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A fresh, commanding, and thought-provoking narrative history of the competing Russian and American empires.The American road to empire started when the first English settlers landed in Virginia. Simultaneously, the first Russians crossed the Urals and the two empires that would dominate the twentieth century were born. Empires Apart covers the history of the Americans and Russians from the Vikings to the present day. It shows the two empires developed in parallel as they expanded to the Pacific and launched wars against the nations around them. They both developed an imperial 'ideology' that was central to the way they perceived themselves.Soon after, the ideology of the Russian Empire also changed with the advent of Communism. The key argument of this book is that these changes did not alter the core imperial values of either nation; both Russians and Americans continued to believe in their manifest destiny. Corporatist and Communist imperialism changed only the mechanics of empire. Both nations have shown that they are still willing to use military force and clandestine intrigue to enforce imperial control. Uniquely, Landers shows how the broad sweep of American history follows a consistent path from the first settlers to the present day and, by comparing this with Russia's imperial path, demonstrates the true nature of American global ambitions.
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.90(d)|
About the Author
Brian Landers recently retired as Finance Director of Penguin
Books in London.
Read an Excerpt
A History of American and Russian Imperialism
By Brian Landers
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2009 Brian Landers
All rights reserved.
History is portrayed as a science. Remains are located through geophysics, their age is determined by radio carbon dating and they are analysed through DNA testing. The results are served up on TV history channels dedicated to revealing the truth about the past. And yet popular history remains as much subject to emotion as to reason. Centuries-old battles are refought in the cities of Northern Ireland or the mountains of Kosovo. Lawyers make money trying to redress the evils of slavery or the Holocaust. Russians deny the crimes of Stalin, and Americans forget that they once owned an empire stretching from the Caribbean to the Philippines.
History may be consciously rewritten; much more often it simply evolves. Each generation reworks the tales handed down to it. The experiences and values of today colour the stories of yesterday. The history of all nations is modified, but the embellishments of Russian history are in a class of their own.
The Influence of Champagne
The English invented champagne in the seventeenth century. Each autumn barrels of sharp white wine were imported from north-eastern France, where the wine would normally have rested in the barrel until fermentation was complete. But in England it was bottled and stored away. In spring the wine warmed up and started to ferment again. Soon the corks started to pop. The world's most famous sparkling wine had arrived, not in the vineyards of rural France but in the vaults of urban London.
Champagne only exists because of a geographical quirk, the absence of vineyards in seventeenth-century England, yet champagne is quintessentially French. No French man or woman asked to identify the originator of champagne would suggest an Englishman. They might pick Dom Perignon, the late seventeenth-century cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers who perfected the blends that make champagne what it is today, or perhaps Madame Clicquot, the nineteenth-century businesswoman who introduced mass production to the champagne houses. History disregards the reality that what the English were doing with their wine initially horrified French purists. Dom Perignon spent many years searching in vain for ways of stopping his precious wine being polluted by bubbles. But it doesn't really matter whether the English played an important part in its history or whether the whole tale is an invention. Champagne is a French tradition; the English are not part of the story. The present is the consequence of the past, but the past is an invention of the present.
The trivial example of champagne is mirrored in the story of nations. For if nations are formed by their histories, as they surely are, it is equally true that history is written by nations.
The history of many nations starts in the fields where the champagne grapes now grow. In particular Russia and America owe their character to an event that took place there more than a millennium and a half ago, an event that is almost completely missing from their popular histories. Each year thousands of tourists descend on the region of Epernay, Reims and Châlons, to soak in the heritage of Dom Perignon and Madame Clicquot. What they rarely come to commemorate is another heritage, infinitely more influential, infinitely more savage. Brutal not Brut. Here two great armies faced each other in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought. When the gory hand-to-hand fighting was over it is said that 160,000 lay dead, more lives lost in a single day than the United States lost in Europe in the whole of the Second World War. Had the battle gone the other way America and Russia would not be the societies they are today. It could be said that the battle of Châlons, fought in AD 451, determined the future of western European culture and the values that would be carried to the New World. It certainly determined that the future of eastern Europe would be very different.
