Friday, 7 March 2014

Parcels Of Rogues

All The King's Men: Redcoats await the onslaught of Bonnie Prince Charlie's clansmen, 1745. The future of Scotland has never been a casual matter for England - just as the future of the Ukraine has never been a casual matter for Russia.
IT’S OVER 300 YEARS since a “parcel of rogues” signed away Scotland’s status as an independent nation. The Act of Union of 1707 created the “united” kingdom of “Great Britain”. Two crowns are one crown too many, said the English, and the Scots were “persuaded” to agree.
According to the distinguished British historian, Simon Schama: “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.”
 “[H]ostile merger”? Why were the English so determined to put an end to Scottish independence?
To understand England’s motives we need look no further than the situation currently unfolding in the Crimea and Ukraine. When you share a border with a nation unnervingly sympathetic to powers than wish you no good, “independence” can very quickly become a dirty word.
In 1707 the Catholic monarchy of France was still offering sanctuary to the descendants of James Stuart, the deposed king of England and Scotland. While Scottish independence persisted there was always a risk that England would wake up one morning and find King James VIII of Scotland, backed by French bayonets, camped along its northern border.
England was willing to spend a lot of money to dispel that strategic nightmare.
As Robbie Burns so succinctly put it:
We were bought and sold
For English gold
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation
And, when English gold was no longer enough, England was more than willing to spill Scottish blood. In 1715, and again, most famously, in 1745, when James Stuart’s grandson, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, raised the clans against its German-speaking Hanoverian king, George II, England’s answer was swift and brutal. Scotland had been bought fair and square – and, By God! She was going to stay bought!
It’s highly likely the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, experienced very similar feelings as he watched the government of bought-and-paid-for Viktor Yanukovych cut a disgraceful deal with, and then run from, the far-right nationalist protesters occupying Kiev’s Independence Square. If Ukrainian “independence” meant waking up one morning to find the European Union, backed by NATO bayonets, camped along his southern border, then, from President Putin’s perspective, the word “independence” needed some … redefinition.
The rag-tag regime installed by the Kiev protesters may not like President Putin’s idea of Ukrainian independence, but they can hardly have been surprised by it. Russia was born in the Ukraine. The ancient cities of Novgorod and Kiev providing the economic and administrative hubs around which the Russia state took form. Ukrainian independence – at least in its post-Soviet guise – is an accident of history.
The more thoughtful sort of American (which unfortunately excludes nearly all of its political leaders) understands the essential fragility of Ukrainian “independence” very well. Here’s how the leading US strategic forecasting agency, Stratfor, sums up the situation:
“Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries … And given that, the future of Ukraine is never a casual matter for them.”

"Russia has only two friends in the world - its army and its navy."
Just as the future of Scotland can never be a casual matter for England.
Or the future of the entire Western Hemisphere can ever be a casual matter for the United States.
It was President James Monroe who, in 1823, gave voice to the strategic doctrine that would forever after bear his name. Addressing Europe’s imperial powers on behalf of the American people, Monroe declared:
“[W]e should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
In May 1962, it was the Monroe Doctrine which underpinned the Kennedy Administration’s demand that the Russians remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba. In the 1980s, with much less justification, President Ronald Reagan invoked it against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
The United States friends and allies maintained a respectful silence as it went about securing its “near abroad”. The Russian Federation, by all appearances, has not been so fortunate.
“Russia has only two friends in the world,” said Tsar Alexander III, “its army and its navy.”
If history is any guide – two is all she needs.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 March 2014.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Davo Stevens said...

Vlad Putin has dreams of a great empire again like it was back in Cold War days. Not going to happen but.

Whilst there are the parties dancing around the fringes and glaring at each other, nothing much will happen. Europe (NATO) isn't going to invade Ukraina including Crimea nor is the US.

In this interconnected world, Russia needs Europe and Europe needs Russia and the US needs Russia to a lesser extent.

