Winter in London: Day Two

This morning, I started my day out right- seated in front of the telly, watching Premier League football, and enjoying a bowl of Weetabix, and some Starbucks-esque coffee. All three of those things remind me of England, so I am very much in the mood to blog about London today.

Day two of my 2013 trip to London was a slightly grey and rather windy Friday; it proved to be a chilly one as well, but the cold was nothing that couldn’t be remedied by a nice cappuccino! We started out by visiting the Tower of London, a must-see attraction for tourists to the capital. I had been to the Tower before, but that was about ten years ago, so there was much that I didn’t remember about it.

The Tower and the Shard

The view meeting our eyes upon exiting the Tube: the ancient Tower of London and the brand new Shard

Tower Bridge beyond the Tower

Tower Bridge just beyond the main gate of the Tower

As we made our way into the Tower, I heard the sound of rotors and looked up to see a military helicopter! This immediately made me extremely suspicious- whenever I see anything military-related, I wonder what is going on. In this case, my suspicion was magnified because I had heard previously that Tower Bridge was scheduled to be raised at about eleven that morning. Most vessels on the Thames can pass beneath the Bridge’s central span, so it is only raised occasionally for the rare vessel that is too tall. This made me wonder what kind of vessel we might be seeing that morning- I was hoping that it would be a navy ship instead of a civilian one.

Military Chopper over the Thames

Military chopper over the Tower- I’m not sure what it was, but suspect it might be an Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma belonging to the RAF

At around 10:30, I heard yet more noise from the sky, and for the next half-hour there were a couple news helicopters circling directly above us. Of course, this made me nearly paranoid about what might be going on, and I made sure that we were stationed on the battlements in view of Tower Bridge by eleven o’clock.

News Chopper over the Tower

News chopper visible over the spires of the White Tower

Finally, the bridge’s span began to raise up and a tugboat appeared beneath it. That was a promising sign, and after a moment a slender grey bow slid into view. I was ecstatic, as my suspicions had been confirmed! It was a navy vessel that was passing through! I watched in gleeful amazement as an elegant long ship cruised slowly through the water, accompanied by two tugboats and a Police boat. The sight was so beautiful- the ship’s sailors stood at attention along the port deck as she passed the HMS Belfast, and the crowds around us were nearly as enthralled as I was by the unique sight we were witnessing.

Tower Bridge opens...

My first glimpse of the beautiful navy vessel

Upon watching BBC News that evening, I found out that this ship was carrying soil from World War One battlefields to London in preparation for the WWI centenary. And after returning home, a quick check on the Internet revealed that the ship is a frigate of the Belgian Navy- named the Louise-Marie, she was laid down in 1985 in the Netherlands and purchased by Belgium in 2005. As you can see from the photographs, she is not an exceptionally gigantic ship, displacing 2,800 tonnes and measuring 400 feet long, but she is very elegant and I was delighted to see her. What a serendipitous turn of events- if we had not visited the Tower that very morning, then we would not have seen this fabulous spectacle!

The Louise-Marie

The Louise-Marie, on her way along the Thames

The Tower of London is full of history, being built between 1078 (for the central White Tower) and 1399. The architecture is magnificent, featuring both hefty Medieval stonework and idyllic wood-framed buildings like the one over Traitor’s Gate.

St. Thomas' Tower

Medieval corridor in the Tower. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs

 

Traitor's Gate

Traitor’s Gate, from inside the Tower. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs

View from Battlements

View of inside the Tower walls, taken from the battlements

One of the most impressive areas of the Tower for me was King Edward I’s bedchamber, recreated in modern times in St. Thomas’ Tower. It was sumptuously decorated, with painted walls and a four-poster bed- truly a room fit for royalty. This was close to a beautiful chapel where, in May 1471, Henry VI was reportedly murdered as he knelt in prayer.

Edward I's Bedchamber

The regal and luxurious bedchamber of Edward I

Tower Green was another memorable site- bordered by the picturesque Beefeaters’ residences, it was difficult to imagine that this pretty section of lawn was the spot of numerous executions. Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and Catherine Howard were all beheaded here by the notorious Henry VIII.

