Posts Tagged ‘February 8’

But What If David Is Meaner Than Goliath?

Posted in General, On This Day on February 8th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

February 8, 1904:  Remember Port Arthur!

In Japan today, there probably are a half-dozen or so 125 year-olds celebrating this anniversary of the Russo-Japanese War. It is unlikely that there are similar commemorations in Russia. First, you don’t celebrate a defeat. More importantly, Russia had trouble keeping its troops alive in 1904; so the odds of anyone surviving another century of Tsarist incompetence, Soviet brutality, and the damn Russian climate would be very unlikely.

The Russo-Japanese War could be described as a fight between two vultures. The decaying corpse happened to be Korea. However, Japan was the more popular vulture. The American and British publics were rooting for it; my grandmother remembered pep songs for the Japanese. Japan’s imperialism was not necessarily more endearing than Russia’s, but the Little Bully seemed preferable to the Big Bully. For 90 years, ever since Waterloo finally pacified the French, the chief aim of British foreign policy was to contain Russian expansion.

The British and Russians were fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan, Persia, and the Balkans. They fought a real one in the Crimea. And to frustrate Russian expansion in the Pacific, Britain formed an alliance with that up-and-coming little power Japan. Of course, the British lent their unmatched expertise in training the Japanese navy. Furthermore, the British assistance was not merely academic. How do you think that the Japanese knew the exact movements of the Russian fleets?

On this day in 1904, Japan started the war with a surprise attack on the Russian base at Pearl…Port Arthur in Korea. The Japanese army soon overran all of Korea and then proceeded to bash the Russians in Manchuria. The war lasted 19 months; the Russians did not win a single battle. Worse, the disastrous incompetence of the Tsarist government led to rioting in Russian cities, mutinies in the armed forces and demands for reform that would drag Russia at least into the 18th century.

But even Japan was suffering from the cost of war–literally. For all its victories, it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Modern war is expensive, and British assistance had not included blank checks. So both countries were ready for peace: Russia was tired of losing, and Japan was just tired. Despite the fact that Teddy Roosevelt looked somewhat Japanese, he was the accepted mediator for the peace negotiations which occurred at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The ensuing treaty established Japan’s hegemony over Korea; no, the Koreans were not at the conference.

Russia was so thoroughly humiliated that Britain finally felt that it could stop worrying about the Tsarist Empire. Indeed, Whitehall was finally noticing just how obnoxious Kaiser Wilhelm was. For its part, Russia considered the need for long-overdue reforms but decided to blame the Jews instead. The same Tsarist incompetence would soon commit Russia to the defense of Serbia; but that eventually would cure Tsarist incompetence. As for Japan, it had Korea and a little bit of Manchuria. What more could it possibly want?

Esprit de Corpses

Posted in General on February 8th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Obituary I:  February 8, 1265

Thanks to Marco Polo’s gossip and Sam Coleridge’s opium dreams, we all know Kublai Khan. Ironically, the Arab World is more familiar with Kublai’s younger brother Hulagu. Hulagu may sound like a dance from the Sixties, but he would not rate highly on Arabic Bandstand. On the other hand, Hulagu was the man whom any American President would want to be. The Mongol commander had to contend with two challenges: terrorists and pacifying Baghdad.

The terrorists were the Assassins, a murderous cult named for its one of its fringe benefits. (The Medicare Drug Prescription program should be so efficient.) The Assassins scanned the social pages of the time to see who was worth extorting and killing. They would have known how to deal with Kim Kardashian.

Hulagu scoffed at this boutique approach to terrorism. He found mass-murder more effective and gratifying. Since his big brother lent him an army, Hulagu decided to apply his managerial principles to the Middle East. He first demonstrated his entrepreneurial flair throughout Mesopotamia, massacring everyone who did not immediately surrender. His approach was so impressive that the Assassins decided to surrender. Hulagu killed them in any case, reasoning that they wouldn’t be missed.

Next on his itinerary was the glorious city of Baghdad, the cultural capital of the Moslem world. Hulagu and his army arrived in 1258. Unfortunately for the city, the reigning Caliph was a little slow in surrendering, and Hulagu was pathologically impatient. The city was destroyed. Most of its population was murdered. The city was stripped of everything that would appeal to a Mongol’s sensibilities. The rest was destroyed. The priceless scrolls of Baghdad’s fabled library, the last extant collection of the ancients’ writings, were dumped in the Tigris River. The city was uninhabitable for years.

But Baghdad was definitely pacified.

Hulagu had plans to visit Syria, Palestine and Egypt but Big Brother needed the army for a little family civil war. Baby Brother had to be content being only the Khan of Persia and Mesopotamia. The relative inactivity may have killed him; he died his day in 1265 at the age of 47.

But Baghdad still remembers him.

Obituary II: February 8, 1587

On this day in 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was subjected to an experiment in sensory deprivation. In one of the BBC’s first science series, “A Ration of Bacon”, host Francis Bacon answered a viewer’s question, “How long can a Stuart live without a head?”

The public was curious as to whether a decapitation would deprive Ms. Stuart of any vital organs. She did have difficulty leaving the scaffold; so her eyes had proved useful. She did not seem to miss her nose, however. Let’s face it: nothing was worth smelling in the 16th century. (From the fifth century until the late nineteenth, western civilization was in The Dank Ages). The absence of taste buds was actually considered an improvement when you are dealing with British food.

So Mary could have enjoyed a long and fairly unencumbered life without a head. Unfortunately, Elizabethan doctors treated decapitations by bleeding the patient. If the shock didn’t kill her, the doctors’ lack of hygiene did.