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January 03, 2014

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JamesP

I have a third-hand story of Kim I raping a male attendant at Diaoyutai in the 1970s ...

Dan Hardie

An interesting face in a couple of the photos in that article:

'The uniformed Korean standing next to Kim is the Soviet Major Mikhail Khan, the highest-ranking ethnic Korean of the Soviet Army, briefly considered as a candidate by the Soviets to lead Communist Korea.'

I'd never heard of Khan, and I wonder what happened to him after that 'brief consideration' ended? Can't find him with a quick google, but I'm presuming he was offed by either the Soviets or the North Koreans at some point after 1945.

ajay

Yes, I was wondering about him too. Khan isn't a particularly Korean name.

ajay

Ah, wait, thinking about it, his name was probably Han originally, Cyrillicised to XAH. [googles]

Under that name (apparently aka Han Pin, aka Han Bin) he turns up as the ideologist of a group of ethnic Korean anarcho-syndicalists in the 20s who got kicked out of the CYL for factionalism and went to try to raise revolution in Korea. Some of them got killed by the Japanese; Mikhail Han and others survived the war and "occupied important posts in the DPRK - where they later became victims of Kim Il Sung's purges". He's also on wiki as a member of the CPK's pro-China "Yan'an faction".

MSG

Rather like my gran who survived the Chinese civil war and got purged in the Cultural Revolution.

The Nationalist side of the family went off to Silicon Valley and made a mint. Bastards.

ajay

Hedging their bets well, I see.

MSG

Not as well as the the prospective Tory candidate whom I was amused to hear proclaim, in response to a question on Scottish independence, that his family had fought on both sides at the Battle of Culloden and thus he's well-placed to speak on pragmatism.

ajay

So did mine! Or, at least, I had ancestors who were on each side. (If I were a MacLeod, I could have ancestors who were on both sides simultaneously, but that's the MacLeods for you.) In fact, it's probably pretty common for people with any sort of Highland connection to be able to trace their ancestry back to both sides of the '45.

chris y

A thing I read suggested that every time there was a bit of Jacobite agitation, from Killiecrankie to Culloden, leading pro-London families told off one of their younger sons to get himself involved with the insurgency, just in case, while leading Jacobite families sent a younger son to join the redcoats. I'm sure it's an over-simplification, but it sounds like classic c.18 thinking.

ajay

Families were definitely split in civil wars, but I'd want to see some evidence that this was a deliberate policy rather than just disagreement over policy.

MSG

I always thought the Jacobite wars produced a better class of aristocracy (or at least, one more adapted to rule), because the winners from it were so much obviously better at the dark arts of political survival.

There are still a ton families from the time of the two Charleses who seem to be constantly popping up in politics and money-making and so on where you least expect it.

MSG

Sorry, that was probably confusing. Never mind,

Dan Hardie

'Sorry, that was probably confusing.'

Not at all, MSG- very much the kind of thing that one says in a B&T comment thread and expects to be instantly understood. And now you come to mention it, I think your theory might well have something to it. My favourite example would be the house of Cecil, which seems to have kept a pretty good hold on the ruthlessness gene ever since Good Queen Bess.

Igor Belanov

Am I right in thinking that there were some families in the Wars of the Roses that split sides in order to make sure that at least one branch survived intact? The Stanleys seem to ring a bell.

dsquared

There are still a ton families from the time of the two Charleses who seem to be constantly popping up in politics and money-making and so on where you least expect it.

Was startled to discover in Iain Martin's book about RBS that Johnny Cameron, the head of investment banking disasters (retail banking disasters, Irish banking disasters and corporate funding and acquisition disasters had their own departments), was the younger brother of The Cameron of Lochwherever. In this case, "will ye no come back again" turned into "ye will definitely no come back again, no as a director or employee of a financial services company the noo".

chris y

The Camerons may not be doing so well in the financial sector, but they seem to be going great guns in politics.

As far as I remember I came across the idea that some families deliberately split their allegiance during the Jacobite wars in a book called Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 by a guy called Bruce Lenman. Lenman is billed on the cover as Prof Emeritus of Modern History at St Andrews, so even if he's completely wrong there's probably something that gave him the idea. Alternatively I may have misunderstood what he was saying.

Richard J

Was startled to discover in Iain Martin's book about RBS that Johnny Cameron

What's interesting about that book to me is it brings out how clearly Scottish RBS was - the myth that some Scottish Nationalists are pushing that it was a London-caused and led problem doesn't really hold water.