Beefeaters' Residences

Beefeaters’ residences overlooking Tower Green. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs

A Tower Raven

One of the Tower Ravens on Tower Green. According to legend, if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs

We toured the White Tower fairly briefly, because of some very large and obnoxious crowds of students. I was, however, impressed by the displays of armour and weaponry which are housed in this Tower; I saw everything from Henry VIII’s suit of armour to modern-day firearms like the P90. I wish I could have taken some pictures of all the weapons, but unfortunately my earlier enthusiasm in documenting the Louise-Marie‘s journey had drained the batteries in my camera!

The White Tower

The imposing White Tower

The Tower of London really is a fascinating and memorable attraction. We sincerely enjoyed our morning there, as it was it was both exciting and informative. Two more features that I want to highlight before closing are the food and the Crown Jewels. We ate lunch at the New Armouries Café, which had an unexpectedly extensive spread. It had several self-serve counters which featured sandwiches, soups, curries, cakes, biscuits, and even a carvery- you simply choose whatever you want, and then pay for what you’ve chosen. Our lunch really was nothing short of incredible!

And the Crown Jewels were, just as they had been ten years before, stunning. Seeing such a magnificent and valuable collection of diamonds, gold, and jewels is an experience like no other. I am awed enough when I browse sites like those of Van Cleef & Arpels or Bulgari online, so seeing such a lovely, extensive, and historic collection as the Crown Jewels is really quite unbelievable. It was hard for me to take in the physical magnificence, incredible history, and monetary value of the Jewels. You don’t know how shiny and eye-catching something can be until you have seen the Crown Jewels- they glitter with an almost impossible sheen, like living stars.

Imperial State Crown

The Imperial State Crown. This photo is not even a shadow of the real thing. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to CSvBibra

If you’re in London, don’t pass up a chance to visit the Tower of London! In the off-season (such as November, when we were there), it’s not very crowded at all, and you can browse most areas at your leisure. Plus, its central location affords great views of many other London landmarks, like Tower Bridge, the HMS Belfast, the Shard, the Gherkin, and London City Hall. It is a place full of history, that will definitely give you many happy memories- that’s what it’s given me!

 

 

 

 

 

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Legends of the Air: WWII Allied

As evidenced in earlier posts, I have a soft spot for airplanes and a particular obsession with all things World War II. WWII airplanes are some of the most legendary in the world, this great conflict giving rise to revolutionary new designs and inspired ideas in the realm of aviation. This post is dedicated to my favourite WWII Allied aircraft- not the best aircraft, necessarily, just my favourite. And Soviet designs are not part of this post, since the Eastern Front is a whole other area of interest for me!

Supermarine Spitfire

I would assume that when most people think of a WWII aircraft, the Spitfire comes to mind. Even those who don’t know much of WWII show a spark of recognition when I mention the name ‘Spitfire’. And such a reputation is well-deserved! Appearing in many incarnations, the Spitfire combined manoeuvrability and speed with high performance at altitude, and was a fearsome dogfighter.

IWM Spitfire

Early Supermarine Spitfire at IWM London

I had the privilege of going to Duxford Aerodrome and the Imperial War Museum Duxford back in 2011, a site that is tied to the Spitfire’s illustrious history. In 1938, Duxford’s No. 19 Squadron was the first of the RAF to operate the new fighter. During the Battle of Britain two years later, squadrons of both Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes that were based at and around RAF Duxford, were instrumental in holding off the attacking Germans.

Spitfire at Duxford

Replica Spitfire in its rightful place- an original WWII hangar at Duxford

While at Duxford, I was well aware of its association with the awe-inspiring Spitfire. It was incredible to tour the old WWII hangars and imagine them as they would have been in the ’40s: full of mechanics and pilots attending to dozens of Spitfires. And looking out at the grassy field beyond the hangars made me imagine rows of the graceful, gently-mottled airplanes bobbing along the grass on their way to intercept a group of Messerschmitts and Heinkels.

