Really Old News-The French Revolution

By Teddy Walker

The French Revolution happened between 1787 and 1799. It’s often referred to as the Revolution of 1789 to distinguish it from later revolutions in France. Over the course of the revolution, the French feudal system was destroyed and Napoleon became the ruler of France.

The revolution, like all great political change, had many driving factors. Among them included the rising price of bread, high taxes, national debt, and poor harvest. Much of France’s problems with money were due to their support of the American revolution. The support of the United States left France on the verge of bankruptcy and caused the Monarchy to increase taxes on the nation. This largely affected those who were not of noble birth, of which there was a massively increasing number.

Between 1715 and 1800, the european population had doubled in number. This, combined with a growing commoner merchant class and better education and living conditions, caused a significant degree of political unrest as the lower classes sought to remove the last vestiges of the feudal system from their lives. While this problem was prevalent throughout Europe, it was much more of an issue in France as it had the largest population of any european nation and a crippled economy.

In 1789, the period known as the Great Fear began. On July 14, Parisian rioters took the Bastille (a large fortress in Paris) to secure weapons in an effort to prevent an aristocratic conspiracy. In the days that followed, the estates of the wealthy were attacked and many feudal documents proving nobility and the like were destroyed.

In 1792, France declared war on Austria. The monarchy hoped that the war would either enforce the power of the crown or allow another nation’s army to save the king from his own people. A few months latter, the kingdom of Prussia joined with Austria against France and battles largely resulted in french defeat for the rest of the year.

In early 1793, the french king was put on trial before the national convention ( a proto-senate/parliament of sorts) and sentenced to death for treason. Latter in the year, the reign of terror began. The reign started on 19 Fructidor, year 1 and ended on 9 Thermidor, year 2. If you don’t know when that is it’s because revolutionary France decided to use a stupid calendar that didn’t work very well because time doesn’t fit into a metric system. From mid 1793 to mid 1794, about 300,000 people were arrested by revolutionaries. About 17,000 were tried and executed while many more were killed without trial or died in prison.

Following a victory over Austria and the reoccupation of Belgium, the reign of terror was ended. This led to another, albeit smaller, wave of unrest across France. During this time, royalist revolutionaries attempted the “white terror” and tried to seize control of Paris. They were crushed by the armies of Napoleon and were unsuccessful in reinstalling the monarchs.


Really Old News: Rome

Sitting on the west coast of Apennine Peninsula, Rome has stood as a global cultural and economic center for millennia. It’s long held position as one of the greatest cities in the world has earned it the nickname “The Eternal City”. While an impressive title, I’m not sure it’s entirely fitting considering Rome has been sacked six times.

Not much is known about the first sack of Rome, or, at least, not much is verifiable as it happened a forever ago (387 B.C.). The Gauls came and scattered the Roman army as they didn’t have their infamous fighting style developed yet. Many people were killed and many things were stolen. The surviving Romans retreated to Capitoline hill. After several months of siege, the Romans agreed to pay the Gauls 1,000 pounds of gold for their retreat from the city. According to legend, Brennus, the warlord of the Gauls, used a rigged scale to measure out the weight. When the romans complained he shouted “Vae Victis” (“woe to the vanquished”).

After the sack by the Gauls, the city remained untouched by the direct effects of war for hundreds of years because it turned out the Romans were really good at this whole war thing. Sadly for them, the Romans committed some blunders in the operation of their whole deal. Such as making the state economy depend on stealing stuff from people they conquer and splitting the empire in two. Anyway, instability and internal problems eventually lead to Rome being unable to protect itself and being invaded by the Visigoths. While laying siege to the city, a group of slaves opened one of the city’s gates and allowed the barbarian invaders into the town. The Visigoths proceeded to steal most everything but allowed citizens to take refuge within the city’s basilicas as the Vandals were Christian just as the romans were. As St. Jerome wrote: “The city which has taken the whole world was itself taken”.

