Before you listen…

The samurai era conjures up many ideas for most of us: honor codes, poetry, tradition, and splendid warriors with legendary swords. This image was never truly accurate, but it was gone by the 1540s. The once-glorious capital was half in ashes, the old lords had nearly all been destroyed, and the country had been in anarchy for two generations. It was a time of total disaster, but also a time in which the class structure was fluid enough that a simple peasant would rise in time to reunify Japan, restore the prestige of the samurai … and erase any opportunity for men like him to do the same again.

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For Further Awesome Reading….

Hideyoshi by Mary Elizabeth Berry

The best and most expert source for the true history of the life of the great man, as well as the greater context of the Japan that had come before him and the Japan in which he lived.

A History of Japan 1334 – 1615 by George Sansom

Sansom was a beast at narrative history in the old style, when the idea was to tell the story of the facts in a compelling way rather than to get yourself published for saying something, anything, new. This is my main reference for the whole fascinating period from the ascendancy of the first Shogunate to the dawn of the last.

Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan by Eiji Yoshikawa

For fun, high drama, visual detail, and a more immersive reading experience, this historical fiction biography of Hideyoshi is a great read!

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Before you listen…

Guerrilla wars are hard to fight under any circumstances—as a guerrilla, you are typically outgunned and outnumbered in any one battlefield, and must deal with constant shortages in supply, medical equipment, and ammunition. Some of the few advantages to being a guerrilla are that at least you can blend in with the local population to hide when you are not fighting, and usually that population and its culture far outnumber your enemy’s army. How do you manage, then, when you have no ethnic and little cultural relation to that population, and the enemy’s armed forces are such that they outnumber the entire mass of the people for whom you are fighting—when the sheer weight of your religious faith has brought you to fight on behalf of an oppressed people, despite all of the obvious obstacles? Such was the mission of the greatest guerrilla commander of our generation, known as Ibn-al-Khattab, and his incredible successes against the full might of the Russian Army in the tiny republic of Chechnya are worth recounting.

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For Further Awesome Reading…

A proper history of Khattab’s life has yet to be written, and may never be. The notable events of his life are too intertwined with wars, conflicts, and tragedies that remain fresh or are even ongoing. Many of the villains and heroes that were his friends and enemies remain alive, still actively coloring the way he is perceived with the agendas they have, from the jihadists who want to claim him as their own to the secular powers (and scholars) who want to group him in with the Bin Ladens of the world. The Russian government and its vast font of information: misinformation, disinformation, and everything in between, counts him as a primary figure in extreme Islamic “Wahabism.” Even Shamil Basayev, super-villain, nationalist hero, appropriator of extremist Muslim ideology and erstwhile ally of Khattab, knew better: “He is not a Wahabist; he is a Khattabist.” So much for a clear picture and a balanced biography.

He can partially be understood through the context of the Chechen Wars that came to define his career as a guerrilla. These too are difficult to research without running into plenty of bad or heavily biased scholarship (Mark Galeotti is a great example of this—I’m hardly a global security expert and I’ve found several egregious errors in his work, yet he’s a frequently consulted analyst, author of a prominent blog, and arrogant blowhard), or scholarship that dates itself by trying hard to be relevant to current events. Much of what makes for compelling reading can be found in investigative journalism and eyewitness accounts, in which you must beware and act as your own filter.

For history:

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad by Robert W. Schaefer

Yes, this book is crazy expensive. It’s also the only legitimate history that lays out the foundations of Khattab’s war in detailed and balanced way while also showing its relevance to today’s world. Many people might think “What’s the Chechen War got to do with me? Or with anything?” Written by a Green Beret Colonel for a “lessons learned” approach to important international problems, this book has everything you need to know, although it doesn’t make for a “thriller” for the average reader.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings, by Brian Glyn Williams

This is a ‘current’ popular history—one meant to try and grasp the people shocked by the Boston Marathon bombings into considering their greater context. This muddies it somewhat, as it’s written for the average American, but this also makes it more accessible, which is important in our times.