Phil

Also, the dominant reaction in the Batley area when HBoS went pear-shaped seems to have been "they did *what*? *how* much?". Those canny, penny-pinching Scots... (Mind you, the hard-bitten, no-nonsense Mancs of Balloon St didn't give us a lot to shout about.)

ajay

I am getting a bit annoyed (and have been since about, ooh, 1997) with the whole "canny penny-pinching Scots" thing. If you said "Goldman Sachs has come through the crisis in much better shape than the other major US banks, but then you know the Jews have always been very clever with money" you'd get your head in your hands to play with and rightly so.

Igor Belanov

Quite right ajay. Glasgow Rangers for example.

Dan Hardie

Is Iain Martin a good person to read on Scottish politics? He seems sensible-although-Tory to me, as does Alex Massie. But then they are Unionists and so I'm likely to agree with them.

There really isn't too much coverage of Scotland in the London media (for some reason quaintly called the 'British' media by some), although given the rampant loathing of Scots among some right-wing hacks, that may not be something to regret.

I am struck, though, by the recent silence on matters Caledonian of a lot of the nuttier columnists who in normal times would happily bash out a 'thieving Scots benefit claimants sponge off English taxpayers' piece two or three times a year. It wouldn't be too surprising if we learn in a few years that someone grown-up from the Tory party visited the likes of Richard Littlejohn and intimated, tactfully or otherwise, that the Union was rather more important than some journalist's desire for publicity. Also, Nigel Farage seems to have lost his rail ticket to Edinburgh: again, a relief for the likes of me, though I have no doubt that Alex Salmond is praying for another visit from Nige.

MSG

Just looked up "will ye no come back again" on YouTube. God, the tune is...catchy

Phil

ajay - obviously (perhaps not obviously enough) I think it's bollocks. What is interesting is that this ancient stereotype, which probably never had any grounding in fact to start with, still seems to persist at the back of (some of) our (English) minds - obviously not to the extent that we would actually expect a Scot to be tight, but simply to the extent that it comes as a slight surprise to come across a Scot letting it run through his hands like he was Jérôme Kerviel. Which - my point was - it shouldn't.

dsquared

In the specific case of RBS, the stereotype was kept at the front of our minds, mainly by George Mathewson and Fred Goodwin never during up banging on about it. I actually quietly raised this issue with one of their investor relations people in about 2003, whether it wasn't all a bit cheesy and that US investors tended to find it irritating rather than cute, and I got told to pod off, in more or less so many words. Mathewson in particular (as Martin correctly reports) was borderline pathological about the manifest destiny of the Scottish race and their unique cultural adaptation to commercial banking (which to be fair, they did more or less invent in its modern form). Things were not helped by the fact we had another canny son of the manse and new lad the noo, as Chancellor, and he too liked to do the Adam Smith must-be-something-in-the-porridge bit too.

Meanwhile, the Irish bankers were all slapping us on the back and shouting "haharr! Begorrah! I'm just a chancer and a rogue me, sure I don't know what I'm doing". How we laughed.

dsquared

Never *letting* up and he told me to *piss* off, obviously. This android device is not working so well

RK

At the official opening of the new RBS corporate HQ at Gogarburn the Queen said that: ‘this building is a fine tribute to the many generations of 'canny' Scottish bankers, who have made - and are still making - such a valuable contribution to the national economy’ Official website of the British Monarchy 2005).

ajay

ajay - obviously (perhaps not obviously enough) I think it's bollocks.

Oh, that came across fine - earlier comment not aimed at you specifically, just general irritation.

Quite right ajay. Glasgow Rangers for example.

Also Darien, John Law, etc. Scotland has a magnificent heritage of lunatic financial incompetence and I refuse to have it ignored!

ajay

I am struck, though, by the recent silence on matters Caledonian of a lot of the nuttier columnists who in normal times would happily bash out a 'thieving Scots benefit claimants sponge off English taxpayers' piece two or three times a year. It wouldn't be too surprising if we learn in a few years that someone grown-up from the Tory party visited the likes of Richard Littlejohn and intimated, tactfully or otherwise, that the Union was rather more important than some journalist's desire for publicity.

Interesting. This change had completely passed me by due to my just avoiding those columnists wholesale, but if true that explanation sounds plausible...

seeds

if true that explanation sounds plausible...

Except for the 'someone grown-up from the Tory party' bit?

How pro-Union are the Tories?

Malcs

On Scots, penny-pinching and the reputation for meanness I'm afraid I have a depressing (to Ajay, probably) anecdote. As an Anglo-Scottish child wandering through the centre of Cambridge in a replica 1986 Scotland World Cup shirt some ... Christ, 26, 27 years ago, I was hailed by a Scottish taxi driver who asked where I was from. I told him I was born in Aberdeen. "Ah", he said, "they peel their oranges in their pockets up there".

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman once wrote a line about the Scots, locked in battle against their ancient arch-enemy, the Scots. Mm-hmm.