Tiger Moth Duxford

Tiger Moth on approach to Duxford’s grass strip

I’ve also seen numerous Spitfires in action in airshows; always agile and impressive, it is a privilege to see this legendary plane flying. What strikes me most about the Spitfire is its longevity and versatility. There were 22 separate marks of Spitfire and further variations on those marks; but the plane itself was produced over ten years, from 1938 to 1948. Just over 20,000 planes were made over that decade, and were distributed for use all over the world. Whether dogfighting with a Bf-109 over the English Channel, or fitted with a sand filter and deployed in North Africa, the Spitfire proved its worth in all situations and was much-loved by its pilots.

Avro Lancaster

My favourite bomber, perhaps of all time, is the Avro Lancaster. Even before I knew much about airplanes or WWII, I knew and loved the Lancaster.

Lancaster Duxford

Lancaster at IWM Duxford

The ‘Lanc’, as it was nicknamed, has an unmistakeable silhouette; thick fuselage, four props driven by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, and multiple defensive turrets. I love the Lanc because it is so unique and storied- Lancasters dropped 608,612 tons of bombs during the war, and were the aircraft chosen for the famous Dambusters raid.

Lancaster Bomb Bay

The impressive bomb bay of the Lancaster

In August 2012, I witnessed an original Lancaster fly for the first time in my life. Prior to that, I had seen various museum specimens in both Canada and the UK, but amazing as museums are, there is nothing like seeing an aviation legend in the air. Especially one as rare as this- there remain only two airworthy Lancasters in the world today. The sound and sight of such a plane in the air was unforgettable, and also frightening; as I imagined how it must have been for Lancaster crews on raids and for German citizens being bombed by these planes.

Lancaster Taxiing

Lancaster taxiing at Hamilton Airshow- the noise from its four Merlins was magnificent! Image courtesy of Andrew Jacobs

B-17 Flying Fortress

The B-17 is a glorious-looking aircraft, with its usually shiny silver finish and its broad and elegant wings. Although its most well-known claim to fame may be the 1990 film Memphis Belle, this aircraft was great in its own right. With a payload of 17,600 pounds (just 400 lbs. shy of that of the Avro Lancaster), the B-17s fielded by the USAAC and USAAF flew nearly 300,000 sorties over Europe and were well-known for remaining airworthy even after taking large amounts of damage.

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 at the 2013 Great Lakes International Airshow

I attended the 2013 Great Lakes International Airshow in St. Thomas last summer, excited at the prospect of seeing a real B-17. I was not disappointed, as I actually saw the plane on four separate occasions that weekend! My grandparents live in St. Thomas so I stayed at their house for the airshow, and on the eve of the show the drone of propellers drew me outside. I was shocked to see the B-17 flying at about 1000 feet over the house, on its way to the airport! After that, I saw the beautiful bomber perform in the show (of course), make several passes around the city once the show was over, and finally fly low over a city park where I was eating supper. I felt very privileged and strangely emotional to have seen it so much.

B-17 Low Pass

Incredible low pass by the B-17- we had an unparalleled vantage point for the show!

de Havilland Mosquito

One of the greatest blessings in my life is that I have seen the last airworthy Mosquito in the world. The de Havilland Mosquito is undoubtedly one of the most unusual aircraft designs of the war- despite being introduced in 1941, at a time when metal construction was prevalent in aviation, this fighter/bomber was made almost entirely out of wood. This allowed the ‘Mossie’, as it was affectionately known, to fly quickly and efficiently while saving valuable metal for other uses.

Mosquito Taxiing

Beautiful Mossie taxiing at Hamilton Airshow. Image courtesy of Andrew Jacobs

Seeing this last Mosquito was really a memorable experience, due to its rarity and unique characteristics. It always makes me very sad that there are often so few airworthy WWII planes left (such as only two Lancasters and one Il-2 Sturmovik), but I felt privileged and delighted to see the Mosquito. Flying is what these planes were built for, and I think it is wonderful that even 70 years after the war, some examples continue to do so.

