This slim volume is a closely reasoned study, full of deep insight into Roman thought processes. Based on the Robson Classical Lectures of 2012, it is written by Clifford Ando, Professor of Humanities at the Univ. of Chicago.
Each of the three lectures delivered at Victoria University at the University of Toronto are presented here as a separate chapter, and thus form a coherent whole. Unpacking the details the author explores would result in a very lengthy review, so here I will just highlight a major theme present in each chapter. The first deals with what citizenship meant to those who lived in the Roman Empire.
Wherever a Roman legion pitched its tents for the night, the soil the soldiers slept on was Roman soil. It didn't matter if they were in enemy territory, or far from Rome itself. Wherever they were, the soil was Roman.
Roman priests, Ando relates, carried “clumps of grass with their roots and soil intact” to be used in religious and legal ritual in other lands. “Soil, itself, is the stuff of patria,” the fatherland. Ando explores the deleterious implications of Caracalla's edict of 212 which granted Roman citizenship to nearly all freeborn residents of the empire. “The cognitive association of population, territory, law and city that the term civitas had therefore necessarily evoked henceforth failed.”
The second chapter looks at the use of language. When is an acorn not an acorn? It turns out the word acorn, in a legal context at least, included all fruits and nuts. Calling a date an acorn, for example, is a form of linguistic fiction. In affairs of state we see this again in the term pro consule, which Ando translates as “as if he were consul.” In the Roman Republic the consul was the highest elected official. Ando traces this usage over a period of 300 years, from the term consul (for one who was elected) to pro consul (investing consular power in a person “without the formality of an election.”). “The first incontrovertible instance known to me at present,” Ando states, “is found in a decree of an Augustan legate of 27 BCE.”
He concludes chapter 2 with a discussion of Romanness, an English word that has no existence in Latin. “According to Cicero, what made someone Roman was consent to law.”
Law is also the theme of the third chapter, where Ando considers legal texts, religious texts, and cultural history to search for the origins of the laws that govern them and the institutional mechanisms for effecting change.
“Neither newer sources of law, nor new laws, were understood at Rome as necessarily superseding earlier sources of law, or earlier statute.” The old texts were merely amended, not replaced.
The role of tradition was even upheld when it made no sense. Ando tells of the very first sundial. Pliny says it was consistently wrong in telling time, but the Romans used it every day for 99 years before replacing it!
In his conclusion, Ando highlights a great difference between Roman society and our own. “At no point in this long history does Rome produce a significant discourse on cultural difference.” His reflections on Roman knowledge, of how they saw themselves and other peoples, is a masterful study that will inform future studies of what it meant to be truly Roman.
Roman Social Imaginaries: Language and Thought in Contexts of Empire (124 pages) is $33.75 if ordered online from University of Toronto Press.
One of the finest writers of our time, Peter Davidson, has recently written an extraordinary book entitled The Last of the Light by Reaktion Books. I will soon be reviewing this book for Sun News Miami. Davidson has this to say about Vilhelm Hammershoi: “The vast majority of his works are evening pictures, haunting depictions of the northern light and its fall. They are often extraordinary experiments with the very last of the light, the final ebbing of definition from grey things, the catching of a sliver of belated reflection on the moulding of a panel or a window mirrored in a polished floorboard.” The latter can be seen in the main picture with this article, entitled Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor (@ National Gallery of Denmark). Like many of the paintings in this exhibit that spans two rooms, it is dated to 1901.
Since his death in 1916, Hammershoi has been largely forgotten outside of Denmark, so this exhibit of his paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario is especially welcome. The exhibit is due to the generous load of his major works from the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, owner of the largest Hammershoi collection in the world. The AGO itself acquired one of his works, which is also on display along with the others. It is Interior with 4 Etchings and features a piano with its lid shut. But this not hidden symbolism. The piano is a structural, geometric element in a room of a 17th century house Hammershoi lived in for 11 years.
At first glance the paintings can seem drab as their colour palette is so muted. Hammershoi had this to say on the matter. “I absolutely think that a picture has the best effect in strictly coloristic regards the fewer colours there are in it.” His works are certainly an acquired taste, and require a certain measure of solitude to appreciate.
They have elements of the minimalist paintings by the Canadian artist Christopher Pratt, now 80 years old, but Hammershoi's work is much more human. Even when his subjects (quite often his wife Ida) have their back turned to the viewer, the curiosity is piqued. As in the featured painting with this article, we have to ponder what she is doing as her hands are not visible.
