The unsung heroes of Waterloo

The Longest Afternoon, by historian Brendan Simms, provides depth, nuance and new insight

The unsung heroes of WaterlooAlthough I considered myself reasonably well informed about the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo, the critical role of the King’s German Legion (KGL) and La Haye Sainte slipped below my radar. That’s been rectified by The Longest Afternoon, a slim volume from historian Brendan Simms. Simms, born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, is…

Believe it or not: There was once a plan for a Franco-British union

From the failed Franco-British Union during the Second World War to Brexit, some things are just meant to fail

Believe it or not: There was once a plan for a Franco-British unionIn these contentious Brexit days in the United Kingdom, it’s strange to remember that there was once a plan for a Franco-British Union. No, I’m not making that up. However short-lived, the plan was real. On June 16, 1940, the British cabinet approved a “declaration of indissoluble union” to this effect: “France and Great Britain…

A political party that ignores its base jeopardizes its future

Examples can be found around the world – including in Canada – and the scenario is being played out again in the U.K.

A political party that ignores its base jeopardizes its futureRunning for the United Kingdom Conservative leadership, Boris Johnson claims that his party faces “extinction” if it fails to deliver Brexit. Political rhetoric being what it is, this could be dismissed as self-interested hyperbole. But while Johnson may exaggerate, the threat he envisages isn’t conjured out of thin air. There’s ample evidence that many habitual…

Canada’s first political sex scandal was really a dud

Gerda Munsinger, allegedly a low-level Soviet spy, was sexually involved with at least one, and possibly two, cabinet ministers

Canada’s first political sex scandal was really a dudI’d been in Canada for just a few months when the Munsinger affair broke. In March 1966, John Diefenbaker – the former Progressive Conservative prime minister – was berating Liberal cabinet minister Lucien Cardin in the House of Commons on the subject of government laxity regarding security. Exasperated, Cardin struck back by raising the Munsinger…

The unexpected rise of Margaret Thatcher

Into the U.K.’s Winter of Discontent came a woman of sharp edges and a clear mind about how change would be managed

The unexpected rise of Margaret ThatcherOn May 3, 1979, United Kingdom voters trooped to the polls and produced a result that nobody would have countenanced a mere five years earlier. Defeating the sitting Labour government, Margaret Thatcher led the Conservatives into a lengthy sojourn in office. The novelty derived from the U.K. never having had a female prime minister, let…

The thrilling days of cliff-hanger serials

From Congo Bill to Zorro, they were fertile ground for a youngster's imagination as we waited for next week's derring-do

The thrilling days of cliff-hanger serialsBecause my lifelong affair with the movies began at the tail end of the film serial era, I missed most of what’s been described as the genre’s golden age. But I did experience the thrill of watching a story evolve week to week. It was great stuff, or at least that’s how it appeared at…

The primary function of U.S. presidential primaries

The process should help uncover the blemishes in a candidate – providing the other choices shine through

The primary function of U.S. presidential primariesJeb Bush recently suggested that someone ought to run against U.S. President Donald Trump in next year’s presidential primaries. It would, in Bush’s estimation, be good for the Republican Party. The underlying logic is simple. Rather than being a real Republican, Trump is an interloper who executed the political equivalent of a hostile business takeover.…

Joey Smallwood’s campaign to transform Newfoundland

Force-feeding economic modernization is a tricky business, even for a Father of Confederation

Joey Smallwood’s campaign to transform NewfoundlandAfter leading the 1940s movement to bring Newfoundland into Confederation, Joey Smallwood went on to win six consecutive elections and served as the province’s premier for just shy of 23 years. It’s not the longest run for a provincial premier – Nova Scotia’s George Murray, Alberta’s Ernest Manning and Ontario’s Oliver Mowat edge Smallwood on…

70 years later, examining Newfoundland’s slim Canada option

At the heart of the decision to join Confederation was Joey Smallwood’s use of sectarian politics

70 years later, examining Newfoundland’s slim Canada optionMarch 31 marks the 70th anniversary of Newfoundland joining Canada, a significant historical milestone in and of itself. It also facilitated the ascendancy of one of the 20th century’s most colourful Canadian politicians – Joey Smallwood. Newfoundland took a pass on the original 1867 Confederation, opting to remain with the arrangement that had been in…

Was Richard the Lionheart gay?

The debate is perhaps just a reflection of our modern obsessions and fails to put events in their proper historic perspective

Was Richard the Lionheart gay?England’s most famous medieval monarch, Richard the Lionheart, died 820 years ago this April. Wounded while besieging a castle in western France, he succumbed to gangrene. Strangely, though, despite his being the most famous European warrior of his time, one of the major modern talking points about him pertains to his sexuality. Specifically, was he…

Ireland’s greatest mythical hero

The story of Cuchulainn is one of heroism. But it has also become a cultural touchstone and a political rallying cry

Ireland’s greatest mythical heroWith St. Patrick’s Day almost upon us, it’s appropriate to write something with an Irish theme. And what better subject than the greatest hero of Ireland’s mythical past – Cuchulainn. As the word is derived from old Irish, a bit of phonetic assistance would help. The variation familiar from my childhood is “Coo Cullen.” It…

Queen Victoria’s foreign policy man was larger than life

Were Lord Palmerston alive today, he’d most certainly be a Brexiteer

Queen Victoria’s foreign policy man was larger than lifeFor devotees of the TV series Victoria, the introduction of foreign secretary Lord Palmerston was a season three highlight. And given Palmerston’s dominant role in British foreign policy between 1830 and 1865, his introduction was historically apt as well as dramatically interesting. Purists, though, might take issue with the casting. Although Laurence Fox’s performance is…

The rise and fall of a legendary Hollywood duo

Comedy masters Laurel and Hardy are the subject of a new biopic that tells a story of triumph and despair

The rise and fall of a legendary Hollywood duoLaurel and Hardy’s Hollywood heyday was before my time. I started going to the movies in the early 1950s, by which point their cinematic status had been eclipsed by other comedy duos like Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis. Still, the new biopic Stan & Ollie strikes nostalgically resonant notes. One of the more…

The rise and fall of a Native American empire

The Comanches were very adaptable and formidable. But nature, politics, economics and immigration eventually undid them

The rise and fall of a Native American empireIt’s easy to think of the European arrival in North America as an unremitting story of Native American retreat. But as Finnish historian Pekka Hamalainen explains in The Comanche Empire, reality was more complicated. Empowered by the European introduction of the horse and the gun, the Comanches did very well for a long time. In…

The Avro Arrow’s demise was a high-tech tragedy

The made-in-Canada jet interceptor certainly had its problems. But the manner in which it was killed raised serious questions

The Avro Arrow’s demise was a high-tech tragedyOn Feb. 20, 1959, the Canadian government cancelled the Avro Arrow. Some people still refer to the day as Black Friday. Growing up in Ireland, my teenage awareness of Canada was limited. Other than occasional news snippets in my father’s weekly edition of Time magazine, Canada meant snow, the RCMP, Paul Anka and Yvon Durelle,…
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