Mosquito Flying

Mosquito performing in the air. Image courtesy of Andrew Jacobs

The Mosquito that I saw did not perform on its own, however- no, it was much more impressive even than that. It shared the skies with a Lancaster, two Hurricanes, and two Spitfires. All are Rolls-Royce Merlin powered machines, and all are legends of the RAF in WWII. Those six aircraft were truly a sight to behold, and it was a sight that not many people alive today will get the chance to see. I still can’t believe that I was there to see that historic flight!

Lancaster, Mosquito, and fighters

The six legends: two Spitfires and two Hurricanes accompanying a Mosquito and Lancaster. Image courtesy of Andrew Jacobs

North American T-6 Texan/ Harvard

I recall attending several airshows in Toronto as a child, and it was at those shows that I discovered the favourite plane of my childhood. That plane was the T-6 Texan, or Harvard, as we call it here in Canada. The Harvards I knew as a child were rather brutish-looking planes, painted in a bright yellow because of their role as trainer aircraft.

Harvard II in 2005

Photo of German Harvard II from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to GW_Simulations

A group of Harvards visits many regional airshows in Ontario over the summer, and this group invariably puts on a fun performance. The Harvard has great aerobatic capabilities, and must be an entertaining plane to fly. Its radial engine is very loud (which frightened me when I was little, intimidated as I was by any loud noise), which for me adds to the appeal of the aircraft. When I was younger, I dearly wanted to fly a Harvard; a dream that stays with me still.

Four Harvards

Four Harvards in formation at Great Lakes International Airshow

And that concludes the examination of my favourite WWII Allied aircraft! Truth be told, I appreciate any and all WWII-era aircraft; because of the ingenuity with which many of the designs were created, and because of the exceptional performance and achievements made thanks to these aircraft in a time of dire need and conflict. I now look forward to describing the legends of the VVS (Soviet Air Force) at a later date- Soviet wartime aircraft offer many examples of planes that are not well-known, but incredibly efficient and formidable.

REFERENCES

Jackson, R. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft. Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing.

(2014, February 26). Avro Lancaster. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Lancaster

 

Vintage Inspiration

I do not often wear skirts (and never do unless I am going somewhere that merits dressing up), but this is the kind of outfit that really speaks to me. Despite its utilization of a skirt, I can picture myself wearing something like this to church or a meeting any day! With elements borrowed from ’40s, ’50s, and even ’60s style, this outfit manages to be striking and nostalgic all at once, while retaining an effortless elegance that is enviable. A houndstooth patterned skirt contrasts well with the camel coat, and the berry tones of the hat and blouse are refined yet arresting. A prim black bag paired with gorgeous diamond and gold jewellery continues the ladylike theme, and wartime-inspired T-strap sandals are the ideal choice of footwear.  I truly appreciate fashion that is wearable for the 21st century, but also nostalgic and vintage- and this look ticks all the boxes!Vintage Inspiration

Jigsaw coat with belt
$445 – johnlewis.com

Viyella vintage black skirt
$59 – johnlewis.com

Gucci suede peep toe pumps
$725 – profilefashion.com

Ted Baker black crocodile handbag
$410 – johnlewis.com

Long jewelry
1stdibs.com

Navy blue hat
$650 – suzannah.com

Winter in London: Day One

I awoke this morning, on the third day of 2014’s alleged spring, to six inches of unwelcome snow on the ground. That’s in addition to the pre-existing three feet which we have had since mid-January! I’ll try not to grumble too much, but such tiresome weather makes me long for London again. And it reminds me of my delightful winter trip of late 2013, which I will describe in part today.

I travelled with my mother and my aunt to London for five days in November and December; a trip that was eagerly anticipated and much enjoyed, despite me catching a nasty cold while we were there. Immediately after arriving in the capital on a Thursday morning, we left our luggage at the hotel and then made our way to Westminster Pier for a boat tour along the Thames. I would definitely recommend taking such a boat tour if you are in London, as it is a fabulous and unique way to see all the most famous sights, without the sometimes overwhelming bother of taking public transport.

