch, given that it had failed last time. GD2’s brother aka GD2’s Dad’s son answered at that end, which make the whole situation really clear, to both of us. Not. Oh well. GD2’s Dad and I had a chat, because we are both polite and could neither of us just say: But I wasn’t trying to talk to you.

This must be what they call Artificial Intelligence.

Please understand (see above about how I don’t actually understand) that the above description is only my guess about what was really happening.

Locomotive with viewing gallery

I tried to load the photo here, but it seems that I am once again suffering from photo loading difficulties.

The photo in question is a of an historical (1910) steam locomotive with a carriage piggy-backing on it. It’s not a real carriage even though it looks like one from the outside, because slap in the middle of it, unless I am much mistaken, there is a regular locomotive type boiler. All you can do is stand beside the boiler and look out through the windows.

Would that this blog was a similarly effective viewing gallery. I hope that this will soon be sorted. Again.

Quota gallery from exactly one year ago

I’ll be doing a lot less of this sort of thing, just wandering about in London, photoing at will:

And yes, photoed on March 17th 2019, in and around Hay’s Galleria. Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard, all around there. Across the river, the Tower of London, no less.

The last photo is of that big lump of a building at the southern end of London Bridge, near to the Shard.

Also light fittings. I like London’s light fittings.

I also like that photo-posting here is back, after a short interruption.

March 17th 2019 was a date from that far off time before BMNB even existed, and galleries like this were tedious to do, and impossible for all you readers and viewers to click through conveniently, and above all quickly.

I’ll probably be doing quite a bit of catching up of this sort in the next few months, what with being stuck at home. As of now it looks like old geezers like me will be shouted at by the Fuzz, strictly from a distance you understand, to go home and to stay home.

Shopping for food or medicine will be tolerated. Just meandering about photoing, forget about it.

Corona Time

Yes: “Corona Time”. I just heard this phrase, from the all-the-rage-just-now Icelandic classical pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. He was being interviewed on Radio 3’s Music Matters, and talking about how he’ll be juggling his work during the next few months, in the face of the tornado of cancellations that he and others like him now face. Far fewer public performances and lots more time spent studying and practising, and recording.

A lot of people are about to have a lot of Corona Time in the next few months.

Some people are going to be more deranged than others. Basically, the more sociable you are, and the less solitary and virtual in the way you live, the worse it will be. I especially like this Babylon Bee title:

Nation’s Nerds Wake Up In Utopia Where Everyone Stays Inside, Sports Are Canceled, Social Interaction Forbidden

Nerds have always had lots of Corona Time.

LATER: More Corona Time advice. I have in mind to write, like he says.

Dogs in cars

Still no photos here, but lots of dogs in cars photos at Mick Hartley‘s. Hartley chose fifteen from the forty one which Martin Usborne posted here.

Says Usborne:

I was once left in a car at a young age. I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.

Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals …

When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark. In a sense, I was attempting to go back inside my car, to re-experience what I couldn’t bear as a child. …

Well worth a look, and a read. And worth a look also if you like quite ancient cars, as I do. There are many such cars in these photos. It would appear that Usborne has been photoing these photos for quite a while.

Farce repeating itself as farce

This is rather good:

Seriously, I remember back at Essex University in the early 1970s how the Lenin-with-hair tendency thought that the answer to every problem in the world then was to occupy something, fill it with rubbish and then bugger off and plan their next stupid occupation. They were tossers then, and they, their children and their grandchildren are tossers now. Farce repeating itself as farce.

It’s no surprise that I think it good, because I wrote it and posted it on Samizdata, in October 2011, in connection with the Occupy Movement. This was long enough ago for me to have completely forgotten having posted it. But I thought it good at the time, or I’d not have posted it. Everyone thinks what they post is good, or they should. I mean, if you don’t think that what you have just posted is good, why the hell did you post it?

I came across this when trying to find out how many mentions I have made on Samizdata about my time at Essex University, and in particular if I had ever told the story of how the student politicians wanted to give us Drama Society geeks a small grant, so that they could then take a large amount of credit for everything we had been doing. It seems that this story is yet to be told. I hope to tell it soon, but promise nothing. Short summary: we refused the grant.

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.

Steven Pinker: “Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity …”

See the world through Pinker-tinted spectacles than you may be inclined to:

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas.

My sentiments exactly.

That’s to be read on page 452 of my paperback edition of Enlightenment Now, Pinker’s most recent book.

Meanwhile:

Those were a couple of the day before yesterday’s headlines. Let’s hope it soon becomes yesterday’s news. Problems are, as Pinker says, solvable, and let’s hope this one too is soon sorted.

Pinker is particularly aware of the way that the news is in the habit of putting a pessimistic spin on everything. If it bleeds it leads, and so on. Good news, meanwhile, creeps up on the world more gradually.