Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Room That Makes Men Mad

     Society's memory is short, I am sure, unless it is constantly refreshed. Etched in my personal memory, for instance, is the incredible suddenness with which the Soviet Union, with hardly a shot being fired, was swept into the dustbin of history. But that was a quarter of a century ago. I have to accept that an entire generation has grown up, finished their education, and started both a family and a career without ever being aware of such momentous events. So one would hardly expect them to remember those landmarks along the way which loomed so large to those of us who lived through them. Like the short-lived Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It was quickly put down by Soviet tanks, but not before hundreds of political prisoners were released. The most famous was Cardinal Mindszenty, who sought refuge in the United States' embassy until 1971. A much more minor character was Lajos Ruff, who managed to join 200,000 other refugees in the free West, where he described his experiences in a book first published in Paris in 1958, and then in English under the title, The Brain-Washing Machine. It is hard to believe I had it in my possession for 44 years before reading it.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Napoleon, His Girlfriend, and the Little Red Man

     Now that the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo is coming up, it might be time to ask: how much do we know about the real Napoleon? The French right now are ambivalent about him. The fact that he was a national hero who gave them a string of glorious victories does not hide the fact that he trampled underfoot what liberty they had and drove them into ultimately disastrous wars, which cost them at least a million dead, possibly two million - as well as an equal number from other nations. Yet a glamour surrounds him which eludes other despots and warmongers.
     I have already told the story of how he was forced to retreat from a horde of hungry rabbits. Now I am pleased to expose a serious of personal quirks which I found in Frank McLynn's excellent 1998 tome, Napoleon, a biography.