'Big Ben' from the Thames

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Thames

The distinctive dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre from the Thames

Tower Bridge

About to pass beneath Tower Bridge on the Thames

The Docklands

The Docklands; ‘Canary Wharf’, or One Canada Square, in centre

The day was a cold one, made even colder by the winds flying across the Thames, but it was a fun experience. The boat took us all the way from Westminster to Greenwich, where we walked around the Royal Naval College. Many people should recognize the College’s buildings even if they have not personally seen them, since the College has been portrayed in many film productions such as Hornblower, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Thor: The Dark World.

Greenwich in November

Royal Naval Academy at Greenwich

The Painted Hall

The magnificent Painted Hall at Greenwich

The Queen's House

The Queen’s House; not inhabited by Her Majesty today, but a former royal residence

After walking about for awhile and enjoying a delicious hot lunch, we walked through Greenwich Village and came across a charming antiques market. It was absolutely bustling, and its vendors were selling many fascinating things, from vintage jewellery to china and military antiques. I, naturally, gravitated to the military tables- how excited I was to see artifacts such as WWII flare guns, old Wehrmacht helmets, and even real firearms like a Russian Mosin rifle and a British Lee-Enfield! I savoured my first ever cappuccino while perusing that market, and despite the chilly November air I felt very at home and happy.

Market in Greenwich

Alley to the charming market in Greenwich, all decked out in the spirit of Christmas

Having completed our tour of Greenwich and the Thames, we returned to our hotel for a rejuvenating nap- much needed after the long, sleepless, overnight flight of the night before! Since we were so tired, we then decided to take a simple bus ride down Oxford Street and towards Piccadilly Circus. That allowed us to take in the sights without expending too much energy. The Christmas lights and holiday bustle of Oxford Street were so beautiful, and made me very excited about shopping over the next few days!

Oxford Street

The mesmerizing lights of Oxford Street

House of Fraser Decorations

Decorations on the House of Fraser building

Trafalgar Square

Hanukkah celebrations in Trafalgar Square

Day one was chilly and tiring, but fantastic- as most days in London are. Christmas in London is a very inspiring and magical time, and my time at the Greenwich market and around Oxford Street let me experience some of that magic. If you are ever looking for somewhere interesting to go around Christmastime, don’t overlook the option of London!

Although it can be expensive, London has some of the best shopping in the world, and the whole atmosphere is one of excitement. The capital is invariably filled with crowds (sometimes tourists and sometimes just residents on their way to either work or the shops), but that busy atmosphere makes it feel like there’s always something going on. To borrow a well-known quote from Samuel Johnson, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” There is always something happening in London and every time I visit, there is something new that surprises me. For a vacation around Christmas or any other time of the year, my biased choice will always be London.

Forties Formal

If I had a dinner party or some similar event to attend, I would choose to wear an outfit like this one. Forties style is so classy and elegant, and is perfect for me since I love dressing up to go out. The pearls and the dress are defining features of the outfit below; pearls are an ubiquitous component of ’40s style, and the cut of the dress is unmistakeably one of wartime fashion. And what a striking outfit these components create- wearing such an outfit to a party would without doubt turn heads, and create a very favourable and memorable impression indeed!Forties Formal

Red dress
$47 – 20thcenturyfoxy.com

Valentino leather shoes
$470 – stylebop.com

White House Black Market pearl earrings
whitehouseblackmarket.com

Playground Antics: A Satirical Story

The following is a short satirical story I wrote last week, reminded as I was by current events of the state of international affairs. I would welcome any feedback, so feel free to comment! It would be interesting for me to know what my readers interpret the story to mean. I do hope you enjoy it!

Part One

Joe and Rostislav sit side by side, backs to the school wall, benignly inspecting one another’s baseball cards.

“We never had these back home,” Rostislav remarks.

“See, things are better in America,” says Joe.

Rostislav’s reply is a frown. “No. We were all happy at home. We had hockey cards. Hockey is more fun than baseball.”

Joe smiles a patronising smile; Rostislav must be too stupid or brainwashed to know any better.

“Are you trading cards?” Asks the pair’s teacher, Miss Clemens. She peers at them with well-meaning interest.

