Search This Blog

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Warning!: Contains Spoilers!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
 Rogue One is the newest installment in the fantastic Star Wars franchise set in between the events of Episode III and Episode IV. Directed by Gareth Edwards and, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy we finally have a good prequel to the Original Trilogy. This review contains spoilers so if you wish to read my final verdict please skip to the end.

The Rebel Alliance frees former rebellion and criminal Jyn Elso (Felicity Jones) to get close to breakaway rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who has information from a defecting Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) about the Empire's new superweapon. With Rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), spiritual warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and a mercenary Baze Malbus (Wen Yiang) she finds out that her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), has been forced by Imperial Lieutenant Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) to create a superweapon named the Death Star.

The plot to Rogue One is very well done and unlike the prequels it feels much more in line with the rest of the Star Wars universe. This may be because Rogue One was a more self contained story which directly leads onto the Original Trilogy contrary to the prequels which tried (and failed) to create an epic on par with the originals. Rogue One also makes the Empire seem more of a threat to the Rebel Alliance. The choices done with the plot makes the Empire seem an all encompassing, totalitarian regime and the Rebel Alliance a small force which can easily be snuffed out of existence. This made the story far more gripping. Spoiler alert but the ending seemed highly appropriate for the film. Although I did manage to more or less guess the ending by the last act of the film it was still fitting. The attack on the planet containing the Death Star plans did seem to be a suicide mission, and I am really glad that they went down this route of being a suicide mission. Also, I like the way it seamlessly transitioned to the start of Episode IV. When this is released I want to watch the two back to back to make the start of Episode IV seem even better.

Characters and Acting
Some of the Cast
Without a doubt the acting in this movie is really good. Particularly from Felicity Jones; I thought that she stole the entire movie. Especially her interactions with the other actors. None seemed forced and overall it seemed natural making it easy watching. Alan Tudyk as the droid K-2SO. I am a big fan of Firefly and really enjoyed him in it so it was a pleasure hearing him in the movie. Like Wash in Firefly he managed to create quite an amusing character which added some more light moments in a considerably dark movie. Forest Whitaker as always was good. He pulled off an extremist freedom fighter losing his mind very well and reminded me of his role in The Last King of Scotland where he played the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Ben Mendelsohn was surprisingly good, although at times in the final act his acting bordered on the overly eccentric. Diego Luna was quite good but at times when interacting with other actors his acting seemed somewhat off which was a slight issue. 

I liked every character in the movie. Jyn Elso by far was my favorite, and I thought she was well written and realistic. She was a very realistic character so with the additional superb acting from Felicity Jones it easily made her the best character. Also, I was very glad for the addition of Saw Gurrera from both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star War Rebels. His addition in this movie was both a nice way to end his character cycle, and actually introduce characters from the Extended Universe into the mainstream movies. I'm hoping that this opens the doors for the introduction of other characters like Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. Galen Erso was a very good character being a Star Wars version of Robert Oppenheimer. He seemed someone who clearly wished to note aid the Empire but had no choice in the matter. Overall, the characters were really well written in this movie.

Like The Force Awakens the effects in Rogue One were fantastic. I am really glad that they have continued with the trend of mixing practical effects and CGI together to create a visually stunning movie. This creates another strike against Jurassic World now as that film only used CGI. I am hoping that this opens the door for more movies to combine practical effects and CGI. It was so good in fact that at one part I was watching an alien and wondering whether it was CGI, practical effects, or both. The superb effects allowed a greater level of immersion into the universe created by the film makers. Only the effects on General Tarkin and Princess Leia seemed off. What they did had actors play Tarkin and Leia and then use CGI to make them look like Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher respectively. The Tarkin effect was alright most of the time but the Leia one seemed almost like it was from a video game. Not outright bad but compared to the earlier effects it was a bit disappointing. Overall the effects were very good.

The Universe
Lord Vader
Rogue One feels like it belongs firmly in the Star Wars universe. It adds to the movies and brings in aspects from the wider canon. Darth Vader has gone back to his formidable roots from his whiny Anakin persona of the prequels, and now we finally have a Vader which shows him as a powerful Sith Lord in both presence and fighting style. Much like Marvel's current Darth Vader comics we get a truly powerful Dark Lord of the Sith. The worlds we see seem to be natural parts of the Star Wars universe. Jedha being caught between the iron fist of the Empire and the harsh guerrilla warfare of Saw Guerrera among the ruins of a Jedi stronghold made a world which belonged in this franchise. The inclusion of Saw Guerrera and kyber crystals (which power lightsabers) has opened a potential to include the Extended Universe into the movies. Maybe Admiral Thrawn to appear in Episode VIII? Or for the First Order to be secretly working with the Yuuzhan Vong? Or maybe a prequel set during the events of the video game Knights of the Old Republic?

Rogue One is easily one of the best entries in the franchise and I would go as far as to say that it is my second favorite Star Wars movie (after Empire Strikes Back). For good acting, good characters, and fantastic effects which makes a movie which truly belongs in the Star Wars universe I'm giving Rogue One a 8.5/10. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Comics Explained: Vulture (Adrian Toomes)

The Vulture
Recently the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming was released revealing the villain of the movie: the Vulture. The Vulture is the second oldest Spider-Man villain first appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 all the back in May 1963. Although he is not the most well known of Spider-Man's villains, or the most powerful, he has a key place in the history of Spider-Man. Over the years there have been four people to take on the mantle of the Vulture, however, today we will only look at the first one, Adrian Toomes, as he was the one which will be featured in the movie, as played by former Batman Michael Keaton.

Vulture's initial appearance
Like many characters from the Spider-Man comics Adrian Toomes came from New York, more specifically Staten Island. With his parents dying when he was young Adrian was raised by his older brother Marcus until Marcus became paraplegic following a motocycle accident. Thereafter he spent his time caring for his brother. Toomes was incredibly smart, and after leaving school he helped found a firm called Bestman and Toomes Electronics where Toomes could use his engineering skills to make projects. His favorite project was an electromagnetic harness which improved muscle mass, and the ability to fly like a bird when in use. However, his continuous obsession with his pet projects distracted him from the fact that his partner had been slowly embezzling funds from the business, and buying Tomes's stocks in the company. By the time that Toomes had realized he was an old man and Bestman was the sole proprietor. He retired to work on his revenge. Soon he had perfected his harness and developed a costumed identity called Vulture. He immediately flew to Bestman's office and began to ransack it to find evidence to incriminate his former partner. When he could not he robbed the premises and then began a series of robbings across New York City. The thrill of thieving under the guise of a costume went to his head and he started to announce where he would rob. The big one was the Park Avenue Diamond Exchange. Everyone had believed he would attack from the air so the police had set guards to prepare for the Vulture's arrival from the skies. However, it turned out he had flew through the sewers, emerged from a manhole, and robbed the place. It was this which made him run in with Spider-Man. Like Vulture, Spider-Man was also a skilled engineer and to combat the electromagnetic harness which powered Vulture's flight he created an inverter which would stop the electromagnets in the harness. It worked and Vulture was captured becoming the second villain in Spider-Man's Rogue Gallery.

Sinister Six
Sinister Six
After being beaten by Spider-Man the Vulture ended up joining forces with five other members of his Rogues Gallery in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. Here Doctor Octopus realized that by working with other people who hated Spider-Man he could defeat the Web-Slinger. Other than Vulture he also hired: Electro (a man who can shoot electricity, farthest left on the above photo), Mysterio, (someone who can make lifelike images appear, second on the left), Kraven the Hunter, (an extremely strong man who hunts with his bare hands, farthest right), and Sandman, (someone who can turn into sand and use sand who was the villain in Spider-Man 3, second to the right). To try and take down Spider-Man their plan was to kidnap someone from the Daily Bugle, leave behind clues at locations, and hopefully wear down Spider-Man. They kidnap Betty Brant and Aunt May who happened to be visiting Brant as she was worried about her nephew and hoped that his colleague could help. Spider-Man managed to defeat Electro, Kraven, Mysterio and Sandman before taking on, (and defeating), Vulture. Eventually he also defeated Doctor Octopus. 