For investigative journalism:

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, by Sebastian Smith

This book was riveting! You’ll read some criticism in Amazon reviews that it’s a biased account. This criticism actually kept me from reading the book for a number of years, until a friend of mine more or less insisted I read it. Ignore the Amazon criticism. Smith was embedded with Chechen fighters for some time during the war and that necessarily informs his view of events, but we get an excellent tradeoff in the quality and vividness of his firsthand accounts, often at the risk of his own life. He also does an excellent job providing historical context that’s easy to understand and does his best to provide balanced coverage from many sources. This book is a must read even without Khattab’s direct appearance and truly one of my favorites in war journalism of any kind.

Chienne de Guerre, by Anne Nivat

I admire Anne Nivat. While reporting for a French newspaper, she embedded herself with Chechen civilians, using her ability to speak Russian to blend in with the population while it was under attack from the Russian Army. She provided a unique and extremely important perspective on the Russian “re-invasion” in 1999, at a crazy risk to her own life. Women have always been particularly vulnerable in Chechnya’s rugged mountain culture (where “bride-snatching” is still not entirely a custom of the past), and this was especially so during the Russian reconquest, in which packs of soldiers known for rape and murder roamed the streets of Chechen towns. Khattab himself appears only briefly in her book and her depiction of him is not flattering, but the greater picture of who and what he fought for is rendered in stark and beautifully human detail.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

“The American Frontier” in the 1780s was not a very pleasant place to be.

When Great Britain signed the treaty in 1783 acknowledging American independence, they acknowledged something else of great significance: America’s “claim” to the vast swathe of territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Protected by the British government from a surge of land-hungry colonists since 1763, this land contained many people of various native tribes who had no notion of the claim of any foreign power to the land they’d called home for centuries.

Defending the land—now promoted by the young American government as “open” for any American to purchase, was always going to be a near-insurmountable challenge. Not only did the Americans have technology and organization on their side, they also had vast numbers. Immigrants from Europe, people who had no chance of ever establishing themselves in their home countries with their own property, were streaming over by boat for the chance of a lifetime: a piece of earth to truly call their own. On the other side, the native people were reeling from the decimation caused by European diseases for which they had no natural defense. Untold thousands and entire villages died before Colonists could even arrive in force, just from contact with European traders and representatives. The loss of life had culturally destabilizing influence, as did the importation of new European goods.

On top of all that, the tribes were still not accustomed to the idea of a common enemy against which all should unite. European colonies had gained a foothold in America not just through the inroads of disease, but also by forming alliances, playing off different ancestral enemies against each other and then turning on their erstwhile friends when the field had been cleared. Wide ranging tribal confederacies were difficult to form on an even temporary basis and leadership within and across tribes was always fluid. Warriors followed chiefs out of earned respect rather than any official obligation or fear of rank.

Such was the situation on the Ohio River, the de facto boundary between American and “Indian” land in 1790. Bands of Shawnee, Miami, Wyandot, Lenape, and Wabash tribal people resisted the incursions of settlers in the post-war years, violently and chaotically, with atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict. Thousands of people were killed before George Washington, President under the recently implemented Constitution, wished to put the ugly matter to rest and “pacify” the tribes beyond the Ohio.

Eager to get the war done on the cheap (the American government was dangerously in debt and short of funds) and with a genteel disdain for the ‘savages’ and their Stone Age war-fighting, Washington was content to leave the assignment to a contingent of mixed-quality militia (funded by states rather than the national treasury) and a minority of professionals, under the leadership of some under-utilized acquaintances from the Revolution. Show some force, he thought, and the tribes will be intimidated into submission.

He did not reckon with the consequences of poor training and leadership for his men, or with the emergence of a formidable triumvirate of tribal leaders who would not be intimidated: Blue Jacket, leading the Shawnee, Buckongahelas of the Lenape, and a wily tactician from the Miami people, who would come into his own against the forces of the new Republic, a man with the unassuming Translated name of Little Turtle…

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For Further Awesome Reading…

Little Turtle and his contemporaries are tough to pin down. His people did not leave us a written account of his early life and struggle, so we rely on sources from “our” cultural side to understand him and the defense of the Old Northwest. That said, modern scholarship has gone to great lengths to provide balanced historical accounts that draw from the limited tribal sources that are available, as well as the old American sources.

If you don’t mind a book that doesn’t look good, but contains first rate information, try

Little Turtle (Me-she-kin-no-quah): the great chief of the Miami Indian nation by Calvin Young

This book is actually a scanned republishing of a long out-of-print history. It’s a little tough on the eyes, but it’s a classic.

