Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.

 

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Granma

granma

Today in Cuba they celebrate the day of the Cuban Armed forces.

The holiday celebrates the day Granma arrived in Cuba.  Granma was the name of the yacht purchased by the 26th of July Movement to get them into Cuba.  On Dec 2nd 1956 82 members of the revolutionary movement arrived in Cuba from Mexico.

On board were Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Che Guevara, who later wrote;

We reached solid ground, lost, stumbling along like so many shadows or ghosts marching in response to some obscure psychic impulse. We had been through seven days of constant hunger and sickness during the sea crossing, topped by three still more terrible days on land. Exactly 10 days after our departure from Mexico, during the early morning hours of December 5, following a night-long march interrupted by fainting and frequent rest periods, we reached a spot paradoxically known as Alegría de Pío (Rejoicing of the Pious)”.

The yacht, Granma, has earned a deserved place in the history of the Cuban revolution.  The boat itself is preserved in a glass case beside the museum of the revolution in Havana, and the landing site on the Playa las Coloradas has become a designated UNESCO world heritage natural habitat site now called the “Landing of the Granma National Park” in Granma province.

Fidel Castro R.I.P.

fidel

Castro has passed away.  In the days to come you will hear widely polarised opinions of his legacy.

On the one hand you will hear that he was a brutal dictator.  A manipulative political adventurer who assassinated his ally and friend Che Guevara.  You will hear that he was a low-budget Stalin, a revolutionary in public and a playboy in private living a high life of prostitutes, rum and cigars.  You will hear that he brought the world the brink of destruction in nuclear conflagration, and that it was only the “sensible” voices of Kennedy and Kruschev who averted disaster.  You will be told how he brought his people nothing but poverty, despair, hunger and want.

On the other hand you will hear that he was a great, brave visionary.  A man who took on the might of the American Capitalist and Military Systems and triumphed.  To his exploited people he gave hope, education, opportunity, equality and a quality of life denied to them under US influence.

As always the truth lies somewhere in-between.  As you listen to the opinions make sure you evaluate the speaker.  In Miami there live many Cubans who were expelled by Castro.  They lost (oft times ill gotten) money, property and wealth.  They will celebrate his passing.  The US Media will be spending a lot of time on the streets of Miami speaking to these people and the children and grandchildren of these people.

Before you make up your mind about what kind of man he was I would suggest you listen to some of the people who cannot speak English.  Listen to the Cubans who still live in Cuba.

Good or Ill Castro is a man who leaves an indelible mark on the history of the 20th Century.

 

Gacela of the Dark Death: by Federico García Lorca

I want to sleep the dream of the apples,
to withdraw from the tumult of cemetries.
I want to sleep the dream of that child
who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.

I don’t want to hear again that the dead do not lose their blood,
that the putrid mouth goes on asking for water.
I don’t want to learn of the tortures of the grass,
nor of the moon with a serpent’s mouth
that labors before dawn.

I want to sleep awhile,
awhile, a minute, a century;
but all must know that I have not died;
that there is a stable of gold in my lips;
that I am the small friend of the West wing;
that I am the intense shadows of my tears.

Cover me at dawn with a veil,
because dawn will throw fistfuls of ants at me,
and wet with hard water my shoes
so that the pincers of the scorpion slide.

For I want to sleep the dream of the apples,
to learn a lament that will cleanse me to earth;
for I want to live with that dark child
who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.

Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!

USS_Maine

This is the USS Maine, the ship that started the Spanish American war.  She was in Havana harbour in Cuba in 1898 to “protect US interests” during the Cuban revolt against Spain.  She sank in mysterious circumstances on the night of 15th Feb.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Maine was sunk by the US themselves as a pretext to start the war.

Whatever the reasons for the sinking, the war with Spain was given credence, not by the sinking, but by the treatment of the sinking in the press.  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were engaged in a pitched battle for circulation in New York.  They invented the concept of “tabloid journalism” or as it was then called “yellow press”.  Yellow press journalism ignores principles such as good research and reasoned argument in favour of sensational headlines, graphic or shocking content and explicit photographs.  It is journalism aimed at selling papers.  It is also ironic that the doyen of tabloid journalism, Joseph Pulitzer, gave his name to the prize for excellence in Journalism.

Pulitzer and Hearst leaped on the Maine sinking and turned it into a national cause.

The USS Maine was not a great loss to the US navy.  Heralded as a great addition to the fleet when she was launched in 1889, she then wallowed in dock for three years awaiting delivery of armour plating.  A pre-dreadnought heavy cruiser, she is an example of clouded thinking in battleship design that became obsolete the day Dreadnought was launched in 1906.  In truth Maine was already obsolete by the time she was commissioned into the navy in 1895.

The Maine had two big gun turrets carrying four 10 inch guns.  The big gun turrets are housed in sponsons that jut out from the fore-starboard and aft-port quarters of the ship.  In the photo above you can see the starboard Turret.  With our knowledge of subsequent ship design we can see all sorts of problems with the big gun placement.

Firstly the guns cannot fully traverse.  The starboard gun can only fire effectively to starboard.  To fire to port required a deck cutout with very restricted lines of sight. The port side guns are even more restricted.  This means that in action at sea the four big guns can never effectively aim and fire at the same target.  Deck section cutaways were needed just to allow them to fire fore and aft.

Secondly, with the big guns mounted off the ships central axis the recoil from the fire has a destabilizing effect on the ship, making her rock.  Even in normal sailing conditions the low mounted – off centre sponsons took on water.  All in all she was a lemon.

In 1899 during the Battle of Manilla, the poem below was published.  It made Kipling a household name in the USA.  It was read in the Senate by Benjamin Tillman, who argued against the US annexation of the Philippines.

The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands; by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:
“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days
The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!