Category Archives: Britain

Football Comes to Burma, 1878

From The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire, by Andrew Marshall (Counterpoint, 2003), pp. 28-30:

Even before the Football Association was established in England in 1863, wherever the Brits went in the world the beautiful game went with them. British railway engineers took the sport to Argentina; Scottish textile workers taught the Swedes; the Russians learned it from English cotton-mill managers. And one day in 1878 George Scott strode on to the bumpy games field next to St. John’s College with his curious students, punted a football through a blue afternoon sky, and the Burmese game was born.

The first organized football match ever played in Burma took place at St. John’s College around 1879. Scott captained the St. John’s team, whose opponents were a scratch eleven from the southern port town of Moulmein….

Matches were soon drawing large crowds, not only in Rangoon but across British-occupied Lower Burma. There was some concern at the passion the game aroused among the natives, but also relief that Association rules had been adopted. ‘To think of hot-headed Burmans engaged in the rough-and-tumble of Rugby excites lurid imaginings,’ shuddered one colonial official. For the British, football was a way of communicating ideas of fair play and respect for authority. For the Burmese it was something else: a rare opportunity to thrash their colonial masters at their own game.

The Burmese were no slouches with their feet. They had grown up with chinlon, a kind of volleyball played only with the feet and the head, and using a rock-hard rattan ball which could split a man’s eyebrow clean open if headed wrongly. Hard-fought contests between British and Burmese footballers became regular affairs during the cool season. The Burmese team was called The Putsoes, a putso being a longyi that has been tucked neatly up around the thighs like a large, decorative nappy. The British team was called The Trousers.

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Comanches and the Spread of the Horse Frontier

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 70-71:

A superb hunting niche framed by two major agricultural spheres—the Rio Grande valley and the southern prairies—the upper Arkansas was primed for commercial prominence. Comanches had capitalized on the Arkansas’ centrality since the 1740s, when they forged exchange ties with the Taovayas and the French in the east. From the 1760s on, however, Comanches increasingly focused their commercial activities to the northern and central plains, where the diffusion of horses had opened fresh commercial opportunities.

The spread of the horse frontier across the Great Plains revealed yet another natural advantage of the upper Arkansas basin: it marked the northern limit for intensive horse husbandry on the continental grasslands. The climate became increasingly adverse for horses above the Arkansas, turning noticeably harsher north of the Platte River and outright hostile above the Missouri. The long and cold northern winters took a heavy toll on foals and pregnant mares, and the vicious blizzards could literally freeze entire herds on their hooves. Such hardships kept most northern tribes chronically horse-poor: only a few groups beyond the Arkansas valley managed to acquire enough animals to meet basic hunting and transportation needs. To the south of the Arkansas, however, winters were considerably milder, posing few limitations on animal husbandry. This meant that western Comanches could raise horses with relative ease and then export them to a vast perennial deficit region—a prerogative that gave them trading power that was rivaled only by the Mandans’ and Hidatsas’ celebrated trading villages on the middle Missouri River.

As the various Native groups on the central and northern plains acquired their first horses around midcentury, they quickly began to look south to Comancheria to build up their herds. In the course of the 1760s and 1770s, western Comanches incorporated many of those groups into an expanding exchange circle. They opened trade relations with the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Kiowas, who ranged on the western plains between the Arkansas River and the Black Hills, and with the Ponca, Kansa, and Iowa farmers along the lower Missouri, Kansas, and Des Moines rivers. Recent converts to equestrianism, all these groups coveted horses and were willing to travel hundreds of miles to the Arkansas valley to obtain them. They incorporated these trade journeys into their semiannual hunting expeditions, traveling along established trails that led from the Republican and Kansas rivers tot he Great Bend of the Arkansas, which was only a few days’ journey away from the Big Timbers, the favorite camping ground of western Comanches.

