Richard Nixon’s California embarrassment

How did a man with one of the highest profiles in American politics flop so badly in 1962?

Richard Nixon’s California embarrassmentIncluding his two campaigns for vice-president, Richard Nixon ran for office nine times and lost twice. One of these losses was the razor-thin defeat to John F. Kennedy in 1960’s presidential contest. The other was his ill-advised California gubernatorial effort two years later. California was Nixon’s home state and he’d always done well there, even…

The legend of King Arthur is a gift that keeps on giving

Although it may be a fabrication, the story has powerful resonance

The legend of King Arthur is a gift that keeps on givingKing Arthur is back in the news, thanks to an archeological dig in Herefordshire, England. The dig site in question is Arthur’s Stone, a Neolithic-era burial chamber that’s somewhere in the vicinity of 4,000 years old. It’s technically a dolmen with a capstone resting on nine uprights. And with an estimated weight of around 25…

The past is a foreign country. Just ask Keith Richards

The changes in attitudes over the past half-century are little short of astounding

The past is a foreign country. Just ask Keith RichardsIt was 55 years ago this summer that English journalist William Rees-Mogg penned a widely read editorial for London’s Sunday Times. Borrowing from the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope, Rees-Mogg’s piece was titled Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel? In it, Rees-Mogg took issue with the severity of the legal treatment meted out in consequence…

Hollywood icons and the Second World War

Some Hollywood legends actually participated in the reality of war, rather than merely on celluloid

Hollywood icons and the Second World WarIf you’re like me, the most vivid combat images you have of the Second World War come from Hollywood movies. Whether it was John Wayne on Iwo Jima or Errol Flynn in Burma, heroism was very much the order of the day. And Americans were invariably at the centre of the action. Naturally, the historical…

Could Jean Charest shatter the Conservatives?

So far, disaffection among the Conservative base exceeds his attractiveness to non-Conservatives

Could Jean Charest shatter the Conservatives?The premise of Jean Charest’s campaign for the federal Conservative leadership is that he’ll deliver power by bringing in votes that have eluded the party. Hence the Built to Win theme. Charest would undoubtedly appeal to some people who’ve recently voted for other parties, especially the Liberals. But whether there’d be enough converts to actually…

Lessons from Boris Johnson’s departure and the contest to replace him

The diversity quotient of the leadership candidates is striking, at odds with the conservative caricature

Lessons from Boris Johnson’s departure and the contest to replace himCanadians with a general interest in politics will be watching the current developments in the United Kingdom. They might even feel a touch of envy. Less than three years ago, Boris Johnson bestrode the British scene like the proverbial colossus. Thwarting the dogged opponents of Brexit – including many in his own party – he…

Canada’s Fenian years featured some interesting personalities

A plotter, a spy with an overactive libido and a three-time attempted invader all called themselves Fenians

Canada’s Fenian years featured some interesting personalitiesHistorian David A. Wilson’s new book is Canadian Spy Story: Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police. It recounts a mid-19th-century episode where Irish revolutionaries – known as Fenians – tried to use Canada as a pawn in their struggle for Irish independence. Last week’s column looked at the Fenian attempts to invade Canada and hold…

Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawn

There were five failed armed Fenian incursions into Canada between 1866 and 1871

Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawnUniversity of Toronto historian David A. Wilson has an interesting new book called Canadian Spy Story: Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police. It’s a detailed examination of a mid-19th-century episode that had the potential to turn Canadian history upside down. And Wilson makes a credible case that the danger wasn’t entirely farfetched. Following the conclusion…

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernity

Hereditary dynasties could not survive the industrial revolution. Well, except for one

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernityLast week’s column drew from British historian Dominic Lieven’s current book about emperors and empires. Called In the Shadow of the Gods, it’s an exploration of the characteristics that contributed to dynastic success or failure. Lieven’s penultimate chapter deals with the challenges modernity posed to hereditary dynasties. As the environment changed rapidly, the crowns adorning…

How empires grab and hold on to power

Being recognized as divinely anointed didn’t guarantee acquiescence, but it was still a huge asset

How empires grab and hold on to powerDominic Lieven is a British historian who has written extensively on European, particularly Russian, history. His latest book, In the Shadow of the Gods, is about emperors and empires. It examines their historical scope and the characteristics that contributed to dynastic success or failure. At over 400 densely written pages (excluding notes), the book is…

Is it curtains for Boris Johnson?