The third sack was by a germanic tribe called the Vandals. Following the assassination of the emperor, the Vandals laid siege to Rome. Knowing they couldn’t stop the invaders, the Romans sent the pope to negotiate their surrender. The Vandals agreed not to destroy any buildings or kill anyone, but they were let into the city without resistance and allowed to take what they pleased. Following the sack, the late emperor’s daughter was married to a Vandal prince and the nations enjoyed peace with one another.

Following the destruction of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Empire succeeded in retaking the city of Rome from its gothic rulers in the 6th century. The victory was short lived however, as Totila managed to pull the goths under his banner and laid siege to the city. Supposedly, his men scaled the walls of the city in the night and opened the gates to allow the army in. After a few weeks, the goths left the city. Buildings lay in ruin, streets were plundered, and less than 1,000 still inhabited the city.

In the late 11th century, the Norman warlord Robert received a call for help from the pope, who was under siege by the forces of the Holy Roman Empire. He arrived and drove back the imperial forces from the city, but was met with rebellion from the citizens, many of whom favored imperial rule over papal rule. Robert allowed his army to pillage the city, and they did for three days. Many blame this sack for the destruction of many historic structures.

After defeating the armies of france in the early 16th century, forces of the Holy Roman Emperor marched towards Rome. The Papacy had allied themselves with the now defeated France and had invoked the ire of Charles V, the emperor. To make matters worse for the Romans, the 1,000 imperial troops marching towards them had not been paid but instead offered the chance to sack Rome. The duke of Bourbon, the leader of the army, was killed in the fighting but his forces managed to enter the city. Once inside, The army proceeded to loot, kill torture, and rape the inhabitants of the city. To protect the pope, who was then an enemy of the empire, 42 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard escorted the pope to castel sant’angelo while the other 147 stood behind to cover his escape. None of the 147 survived.


Really old news-The Great Wall of China


By Teddy Walker

The Great Wall of China is a large wall made mostly of stone built on the historical northern border of China. The wall was built to keep out the nomadic tribes to the north such as the Mongols and Manchu. The construction of the wall took centuries and cost hundreds of lives. It was conceived in the third century B.C.

In the year 220 B.C., Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of the wall in the aftermath of the Warring States Period (when China was full of many countries fighting for control). The wall was to connect several several pre existing fortifications in the north into a large wall in order to keep out the nomadic tribes to the north. Construction went on until the 17th century. As many as 400,000 people may have died while constructing the wall, thousands of which were buried within the wall itself, making it the world’s largest grave. Despite the centuries of construction and thousands of dead, the wall never fully prevented raids from the north.

This is the wall. It’s bigimage01

Following the death of Qin Shi Huang, the great wall lost much of its importance to the Chinese people and government, and was allowed to fall into disrepair. Shortly before the dawn of the second century B.C., the north of China fell to northern tribes. Interestingly enough, many of these tribes decided to repair and extend the existing portions of the wall. Latter, when the Chinese emperor took back the land, it became useless as a fortification as China’s borders stretched past the wall.

You can see this guy from space. The wall, not that random tourist.image00

Although the wall has long since lost any significance as a military structure, it is still very important. To this day it stands as a historical site, a symbol of Chinese national pride, and a testament to human ingenuity. Each year, over 10 million people come from all over the world to visit the wall, a massive boon to Chinese tourism.


Really Old News: Unification of Germany

Under the rule of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm, the kingdom of Prussia managed to unite the Germanic nations of Europe under one flag through a series of successful military campaigns and political action. The formation of the German empire happened in early 1871 and ussured in a period known as the second reich.

For centuries prior, the German region was filled with a multitude of nations of varying power and size. Two of the most powerful were Austria and Prussia. Although Austria isn’t a part of Germany, it was considered a Germanic nation. From medieval times up until the conquests of Napoleon, the German area was controlled by the Holy Roman Empire. Despite the name, the Holy Roman Empire wasn’t actually an empire. It’s leader was elected by the Germanic member states and then crowned by the pope. The crown of the Holy Roman Empire sat firmly in Vienna, the Austrian capital, for the majority of its existence. While the empire didn’t exist in the period of German unification, Vienna still remained a political powerhouse of the region.

