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Subject: ‘Politics’

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The Cuban Missile Crisis was about not losing and saving face

Posted in America, Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Cold War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

Russian nuclear missile,  picture, image, illustration
Russian nuclear missile on a military parade in Red Square

On Sunday, 14th October 1962, a warm autumn day, an American U-2 plane returned from a reconnaissance flight over western Cuba. Rolls of negatives from its camera were rushed to processing laboratories and then to an interpretation centre where specialists peered at the blown-up photographs frame by frame.

By the next day, they had identified a launching pad, a series of buildings for ballistic missiles and a missile itself on the ground. At breakfast on Tuesday, John Kennedy, the American president saw the photographs They supported the reports of his intelligence agents, in Cuba and confirmed his worst fears. The Russians were installing nuclear weapons in Cuba.

How had the missiles come to be there? Since the revolution in Cuba which had brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba’s links with the East had grown stronger, while Castro himself had said of America: “Understanding is impossible.” But why should the Russians, who had never before placed nuclear missiles in another country, install them on an island many thousands of miles away from Russia, lying next to their main adversary, and governed by an avowed enemy of the United States?

It had been done as a trial of strength. For some time, a group of Russian leaders had been convinced that the Americans had become too rich, too soft and too liberal to fight; and that the Soviet Union could safely use its utmost nuclear force against them. Krushchev, the Soviet leader, did not agree with this view but he had to put it to the test. That was why he decided to install over sixty missiles with a range of up to 2,000 miles, right under the Americans’ noses.

This would double the Soviet potential striking force against America, and if America took no action in return, she would lose face throughout the world, particularly in other places, such as Berlin, where there was open confrontation between East and West.

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Plots and paranoia engulfed the reign of Ivan the Terrible

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Ivan the Terrible first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 594 published on 2 June 1973.

Ivan the Terrible,  picture, image, illustration
Ivan the Terrible

The eight-year-old boy stared down from the high Kremlin tower at the Red Square far below. His mother, the Empress Helen, put her arm round his thin hunched shoulders. “Never forget,” she said “that you are the true Czar of Russia. All that you see before you now – Moscow and the Kremlin – was built by your father and your grandfather. They ruled sternly but wisely. In time you will have to do the same.”

The empress spoke sadly. She knew that the future would not be easy for her son. A nobleman, Prince Shuisky, was already clamouring for power. And perhaps, too, she had some strange presentiment of her own fate. For next morning, her features contorted in agony, the Empress Helen was found murdered in her bed, poisoned by an unknown hand.

Czar Ivan the Fourth was alone. Later, history was to brand him as Ivan the Terrible. But for the moment he was a defenceless child, surrounded by the intrigues of the Russian Court.

When Ivan’s father had remarried against the wishes of the Church, the Church Patriarch had told him that any child of that marriage would be evil and would bathe his country in blood. That prediction was to come terrifyingly true.

Ivan’s father had died a few years later. Ivan had succeeded him as Czar at the tender age of three, his mother ruling in his name. And now his mother was dead, and there was only the power-hungry Prince Shuisky.

Ivan had a certain instinct of royalty. He knew that he was rightfully Czar, but that for the moment he was just a child. He must be patient, he must wait. The waiting was not easy. Prince Shuisky made certain of that. Ivan was brought up within the royal Russian Court but was allowed little pleasure. The people and the nobles knew that Ivan was Czar but they knew too the power of Prince Shuisky. His word was law. Ivan was kept in the background. Prince Shuisky openly taunted and bullied him, while his followers insulted and ignored the boy.

But there still remained within the child that sense of majesty and the knowledge that one day he would be Czar.

The years passed. It seemed that Prince Shuisky ruled supreme and that Ivan was a forgotten prince. And then, at the age of thirteen – grown old before his time because of those years of torment and humiliation, Ivan suddenly turned upon Prince Shuisky. He denounced the man as a usurper and demanded that he be given his rightful punishment. The people realised that Ivan’s royal blood was asserting itself. His demand was obeyed, Prince Shuisky was arrested, and at Ivan’s command, he was thrown to the royal hounds and torn to pieces.

Prince Shuisky was dead. Long live Ivan the Fourth!

