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Thursday, May 26, 2016


(New York: Sentinel, 2015) by BRIAN KILMEADE and DON YAEGER
    Review by Hugh Murray
            In an era of political correctness and revisionist “history,” the Kilmeade-Yaeger volume is refreshing.  While some amazon reviewers complain that it is written for 4th graders, others criticize the authors’ use of the terminology of 1800.  Strangely, both criticisms are valid – but they miss the main point: the book is easy enough that a 10-year-old can enjoy it.  The writing is generally clear, avoiding the numerous qualifications and limiting clauses that render the sentences of academic history so boring.  Kilmeade and Yaeger have written exciting history, for young and old.
            In addition to being an easy read, the book is unashamedly pro-American.  There is little attempt to portray the ‘multicultural’ approach. that for many Muslims may have a right to capture and enslave Europeans and Americans because the Koran deems it an appropriate way to treat infidels.  Furthermore, there is nothing immoral about slavery, for the Prophet himself bought and owned slaves.  Indeed, there was a long tradition of hundreds of years whereby Africans raided European lands for loot and to capture slaves.  If the Europeans were not ransomed, they remained enslaved.  The American Consul General in Tunis is quoted expressing his anger at seeing a lazy Turk relaxing on an embroidered cushion while one Christian slave held his pipe, another his coffee, and a third fanned to drive away the flies.(171)   The authors reject the multicultural approach.  Moreover, if an American ship flies a British flag to fool the Muslims, that deception is for a righteous cause.  When Muslims deceive, that proves their perfidy.
            Today, when the fake history, “Roots,” is being revised into an even more anti-white television production, it is good that this book about pirates and slavery has become a best-seller, providing some balance to the propaganda of the educrats.  (In the city of Milwaukee, this week, the city school board appropriated funds for a Black Lives Matter program in the schools.)
            There are topics that might have been included in this small volume.  The authors assert that Jefferson first became fully aware of the pirate problem when he wanted one of his daughters to sail from Virginia to France to join him.  What if her ship were captured by the Barbary pirates and she enslaved?  Did Jefferson worry in the same way about a young woman accompanying his daughter, his own slave Sally Hemings?  (She goes unmentioned in this book)  The contradiction, yea hypocrisy, of Jefferson on the issue of slavery is now well known, but still it is relevant to the topic of this book, and should have been discussed.
            From the 1790s until 1815 Britain was at war, on and off, with Napoleon.  How did that affect American merchant vessels (and the US navy)?  Napoleon sent a sizable army to Haiti to crush the slave rebellion.  With that failed mission, Napoleon then decided to sell Louisiana to the US.  What was the position of the American shippers to the French actions in Haiti?  Jefferson won Congressional approval for the purchase of New Orleans from France, but went beyond and bought all of Louisiana.  That is mentioned in this volume.
            Protecting the rights of American sailors, from enslavement by Barbary piratical regimes, and then from impressments into the Royal Navy by the British, led to the War of 1812.  At its conclusion, the British stopped impressments, and the Barbary regimes no longer received American pay-offs to halt their centuries’-old practice of piracy.
            Kilmeade and Yaeger have written an exciting book, including the slow voyages across the ocean and equally slow communications, the chase after smaller pirate craft, the running aground of America’s largest warship, the Philadelphia, its recovery by the Tripolitans, and the clandestine plot to sneak aboard and set the prize ablaze, a successful exploit led by Stephen Decatur, another plan to sail a smaller ship into the harbor of Tripoli loaded with explosives, light it, and weaken the shore defenses of the Muslims.  That venture failed when the bomb-ship exploded before reaching its destination, killing all the Americans.  There was also a plan to depose the Bashaw of Tripoli with his more amenable brother, then in exile in Egypt.  Consul General William Eaton, with American cash, gathered a small army including about a dozen US marines, and marched 600 miles to an area near Benghazi, to wrest Derne, then Tripoli’s 2nd city from the forces of the Bashaw of Tripoli.  Suddenly aware of his weakness, the Bashaw quickly negotiated a Peace Treaty, which to the dismay of Eaton, still required the US to pay a small ransom for the release of the enslaved Americans.