In another painting on display, Interior with Woman, we again have to wonder as we can't see what the seated figure is occupying herself with. Knitting perhaps? There is a softness about her hair in comparison with the hard bowl on the table beside her. But above all what strikes the viewer is how it is very mathematically done. The block on the floor for her feet to rest on is at the same angle as the table. And the single etching on the wall provides the horizontal/vertical element that balances the composition. Without that small etching, the painting would be a failure. With the etching, it's a masterpiece worthy of contemplation.
One painting Hammershoi considered to be his masterpiece is the portrait of Ida done in 1891, shown here. He sent it to Paris for display, where his art dealer expressed an interest to buy it. The young artist put such a high price tag on it that the dealer declined, so the artist brought it back to Copenhagen where it eventually sold. He did the portrait from a photograph, but deleted all the furniture beside her to concentrate the viewer's attention only on her. Close inspection shows the white in her eye is blurred to make it appear she is daydreaming. (Portrait of Ida Ilsted, later the artist's wife; @National Gallery of Denmark)
There are many other notable paintings in the exhibit that concludes with a 1909 work Interior. Artificial Light that consists of two candles at the centre of a circular table draped with a cloth. The sparkles of light on curved elements of a chair are masterful as is the uneven glow of the candles on the wall behind the table. Very evocative. This one painting alone makes a trip to the AGO worthwhile.
The exhibit continues through July 30, 2016. The AGO is at 317 Dundas St West, Toronto and is open 6 days a week (closed Mondays).
Passion. Creativity. Innovation.
For the two speakers at the University of Waterloo Federation Hall on May 17, those are not just buzzwords. They are a call to action.
University president Feridun Hamdullahpur said the event was in gratitude for the work of adjunct professor Larry Smith, who spoke about his new book No Fears, No Excuses.
“The book is not my personal philosophy about careers,” explained Smith. “It is based on the evidence of our students. The reason I'm here is to celebrate what the students have done. To my surprise many students have shared their careers with me over the decades. Some went from university to disaster, others from success to success. It's the talent and drive of the university alumni that created the book.”
Smith said the book, which is being published worldwide in English by three publishers, and in other languages as well, “is intended to be pragmatic. Don't buy the book if you're looking for success quickly.”
While Smith admitted “it is nearly impossible to look into the future 50 years, there are two things you can count on.” The first is your ability to be an innovative problem-solver, and the second is your ability to communicate your solutions. Don't be shy he said, it will stifle your career.
President Hamdullahpur, a professor of mechanical engineering, gave some unexpected advice. “If I were a student now, I would only take two courses: archeology and astronomy. They will give you an all-embracing outlook and knowledge.”
He likewise refrained from looking too far into the future, invoking the science fiction idea that a hundred years from now “calculus may be embedded in our brains” from the beginning of life. Predicting a career with such technology as a starting point is exciting but clearly impossible, but he did have words of wisdom based on his personal experience.
“I followed my Mother's advice,” he said. “Listen to your heart. Whatever your passion is, follow it.” In the book, Smith calls passion “that extra layer of clothing on the temperamental spring day.” He writes that he “wholly disagrees” with the approach of finding your skill and then expecting that passion will follow.
Smith also writes in his book about fear. “Fear distracts from rational thought,” and he goes into case studies that illustrate that premise.
Hamdullahpur said he started taking risks, “moving out of my comfort zone. I used to jump out of airplanes. The unbelieveable excitement allowed me to overcome my fear.” He also used his days as a parachutist to offer a parable on life.
“Fold your own chute. Do it with perfection, and don't rely on anybody.”
The president related his risk-taking to the culture of the University he has been wisely guiding since 2011. “The University of Waterloo started from unconventional beginnings. It offers the kind of education I am excited about. You can come here and afford to take risks.”
The book No Fears, No Excuses (255 pages) is US$26 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Photos with this article by Dr. Cunningham are copyright Sun News Miami.
"The U.S. - Canada relationship has never been better than it is right now."
This ringing endorsement of the special relationship was stated by America's ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, who has been in the post since April 2014. He comes from the financial world, having been managing director of private wealth management at Goldman Sachs from 1999 to 2014. So what does he think of his current job?
When asked by the moderator of his chat in Waterloo on May 4 what advice he would give to his successor, Heyman said "You have the single best job in the U.S. government. We are just relay racers running with a baton to hand to the next person."
