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Dan Lyndon

Trafalgar plus 200

Are you planning to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar?  

8 members have voted

  1. 1. Are you planning to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar?

    • Yes
      1
    • No
      5
    • What's Trafalgar?
      1


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I was wondering if anyone has any plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in October 2005?

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Why? I am a Spaniard :hotorwot

Is there any point in commerating these old, old battles?

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Is there any point in commerating these old, old battles?

As and Englishman I share your views. Once again schools are being encouraged to boost the egos of young people about its successful past. There are far more important subjects to study than old military victories.

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Apologies Carlos, and to our fellow Europeans, the reason why I posted the poll is because I have been asked to go onto BBC Radio 5 (10pm Tuesday) about this topic, so I wanted to find out people's opinions to bring onto the programme.

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Is there any point in commerating these old, old battles?

As and Englishman I share your views. Once again schools are being encouraged to boost the egos of young people about its successful past. There are far more important subjects to study than old military victories.

Hi Dan

With due respect to John Simkin and Juan Carlos, as a military historian, I really do think there is utility in commemorating what happened in old battles beyond the inevitable breast beating. As a British-born historian now living in the United States, and a historian of the War of 1812, I believe study of the past can help us avoid the mistakes of the present and future. In the era the I most study, it is the regrettable lack of preparation of the Americans to defend Washington, D.C., from British attack and burning in 1814, not to mention the lack of preparedness of the Madison administration in declaring war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. On another thread in this forum, it is the failure of the federal government to properly protect the then President, John F. Kennedy, in 1963. To repeat the old adage, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past if we don't guard against them.

Dan, in terms of Nelson, I think the lesson is the benefit of having a far-seeing and capable military commander. This seems a simplistic notion but how many troops have gone into battle with mediocre and less-than-prepared commanders (the U.S. at the beginning of the War of 1812, or the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, provide two cases in point). Last October, I gave a talk to the St. George's Society of Baltimore at their "Trafalgar Tea" and I spoke about what Nelson means to me, as an Englishman, and cited the Nelson Monument, on Exchange Flags in Liverpool (by the Town Hall), completed in 1823, as a powerful display of how Englishmen felt about Nelson, with naked men in irons around a round plinth, symbollizing the tyranny of Napoleon, and reminding Britons of the day of how Nelson had helped free Europe from the grip of Napoleonic hegemony. See below.

All the best

Chris

nelson_monument.jpg

See "Nelson's Monument at Liverpool" from the Mirror of Literature Issue 338, 1828

Best regards

Chris George

Edited by Christopher T. George

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Is there any point in commerating these old, old battles?

As and Englishman I share your views. Once again schools are being encouraged to boost the egos of young people about its successful past. There are far more important subjects to study than old military victories.

Hi Dan

With due respect to John Simkin and Juan Carlos, as a military historian, I really do think there is utility in commemorating what happened in old battles beyond the inevitable breast beating.

I have nothing against studying this event in order to learn about the past. My objection is to the way it is done. I think it is totally inappropriate to celebrate this event. The historian, Adam Nicolson, has written a very good article to today’s Guardian about this. It includes the following:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1516009,00.html

The reality of what the party today will be celebrating is as follows. A fleet of 27 British ships of the line, hardened by years of blockade duty and an epic chase across the Atlantic and back, battened on to a combined French and Spanish fleet whose commanders were without conviction, whose ships were poorly equipped and desperately thinly manned - one Spanish sailor captured after the battle was still dressed in the clown's outfit he'd been wearing when the press gang had picked him up from the theatre in Cadiz.

Everyone on all sides knew the result before the battle began: the British, described in the Spanish press as "los usurpadores de la libertad de los mares" (usurpers of the freedom of the seas), would destroy their enemies. Which is what they did: the figure you will not read in the Daily Mail graphics is the proportion of French and Spanish to British dead. In the battle and in the days afterwards some 650 British sailors and marines died. Over the same period, Nelson's fleet killed 6,500 of their enemies. That Everest of slaughter was no chance effect. Nor was the killing of sailors collateral damage in Nelsonian war. It was the only route to victory. The ships themselves were virtually unsinkable. You won by making the enemy bleed to death. British guns were double- and treble-shotted to slow down the cannonballs, allowing them to ricochet among the crews they were aimed at. Trafalgar was victory by exsanguination.

All ships carried on board the materials with which to efface the gore after the battle was over. In log after log, and in the pursers' accounts, you read of the quantities of whitewash and brushes used to repaint the ships, particularly the spaces between decks where the wounded were carried and the dying died. There was no washing away the blood. It had to be painted over. British officers taking over the captured ships were clearly appalled at the human damage. A British midshipman went on board the Santisima Trinidad: "She had between 300 and 400 killed and wounded, her Beams were covered with Blood, Brains, and pieces of Flesh and the afterpart of her Decks with wounded, some without Legs and some without an Arm; what calamities War brings on."

The real question, then, is: why has this dimension of Trafalgar - which is after all its central quality - been forgotten? What is it about naval warfare of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that makes it more suitable to the mythologising and sanitising tea-partification which lies behind the hoopla down at Portsmouth today? It is no coincidence that all the most popular sequences of historical fiction - the Hornblowers, the Jack Aubreys and the Bolithos - are set in this world. But why is this historical moment the one which is most easily processed and reconstituted as consumable, non-disturbing and even consoling history?

Certainly because we were winning. During the wars at sea with revolutionary and Napoleonic France as a whole, lasting from 1793 to 1815, we killed six times more of them than they killed of us. It is in that sense an anti-tragedy, a happy story with a happy ending.

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Hi John

What you are stating of course are the realities of war in the Napoleonic era and you make a number of good points. War is a slaughterhouse and it certainly was then with the weapons in use and the primitive state of medicine to cope with the horrendous wounds caused by cannonfire and musketry. Your points about Nelson's superiority in terms of firepower and trained men against an inferior enemy is also well taken. On the other hand I do think that if you believe what you are stating is not reflected in the Trafalgar celebrations, it is up to historians such as yourself to speak up and state the correct reality. I very much do believe that historians have a duty to rectify the myths of history and to teach the truth and so educate the public about the subject to hand.

Best regards

Chris George

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Thanks for the replies, I shall certainly bear them in mind when I am on the radio. I did read the Guardian this morning and think that the writer made a valid point about the re-enactment element of the commemoration. However I am in two minds as to the value of the commemoration as a whole. I don't see any harm in the use of Trafalgar / Nelson for a discussion of 'interpretation' and I have found some interesting titbits that I didn't know before a quick bit of research, for example the presence of black and women sailors on Nelson's fleet. My greatest concern is of course some kind of right wing ideological push back towards the 'dead white men' school of history.

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Dan, no need of apologies.

The novel "Cabo de Trafalgar" by Antonio Pérez Reverte has been recently published in Spain. This writer is quite celebrated in Spain and it is widely acknowledged that he is quite accurate using historical data. Last month I watched him on the TV and it shocked me how he accused "those sons of a bitch that take poor young people to the slaughterhouse".

Trafalgar is a good example of a battle that everybody knew who was going to win. The case of the Spanish sailor captured after the battle and still dressed in the clown's outfit shows the real situation in Cádiz in 1805.

I understand that Cristopher, as a military historian, can extract a lot of interesting lessons in Trafalgar, but, from my point of view, the best commemoration we can do as history teachers is to remember that most often war has no glory, that La Somme, Trafalgar, Gettysburg... were basically nothing but carnages.

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