Call it a 50/50 proposition

Is it curtains for Boris Johnson?Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is “very happy” that Boris Johnson survived his leadership confidence vote. As the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Johnson has been one of Ukraine’s most energetic and zealous supporters. And Zelensky doesn’t want to lose such a valuable ally. Those who worried that Brexit would turn the U.K. inward and isolationist have…

Catholic Ireland’s conflicted interest in the monarchy

Dublin cinemas planned to screen the Queen's coronation but opted not to after receiving threats

Catholic Ireland’s conflicted interest in the monarchyNews stories about Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee put me in mind of a book by Irish author Mary Kenny. Called Crown and Shamrock, it’s described by historian Roy Foster as a “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful” look at a complicated relationship. Kenny is five months older than I am and what she writes of Ireland…

War and brutality go hand in hand

Combat naturally leads to behaviours that would be deemed shocking in normal life

War and brutality go hand in handAntony Beevor is a prolific English military historian, most famous for the bestseller Stalingrad. First published in the late 1990s, the book’s narrative covers the period between the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943. That battle is often described as the Second…

Wheat makes the world go round

Wheat is one of the world’s staple crops. And Ukraine and Russia are critical exporters

Wheat makes the world go roundFor American academic Scott Reynolds Nelson, the timing was fortuitous. His Oceans of Grain came to market coincident with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And as Nelson’s thesis revolves around the critical role wheat has played in history, the invasion’s implications for supply disruption add to the book’s topicality. For sure, Nelson may egg the pudding.…

The last children of Anglo-Saxon England

For the upper class of England, the Norman conquest was wipe out time

The last children of Anglo-Saxon EnglandHarold Godwineson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died on the battlefield at Hastings in October 1066. It wasn’t a pretty ending. Whether he was killed by an arrow through the eye (the traditional story), trampled underfoot, or hunted down and (literally) cut to pieces by invading Norman knights remains a matter of speculation. For…

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?

Finland was truly alone. That’s not the case with Ukraine today

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?Bordered by Russia to the east and Sweden to the northwest, Finland’s historical experience has been coloured by the existence of these more powerful neighbours. In fact, ‘dominated’ might be more apt. After being effectively part of Sweden for centuries, Finland was ceded to the Russian Empire in 1809. But when the chaos surrounding the…

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perils

Conventional wisdom holds he may win the leadership but not a general election

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perilsPierre Poilievre is making waves. Virtually all of the buzz in the federal Conservative leadership race revolves around him. He’s pulling in crowds, generating headlines and tossing out ideas that intrigue some and unnerve others. Excitement isn’t a word normally associated with Canadian conservatism. But, for better or worse, Poilievre stirs it up. And some…

From evil to relativism and back again

'Evil' is back in rhetorical style, at least on a selective basis. Actual evil, of course, never went away

From evil to relativism and back againEvil was a very real concept when I was a child. Orthodox Catholic opinion in the Ireland I grew up in believed evil was personified by the devil. And the devil wasn’t just a metaphor but a real live entity. My grandmother’s house in rural County Cork had a religiously-themed image hanging on one of…

The overwhelming imagery of the Crucifixion

The child that was me experienced the lead-up to Easter as foreboding rather than inspiring

The overwhelming imagery of the CrucifixionI was never big on Easter. As a Catholic schoolboy in 1950s Ireland, Easter played second fiddle to Christmas. In fact, the competition wasn’t even close. Christmas had several advantages. For one thing, school holidays were longer. Whereas Easter only delivered a week and a half, Christmas tacked on a further full week. The tone,…

Who was Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to death?

