Posts Tagged ‘History’

The New Twenty Years’ Crisis, by Phillip Cunliffe. Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020.
ISBN 978 0 2280 0102 7

The subtitle is: A Critique of International Relations


This is not a comfortable read, mostly because of the polemical tone. But also because it calls into question how we are living.
This has been a long time coming – many of us pre-Covid were desperate for our present phase to end/move on – but change is never easy.

As you can see from the title, it references E H Carr’s classic and seminal The Twenty Years’ Crisis, of 1939, covering the interbellum period 1919 to 1939.
This book purports to cover the period 1999 to 2019. I write ‘purports’ since for some, the argument covers the period 1919 to 2019 in reality, because, it is argued, that crisis has remained with us.
It is the crisis of Liberalism.
It is still with us, they argue, because its failings have not been addressed.

It is also a crisis of the discipline of International Relations.
E H Carr was the head of International Relations at its first chair with Aberystwyth University, Wales.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/new-twenty-years-crisis-critique-international-relations-1999-2019

1

Liberalism had never resolved its realism-utopianism fracturing. For Phillip Cuncliffe these transform into Neo-Liberalism – Eutopianism (he likes these coinings of phrases).
Yes, there is a lot of this positioning of argument. And, yes, it is best not to get bogged down in argument-structures, language-images, or games… or generalisations.
I was a little dismayed at the generalising going on: so, ALL Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism has been at fault, and at all times?
The arguments of the book are metonym-heavy, too. There is a lot of bandying-about of propositions and terms, like ‘unipolarity’. Some phrases are even more baroque.

Agreed, Neo-Liberalism carries its weight of colonialism, its Westernisation, its Eurocentrism.
How do we understand the term, now? How was it understood, earlier? And which earlier?
Do we understand it through its effects? On its propositional stance?

Also on this list is Globalisation.
How foreseeable were the tragic outcomes of Globalisation? Is this all hindsight?
And so, by implication, did global traders intentionally only trade with outlets who exploited workers? Where do domestic policies and issues, processing checks, come in, and how do they connect with with global traders and tradees?
I would like to see some breakdown into what and why, rather than this generalised statement.

Is it part of the job of International Relations to make predictions on outcomes? Or is it to analyse current and past relations? To extrapolate from those, though, there has to be strict methodology.
So much depends on predictions: trade especially, and internal security, international cooperation….

There does not seem to be any recognition of process. The long, slow, working out of operations over time, and responding to all the foreseeable and unforeseeable, the ad-hoc, and the planned.

Take the crisis within the discipline.
Take the analogy – and remember it is only an analogy; there are no perfect fits, no patterns, except where imposed – of 19thCentury Physics, where all was considered practically done. Until Einstein.
History was thought almost dead by 1900, until the French Annalles School, Marxist history, Social and Economic history, broke open the stifling towers.

International Relations, as a discipline, is just over 100 year’s old. A youngster, then… and thinking itself finished.

It could well be that this book is part of the process of discipline-growth.

2

In his Conclusion he writes:
How many wars against fascism have been fought since 1945? and then answers himself in true rhetorical fashion:

Soviets refighting Nazis in the Berlin uprising of 1953… crushing Hungarian fascism in 1956… failed British attempt to crush Egyptian fascism in 1956… wars against Serbian fascism in 1995 and again in 1999… permanent war against Islamofacism… Iraqi fascism … Syrian fascism… Georgian fascism… Ukrainian fascism etc etc

Which leads him to conclude:

Anti-fascism has launched more wars than fascism ever did.

Then we get another list of instances, this time of where the term ‘fascism’ was used against others. Followed by:
Such is the intellectual debasement wrought by anti-fascism.

And you think… What?
He bases all this argument on what is basically tabloid-level definitions?
Each of those listed conflicts had its own identity, nature, and operation, that changed, melded, and was effected by all the methods of conflict-management that had developed by that time. Added to this were, or were being tried-out, new methods for future conflicts.
Leaders may have used these ‘fascism’ arguments in order to back up their claims, to fight; but what a Leader may claim, and what actually is, are very different.

No, the intellectual debasement, surely, is this kind of argument,
where historical events are used to score points in academic discipline wrangles, where competition for funding and credibility has become critical, where publication and attention-engendering become the sole end.

There is much of true value here, but the presentation of the arguments, the tone, the academy-centred stance, do not help.

3

Liberalism and its… cousin?… Neo-Liberalism.
What were the workable alternatives on offer at the times? Any form of socialism was too deeply interpenetrated by Stalinism.
Liberalism was re-instated as a response to the authoritarian regimes of WW2, rather than superseded as a model. And re-instated as a vehicle for revival of economies, after WW2, through opening wider markets. Once again, rather than superseded. The market had to be strengthened against the Soviet sphere.

Then it all starts to eat itself, because it is poisoned from within – its wanton destruction of cultures and smaller states. Backlash, and there is always backlash.
And Western perpetrators thought they were untouchable by this? Short-term thinking, always.

Can there be blame when there are no workable alternatives? And there does seem to be blame here, especially in E H Carr’s analysis.

Ok, so what are our alternatives now?
– Western states the new distant end of the telescope (an image he uses) of a new Asian-Pacific market and economic centre?
Would this just be continuation of a bad model by different forces?

Is there a new model?
Is what we are now experiencing, its birth pains?

Let’s hope so. It has to be for something.
Or has it?
Realism as opposed to utopianism, again:
– to build something from the ruins;
– to expect our down-turns to have purpose, future value.

And using the same building blocks for each?
Always?

Lockdown reading has incorporated a very interesting book, Napoleon, Life, Legacy and Image, by Alan Forrest.

I admit Napoleon Bonaparte does come over as a very intriguing character.
But what went so horribly wrong?

I was comparing maps of Europe before and after Napoleon’s period and was amazed at how he had changed the face of Europe with his campaigns.
Ok, but look at the maps, with fingers in ears, and very dark glasses, to blot out the cries of abandoned, mutilated, and dying from his campaigns.

There is an area of open ground near where I live, away from the town, where troops from the Napoleonic wars were later housed. Those it was thought the public should not see.
What was there for those people of support, help?

1

It was so easy to escape Elba. So, after The Hundred Days, when it was proven yet again he could still wield his magic and get the French governors to grant him men, munitions, arms and uniforms for a very foolhardy attempt on the combined forces of Europe and England, after the last great battle of Waterloo (a shambles for the un-trained new French recruits), what then could be done with The Emperor?

How wise was the choice of the distant old-volcanic island of St Helena?
In remoteness, Wiki tells us that St Helena island lies some 1,950 kilometres (1,210 mi) west of the coast of southwestern Africa, and 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) east of Rio de Janeiro on the South American coast. 