Heyman spoke before a capacity audience of 200 at the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) on a wide range of issues of interest to both nations. One which he would not be drawn on, however, is the current election process in the United States. "The role of a diplomat is one where we represent the entire nation. It's the law we are not to participate in endorsing or advocating candidates of any party."
Whatever the outsome of the election, he stated confidently, "it doesn't affect our ongoing relationship." He singled out the recent visit of PM Trudeau to Washington as "one of the most memorable points in time of my life." He also praised Trudeau for his handling of the refugee crisis. "I think there is a lot the world can learn about how Canada is dealing with it."
On policy issues, Heyman cautioned against the overheated polemics that have characterized the Keystone pipleine debate. "It's a mistake to let any issue to dominate the agenda. Our relationship is just too important . It's not necessary to stand on top of the mountain and yell 'hair on fire' about any issue."
On trade, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was highlighted. "We are of the belief we worked out the best agreement that could come out of a 12-party agreement," Heyman said. "There are two years to pass it, and I think at the end of the day this will pass."
Regarding the unrest among the American people about jobs and wages, Heyman explained that "We are in an environment where we have lower unemployment, but the problem is there is something else taking place, and that is technological change. With new technology plants were able to make things with half the workforce. Finding yourself lacking skill sets for other jobs makes the frustration really go up. The minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour is below subsistence level. I don't blame them for being frustrated." The issues affect not only the United States but all developed countries. Heyman said the "U.S. is standing out as doing incredibly well. I am confident on where America is."
On a personal level, Heyman said of his background that his father "Created a platform for my life." He was a travelling salesman, and "while he was in the car for hours he would listen to NPR (National Public Radio). He knew everything going on in the world. It made a strong impression on me."
Heyman offered advice of a general nature based on his vast experience of the human condition. "Never underestimate something you may not perceive to be important. Two people can see something completely differently and both be right."
And finally he exhorts all Canadians to "see every part of the country because it's one of the most beautiful places on the planet."
Canada is indeed fortunate to have such a thoughful and articulate person at the helm of American relations with its vast northern neighbor.
For more on the Pacific Trade Agreement, see my report from May 2015 with the head of the Small Business Administration. It is at this link:
Photo of Ambassador Heyman copyright by Dr. C. Cunningham
Suppose you woke up one morning and heard on the radio or television that the Government now has “full power to control all persons and property. There is no distinction between rich and poor, between worker and employer, between man and woman.” What would you think? What country do you think you would living in to hear this?
The answer to the second question is England, and the date was May 22, 1940, just five days before 225,000 British troops and 111,000 Allies were evacuated from Dunkirk. Then Europe was plunged into the darkness of Nazi tyranny until D-Day in 1944 saw British troops once more on European soil.
But who was on the radio that day in May? It was not the Prime Minister Winston Churchill but instead Clement Attlee, a member of his War Cabinet, the person who would eventually defeat Churchill in the 1945 election to become PM.
This excellent book by Jonathan Schneer, professor of history at Georgia Tech, tells the story of the men who comprised Churchill's War Cabinet in World War II. To be clear, this is not about his Cabinet, which comprised many more people, but just the inner circle dubbed the War Cabinet whose efforts were directed solely towards winning the war. Too often we hear of this entirely from the perspective of Churchill himself. In this book, we hear many other perspectives, making it a valuable contribution not only to Churchill studies but the study of World War II as well.
Schneer makes a particular point that he is examining “Churchill as manager of men, a role not much appreciated at the time, or often studied by historians. In fact, he worked hard to encourage his team and to keep it in good temper...For he presided over a political coalition of tough and prickly individuals, strong personalities unaccustomed to turning the other cheek when criticized or contradicted.”
One of these, who is a central figure in the book, is the Canadian press magnate Max Beaverbrook. He was constantly threatening resignation, and sometimes he really did leave. His mercurial character is deftly explored by Schneer. But to highlight how Churchill dealt with him and others in terms of a “manager of men,” I will mention just one incident.
In charge of the Air Ministry was Archibald Sinclair, who in the 1930s was one of the few who opposed the appeasement of Hitler by PM Chamberlain. In August 1940 Beaverbrook and Sinclair were “locked in argument over whether to focus on production of fighter aircraft or bombers. Churchill intervened,” saying fighters meant salvation, but “bomber offers means of victory.”
