Closing the Ring

If I felt a sense of accomplishment, I can only imagine how Wagner felt when he completed the work in 1874. He wrote the words and the score. It took him 26 years. For much of that time he endured poverty and neglect, illness and ridicule—with little help and little prospect that his masterpiece would ever be performed in its entirety. Continue reading Closing the Ring

“Patriotism Is Not Enough”

A close-up of the Edith Cavell statue in London.One hundred years ago on October 12, in the gray light of a chill Brussels dawn, a gallant English nurse faced a German firing squad.

Her name: Edith Cavell.

Her crime: Helping Allied soldiers escape to neutral Holland.

Bullets were a strange end for a woman who had devoted her life to being a healer. Continue reading “Patriotism Is Not Enough”

Borders and Identity

LE_Eithne_Operation_TritonGermany is now realising that it cannot make such an apparently open-ended offer, so is pressing hard for other EU countries to share the burden through some sort of mandatory quota system. Poland, Hungary and some other states are resisting. They have spent long decades if not centuries grappling to assert their national and linguistic identity under different imperial powers, and are determined not to see their hard-won independence eroded. Continue reading Borders and Identity

Lusitania: How the Unthinkable Happened

article-0-14059853000005DC-49_634x380One hundred years ago on May 7, just ten months after the start of the First World War, the British luxury liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in just 20 minutes. Out of nearly 2,000 passengers and crew only 764 survived. The dead included 123 Americans.

To mark this tragic anniversary, I am reading the much-acclaimed new book by Erik Larson–Dead Wake: The Lusitania’s Last Crossing. Continue reading Lusitania: How the Unthinkable Happened

History’s Greatest Traitor?

Alfred Redl Vienna. One hundred years ago on May 25, 1913, Colonel Alfred Redl, a member of the General Staff and former head of army counter-intelligence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sat alone in Room Number One of the Klomser Hotel with a gun in his hand. Sometime during the early morning hours, he put the gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger. The next day, Vienna’s leading newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse carried a discreet announcement of Redl’s death, lamenting the loss of “the highly gifted officer, who was on the verge of a great career,” and attributing his suicide to “mental overexertion resulting from severe neurasthenia.” Redl, the article went on, had previously been a resident of Vienna. He was visiting from Prague, where he had been appointed General Staff Chief of the Eighth Army Corps. Continue reading History’s Greatest Traitor?