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Saint+Helena,+STHL+1ZZ,+St+Helena,+Ascension+and+Tristan+da+Cunha/

 It is one of the most isolated islands in the world and was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 : Wiki again.
Between January and May 1673, the Dutch East India Company seized the island, but English reinforcements restored East India Company control. The company experienced difficulty attracting new immigrants, and there was unrest and rebellion among the inhabitants. Ecological problems, such as deforestationsoil erosion, vermin and drought, led Governor Isaac Pyke to suggest in 1715 that the population be moved to Mauritius, but that was not acted upon and the company continued to subsidise the community because of the island’s strategic location. A census in 1723 recorded 1,110 inhabitants, including 610 slaves.

Alan Forrest describes the place: an impoverished and windswept outpost… Battered by Atlantic storms … a bleak and inhospitable island – especially during the long winter months -.
But then, this: it was an important staging post for ships for the East India Company and sustained a population of up to five thousand, including a British garrison, a large number of slaves from Madagascar, and Chinese indentured labourers (page 141)

The importation of slaves to Saint Helena was banned in 1792, and the phased emancipation of over 800 resident slaves took place in 1827, some six years before the British parliament passed legislation to abolish slavery in the colonies. Wiki again

This is very sobering.
So much for the greatness of those times.
Napoleon promoted himself and his Empire as a great moderniser, and sold himself and his aims as liberalising, especially in his last appeals for recruits. After the Ancien Regime, yes, he certainly was.
Alan Forrest carefully brings our attention to the matter of Toussaint Louverture, and his fight for Saint-Dominingue, modern day Haiti.
Those who espouse Liberalism usually hide many such shadows, as does modern Neoliberalism. As does every regime. The victims are always with us.

2

And so, when we look at that map of St Helena now, among the new township, its fast-food outlets, its Jehovah’s Witness church, is a Boer Cemetery.
When not the victims of dum-dum bullets, used to cause greatest wound-damage, others were shipped off to this distant place.
Who knows what the toll on hope and survival must have been.
In 1900 and 1901, over 6,000 Boer prisoners were held on the island, notably Piet Cronjé and his wife after their defeat at Battle of Paardeberg.[30][31] The resulting population reached an all-time high of 9,850 in 1901. Wiki
Yes, you did read that right: 9,850
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Helena
Are such places of commemoration for those un-named people from Madagascar, and elsewhere? People probably like you and me, but in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is with a sense of relief that at least Napoleon’s body was exhumed, burned on the spot, and his ashes returned to France in 1840/1, twenty years after his death.

Ok, from all this I admit to a longing for that ‘uninhabited island’, pre 1502.

Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society by Marcel Detienne and Jean Pierre Vernant (Harverster Press), is a deeply researched and innovative book.

In Book XXIII of the Iliad, towards the end of the funeral games for death of Patroclus, there is a chariot race. One of the contestants is the relatively young and inexperienced, Antilochus, son of the wise Nestor.

Nestor says to his son, …these are slow horses, and they may turn-in/ a second-rate performance. The other teams/ are faster. But the charioteers/ Know no more racing strategy than you do./ Work out a plan of action in your mind/ dear son, do not let the prize slip through your fingers. (translation Robert Fitzgerald).

So what he does is, up to the home straight, he managed to hold on level with the others; in fact he was neck and neck with Menelaus in joint second position. Then they came upon a narrowing of the track where a landslide had encroached. Antilochus would not rein in, which caused Menelaus to do so, and so gave Antilochus the chance he needed and he pulled ahead.

He came second.
However, Menelaus would not let it go at that: Antilochus, you were clear-headed once./ How have you acted now?….

Antilochus, to maintain amity split his winnings with Menelaus.

Another version of this is, Antilochus drove his chariot with a clear plan, which was to force the brinkmanship with Menelaus. This he did successfully: he had inspected the course, found the narrowing, and planned around it.

His error was to be too obvious; he should have got away with it by making it look as though his horses had run away with him. He would have had to prepare for this, though, by surreptitiously displaying moments of loss of control earlier in the race. He would have won the same, but also kept his prize, and his prestige.

This second version is the way of the true cunning.

With this version, the book says, we begin to notice clusters of words, phrases, that occur again and again. In Greek we have

Metis – informed prudence

Dolos – cunning

Kerde – tricks

Kairos – ability to seize the opportunity

Pantoie – multiple

Poikile – many coloured

Oiole – shifting

They all describe the polymorphic, polyvalence of wily intelligence

The most important is Metis. She was once a goddess, first wife of Zeus. She helped him in the fight to dethrone his father, Chronos. Her reward? To be swallowed by Zeus. After all, he cannot have such an unruly presence in his ordered realms. Swallowed she gave him the power to foresee events.

Such is the fate of all who help a dictator to power: we saw it in Soviet Russia, where Stalin cleared away all the old, original, Bolsheviks from government. It is indeed everywhere to be seen still.

The book also calls upon the work of Oppian, second century AD Latin writer of hunting and fishing treatises.

Hunting and fishing are worlds of duplicitous dealings, he says. To be good at either craft, art, one must have the ability to appear to be/do one thing whilst being/doing another. One must be a master of camoflage, subterfuge.

He wrote, ‘In this world of hunting and fishing, victory is only to be won through metis.’
That word again.

There are a number of essential qualities one must have.

1 – Agility, suppleness, swiftness, mobility

– one must move as swiftly as one’s prey; be able to ‘leap from stone to stone’ etc.

2 – Dissimulation

– one must be able to lie in wait whilst appearing not to do so etc.

3 – Vigilance

– one must be sleepless, untiring; or, appearing to sleep whilst being fully alert, watchful.

One must be, in essence, ‘a master of finesse’: polupaipalos. One must be a master of cunning and multiplicity.

There are a number of animals highly regarded for their metis, their cunning:

The wily fox

A master of strategy and cunning. His den is underground; it has innumerable exits.

He knows how to make his body itself a trap: when stalking, birds say, he can lie as if dead for hours in order to disable their vigilance.

In fables, the book notes, the fox’s words ‘are more beguiling than those of the sophist.’

Anything shifting, scintillating, that shimmers, beguiles the senses: one is no longer fully alert but distracted, lulled even. One then, is prey to the master of metis.

The octopus

The octopus ‘is a knot made up of a thousand arms, a living, interlacing network.’ And, just as the fox’s den has innumerable exits, so does the octopus have innumerable means of escape and capture.

It is like the snake, and thereby we see Typhon here.

It is also like the labyrinth – this is the fox’s den again.

For Oppian, the octopus is ‘as a burglar… under the cover of night.’

We see in this the octopus and its use of its ink to cover its escape, but also to hide in it in order to capture prey.

For the master of cunning this is the smokescreen he/she uses to gain the required object.

…like the fox, the octopus defines a type of human behaviour…’ that one must ‘present a different aspect of oneself to each of your friends…’ like the octopus that can change colour to fit in with its environment, background.

The book also notes: ‘The octopus-like intelligence is found in two types of man’: the sophist, and the politician.

Each is an apparent contrary of the other.
Contrary, and yet also, oddly, complementary.