Churchill also knew how to manage a fall. Sir Stafford Cripps veered so far to the left in the 1930s even the Labour party expelled him. He became ambassador to Russia in 1940, and was brought into the War Cabinet in 1942 against the vehement protests of Beaverbrook and Attlee. Unsuited to the task he was given, he didn't last long, just 10 months. He was replaced by Anthony Eden, another future PM. “In making Cripps House Leader, he (Churchill) had knowingly passed him a poisoned chalice. Finally, Cripps had drunk deeply of it,” writes the author Gothically. Cripps then became Minister of Aircraft Production till the end of the war in '45.
Cripps was important because he was maneuvering to become PM. “In the great, if never publicly acknowledged, contest for primacy carried out between Winston Churchill and Stafford Cripps during most of 1942, then, game, set and match to the prime minister.” This is just one of many machinations Schneer brings to the fore, much of which has until now been virtually unknown or obscure.
I do have a few quibbles with the book, despite its overall fine merits. First, there are no illustrations. Aside from the front cover we don't get to see any photos of the members of the cabinet. There is a capsule biography of each principal player at the outset, but with all the cabinet changes over the 5 years of the war, what is needed is a table of each cabinet post with the person holding it and the dates of their tenure. Keeping track of it all is not something an interested reader who is not a war historian should be expected to do. A photo of each person beside their capsule biography would have been helpful.
While the cabinet members themselves are obviously key, they were supported by junior ministers. We are tantalised here when Churchill at one stage in the war first reshuffles these junior minister before doing a Cabinet reorganisation. I would have appreciated more depth to this aspect.
I might also recommend reading a recent book by William Louis, published by ibTauris: Speak for England: Leo Amery and the British Empire in the Age of Churchill. Amery is mentioned several times in Schneer's book. He was secretary of state for India beginning in 1940, but not a member of the War Cabinet. As the premiership of Neville Chamberlain was ending, Beaverbrook met with Churchill to ask if he would serve under the Earl of Halifax as PM. But Schneer says even Beaverbrook may not have known what he wanted. “Upon leaving Churchill he told a former Cabinet minister that he thought Amery should become prime minister.”
I read this book while drinking English tea. I suggest you do the same. Put the kettle on and get ready for a jolly good read!
There is a typo on page 166: “of the of” should be “of the”
Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet (323 pages) is $37.50 from Basic Books.
[Front row, seated left to right]:
(1) Sir John Anderson (National),
Lord President of the Council (October 1940 - September 1943),
Chancellor of the Exchequer (September 1943 - July 1945).
(2) Winston Churchill (Conservative),
Prime Minister (May 1940 - July 1945),
Minister of Defence (May 1940 - July 1945).
(3) Clement Attlee (Labour),
Lord Privy Seal (May 1940 - February 1942),
Deputy Prime Minister (February 1942 - May 1945),
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (February 1942 - September 1943),
Lord President of the Council (September 1943 - 23 May 1945).
(4) Anthony Eden (Conservative),
Secretary of State for War (May 1940 - December 1940),
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (December 1940 - July 1945),
Leader of the House of Commons (November 1942 - July 1945).
[Back row, standing left to right]:
(5) Arthur Greenwood (Labour),
Minister without Portfolio (May 1940 - February 1942).
(6) Ernest Bevin (Labour),
Minister of Labour and National Service (May 1940 - May 1945)
(7) Lord Beaverbrook, 'Max' Aitken (Conservative),
Minister of Aircraft Production (May 1940 - May 1941),
Minister of Supply (May 1941 - February 1942),
Minister of War Production (4 - 19 February 1942).
(8) Sir Kingsley Wood (Conservative),
Chancellor of the Exchequer (May 1940 - September 1943).
(He left the War Cabinet February 1942 but remained as Chancellor until his death on 21 September 1943).
James Boswell's notoriety rests on his conversations with Dr. Samuel Johnson. The book he wrote based on his long-time acquaintance with Johnson is one of the most famous books of all time. This book does describe vividly their first meeting and the influence Johnson had on Boswell, but it primarily gives us an entirely different perspective in the life of this Scotsman who was bedevilled all his life by questions of mortality and immortality.
The author is Dr. Robert Zaretsky, Professor of French History at the University of Houston.
On his tour of Europe, Boswell made a particular point of meeting, and bombarding with pointed questions, the two most famous philosophers in the world: Voltaire and Rousseau. Dr. Johnson had no use for either. In a conversation, he lumped them together as “bad men.” The author writes that “When Boswell pressed on the point, Johnson exploded: “'Why, Sir, it is difficult to settle the proportion on iniquity between them.'” This did not deter Boswell. “The traveler,” writes Zaretsky, “unloaded his bags at an inn and immediately set about plans to call on Voltaire.”
