The Influence of Empire
The Notion of Progress is Part of Empire!
At present France is facing tough times with its democracy under threat from within. It was at the center of a European style empire.
Some of the remnants of that empire may, in the end, reduce what is French to a mere shadow of what it has been and what it could continue to be.
Recently a group of crazed Muslims attacked a Paris magazine, killing artists and writers. The Pope does not disagree with the actions of these despicable people.
The sword should not be the answer. There is the pen. The pen is the tool of democracy and should be treasured by all who live in a civilized country.
Much is being made at the moment about the First World War. It was a turning point in which empires clashed and empires were either diminished or destroyed.
The British Empire was diminished and, throughout much of the 20th Century, the USA became the banker for the world. The USA becoming so important financially was a direct result of the First World War. It led to the Great Depression. That and an infamous treaty led to the 2nd World War and the atomic age.
Whether we know it or not empires past and present have a profound influence on our lives. The effects of the British Empire can still be felt in places such as India. Just look to the railway system. It was a British Empire initiative.
Look to the tea trade. This is another British Empire initiative that survives long after the people of India got their independence. Not everything to do with the British in India was good but some of the good has lasted.
We look to the Ancient Greeks for examples of courage against great odds. We also look to the Ancient Greeks for the best understanding of things such as mathematics,building, medicine and doctoring.
We look to the Romans and also the Ancient Chinese for tactics that may still win the day even in a modern war. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Chinese) is still studied the world over and in many languages including English.
The British have shown us how healthy commerce is better than being bled dry financially through little wars and the USA is presently illustrating how things can go wrong monetarily when restrictions on certain market forces are lifted.
The USA took the notion of democracy further than the Ancient Greeks. It was marred at first with the shadow of slavery like Ancient Greece. This, however, is no longer the case.
We can discover the very first type of computer was quite possibly first used in Ancient Greece. Let us look at some of these empires in some detail.
Democracy and Slavery
Empires that Still Influence Life Today
Many of the ideas the Greeks had concerning mathematics, the stars, and the very nature of the universe and the place we have in our own solar system are with us today.
The Greeks had slaves but, regardless of this fact, came up with the notion of democracy. When the USA first started up there were also slaves and it was also considered to be a democracy.
The Greeks were able to look beyond their gods to find other explanations for why things work the way they do in nature. This was a big step. Modern medicine owes a lot to the kind of scientific approach to discovery developed in city states such as Athens.
Of course those who pioneered early attempts to understand nature had to take flak from the 'gods' squads going around at the time but that always seems to be the way of things.
To this day, in some backward places, science still struggles to be heard over superstition.
When Europe came under the heavy influence of the Church during the European middle ages, anything that was considered non-Christian, including ancient Greek writing, tended to go up in smoke at the insistence of Church authority.
The Moors, however, kept ancient Greek thought and knowledge alive until it could be re-introduced into Europe. At one time Southern Spain became the meeting place for intellectuals from all corners of the known world. It was in Southern Spain that the writings of the ancient Greeks were passed back into other parts of Europe.
From a tiny village in what is now modern day Italy the great Roman Empire spread until it was, indeed, an empire. From what we know of Rome, it began as a place of pirates and thieves.
The Etruscans ruled over Rome for a time and, after the Romans broke away from this rule, Rome took on a more noble face. In fact, Etruscan influence may have something to do with this new look. Certainly, many of the weapons used by Roman warriors have Etruscan influence.
Also there is the legend of Romulus and Remus - two brothers sired by a she-wolf. A battle ensued between the brothers and one was victorious. The victorious brother became the founder of Rome. How much truth there is in the legend of the brothers raised by the she-wolf may never be known but the tale was of great importance to the Romans. A lot of spin came out of it.
Trade was the way the Romans first envisaged their way to power. Rome was nicely set up for trade. This was the dove period. With trade naturally there is the sharing of culture. Like the Japanese in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Romans had a knack for taking bits of other cultures and making these bits over into their own.
After the Romans turned from, more or less, peaceful trade to out and out conquest the ideas and ideals of what a Roman citizen was and is changed. The emperor set the pace. A good emperor meant good times. A bad emperor like Nero meant watch out and, if you can, keep a low profile. Rome came to adopt gods from elsewhere. Thanks possibly to Egyptian influence, Rome also came to recognize emperors, past and present, as gods.