After the Six
Two Vultures
Following his defeat as part of the Sinister Six Toomes was sent to prison again. It was in prison that he made friends with his cellmate Raniero 'Blackie' Drago (the one on the left in the above picture), in Amazing Spider-Man #48. Drago staged an accident which left Toomes hospitalized and close to death. Fearing he might die Toomes told Drago where his secret Vulture suit was. Drago's plan was complete and he managed to escape from prison as the new Vulture. However, Toomes found out that Drago had been defeated by Spider-Man quite easily he vowed to show the world who the real Vulture was. He managed to escape prison and create a new Vulture suit. To finally show the world who the better Vulture was he fought Drago and with his superior suit managed to defeat his former friend. Not until 1990 would anything major happen with the Toomes version of the Vulture. Introduced in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #47 a wheelchair bound retired vaudeville Nathan Lubensky had started a relationship with Aunt May. Lubensky had met Toomes and was unaware of his identity as the Vulture saying that life should never get him down. In Amazing Spider-Man #336 he had arrived at a casino yacht, (which May and Nathan had been attending), and during a fight with Spider-Man he tried to use May as a human shield. However, Nathan managed to get onto Vulture's back to try and stop him from taking May resulting in Lubensky having a fatal heart attack. Toomes became distraught and was soon caught. 

Throughout the 1990s the Vulture remained a secondary villain for Spider-Man with writers focusing more on Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin and Venom instead of his flying adversary. However, there was a brief time when he became a hero, but as always in comics he went back into his ways of being a villain. During the Civil War event he was beaten by Captain America in the early days of the Superhero Civil War. When incarcerated he was offered a chance by S.H.I.E.L.D to hunt down Spider-Man who had gone rogue and joined Captain America. However, when he went to fight Spider-Man he had a stroke and Spider-Man had to rush him to hospital. In 2014 in Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #5 Vulture was forced to join Spider-Man's Superior Six, (this was a weird time in Marvel).

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

World History: Taika Reforms and Heian Japan

An example of Heian Art
In studying history it is advisable not to focus solely on the elites and politics but to also focus on culture and the general masses to better understand the past. However, when looking at the Taika Reforms and the Heian period we hit a paradox: we focus much on culture and the arts but it is all centered around the elite. The literature, art, and system of governance created during the Heian period would drastically influence the rest of Japanese history, and the style of government set up at the end of the period in 1185 would exist in one form or another until 1868. Before we look at the Heian period we have to look at the Taika Reforms to see their influence on Japanese history.

Taika Reforms (and Japan pre-reform)
In the sixth century the first motions to a unified Japanese state started to emerge. From the Nihon shoki written in 720 we learn that after 550 Japan began a period of centralization. In 587 the Soga clan managed to impose Buddhism onto Japan. Key to this was Prince Shotoku whose history has been so romanticized that we find it hard now to determine what was fact about his life and what is just legend. Shotoku proclaimed principles to centralize the Japanese state under imperial rule borrowing from Chinese Confucianism. Buddhism was seen as a way to aid this. Indirectly the implementation of Buddhism helped define what Japan's native religion, Shintoism, was and in later years Buddhism and Shintoism would blend increasingly together so much so that Shinto and Buddhist shrines are often the same shrine. Unfortunately for Shotoku he died before his Confucian and Buddhist principles could be implemented, and the member of the Soga clan, Umako, who had been helping him died a few years after. In something straight out of Game of Thrones the Soga clan under Umako had been ruling and influencing the throne from behind the scenes. After the death of Umako his son and grandson decided to emulate Cersei Lannister and try to influence the throne openly. This proved to be their downfall in 645 when imperial prince Naka no Oe and head of the Nakatomi clan, Kamatari, had the Soga ousted in a coup. 

Following the coup the conspirators began a series of reforms called Taika or 'Great Change'. Despite being called a 'Great Change' the reforms did not turn Japan into a centralized state, and the reforms themselves had been started by the Soga. Starting with an edict on New Year's Day 646 over the next fifty years Japan would slowly be transformed. A major aspect of the Taika reforms was to make Japan more like China. China was seen as the ideal form of government for the fledgling Japanese state. Among this the Chinese alphabet was adopted, the book about the formation of the gods (kami) and the Japanese islands called Kojiki was written, Buddhism was used to create legitimacy, and it was decreed that the emperor was the true ruler rather than the clans. Also a new system of land ownership based off of Tang China's system was implemented called shoen, or manors. The various land reforms curtailed the large amounts of independence which local leaders had exercised, as well as creating an administrative service to implement the will of the central state. Buddhism was increasingly promoted with immigrant monks given gifts; Buddhist ceremonies were implemented at court; there were restrictions on hunting, fishing, and eating meat; and many Buddhist temples were built. In 685 provinces were informed that:
in every house a Buddhist shrine should be provided, and an image of Buddha with Buddhist scriptures placed there. Worship was to be paid and offerings of food made at these shrines.
Another key reform was the creation of an imperial palace. Beforehand the emperor would have several palaces in each region for himself, family, 'summer' residences, and various regional palaces for when the imperial court traveled. It was customary for a new emperor or empress coming to power to move to a new palace and make that their capital. China and the Korean kingdoms in contrast had one imperial capital. The Taika reforms started implement having one capital as it would help formalize political centralization, and it was expensive maintaining several palaces, especially as they were made of wood so had to be repaired more often than stone ones. However, it would take several emperors before having one capital was implemented. From here we can now start discussing the Heian period.

Heian Politics
1696 map of Kyoto
In 794 the fiftieth emperor of Japan, Kanmu, moved the capital to Heian-kyo, (in modern day Kyoto), and here the capital would remain until 1185 earning the period the name Heian. During Kanmu's reign and that of some of his successors the imperial court saw increased authority to the emperor with the household treasury office, (kurando-dokoro), being created in 810. From 794 the emperor also expanded his territorial rule as well by sending Otomo Otomaro and Sakanoue Tamuramaro north to conquer the Ainu on the largest island of Honshu. As a result the last remaining free Ainu lived only on Hokkaido until the nineteenth century. Otomo returned and was awarded the title barbarian-quelling-great-general (sei-i-tai-shogun). However, the strength of the emperor politically would soon be reduced and the Taika reforms of having no clans ruling the emperor would soon be undone. In a very Game of Thrones manner the Fujiwara clan managed to maneuver their way into controlling who sat on the throne. Fujiwara Yoshifusa managed to place his son-in-law Montoku on the throne, and eventually was made regent for his grandson, Seiwa, following Montoku's death in 858. The Fujiwara's had future emperors marry into their family allowing them to become regents. This system of rule lasted until 1068 when an emperor of non-Fujiwara birth came to the throne, Go-Sanjo. Go-Sanjo confiscated all shoens awarded after 1045, and had a system called insei (cloistered government) where abdicated emperors would help rule. This was done to curb Fujiwara power. Slowly a new clan named the Minamoto would start to replace the Fujiwara as the most powerful family in Japan but we shall speak of that later.