Zaretsky sets the stage with relish. “As the other guests filed out to the dining room, the Scot realized this was his one chance to have Voltaire to himself. Remaining behind in the drawing room, Boswell effectively blocked Voltaire's escape route to his own rooms through his relentless questioning.” They talked for two hours. “The conversation assumed epic proportions,” says Zaretsky. What would any philosopher today give for those two hours! When one reads this book, the uniqueness of what is being described must be kept in mind. Alas, only fragments of what they discussed have survived, as the eight pages Boswell wrote “have since been lost.” But the concluding words Voltaire spoke are these. “I suffer much. But I suffer with Patience and Resignation; not as a Christian-But as a man.”
One of the prime topics he assailed Voltaire with was the same topic he assailed other great thinkers with- the reality of the soul or life after death. Voltaire said he refused to “inflame his mind with grand hopes of the immortality of the Soul. He says it may be; but he knows nothing of it.” That was in 1764.
When he pressed the great philosopher David Hume on the subject in 1777, he received cold comfort. “The morality of every religion was bad,” Hume announced. And when he hears a man is religious, he must be a rascal. “Would Hume persist, he wondered, 'in disbelieving a future state even when he had death before his eyes?'” asked Boswell. Hume calmly persisted. Was it not, Hume added, a “most unreasonable fancy that we should exist forever?”
A few months later, relates Zaretsky, Bowell met with Johnson to describe the shock he experienced from this conversation with Hume, who was near death at the time. Boswell told Johnson that Hume was not terrified at the prospect of annihilation. “Galvanized by his companion's remark, Johnson was abrupt and unforgiving: 'It was not so, Sir. He had a vanity in being thought easy.'”
Boswell remarks here the “The horror of death which I had always observed in Dr. Johnson, appeared strong tonight.” As I said at the outset of this review, Boswell liked pointed inquiries, so, in Zaretsky's narrative, he opted to “provoke Johnson.” “Ah! We must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things explained to us,” replied Johnson. Even Johnson's superior mind, Boswell concluded, “seemed foiled by futurity.” Boswell died in 1795. Where is he now?
One of his many female admirers wrote of Boswell. “He is so good a man that he looks odd in this perverse age.” One wonders if he would appear better in the 21st century.
In the end, Boswell was best summed up by none other than Rousseau who told him “Sir, all you lack is knowledge of your own worth.” In this insightful, enlightening (in more than one sense, as the title suggests) and eminently readable book, Zaretsky lets us judge for ourselves what his worth is to posterity.
Boswell's Enlightenment (269 pages) is $26.95 from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
It is often said as a warning that a biographer should never get too close to his subject in case he or she ends up writing a hagiography. In the case of David Axelrod's book about Joseph Kennedy Jr., there is no need to fear that.
The opening section really deals with his father, Joe Sr., who was America's ambassador to Great Britain. Axelrod, who has written biographies of other World War II figures General Patton and General Bradley, clearly exudes moral disdain for the senior Kennedy, who truly was a reprehensible figure.
“Ultimately, for this ambassador,” writes Axelrod, "tyranny, terror, persecution, and the prospect of genocide did not come down to geopolitics and diplomacy. All of it was personal, and all of it paled in comparison to the future of his legacy, his family, his sons.” His sons were Joe Jr. and Jack, better known as President John Kennedy, whose mind fortunately did not become tainted with his father's legacy of appeasement to dictators like Hitler.
In an interview with Book TV last year, Axelrod said “Both Joe Sr. and Rose (the mother of Joe Jr.) thought that Joe, who was this Adonis of a man and the picture of health, had a much better chance of surviving into maturity than his sickly brother Jack. Moreover, based on IQ tests and performance in school they thought Joe was far more intelligent.” So much for the validity of IQ tests.
Even though President Roosevelt appointed Joe Sr to be ambassador, he had little regard for the elder Kennedy. As war clouds were gathering in 1939, FDR kept under wraps reports from Joe Sr. in London. “FDR did not want it leaked that his ambassador to Britain had moved from neutrality, to appeasement, to defeatism, to surrender, to the exchange of democracy for facism- all before a single shot had been fired.”
Axelrod does not spare Joe Jr. either. On a trip to Germany in the 1930s, Joe Jr. wrote his father praising Hitler's perception as “excellent psychology,” remarking “it was too bad that it had to be done to the Jews.... As far as the brutality is concerned, it must have been necessary to use some, to secure the whole hearted support of the people.”