While extending their commercial reach into the northern plains, western Comanches continued to trade actively on other fronts. They visited the Taos fairs and restored the ties with the Wichitas that had been severed in 1757 when the Taovayas fled from the Arkansas River. Now traveling to western Comanchería from their new villages on the middle Rad and Brazos rivers, Taovayas traded garden produce as well as high-quality guns, which they obtained from wide-ranging British contraband traders operating out of the numerous British posts that emerged on the east bank of the Mississippi after 1763. As a dramatic example of the volume of this trade, a Taovaya trading party sold seventeen horseloads of guns to western Comanches in a single transaction in 1768. The three-way commerce among Comanches, Taovayas, and British thrived well into the 1770s. According to a 1776 Spanish account, western Comanches received quantities of rifles, pistols, munitions, iron hatchets, and metal utensils from Taovayas, who in turn acquired these goods from the lower Mississippi valley.

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Arms Race on the Great Plains, 18th c.

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 72-73:

Initially, in the early eighteenth century, Comanches had been largely cut off from the burgeoning trade in European weaponry in the continent’s center. Large quantities of guns, lead, and metalware flowed onto the grasslands from the north and east, from the French and British outposts in Canada and the Mississippi valley. In contrast, the Spaniards in New Mexico and Texas were reluctant to sell guns to Indians, fearing that those guns might be turned against themselves if the Natives allied with France or Britain for an attack against Spanish colonies. This disparity in the pattern of diffusion gave the northern and eastern plains tribes a decisive military edge—something that Comanches painfully learned in their early wars with the Pawnees and Osages. But the rise of the upper Arkansas trade center allowed western Comanches to break free from the gun embargo. By channeling large numbers of horses to the northern and eastern Great Plains, they managed to create a substantial inflow of firearms. Alarmed Spanish officials reported as early as 1767 that the western Comanches were better armed than Spanish troops.

Before long, in fact, western Comanches accumulated such quantities of guns and other manufactured goods that they could start exporting them. Domingo Cabello y Robles, governor of Texas, reported in the 1780s that western Comanches sold guns, powder, balls, lances, cloth, pans, and large knives to their eastern relatives in the Texas plains, who in turn supplied western Comanches with horses and mules, some of which were traded to Wichitas, Pawnees, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Kansas, and Iowas. Moreover, in a reversal of the typical forms of colonial trade, western Comanches started to sell guns and other manufactures to Spanish New Mexico. Such a trade was first mentioned in 1760 by Bishop Pedro Tamarón y Romeral who wrote that Comanches sold muskets, shotguns, munitions, and knives at Taos. Fifteen years later the trade had become a routine. When visiting the town’s summer fair in 1776 Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez was struck by Comanches’ export stock, which included tin pots, hatchets, shot, powder, pistols, and “good guns.” The gun trade, Domínguez noted, had become established enough to be based on fixed rates. “If they sell a pistol, its price is a bridle.” In exchange for the precious manufactured items, Comanches received special equestrian and hunting gear, such as bridles and belduques, broad butchering knives, which were available only in New Mexico. Western Comanches, it seemed, were creating a multilevel commodity flow that furnished them with imported staples, such as maize and horses, as well as with more specialized manufactured products.

But the inverse trade in guns and other European commodities only hints at a much more profound shift in Comanche-Spanish relations: western Comanchería had begun to replace New Mexico as the paramount economic, political, and military power in the Southwest.

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Burma’s Student Nationalists, 1940s

From Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, by Thant Myint-U (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1280-1290:

When the British left Burma in 1948, they left the country in the hands of the men who had been on the extreme fringes of the student nationalist movement just a decade before. They were almost all Buddhists (by background if not practice) and ethnic Burmans. Before the Japanese invasion, they were not particularly important, but the war had radicalized society and they had seized the opportunity, first to collaborate with the Japanese and then to turn against them, in March 1945, just in time to avoid being arrested and hanged as Quislings. They included men like Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi. They were immensely popular and even though they were still in their late twenties and early thirties stood head and shoulders above the older politicians, who were tarred as not having been daring enough. Aung San and many of his colleagues were then gunned down in 1947 in a still puzzling assassination plot, but others from the pool of ex-student radicals formed the first independent government. They would take Burma out of the British Commonwealth and launch the country down what was to be a not very happy path through the rest of the twentieth century.