Heian Art and Literature
Some Heian Art
Cultural historians who focus on Japanese history love the Heian period because of how rich the high culture was at this time. It is often regarded as a golden age of art and literature. Although it should be mentioned that only the elite could engage in this culture. Court culture best describes only those in the Heian court could engage in the culture. Historian H.Paul Varley even calls this period 'the court at its zenith'. The elite were expected to be interested and sensitive in the culture produced at this time with a quote from The Tale of Genji perfectly exemplifying this by showing what a man needs to do to be seen as a man 'with his gentle nature, his sensitivity and his wide range of artistic skills who represented the ideal of  the age and set the tone for the social and cultural life of the good people'. Melancholy and gloom were expected from the aristocracy as well as ideas of impermanence. This fit in perfectly with the rise in Buddhism as in Buddhist teachings life is suffering which one has to escape from. By pondering on the impermanence of life this fit well with these teachings. Although, a YouTube comment summed this melancholy and sensitivity up rather humorously 'So the Heian aristocrats were basically emos'. The best examples of Heian art happen to exist in Buddhist temples so already we see a connection to Buddhism which the Heian aristocrats felt. Again we see inspiration from China with them using curved lines, soft colors, and images of a religious style. However, linking this to a growth of a sense of Japanese identity in the later Heian period a distinctly Japanese style of painting called Yamato-e developed using angular lines and more decoration than the previous art style.
Depiction of Murasake Shikibu
Some of the most well known pieces of Japanese literature come from the Heian court, and all the major ones are written by women. The earliest are nikki or court diaries. One of the early ones include Tosa Nikki written by Ki no Tsurayuki around 935 where many entries are simply poems, haikus, or some brief comments. The better known one is The Gossamer Years written between 954 and 974, and unlike the Tosa Nikki there are large gaps between entries. It has been more like an autobiography than a diary of an unnamed woman calling herself 'mother of Michitsuna'. All we know is that she was married to Fujiwara no Kaneie who eventually became regent. The diary shows a sad tale of the author's husband initially loving her to the point of them having a child, (Michitsuna), and her late resentment and sadness over her husband's shifting attention to other women made worse by the sequestered existence at court. The final of the nikki reads: I thought of how quickly the years had gone by, each with the same unsatisfied longing. The old, inexhaustible sadness came back, and I went through the rites of my ancestors, but absent-mindedly. The Heian period also produced two of the most famous examples of Japanese literature: The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon is similar to a nikki but instead reflected on what she saw, heard, and did at court. What made the book famous was Sei's wittiness and distinct personality reflected in her writing. Written around the same time is The Tale of Genji by Murasake Shikibu which is possibly one of the oldest novels in not only Japan but the world. The novel is about Prince Genji going through life in Heian court dealing with his romances with women, and also his place in existence going from a lighthearted adventurer to a seeker looking for the truth. It deals with the impermanence of life, and relationships between the sexes as friends, lovers, sons, fathers, and protectors.

Women in Heian Court
Thanks to the nikkis, The Tale of Genji, and The Pillow Book we can grasp women's place in court society. Historians are lucky in the fact that women, and not men, are writing as we can from there grasp better what role women had in Heian society. Often people write about the world immediately around them so as almost all societies in history have been patriarchal women are often ignored from historical sources, or are subjected to a virgin-whore dichotomy. We know that women did have various rights. Many women ruled shoens and could be given a shoen on the same basis as a man. Husbands were also barred from hitting their wives, at least at court, which is quite significant in women's rights considering that at the time in Europe this was not the case. However, this was not an egalitarian society in terms of gender relations. Heian Japan was clearly patriarchal. Women were expected to be beautiful at all times which included having hair so long that it almost touched the ground, painting their faces white, dying their teeth black, painted their mouth red, and had to wear formal dress called a junihitoe which was a several layered robe which limited movement. Women at court were educated but only in 'feminine' subjects like calligraphy, poetry, and music where subjects like history and law were forbidden. Even how women could write was determined. Men were instructed to write in Chinese while women had to write in Japanese. At the start of Tosa Nikki the author opens with 'It is said that diaries are kept by men, but I shall see if a woman cannot keep one'. This speaks volumes about women's place in Heian society. Of course this is only the elite women. We have little sources describing Japan outside of the court to see what life was like for an average woman.

As you can imagine Heian society was rigidly hierarchical. Again we have few sources discussing the world outside of Heian but we can make estimates about society based on later and earlier sources. Japanese society was partially based on a Confucian idea that society was structured in a hierarchical system. At the top would be the royals, below them the shoen and landowners, then the farmers, below them the artisans, at the bottom would be merchants, (at the bottom as they weren't seen as making anything just acting as parasites on the rest of society), and below the bottom were the 'eta' or 'burakumin'. These were seen as 'unclean' and consisted of homeless, vagrants, prostitutes, and people who did not 'fit in' with society. This system was seen around the world in one form or another: the Chinese Confucian system, the Estates in Europe, caste in India, the social structure of the Mayan city states etc. The court itself was also extremely hierarchical. The court was split into thirty grades where the top four were reserved for the royal family, and the top three, (the kugyo), had special privileges like governmental posts, land which produced more rice, the ability to send your children to university, and light sentences for crimes. These top four positions were reserved for barely a tenth of one percent of the population so the mega elite. To get into a higher position in society you had to be born into it. At court your position meant everything: what you could do, who you could speak to, and even what type of fan you could use. You now may perhaps be wondering why there are hardly any sources from outside the Heian court? The simple answer is they stopped caring; this is what we shall talk about next.

End of the Heian
Minamoto no Yoshinaka
After 850 with the conquest of the Ainue, the end of Ainu resistance, and the reduction of contact with China there were no issues facing Japan. The Fujiwara clan at this time were efficient rulers and the shoen were loyal so there were no political issues. People accepted society, and the shoen ensured that there were no issues. No issues in a 'Medieval' society means you have little to do so the Heian court started painting, writing, and pondering existence. No problems emerged until the next century. By the mid 900s population growth, food shortages, and competition for resources between the great families  undermined the authority of the Fujiwara clan. By the eleventh century the Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto clans had started to fight over land, and Emperor Go-Sanjo's replacing of the Fujiwara regency meant the Minamoto clan could easily replace them as the dominant family in Japan. In 1156 there was a clash between the Fujiwara and, the Taira and Minamoto resulting in the Fujiwara's power being destroyed. Although in 1159 the Taira managed to almost destroy the Minamoto like the Fujiwara they got complacent and the Minamoto started to gain more power. In 1183 the Minamoto attacked Kyoto. The Empress Dowager tried to drown herself and the seven year old emperor but only succeeded in drowning her son. Head of the Minamoto, Yoritomo, created a new emperor but he created a new system of government. Called the bakufu the emperor would technically be ruler but Minamoto no Yoshinaka would be the real leader, called shogun. The shogun would appoint lords called daimyo to rule, and they in turn would have samurai fight and collect taxes for them. A new system of government, called a shogunate, had been established in Japan and this system would exist in some form until 1868.

Heian Japan shows us a new way in studying history. By studying literature, art, and poetry we manage to better understand a society centered on the court, where Game of Thrones style political maneuvering was a reality, and how people fit into this society. Often people refer to this time of history as 'the Dark Ages' based on the apparent lack of culture going on in Europe. Although this idea is in of itself untrue by looking at Heian Japan even if there was a 'Dark Age' it is exactly the opposite case in Japan. Thank you for reading and next World History we will be back in Europe looking at Vikings.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-A History of Japan by R.H.P. Mason and J.G. Caiger
-Japanese Culture by H. Paul Varley
-A History of Japan by Conrad Totman

For a list of other World History posts please see here

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Comics Explained: Invasion!

Invasion! was a three issue crossover in DC comics in 1989 and was the basis of the crossover event between the TV shows Supergirl, Arrow, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. It featured the Alien Alliance, lead by a race known as the Dominators, invading Earth to wipe out humanity through fear of metahumans, (superpowered beings). First, we have to look at who made up the Alien Alliance.

Alien Alliance
The Alien Alliance wished to invade Earth, wipe out humanity, and with it wipe out Earth's metahumans. The organizers of the Alliance, and later the de facto leaders, were a species known as the Dominators. The Dominators were experts in genetics and lived in a caste based system where the size of the red spot on their forehead determined their place in society. They managed to discover that the reason why Earth had so many superpowered beings, metahumans, was because of a gene called the 'metagene'. Thanks to the metagene accidents which should have killed a normal human gave superpowers to individuals having this gene. The Dominators feared the unrestrained evolution of this gene so they built a coalition of races to wipe out the gene before it became a danger to them. Another race which was part of the Alliance was the Khund, an aggressive species whose world was united by the threat of the Superman villain Doomsday. Thanagarians also took part in the Alliance. Thanagar was the homeworld of Hawkman which had become a fascist, police state and took part in the Alliance to recapture Hawkman. These were the most significant races but there were also the Gil'Dishpan, Durlans, Warlords of Okaara, Citadelians, Daxamites, and Psions. 