            This fine, small book includes colored illustrations and maps.  For a contrast of the treatment of slaves in Muslim Africa, one can read of some of the punishments inflicted upon the European slaves (37 and the illustration opposite p.110) and search for any comparable ones in the American South.  And though the US was a very new nation, and populated overwhelmingly by Protestants, Pope Pius VII praised Stephen Decatur and the Americans who broke the practice of the Barbary pirates enslaving Christian mariners.  This book illustrates why America was, from its early days, a great nation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


 Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2010) by Ian Morris; HOW THE WEST WON: THE NEGLECTED
STORY…(Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2014) by Rodney Stark; THE VICTORY
Trade Paperbacks, 2006) by Rodney Stark
Review by Hugh Murray
            In this fascinating book of world history Ian Morris tries to explain why the West rules – for now.  He considers various theories of what he calls “locked in” views – for example, that Western dominance was destined because of race or culture or some combination of those factors.  He notes the negative assessment of Asian development by Karl Marx, who concluded that it had stagnated and simply fossilized.  Morris is probably closest to Jared Diamond, who contends that geography and the luck of having domesticable animals and vegetation in a given area explain the advances in one locale over another.
            Morris readily concedes that the West presently dominates, and since the Victorian era, “the West has maintained a global dominance without parallel in history.”(11)  For his study Morris also creates a scale of social development (hereafter SD) to assess the growth in the West and the East and observe who is ahead, and by how much.  As he fills in the 18,000 years covered by his scale, Morris refutes the locked-in theories of the inevitability of Western dominance.  As he surveys his scale, the East has already led the West in SD for over a millennium.
            Because some areas of the globe were so inhospitable to domesticable animals and vegetation, or because of their geographical isolation, Morris does not even consider them in his calculations.  Thus arctic regions, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Americas are ignored until some  become part of the West.  On the other hand, Morris includes very little on India, which had a very early core civilization; yet he fails to explore why India was not in the running for dominance.
            Moreover, there is a striking difference between this volume and several books by Rodney Stark, who raises some of the same questions and covers some of the same territory surveyed by Morris.  Indeed, the title of one of Stark’s books is How the West Won.  Consider the Roman Empire: by the 1st century AD, according to Morris’s view expressed in his SD scale, Rome’s population exceeded that of Alexandria and was probably double that of the largest contemporary Chinese city.  Rome had higher literacy than ever before in human history, there was increased trade, prosperity, and less violence.  Though there was decline after a few centuries, the barbarian invaders finally overran Rome, thereby precipitating a dramatic loss in SD .  By AD 541, the East (mainly China) overtook the West and was more advanced than the West until AD 1773.(Morris, pp. 435, 565)
            Stark’s view is a stark contrast.  To him, “The fall of Rome was, , .the most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization.”(Stark, West, 69)  Rome’s fall “unleashed so many substantial and progressive changes. . .most of the early innovations and inventions came in agriculture.  Soon most medieval Europeans ate better than had any common people in history, and consequently they grew larger and stronger then people elsewhere.”(Stark, West, 69-70)
            How does one reconcile this assertion with the more popular view, maintained by Morris, that Western Europe had plunged into what has commonly been referred to as “the Dark Ages”?  Furthermore, Morris sees the decline in Western Europe as so overwhelming, that when he compares the highest SD scores of East and West, the West is no longer represented by Rome, but by Constantinople, Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, etc.  And even with the movement of the Western core eastward, the West had still fallen behind the Eastern core (China) on the Morris SD scale.
            A recurring refrain of Morris’s book is that – all large groups of people are basically the same, each age and core civilization gets the thought and culture it needs.(Morris, 568, 570)  Moreover, the thought reflects the times and similar times in China or in Europe, all produce similar thoughts, similar literatures, similar philosophies.  Stark rejects this notion of similarities and instead stresses the differences in ideas; indeed asserting that it is the different ideas of the West that prompted the West to invent, develop, and dominate.
            Morris writes, “Given enough time, Easterners would probably have made the same discoveries, and had their own industrial revolution, but geography made it much easier for Westerners – which meant that because people [in large groups] are much the same, Westerners had their industrial revolution first.  It was geography that took…”[the West to the top](Morris, 565)  Morris partly explains  Asian stagnation, “This hard ceiling sets a rigid limit on what agricultural empires can do.  The only way to break it is to tap into the stored energy of fossil fuels, as Westerners did after 1750.”(Morris, 560)  Morris concludes, “Why the West rules…geography explains the differences.”(557)
            There were Western core civilizations and Eastern ones too, and they moved over time mirrored in the Morris SD scale, which reflected climate changes, wars, and invasions.  In the West the core began in rough, hilly regions of the Middle East, expanded to include the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt,  Later it spread to Persia, Crete, Greece, and later still to Carthage and Rome.  By the first century AD when it reached its peak in the early Roman Empire, it included all of the Mediterranean and beyond.  The Eastern core moved from northern China to include southern China, and later Japan and Southeast Asia.  The Han Empire in China was contemporary with the early Roman Empire and there was trade between them.
