Harry Truman completely unprepared for his accidental presidency

The inauspicious heir to the White House had planned to play poker the night Roosevelt died. Instead, he became president

Harry Truman completely unprepared for his accidental presidencyVice-President Harry Truman’s life changed on Thursday, April 12, 1945. That was the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Truman became the 33rd president of the United States. To virtually everyone, including himself, Truman was an inauspicious heir. Journalist A.J. Baime’s The Accidental President nicely captures the general bemusement. Born in small-town Missouri in 1884, there…

Politics, propaganda and the Bayeux Tapestry

French President Emmanuel Macron has loaned the historic depiction to Britain for public display. Is he taunting the English about Brexit?

Politics, propaganda and the Bayeux TapestryThe Bayeux Tapestry popped into the news a couple of weeks ago when French President Emmanuel Macron announced it would be loaned to Britain for public display. Immediately, people imputed political meaning. That’s nothing new. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the tapestry has been political from the get-go. Created in the late 11th century, the…

Stephen Harper in the rearview mirror

Calling the Harper years a particularly dark time for Canada is partisan fiction, not reality

Stephen Harper in the rearview mirrorWilliam Watson’s Financial Post columns are invariably worth reading. As centre-right economists go, his general perspective isn’t unusual, but his penchant for digging into data can be illuminating. One of the things that a dispassionate person might take away from Watson is a more nuanced view of former Canadian Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Harper,…

When an intellectual cozies up to dictators

Is it feasible to separate political views and private behaviour from artistic merit? George Bernard Shaw is a perfect case study

When an intellectual cozies up to dictatorsTo most Canadians, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) may be a quaint figure whose primary distinction is having a popular southern Ontario theatre festival named after him. However, he was a big wheel during the first half of the 20th century. A self-described “downstart,” Shaw was born into an impecunious Protestant Ascendancy family in Dublin, Ireland. Leaving…

The pope, the president and the resurrection of Poland

Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan shared a vision of an independent Poland. Together, they helped the country break free from the Soviet bloc

The pope, the president and the resurrection of PolandIn a recent column, I wrote about Poland’s 20th century tragedy, culminating in the “betrayal” to Josef Stalin at the February 1945 Yalta Conference. So it’s appropriate to finish the story by writing about Poland’s resurrection. While the Poles were the main players in this resurrection, they did have external help. Changing circumstances in the Soviet…

Heroes and villains: how history picks the winners

The Second World War movie Darkest Hour raises questions about perspective and reality

Heroes and villains: how history picks the winnersGary Oldman’s riveting portrayal of Winston Churchill leaves no doubt as to who is the hero of the new film Darkest Hour. But apart from the off-screen Adolf Hitler, does the movie really have a villain? Thanks to the way the narrative unfolds and the carefully-chosen camera shots, casual viewers might be tempted to ascribe…

Poland’s 20th century tragedy

Stuck between Germany and the Soviet Union didn't stop thousands of Poles from contributing to the war effort in the 1940s

Poland’s 20th century tragedyCanadians who grouse about living next door to the American elephant should consider the situation of Poland, particularly in the mid-20th century. With Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union on one side and Adolf Hitler’s Germany on the other, Poles must have occasionally wondered just what they had done to merit this unfortunate geography. English journalist Max Hastings…

When Khrushchev spilled the beans

60 years this month Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on (the safely deceased) Josef Stalin’s crimes

When Khrushchev spilled the beansIt’ll be 60 years this month since Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on (the safely deceased) Josef Stalin’s crimes. And while the revelations were no surprise to savvy observers, it was a punch in the gut for many true believers and fellow travellers, particularly in the West. What they’d fondly imagined as a Marxist utopia…

Eisenhower’s heart attack and the state of presidential medicine

Even the most powerful man on earth doesn't always get the best medical care

Eisenhower’s heart attack and the state of presidential medicineMost of us probably hew to the assumption that the occupant of the White House gets only the very best medical care. After all, the president is ostensibly the most powerful person on earth. But if you’re up to a spot of disillusionment, take a dip into the details of Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack 60…

Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politician

Militant revolutionary, prime player in the Civil War and prime minister for 21 years

Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politicianThe dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century died just 40 years ago. Born in New York but raised in Ireland by his maternal family, Eamon de Valera served as the equivalent of prime minister for 21 years between 1932 and 1959. Before that, he was a militant revolutionary during the Irish War of…

Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years ago

But it may have been better for Europe if he had won

Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years agoJune is a big month for historical anniversaries. Last week, I wrote about the 800th birthday of Magna Carta – the medieval charter that’s often described as seminal to the development of parliamentary democracy. This week, it’s the Battle of Waterloo, the clash that finally ended the Napoleonic era. It all happened on June 18,…
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