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Edge of History
46 minutes | Jul 22, 2021
Chechen Wars Part 3: The Battle for Grozny and the Humbling of a Superpower
As Chechens (led by many who grew up in the deportation) declare independence in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia does nothing for three years. Embarrassment at the new state’s defiance eventually drives an attempt to topple the Chechen government through far superior arms. Spoiler Alert: Russia, thought to be the second most powerful country in the world at the time, gets a disastrous comeuppance.
45 minutes | Jul 8, 2021
Chechen Wars Part 2: Revolution and Deportation
There have never been more than one million Chechens in the world at any given time, and their homeland is no bigger than Connecticut, yet the trials and tragedy of the Chechen people have an underestimated but important legacy in the horrific guerrilla wars and terrorism of the twenty-first century. At the heart of the conflict is (of course) the policies of Josef Stalin, who attempted to deport an entire people to Kazakhstan in 1944.
46 minutes | Jun 30, 2021
Chechen Wars Part 1: Imperial Spoils
Jon Stewart darkly joked that for most people, Chechnya might as well be Narnia. He was right, and it’s a shame. The Chechens are a distinct and proud mountain people, steeped in long traditions of bravery, daring, and generosity. On the other hand, they also possess a cultural dark side of ruthless banditry, gangsterism, and unreformed ancient practices like bride-stealing. For the last 800 years, they have periodically defied imperial might (from the Mongols to the modern Russians) and tenaciously clung to their values.
67 minutes | Nov 12, 2020
Deus le Vult! The Bizarre Final Stage of the First Crusade
Apocalyptic: I find that’s the best word to describe the year 1099 in the lives of those who undertook the First Crusade. Anyone who’d survived this long (3 years of continuous marching and war—crazy in and of itself) still had several more months before the attainment of the final goal: the city of Jerusalem. Along the way, death by thirst, hallucination, cannibalism, and frustrated lower classes rising up and seizing control of the whole enterprise from their “superiors” would mark the journey. The culmination of their efforts would leave a legacy that echoes to the present day.
62 minutes | Oct 4, 2020
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Siege of Antioch and the First Crusade Part Two
The (double) Siege of Antioch in 1098 has all the stuff a Hollywood movie is made of: two different cultures (and their military approaches) clashing in the style of your favorite old school tournament fighting game, starvation, giant ancient fortresses, disease, hardship, miracles real and imagined, betrayal, sword fights, massacre, and a final, heroic charge against impossible odds. Too much stuff, really: I feel like any script with this much jammed into it would be dismissed as corny and over-the-top. Except it’s true! I hope I do it a measure of justice.
76 minutes | Sep 20, 2020
Fight to Save the Soul of Europe: The First Crusade Part One
I see such a metaphor for human forces here: how whatever Pope Urban II and Emperor Alexius had in mind for this holy war/armed pilgrimage, things quickly escalated out of their control and the message and mission as it came to actually be almost swept both men right off their feet. Never underestimate the power of human passion! Although doomed to failure and disaster, the first wave of people (under Peter the Hermit) to attempt the approach to the Holy Land would have important effects on how both the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantine Greeks perceived the following waves—underestimations both groups would later come to regret.
46 minutes | Aug 30, 2019
War for Peace: Prelude to the First Crusade
“Crusade” is a loaded word, and often code for the “bad” history in the cultural heritage of Western Europe. In this episode, I set the stage for some of the real characters in this widely misunderstood period, discussing the brutal realities of medieval Europe and the basis for anybody would be so “crazy” as to declare holy war.
40 minutes | Jul 24, 2019
In Between Two Fires: Sarah Winnemucca and the Pyramid Lake War
The story of “How the West Was Won” (ie. how native people were pushed into tiny corners of the North American continent or exterminated) has many unexpected elements as well as true clichés. We’ll explore one small but symbolic episode of that history in this episode, drawing (in part) on a very unusual source: the autobiography of a native woman that learned to read and write English, survived war, and became a famous speaker for her people.
46 minutes | Feb 17, 2019
This is Sparta?
The Spartans have a legendary name in military history, only partly earned. I discuss that legend and the time when a motley group of lightly-armed patriots, led by an unlikely general, popped that legend’s over-inflated bubble.
59 minutes | Dec 3, 2018
The Arrogant and the Clueless: The Battle of Arausio and its Severe Consequences for the Roman Republic
By the late second century BC, the Roman Republic had persevered and conquered through many disasters: so many, in fact, that conquest and eventual victory were taken for granted. In response to a barbaric tribal threat, a small group of selfish and complacent Roman aristocrats would bungle Rome into a catastrophe that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The price for eventual victory would be freedom itself, as events were set in motion that would destroy the Republic and replace it with the autocratic Empire.
77 minutes | Nov 18, 2018
Overthrow Your Superiors: Samurai Japan and the Rise of Hideyoshi
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.
101 minutes | Oct 31, 2018
Restorer of the World: Emperor Aurelian and the Saving of Western Civilization
The man known to history as Aurelian rose to power in the Roman Empire during the chaotic “Crisis of the Third Century”—a time when rampant civil war, foreign threats, and a collapsing economy brought Western Civilization to the edge of ruin. Over the course of less than five years, this son of a common peasant turned back barbarian hordes, rallied the last imperial resources, and restored breakaway fragments to the whole. A grateful Roman Senate named him “The Restorer of the World,” but while success helped re-stabilize Rome for another 150 years, his achievements were later obscured and his legacy neglected. It’s time to revive his memory.
69 minutes | Oct 31, 2018
One Man's Gamble: The Short Reign of King Harold and the Birth of the English Language
William “the Conqueror” gets all the press. As the man who changed the course of British (and World) history with his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he’s one of the more famous leaders to be crowned King of England. His victory, however, was anything but a foregone conclusion. In a three-way fight for the throne, the decisions of his rival Harold Godwinson loomed large in William’s eventual victory, making The Conqueror’s conquest (and the birth of this wonderfully odd hybrid language we call English) seem far more like fluke swings of fortune than the outcome of destiny.
93 minutes | Oct 31, 2018
761 Steaming Scalps: Chief Little Turtle, the Arrogance of George Washington, and the Greatest Military Defeat the U.S. Army Ever Suffered Against Native People
Against the rushing tide of white European settlers, victories for the native peoples of America were difficult to come by and rarely had even a fleeting effect on the course of events. In the popular imagination, the “Great Indian Warrior” sits astride a horse on the Great Plains, waiting to outmaneuver columns of arrogant, blue-coated cavalry. Few know that the greatest triumph of tribal people over American armed forces came as far back as 1791, held back the line of settlement for years, and humiliated the foolish pride of George Washington himself. The author of that triumph was a complex and little-known Miami chief named Little Turtle.
96 minutes | Oct 31, 2018
Guerrilla! Ibn-al-Khattab’s jihad and the Humiliation of the Russian Army
Guerrilla wars are hard to fight under any circumstances—guerrillas 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 don't even have those advantages—when religious faith has brought you to fight on behalf of an oppressed people with whom you have little ethnic or cultural relation? Such was the mission of the greatest guerrilla commander of our generation, known as Ibn-al-Khattab, and his successes in the tiny republic of Chechnya (against the full might of the Russian Army)are worth recounting.
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