            With the fall of the western Roman empire, the weakening of Byzantium, and soon thereafter the rise of Islam, Morris asserts that the Western core moved eastward, to Constantinople, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad.  Why?  Those areas had higher SD scores on his scale then Paris or London of that time.  And it is at that time, 541 AD, that the Eastern SD rose higher than any SD of the West.  The East began to dominate.  The East would retain dominance until 1773 when the invention, improvement and development of the steam engine created the Industrial Revolution in the West.  Consequently, there were great strides in Western methods of warfare, in everyday wages, and living standards.  By 1800 the West was on the path to dominate most of the world.  So argues Morris in his book filled with details to support his thesis.  And the axioms underlying his thesis can be stated - All people in large groups are basically the same; all eras and places get the thoughts they require; all respond to various climatic changes in the same way.  We are all alike except for our geography, and the geography explains the differences and why the West rules for now.  These are the underlying hypotheses upon which Morris constructs his theory.
                Stark presents a different view – that different ideas produce different results.  He maintains that the Christian view of a monotheistic creator of the universe in which God is rational and wants men to discover the natural, rational world provided a framework for science.  While in some Eastern and Greek religions polytheism might provide numerous and contradictory explanations as to why something occurred – the gods were fighting with each other with lightening or storms, or astrology was seeking to forecast our lives, or some religions urged avoidance of this world, meditation, reaching for  Nirvana, or simply do what was always done to satisfy one’s ancestors.  This often led to superstition.
            Some centuries after Islam conquered Egypt, Saladin quoted Caliph Omar, who allegedly had burnt the remains of what had been the great Library of Alexandria, the repository of much of the knowledge of the ancient world.  Omar had said that if the works in the Library supported the Koran, then they were not needed; and if they did not support the Koran, they should be destroyed.  Furthermore, Saladin used this as justification for his own purge of heretical literature.  Though Christians had a current of narrow-minded thought similar to this, - indeed, some of them had previously burnt part of the Library, - overall Christianity was generally more-open minded and willing to objectively evaluate the wisdom of the past.  Also important, Christianity was more willing to ponder, reflect, innovate, and incorporate discoveries, even those that might challenge ancient pagan texts or Christian orthodoxy.
            Stark certainly does NOT deny that invention can happen anywhere, among any people.  The Chinese invented gun powder, the printing press, and paper.  Indians developed the zero and what we in the West call Arabic numerals.  (Meso Americans invented the zero independently).  Inventions occurred everywhere.  But Stark posits a difference between technique, mere invention, and a general scientific approach.  Stark asserts that the scientific approach developed in the West in the Dark Ages and this approach was refined at another unique European invention, the university.
            Morris maintains that the West did not retake the lead from the Eastern core until 1773 AD.  But Stark, in an earlier work, The Victory of Reason and the Rise of Christianity, writes: “When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere but the extent of their own technical superiority over the rest of the world.  Not only were the proud Mayan, Aztec, and Inca nations helpless in the face of the European intruders; so were the fabled civilizations of the East: China, India, and even Islam were backward by comparison with 16th century Europe.  How had this happened?”(ix)  Stark answers on the next page.  “While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary aid to religious truth…,Greek religions.  These remained typical mystery cults, in which ambiguity and logical contradictions were taken as hallmarks of sacred origins.  Similar assumptions concerning the fundamental inexplicability of the gods and the intellectual superiority of  introspection dominated all the other major world religions.  But from early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation.  Consequently, Christianity was oriented to the future, while the other major religions asserted the superiority of the past.”[Emphasis in original](x)
            If the West, with a few hundred men could conquer the empires of the Aztecs and Incas, surely that West was ahead of them militarily.  But around the same time, the West was able, far from its home ports, to establish bases in India, South Africa, East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Malaysia, and made tiny inroads into China and Japan.  This was occurring centuries before “the Industrial Revolution” of 1750 that Morris deems decisive in the West’s drive to dominate.