The author slams Joe Jr. in strident terms: “logically argued yet utterly unthinking, unfeeling, and morally vacuous.” But perhaps this is not surprising since his father “seemed, quite frankly, to be cheering for the Luftwaffe.” The real surprise is that the other son, Jack, became a superior leader.
This all sets the stage for the main portion of the book, dealing with Joe Jr's. military career as an Air Force pilot. Always craving heroism, he volunteered for the most dangerous missions, but he reached too far.
Large sections of the book actually deal with other pilots. They are the ones who lived to tell their stories of air raids over Germany and occupied France. Allied commanders were faced with rockets such as the V2 being used against London, and there were fears that the rumoured V3 could hit not only London, but New York. Therefore it was imperative the hardened launch sites be destroyed. No bomb in the arsenal could do it, so the solution was to fill an entire plane to the ceiling with super-high explosives.
“This was a mission that was done in the same spirit as Doolittle's Tokyo raid at the beginning of the war,” explains Axelrod. “It was done in a kind of improvised way and taking weapons that weren't intended to be used this way and using them in the hope it would work.” It didn't work. A few minutes after Joe Kennedy's plane took off, it exploded. It was in fact the largest man-made explosion in human history up to that time. The date was Aug. 12, 1944.
It was all for nothing anyway. “The great tragic irony of the story is that these bunkers they were trying to hit had already been abandoned by the Germans.”
While the book does contain a fair bit of technical aviation material that is best skipped by those who care more about the human story, this is a fine addition to the literature on the Kennedy family.
Lost Destiny (290 pages) is $28 from Palgrave Macmillan. Visit their website: us.macmillan.com
For more on Kennedy, read my review of the book JFK's Forgotten Crisis. As of April 21/16, it is the most recent review on the front page, in the lead feature box.
Since reading this book I have asked several people who were young adults in 1962 if they remembered the war between India and China in that year. No one did. This is indeed a forgotten crisis, and it prompted author Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC to write a book about it. He spoke on the subject during a recent seminar at the University of Waterloo.
As he writes in the book's introduction, “The Kennedy Library in Boston in 2002 published a reading list about the Cuban Missile crisis that ran to thirteen pages and listed more than 220 books or manuscripts. Yet this is the first book to address Kennedy's role in the Tibet project and the Sino-Indian War of 1962.”
What happened in 1962 is not just a historical curiosity. Kashmir, said Riedel, “is a festering wound between three nuclear weapons states- Pakistan, India and China. Pakistan is the only country making tactical nuclear weapons.” Despite the inherent danger, Riedel thinks it is “highly unlikely India and China will fight another war.”
But they did fight one in 1962, and it could have escalated into a crisis just as grave as the Korean War. There are apparently no archival records in China to shed light on what happened, or if there are the Chinese have never admitted to their existence. What went on in the warped mind of Mao, the most notorious mass murderer of all time, can only be guessed at. But he decided first, in the 1950s, to invade Tibet, and this prompted a secret CIA operation to resupply the Tibetan rebels.
The mission was so secret that even though it started in 1957, President Kennedy was not “briefed about the air drops and covert use of Pakistani territory to support the Tibetan resistance” until mid-February 1961. That was three weeks after he became president. “Kennedy approved continuation of the mission,” writes Riedel.
So why was the CIA operating out of Pakistan? “The Eisenhower administration decided it wanted to support the Tibetan resistance,” Riedel explained in his address in Waterloo. “We had no diplomatic relations with China. CIA operatives got the Dalai Lama out of Tibet into India, but a base nearby was needed to support the Tibetan rebels. Pakistan was already a base for spy missions over Russia. India didn't want to take the responsibility” for an active operation into Tibetan territory because it was a non-aligned country. The CIA actually trained the Tibetan rebels in Colorado. “Why not? The Rockies are as close to the Himalayas as you can get.”
Kennedy was “very pro-India. He believed the most important battle of our time was between India and China.” Kennedy declared “it is a vital national interest” of the United States that India win that race. The president sent John Kenneth Galbraith to India as ambassador and “he became a close advisor to PM Nehru.”
When Kennedy provided more than a billion dollars in economic aid to India, Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, decided to suspend the Tibet operation in retaliation. Pakistan and India were mortal foes, and they have fought three wars since those dark days of '62. To smooth relations, Khan was invited to the United States, and that is where First Lady Jackie begins to play what Riedel characterised as the “most unique First Lady's role” ever.