About one third of the Russian revenue comes from the gas supplies to Europe and shutting it off would cause much grief to ordinary Russians and much pain for Vlad. Europe needs that gas as it's only other source is the North Sea fields. That can not supply enough for the European market.

Russia has always regarded Ukraina as an extension of their territory albeit an unruly one.

Victor said...

On the whole a good parallel.

Of course, Presbyterian Lowlanders (including your ancestors?) tended to be much less enthusiastic about the Jacobite cause than were the Highland clans. And, even in the Highlands, the Campbells and their subordinate clans were firmly on the Hanoverian side.

So '45, let alone '15, weren't simply or primarily national rebellions. They were continuations of the internal (separate but related) English and Scots quarrels of the previous century, albeit also part of the wider confrontation between Britain and France.

I'm not sure whether this makes them more or less apposite to the current situation in Ukraine.

Victor said...

Come to think of it, a significant difference between the two situations is that the Stuarts were seeking to rule both Scotland and England (plus Ireland, bits of India, large numbers of sugar-producing islands and thirteen colonies in North America).

Prince Charlie's motley band actually got as far south as Derby bringing the City of London to panic point.

I don't know that anyone in Kiev is directly planning to march on Moscow and take over the entire Russian Federation, which would, I suppose, be necessary for this parallel to hold vast quantities of water.

But I've been wrong once already on this very site in recent days. So who am I to cavil?

markus said...

Going off on my usual tangent...."the distinguished British historian, Simon Schama".

Well, yeah, I enjoyed his History of Britain series. On t'other hand, I'd have agood deal of trouble accepting anything he had to say on (1) The Holocaust or (2) The Israel-Palestine conflict. In both cases, his views are fatally compromised by a core Zionist perspective.

Schama praised the Right-Wing, Uber-Zionist US Anti-Defamation League's publications as "critically historically informed", a judgement of a piece with his past cheerleading of Daniel Goldhagen's 'Hitler's Willing Executioners' as "the fruit of phenomenal scholarship and absolute integrity" which will "permanently change the debate on the Holocaust." This is the book that leading scholars of the nazi holocaust described as "worthless".

Meanwhile, in the final episode of his recent 'The Story of the Jews', he makes what he calls 'The moral Case for Israel', parroting a good deal of the official Israeli narrative (albeit with a touch of liberal nuance here and there), and ending by telling BBC viewers they have a moral obligation to remain silent about Israel's flouting of International Law and violation of human rights.

Victor said...


The problem with Simon Schama is that he's become a media personality/"public intellectual" first and a scholar second.

And he normally has the sensibilities of US audiences in mind, even when, at first instance, writing/broadcasting for a UK audience.

Hence that absurd episode (called, if I recall it rightly: "the Wrong Empire") in his otherwise highly enjoyable TV history of Britain, in which he lauds the slave-owners of Virginia and the despoilers of Native Americans as precursors of anti-imperialist revolt.

By the way, I've just finished reading the book he's had made out of the first half of his Jewish History series (i.e. up to 1492).

It challenges a number of widely-held myths and is full of enjoyable(and often moving)purple prose.

But the editing is terrible (e.g. he's a century out with Maimonedes' year of birth and plonks the Khazar kingdom to the south rather than the north of the Caucuses).

The whole volume seems to have been rushed into publication, simply and blatantly to coincide with the TV show, which is not what I'd expect from a scholar of Schama's prominence.

But then I'm spoiled as far as TV historians are concerned, as I recall watching AJP Taylor, lecturing for forty-five minutes on end in black and white, without notes and with hardly any visual aids, to the infinite delight of both my "A Level" student self and my (in retrospect)amazingly erudite, self-educated dad.

Them was the days.

Fern said...

Very impressed that you were able to dig out a photo from 1745 :)

Chris Trotter said...

Pop 'round and see me some day, Fern, and I'll take you for a spin in my time machine. (Don't forget to bring your camera!)

markus said...

Victor "The problem with Simon Schama is that he's become a media personality / "public intellectual" first and a scholar second."