            My purpose here is to raise questions about the theses proposed by both Morris and Stark.  The early Roman Empire was a high point for the West (and the world of SD, according to Morris, for the world would not surpass that highmark  until about AD 1100, and it was achieved in the Eastern core, not in the West.  By Morris’s calculation, the West would not reach the height of the early Roman Empire until 1750 AD, with the Industrial Revolution.  And Morris attributes that feat to the development of the steam engine.  Water wheels and wind mills had been invented in Roman times, and used spottily, but the steam engines and their applications would make the West the unchallenged rulers of the World after 1800.
            Water wheels had been used in Roman-era Egypt for grinding, and combined with the Greek developed gear system, the wheels were used in sequence in Roman-era Spanish mines to remove water from flooded levels so mining could resume.  Elsewhere, the water wheels were also used to grind grain and prepare cloth.  In the 1st century AD, Heron of Alexandria, who lectured at the Museum/Library, in addition to writing on geometry and engineering, also invented several objects.  One was a wind organ, perhaps the first use of wind to power a land-based device.  Another was the steam engine.  In addition, Heron also devised a steam-powered contraption to open the heavy doors of a temple.  But there was not general exploration or development of the use of steam power in the Roman Empire.
            If, as Morris often asserts, people get the thought they need, either Rome did not need the use of the steam engine (perhaps slaves could supply all the power necessary), or Rome did NOT get the ideas it needed to advance.  Bottom line - Rome did not experience an Industrial Revolution.  But the same example can be viewed as a problem for Stark as well.  True, Christians were only a tiny minority of the Roman Empire in the 1st century when Heron invented.  But after 325 they became the religion of the Emperor Constantine, and later, the religion of the Empire.  If as Stark asserts, Christianity is the religion that promotes reason and science, why was there no steam-engine propelled Industrial Revolution in the Christian Roman Empire in the AD 300s?  One might answer, they lacked time because Rome fell (the sack of Rome 410 AD;  the last Roman Emperor of the West, 476 AD).  There may have been insufficient time in the western Roman Empire, but Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire were Christian and they lasted another thousand years.  However, other than Greek fire, where were the great inventions of the Christian empire during that millennium?
            To what extent was the Roman Empire, based in cities, a parasitic one?  It did invent poured concrete, built colossal monuments, arenas, the Hippodrome, the Coliseum, baths, aqueducts, and a navy that cleared the Mediterranean of piracy.  It built roads that eased land transport, and most importantly, assembled a Code of Law which would influence much of the world to this day.  Yet Rome seemed stuck, unable to advance beyond the cities, living on the ever larger agricultural enterprises wherein the free farmer was reduced to the status of a near slave, with whom he competed for work.
            Stark has a very negative view of the western Roman Empire.  Was there some inner corrosive factor in the Roman Empire, even at its height, that led ultimately to its decline and fall by 476?  And in the east in 1453?  No matter how high it rose on Morris’s SD scale?  Perhaps the ideas that Rome really required were best expressed in 1896 at the Democratic Convention – “I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”  But William Jennings Bryan, who spoke those words, would not have been running for the office of Emperor in Rome.  Over time, the cities of the Roman Empire became ever more parasitic, living off the grains imported from Egypt, Tunisia, and Sicily, and the wines and olive produce from rural Italy.  Beneficiaries of a welfare state might enjoy free wine, bread, and circuses, the daily shows in the Coliseum -  shout with delight as an exotic beast, imported for the exhibition, mauls a human to death.  They might wager on one gladiator as he punctures the leg of another with his sword.  They stir with excitement as they watch blood flow.  Of course, there were other delights, and we still speak of the Roman baths.  But in all those centuries, the Romans never bothered to invent soap (an innovation of the Germanic barbarians).  At the baths slaves would occasionally have to shovel out the filth and muck that settled to the bottoms of the pools.  Of course, slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire as it probably was in most of the world.
            When Islam rose, it conquered many of the richest areas of the world, Judah, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, all of North Africa, most of Portugal and Spain, plus Iraq, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, part of India, and beyond.  If Abdul Rahman had defeated the Franks at the Battle of Poitiers (Tours) in northern France in 732, “Europe” would have disappeared, to be known henceforth only as the north-western fringe of Islam.  Charles Martel defeated the Muslim invaders and saved Europe.