One of Bismarck’s primary goals when he took power was to remove Vienna as the center of affairs in Germany, and make Berlin the seat of power. Following the Austrian and Prussian invasion of Schleswig-Holstein against Denmark, Prussia and Austria began the Seven Weeks War. The war resulted in a decisive Prussian victory and Austria was excluded from German affairs. In doing so, Bismark secured Prussia’s position as the dominant power in Germany.

.At the time of the war, France was weary of a unified Germany, believing that the new empire would threaten French military dominance in the region. This fear was especially validated as Leopold von Hohenzollern, a member of the Prussian royal family, was offered the throne of Spain following the abdication(a ruler stepping down from the throne) of queen Isabella. France pressured the Prussian royals into declining and latter sent an ambassador to get a guarantee that Leopold’s candidacy would not be renewed. Kaiser Wilhelm refused to do so and relations between France and Prussia became very tense. Bismarck gave a choice retelling of events to the press to make it seem as though the Kaiser had insulted the ambassador. The French could not ignore such an insult (even though it never happened) and declared war on Prussia. The war lasted less than a year and resulted in a Prussian victory. During the war, the king of Prussia  was crowned the emperor of Germany and thus Germany was unified.

REALLY Old News: Stalingrade

By Teddy Walker

On Febuary 2nd, 1943, Nazi forces surrendered to the Soviet army following the battle of Stalingrad, marking the first major German defeat of the war. This put an end to the Nazi advance on the eastern front and forced them to send reinforcements from the west.


Now this may come as a shock to you, but war is pretty bad. The Stalingrad kerfuffle was especially bad as battles go, and many historians consider it to be the greatest battle in the second world war. The battle lasted for over five months and resulted in the deaths of almost two million people, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.


The Nazi attack on the Soviet Union wasn’t really supposed to happen .The war broke a non-aggression pact that the two nations had agreed to shortly before the war, making it a breach of international law. Not that Hitler much cared what the international community thought of him, mind you.On the 23rd of August, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, named after the foreign ministers of the two nations. According to the pact, they were not to make any hostile action against each other for the next ten years.


On June 22nd, 1942, Hitler launched operation Barbarossa, the secret plan to invade the Soviet Union. Doing so, he committed one of the classic blunders, he got involved in a land war in Asia. At least he didn’t go up against any Sicilians when death was on the line


(At least, not until Italy was liberated). The operation was named after the former emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Funnily enough for an operation that was a total failure, its namesake died in the 3rd crusade after falling in a river in full armor. The plan failed for a multitude of reasons including underestimation of Soviet reinforcements (they expected 50 extra divisions, the Russians produced 200) and underestimation of Soviet allegiance to the state (the Nazis thought the Soviet Union would collapse within six months).


The city of Stalingrad was a site of large strategic importance for both sides. The Nazis intended to use it as a staging ground for further assaults into the caucasus and the Soviets wanted to defend it as it was an important center of industry and communication. It was not just for its strategic value that the city was important though. As the only city named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, it would be a huge blow to the morale of the Soviet army if it were to fall.


The Nazi army had planned for the attack on Stalingrad to be relatively quick and didn’t expect the high level of fortification and resistance within the city. It took the Nazis about a month to reach the center of the city, but they were unable to push the Soviets out of the industrial zones as new reinforcements continued to arrive. A few weeks later, when the Nazis were running low on supplies and manpower, the Soviets launched their counteroffensive. The Nazis were encircled and were unable to try to retreat due to orders from high command telling them to stand their ground. Attempts to resupply the cut-off invaders were unsuccessful and the attacking force surrendered on February 2nd, 1943, six months after the start of the attack.




Really old news: Prohibition

By Teddy Walker

From 1920 to 1933, the 18th amendment prevented all sale, production, import, or export of alcoholic beverages. While the goal of the amendment was to curb alcohol related abuse and crime, it allowed organized crime gangs like Al Capone’s to come to prominence.


