Visualizing The Great War

On March 21st, 1918, at 7:15 AM, a charge ignited deep within a monstrosity of steel and concrete buried into the hills of Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique. A 234 lb. shell launched, shredding the lining of the barrel as it punched into the atmosphere. Above the French countryside it rose, higher and higher, five miles, ten, fifteen, twenty-five. Then it fell, stooped like a hawk. At 7:18 AM, the shell slammed into the Quai de la Seine, a full 80 miles away from where it had begun. This was the Paris Gun, and the first man-made object to penetrate the stratosphere.

War had reached new new heights.

The way the history of WWI is taught really bugs me, because it’s nearly always so limited. Nearly everyone only learns about trench warfare on the Western Front, submarine raiding in the Atlantic, maybe the Russian Revolution. The Great War was fought at greater heights than any before, as well as greater depths. Geographically, fighting occurred near or on every continent. Culturally, the armies of the First World War were more heterogeneous than any war fought before the creation of trans-national empires could. On the Western Front alone, the Allied Powers fielded soldiers and laborers from France, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia, Portugal, Senegal, Algeria, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia, the United States, Siam, Indochina, India, and China.

To attempt to help rectify this, I decided to try to create a visualization of the war, a map showing just how widespread and all-encompassing this conflict was. And to make this post slightly less self-indulgent, I included a selection of historical maps relating to the war I think help illustrate my point.

Click ‘View Image’ to Embiggen

Same As Above

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Feminist Folk Music: Does It Exist?

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FOLK MUSIC

One of the more tedious forms of mass-produced think-pieces in our internet era is “Is [surprising and unexpected piece of pop cultural ephemera] actually a feminist masterpiece?” At the risk of falling into this I’d like to pose the following question: Is folk music feminist? Well, the answer is no because folk music is a massive category of musical styles and forms stretching back hundreds of years so it’s far too broad a category to draw conclusions about. But let’s restate the question. Is folk music more feminist than people give it credit for? And I’d say yes, yes it is. The usual disclaimers here apply, I am an asexual man, take my opinions about feminist issues and sexual politics with a grain of salt, etc, etc but I really do think that within the vast corpus of folk music exists a number of surprisingly feminist themes.

This may seems surprising, given that folk music is the music of old white people. But folk music is also an extremely populist genre. Though the term is now used to refer to an entire style of music, technically it refers to music of traditional or unknown authorship, music passed from generation to generation orally, music written by communities about their daily lives. This is why I’ve always loved traditional music, because it has the capacity to cut to the core of people’s hopes and dreams in a way nothing else does. Women are people. Women are actually a lot of people! And women wrote and sung and passed down songs as much as men ever did. That’s not to say that all folks songs about women have progressive messages. The number of songs cheerfully recounting men murdering their girlfriends/wives/random women/etc is sort of astounding, just for example. But you also have folk songs forthrightly laying out condemnations of the institution of marriage, folk songs acknowledging women’s sexual agency, and folk songs about defiance, about spitting in the eye of those who would attempt to control you.

That’s what I want to talk about today.

(Trigger Warning: Violence against women, sexual assault, rape)

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“There is no Tsar! There is no God!”

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A Painting Of Bloody Sunday

January 22nd, 1905.

This is the day the Russian Empire fell.

Oh, the corpse shambled on for another twelve years, but it’s soul was dead, gunned down by soldiers outside the Narva Gate and on the Nevsky Prospect.

Let’s start at the beginning.

1904 had not been a good year for Russia, for reasons that were not new. The rapid pace of industrialization had created a peasant proletariat in the cities, beaten down by the managers and owners and seething with resentment. The bourgeois middle class that should have supported the state against the poor resented the Imperial Government’s autocratic grip on power. Strikes and labor stoppages became more and more common in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as did support for socialists, anarchists, and other subversive groups. Meanwhile, the children of the privileged increasingly turned to revolutionary terrorism, and the number of nobles and generals shot down or blown up increased exponentially. Finally, the spark: war with Japan had begun in the Far East and it was not going well. The Russo-Japanese War was supposed to be, in the words of Interior Minister Plehve “a short, victorious war” that would restore the people’s confidence in the Tsar and his government. Instead, Japan had delivered a series of humiliating defeats to the Russian armies and was even now driving deep into Manchuria. Casualties were reported to have been in the hundreds of thousands. Plehve did not appreciate the depth of his failure, as a Jewish terrorist had thrown a bomb into his carriage last July.