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The Old Palace of Westminster in London about 1530

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Politics on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Old Palace of Westminster, picture, image, illustration
The Old Palace of Westminster about 1530 by Peter Jackson

This historically accurate drawing shows a reconstruction of the Old Palace of Westminster in the reign of Henry VIII. It is a bird’s eye view from the north east showing the Old Palace itself, with its waterfront and the Westminster jetty or landing stage. There was no bridge over the Thames at Westminster until Labelye’s Westminster Bridge was completed in 1750. To the right can be seen the clock tower in what is New Palace Yard, and in the background rises the impressive Gothic majesty of Westminster Abbey, and in the distant corner the Holbein Gate. Westminster Hall sits at the centre, the oldest extant building of the Old Palace, which still stands today at the heart of Britain’s history and political establishment, over 900 years since it was built.

Many more pictures relating to the City of Westminster, London, can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Frederick the Great, the warrior-king of Prussia

Posted in Historical articles, History, Music, Philosophy, Politics, Royalty, War on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about Frederick the Great first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.

Frederick the Great, picture, image, illustration
Frederick the Great with Count Agarotti (far left) and Voltaire (right) in the music room of his palace at Sans Souci by Roger Payne

“My motto is ‘Die or conquer.’ In other cases there is a middle course; in mine there is none.” The speaker was Frederick the Great, King of Prussia; writer, philosopher, poet, musician and one of the greatest military strategists Europe has ever produced.

For the most part Frederick did conquer; at least he never had to carry out the implied threat of suicide in his motto. But after plunging all Europe into a continuous turmoil of war in the 18th century – in the Seven Years War alone he was involved in 17 major battles – it is interesting to reflect upon what Frederick has left in Europe nearly 200 years after his death.

His kingdom of Prussia in North Germany no longer exists. His famous palace of Sans Souci at Potsdam lies, almost inaccessible to western travellers, behind the Iron Curtain. And the land of Silesia, in the 18th century a country in its own right for which Frederick fought for two decades, has now been swallowed up as a part of Poland.

Only Frederick’s name and his achievements, rather than his possessions, remain of any use to Western Europe. Certainly the greatest of those achievements was that he gave to the German people a sense of unity. A German historian has said of him: “He not only raised his country to the rank of a great power, but he also lighted for it a torch of truth so powerful that the way to further light and glory can be missed only by the most reckless carelessness.”

It was this greatness, this “torch of truth” which gave the Germans pride in themselves, which led on to their great contribution to the worlds of science and art, and in particular music, in the 19th century.

Yet astonishingly, Frederick had little personal preference either for German people or German things. When he founded an Academy of Sciences in Prussia it was a French Academy, using the French language. When he wrote, it was always in French, the language he preferred to speak. He paid Frenchmen twice as much as Germans. After his first meeting with Voltaire, the French poet and philosopher who subsequently became a great friend, he wrote joyously, “I have now seen the two things nearest my heart – the French army and Voltaire.”

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Sun Yat Sen – the revolutionary the Manchus feared

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about China first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

Sun Yat Sen,  picture, image, illustration
Dr Sun Yet Sin was a Chinese revolutionary, first president and founding father of the Republic of China

“Look at the idol. Do not lower your eyes. No harm will come to you. The idol has no power over your lives – and those who say it has, lie to you!”

The onlookers gaped in awe at the speaker, a short, wiry pig-tailed Chinese, like themselves in physical appearance but evidently without any sense in his head. They gasped even more loudly as the little man strode briskly forward and, seizing one of the idol’s wooden fingers, snapped it off.

Dismayed, the onlookers prostrated themselves on the ground. Their idol, in the temple of the village of Choy Hung, had not been desecrated like this in a thousand years.

Those who had the strength to do so, fled from the temple into the village streets, covering their eyes as if to blot out the vision of the sacrilege. Mothers called their children to their skirts and bundled them indoors and out of sight. There the awed children were told to behave themselves, or Sun Yat Sen, the devil-man who attacked the gods themselves, would eat them for his supper.