Many people over the country supported the prohibition movement.. It was led in part by rural religious and temperance movement groups who saw prohibition as a way to finally stop the evils of alcohol and intoxication. Many women also supported prohibition as they viewed it as a destructive force in families and marriages. While, on a state level,  some prohibition laws were already passed, there was no national law until 1917 when a temporary prohibition was passed to allow more grain for the war effort. The 18th amendment came to the floor of congress not long after.


The effects of prohibition were many, and diverse. In the days before the amendment came into effect, for instance: many bars and restaurants gave patrons free alcohol while others charged incredibly high prices looking to make some quick cash. Some of the most prominent and famous effects of prohibition were the rise of organized crime, bootlegging, and the speakeasy. So prominent was the speakeasy that experts believe that in 1925, there were approximately 100,000 speakeasies within New York City. These illegal bars ranged from run down holes in the wall to high end clubs protected by the mob. Regardless of what kind of speakeasy it was, they all needed one thing:booze. There were many ways for these bars to acquire alcohol. Some of it was made in people’s homes in homemade distilleries. This moonshine, as it was often called, was very strong and if made incorrectly could cause temporary or permanent blindness or even death. Others got prescriptions from doctors (or through forgery) for “medicinal whisky”. As non-prescription alcohol was illegal, people needed to make sure the police didn’t get them. Some bootleggers started tuning up their cars to outrun the police, a practice that eventually gave rise to NASCAR.


With prohibition came the rise of organized crime. While originally comprised of smaller groups, many joined together and expanded their operations into fields other than alcohol such as gambling and narcotics. While considered detestable in the eyes of the law, many people liked mobsters like Al Capone because they gave people what they wanted and generally didn’t hurt anyone who didn’t have it coming. Public support for the mob dwindled after the infamous st. Valentine’s day massacre, were Capone’s men posed as police officers and gunned down unarmed rival mobsters.


In 1933, the 21st amendment was passed, repealing the prohibition of alcohol on a national level ( some states still outlawed it until 1966). The legalization of alcohol removed a massive source of revenue from organized crime. While it didn’t disappear, it has never recaptured the prominence it had during the roaring 20s.




(Really) Old News Presents: The League of Nations

by Teddy Walker

On November the 15, 1920, The League of Nations held its first general assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, ten months after its creation as part of the Treaty of Versailles. The League was to serve as a global coalition of nations dedicated to the advancing of peace and globalization. The League was eventually disbanded and was replaced by the United Nations after the second world war.

The League of Nations was initially proposed by Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States. Though,due to largely isolationist policies and opposition from congress on the grounds of “Europe is smelly”(politically complex and potentially very expensive) , the United States was never a member of the League. Multiple presidents tried to convince the nation to join, but despite significant public support, congress prevented the U.S. from joining. They also limited cooperation with the league fearing that regular participation would make the U.S. a member in everything but name.

At its founding, the League of nations consisted of 42 member states and a number of mandates. Mandates were former German colonies and areas of the former Ottoman Empire that were freed as part of the Treaty of Versailles. They were governed by members of the League until such repair and development could be made so the mandate could become a free standing, globalized nation (At least in theory, some became client states of other nations because imperialism is fun). Multiple other nations joined and left as the years went on and the League reached a peak membership of 58 in late 1934 after Ecuador entered. The League was not able to retain a large membership in part because of its lack of ability to enforce its decisions. While some of the world’s most powerful nations were members of the League, the League itself possessed no military and few resources, and largely depended on nations like Great Britain to enforce decisions. This ineffectiveness caused many nations to leave seeing as they were investing resources into an organization that depended on world powers agreeing. Many historians hold that the League would have been far more effective had the United States convinced itself to join. The lack of a major world power lead to an ineffective league that was unable to do what it set out to. As Benito Mussolini, former Italian dictator, said in response to a League accusation of Italian attacks on red cross tents: “The league is very well when sparrows shout, but no good when eagles fall out”.

The League was officially disbanded in April, 1946, shortly after the second world war. After the world realized that a global coalition of nations could prevent things such as world wars from happening, they decided to create League of Nations 2: The United Nations, now with political functionality (it’s just called the United Nations, but the other, VERY unofficial, name is more fun).


Article written by Teddy Walker, published on  February 10th, 2017