In the places they conquered the Romans built great roads. Some of them are still with us today. Legend has it there is an old Roman road that can take you from England into Wales. What's more, if you are very lucky, you might find an old Roman coin on your journey.
Near the end of the empire it was decided that a single god might join the various people together in spirit if nothing else. A sun god was chosen and sponsored by the emperor of the day but the experiment was a failure. Then Christianity was tried by Emperor Constantine and, though Christianity could not save the empire from its short comings, it remains with us to this day.
There is some evidence recently discovered suggesting that Rome introduced Christianity to Britain before the collapse of the Empire and the Romans pulled out of the area.
Recent evidence also suggests that the Christianity brought to Britain by the Romans lived on for many years though it, no doubt, did not develop along Catholic lines but was influenced by those living in Britain at the time.
Later, of course, there would be influence from the Vatican and the Catholic form of Christianity would be firmly established. Catholicism would remain powerful throughout Britain until the reformation and the creation of the Anglican Church which is sometimes better known as The Church of England.
THE MYSTERIES OF ANCIENT EGYPT
The Western ideas concerning an existence beyond death may have their origins as much in ancient Egypt as in the Old Testament. Certainly the Egyptians tinkered with the idea, for a short time, of a single god ruling over all of creation.
The ancient Egyptians drank wine and beer. Many so-called modern Egyptians or, I should say, those presently living in Egypt abstain from the consumption of alcohol.
The mysteries of the pyramids remain with us and have resulted in a lot of great fiction. Virtually everyone born in the West since the 1920s has either read at least one fictional account of the walking dead still in its funeral wrappings or seen a movie about a mummy on the prowl.
The ancient Egyptians still inspire us with their architecture and also their understanding of medicine. The belief in alchemy may have had its origins as much in ancient Egypt as in China and India. During the middle ages alchemy spread throughout Europe. The very remote possibility of turning lead into gold (really more of a fond dream than anything else) is still with us.
The Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, is a cross worn by many people from modern day Egypt to Sydney, Australia. It became popular in the 1920s and has remained popular. All self respecting esoteric shop owners have lots of ankhs in their shops to show that the world isn't just made up of doom and gloom moments leading to dust. There can be sunshine in a person's heart even on a cold, wet Sydney autumn day. It reminds people to make the most of their lives.
Mighty Ships for Trade and War
A Modern Empire
THE BRITISH EMPIRE
In terms of land, Britain is rather small compared to France and other parts of Europe let alone Australia, Canada or the USA.
Even so, it was the British that created an empire which stretched from the northern to the southern hemisphere and impacted on much, if not all, of the world. The British did this initially by becoming the world's best sailors and navigators.
It was during the Elizabethan age that British seamanship came into its own. Henry the eighth felt there were good reasons for a kingdom which, for the most part, is surrounded by water to have a mighty fleet.
The building of this great fleet began in his time but really only eventuated during Elizabeth's reign. The ships created to serve the queen in time of war appeared to be smaller than the French and Spanish equivalents. One reason for this was the removal of the fore and aft castle to make the ships lighter for added speed and maneuverability. They also had impressive fire power and the captains knew the various waterways around Britain, including the English channel, very well.
There is no big deal nowadays in getting maps of the English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish coastlines. Hey! You can Google for it if you want to and you can have your hands on it in a matter of seconds. Back in Elizabethan times, however, maps of the various coastlines were kept under wraps because the less a potential enemy knew about coastal hazards the better it would be for everyone if war did break out.
One of the reasons why the Spanish Armada failed was that the Spanish seamen had limited knowledge of the navigational problems they might encounter in British waters. Spanish ships ran aground in Ireland because they lacked the maps that would have kept them out of trouble. It was because the English had a good working knowledge of the winds and tides that they could run circles around their larger, more bulky opponents.
Naval traditions that began in the reign of Elizabeth the First are with us today and have been added to and strengthened over the centuries. Britain for a long time did, in fact, rule the seas.
