Sunday, 18 March 2018

Some of my recent reading: dark ages Frisia

Another couple of books I read the past moths were triggered by plans for some medieval wargaming. Somebody suggested that we should try the Battle of Vlaardingen in 1018, a smallish affair by today's standards. It was pretty momentous however, as it established the independence of the counts of Frisia against the Holy Roman Emperor.

Sadly the execution wasn't compatible with stuff I already had lying, waiting to be used, so my project will deal with the Battle of Hastings. But I read the stuff on Frisia anyway...

And the most amazing I learned is that the Dutch coast was mostly deserted in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Apparently rising water levels, combined with moving sand dunes made life extremely hard so it essentially depopulated. The people that came to inhabit the area afterwards were not the original Frisians of Roman times, but migrants from present day Northern Germany and Scandinavia, with a different material culture and different language. However, they were named after the area and for a long time people assumed there was a continuous link of Frisian inhabitation.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Some of my recent reading: military innovation

So I'm on for a new adventure, starting in October. I'll be cooperating on a part of a larger series of handbooks about Dutch military history. Personally, it looks like I will mostly be writing on the 1813-1870 period.

Of course there'll be several themes discussed in this book, but I have taken a special interest in the development of technology and how it's integrated into military practice. It's become an interesting field in this century, since the military revolutions / revolutions in military affairs discussion blossomed up. Mostly this is a discussion about how you can foster innovation and draw the right lessons from the past to guide technological development towards succes while avoiding the pitfalls.

Part of that discussion focusses on where in the military organisation this innovation takes place? Is it top down (reforms of Prince Maurice or Gustavus Adolphus), is it bottom up (battlefield adaptation in WWI)? Or is it perhaps a complex interaction of military entrepreneurs in the military hierarchy that may or may not succeed in catching the ear of those with decision making power. And perhaps, I add as an historian, this changes based on social structures over time and space?

So I'm diving into some old and new literature...

Mostly on the 19th century, but if a valid theoretical point seems to be made, I'm happy to look beyond.

Let's say I'm pretty psyched about this project

Saturday, 6 January 2018

And it don't stop!

Having cleaned up and dined, I returned to Satan's gifts, mulling the evil intentions by gifting me a euro game about hospital managament. So I lifted the top expecting cardboard and wooden blocks...

Mark my surprise as I peered inside and found not just that but infact a buttload of cool stuff!

Exhibit A:

1920s furniture: perfect for some Pulp or Lovecraftian roleplaying! Diederik, can we have another go at your campaign?

Exhibit B:

A game of doubt and dread. That certainly fits my current state of mind and the above gift!

Exhibit C:

A suspicious looking compact disc that triggered my interest. Will have a listen sometime later this evening (with the candles burning low and the Cramps on the stereo)

Exhibit D:

Spock's Socks that I'm wearing right now! Good fit! Satan knows these things

Exhibit E:

Some weird looking chap, I suspect of representing broccoli. I think I have a solution for that...

Exhibit F:

And the Quarantine game itself. Not a lot of stuff for such a big box, but for once I'm not complaining!

So many more thanks Satan!

Not sure what I've done to deserve to be heaped in gifts twice in a row. I guess I must have signed over my soul while accepting the terms of service on some piece of software...

So I Had Been Warned

So I had been warned: NO KNIVES! Obviously something precious and frail was inside...

But my years long experience with all things Satan has taught me caution, and my first reach into the box proved me correct

After removing a first layer of shiny filth there appeared a box. For some reason I grew even more cautious

And again I was rewarded with averting catastrophy!

The box had been boobytrapped! 

True to the manual, I wouldn't use a knife to remove the tripwire. That made my further venture more exciting and a bit more time consuming.

Satan had obviously been enjoying the packaging!

After I cleared several layers of glitter from the box, I found some familiar looking game cards.

Ah... Petropolis! A hint perhaps?

Still without a knife I assaulted the layers of tape with the only sharp weapon at my disposal

A gruesome struggle that left left me with the debris of war

As much as the spoils!

And a self portrait of Satan! This will end up above my bed and provide grizzly joy for years to come

So thank you Satan. So much joy and punishment for such an unfit minion! Please, hit me one more time!

Now, where did I leave the vacuum cleaner?

Secret Satan has arrived!

It's that time of the year again!

This may take a while....

Monday, 4 December 2017

An introduction to Angkor

Angkor is one of the world's biggest archeological treasures. The site contains hundreds of structures, many of which have not been recovered yet. They were built between 800 and 1300 AD and are of impressive size and artistry.

Ta Prohm

Part of the mythical aura that surrounds Angkor stems from its recovery from the jungle. The city was abandoned in the 15th century after the capital had been sacked by a Thai army. Although people used to live there for a long time after and foreigners visited the site in the 16th and 17th century, much of the city was overgrown after centuries.

Ta Keo, rebuilt with Chinese help
From the 1920s French archeologists (Cambodia was a French colony at the time) have started to recover and restore the temples. After the peace process in the 1990s and a listing as a UNESCO world heritage site these works, supported by archeologists from all over the world, have sped up.

The top structure of Pre Rup. An early temple, with lots of bricks
What makes Angkor interesting is that there are structures built over a period of 500 years, and you can see different styles interacting. Those style changes also reflect changes in religion, for example the shift in focus between Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu and later to Buddhism.