And here lies another aspect of cunning: as well as appearing as one thing whilst being another, he must also use both qualities where and when necessary.

The octopus is supple enough to squeeze through a chink to escape, but also solid enough to hold its prey in a hard and fast clutch.

This is known as ‘the bond and the circle’: the circular reciprocity ‘between what is bound, and what is binding‘. This can be seen in the use of the fishing net; the more one struggles, the more one becomes ensnared.

Ten centuries separate Homer from Oppian – throughout this period can be cited a number of examples of this complex of ideas.

The underground den of the fox, and the sea environment of the octopus, throw up a metaphysic where gods and goddesses rule mankind’s fortunes.

The fox is decidedly chthonic, he has the qualities of the old gods of the race of Chronos, the Giants/Titans etc, the pre-Olympians. He is a emissary from Chaos, where ‘there is no up, or down, no side to side’: the unformed space, brimming with potential, but not active as such.


– So much like a definition of the astrophysicist’s ‘Quantum soup’.
Uncanny? Or is there a.cultural/educational link in the imagery?

This is the state of mind of the master of metis: all awaits its birth in the intent, concentration, and single-mindedness, of the hunter/master of cunning.

The octopus lives in the sea, medium of the goddess Thetis. She has similar properties to those which Metis had.

The fate of Metis may also answer what happened to the biblical  Lilith; they did seem to share many qualities, and most of these centred around closeness of identification with animals.
The realm of Middle-eastern demons does not seem to have its counterpart in Greek culture.

It also answers the question Why. Why what?
Why Aeschylus fell foul of the Orphics for supposedly betraying their secrets in his play Agamemnon. For Cunning was claimed by the later Orphics as theirs.
I could suggest it has a kindred spirit in Bacchus, also.

You know what that means. Now I am going to have to dig out Euripedes’ The Bacchae from about thirty years ago, and re-read it in this light!

I would suggest the violation of Orphic secrets was in Aeschylus’ use of the net:

Agamemnon returned home after ten years at Ilium. In the meantime his wife, Clytemnestra, had taken another lover.
Added to, or because of, that, in order to gain a favourable wind to take their ships across to Ilium in the first place, Agamemnon was advised to make a personal sacrifice to the gods. He chose his own daughter Iphigenia.

Quite rightly, Clytemnestra was inconsolable. And so the consequences would be terrible.

When he arrived home after ten years Clytemnestra was well prepared – she had made ready a pathway strewn with royal purple. He walked over this, in effect insulting the gods by setting himself on their level.

This was planned. His next error was take the obligatory bath prepared for him as all weary travellers of renown did. In the bath she snared him with a net, and then he was killed.

There began a terrible period of retribution we know as The Orestia.

Clytemnestra was a mistress of cunning: she planned this long in advance; she made it look as though Agamemnon had violated honour to the gods (the purpled path), and she used trickery to ensnare him with the net, used honeyed words to lure him. The deed, though, was committed by Clytemnestra.
Cunning specifies that a third person should do the deed, whilst the possible suspect, herself, gives herself a solid alibi.

The hacker who ricochets his signal throughout the world communication system is a modern practitioner of cunning.

It is these lapses from the absolute, that Greek drama is all about.

I have given two instances of users of cunning connected with The Iliad; the third, of course, is Odysseus, master of tricks. Who knows how many more are yet to be found.

One last note: for the master of cunning, it is only a matter of time before he is revealed, makes an error, or is supplanted.
The master of cunning may seem to be laying low, but he is constantly on the go, obliterating traces, changing habitat, watchful, always watchful. He does not drop his guard. Ever.

This is a dual Romanian/English publication.
Available from:
Colectile Revistei ‘Orizont Literar Contemporani’, Bibliotheca Univeralis

Effs

There are so many untold stories.

Early mornings I would be waiting, shivering, for the early bus to go to work. One companion of those mornings was a Romanian man. Once he told me, ‘Boating was my life, then. I would have happily spent my whole life sailing on the Black Sea.’
‘One year,’ he said, ‘everyone was issued with iodine tablets. No exceptions; no explanations. That was thought to be sufficient. I remember it; it was 1986. The year of Chernobyl.’

*

Daniel Dragomrisecu has set himself a very important task, in this book. He is rescuing the memories, the works, the reputations of people lost to the old regime. People who fell out of favour. People lost to time’s relentless tumble.
He gives us eight recollections, and revaluations.

Romania.
The Ceausescu regime, with its grand empty palace and boulevard. Claudio Magris, in his book Danube, writes: “Hiroshima” is the name  bestowed by the people of Bucharest on the quarter of the city  which Ceausescu is gutting, levelling, devastating … building his Centre, the monument to his glory.

But what of the starving villages’  untold stories?

What Daniel Dragomirecu has done here is collect together articles and memoirs he has published in newspapers, magazines, journals, and published them in a dual translation book, called Effigies in the Mirror of Time.

Ok, we started with Romania, but we need to narrow-down, zoom-in. Let’s find Moldavia, and in Moldavia, the region of Vaslui. This is the hub for all the stories, the personalities.
How often do we hear or read news from Moldavia?

We have here writers, intellectuals, philosophers, engineers, and a comedy actor: the exuberant, gifted, Constantin Tanese.
This sketch-song of his could well be a timeless anthem:

Nothing has changed / Everything is the same
/ Everywhere the same lies / So what have we done? /
Revenge is plotted behind the scenes / As it has not
been seen before / The country is full of VIPS / So
what have we done? / Our people leave, our people
come! / This is the famous slogan, / We have been
fools to vote again / So what have we done?

The story was that he was shot whilst on stage – he was doing a satire on Russians, the new power. A Soviet officer in the audience stood, up and shot him dead.
Did it really happen? Was that how we wanted him to go?
Or was the end of the great man more prosaic?
Truth and legend, both are necessary, both are stories from which we gain life and sustenance. But truth must take precedence; always.

When communism was abandoned, many here in the West hoped that the best of that regime – or was it the most durable? – would be combined with the best/most durable in the West, to create a better society. The old Marxist dialectic, with its synthesis: how people love to make patterns.
Now, it seems, many feel what they have instead is another lost possibility. Because what modern capitalism has to offer is repugnant in many ways. And durability does not promise anything, either.

In the West these ideas, the dialectic, were never put into practice; we did not witness its effects on people as with the people Daniel here rehabilitates.

Take, for instance, Cezar Ivanescu (1941 -2004). He was an uncrowned prince among academics: Don Cezar. Writer, philosopher, critic, academic par excellence. He was severely beaten in the 1990 Miner’s Strike, and hovered between life and death for weeks.

As a less violent example, take Nicolae Malaxa (1884 to 1965). Born in humble circumstances he grew up and developed an acute managerial sense combined with a dedicated engineering skills. Train engine maker, car engine manufacturer, heavy-engineering magnate. Only to lose it all when all his great enterprises were nationalised under the new regime.
What the man could have done for Romania.

