Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Dreadnought / Massie

Ok. I am an old fart. I knew that it would come to this. I had planned to be a “coot”, or a “curmudgeon”, but “old fart” will do.

I realized this today when on “Face Book” I saw references to Kanye West and Taylor Swift. I had to “Google” these names in order to discover references to the MTV awards. Thank goodness I knew that MTV stood for “Maryland Transit Vehicles”, or maybe it is “Marcia’s Terrific Vulgarity”.

You see, I do not watch T.V. for anything more than 30 minutes each week. That’s simply to tune into SNN (Sarasota News Network) to check whether or not my neighborhood has been taken over by Repuglicans.

So what do I do in my spare time?

Of some things I will not speak, lest you blush.

But I read. I read books of history and biography.

At present I am immersed in the 900 or so page “Dreadnought” by Robert K Massie (Random House 1991). Massie’s book is a “tour de force” of the events in Germany and Great Britain, which led to “The Great War”.

(Here I will add a disclaimer. I have met Robert K. Massie. I met him in Cambridge MA where his son (The Revd) Robert K. Massie, Jr) was one of the Assisting Priest at St. James’s where I was Rector from 2000 – 2006)

That being said, I recommend the book, and venture to say that Massie’s “take” on the 1890- 1914 events in Western Europe is prescient for today.

My English heritage begs you to read more about the great Sea Lord “John Fisher”. He was the visionary who enabled the building of British “Dreadnought” vessels. He was admiited to the Royal Navy at aged 13 by being able to write out the Lord’s Prayer and jump (naked) over a chair. That being accomplished, he was given a glass of Sherry.

Later he became one of the greatest of Britain’s great seamen.


I am also intrigued by the short term Liberal Party Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and his courage in identifying the barbarous nature of British Concentration Camp in South Africa.

On a lighter noteMassie tells how C-B would choose one walking stick for his peregrinations, and then apologize to the others for not selecting them. He (C-B) would also salute, and greet the trees planted in a ring around his estate.

C-B had a host of pencil stubs in his desk drawer. He would not dispose of them, on the basis that they were old friends who had served him well.


Thanks to R.K. Massie I have a new understanding of the demise of the old British Liberal Party because of divisions regarding “Irish Home Rule” and “Imperialism”.

It had given me new insights about my (British) people’s perfidy in the “Boer War”, and the British creation (in South Africa) of Concentration Camps.

It re-introduced me to men of whom my parents talked - Campbell-Bannerman, Balfour, Asquith, Lloyd George etc.

It informed of the sad history of German “blood and iron” philosophy.

It helped me to understand again the pride, stupidity and folly in Britain and in Germany which led to that most un-necessary of conflicts– the “Great War”

My friends – read the book!

And many thanks to you Robert K. Massie, Sr

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