            Europe was the poor periphery, while Islam had conquered most of the richest lands of the old West core civilizations.  And because Islam was located in the center, between Europe and the lucrative areas of Asia, it was the center of world trade, which only increased its wealth.  It also inherited much of the accumulated learning of the ancients in the old cities it conquered.  But some of the progress made under Islam was not the creation of the Muslims.  The “Arabic numerals” used in the West and acquired through contact with Islam, were in reality an Indian invention.  Stark notes that other “inventions” during the glory days of Islam were the inventions of religious minorities, persecuted minorities – heretical Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians.
            Some trade continued across the Mediterranean, which was now a theater of potential Christian/Muslim conflict.  But some of this “trade “consisted of Muslims raiding Europe for slaves.  (If the Prophet himself owned, bought, and sold slaves, how could anyone, other than an Islamophobe, declare that institution of slavery to be immoral?)    Later a most important segment of the Ottoman military consisted of the Janissaries, young teenaged Greek Christian, enslaved into the Sultans’ armies.  The enslaving of Europeans by Mediterranean Muslims continued until the United States in the early 1800s defeated the Barbary Pirates on the shores of Tripoli.
            The Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453 and reached the gates of Vienna in the 1600s.  But to capture Constantinople, the Muslims had to hire Europeans to cast the cannons which would finally fell the walls of the Byzantine capital.  The glory of Byzantium architecture, the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, suddenly became a mosque.  The riches of the Muslim world, based on being the middlemen in world trade, allowed them to purchase the new technology they were unable to produce – some of it invented in Asia, much improved in Europe, but the Muslims rarely made the breakthroughs in invention. Militarily, they did devise the use of hashish by individuals preparing to kill someone, and we commemorate this achievement with the word assassination.  Destroying the printing presses was more symbolic of the attitude of Muslim “civilization” toward invention.  Over time, many of the minority religions were almost eliminated from Islamic jurisdictions due to heavy, discriminatory taxes, and the open humiliations heaped upon non-Muslims (not to mention the difficulties endured by Muslim women!).
            According to Morris, the West did not retake the lead in SD from the East until 1773, and did not really dominate the globe until the Industrial Revolution, which began around 1750.  By contrast, Stark maintains that Europeans were eating better and living longer and better than the rest of the world – beginning in the Dark Ages.  If Europe was doing so well, how does one explain not only the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, but Muslim attempts to take Vienna in the center of Europe in 1529 and as late as 1683?  Morris can readily explain this, for in his SD system much of Islam is included within his definition of the West.  When he compares East and West, especially during the millennium when the East was ahead, the leading contenders of the West were the Muslim nations.  Western Europe was too low to compete on the Morris SD scale.  Persia, Iraq, Egypt were the leaders of the Morris “West.”  But Stark declares Europe the leader by 1100 AD, above the East, above Islam, above the former Greece and Roman eras.
            In 1405 China sent out the first of several major navel expeditions, commanded  by Admiral Zheng He, a tall eunuch.  The largest of these missions consisted of 300 vessels, 27,800 sailors, and 180 doctors.  There were provisions of food, fresh water, and gifts.  The fleet sailed from near China’s southern capital of Nanjing, down the coast past Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, India, over to Persia, Oman, and East Africa.  There was trading of gifts, taking in exotic animals and plants, and then the return voyages.  The last such voyage was 1431-33.  Then the emperor died, a new one installed, and a new policy implemented.  Admiral He’s fleet was destroyed, and a law demanded the destruction of all ocean-going vessels.
   Several decades later Spain sponsored a tiny expedition of 3 small ships and fewer than 100 men under Christopher Columbus, who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492.  He returned with reports that he had reached the Indies off Asia.  Meanwhile Portugal sent another small expedition under Vasco da Gama in 1497 round the southern tip of Africa, up its east coast, and on to Calicut in India.  Da Gama began with 4 ships and 170 men.  When he returned over a year later, there were but 2 ships and half his men were dead.  But with the spices with which he returned, there were enormous profits.
            Nothing came of the massive Chinese expeditions.  The much smaller Spanish and Portuguese ventures changed the world.  Why the difference?  Morris acknowledges that there was a change of Chinese emperors, and the advisors to the new regime deemed these vast expeditions as wasteful extravagances.  They ordered the destruction of the fleet and all ocean-going vessels in the 1430s, and in the 1470s purposely ‘lost’ and destroyed all records of the Zheng He explorations (though accounts of some of the exotic animals he brought back remained).  With the new emperor, China would look inward.  According to Morris’s SD ratings of this era, the East was ahead of the West.  China was rich; it did not require commerce and contact with the impoverished world outside (and beneath) the Middle Kingdom.