Instead of hosting a state dinner at the White House, she decided to hold it at George Washington's estate of Mt. Vernon. “It was the first and only state dinner at Mt. Vernon.” Kennedy “took Khan for a stroll in the gardens” and that did the trick. Khan let the Tibetan raids resume.
Riedel devotes an entire chapter to Jackie and India in 1962, beginning with a description of the “iconic photograph” of her in front of the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately the reader is left wondering what that photo is, as it is not shown. Indeed, there are no photos in the book, which is it's only major problem. Jackie also visited Pakistan, where Khan gave her a horse. It became a very famous horse, as it is the one that followed the hearse of Pres. Kennedy through the streets of Washington in 1963.
China launched its attack on India on October 20, 1962. The reason everyone has forgotten about it is that Kennedy addressed the world on October 22 about an imminent threat to the United States- the Cuban missile crisis. While the two great Asian powers were at war, all eyes were on Cuba.
Kennedy was afraid Khan would take the opportunity to attack India, but “his warnings to Khan worked and they stayed neutral.” Another country in the mix was tiny Bhutan, which India at the time regarded as its protectorate. Chinese troops were on its northern border. Riedel tells us Galbraith met with the prime minister of Bhutan in Oct. 24, four days after war began. But for some reason, his name is not given. I would have liked to see more of the situation from the Bhutanese perspective, if any such archives exist.
Nehru, whose troops and weapons were no match for the Chinese, was so concerned he thought Calcutta itself might be captured by China. He wrote two super-secret letters to Kennedy (not released to the public until 2010) in which he asked for massive air support from the U.S.: 250 fighters and 100 bombers. “Nehru was asking the US to join the war against China,” said Riedel.
Instead, Kennedy sent a carrier battle group towards the Bay of Bengal, and he also sent the world famous diplomat Averell Harriman to New Delhi. Mao decided he had provoked the US to the max without sparking a major war, so he called a ceasefire.
“It was a dramatic demonstration of leadership” on the part of Kennedy, said Riedel in Waterloo. Combined with the simultaneous Cuban crisis, “It was multi-tasking taken to an order of magnitude we can scarcely think about.”
Riedel does a fine job at giving both the tactical situation on the ground during the war, and the geo-political perspective to put it in context. An engaging read about an important era that is still shaping the power politics of Asia, this book is highly recommended to all military scholars, Kennedy scholars, students of the Asian world, and the public at large.
JFKs Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, The CIA, and the Sino-Indian War (231 pages) is $29 from Brookings Institution Press.
Cicero was the first to admit it. His ambition in drawing from sources transcended translation, and he would do so “in such measure and in such manner as shall suit my purpose.” (De Officiis, I.6).
While this quote, rather surprisingly, does not appear in this book by Dr. Todd Reeser, it neatly expresses the subject matter of his work.
Reeser is a professor of French, and the director of the gender, sexuality, and women's studies program at the University of Pittsburgh. What he has set out to do here is take the writings of Plato that deal with homosexuality, and examine in very fine detail how they were translated in the Renaissance. In this he has accomplished such a superlative job that it will become a foundational text for the academic study of gay history.
As he says in the introduction, “Translations and commentaries have effects beyond themselves, as they send ripple waves into other cultural domains.”
Reeser notes that Plato includes many “direct and indirect references to homoerotic desire throughout the Symposium and the Phaedrus, and at the beginning of the Lysis.” The speech of Aristophanes at the banquet in the Symposium was a particular problem for Renaissance translators, as it “describes in idealized terms boys who grow up to be pederasts. Terms that refer to man/boy love are ubiquitous.” The other prime text Reeser studies is Alcibiades's speech, where he tries to seduce Socrates.
The author identifies in chapter one what he describes as the “textual moment” that is at the heart of his study. Men who love women are adulterers according to Plato. Boys grow up to be boy-lovers, men who, in the words of Plato, “are quite contented to live together unwedded all their days.” Men who have “the most manly nature,” says Plato, have “no interest in wiving and getting children.”
What was a Renaissance translator to do with all this gayness which was against Catholic Church teaching? Very simple: replace it all with an asterisk. That, at least, is what Mathurin Heret did in his 1556 French translation of the Symposium! Aristophanes' entire speech about males finding their other halves is indicated with an asterisk, which Reeser identifies as a major event.
“This punctuation mark replaces a particularly problematic textual moment, of course, but it also signals a climax in the larger context of the translation or a point at which the translator's back is to the wall and he can no longer pretend that pederasty was something else than what it was and that these boys love men.”