Issue #1
The story begins with the Dominators and Khunds performing tests on humans to see if they develop superpowers. Upon finding out the unpredictability of the metagene they see it as a threat which must be preemptively destroyed building the Alien Alliance to do this. They also build the Starlag, a gulag for captured metahumans and dissenting members of the Alliance, in preparation for the invasion. The Khunds managed to invade first with them invading Australia (insert obligatory joke about Australia's Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull) and immediately destroying Melbourne and the Australian armed forces. For fun the Khunds wipe out the surrounding civilian populace. Meanwhile, the Daxamites, descended from Kyrptonian colonists, discover that they have immense power from Earth's red sun. One of the most powerful individuals in the DC Universe, the Spectre, (the literal embodiment of God's vengeance), is instructed not to interfere by the Lords of Order as by doing so it would bring the Lords of Chaos into the conflict escalating it from a planetary invasion to a universe wide battle between good and evil. To avoid the Lords of Chaos intervening all mystical heroes are forbidden from aiding Earth meaning all of Earth's supernatural heroes cannot fight the Alliance. The Dominators offer an ultimatum to the UN: give up the superheroes or face total annihilation. After a round of debating the UN responds to the ultimatum:
The War Begins
Issue #2
The world responds
Faced with annihilation from the Alliance heroes start working with villains and the world's various governments put their differences aside to prevent humanity's extinction. Russia is invaded by the Warlords of Okaara, the aquatic Gil'Dishpan from their base in the Artic Ocean battles the Atlanteans, the Khund turn Australia into one large concentration camp, an army invades Themyscira, home of the Amazons, and the shapeshifting Durlans invade Cuba and secretly replace Fidel Castro and the leading members of the Cuban government and army. President Ronald Reagan places Amanda Waller in charge on intelligence, Captain Atom in charge of the superheroes, General Wade Eiling in charge of the armed forces, and Maxwell Lord as the Justice League's adviser and liaison. Waller even offers the use of the Suicide Squad to help the heroes. As the heroes wonder why the Alliance does not simply destroy Earth the Dominators start planning to betray their allies once they learnt the secrets of the metagene. Various heroes start fighting the Khund in Australia, including Power Girl, as Superman takes the fight directly to the Alliance, and Aquaman manages to oust the Gil'Dishpan from the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, the Flash and the hero Manhunter manages to free Cuba from the Durlans restoring the government. Lex Luthor learnt that the Dominators were kidnapping individuals with the metagene so used this to his advantage, (and the Earth's), by placing bombs in fake heroes which would explode with the Dominators cut it open devastating their ships. Superman starts battling the Daxamites given new powers by Earth's sun until the Daxamites start suffocating thanks to lead in the atmosphere. For Daxamites even the smallest amount of lead can kill them. However, Superman flies them into space allowing them to breathe once more earning their respect for the Man of Steel. Instead of resuming battle with Superman they opt to join Earth's defenders. As this is happening riots brake out in the Starlag. With the Warlords defeated in Moscow, Gil'Dishpan in the Arctic, and Durlans in Cuba the only remaining invaders were the Khund and Dominators. The Khund and Dominator armies, however, keep receiving orders to retreat, or orders leading to their defeat, causing rifts between the two forces. With the Daxamite alliance this greatly aids Earth who manages to push them beyond the Moon. The Dominator leader announces that they surrender. However, they secretly prepare to use a doomsday weapon to destroy the Earth until they turn on one another and start decimating the remains of their own forces. It turned out that the spirit hero Deadman had secretly been possessing the leader of the Dominators. Just as the Earth appears to be saved we learn that a young Dominator aspiring for power had been investigating with the metagene, learnt how to exploit it, and managed to create the Gene Bomb...

Issue #3
The final issue
The now rogue Dominator scientist fired the Gene Bomb at the Earth which causes every metahuman to lose control of their powers. Captain Atom starts to go into a meltdown in New York as other heroes like the Flash, Ice, and Fire go berserk. Reagan orders the military to put down the heroes but this is ignored by General Eiling who asks the Justice League for help. Meanwhile, Maxwell Lord asks Lex Luthor for the same thing. Non-metahuman heroes such as Batman and the Green Lantern Corp start to neutralize metahumans. They realize that the only way to save Earth's metahumans is to track down the scientist which created the Gene Bomb. Several heroes, including Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Superman, are sent to the Dominator homeworld to secretly search for the scientist to only discover that he had been arrested and tortured by the Dominator government. They wished to use the metagene so his use of the Gene Bomb to eventually wipe out metahumans would ruin their plan. Martian Manhunter manages to shapeshift to sneak into the prison, use telepathy to find out how to reverse the effects of the Gene Bomb, and get out. After narrowly creating the cure in the Starlag, which was soon after destroyed by the Khunds, they return to Earth and Superman managed to release the cure. 

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who was Fidel Castro?

Fidel Castro
As of writing the former president of Cuba and former revolutionary Fidel Castro passed away two days ago. In Havana the public mourns while in the United States exiled Cubans celebrate. To some Castro was a tyrant, others a warrior for the people, and others both. Today we shall look at who exactly was Fidel Castro and why there are so many polarizing views on him.

Early Life
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926 in eastern Cuba to a wealthy sugarcane farmer from Spain, Angel Castro y Argiz, and a household servant, Lina Ruz Gonzalez. When he was young his father divorced his first wife and soon married his mother. It was through this that he managed to get a good education being sent to schools in Santiago de Cuba, and later a Catholic high school in Havana. Although he did not do well academically he did do well in athletics and sports. In 1945 he attended the University of Havana to study law and it is here where he first became interested in politics. Cuba of the 1940s was very different from the Cuba of today. The main reason being that since independence in 1902 Cuba had been virtually a puppet of the United States with the Cuban constitution allowing the US to intervene in Cuban affairs, finances, and foreign politics. Castro, whose politics had drifted towards the far-left of the political spectrum, saw this as outrageous and started protesting, as well as protesting against the corruption of the Ramon Grau government. He joined the Party of the Cuban People in 1947 and when Grau defeated the party in the elections Castro started receiving death threats from gang leaders employed by Grau as police officials. The June of 1947 would see him delve into revolutionary politics.

Early Revolutionary, 1947-53
Castro and others preparing to go to the Dominican Republic
In June 1947 Castro learnt of a plan for Cubans and exiles from the Dominican Republic to invade and topple the government of General Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo had come to power in 1930 and had presided over a corrupt regime which brutally suppressed civil liberties. The United States had been supporting him due to his anti-communist stance. Before Castro, the Cubans, and exiles could invade the Dominican Republic Grau stopped the invasion, (upon a request from the USA), and Castro narrowly evaded arrest. Until he moved to Colombia in 1948 he would lead several protests condemning the Grau government with one leading to him being badly beaten. It was during this time period that he started adopting a Marxist rhetoric in his speeches. In 1948 he moved to Bogota, Colombia where he would meet his first wife Mirta Diaz Balart. Like Castro Mirta came from a wealthy Cuban family. She too had a far-left political ideology and this allowed them to marry quickly. Also, they soon had a son, Fidel Jr. While in Bogota he took part in the anti-government protests which were occurring in the country. By the time Fidel Jr. was born Fidel and Mirta had moved back to Havana where Fidel became embroiled in the anti-racism campaigns of the left and attacking the government's repression in speeches. The new family remained in debt for sometime with Castro's legal practice, which he set up in 1950, not earning much money. He did, however, continue with a political career running for a seat in the House of Representatives for the Cuban People's Party (Ortodoxes) in 1952. However, this was cut short when General Fulgencio Batista, who was briefly president in the 1930s and had ruled through puppets since, ousted the government in 1952 and cancelled elections. Batista's coup was not widely opposed at first, Castro and the Ortodoxes being an exception, with pay increases for the army and police being widely welcomed. However, his suspension of huge tracks of the 1940 constitution, harsh repression of socialist and left-wing parties, and closer ties with the USA caused many young activists turn against Batista. Thus the Cuban Revolution started.