Many here were academics, writers, poets.
We ask now, what is the worth of such work? We ask that because everything now is monetarised, including health-care, basic necessities. Cultural value differs from monetary value; there is also the value of a persons’ life in itself.

And the irony of free-thought. In the context of the early part of last century when these people were young, free-thought still meant mostly left-wing ideas. And so when left-wing ideas became a (supposed) reality, they found themselves once more on the margins. Why was this?
Left-wing practice had its own very special character. Only those who legislated knew what it was; this is a well-known managerial tactic, to keep everyone off-balance.
What was one of Stalin’s first acts as leader? Get rid of all the old Bolsheviks.
The old and out-of-place ideas and idealists had to go. The last thing they needed was free-thought.

Teodar Rescanu (1887 to 1952) was such a left-wing idealist. And writer: it is heartening to see his books being re-discovered.
He was out-of-step with the new regime. He had been imprisoned for his support of the left, but even that did no good with the new boys. He was black-listed, and the ostracism became increasingly brutal as conditions hardened.  Suicide was always an option, and he chose it.

One of the many virtues that stand out among these exemplars, is their dedication to the people, and to the idea of Romania. It almost becomes as if the whole communist experiment has a hiccup in history, a glitch, that all are quickly working at eradicating.
That is, until you see the human dimension.
The people in this book are ones who lost out to that glitch, and the ones who follow – this is especially illustrated in Daniel Dragomirescu’s relationship with Don Cezar, and in turn with poet Ion Enoche – are left to reconcile this loss, and rescue from it a sense of human value.

V I Catarama – it is very hard to find general information on the man. And yet at one time he was an esteemed man of letters, and teacher – an Apostle of Education, as Daniel Dragomisrecu entitles him.
He fell foul of the system in 1958, and was held until 1964. He was the son of a farm worker, a left-wing supporter. It was not enough.
His reinstatement was marginal; he was allowed to teach. Although the continued scrutiny this entailed must have been oppressive.

Ion Enoche is an interesting case: on the fall of the old regime, he still had no place. He had become such a thorough non-conformist he could no longer adapt to any system. Daniel Dragmirescu implies that the over-riding  atmosphere after the fall of the regime was predominantly political, and busy with rebuilding the new Romania.
Enoche could not adapt to this, he was singular, and one-directional; his sole focus was poetry, a poetry cleansed of any politics, official or otherwise.
How was this possible?
Daniel Dragomirescu gives a moment from one of his works:

a poor, bedraggled, and starving Roma woman was riffling through a garbage can
for ‘a ray of sunshine.’

The set up of contrasting elements, and steering of image out of one circumscribed field of imagery towards another, more open and encompassing one, one of human values, is masterly.
It is, still, we could argue, political.
See also:
https://ion-enache.blogspot.co.uk/

Another online source related to this book is:
Ion Iancu Lefter: https://cumpana.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/pagina-121.pdf

*

This is such an important and necessary project.
It only tells a fraction of the story, of course; he acknowledges this.
It is a work of love, as well as rehabilitation.

May I suggest that he follow it up with a companion book, on the subject of notable women?
I would eagerly look forward to such another book.

There are many, many problems with our time and people that I have struggled with over the years.
How can we move ahead if still held back by these… they must be glitches, plummets into madness? ‘The blindness of God,’ perhaps.
If we think of ourselves as planing onwards towards better futures, – think of a slow low and elegant curve upwards, of improvements in general technological, scientific, especially ethical and moral codes. Then does this leave us open to misrepresentation and misinterpretations of our basic human nature? And so, prone to perpetuating these same horrible acts?

One of these ‘problems’ I have been struggling with has been how people could, that is, certain officials backed up by the rank and file officers, think it acceptable to release poison gas onto battlefields, into trenches, of the opposite forces.
The recent Times Literary Supplement has an article on Einstein’s brief stay in England. Mentioned in a sideline is Fritz Haber who helped develop this ‘tactic’. So, we have a name.
https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/the-public-and-private-lives-of-albert-einstein-p-d-smith/

How could anyone think that was acceptable behaviour under any circumstances?
Is my problem a lingering belief in an agreed gentlemanly conduct, even in wartime. The two 1929 Geneva Conventions, perhaps?

I began to wonder whether there was something about the German make-up, at that time, beset by War reparations, the Financial crisis, and the Soviet Union’s internationalist programme.
And then, of course, there was the Holocaust.
Completely unimaginable how that could be perpetrated, on such scale and over such a length of time. How was that possible?
Not that there have not been pogroms of great brutality throughout history. They are easy to forget, especially if one’s own history glosses over such self acts.

The scale, I think, is the problem.

I have come across incidents in history, going way back, of equal and sustained barbarity. All smaller scale, but as bad in their ways. Precedents, then.
And then I came across this book review:
Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45, and the American Cover Up

https://contagions.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/japanese-use-of-plague-during-world-war-ii/

That the Japanese military had indeed been conducting biological tests on prisoners using ‘plague, glanders, anthrax’ etc to see which was most effective, i.e. quicker, and most contagious. They extended these tests to villages, to find which could decimate larger areas.
This was conducted in Manchuria/Manchukuo, preWar.
Now, Manchuria was bordered, in the West and North, by the Soviet Union.
They also were carrying out similar tests, and along this same border.

So, is the German make-up exonerated?

It is the military mind, then, surely…
how it isolates itself from common morality ( how could you kill wholesale otherwise?) but in time becomes self-sufficient in its own utilitarian ethics and morals.

And so, in a little way, but nonetheless revealing, is myself looking for cause (blame?) in the German make-up, that gives a quick glimpse into my failings (get the hint? Conjugate my) – a lack of sufficient background knowledge.

I reviewed a book some years back, The Causes of War, by Professor Hidemi Suganami, published by Oxford University Press:

https://pure.aber.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-causes-of-war%28486854c0-7420-4dc2-b947-48ff5f1b0090%29.html


His conclusion? Wars exist because they are continue to be seen as a viable option.
It sounds banal, especially after the hugely meticulous research and arguments he perused and conducted.
Wars seem as viable an option now as they ever have.
Short-term thinking and blinkered reasoning.
It is the aftermath, though, that takes generations, centuries, to struggle to accommodate, or reject, that wars leave behind is the real face of war

And so, that is where I begin here, as part of those attempts to accommodate the problems of my time , and yes, as can be seen, even attempt a brief rejection (German make-up).

We are all prone to these creeping errors of thought. We all must be constantly on guard – against ourselves, that is, our mono-cultural attitudes, backgrounds, and prejudices.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/11/european-colonial-powers-still-loth-to-admit-historical-evils


This is not something that needs to be started now – it is the common practice of modern historians and cultural materialists, and has been for many years. It’s already on its way.
Let’s climb on board.

30 years!
So much promise and expectation… squandered?