Some on the British side had been worried about the fate of the Shan and other ethnic minorities in an independent Burma and suggested detaching the upland areas and keeping them as a British crown colony. British frontier officials were particularly fond of the hill peoples, such as the Karen along the Thai border, who had fought consistently and often very courageously against the Japanese.

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Pirogov’s Surgery Innovations in Crimea, 1855

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 5191-5224:

Born in Moscow in 1810, Pirogov began his medical studies at Moscow University at the age of just 14, and became a professor at the German University of Dorpat at the age of 25, before taking up the appointment of Professor of Surgery at the Academy of Military Medicine in St Petersburg. In 1847 he was with the Russian army in the Caucasus, where he pioneered the use of ether, becoming the first surgeon to employ anaesthesia in a field operation. Pirogov reported on the benefits of ether in several Russian-language publications between 1847 and 1852, though few doctors outside Russia were aware of his articles. Apart from the relief of pain and shock through anaesthesia, Pirogov emphasized that giving ether to the wounded on arrival at the hospital kept them calm and stopped them from collapsing so that the surgeon could make a better choice in selecting between those cases requiring urgent operation and those that could wait. It was this system of triage pioneered by Pirogov during the Crimean War that marked his greatest achievement.

Pirogov arrived in the Crimea in December 1854. He was outraged by the chaos and inhuman treatment of the sick and wounded. Thousands of injured soldiers had been evacuated to Perekop on open carts in freezing temperatures, many of them arriving frozen to death or with limbs so frostbitten that they had to be cut off. Others were abandoned in dirty barns or left by the roadside for lack of transport. There were chronic shortages of medical supplies, not least because of corruption. Doctors sold off medicines and gave their patients cheaper surrogates, exacting bribes for proper treatment. The hospitals struggled to cope with the enormous numbers of wounded. At the time of the allied landings, the Russians had hospital places for 2,000 soldiers in the Crimea, but after Alma they were overwhelmed by 6,000 wounded men, and twice that number after Inkerman.

Conditions in the Sevastopol hospitals were truly appalling. Two weeks after the battle of the Alma, the surgeon from Chodasiewicz’s regiment visited the naval hospital:

He found the place full of wounded men who had never had their wounds dressed from the day of the Alma, except such dressings as they could make themselves by tearing up their own shirts. The moment he entered the room he was surrounded by a crowd of these miserable creatures, who had recognized him as a doctor, some of whom held out mutilated stumps of arms wrapped up in dirty rags, and crying out to him for assistance. The stench of the place was dreadful.

Most of the surgeons in these hospitals were poorly trained, more like ‘village craftsmen’ than doctors, in the estimation of one Russian officer. Practising a rough-and-ready surgery with dirty butcher’s knives, they had little understanding of the need for hygiene or the perils of infection. Pirogov discovered amputees who had been lying in their blood for weeks.

As soon as he arrived in Sevastopol, Pirogov began to impose order on the hospitals, gradually implementing his system of triage. In his memoirs he recounts how he came to it. When he took charge of the main hospital in the Assembly of Nobles, the situation was chaotic. After a heavy bombardment, the wounded were brought in without any order, those who were dying mixed with those who needed urgent treatment and those with light wounds. At first, Pirogov dealt with the most seriously wounded as they came in, telling the nurses to transport them to the operating table directly; but even as he concentrated on one case, more and more seriously wounded men would arrive; he could not keep up. Too many people were dying needlessly before they could be treated, while he was operating on those patients too seriously wounded to be saved. ‘I came to see that this was senseless and decided to be more decisive and rational,’ he recalled. ‘Simple organization at the dressing station was far more important than medical activity in saving lives.’ His solution was a simple form of triage which he first put into practice during the bombardment of Sevastopol on 20 January. Brought into the Great Hall of the Assembly, the wounded were first sorted into groups to determine the order and priority of emergency treatment. There were three main groups: the seriously wounded who needed help and could be saved were operated on in a separate room as soon as possible; the lightly wounded were given a number and told to wait in the nearby barracks until the surgeons could treat them; and those who could not be saved were taken to a resting home, where they were cared for by medical attendants, nurses and priests until they died.

