Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years ago

But it may have been better for Europe if he had won

Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years agoJune is a big month for historical anniversaries. Last week, I wrote about the 800th birthday of Magna Carta – the medieval charter that’s often described as seminal to the development of parliamentary democracy. This week, it’s the Battle of Waterloo, the clash that finally ended the Napoleonic era. It all happened on June 18,…

Magna Carta 800 years old this month

Initially a simple power grab by the aristocracy, the “Great Charter” inadvertently led to parliamentary government

Magna Carta 800 years old this monthHistorians and historical memory have a habit of anointing certain events as seminal, and Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) is one of those. Or at least it is in the Anglosphere, loosely defined as those English-speaking democracies that initially evolved out of the great diaspora from the British Isles. So, as it celebrates its…

Politics, prime ministers and pariahs

Betraying the electorate triggers powerful negative emotions

Politics, prime ministers and pariahsSorting through the post-mortems on the recent U.K. election, I came across an interesting Sunday Times piece from the English novelist/journalist Robert Harris. In it, he made reference to the pariah status of two former British prime ministers – Ramsay MacDonald and Tony Blair. Unless you’re something of a history buff, MacDonald’s name probably rings…

Hollywood icons and the Second World War

Some Hollywood legends actually participated in the reality of war, rather than merely on celluloid

Hollywood icons and the Second World WarIf you’re like me, the most vivid combat images you have of the Second World War come from Hollywood movies. Whether it was John Wayne on Iwo Jima or Errol Flynn in Burma, heroism was very much the order of the day. And Americans were invariably at the centre of the action. Naturally, the historical…

Conventional wisdom and the fall of Saigon

Conventional wisdom, especially when its purveyors have a moralistic bent, is a precarious guide to reality

Conventional wisdom and the fall of SaigonAlthough it’s been 40 years, the images still pack a dramatic punch. As Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975, thousands of people – primarily at-risk Vietnamese – were evacuated by helicopter. Two years after the last American troops had departed, the long war was finally over and the reckoning was…

The US Civil War ended 150 years ago this month

The number of related military deaths easily surpassed the combined total of American fatalities from both World Wars

The US Civil War ended 150 years ago this monthWhen Ulysses S. Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, it effectively ended the bloodiest conflict in American history. Hard as it may be to grasp, the number of related military deaths (Union plus Confederate) easily surpassed the combined total of American fatalities from both World Wars. And as anyone who’s…

Could the Cold War have been avoided if Roosevelt had lived?

Stalin's habit of doing precisely what he could get away with made the Cold War inevitable

Could the Cold War have been avoided if Roosevelt had lived?It was 70 years ago this April that Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Although he’d been in failing health for some time, the details of his condition had been carefully kept from the general public and his passing from a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, thus came as a shock. In an era before the…

Pierre Trudeau’s last rollercoaster ride

Trudeau’s fourth and final term was to be his most controversial of all

Pierre Trudeau’s last rollercoaster rideThere was a whiff of unreality in the air as Canada’s 32nd parliament met for its inaugural session in the spring of 1980. Mere months earlier, Pierre Trudeau had been consigned to the political scrapheap and Joe Clark’s newly-minted Tory government was settling-in for what most people assumed would be a semi-decent run. Logically, it…

Saint Patrick and the art of public relations

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult, but St. Patrick definitely won the war for popular historical memory

Saint Patrick and the art of public relationsGrowing-up in Dublin in the 1950s, Saint Patrick’s Day wasn’t the big deal that it is now. Oh, the fact that it was a statutory holiday meant that you got a day off school or work, which was never something to be sneezed at. And in addition, if you’d promised to forsake some pleasure for…

Not even the Supreme Court is above the law

Magna Carta's 800th anniversary reminds us to kneel to no one

Not even the Supreme Court is above the lawOne of the most meaningful, hopeful, and typically unreported speeches on Parliament Hill in recent years came from Calgary's own Pierre Poilievre. Poilievre, of course, has represented a suburban Ottawa riding for a decade, but he is Calgary born and bred. He is an intellectual apprentice of the Calgary School made famous – infamous? –…