The Collapse – The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall. By Mary Elise Sarotte.
Basic Books, 2014. ISBN 9780465064948

Coll2

I want to recommend a great recent book on the story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall. (This piccie of the cover does not catch the eye and face of a border guard peering through the gap in the Wall at the photographer.)  It’s a history book – but don’t let that put you off.

The author, Mary Elise Sarotte, is Visiting Professor of Government and History at Harvard, and Dean’s Professor of History at University of Southern California.

Another link worth following:http://www.katrin-hattenhauer.de/

1

I’d like you to meet Harald Jager. He was born in 1943, the son of a Border policeman in what was soon to become East Germany. By 1964 he had entered the Border patrol himself.

What is special, in this story, about Harald Jager?

He was the senior Stasi employee on Bornholmer strasse Border Crossing Point, on the night of 9th November 1989. ‘He was essentially a record-keeper, one of the deputies to the senior figure…’ Mary Elise Sarotte writes.

He had begun work at eight that morning for a twenty-four hours’ stint at Bornolmer. He was the senior figure on duty. He was also very worried, to begin with: he had just had a test for possible cancer. He was nervously waiting for the results.

Gunter Schabowski, the Politburo member for the Media, had made a hasty announcement at the end of a tedious TV broadcast that evening. This end announcement was itself a hastily patched-together script; it couldn’t be examined by top Politburo people because they were tied up in internal wrangling. Nor could it be given assent by the Soviets because they were on extended leave celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

They all presumed it was bona fide, and gave it the nod.

What was it about, this script? The relentlessly growing pressure inside East Germany had forced the authorities into giving some kind of placatory announcement. But there were those, the hard-liners, favoured the China Approach: the Tiananmen Square resolution to trouble-causers. And there were the ones who called for more diplomatic solutions. The two were destabilising the already atrophied regime from the inside.

This script announced that East Germans would be able to travel outside, legitimately. But it was an emigration only exit. They must apply for permits of course. And here the regime thought they were being crafty: such permits would be difficult.

When would this come into effect?

Right away.

The gabbled announcement on TV – he had not read it through beforehand – seemingly handed to East Germans an exit visa. Not only that but the announcement named West Berlin, a rare occurrence in connection with travel. Especially during this period of great unrest: the Hungarian border-leak had been plugged; the Czech leak was causing great upset and putting even more pressure on the East German regime,

 

Harald Jager was senior man on duty that night. He had twenty-five year’s loyal service behind him.
Then people started turning up at the check point, demanding to be let through. They had heard the broadcast, and very few regime members had bothered to listen. Harald Jager had heard it – he was astounded.

People began to turn up in their hundreds. This was happening at every check point. The numbers grew all night long. They were peaceful, but insistent. Thousands came, and they were growing.
This was on the back of the huge demonstrations in Leipzig and Dresden

In a centralised system like East Germany, all permissions had to come from above. Harald put through about thirty calls to his superiors that night: How do we deal with this?

And they had no idea. They tried all sorts of tactics, but outright denial of exit would most certainly make matters worse, turn a peaceful gathering of people into a potential danger.
All guards had received instructions months before not to fire unless attacked themselves.

One tactic the superiors suggested was take in the ring-leaders, the trouble-makers, as though processing for exit, then let them out – but do not allow them to return. They did this.

The trouble was people saw others getting through.

The regime had misread the people so badly: there were no ring-leaders; trouble-makers were just people who were more insistent, made more noise.

This made the pressure worse.

He rang his superiors again: What do we do? Harald’s superior patched him into a conference call: Don’t speak, just listen.

And what he heard was his superiors, out of touch, out of the loop of what was actually happening on the ground, questioning his abilities, calling him a coward. The connection was cut. Harald was left to himself, fuming, betrayed, abandoned.

We all know what happened, but it is the How that is most important. Read and find out.

Harald Jager in later life, at Bornholmer strasse:coll1

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This is just one of the fascinating, heartbreaking REAL stories contained in this book.
All are meticulously researched: many, like this one, are pulled together from  interviews cross-checked with Stasi phone transcripts.

What happened to Harald? In unified Germany he had no job. He managed odd work here and there. Then he retired, on a meager pension.

Oh, and his cancer tests proved negative.

Many East German dissidents felt let down by the unification. Some felt that a greater democratisation was already on its way. Think of Gorbachev and his modernisations, his Glasnost etc. But the Czech and East German regimes opposed them. This disunity played its part in the communications failure of 9th November 1989.

Some dissidents hoped for – and I have read this recently as well – that the new Germany would combine the best of both East and West. In the event they felt, rightly, they had been steam-rollered by the Western powers. I had hoped this would happen too: creating a new European model – ah, the old dialectical synthesis idea, how it lingered.

One of the many commendable aspects of this book is how Mary Elise Sarotte has kept Western (USA, Britain, France) politicking out of the story. Hers is a story told by the participants, and they were the people on the ground, the streets.

3

Many talk of ‘tipping points’ in history. This seems a bit of a lazy idea: maybe it is that concepts of such a thing as ‘history’ gives birth to these things. History is the story the historian tells from the information of all sorts, in all forms, its nuances and contexts: history is in reality a scatter of information around several centres within an event time-frame. This posits a psychological angle on the presentation of history as history: the historian’s predilections. It is inevitable. How they get around this, I suspect, is why many seized on Derrida’s ideas so readily: history as the text of texts of texts: objective, measurable to some extent.

An identifiable tipping point is the construct of the historian.

4

Wikipedia gives us the following; let’s use it as a footnote:

His claim to be the first to breach the Wall was questioned in 2009 when Heinz Schäfer, a former colonel in the East German army, claimed that he had opened his crossing at Waltersdorf in the south of the city a few hours earlier, which would explain the supposed presence of East Berliners in the area before Jäger opened his gate.

Later life

Following the fall of the Wall, he was unemployed. In 1997, he was able to save up enough to open a newspaper shop in Berlin with his wife. He has since written a book about his experience called The Man Who Opened the Berlin Wall.

The day after: 10th November, 1989, Bornholmer strasse Crossing Point:

Berlin, Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße

ADN-ZB-Roeske-10.11.89-Berlin: Rund eine Million DDR-Bürger besuchten am Sonnabend Berlin (West). An den Grenzübergangsstellen, wie hier an der Bornholmer Straße wurde zügig abgefertig. Vom Ministerium des Innern wurden seit dem 9. November weit über 10 Millionen Visa für Privatreisen und über 17 500 Genehmigungen für ständige Ausreise aus der DDR erteilt.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1118-017 / Roeske, Robert / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5424866

johan-huizinga

I’d been email-chatting with an historian, one of a new group, with their own angle, agenda, their own name. I signed off saying I was just going to re-read some Huizinga.
And that was it. I did not hear from him again.
I had gone beyond the Pale.

That is the problem with Academies, they become so culty, hemmed-in with codes and etiquettes. I had obviously mentioned an historian who was not ‘in’ with their group.
I was going to re-read him because I found so much of value there. But it wasn’t what they valued.
He did it differently.
Heaven forbid.