For a straight-up history of the Northwest Indian War and its unusual events:

President Washington’s Indian War, by Wiley Sword

Aside from having a great name, Sword achieves an impressive level of detail and balance in his account. His bibliography is broad and deep.

For a good general history of the culture clash and adventure of America’s early encroachment on native lands, there are a couple of interesting histories that capture the “feel” of the era, even if Little Turtle himself does not star as the main character.

William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest, by William Heath

This book is a great biography of Little Turtle’s culturally half-white, half-Indian son-in-law. His remarkable life was a great symbol for the times in which he lived and the complicated feelings anyone with sympathies on both sides of the cultural struggle must have had.

The First Frontier: the Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America, by Scott Weidensaul

This is a super-readable and comprehensive account of the first couple of centuries in European/American and ‘Indian’ relations. I can’t recommend it highly enough for people who want to understand the history before the “Wild West” was even a myth.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links through the title or the picture of the book to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Hail Legionaries! Check out the intro blog from the Centurion and then dive into eleventh century England in episode 2!

Before you listen…

Eleventh century England wasn’t a very fun place to be, even for the powerful folks, to say nothing of the commoners. To the north, the hybrid-culture regions of Northumbria and Strathclyde were the source of constant border warfare and raids with the hostile Kingdom of Scotland and sometimes independent lords. To the West, the culturally distinct Welsh were independent and the source of many disagreements over boundaries that led to attempts at military conquest. The ‘Anglo-Saxons’ themselves, founders of England as we know it, competed with each other from the bases of formerly autonomous regions. On the continent in Northern France, Norman lords sought to expand their interests in the vulnerable British Isles, already acquiring a reputation (like their Viking forebears) for being some of history’s most notorious gate-crashers. Last and perhaps most menacing, the shores and the inlets were always in danger from Viking raids of all sizes and occasionally Viking colonization or conquest attempts. The region now known as Kent had been so successfully colonized by Vikings that it had become known as the “Danelaw.” To make matters more confusing, the Vikings competed with each other as well, and often allowed themselves to be bought off by lords from all other sides, or hired as mercenaries to fight other lords or other Vikings.

Got all that straight?

With the political situation in England changing completely by the decade for the course of 250 years, by the 1060s it hardly seemed like the place where an event of lasting importance for world history would occur. England had been subjugated by Vikings (again) and re-asserted itself (again) over the previous 50 years. As the Saxon King Edward the Confessor descended into his final illness without a clear successor, it looked like more of the same turmoil would continue forever: the erstwhile King of Norway claimed he had an agreement with a former Viking ruler’s son that the Kingdom would be his. William, Duke of Normandy (known unflatteringly at the time as “the Bastard” to highlight his illegitimate birth and dubious claim on his own duchy) was waving around a supposed promise made to him that he would inherit the kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon lords had their own ideas, of course, particularly the family of Godwin, who had spent years maneuvering himself closer and closer to the throne.

This time, however, would be different. The world wasn’t entirely aware of it at the time, but the Vikings were on their last legs as a terrifying power in Europe. The Saxons, disunited and quarrelsome as always, were more vulnerable than usual. The Normans, minor players, had just used their connections with the Church to grant themselves an aura of legitimacy that would bring swarms of opportunistic (and plunder-hungry) foreigners to their ranks.

The cultural melting pot was about to come together and the unwitting aggressiveness of one of its main players: Harold, son of Godwin, would provide the impetus for its final solidification, one that would tie it to the Continent in a new and ominously important way for centuries to come.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

I like to start with surveys, especially when I think of Britain and England in particular. Early Middle Ages England was a war-ravaged cultural melting pot of different values and language groups, and a good starting point for general history is

Anglo Saxon England (Oxford History of England Book 2) by Frank M. Stenton

For the circumstances around the Battle of Hastings, there’s the popular ‘William and Norman-centered’ way to go about it, best represented in recent books by

The Norman Conquest: The battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris

For a really good look at the ‘Harold and Anglo-Saxon-centered’ side, I recommend

Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian W. Walker

Combining these two histories really gives you a sense of how England in 1066 was anyone’s game. In part because of that, and just because I can’t help myself, I have to also recommend

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings

This was a real eye opener for me about who the Vikings really were, what their life was like, and what an important impact they had on Northern Europe before Harald Hardrada brought what is widely thought of as the closing chapter to their influence.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links through the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.