By the middle of the fifth century the Roman empire was near its final collapse. The 'barbarians' were not merely at the door but inside. At Châlons Roman legions fought alongside Germanic tribes like the Franks and Burgundians, who not long before they had been fighting against. It is often said that victors write histories, but in this case it is the loser whose name is remembered. The Christian forces were led by the long-forgotten Roman general Aetius Flavius and the Visigoth king Theodoric. Their opponent was Attila the Hun.
The Huns emerged out of the vast central Asian wilderness to storm into Europe in AD 375. The pagan tribes and Roman armies that stood in their way were destroyed. The ferocity and scale of the Hunnish forces carried all before them, and they had soon conquered much of what is now eastern Europe. In 445 Attila sealed his authority by founding a new capital on the Danube, Buda, and murdering the only serious competitor for overlordship of the Huns, his own brother.
It was inevitable that Attila would look further west, to Rome, and not everyone viewed the prospect with terror. Honoria, the sister of the Roman emperor Valentinian III, wanted to share imperial power and wrote to Attila offering herself – and half an imperial throne – in marriage. Valentinian found out and Honoria was thrown into prison. Attila now had an excuse to invade on behalf of his potential bride, but he realised that rushing straight to Rome was not the easiest way to grab the riches of the Roman empire. Instead he crossed the Rhine into Gaul with an army of 700,000 and set about destroying as much of the area that is now France as he could. Like the English centuries later he laid siege to Orleans, but, without the help of a Joan of Arc, the inhabitants held Attila off long enough for Aetius Flavius and Theodoric to march to the rescue. Attila turned to face them, and both armies raced for the summit of a long sloping hill at Châlons; the Romans got there first. Attila launched charge after charge on the hill but Aetius held him off. Meanwhile Theodoric and his Visigoths stormed into the Attila's Ostrogoth allies. Theodoric himself was hit by a javelin, thrown from his horse and trampled to death by his own cavalry, but his son Thorismund grabbed his father's crown and wheeled round to smash into the Huns' flank. Attila, now under attack from all sides, pulled back into his camp. As night fell Attila built a huge pyre in the middle of his camp, including the wooden saddles of his cavalry and the loot he had taken on his campaigns. When the attack came next morning he planned to sit at the top of the pyre and perish in the flames, surrounded by the spoils of war – and those wives unlucky enough not to have been left at home in Buda.
What happened next is open to dispute. When dawn broke the carnage must have been clear to all. The number of dead is impossible to know and may well have been exaggerated. Attila's losses were enormous, but the Christians too must have been stunned by their losses. America lost 47,000 in the war in Vietnam and the nation was traumatised; Aetius and Thorismund may have lost as many in just a few hours. Few will have wanted another day like that. Attila and his forces were allowed to return to the lands we now know as Hungary. Christendom was saved.
The battle of Châlons determined that western Europe would develop with the trappings of Roman Christianity, not Hunnish paganism. Had Attila won, western Europeans would act differently now, they would probably speak different languages, they would even have looked different, as more Asiatic DNA filtered into the gene pool. Châlons has been hailed as the triumph of 'civilisation' over 'barbarism'. It allows the values, creeds and political structures of the western world to be traced back in an unbroken line to ancient Greece and Rome. It was Greco-Roman civilisation that triumphed on the plains of Châlons, it is argued. The values of Greek democracy and Christian charity, from which eastern Europe never benefited, survived to shape the world we now live in.