Johan Huizinga is mostly known in the English-speaking world for his magisterial The Waning of the Middle Ages – the more correct title, apparently, is The Autumn of the Middle Ages – published in 1924. It is this book made the man’s name. He became a leading Dutch, indeed European, historian.

His dates are 1872 to 1945.
That last date in particular I want you to note: died February, 1945. He had been interned in 1942 after criticism of the invasion forces. Eventually, after much clamour and agitation by the international history community, he was released. He was released in that terrible winter of 1944/5.
It is now estimated that 10,000 Dutch people died that winter, after the Nazi’s cut off food and energy supply lines, in retaliation. As the Allied forces moved through France, the Belgian and Dutch citizens could see liberation so near, so inevitable. They cheered them on. When the advance was stalled in the Ardennes, the Nazi’s took their revenge.

He began his academic career as a student of Indo-Germanic languages; he then studied comparative linguistics. He taught Oriental Studies for many years. It was not until his 30s he turned to medieval studies. Here he excelled.

His book on the later middle ages gives us the clamour and spectacle of the period, the life-lived-in-public aspect.
He also fills in with some of the gaps in current information on, for instance, such figures as Georges Chastellain, and others grouped as the grands rhetoriqueurs:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grands_Retoriqueurs.
This gives us, in turn, the real nature of the much acclaimed period. In this book he sets the increasing brutality and violence of the time against its constructed images of courtois and chivalry.
The book investigates the Burgundian Court in its positioning as potential alternate power-base to the royal court.
Professor Ralph Strom-Olsen of Madrid University, put up a very interesting paper on this: Georges Chastellain and the Language of Burgundian Historiography, that is available on Academia.edu from http://fs.oxfordjournals.org/

He has other books, influential in modern fields. Take Gaming – for this the ‘go to’ book is his Homo Ludens, published 1938.
Homo Ludens puts forward, and illustrates, the theory that our main and enduring activities as civilized people, is a form of play, serious play; that is, play with rules.
He traces word games as the origins of rhetoric, to Cicero’s monumental legal disputes; he sees here also the dress-up aspect in legal and royal court costume.

Playing and Knowing is an intriguing chapter, challenging us to consider acquisition of knowledge, experimentation, indeed logic, as forms of play-activity.
How can we know anything until we put aside certainty, the known, and step out into maybe-land? But this play is deadly serious: riddle-solving, the penalty of death, are part and parcel of the game.

The point is, he stimulates thought, he makes us look at our institutions differently.
The range of this subject can be seen to refer us back to to the subject of Professor Huizinga’s first PhD: The Role of the Jester in Indian Drama.
https://gamingconceptz.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/huizingas-magic-circle.html

You can go to the crazy end and cite the late 1960’s Playpower ideals here. Oz Magazine founder, Richard Neville’s book, Playpower, was the bible for attempts at neutralizing governments and their powers through play, through the skewing of seriousness and power politics, by returning to origins, and seeing what all its accumulated kudos really was.

Another book of his well worth searching out is Men and Ideas, first published in translation in 1959.
This collection of essays is concerned with ‘the task of cultural history.’
The books have dated, that is, their range of subject matter and methods of treatment, have been left behind by modern tastes.
But the general reader will not find a more stimulating essay on Peter Abelard, than this.

His essay on John of Salisbury is also outstanding.
Who was he? He was a 12th Century English cleric, who became apologist for Thomas a Beckett. From modest beginnings he worked his way up, studying under Peter Abelard, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Theobald; he even met who was to become known as St Bernard of Clairvaux.
John’s main legacy to us, however, is his Policraticus; the study is a slice of his time.
http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/salisbury-poli4.html
Chaucer valued it highly for its political relevance, its clear thinking, its civil conscience.

His essay on Erasmus, which was the heart of the collection… is it the translation? No; I think Johan Huizinga became exasperated with his subject. The reader comes away with the impression he blamed him for wasting his opportunities, for not being as good as he should have been.

I would dearly love to give as much information on his wife, Mary Schorer.

maryshuiz
Her story must be as fascinating, and as eventful.

Their son, Leonard Huizinga, became a prolific and popular Dutch novelist, with his comedic Adriaan and Olivier series.
There is also another son, of whom I can find nothing.

See also:
http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/johan_huizinga.html

 

One of the pleasures of library-exploring is turning up the odd document like this.

In a history of the local region (I am not from the area, and so it still had its strangeness) I came across a first-hand account of the entry of the Jacobite Rebels of 1745, into a small town in East Cheshire (Macclesfield).
I have excerpted as follows, keeping to the printed orthography the best that I can with a modern keyboard:

… the next morning [Sunday], the 1st instant [December, 1745], about 10 o’clock, we had notice from the country people that the Rebells were within a quarter of a mile of the town.

………………………………………………………………………

   When the first emotion of my own fright was a little abated, I ventured to peep out of a Garret window, but seeing my wife and her two sisters below at the Gates shame roused my courage, and I ventured to stand by ‘em, and saw the whole army pass by my own door, except a regiment of Horse commanded by Lord Elcho,
(https://www.electricscotland.com/books/david_lord_elcho.htm)

and some forces which came in late. But those I saw the next day. The quarter-masters first came into town, who, with their guard, were about 20 in number. They rode to the Cross and enquired for the constables.
…………………………………………………….. They enquir’d for Sir P Davenport’s house…
( he was away) …. and soon afterwards rode to his house, and after viewing it inside and out, marked the door with the word ‘Prince.’ I had now so much valour that I ventured to speak to one of ‘em, and enquir’d wt number of forces wo’d be in Town that day. He answ’d 10,000, upon wch I returned home much dismayed.
Immediately afterwds came in a regiment of Horse by way of advance guard, said to be commanded by the Duke of Perth ……………………………………
This regiment seem’d to be very poorly mounted. I believe for the most part were on such horses as they pickt up… but many of the men were lusty clever fellows. Not long after this, came foot in very regular order, with Bagpipes playing instead of drums, the colonels marching at the head of each respective regiment. And all the forces, as well as Horse and Foot, were in Highland dress, except the Bodyguards, which wore blue trimmed with red.
After about 4 or 5 Regiments had passed us by it was said the Prince was coming up…. and it happen’d that a halt was made just opposite my door for a minute or two, which gave us full opportunity of having a full view of him. He was in Highland Dress with a blue waistcote trim’d with silver, and had a blue Highland cap on, and was surrounded by almost 40 who appeared as his Guard.  He is a very handsome person of a man, rather tall, exactly proportioned, and walks very well …
He walked on foot from Manchester, as he had done, ‘tis said, all the way from Carlisle; and I believe they made their very best appearance into the Town, expecting to be received as at Manchester; but there was a profound silence, and nothing to be seen on the countenances on the Inhabitants but horror and amazement…..

… an order came to the Mayor to proclaim the Pretender… Poor Mr Mayor was obliged to be at it…They made the Town Clerk repeat the Proclamation after ‘em….