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French vs. British Military, 1854

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 3181-3217:

The French army was superior to the British in many ways. Its schools for officers had produced a whole new class of military professionals, who were technically more advanced, tactically superior and socially far closer to their men than the aristocratic officers of the British army. Armed with the advanced Minié rifle, which could fire rapidly with lethal accuracy up to 1,600 metres, the French infantry was celebrated for its attacking élan. The Zouaves, in particular, were masters of the fast attack and tactical retreat, a type of fighting they had developed in Algeria, and their courage was an inspiration to the rest of the French infantry, who invariably followed them into battle. The Zouaves were seasoned campaigners, experienced in fighting in the most difficult and mountainous terrain, and united by strong bonds of comradeship, formed through years of fighting together in Algeria (and in many cases on the revolutionary barricades of Paris in 1848). Paul de Molènes, an officer in one of the Spahi cavalry regiments recruited by Saint-Arnaud in Algeria, thought the Zouaves exerted a ‘special power of seduction’ over the young men of Paris, who flocked to join their ranks in 1854. ‘The Zouaves’ poetic uniforms, their free and daring appearance, their legendary fame – all this gave them an image of popular chivalry unseen since the days of Napoleon.’

The experience of fighting in Algeria was a decisive advantage for the French over the British army, which had not fought in a major battle since Waterloo, and in many ways remained half a century behind the times. At one point a third of the French army’s 350,000 men had been deployed in Algeria. From that experience, the French had learned the crucial importance of the small collective unit for maintaining discipline and order on the battlefield – a commonplace of twentieth-century military theorists that was first advanced by Ardant du Picq, a graduate of the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr, the élite army school at Fontainebleau near Paris, who served as a captain in the Varna expedition and developed his ideas from observations of the French soldiers during the Crimean War. The French had also learned how to supply an army on the march efficiently – an area of expertise where their superiority over the British became apparent from the moment the two armies landed at Gallipoli. For two and a half days, the British troops were not allowed to disembark, ‘because nothing was ready for them’, reported William Russell of The Times, the pioneering correspondent who had joined the expedition to the East, whereas the French were admirably prepared with a huge flotilla of supply ships: ‘Hospitals for the sick, bread and biscuit bakeries, wagon trains for carrying stores and baggage – every necessary and every comfort, indeed, at hand, the moment their ship came in. On our side not a British pendant was afloat in the harbour! Our great naval state was represented by a single steamer belonging to a private company.’

The outbreak of the Crimean War had caught the British army by surprise. The military budget had been in decline for many years, and it was only in the early weeks of 1852, following Napoleon’s coup d’état and the eruption of the French war scare in Britain, that the Russell government was able to obtain parliamentary approval for a modest increase in expenditure. Of the 153,000 enlisted men, two-thirds were serving overseas in various distant quarters of the Empire in the spring of 1854, so troops for the Black Sea expedition had to be recruited in a rush. Without the conscription system of the French, the British army relied entirely on the recruitment of volunteers with the inducement of a bounty. During the 1840s the pool of able-bodied men had been severely drained by great industrial building projects and by emigration to the United States and Canada, leaving the army to draw upon the unemployed and poorest sections of society, like the victims of the Irish famine, who took the bounty in a desperate attempt to clear their debts and save their families from the poorhouse. The main recruiting grounds for the British army were pubs and fairs and races, where the poor got drunk and fell into debt.

If the British trooper came from the poorest classes of society, the officer corps was drawn mostly from the aristocracy – a condition almost guaranteed by the purchasing of commissions. The senior command was dominated by old gentlemen with good connections to the court but little military experience or expertise; it was a world apart from the professionalism of the French army. Lord Raglan was 65; Sir John Burgoyne, the army’s chief engineer, 72. Five of the senior commanders at Raglan’s headquarters were relatives. The youngest, the Duke of Cambridge, was a cousin to the Queen. This was an army, rather like the Russian, whose military thinking and culture remained rooted in the eighteenth century.

