Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politician

Militant revolutionary, prime player in the Civil War and prime minister for 21 years

Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politicianThe dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century died just 40 years ago. Born in New York but raised in Ireland by his maternal family, Eamon de Valera served as the equivalent of prime minister for 21 years between 1932 and 1959. Before that, he was a militant revolutionary during the Irish War of…

1955 Great Powers summit Khrushchev’s introduction to the world

Eisenhower was cool about going, but at least he learned who had replaced Stalin

1955 Great Powers summit Khrushchev’s introduction to the worldWe’re used to summit conferences these days. In fact, sometimes it feels like we’re on a treadmill where a summit is either happening or about to happen. However, things weren’t always like that. In fact, after Potsdam in July/August 1945, it was a full decade before the Great Powers sat down together again. And it…

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…

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…

Not even the Supreme Court is above the law

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

One 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? –…