Pilate consciously misused his power to curry favour

Who was Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to death?As a Catholic schoolboy in 1950s Ireland, Easter was a mixed bag. Yes, we got a week and a half off school, which was never something to be sneezed at. And the days were visibly brightening, indicating the departure of winter. But that was about it. In contrast to Christmas, the lead up to Easter…

Thatcher didn’t blink in defence of the Falklands 40 years ago

The "Iron Lady" proved her metal

Thatcher didn’t blink in defence of the Falklands 40 years agoOn April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands – the archipelago of islands that constitute a British Overseas Territory in the remote South Atlantic. Although initially shaken by the event, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quickly regained her footing and dispatched a naval task force to rectify the situation. During the weeks it took for…

Attlee and Churchill: bound together in war and peace

Churchill said history would be good to him, as he'd write it himself. But ostentation wasn’t Attlee's style

Attlee and Churchill: bound together in war and peaceFor the longest time, Clement Attlee lived in Winston Churchill’s shadow. Where Churchill was flamboyant, charismatic and eloquent, Attlee was reticent, dull and rhetorically challenged. Churchill was larger than life and Attlee was the little man who seemed to blend into the woodwork. After becoming leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party in 1935, Attlee…

Maureen O’Hara, Ireland’s Queen of Technicolor

O’Hara made more than 50 films including the perennial Christmas favourite Miracle on 34th Street

Maureen O’Hara, Ireland’s Queen of TechnicolorWith St. Patrick’s Day upon us, an Irish theme seems appropriate. And a little frivolity wouldn’t go amiss in these troubled times. It’s fair to say that Ireland has generally punched above its weight on the silver screen. Back in the 1930s, Maureen O’Sullivan (from County Roscommon) played Jane in the popular Tarzan film series,…

Saint Patrick and the art of public relations

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult, but St. Patrick definitely won the war for popular historical memory

Saint Patrick and the art of public relationsGrowing up in Dublin in the 1950s, Saint Patrick’s Day wasn’t the big deal that it is now. Oh, the fact that it was a statutory holiday meant that you got a day off school or work, which was never something to be sneezed at. And in addition, if you’d promised to forsake some pleasure…

Understanding Putin’s long view of an expanded Russia

He expresses a vision that reaches back over 1,000 years, to a Russia that was an empire and proud of it

Understanding Putin’s long view of an expanded RussiaLet’s make a stipulation up front: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified. There’s no ambiguity on that score. Russia is the bad actor in this situation. Still, it’s always useful to understand the other guy. Understanding doesn’t imply approval and insight is never a bad thing to have. Putin is typically described…

Ukraine tragedy exposes some harsh global realities

The unintended consequences of our policy decisions

Ukraine tragedy exposes some harsh global realitiesThe tragedy unfolding in Ukraine brings several immediate thoughts to mind. In a dangerous world, being able to look after yourself is highly advantageous We talk a lot about how war has become obsolete, how a rules-based international order can substitute for a robust defence capability, and how attachment to the nation-state is increasingly passé.…

Fall of Singapore shattered assumptions of British superiority

The shock waves of the defeat extended beyond the physical events

Fall of Singapore shattered assumptions of British superiorityOn Feb. 15, 1942, Singapore – the so-called Gibraltar of the East – fell to a numerically smaller Japanese force. Four days later, the port of Darwin in northern Australia was bombed by over 260 Japanese aircraft. To put it mildly, Allied prospects in the Second World War’s Asia-Pacific Theatre weren’t looking too auspicious. The…

Did John F. Kennedy really win the U.S. presidency?

There was significant anecdotal evidence of election fraud

Did John F. Kennedy really win the U.S. presidency?Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1960 set the tone for subsequent conventional wisdom. John F. Kennedy was the handsome, charming, forward-looking hero. And his opponent, Richard Nixon, was the dour, resentful, unscrupulous villain. White’s many readers would’ve been in little doubt. The prince of light had vanquished the prince of darkness. Now, supported…

Erin O’Toole was a big mistake for the Conservatives

Now the party has a chance to do it over again

Erin O’Toole was a big mistake for the ConservativesThe iffy position of the Conservatives was one of my takeaways from last year’s federal election. Not only had they lost ground electorally, but there was also “an ominous speck on the horizon.” Specifically, the first signs of base alienation were evident. With a five per cent vote share – twice that of the Greens…
1 2 3 9