Cuban Revolution
Cuban Revolution
Castro formed a revolutionary group called The Movement which managed to gain over 1,200 followers within a few months. Inspired by figures such as Mao Tse-tung Castro planned to lead a guerrilla war to inspire the impoverished to overthrow the government. To do so he planned to attack Moncado barracks outside Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. With so many impoverished cane cutters in the area he hoped it would inspire them to join him. With 165 revolutionaries they attacked and were soon captured. In retaliation Batista had ten prisoners shot for every soldier killed and 70 of Castro's revolutionaries were killed. Castro was incarcerated and while in prison he changed the name of his group to The 26th of July Movement. In the end he only served two years of his fifteen year sentence and while in prison he wrote to a friend saying that only 'armed insurrection' instead of electoral politics would defeat Batista. Upon leaving prison he joined his younger brother, Raul, in Mexico. While in prison his marriage started to fall apart and Marti divorced him while he went to Mexico. However, when her son went to visit Fidel in Mexico Castro had him kidnapped so he could not return home to his mother who now worked for the government. 

While in Mexico Raul introduced him to another revolutionary: Che Guevara. (Please see here). In 1956 the Castros and Che returned to Cuba to begin the guerrilla war in earnest. They began by raiding small barracks until they became increasingly powerful against the failing Batista regime. When Batista censored the press Castro managed to get an interview with the New York Times earning him worldwide acclaim. Fidel soon became a well known figure around the world with the political left seeing him as Garibaldi reborn, while the right saw him as a dangerous, Marxist firebrand. In 1959 Batista fled to Portugal after both the United States and Mexico refused him asylum. Castro declared himself Prime Minister and started trials of Batista's supporters. These trials were very popular at home thanks to Batista's brutal atrocities during the Revolution. Later President John F. Kennedy would describe Batista as 'one of the most bloody and repressive dictatorships in the long history of Latin American repression'. It has been alleged that 20,000 were executed on Batista's orders but modern estimates suggest a far smaller figure. The trials and executions of Batista's supporters may not have been fair and we cannot find out until Cuba allows access to its records. Castro in 1959 defended the trials by saying 'We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it'.

Castro's social and economic policies
Castro soon started changing Cuba from a racially segregated, society where foreign landowners controlled much of a country where civil liberties were curtailed to a more socially equal society, with more equal land ownership but one where civil liberties still remained curtailed. There is a paradox in Castro's Cuba where a whole section of civil rights were given but many vital ones like freedom of speech, assembly, and movement were deprived. Racial segregation was abolished early on by Castro, and education offered for black Cubans but institutionalized racism remained where by 1979 there were only five black ministers out of thirty-four and only sixteen out of one hundred and forty-six members of the Party's central committee. Although not openly socialist until after the Bay of Pigs invasion, (which we shall later talk about), throughout his career Castro implemented socialist policies. Free health care was established early on and is actually a key part of the constitution of 1976. A key aspect of Castro's policies was land reform with the Institute for Agrarian Reform being established early on, and has allowed greater equality among who owns the land. He also nationalized several American sugar companies which were dominating Cuban land which would later earn Castro the hatred of the United States. Castro's and Guevara's education policy also saw remarkable success with literacy rising from 60-76% of the population to around 96% by 1961. In the 1990s Cuba even passed several laws protecting the environment making it one of the greenest countries in the world. Castro's regime also gave greater equality for women, and (although it took until 1979) greater equality for the LGBTQ+ community. However, Castro severely curtailed civil liberties.

Seeing elections fail to oust Batista firmly placed him against democracy and today Cuba is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. Political parties are banned, censorship is widespread, freedom of speech is banned, and it took until 2013 for Cubans to be able to leave the country. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion 10% of Cuba's population fled the country in fear that they would be persecuted under a possible communist regime, which did happen. We do not know how many political executions have happened in Cuba since 1959. Although the figure is far smaller than that of the USSR, North Korea, or China it could number the thousands. Castro may have brought benefits to Cuba his legacy is of an authoritarian Cuba.

Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis
Missile site
After seizing power in 1959 the United States was fearful of Castro. Although he claimed he was not a Marxist there was a fear of a possible ally of the USSR appearing in Cuba. To curtail Castro's influence the USA announced it would cease buying Cuban sugar and stop selling petroleum to Cuba. Immediately the USSR, whose leader Nikita Khrushchev had become almost infatuated with Castro, announced it would buy sugar and sell petroleum to Cuba. In March 1960 President Eisenhower gave money to train Cuban exiles in Guatemala with the intention of sending them to Cuba to oust Castro. In April 1961 a force of 1,500 Cuban exiles invaded Cuba from the Bay of Pigs. The new president, Kennedy, decided to withdraw US planes to avoid the US being blamed for the invasion, (which it was anyway). It was a disaster. Che Guevara and Castro used Soviet made tanks to meet the invaders. Almost all the exiles were either captured or killed. The December of 1961 Castro announced he was a Marxist-Leninist and sided with the USSR over the Sino-Soviet split which greatly upset his friend Che who would leave Cuba a few years later.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev asked Castro if he could have nuclear missiles placed in Cuba. Castro accepted. When the United States discovered the missile sites Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any further construction materials, or missiles, to go to Cuba. Castro released a 5 point plan demanding that: the USA end the embargo, return Guantanamo Bay, stop supporting dissidents, stop violating Cuban territorial waters, and to stop violating Cuban air space. This standoff nearly escalated into full nuclear war and has been called the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev and Kennedy went into negotiations where the USSR promised to remove missiles from Cuba in return for a promise that the USA would not invade Cuba and to eventually remove missiles from Turkey. Castro, left out from the negotiations, was outraged. Despite the Crisis ending the USA would continue to embargo Cuba, it is still embargoing it as well, and there would be over 600 attempts to assassinate Castro by the CIA.

After the Crisis
For years after the Cuban Missile Crisis Castro's Cuba remained out of major events of the Cold War to instead focus on domestic issues. However, in the 1970s this started to change when Cuba's economy exploded boomed thanks to a rising demand for sugar. Castro saw himself as the world leader against capitalism and imperialism seeing the USSR as ignoring anti-imperialist struggles. He saw Africa as 'the weakest link in the imperialist chain' and, would start by funding and sending advisers to the Marxist MPLA in Angola. When the South African and American funded FLNA and UNITA received extra funding he actually sent 18,000 troops to support the MPLA. In Mozambique he supported the Marxist RENAMO, supported Marxist Ethiopia during the Ethiopian-Somali War, and gave support to the Marxist South Yemen. His funding and soldiers also went to Latin America to support the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. However, he did garner controversy both domestically and internationally. Che Guevara was much loved in Cuba and Castro's refusal to fund his campaign in Bolivia, leading to his execution, greatly upset many Cubans. Controversially he backed the far-right Argentinian junta during the Falklands War where he even offered them military training. 