Sun Yat Sen stood alone in the empty temple, then, angrily throwing the broken piece of the idol on to the floor, he stormed out. It was going to be harder than he had even imagined to awaken his countrymen from centuries of sleep – to convey to them somehow that they were alive in the nineteenth century.

The principal object of Sun Yat Sen’s resentment was the Manchu dynasty of Chinese emperors, which had ruled his country for more than 250 years. The Manchus had descended upon China from the north-east in 1644 and had quickly subjugated the country.

Of course, the Chinese were as bitter about this as all conquered peoples are, and the Manchus imposed a cruel and despotic form of government to quieten them. They ordered all the Chinese men, for instance, to grow their hair long enough to form a queue, or “pigtail,” which was to be plaited and left hanging over their shoulders. The idea of this was that if there was any civil disturbance the Chinese would be easily identifiable from the Manchus.

As the years passed, the pigtail custom came to be accepted and men even took pride in the length of their pigtails. But the Manchus tightened their grip on China, and the Chinese continued to live in servitude to their foreign masters.

Another object of Sun Yat Sen’s resentment was the great privileges the ruling dynasty gave to foreigners living in China. Those living in certain towns were not even subjected to Chinese law. Sun Yat Sen brooded heavily on such unfair happenings and decided that Manchu imperialism was at the root of China’s backwardness and that only a republic of the people would make the country speedily prosperous.

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Cromwell – the man who would not be King

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about Oliver Cromwell first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

 Cromwell refusing the Crown,  picture, image, illustration
Oliver Cromwell refusing the Crown of England, 1657 by Thomas Maguire (after)

Oliver Cromwell was well aware, when he came back to London after fighting all his battles in the Civil War, that the crown of Britain was his just for the asking.

But did he want to be Britain’s king?

We shall never really know, for some people say that Cromwell privately schemed to get himself crowned, but never took the crown because he wasn’t sure of keeping it, while others say he scorned any desire to become king. Whatever was in his mind, Britain must have been very near to having a King Oliver the First!

For a long time Cromwell urged the feeble Rump Parliament to dissolve itself and call an election. One day, however, a messenger came to his house and told him about a debate being held in Parliament.

Cromwell hastened along to the House of Commons and found to his astonishment that far from disbanding itself, the Rump was discussing ways in which it could keep itself in office indefinitely!

Cromwell rose to speak. For a time his speech was calm. Then he became angry.

“I will put an end to this prating!” he burst out suddenly. “Heavens! It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You shall now give place to better men. Call them in!”

At this command a body of musketeers entered the House and stood there by Cromwell with their muskets loaded.

Bitterly Cromwell went on: “How can you be a Parliament for God’s people? Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God – go!”

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Women’s suffrage dominated Edwardian domestic politics

Posted in Historical articles, History, Law, Politics on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about women’s suffrage first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Votes for women,  picture, image, illustration
Votes for Women

“We are assembled here,” cried an Edwardian lady among others assembled outside the Houses of Parliament, “not as lawbreakers, but to show our determination to become law-makers.”

“Women in Revolt” was a headline above a newspaper article of the early 1900s, describing the goings on of the Women’s Social and Political Union founded in 1903, and whose members were soon to be known as the Suffragettes.

The man in the street called these ladies “The Revolting Women.” “Revolting” they may have been to most males in a male-dominated world, but these ladies meant business as they started to disturb the peace of the Edwardian half-golden scene. They were a noisy nuisance which, said society, ought to be swept under the carpet. Even the King himself, broad-minded though he was, had fixed ideas about the proper place of women.

In 1907 the King wrote to the Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman: “I rejoice to see that you put your foot down regarding the Channel Tunnel . . . I only wish you could have done the same regarding Female Suffrage. The conduct of the so-called Suffragettes has really been so outrageous and does their cause (for which I have no sympathy) much harm.”

Oddly enough, we have to go back to the United States of the 1840s and ’50s for the first visible signs of women fighting for equal rights. In Seneca Falls, a small town in New York State, Mrs Amelia Bloomer created for women a new style of dress, consisting roughly of a knee-length skirt beneath which, fastened at the ankle, was a ballooning pair of Turkish-style trousers. This immodesty of Mrs Bloomer’s, which gave women greater freedom of movement, went hand-in-hand with her campaigning for Temperance (prohibition of alcohol) and for Women’s Rights in general. “Bloomers” came in handy for the bicycling craze both in the States and in Britain, and were known as the “Rational Dress.”