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Woodrow Wilson Was The Absolute Worst

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Worse Than Hitler

I am a man who hates Woodrow Wilson. That is a central part of my identity. This may not be a thing to be proud of, but it is a thing that is true nevertheless. There’s been a shift in recent years, with President Wilson’s prior status as a progressive icon substantially revised, but I don’t think this revisionism goes far enough. Thus, I will take on the heavy burden myself. Today, in my magnum opus, I will attempt to enumerate the many reasons that Wilson was a Bad Person.

(1) Woodrow Wilson Was A White Supremacist: Wilson believed in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race, and as President, he took actions to secure it. Under his administration, the Navy Department, the Treasury, and the Post Office were segregated for the first time. He was an open supporter of segregation throughout the south, declaring that “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen” when African-American leaders protested the discriminatory treatment of Black soldiers in the U.S. Army during the Great War. Though 100,000s of African-Americans served during the war, they were kept segregated in units with all-white officers and the vast majority were placed in noncombat positions. Wilson also wrote defenses of the KKK and of public lynchings, believing them to be necessary for the defense of the South during Reconstruction. Internationally, Wilson opposed all efforts at decolonization or self-determination for anyone who was not white. Misconception over this in East Asia had unfortunate results. W.E.B DuBois refereed to the Wilson Administration as “The worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that blacks had experienced since the Civil War.”

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The Roads Not Taken: Part Two

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More Alternate History! Huzzah!

For every decision made, there was an alternative. For every plan put into action, for every policy enacted or project begun, there was another option that was put aside instead. History is littered with the desiccated remains of these alternatives, each one bearing within it the seed of another history or timeline. Their details are unknowable, but we can often catch glimpses of what might have been. This of course is the basis of alternate history, one of my favorite genres of fiction. However, alternate history scenarios usually start from a new reality and work their way backwards to a divergent point in time that could have created it. ‘What if the South won the Civil War?’ ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ In this series, I’d like to do something a little different.

Instead of looking at different ways events could have turned out, I’ll be examining specific, concrete historical proposals that would have radically changed the direction of history but, for whatever reason, were never carried out. Each of these schemes were put forward at historical junctures, were examined and considered, and then–cast by the wayside. Usually for good reason, if I’m being honest. In today’s edition, we’ll be looking at proposals that were big, both in their execution and in their implications. I hope you find these as fascinating as I do.

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The Greater War

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An Excellent Book

This is not one of those blog posts where I astound my loyal audience with my feats of insight and original thought, this is one of those blog posts where I say “Hey! I read this book, let me tell you about it at great length”. I trust you will forgive me.

In my junior year at Brandeis University, I attended a conference on ‘World War One And The Aesthetics of Empire’. Held in an auditorium on campus, it was attended by a few dozen professors, graduate students–and I, the only undergrad to wander in. I had come because there was free food and a lecture on zeppelins, I ended up staying for the entire day because the first presentation, by Professor Erz Manela, completely changed the way I thought about the First World War. Later, I bought the book of essays that he based his lecture on (seen above), and was fully convinced. The idea he and his compatriots argue on behalf, sometimes called ‘The Greater War theory’, is deceptively simple. Contrary to what we all learned in school, WWI did not begin in August of 1914 and end on November 11th, 1918. Instead, it began in September of 1911 and did not conclude until July, 1923. Or rather, the global crisis of Imperialism that the First World War is merely the epicenter of began and ended on those dates.

I like this theory because I think it fully grasps the magnitude of World War One. This was not just a Great Power War like the Napoleonic Wars or the Seven Years War or the War of Austrian Succession, this was a cataclysmic crisis that shook Western Civilization to the core. No Great Power War before this had ended with the outright collapse of four of the world’s most dynastic empires or had so profoundly changed the global geopolitical situation. But I also like it because I think it speaks to a fundamental truth: between 1911 and 1923, there was pretty much constant warfare in Europe and the Near East. It seems almost silly to carve out four specific years from that decade of death and say “Here. These are the true war, nothing else is important”. But this post isn’t really an attempt to ‘prove’ the Greater War Theory–I don’t have the qualifications for that–it’s an attempt to explain it, to lay out what I think is is so interesting and important about it, and to draw out some of the implications. That said, let’s look at these thirteen tumultuous years in some more detail.

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The New Eighteenth Century

Among those concerned by the incoming Trump Administration, one of the most common appellations for our time has become “The New Gilded Age”. This is quite apt, what with plutocratic interests on the verge of rolling back worker’s rights and protections across the board, supported by a subservient ruling political class. But I would argue that the situation is perhaps even worse. The clock is not just being turned back to the late 19th century, in many ways we are returning to the 18th century. This is not true in every way of course–I do not foresee the return of outright slavery or the monarchy–but the likely outcome of the various GOP assaults on the franchise is a version of ‘democracy’ in which the various reforms made to Western Democracy over the last two centuries are abolished.