“We’re in the middle of a big deal right now,” Rostislav says.

“I’ll be rich by this time tomorrow,” Joe nods with eagerness.

“You have some ambition for a twelve-year old!” Laughs Miss Clemens, patting each boy on the shoulder. “I’ll leave you to your business!”

Part Two

The next day at recess, the business deal is complete, but Joe is angry, not rich. Miss Clemens’ attention is grabbed by his indignant shouts.

“You moron! I don’t know why you ever left your dismal homeland! You don’t fit in here, you’re too stupid to be an American!”

“Joe!” Miss Clemens cries, appalled. “What are you doing, talking to someone like that? You know that insulting a fellow student is unacceptable.”

“He’s stupid!” Joe gestures to the ashen-faced Rostislav.

“Well, then, so are you- you each share the same uninspiring grades. What’s the problem?”

“He doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is! Russkies don’t know anything.”

“Joe knows less than me,” Rostislav pipes up. “‘Yuri Gagarin, who’s that?’ How can you not know the name of the first man in space?”

Miss Clemens shakes her head- for people with little more than a decade of life, these two possess an unbelievable amount of pigheadedness. “Try not to be so self-centred,” she says. “Your cultures are different, so why don’t you try to learn about and understand each other’s culture, instead of being so concerned with your own?”

Joe sniffs and crosses his arms. “I don’t want to learn about Russkies. I know all about them already thanks to my grandpa. He flew a Tomcat in the ’70s.”

“Try to have an open mind,” Miss Clemens sighs. “Learning about the world is fun if you’re prepared to accept that not everyone is going to be exactly like you.”

“Well, maybe,” Joe concedes.

“I understand,” Rostislav agrees.

“Good. Why don’t you start by telling each other about Babe Ruth and Yuri Gagarin?”

Part Three

“Are you sure your mother has her American license?” Laughs Joe, watching a rusty old BMW screech to a halt beside the curb. “She looks like she’s from one of those driving fail videos online!”

“Shut up,” scowls Rostislav. “At least she doesn’t look like she singlehandedly keeps the local McDonald’s afloat like your mother does.”

“You calling my mom fat?”

“I’m only saying what anyone with eyes and a brain sees.”

“McDonald’s is an American staple!”

“Evidently.”

“Don’t you like McDonald’s?”

“Yes. We do actually have McDonald’s at home,” says Rostislav waspishly, as his mother approaches. “We just don’t feel the need to eat there every few hours.”

“What’s this, an argument?” Rostislav’s mother asks, glaring at the two boys. “I will not allow this!” Without another word, she sweeps up the school stairs, returning a few moments later with Miss Clemens. The two boys blurt out their grievances simultaneously and with equal indignation, and Rostislav’s mother shakes her head.

“Russian passion and American relaxedness. You two are true children of your nations.”

“But who’s right?” Joe cries.

“You’re both wrong,” Miss Clemens replies in exasperation. “Stereotypes like these only perpetuate old pain and suspicion. And anyway, what’s wrong with enjoying driving or a hamburger?”

“Nothing, I guess,” Rostislav admits, giving Joe a sidelong glance.

“But we aren’t supposed to get along,” Joe maintains.

Miss Clemens sighs in frustrated disbelief and looks skywards. “Well, if you keep telling yourself that, you never will get along. And you’ll probably miss out on a great friend, too.”

“Maybe we can try to be friends again,” Rostislav says. “We were good friends once, years ago.”

“Okay,” Joe agrees. “I’ll try.”

Part Four

Joe and Rostislav sit again, as they do, against the school’s brick wall- their interaction no longer benign, but confrontational.

“This isn’t going to work!” Cries Rostislav. “Our project will be garbage thanks to you. What are you trying to do, sabotage me?”

“It’s your fault that your views aren’t the same as mine,” Joe counters, seizing the paper in question from his companion’s hand. “Why can’t you think like an American?”

“Why can’t you think like a Russian? Why do things always have to be your way?”

“Are those stubborn, selfish babies really at it again?” Mutters Miss Clemens, dashing over to the combatants. “What is it now?”