The Rational Dress did not widely catch on. Like most gestures made by women – the “second-class citizens” – they were held in derision by the “superior sex.” They were a bit of a joke, these bloomers, but the “new woman” was not. She was going places. In 1901, when Edward the Peace-maker came to the throne, there were already over 200 female doctors, in practice and nearly 150 dentists. Chartered accountants and lawyers were on the way, and, on a lower scale, there were over 3,000 female telephonists – an occupation deemed highly suitable for the fair sex. But the average weekly wage for a working woman in a factory was little more than 7/6d (37 ½ p) per week. And she had no voice in the matter. What she wanted most of all was to be able to vote for such a voice in Parliament.

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La Fayette fought for Washington before the French Revolution

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about La Fayette first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.

La Fayette,  picture, image, illustration
La Fayette

“I wish to fight beside Washington, I want no pay and I will purchase a ship to take me to America.” These words from a 19-year-old Frenchman astonished the American envoys, who had arrived in France in 1776 to seek help for the rebel Congress. Among the French volunteers, who came forward La Fayette was unique. He was a Marquis, immensely rich, a Cavalier in the King’s Musketeers and a Captain in the Regiment de Noailles.

La Fayette was as good as his word. He did fight beside Washington, who was so taken by the young Frenchman he called him “my adopted son.” La Fayette modelled his life on Washington’s. He served with distinction, was wounded in the Battle of Brandywine and led an army in the Virginian campaign which virtually ended the War of Independence.

La Fayette’s political ideas were formed by the American Revolution where the issue was the clear-cut one of the birth of a new nation. It took him the rest of his life to discover they could not be transferred wholesale to feudal, tradition-bound France. When the French Revolution came, with all its confusion and intrigues, he threw himself into the struggle. Against his own republican views he defended King Louis XVI throughout, vainly hoping to make of him a constitutional monarch.

La Fayette had returned – “The Hero of the American Revolution” to a France that was bankrupt. By 1789 the national debt had reached four and a half billion livres. Then, by refusing any more loans, financiers and bankers of Europe gave in effect the signal for revolution. King Louis was forced to call for help from the only body resembling a Parliament, the “States-General” a body of three “houses,” Nobles, Clergy and Commoners. It had not met since 1614. The States-General of 1789 was soon dominated by the Commoners who elected La Fayette chairman and pronounced themselves a National Assembly.

The road to revolution was paved with gold. Mostly, the gold of the Duke of Orleans, the richest noble in France, a distant cousin of the King, who schemed to usurp the throne. At different times, the Queen, the King’s brother and even the King of Prussia, were pouring out money to stir up riots. Against a background of plots and counter-plots, La Fayette stood out as a simple, honest man trying to cut a way through a web of conspiracies.

Although there is some historical dispute about the matter, it has been put forward that Orleans’ first coup was the Storming of the Bastille, the symbol in Paris of the King’s power. The people of Paris, destitute because of the crisis, could be hired to serve anyone who wanted a riot – and could pay for it. Orleans could pay. This blow shook the nation. The City Council set up a “National Guard” of 12,000 men under La Fayette’s command.

Overnight La Fayette became the most powerful man in France, Chairman of the Assembly, Commander of the Paris National Guard with 20,000 armed Parisians to back them up and with National Guards being formed in every city. He could have seized power but he had been chosen because everyone knew he would not. Day after day, in person he dispersed the riots and he did it, not with guns, but by haranguing the mobs to support Liberty and Justice and not to disgrace him by massacring their victims.

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The surrender of General Robert E. Lee was the end of a dream

Posted in America, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about the American Civil War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.

The surrender of Lee, , picture, image, illustration
General Ulysses Grant accepting the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox by Severino Baraldi

The army of Northern Virginia – what was left of it – was at bay. Under its commander, General Robert E. Lee, it had won battle after battle throughout the long years of the American Civil War. But now the South, after its early successes, had been ground down by the overwhelming numbers of the North and its industrial might; and even its finest army under its incomparable leader could fight no more.