            Western Europe, on the periphery of the world seemed poor, far from the riches of Asia.  Western Europe was not even considered on the Morris ratings at this time, for to him, the “West” was still located in the Muslim nations.  Relative poverty may alone have provided motive to the lands of Western Europe to set out on these explorations.  But, according to Stark, Europe was not that impoverished; indeed, Europeans may have been living better than people anywhere else on the globe.  And Stark noted, what surprised the Europeans was their technical superiority over all whom they encountered.                               Beginning in 1519 with about 500 men, 13 horses, and a few small cannon, Cortes defeated and conquered the odious Aztec empire in Mexico, that could summon tens of thousands of warriors to its defense.  In the 1530s, Francisco Pizarro overwhelmed the far-flung Inca Empire in South America with his small European forces.  Around the same time Portugal quickly established bases and forts in India and along the Indian Ocean trade routes, forcibly overturning the dominance of the Muslim traders.  What would have happened if the small European fleets had encountered the massive expeditions of Zheng He sailing from China?  Of course, the Chinese had abandoned ship for 7 decades before the time the Europeans were encroaching, but what might have happened had the small European ships encountered the massive Chinese fleet?  Perhaps, we have an answer to what might have occurred?  Morris writes, not about the Chinese, but of something similar: “Their tiny numbers meant that Portuguese ships were more like mosquitoes buzzing around the great kingdoms of the Indian Ocean than like conquistadors, but after nearly a decade of their biting, the sultans and kings of Turkey, Egypt, Gujarat, and Calicut – egged on by Venice – decided enough was enough.  Massing more than 100 vessels in 1509 they trapped 18 Portuguese warships against the Indian coast and closed to ram and board them.  The Portuguese blasted them into splinters.”(Morris, 431)  And what would have happened to the massive Chinese fleet?  The Chinese may have invented the compass (Stark says Europeans invented it independently) and though Morris asserts the Chinese used it in shipping, Stark denies that.  Stark maintains the Asians used it more in magic, whereas Europeans used it to aid in navigation.  China invented gun powder, but did not fully develop its use in weaponry, especially cannon.  The small European ships with cannon could blast enemy vessels to smithereens.  Indeed, had the Portuguese met a massive, hostile Chinese fleet, it might have been a replay of Athens vs. Persian, and another victory for Europe.  To rephrase, even if China had not destroyed its ocean fleet, even if it sailed on to 1519, had it encountered the Europeans, the Chinese may well have been badly defeated, and the result would have been the same as the Portuguese victory over the kings’ and sultans’ fleets.
            Morris assures readers that empires and eras get the ideas and culture they need.  Really?  If Heron could develop a steam engine around 50 AD, why could there not have been an Industrial Revolution shortly thereafter?  Indeed, I suspect steam engines may have been invented in Asia centuries prior to Watt’s, also.  Perhaps Stark is right – Rome and other empires may have embraced ideas that stifled innovation, industry, and progress.  They do not necessarily get the ideas they need.  After the first century, there was much stagnation in the Roman Empire, and the stagnation fossilized for another thousand years in Byzantium.  And in China, even when there was invention and exploration, a centralized bureaucracy looking inward and to the past could repress and destroy innovation.  Stagnation and fossilization followed.  Even the major mining and metal industry developed in China in AD 1100s was destroyed by the imperial government hostile to merchants and businessmen.  Indeed, most of the earth stagnated most of the time.  There might have been cyclical processions with minor ups and downs.  By contrast, Europe led the way in progress, invention, innovation, exploration, and science.  And the creation of universities.  Stark would maintain that not all ideologies, not all religions, are equal.  The West had a great advantage in developing science and making life easier for the average person, and eliminating slavery.    And this is why the West has ruled for hundreds of years.