“It’s about our project,” Rostislav says, stepping in front of the fuming Joe. “Someone wants to write an essay on how America’s responsibility in World War II was to bring freedom back to the world- typically arrogant and obtrusive! It would be better to write about how war appeals to your duty. Soldiers from my country fought in World War II because they owed it to the Motherland.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Miss Clemens responds after a moment. “You’re both being disgustingly selfish, to be honest, and you’re obviously not willing to put aside your own pride and think of the greater good. I can’t help you, if you refuse to man up enough to help yourselves.”

“What am I supposed to do, he’s wrong,” Joe says forcefully.

“Pointing out someone else’s failures won’t cover up your own,” the weary teacher sighs. “This is up to you two. You, and the effort you make, are the only things that need define your relationship. I hope you make the right decision, and employ some understanding, so you don’t encounter greater problems in the future.”

Part Five

The following recess reveals a reality that, although reviled, is no surprise. Miss Clemens visits the school wall to find only Joe seated there.

“Have you finished your project already?”

He shakes his head. “I’m not talking to Rostislav. He’s not talking to me, either.”

“What a disappointment,” Miss Clemens laments. “How do you expect to finish the essay if you two aren’t working on it together?”

“I don’t know,” Joe shrugs with impunity. “Who cares. He’s an idiot and his attitudes are unacceptable. Just like him to sabotage me like this.”

“If I had a final project due, I wouldn’t cut off all communication with my partner.”

Pfft. Maybe we can talk if he apologizes and stops making such irritating and threatening statements.”

“He’s probably saying exactly the same thing!” Miss Clemens exclaims, throwing her hands to her eyes. “Can’t you see? You have a responsibility to complete this project! Can’t you forget your petty differences at least long enough to fulfil your duty?”

“I’d love to,” Joe says. “This is regrettable, but I can’t not take exception to Rostislav. He’s being a total jerk, and is very threatening.”

“Unbelievable!” Cries Miss Clemens. “You dearly need to grow up and take a look in the mirror. This is real life, not international politics!”

 

To be Read Before We Create Our End

I am personally deeply troubled at the current state of affairs in the Ukraine. But I am not only troubled by Russia’s unfortunate incursion into Crimea- the seemingly inescapable repercussions are distressing as well.

First of all, I will outline my view of this situation. Russia does not want war. Its actions are based on the strong Russian identity, which exists for ethnic Russians across national borders, and on historical precedent. Until 1954, Crimea was a part of Russia and there are over one million Russians living there today. Conversely, the Ukraine has not historically appreciated being associated with Russia- in World War II, numbers of Ukrainians welcomed and sided with the invading Wehrmacht- and much of the country, as evidenced in the recent protests, is pro-EU and anti-Russia.

Map of Crimea

Map of Crimea: from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Soerfm.

What is unfortunate, of course, is that Russia has reacted to the protests with such eager inhibition- although I can understand its reasoning for doing so. Crimea has such a large population of ethnic Russians that Russia does not want to risk alienating or endangering its people. As soon as the protests turned violent, Russia decided that it needed to act in order to ‘save’ its people from violence and instability. My hope is that Russia will not inadvertently cause more unrest by going further into the Ukraine’s territory.

Graph of Crimean Demographics

Graph of Demographics in Crimea: from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Soerfm.

But I do not believe that Russia is solely to blame for this incursion. In all things, I believe Russia acts under the assumption that it is alone. It cannot count the West as an ally, since we here in the West have done nothing but belittle and criticize Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. I came across an article by Angus Roxburgh today which raises some valid and thought-provoking points about the West’s involvement in this situation. You can read this article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/10695204/Paranoia-leads-Vladimir-Putin-to-the-point-of-no-return.html.

Such an article brings up this question: What has the West, or for that matter, anyone, done to encourage global peace and cooperation after the dissolution of the Soviet state? It is sometimes said that humanity learned its lesson after the horrors of World War II, but have we? Can we honestly say, after a long look in the mirror, that we are doing a good job in the pursuit of peace and cooperation?