Yeah, I know what you mean, Victor. There's always an inherent risk when academics - historians or otherwise - move to celebrity status. The objectivity, caution and scrupulous standards can be compromised (not that scholars always reach those standards, mind you - more of which below).

Having said that, I wouldn't want to disparage Public Intellectuals too much. They play a vital role (arguably, Chris is the only bona fide public intellectual operating in this Country at the moment). You need people who have the ability to make history interesting to the wider public, clarifying events, eras and contemporary relevance with colourful, apposite metaphors, provocative analogies, eloquent prose......(and eschewing the kind of elitism that divorces the academy and its research-findings from wider society). In fact, you could probably see AJP Taylor as both serious scholar and public intellectual (I hear his ITV series of the late 50s - late 60s - the ones you and your family enjoyed - were hugely popular, making him into a bit of a celebrity in his own right).

Although I criticise Schama, like you (and obviously Chris), I did enjoy his History of Britain series (in fact, I received the two companion volumes as a Christmas present - so we fell for the whole merchandising campaign as well).

Victor "He normally has the sensibilities of US audiences in mind......"

Yeah and I think that's at least as important as his media-personality status when we're talking about his pronouncements on the Holocaust or the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Quite a crude official Zionist narrative has monopolised public debate in the US (in terms of popular literature) on these histories. And, in fact, you could say pretty much the same thing about American academic scholarship (at least, until recently) on the Middle East. The reliable stuff on the nazi holocaust comes, of course, from serious scholars in bona fide History, Sociology and Pol Sci departments (in the US, we're, of course, talking people like the late Raul Hilberg, Arno Mayer, Christopher Browning etc). But a good deal of nonsense on the Holocaust continues to be published as 'serious scholarship' - Goldhagen being one example. A few years ago, I read some ludicrous nonsense from an American scholar specialising either in theatrical performance or English Literature (can't quite remember which). He essentially argued that the nazi holocaust is so mysterious and beyond any sort of understanding that in any piece of theatre on the subject, the only possible way for actors to convey the meaning of the Shoa is to silently stand on stage and just very occassionally scream very loudly. I mean, with that sort of meaningless tosh, you can understand what people mean when they talk about 'The Holocaust Industry' ! Absolutely worthless as scholarship.

I'd argue that the newly-created entities in US universities - like Holocaust Studies and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Jewish Studies - tend to be grounded in an a'priori Zionist outlook that compromises much (though not necessarily all) of their scholarship.

markus said...

Victor "It (first volume of 'The Story of the Jews') challenges a number of widely-held myths."

Yes, I read that the earlier episodes were rather more provocative and less reflective of core Zionist sensibilities. Does he deal with the way Israeli archeology has recently undermined the Zionist claims about 'Ancient Israel', the myth of exile and of one, unified Kingdom of David ? (much to the shock of the archeologists concerned, given that most were motivated by a passionate Zionism).

And by your mention of "the Khazar kingdom", would I be right in assuming Schama touched on (still controversial) arguments made by Arthur Koestler - and more recently Israeli Professor Shlomo Sands - suggesting most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from 8th century converts to Judaism ?

For me, the most impressive historiography of the jewish people tends to be written by non-/post-/anti-Zionist Jewish scholars. Eric Hobsbawm, John Rose and others have challenged this kind of arid zionist narrative of unending woe. They've emphasised the richness and complexity of Jewish experience over more than two milenia.

Victor said...


I agree with many of your comments but I personally think that the scream midst silence is the best possible emotional reaction to the Holocaust, although it's obviously not adequate from the perspective of the search for historical knowledge.

And it sure beats either denial or the constant misuse of the Holocaust theme for political purposes.

Yes, Schama's recent book does deal with the gap between more recent archeological evidence and the conventional narrative, both with regard to the assumed exodus from Egypt and the existence of a powerful Davidic kingdom.

He examines the evidence in what seems to me to be a neutral manner and comes down largely, though not wholly, on the side of the revisionists.

But he does raise a question not normally broached with respect to the Exodus viz: How comes this particular myth?

