I have wondered this since I was a child. Educated guesses gratefully received….


Some original footage of the asteroid (cf. Miss Hilary White, passim)


What we have said already makes it further clear that a poet’s object is not to tell what actually happened but what could and would happen either probably or inevitably. The difference between a historian and a poet is not that one writes in prose and the other in verse — indeed the writings of Herodotus could be put into verse and yet would still be a kind of history, whether written in metre or not. The real difference is this, that one tells what happened and the other what might happen. For this reason poetry is something more philosophical and worthwhile than history (διὸ καὶ φιλοσοφώτερον καὶ σπουδαιότερον ποίησις ἱστορίας ἐστίν) because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts (Poetics, 1451).


I do not think you need fear that the study of a dead period, however prolonged and however sympathetic, need prove an indulgence in nostalgia or an enslavement to the past. In the individual life, as the psychologists have taught us, it is not the remembered but the forgotten past that enslaves us. I think the same is true of society. To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians.

– De Descriptione Temporum : Inaugural Lecture from The Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, 1954


History Part Ia

History Part Ib

History Part II

h63367Recently, I noticed a book in the possession of Aelianus, called ‘Dreadnought‘. Due to my recent Hornblower obsession (I really must get to that shoe-post-y series of trivial literature and television at some point), I was immediately intrigued. It turned out to be not about sailing ships (ba!) but about Britain and Germany, and the role of their navies, on the way towards the First World War.

Yet, when I opened the book, the passage I hit upon was extremely vivid, and Aelianus assured me it was representative for the book. This has turned out to be true so far; I am at 550 of 910 pages, and find it the perfect cross between reading a novel and reading serious stuff. In fact, it is rather like reading a novel, only that it has really happened.

It is entertaining, informative, and utterly shocking.

Shocking, because I start to realize how influenced my history teachers were by their Marxist-dominated studies, apparently.

Shocking even more because it seems to me that quite generally in Germany, East or West, the dreadfulness of the First World War is entirely shadowed by the supreme dreadfulness of the Second World War.

According to what I learnt at school, and according to what every rational person in Germany believes, the Second World War was something that would not have happened without particular (Hitler) and general madness in Germany.

The First World War, on the other hand, happened because (now this is what I learnt at school) basically every one of the protagonists had an interest in it happening (imperialism! bad, BAD, Imperialism!!), only no-one thought it would be that disastrous. Now I have only got to 1902 in the book, but from that it is quite obvious that within the more-or-less-moral concerto of diplomatic relations at the time, Germany quite certainly acted on the ‘less’ extreme of that gradient, throughout.

Though Aelinus tells me he shudders at thinking of what would have happened had there  been an aliance between Britain and Germany at that point, I still do think that double-dealing, deceitfulness and hubris were even less conductive to European (and worldwide) happiness than a realization of ‘we are basically family, and that parliamentary monarchy thing you have going over there does not seem such a bad thing, probabably rather a better thing than our obsessively military absolutist culture’ would have done. But well. We will never know in this live, probably.

I mean, if, on reading such a book, you think that the ‘resignation’ of Bismarck was a thing that would make matters worse: things must be in a really, really bad state already. Poor, poor Germany, please really do pray for us!

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it was I who caused it. I recently told Aelianus the story, and he urged me not to be modest but post it here.


Background: As a child, I was rather a convinced Young Pioneer, and, by implication, Communist. I had read many childrens’ stories about the Communist ‘Arbeiterkampf’ (Labour Movement?), of Ernst Thälmann and Clara Zetkin, and so on. I was firmly convinced that working people should not be exploited, I believed in peace and solidarity being promoted by the communist countries, I helped to collect waste paper to donate for earthquake victims in Armenia, or toys and clothes for children in Nicaragua. At less than 9 years old, I did not see the dark side of Communism.

A globe

Hence, on the 7th October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the GDR, while cleaning my room, I was listening to the broadcast of the festivities in Berlin on the radio. The patriotic feeling rising in me prompted me, when it came to dusting my globe, to try and remove a speck of dirt that was there directly on the GDR (probably from people pointing, saying: ‘Here we are!’) I carefully moistened a bit of the cloth and rubbed – and suddenly, exactly the border between Western and Eastern Germany was rubbed off. After that, the end of the GDR came quickly.

Now, my mother, who, around the same time, broke our big bathroom mirror, claims she also contributed (breaking mirrors meaning ‘7 years of bad luck’). Clearly, however, this is rank superstition and can therefore be disregarded.

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