More simply put, rural constituencies will have vastly more representation than urban constituencies, districts will be well-shaped so as to be dominated by a few families and businesses, the voter rolls will be well purged of People of Color, students, and anyone else who falls afoul of the increasingly restrictive laws, and an aristocratic class will dominate our political affairs. None of these concerns are new to Americans. But while we talk of gerrymandering and voter suppression, we fail to realize that these are merely new words for rotten boroughs and property requirements. Or at least, while they may differ in the technicalities, they retain virtually the same function: to maintain electoral power in the hands of the elite.

Much of the political history of the 19th century is the story of how brave reformers fought to take the inchoate democracy of the parliaments and assemblies of the 18th century and hammered it into something actually democratic. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll (mostly) restrict myself to one example: the Representation of the People Act of 1832. This was the first step in the (very, very long) process of reforming the British Parliament, and virtually everything it tried to fight against is something advocated by the modern Republican Party.

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First Page of the 1832 Reform Bill

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Napoleonic Victory Fragments

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The League of Europe, 1815

I’m currently working on a real post about Napoleon Bonaparte filled with actual history but as that has been delayed due to various reasons, I’ve decided to tide over my hordes of screaming fans with some creative writing. These are my Napoleonic Victory Fragments! The conceit is that they are excepts from history books written in a world where Napoleon won. I hope you find them amusing. 

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CHAPTER THREE: THE CONGRESS OF FRANKFURT (1814)

The degree to which the Continental System and associated French economic warfare brought about the British capitulation has long been debated, and this volume will not abstain from that discussion. Still, the deciding blow to British counsels certainly came on the 21st of June, 1813, at the Battle of Vitoria. When news reached London that the largest British army yet put into the field had been routed, and that the Marquess of Wellington was dead, financial markets plummeted. When, mere weeks later, word arrived that American troops had destroyed York, the capitol of Upper Canada, spirits sunk even lower. The news that Sir Thomas Graham had surrendered the remnants of the Anglo-Spanish army at Bilbo on July 11th was the final straw, and the Cabinet voted to agree to discuss the possibility of a peace settlement. It was not that British war capacity was exhausted that brought about this decision, but that it had become apparent that a British victory would take decades more. No more continental powers remained to take the field against the Corsican: Prussia was broken beyond recovery, Austria was bound to France by ties of marriage, and the Franco-Russian Alliance had proven surprisingly resilient. Finally shorn of puppets, British arms had dared take the field against the Titan—and had been cast down. Today, Britain’s concession seems foredoomed, but we should remember that even then peace negotiations could have broken down……

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The Roads Not Taken: Part One

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Alternate History! Wheeeeeee!

For every decision made, there was an alternative. For every plan put into action, for every policy enacted or project begun, there was another option that was put aside instead. History is littered with the desiccated remains of these alternatives, each one bearing within it the seed of another history or timeline. Their details are unknowable, but we can often catch glimpses of what might have been. This of course is the basis of alternate history, one of my favorite genres of fiction. However, alternate history scenarios usually start from a new reality and work their way backwards to a divergent point in time that could have created it. ‘What if the South won the Civil War?’ ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ In this series, I’d like to do something a little different.

Instead of looking at different ways events could have turned out, I’ll be examining specific, concrete historical proposals that would have radically changed the direction of history but, for whatever reason, were never carried out. Each of these schemes were put forward at historical junctures, were examined and considered, and then–cast by the wayside. Usually for good reason, if I’m being honest. In today’s edition, we’ll be looking at proposals that were unknown until their recent rediscovery, decades after their creation. I hope you find these as fascinating as I do.

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The Final Definitive Ranking Of All U.S Presidents

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United States Presidential Seal

It’s what it says in the title folks. As Barack Obama is the very last president of the United States of America, THERE’S NOBODY AFTER HIM, NOPE, THAT’S IT, THAT’S THE END, I thought it worthwhile to compile a final ranking of all of our presidents. The list is divided into four tiers:

(1) ‘Presidents Who Made America Better, Mostly’: 1–12

(2) ‘Flawed Presidents Who Still Did Alright I Guess’: 13–20

(3) ‘Presidents Who Just Showed Up And Did Their Job’: 21–33

(4) ‘Presidents Who Made America Worse’: 34–43

This list has been devised with scientific precision, based on a combination of gut instinct and quick scans of numerous Wikapedia pages. It is a 100% objective historical fact, and will not be gainsaid.

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