I believe that we are failing. World leaders have legitimate concerns in looking after their own countries, but in this age of globalization, with the Internet and the United Nations and wireless communication, countries now have a duty to the world as a whole as well. And yet world leaders still seem more concerned with their own agendas and their country’s power and prestige rather than the real concern of global peace.

And can we say that the Cold War is truly over? I’m not so sure that we can- the Cold War that purportedly lasted from 1947-1991 was defined by espionage, lack of communication, and proxy wars. The West and Russia still spy on each other today. John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov still boycott the odd meeting and call each other’s actions ‘unacceptable’ and ‘irresponsible’. And each respective country has its own set of allies and interests which conflict with the other’s. Instead of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Vietnam against America and the West, we have now Russia arming al-Assad in Syria and Western powers supporting the rebels. How is the conflict in Syria anything but another proxy war?

Syrian Soldier with PKM

Photo of Syrian soldier with Russian-made PKM machine gun: from Voice of America via Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Elizabeth Arrott.

Additionally, NATO still remains a force in the world; a force which threatens Russia’s sense of security thanks to plans like the one to build a missile shield in Europe. We should not be at all surprised that Russia is reluctant to listen to Western ideas, or to comply with Western demands. Why should Russia do anything for us when we have never done anything for them?

I am not trying in this post to assign blame to any one party, because the blame belongs to all. Fifty years of suspicion and bad blood cannot be erased, but it can be learned from. My worry is that no one is bothering to learn from it. There comes a time when we humans must wake up and take things seriously- forget our pride and our greed and our selfishness, and ask what we can give to make things better. Now is surely that time, time to stop insisting on the faults of other nations and instead to commit to remedying our own.

I’m sure that world leaders would have many excuses that would discount my pleas. They have their own security to worry about, of course, and there are some actions which cannot be ignored. True, but giving of yourself and reconciling would mean you would have one less enemy to worry about. And although there is true evil in the world, Russia is not it. Nor is the West. Both may be self-serving and pigheaded, but they do not embody evil.

And consider, for a moment, the consequences if world powers do not make some sort of radical attempt at understanding and helping one another. The next century will be built on layer upon layer of suspicion, doubt, and animosity- a foundation which will only serve to hurt its builders in the face of growing threats like terrorism and extremism. Do we really want another fifty years of a Cold War? Perhaps we actually enjoyed the Cold War and its five decades of ‘Red Terror’, senseless conflicts, and nuclear proliferation- after all, no one seems to be making much of an effort to avert its continuation. How long will it take before we see a real war, given the way events have been escalating in recent months, with Syria, Ukraine, and differences in philosophy between Russia and the West?

Checkpoint Charlie Standoff 1961

Photo of 1961 Checkpoint Charlie standoff: from http://nsarchive.chadwyck.com/bcphotox.htm. Attributed to unknown author.

I will not be surprised if some people disagree with or discount my estimation of this situation. But I do not believe I am misguided. Although my knowledge comes only from one university course in International Studies and regular online and literary research, it is clear that the current methods being used in international affairs are not working and perhaps we should try a more sympathetic approach. Instead of demonizing everyone who disagrees with us, why can’t we try to understand their position and see what type of unilateral effort we can muster to change the situation?

Again, I view all the current conflicts as extremely unfortunate yet entirely avoidable. For whatever reasons, we have not taken the opportunities that may have allowed us to coexist with better cooperation and understanding. I do believe there is still time and hope (and no immediately impending apocalypse), but we cannot ignore the fact that things will continue to get worse if we do not make them better. I can’t even pretend that this post will make any kind of measurable difference, but public sentiment is a powerful thing and I hope that my post may influence that sentiment and promote awareness.

Why don’t we try to do some good in the world, instead of always antagonizing the easy targets? So many of today’s problems are wholly of our own making; if not intentionally encouraged, then egged on by our own selfishness and inadvertent sense of superiority. Surely we don’t want to be mired in the depths of a cruel and fierce war in twenty years, fighting someone who could have been a friend, and looking back at all the opportunities we shunned and wishing we had not been quite so proud and stupid.