When the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev started to re-approach the United States and begin to reform itself in glasnost and perestroika Castro became alone. In 1989 the execution of several senior figures were either executed or sentenced for corruption and drug trafficking. This led to two questions in Cuban society: were they removed because they wished to usher in a figure like Gorbachev, and has Castro's Cuba become the thing which it strove to end in the 1950s? From the early 1990s to the early 2000s Cuba went through various economic declines and food shortages, but despite it all Castro remained popular domestically. Hugo Chavez's election in 1999 created an ally in Venezuela which helped bolster Castro's position with Chavez sending barrels of oil to Cuba in return for Cuban doctors. In 2006 thanks to old age he stepped down with his brother Raul becoming president, and in 2008 he retired. After resigning from the Communist Party central committee in 2011 he went from the public eye until his death this year.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott
-Cold War: For Forty-five years the World held its breath by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing

Saturday, 19 November 2016

When Presidents Lost the Popular Vote but won the Electoral College vote (and other peculiarities with the College)

2016's Electoral College result
While I am writing this it has been just over a week since the controversial election of Donald Trump. A big part of this controversy centers around the fact that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump, but thanks to the Electoral College Trump will now be president. As of writing this is the fifth time the Electoral College has allowed someone who lost the popular vote to become president. This blog post is neither a call for the abolition of the Electoral College, nor a post supporting the College. Instead it is to show the peculiar scenarios in the past when the College has given people the presidency when they lost the popular vote, (and two other peculiarities which I thought would be fun to mention). First off though we have to know what the Electoral College actually is, and why the United States has it.

The What and Why
The Electoral College is somewhat unique to the United States. In most other countries when you vote in an election you vote for which party you want in power, and the party with the most votes, (and for the most part seats in the parliament, diet, Bundestag etc,), gets to chose the next leader of the country; normally this is the Head of the Party. In contrast, in the United States you directly vote for who you want to be president, (and vice-president), who so happens to represent a party whether it be Democrat, Republican, Libertarian etc. However, that is not entirely accurate. In the United States when you cast a vote you are not saying 'I want x to be president and y to be vice-president', but rather saying 'I want my elector in the Electoral College to vote for x to be president and y to be vice-president'. The Electoral College has 538 electors representing the 435 representatives, 100 senators, and 3 electors for the District of Columbia. These electors are spread across every state based on population and each state has a minimum of three electors. Currently California has 55 electors, Alaska has 3, Michigan has 16, and so on and so forth. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska in each state all the electors have to vote the same way. Say for example in Ohio 60% of the population votes for X and 40% votes for Y all 18 of Ohio's electors have to vote for X. Meanwhile, in Maine if 75% vote for X and 25% vote for Y then 3 of Maine's electors will vote for X, and one will vote for Y. To become president a candidate requires a minimum of 270 electoral college votes. You may be wondering, why was this implemented? For that we have to go back to the eighteenth-century.

Despite winning independence in 1783 the United States did not create the constitution we have today until 1787. It is here where the Electoral College was born. From the outset the plan was for the new republic to be a democracy. However, there was an issue with this. In days prior to the Industrial Revolution it could take days to communicate across an area the size of Great Britain nevermind the eastern coast of the United States. As a result it was difficult to count votes across a wide area using direct voting. Hence, the Electoral College was a quicker solution; people vote for electors who could easily find out who they should vote for. It was also done to limit both autocracy and democracy. Some Founding Fathers believed that direct democracy would lead to anarchy, (and the French Revolution a few years later would support their fears), so figures, like Alexander Hamilton, believed that voting directly for the president could lead to mob rule. On the other hand, there was a general fear that denying popular vote would lead the new republic to become the same autocracy which they had fought to free themselves from. Why fight against one autocracy on the other side of the Atlantic to install one at your doorstep? Hence, the Electoral College seemed a fitting compromise. To top it all off each state had a minimum of three electors so large states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, (today's West Virginia and Virginia), could not dominate the smaller ones like Rhode Island. In later years this would become an issue as votes in some less populated states started to be worth more than states with larger populations. Like all other institutes making up the United States government the Electoral College would evolve, (to an extent), over time. Now to discuss the main topic of this post. I shall skip over the 2016 election due to the fact it is on the news everywhere currently so we can focus on the last time the Electoral College allowed someone who lost the popular vote to win the presidency: the 2000 election.

The 2000 Election
Bush and Gore
The most recent time that the Electoral College, (prior to 2016 that is), allowed someone to lose the popular vote but win the College vote was in 2000. For the Democrat party Vice-President Al Gore ran, and for the Republicans George W. Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush, ran. Voter apathy meant that there was a low turnout, (quite similar to the most recent election), The race for the White House was somewhat close; Gore had a narrow lead in both the popular vote, and the College vote. The election rested on one state: Florida. Gore had 266 seats in the College so if he won Florida he would have got the popular vote, (by a small margin), and the College vote, (a large margin). Florida was the last state to count all the votes and Bush was in the lead by the time 85% of Florida's votes had been counted. Thanks to this many news broadcasters declared that Bush had won the presidency. However, Bush's lead dwindled rapidly when the rest of the votes started to come in, so much so that the news switched and declared that Gore won Florida. Then it was declared 'too close to call', and then Bush had won Florida. After heated debates the Supreme Court of Florida ordered a recount. As the recount was underway Bush took the matter to the federal Supreme Court asking for a stay of the recount as he argued it was unconstitutional. In Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court, (in a 5-4 decision), decided to stay the recount. As a result Florida's electors in the College gave Bush their vote, and the presidency by a very narrow margin, (he got 271 seats). Gore had narrowly won the popular vote but lost the College vote by a somewhat large margin. However, it is difficult to say if the recount would have swung the election: it could have either given Bush the popular vote or Gore the presidency.

Although there is some debate if JFK lost the popular vote in 1960 it is very ambiguous, and it is quite possible that he did win the popular vote so for that reason we shall move to the third time when the College swung the election. In was all the way back in the nineteenth century...

The Election of 1888
Cleveland v. Harrison
The third time the Electoral College allowed someone who lost the popular vote to become president was in the 1888 election. In this election incumbent Democrat President Grover Cleveland ran for re-election against Republican Benjamin Harrison. On a side note Harrison was the grandson of ninth president William Henry Harrison who, when elected, was the oldest president aged 68 until Reagan, (and now Trump). He also is the president to have had the shortest time in office serving thirty-two days before dying of pneumonia which he caught during his inaugural address. Back to 1888. Grover Cleveland was unfortunate enough to lose several swing states, including his home state of New York, which meant that Cleveland narrowly lost the popular vote but lost the College vote by a large margin. Also, when I mention popular vote I mean votes cast by people eligible to vote: in 1888 most states only allowed solely white men to vote, and even then some states only propertied white men could vote. In 1892 Cleveland had his own back on Harrison: he won both popular, and College votes becoming the only person so far to be president for two non-consecutive terms.

The second time which the College let someone to be president despite losing the popular vote was in 1876.

The Election of 1876
The Compromise of 1877
The election of 1876 came during a time of fracture, attempted reconciliation, and change in the United States. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865 the Republicans in the North wished to reconcile with the South, reconstruct the South's economy so it no longer required slavery, and somewhat improve the conditions for former slaves. This was called Reconstruction. It was a noble idea which for the most part failed miserably. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized, murdered, and mutilated African-Americans and white Southerners who helped them (as well as Northerners); Black Codes in various states stripped the legal rights of African-Americans; opposition from Lincoln's successor, Andrew Jackson, prevented the dismantling of the plantation system; and opposition from Democrats and some Republicans caused many setbacks. Redemption governments sprang up in the South to oppose the new order, and the acts passed to help former slaves, (such as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments), would only help northern African-Americans or civil rights campaigners in the future. Former Union general Ulysses E. Grant since coming to office in 1868 had vainly tried to enforce Reconstruction, (although he did successfully cause the Ku Klux Klan to go into decline), but it was in vain. The South disliked the Republicans, (how times have changed), and they were losing support in the North thanks to Grant failing to deal with corruption. The Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes was not in a good position, and his Democrat opponent Samuel Tilden managed to win the popular vote by over 200,000. However, Florida (again), South Carolina and Louisiana had both parties claim they won, and through a peculiar incident there was one seat available in Oregon. The Republicans made a deal with the Democrats in what has since been called 'The Compromise of 1877': the Democrats would let Hayes be president if the North removes their troops from the South, (ending Reconstruction), policies to be passed to industrialize the South, a Democrat to be in Hayes's cabinet, and transcontinental railroad to be built in the South. The Democrats let Hayes be president; legislation was passed removing all rights from African-Americans in the South (later called Jim Crow laws); and Reconstruction came to an end.