During Napoleonic times the French may have had a really good army but the British navy caused Napoleon quite a few headaches. The French, for example, were chased out of Egypt by the British navy.
So what had gone wrong with the French navy? It may have had something to do with the French admirals who really knew their way around a ship meeting up with the national razor soon after the French revolution and literally coming apart at the neck. Naval traditions that had served the king were broken but not effectively restored or replaced by the republic.
At the beginning of the 20th Century there was an arms race principally between Britain and Germany. It was the British that developed the bristling with weapons and rather expensive to build and maintain Dreadnought class of battleship. The Germans played catch-up.
During the First World War these great fleets only came out to play once and that was for the battle of Jutland. Both sides claimed victory at sea. Neither side felt they could afford such a clash to happen a second time.
As it turned out, both submarines and planes were cheaper to build and man and were likely to do as much if not more damage to the enemy. The age of the big, bad battleship dominating the sea around it were pretty much over.
Through much of the First world War, Germany's aircraft ruled the skies over France and Belgium.
Planes such as the Fokker DV II and the Fokker DR1 triplane were hard to beat. The British made great strides with fighters such as the Sopwith Camel and the Sopwith Pup. One of the late entries into the war was the French SPAD S. XIII which suited the Americans nicely. It was difficult on turns but it did have speed.
Both the First and Second World Wars were a drain on Britain. The bombing of British cities by the Germans during the Battle of Britain resulted in much destruction. Efforts were made to keep the empire going but, in the end, financial difficulties won out. As the British Empire waned, the USA began to make its impact as both an industrial and financial power.
British influence has never been complete. Books have always held great significance for the British and the very idea of burning them is not considered to be very British at all. It is, in fact, against form. Yet there have been book burnings in fairly recent times.
During the Nazi reign of terror in Germany books were burned.
In the 19th and 20th Centuries books, such as Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been banned in various parts of the USA. In the 1950s American comic books were burned by American fanatics.
Today English, in one form or another, is spoken throughout the world.
British law, which began to take shape in Saxon times, is now practiced in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. The belief that the accused is innocent until proven guilty is British. The idea that the accused should face his or her peers and that 12 good men (now people) should sit as a jury also comes from Britain.
The notion that no one is above the law, including the ruling monarch, comes from King John's signing of the Magna Carta and also from the trial of Charles the First.
In freeing India from British rule, Gandhi often resorted to the use of British law.
The defeat of slavery in many places, including New York, came about through dedicated Christian spirit and British parliament. (In the case of New York, Londoners became reluctant to do business with slave owners.)
The movie Amazing Grace (2006) is about how the British went from being dependent on the slave trade to being free of it and urging others also to be free of it. Personally, I like Amazing Grace when it is sung by an Irish singer who knows what she is doing such as in an episode of the television show Ballykissangel. The Scottish bagpipes also go well with Amazing Grace which I make clear in my novel Ghost Dance.
My novel, Desk Job, is a salute to 19th Century British writer, Lewis Carroll. The Alice books are what Carroll is best remembered for. In them he tackled some of the absurdities of life in his own time and place. In Desk Job I take on the absurdities of life in an office in Sydney, Australia in the mid-1990s. Would Carroll have approved of my book? Well, I think he would have, if nothing else, found it amusing.
Have the British always been fair minded and does British justice always work? The answer would have to be no to both questions.The British, however, do have a sense of justice and often a desire to see justice done and this, in the end, does account for a lot.
Both British and American influence continue to make life interesting. I haven't said much about American influence here because it is such a large area to cover. It is thus best suited to another time. I hope you have enjoyed the read.
More by this Author
Slavery, Piracy, Empire Building, democracy, Australia and New Zealand. Convicts, Monarchs excommunicated, religious fanaticism, Rule Britannia, Russia, Scotland, Camelot, Robin Hood, Romans.
Religions such as Christianity and Islam have resulted in the spilling a lot of blood. It continues in France, the USA, Germany, Belgium and Australia. Saladin, Richard the lion heart, Robin Hood.
Characters that don't quite fit into society as we know it happen to be the stuff of good television. They are the fish out of water we sometimes admire and sometimes have our fingers crossed for.