Stone surrounded by jungle
On the other hand, all that remains now is stone, surrounded by jungle. That makes it very hard to imagine the living city of a millenium hence, with the stone plastered, painted and covered in copper or gold, the wooden buildings and the surrounding countryside cut by rice paddies and irrigation canals.

And of course the people of the city are missing. Angkor must have had tens if not a hundred thousand inhabitants. Officials and traders from the provinces under Angkorian control must have visited, as well as foreigners. A late 13th century Chinese diplomat has left an account that adds a lot of colour to our understanding of daily life, but it is hard to envision in the present environment.

Water reservoir at Sras Srang

One touch of nuance however. Apart from the temples there remains another element in the landscape: the baray, or water storages. The two largest of them, to the west and east of the city, measure several square kilometers. It is still discussed whether they were built to supply water to the inhabitants and/or irrigation system, or for purely symbolic reasons, but they are still visible and in some cases partially filled to this day.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Back from South East Asia

It's been two and a half fascinating weeks. First ten days travelling through western Thailand in the footsteps of the 100.000 POWs who contributed to the construction of the infamous Burma railway (together with thousands of Japanese and perhaps 200.000 South East Asians). Then five days in Cambodia around the fabled temples of Angkor.

The party of premier Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has effectively ruled Cambodia since 1979

It's been a lot of information to take in, even though much of that was self-inflicted. And as always while travelling, full of impressions that go beyond the immediate subjects of the trip. You can't help to notice that both Thailand and Cambodia have shed much of the essence of democracy despite still maintaining the trappings. Thailand is ruled by a military junta (that isn't very good at listening to the people) and the Cambodian government has just had the major opposition party banned.

Police booth in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Yet life seems to be going on anyway. Military and police presence are light. In Bangkok and Siem Reap the Christmas season has started. Around the royal palace in downtown Bangkok we experienced the perfect storm of tourists, graduation day at university and the last opportunity to visit the ashes of revered former king Bhumibol (the exhibition has since been extended).

Tourist entrance to the inner sanctum of the royal palace, Bangkok

The poverty gap in these countries is still huge between those in the airconditioned zone (including us tourists) and those outside. Yes, I caught a cold.

Christmas decorations are prepared before the luxury mall in Siem Reap (opened in 2016)
And Bangkok is a powerhouse, ever expanding its network of flyover roads and sky trains. I remember that the first skytrain rode between my first two trips in Thailand in 1999 and 2000. Now there are several lines and an underground. Then there were 6.3 million inhabitants, now 9.6 million.

Flyover roads under construction, Bangkok

It was also intense to make this trip. I'm not a group travel person and when you are around 35-40 co travellers, that takes some energy out of me. Most of these people had a direct personal relation to the railway, which for them made it an emotional experience that I could only relate to from a distance. I wouldn't have survived if it had not been for my travel companion Michael. We never ran out of topics to discuss and events to comment on, however silly.

I will be posting a few bits from the Angkor part over the next week, but the Thailand-Burma railway story will arrive after that and in a different format as I have a distant personal stake in it.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Pink Panzer

This is a small side project I did for a friend of mine who recently became a father and called his daughter Mathilda. "Not after the tank, of course," he said. Because he's a tank hugger and we do exchange tank trivia. The mother of his child didn't seem pleased with that, so an evil plan hatched in me...

A few day ago, I giftwrapped it and handed it over to the young father...

And apparently, it's been appproved.

For those interested, this is a 1/100 Zvezda model of the British A12 Matilda tank.

Of course, my inspiration comes from the legendary Girls und Panzer anime series.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Forgotten colonial war revisited

Ok, just a small step back to one of the books about colonial wars I posted on some time ago. I follow the excellent podcast series New Books in Military History, which has an interesting selection of new material. Some time ago I listened to a comparison of genocide and conquest on the Eastern Front in WWII and the the American West.

What I found interesting is that the author, Westermann, took up this project based on discussions in his classes, where he found the students would naturally compare different forms of genocide. When it comes to genocide, Nazi Germany remains the archetype/Idealtype, although the last decades our historical knowledge of other genocides has widened.

Of course looking at genocide involves a discussion of the definition, but most definitions go farther than just the mass murder of a particular group with the intent of total destruction. Some include the destruction of culture and separate identity.

While it easy to dismiss referring to the Holocaust as a Godwin, in this vase it is actually helpful.

Westermann notes that what happens 'at the sharp end' of policy doesn't necessarily align with what happens at the centre. And while what happens at the sharp end may seem very similar in both cases, Westermann argues that the main difference between the American and the German case is that in the former, the authorities were not bent on genocide and in the latter they were.

It's worth listening to his argument in full.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Summer painting seamlesly devolving into beer and games

This is what I did for our club's Summer Painting Challenge (inspired by Curt's). Ran from late June till halfway September. I set myself 400 points to paint, although I felt 200 would have been more  realistic. In the end I ended up somewhere above 300 points, so setting the goal probably made me more productive than I'd otherwise been. That's a good thing I guess.

This was the main bit: a bunch of 18th century civilians, some scenery and goodies for scenarios and Frostgrave. And a bunch of farm and pack animals for the same purpose.

But I also finished a unit of British light infantry for AWI. This is them still glossy because I didn't get them sprayed with matt varnish before the received their baptism of fire.

Ten wargamers got together in September for a Wargame Beer and Game session, with me hosting Rens and Henny for a practice game of Sharp Practice 2, and seven other guys doing a Big Chain of Command game. Beautiful table!

And a very good dinner was had afterwards.