War Paint (Part 9): Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas

Part 9 in a 10 part series. To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.

We’ve now sailed clear through the Romanticism of the 19th century. The last few entries into the War Paint Series have been of a truly epic nature. Romantic ideas about war were left to the Napoleonic Wars and Colonial Wars of the previous century. Cavalry charges were replaced with mechanized warfare, creating casualties like never before. Cultural ideas about war began to shift along with the greater killing capacity. No longer would a man have to defeat another man in hand to hand combat, or shoot him from a distance close enough to see ‘the whites of his eyes.’ Hundreds could be mowed down by one man strategically positioned with a machine gun.

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War Paint (Part 8): Battle of Grunwald

Part 8 in a 10 part series. To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.

The Battle of Grunwald, as it’s most commonly known, was one of the largest in Europe’s medieval history, was a deciding event in Eastern Europe’s history and saw the rise of a great regional power, yet often flies under the radar. The battle was fought in 1410 by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against the Teutonic Order near the modern Polish village of Grunwald in the country’s north.

The battle was born out of a series of events known as the Northern Crusades, in which the Teutonic Order and Scandinavian monarchies attempted to Christianize the pagan tribes of the Baltic Sea. The Teutons had seized land belonging to Lithuania, but with the Grand Duchy’s conversion to Christianity in 1385 and their union to Poland, the tides turned back in favor of the Slavs. Fought between upwards of 70,000 participants, it forever changed the landscape of the Baltic and saw the Polish-Lithuanian Union, and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, become the largest state in Europe. The Teutonic Order would maintain relevance for some time, but the financial burden placed on it following its defeat would lead to a series of internal struggles that would eventually see its demise.

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War Paint (Part 7): Liberty Leading the People

Part 7 in a 10 part series. To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.

La Liberté guidant le peuple is a seminal piece of art by French Romanticist Eugène Delacroix. Finished in 1830, after the July Revolution, which saw the toppling and exile of monarch King Charles X of France. It has become a symbol of the Republic, and the central figure, Marianne, bearing the tricolor flag and a Phrygian cap, is a timeless figure, the same represented by the Statue of Liberty.

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War Paint (Part 6): Battle of Clontarf

Part 6 in a 10 part series.

The Battle of Clontarf took place on April 23rd, 1014. It was fought between the forces of Brian Boru, Ireland’s greatest figure of the Middle Ages, and a rival king in rebellion, Máel Mórda. Máel Mórda’s side was aided by the Dublin Vikings, long a power in the area, while Boru had various other kings in support. The battle resulted in a rout of Mórda’s forces, the eventual diminishing of Viking influence in Ireland and, perhaps most importantly, the death of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.

Ireland was a very fractured place at this time. There were numerous Kings and endless clan politics dominated life. Mórda had risen up a few years earlier, but a tentative peace had been agreed upon. He began enlisting the aid of numerous clans who would like to see Boru deposed. He also enlisted the aid of Sigtrygg Silkbeard and the Dublin Vikings, who then called in help from Orkney and the Isle of Man. The battle would go back and forth over the course of the day, Good Friday. Brian’s forces eventually got the upper hand and the Vikings fled. Their retreat was cut off and nearly all of the Viking leadership was killed in the process.

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War Paint (Part 5): The Third of May 1808

Part 5 in a 10 part series.

Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 is an iconic painting by one of the great masters. The image depicts the execution of prisoners following the Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid against Napoleon’s invading forces. The events form part of the Peninsular War. Napoleon was invited into Spain by the Spanish King Charles IV. The pretext was that the two nations would conquer and divide up Portugal. Napoleon had other ideas and the expeditionary force showed no signs of leaving.

On May 2nd, the population of Madrid took to arms. Oddly enough, this is the second painting in a row in this series to deal with an uprising against Napoleonic occupational forces. Once unrest was inevitable, the French gave the order that anyone involved was to be shot. Fighting broke out in the city and the French forces quickly put it down. Some hundred or so French soldiers were killed along with numerous Madrileños.

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Eustace the Monk: A Black Magic, Double-Crossing Pirate Soldier in the Service of the King(s)

Eustace's death at the Battle of Sandwich (13th century illustration by Matthew Paris). Via Wikispaces.