Another translator Reeser devotes a lot of attention to is Marcilio Ficino. If he had held up a banner, it would have read “Platonism has to be dequeered.” The “cultural tensions around Plato” that Reeser identifies means that homoetoricism may not even have been possible, “even if a Renaissance writer wants to compose what we might now call a gay text.”
Thus we see that another major translator, Leonardo Bruni, had “an intense fear of Platonic sexuality...Instead of presenting the entire conclusion of the Symposium, Bruni cuts out the scene in which Agathon and Alcibiades both try to gain Socrates' affection.” The heavenly love of one male for another described by Plato becomes, the hands of these Renaissance translators, either a “vague form of love” or no love at all. With all this literary vandalism, it is no wonder generations of people grew up repressed (my view, not propounded by Reeser, to be clear).
Reeser uses medical analogies and metaphors to fine effect in explaining all this. “Ficino repeatedly refers to aspects of Socrates in ways that allow the reader in the know not to see the translation as entirely unfaithful and the reader not in the know not to be infected with the wicked.”
The 1503 book by Symphorien Champier is a classic example of this. Reeser studies in depth the work of this translator who was also a physician. He went even further than Ficino as well. “Whereas Ficino had rejected male-male sexual acts, Champier groups all sexual acts into a single, vague category that must be avoided.” In the hands of Champier, “the chaste Socrates sets sexuality straight even without naming the problem in the first place.”
As an examination of what Reeser terms “the obsession in the Renaissance with rewriting male-male eros,” this book is a landmark study that will reward a careful study. Another review of this book has described it as “deeply sophisticated” and in that I fully concur. Despite is academic nature, Setting Plato Straight should be read by social policy makers of today, and of course any student of the Renaissance. But most of all it should read by anyone who thinks they know what love is. Hint: Plato knew.
Setting Plato Straight: Translating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance (390 pages) is $45 from University of Chicago Press.
Note on future story: I recently attended the 45th anniversary celebration of the University of Waterloo's Glow Center, Canada's oldest gay student organisation. My report on this will appear soon.
Anyone following the rise of terrorism in the world will be aware of the role of ideology, but what exactly is ideology and how can it be studied?
This was the broad mandate of the keynote address given by Dr. Jonathan Leader Maynard of Oxford University. He was in Waterloo on April 7 to give an address at the Balsillie School of International Affairs which hosted a graduate student conference on ideology.
“Ideology makes a huge difference,” Said Maynard. “Terrorist organisations have radically different levels of violence depending on their ideologies.”
Maynard said that until recently the study of ideology has “been somewhat peripheral, relegated to being a weak causal factor.” This attitude, he says, must change. “International Relations needs to get ideology in a big way.”
Even now, Maynard claims, the study of ideology is “relatively understated. As the study of International Relations grows and produces thousands of articles a year, a remarkably small number deal with ideology. But a vast majority of existing work has converged to the idea that ideology is a broad phenomena that describes political belief systems.”
Maynard has identified a phenomena he calls the “instrumentalism-internalised chain.” He gave as an example “an internalised role such as a terrorist or a cynical politician espousing a nationalist myth.” They can be thought of as two ends of a chain. Such elites as politicians use instrumentality for their own ideological ends, and “everyone keeps responding to instrumentalist ideals.” The ultimate end of this is often mass death. “A narrative built around past oppression is easily motivated by the elite” and can lead to genocide. An individual terrorist internalises his ideology, convincing himself that committing suicide in a crowded place serves his ideological ends.
But Maynard cautions against the idea of believing groups such as various terrorist organisations are homogeneous. We must, he says, grapple with the concept of “ideological heterogeneity” .
The “weird paradox that shows they are riven with disagreements. We treat groups as homogeneous because we lack the tools to deal with heterogeneity.”
Maynard identifies six types of people with respect to official ideologies, which can be, for example, Nazism or ISIS: devotees, adherents, sympathsizers, apathetics, skeptics and antagonists.
“Ideologies are not static- we need to understand how they change. We have remarkably limited resources to handle that question in International Relations. We don't for example, have good theories about tipping points.” He gave Nazi ideology as an example. It started with a small group of devotees and adherents, with a large number of the people as apathetic, skeptical, or antagonistic. But at a certain point the numbers rapidly reversed.
Looking forward, Maynard says “we need to go from minds to movements by building a group of ideology scholars. The changing topics of interest in the world is the main reason for the rise of ideology research.”
Photo by C. Cunningham