Category Archives: History

Hitler bans political parties

My latest for The Rebel: On July 14 1933 Adolph Hitler banned all political parties in Nazi Germany except his own. Which was obviously in retrospect part of a plan to impose totalitarianism.

The audio-only version is available here:

Rebel audio, July 14 - Download This Episode

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The Seven Immortals

My latest for The Rebel:

On June 30, in 1688, William of Orange received a letter from the “Seven Immortals” inviting him to bring an army to England, oust James II and assume the throne along with his wife, James’s Protestant daughter Mary.

The “Immortals” were aristocratic toffs, Earls, Viscounts and Bishops, not the sort we’d expect to champion the rights of ordinary people. Indeed not people whose names we can recall today without Googling.

But they were statesman who crossed party lines and risked reputation, estate and life to defend the liberty of citizens. Whereas today the studiously common-touch politicians we elect by mass voting are partisan hacks who continually expand the powers of the state.

Perhaps we should recall the Seven Immortals after after all.

The audio-only version is available here:

Rebel, June 30 - Download This Episode

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The Battle of the Somme

July 1, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the notorious World War I Somme offensive. But this battle deserves a second look. Long a byword for futile slaughter, for callous unimaginative generals sending a generation to their pointless deaths, it was in fact a necessary operation to relieve pressure on the desperate French at Verdun. And it succeeded.

It did not merely prevent the Germans from breaking through on the Western Front and winning the war in the fall of 1916. It so battered the Kaiser’s army that the Germans withdrew into the Hindenburg Line and launched the unrestricted submarine warfare that brought the United States into the conflict and assured Allied victory.

The conditions were appalling and the cost horrific. But neither the generals nor the politicians had a choice, other than surrender to an aggressive regime that had begun the war by attacking its neighbours and occupying much of their territory.

So yes, we must recall the cost. But also the victory it bought, tactically in 1916 and strategically in 1918.

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Rock solid

My latest for The Rebel:

On June 16, 1779, the Spanish laid siege to Gibraltar. Yet more than 1300 days later it was still in British hands. And a very good thing to.

Britain moved somewhat ruthlessly to seize the Rock in 1704, it is true. But even then Britain was a bastion of liberty… unlike Spain. And in the darkest part of the Second World War, when the former was led by Churchill and the latter by the Nazi sympathizer Franco, the long-ago tenacity of the garrison had a pivotal impact in the survival of freedom as the UK was able to maintain vital ocean supply lines in its struggle against Hitler.

The audio-only version is available here:

Rock solid - Download This Episode

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Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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Today you actually get paid

Woot. Today is Tax Freedom Day in Canada. That’s right. June 7. That’s the day, according to the Fraser Institute, that the average family stops working for the state and starts working for itself. And that was the good news.

The bad news is that if governments paid for everything they took, that is, if you count deficits as if they were covered by taxation now instead of later, it still wouldn’t be tax freedom day until June 18. (This methodology I believe relies on mean averages for income and taxation.)

You can find the depressing details including a provincial breakdown in their study. But here’s a question to ponder as you do so. How can it be that, with Canadians so much wealthier today than they were thirty or sixty years ago, we can possibly need so much more help from government?

Remember, as we get richer, government could keep getting bigger while tax freedom day got earlier. Why isn’t it happening? If it’s too much to ask that government actually get smaller as our private means, including for charity, get larger, couldn’t it at least take a smaller share?

Instead the total tax rate (see p. 9 of the Fraser study) is higher in every province except Alberta and BC today than in 1981. So where does it all end? And why does current political debate take so little notice of the relentless expansion of the state relative to citizens, talking instead about all the wonderful things we could get if only government finally became truly big and busy?

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Help me change #politics by changing the #culture. Click here to contribute. (Note, subscriptions are in US dollars.)