Eustace’s death at the Battle of Sandwich (13th century illustration by Matthew Paris). Via Wikispaces.

In case you haven’t noticed, Medieval history is one of my favorite historical periods. It happens to be one of the eras that I know the most about. I guess I find it fascinating because once you start to get a depth of written records and knowledge about the period, after little recorded history during the ‘Dark Ages’, you find some truly bizarre stuff is taking place and being noted.

The Age of Exploration and Age of Enlightenment have so much intrigue and a massive amount of detail, but much of the mindset and motivation and the actions of the main players makes sense. That’s not necessarily the case with Medieval Europe. You’re often left thinking, ‘I recognize the world this is taking place in, but what in the hell are these guys doing?’

If the Middle Ages is one of my favorite eras, Eustace the Monk is one of my favorite characters.

Not a lot is known about Eustace Busket’s early life. He is France’s version of Robin Hood, though we know, without a doubt, that Eustace existed. He is in official records having served the King of England, King John. He entered the monastery as a young man, but gained a reputation for foul language and gambling. His monicker of the black monk may be owed to this. His father was murdered and he abandoned the monastic life to either seek revenge or claim his inheritance, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead him to black magic, piracy and, ultimately, his head on a pole.

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War Paint (Part 4): Revolt of Cairo

Part 4 in a 10 part series.

The revolt of Cairo took place in 1798, shortly after Napoleon Bonaparte and his French forces took the city during their occupation of Egypt. The campaign was fought to destabilize British power in the Near East and India and, ostensibly, to spread the ideals of Republicanism. After taking Cairo without a shot fired in July of that year, tension began to mount. On October 21, in a surprise attack, citizens of Cairo rose up in revolt against the French stationed there, killing French general Dominique Martin Dupuy, among hundreds of others, in the process. Napoleon returned to the city and his response was both swift and brutal. After herding the belligerents into the Great Mosque, which had been fortified and armed by the locals for the days events, he opened fire with his cannon. French forces then massacred the Egyptians who’d taken refuge there, killing or wounding some 5,000.

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War Paint (Part 3): Battle of Nagashino

Part 3 in a 10 part series on war in art.

The Battle of Nagashino is one of the seminal battles in Japanese history. It took place on June 28, 1575 near Nagashino Castle and was one of the key engagements toward to conclusion of the Sengoku period.. The battle was fought as the forces of Takeda Katsuyori besieged the castle. Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu sent relief forces. The two sides squared off in what is considered the first ‘modern’ battle in Japanese history. The Takeda clan had introduced the cavalry charge in recent times, to devastating effect. To counter this, Oda implemented a revolutionary use of firearms, volley fire, never before seen in Japan. As wave after wave of Takeda’s mounted troops rushed Oda’s position, they were mowed down by the revolving fire of the matchlock rifle-toting, samurai-led riflemen.

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War Paint (Part 2): The Battle of Alexander at Issus

Part 2 in a 10 part series on war in art.

The Battle of Alexander at Issus is one of the most epic pieces of art you may ever lay eyes on. It was painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1529 after being commissioned by Duke William IV of Bavaria. It shows Alexander the Great’s resounding victory over Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issus which took place in 333 BC. It was the decisive battle of the Macedonian king’s subjegation of the Persian Empire. The battle was a rout and King Darius fled, leaving behind his wife and children, who were taken into captivity. Darius himself would be captured a few short years later, never having been able to amount a response to his crushing defeat at Issus. Alexander would go on to form the largest empire in the Ancient World.

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Hiroo Onoda: A Serious Commitment to Duty

Hiroo Onoda as a young officer, c 1944. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hiroo Onoda as a young officer, c 1944. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The latest edition of  my History in the News Series, a look at current events that have some sort of historical slant.

On January 16, 2014, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army passed away at the age of 91.

Sometimes some people take things too seriously. War is probably something that does not fall into that category very often. There were a handful of Japanese holdouts following the island empires defeat in World War II who continued the armed struggle well beyond the August 15, 1945 surrender of their nation. Most of them were cut off by the United States’ island hopping campaign and were located on small islands in the Pacific. Some held out through the 40’s while others managed to keep the struggle going until the 70’s. Onoda’s story is, by far, the most remarkable.

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