   Soon after the advanced guard came into town there was a young Lowlander (but in Highland Dress) quartered himself and horse upon us… His dress was very unpromising, but his manner shewed he had had a genteel education and was a person of some account. As he was exceeding civil, the women took courage and soon fell into discourse with him. He stood at the gate during the greater part of the procession, by which means we had an opportunity of learning the names of the Chiefs as they passed by … Many of the officers appeared very well – some few indeed were very old – in particular Glenbuckett who seemed to be 80 at the least, and bended almost double on horseback… he had been bedridden three years before the Prince’s son arrived in Scotland…
Glenbuchat:
http://glenbuchatheritage.com/picture/number2205.asp
58 John Gordon 'Old Genbucket'


Many of the common men, tho’ dirty and shabby, were lusty fellows. There were many old men amongst the common soldiers… It was dark before the artillery came in, and as it grew duskish orders were given that the inhabitants should illuminate their houses upon pain of military execution…
The young Lowlander… whilst at dinner talked pretty freely, and said Manchester was a glorious town… he said it was strange the English could not see their own interest (by not joining the Scots): We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, but thought if they co’d get into Wales they should be joined by many there.

……………………………………………………………………….

… My sister Molly observed that he had said nothing of his… Religion. … ‘I can assure you (his response) ‘he’s no more a Bigot in matters of religion than myself, who am a Protestant.’ My wife amongst other discourse mentioned Religion and the confusion the people were in at Church that morning when they came in. Upon which he asked her – ‘ Well Madam, and who did you pray for?’ – Says she, ‘for his Majesty King George.’ Upon which he said, ‘You did very right’; but, says she,, ‘supposing you had come here last night, should we have been interrupted in our prayers by any particular directions?’ ‘No, the Minister would have been ordered to pray for the King without naming any names, as had been done at Kendal Church the last Sunday.’

……………………………………………………………………

As to their number, there was no judging of it from their March into the town, and they seemed to be very artful in concealing their numbers. They bespoke billets for 10,000; and said 5,000 would come in next day, but for my own part I don’t think they exceed 6,000 in the whole.

 

My document breaks off here.
The distances they covered, and times given for travelling, are very interesting.

From Kendal to Macclesfield in one week.
The route is at times relatively level, but it is by no means straight, and interrupted by hilly ground: the Trough of Bowland for one, and south of Manchester rambles around the foothills of the Peak District.
The modern road system gives the distance as 92 miles.

They entered the Manchester environs on November 23rd. Here they were joined by 300 volunteers. If we compare this with the statement, We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, then we can only assume the volunteers were fellow Scots, or Irish workers based in Manchester.

From Macclesfield to Derby is a relatively shorter distance: 44 miles.
They arrived there on December 4 to 6th.
It was in Derby, with the absence of reinforcements, and the fabled Welsh meet-up having fallen through, that the march on London was abandoned.
Cities were hubs of a wide range of nationalities seeking work. Even so, it must have been estimated that to reach Birmingham, the next major centre on their route, would not have proved worthwhile.
By this time the English government had revived from their shock, and coordinated a counter-response.

The Prince returned to Scotland, arriving in Glasgow on 26th December.

If you follow this link it gives the route of the march from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, to Derby.

www.gps-routes.co.uk/routes/home.nsf/openmap?openform&route=bonnie-prince-charlie-walk-walking-route

As you can see it was by no means an easy or straightforward route.
I can only marvel at the stamina of those ‘lusty men.’

For the outcome, follow this link:

http://www.northumbrianjacobites.org.uk/pages/detail_page.php?id=57&section=25

It is revealing what the young Lowlander says about religion: the fear of another series of bloody Catholic-Protestant reprisals was one of the major concerns that kept English people from joining the rebellion. It was only four generations after the Civil War, and the horror of that period must have been still working its way through their collective psyches.
How reliable were his comments? Would the situation have remained so?

Pause for Thought

Posted: December 5, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

My father-in-law died fairly recently – aged 96, not a bad span.

We are having to sort his house for sale: that is going through slowly. He had saved everything pertaining to his life, from early school reports in the 1930s, to bills, receipts, up to the time he died. We are slowly having to burn the personal papers. There are also tangential papers, news clippings, usually related to the war – he’d kept a very active interest in those issues throughout his life.They were all neatly and methodically filed, except for the last few years where his stamina must have been on the wane.

1.
The other day I came across saved newspaper articles covering a Japanese Prisoner of War testimony. With a lot of trepidation I opened this cache, and read through.

The man had been one of a group in forced labour, working a coal mine for twenty hours out of every twenty-four. In effect, they were being worked to death. As prisoners of war who had chosen to submit, rather than the nobler death, they were subject to the harshest regimes because they were seen as oath-breakers – in Japanese military terms, that is.

The man said that they had just come off shift; it was morning. He collapsed, and his comrade was bending to pick him up because a guard was just about to rifle-club them. They were distracted by a plane high overhead. That was not unusual; what was unusual was the small parachute floating down from it. They watched in fascination.

Then it happened.

That was Hiroshima, 6th August 1945.

When he came round, badly burned, deafened, half-blinded, his comrade was no more than a shadow on the wall, and the guard left only his rifle.
He was collected much later after having been left for dead, with a burst stomach. But he survived, and was later well enough to return home to England.

And this is what most troubles me:
He said, up to that point in the Pacific War, the Japanese military considered themselves invincible.
It was only the H bombs, he said, convinced them otherwise. Without them, those horrors would have carried on relentlessly, endlessly.

The man suffered from radiation sickness, and other connected ailments for the rest of his life, but said he never once doubted the use of those bombs.

I have supported CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) most of my life. I do admit to doubt and dubiousness over unilateralism, nevertheless.
Here was testimony, though, not just conviction, or ideals.
This certainly gives me pause for thought.

Conditions in the world, and between states, now, is very different from those days, the 1940s. Nuclear arms are much more powerful, more strategically aimed, portable, with ranges greater.
It is very doubtful now that the man’s argument would apply in any current or future situation.
The unilateral argument has gained in strength, but I retain doubts.

The newspaper story does knock one of the founding blocks of the nuclear disarmament question, though.
But as I suggest, the modern scaffolding is tough and well-grounded enough to keep the question to the forefront of world concerns.

2

There is another narrative – there are many narratives, but take this one.
Most narratives are based on the role of the two H bombs. Japan did in fact surrender the day after the 9th of August second bomb, on Nagasaki: 10th of August.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/30/the-bomb-didnt-beat-japan-stalin-did/

The Japanese Supreme Council were meeting the day of the second bomb; they were discussing the unprecedented move of surrender.
Was the second bomb’s ‘impact’ superfluous, then?
The above article cites the kilotons of bombs dropped previously on Japanese cities, that they were equivalent to a H bomb in destructive power. That had not swayed the Japanese Supreme Council.
What was the cause of this crisis meeting?
The article puts it down to the levels of Soviet aggression on their doorstep.