There were only 27,000 men left of the Army of Northern Virginia that day, Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, and of that number only around 8,000 were fit to fight. The Southern troops, also known as the Confederates, because they belonged to the breakaway Confederate States of America, had been retreating for weeks; and the terrible strain and the spectre of starvation had caused many to abandon their weapons, some even to desert.

In any other army, they would have deserted in droves, but the Army of Northern Virginia was like no other army, just as its leader was like no other leader. Robert E. Lee, a century after his death, remains, with Abraham Lincoln, President of the Union during the Civil War, the most beloved figure in American history, not so much because he was a great general but because he was a great and noble man, greatly loved. When the war had broken out in 1861, a war caused because the Southern states wanted to run their own affairs, which included slavery, and because the North wanted to preserve the Union, Lee had been offered command of both armies. He did not believe in slavery himself, but he decided to side with his state of Virginia rather than his country. He believed in the states’ rights.

Although tall and as handsome as a storybook king, he was now a tired man of 58, whose hair had turned white during the war. He knew the game was up when his opponent, General Ulysses S. Grant, 15 years younger and a dogged, brilliant leader of men, first called on him to surrender on April 7. With over 100,000 men under him, Grant was the master of the situation.

On the 7th, Lee had refused, but by the 9th, with his starving army at Appomattox Court House, a sleepy village in Virginia with few buildings except the house that gave it its name, Lee was ready to surrender. He sent a flag of truce and a message to Grant, suggesting they meet at a house owned by a man named McLean, and Grant agreed.

Lee, in his full dress uniform, was the first to arrive on his splendid grey charger Traveller, being accompanied only by his military secretary, Colonel Charles Marshall. Grant, in mud-covered private’s clothes with the bars of a Lieutenant-General on his shoulders, arrived at 1.30. The two men shook hands and talked of old times before the war, then they got down to business.

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Edward VII reigned over an Empire on which the sun was soon to set

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, World War 1 on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about King Edward VII first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.

Edward VII and Alexandra,  picture, image, illustration
Edward VII was coolly received by the Parisians, but they soon warmed to him and Queen Alexandra, by Clive Uptton

Towards the end of King Edward the Seventh’s reign – he died in 1910 – a London couple, sensitive and intelligent, found themselves in the small hours of the morning, standing on a balcony of a great house where a splendid ball was all but over. There was a hush over the city and stars were bright in the sky. They stood in silence for a while, and then the wife said: “Do you feel something dreadful is going to happen?”

Her husband took her arm. “Yes,” he said. “What it will be I don’t know, but it’s coming.”

The “it” turned out to be the most senseless and meaningless holocaust in history. They called it The Great War. But, in the meantime, there upon the throne, growing paunchier month by month and smoking more and more cigars, sat Edward the “Peacemaker,” “Good Old Teddy.” The men and women in the streets could almost be heard chanting: “There’ll be no war as long as we’ve a king like good King Edward.”

Edward, of course, like all constitutional monarchs since earlier rougher days “reigned but did not rule.” And he reigned in a most human and humane manner. One of his very first acts was to turn one wing of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s marine residence in the Isle of Wight, into a convalescent home for officers. The King Edward’s Hospital Fund called into being both a hospital for officers in London, and, at Midhurst in Surrey, the famous sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers. By these things is he remembered, and for his declaration, “My greatest ambition is not to quit this world until a real cure for cancer has been found.”

An ambition which, alas, he did not achieve.

What he did achieve was to make Britain reasonably well respected, if not actually loved, in the eyes of most of the world after the end of the Boer War. Although this whole miserable business was virtually over just before Edward came to the throne, and the main Boer armies defeated, handfuls of those annoying Dutch farmers just wouldn’t give in. Like angry hornets, the Boer “commandos” under their brilliant guerrilla leader, General de Wet, went on harassing the military might of Britain. Only by dividing the country into areas, and studding them with over 8,000 block-houses, did Lord Kitchener finally prevail.

But Britain had become almost the laughing-stock of the civilised world. Most of Europe was pro-Boer, and, what was even more embarrassing quite a multitude of British people were as well. It was not the happiest of situations which Edward inherited.

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