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August 23, 2004
Current Affairs

Western nations have been assaulted by the forces of a radical ideology, bent on conquest.

They have struck at the leading nation of the West, and have voiced their desire to conquer, enslave and convert the world. They mean it. They have thousands of willing servants, while the nations of the West are divided and bickering.

France [*spit*] has allied itself with the enemies of the West.

One man, though, has seen the danger and has acted to stop it. He built a coalition. Coalition troops have gone off to the field of battle and have been victorious.

Thus we have a brief summary of the world today.

Right? Yes, indeed it is.


In 1571 the Turks struck at the Venetian lion's holdings, and threatened to turn the Mediterranean into a Turkish lake. It was no idle threat. The Turkish fleet of galleys was the largest in the world, and Christendom was hopelessly divided. France had made alliance with the Turks.

One man saw the danger....

Last night I was re-reading yet another book I'd read long ago, There Will Be War, Volume IV: Day of the Tyrant edited by Jerry Pournelle. As with the other volumes in the series, it is a collection of short works, each with an introduction by Dr. Pournelle (who also wrote a number of the stories contained in the series.)

Though I've been interested in history as long as I can remember, and was in fact a history major in college back in the very early '80s, I'd never learned anything about the Battle of Lepanto (except that there was such a battle) until I read the pieces I've included below. "Introduction" is as good a summary of the Battle of Lepanto as I've yet found, which proves to me the value of reading, even if you don't read textbooks 24/7. You can sometimes learn useful things from the most unexpected sources.

Not only did I learn what little I know about Lepanto from the aforementioned science fiction anthology, but an old lesson was reinforced: "plus ça change, plus ça meme chose" — the more things change, the more they stay the same. [The French, in their entire history, have managed to get that one thing right.]

[I suspect one thing that won't change any time soon is French willingness to side with tyrants. Practice seems to have perfected that skill over the centuries.]

Given the sheer volume of the total historical record, it is perhaps unsurprising that certain current events will bear a resemblence to events from centuries past, but the parallels between that war five centuries ago and the war in which we are currently engaged are too striking to go unremarked upon.

Not only are there parallels, there's also a lesson for us in the historical record. After Lepanto (due to poor strategy, poor finances, and internal disagreements) the western allies failed to follow up on the victory. The Turks retreated, licked their wounds, rebuilt their fleet and took Cyprus from the Venetians, and continued their expansionistic ways, though they never again threatened complete domination of the Mediterranean.

There's definitely a lesson there.

The introduction to G. K. Chesterton's poem Lepanto is reproduced below in its entirety with the kind permission of Dr. Pournelle. The poem itself, which naturally follows the introduction, is in the public domain.

The latter is one of the few pieces of poetry I've ever really enjoyed. I'm a sucker for Kipling (thanks Dad!) but otherwise poetry does very little for me. Except, of course, for the DoggerelPundit.

I strongly urge you to read them both.


Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Constantinople, the City of the Golden Horn, capital of Byzantium, fell in 1453 to the cannon of the Ottoman Turks; with it fell the last of the Eastern Roman Empire. For the next hundred years all Europe was threatened. Soliman, known to Europe as Suleiman the Magnificent, besieged Vienna in 1529 and came within an ace of taking the city.

In 1571 the Turks struck at the Venetian lion's holdings, and threatened to turn the Mediterranean into a Turkish lake. It was no idle threat. The Turkish fleet of galleys was the largest in the world, and Christendom was hopelessly divided. France had made alliance with the Turks.

One man saw the danger. Pius V prevailed upon the Spanish and the Venetians to join forces in a grand alliance. Philip II of Spain, son of Charles V, sent his fleet under the command of his bastard half brother Don John of Austria. John, at 26, was the most able commander of his time. (He is not the fickle "Don John" of Mozart's opera.) The Turkish fleet concentrated at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth near the fortified town of Lepanto. The Turkish fleet boasted 270 galleys to oppose Don John's 220; but the Christian fleet included six "super galleys," known as galeasses, which were deployed in front of the Christian battle line.

The fleets met in the narrow straits. Ali Pasha, the Turkish commander, had 400 Janissary shock troops aboard his flagship. He steered directly for Don John's flagship Real. The ships crashed together and became entangled. Ali called for reinforcements from the galleys in reserve behind his line. Other Christian ships rushed to aid the Real.

Twice the Janissaries boarded the Real and were swept back by her 300 arquebusiers. Twice again Don John's soldiers boarded the Turkish flagship and reached the mainmast, before Colonna in the Papal flagship came alongside the Turk and raked her decks with musket fire. Don John's third charge carried, and the whole of the Turkish center fled.

The carnage was terrible. Twelve Christian galleys were sunk and one captured, with losses of 15,000 officers and men. Of the Turks, 113 galleys were sunk, and another 117 were captured. Tens of thousands of the Turks were killed, 8,000 were captured, and 15,000 Christian galley slaves were freed.

The best known casualty of the battle was Miguel Cervantes, whose left hand was carried away by a cannon ball. He survived to write Don Quixote.


White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,--
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!

Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Posted by Russ at 02:37 PM, August 23, 2004 in Books & Nat'l Security

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