Saturday, February 17, 2007

Which Dictator Are/Were You?

Which Dictator Are/Were You?

You are Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini.

You led Italy during World War II! Good for you. You were fascist, like your friend, Hitler. Your wife did not attend your funeral, sadly, but its alright... you and one of your mistresses were shot and killed by communists. Propaganda my @ss!

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Friday, February 16, 2007

History Carnival XLVIII

History Carnival XLVIII is up at Aardvarchaeology. Martin Rundkvist is the host and he has done a good job.

The 49th History Carnival will be hosted at History is Elementary. Submit fine historical blog writing here. Good luck Lisa!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Empire by Orson Scott Card

I just finished reading Empire by Orson Scott Card. This is a science fiction book by a science fiction writer. Despite this, I think it is worthy of commenting upon do to a historical analogy between American and Roman history.

Here is a description of the book from Booklist, "Its heroes are two special-ops army officers who keep their oaths to defend the U.S. against all enemies when far too many of their ostensible colleagues have decided to abandon theirs. A rocket hits the west wing of the White House, killing the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense. While those directly responsible are Arabs, the next day, 14-foot-tall, bulletproof, armed globes on mechanical legs, backed by shooters on individual hovercraft, seize New York City by killing anyone in uniform. None of the new attackers looks anything other than American. A "Progressive Restoration" administration is established in the city, and it encourages other cities and states to join it to restore government as it should have been but for the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004. Intriguing plot wrinkles come fore and aft of those basic developments, there are many deftly shaped supporting players, and major shocks explode in a split second (no Stephen King slo-mo for Card!). Moreover, all the action doesn't obscure the author's message about the dangers of extreme political polarization and the need to reassert moderation and mutual citizenship; indeed, it drives it home."

The book itself is not that great. I found it slow to develop the plot, long on conversation, and somewhat silly. I am sorry but when the leftist rebels appeared in New York using War of the Worlds like walking machines and hovercraft motorcycles, all sense that this book might be describing a "a disturbing look at a possible future" (as the cover claims) went out the window. I have liked previous works by Card but I did not enjoy this all that much.

What I did like was his exploration that America may be in the last phases of our Republican period. It is advocated in the plot that the democratic tradition has begun to fail in the USA. This happened to Rome in the last days of the Roman Republic. Rather than falling, Rome shifted to an empire and dominated the world for centuries to come. Further, the Roman cultural legacy is still with us. The strong Roman references in the book (and the arguments in the book of the man who ultimately becomes president) is that perhaps the USA can avoid falling by shifting to an Empire. People like Caesar and Augustus could unify the nation, assure long-term American dominance (culturally, militarily, economically), and make the world a better place. And the appearance of democracy could continue indefinitely just like it did in Rome after the republic ended.

One of the main characters in this book is a Princeton history professor who moves into National Security, the Vice-Presidency, and the Presidency. It strongly hints that he may have directly or indirectly been behind the failed leftist rebellion and may have played everyone to get himself elected president unopposed. The book ends there so it is left to the reader to decide if this is the case. I see a few parallels with Augustus here but the strongest is with Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars saga. Palpatine contrived the Clone Wars to destabilize the Republic, assume power, and then move the Republic into an Empire with himself as Emperor. Many writers have commented on Star Wars and its parallels to Roman history. It also seems to have inspired this book.

I also have trouble believing that the blue state vs. red state divide could lead to civil war in the United States. There have always been cultural wars in the USA and only once has it lead to civil war in the nation. One thing that Card gets right is that the leftists lose the war rather quickly. Who do you think would be better able to win a civil war, the left or the right? Which side has guns, military experience, and controls the vast majority of the national territory? And knowing this, would the leftist ever be crazy enough to launch a war? (I know, this may be famous last words as history has shown anything can happen...)

This is not a well written book but it has intriguing ideas and is thought provoking. If you feel like reflecting on American history and comparing it to Rome, and do not mind a little science fiction, give this book a look.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

History of Lebanon

History of Lebanon. This is a brief history of the perpetually troubled middle eastern nation of Lebanon. The emphasis is on recent history.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Officially Republic of Lebanon , Arabic Lubnan , or al-Jumhuriyah al-Lubnaniyah country located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Consisting of a narrow strip of territory approximately 135 miles (215 kilometres) long from north to south and 20 to 55 miles wide from east to west, the country is bounded to the north and east by Syria and to the south by Israel. Lebanon is one of the world's smaller sovereign states. The capital is Beirut."

From the site:

Lebanon is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c.2700-450 B.C.). In later centuries, Lebanon's mountains were a refuge for Christians, and Crusaders established several strongholds there. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that had comprised present-day Lebanon to France. Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power between the various religious groups. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946.

Lebanon's history from independence has been marked by periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade. In 1958, during the last months of President Camille Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, and U.S. forces were briefly dispatched to Lebanon in response to an appeal by the government. During the 1960s, Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative calm and Beirut-focused tourism and banking sector-driven prosperity. Other areas of the country, however, notably the South, North, and Bekaa Valley, experienced increasing impoverishment.

In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and "Black September" 1970 hostilities in Jordan. Among the latter were Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The First Mormon to Run for President of the United States

The press is having fun with the fact that a Mormon is running for President of the United States. Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon, is seeking the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the USA.

However, the press is having some problems with historical accuracy. The Washington Monthly wrote, "Americans have indeed become more religiously tolerant, but the first Mormon to run for president will clearly have to change some minds." There are several other examples of this out there as well.

Romney is not the first Mormon to run for President of the USA. Joseph Smith (the first Mormon) announced a run for the Presidency in 1844 before he was killed by a mob. Mitt Romney's dad George Romney made a strong run for President a generation ago. And Orrin Hatch of Utah and the US Senate ran for president too.

The Mormons are not some obscure cult. They are the first home grown American religion, they are growing, and they have a lot of influence in the United States. Could journalistic statements that Romney is the first Mormon Presidential candidate just be an ignorance of Mormonism and show a lack of research on this topic before writing? I imagine most of these journalists know little of the Mormons beyond that they used to practice polygamy.