            Stark has a somewhat contradictory view of Islam’s approach to science.  On one hand, there is the book-burning side represented by Suleman, that Islam does not need or want the wisdom of the ancient infidels.  On the other hand, Muslims preserved some of the ancient writings, and held them in such high regard, unfortunately, that they refused to question the ancient authorities of science, even when the ancients may have been wrong.  Both currents existed in Christianity, also, but in Christianity there was also a third approach.  One could quote an ancient authority like Aristotle, but then apply reason and observation to prove him right, or wrong, as when he asserted that hot water freezes faster than cold, or heavy objects fall faster than light ones.  This questioning, experimental, logical, “scientific” approach: was much more likely to appear in Christian Europe than amid other civilizations.  And this approach would be implemented ever more so with the development of the new institution in Europe, the university.  Stark’s view of Greek science is less contradictory, but more surprising.  “Greek learning was never lost in Byzantium, but here too it failed to prompt innovation.  The decline of Rome did not interrupt expansion of human knowledge any more than the ‘recovery’ of Greek learning enabled this process to resume.  Greek learning was a barrier [emp. Stark] to the rise of science!  It did not lead to science among the Greeks or the Romans and it stifled intellectual progress in Islam, where it was carefully preserved and studied.”[Emphasis in original](Stark, 20)
            What were some of the innovations of the Dark Ages that Stark judges so impressive?  A fire place and chimney.  Before this, many homes of common people had a hole in the roof so that the smoke of the fire when cooking or heating could rise outside.  Of course, this could also let in rain or snow, and the smoke might still blow into the hovel, causing breathing problems for the inhabitants.  The fireplace and chimney would allow a more comfortable abode with cleaner air and a generally healthier population.  No other people but Europeans invented the fireplace and chimney.
            All over the world people are born with or develop poor eyesight.  Only in Europe were eyeglasses developed and an eyeglass industry created to help those afflicted so they might retain proper vision as they aged.  Consequently, the older workers who otherwise  might have had to slow down or even beg because of their eyesight, with glasses could hone their skills as they aged and become even more effective workers.
            In the Dark Ages Europeans invented a heavier plow with metal that could better turn the soil.  They developed a better way to harness a horse, which greatly increased the power of the animal and the weight it could pull.  In Roman times, the harness was connected to the horse’s neck, which choked the animal if the weight was heavy.  Dark Age Europeans discovered a way to harness the animal so that the weight was diverted to the horse’s shoulders, making the horse able to pull more and plow faster.  The slower oxen began to lose favor to the horse.  There were innovations in the making of carts, so the 2 front wheels could more easily turn (and avoid many problems on roads).  Horses that could pull more, and a more maneuverable cart made land trade and transportation easier.  The Roman world used the 2-field system; plant half the field, keep the other field fallow so it could be used the following year.  In the Middle Ages the 3-field system developed so that crops were grown on 2/3s of the land, greatly increasing agricultural production.  To satisfy the Church’s ban on eating meat on Fridays and other holy days, fish farming also developed.
            Water mills were used in the Dark Ages in cloth making, changing the nature of the process from the extremely labor intensive occupation of Roman times, to one much less so in the Dark Ages.  Stark places emphasis on the development of the mechanical clocks, which in time would often show their faces on church towers so all could see the time.  But was it that different or more accurate from the ancient water clocks, where in Beijing, the time could be heard from the bell and drum towers?  Stark credits Europeans with inventing the stirrup, which gave the rider much more stability atop a horse.  Along with creation of new, heavier saddles, Europe moved beyond the light cavalry common elsewhere, and into the era of the heavy cavalry, where a knight in armor could carry various heavy weapons to smite an enemy.  Only Europe had such heavy cavalry.  And of course, the technology that could create heavy church bells could also create cannon, and modify and modernize them once knowledge of gunpowder was imported from Asia.  The large cannon would rise at the end of the Dark Ages.
European church architecture developed to house heavy bells, clock towers, and then higher rooves.  The gothic cathedrals began with smaller windows but as knowledge increased, these churches were built with higher ceilings, narrower walls with room for large, stained glass windows, creating colored lit interiors that awe visitors even today.  The walls held firm because of the development of flying buttresses beside the churches proper, to prop up and reinforce the strength of the walls with windows by transferring some of the weight from the rooves to these outside additions.
            Finally, around AD 1200 universities began to emerge as centers of higher learning where many early scientists would teach, research and publish their discoveries.  Only in Europe did one find universities.