Some historians have written about the battle in terms little short of racist. The victory of the Christian Visigoths, wrote the Hon. Rev. William Herbert in 1838, 'preserved for centuries of power and glory the Germanic element in the civilisation of modern Europe', giving us two traits unknown to the Slavic nations, 'personal freedom and regard for the rights of men', and 'the respect paid by them to the female sex, and the chastity for which the latter were celebrated among the people of the north. These were the foundations of that probity of character, self-respect, and purity of manners which may be traced among the Germans and the Goths even during pagan times, and which, when their sentiments were enlightened by Christianity, brought out those traits of character which distinguish the age of chivalry and romance.'
The reality is quite different. Neither side had any concept of the 'rights of man' and even less the rights of women. Nobody was fighting to protect (or destroy) the heritage of Aristotle and Justinian. Châlons was a battle between two sets of barbarians, one of which called itself Christian.
Theodoric I, who died on the battlefield, and whose Visigoths determined the outcome of the battle, was no Christian knight. Thirty years earlier he had allied himself with another marauding tribe whose name remains a curse to this day, the Vandals, and launched a surprise attack on the Roman rear. He then invaded Roman Gaul and as late as 439 destroyed a Roman army at Toulouse. His alliance with the Romans at Châlons was no act of solidarity with Roman civilisation. Visigoth ethics were little different from those of the Huns. Two years after Châlons the reign of Theodoric I's eldest son, Thorismund, was cut short when he was assassinated by his brother Theodoric II.
The Romans were no better. The next year Aetius met a similar fate. Châlons was the last great victory for the Roman army. Temporarily it seemed that the empire might survive. Aetius returned to Rome covered in glory, far outshining the emperor. Valentinian's reaction was to stab the commander-in-chief to death. It did not do Valentinian much good. His reign ended the next year when he in turn was murdered by two of Aetius's former bodyguards. At least Aetius outlived Attila who, the previous year, had been found dead in his bed, covered in blood. Legend has it that his latest wife, a young Burgundian princess, had taken a final revenge for his rampage across western Europe.
The defeat of Attila determined the course of history. Whatever the reality in terms of the relative barbarism of Hun, Visigoth and Roman, the battle made possible a western Christian 'civilisation'. Moreover the victory ensured that this Christian west stood confident in its superiority over a barbarian east. The battle ensured that western and eastern Europe would develop along different paths, but it did not determine where those paths would lead.
West and East Divide
The division between 'western Europe' and 'eastern Europe' that so conditioned thinking for much of the twentieth century can be traced back to Châlons. Yet the terms would have been meaningless to those involved. The very concept of Europe is a geographical abstraction meaning different things at different times. Originally it referred just to the central part of Greece; then it was extended to the whole Greek mainland before including the landmass behind it. For centuries it referred to an area ending at the river Don; most of modern Russia was a dark and unknown territory beyond Europe. Today's frontier of Europe and Asia, which extends Europe to the Urals, is just a line drawn on a map by an obscure cartographer named Vasiliy Tatischev. Europeans are not in any meaningful sense an ethnic group.
The line drawn by Tatischev illustrates that not only do the powerful rewrite history but they can rewrite geography as well. Under tsars like Ivan the Terrible, Russia was regarded by the nations further west as decidedly un-European. When a later tsar, Peter the Great, attacked the leading European monarch of his day, Charles XII of Sweden, and captured territory in 'Europe proper', the rest of Europe shuddered. Peter was determined that he would be treated as a civilised, European monarch but that presented a difficulty: Russia was no more part of Europe than Egypt or the newly discovered lands across the Atlantic. Peter overcame this difficulty by simply redefining Europe. His court cartographer, Tatischev, declared that the Ural mountains were the 'natural' border between Europe and Asia. By a stroke of his pen he made most of Peter's subjects Europeans, a proposition grudgingly and gradually accepted by the rest of the continent.
If the victors of Châlons had been asked to which geographical entity their nations belonged they would have replied not 'Europe' but the 'Roman empire'. And the Roman empire had never extended beyond the Elbe.