Richard J

Which I think was paraphrasing a comment in John Preeble's The Lion in the North. Which I haven't read for years, TBH.

Phil

I rather like "pod off".

Meanwhile, the Irish bankers were all slapping us on the back and shouting "haharr! Begorrah! I'm just a chancer and a rogue me, sure I don't know what I'm doing". How we laughed.

I've got the title for Dominic Sandbrook's 2023 history of the Noughties: Hiding in Plain Sight. Savile, Goodwin, Cameron... it's all there.

(He's only 39 now, so it can't be ruled out.)

(Remind me again, where does somebody who actually literally wasn't born at the time get off telling me what the 1970s were like?)

Richard J

(Remind me again, where does somebody who actually literally wasn't born at the time get off telling me what the 1970s were like?)

"THE history of the Victorian Age will never be written; we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art. Concerning the Age which has just passed, our fathers and our grandfathers have poured forth and accumulated so vast a quantity of information that the industry of a Ranke would be submerged by it, and the perspicacity of a Gibbon would quail before it. It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch."

ajay

"Ah", he said, "they peel their oranges in their pockets up there".

Oh, well, Aberdeen, yes. Exactly right.

I've got the title for Dominic Sandbrook's 2023 history of the Noughties: Hiding in Plain Sight. Savile, Goodwin, Cameron... it's all there.

Good one. "They can't really be as criminal as they look, can they?" could be the motto of the decade.

My brother has been getting the new David Kynaston social history of Britain volume for Christmas every time a new one comes out, and he was unnerved to realise this year that Kynaston is taking longer and longer to write each volume, and each one covers less and less than the volume before, putting him in a kind of Zeno's paradox situation the conclusion of which will be Kynaston spending 20 years to write "Revolver Britain: 4-6 August 1966".

ajay

I rather like "pod off".

I assumed it was a Father Ted reference.

Dan Hardie

'How pro-Union are the Tories?'

Given that David Cameron has buggered off and allowed the pro-Union campaign to be run by Alistair Darling, with strong support from Gordon Brown and the Scottish Lib Dems, which was the very best thing an English Tory could have done, I'd say that the leadership is genuinely pro-Union. I think Wee Eck was absolutely gagging to be the Scotsman having a televised debate on the Union with a red-faced Old Etonian, and now that prospect has been snatched from him, he seems to be a little lost.

On political and social histories of the post-45 UK,I recently bought two secondhand books. Peter Hennessey's 'Having it so good' is full of good stuff from the archives, and I suspect will make some good arguments at some point but I cannot believe how verbose the man is: he cannot make the smallest point in fewer than two pages, all of them stuffed full of whimsical digressions, repetition, unselective quotation and attempts at humour. I think by the end I'll have learned a fair bit, but Hennessey really needed an editor.

I also picked up a title I'd first heard of in Hennessey's earlier 'Never Again'- called 'The age of austerity', edited by Philip French (who has just retired, aged 80, from being the Observer's film critic) and Michael Sissons, who became one of the leading post-'45 literary agents. It was published in 1963 and consists of essays on aspects of the Labour government by 15 promising young writers: some of whom later became well-known (Michael Frayn, Brian Glanville, Peter Jenkins, Anthony Howard) and some of whom didn't.

There's a lot of fascinating insights on '45-51, of course, but it also sheds a lot of light on how intelligent people were thinking at the beginning of the sixties. The editors note that every single essay's first draft had some reference to how the Labour government lost a huge amount of popularity and promise very early on, in the horrendous winter of 1946-47.

I've only read two essays so far but it's striking to see how much the writers talk about the gap that they felt existed between 1945-51 and 1963. Also, it's noticeable that even Anthony Howard, very much a Labour man, is pretty scathing about the political failures of the Attlee government, and Susan Cooper (whose books I read when I was child, and who contributes a very barbed account of food rationing) is even more scathing. In the same bookshop where I picked up that book, there was a good-looking history of the '70s written from a leftish perspective. I regret I didn't pick it up, because when I went back it was gone.

Sandbrook, surely, is not objectionable because he is writing the history of an era he wasn't alive in, or lived in only as a child: that would make almost every historian that ever wrote contemptible. He's objectionable because he's a shallow Thatcherite hack.

Malcs

Ajay, I pretty much knew that was coming... but I sent your comment about Kynaston and Zeno to a historian friend who replied with this marvellous sequence of titles by John Lukacs:

The Last European War: September 1939–December 1941 (1976)
The Duel: 10 May–31 July 1940: the Eighty-Day Struggle between Churchill and Hitler (1991)
Five Days in London, May 1940 (1999)

Phil

Dan - well, that too (in fact, that mostly). But I think there is something peculiarly presumptuous about using that smug "but in fact" tone* to write about events which are in living memory, but not in yours.