The first time the College let someone who lost the popular vote become president is peculiar. The person lost both the popular and College votes but still became president. This was the 1824 election.

The Election of 1824
Andrew Jackson
1824 was very different to the United States of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. For one, most of the USA at this time was under Mexican rule. Also, party politics had basically ceased to exist. The Founding Fathers believed that parties were signs of rot in a democracy, and following the 1816 election politics had gone back to how the Founding Fathers envisioned: people, not parties, running for election. I should also point out that political parties in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were not like the parties of today; instead they were more loose affiliations with loosely defined ideas. In 1824 John Quincy Adams, son of former president John Adams, the Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and war hero Andrew Jackson all ran for the presidency. The contest, however, was mainly between Adams and Jackson. When the election results came in Jackson won around 40,000 more votes than Adams, (it may not seem much but in 1824 the number of people who voted was around half the population of Washington D.C.), and he had the most seats in the College. He had more popular and College votes than Adams, Clay, and Crawford. However, he only had 99 seats when 131 was needed to win. As the person with the highest amount in the College did not have enough votes to become president the 12th amendment stipulated that the House of Representatives had to who would become president out of the top three candidates. The House had to decide between Adams, Jackson, and Crawford. Clay, who was left out, loathed Jackson saying 'I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy', (Jackson was famous for his victory over the British following the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Although the battle actually took place after the war ended). Clay was vocal in his support for Adams who won the support from the House and John Quincy Adams became president. As a reward Clay was made Secretary of State causing Jackson supporters to accuse them of a 'corrupt bargain'. The next election saw Jackson roundly trounce Adams and after he led a government which caused the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Native Americans.

These were the times when the Electoral College inadvertently let the loser of the popular vote become president. However, there are two other peculiar elections, both involving the College, which I wish to discuss, and both were crazier than the 2016 election. The first take us back to 1800...

The Election of 1800
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
In this election Vice-President, former Secretary of State, former French ambassador, and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson ran against incumbent president and George Washington's vice-president John Adams. This was the second time these two had ran against one another, 1796 being the first, and prior to the 1800 election whoever lost the election became vice-president. 1796 itself was a heated election: France threatened to invade, parties had emerged, and it was the first contested election (no one had ran against Washington). There were the Federalists, who Adams represented, who wanted a strong federal government, and another confusingly named party who Jefferson represented. Contemporaries, (and historians), have called them Anti-Federalists, Democrats, Republicans, and Democratic-Republicans, (they were neither the antecedents of the Democrats nor the Republicans). To avoid confusion we shall refer to them as Anti-Federalists, and they wanted increased state autonomy. In 1796 Adams won but in 1800 Jefferson fought hard. His campaign accused Adams of having 'hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman' so Adams responded saying that Jefferson was 'a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father'. Jefferson was painted as an atheist under the spell of Satan and France, while Adams was accused of being a warmonger, an autocrat, and of even being dead. When elections came around Jefferson chose Aaron Burr of New York to run with him and be his vice-president. This would in theory get both Northern and Southern votes. Jefferson easily beat Adams, but the first crisis of the Electoral College emerged from this. In 1800 electors had two votes so instead of voting for one person to become president they had to vote for two. The Anti-Federalists had planned for their electors to vote for Jefferson, and one or two to abstain from voting for Burr. What really happened was every Anti-Federalist elector voted for both Jefferson and Burr. Jefferson and Burr had equal seats in the College.

Initially if this was to happen the plan was for Burr to concede defeat and become vice-president, as planned. However, Burr decided that he would actually like to become president and refused to concede. What happened then was for the House of Representatives to decide who should be president. The new Anti-Federalist filled House would not convene until January/February of 1801 so Federalists, who hated both Jefferson and Burr, had to decide on the president. The House had to pick the candidate which they hated the least. Although he was not a Representative (despite what the musical says) Alexander Hamilton was an influential figure in deciding the president and although he disliked Jefferson he loathed Burr. As a result the House made Jefferson president, Burr vice-president, and passed the 12th amendment in 1804 to stop this from happening again. Needless to say Jefferson's and Burr's time together was not very warm. In 1804 Jefferson was re-elected easily and Burr shot Hamilton in an illegal duel. 

There is one last election which I wish to talk about. It was an election which fractured a nation but brought to power Trump's, Obama's, and Reagan's favorite president.

The Election of 1860
1860 the USA was in crisis over slavery. North and South were at each other's throats over the issue. The Democrats could not decide over a candidate and had split on North/South lines. Northern Democrats chose Stephen Douglas while Southern Democrats chose John Breckinridge. There was a newly formed party called the Constitutional Union party, represented by John Bell, whose stance on the major issue of the day, (slavery), was to consult the Constitution. Bearing in mind the Constitution mentions slavery twice: the first time never says 'slaves' but instead 'other Persons' and the other time is the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. Finally there was another newly formed party called the Republicans who had a certain figure representing them: Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln was a political misnomer in 1860. He was little known outside his state of Illinois, he seemed to come from nowhere, and his views on slavery were not known. In fact historians are still debating his views on slavery in 1860. The Republican party in 1860 was made up of abolitionist, and those who merely wished to limit slavery's spread. Although historians debate his views on slavery at this moment in time the Deep South, where slavery was the backbone of society and the economy, viewed Lincoln as either an abolitionist, or as a tool of abolitionists. As a result in the 1860 election the Republican candidate never appeared on the ballot. When the results came in the Southern Democrats received virtually every vote in the Deep South, the Northern Democrats received Missouri, the Constitutional Unionists got the Upper South votes, and Lincoln got the votes from the Northern and two Pacific states. However, although Lincoln received only 40% of the vote he won both the popular and College vote. This infuriated the Deep South who believed that a possible abolitionist was now in prime position to abolish slavery. Starting with South Carolina the Southern slave states seceded one by one to form the Confederate States of America. Thus began the American Civil War, and by the end of 1865 four million slaves became free.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Give me Liberty!: An American History by Eric Foner
-The Penguin History of the United States by Hugh Brogan
-The Civil War and Reconstruction by David Herbert Donald, Jean Harvey Baker, and Michael F. Holt
-America: A Narrative History by George Tindall and David Shi

Friday, 11 November 2016

World History: Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire

Throughout European history there was a desire to replicate the former Roman Empire. The Byzantines, (rightly), viewed themselves as Romans; the Russian emperors styled themselves as Tsars, (from Caesar); the Renaissance heavily involved 'rediscovering' Latin and Roman knowledge; and we saw in western Europe an empire which almost resurrected the western half of the Empire. Today we shall look at this metaphorical successor of the Western Roman Empire: Charlemagne. Often called the 'Father of Europe' Charlemagne is often seen as someone who almost reformed the Western Roman Empire, and his legacy formed the Holy Roman Empire. Today we shall look at Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.

Europe before Charlemagne
Charles the Great, Charlemagne, who became king in 768, was born within the boundaries of Francia, and was the eldest son of Pepin the Short. Francia was one of the many kingdoms which slowly emerged to prominence following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Politics, society, and religion was very different in this world compared to the Europe of today, and the Europe which Rome ruled over. Unlike the moderately centralized Roman Empire these kingdoms were very decentralized and feudalism was widespread. Feudalism is a system of governance where a king rules over many landowning nobles who would allow people, (vassals), to live and work on their land, (fiefs). The vassals would offer some service to the noble or lord in return for living on the fief and for military protection. The nobles were subservient to the ruling monarch who offered the lords military protection in return for their taxes and loyalty. This feudal system was universally applied across Europe, (it did not exist in some areas), and the feudal system could look very different in different areas. 