His argument is that it's not normal for a bunch of sheep farmers to imagine that their ancestors were slaves anywhere. Most peoples claim to be descended from kings. So whence this powerful myth of exile, slavery and liberation.

He deals at some length with the Khazars and certainly refers to what's now known as the Koestler Theory (although it was well rehearsed long before Koestler).

But a weakness of the book is that there's very little about Ashkenazi Jewry prior to the catastrophe of the Crusades and much of what there is tends to be narrowly focused on the tiny Jewish community in England. Cologne, Mainz, Worms etc. barely figure in the narrative.

As far as the TV series is concerned, I'll reserve judgment till I see it. I don't ipso facto object to Schama declaring his Zionist convictions. In fact, I think it's better that he does so than pretend to neutrality. But I might change my mind when I've seen the clip that's caused the controversy.

Victor said...


I've also recently read Shlomo Sands' book, generally liked it but thought he was over-egging his pudding.

Everything fits a bit too neatly into his deconstruction, whereas Schama's book travels along more or less the same road but with more nuance (or, alternatively, more equivocation).

BTW if you haven't already read it, you might appreciate 'Isaac and Isaiah', David Caute's account of the antipathy between Isaac Deutscher and Isaiah Berlin. Their differences over Zionism play a part therein.

Going back to Schama, I think that one of his great past merits was his role in reviving the dramatic, sweeping narrative, in the style of the Victorian Whig historians he so admires.

That's what makes 'Citizens' such a fantastically readable book. And the same holds true, on a grander scale, for the book version of his History of Britain.

By their nature, such works are never the latest word in historical research. Nor are they immune to the charge of bias or selectivity . But they're well written, accessible to the general reader and normally leave you the wiser than if you'd never read them. And they provide reasonable answers to that perennial question: "and what happened next?"

But it seems to me that Schama is nowadays adopting a more episodic and thematic approach (e.g. in the 'American Future'). It's still interesting and highly readable. But you've lost that sense of unfolding story that is the narrative historian's chief claim on his/her audience.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, of his 'Story of the Jewish People'. And, as previously stated, the editing is atrocious.

Moreover,Egypt, Spain and England loom large. But Persia, Babylonia (original home of the Talmud)and Germany ('Ashkanaz' means 'Germany') do not.

Am I being too cynical in thinking that this choice is predicated on the extreme difficulties likely to attend attempts to take BBC camera crews to Iran and Iraq, plus the fact that Spain is cheaper than Germany to shoot in?

The work is so obviously just an offshoot of the TV series that it's almost a form of merchandising. In contrast, Schama's History of Britain was able to stand on its own merits as a good narrative history.

And, yes, I agree that we need public intellectuals and that AJPT was a preeminent one. But I worry when media celebrity and production values don the mask of scholarship and fail to deliver to acceptable scholarly standards.

Anyhow, I'm wittering on about a subject of no relevance to Chris's post. So it's time to desist.

Anonymous said...

What i am amazed about yet should not be,is that the Western leaders are fawning over a usurper cabal in the Ukraine,who!s appointed leaders rants are paranoid sabre rattling scaremongering 'in the 21st century we do not expect army invasions with tanks and guns,or the more out there extreme,this will lead to nuclear war"what planet is he on.In some other geographical areas he and his cabal would be deemed for what they are, terrorists,who have over run a democratic elected government.

As for Scotland.At the start of the year, most Scots where in favour of staying way the present structure,however, in the past few months it would seem the public opinion is starting to swing in favour of independence,a swing that was aided by Cameron, and the Euro banking systems veiled threats of financial collapse and penury if Scotland, voted in favour of independence.

It should be remembered, the last time the Scottish public voted on independence,the vote was in favour of independence,however,the structure of the voting system had to ensure that more than 50%of the Scottish, voting public turned out to vote,they did not,somewhere around 48%or so did,way the majority in favour of independence.

Mind you, a no show at the ballot box is not a conundrum left to Scottish, voters,but also one that the Kiwi, is well aware of.