There are many narratives.

They should all give us pause for thought.

 

In Woollaton hall, Nottingham, UK, was a crate labelled ‘Unimportant Documents.’
It was only rediscovered in 1911. Among these documents was a letter by King Henry VIII. Also there, was the only surviving copy of an old French roman, dating from the latter half of the Thirteenth Century. That was La Romance de Silence, written in octosyllabic verse, and coming in at around 365 pages.
A translation was published for the first time in 1927, and another edition in 1972.

See, also, Sarah Roche-Mahdi’s book on the work from 1992, with facing-page translation:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silence-Thirteenth-century-Romance-Medieval-Studies/dp/0870135430

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Le Roman de Silence is unique, so far, in romance literature.

Silence is a girl who is brought up as a boy, and sworn to silence lest she betray her real gender, and lose all inheritance rights.
It is a tale of cross-dressing and gender-transformation, as modern parlance would cast it. These descriptions do not do justice to the tale, though.

Silence was the daughter of Cador, Earl of Cornwall, and his wife, King Evan’s daughter, Eufemie.
The English king of the time, Evan, did not recognise female inheritance of titles or estates.
In order for the line of Cador to continue, their daughter, who had no name up to that point, had to therefore assume male roles, and take on a male heir’s character and duties. These included a knight’s training.
Nature had stepped in early on and made Silence of most beautiful appearance. One characteristic he/she was also known for was the ability to sing and play the harp with great sweetness. This was the accomplishment of the aristocratic knight, of course, but in this as in courage and fighting ability, Silence proved  more than capable.

It would become necessary, in time, to marry; the complications of the role built up as time went on and social and familial duties and demands become more urgent.
And always, in the sidelines, Nature personified, was reaching out an imperious hand in order to right the order of things.

What was the right order of things? Was it right for King Evan to disinherit women? The ‘order’ of the time of composition was already being questioned in such works as this. Earlier, Marie de France had set her own period against the reflection of an older more noble, chivalrous time: the Arthurian template. No doubt Arthurian times, had they existed, would have been found wanting against another, older period.

The narrative goes on: Silence absconded with a group of Jongleurs her mother and father had invited to their court. In grief all Jongleurs were banished from the land. For four years under the name of Malduit, Silence learned their trade, but outshone them. Jealousy crept in, and to avoid being killed by them once again he/she had to run. She re-entered her father’s court unrecognised. Her mother took a fancy, however, and tried to seduce him/her. Silence once again had to leave – this time to the French court. His/her mother had sent a letter requesting the French king behead Malduit/Silence.
War had broken out in England, and Silence the knight was summoned home. The story was then discovered.

Somewhere undisclosed along the line of the narrative Cador and Eufemie, Count and Countess of Cornwall, had become the English King and Queen.
Why this new king did not revoke the inheritance ruling is not questioned. The order of things must be kept, perhaps, and such as a revocation was seen as a contrary measure. War, fighting, and beheading of suitors who reject advances was normal.
Normality, it is indicated, was violated early-on when Cador was struck low by dragon venom before he and Eufemie were married, and Silence conceived. Here is the source of the tragedy, the supernatural agency of a dragon.

To get back to Silence: the Queen once again, even knowing his/her identity, made a pass at Silence in his/her role as a hugely successful knight. It had to be rejected. Thereby began the undoing: she cajoled the King to send Silence on a mission to capture Merlin. Which she also accomplished – however, it was part of Merlin’s magic that he could only be captured by a woman.
In turn, though, Merlin revealed that the Queen was having an affair, and that her lover was a man who was able to meet her because he dressed as a nun.

Silentius, the man, was revealed publicly to be Silentia, a woman.

2

There are a number of literary instances of women taking on men’s guises – often in pirating, to enter that most hyper-male of male roles: Anne Bonny; the ballad Sweet Polly Oliver…. Shakespeare makes heavy use of instances of ambivalence. But men taking on women’s guise? That is portrayed as a great deal more unsettling.

To assume a male role is to step up; to assume a female’s role, to step down. Status. Female impersonatators are a source of fun, ridicule, mockery, and beyond ‘normal’. They are funny because they mock further the ‘weak’ who cannot protect themselves. Women’s only armour is their tongue: a woman’s tongue. Here we hear echoes of the split tongue of the snake, of That snake. But the woman of the Roman is silenced; this is a further subversion of roles. Without the power of position, as Queen, Silence must take on the strength and skill of a man. And that can be learned, by either gender.
This is what G R R Martin fudged, with Arya Stark in Song of Ice and Fire: she never quite achieved the bodily strength to be a knight. An assassin’s role was very different.

Male impersonators carry a different charge, also unsettling but to a different degree, and more dangerous because more hidden. It is as though the sacrosanct has been sacked, secrets raided. Tiresias is a classic example; here we have all the indications of the deepest secrets that hold order in place being revealed. Tiresias is the Prometheus of the social rather than cosmic order.

The classic Scottish ballad, The Wife of Auctermuchty, is a case of role reversal. As usual with ballads of this type the wife in the male role outdoes him in strength, skill and endurance.
It could be said that these ballads help stabilise order by preventing male engrandisement from tipping the keen and even balance between the sexes. The male has to learn to laugh at his pretensions, that way the tension is eased, and relations find a more sure, I would like to say equal, footing.

A work like La Roman de Silence uses the basic structure of these ballads, but develops it, complicates the issues, introduces wider references and ramifications.

So what of our own call for greater acceptance of diversity? Trans and gender ambivalence have always been part of humanity: degrees of gender identity are all that exist. And even those degrees fluctuate constantly; all is in motion. Do we conceive of the universe in our image, or our image in what we discover of the universe?
Ambivalence, surely, is the real natural order.

3

Arthurian names and scenes permeate the romance. It is probably a later off-shoot of the French Arthurian vulgate of material.
The author of the Romance is credited to be Heldris of Cornwall, and the Cornish setting and connections tie-in with the Arthurian settings, as well as the great work, Tristan and Iseault.
I think we need not trouble ourselves over the character of G R R Martin’s Brienne of Tark, from his Songs of Ice and Fire marathon. Brienne’s gender identity was never in question, whereas Silence has none of the recognised woman-identifiers such as sewing, which was so essential a craft-necessity of the period.

Henrietta Leyser, in Medieval Women, A Social History of Women in England 450-1500 (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1995), writes:
… the triumph of Nurture over Nature, in the form of Silence’s successes as a hero, serves to demonstrate that, however different the parameters, medieval interest in debates about the roles which women and men were brought up to play could be every bit as keen as our own.‘ (P 141)

For further resources, see:
http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org/sources.php?id=2146115303

For stylistic analyses promising to resolve some of the inherent ambivalences of the character role of Silence, see:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/27870893?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Here are many stimulating essays on the work:
https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/22811

Wiki, as always, has much valuable material, as well as links, on the work:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Roman_de_Silence