28 October 2007

Postcard from Spain

After missing my flight and gaining an extra day in beautiful northwestern Spain, I came home to London and did a little digging about a statue I spotted all too briefly in Gijón. We were visiting a friend, who took us to eat at one of those little places that locals know but never get in guidebooks. It turned out the statue was of Pelagius, or Pelayo, the first king of Asturias.

I've tried to find out some more about him, because subsequently we saw at Oviedo cathedral the cross he is supposed to have carried in the battle of Covadonga against the Moors in 722, generally regarded as the first contest of the Reconquista, the crusade that lasted 750 years and which ultimately resulted in the expulsion of Moslems from Spain. That's ten years before Charles Martel defeated the Arab invader at Tours and allegedly saved Western Europe from an Islamic conquest.

There's not much about Covadonga in English on the Web, but I did a quick search in Spanish found one article that gives some details of the battle. I'll give a summary of the content in English, for those whose Spanish doesn't go as far as mine.

The date of the battle is 28 may 722. Wilder estimates of the Moslem force amount to 187,000, but this is clearly an exaggeration. Pelagius, a descendant of the Visigoths who settled in Spain during the collapse of the Roman Empire, led some 300 men, two-thirds of which he set up in a blocking position through a narrow pass, and the remainder he hid in a cave. The blocking force stopped the progress of the Moslem force by shooting arrows and hurling rocks. The disordered Moslem column then was struck by his ambush emerging from their hiding place in the cave. In the fighting, the Moslem commander al-Kama was killed, and the panicking Moslem troops turned and ran. The major consequence of the victory was that Pelagius was able to establish a focus for subsequent Christian resistance to the complete conquest of the peninsula.

19 October 2007

Carnival VII

I missed the posting of the latest Military History Carnival, at Airminded. I've looked at some of the posts, but I've nothing to add to what you can find by going to Brett Holman's blog.

I'm off to Spain for a few days, so I'll definitely be silent until next Thursday.

08 October 2007

Monday Morning Roundup

Two links that caught my eye during the past couple of weeks, today from what one might characterize as The Fringe of writing about war:

-- The sometimes worrying preoccupation with what one might call the 'sensationalist' side of the occult long predates The X-Files. In this case, it's not the first time that I've seen a reference to the use of paranormal methods during the Cold War. I'm fairly sure I saw a television programme about such things during either the late 1970s or the early 1980s. What I wonder about is how one would convince the bean counters to authorize the expenditure?

-- I rather the like the honesty about the poor English that heads this blog entry about the truth of the Rape of Nanking. This entry is an interesting example of how to ignore inconvenient evidence in order to make a propaganda attack. I include it more as a warning about how to read media commentary on conflict, rather than to lend any support to the author's attempt to discredit the fact of the event.I also include it to note the passing of the 70th anniversary, which I don't remember there being any significant coverage about in the English-language press. (I only had room for a sentence about it in my book, Chronicle of War.)

05 October 2007

Reviewing the Syrian Bombing 4: Speculation and breakthrough

With everybody quiet about what had happened in northern Syria, apart from the dropping of "fuel tanks", journalist-analysts were able to get into gear and engage in speculation. A Syrian writer produced an interesting article giving a wider background to Syrian-Israeli friction, and offered three scenarios, none of which has proven to be correct. (Avid readers of such columns should take heed.) More interestingly, he suggested that
There has been much speculation about an outbreak of hostilities between Damascus and Israel since June. Both countries had been mobilizing troops, raising the prospects of war, until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out one week before the military operation saying his country was going to withdraw its troops from the Golan border.

Now that was news. I don't always follow what's going on in the Middle East as closely as one might, but I wasn't aware of any mobilization going on.

However, on 12 September, one was to receive the first indication of what now appears to have happened. The story was attributed to anonymous Israeli sources. Interestingly, however, while the Israelis refer to a missile base, the source of the rumour that nuclear materials were involved, according to the article I have linked, was American - The New York Times.

04 October 2007

Wandering up the Mohawk Trail

Baseball playoffs, and my elder daughter's school experience, have been absorbing my spare time at the moment, but I have had a chance to look at this excellent blog entry about the western New York frontier during the American Revolution that appeared as part of the Military Carnival. The quote from Sherman appears the product of a mind of a man who has a prophet's sense of faith in the rightness of his mission. Yet this little extract from it:
General Sullivan obeyed his orders like a man and like a soldier

may hint to us something of the mental crisis that Sherman himself experienced in the autumn of 1861,when he became convinced of a large Rebel army concentrating against his own forces along the Ohio river. It was a personal setback from which only the existence of Sherman's friends and relations in high places enabled him to elude longer-lasting consequences.