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Who caused the First World War? Which men, not nations, are to blame?

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 by the Australian historian Christopher Clark is the most thorough, balanced and I therefore believe accurate assessment of what took Europe and the world to war in 1914 – repurcussions froms which we still feel to this day, not least in the current impasses in Syria, a product of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and in its use of chemical weapons first used and condemned in the First World War. Blaming a nationa is foolish – the blame, if we are to pick people, begins with the Serbian plotter, assin and gangster Dragutin Dimitrijevic – a regicide who planned and successfully executed the assasination of archduke Franz Ferdinand – without him none of this would have happened. In HIS hands is the blood of 9 million from the First War and 20 million from the Second. He wanted to bring things to an impasse between Serbia and Austria-Hungary so that a Great Serbia could be forged. Next in line to blame is Tzar Nicholas II of Russia who turned any advice on what had caused or who had instigated the assasination of the Archduke on its head and in pushing to support Serbia knew an attack on Austria- Hungary was needed and doing this would expose a flank to German so would naturally have to include an attack on Germany too. Next I blame the French for siding with Russia and knowing that they would need to attack German or defend an attack from Germany. Tucked in here somewhere blame must go to Conrad and Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – who deserved and required retribution for what all knew to have been a plot from Serbia if not from the Serbian government – the problem here was the tangled mess that was the Serbian government – too weak to oppose terrorist groupings (there are two) such as The Black Hand, who like a secretive group of Free Masons or the ‘old school tie’ and artistocratic links that controlled politics in the British Empire, could not be policed, managed or held to account. Austria-Hungary should have asked, “what would Franz Ferdinand” have done? He would had trodden carefully, always having wanted to give greater autonomy to ‘nations’ within the empire. And, on the list, but lower down, blame needs to go to Gavrilo Princip. As various opportunities presented themselves to assasinated the archduke and some of the seven assasins had their go, two go cold feet on seeing the duchess Sophia – did she need to die too? Had Princip shot only the archduke then the response from Vienna, though tough, may have been less than all out war with Serbia. I do not blame Germany at all, indeed I see how they suddenly found themselves hemmed in by aggressors. Germany, like Russia, were then simply chancing their arm, believing each had the adequate military muscle to prevails and itching to settle all kinds of unresolved scores and national and empirical ambitions that a battle or two would resolve. None could see the scale. It became, and has been, a hundred year’s of war …

Reading ‘Red Nile: a biography of the world’s greatest river’ – a gem

At times you laugh out loud, always informative, great stories, full of well-known facts with a twist, as well as a myriad of gems. The kind of book I would have bought and sent to people for the pleasure of it … not sure how that works with an eBook. If Michael Palin had got stuck in Egypt for six years, without the film crew, he might have made a stab at it. I described Robert Twigger to my wife as Michael Palin’s mischievous younger brother. (I know Robert, though I’ve not seen him for twenty years). He’s exceedingly bright but very modest, even humble. A boffin you might find going through second-hand books in a pile at a charity shop.

There’s an intimacy, cleverness and a flash of British funniness throughout. Encyclopedic whilst as readable as an unputdownable novel.

For me this is the very best travel writing. I’ve bounced into it via a need to take an interest in ethnography in H809 Practice-based research in e-learning. I found myself watching ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ then reading the book by Heinrich Harer. ‘The Red Nile’ is written in a similar vein, though Robert’s relationship is with the river and not the Dalai Lama. The book touches on a good deal of anthropological study of the peoples of the Niles (blue and white). It’s value is how easy it is to read after all the academic papers, and how quotable and informed it is too.

‘It seems peculiar to me that specialisation should involve developing a point of view that obscures the very subject you wish to study’.

This is I will take as a warning as I venture towards doctoral study. My interest is in learning, and e-learning in particular. Learning can apply to many, many fields. We all do it whether we want to or not.

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