Religion was extremely important during this time period. The primary religion was Christianity although many Jews and pagans could be found throughout Europe. As an example, the Saxons, from modern day Germany, remained polytheistic until the seventh century. For many people religion was the most important aspect of their life in many ways other than the obvious ones. The Church collected alms to be given to the poor, the Church was a center for learning, (literacy was highest in monasteries etc.), bishops helped educate the nobility, and women had the chance to rise in the Church through becoming nuns. Christianity was a blessing and a bane for rulers as well. The Divine Right of Kings, (where it was God's will for kings to rule), helped greatly secure their position, but the authority of the Church acted as a counterweight to the Crown's authority. In the eighth century Islam spread to western Europe under the Umayyad Caliphate and rapidly spread across Iberia. Only at the Battle of Tours in 733/4 did the Umayyads fail to spread further into Europe. In 751 Pippin III usurped the Merovingian throne in Francia and almost twenty years later his son Charles came to power, something which we shall now focus on.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Conquests
Bust of Charlemagne at Aachen
Pippin III died leaving his sons, Charles and Carloman, an area consisting of most of modern day France, Belgium, the southern Netherlands, and parts of Germany. In Francian custom Charles and Carloman split the empire between the two of them to rule as co-emperors: the older Charles got the more important northern half, while the younger Carloman got the southern half. At times relations between the two brothers broke down and only through intervention from their mother Bertrada, who became a nun after Pippin's death, prevented relations from collapsing. When Charles broke off his marriage with a Lombard princess, Desiderata, in 770 the Lombards almost made an alliance with Carloman. The alliance failed due to the fact that Carloman died in 771 of natural causes, (often cited as a nosebleed). When Carloman's wife and son fled to the Lombard court Charles was granted rule over his brother's kingdom uniting Francia again. After Charles started his wars of conquest earning him the title Charles the Great, or Charlemagne.

The first conquest was Lombardy. In 772 the newly crowned pope, Adrian I, demanded the Lombard king to return several cities; in response the Lombard king took over several Papal cities and marched to Rome. Adrian sent a message to Charlemagne for help and eager for a boost in legitimacy from aiding the pope he went to war against Lombardy. By 774 Lombardy's capital of Pavia was under siege, and later the same year the capital fell. The Lombardy royal family, and his brother's family who had been residing there, were then sent to religious institutes. Throughout the rest of his reign he would lead wars to conquer land, or create dependencies. Bavaria was conquered in 782, Saxony between 772 and 798 (which we shall get to later), and northern Netherlands between 784 and 785. Despite a serious defeat at Rancesvalles in 778 against the Spanish Muslims he managed to establish the Spanish March in 795, which he expanded in 812. In the east he made dependencies in Croatia, Friuli, Dalmatia, and in present day Bosnia. By the time of his death in 814 the Carolingian Empire, (his empire), and its dependencies stretched from northern Spain to Bosnia, to northern Denmark to southern Italy. In a lifetime he had conquered most of western Europe.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Saxon Wars
Conversion during the Wars
Charlemagne is referred to as the 'Father of Europe'. One thing that Charlemagne did do which continued throughout European history was brutal, bloody conquest. The Saxon Wars were a serious of brutal, protracted wars from 772 to 798. Saxony is an area in north-west Germany, and during the eighth century it was made up of various Saxon tribes, (also showing how feudalism did not exist in all parts of Europe), who were Germanic pagan. In January 772 Saxons burnt a church in Deventer which gave Charlemagne the opportunity to invade. Before he fought Lombardy he fought the Saxons and periodically he would return to crush Saxon resistance. During the wars he started forcibly converting the Saxon tribes from Germanic paganism to Christianity. One of his first acts in Saxony was to burn the sacred symbol of Irminsul. He imposed capital punishment on those who refused to convert, issued decrees to break Saxon resistance, and had shrines destroyed. His harsh actions earned him the title 'Butcher of Saxons'. His religious advisers, such as Alcuin of York, urged him to be more tolerant saying that you could not forcibly convert someone through the point of a sword, but he did not listen. In 779 a Saxon leader called Widukind started leading resistance to Frankish rule including wiping out an entire army in the early 780s. In response Charlemagne in 782 had 4,500 Saxon pagans executed in what has since been called the Massacre of Verden. Saxon resistance started to drop when Widunkind was baptized, and slowly through exile and force Saxon resistance ended.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Rule, Empire, and Renaissance
Charlemagne crowned emperor
Charlemagne's rule saw strong ties with the Church. Early on as king he fought for the Papacy, in the Lombardy war, and he gave clerics key roles in administration. Being deeply pious he ensured that Christians in his kingdom had sufficient welfare and support. There were many reforms under his rule which included strengthening the orthodoxy of the Church, something which pleased the clergy as it ensured that the people were more pious. Corrected canon laws, Bible text and ecclesiastical laws were made, and monasticism was supported. Charlemagne was a deep admirer of the liberal arts and had his family become well-educated as a result. Starting under Charlemagne's reign we have the Carolingian Renaissance bringing information from the Muslim world, Germany, Italy, England, and Francia together, (his court had figures from all across Europe). Without Charlemagne's revival and expansion of the arts the later, more famous, Renaissance may not have been able to happen.  His capital of Aachen became the center of western European culture. Surprisingly, despite his hostility to Germanic pagans he was tolerant to Jews believing they would be an economic benefit. His currency reform created a standard currency throughout the empire. Many of the things made possible in today's Europe had their roots in Charlemagne's reign.

Christmas Day, 800 saw a revolutionary event in European history. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of Rome while he was praying. The story that Charlemagne had no idea of this is very unlikely but it is still important. Charlemagne was perceived to be the successor of Rome. For all intensive purposes Charlemagne had reformed the western half of the empire. However, this event deeply upset the Byzantine who viewed themselves as the emperors of Rome, (which they were). The East/West divide between Rome and the Byzantines had started to germinate again. The next fourteen years of his life was not too drastically different from his pre-imperial days. He had stopped campaigning, and had to defend against Viking raids, (something for another World History post). Two of his sons died before he did so by his death in 814 his last remaining son, Louis the Pious, inherited a united empire and the title of emperor. However, Louis would later divide the empire as in traditional fashion.

The Holy Roman Empire
The flag used through most of its history
Some historians see Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor. Following the death of Charles the Fat in 888 East Francia splintered into several duchies, and all who were crowned emperor only ruled in Italy. That is until 962. In 936 Otto of Saxony was elected King of Aachen and he started winning battles against those who opposed him. Eventually he managed to marry Adelaide of Italy allowing him to become king of Italy. In 962 the pope crowned Otto Emperor of Rome and Adelaide Empress of Rome. The Holy Roman Empire had been born truly. Over the next centuries the Holy Roman Empire would cease to be the Holy Roman Empire in everything but name. Instead of being hereditary the position of emperor would become elected by the Imperial Diet, (although it would later become hereditary once more), power shifted from Rome to Germany, and the piousness of Charlemagne would be a long distant memory. It is key to note that the Protestant Reformation originated in the Holy Roman Empire. Instead of being one standardized, state it was instead a collection of free cities, kingdoms, duchies, and various other states with various cultures, languages, currencies, and religions. It did survive for a long time though. The Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist only in 1806 with the invasion of Napoleon.

Charlemagne was integral in forming the institutions of today. Creating a standard government, administration, and currency over large tracts of disparate land helped shape European states in the future. Looking at the Carolingian and the Holy Roman Empires also shows us how potent ideas of history are to society. There was a clear desire to become the new Romans; something which never really went away throughout European history. The division of Charlemagne's empire under his son would greatly shape Germany and France: West Francia remained unified and would become the Kingdom of France, while divided East Francia became a conglomeration of states often referred to as the First Reich. Thank you for reading and the next World History will take us to the other side of the world to look at Japan during the Taika reforms, Heian period, and the rise of the samurai.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 2, c.700-c.900 edited by Rosamond McKitterick
-Charlemagne by Roger Collins
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-The Times History of the World by Richard Overy

For a list of other World History posts please see here