            There is a problem with some of Stark’s exposition; some of his enthusiasm for European innovation may have been his own “invention.”  For example, Stark states that Europeans invented the stirrups.  However, most authorities assert that the stirrups were invented in China or Asia, and arrived in Europe centuries later through contact with the nomadic horsemen along the Mongolian-Siberian-Russian route.  Stark also asserts that the magnetic compass was independently invented in Europe; again most think the invention began in China.  Stark declares that in China it was used in magic to foretell the future.  It was.  But how is he so sure it was not used in Chinese navigation?  Many authorities think the Chinese did use it on board their ships.  Was it used on board the nearly 300 ships of one of Zheng He’s many expeditions?  The records were destroyed, but those ships did travel to east Africa.  One must take some of Stark’s assurances of European invention with a grain of salt.  There seems little doubt, however, of European improvements on new devices, no matter who invented them.
            Both Morris and Stark ignore a major difference between West and East – it is much easier for the common person to learn about 30 letters than the thousands of characters used in Chinese.  China had paper and the printing press, but how many could read the Chinese characters?  In Europe, the printing press arrived about the same time as the Protestant revolt.  Protestants required reading of and knowledge of the Bible.  Common people were urged to learn to read, and a literate population would have advantages in other ways.  In China, was the mandarin elite interested in having  common Chinamen learn to read?  Or should reading be difficult, a hurdle, limited to the elite?  The Chinese also had a mechanical clock, in a palace, for those in the palace.  That was more like the invention in ancient Roma of a statue that dispensed wine and water for guests at an elite party.  These inventions were novelties that changed neither China nor ancient Rome.
            Stark’s citation of Alfred North Whitehead that Christianity laid the foundation for modern science, and only in Europe was there a structure for science, is intrigueging.  But clearly inventions were made outside the modern definitions of “science” – all those that originated in Asia, ancient Greece, Rome, the Muslim world, etc.  “Science” then was not necessary for great inventions.  Was it necessary of an Industrial Revolution?  Are there other factors that may have been equally or even more necessary for that revolution?
            Stark summarizes the accomplishments of the Europeans during the Dark Ages:  “Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Dark Ages was the creation of the first economies that depended primarily on nonhuman power.”(Reason, 38).  Stark adds, “Not only did most Europeans eat far better during the Dark Ages than in Roman times but they were healthier, more energetic, and probably more intelligent.”(Reason, 42)  In addition, Western Europe had essentially eliminated slavery from its territory in the Dark Ages too.  By 1900 the British Empire ruled a quarter of the globe; the French were not far behind, along with the Belgian, Dutch, American, Spanish, and Portuguese, - Europe dominated the world.  But did this dominance only begin in 1750 or 1800 as Morris and his SD calculates?  Or was this potential dominance brewing far earlier, as Stark contends?  Was European dominance the result of geography?  Or of ideas, a different ideology, a different religion, one that inspired innovation, invention, and science in a “poor” Europe even in its “Dark Ages”? 


Saturday, May 14, 2016


On May 8 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an editorial praising Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan for not endorsing the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump.  The newspaper, largest in Wisconsin, praised Ryan's stand on immigration, Muslims, and other issues.  I wrote a letter to the paper, published on Friday the th of May disagreeing with the editorial.  The newspaper contended Trump did not deserve endorsement because he had no standards.  The paper titiled my letter "Trump Standard: America First"  Letters are usually limited to 200 words, so I had to be quite brief.  Where I had written "afirmative-action preferences" the paper revised to "preferences."  Otherwise, the the published version was much the same as the original.  Below is my original letter.  Hugh Murray

Letters to the Editor
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dear Editor:

          Your editorial of May 8 (A leader without standards) is deceptive in its portrayal of a conflict between Republican leaders Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.  Who has the better standards?
          A recent report stated that the Obama Administration has allocated over $1,700 for every unaccompanied minor who invades this country.  Meanwhile, the average monthly social security check for law-abiding American citizens is $1,300.  Ryan’s response – he hopes to cut social security.  Why does he not seek to defund  Obama’s program of aiding and abetting an invasion of the United States?
          Ryan also favors some form of amnesty for the millions of invaders.  If the Obama-Ryan crowd succeeds, perhaps 10 million more will be eligible for affirmative-action preferences.  That means the invaders will jump to the head of the line in university admissions, scholarships, jobs, promotions – above most law-abiding American citizens.  The Obama-Ryan proposal is clearly unjust.
          Trump’s standard is America First!  Build the wall; deport the invaders; if some allege they are refugees, if they are Muslims make sure they are the persecuted and NOT the persecutors.  Trump wants to protect America and American jobs.  If Trump wins, it will be a terrific change.
           Sincerely,   Hugh Murray