Within its frontiers the Roman empire continued for centuries after its fall to have an influence on nearly every aspect of life: culture, religion, language, law, architecture, warfare, technology. The list is almost endless. That influence was more long-lasting and more profound in some parts of the empire than others, and in some cases spread well beyond its frontiers. But the one part of Europe on which Rome had virtually no influence at all is what today we call Russia.
If the defeat of Attila is cited by historians as a turning point in western history, its impact on the east was no less important. Attila returned defeated to his base on the Hungarian plains. His power was broken. Although he raided into Italy, attacking Milan and Padua, within two years the man himself was dead. The way lay open for other peoples to emerge on to the stage of history. The group that did so was a tribe that the victors of Châlons may never have heard of, and certainly would not have imagined their descendants would ever fear: the Slavs.
When people in the west talk about 'Europeans' they usually mean peoples like the Germans, French or Italians. Yet by far the most numerous ethnic and linguistic group in Europe is the Slavs. Three great streams surged out of the Carpathian mountains. The western Slavs became the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks of today. The southern Slavs became Serbs, Croats and Macedonians. In time many western and southern Slavs converted to Roman Christianity and took on the Latin script. The third stream, the eastern Slavs, became today's Ukrainians, Belarus and Russians. For them there was to be no exposure to Rome and its ways. The Russian language, for example, has very few words of Latin origin (oddly one of the few is the one Russian word all westerners know: tsar, like kaiser in German, is a corruption of the Roman Caesar).
The early Slavs took over vast tracts of land, and took it by force, but they seized the land to use not just for plunder. And as settlers they were soon subject to the bane of all inhabitants of that vast region between the Elbe and the Urals: the constant threat of invasion. Hordes periodically swept in from the east or the north. The flat expanse of steppe provided no natural defences. Rather than acting as barriers, the wide rivers provided further routes of access. Before the Huns came the Sarmatians and Goths. After the Huns came the Avars and Khazars. It is easy to see European history as one long succession of Asian barbarians hurling themselves west in a torrent of violence to be eventually smothered by, and subsumed into, the grip of western civilisation. In reality the traffic was not all one way, and the way the picture of history is depicted depends more on the painter than the painted. One particularly destructive barbarian raped and pillaged his way from Europe into Asia in a haze of alcohol and violence, but even today there are children's books glorifying the murderous exploits of Alexander the Great.
After the Khazars the next invading tribe came from the far west: the Vikings, known more correctly as Varangians. (Those Norsemen who settled in Europe west of the Elbe had semi-permanent homes called 'viks', thus Vikings; those who settled to the east had more transient 'vars', thus Varangians.) In 862 Novgorod fell to the Viking leader Rurik. Rus was born. Rurik's successors raided down the Dnieper and across the Black Sea to Byzantium. In 882 they captured Kiev and made this their capital.
Excerpted from Empires Apart by Brian Landers. Copyright © 2009 Brian Landers. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
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Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY ANDREAS WHITTAM SMITH,
CHAPTER 1: RURIK'S LAND,
CHAPTER 2: AMERIGO'S LAND,
CHAPTER 3: LEGACY OF THE MONGOL TERROR,
CHAPTER 4: LEGACY OF THE MYSTIC MASSACRE,
CHAPTER 5: RUSSIA BETWEEN WEST AND EAST,
CHAPTER 6: AMERICA BETWEEN EAST AND WEST,
CHAPTER 7: THE EMPIRES GET GOING,
CHAPTER 8: DETERMINED OPPORTUNISM AND CONQUEST,
CHAPTER 9: MORE CONQUEST,
CHAPTER 10: SOUL SEARCHING,
CHAPTER 11: COMMUNISM AND CORPORATISM,
CHAPTER 12: EMPIRES OLD AND NEW,
CHAPTER 13: HOT AND COLD RUNNING WAR,
CHAPTER 14: WINNING THE WAR THAT WASN'T,
CHAPTER 15: PAX AMERICANA,