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Russian Grievances vs. Europe, 1853

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2418-2459:

The Tsar’s notes in the margins of a memorandum by Pogodin reveal much about his thinking in December 1853, when he came closest to embracing the pan-Slav cause. Pogodin had been asked by Nicholas to give his thoughts on Russia’s policy towards the Slavs in the war against Turkey. His answer was a detailed survey of Russia’s relations with the European powers which was filled with grievances against the West. The memorandum clearly struck a chord with Nicholas, who shared Pogodin’s sense that Russia’s role as the protector of the Orthodox had not been recognized or understood and that Russia was unfairly treated by the West. Nicholas especially approved of the following passage, in which Pogodin railed against the double standards of the Western powers, which allowed them to conquer foreign lands but forbade Russia to do the same:

France takes Algeria from Turkey, and almost every year England annexes another Indian principality: none of this disturbs the balance of power; but when Russia occupies Moldavia and Wallachia, albeit only temporarily, that disturbs the balance of power. France occupies Rome and stays there several years in peacetime: that is nothing; but Russia only thinks of occupying Constantinople, and the peace of Europe is threatened. The English declare war on the Chinese, who have, it seems, offended them: no one has a right to intervene; but Russia is obliged to ask Europe for permission if it quarrels with its neighbour. England threatens Greece to support the false claims of a miserable Jew and burns its fleet: that is a lawful action; but Russia demands a treaty to protect millions of Christians, and that is deemed to strengthen its position in the East at the expense of the balance of power. We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice, which does not understand and does not want to understand (comment in the margin by Nicholas I: ‘This is the whole point’).

Having stirred the Tsar’s own grievances against the West, Pogodin encouraged him to act alone, according to his conscience before God, to defend the Orthodox and promote Russia’s interests in the Balkans. Nicholas expressed his approval:

Who are our allies in Europe (comment by Nicholas: ‘No one, and we don’t need them, if we put our trust in God, unconditionally and willingly’). Our only true allies in Europe are the Slavs, our brothers in blood, language, history and faith, and there are ten million of them in Turkey and millions in Austria … The Turkish Slavs could provide us with over 200,000 troops – and what troops! And that is not counting the Croatians, Dalmatians and Slovenians, etc. (comment by Nicholas: ‘An exaggeration: reduce to one-tenth and it is true’) …

By declaring war on us, the Turks have destroyed all the old treaties defining our relations, so we can now demand the liberation of the Slavs, and bring this about by war, as they themselves have chosen war (comment by Nicholas: ‘That is right’).

If we do not liberate the Slavs and bring them under our protection, then our enemies, the English and the French … will do so instead. In Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, they are active everywhere among the Slavs, with their Western parties, and if they succeed, where will we be then? (comment by Nicholas: ‘Absolutely right’).

Yes! If we fail to use this favourable opportunity, if we sacrifice the Slavs and betray their hopes, or leave their fate to be decided by other powers, then we will have ranged against us not one lunatic Poland but ten of them (which our enemies desire and are working to arrange) … (comment by Nicholas: ‘That is right’).

With the Slavs as enemies, Russia would become a ‘second-rate power’, argued Pogodin, whose final sentences were three times underlined by Nicholas:

The greatest moment in Russia’s history has arrived – greater perhaps even than the days of Poltava and Borodino. If Russia does not advance it will fall back – that is the law of history. But can Russia really fall? Would God allow that? No! He is guiding the great Russian soul, and we see that in the glorious pages we have dedicated to Him in the History of our Fatherland. Surely He would not allow it to be said: Peter founded the dominion of Russia in the East, Catherine consolidated it, Alexander expanded it, and Nicholas betrayed it to the Latins.

No, that cannot be, and will not be. With God on our side, we cannot go back.

To get him to embrace his pan-Slav ideology Pogodin had cleverly appealed to the Tsar’s belief in his divine mission to defend the Orthodox as well as to his growing alienation from the West. In his November memorandum to his ministers, Nicholas had declared that Russia had no option but to turn towards the Slavs, because the Western powers, and Britain in particular, had sided with the Turks against Russia’s ‘holy cause’.

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