*"Arthur Scargill thought his members would bring about a red revolution, but in fact they just wanted a bigger slice of Thatcher's cake" - that kind of thing. Puncturing yesterday's received wisdom and replacing it with today's.

ajay

Malcs: proving conclusively that attention span actually gets shorter, not longer, with age.

Dan Hardie

Phil: 'But I think there is something peculiarly presumptuous about using that smug "but in fact" tone* to write about events which are in living memory, but not in yours.'

Having avoided Sandbrook's books, so far, but having alas read some of his journalism, I quite agree. Ugh.

Anyone got any idea why he is quite so popular? Is it because he was (pretty much) the first mover in producing, in rapid succession, histories of the '50s, '60s and '70s?

I think the book I saw on the '70s was Alwyn Turner's 'Crisis? What crisis?' I don't know if it is worth a look, but I will try to get round to it.

One book I did get was Ginsborg's 'Italy and its discontents: 1980-2001.' As I've said before, it's striking how much better Ginsborg's books are than any other post-1945 histories of European countries, including the UK.

seeds

Given that David Cameron has buggered off and allowed the pro-Union campaign to be run by Alistair Darling, with strong support from Gordon Brown and the Scottish Lib Dems, which was the very best thing an English Tory could have done, I'd say that the leadership is genuinely pro-Union. I think Wee Eck was absolutely gagging to be the Scotsman having a televised debate on the Union with a red-faced Old Etonian, and now that prospect has been snatched from him, he seems to be a little lost.

Cheers, Dan - I don't keep up with UK politics as much as I should, and the last I heard was dark muttering about how much the Tories would love a permanent majority in a Scotlandless England.

ajay

the last I heard was dark muttering about how much the Tories would love a permanent majority in a Scotlandless England.

Sorry if I've made this point before, but that wouldn't actually happen. Scotland's votes don't normally make much difference to who ends up in power. In all but two elections (IIRC) since the war, England has got the government that England voted for. If the Tories want a permanent majority, they're not just going to have to let Scotland go; they're going to have to cede us everything north of the Trent as well.

Stephen

"Mathewson in particular (as Martin correctly reports) was borderline pathological about the manifest destiny of the Scottish race and their unique cultural adaptation to commercial banking"

A status he has taken to its logical conclusion by joining the advisory board of the official YES campaign... on which he sits with one Colin Fox, former full timer for Militant and leader of what remains of the Scottish Socialist Party. Nationalism does make for strange bedfellows.

belle le triste

I have a friend (trained as a historian) who thought the Sandbrook book on the 60s was actually pretty good: that it did actually make its argument that the 60s were shaped more by conservatism and conformity than cultural revolution. He was looking forward to the 70s one, and was hugely disappointed and irritated by its sloppiness and shallow contrarianism. This may partly be a function of my friend's age -- he's in his early forties, so the 60s are vanished legend to him -- but also (in his analysis) the 70s book was written much too quickly, entirely pandering to the audience Sandbrook's newspaper columns have brought him.

Dan Hardie

I think I shall read some of Sandbrook quite soon. In the meantime, here is a quite ferocious review of one of his books on US history, by a conservative reviewer, accusing him in great detail of really extensive plagiarism. How has his reputation withstood this? It's pretty much a demolition.

Phil

I see students do things like that; sometimes they're genuinely surprised when I pull them up on it ("I thought it was OK as long as you named the source"). But Sandbrook was at Cambridge in the early 90s - pre-Internet, effectively - so I can't believe he picked up the habit as a student.

How has his reputation survived? At a guess, (a) it's a book on the US, so who cares (b) it's a US reviewer, ditto and (perhaps most importantly) (c) Reason magazine - my dear! It might even be seen as Sandbrook being attacked from the Right (as well as the Left), which would make him more or less bulletproof at the BBC.

I'll be interested to hear if his earlier stuff's any good, though.

Richard J

Balliol, darling. The other place.

His website picture is amusingly cropped to disguise the fact he's had an extraordinarily high hairline since his teenage years.

(Disclosure: he was a finalist when I was a fresher there.)

Phil

I thought Cambridge because I'd seen him featured in my (Cambridge) college magazine as an alumnus. Turns out he did his doctorate there.

Jakob

I'm sympathetic to the odd instance of that kind of thing; when you're reading huge amounts of secondary literature, it's easy for two well-formed phrases to stick in your memory that you can genuinely believe you've come up with the resulting amalgam on your own, but a pattern of that kind of thing is rather less forgiveable.

I've not read any of his books, or seen any of his TV (though the Volkswagen programme looked interesting), but his BBC online what-if piece about how the Falklands War would have gone under a Labour government (or possibly even the 80s as a whole) was the kind of partisan bullshit hackery that gives counterfactuals a bad name.

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